Monthly Archives: October 2010

French Fridays with Dorie: Vietnamese Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup

Last week when I had the tart finished by Thursday, I decided it was better to make the recipe for FFwD earlier in the week, leaving more time to write the post, so I organized myself to make this week’s recipe on Sunday. Unfortunately, my great plans for being organized went south (as they typically do).

Sunday afternoon, I was ready to start making Hachis Parmentier. After a quick visit the website, I realized that Hachis Parmentier is next week’s recipe. Oops. This week we are supposed to make the Vietnamese Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup. Because I had thawed the meat, that meant I had to make both. Oh, well. I’ll be very prepared next week because I’ve already made the recipe.

This week was pretty crazy. I wasn’t home for dinner most nights. Tuesday night, my book group had an outing to Harvard Square to hear Paul Harding read and answer questions about his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Tinkers, which we read back in August. He was an entertaining speaker, and it was fascinating to hear him talk about his path to becoming a writer.

Wednesday was the annual evening meeting for the Lexington Field & Garden Club. The program was an informative talk about the landscape of the nearby Minuteman National Historical Park. I had no idea how much the park has transformed the area over the past 30 years as major parts of the landscape have been restored to resemble the Minutemen’s surroundings during the fateful day of April 19, 1775. Trees have been cut down, asphalt roads have been dug up, and post-1920 suburban homes have been razed. I was most interested in the Park Service’s efforts to work to keep the agrarian traditions alive within the park’s boundaries. They land lease sections of the available pasture to local farmers. My favorite bit of information is the proper identification of the funky cows that graze on Route 2A. Initially, I was sure they were yaks. Later, I was convinced they were actually oxen. I learned that they are actually shaggy Highland Cattle.

Then, last night, I went to the movies with my movie buddy Jennifer. Out of an uninspiring field of current movies, we picked The Social Network, a movie about the origins of Facebook. It was much better than I expected. Even though he was a Harvard student, the Mark Zuckerberg character reminded me of so many of my classmates at MIT. Actually, all the computer geeks in the movie reminded me much more of MIT students than any Harvard students I’ve ever met.

Back to the soup. I made the broth on Monday night, but we didn’t get around to eating the soup until tonight (Friday’s) dinner. The comments from FFwDers that made the soup earlier in the week were mixed, so I wasn’t sure whether I’d like it. I did. Howard gave it “4 spoons out of 5”. I though the soup was perfect for the plentiful chilly days that have arrived for October in New England.

I used frozen homemade chicken stock, so it started with a flavorful base. The broth smelled amazing as it simmered. Based on the recipe, I was a little unsure what to do with the cheesecloth bundle and whether to strain the chopped vegetables from the broth. I was making the broth ahead, so I opted to remove the bundle and leave all the veggie bits. Like others, I was also unsure what two points of star anise meant. I ended up using two whole stars, but the flavor wasn’t too strong.

I had both fine rice vermicelli and wider rice sticks in the pantry. I opted for the rice vermicelli. I liked the texture, and they cooked really fast.

I served our soup accompanied by fresh mint (which I still have in my herb garden), lime wedges, bean sprouts, and some extra chopped cilantro. I had harvested the last of my basil last weekend. While I now have a large bag of chopped basil cubes in the freezer, that wasn’t going to work in this soup, so I skipped the basil. We also used the suggested condiments, adding a dab of hoisin sauce and a drizzle of hot chili oil to our bowls.

I’ll definitely make this soup again. I’m looking forward to leftovers for lunch tomorrow. I liked all the flavors. There’s not much I’d change about it. I’d probably use less chicken and experiment with adding some vegetables.

By the way, the reason I’m not including the recipe is that one of the rules for French Fridays with Dorie is that I’m not supposed to post the recipes. If you think a recipe sounds appealing, you can buy the book, or you can come for dinner.

Restaurant Review: Summer, Winter

As unlikely as it might sound, my favorite upscale suburban restaurant is in a hotel, an extremely stereotypical suburban hotel, at that. As a general rule, I tend to avoid hotel restaurants, but, believe it or not, the restaurant at the Burlington Marriott is really something special. It’s called Summer Winter, and it is run by Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier, the creators of Arrows in Ogunguit, Maine.

These guys promote the locally sourced ingredient philosophy. You can see that in the menu and, of course, when you eat the food. Peek through the windows at the balcony that rings the dining room where you’ll see greenhouses filled with freshly growing greens and pots of tomatoes and other vegetables. While you wait for your meal to be prepared and served, it’s worth taking a stroll through the garden, weather permitting.

We don’t eat at Summer Winter frequently, but each time we do, I make a mental note not to wait too long to go back. This visit was prompted by an email promoting their Friday Night “Date Night” where they offer a three-course fixed price menu. The menu was appealing, so we made reservations.

The meal started with the largest bowl of soup I’ve ever been served in a restaurant. The word “Tremendous” comes to mine. It was butternut squash soup laced with maple syrup with a spicy chile relish, sort of like Srichacha sauce. The relish sunk to the bottom, so it provided hidden bursts of surprise heat as we ate. It was delicious, and as we’ve just entered squash season, I want to try to make something similar at home. The portion was large, and we were sort of full after the first course.

The only actual choice in the menu was for our main course. Howard picked one, I picked the other, and we traded plates for a while. He chose grilled trout with a red curry sauce and an Asian noodle salad on the side. It was a winner. I chose the braised short rib, which melted off the bone. It was served in a large bowl with the braising juices, with jasmine rice on the side. The meat was tender and tasty, though it felt awkward to be eat the meat and rice from separate dishes. I wasn’t exactly sure how I was expected to combine the parts of the meal.

Both were great meals, though I had a slight preference for Howard’s trout. Maybe it’s also because I LOVE trout, and we’ve been having a hard time finding fresh trout to cook at home. We’ve been told it isn’t a popular fish. I can’t imagine why; it’s one of my favorites.

Dessert screamed Howard’s name. It was a plate of chocolate truffles, six different flavors, for each of us. We were stuffed, so took most of them home in the little Chinese take out box they were served with. What a nice after-dinner treat on Saturday.

The Summer Winter menu also has a large section of what appear to be tapas-like “Small Bites”. One of these evenings when we want to go out, I hope I’ll remember that a few of those with a glass of wine would make a nice outing.