Pho Lee Vietnamese – Austin, TX

 

On a recent trip to Austin, some friends directed us to a little strip center restaurant to appease my partner’s craving for a traditional Vietnamese dish: pho.

Pho Lee Vietnamese Restaurant is a small, strip center restaurant. It is immaculately clean,t eh staff is friendly and the jasmine tea is always fresh. In spite of it’s seemingly small size, the menu is full of delights from pho, bun, mi, com chien, and Thai offerings to a small number of Chinese dishes. A little something for everyone who enjoys the savory, good-for-the-soul nature of Vietnamese foods.

We took it easy on our carb intake on this trip, sticking to spring rolls and pho. There’s so much more to try that we will just have to visit again, such as the Cafe Sua (Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk, served hot or cold).

Shrimp Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

Spring rolls with shrimp.

The spring rolls were unexpectedly well done, with a thin and tender rice membrane containing lettuce, cilantro, bean sprouts, boiled shrimp, and served with a light peanut sauce.

 

Pho Tai Nam Gau

Pho Tai, Nam, Gau

Pho Tai, Nam, Gau
Pho noodle soup with thin slices of eye of round steak, well-done flank steak, and marble brisket.

Marble brisket has thin layers of fat like bacon, making it quite tasty.

 

Pho Ga

Pho Ga

Pho Ga
Pho noodle soup with thin slices of white meat chicken, and thinly sliced onion that melts in your mouth.

 

Side VeggiesCilantro, basil, lime, jalapeno and bean sprouts on the side, giving you the options of adding flavor and texture to your pho.

Hoisin, sriracha, a hot chili sauce and soy sauce were available at the table. By adding a bit to each spoonful, rather than the entire bowl, splendid combinations of flavors will keep your pho from homogenization on the palate.

When you are next in Austin and have some time for lunch or needs a hearty, satisfying supper, stop by Pho Lee and indulge your senses.

On the 1-5 scale, Pho Lee has earned:
Cleanliness – 4.5
Service – 4
Quality of food – 4
Flavor – 5
Pricing – 3.5
Overall experience – 4.5

Pho Lee Vietnamese Restaurant
2601 N Interstate 35 Frontage Road
Round Rock, TX 78664
(512) 310-8585

Enjoy!

–Ann Cathey

Quick and Easy Meals

 

There are a lot of variations  on recipes out there in the world, but sometimes we need a reminder to think outside the box. These recipes are all suggestions for a quick lunch or dinner when you have a lack of time to work with. They are based on ideas offered by a grocery snail mail supplement I received a couple of weeks ago.

Well, they aren’t so much recipes as guidelines that may be personalized as much as you like.

Chicken Salad
Prep your salad a day in advance. Pick up a whole roasted chicken and strip it. Mix the chicken with Greek yogurt, chopped celery, dried cranberries, chopped pecans or walnuts, garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste. For a little zing you might add some paprika. Cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to mingle and marry. Serve on sliced sourdough bread or over a bed of mixed greens for a simple lunch or dinner. Preparing this salad ahead of time also allows you to take some for lunch!

Lemon Chicken
This sheet pan dish is easy to prepare and delicious to serve. In a large bowl mix a small amount of melted butter and lemon pepper seasoning, to taste. Dip chicken and halved baby gold potatoes in butter mixture. Lay the chicken and potatoes out on a sheet pan. Brush the chicken with a bit of honey and roast with lemon slices on top at 425F for 15-20 minutes. In the last ten minutes of baking, add honey-brushed asparagus spears. Serve over saffron rice or a bed of baby leaf spinach with fresh lemon wedges on the side. The results are a sweet/tart treat for the palate. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Elegant Mushroom Pasta
Saute sliced mushrooms in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Add in minced garlic, chopped baby leaf spinach and chopped basil. Stir until the greens are softened. Remove from heat and toss with your favorite pre-cooked pasta. This is a tasty treatment for leftover pasta, as fresh cooked. Add a sprinkle of Parmesan or Asiago for a delicious finishing touch.

Pistachio Crusted Tilapia
Thaw your fish, if frozen, then dip them in whipped egg whites. dredge each filet in a misture of chopped pistachios, bread crumbs, and parsley. Bake at 450F for 8-10 minutes or until the fish reaches a safe internal temperature of 145F. Serve atop a bed of your favorite greens. Slices of fresh peach or pear on the side are a subtly sweet accompaniment on the side. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Enjoy!

— Ann Cathey

Crock Pot Mac and Cheese

I finally got to try out one of the crock pot recipes I have been posting about. The Crock Pot Mac N Cheese, to be specific. As I am want to do, I just had to fiddle with it, double it, and see how it came out.

Crock Pot Mac & Cheese

Serves: 4-6 hungry people as a main dish, or 8-10 as a side scoop
Prep-Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 min on High then 3 hours on Low

Ingredients:
3 cups milk
24 ounces evaporated milk
1 cup melted and cooled butter
3 eggs
1/2 tsp each powdered garlic, powdered onion, and dried dill

6 cups shredded cheese
1 pound dry macaroni
8 ounces sliced ham

Directions:
Thoroughly spray your crock with cooking spray. If you use a liner, as I did, spray it anyway.

In a large bowl, whisk together the first group of ingredients and spices. Make sure the eggs are integrated well. Pour into your crock.

Add cheese, macaroni and ham. Stir gently to combine.

Cook on High for 30 minutes, stir gently, then reduce the heat to Low and continue cooking for 2 more hours.

Do not overcook or you may wind up with a cheesy glutinous mass like I did the first time.

If you half this recipe, do not half the eggs. I doubled everything in the original recipe except for the eggs.

Some things I noticed when pulling this together are that the wet mixture is rather thick feeling when whisked. This gave me high hopes as to the creaminess of the end product.

DSC_0377Just before you put the lid onto your pot, the contents look somewhat like a cream of cheese soup.

The aroma that starts wafting out of your kitchen at about 45 minutes is amazingly rich. I’m surprised that alone didn’t make me gain a couple of pounds.

DSC_0378

When it’s all done, there should be a nice crusty look to the top of the dish when you open the pot.

 

 

DSC_0379

The results came back fast. This mac-n-cheese is definitely a creamy, cheesy, melty sort of comfort food. It didn’t last long enough for leftovers to get to the fridge. The ham added a bit of flavor, an extra texture, and some extra protein. Next time I need to double the ham!

A nice crusty baguette, sliced and toasted, makes an excellent accompaniment.

— Ann Cathey

Crock Pot Main Dishes

There are an amazing number of things that can be cooked in a crockpot or other slow cooker. I bet you didn’t know that enchiladas and lasagna are two popular main dishes that can be prepared in a slow cooker rather than a conventional oven. Here are two recipes that are sure to delight.

These recipes are written more like concepts than with the usual ingredients list due tot he many variations that are available for each.

ENCHILADAS
Cooking enchiladas in a slow cooker means less mess, which is always a good thing. Make your favorite enchilada filling and roll it into corn or flour tortillas. Evenly spoon a cup of salsa into the slow cooker and lay out the enchiladas onto the salsa with the folded edge facing down. Cover with more salsa and cheese. Repeat and create a second layer. Make sure to spread the last layer of salsa out to cover all exposed tortilla parts to keep them from drying out during cooking. Cook on high for four hours and sprinkle on 1/2 cup of cheese in the last 10 minutes of cooking. Serve hot and delicious.

LASAGNA
The best part about crock pot lasagna is that you don’t need to precook the noodles, which means less mess and fewer dishes to clean up. In a crock pot, place two cups of your favorite meat/cheese/veggie tomato sauce. You may also drop in various sliced or shredded veggies and pre-cooked meat (See suggestions below). Put three noodles on top, then another layer of sauce and add-ons. and 1/2 cup of cheese. Continue to build two more layers and reserve 1/2 cup of of cheese. Cover and cook on low for six hours. Sprinkle with cheese and cook for 10 more minutes.

Use pre-cooked meat, such as Italian sausage or hamburger, for less grease in your dish. Pepperoni, prosciutto, and other preserved meats will add some grease and a lot of sodium. Sliced eggplant, sliced or shredded zucchini, shredded carrots, and sliced or diced bell peppers of any color are all great additions to a lasagna.

Give these dishes a try and see if you don’t agree that the crock pot method is a time-saving twist on these traditional main courses.

— Ann Cathey

Lasagna Style Bake

This dish is so simple, and it takes leftovers out of your fridge in a heartbeat. Leftover pasta is often something foodies face, be it long and thin or round and stuffed. In our case it was a batch of tortellini filled with Italian sausage and cheese. There was a jar of left over red sauce with spinach, shredded carrots, roasted garlic, and onions, about 16 ounces, and a few other goodies. We added a ton of mozzarella cheese and it became a meal. The trick is in the layering to create an entirely new dish.

This is not so much a recipe as a guideline, really.

Lasagna Style Bake
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes to an hour
Pre-heat: oven to 300F
Serves: 4-6

Ingredients:
Check out your fridge and see what you’ve got. Our list included these items.
A pasta – spaghetti, ravioli, tortellini, whatever is on hand
A sauce – red, white or rose, or a mix of flavors
Veggies? Spinach, zucchini, onion, mushrooms, and garlic all work wonderfully
Olives? Black, green, kalamata…
Cheese – mozzarella and Provolone work best
Olive oil

Directions:
1. Choose a pan that will comfortably hold the ingredients. I chose an 8×8 Pyrex pan. Yours may need to be larger.
2. Spray or wipe pan lightly with olive oil.
3. Dribble in just enough sauce to cover the bottom of the pan. Mine was a tomato based sauce quite chunky with spinach and onion.
4. Lay in a layer of veggies. Sliced zucchini and mushroom were the veggies du jour.
5. Spread cheese everywhere in the pan. Don’t ignore the corners. At this point you may use shredded mozzarella, sliced provolone, a smear of ricotta or even well drained cottage cheese.
6. Add your pasta and distribute evenly across the pan. If you have a spaghetti style pasta, you may want to make several layers of it. Lumpier pastas, such as tortellini and ravioli, can be settled in a single layer if preferred.
7. Drizzle on some more sauce and another layer of veggies.
8. Add another layer of cheese at this point.
9. Pour the remaining sauce on top and distribute evenly. The heavier layer of sauce at the top will cook down into the rest of the dish.
10. Top with a goodly layer of cheese.
11. Cover with foil and bake at 300F for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how done you want your veggies.
12. Once removed from the oven, allow to rest for five minutes or so while you get ready to emplate.

There are so many variations on this dish that your imagination is the only possible limit. It can be done as a quick fix meal with canned sauce, any pasta, and cheese. Add whatever strikes your culinary fancy and have fun with it.

Enjoy!

–Ann Cathey

Budget Cooking – Ramen Noodles

Everyone out there is likely familiar with the ramen-style noodles that have swept through the United States in the last many years. They are available in most groceries under many names such as Maruchan Ramen [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maruchan] and Top Ramen [https://www.nissinfoods.com/products/TopRamen]. From a start with a fascination with Asian food all the way to being consumed in masses by college students and latch-key kids, these noodles have become a household staple for young and old, wealthy and poor alike.

They can be cooked on the stove top or in the microwave, as a noodle soup or simply as noodles. The directions tell you to measure your water, add the noodles, cook until done and add the flavor pack.

Before you turn up your nose at that twenty cent pack of noodles as common or crass, are you aware what else can be done with them? With some simple and handy additions, you might bring a world wide range of cuisine to your table.

In each of these suggested dishes, cook your noodles as directed leaving out the flavor pack, drain and turn out into a bowl.

Thai Noodles
Add half of the flavor package, a tablespoon of peanut butter, a pat of butter, and red chili flakes to taste. Stir until the butters have melted. You have a simple satay noodle. It can always be expanded with other spices, vegetables, and meats into a more glorious dish.

Noodles Con Carnes
Dice some leftover beef to stir into your noodles. Add some Ro-tel and all or part of the flavor package. Stir it up and allow the bowl to sit for a few minutes so that the flavors can mingle. Add hot sauce if desired.

Chicken Curry Noodles
Curry powder is the key ingredient here. Whether you prefer yellow (my favorite), red or green curry, add some to your noodles with a pat of butter and stir. Add some diced, cooked potatoes and carrots and leftover chicken to make a hearty and tasty meal.

Spicy Noodles
Grab your favorite hot sauce (Sriracha, Raspberry Chipotle, Hatch chili sauce, whatever you like) and add as much or as little as you like to the noodles. Stir in a pat of butter and all or part of the flavor package if desired.

Cajun Noodles or Dirty Noodles
Cajun spices are a unique flavor treat. Add some Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning to taste with a pat of butter and stir. Adding leftover meats or sausage, diced, to the dish will give it some heft. You can turn it into “dirty noodles” by adding cooked chicken or beef liver, diced or mashed as you prefer.

Italian Noodles
For a carbonara style dish, add diced ham, green peas, and a pat of butter to your unflavored noodles. A bit of garlic (granulated or roasted) and basil (dry or fresh) will add the right touch to that essential Italian dash. This can be made up as a soup if you prefer.

Egg Drop Noodle Soup
Prepare the package of noodles as directed for a soup. While the the bowl of noodles and broth is still steaming hot, crack and add one chicken egg. Stir break up the egg and you will have a lovely egg drop style soup. The egg can also be left whole to poach, rather like a nabiaki udon.The water for these two variations must be nearly boiling to ensure that the egg is properly cooked. A goose or duck egg will add additional flavor, but might be harder to come by. check your local farmers market for availability.

Each of these suggestions may be used with multiple packages of noodles to create side dishes and even quick meals for two or more people.

In many cases you will have a partial or whole flavor pack left over. Save these and use them as flavorings in other dishes, soups and stocks. The sodium content is a trifle high, so be careful you don’t over salt when using them. The beef and pork flavor packs are excellent additions to beans, and chili dishes.

I have used ramen-style noodles in some pretty odd concoctions, too. Cooked noodles, cute to pieces about a half inch long, were folded into a cookie dough. The cookies are known as “Cat Poop Cookies” and the noodles made it look like the “cat” had a bad case of “worms”. They tasted great, but most guests at that party could not get over the visual of a “litter box” filled with “poops”. Hey, they dared me.

Please drop us a line and let us know if you tried and enjoyed any of these suggestions, or if you have some ideas of your won to share.

–Ann Cathey