Faux Pho: Dinner with the BEST Friend

all photos courtesy of LEO

The morning I moved out of my last apartment into my new apartment, Lauren arrived at 8am with coffee. The movers, of course, were four mysterious and unapologetic hours late. After they ripped me off in every possible way, on the only unbearably hot day of the summer, Lauren took me to Target to buy toilet paper and a new shower curtain, then made me a dirty martini and slept over so I wouldn't feel lonely in my new place.

One of the movers - I suppose it wasn't his fault the truck broke down - observed,

"Is she your sister? Or your mother?"

(This might seem offensive except for the fact that Lauren is so obviously not my mother, let alone my sister, that it's only hilarious.)

"No," I laughed. "Just a friend."

"Ooooh," he nodded vigorously. "A very good friend. The BEST friend."

He had a point. I mean, who else - besides my actual mother - would come over and make me soup when I'm all hoarse and coughing and feverish and watch 4 episodes of 30-Rock with me that she'd already seen? Who else but the BEST friend?

no secret pork here.

We'd been plotting a reprise of Bittman's Faux Pho for a few weeks, and in light of certain revelations made on this very site my love of all things MB has escalated to a minor frenzy (or maybe it was just the fever). I wanted this soup, urgently.

God bless Mark Bittman: I always eye the Pho in restaurants, but even at the place my vegan friends go on Argyle, I have a sneaking suspicion that there's some secret fish in the "vegetarian" soup, if not also some secret pork.

Ew. Pork shouldn't be a secret.

lime, chili, broccoli, scallion, napa, basil, sprout, cilantro, tofu, carrot, udon.
something mysterious happens to the basil in this soup:
it begins to taste like coconut, and then like licorice.
i can't explain it; i can only savor it.

As I lined up the accessories for the Faux Pho's photo shoot, Lauren remarked, "Peter is never this patient. He always complains that the food will get cold."

Well, that's what friends are for.

(for those of you who missed out: a great piece on why we maybe can feel hopeful about our food culture by MB.)

Faux Pho (Mark Bittman! You're so clever!)

(adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

6 oz udon noodles (I like to have this kind on hand)
2 tbs peanut oil
2 tbs minced garlic
1 tbs fresh grated ginger
1/2 tsp freshly ground coriander seed
1/2 tsp freshly ground cinnamon
1/2 cup soy sauce + more to taste (I love you, Salt. Let's get married.)
1 cup of diced tofu
2 bay leaves
a handful chopped cilantro
a handful chopped basil
1 fresh thai chili, sliced
2 scallions, sliced
1 lime, cut into wedges
a handful of fresh bean sprouts
2 leaves napa or purple cabbage, shredded
1 cup of broccoli florets, briefly blanched
1 carrot, grated

In a pot of salted, boiling water, cook the pasta for 5 minutes or until just tender. Drain, rinse in cold water, and set aside.

In a deep skillet or medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When shimmering, add the garlic and ginger, and stir until just fragrant. Add the coriander and cinnamon, and stir until you begin to feel sort of dizzy and intoxicated by the smell of it all (or maybe it's just the fever). Add 6 cups of water, soy sauce, and bay leaves, and simmer while you prepare your vegetables.

Ideally, once Lauren has finished doing all the hard work (i.e., chopping one million vegetables), you'll arrange them in austere little dishes just like CYY's. Just before serving, add the tofu to the broth and simmer for a few minutes.

Put a mound of noodles in the bottom of a comically over-sized bowl (LEO prefers a larger ratio of noodles to broth; while CYY prefers a larger ratio of broth to noodles) and ladle broth over the noodles. Garnish with vegetables, herbs, and accouterments as you please, and toast to friendship with a mug of fresh ginger-lemon tea.


Matthew Cressler Demands a Dinner Party

all pictures courtesy of LEO

I have met Matthew Cressler a total of three times:
Once, at the office when he came to pick up Mary Ellen.
Once, at the American Academy of Religion.
Once, in Grant Park, with 100,000 other giddy Chicagoans (granted, a lot of deep bonds were formed that night).

So, it's sort of - you know - forward, right, for him to invite himself over for a dinner party?

Apparently every time Mary Ellen cooks for him, he asks, "When is Cassie going to have us over for a dinner party?" Now, Matt, if you're reading this, I just want to say - I think Mary Ellen is a pretty rad girl, and I gather she's a decent cook; in general, it's bad form to talk about some other chef's cooking when you've just been cooked a nice meal. It seems particularly bad form if you've never eaten said other chef's cooking. So I'm feeling obligated to throw a dinner party just to keep you from continuing to put your foot in your mouth.

salad of heirloom lettuces, market grapes, sunflower sprouts,
shaved chioggia beets, oregon bleu

I'm thinking December 13th, what do you think Matt? Does that work for you and Mary Ellen? I want to make sure your dinner party fits into your schedule. Do you have any dietary restrictions, or foods I should avoid? Any foods you're particularly fond of? How about any preferences for fresh flowers? What about lighting - do you prefer votive candles or tea lights? Sparkling water or still?

So, I'm banking on waning readership with this one, but who else would like to come to Matthew Cressler's Dinner Party (aside from the usual Chicagoans, you're already invited and you know who you are)? Rumor has it Guy will come up from Woodstock; other out-of-town diners (including, but not limited to, those from: Durham, Seattle, New Haven, Bellevue, Cambridge, Portland, NYC) are invited to take a little trip to Chicago, and since Matt is taking care of a wine pairing with each course, visiting travelers should plan on bringing nothing but their fine selves.

Until then: a recipe from the last dinner party.

Fresh Sage Pasta, Foraged* Mushrooms, Red Kuri Squash, Sage

(the mushrooms and squash preparation is inspired by a Thomas Keller recipe.)

(for the pasta)
3 tbs finely chopped sage
1 c unbleached all-purpose flour
healthy pinch of salt
1 large, fresh egg
1 tsp good olive oil

(for the mushrooms and squash)
NOTE: The kuri shell is very very hard - you'll need extremely big muscles, like Chef Yum Yum's, and a very sharp knife to peel it and chop it to the requisite 1/2 inch dice. You should have about 3 cups squash once it is chopped.
1 medium sized red kuri squash; if red kuri is not available, you can use butternut, but you will likely live to regret the decision.
canola oil
1 tbs butter
12 sage leaves

12 oz. mixed foraged mushrooms
canola oil
1 tbs butter
1 medium shallot, minced
1 tbs fresh thyme

(finishing the pasta)
4 tbs butter
2 tbs minced chives
1 tbs fresh italian parsley
1/2 lemon

(for the pasta)
Dear Readers, there are many, many great recipes for making fresh pasta out there; the ingredients above draw from the Greens Cookbook; may I also commend to you any of Mark Bittman's recipes, as well as the excellent, excellent class Amber and I took at Terragusto (more on that in a later post). It is far too late, and far too illegal for me to copy the 3 pages of pasta making instruction that Deborah Madison offers. Buy the book; it is worth the investment, and easier on the eyes than a blog, anyways.

(for the mushrooms and squash)
In a large, deep and heavy bottomed pan (le creuset!), heat a thin layer of canola oil over medium high heat. Add the butter and let it brown a bit, then toss in half the sage leaves and half the squash (you'll want to fill the pan but not crowd the squash), and salt and pepper to taste. Cook squash, tossing occasionally, until well caramelized and brown on the outside, and melting on the inside. On a paper towel lined baking sheet, drain the squash and sage leaves separately. Repeat with remaining squash. Set aside, and wipe out your pan with a paper towel.

Heat another layer of canola oil in the same pan, and add the butter to brown. Toss in the mushrooms and raise the heat; cook until the mushrooms begin to brown, and raise heat to evaporate any excess water they release. Add the shallot, thyme, salt and pepper, and cook 3 or 4 minutes. Drain on another paper towel lined baking sheet, and wipe out the pan with a paper towel.

As soon as your pasta water comes to a hot and bothered boil, brown remaining 4 tbs of butter in your pan. Toss in the parsley and chives and let them crackle a little, and then, carefully carefully squeeze the lemon half into the browned butter (it will splatter!). Cook your pasta for just a minute or so, then drain and toss with just 1/2 the browned butter. Toss the remaining butter with the squash and mushrooms and heat until just warmed. To plate, nestle a small serving of pasta next to a scoop or two of the mushrooms and squash. Serves 6, exactly.

*If by "foraged" one means "bought at the Green City Market," then, yes! in fact I did forage those mushrooms!