Preparing for winter

I can’t believe it’s almost the end of the first month of autumn. It’s cooler in the mornings and evenings, there’s a lot more rain about and it’s much harder forcing myself to rise out of bed for work. But summer is really hanging on – we still get a considerable number of hot, golden days throughout the week where cicadas sing and the kiss of the sun’s rays warms and illuminates everything upon the earth.

Winter here in New Zealand isn’t my favourite season. The awful combination of heavy rain and strong winds often leaves trails of umbrella skeletons and angry nose-to-tail car accidents in its wake. There are always dirty wet footprints in places where there shouldn’t be and forget about dry, sun kissed washing.

There are fantastic things about winter, though, and one of those is all the hearty meals that really fill your belly and warm your heart in ways that summery salads can’t.

I decided to kick off my cold weather cooking with something basic – soup. My mum’s noodle soup is one of my favourite meals – light, simple and quick. But I wanted to try something that had a few more elements to it. Recalling shreds of a conversation I had a few years ago when I was travelling in China about the pronunciation of a certain South East Asian dish, I settled for the national dish of Vietnam, pho (pronouced “fuh”, not “fo” nor “poo”).

Having never been to Vietnam nor eaten that much Vietnamese food, I’ve only had one instance of eating pho and this was at a little Vietnamese restaurant in the ooh la la Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn called Cafe Viet. I remember it being fragrant, salty and very filling.

One of the things I definitely wanted to do with this cooking experiment was making everything from scratch. Normally I would opt for the ready-made stock from the supermarket, which has always worked well for me, but I had time this weekend and felt like putting in the extra effort in creating my own beef stock. It took quite a long time but it tasted really good and it filled the house with beautiful aromas from all the different spices.

There are a heap of complementary spices that make up the flavour of the stock. Photo: Tao Lin

There are a heap of complementary spices that make up the flavour of the stock. Photo: Tao Lin

I found a good recipe that explains everything really well, especially the stock-making part. See it here: http://steamykitchen.com/271-vietnamese-beef-noodle-soup-pho.html

It all turned out pretty well. The only issue I had was the soup didn’t really cook the raw beef as well as I wanted it to but I probably didn’t slice it thin enough. It’s something to remember for next time – “pho” sure….:P

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

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Easiest soup ever

When I come home from uni or work in the middle of winter, or even just a cold, rainy day, one of the most comforting things to find is a saucepan simmering with steaming, nutritious soup. The soups my mum makes are more broths under the English definition but I prefer them like that – no cream, no milk, no mush that was apparently once vegetables.

Don’t get me wrong, I love all kinds of soup – pumpkin, tomato, potato, minestrone, chicken etc, etc – but I love even more the lightness of Chinese soups. One of my favourites is sweet corn soup. No chicken, just sweet corn. In fact, my mum doesn’t even make it using stock and yes, that can be a bit bland compared to one made with a good stock, but I love it nonetheless.

I’ve made my own variation before but the most recent attempt has been my favourite so far. It┬áreally all comes down to the stock. Unfortunately, I can’t say I made my own stock this time so I guess I can’t credit the success to myself entirely. I wanted to use a vegetarian stock but literally had nothing in the fridge to make it with, except a couple of carrots and some old stems of celery, so I just used store-bought stock, which I think is perfectly fine.

I used 400ml of Campbell’s vegetarian stock, heated it up with a can of creamy sweetcorn after very gently frying some crushed/finely diced (or chopped, whatever!) garlic and ginger in the saucepan. Once that boils, you just simmer everything for about 10 minutes and then lightly beat an egg and dribble that into the soup so it forms long, wispy strands. If you want to add sesame oil, add that at the very end before serving. The same goes for spring onions and/or coriander.

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

This has got to be one of the easiest soups to make and for me, it beats the time and process required to make other vegetable soups (don’t get me started on my attempt at pumpkin soup), plus it tastes fantastic too. It’s also really easy to add some chicken or even ham to the pot. Finally, this soup has never been something I’ve had just on its own but always as an accompaniment to a larger meal because it’s so light.

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photos of food and such

I’m one of those weird and annoying people who loves to take several photos of their food from as many different angles as possible before finally eating it – I blog about food so what do you expect?? People like me get mocked and ridiculed everywhere in society for this behaviour and I’m sure someone, somewhere has written about how this is evidence of some sort of personality disorder/evidence of narcissism (aren’t we all a little bit narcissistic?). But, I don’t actually care because I love it: I love food, I love taking photos of food and I love showing it all off.

I call these photos: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. Because, well, they are ­čÖé

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Some sort of egg thing. Pretty much started with fried eggs but decided I didn’t want fried eggs anymore so scrambled them up instead.

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

One of my absolute favourite things to eat: udon noodle soup. It’s incredibly easy to make as well. Water, stock, noodles, soy bean paste, spring onions, done. If you really wanted to make it fancy you could even cook up some tofu and chuck that in there too.

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Teriyaki beef strips and capsicum. Yeah, I like Japanese food.

Homemade chicken stock

Yesterday I underwent some mild surgery to remove two wisdom teeth. Having decided that mashed potatoes, yoghurt and ┬áice cream were getting a bit boring, even though it’s only been one day, I started making my own chicken stock so I could add a little variety to my post-teeth extraction diet in the form of chicken soup.

I didn’t have any herbs handy at home so I just added in about 1kg of chicken bones, 1 medium carrot chopped, 1 stalk of celery de-leaved and chopped, one brown onion chopped, a bit of salt, about 5 slices of ginger and some peppercorns (2 teaspoons). Oh and heaps (about 10 cups) of water. Simmered that for 2-3 hours and then drained it through a sieve into a heatproof bowl/container.

Now, I’m not going to go into details about the soup because it didn’t turn out how I wanted it to. The recipe I used from my Australian Women’s Weekly cookbook said to add two tablespoons of lemon juice, which I did, and it consequently made the soup too tangy. I’m not sure if that’s how the author meant it to taste but I wasn’t a fan.

Also, I’ve never been able to make soup with cream or milk or any dairy products and actually have it taste any good. I always inevitably get put off it from just tasting it, which I don’t know whether to attribute to my considerable lack of skill with making soups or whether I’m just not used to having dairy products in my soups (Chinese soups are actually broths – stock, water and whatever else we want to add in – usually a lot of vegetables, tastes very light when done well).

I think it’s back to broth for me!