Cooking Quarantine Style

So the cooking during this crazy continues. We’re super blessed to still be thriving and surviving from within the four walls – our state is opening up and there are many going out, but we have made the decision to continue to stay home.

Additionally, aligned with the fact that we realize how little we are consuming and spending – and how that’s helping our own financial situation, we’re trying to make sure we’re frugal with everything we have. As a result, we’ve decided as a family that this “grocery shop once a month, make due with what you have on hand” may be a way for us to cut down on food waste and dollar waste all in one fell swoop.

That said, I’m still reading my food magazines, thank you Apple News, I’m a big fan of Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and until it’s recent demise, Saveur. This most recent recipe came from me loving Pho – I had a recent pot of that on this blog, and now….it expanded my pinterest scrolling into “other Asian soups” and I ran across several recipes for Bo Kho – a Vietnamese beef stew of sorts.

Much of what I love about Vietnamese food is it’s freshness. I grew up in a large city, with a large community of Vietnamese people. Banh mi and pho are only “starter foods” of what is “definitely not” sweet and sour chicken. That said, my less adventurous friends still are willing to try it, because many of the ingredients are easily recognizable – just exciting new combinations.

Seriously – banh mi – where would I be without fresh jalapeno, butter, cucumbery carrot sweet goodness topped with the ever so light fluttering of cilantro on top…, I may need to get out soon. Come on Covid.

Anyway, back to today. Bo Kho. I love it boo-coo. This is my quarantine version – despite us growing fresh basil in the back, I completely forgot to top off our bowls with it. I used spaghetti instead of rice noodles – many recipes call for egg noodles, so I made this compromise. (The toddler had spaghetti for dinner, so yay, multitasking!)

Originally this started off with a “saute this” and “add that” and then I went full on, “It’s Sunday and let’s just get this over with, I need some couch time today” self care. I don’t quite know what went down this weekend – lockdown blues maybe – but I wasn’t in the mood for saute therapy. So I took the ingredients and turned it into a beautiful paste of spices and smells.

Yes! Quarantine Style means I took some liberties. Dried cilantro, not fresh. Made my own substitute Chinese 5 spice that the originals called for (equal parts cinnamon, clove, ginger, pepper and fennel instead of anise) I didn’t have coconut water, but I got tap water! I used sugar free ketchup instead of tomato paste (low carb, easy to squirt, no cans open!) I can even share that the 4 T of soy sauce….because the 1 tablespoon left in the bottle wouldn’t have been used and well, don’t waste things during quarantine people.

The one thing I wouldn’t have moved forward without? Fish sauce. Don’t you dare do Vietnamese that calls for fish sauce without fish sauce. It’s not right. Don’t go there! (Squeeze a fish if you have to…kidding…sorta.)

Once it got going for awhile and I left the room and came back, this amazing waft of yum hit my face. It’s not spicy, it’s not curry, it’s just this hint of beef stew tied up with this exotic mix of gorgeous richness. When you ladle the bowls out, it’s comfort food. The beef is fork tender, you can swirl it up with some noodle bits. The onion and carrot make it a touch sweet.

Once I had some quality couch surfing in, I poured myself a beer and said, “welp. I might like some spice in this.” and so I did. and then I made some chili sauce. This is pretty easy to do, but safety first kids. Cooking oil on a hot burner for nearly half an hour is an accident waiting to happen if not done properly – this may be one you don’t let the kids in on. and I don’t say that lightly – I teach my kid about near everything.

My Vietnamese friends would scold me, their mothers may even beat me, for calling this Bo Kho. So, being in marketing, I’m having a go and calling it “Bo Quo” – Vietnamese for Beef, Latin for “Where” – the latter is really how I’ve been feeling lately…”What day is it? Where are we again?” ….

Enjoy – “where”ver you find yourself at the moment. I hope it’s well and surviving.

Bo Quo (Quarantine Style Bo Kho)

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 T fresh ginger, minced
  • 5 T fish sauce
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • 1½ tsp brown sugar
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 2 T garlic powder
  • 4 T sugar-free ketchup
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 T paprika
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 T dried cilantro
  • 4 T soy sauce
  • 2 to 2 ½ pounds boneless beef chuck or brisket (cut into 1½-inch chunks)
  • 1 onion (sliced thinly)
  • 20 mini carrots, cut in half
  • 4 C water
  • Spaghetti
  • Chili oil for serving (recipe below)
  • For chili oil
  • ¼ C olive oil
  • ½ C vegetable oil
  • 6 T. red chili flakes
  • 1 tsp fennel
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt

First, make the sauce. In a bowl, combine the garlic, gingers, fish sauce, cloves, cinnamon, fennel seeds, brown sugar, lemon juice, garlic powder, ketchup, anise, pepper, chili powder, paprika, salt, cilantro, soy sauce and mix until uniform.

In a crock pot, place carrots and sliced onion on the bottom. Top this with the beef chunks. Pour sauce over and massage into the mixture. Rinse your hand in the 4 cups of water and pour this over the rest of the beef.

Now make the chili oil for serving.

In the smallest saucepan you have, bring the oil and spices over a low to medium heat until it just slightly starts to bubble. Turn to simmer, insuring that it bubbles ever so slightly now and then. Simmer for 20 minutes and then strain into a jar – or place oil and spice in a jar that will allow you to strain as you pour.

To serve, pour soup into bowls, top with chili oil (it should float on the broth) and then the cooked pasta.


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