Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"Pho Real" Vietnamese food in South Charleston

Har har. Please indulge my cheesy food humor. Seriously. The pho jokes are endless. But I digress.

The Hubs and I recently discovered pho.

Last winter, I made the recipe for it in my The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper cookbook. (On a side note, this cookbook is no-fail. Do yourself a favor and buy it. Now.) I'd never had pho before, but I'd watched Anthony Bourdain eat it a number of times on No Reservations. If you've followed the show for any lenght of time, you know how much he loves his pho. Mine was actually pretty good.

Flash forward just last week, and we again found ourselves ogling Tony Bourdain slurp up some pho. I said to the Hubs, "Ya know, that pho I made wasn't bad, but I'd like to actually try it at a restaurant sometime." Like any shameless Generation Y'er, I made some words to that effect my Facebook status. Within minutes I had at least a handful of recommendations on where I could have some pho in the comments.

South Charleston!! Wait, South Charleston?!? Yep. Pho Real. No really, Pho Vinh Long on D Street.

We stared out with an order of spring rolls. They were delish, but I was surprised they had shrimp in them. I don't think the description mentioned shrimp, and it's something I try to avoid ordering unless I know where it came from. But they were good anyway. They came with a miso dipping sauce that was sweet. It kinda reminded me of the peanut butter and syrup sandwiches we used to get on vegetable beef soup and sandwich day in elementary school. But I put a little bit of sriracha hot sauce in it and it was divine!

I'm admittedly not familiar with Vietnamese cuisine, and I didn't recognize any of the dishes on the menu except for pho. There were several different kinds of pho, and I went with the combination version. It had three kinds of beef in it: london broil, meatballs and something else I don't recall. The Hubs stayed safe and ordered the same. I'm not sure if that's what we got, but what we got was so, so delicious.

It came with the lime, jalepenos and bean sprouts on the side (much better with bean sprouts than when I used alfalfa sprouts--but that's what I had on hand), but I noticed there was no cilantro. Eh, no biggie. I added just a little bit of sriracha and it was perfect. The Hubs added too much and his was a little too hot, even for him. We both slurped up those rice noodles and commented about how filling the dish was. The price was pretty reasonable, too. We spent about twenty dollars for two spring rolls, two large soups and Jeremy had a soft drink. I will definitely be back, especially for a bowl of that piping hot, steaming soup once the weather turns cold.

All I can say is, thanks, Josh, Lindsay, Jody, Drew and Brian for pointing me in the direction of Pho Vinh Long! To borrow a phrase from a fellow pho lover, the food was pretty "pho-king awesome!"

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Greens, potatoes and mountains: the past week's eats.

Sometimes I end up with a bunch of random pictures of food on my phone. Yes, I my food pictures are almost exclusively taken with an iPhone 4. It takes better pics than my 'ol point and click. Plus, it's always in my pocket or within an easy reach.

This was one of those weeks. I had taken the most stunning pictures of swiss chard last week as I was washing it, but I didn't take a picture of the final dish. It wasn't nearly as beautiful as the fresh stuff. It's hard to imagine this shooting up out of the ground. It was so colorful, it looked fake. But it was not. In fact, it was delicious. I was making an Asian fish dish, and I made the chard on the side wilted with a little mirin and seasame oil. It paired with the fish in the loveliest of ways.

Seriously, how could I not share these pictures? They really don't do the chard justice. So beautiful! I bought it from the Monroe Farm Market. I can't remember which grower I got it from.

Here's a couple pics I quickly grabbed of the bushel of kennebec potatoes I bought. I work with a man who has a farm in the northern part of the state. He sells a good bit of his produce and plants at a local farm stand, but he can always be counted on to bring some of his wares down when he comes to Charleston. I bought a bushel of potatoes for $15, which I think is a steal (Although, the price was $10 last year). A bushel will last us all winter. Last year, we kept them in the garage, and by the time planting season rolled around, we had a handful of really soft potatoes left that had sprouted some impressive eyes, so I just planted them. I'd never tried to grow them before, but they may be one of the easiest things to grow. I'm definitely going to plant the leftovers again next spring.

Look at the size of that sucker! Softball-sized! I like kennebec potatoes because they have thin skins, and we almost always eat the skins. Primarily because I'm too lazy to peel them, but the skins are where most of the minerals and vitamins are, so it's healthier to eat them anyway. They probably would be outside the 250 mile limit that I consider "local," but they're from a farmer that I know and he was coming to Charleston anyway, so I don't count those "food miles."

Last weekend, we rented a cabin up in the mountains with my in-laws. It was so nice to get away, and Canaan Valley is one of my favorite places to visit in West Virginia. We spent several days there last year exploring on our anniversary trip. It was such a memorable trip, that we can't go back without being reminded of all the fun we had there last year. We took the family to our favorite place to eat there, Hellbender Burritos in Davis, WV. This time I had the Lost Hiker, which was sauted mushrooms, tomatoes, lettuce, rice, beans and guacamole with homemade blue cheese. It was outstanding. Jeremy had the Hellbender with shrimp, which had rice, blue cheese, buffalo sauce. You could order it with chicken or shrimp. I tasted it, and it was super hot--too hot for me. The newbies in our group were overwhelmingly impressed. Everyone was stuffed and satisfied.

Right up the road from Hellbender Burritos is Moutain State Brewing Company, a microbrew that has been cranking out awesome beers for the past few years. We took three growlers with us, and got those filled--twice. This place only has four beers in regular rotation, but they do all four really well. I cannot choose a favorite because they are all so good, but I am partial to the Coal Miner's Daughter Stout.

The next night, we got pizzas from the little cafe across the road from Hellbender Burritos, Sirianni's Cafe. I had never been inside the original location before. I'd only had their take out, but I went inside to pick up the pizzas. Wow! What a cozy place to sit and have a plate of pasta or a pizza! It reminded me of an old country store, but not in a cheesy Cracker Barrel sort of way. And the pizza is fantastic. I've never tried the pasta, but that is on my list for next time.

In between meals, we took in the beautiful fall scenery in the area. This is seriously one of the most beautiful parts of the state.

Canaan Valley

Spruce Knob
Blackwater Falls

I can't wait to go back. Jeremy and I have been known to make the two and a half hour drive on a Saturday afternoon for Hellbender's and to get our growlers filled. Now that we've gotten a recent taste, we might find ourselves jonesing for it and head back up.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

This video made me squirm.

This video from The Center for Science in the Public Interest was going viral yesterday. You might recognize a passing similarity to the Coca-Cola polar bears. That's no doubt on purpose. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet, so I'm neither recommending or discouraging anyone to watch it--just telling you my reaction to it and the issue. Make up your own mind. It definitely hit home for me--I had second thoughts about the mini Twix staring me down in my office yesterday afternoon. If you choose not to watch it, here is a link to a Yahoo News story yesterday discussing the video, so at least you can get the gist of what is in it.

If I've learned one thing since I started taking an interest in food politics, it's that NO one likes to be told how to eat. Food plays such a deep personal and emotional role in all our lives, criticizing how someone eats is almost an affront to who they are. But, I don't think anyone can deny that we have a public health problem with obesity and diet-related illnesses.

This video reminded me of my grandfather, who was a type-2 diabetic later in his life. While he didn't have the complications that the papa bear has in this video, his life was dramatically changed by the diagnosis. He was reminded of that at every meal and sometimes in between as he'd prick his fingers to check his sugar. I remember a lady who cared for him as he neared the end of his life (and had suffered a stroke and needed round the clock assistance), bought him a birthday cake from the local grocery store. She proudly proclaimed that it had sugar free icing so he could enjoy it.

That strikes me as so absurd now. Imagine, an entire industry of food tailored so that those who are diabetic can continue enjoying the same food they always have. It didn't even occur to my grandfather to CHANGE his diet outside of switching to sugar-free food products. I suspect there was very little discussion or support from his family doctor about changing his diet, although I can't be sure. I wasn't in the room with him at the doctor's office, but if it wasn't discussed in a gentle and supportive way (remember no one wants to be told how to eat...), it was a huge missed opportunity.

The other thing that the video made me think about is all of the effort the soda industry has been going to to cooperate with government and various groups promoting health and fighting obesity. I certainly applaud some of the effort. The posting of calories on soda now, especially the calories for the entire container, if it is, for example, a 12-ounce can, rather than per serving, which was eight ounces, is a step in the right direction. And I was pleased to see Coca Cola widely offering smaller-sized individual containers, such as 12-ounce plastic bottles and eight-ounce cans. However, serving sizes are still confusing--24-ounce bottles being sold along side "single" servings such as the 12-ounce bottles at convenience stores, rather than with the two liters.

Don't be fooled, though. Soda companies are in business to make money. There's nothing wrong with that. How they market their products in a way that is border line coercive is what's wrong. Demand for food used to be fixed. The market was finite. Our stomachs only hold so much before we get full and don't want any more food. The food industry has mastered the tactic of getting consumers to buy (and eat) as much as they possibly can, and then convincing us we need more of it. The steady creep of portion sizes is an example. In the video, the advertising for the soda promises happiness if you drink the soda. How many soda ads can you think of that feature superstars, are flashy eye-catching displays of graphics, contain a message of happiness and contentment or nostalgia, or even worse, feature cartoons in kid-friendly formats?

The advertising and the message the soda industry is sending to us to drink more soda, coupled with social changes have gotten us into the mess. The social changes are in the role that we see soda in today. In my mom's childhood, a soda was a "treat" you got when you went into town or went to the store, which wasn't that often. People she knew didn't keep it at home. It wasn't drank on a regular basis. Now, it has a place at all three meals. Just look at the breakfast menu board at a fast food place. "Don't care for coffee?? Of course, we have 32 ounce and bigger soft drinks available!!" It's everywhere, and its consumers are all  cultures, races and ages. Even babies.

I'm still unsure how the video will be received by those that need to hear the message the most desperately. Some (the soda industry) have criticized it as being a little preachy and fearmongering. If nothing else, this video probably will probably make people stop and think for a second. Hopefully, we will all think about what kind of future is in store for this country and for our kids. Even if you chose not to watch it, we've already started the discussion about what role the soda industry deserves in our daily lives, and hopefully we can eventually reach some positive resolution.

Monday, October 8, 2012

No rest for the wicked.

Yesterday was chilly and windy and overcast. And all I wanted to do was stay in my pjs all day lying on the couch watching football. But sometimes Mother Nature nudges us in the most annoying ways. I still had peppers in the fridge from Pepperpacalyse 2012, earlier last week. Since I have a busy week lined up for this week already, I had to do something with them or risk losing them--which I did not want to do.

Last week, I chopped some of the remaining peppers into rings for pickling. I've got Italian peppers in tomato sauce, pepper jelly, frozen diced peppers, so I figured pickled hot peppers would be a way to add to the variety. Chopping them ahead of time was a huge time saver when it came time to can them. Also, the Hubs volunteered to help me can them. If you've ever canned, you know how invaluable an extra set of hands are in the kitchen. It makes the processes exponentially easier. This time, he did most of the work, with me supervising and guiding him. He's helped me maybe one other time before, but this time he pretty much did the whole thing start to finish.

And the results are gorgeous!

I think these will be great on pizza or salads, or maybe tossed in with some pasta sauce for a little extra kick. They were all hot peppers, not a mix with sweet, but I think the pickle brine will mellow out the heat a little bit. I can't wait to try them.

As if canning a batch of peppers wasn't enough yesterday, I also made soup for dinner from a recipe from the Closet Cooking blog. This guy has an astonishing talent for food photography, on top of his creative and simple-from-scratch recipes. The entry for bacon double cheeseburger soup caught my curiosity, and the weather yesterday could not have been more perfect for soup.

The croutons were made from toasted hamburger buns, and I almost didn't make them. But they MADE this soup. They were the little something extra that made this soup even more hearty. I took a little break from the kitchen toils to enjoy soup and salad made from fresh spicy greens mix I bought at the Monroe Farm Market.

Then it was back at it for the rest of the night. Yesterday, I also made 3 quarts of vegetable stock from accumulated vegetable scraps I keep in a zip lock bag in the freezer. I also made pumpkin scones to eat for breakfast this week with the last of the pureed blue hubbard from last year, and I used the remainer of the puree to make butternut squash lasagna rolls from a recipe in the Beekman Heirloom Cookbook for dinner tonight. I know neither of those recipes call for blue hubbard, but I think those are interchangeable, and blue hubbard has such a bright orange color (its probably higher in beta carotene for that matter).

After all that, I was completely worn out and sick of cleaning up my various messes and standing at the kitchen counter. But I had dinner ready for Monday evening, breakfast for the whole week, and another batch of homemade vegetable stock in the freezer. I gave myself a little pat on the back for all that work.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Too Much of a Good Thing?

So. My mom brought a garbage bag of hot peppers to my house on Wednesday. It wasn't for us to share or divide up. It was all for me. She had her own garbage bag full at her house.

But I bought a half a bushel last week at the Capitol Market for canning. I had canned eight pints of Italian peppers in tomato sauce and chopped up enough of those peppers for two batches of pepper jelly.

So, last night, I canned another two batches of pepper jelly (everyone is getting that for Christmas this year, I think... I know no one will complain.) I diced up almost three pints to freeze and cut up into rings another two quarts to make into pickled hot peppers. I also roasted a couple dozen to freeze.

Peppers were on every possible inch of countertop. But they are beautiful.

She didn't grow these peppers. A generous friend told her to come and pick what she wanted. She only picked off the first few plants. And he and his wife have already gotten all that they want from the plants this year. It's supposed to frost here in the outlying areas on Sunday night, and she and I talked about whether we wanted to get more before they're gone. We decided that while we don't need anymore, we both hate to see them wasted, so I think she's going to go pick more this weekend.

We must be crazy.