Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My first traditional Phở Gà & a twist.

There are some things in life that you don't need to have experience in for them to just look appealing. Cupcakes, a nice icy drink, or for me, a good clear broth soup. I don't know what it is, but I've always just gone nuts for a good Miso or Tom Yum. For some bizarre reason, I had never ventured to try Vietnamese chicken soup (phở gà pronounced "Fuh Guh") I'm insane, I know!

I found an amazing comprehensive recipe on the Spicy Foodie, a food blog I have become very fond of, and while the list of ingredients and instructions may seem a little daunting, once you have a good read through and get your mind around it, you'll see it's not as scary as it looks, and once you get the hang of it, it'll be a walk in the park. I was determined to have the recipe turn out as right and best it could, so I made it my mission to get amongst the markets & source the freshest spices & herbs. It honestly made all the difference, I think!
Full credit of the following phở gà recipe to the Spicy Foodie, drop past their site & have a look at their amazing yums! The photos in this post are my own ^_^

Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup: Pho Ga


Serves: 4
Broth Ingredients:
  • 1 chicken carcass
  • 2 chicken wings
  • 2 chicken breast, skinless
  • water
  • large pot
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut in half and do not peel
  • 1 large piece of fresh ginger, do not peel
Broth Spices:
  • 1 tsp. coriander seed
  • 2 green cardamom pods, bruised
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 whole cloves
Additional Ingredients and Garnishes:
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp. fish sauce
  • rice noodles cooked according to package instructions
  • lime wedges
  • fresh cilantro leaves
  • fresh mint leaves
  • scallions sliced
  • sliced chile
  • bean sprouts
Start the broth:
  1. Place chicken pieces and water in a pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil. Use a colander to drain the chicken and discard the broth. Set the chicken pieces aside. Rinse/wash the pot out or have a new clean pot ready to use. Next rinse off the chicken pieces then place back inside the pot.
Charring the onion and ginger:

  1. The ginger and onion need to be charred. Place them both over an open flame/gas stove flame, or on top of a very hot griddle, or they can also be charred under the broiler setting in the oven. Turn the onion and ginger to char evenly throughout. (I used an open flame and it took me about 8 minutes.) Set aside to cool down.(I used a hot griddle & wore an oven mitt to protect my hands from the high temperatures!)

Toast the spices:

  1. In a clean pan dry roast the spices to bring out the scents and flavors. Roast for 2 minutes stirring often to prevent burning. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.
Now back to the charred ginger and onion.
  1. Peel the onions, and using a knife gently scrape away the charred ginger skin. Cut the ginger into 4 chunks and use the flat edge of the knife to bruise the ginger.
The final broth:
  1. Place the ginger, onions, cooled spices into the pot with the chicken pieces. (Alternatively the spices may be placed inside a spice bag before putting in pot.) Add 4 liters or 8 cups of water to the pot. Then add the 1 tsp granulated sugar and 2 tbsp. fish sauce. Cover and bring to a boil, once boiling reduce heat down to medium low and leave a small crack to allow steam to escape. Simmer the soup for at least an hour, longer if time allowed. I simmer my pho for about 2-3 hours. The longer the better.
Once the soup has finished simmering, strain and discard the spices and carcass — NOT THE BROTH. Thinly slice or shred the chicken breast. Add some cooked rice noodles to the soup bowls then ladle the chicken broth over the noodles. You can either serve the additional garnishes on the side so everyone can add their own or top the soup with them.

I made this for Alex and I with much success! We ate like kings and still had a good amount of broth leftover, so I placed it in an airtight container, in the fridge to be reheated the next day. I decided to put my own twist on this serving, and this is what I did:

- Pan fried a skinless, chicken thigh fillet off the bone, which was dusted slightly with Vegeta powdered chicken stock, just to really enhance the chickeny flavour. It really added to the flavour of the broth, which I reheated to a gentle simmer on the stovetop, rather than risk harming flavours with the microwave.
- Added some raw Enoki mushrooms, Boy Choy and crushed peanuts. It was delish!
- Pan fried a skinless, chicken thigh fillet off the bone, which was dusted slightly with Vegeta powdered chicken stock, just to really enhance the chickeny flavour. It really added to the flavour of the broth, which I reheated to a gentle simmer on the stovetop, rather than risk harming flavours with the microwave.
- Added some raw Enoki mushrooms, Boy Choy and crushed peanuts. It was delish!
Do you have a preferred twist on Pho? I'd love to hear it! This was my first ever experience with it, and I am very keen to make some more!
I hope this inspires you to go out and give making your own bone stock broth from scratch a go, if someone as kitchen illiterate as me managed okay, you'll be fine!

I've been cooking a lot with salmon, and even managed to convert Alex to eating it! I'll get around to posting the recipes, promise! 

Happy eating!



Sunday, February 16, 2014

Baked Salmon Filo Parcels with Lemon, Mustard & Rocket

I've been trying to kick my own butt into getting into the kitchen more & cook more healthy, nutritious food, without over complication or under-flavour. I'd like to keep my blog updated with these recipes as I go, so here's one of the first cabs off the rank!
I'm really pleased with how these turned out on my first go, they were relatively painless, quick and so tasty, you'd never believe there was no salt added to the dish!

A quick word on substitutions:
I made salmon for myself, but Alex is yet to be converted to oily fish, so I made one for him with an equal sized portion of chicken thigh, a good lean alternative, though not as full of essential fatty acids & omega three, it makes up for that in flavour retention. A word of caution for baking fish & chicken dishes in the oven at the same time; they DO require different core temperatures to be fully cooked (165F for chicken, 145F for fish; 165F would be a very over cooked fish and 145F chicken would result in food poisoning!) As well as that, you do not want to risk cross contamination, so cook the fish and chicken on separate trays, so you can take the fish out early if you need to :)
Some vegetarian & vegan friends of mine have asked what kind of substitutions would work, and I should think any vegetable that bakes well would go nicely; I think chunks of sweet potato and cauliflower cut up into florets would translate beautifully! Just make sure to double check that you purchase vegan filo.

Baked Salmon Filo Parcels with Lemon, Mustard and Rocket.

- Filo pastry, 4 sheets
- 100g skinless salmon fillet per parcel (or chicken thigh/vegetables)
- Wholegrain mustard
- 1 lemon
- A good handful of rocket for each parcel

How to:
- Preheat oven to 190C (210C conventional oven)
- To prepare parcels: Place filo sheet on a clean benchtop, spray lightly with cooking oil spray. Place next sheet on top, spray & repeat until you have a stack of four sheets of filo pastry, cut the sheets in half.
- Place 1 salmon fillet in the center of the pastry square. Squeeze some lemon juice on top, add a teaspoon of mustard & season with cracked black pepper.
- Gently place a handful of rocket on top of the fillet, being careful not to go too over the top, as it will make the next step more difficult. Rocket does cook down, but it's not like you can't eat any leftovers as an accompanying salad with a dash of balsamic vinegar & a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts.

- Very carefully, as filo is a fickle son of a b- as the filo has a tendency to flake & crumble, fold the edges of the pastry in to enclose the salmon. I find brushing with a small amount of olive oil helps to get the edges to stick together, I also used some toothpicks to keep the edges stuck down. Make sure you remove them before you tuck in though!

- Spray the top with a little cooking oil, making sure there's a little hole at the very top to let the steam out. Bake parcels for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. If you're cooking chicken, stick a meat thermometer into the meat in the parcel and make sure it's over 165F!

I served mine with a rocket & baby spinach salad, and some super yummy sweet potato smash, which would accompany chicken or vegetable versions of this pastry beautifully. Enjoy!


Friday, February 14, 2014

Quick, easy & tasty beans on toast!

Those who know me, know how much I detest cooking that isn't dessert or some kind of baking. I mean, don't get me wrong; I start with all kinds of intentions, but usually just end up a total flustered mess with a messy kitchen & a meal that didn't really turn out the way I wanted it to. But I've made it my mission to really kick my own butt & get out of my comfort zone, into the kitchen and making some good, healthy meals.

I have been referencing a great high protein, low GI cookbook, but my main issue with it is that I really am not a fan of handling or cooking meat that isn't fish, but I have managed to transform what was originally a side dish into a satisfying meal without having to worry about cross contamination. Allow me to present, fancied up beans on toast!

I know, I know. Beans on toast hardly stirs up the imagination, but with a few swaps & twists, you can turn a pretty plain idea into something fab & delicious!

- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 400g can of mixed beans, drained & rinsed (the recipe originally called for just cannellini beans, but I like mixed beans more!)
- 400g crushed tomatoes
- 150g baby spinach (a few good handfuls)
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- ½ tsp dried basil
- Wholegrain sourdough bread, rubbed with a clove of garlic, to serve on

 - Ready-made pesto (the cashew basil pesto by Copperpot is AMAZING!) Otherwise, blitz some up super quick with this recipe:
- 40g (1 large bunch) basil leaves
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 2 tbsp finely grated parmesan (or appropriate vegan alternative)
- 2 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted (cashews work wonderfully too!)
- 1 ½ tbsp olive oil
- Put the basil leaves, garlic, lemon zest, parmesan & pine nuts in a large jug, whiz with a stick blender until ingredients are finely chopped. Alternatively, this can be done in a food processor.
-Add olive oil to mixture with 2 tbsp of hot water, whiz to thoroughly combine mixture until it develops the consistency of pesto. Season with fresh cracked black pepper. If you have some left over, place it in an airtight container, with a layer of olive oil to cover it & keep it in the fridge. Eat it within five days; honestly, it’ll be hard not to!

Beans recipe:

- Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, and cook the onion for 4-5 mins, or until soft. Because onion has a tendency to upset my tummy unless it’s very well cooked & soft, I prefer to go by texture rather than time.
- When onions are at a good consistency, add tomatoes and beans, reduce the heat and simmer for ten minutes. Keep an eye on it, stirring occasionally.
- Add in the garlic & cook for another 5 minutes.
- Add in the spinach, a handful at a time, and carefully fold into the mix until wilted. Stir in the basil & take off heat. Serve on toasted sourdough, with a good blob of pesto on top. Quick and easy! Perfect for when the weather is being deplorable and you want to stay away from a hot stove top.
This recipe is easily modified, if you like your meat, some crispy Chorizo would be a nice addition, it makes a nice stuffing in capsicums or mushroom cups. Let me know what kind of tweaks you make!


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tongue Split, take two! A comprehensive healing guide.

Tongue Split: Take two!
Warning: The following post contains graphic imagery of a tongue split, and the healing process. I've put them after a click through, but do not read any further than my sign off if you'd like to avoid the pictures, thanks!

I know what you’re all thinking, in fact, it’s along a very similar vein to what I’m thinking. How on EARTH was I THIS INSANE to do this to myself again?!
The fact of the matter is that there were a few contributing factors to this decision, my split did what many splits have done in the past & grew back a fair bit. Unfortunately, the scar tissue grew back a little lop sided which made one of my tongues appear longer than the other and also inhibited activity, which was more than a bit of a bummer. So, after consultation with my good friend & skilled body modification artist Hugh Mattay, we decided to resplit my tongue MUCH deeper. This meant splitting right down to the base of my tongue, and putting some heavy sutures in to keep things in place while I’m healing.
Being the cocky little shit that I am, I honestly didn’t think that this time would be “that bad”, because the worst of my last split were all the stitches in the tip of my tongue. Oh how wrong I was. I am keeping a day to day journal, documenting my coping and aftercare so it may be of help or reference for anyone else deciding to go down the same path of deep tongue splits.
It is also worth noting, while it’s not absolutely necessary, getting a course of antibiotics while you’re healing will definitely do you a world of good. Keflex is excellent, I’m on Flopen 500mg currently and it just gives the healing a bit of extra boost.

Day 1, the day of the split.
You will need:
- Paper towel
- Pen and paper to communicate with because NO TALKING.
It makes the pain worse, the less you do, the better you’ll feel. Stick to writing shit down if you absolutely have to, don’t stress yourself out by trying to charade what you want.
- Ibuprofen plus codeine, any anti-inflammatory drug with extra painkiller to help you through the night.
- Travellers neck pillow to elevate that head, keep the drool pouring out your mouth. Don’t try and spit or swallow it, just let it flow like a putrid waterfall, wipe your mouth as you need it with paper towel.
- A plastic bag, tear off one side of the handles to make a little bag bib you can tie behind your neck. Use this to just catch your drool as its pouring out of your mouth, just chuck your paper towel in there too.
- Blankets. Your body will be going into a degree of shock, it’s important to stay warm, teeth chattering on freshly split tongue ain’t good.
- WATER WATER WATER. It’s going to be damn near impossible to get it to go down, but persevere. Holding iced water in your mouth before just letting it out into the sink helps with the swelling. You MUST endeavor to get as much fluids into you as possible.
-Frozen peas. Those things are amazing, they contour to whatever they’re icing and you are really gonna need to ice those glands. ICE THEM!
- Difflam C (anti-inflammatory antiseptic mouthwash) keep it in the fridge & dilute it half and half with water. Swish this through your mouth every hour.
- Saline solution, you know, pure saline for contact lenses (make SURE it’s JUST saline solution without any added nasties that may really hurt you.) Also keep that in the fridge and alternate that with Difflam C washing out your mouth every hour.
- Clean towels. You’re going to drool like crazy when you sleep, it’s best if you have something to drool onto that’s easily washable than pillows. I found folding a towel in half & putting that on my pillows was sufficient insulation against my drooling, just make sure you change it every night because the pong is just not something nice to sleep in!

I’m feeling okay post split, not nearly as traumatised and fucked up as I thought I would be. I am absolutely loaded with as much aftercare products and information that Hugh can pile on me, including a wad of paper towel thicker than my fist to catch my drool.
I am exhausted when I get home, I pass out in a pile of drool on the couch, woken a few hours later by the pain in my mouth. It’s incredible, but unfortunately familiar. Because my split is so deep into my tongue, the first thing I should do is ice my glands under my neck, 20 mins on, 20 mins off. It doesn’t sound like something that would even affect you, but trust me, when your jawline all but disappears because of swollen glands, you realize how much you kinda need them not to be swollen. Swallowing is next level pain, and dang nearly impossible with two cocktail weenies for tongues and golfball sized saliva glands. I actually cried from the frustration of being unable to swallow my water, it kept coming out of my nose. After my initial hissy fit, I figured out a way to get it down. Memorize that motion, you’re going to need it.

Day two: Post split hell.
You will need:
- As above.
- If you’re like me & a total coffee addict, get iced coffees. Not the shit in a bottle, the kind of real fresh coffee with ice cubes. It’s heaven for a swollen tongue. I mean, by all means, drink that shit in the bottle if that’s your jam, but I actually like real coffee ;)
- Liquid breakfasts. I can’t even begin to stress how ESSENTIAL these should be for every person splitting their tongue. They are cold, full of nutrition and make you feel full, all without too much pain imbibing them. I got a pack of Nutrigrain flavor, but there are loads of other options, including soy/vegan.
- ZOOPER DOOPERS. If you’re not familiar with these, they are basically icey poles without popsticks. Bite off a bit at a time and just let it melt in your mouth over your tongue. Very incredibly soothing relief.
- Cold custard. For some reason, it doesn’t suck to slurp things out of a cup. Pour some custard in a mug and get some substantial feeling sustenance.

I woke up in utter agony. My glands hate me. My body hates me. I’m questioning why I did this to myself again. The stress of healing that is being put on my body is exhausting and I literally slept the day away, waking up to take painkillers and wash my mouth out. It’s the best thing you can do, intake fluids and be clean when you’re awake, but just rest rest rest in a warm dark place. That’s all I managed that day. Couldn’t even close my mouth, just had to lie there with drool pouring out of me, I was miserable.

Day three: You’re coming to the top of the hill
You will need:
- As above.
- I ventured into lukewarm food territory. Stuff like super plain and bland cup of soups like Cream of Mushroom are amazing, leave them to get to room temperature and sip it down. Make sure you wash your mouth out, the last thing you wanna have is bits of freezedried mushroom going all funny in your mouth.

Swallowing has become less of a trial, I’m less afraid of getting fluids into me, taking painkillers has become easier, as has imbibing liquid foods. I’m told this is the pointy end of feeling rotten, and I hope Hugh’s right, I’m proper over drooling into a bag!
By now, my tongue has this putrid white film over the tastebuds. That’s just tastebuds dying off & lymph, but because my tongue isn’t moving or being exfoliated by food, it’s just sitting there all gross like. Don’t worry, it’s not anything bad for you, it’s just stinky!

Day Four: The wind at your back.
You will need:
- As above.
- I managed to eat some lukewarm pasta, but do not attempt this if you don’t feel you can. It’s not worth stressing your body out over!

I noticed that I am actually able to close my mouth now! My teeth can even touch without hurting my tongues! Yay! So I thought it would be a good time to try eating some barely warm mac and cheese, a noodle at a time, not even chewing, just swallowing them whole. Having some icy water on hand really helped with whatever couldn’t get swallowed & washed it all down. I feel so full and sated, it’s the first real solid  food I’ve eaten in days and always gets me feeling a bit better about life, the universe and everything. In fact, I’ve been well enough to get on my laptop and write all of this out! Keeping my glands iced and on top of taking painkillers, it’s been a lot easier to get fluids into me which is making me feel a whole lot better. Water is so important anyway, doubly so when you’re healing!

Day Five & Six: You’re getting there.
You will need:
- As above
- Giving more substantial foods a try is easier as the days pass.
Even if you don’t chew the individual pasta noodles, but swallow them whole. Just make sure they’re cool enough that you can hold one on your wrist or lips without feeling too much heat; the last thing you want to do is give your poor sensitive mouth a burn while its trying to heal.

By this time, my tongue is starting to feel way better, but it’s where the stitches are that are causing me the most grief. As anyone who has had stitches will know and remember, when the stitches start to get to the point of being achey and almost itchy and there’s nothing you can do about it until they come out, so you just have to hold fast.
I managed to drink some nice warm coffee & even some nice chamomile tea (which is really good for the soreness and swelling of the tongue) which is a nice change to all the icey drinks I have been downing recently. Be on top of fluid intake and be sure to get at least two litres into your body a day, while it is healing it is your cleansing organs that are most stressed, especially with all the painkillers that will be in your system, so make sure they are kept good and flushed out, it will make you feel a lot better.

Day Seven: First of the stitches out!
You will need:
- A nice icy beverage after they come out to combat the tiny miniscule amount of swelling that can occur.

The seventh day is a day of celebration! This is when I took the first of my stitches out, the ones more at the front of the split. I chose to leave the ones at the base of the split, the anchoring stitches, in for a few more days to absolutely guarantee a good deep heal on my split.
Now that the first of the stitches are out, its baby steps to solid food again! The base stitches are still sore, and they will aggravate your glands if you bite off more than you can chew (literally and figuratively!) so try to stick to softer foods like pasta and puddings while you’re still trying to get coordinated with your tongue. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day and your tongue has been out of action for a week and now has a massive division down the middle, it IS going to take a little bit to get recombobulated and get the hang of chewing/eating with a tongue split. Don’t push yourself, and keep your fluids high and often, especially if you’re waiting a few more days for the stitches to come out.

Day Ten: The last of the suffering.
You will need:
- A self-congratulatory pat on the back. Well done! You survived recreationally cutting your tongue in half!
The last of the stitches out, I felt on top of the world. I ate some chips with relative ease, my tongue still felt a bit disoriented but it’s getting its bearings back together slowly. I can’t tell you how good it felt to have the last of those little stitchy bastards out of my mouth!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the pain and discomfort isn’t exactly over yet. The reason I had my tongue resplit was not only because I wanted it deeper, but because I didn’t look after my first one well enough and had quite a lot of regrowth. This is something that can be avoided with a technique called tongue training, and I’m afraid it isn’t pretty.
Essentially, grasp a tongue in each hand with a clean piece of gauze, and pull your tongue as far out of your head as you can manage. Pull it apart as far as you can bear, twist them over the top of each other, clap them together, make them walk, make them flippin’ tap dance, just make sure you’re moving that talky muscle and that you’re doing it vigorously.  Here, I even filmed a quick lil example of the glamorous practice:

This will prevent, as best it can, regrowth of the tissue and the tongue healing back together. No, it’s not the most fun ever, but you wanna know whats even less fun? Resplitting your tongue because you didn’t do this in the first place and ended up with heaps of regrowth.
Be sure to give your poor ol’ mouth a good rinse with Difflam C after each training session and try to aim to do it morning and night, preferably after a nice warm cup of tea (chamomile or peppermint is best) so the muscles are nice and relaxed and elastic. Do this for as long as you can, two/three weeks should have your split talky muscle in ship shape. Then you can relax and revel in your new reptilian awesomeness. Go you good thing!

If you have any questions or queries that weren’t covered in this presentation, please feel free to ask me & I’ll do my best to help you out!

P.S Stay tuned for another how-to guide on looking after your hard mod stitches!