Monthly Archives: November 2017

Soup Season: Making Pho


We have arrived. It’s a cold, drizzly day in late fall…the perfect kind of day for making soup. Or better yet, homemade soup stock. It’s so easy to make and by crafting a batch of your own, you can tailor the flavors to your tastes or to the next soup you plan to make (and cut the sodium while you’re at it). Although I usually make chicken stock, as that’s what we’re most likely to have on hand, I recently made a pork roast, so of course those bones had to become the basis of stock. And with Thanksgiving around the corner, turkey stock will be a sure thing.

But the other day I had a craving for Pho, the beef noodle soup that originated in Northern Vietnam. We are planning  a trip to Vietnam in the spring, so all things Vietnamese have been cropping up in my thoughts lately. Last month we had dinner at Vo’s, and the pho was so good, I was inspired to try making some at home.

Perhaps the best thing about making pho was that it required a trip to United Noodles in Minneapolis. I LOVE United Noodles and it had been ages since my last visit. I tend to wander and get “lost” in the aisles, reading labels and discovering foods I didn’t know existed. I did manage to emerge with everything on my list in a relatively short amount of time: big beef bones, brisket, steak, rice noodles, Chinese radish, scallions, ginger, mint, cilantro, whole star anise (isn’t it pretty?), rice vinegar, fish sauce, bean sprouts, limes, and peppers. I hurried home to get started on the stock.


Let me just say that one of the best things about making stock is the tantalizing aroma that begins to drift through the house. Pho stock was even more enticing, as the spicy scent of star anise, cloves, and cinnamon mingled with the more savory broth. It simmered for 1 1/2 hours. Mmmmm. I followed a recipe from Troth Well’s The World of Street Food. If you have the time, make the stock the day before serving, to allow the flavors to blend…this was so good on day two! Here’s how…


Soup stock: In a large stock pot, combine 2 lbs beef bones, 1 lb. beef brisket, 2 1/2 quarts water, 3 whole star anise, 3 whole cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, and 1 cup chopped Chinese radish. Mince 1 inch ginger root and chop 1 onion. Fry in a skillet, using no oil until close to burnt. Add to stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer, frequently skimming off the fat.

Dipping sauce: In a medium bowl, combine 2 tbsp fish sauce, 1 tbsp lime juice, 1 clove garlic, minced, 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp rice vinegar, 1 tsp sugar. Divide into 4 small sauce bowls.

Garnish: In a large salad bowl, mix 1 cup bean sprouts, 10 lettuce leaves, chopped (I used spinach), 3 tbsp chopped cilantro, 1 tbsp chopped mint. Set aside.

Strain and Slice: When the broth has simmered for 1 1/2 hours, Remove brisket from broth and slice very thinly. Strain broth over a second sauce pan, discarding bones, radishes, and spices. Place broth over low heat to keep warm. Add sliced pieces of brisket, 2 tbsp fish sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Slice 1/2 lb steak very thin and add to broth.

Assemble: Make rice noodles according to package directions. Divide between 4 large soup bowls. Ladle broth, with slices of steak into bowls with noodles. Sprinkle with sliced green onions, sliced hot peppers and serve with lime wedges and garnish salad fixings.


The end result was pretty fantastic! Even my 11 year old and 13 year old boys slurped it up with enthusiasm. Now we can’t wait to try it in Vietnam!

Here, too, is my go-to recipe for chicken broth. I usually just buy a rotisserie chicken, serve it for dinner, and then use the remains for broth.


In a dutch oven or soup pot, saute 2 sliced carrots, 2 sliced celery stalks, and 1 chopped large onion (skins okay) in 2 tbsp olive oil. When onions are translucent, add chicken bones*, 8 cups water, 1 bunch fresh thyme, 10 fresh parsley sprigs, 2 cloves garlic, smashed, 12 peppercorns, and 1 bay leaf. Simmer for 1 hour, strain over soup pot, discard poultry bones, herbs and vegetables. Season with salt to taste. Pour slightly cooled stock into containers and refrigerate overnight. Skim layer of fat from top of broth and freeze or use.

*This will work with any type of meat bones, including the remains of that Thanksgiving turkey.

And there you have it…everything you need for a successful soup season. Use this stock whenever a recipe calls for it, but especially in your favorite soup recipes. Homemade stock makes it even better. Until next time…


Simmering pork broth with sage.



Planting Garlic


This past Sunday, I finally managed to find a  couple of hours to put the garden to bed for the winter, and my timing couldn’t have been better. Temperatures the last couple of days haven’t climbed out of the thirties and there’s a definite winter bite in the air. After pulling up the last of the Swiss chard, red cabbage, and carrots and doing some general housekeeping in the strawberry bed, I decided to plant some garlic.

Long ago a friend told me how easy it was to plant garlic, but it took me years to actually get around to trying it. When I planted garlic with my oldest (above) a couple of years ago, we used organic garlic I purchased at a local farmers’ market. It worked great! From one lovely head of garlic we grew 6 new heads with ease.

But I had read somewhere that you should really use garlic from a local garden center, as garden centers will carry only varieties that are hardy to your growing zone, so that’s what I did this time. (Although I’m guessing that garlic I bought at the farmers’ market was most likely local as well, no?) I planted a few different varieties so we can do a little taste and see which ones we like best.


I started by digging holes, 6 inches deep and about 6 inches apart, one for each clove.


Then I separated each of the heads of garlic into individual cloves. From this point on, planting garlic is very much like planting tulip bulbs; simply place each clove root-side down (and pointy side up) into each hole.


The rest is easy…cover with dirt, pat down the soil, and give the cloves one last drink before saying goodbye for the winter.

Then, the next spring, with a little watering…you will have a a sturdy row of very healthy-looking garlic plants…


That will grow into lovely heads of garlic within a couple of months! So if you have time before the ground freezes, I encourage you to give it a try…for minimal effort and cost, you can easily grow garlic just like this in your own garden.

Now for a little teaser…this is one of many fun and easy projects that will be included in my upcoming book, Dig In! 12 Easy Gardening Projects Using Kitchen Scraps, due to hit shelves in the spring. Until then, check out some of the winter projects in The Nitty Gritty Gardening Book!