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

Tag: Tampopo

“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 . . .






home again . . .

chinese lantern from the garden . . .

chinese lantern from the garden . . .

On Monday, five or so days ago, I arrived home around 8:30 a.m., having taken the red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Boston. I was tired. The connecting flight gate at LAX was moved a terminal away and I only got there by asking for someone to push me there in a wheelchair. For the next few nights, I didn’t sleep very well. I had vivid dreams. I woke up at 4 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. Then, I slept until 9:30 after I finally fell back asleep.

Besides having irregular sleep patterns, I set forth to buy food, make broth and clean up the kitchen in anticipation of a new countertop being installed in the next month or so. Instead of having two knife blocks taking up so much room on the counter, I ordered a twenty-four inch magnetic knife strip to hold all the knives that we use. Once G. mounted it on the bottom strip of the octagonal window, we marveled at how efficient and useful it was, noting how we could have done this so long ago! I also ordered a twelve-dollar knife blade sharpener that arrived yesterday. As the reviewers said, it held firmly to the countertop, allowing for one’s non-sharpening hand to rest far away from it, and then to allow knives to be drawn towards me through a “dimond sharpening opening.” It worked so well that my knives are now razor sharp and slice through newspaper, just like on TV! DSCN6942

But I’m not really writing about knife-sharpening in this post, I’m writing about how much I appreciate being home. I’m not a world traveler much anymore, although I’ve done my share while working in the biotech industry, flying to Frankfurt and holding powwows in the airport restaurant with our business partners, then flying home two days later without having left the airport. Once, the American Airlines staff were so surprised to see me returning from Frankfurt on their own layover flight that they moved me to first class, gave me roses and the largest tin of caviar that I have ever seen! It was a memorable trip, also because it took place right before Christmas and there were stalls of German Christmas ornaments and gifts for sale set up in the airport. I had a great time, bought a couple of hand-blown glass ornaments and drank champagne and ate caviar all the way back home. Those were the days when business class was common, unlike today when people are fighting with each other in economy class about moving their seats back!

Now, I’m discovering once again how much I love being home with my husband, G. in our quirky home on the top floor of a Queen Anne Victorian house with his piano shop on the ground floor. Before my trip, we did a big refrigerator clean-out together and it really helped to come home to a half empty, clean fridge. I bought some food, shopping at a Mediterranean grocery store for their heavenly homemade baba ganoush (eggplant dip,) and brought home a sack of small Japanese light-fleshed sweet potatoes from the Vietnamese market–half the cost from the gourmet farm stand a half an hour away–and sharing them with neighbors who love them as much as we do.

Today, I went by the other Vietnamese grocery in town which offers whole roast duckling transported from Chinatown in Boston on Saturday mornings but only if you come at the right time–after they have arrived and before they are sold out–an unpredictable window of time on both ends. I also found a pack of roasted pork buns with a red dot on them and two bunches of scallions for the Peking Duck we’ll have with hoisin sauce and flour wrappers I’ll make tonight. I also picked up raw chicken and pork bones to make a “Tampopo” type broth with ginger root and green onions (plus a spoonful of apple cider vinegar.) When the broth is ready, I’ll strain it and use part of it to make a soup with tofu, mushrooms and fresh watercress added at the last minute so it’s still crunchy when served.

"tampopo" broth with chicken and pork bones . . .

“tampopo” broth with chicken and pork bones . . .

I’m glad to be home but don’t get me wrong, it was a great trip in many ways. Being with my daughter, M. who lives in Minneapolis was a treat. She went out of her way to take care of so many things, not the least of which was to drive our rental car towards Pike Place in Seattle (although we didn’t realize it at the time) during rush hour on a Friday afternoon.

The cottage views were delightful and peaceably enjoyed. DSCN6854We finally found Dungeness crab at the local grocery store and lightly steamed it, eating large chunks of crabmeat dipped in warm, melted Kerrygold butter (from Irish grass-fed cows.) Most of all I got to witness and to deeply appreciate my daughter’s silent ways that made the trip so meaningful. Many thanks, M.!

Making a home means a lot to me. Keeping it up for our needs and enjoyment is one of my great pleasures. I just happen to like doing it, even the tedious cleaning up of things. It looks and feels so much better afterwards. There are still closets to clean out and plenty of cupboards to reorganize before the kitchen gets its facelift in a couple of weeks. I guess I’ll never run out of things to do at this rate, will I?

I’m glad to be home with G.


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.