Friday, January 30, 2015

Slurp it Up! Annual Pho Party!

10 pounds of fresh pho noodles, 22 pounds of beef bones, five gallons of pho broth, 75 tofu spring rolls, two pounds of turkey meatballs, three dozen banh pate chaud and three dozen guests. That all happened at our annual Pho Party last weekend. 

We host this party every winter and while it's a lot of work, it's always a good time! I started cooking at 8 a.m. and the kitchen was open for service at 6 p.m. 

I always forget to take photos of the food, but a friend did take this picture of me putting meatballs into the broth. Look at all that goodness! Along with the pho, In addition to the usual spring rolls and banh pate chaud, I also made Viet turkey meatballs. I used this recipe but instead of chicken, I used ground turkey.

Last year, I didn't have enough large Asian soup bowls so I had to wash bowls inbetween guests -- I had to avoid that this year. I can always buy more bowls at the Asian market, but the melamine bowls are expensive (usually around $5-$7/bowl depending on the size) and I don't need 40 bowls in the house.

So, I went to Amazon to see what disposable options were available. I came across these biodegradable bowls in various sizes. After a quick hot water test (Micah's my own personal America's Test Kitchen), we decided the 32 oz. bowls would hold up for our pho needs - we did ask guests to double up on the bowls just to make it sturdier. I wish they had a 40 oz. size, but the 32 oz. worked. Unfortunately, they only come in 500 packs so now I have 500 bowls sitting in the pantry!

A special thanks to Suz for helping be my sous chef a few hours before the party! I wouldn't have gotten everything done without her help! And thank you guys for coming up from San Antonio! She's also having twins, so I made sure to feed all three of them very well. 

Since we had so many guests coming, we made Micah's brew room our drink station. 

Guests at the main dining table.

More guests at our secondary table.

My friend, Adrienne, also made this awesome cherry pie! It was muy delicioso.

The next day, I ended up with about six quarts of pho broth. I gifted a couple of quarts and kept the rest for myself. I usually keep a quart in the freezer in case I have a hankering for some pho.

With all the leftovers, I had pho for breakfast the next morning. Breakfast of champions!


On a side note, as someone who hosts several large parties throughout the year, I really appreciate it when people RSVP. I need people to RSVP to know how much food to make. I was just thinking the other day that maybe Facebook invites are too casual. That maybe it's too easy to RSVP "yes" but don't actually show up. It's fine if you tell me you won't be able to make it or a last minute issue came up, that I get.

And then there are the "maybe" folks. I would say that most people who say "maybe" don't have any intention of coming anyway, so just say "no." If you have young kiddos, I understand the "maybe" because you never know when something comes up with your kiddo/babysitter/etc.

Do you think a more formal evite would eliminate those issues?
Do you have the same issues with RSVP's? What do you use (paperless post, Facebook, evite)?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Perfect Christmas Gift: Maine Winter Feast

As I walked down the stairs at 6:30 a.m. on Christmas morning to make my way into work, I came across the most awesome gifts waiting for me at the door: a full size Dyson animal vacuum cleaner and a printout for a Central Market cooking class!

The vacuum cleaner was an awesome joint gift from Micah and his mom! This was the second year I got a vacuum cleaner for Christmas, I think Micah is trying to tell me something. The first one he got me was the Dyson DC59 (cordless). This little guy is great for our wood and tile floors - it sucks up the dog fur like a dream! The one I got this year was the Dyson upright. It's a dream! I can't even imagine going back to a "regular" vacuum cleaner.

Anyhow, while I loved the vacuum cleaner, I was REALLY excited about the Central Market cooking class. Micah chose a class called "Maine Feast" which focuses on, you guessed it, Maine dishes. Since Micah doesn't eat red meat, this was the perfect menu because it had a lot of seafood, more specifically, LOBSTAH! 

The class was a perfect Saturday night date. The class is setup like a classroom. It's not a hands on class -- they don't have you helping with any of the cooking.

The instructor is up there going through the techniques with several other people prepping the rest of the food. 

To our surprise, the class comes with two glasses of wine. 

To start, we had corn chowder. A very simple dish that is made really rich with tons of butter. I've come to the conclusion that my homemade dishes are not nearly as delicious because I don't use enough butter! 

The chowder was served with these biscuits that use Bakewell cream, which is basically Maine's version of cream of tartar. The biscuits flake differently and have more a tinny quality.

After the soup, we dug into the lobster roll! They didn't skimp on the fresh lobster either! We were surprised by the full-sized serving because at a restaurant, it would easily cost $15-$20 for a lobster roll (the entire class was $50/person!). Oddly enough, someone in front of us ate the bread but left all the lobster meat! WTF? Why are you even in this class?

After lobster, we had baked haddock with roasted veggies. Pretty simple dish that uses one of my favorite items, panko bread crumbs. For some reason, I don't buy firm white fish very often but I really enjoy haddock and cod. I guess I always veer towards salmon, tuna and gulf fish.

For the finale, we had blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream. The perfect way to end a lovely dinner! 

The Central Market cooking classes vary by menu and pricing, but we thought our Maine class was well-priced for what you got. I would definitely sign-up for another class!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

NOLA for My Mom's Birthday!

While this post is a few weeks behind schedule, I figure it's never too late to talk about my mom (or me in Vietnamese)! The weekend after Christmas we celebrated my mom's birthday by going to New Orleans for the weekend! HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!

Me, Micah and my mom haven't been to NOLA since before Katrina -- that's too long of a time! 

My two cousins also joined us on this trip and it was fun to share the city with them since they've never been. I much prefer to visit NOLA during the winter time rather than the sticky stench that is summer.

In front of the Christmas tree across from Jackson Square
I made the biggest mistake on this trip: I forgot to bring my camera! I fail at life. Thankfully everyone else in my crew took some photos for me!

On our first night, we celebrated my mom's birthday with dinner at Jacques Imo's. My boss told me about this place and the 1000+ reviews on Yelp indicated this place would be a fun place for dinner. I made a reservation a few weeks in advance and the only time they had open on a Friday was at 5 p.m.! We showed up at 5 p.m. and it was already packed!

While our food was good, nothing was AMAZING, except for the cornbread. That cornbread must have a stick of butter in each bite! The watermelon mojito was also a treat -- I think I'm stealing this drink for my next summer party! For my mom's birthday, they brought out a fabulous bread pudding that had great texture and wasn't overly sweet (which some tend to be).

On the second night, we ate at Deanie's Seafood in Bucktown. I've actually been to this restaurant before and really enjoyed it. Their BBQ shrimp is so decadent and flavorful. My mom loved the sauce so much that she poured it over a bowl of white rice! So Asian.

We also had breakfast at the Ruby Slipper in Mid-City (food was good but the service was mediocre and slow)

Of course we had cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe Du Monde!

Cigar shop and a big ol' daiquiri
Walking around the mid-city area
Flight at NOLA Brewing. My face is not indicative of their beer offerings... it's just my face.
We were able to check out NOLA Brewing, which is in an industrial area southwest of the French Quarter. The NOLA beers we had at restaurants weren't very good but the selection at their actual taproom was great! We ordered 8 samples and settled in with some Jenga and Scrabble. Micah's fave brew was their Brettanomyces IPA. If you want a little dessert while you're there, they even have root beer floats!

We were also able to check out WINO, which was really close to our hotel. It's one of those self-serving wine bars (which we loved when we visited Paris). They have several dozen wines available and the prices are fairly reasonable. Unfortunately, we didn't love any of the wines they had on their roster.

Our favorite cocktails were had at Bar Tonique. Micah dragged us all the way over to this side of the FQ and I was going to be really annoyed if they didn't have good cocktails, but to my surprise, they had great cocktails at a very reasonable price! Everything we had was good: pimm's cup, moscow mule and several cocktails they made up on the fly! You can't beat that!

On our last day, Micah and I visited the Old New Orleans Rum Distillery. It's $10 per person for the tour and tasting. They start you off with a lovely rum tea cocktail while you wait for the tour to start. While I'm not a huge fan of rum, I thought it would be fun to check out what the place had to offer.

Their spiced rum is very popular and it is indeed spicy!

They also have this new product, Gingergoo which is a rum cocktail mixed with ginger. It's already premixed so just add ice! If you like ginger beer, you would love this product!

Walking along Magazine Street
After being away from NOLA for so long, it was a great weekend trip to celebrate my mom's birthday and to revisit the city that has so much to offer! 

Where We Stayed:

I booked the Le Meridien Hotel -- which used to be the W Hotel. They just went through a renovation and now the rooms are super modern and stylish. I got a deal during Cyber Week at $100/night! The hotel is right across the street from the Harrah's Casino. I knew my mom would find her way to the casino, so I figured I'd make that slightly easier for her (not sure that was the smartest idea).