There’s nothing like getting cozy at home – in your housecoat – with your favourite soul food. For me, comfort food means three things: soup, something braised and anything that’s hot, gooey and dripping with cheese.
While there aren’t any soups I don’t like, my ultimate comfort lies in a big bowl of Vietnamese Pho. This soup takes the chill out of a cold day, soothes a raging cold and is my tried-and-true hangover cure. Often I prefer to spoon it up at my favourite nook in Toronto’s Chinatown, but when cocooning indoors, I make this recipe from Toronto’s Pho 88 restaurant.
Preparation time 30 min
Cooking time 2 hours
Makes 6 servings
12 cups (3 L) cold water
5 to 6 lbs (2.5 to 3 kg) beef bones
1 lb (500 g) stewing beef or beef brisket
2 onions, sliced
1-in. (2.5-cm) piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 cup (50 mL) fish sauce
3/4 lb (375 g) sirloin
225-g pkg rice stick noodles
4 green onions
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
Fresh hot chilies or bottled Asian chili sauce (optional)
2 limes, cut into wedges
Chopped fresh mint, cilantro or basil leaves
1. To make broth, place water, bones, stewing beef, onions, ginger and cinnamon stick in a stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off and discard foam that forms. As soon as it boils, adjust heat so broth gently simmers. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. Continue to skim and discard any foam that forms. Then strain broth and discard all solids. Using a shallow spoon, skim off and discard any fat on top of broth. Stir in fish sauce. Use broth right away, refrigerate for up to three days or freeze for up to three months.
2. To make soup, begin by firming sirloin for easy slicing. Place on a metal tray in the freezer for 15 minutes. Using a sharp knife, cut into paper-thin slices, then into pieces about 2-in. (5-cm). Cook noodles according to package directions for minimum time, just until tender. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Drain again. Thinly slice green onions. Wash and drain bean sprouts.
3. Just before serving, bring broth to a full rolling boil over high heat. Meanwhile, place noodles, raw beef, green onions and bean sprouts in the bottom of deep soup bowls. Ladle boiling broth overtop and serve with chilies, a splash of fish sauce, a squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkling of fresh herbs.
Braising is slow-cooking at its best. Food is gently simmered until it becomes meltingly tender. Nothing is more comforting than the all-day aroma of something stewing in the oven except for attacking it at dinner with a pile of buttermilk mashed potatoes. Try one of my favourite braised dishes, Asian-Style Glazed Lamb Shanks, which are perfumed with a heady mixture of ginger, sesame and star anise. Dried mushrooms add a rich layer of flavour and a few hot chili flakes spark a fiery finish.
What could be more heavenly than a big pot of melted cheese? Fondue is retro-cool, requires the company of good friends and is 100 per cent, satisfyingly gooey. Bonus: it’s an easy way to sneak in extra fruit and veggies. While cubes of bread may be a traditional dipper, I love dunking apple and pear wedges, figs, asparagus spears, carrot coins and broccoli florets in the pot. I also can’t resist dipping thick-cut potato chips and big cubes of garlicky salami when I’m feeling a little naughty.
One of my favourite fondue recipes is from the Joy of Cooking (Scribner, 1997), but for a quick and easy cheater version, try our Rosemary & Swiss Fondue. It starts with a store-bought cheese fondue package (sold in the deli section), then adds a homey touch with fresh rosemary, spicy peppers and a swirl of pesto.