Vietnamese Noodle Salad a.k.a. Adventures with my Mandoline

Fridays are usually take-out nights in the Row Home Eats household. After a long week, there’s nothing like curling up to a movie and a Los Jalapenos steak, pepper and onion burrito (hold the rice, add guacamole, please.) We don’t have to worry about cooking and our weekly food supply has diminished just in time for our Saturday shopping expeditions at the Reading Terminal. This Friday, however, we had some extra marinated flank steak calling our name. My butcher, Harry Ochs, has an amazing soy-ginger marinade that they use on flank steak and chicken breast. It’s normally available pre-packaged but, if not, they’re always happy to marinate your choice of meat to order. Flank steak is a difficult topic for us because I enjoy my meat a little more well done, while my carnivorous husband, Mr. Row Home Eats, likes it rare. We recently discovered a happy medium–we cut the steak into skewers and the pieces can be cooked to order. Happiness all around.

As I was contemplating the sides to go with our marinated steak skewers, my husband suggested an Asian noodle salad. The evening took off from there. Have I mentioned that Vietnam is my favorite restaurant? Have I devoted extensive posts to my adoration for Vietnamese food? Why is it, then, that I have never attempted to make it at home? That was it. I was sold on making a Vietnamese noodle salad topped with grilled steak similar to my favorite vermicelli bowl at Vietnam.

I did a little googling and came across this recipe. I didn’t realize it was Bobby Flay until just now so you can stop making fun of me. I did, of course, make major alterations to the recipe based on available ingredients and taste preference. My amalgamated recipe follows.

Bobby Flay’s Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad, adapted

  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (omitted–Mr. RHE doesn’t like spicy)
  • 1 tablespoon honey (used more like 2-3 tbsp)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce (didn’t have. Used 3 tbsp soy sauce instead)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt(omitted)
  • 1 pound dried rice vermicelli
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • cucumber, halved, peeled, seeded and sliced into thin halfrounds
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (omitted, didn’t have.)
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded napa cabbage (probably used closer to 1-2 cups. What can I say, I like cabbage)
  • 1/4 cup chopped dryroasted nuts

I started by slicing and skewering the flank steak to prepare it for the grill.

While we waited for the grill to pre-heat, I pulled out my mandoline and began wreaking havoc on my kitchen. I was inspired to use my mandoline after my recent post on kitchen tools. My friend, Alexa, commented that she loved her mandoline and I realized that I’ve only used it once, rather unsuccessfully, since we received it as a wedding gift. Another friend, Brad, shared his unfortunate mandoline experience (unfortunate for his finger, that is) and I was intrigued. Perhaps I should give my mandoline another shot, I thought.

Last time I used the mandoline, I was less than successful. It was difficult to get the hang of it and I couldn’t get a clean “sweep” back and forth. This time I started with the easy English cucumber. The mandoline glided back and forth effortlessly–I was back in business! Then I moved on the the cabbage. I was excited to try the julienne blade as I had only ever used the straight slicer. It wasn’t entirely unsuccessful.

Most of it got into the bowl I placed beneath…it went a little more downhill when I switched to carrots. In the end, I got a nice amount of sliced and julienned vegetables. I think they look rather pretty!

My mandoline was a little worse for the wear. Does anyone have tips as to how to remove carrot stains?

As I finished playing with my mandoline, the water started boiling for the rice noodles. As I was just about to toss them in, my husband came in and informed me that we were out of propane halfway through the cooking process. Chalk that up to another typical cooking experience. Sigh. Under the broiler they went and I began prepping the sauce.

I combined the soy sauce, lime juice, honey, cilantro and garlic in my mini-Cuisinart. See, I TOLD you I use that thing a ton! I was wondering why Bobby didn’t use any rice vinegar in his recipe so I tossed a bit in the mixture. After I whirred the thing a bit, I deemed the mixture a bit thin and decided to add some peanuts. Where did I get said peanuts? Well, for those of you who might have thought that I was some fancy foodie, think again. I picked the peanuts out of a bag of trail mix that was sitting in my fridge. Yes I did. Nothing is beneath me, my friends. Here’s the Cuisinart in action.

After the sauce was made, I brought the water back to a boil and tossed in the rice noodles. Instructions said to boil for 2 minutes but they weren’t quite ready and I added another minute or two. Then I drained them and covered in cold water, rinsing them well. The rice noodle give off  a lot of gumminess so the rinsing is key. Also, this is a cold noodle salad and we want to keep it that way. Here’s a boring white on white picture (with a shadow) to show you what it looks like at this point.

I pulled the flank steak out of the broiler and it looked darn good. We don’t need no stinkin’ grill!

While the steak was cooling a bit, I tossed the noodles and vegetable slaw with the dressing. I didn’t think the dressing would be sufficient (it was only about a cup) but it soaked into the noodles nicely.  I also threw in some more ground peanuts, sliced green onion and some extra cilantro on top.

I mixed it all up and put the remaining cucumbers on top.

Then we dug in! I prepared myself a bowl with a couple slices of flank steak and, if I can say so myself, the dish looked eerily similar to my favorite place!

I topped mine with some sriracha because I like the heat! Then we settled down to an evening of Mad Men on DVD. The noodle salad was a hit! It had a very strong lime/acidic flavor, probably due to the extra rice wine vinegar I added. The vegetables and chopped peanuts added a welcome crunch to the chewiness of the noodles and the steak was, not surprisingly, a perfectly charred, meaty addition to the bowl. A word to the wise–this dish does not keep well at all. The noodles harden up a bit and the flavor subsides substantially. If you’re going to make it, be sure you eat it all the same day. It’s so darn good that it shouldn’t be too difficult.

Six Pounds of Sausage

Now before all of the requisite jokes (I’m looking at you, Tre) let me explain myself. Some (my husband, for example) may describe me as an impulsive shopper. This generally works out well when food shopping. I enjoy my Saturday morning visits to the Reading Terminal where I peruse the aisles of Iovine’s determining what looks good, what’s on sale and what’s seasonal. My weekly menu planning is generally determined by my market finds and I rarely walk into my shopping ventures with a list. OK, sometimes I come home with a random mix of items from Asian eggplants to kirby cucumbers (I’m going to pickle them, I SWEAR) and $1/head cauliflower that’s starting to go but it will be ok if I roast it tonight! In the same vein, however, I’m a loyal shopper. I won’t shop at a different produce shop or butcher just because the prices are better.

Recently I decided that I was in the mood for chicken sausage.  I don’t often eat sausage because I was raised Jewish and tend to steer clear from pork.  My butcher, Harry Och’s, didn’t have any in stock so he directed me to the king of sausage, Martin’s, which was just steps away. I wandered over to Martin’s case and looked in awe at the myriad sausage varieties. I was immediately drawn to a chicken sausage with broccoli rabe and red pepper flakes. Yummy! And besides, it was on sale for $3.99/lb (down $1.) I asked for 8 links, which probably would have been about 3 pounds. While the man waiting on me did some calculations in his head, another older gentleman that works there was courting me in Italian “Ciao, Bella.” It was quite a scene. The butcher then informed me that he could save me some money if I wanted a 6 pound box of the same sausage for $18. $18?! That’s $1 savings per pound. I jumped on the opportunity and walked out the door with a huge box of sausage with visions of my already packed freezer dancing in my head.

The next morning I woke up and started preparations for crockpot sausage and peppers. I took the box of sausages out of the fridge and opened it up.

They look gorgeous, don’t they? But I was a little intimidated (that’s just the first layer.) I took about 10 links to brown before tossing them in the crock pot with a medley of peppers, onions and garlic with some canned crushed Tuttorosso tomatoes. They sell these in bulk at BJ’s and I go through them super quickly. Because I got started early, I was able to set the crock pot on low and forget about it all day long–until I heard the inevitable bubbling and the sausage aroma filled our house around 4pm.

My oldest friend, Alexandra, who was in town to care for her father who had taken ill, came over for dinner that evening. Ironically enough, Alexandra is a vegetarian so despite the vat of chicken sausage, her dinner was a slice of tomato tart tatin (I’ll save that for another post) and salad. Unfortunately, I was so distracted by our conversation that I didn’t get any pictures of the sausage and peppers. Not one shot! It was darn good, though. I sent Alexandra home with a tupperware stuffed with sausage & peppers to put into her father’s freezer so he would eat well when she went back to Florida. Overall, the remainders lasted us a couple days of lunches and dinner. There was even some sauce left over that I tossed in the freezer. More on that later.

A week or so later, it started to cool down and I hadn’t been to the market that week. I did a mental inventory of my freezer and cupboard and thought I’d throw together some sort of sausage soup. I was stuck on the idea of a tortellini sausage soup–who knows why–but didn’t have any tortellini. Instead, I remembered the red lentils I bought from International Food & Spices, the awesome Indian food market on Walnut Street. (Side note: they have great prices on bulk nuts.) I started playing around with my friend Google but wasn’t coming across anything appealing. Finally, after a few too many searches, I stumbled upon this recipe for red lentil soup with sausage and roasted peppers from a blog called “The Whole Kitchen.”  Well whaddya know. I had just roasted up some red peppers a day or two earlier.  Now, I’m not going to lie. Originally the idea of red peppers in this dish didn’t sound incredibly appealing to me and I probably wouldn’t have included them if I did not so fortuitously happen to have them in the fridge.

Red Lentil Soup with Chicken Sausage & Roasted Peppers

adapted from The Whole Kitchen

1 pound pork sausage (I used chicken sausage stuffed with broccoli rabe)
1 tsp oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3 stalk celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
chili pepper flakes to taste
1 cup white wine (I used red because I didn’t have any white open)
1 1/3 cup red lentils ((I used closer to 1 1/2)
4 cups homemade chicken stock (I used boxed organic stock)
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups water
2 roasted red peppers, skins removed, seeded and sliced into bite sized pieces
2 bay leaves
1 T oregano
1 T red wine vinegar
1 parmigiano reggiano rind (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup parsley (chopped)

  1. Cook the sausage in a large pot, then drain the fat, scoop out the sausage and set aside. The original recipe didn’t specify if it was supposed to be sliced or crumbled. Therefore, I started with sliced and gradually transitioned to crumbled.
  2. Wipe out the pot, return to heat and add 1tsp oil. Add the onions, carrot and celery and and cook until the vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano and chili pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about a minute.
  3. Add the wine, sausage, lentils, chicken stock, water, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, bay leaves and parmigiano reggiano rind and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the lentils are tender about 30-45 minutes.
  5. Season with salt and pepper, remove from heat and mix in the parsley and red wine vinegar

Here’s how I did it…

Well, I typed that and then realized that I didn’t take any pictures. That might be a good thing, because it started to look pretty ugly around step 3. In fact, I was beginning to wonder if I had just ruined dinner. Hmm..ruining dinner isn’t the worst thing in the whole wide world because there’s always Los Jalapenos!

Anyway, the soup was really, really good. The roasted peppers in question added a sweet bite that was countered by the necessary tang of the red wine vinegar.  I will say that the broccoli rabe in the sausage added a great deal to the flavor (and appearance.) I was pretty darn proud of this soup and it was definitely a nice switch from my traditional chili for our fall and winter Sunday football meals.

And you thought that I was done? Nope, there was STILL sausage left over from the daunting six pounds. I was still marinating the idea of tortellini and thought of the won ton wrappers I had sitting in the fridge from my Asian market adventure with Tom Foodlery. My husband was working late so I thought I’d get to work. I had already sauteed up the remaining sausage, so it just needed a little gussying up

Now let’s see if I can remember what I added. One individual-sized container of cottage cheese (in place of the ricotta that I would have added if I had it), about a half cup of crushed tomatoes (Tuttorosso, duh), one egg, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and probably some other stuff. But that’s all that I remember. I mixed it up well and then came the fun stuff. I broke out the won ton wrappers which are a GREAT ravioli/tortellini/etc/etc wrapper, by the way.

My intial plan was to make tortellini but that plan was quickly foiled and I set out to try my hand at ravioli. The wrappers were just a tough old and weren’t a big fan of sticking to one another so I set out for option 3–half moon ravioli otherwise known as agnolotti. I mixed a little water and egg white and set it aside as a sealant. Each wrapper got about two tablespoons of filling and was folded over and sealed with the water/egg white mixture. Then I tossed them all onto a heavily floured cookie sheet.

If you make these, it’s important to flour the sheet and the ravioli sufficiently so that they do not stick to one another. I snapped this shot before my final seal, but once they were all stuffed, I went back and prettied them up with the tines of a fork–this did double duty by resealing and making them a little nicer looking. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have some mistakes.

Luckily, most of them came out better than the above! I fixed the hole with a heavy application of water/egg white mixture and prayed that it would stay together while it cooked. I tossed them into some heavily salted boiling water and cooked until they rose to the top, about 4 minutes. I then placed them on a bed of baby arugula and topped with the left over sauce from the sausage and peppers the previous week–how’s that for utility! They were quite tasty–even my husband kept commenting on how good they were. In fact, he loved all iterations of the six pounds. I wonder which was his favorite?

I can’t wait to make these again. With the caveat that they are slightly time consuming, the actual dish is quite easy to make and, if I could be so humbled, I would say that they rival any nonna out there!

And that, my friends, is what you can do with six delightful pounds of chicken sausage!

Zucchini Pancakes

I love zucchini. I’m not sure why, but it could have something to do with the fact that they’re cheap, easy to cook, taste good grilled and represent summer. Oh, and who can forget the fact that they start with Z–I like the letter Z. Usually we just slice them into long strips and toss them on the grill with whatever protein we happen to be grilling, but I was in the mood for something new. We had a few zucchini in crisper and one was definitely getting a little gnarled. I used to be a zucchini bread making machine, but the problem is, I don’t eat zucchini bread. I’ve also been thinking about incorporating more vegetarian meals into our regular sequence for both health and financial reasons. I decided to make zucchini pancakes, which I made a few weeks ago and absolutely loved. I loosely followed Ina Garten’s recipe, but as you know, I strayed from the directions, as per usual.

Zucchini Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 2 medium zucchini (about 3/4 pound) ( I used 3, because that’s what I had!)
  • 2 tablespoons grated red onion (I ran out of onion, so this was omitted)
  • 2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten (I added an extra egg)
  • 6 to 8 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Unsalted butter and vegetable oil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Only do this step if you intend to keep the pancakes warm in the oven.

Grate the zucchini into a bowl using the large grating side of a box grater.

I drained the zucchini for a bit as it seemed extra watery.

Immediately stir in the onion and eggs. Stir in 6 tablespoons of the flour, the baking powder, salt, and pepper. (If the batter gets too thin from the liquid in the zucchini, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour.) Somehow I missed Ina’s direction that the eggs were supposed to be lightly beaten (and by missed I mean I read the recipe too quickly and didn’t notice.) I broke the eggs right into the mix (bad girl, you’re supposed to break them into another bowl in case you have a bad egg, no pun intended.) Anyway, I tossed everything into the mixture.

I mixed it up and added some grated carrots as I am wont to do. Doesn’t it look pretty?

Because I was feeling a little daring (and I like cheese) I decided to add about 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese rounded out by 1/4 cup of light cottage cheese. I’ve been adding cottage cheese to a lot of things lately and it’s seemed to work, so why the hell not?

At this point, I’m eyeballing the batter and adding a little more flour, as needed, if it seems dry. Because I had started this project when I got back from the gym at 8pm I was getting a little hungry. Good thing I had my gorp to keep me company.

I learned that word on my 6th grade camping trip and it kind of makes me giggle. In googling, one source says that gorp stands for “Good Old Raisins and Peanuts.” Well, I don’t like raisins.

Am I eating GOP?

Back to the pancakes…

Heat a large (10 to 12-inch) saute pan over medium heat and melt 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1/2 tablespoon oil together in the pan. When the butter is hot but not smoking, lower the heat to medium-low and drop heaping soup spoons of batter into the pan. Cook the pancakes about 2 minutes on each side, until browned. Place the pancakes on a sheet pan and keep warm in the oven. Wipe out the pan with a dry paper towel, add more butter and oil to the pan, and continue to fry the pancakes until all the batter is used. The pancakes can stay warm in the oven for up to 30 minutes. Serve hot.

OK–that’s what Ina wants you to do. I made the following adjustments. 1) I didn’t use a mix of oil and butter. I used just oil. I also used a non-stick pan. Last time I used a regular pan and I think they came out a bit better; you just have to keep an eye on things. 2) As previously stated, I didn’t use the oven to keep the pancakes warm. I loaded them on a plate between layers of paper towel.

Here are the pancakes frying. This was my first batch. They got prettier later. One note: be sure you don’t heap the batter on too thick. It will be hard to cook them all the way through.

Once I got the frying situation under control, I moved towards the sauce. I enjoy the yogurty, cucumber tzatziki, which is often found in Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine and decided to make my version of the sauce. I began by slicing an English cucumber into paper thin slices. I would have used my mandoline but I really didn’t feel like washing another dish.

I love English cucumbers. Yes, they’re more expensive than your run of the mill garden cuke, but I feel as if they taste so much better AND they’re unwaxed and do not need to be peeled. Saving a step gets major points with me.

I tossed the sliced cucumber into a cup of fat free sour cream.

Then I added the juice from one lemon and salt and pepper. Ta-da! Tzatziki a la Row Home Eats!

We rounded out the meal with parmesan cous cous and a simple salad of chopped romaine and sat down to a romantic evening of Top Chef.

My husband wasn’t very happy that I commandeered his plate for a photo op before he had the chance to dig in. I told him that we must make sacrifices for the blog. I think he understand.

That picture is making me hungry. I think I’ll have some leftovers now. I love leftovers.

Scalloped Tomatoes

Ever since I saw this post on Tom Foodlery’s blog, I’ve been interested in the idea of making a tomato-y bread pudding. I’m not normally the biggest tomato fan in the world, but there’s just something magical about market fresh tomatoes in the height of the summer. Coincidentally, a few days after I filed that in my mental “to make” list, I came across this post on Smitten Kitchen. It was kismet. I was destined to make this dish. At Sunday’s visit to the Headhouse Market, we picked up a large container of tomatoes from…I forget which vendor. They were very nice and I enjoyed our informative conversation about where I got my shirt (Old Navy) and how to best store corn (moist, in the fridge.)

I intended to make the dish last night with a leafy green salad, but instead spent the night scrubbing our kitchen and storing all counter items in plastic tubs in preparation for the exterminator. Woo hoo! Instead of cooking, we ordered from Taqueria Los Jalapenos, which has–hands down–the best burritos in the area. We order from “Three Jalapenos” (that’s our nickname for the spot due to their website) a couple of times per month.

With a stale baguette and five ripe tomatoes in hand, I knew that tonight would be my make or break night for the Scalloped Tomatoes. Something you will come to learn about me is that I have difficulty following directions.  Whether it’s Ikea furniture (to my husband’s dismay,) speed limits or recipes, I always tend to find my own, shall we say, adaptation. This is one of the reasons that I have struggled with the concept of blogging my cooking. I will *almost* never be able to share an accurate recipe with my readers.

You have been forewarned. What follows is the recipe that I used as an outline. I will do my best to share my minor personalization of the dish as we go along.

Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons
Adapted, only slightly, from Ina Garten (by Smitten Kitchen)

3 tablespoons olive oil (
2 cups bread from a French boule, in a 1/2-inch dice, crusts removed (I went closer to 3 cups and used a stale baguette from Acme)
2 1/2 pounds plum whatever good tomatoes you’ve got, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup thinly slivered basil leaves, lightly packed
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high. Add the bread cubes and stir so that they are evenly coated with oil. Cook cubes, tossing frequently, until toasty on all sides, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. When the bread cubes are toasted, add the tomato mixture and cook them together, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat, and stir in the basil. Fresh basil on top of this tomatoey goodness? Yes, please! This deserves its own photo.

Pour into a shallow (6 to 8 cup) baking dish and top with Parmesan cheese. I mixed some of the parm into the dish (probably about 2 tbsp) and topped it with panko as well. Why? Because that’s how I roll. This picture is pre-parm and panko crusted.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes until the top is browned and the tomatoes are bubbly.  It should look a little something like this.

If you’re so inclined, eat it with some fresh (stored moist and in the fridge) corn and a leafy green salad. But only if you’re so inclined.

Smitten Kitchen also suggests topping it with a poached egg for brunch. Too bad I won’t get a chance to do that. Maybe next time. This dish was well received by all (my husband and myself, that is.) We enjoyed the opportunity to try summer’s bounty in a new and unique iteration. I especially loved crunch that remained on some of the croutons while others got a little soggier with tomato yumminess. The basil also imparted yet another reminder of summer. I was too lazy to snip herbs from out front (basil is kept out back, the rest are out front. Don’t ask.) but would probably add some fresh oregano and thyme next time around. Or maybe not–if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Overall, scalloped tomatoes receive an enthusiastic 2 thumbs up!