My mother in law is Vietnamese and is one of those people who whips up these magical meals that simply drip with deliciousness. When asked how she made it, she invariably replies something along the lines of, “it’s EEEEAAAAAAASY! I just cut that, cook that, add that and [waves hands] – done!”

Well, I’ve been married to her son for 6 years now and neither he nor I have managed to make (edible) pho. I thought I should nab her during this visit and actually capture her pho recipe, Pioneer Woman-style, picture by picture, detail by detail. Because I honestly doubt there is any other way I will even remotely be able to make it without that level of instruction.

Here goes (Warning: my kitchen is messy and unglamorous!)

Pho – A Recipe for Beginners


  • 1 small hunk of fresh ginger root (more or less according to your ginger-lovin’ taste)
  • 5 stars of star anise (you can buy it on Amazon)
  • 3-4 cubes of chicken bouillon
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 Tablespoon of salt (more or less – you decide how you like it)
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 lb beef bones WITH marrow inside
  • 2 lb beef short ribs or thick cut brisket
  • rice noodles (you can buy them on Amazon too!)


  • spring onion
  • thinly sliced fresh raw yellow/white onion
  • mung bean sprouts
  • cilantro
  • hoisin sauce
  • sriracha
  • spicy little chilli peppers that will knock your socks off
  • lime/lemon wedges to squeeze over
  • OPTIONAL: 1 lb of tender beef, thinly sliced (for raw beef on top of noodles that will be blanched by the soup)

– enough for a family of 4 or 5


The first thing you need to do is boil out the impurities in the beef and bones.

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (12 of 12)

You place your bones and beef in a BIG POT, fill with water, then let it boil.

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (13 of 1)

This gross white frothy stuff will rise to the surface from the bones

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (11 of 12)

On hand you are like, “YAY!” that it’s all coming out, but on the other hand, it’s pretty disturbing to think what we might have been consuming all this time… ewwwwwwwwww

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (9 of 12)

Once it’s all really nasty and frothy, remove it from the heat and dump it into a colander with the cold water running on it.

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (8 of 12)

Take EACH PIECE of meat and EACH BONE and wash them individually and place in a bowl full of cold water, just like my Mother in Law is doing in the picture!

When that’s done, place the bones in the (cleaned) pot, and then put the meat on top of them.

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (6 of 12)

Like so. Then fill with water and put back on the stove.

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (5 of 12)

Then! Fun times.

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (4 of 12)

Burn the onion!

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (3 of 12)

And the ginger! Then add them along with the star anise, cinnamon and chicken bouillon and salt to the pot

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (23 of 20)

PLOP! just like that.

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (1 of 12)

Some more of the white frothy stuff will rise. Just scoop it out.


meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (2 of 12)

Take your pho rice noodles and put in a bowl and cover with cold water. You want these babies to soak for a few hours – yes, a few.

You have some time to kill now….noodles are soaking, the soup is simmering…

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (32 of 20)Look! Baby alligator lizard. So cute. Guess he wants some pho too?

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (31 of 20)

while I was looking at that baby alligator lizard, my mother in law was busy chopping these guys up. Lots of spring onions and some leftover plain ole’ yellow onion

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (30 of 20)

Love us some condiments.

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (29 of 20)

The soup has now simmered for a couple of hours. My mother in law took the meat out and is slicing it

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (28 of 20)

She is explaining here to be careful to cut the meat AGAINST the grain because if you don’t, lordy, you are going to have some hella tough meat

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (27 of 20)

Cut, cut, cut

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (26 of 20)

She’s a pro

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (25 of 20)

The boys flock like ants to honey

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (24 of 20)

“pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed us!”

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (22 of 20)

Now! everything is ready so my mother in law just drained the noodles (which had been soaking for 3 hours in cold water), then dipped them LIKE WILDFIRE into boiling water. In and out, FAST!

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (19 of 20)

so fast I almost didn’t capture it

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (21 of 20)

but Moxie did, haha!!

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (20 of 20)

So then she added the noodles to a bowl

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (18 of 20)

Added broth, YUM!

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (16 of 20)

and some meat and fixin’s

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (17 of 20)

Add one very happy little girl

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (14 of 20)

All 3 chitlins inhaled it, I tell ya.

meriah nichols pho recipe september 2014 (13 of 20)


and you will, too.

Pho for Beginners:


  • 1 small hunk of fresh ginger root (more or less according to your ginger-lovin’ taste)
  • 5 stars of star anise (you can buy it on Amazon)
  • 3-4 cubes of chicken bouillon
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 Tablespoon of salt (more or less – you decide how you like it)
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 lb beef bones WITH marrow inside
  • 2 lb beef short ribs or thick cut brisket
  • rice noodles (you can buy them on Amazon too!)


  • spring onion
  • thinly sliced fresh raw yellow/white onion
  • mung bean sprouts
  • cilantro
  • hoisin sauce
  • sriracha
  • spicy little chilli peppers that will knock your socks off
  • lime/lemon wedges to squeeze over

– enough for a family of 4 or 5


Boil the impurities out of the bones and meat. When it is bubbling and filthy-frothy on top, drain the bones and meat into a colander in the sink. Wash each bone and piece of meat in water, placing them in a bowl filled with cold water. Clean the pot. Place the bones and meat (- bones first, on the bottom) in the now-clean pot, fill with cold water and allow to boil. Scrape the second round of impure filth-froth off.

Meanwhile, burn the onion and the ginger. Add to the pot with the bones and beef. Add the star anise, cinnamon, salt (to taste) and chicken bouillon*.

With everything in the pot, turn your attention to the pho rice noodles. Place them in a bowl with cold water covering them. They will sit in the cold water for as long as the soup is simmering, about 3 hours. The goal with the noodles is to pre-soak them, then you will dip them like lightning into boiling water and boom, bang! They will be done.

So, after the soup has simmered for a few hours, take the meat out and thinly slice it against the grain.  Set aside, along with the condiments (- cilantro, green onions, fresh onions, mung bean sprouts, lime/lemon wedges, thinly sliced raw beef).

Pho noodles soaked, boil water in a different pot, quickly place the noodles in and out, then immediately place in your eating bowl. Arrange cooked beef on noodles as well as raw beef (if raw beef is desired) and ladle the broth on top of the meat and noodles.

Then add the other condiments to taste – fresh cilantro! green onions! mung bean sprouts! squeeze your lime wedges over and add a splash of hoisin sauce and sriracha! a little tiny spicy pepper?! why not! it’s all goooooooooooooood.


* note: use chicken bouillon to keep the soup clear. Beef bouillon will change the colour to black or very dark brown. You can, however, use very high quality beef bouillon, without added colour – then it will stay clear.





I was a little incredulous with Little Man's birth, that it was happening it all. Scared of what childbirth would be like, I focused long and hard on the actual passage of his body out of mine. We had the last-minute find of his being breech and the 11th hour struggle to turn him around (- inversion, acupuncture, moxibustion, swimming, headstands – you name it! we did it!).



My joy in his life was overwhelming. I couldn't believe he wasn't going to be taken from me. That every form in the hospital highlighted most of all that I was his mother; that he was my child.



Caring for him was relatively easy. Mikey was 200% with me, jumping up in the middle of the night to hang out with me while I fed our Little Man. We'd watch travel shows, borrowed from the library, "where do we want to go tonight?" is what I remember most from that time. And the pain – healing from the c-section was awful – it took me over 6 months to walk without (much) pain in my back.


I remember that too. All the pain.



With Moxie, I was obsessed with natural birth and trying to avoid the hospital. My anger over "the system" and how powerless I felt within it took over and maybe was a relief from my fear of welcoming this child of mine, who would be coming with Down syndrome, the one and only disability I've ever been very scared of.


She came.


Perhaps instead of feeling the astonishment that I felt at Micah birth – that I was going to be allowed to keep him – I felt a claim to Moxie like 'no one can every take her from me'. More of an assertion than a feeling of incredulous ness.

And oh, the love. The love!


Healing from the home birth was a breeze compared to the c-section – I was walking easily within a week. Everything was so much simpler, pain-free. At least, until the placenta which the midwives had left in me became infected enough to paralyze me.


Then I spent the week in the hospital, away from everyone, including Moxie, in excruciating pain – far worse than anything I'd ever experienced before. With one doctor telling me "sometimes we don't get what we want in life" as she was pushing me to agree to a hysterectomy that same afternoon. Thankfully my fever went down and I escaped her clutches, but the entire affair, which I call "The Placenta Incident" not only shook me to my core, it changed me fundamentally, in my gut. I simply could not go back to work and leave my kids after that. Nor could I continue to walk the path I had been walking, the "normal", "more typical" American one of two working parents striving to "get ahead", planning for the house with the white picket fence.


It also changed me in that it did such a number on my body – both the infection as well as Kaiser's actually trying to figure out what was going on with me (which involved 2 D&C's, massive hemorrhaging and a punctured uterus) – that right now, my OBGYN, unable to tell how fully my body recovered from it all, considers me "high risk." The upshot of this? We have a c-section planned for Boo – on his actual due date of Oct 31, but if there is anything that doesn't look good, he'll need to come out sooner. The risk of a ruptured uterus is there, and that risk isn't one to shrug off.



I haven't been scared of birthing Boo until now. I suppose I'm  starting to feel twinges of all that went with my other two precious people's births, memories of the pain, vulnerability and helplessness. I'm feeling scared of mishap, of negligence. I want to write my will, and then I think that's just morbid.


I'm praying a lot these days.


I know Mikey is too, in his own unique way.  I know he's scared. He is, after all,  the working father of almost-3 who will bear the full brunt of caring for a recovering wife and THREE rapscallion munchkinlings if things don't go well.


So I'm trying to tie things as neatly as I can. Thinking and planning for the kids – their homeschooling schedule for the months of October, November. Thinking and planning for the housework. Thinking we should stock up on paper plates and utensils, too. Whatever we can do to make things simpler, easier, is what we need.


And that includes food. My friend Melissa pre-chops and assembles whole crock-pot meals in advance and then freezes them. Takes them out bit by bit, as she needs. That sounds like a total winner and I'd love to do that.


Do you have tasty crock-pot recipe favorites? Things that make your taste buds sing, things not-beige? Will you share?


** I put the call out on facebook and there was a fantastic ensuing thread – which I'm posting at the end of this, for everyone – there is some great stuff there! **


Are there other tips and tricks that you have done that work, in terms of preparing for a birth, just to make things as easy as possible for everyone?


Things that boost my mojo are handy too. I'm trying to buff up my spirit, dive into that feeling that all is well in the world and everything is going to unfold absolutely perfectly. This is an adventure – sometimes it's scary. That's okay. It's going to work out.






A note from Tea Collection:

Fabulous sale alert! Starting today through Thursday, September 20th, Tea Collection is offering you the chance to choose your discount. The more you buy, the more you save! Stock up on comfortable and durable pants for boys. Mix and match adorable girls' tops and bottoms for endless outfit combinations. There are so many cute options like the Laululintu Tee for girls, and the Kalmari Layered Tee for boys. Don't miss your chance to take advantage of this amazing sale from Tea Collection! Happy Shopping!



Awesome Facebook Thread:

I want to make like Melissa and assemble crock-pot ready meals in preparation for Boo. My big question: what can you make in the crock pot that doesn't totally taste "beige"? Anyone have favorite recipes you'd care to share?

Melissa What exactly do you mean by beige?

  • Meredith  I only know the beige recipes…
  • Lexi  Amy restrictions? Things you don't eat?
  • Lexi  Any
  • Adrienne Hmm what does "beige" taste like anyways? LOL
  • Tiffany  I want in on this…I'm a 3-casseroles-after-meat-cooked-in-the-crockpot kind of girl…tagging along….
  • Crystal  I make beige meals in the crock pot all the time! My secret for good crock pot meals is using those packets in the dry sauce section, the ones for slow cookers 🙂 There's a chicken and tomato one that is FANTASTIC! The only down fall is that it's not truely home made as i'm sure there's also lots of sodium and crap in them :/
  • Melissa  Also, are opposed to a recipe that you actually do cook first and then freeze?
  • Gary  lots and lots and lots of garlic and onions, your family will love you and you will be keep the vampires, witches and crazy neighbors away!
  • Meriah  ‎"beige" is a word that Meredith  introduced me to (it was you, right, Mere?) – to describe the sort of blandness that comes with the crockpot food. Like how it all sort of tastes the same. Blends in just like beige does. You know what I mean? Lexi – no restrictions, other than we like taste. Crystal, what's that about packets in the dry sauce section? Melissa , what do you mean by cook first then eat? I mean, yeah, I'd be cooking the stuff right? I want to assemble all the packets like you did in the freezer with the fresh ingredients, then take them out as needed and cook. Easy cook. Crock pot cook. But (is it possible?) crock pot with lots of taste?!
  • Penny  Are you only looking for complete meals?
  • Melissa  Lol- sorry, went back and edited that. I meant cook and then freeze, because a lot of the recipes I've been using lately you don't cook first, you just freeze.
  • Our answer is to just amp up the spices. We use chili powder, curry powder, different hot pepper based spices, and tone down the basic salt and pepper. (Did you get the recipe list I sent by fb message?)
  • Katie  lentils, sweet potatoes, carrots, cayenne pepper, ginger (the spice kind — my mind is totally blanking on what it's called now – but not fresh ginger, though I suppose that could also work?), cumin, salt pepper. I think that's it. My fave.
  • Penny  This is yummy; someone mentioned that you can marinate chicken breasts before you freeze tHTML too…..
  • Adrienne I must be doing something right then because I haven't had the pleasure of a beige crock pot meals. LOL
  • Penny  Me either, Adrienne !!!!
  • Melissa Corn Soup – you have to cook then freeze, but it's yummy!
    20oz frozen corn, thawed then drained (or you could use fresh)
    1 cup chicken broth
    1/2 stick unsalted butter
    2 cups milk
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon pepper
    1 small can green chiles
    1lb boneless, skinless chicken breast – baked and then cubed
    16 cherry tomatoes, cubed
    8oz monterey jack cheese, cubed
    1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Puree corn and chicken broth. Melt butter and pour over corn mixture. Cover and bring to boil – be sure to stir. Add milk, salt, pepper, and chiles. Bring to a boil then simmer for 2 minutes. Add chicken and tomatoes, heat through.
  • Remove from heat and add cheese. Stir until blended.
  • Melissa  Easy Chili
    2-4 cans beans – any kind you like (or you could go the fresh bean route, but it is more time consuming, we use no-salt-added canned beans)
    1lb ground turkey, chicken, or beef – browned and drained
    1 can diced tomatoes (or you could use fresh)
    1 green pepper, diced
    jalepenos, diced (as many as you like for heat)
    chili powder and garlic to taste
  • Throw all that in a ziploc bag. Freeze. Cook in crock pot.
  • Joey  Hamburger Soup Very easy and yummy. 1lb hamburger 1 bag of mixed frozen vegies 2 cans of any kind of tomatoes you like. potatoes cuebed. italain spices garlic. cook hamburger put all ingredients in crock pot and cook on low for about 4 or 5 hours. very yummy and not beige.
  • Lindy House Chocolate Lava Cake in the crock pot is amazing.
    What, you don't eat that for dinner?? 😉
  • Lindy  I use this site a lot
  • A Year of Slow Cooking
  • Kelly  I only do super easy. I do these two all the time, both are great.
  • Bbq chicken: chicken breasts, bottle of bbq sauce, brown sugar, some italian dressing, warshestire (uhhh sp?). I don't really measure things, either….
  • Mexican chicken: chicken breasts, packet of taco seasoning, jar of salsa.
  • Both on high for 6 hours, or low for 8. All you have to do is stir to shred.
  • Meriah  I like corn soup and stuff like that, but we have a pretty small freezer, Melissa… I think I have to stick to slim-fitting things, I can't think of how else to do it.
  • Melissa  Hmm. Maybe skip the pre-package and freeze ahead part, but just have the ingredients ready to go in the pantry? And just keep the meat and frozen veggies in the freezer? Or, you could individually package just the meat along with all the seasonings, and then add the other ingredients when you put it in the crock pot? That way you are literally just dumping stuff in the crockpot rather than gathering a ton of ingredients?
  • Chari  Any vegetarian crock pot meals?
  • Megan  A few weeks ago, a threw a pork tenderloin from TJs in the crock pot with a jar of TJ chile verde salsa over it and it was yummy…it made great burritos, then enhanced a salad for another couple of meals.
  • Lisa Varandani Cuban ropa vieja – yum!
  • Alana
  • ‎4 lamb shanks
    1 15oz tin stewed tomatoes
    1 large chopped onion
    juice and zest of 1 lemoon
    1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
    1/2 cup white or red wine
    1 – 2 tsp salt
    1 bunch chopped fresh basil
    — Either 3 hours in a dutch oven at 350, or 8 -10 hours in slow cooker
  • Meriah – ‎Alana – that sounds DIVINE. Lisa – how do you make that? ANd Megan – it's funny you mention that because it's the ONLY thing I can do that's not beige, in the crock pot. That stuff is GOOD!
  • Leah  I do a ton of soups. But I usually find that I prefer stove top or oven cooked meals. If I am home during the day it's really not much more work but you do have to check and stir occasionally. I'll go through my stuff and find the good ones later today.
  • Meriah  This is just for after boo vines – and before. I'm getting really tired and font feel much like cooking… Be good to have everything lined up…
  • Meriah  ‎*comes; don't. Oh autocorrect! Why must you make me talk gibberish?!
  • Crystal  It's the club house spice mixes I love. They give you the list of ingredients on the back, add them and whatever amount of water and the packet and volia. Takes me like 15 minutes to put everything together. I also use 
  • Jennifer   Bottle of TJ's red curry, bottle of the yellow curry, pour over chic, carrots, potatoes, onions, add unsalted peanuts and apples 30 minutes before you're ready to eat.
  • Leslie  Very easy cheater one (& cheap too)- go to Trader Joes & buy turkey meatballs & roasted garlic marinara. Throw in crockpot on low 4-6 hours. Eat over pasta or throw in a roll with a slice of provolone or mozarrella to make delicious meatball subs.
  • Kelley  I'd say for boo arrival and without much freezer space maybe get a hit list of the very easy "dump a bottle/jar" style ones. Buy all, freeze just meat and just "make" it in the crockpot rather than the into the bag, freeze for later prep.
  • Meriah  that's a really good idea, Kelley  – seems like there are a lot of those "dump 'em" jar type recipes here on this thread – makes it MUCH easier
  • Melissa When I pre-portion meat, I write right there on the freezer bag "add 1 cup broccoli, 1 jar sauce, serve with pasta" then I don't even have to look up a recipe.
  • Kelley  I'd even print the list of receipes and put it in the cabinet next to all the purchased jarsostuff so as the completely eliminate thinking. But lots of prepeeled garlic in jars too to add liberally.
  • Kelley  ‎*what Melissa said. 😉 actually I was inspired by Melissa too. I made 2 new crockpot meals last week and I have 2 bags of surprise awaiting me. Neither were beige. One involved hot wings sauce and frozen peaches on pork 😉
  • Meriah  Recipes please Kelley! Those sound FABULOUS!!
  • Kelley  I made that one up actually: 3 lg chugs hot wing sauce, 6? Froz peach halves, half a lil can tomato paste, a chopped onion, green pepper and lots of smashed garlic cloves and I think I added ketchup at the end cause it was a little too spicy even for me. And probabky cumin, salt etc. Oh and it was all dumped on a big chunk of lean pork. I stick blended the sauce after and it made this very yummy tho lil weird BBQ sauce, still using sauce on other things as nava ate the pork plain 😉
  • Leah  I am a wing it without a recipe kind of gal, but here are a couple that I love. Spicy Chickpea Potato Stew- 3 cups cooked garbanzo beans, 1 onion, chopped; 3 cloves garlic, minced; 1 jalapeno (optional), 1-1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1/4 tsp ground turmeric, 3/4 lb tomatoes (or 1 can diced tomatoes), 1 lb potatoes (yukon golds, ideally). Puree 3/4 cup of garbanzos with 3/4 cup water and reserved. Saute onion, garlic jalapenos in oil. Ad spices, tomatoes, pureed garbanzos, potatoes. Bring to boil, then reduce and over until potatoes nearly done (about 20 minutes). Add rest of garbanzos, simmer until done. Season with salt, pepper. Garnish with cucumber, red onion and cilantro. Great in tortillas.
  • Leah  Lentil soup: Cora's all time favorite. Can be made with so many flavors. 1 onion, 5 cloves garlic, 1 cup lentils (red is the best!), 1 can diced tomatoes, 4 cups of chicken or veggie broth, 1 tsp thyme, 1/2 tsp fennel (optional), 1 yukon gold potato, 1/2 tbs smoked paprika (optional but good- can also cook with hamhock for great smoky flavor), 1 bay leaf, 2 carrots, 9 oz of spinach, chard, kale or other leafy green. Saute veggies. Add lentils, broth, spices, etc and simmer until done (45-60 minutes- or in crockpot).
  • Kelley  Thanks Leah, I got out of the lentil habit and was just thinking it was time to start again!
  • Myria  Cranberry pork roast. It is awesome and perfect for fall. just dump a pork roast in and cover it with (mix it together first) a can of jelled cranberry sauce, a 1/4 t. cloves a 1/2 t. ground mustard and 1/2 c. apple juice and 1/2 c. sugar. Roast on low for 6 hours or so and it makes its own gravy for mashed potatoes. I serve it with asparagus. It is sooo good.
  • Meriah – ‎Penny – for the Cafe Rio chicken, you put it in the crock pot still-frozen? Did you pre-assemble all the ingrediants?
  • Meriah  btw – I'm going to blog this thread if it's okay with everyone – sans last names and photos of course
  • Melissa  Only if you post some awesome pics of Moxie and Micah enjoying all these fun recipes. 😀
  • Meriah   haha! That'll happen after Boo comes. We have to get our act together and ASSEMBLE all of this first. Good stuff though. Wow. So much. Quick question – do you even drain out the beans from the can and add them to the freezer bag? Or do you not add it ALL and just make a note on the bag to add it?
  • Kelley I think it *should* be blogged! 😉
  • Penny  I have not put it in frozen. I would think that you could either freeze everything together and put it in the crock pot on low for a LONG time, or freeze it together, take it out overnight in the fridge, to thaw a little, then toss it in the crock pot on low…..



We went shopping. Bought the stuff for EVERYTHING above ($110), tried Myria's cranberry pork last night and boy. Yeah. That was no "beige" receipe.


The crockpot recipe books don't work for me – I have 3, all turned out astoundingly beige. 

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