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Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Noteworthy Nosh: Grilled Pork Vermicelli @ Noodles at Boba Tea House

For this week’s nosh, we head to north Fort Worth outside Loop 820. Noodles at Boba Tea House, a Vietnamese fusion eatery at the intersection of Basswood Blvd. and Beach St., is a frequent haunt of mine. In fact, I have been known to visit once a week for lunch when I have an insatiable craving for pho or bun. And I never fail to find a packed dining room during lunch hours.

In addition to the namesake boba “bubble” tea, the restaurant offers several classic Vietnamese dishes, including pho, bun and spring rolls, as well as decent sushi selection. I have yet to try the sushi, but the chicken pho and classic spring rolls with peanut sauce are always a good choice.

However, their best dish in my opinion, and one I have had more than a dozen times, is the bun thit nuong, or Vietnamese grilled pork with vermicelli. Thin slices of tender marinated pork are served warm over chilled vermicelli rice noodles with a sprinkling of crushed peanuts. Fresh mint leaves, bean sprouts, matchstick cucumber, shredded carrots and lettuce, as well as a savory and delicious fish sauce, accompany the dish.

Mint, sprouts and sauce are added at the user’s discretion, but I never fail to add them all. The combination of hot and cold, the crunch of the fresh vegetables with silky noodles, the pop of mint, and the tender and garlicky chunks of pork make this dish unforgettable.

For over-the-top deliciousness, add the BTH egg roll to your bowl. I always let the egg rolls sit long enough to soak up the goodness at the bottom of the bowl before eating and save one eggroll for my last bite.

Noodles at Boba House may be a little out of the way for some, but worth a visit if you happen to find yourself on the north side of town. They offer classic dishes and consistently good quality. And if you’re not a boba tea fan, like me, don’t pass up their classic Jasmine tea served with a small pitcher of simple syrup.

Noodles at Boba Tea House (noodlesbth.com), 7355 N Beach St., Sun-Thurs 10:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Fri-Sat 10:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.


Do you have a favorite pho or bun place in the DFW area? Please feel free to share.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

On the Road: Making Friends for the Moment

Last November, I ran 8 miles of the Big Sur half marathon with a fellow runner whose name I don’t remember, but I can tell you why she started running, how long ago, and how much she loves racing with her daughter.

On any given trip, dozens of chances arise to connect with someone new. The stranger in line ahead of you at the pastry shop, the guy sitting next to you on the street car, or the server at that little seafood place the guy on the street car told you about. Often these chance meetings are interesting, sometimes useful, and other times, just plain bizarre.

But every once in a while you connect with someone, and it’s almost magical. These are the moments that make a trip uniquely yours. And these are the moments you remember years later.

I’ve bonded with a front desk clerk over riding motorcycles in a rainstorm, shared dinner stories with the couple at the next table because they’re also from Texas, and discovered why a scuba diving instructor in Cambodia decided to sail yachts in BVI.

When I was younger, I felt the need to get names, exchange contact information and promise to stay in touch with everyone I met on one of my adventures. Now I take these meetings on their own merits, and realize (with only a twinge of regret) that our paths will probably not cross again.

One of my favorite chance meetings happened in St. John. I never got his name, but he singlehandedly made the rented condo in Cruz Bay feel more like home. He just appeared on my second story balcony the first morning of our stay, and hopped in my lap.

Then he came back each morning and evening thereafter. After a few days, we bought a couple of cans of food and fed him on our patio, but mostly, we would just sit on the balcony together and watch the sun peak up over the bay.
 
The couple across the way from us told us they have visited St. John every year since their honeymoon (except the year they sent their first kid to college). They  said the feline was actually the condo cat.
It turns out, the feline population in Saint John outnumbers human residents, and more than half of them are homeless. Thanks to a trap-neuter-return program, the island has helped spay and neuter strays and kept the homeless kitty population from spiraling out of control.

It was hard to part ways with my friend at the end of our journey, but I like to think that every morning he is sitting with a new companion watching the sunrise over Cruz Bay and helping them fall in love with St. John like I did.

Do you have a story to share about meeting someone on a trip that you have never forgotten? Please feel free to share.


Saturday, April 05, 2014

Chef's Apprentice Files: What Else Can I Do With Infused Olive Oil?


If you have dined out at an Italian restaurant any time in the last decade, you probably have had the pleasure of dipping a loaf of warm bread into a bowl of seasoned olive oil and Balsamic vinegar. What you may not know is that infusing olive oil is an easy way to garnish and give depth to a number of dishes.

Restaurant chefs often have more than one squeeze bottle of chili or herb-infused oil on hand to add color to a dish. A swirl or dots of red or green on a finished plate requires no cooking school training and is an easy way to impress dinner guests. 

What home cooks may not know is that replacing plain olive oil with a home-infused oil can add layers of flavor to otherwise ordinary recipes or take a dish from good to great.

Here are some simple swap-out ideas:

1. Spoon a little over a fresh vegetable soup and add a dollop of goat cheese.
2. Add to cooked pasta along with fresh grated Parmesan cheese, grated citrus and a chiffonade of fresh herbs for a simple pasta sauce.
3. Use instead of plain olive oil when making vinaigrette.
4. Toss with grilled vegetables and add a squeeze of lemon.
5. Brush on slices of French bread before broiling.
6. Add to a bowl of cooked white beans or chicken chili for a colorful and flavorful garnish.
7. Drizzle over pizza right out of the oven.
8. Use to baste chicken for roasting or grilling.
9. Finish your next stir-fry or fried rice with a swirl of homemade chili oil.
10. Paint on sandwich bread for your next grilled sandwich.


Basic Herb-Infused Oil

1 bunch of fresh herbs, such as sage, thyme, rosemary and/or basil
3 cups of extra virgin olive oil

Remove the leaves from the stems, discarding stems. Place the leaves in a mortar and pestle and bruise the leaves to release some of the oil. Add leaves and olive oil to a heavy-bottomed pot and warm through for about 30 minutes over very low heat. This will release more of the flavors in the herbs. Then remove from heat and allow to cool completely before placing in a clean, quart-size jar.

You can also place warmed olive oil and bruised herbs in a jar and leave in a sunny window for a couple of weeks instead of heating on the stove.

Store the jar in a cool, dry and dark place for a few days. Once the flavor profile is right, the leaves can be strained out. The bottle can be stored in the fridge. The oil will last about 2 or 3 months.

Note: A simple chili oil can be made by heating 2 cups of olive oil over low heat with about 4 teaspoons of crushed red chili flakes. Heat gently for about 5 minutes. Or alternatively, gently sauté fresh chopped chilies in oil for about 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely and then store in a glass jar with lid in the fridge for up to one month. 

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The Noteworthy Nosh: Coconut Kale Enchiladas @ Be Raw Food and Juice

This week’s noteworthy nosh comes from Dallas. I don’t get the chance to make it over to The Big D all that often, and I am totally fine with that. But this meal was definitely worth the trip.

If you find yourself in the University Park area and are an adventurous soul, you must try Dallas’ only raw vegan eatery. The menu is extensive, with several juice and smoothie options, but also soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps, noodle bowls, pizzas, and desserts. The entrée selections include a raw lasagna, “bliss burger” and even a raw take on spaghetti and “meatballs.”

A friend and I stopped in recently for a leisurely lunch. The atmosphere was relaxed and not overly crowded (though parking is interesting), the waitstaff is friendly and eager to answer questions about the menu, and Chef Cesar Vallejo was more than happy to talk about customer’s favorite dishes and how they are made. I am not vegan, so I had plenty of questions.

In addition to trying a fresh juice blend and cup of pineapple cucumber gazpacho, I tried one of Be Raw’s most popular dishes, the coconut kale enchiladas. The tortillas are made from coconut, red bell peppers, dates and agave that are dehydrated into rollable shells. They are stuffed with marinated kale, and topped with pico, "nacho cheese" and a cashew “sour cream,” then served with red and green salsas on the side.

I was pleasantly surprised first by the cheesy flavor of the enchiladas. The shells had a slightly sweet flavor that was unexpected but not unpleasant. At first, the texture of the shells vaguely reminded of fruit rollups I ate as a child, but the spicy heat of the dish kept the sweetness from being at all cloying. Perhaps most impressive was the marinated kale filling, which was delicate but flavorful, and it didn’t have that stereotypically unpleasant texture that sometimes makes raw kale difficult to eat.

Although the difference between traditional enchiladas and raw enchiladas is vast, I think taken on its own merits, the dish is successful—offering traditionally Hispanic flavors of chilies and cheese, light but filling and a uniquely fun variation on the norm.


Be Raw Food and Juice (berawfoodandjuice.com), 6005 Berkshire Lane in Preston Center, M-Sat 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Sun 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.