Sunday, January 8, 2012

Big Boots, Lumberjacking, and Pho

We've been doing a lot of ice fishing lately. The weather this winter has been crazy warm (like highs in the 20's during the day) and we're taking full advantage of that and the lack of snow. We have enough snow to ski on the lakes, but not so much that it makes getting around difficult. We can get to almost any lake and hike or ski right across it.

Look at the size of my boots! I wear these ice fishing and skiing.

They have to be big so that I can keep warm. I used to wear mukluks, but since I've had my troubled foot I need more support and padding. I also need to kick ice and water around to set up my fishing holes, and the rubber part of these boots don't get wet. I got new ski bindings a few weeks ago and I can fit these huge boots into those bindings. I'm lugging around an extra six pounds per foot, so hiking to a fishing hole gives me a good bit of extra workout.

After fishing today Steve and Wade cut down one of our birch trees that has been slowly dying. They tied a rope around the tree, around another tree to guide it, and attached the rope to our truck. Steve drove the truck once Wade had chainsawed into the tree. Perfect landing! (That's Wade in the photo.)

I mentioned that I had tried Pho for the first time last week and fell in love with it. I found recipes for it in several of my cookbooks, but decided to try Mark Bittman's version first. Pho is a Vietnamese soup (pronounced "foot" without the "t"). The clear, fragrant broth is the flavorful base of this soup, and the sliced meat, noodles, and condiments provide the texture. The meat is sliced very thin because it cooks as the broth is poured over it in the serving bowl.

This version simmers the broth for at least three hours. That time is mostly unattended, though, so you can do other things while it simmers. I'll play with other methods over the next month or two and see if we can get the flavor in a faster way. To start, I really wanted to make it in a traditional slow simmer.


10 star anise
5 peppercorns
5 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
4 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
4 pounds oxtail or beef bones (I used beef neck bones)
1/4 cup fish sauce, or more to taste
1 Tablespoon sugar, or more to taste
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 pound dried rice noodles
1 pound lean sirloin or venison loin cut thinly across the grain
1 cup fresh bean spouts, rinsed
10 fresh basil or mint sprigs or cilantro sprigs or any any combination of these
2 fresh chiles like jalapeno, thinly sliced
2 limes, cut into wedges

Set a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the star anise, peppercorns, cloves, and cinnamon stick and toast until fragrant, about 1 minute; scoop out and set aside for the moment. Add the garlic, onion, and ginger and char, about 5 minutes.

Add the beef bones and reserved spices. Add water to cover and bring to a  boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for about three hours (skim off any foam that floats to the top). Add the fish sauce, sugar, salt and pepper, adding more of each to taste.

At some point during this period, cook the rice noodles in boiling salted water until tender, just a few minutes. Strain, rinse in cold water, and set aside.

When the broth is done, strain and reheat until it is just about boiling. Divide the noodles and sirloin among the serving bowls and then pour in the broth. Let your guests garnish with any of the bean sprouts, cilantro, basil, chiles, and scallions, and serve, squeezing lime juice over all.

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