My Most Requested Recipe: The Best Pho You Ever Had, That Also Happens To Be Low-Carb & Vegan

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Believe it or not, there’s been a recipe that those-in-the-know have requested from me since long before I became a food blogger. The recipe came about due to my (at the time) obsession with low-calorie items, and veganism (also, at the time), which doesn’t matter. I had straight-up friends that were first generation Americans that loved the recipe (shout out to Mellie!), and I have yet to make a ‘bad batch,’ despite the fact that I kinda/sorta wing it every time. (You’ve been warned: My instructions are, as per usual, not 100% clear on measurements.) Know this: My pho is good, and you can tweak it to your meat-loving heart’s desire. If you’re vegan? You’re welcome!

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I never said this recipe was authentic, but it more than does that job. To start, you’ll want to procure:

  • 1-2 lemongrass stalks
  • 2-3 star anise
  • 1″ of ginger (peeled, sliced)
  • 1 cinnamon stick (or dash of cinnamon, sometimes I omit it and just use the star anise by itself)
  • 5-10 mushrooms (your preference, and these are what gives the super-meaty taste to the broth)
  • protein of choice (chicken, beef, shrimp, tofu)
  • soy sauce
  • green onion
  • cooking oil (I do a blend of chili, toasted sesame, and vegetable, but that’s not super important)
  • noodles (I use the 0 calorie shirataki, you can use regular – depends on your carb preference)
  • vegetable (or beef or chicken) stock
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 an onion
  • jalapenos/thai chilis
  • cilantro
  • basil
  • lime
  • sriracha and/or garlic-chili sauce
  • and the super optional Chinese 5 spice powder

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Let’s start by sautéing the star anise, ginger, garlic, and onion. You kind of want to burn it, honestly. Don’t char it until it’s unrecognizable or anything, but definitely put a black edge on those ingredients. Once you have that done, in your delicious chili oil blend (or regular oil!), you can add water to the pot and a bouillon cube or 2 of the stock of your choosing. Turn the heat up on a separate burner, and sautee your chosen protein in oil (again, I like to use chili/toasted sesame). Add the mushrooms and remaining ingredients (sans noodles and toppings such as: green onions, herbs, peppers) to the pot of broth. Let it all cook together for as long as possible; I’d say 20 minutes at a minimum, but I can vouch for making this, saving the leftover (half a pot) broth for the next day, then adding more water and having excellent results.

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If you’re using shirataki noodles, just follow the instructions on the pack, and add them to the broth when ready. The same goes for any other type of noodles, really. Shake some soy sauce into the broth, and don’t be shy. I know most would say you should have drained the ingredients out of the broth, but I prefer to enjoy the sliced ginger, and pieces of garlic in my soup; use a slotted spoon to remove the inedibles (star anise, lemongrass) before serving. Add copious amounts of sriracha, basil, lime (go easy), cilantro, and peppers. Voila!

Class Pass: A New Way To Get Fit

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Class Pass just launched in Austin, and I am genuinely excited. Have you ever wanted to take a cardio rowing class? Perhaps you hoped to someday visit Ride Indoor Cycling? Maybe you’re more extreme (like me) and are just dying to sign up for a torturous session of boot camp at Heat? Class Pass charges a flat monthly fee of $99 that let’s you take a plethora of classes at places all around town.

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The site is super easy to navigate: You choose your neighborhood(s), activity, time, and date. You can input as much or as little information as you’d like, and once you spot a class you like: you reserve the spot. I’ll be taking my first class on Friday and can’t decide between Zumba and barre. Don’t wait until after the holidays to get in shape! Class Pass gives you so many options that you’re guaranteed to find something you’ll enjoy.

Disclaimer: I will be trying these services free of charge. Opinions expressed are 100% my own.

Thai Inspired Shrimp & Shirataki Noodles

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Shirataki noodles are those “scary” looking noodles that you may find near the meat alternatives/dairy products at your local grocery store. Generally, they’re stored somewhere cold. They promise 0 calories, or in some cases, 20 calories per serving, and are extremely low in carbs. I’ve been eating them for years, and highly recommend getting the type that’s blended with tofu. I was in the mood for Thai the other night, and whipped up a delicious shrimp stir fry to use with my noodles.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 lb frozen shrimp
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1/2 tomato
  • 1/2 zucchini
  • 1″ peeled, chopped ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 red chilis
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • basil
  • cilantro
  • fish sauce
  • lemongrass
  • soy sauce
  • chili oil
  • toasted sesame oil

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I heated a large skillet with a blend of toasted sesame and chili oils. I added garlic, ginger, onion, tomato, zucchini, bell pepper, jalapeño, red chili, and fresh lemongrass (peeled and sliced in large chunks) to the oil. As I let that cook over medium-high heat, I thawed my frozen shrimp using cool, running water. As soon as the shrimp were ready, I added them to the pan, and used a colander to rinse my shirataki noodles for several minutes under hot water. Trust me, you want to do this. Shirtaki noodles have a strange smell to them until they’ve been either thoroughly rinsed, or par-boiled. With the shrimp now in the pan, I added both soy and fish sauce to taste. When the vegetables looked soft, and the shrimp were almost done, I added the juice of 2 limes, a bit of my fresh basil, and some green onions. At this point I poured the mixture, and subsequent sauce, over a bowl of shirataki. You may also want to try stirring the noodles into the pan ahead of time so that they absorb more flavor. Once it was all done, I covered the dish with even more basil, and a fistful of cilantro leaves. This dish is so low in both carbs and calories that you can enjoy it guiltlessly and frequently.


Sensational Side: Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus

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I know what you’re thinking: What’s the easiest possible side dish to bring to Thanksgiving? One that makes it looks like I put in a lot effort, when I really just slapped 2 ingredients together, and made them look and taste phenomenal without breaking a sweat? 

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At least that’s what I was thinking.

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This dish makes a great low-carb side, and it’s excellent as a party snack. Simply take a bunch of asparagus, and a few thinly sliced pieces of bacon (I sliced mine vertically in half), and wrap the bacon around each stalk. Spread a bit of olive oil on a baking pan, and bake at 400 for about 20 minutes, or until you see that the bacon is done. If you’re using thinner stalks, you may want to cook for a shorter amount of time. That’s it!

Epicured Events: Sausage Making Class

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You know what beats a dinner party? A hands-on culinary adventure where you learn how to do something you never expected to be able to do: a sausage making class. That’s right. My partner and I headed out to Epicured Events in east Austin to make, eat, and drink. Well, I mostly showed up to drink.

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With a cold beverage in hand, I watched as our chef, Ben, doled out the workload, and gave us entertaining yet useful cooking tips. (I was successful in avoiding work, which is something I pride myself on.)

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We prepped fresh ingredients (well, everyone but me), and sampled our “test batches” (I pitched in for that part) of the Italian sausage and bratwurst links that we were ultimately going to make.

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You can tell a lot about people by how many penis jokes they make in a sausage making class. Clearly, we were an exceptional group of 6th graders disguised as sensible adults. Chef Ben kept a straight face for 90% of it, and we could tell he’d heard it all before.

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The sausage came out perfect, and we came out stuffed (and buzzed). It was hilarious, delicious, informative, and most of all: fun. I’d gladly re-take this class any day of the week. If you’re looking for something new to do: this is it.

Eating East: Nasha Indian

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Finally! There’s Indian food on the east side! Nasha recently opened it’s very colorful doors, and I’ve already been twice.

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The first time I went, I was a little put off by the harsh lighting inside, but absolutely adored the outdoor patio (warning: acorns will fall on you). On my recent visit, I noticed that the indoor lighting may have been changed for the better. Hurray ambiance!

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Both time I had the Malvani curry, ordered desi hot, and absolutely loved it. It’s exotic, coconut-y, and bursting with flavor.

nasha-indian-austinMy friend grabbed the Millionaire curry, medium hot, and wasn’t quite as impressed, but still ate every single bite. (He can say he’s underwhelmed all he wants, but I saw him lick the plate.)

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The wine and beer are fairly priced, and overall it’s a great spot if you are craving Indian, but simply don’t want to endure the hassle of traveling to north Austin. Did I mention that they made Indian tacos? I’ll just leave you with that.

Beauty Blog: Jose Luis Salon

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You may be wondering how this healthy, happy hair (shown above) happened. Especially considering that with color treatments, and a staunch refusal to lose any length of my proudly grown hair had led us to what you see below.

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Ouch! (And yes, both of those pictures were taken on the same day.) I decided to get over my haircut paranoia, and visit the luxurious (really luxurious) Jose Luis Salon on West 6th.

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It was there that these two magical people transformed my look from Tara Reid ca. 2003 (sloppy makeup, and about a half foot of split ends) into sleek, modern fierceness. Tyler, a master stylist and I presume very talented musician from Minnesota, was well versed in current trends, and happy to talk to me about which direction he thought I should go.

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He understood that I was scared of losing length, but also eased me into what needed to be done: chopping the dead weight off. We discussed blunt, razored edges, and he gave me exactly what he told me he would. (I should mention that he gives one killer scalp massage, and wanted me to disclose that he was only dressed as a cowboy for Halloween.)

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As soon as my hair was finished, they offered to throw in some makeup. What?! I was getting my hair AND makeup done?! I felt a little bit like Cinderella as Sarah worked her magic with the airbrush on me. (Okay, at this point I felt more like Beyonce than Cinderella, which we all know is an even better feeling.) She let me ask a ton of pesky makeup questions, and didn’t bat an eye when I changed my mind for which direction I wanted my look to go in. She was so gentle, patient, and understanding when I complained that my eyes were watering during the eyeliner application that I told her she should be a pediatrician. (I have a hilarious image in my head now of her being a pediatrician for one of the kids on Toddlers & Tiaras, given her makeup talent.)

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You saw how perfect my hair and makeup looked in the first image of this post, but as you can see in the one directly above, my whole look (minus the lipstick I surely drank off between F1 day parties and happy hours) held up. I looked and felt amazing, and had way too many people hit on me that day. (No lie.) If you want to to get your hair and makeup done for an event, or perhaps just to feel so good about yourself on the outside that it pierces your inside, I definitely recommend taking a trip to Jose Luis, and checking in with Sarah and Tyler.

Disclosure: I did receive complimentary services, but opinions expressed are 100% my own.

Broccoli Bacon Cauliflower Cheese Soup

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I’ve been doing the low-carb thing for almost 8 months now, and the results are great. Sure, there are days when I have a little way too much wine, and my weight goes up a bit, but all in all I am consistently shrinking my waist. One of the biggest downsides of the diet has been that I find myself eating eggs constantly, and I do mean constantly.

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 I was recently craving something that didn’t come from a shell, and recalled the pureed soups I used to make back in my vegan days. I was always amazed at how something could come out so silky and creamy without the use of milk (dairy or otherwise) or cream. I decided to take the idea of a decadent ‘baked potato soup,’ and combine it with the low-carb, veggie-packed elements of those blended soups.

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One of the greatest things about this recipe is its versatility. You can make it vegan/dairy-free if you want, or load it up with cheese and bacon if that’s more your style. It’s very low in carbohydrates either way, and a decadent tasting treat that you can add spinach, and other nutrient packed items to.

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You can even eliminate the greens, and go straight for the cauliflower for something that more closely resembles a baked potato in a bowl. Essentially: you do you on this soup. 😉

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Ingredients:

Fistful size floret of caulilfower

Large broccoli Crown

Enough vegetable/chicken stock to barely cover vegetables

3 cloves of garlic

1/2 white onion

3 slices bacon

Salt and pepper to taste (I add cayenne)

Cheese (I mix 2 different kinds: cheddar and a white cheese made for enchiladas, but anything goes)

Optional: spinach, parsley, jalapeño

Instructions:

Cook the bacon over low/medium-low heat. Boil the stock, and add one of the pieces of bacon to the stock when it looks about 3/4 of the way done. Add the vegetables (chopped) and cook until soft. Remove bacon when it is finished and drain on paper towel before cutting into bite sized pieces. Once the vegetables are soft, remove pot from heat and use immersion blender to puree until smooth. If this mixture is too ‘liquidy,’ add more cauliflower/broccoli and cook until soft, then puree again. Ladel into bowls, garnish with a sickening amount of cheese and bacon in each. I’d recommend a good dose of salt (after tasting) and pepper. Pasley also works well, if you have it.