Ramen

At the beginning of this project, my goal was to cook five times a week. That didn’t last very long because I quickly realized I don’t like cooking that much. I enjoy making food and putting meals together but I’m also a little lazy and often times (always) that laziness overpowers my joy. Well, it’s not so much I’m lazy as it is I don’t like working hard. That doesn’t make me sound any better…so anyway, depending on the difficulty of the cuisine, I make between two and four meals a week. There have been a few times I’ve made five, like Chinese and Indian weeks, but for the most part, I take the easy route. Technically Japanese week was an easy week with only two meals, however, this ramen took three days to make so I wouldn’t say it was super easy.

Okay, I’m kind of stretching the truth. It was pretty easy; at least the first two days were. The first day involved placing sheets of seaweed in water (kombu dashi) and making a mixture of soy sauce, rice wine, and sake (tare). The seaweed used wasn’t your typical paper-thin nori seaweed, instead I used kombu seaweed, which is thicker. I would like to say it’s like bark but not exactly that thick. These two items form the basis of the stock, which was made the second day.

Again, this part wasn’t too hard because all I did was boil pork shoulder and some veggies. Oh, and chicken necks. I can’t forget the necks. The recipe said to also use spareribs but I didn’t want to, so I didn’t. I think my stock came out just fine without it. What was interesting about making the stock was using bonito flakes, which is just dried, fermented fish. This, along with the kombu dashi and tare, give the stock the umami flavor that is coveted in Japanese cuisine. Umami has become a big deal in the culinary world the past few years, so much so that it is now considered one of the basic tastes, along with sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, and sourness. The short answer is that it is the taste of savory, the long answer can be found in this great podcast by Stuff You Should Know.

The third day shouldn’t have been that difficult because all it involved was boiling eggs, reheating the stock, slicing the pork shoulder, and boiling the ramen noodles. The recipe said to use prepared ramen noodles but that was way too easy and as much as I enjoy taking shortcuts, every once in a while I get a hankering for the long, winding road. *sings “The long and winding road, the leads to insanity”* Those aren’t the correct lyrics but that’s where this long and winding road lead me because instead of taking the Insta-Noodles Road, I decided to take the Make Your Own Ramen Noodles Freeway. Unfortunately it’s a freeway and filled with all kinds of fast and crazy drivers. Drivers like Making Dough is Dumb and I’m Pretty Sure I’m Going to Get My Hair Stuck in this Noodle Maker and OMFG I Will Never Get All of This Flour Out of My Kitchen. Oh, and who could forget the best driver of them all, The Complete Fucking Fail of Ramen Noodle Making? I’m not bitter.

So yeah, noodle making was not fun. It’s really time consuming, it’s messy, and stressful. I’m just going to show you a picture. (Sorry for the big picture, Squarespace is being difficult)

Thankfully when I bought groceries for this meal, I bought some packets of instant ramen noodles just in case my noodle making didn’t work out. The top bowl are the instant noodles, the bottom is what I made. This was what came out of the colander when I tried to drain my noodles. They came out of the pot of boiling water as individual noodles but sometime between pouring them into the colander and then flipping the colander over, they turned in a big ball of mush. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know anything about noodle making and I haven’t bothered looking up what went wrong but my initial guess is that I didn’t let the noodles dry out enough before boiling them. I was supposed to let them dry for at least ten minutes but our guests were already on their way and I didn’t think it would make too big of a deal. Clearly it did.

So whatever, my noodle making was a disaster BUT if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this project it’s to have a back up plan so thankfully I bought those instant noodles!

And the ramen turned out great! The pork shoulder I bought was in pieces, not one big piece, so instead of nice round slices, we got bits and pieces but it was still good. It was delicious and I think everyone had more than one bowl so that’s always good. The kids ate cheese sticks, some noodles, and I think a fruit snack pack. You know, something very nutritious.

And that was Japanese week. I’ll make ramen again and I might even try making noodles but not any time soon. No, for now I’ll stay on North Lamar Boulevard, which takes me straight to Chinatown and all the easy ramen I can eat.

Recipe, Recipe

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Tonkatsu

This was the start of Japanese week! I only made two meals during Japanese week because the second meal I made was ramen, which took three days to make. That difficult meal was offset by this really easy one!

Tonkatsu is breaded and fried pork chop. That’s it, pretty easy. It’s one of the most beloved meals in Japan and there are different ways to eat it other than the way I prepared it. You can also eat it as a sandwich or atop rice and curry but I wanted something easy so I went with this. It’s a little odd that this dish is so popular that there are restaurants devoted to making it but then I read this and I understood it a little more.

I chose a cucumber salad to go with the tonkatsu instead of the traditional cabbage because cabbage gives me gas. Sorry if that’s gross but it’s life. I had a little situation with the cucumber because the recipe said to break it up by banging it against the counter top. I guess I had some aggression I needed to get out because I hit the bag so hard against the counter, it busted open. Thankfully most of cucumber stayed in the bag and I didn’t have a huge clean up.

It was a nice meal, nothing too exciting. I forgot to make the sauce that accompanies it but I used some hoisin instead. The meat was a little dry but the sauce helped. The cucumber salad was fantastic and I’ll make that over and over again next summer. Everyone liked dinner that night and I think the four year old even ate some cucumber.

Two days later, I took on ramen making. Fyi, it’s going to be a long post. Be prepared.

Recipe, Recipe

Poffertjes

Like I mentioned in my last post, this was supposed to be our second Dutch meal but because of bad planning, it ended up being our last. I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way and admit this was a total failure.

I knew this recipe was going to be problematic because one of the ingredients was yeast. Yeast and I have a love/hate relationship. I have about a 60% success rate when baking with yeast and while 60% is pretty good, it’s not good enough. Most of my success in baking with yeast happens when I’m baking bread because I’ve baked enough bread to know how to do it fairly well. I also have my tried and true bread recipes so I’m sure that helps as well. My failures arise when I leave bread making and venture out. Maybe it’s my lack of confidence, maybe it’s my impatience, maybe it’s a combination of both, whatever it is, it doesn’t work.

Poffertjes are puffy mini-Dutch pancakes. There’s a specific pan used to make them that ensures they come out round and puffy but I read on various sites that the pan wasn’t necessary. Using a regular pan meant I wouldn’t get the full, round, puffy shape but I’d get pretty close so I went forth. I knew they wouldn’t be perfect so I was already prepared for them to not match pictures but I didn’t expect what I got.

I don’t know exactly what happened but I’m blaming it on the yeast. I had to heat up the milk to just a little hotter than lukewarm and then dissolve the yeast in it until it got foamy, about 5 to 10 minutes. At the 10 minute mark it was bubbly but not foamy, so I heated up some more milk and tried again. The second attempt was better than the first so I went ahead and used that mixture to make the batter. The batter had to sit for an hour until it doubled in size but after an hour, my batter hadn’t increased too much in size. At that point I didn’t care and just started making pancakes.

Obviously mine were not puffy. They were flat, And too chewy, And I ended up eating a sandwich.

I think maybe I didn’t let my yeast warm up to room temperature or maybe the milk was too hot. Whatever it was, it didn’t work. And this is why I hate working with yeast; she is so moody!

James and the girls ate them because they’re nice (mostly they were hungry) and James said they were good but I think he was just trying to keep me from getting too upset. I was really frustrated because I couldn’t figure out exactly what happened. I like to know what I did wrong so I won’t repeat it but in this case, I won’t ever know. Which is fine, I don’t plan on making poffertjes ever again.

Recipe

Chicken in Orange Sauce and Poached Apple

This will be a short post because I currently have a four year old standing next to me and crying because I won’t give her a chocolate chip granola bar. She was originally crying because I put her in her room after we got back from the doctor’s office, where she decided to start screaming in the waiting room because I made her put a coat on for the whole 100 foot walk back to the car because it’s a wonderful 40 degrees outside. I know, I know, I’m the worst mother ever. I make her wear a coat so she won’t freeze and then I won’t give her a sweet whenever she wants one.

Oh, now she’s crying because I made her walk back to her room. The room that is filled with about 100 books and 1,000 toys. The least fun room in the entire house.

Just call CPS on me now.

This was our second Dutch meal. I had originally planned on making poffertjes, Dutch mini pancakes, but I didn’t have time to let the batter sit for an hour before cooking for I made this instead. This was so much better than we both expected! We didn’t have high expectations of it because it’s such a simple meal, literally chicken in orange sauce. Granted the sauce was a little fancier than something I would normally make since it consisted of orange peel, Cointreau, and orange juice but I didn’t think it would be all that special. And I know that sauce doesn’t sound exotic or anything but it’s fancy for me because anything with more than two ingredients is ooh la la territory for me.

I used chicken thighs instead of the breasts like the recipe called for and I think that contributed to the flavor. The extra fat along with all the butter in the sauce made this a lot richer than I think it would have been with just breasts. Even with all the orange ingredients, it didn’t have a strong citrus flavor. I mean, you could taste it but it was subtle and I loved that. I think the brown rice also helped mellow out the entire meal. The poached apple was super sweet but eaten alongside the rice, it wasn’t crazy.

Both girls also ate this meal so big win there! The baby ate the chicken by the fist full but, surprisingly, neither was fond of the apple. I think it was the texture because they’re both used to crunchy apples.

Speaking of, the four year old passed out in her room. And I’m now eating her granola bar. I won this round!

Recipe

Stamppot

Two weeks behind; I’m getting there!

This was the beginning of Dutch week. To be honest, I’ve never had an interest in the food from the Netherlands but we do have a friend who is Dutch and I did this for him. Hi Bob! Bob and his wife, Nicole, currently live in South Carolina but we met them a few years ago through mutual friends when they lived here in Austin. Through the years they have become some of our favorite people and I always look forward to seeing them when they come down to Texas. They usually make a couple of trips a year, one earlier in the year and then another later in the year. They came down during the summer but I had already booked the Netherlands for the winter so I told them I’d cook for them when they came back down. And that was the plan.

Well, then Nicole went and got herself a lucrative contract with a gallery in New Orleans and now they can’t travel as much. Way to go, Nicole! Of course I’m kidding, it was/is an amazing opportunity for Nicole and we are so very proud and happy for her! My friend is famous! If you’d like to check her out (and you really should!) please visit her website or The French Art Network, with whom she works. Saying Nicole is talented is an understatement and I’m constantly in awe of her work. I bow down at her abilities. I am not worthy!

But I am worthy of this meal! Stamppot was a suggestion made by Bob, who said that unfortunately the Dutch aren’t known for their food. We had other friends live in Amsterdam for a bit and they agreed, their favorite food to eat while living there was actually Indonesian. Well I had already done Indonesia so “boring” Dutch food it was.

This was far from boring! It’s really easy to make because all you do is boil and them mash veggies. A child could make this. Well, a child with a good handle of cutlery because you do have to chop up a lot of veggies beforehand. The cool thing about stamppot is that it’s very versatile. From what I gather, you just need to have a couple of root vegetables and a green and you’re good to go. I used potato, sweet potato, turnip, carrot, leek, and cabbage. Bob made a kale stamppot a few days later that look amazing so I will definitely try it kale next time. The recipe called for rookworst, which is a Dutch sausage, but I couldn’t find it so I used kielbasa. Bob suggested smoking it next time to get a richer flavor and to also use a sausage made by Salt Lick, a local barbecue place.

I ate multiple servings of this and I was stuffed afterwards. The girls did eat this as well. The four year old picked at the stamppot but really enjoyed the sausage; the baby stuffed her mouth with both. James also liked it but said it was heavy. It was but that didn’t stop me! I ate it for lunch the next day, and the day after that, and was sad when it was gone. I had planned on incorporating it into our Thanksgiving dinner but I forgot about it until later. Whoops! This would be perfect for the cold weather weare (finally!) experiencing here in Austin so I’ll probably be making this again soon. I’ll just have to make sure I go for an extended run beforehand so I don’t go into a carb coma.

Recipe