Recipe: Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup (Pho Ga)

Pho Ga (Chicken Noodle Soup)

My mom LOVES to buy whole chickens for me. The only problem is that she is a bit excessive with it. She will out of nowhere call me up, tell me she is dropping off a chicken for me, and then all of a sudden, 3 whole chickens will show up at my door. But, it doesn't stop there. The next day, another chicken will show up. And the next day, another chicken is dropped off. And it won't stop until you firmly tell her that enough is enough.

As much as I should be grateful for all of the gifted chickens, I kind of get to a point where I just don't have enough space to store them.

Needless to say, my freezer is always full of whole chickens, which is perfect for making broth. This Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup (pho ga) recipe is one that my mom gave me. While it seems complicated to make, it is in fact very easy. It does take some time to make, but you can pretty much go on auto-pilot once you have everything cooking in the pot.

Pho Ga

Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup (Pho Ga)
- flat rice noodles, fresh or dried
Stock
- 1 whole free-range chicken (4-5 lbs), skin and excess fat removed
- water
- 1/4 tsp of salt
- 5-7 Tbsp fish sauce
- 3 star anise
- 4-5 large onions, peeled and cut in half
- 2-3 pieces of ginger, approx 2 inches long with skin peeled

Garnish (All optional)
- fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- fresh green onion, finely chopped
- white vinegar with chopped birds eye chilli
- fresh white onion, cut into thin slices
- birds eye chilli
- fresh lime, cut into small wedges
- white pepper

Charred Onion and Ginger

Garnish for Pho

Method
1. Char the onions and ginger on a bbq grill or stove top (on high heat) until all sides are charred. Approximately 1-3 minutes per side. Use tongs to rotate.

2. In a large pot (5.6L), fill 3/4 of the pot with water. Add the chicken, salt, onions, ginger and star anise, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for an hour. Add the fish sauce and let it simmer for another 1-2 hours. Technically, you are done once the chicken is cooked but the longer the better. I like to simmer my broth for a total of 3 hours. Add water as needed (the broth tends to evaporate while simmering).

Chicken Soup

3. Now you are ready to construct the soup and noodles. In a separate pot, cook the rice vermicelli noodles according to package instructions. If you are using dried rice vermicelli, it is best to soak the noodles in a large bowl of luke warm water for a few hours before cooking. This shortens the cooking time significantly.

4. Drain the noodles and place in a large soup bowl. Add hot broth over top of the noodles. Add chicken pieces and your garnishes of choice. Serve hot with a large soup spoon and chopsticks.

Flower + Coffee at blumenstudio, Ottawa

Blumenstudio

I've been MIA for a few months because I have been getting ready for my move to LA! I am changing jobs and this new adventure is moving me from Ottawa to California. While I am very excited, the last few months were full of ups and downs. Change is not easy! It was a long 5 months for me, but I finally have everything worked out and I've decided on an end of May move date...which is coming fast, yikes!!

Now knowing that I'm not going to be in Ottawa for much longer, I want to post all of the yummy places I have eaten at lately so that I don't forget how great Ottawa is. I'm consciously trying not to stock up on food at home, so CK and I have been eating out a lot more lately.

Anyone that knows me knows that I am a HUGE coffee lover. One of my favorite places in Ottawa for coffee is blumenstudio cafe on Parkdale.

Blumenstudio

What's really cool about blumenstudio is that it is a flower shop and coffee shop in one. When you enter, you are surrounded by beautiful plants, flowers and sculptures, making it a very warm and inviting atmosphere.

Kat Kosk and Nathan Turner are the owners of blumenstudio. Extremely talented, Kat was trained in Germany as a professional floral designer, spending most of her time in Dresden and Berlin. She moved to North America over 10 years ago and is now living her dream.

Coffee at Blumenstudio

Blumenstudio is a cozy little space with great coffee and sweets. I love their marzipan balls and their coffee is consistenly good.

I recently found out that blumenstudio is dog-friendly, so little Pepper (newest member of our family) was able to join us for coffee, which was a lot of fun.

Check this place out. It is definitely worth a visit or two, or more!

Pepper the Dog

Blumenstudio Cafe
465 Parkdale Avenue
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Blumenstudio on Urbanspoon

Recipe: Cucumber Garlic Yogurt Dip

Cucumber Yogurt Dip

A friend made this dip for me the other day, and I went straight home to re-create it so that I wouldn't forget the recipe. This is super easy to make, and is a refreshing dip for the hot summer weather.

This is very similar to the Persian Mast-o-Khiar dip, but with bigger cucumber chunks and added garlic.

The amount of fresh mint you put into this dip will depend on taste. This is best served with pita bread or flavored rice.

I would avoid eating this dip if you have a hot date...just sayin :)

This recipe yields 1 cup.

Cucumber Garlic Yogurt Dip
- 1 cup of plain yogurt
- 1 seedless English cucumber, peeled
- 2-3 springs of fresh mint, leaves only (approximately 15-20 leaves)
- 1 garlic, minced
- salt and pepper

Method
1. In a bowl, mix together the yogurt, garlic and mint.

2. Roughly chop the peeled cucumber into small cubes or slices. Add the cucumber to the yogurt mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and serve cold.

Worth a Trip to Carp. Alice's Village Cafe, Ottawa

Alice's Village Cafe, Ottawa

The fact that I have been here 3 times in the last 2 months says alot! I am hardly in town because of my work travel and when I am, I usually try to get out to new places because I miss out on so much being gone all the time. Well. Lately, I've just been wanting to visit Alice's Village Cafe in Carp.

Why? I love Alice's Village Cafe for 3 reasons.

1. Their coffee is AMAZE-balls!
2. Their food is DELICOUS. I leave this place, everytime, feeling really full but really good at the same time.
3. It's peaceful out in Carp. I kinda feel like I'm on a mini getaway because it's in the exact opposite direction as the city.

Alice's Village Cafe, Carp

Alice's Village Cafe, Ottawa

Alice's Village Cafe is modern yet cozy. It's a family-friendly restaurant so you will see people and kids of all ages here, which is nice. The owners and operators of Alice's, Dustin and Crystal Therrien, are also the same people that own and operate The Cheshire Cat in Carp (which has re-opened for business).

For those that love coffee, they have a coffee club where your 10th coffee is free. My favorite dish here hands down is the breakfast wrap, a warm tortilla filled with egg, cheese, avocado, bean, onions and pepper. On the side are homemade hash, fresh fruit, fresh salsa and sour cream. They will change this up little depending on their menu. The first time I had this, the bean used was black bean. The last time I had this, my wrap was filled with a sweet delicious maple baked bean mash which completely made me melt. Two completely different experiences with the same dish.

One thing they are known for is their famous "Big Nasty" cinnabon bun. If you have a sweet tooth, this is definitely recommended.

Alice's Village Cafe, Ottawa


Veggie Breakfast WrapBreakfast Wrap with Hash and Fresh Fruit


CoffeeCappuccino


Eggs BenedictEggs Benedict with Salmon, Hash and Mapble Baked Beans


Big NastyBig Nasty Cinnamon Bun


Apple Almond Muffin
Apple Almond Muffin

Alice's Village Cafe
3773 Carp Road
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Telephone:613-470-2233

Alice's Village Cafe on Urbanspoon

Aussie-Grade Coffee at Workshop Coffee, London

Workshop Coffee, London

The time I spent in Oz has made me appreciate coffee in a whole different way. In a few years, I learned more about coffee than I ever imagined. Aussie's are so passionate about coffee that they have schools (like Italy) that specialize in coffee where you can learn about latte art, the art of making the perfect espresso, and even the ins and outs on how to run a profitable coffee business. Baristas are the rock stars of Australia and the ones who do it really well, are surely recognized for it.

Everywhere I travel now, I'm always on the look out for good coffee. In London, a very notable coffee bar is Workshop Coffee. With roots in Melbourne Australia, Workshop Coffee was once St Ali, a sister coffee bar to Melbourne's St Ali. Almost a year after St Ali London opened, they decided to re-invent themselves as Workshop Coffee.

Workshop Coffee, London Interior

In Aussie fashion, Workshop Coffee takes their coffee seriously. They are meticulous about the sourcing, roasing and brewing of their coffee, which you can read all about on their website. Every year, they take the time to travel to different countries to learn from the people who grow their coffee. This year, the focus will be on travels to Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Colombia, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.

Workshop Coffee currently has 2 locations - Clerkenwell and Marleybone. The Clerkenwell location (the one I visited) is the larger of the two and serves hot food including weekend brunch. The Marleybone location is the complete opposite with just 14 seats and a small selection of pastries and sandwiches. In March of this year, they are opening a 3rd location, a 1200 square foot space, on the ground floor of Amazon's headquarters in Holborn.

On Feb 17, they announced that they are shipping their coffee globally, which means you can enjoy Workshop's awesome coffee whether or not you can get to London.

Coffee At Workshop Coffee


Workshop Coffee
27 Clerkenwell Road
London, UK
Telephone: 0207 253 5754

Workshop Coffee on Urbanspoon

Great Brunch in London. Caravan, London

Caravan, London

Do you feel, some days everyday, like a chicken with its head cut off? Productivity is not an easy thing to master. Especially at the pace life goes at today. With technology, smart phones and social media, it is sooo easy to be constantly pulled in a million different directions. Do you feel like you are always busy, but at the same time, feeling like you're not accomplishing much? I know I did. ALL THE TIME.

I've realized that being productive and feeling good about what you accomplished is not about how much you get done but what you get done. I've made a conscious effort the last few months to do the things that matter most, by focusing on the tasks that go the longest way. Tasks that will help me reach my end goal. When you slowly knock off the tasks that keep you moving forward, you will start to feel good about what you are accomplishing.
Stay Focused.

If you don't stay focused on what matters, you get distracted with busy work. Pick the top 3 things you absolutely need to get accomplished for the day and focus on them until they are done. Everything else should be non-existent until these things are done. I'm not saying to stop feeding your kids and neglect your household chores but DO Focus on One Big Task at a Time and get them done.

Do The Things You Don't Want to Do.

The things you don't want to do are likely the things that are most important. Why? Because they are mentally taxing or because it requires work. It's so easy to get distracted by small tasks that are easy to complete, but don't amount to a whole lot of result. Start with the things you dread. They are usually the most important tasks. 

Just Get It Done.

Deal with it and move on. It can't get any simpler than that :)

Being productive starts with a good breakfast. And with that thought, here is an awesome brunch place I found in London that is now a new favorite. They have amazing food and amazing coffee! If you can't easily get there, enjoy the photos :)

Caravan roasts their own coffee, in small batches, in the basement of the restaurant. Their coffee was exceptional: no after taste, just the right temperature and a great balance of bitter and fruitiness.

They have a great brunch menu that focuses on seasonal ingredients. The ham hock hash with poached eggs was to die for and their orange scented pancakes were perfectly fluffy. Be prepared to wait for a table if going for brunch. It's a really popular spot.

Cappuccino
Cappuccino

Ham Hock Hash and Poached Eggs
Ham Hock Hash, Poached Eggs, Peas and Honey Mustard Hollandaise

English Breakfast
Caravan Fry Up: Two eggs, Roasted Tomatoes, Streaky Bacon and Thyme Roasted Portobello Mushrooms

Baked Eggs and Chorizo
Baked Eggs, Tomato and Pepper Ragout, Greek Yogurt and Chorizo

Pancakes with Blueberries
Orange Scented Pancakes, Vanilla Butter and Blueberries

Caravan Restaurant & Bar
11-13 Exmouth Market
London, UK
Telephone: 0207 833 8115

Caravan Exmouth Market on Urbanspoon

Air Canada Airline Food - London UK to Ottawa

Monty's Chicken Fajita

Wow, I cant believe how quickly time - and life - passes sometimes. I always have intentions of updating my blog, and then BAM, a few months go by.

I always go back and forth on whether or not I should continue blogging given the frequency I now post. However, what brings me back everytime is that I still get excited to take photos of my food, whether I write about it or not, when I'm out. I still stop and pause, after cooking a really delicious meal, to admire the concoction I have cooked up where I then kindly ask everyone involved to refrain from eating until I have taken a photo. And moments like that tell me that I shouldn't stop sharing what I love and enjoy.

The truth is, a very close family member has fallen ill and has been very sick for a number of years now. In between trying to keep my life as normal as possible, I have been a full-time caretaker, which has been extremely consuming. It's not that I have been trying to conceal the truth from my readers, but I just kept thinking that it would all end soon. The reality is is that it hasn't, and that this is just the new normal.

In saying that, I've learned that life just keeps moving and you either grow and blossom from the challenges that life brings, or you become stagnant. I choose the former for myself and continuing to write is a way for me to do that.

One of the best ways to take a step back and get a good perspective on what is really happening is to get away and change your environment. Being removed from the typical day to day, and allowing yourself to be inspired by the new and different helps me appreciate the good things that are happening in my life.

I got to do this a few months ago by visiting my sister-in-law in London. I discovered some really cool places and will share some of my new favorite places to eat and drink with you soon. In the meantime, here is what I ate on my Air Canada flight back from London. I love sharing airline meals because it is such a rarity these days. It's like snapping a photo of an animal in the wild for me :)

In economy class, the London to Ottawa flight serves one main meal at the beginning of the flight, and one snack towards the end of the flight.

For my main meal, I had pasta bolognese with a dinner roll and 3-bean salad fennel salad with a vinaigrette dressing. For dessert, I had a currant and dark chocolate cookie. Air Canada has been really creative with their salads recently, which is nice to see.

Pasta Bolognese

The snack served was a Monty's Bakehouse hot posh wrap. The choices were chicken or vegetarian. I chose the chicken fajita wrap. I have tried a few other Monty's Bakehouse wrap flavors (tomato and olive frittata, smoked cheese) on other flights and all have been pretty good.

Monty's Chicken Fajita

Cool Little Coffee Shop on Elgin. The Ministry of Coffee, Ottawa

Nutella Latte and Flat White

The Ministry of Coffee is a great little place to hang out, chill and enjoy good coffee. The staff is incredibly friendly and they've got a decent menu of coffee, drinks and food. This is a great place to get comfy and slow down, while the quick paced traffic on Elgin buzzes by.

The Ministry of Coffee specializes in coffee but they also offer other drinks, baked goods and sandwiches. On the day I was there, they had a pork tenderloin sandwich and beet & herb goat cheese sandwich on the menu, which sounded delicious.

I decided to be adventurous and try the Nutella latte. What I loved was that the Nutella was very subtle...not overly sweet and syrupy. Their flat white was also good but slightly acidic for my taste. I don't think it was how they made the coffee, but more the coffee itself. It was obvious these guys know their stuff, which is hard to find in Ottawa

Their 'sex sells' sign got a few good chuckles from passer-bys. Smart way to get someone's attention :)

The Ministry of Coffee, Ottawa

The Ministry of Coffee, Ottawa

The Ministry of Coffee
279 Elgin Street
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Telephone: 613-255-3410

The Ministry of Coffee on Urbanspoon

Awesome Spring Rolls at Pho'licious, Ottawa

Pholicious, Ottawa

I find it is hard to write about pho houses - they are either good, average or bad. Every place pretty much offers the same dishes and unless you spend the time to analyze the most minute details, it's really hard to comment on how good a pho dish is without repeating yourself. Yes, there are times when a restaurant does something phenomenally or offers something that others don't, but that doesn't happen often.

Pholicious Spring Roll and VermicelliB20 - Grilled Homemade Pork Meatball and Pho'licious Special Spring Rolls Vermicelli

The most recent place that I went to that was noteworthy is Pho'licious in Ottawa. They have decent pho but what I love is their Pho'licious special spring rolls: crispy spring rolls wrapped in rice paper and stuffed with shrimp, crabmeat, pork, egg, transparent noodle and bean sprouts. I love the texture of the deep fried rice paper, which is crispy on the outside and slightly gelatinous when you chew it. Although it doesn't say on the menu, you can ask them to substitute regular spring rolls in any dish with their Pho'licious special spring rolls.

Their homemade pork meatballs aren't bad but nothing like how my mom makes them. I'm used to the meatballs being more meatier with a ton more garlic.

They also offer banh mi sandwiches for $3, which is marked for take-out only.

The decor of the place kind of made me chuckle. It's like one of the owner's kids decided to step in and help with the design, which resulted in a boudoir nightclub feel filled with tacky Asian restaurant furniture. At least they tried.

Pholicious, Ottawa

Pho'licious
300 Booth Street
Ottawa, Ontario Canada
Telephone: 613-680-5230

Pho'licious on Urbanspoon

Recipe: Green Tropical Smoothie

Green Tropical Smoothie

This recipe is posted for my darling sis who has been bugging me non-stop for my Green Tropical Smoothie recipe. When she came to visit recently, I made this for us every morning since this smoothie is now part of my daily morning routine. When I want less sugar, I will omit the mango and only use 1/2 a lime instead of a whole one.

I've listed coconut as optional because I sometimes buy a muesli with coconut in it. When that's the case, I don't bother adding extra coconut. Enjoy! This tastes really good and is good for you!

Green Tropical Smoothie
- 1 cup of fresh pineapple chunks
- 1 ripe frozen banana
- 2 or more large handfuls of kale or spinach
- 1 ripe yellow mango, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 cup of plain yogurt or almond milk
- 1/2 cup of muesli
- 1 small lime, juice
- 1-2 Tbsp flax oil
- 1/2 cup of water (optional)
- 1 Tbsp desiccated coconut (optional)
- sweetener of choice (optional)

Method
1. Place all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour shake into a cup and enjoy.

Recipe: Vietnamese Sour Tamarind Soup (Canh Chua)

Tamarind Soup

It's amazing how, as a kid, you never question what you are eating. At least I didn't. I either liked it or didn't. It was that simple.

I didn't realize how little I knew about the dishes I grew up with until I started asking my mom or my aunt (who was like a mom to me) for the recipe, and then not knowing what half of the ingredients are. "What is that called in English?" I would ask. The answer back would always be, "I don't know, take a picture and go find out".

This Vietnamese sour tamarind soup was one of my favorite soups growing up. I loved the sour taste of the tamarind, combined with the sweet pineapple balanced with the shrimp and fresh veggies. I seldom use tamarind in my everyday cooking, so I was excited when I finally had a chance to use it.

Chinese brown sugar, one of the ingredients in this soup, is solid cane sugar sold in blocks. It is brown in color and rock hard. It is typically divided up into equal pieces.  The 65g of Chinese brown sugar called for in this recipe should be one full piece of the sugar sold in most packages.

This recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Vietnamese Sour Tamarind Soup (Canh Chua)
- 1 elephant ear stem, cut into 1/2 inch slices on an angle (if not easily accessible, substitute with 3-5 stalks of celery, sliced)
- 5 cups of bean sprouts
- 8-10 sprigs of rice paddy herb, roughly chopped with stems
- 2 large ripe vine tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 1/2 cups of fresh ripe pineapple chunks
- 1/2 lb of large shrimp with shell (approx 18-20)
- 824ml chicken broth
- 200g, 7 oz. block of tamarind me chua paste
- 6 cups of water
- 65 grams of Chinese solid brown sugar
- fish sauce or salt to taste
- fried shallots

Method
1. Prepare the tamarind soup base by dissolving the tamarind pulp in 3 1/2 cups of hot water in a pot. Heat the mixture on medium high heat for 8-10 minutes, breaking down the tamarind with a spoon or fork while it is heating. Once dissolved, the tamarind will turn into a thick dark paste. With a sieve, strain the seed and pulp to extract the tamarind water. Use a spoon to press the pulp to get more tamarind water.

2. In a large pot, combine 2 cups of the tamarind water, chicken broth and 2 1/2 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Add the solid brown sugar and mix until completely dissolved. Add the shrimp and let it boil until it is just cooked (approx 1-2 min). Take out the shrimp and set aside so they don't overcook. Turn off the heat. Your soup base in now ready. At this point, depending on your taste, you may want to add a bit more water to make it less sour, some fish sauce to add flavor and to make the soup saltier, or more tamarind water for a more sour taste. Everyone likes it slightly different.

3. This soup is meant to be enjoyed fresh and you only prepare it when you are ready to serve. For 1 individual bowl, in a pot, combine 1 cup of the tamarind soup base, 3 pineapple chunks, 3 tomato chunks, 5 slices of elephant ear stem, and bring the soup to a boil (2-3 minutes). Add a handful of the bean sprouts, 3-4 cooked shrimp and let it boil for another minute. Turn off the heat and pour the soup into a soup bowl. Garnish with rice paddy herbs and fried shallots. Enjoy the soup hot, plain or with white Jasmine rice. To prepare a larger bowl, simply scale up from the portions described above.

For extra flavor, you can prepare a small bowl of fish sauce mixed with sliced red Thai chiles and dip your shrimp into it. If you don't like shrimp, you can substitute it with white fish or chicken. Do not use beef. It will alter the taste of the soup.

Elephant Ear Stem
Elephant Ear Stem

Tamarind Soup Platter
Ingredients for Sour Tamarind Soup

Recipe: Mango Pineapple Smoothie

Mango Pineapple Smoothie

This mango pineapple smoothie was inspired by 2 things: the mango lassi drink and my recent interest in salsa dancing. You combine the two together and you get this!

I absolutely encourage you to use fresh mangoes. I find frozen ones lack flavor and have only a faint mango taste when you compare it to the fresh stuff.

As for the cinnamon, I recommend using Vietnamese cinnamon. It is regarded as the best cinnamon in the world and you will understand why once you taste it. It's high essential oil content is what gives it its awesome flavor.

Mango Pineapple Smoothie
- 2 fresh mangoes, cut into chunks
- 3/4 cups of pineapple chunks
- 1 frozen ripe banana
- 1/2 cup of plain yogurt
- 1/2 of small lime, juice
- 1 Tbsp flax oil
- 4-6 fresh mint leaves
- 1/8 tsp of cinnamon
- 1 cardamom pod, seeds only, shell discarded (optional)
- choice of sweetener (optional)

Method
1. Place all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour shake into a cup and enjoy.

Mango Pineapple Smoothie