"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: ramen

“Ivan Ramen” . . . sort of

ramen title photoHave you seen the Japanese movie, “Tampopo”? It’s pretty old but it’s a classic about making ramen, a soup noodle in broth simmered for days. “Ivan Ramen” is a memoir cum cookbook about an American from New York who goes to Tokyo and opens a ramen shop.

Just to be clear, the ramen I’m talking about in this post is not the instant ramen noodles in colorful cellophane packets that college students eat for four years plus maybe longer when they’re starting out looking for a job and a place to live. My favorite brand of instant ramen is Sapporo Ichiban. It’s great cooked up quickly for lunch with a handful of baby spinach thrown in just before serving.

Nope, the ramen I’m talking about in this post, in “Ivan Ramen” and in Tampopo, is handmade. The taste and texture of handmade fresh ramen noodles and instant is night and day. Ditto, the soup broth. Then there’s all the add-ons: barbecued pork (char sui) or pork belly, Chinese spinach, halves of a boiled egg, fresh cilantro–you get the picture. Ivan’s cookery book gives detailed instructions on how to make chicken stock from scratch which takes 9 hours of simmering a whole chicken. He combines chicken broth with freshly made dashi broth (seaweed based.)

Because I’m not crazy although I am retired and might have the time to follow Ivan’s recipes, my predisposition is to simplify and still achieve an acceptable meal with a lot less trouble and expense. Here’s my experiment:

1. Make chicken stock using three lbs. of fresh chicken bones from the local asian grocery instead of using a whole chicken. This morning, I roasted the chicken bones for almost an hour, then made broth, simmering for a few hours.

2. Make dashi from kombu, bonito flakes and enrich with a little instant dashi granules.

3. Use fresh Chinese thin noodles from the Asian grocery instead of making from scratch (this one is truly a no-brainer.)

4. Buy char sui pork (barbecued pork) from Chinatown available at the local Vietnamese grocery store on Saturdays (ditto.)

5. De-stem and wash Chinese spinach leaves and rinse fresh cilantro.

6. Boil eggs and hold in ice water.

ramen 2In ramen sized bowls, place stemmed washed spinach in the bottom of the bowl. Add cooked fresh Chinese noodles in layers. Place slices of Char Sui pork (Chinese barbecued pork). Add boiling hot soup broth, filling the dish. Garnish with eggs sliced in half, sprinkle with fresh cilantro and chopped scallions.

One bowl noodle, spinach and pork in broth is a nice way to handle supper in the midst of these New England snowstorms. Oh, and our hot water heater was finally repaired this afternoon so I ran an overloaded dishwasher through a wash and dry cycle, emptied the warm dishes, glasses and clean silverware before I began assembling our one-bowl ramen noodle supper.

While G. went outside to do more snowblowing to clear areas to make room for more snow expected yesterday and today, I decided to make a half batch of chocolate chip cookies. Using the last stick of unsalted butter, I mixed the cookie dough by hand and baked small cookies for when G. came in from the cold. His face lit up as he reached for a couple of cookies during this very snowy couple of weeks here in New England.

a batch of chocolate chip cookies . . .

a batch of chocolate chip cookies . . .






beef “bone broth” . . .

bone brothDuring our trip to Puget Sound, I had a chance to learn about wellness foods from my daughter, M. who has been following a beyond-Paleo kind of diet: no grains (rice, wheat, flour); no vegetables growing below the ground (potatoes,) no dairy (including cheese!) no sugar. Plenty of eggs, uncured bacon, broccoli, spinach, chard, kale, collard greens, wild fish, organic chicken and grass-fed beef in small portions. She had a chance to tell me about homemade “bone broth.” It sounded similar to the homemade vegetable broth that I made a couple of weeks ago, a tasty broth for vegetable soups, sauce for veal chops piccata and other dishes. What I froze two weeks ago has been used up by now. So today, I thought I’d explore making a beef bone broth using some of the vegetables I had left over from making the vegetable broth, adding roasted marrow bones.

A couple of things stood out for me when I reviewed a few online articles about making bone broth. One was to ROAST the bones or any beef before boiling. This brings out the flavor and decreases the amount of foam that rises when cooking broth using raw meat ingredients. M. also noted that she uses beef short ribs in addition to soup bones and it was best to use grass-fed beef when possible.

The beef short ribs and bones roasted in the oven at 375 degrees for about an hour. roasted beefAfter it cooled, I browned some veggies in olive oil: leek, vidalia onion, carrots, a parsnip and some celery, about one-third the amount of vegetables that I used in the vegetable broth. Then, I added the roasted beef and spring water to the top of the stockpot. A handful of cherry tomatoes from the garden and a spoonful of instant dashi went in at the end. Two tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar reacts with the bones and draws out the goodness that heightens the healthful quotient of the bone broth.

veggies for bone brothOh, and the other thing the recipes noted was to bring the soup to a boil but do not boil it–just simmer it very gently for a few hours (up to 48 hours!) Yeah, my eyes popped out when I read that too. But then I remembered the Japanese film called “Tampopo” where they spend the whole movie making a delicious soup broth base for their ramen noodles. In that case, pork bones were kept simmering for days. broth and cider vinegar

It’s the beginning of September and the weather is dry and sunny with a gentle breeze. Cool enough to be simmering stock on the stove, although just think of what it would be like to be making continuous vegetable and bone broths during cold winter months? People relate that they drink a bowl of bone broth everyday. To me, that would mean making it constantly because you’d be consuming it almost like tea. Experimenting with making homemade broths has been a revelation. I used to think about making broth as a luxury, carried out by high-end restaurants and super-chefs, using whole chickens and all those great vegetables just to strain it all out at the end.

But no more. What I learned from making that one batch of vegetable broth is how incredibly flavorful the stock is. There is a hint of umami taste too which is intangibly elusive to describe. The beef broth cooled overnight and I skimmed off half cup of fat from it. I used to buy cans of chicken and beef broth to add to stews, soups, glazes and sauces. Having begun to make stock myself, I’ve realized it can enhance flavor while imparting a clean taste. All it takes is a little planning, washing, preparing vegetables and roasting bones as sous prep. Browning the vegetables in olive oil, adding bones, skimming foam and keeping the stock to a simmer is all there is to it.

I’ve strained the broth and reserved some for our supper tonight. I plan to boil some udon noodles separately and then add to the broth along with bits of beef, organic spinach and thinly sliced mushrooms. Along with fresh, crisp bean sprouts and a few fresh mint leaves from the garden on the side, the dish resembles a Vietnamese Pho.

At the oriental market today, I noticed that they had pork and chicken bones. My next broth experiment might be a combination of roasted pork and chicken bones, green onions, fresh ginger root, diakon and perhaps chinese chives. It might resemble a “Tampopo” type broth to add to fresh ramen noodles and snow peas–or as a clear stock for winter melon soup with shitake mushrooms.

beef bone broth with udon, spinach and mushrooms . . .

beef bone broth with udon, spinach and mushrooms . . .

I just remembered that David Chang, in his cookbook entitled “Momofuku” gave a broth recipe that required using a ton of ingredients and simmered for days on end. I’ll have to dig that out and see how different it is from the one I made today. It’s fun to see where making broth is not a mere boiling exercise, but how the results have the potential to transform one’s cooking for just about everything.

Hey, remember that old folk tale called “Stone Soup?” Weary soldiers who have nothing to eat make a soup made with a huge pot of water and washed stones because there is no food to be had. As it is boiling, curious villagers come to see what is cooking and begin to volunteer some of the foodstuffs they have hidden from the soldiers: some bones with meat on it, barley, vegetables and more grains. Before long, there is a huge pot of delicious, hearty soup, enough to feed everyone! This is sort of like that.

Making this or vegetable broth doesn’t take a village, just a little planning and patience while the broth quietly simmers on the stove.



noma . . .

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Noma, but it’s reputedly the “best restaurant in the world,” located in Copenhagen, Denmark and run by a young chef named Rene Redzepi. My daughter, M., surprised me with a gift of his latest publications by Phaidon, a journal, photos and recipe book of a year spent developing new recipes for the restaurant after being named “the best. . .” for three years running.

His initial offering, a large album book called “Noma” was already in my bookshelves, my having opted to purchase it when it first came out due to the unusual and unusually beautiful photographs of food that you could not ever fathom tasting. Even so, I find it rather inspiring to read and look at, if only because it is so independent of mind in the development of flavor and taste which is supposed to equal, food.

Maybe it’s whimsical of me to partake in the experimentation that this kind of culinary pursuit takes, but it appeals to my sense of other-li-ness that I welcome in anything that is tried and true. I mean, of course, people can go and treat themselves to a tasting menu at Daniel Boulud’s restaurants in NYC. or, for that matter, go ramen tasting at Momofuku, David Chang’s hangout that is now being challenged by other ramen spring-ups all over town.

In fact, Redzepi writes fondly about a visit by David Chang to his restaurant when Rene’s second child was born–the very same weekend–and he seems much more interested in how Chang unpacks his cooking knives than belaboring the fact that he’s become a father of two at the same time. It’s an inside look at how cooks, or at least this cook, thinks, nay, is absolutely obsessed with developing something novel and delicious.

In the Journal that Redzepi keeps, he is alarmed that the restaurant is spending more than it is bringing in. For a few months in a row, the ink runs red. Then, he begins to gather the facts that:

a.  They serve 20 dishes to each customer.

b.  Each dish has at least five ingredients–most of which require advance preparation.

c.  There are 111 purveyors from whom they buy supplies; keep track of, pay and store ingredients from.

d.  They also forage, clean and store a huge amount of ingredients.

e.  Sometimes they are surprised by their suppliers who bring in fresh snails or seafood on a Saturday that is inconvenient because it won’t hold until Monday and the menus are already set for the weekend.

f.   Besides preparing menus of 35 plus dishes for 500 customers a week; there is a staff of 70 to feed and clean up after everyday.

One late night after the flow of new ideas from the 35 cooks has gone well, Redzepi noticed a foul smell in one of the rooms downstairs. Someone has neglected to clean fish remains in one of the sinks. Another area was unscrubbed. In a good mood, he starts to clean it up by himself and then blows a fuse, calling every cook at 1:30 in the morning to gather in the kitchens, the whole crew cleaning up EVERYTHING until the place sparkles. This kind of story about how nudging a group to a higher level of teamwork can at the same time also result in backsliding for the most basic of tasks (cleaning things up after yourselves) is apocryphal and amusing.

And Rene Redzepi is only in his mid-thirties. Honestly, I can’t see myself cooking reindeer moss. Or cooking something to resemble or remind one of reindeer moss. But the very stark, austerely beautiful platings that adorn his books, and that same aura which permeates his restaurant are a treat and a treatise for one’s imagination.

So, today, after my hospital ankle appointment when the cast was taken off so that the sutures could be removed, then a new cast put on for another three weeks, I was a little more restrained than usual when we went to do the grocery shopping afterwards. I picked out a couple of endives and a radicchio to make a bitter salad with a honeycrisp apple, walnuts and golden raisins. Maybe a little sour cream and honey in the vinaigrette. Bunches of beets to roast, leeks to cook with potatoes for a creamy Sunday soup; parsnips to accompany a small boeuf bourguinon cooked in the new pot that our friend, B. gave us last week, with some tiny yukon gold potatoes, boiled, sliced in half and slowly browned with a little garlic salt and dried parsley. These ideas are in no way anywhere close to let’s say, experimenting with lamb’s brains but, c’est la vie!

What I have taken away from these armchair adventures of food developed in the cold and wintry land in Scandanavia is to concentrate on flavors, small portions, beautiful settings, eating less, eating better, having fun trying new ways with old habits that still work. All this from reading a few books! Voila!

to do list . . .

ball mumsSome might consider this hiatus of waiting for surgery and then recuperating from surgery to be a time of waiting. Not so, I say to myself after returning from my pre-surgery exam yesterday.

Last night, for some reason, I found it hard to fall asleep and so my mind wandered around and about to take stock and to reflect about what I want or need to do with my time. First of all, I’ve gone through the exercise of putting my affairs in (better) order, talking with my daughters and husband about how they may help each other after I’m gone and going through what I would like each of them to have and also feel free to swap at will. Who knows, I might last a long time after this, but that very intimate task is done, at least a template is in place and can be tweaked every so often. That’s a big load off my mind.

So last night and today, I’m thinking about what I would like to take note of during this chunk of the year while I’m getting back on my feet. Here’s a to-do list that I’m thinking about right now:

1. Be sure to hydrate (drink lots of water) and cut down on bread, butter, potatoes and sweets so that I maintain the weight I’ve lost so far and don’t hapzardly gain a few pounds. Eat more fresh salads with the yummy dressing that I make up ahead of time (garlic slices, olive oil, Marukan seasoned rice vinegar, fresh lemon juice, a little sugar). Handful of mesclun and baby arugula, sliced large fresh mushrooms, ripe pears, marcona almonds, goat cheese. . . like that. It’s so easy to fall back into eating heartier (and higher calorie food) just because it’s tempting to do during this fallow period.

2. Read about recipes and preparations for ramen noodle broth; fixings and condiments; same for soba noodles. Read my Japanese Farmhouse Cookbook, Momofuku and Ivan Ramen Noodles to introduce new dishes into my cookery menus; cold salads and condiments on the side. I love to cook and while I’m slightly limited now, I can still reframe and renew the ideas I’m used to cooking and slowly introduce them into the mix of what we eat.

3. Read lots of books that I enjoy, not what I think I should read. I still have “War and Peace,” “The Tale of Genji” and “Remembrance of Things Past” in the bookshelves, the bindings still tight. I mean, I know I should read “Anna Karenina” but her plight is somewhat dated and I’m not interested in swimming in such deep literary waters. I’d rather dip my reading toes into more enjoyable fare: perhaps Mona Simpson’s new novel that is due out in mid-April. I am still catching up with Lorrie Moore’s “Birds of America” anthology of short stories before I venture towards her new book, “Bark,” which, in the NY Times Book Review sounded like an extraordinary effort towards using puns around the word “bark”–which, if you must know, don’t interest me that much. Lydia Davis, who won the Booker prize for her short stories last year is a writer from Northampton nearby and fun to read every once in awhile.

I used to love to read mysteries and may embark upon re-reading some of the Georges Simenon mysteries which I heard were being re-printed; fun to read about Inspector Maigret and his wife while he solves crime all over Belgium and France. I also enjoyed the Dorothy Sayers series of Lord Peter Whimsey mystery novels. Maybe when I try them out again, they will seem dated, but we’ll see.

4. High on my list is to play the piano with my wheelchair drawn up to my Steinway piano named “Victor.” There’s tons of Bach that can be read without the use of pedal ( my right ankle is gonzo right now.) One of the oscar-winning documentaries was a half-hour film called “The Lady in Room 6” which is about the oldest living Holocaust survivor, Alice Herz Sommer, who died at the age of 110 two weeks ago. In it, she can be seen joyfully playing Bach Inventions on her Steinway upright piano. She has enormous hands and plays with a calm and sprightly musical aspect. While she was incarcerated in the camps, she took it upon herself to learn the complete Chopin Etudes, very difficult pieces for a pianist. I figured if she could do that, the least I can do now is to learn some new repertoire myself while I’m recuperating. So that’s an inspiration. Take a look at the film if you want some perspective on how nothing matters except love and music.

My own piano to-do list includes sightreading pieces and excerpts from Bach Well-Tempered Clavier Books I & II, Inventions, Italian Concerto, Fantasie,  French Suites, English Suites, Partitas; Chopin concerti; Brahms concerti; Beethoven sonatas, Rachmaninoff Preludes; Scriabin Prelude, Op. 11, number 11. It might be good exercise for me to play everyday at intervals and use my back, arms and hands.

5. I have four big balls of Noro yarn left over from three vests that I made for a family up in Minneapolis. I think I’ll use a new criss cross pattern to make a piece of some sort for myself to commemorate this happening in my life–something nice to look at and also to keep warm in while reminding myself how lucky I will be to survive this Spring of 2014. It will be fun to figure out how to do it out of the remaining yarn that I have to work with. I gave the spectacular multi-colored vest with patchwork pockets to one of my daughters last weekend. She looks terrific in it and although in my mind’s eye, I thought I would make it for myself, it’s too colorful for my little brown wren personality so it will be perfect for her to wear when she’s teaching her French classes. When she returns next week for a visit, we’ll take a photo and post it.

That’s as far as I have gotten today. Little by little enjoyable things to do. That’s one of the lessons I am learning too: to be more patient, to take care of myself as only I can, and to enjoy something each day.