Cooking without a safety net

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Due to unexpected developments, I won't have time to write anything for a while. One month, maybe two, and then hopefully I can spend some quality time with my keyboard. Until then, make tasty food.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cajun chicken stew

You know how sometimes things get away from you, and even though a task is in your To Do pile, you still lose track of it, and then you see it again months later and think, "oh, shit! I really wish I'd fed the dog!"

Then you're a terrible person. Take better care of your dog.

But if your forgotten task is typing up recipes, then yeah, I totally get that.

Dad likes to plant a garden in the summer. Two years ago, I helped with the planting. That time, it was entirely peppers and tomatoes, salvaged/rescued by my brother from an employer who was discarding the plants. Dad had so many that we started new rows in between the original rows, and his garden was so crowded that we lost track of what each individual plant was. The best we managed was a "hot" area and a "sweet" area for the peppers. Dad gave me almost all of the hot peppers. I think he was afraid they would be too hot, but I made good use of them.

This year's harvest yielded some bell peppers, and some peppers Dad didn't want to use. I don't even know why he planted them, but I appreciate the produce, and I'm entertained by using peppers of unknown ferocity when I cook. These turned out to be pretty mild, but the results were excellent. I used this recipe as my base, but I'm retyping it here FOR YOUR BENEFIT! ALL FOR YOU! because I hate the ads on that website.

Cajun chicken stew
3-6 T vegetable oil
3 to 3.5 pounds chicken. I used skinless, boneless thighs, didn't cut a damn thing, and let the cooking and stirring break it into smaller chunks.
2.5 t salt
1/2 C flour
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
if you like, add a Mystery Pepper or two
2 celery ribs, chopped (I used more than they did. Who buys just one stalk of celery, anyway??)
3 C water
1/4 t cayenne
3/4 C thinly sliced green onion
cook some rice, too.

  • heat the oil in a big damn pot (do you have cast iron? use that. Chicken is happier in cast iron), season the chicken with salt, and brown in the oil. Move browned pieces to a bowl somewhere.
  • Add enough oil to get about 1/4 C of juices in the skillet/pot, then stir in the the flour and cook over low-moderate heat until the roux (flour-fat mix) is dark. Think coffee-dark, but with just a little milk in the coffee. As it cooks, scrape the roux back and forth with a metal spatula to keep it mixed, and to prevent it sticking to the pan. Add onion, bell pepper, and celery, and keep scraping and cooking until onion has softened and starts to look translucent.
  • Add water and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to get the water-roux mix homogeneous. Return the chicken (and any tasty juices that may have run off the chicken) to the pot and simmer, partially covered, 30-35 minutes. Stir int he cayenne and green onions. Serve over rice.
Some day I may write up my love letter to Slap Ya Mama. For now, I'll just add that the Chief Taster has also come to love this all-purpose seasoning, and liberally dosed her stew with it. The stew itself is rich, thick, flavorful, and looks nothing like what is pictured in the link above. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

coal miner's dinner

I usually have a pattern in these posts: I tell you what the cookbook said, and then I tell you what I did instead (intentionally or, as is more often the case, because I messed something up). Maybe that's a dumb idea.

I often tell you what cookbook I use, and if it's not a cookbook I recommend, I just don't post anything out of it. I mean, if a cookbook can't justify its existence with at least one good recipe, then what's the point? Besides food porn, anyway, and I'm not reposting that, because showing you someone else's photography is copyright infringement, and as someone who repeatedly (unsuccessfully) hopes to make money from his works, I have to respect copyrights. You want food porn, buy your own damn books. It's certainly less embarrassing than buying the other kind. I assume.

Getting back to food, if you've found that one recipe that justifies the book's inclusion in your collection, and you're comfortable making it, there's one of two reasons. First: it is easy, straightforward, and you have managed to never mess it up so badly that the results are inedible, toxic, or otherwise ill-advised. Second: you have made it "wrong" nearly every single time, but you're still so happy with the results that you don't care, and may have even reached a point where you open the book only to see the name of the recipe, or the pretty food porn, and then mostly ignore it for the rest of the process. Congratulations: you're a cook!

Dad likes to tell the story of something he was making to feed a Boy Scout troop on a campout. One of the moms looked over his shoulder and observed, "that's not what the recipe says." I don't remember what Dad actually responded, because by this point in the story, we're usually both laughing, but it boiled down to: "the recipe is wrong." This is also the point in his story when I often interrupt him by quoting the first time he told me the story: "perfect is not an exact science." I knew that his words had tripped over one another on delivery, but I still teased him by countering that's exactly what perfect means.


Does anyone ever really make a recipe by exactly following the recipe? From now on, I'm just going to tell you what I did, unless something went so terribly wrong that my way was a mistake. Maybe I just won't tell you about those times.

The Chief Taster found a couple recipes recently for pasta carbonara, picked her favorite, and made her dinner request. I glanced at the page, found that the only thing I still needed to buy was the pasta and some bacon, and later got worried at the grocery when I told the lady pouring wine samples what I was making for dinner, and she gleefully told me how she made it; her version had cream. I was fairly certain my book didn't show cream in the ingredient list. Should I buy some cream? I had milk. Maybe that would do? We were heading out of town that weekend, so I didn't want to buy cream unless I knew I needed it; I was already worried I'd have to dump some milk, because there's only so much I can reasonably consume in three days. Dammit. OK, I'll risk not getting cream. Fingers crossed.

I didn't need any cream. Which is the other funny thing about recipes: you can find about 639 different versions for whatever the hell you want to make. I had even spoken with the wine lady about how there are different versions of carbonara, and she said that it's supposed to be a simple dish (the name refers to the coal miners who ate it), but the kind you get in restaurants is all... [hand waving]. "Tarted up?" I suggested. "Yes!" She insisted that her way was the right way, and warned me not to let the cream and eggs curdle.

If she's to be believed, here is the wrong way--or one of them--which is still damn tasty, and probably easier, once I figure the timing a little better.

Pasta Carbonara
1 lb fettucini
3/4 pound bacon, cut hacked torn shredded into 1/2 chunks. I have a lot of trouble cooking raw, unfrozen bacon. The Chief Taster suggested scissors, but she didn't suggest it until I was almost done, and by then I was already frustrated and swearing a lot.
5-6 minced cloves garlic
ground black pepper (the book said "at least 1.5 t." I didn't measure mine, but I used that as a guideline)
6 large eggs, beaten
1.5 C (ish) parmesan cheese. I didn't measure this, either.
salt? (I forgot. Whatever. People salt the hell out of their own servings, anyway.)
chopped fresh parsley

  • Cook the bacon in a skillet until crisp, or you're happy with it. I was a little frustrated because my pasta water was boiling WAY before I was ready for it, and I was keeping one eye on my popovers, which were also ahead of schedule, because the bacon wasn't cooking fast enough, and was still sticking to the skillet a little.
  • At some point, you'll need cooked pasta. I had trouble getting things coordinated, so you're on your own figuring out the timing on that. I also can't help you with stringy pasta sticking together (this is why I almost never use spaghetti or fettucini). I need to work on that.
  • Remove the bacon and drain all but 2-3 T grease. Cook the garlic and pepper in the grease for about a minute, stirring frequently. A normal person will smell this. I did not.
  • Toss the bacon back in there, give it a stir, and turn off the heat. Dump in the cooked pasta, stir well, and cook for about a minute. If your skillet is too small for this, dump the bacon mix into the pasta. Just so everything's in the same place, warm and cozy.
  • You should have your beaten eggs gathered in a separate bowl so you can dump them all in at once. Do that now. Stir it all up, then ignore for a minute or two (remember that the heat is off. Between the skillet and the pasta, there's enough heat to cook the eggs when they're spread all over the pasta like that). Stir in the cheese. That last part was easy for me, because the Chief Taster was ravenous, and hovering over the stove waiting for dinner, so she stirred while dumped what I thought was probably the right amount of cheese into the noodles.
  • Top servings with parsley. Or not. I don't care. It's only a recipe, after all.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Serve with warning labels

Remember our good friend the Model Bakery Cookbook?

We do. The Chief Taster now tells people about running the Napa Valley Marathon not because she got her best time there, but because the next day we bought this cookbook, and she wants everyone to know about this cookbook. Seems weird, coming from someone who loves to brag about herself, but maybe it's her way of bragging about what she gets to eat.

This summer, we went to a friend's birthday cookout. They requested that I bring "something yummy for dessert." I didn't get any further clarification except "brownies?" I couldn't remember ever baking brownies that weren't from a mix (when I want hand-edible sweet treats, I usually bake cookies), but as the Chief Taster tells everyone, "everything from that book is amazing," so I checked the Model Bakery index.

There was one little problem: the book calls for an 8x8 pan, and I was serving around 20 people (plus some smallish humans I hadn't anticipated), so I first made a test batch of the prescribed size, then increased the recipe to fit in a 9x13 for the actual party. Both batches happened in the same week, and by the time we got to the actual party, I was already saturated with brownie, and couldn't bring myself to eat them anymore.

Which isn't to say they weren't good.

I was a little thrown by the texture; it wasn't what I had expected, and maybe wasn't what I had in mind, but they were ridiculously popular, possibly for the same reason. These aren't your usual box-mix, flaky-topped brownies. These are more like fudge and brownies had a baby, and it ate all your chocolate chips. They are thick, rich, a little dense, and as we learned after the cookout, should not be fed to gremlins after 7 PM. I called them:

Weapons-Grade Brownies

3/4 C plus 1 T unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
unbleached all-purpose flour for the pan
1 C cake flour (I used all-purpose)
3/4 t baking powder
3/4 t salt
10 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (the book says "no more than 55% cacao," and wants you to buy a bar and chop it up. I just bought a bag of chips. Their cacao rating was not labeled. I live dangerously.)
1 C sugar
3 T espresso (in my case, 1 1/2 t instant espresso dissolved in 3 T boiling water)
1 t vanilla
3 large eggs
1 1/3 C semisweet chocolate chips

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Butter an 8 inch square pan. Dust with flour, shake to coat, and dump the excess. The book said to line the bottom with parchment paper, but I can't think of any reason to do that.
  • Put the the chopped chocolate (or 10 oz of chips, you dangerous rebel!) into a large mixing bowl. We're going to do a slow melt in it later, so make sure the bowl has plenty of room above the chips for stirring.
  • Heat the butter, coffee, and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring often. When the butter is melted and everything has blended, pour it over the chocolate and let it set for a minute or so until the chocolate has softened. Add the vanilla and mix until the chocolate has melted.
  • Beat the eggs into the chocolate. Mix in the flour, powder, and salt. Make sure you get the bits that stick to the bowl; we want it all blended. Fold in the chips. Spread batter evenly in the pan.
  • This is where I ran into problems with my test batch. The book said to bake for 35 minutes. I did. I even did the toothpick test. Everything looked fine until I tried to serve myself a delicious, oven-warm brownie, and a thick, muddy landslide oozed into the space I had opened (see bottom left corner of picture). The "brownie" I tried to pull from the pan was a formless glob of (delicious, decadent, dangerous) goo which flopped wetly from the spatula and onto the counter, plate, and my hand. It was far too warm for my hand, but that's another issue. The pan had been out of the oven 15 minutes by then, but I stuck it back in and waited patiently. I really don't remember how long it finally baked. but I let it cool until after dinner (a few hours) before trying to serve more.
  • Since this was my test batch, I was concerned about the "real" batch I was going to make later, by doubling the batch size and using a larger pan. I baked that one for 55 minutes, and didn't touch it until hours later, at the party, giving it plenty of time to finish setting outside the oven and cool to a more cohesive temperature.
  • How long should you bake it? Hell if I know. Figure it out. Worst case, cover it with ice cream.

I mentioned that they are unusually thick, rich brownies. On the email chain about food people were bringing to the cookout, I labeled my contribution "Weapons-Grade Brownies," and this naturally invited some questions. Hours after the party, I got this email from a mother of three who attended with her husband and gremlins:
I now understand that "weapons-grade," when used in reference to brownies means "one twin will be so wound up she will throw her bottle on the floor and have pretend conversations on her lego car/telephone, while the other twin will throw her arm around your shoulder and sing ribald songs of the sea while kicking twin #1 and fending off random hits from the car/telephone."  One of them is still talking.  I'm not going in there to find out which.
 In case you are wondering, this was the ribald song of the sea. I did not teach it.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

syrupy salmon

Friends got us a cast-iron cookbook for Pi Day (what, you're not observant of math holidays?), and I sometimes browse through it for food ideas guaranteed to be excellent. This time, I was trying to find the Spanish Chicken Stew recipe I knew I'd made, but my efforts were in vain (turns out it was in my notebook, because I'd made up the recipe. I'll get to it soon, really). On my way from cover to cover, I made the mistake of showing the Chief Taster a salmon recipe with a full-page picture.

"Make that. Now."
"Tonight. Do we have a dinner plan for tonight? Can we make that instead?"

I had to buy a couple things I've never bought, but they were conveniently near each other in the "Asian" section of the grocery (four feet of shelves at the end of an otherwise unrelated aisle). And I didn't get the sauce thickened to the "glaze" consistency recommended, but she was still pretty happy with the results. More on the subject of making women happy follows the recipe.

Salmon with balsamic Thai chile glaze
4 scallions (white parts)
4 inches of the green parts of aforementioned scallions (I can never find scallions. Sources I've found say they're the same thing, so I always use green onion when a recipe says "scallion." No one has died, so I guess I was right. I did not see the "four inch" part of the recipe until typing this post, the day after making the food, so we had lots of green onion. I used the rest in breakfast the next day. No worries.)
salt and pepper
4 to 6 (6 oz) salmon fillets with skin attached (I bought a 12 oz slab of salmon and cut it in half. I didn't adjust sauce quantities. That's part of why I had so much sauce, but not why it didn't thicken)
2 T vegetable oil (or canola)
1 T Asian sesame oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T grated fresh ginger root
1/2 C sweet Thai chile sauce
1/4 C firmly packed brown sugar
3 T soy sauce
3 T balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 T freshly squeezed lime juice (I cut a golf-ball-sized lime in half and squeezed the hell out of it in my hands. That gave me 2 T)

  • Chop the scallion whites and set them aside. Thinly slice the green portions and set them aside. They'll be garnish later. The whites will go into the skillet with the sesame oil, garlic, and ginger, so you can put all of that in the same bowl if you want, but use a spatula to clear it so you get all the oil.
  • Season the salmon with salt and pepper. I put on a lot, because that's how I cook steaks, too, but under the sauce I don't think I could taste it. Still, it's good to use when searing, so don't skip that.
  • Heat a 12" skillet on high heat. Coat with the veg oil. Put in the salmon, skin side up, and leave it the hell alone for about four minutes. Don't flip them, don't move them around, don't peel them up and look at the fleshy side. Pretend they're your ex at a party and just turn your back on the damn things, ok? Maybe take a look every once in a while to see how they're cooking (you'll see a color change creep up the edges of the fillets). I used this time to frantically finish the sauce ingredients I'd forgotten, like the grated ginger and minced garlic.
  • Flip the fish and let it cook skin side down for another 2-3 minutes, then move it onto a warm plate. (I neglected to warm the plate for two reasons. First: I was using the oven to roast some potatoes at 400F. Second, I was a little gun-shy after destroying one of our new pie dishes with a rapid temperature change. Luckily, the sauce cooks up quick, and the fish only cooled enough to be edible.) The book says to wipe out the skillet with a paper towel, but there was nothing in my skillet once the fish was freed, so I skipped that.
  • Put the skillet on medium-high heat. Dump in all the stuff that goes with the onion whites. Cook and stir 30 seconds, until fragrant. I have almost no sense of smell, and that sesame oil was still plenty fragrant. Those of you whose noses are more than decorative will have no trouble telling when it's ready to:
  • Add chile sauce, brown sugar, soy sauce, and vinegar. Stir and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until syrupy. Turn off the burner, stir in the lime juice.
  • Top each serving of the salmon with a generous dose of the glaze. Mine were practically swimming again, but I had all those roasted potatoes, too, and despite my careful application of seasoning (which amounted to pulling four or five jars out of the spice rack, thinking, "yeah, that sounds like a good idea," and then liberally shaking them over the taters), the sauce soaked in and overpowered everything I had done. We didn't care. It's good sauce. I had some left over, and I'm not sure what to do with it, but I'll find out this week. Top with green onions.

A while ago, I mentioned an idea I had for a cookbook called "How To Please A Woman." It's been a recurring theme of jokes and discussions ever since. One friend in particular has been campaigning hard for this idea. She may be more excited for it than I am. I have two hypotheses as to why. First, her outlook on publishing has not taken the pummeling that mine has. Second, I suspect she hopes to be a taste tester for the featured recipes. Can't blame her optimism.

I had been drifting away from the idea for a couple months now, because I've been disappointed with repeated failed efforts to get my work printed, and because, as I told the Chief Taster and our glass-blowing friend, "Every asshole with a food blog has a cookbook. But every other asshole with a food blog also has a big following. I can count my followers without removing my shoes."

Thing is, I'm pretty much the only person who understands what the title of this blog means. Starting a new site with a title like "How To Please A Woman" makes it much more appealing and accessible. The glass blower believes this will go a long way to attracting more followers. This is where you come in. You had to find this post somehow. However you got here, leave me a comment below (or you can contact me directly) and let me know whether you have interest in a new site with pretty much the same content (it's also been suggested that I could have polls connected to each recipe. I like that idea, too). Still me writing recipes to try, but with a specific goal in mind: scoring chicks!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Stuffing more peppers

I've made stuffed peppers before, and it went really well. Yes, there were some shortcomings; namely, I couldn't taste the cheese. A friend believes that the only properly stuffed peppers are stuffed with cumin. Some variations are meat-heavy, while others are almost entirely rice. Point is, you can stuff just about anything into a pepper with a reasonable degree of success.

When I asked the Chief Taster what she wanted for dinner this week, she found this recipe online. I, in turn, dutifully bought what I needed, then started making changes through conscious effort, mistakes, and sheer laziness. This is my version.

"Mediterranean" Mushroom stuffed peppers (in case every recipe needs a name)
Olive oil
3/4 C chopped onion. I really don't know how much I used. I had half a large onion and used all of that. Whatever. Recipes are suggestions, dammit!
1/2 t allspice
1/2 t garlic powder (I wanted to mince some real garlic for this, but I forgot)
8 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
8 oz fresh mushrooms
handful of parsley, chopped to bits
1 generous C long-grain brown rice (because I had slightly more than 1 C left). Her version soaks the rice for 15 minutes. I had mine in a bowl for closer to 20, but given the amount of liquid involved, I'm not sure the soaking is really necessary. Experiment at your discretion.
1/2 t paprika
8 oz can tomato sauce (she uses 3 T. What do you do with the rest of the can?)
3/4 C chicken broth
6 bell peppers, tops and ribs removed

  • Heat the oil in a big, deep skillet. cook the onions in there until they turn translucent. Dump in the meat and season with salt, pepper, allspice, and garlic powder. Caveat: I only said "1/2 t" because she did. When I made it, I didn't measure the onion, salt, pepper, garlic, allspice, parsley, or paprika. If I did measure, it was all by eyeball, and I purposely overshot on all seasonings because I like strong flavors. Do what you will.
  • Cook the beef. Stir in the mushrooms and chop at them a little with the spatula, because small pieces pack more easily into the peppers. Don't go too crazy--you still want to taste the mushroomy goodness (Cindy, I'm looking at you). Stir in the chickpeas and cook a couple minutes.
  • Add the parsley, rice, paprika, and broth. I messed up a little here. Her recipe said "add the water," and I looked up and saw "3/4 C broth (or water)" in the ingredients, so I dumped in the broth. Then I saw "2 1/4 C water" listed a little higher. I left it alone with my extra tomato sauce, and nothing bad happened! Plus, I didn't have to simmer the damn thing another twenty minutes while all that liquid cooked off. Anyway. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, 20 minutes. You want the rice to be cooked.
  • While that simmers, cut off the tops of the peppers and scrape out the insides. If you think this is tedious work, imagine scooping the glop out of a pumpkin so some thankless kid can have all the fun of carving it, and it will feel like a breeze (next month: pumpkin pie!) I cut down from the top on five of my peppers because I wanted them to hold together better, and contain more Stuff, but one of them had a nasty spot on the top, so I had to slice straight across for that one. It slimed me. It was gross.
  • Stand the peppers up in a baking dish (my 11x7 was a perfect fit). Pack them full of tasty stuffing. (Has anyone tried stuffing stuffed peppers with stuffing? Thanksgiving style? The sausage kind? WHY THE HELL NOT??) Pour water into the baking dish (NOT into the peppers) 3/4 to 1 inch deep.
  • Have you pre-heated the oven to 350F? No? Go back in time and do that.
  • Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake for... I don't know. Half an hour? Everything inside the peppers is cooked, so you really only want to get the peppers softened. Do what you want.
  • She suggested serving with Greek yogurt. We just had normal (plain) yogurt. It helped. I think sour cream would be fine, too.
One more note: She grills her peppers. I didn't. Because we only have a Foreman-style grill, and that just won't work. In the past, I boiled the peppers a little to soften and pre-cook them. This time I stuffed raw peppers and baked them 30 minutes. They were tender enough to eat, but firm enough that the Chief Taster used a knife to cut hers apart. I still had no complaints, and she reported high success on the recipe.

No food porn this week. I'm tired of making really good food in my fun-size kitchen and then getting shitty photos because there's only one crappy light fixture which casts shadows on EVERYTHING I DO. You want food porn, go look at the link. There's a dozen pictures of the same damn peppers. At least show the different steps, woman!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

phaking pho

Often, my impetus to make a new recipe is driven by a bit of research. The process usually starts when I notice something in the fridge that needs to be used soon, and I think, "I'm pretty sure that's in Thai food!" or "That would be good with beef!" Then I go through our cookbooks, or recipe websites, or at least check Wikipedia to find what the most traditional forms involve. Sometimes, that leads to falling down rabbit holes. Usually, it leads to a grocery list.

This time, I didn't bother with any of that.

I'd made some Creamy Salmon Pasta for the Chief Taster, because it's one of her perennial favorites, and had a bunch of green onions left in the fridge when I finished.  Somehow, that led me to decide to make some pho (the first time I ever saw that link was when I looked it up while writing this post).  It was a risky choice, because I've only had pho once or twice.  I'm not equivocating; I honestly don't know whether one of those was pho.  I'm certain the second time was pho, because a coworker picked the restaurant, told me what we were having, and even suggested a menu choice. The first time I was on my own somewhere in California, and thought I'd go get some authentic cuisine by visiting the place with signs I couldn't read.  I couldn't read the menu, either.  And none of the staff spoke enough English to clarify anything for me.  My selection was based on the mangled English translations of the menu items, and I was brought a bowl of broth and tendons that might have had a boiled hoof in it.

I based my recipe on the other version.

This is what I remembered: pho was an aromatic beef broth full of basil and maybe garlic?  It should have noodles, beef, and I decided mine should have vegetables, too.

The Chief Taster is afraid of beef bouillon for the same reason she's afraid of hamburgers, so I couldn't use beef broth unless I made it for real, and I didn't want to invest that kind of time.  I got some chicken bouillon, and on a whim, some vegetable-flavor "Better Than Bouillon."

Phake Pho
3/4 to 1 lb. skirt steak, cut diagonally into thin strips
1 C diced celery
1.5 C sliced carrot
8 oz sliced mushrooms
3-4 green onions, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
fresh basil (I just bought one of those handy clamshells and used the whole thing. Use however much basil you want.)
6 C broth
noodles (I used rice noodles, because I wanted to try them. I also considered egg noodles.)
fresh chives (because I already had them)
olive oil
salt and pepper

  • I used a deep cast iron skillet. If that's not an option for you, use a skillet to brown the meat and cook the veggies, and move them into a soup pot as they're ready.
  • Brown the beef in a little olive oil, seasoning it with some salt and pepper, because you really don't need more than that. (Though I admit that I used kosher salt, and ground plenty of pepper in there, because I like pepper)  The Chief Taster was shocked that I hadn't done any more than that to season the beef.
Cows are delicious.
  • Scoop the browned beef out of the skillet and onto a plate (or the soup pot, if you're going down that road). Toss the mushrooms into the beef juices so they can soak it up and cook a little.  Just as they're well coated and start to soften, add the carrots, celery, and garlic. Saute until crisp-tender. (you could leave the veggies a little under-done if you want. When we ate the soup, I thought some of the carrots might have cooked too long)

  • Put the meat back in the skillet (or move the veggies into the soup pot--from here on, we're all in the same pot), add the green onion, broth, and basil, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and let it simmer 20-30 minutes.  I just pulled the basil leaves off the stems and never bothered to cut them up. I assumed they'd wither like spinach, and I was right. Do what you will.
It's just started to cook, so the basil still looks like basil.  Give it time.
  • While the soup simmers, cook the noodles.  I'd recommend only cooking the noodles you need for the amount of soup that will be eaten that night, and cooking more noodles later for any leftovers.  Soup noodles don't reheat very well; they just go mushy.  When the noodles are ready, serve the soup into bowls, top with a scoop of noodles and some chopped chives if you feel ambitious, or want to clean out the fridge.
My final photographs never look very good, because by that time I'm more interested in consumption than documentation.
Full disclosure: the Chief Taster has never had pho, hooves or otherwise, so she had no idea what it was supposed to be.  However, whatever I served her made her very happy.  She later pointed out to me that she had been too busy shoveling it into her face to say so at the time.  It may not be real pho, but it was really tasty.