Follow the culinary adventures and misadventures of the Cooking Agents (Ray and Katie). Watch as we eat/cook our way into adulthood.
Ramen. Just typing those five letters brings me back to late college nights, where fears of getting cancer or permanent brain damage from microwaving food in Styrofoam went completely out the window. I’m not proud of myself, no.
I was first introduced to this stuff by my younger cousin, Laura. I recall being at my grandparents’ house and seeing little Laura probably no more than 10, eating out of the ubiquitous styrofoam cup. I had a very limited scope of exposure to ramen before college. I knew Nissin’s Cup of Noodles from Laura and one “weird” girl from high school used to munch on uncooked ramen. I don’t know how she stored it, but it was as if her left blazer pocket was a bottomless pit of broken noodles (GAG).
I went into college having a pretty negative outlook on these seemingly innocuous noodles. Well, you know what they say about college… it’s your time to “experiment”. Hit the books, hit the bottle, hit the ramen block (the shin ramyun block to be exact). Somehow by the grace of God, I managed to evade the freshman 15 and other heinous weight gains in college. Don’t worry, I’m expecting that to catch up to me soon (starting with this trip’s terrible eating decisions). Since graduation in 2008, I’ve succumbed to the ramen monster maybe three times? Not too shabby, if you ask me!
Well, this past attack was a full fledged blow. It wasn’t the normal moment of weakness I experience. This was premeditated. Ivy, Ray, and I headed into the heart of Little Tokyo and we waited. Yes, we waited 45 WHOLE MINUTES … for ramen!
Heading into Little Tokyo Plaza
Enjoying some red bean treat while we wait // A very appropriate neon noodle sign!
Long ass line at Daikokuya Ramen
After some toying with hearts – there were three “Ray” parties on the wait list, we were finally called into the temple of noodledom. Because we had ample time to decide what we wanted, we ordered immediately. One tuna sashimi appetizer and three daikoku ramen combos – one tonkatsu, one shredded pork, and one teriyaki eel (not pictured).
Ramen packed with noodles, boiled egg, scallions, bean sprouts, and sliced pork
NOT tuna sashimi // closeup on that fatty sliced pork (Chashu
tonkatsu and shredded pork
The verdict? The tonkotsu, not to be confused with tonkatsu, soup base was so rich. TonkAtsu – pork cutlet; TonkOstu – very creamy, pork bone based broth. I know, very confusing. Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Taking that quote completely out of context, the broth managed to have a profound and very rich flavor while still being subtle. After eating half of the delightfully thin, springy noodles in my bowl and a few bites of my pork cutlet and Ivy’s shredded pork, I realized that yet again my eyes were bigger than my stomach. I woefully admitted defeat and couldn’t even bring myself to eat the boiled egg, which Ray said was delicious.
Ray and I both agreed we liked the noodles best and regretted getting combos, as I would have easily given up my pork cutlet to make more room for the noodles. Ivy’s shredded pork was by far the best rice bowl. Sweet, thick sauce on pieces of pork belly really can’t be beat.
While Daikokuya may not broken my vow of less ramen, it did show me if you can’t beat the ramen monster, EAT the ramen monster (in moderation, of course).
Sometimes blogging about food means subjecting yourself and those you love to just plain ridiculousness and tom foolery. For instance, if I am planning on making something fancy and French for the blog, I’ll go shopping on Thursday or Friday so that on Saturday morning, I can have my mise en place ready to go by noon… usually for a recipe I’m going to be eating for dinner. Yes, I am a masochist and like cooking things that take me literally ALL DAY. My reason is the lighting in my apartment. It’s not ideal and I am a firm believer in natural lighting over artificial lighting when it comes to food. It just makes everything seem warm and sunny and of course makes the food overall more appealing. My job makes it impossible to take pictures of anything in daylight during the week, so again, my Saturday is my day in the sun… literally.
Blogging about food also means having to struggle through the neverending battle of the bulge. Fortunately, my boyfriend has equipped me with p90x videos. I’m whipping up buttercream one minute and then doing plyometrics 15 minutes later. Crazy, but I am doing p90x afterall. That must mean I’m EXTREME! I was talking with a fellow blogger, Winston from The Gluttonous JD, who shares my fear of fatness. Winston mentioned something about a diet, at which point I stopped paying attention. I don’t diet. I may indulge in smaller portions, but I do not and will not ever go cold turkey on certain food items. He caught my attention again when he mentioned Rick Bayless and soup that was “healthy”. In my mind, Rick Bayless + Soup + Easy Dinner = Tortilla Soup! I’m not sure how healthy this is, but I can guarantee it’s better than eating a cupcake or two.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. This will be for your homemade tortilla strips.
While the oven is preheating, add the chicken thighs, jalepeno (add the seeds if you want it extra spicy), broth and chicken stock to a large pot. Turn the heat to medium-high and wait for the pot to come to a boil. Once it reaches its boiling point, redice the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
At this point, remove the chicken from the pot and set aside. You want it cool enough to handle when you go to shred it. In the meantime, add salt to the cooking liquid. Depending on your brand and how “low sodium” it really is, you will need to adjust the amount of salt you add. Slowly build up the amount of salt you add to the pot. Cliche, but it’s a good tip — you can always add but you can’t take it back. Keep tasting until the salt level is right for you.
To make the tortilla strips, brush the tortillas with the canola oil on both sides. Stack the tortillas and cut the rounds right down the middle. Stack the semi-circles and cut into strips about 1/2 inch wide. Spread the strips on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 10 minutes, then stir the strips around to make sure everyone is started to get a nice tan. Periodically check your strips for golden brown perfection. For me, it took another 7 minutes. Really watch these though. I went 3 minutes too long on my first batch and they very quickly went from golden brown to dark tropical tan. Yuck.
Your chicken should be cool and ready for shredding. If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, take the thighs and start shredding with your fingers. Throw the chicken into the pot and let it come back up in temperature.
To serve, you can be like me and dirty every single small bowl in your kitchen and fill them with the fun verdant toppings. Let your guests add what they’d like and enjoy!
Overall, I really didn’t think I would like this soup. In the pot, it was bland and “chickeny”. Chicken isn’t a bad flavor, it was just a little one note and not the complex broth flavor I was looking for. HOWEVER, once I added all of the garnishes and a squeeze of lime, I was immediately transported to flavor town. This was refreshing and light. I would even be so bold to say it may have been healthy! Shocking, I know!!!! If you have the ingredients, I’d say give this soup a chance.
Sundays are always a great opportunity to cook, and Sundays in winter are even better. The weather makes the prospect of leaving grim. The solution is soup! Looking at the next recipe (Lobster and Duck Garbure), I’m glad that I get one of the easier recipe in the Cafe Boulud cookbook. This recipe was easy to prepare, had simple and few ingredients, quick to make, and will definitely be added to my arsenal for quick, satisfying soups.
First, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a stockpot over low heat. Add leeks and stir until they are tender, but not colored, 8 to 10 minutes.
Leeks Tenderizing in Butter
Pour in the stock and increase heat, and bring just to a boil. Add potatoes and season with salt and white pepper. Lower the heat so that soup is at a simmer, 8 to 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. While potatoes are cooking, whip the 1/3 cup cream until it is fluffy and no longer running. Puree sorrel (Romaine/Bibb lettuce with a squeeze of lemon if out of season or unavailable) in a food processor or blender. If the mixture needs additional liquid you can add a table spoon or so of additional cream. gently fold the pureed lettuce mixture into the whipped cream.
1/4 Inch Diced Yukon Gold Potatoes
Once the soup is finished, ladle into a bowl and add a spoonful or sorrel or lettuce cream on top, serve immediately.
Leek and Potato Soup
Unfortunately, the store didn’t have sorrel so I used Romaine lettuce as recommended, but still found the addition quite delicious as it added creaminess, texture, color and sourness from the squeeze of lemon to make a well balanced soup.
The first recipe in Cafe Boulud Cookbook is Onion Soup with Braised Beef Shank. The recipe is relatively simple, but time consuming especially if you are making stock from scratch as I did. Some key tips include cutting vegetables and meat in uniform sizes, skimming fat consistently, straining the soup, and simmering for a long period of time. Cutting the vegetables in larger uniform sizes helps keep the vegetables from turning to mush too quickly and cooks everything evenly. Skimming the fat as the soup’s impurities rise to the surface keeps the soup a clear, uniform consistency, while straining helps keep the soup clear and smooth. Simmering for long periods of time helps the soup gain a more intense flavor and adds depth as water evaporates from the soup and more flavor is left over in a smaller amount of broth. One last tip is to season and taste throughout to make sure your soup has flavor in the finished product. Once you add salt, give it a few minutes before tasting again.
I made stock from the cookbook and can say that if you have the time and money, I would highly recommend giving it a try if not solely for the experience of making your own stock.
Beef Stock Ingredients
First, sear beef shank in large saute or skillet with vegetable oil and set aside. Melt butter separately in a dutch oven or large stock pot. Add sliced onions and minced garlic. Let onions cook and develop color (roughly 30 to 40 minutes) on medium heat.
Stay Gold, Pony Boy
Next, add flour and cook for 5 minutes so that raw flour taste disappears and the flour is wet. Pour white wine and heat until it is nearly evaporated. Add seared pieces of beef shank, vegetables, herbs, and beef stock. Bring to a boil and then simmer for two hours. Make sure to consistently skim fat and impurities from the surface. Strain the soup once it is finished and eat or seal in airtight containers in fridge or freezer.
Finished Product, Uneven Onion Slices Included.
Overall, the soup was simple in ingredients and had a lot of depth with neither the onions or beef stock being too overpowering and tasted like a very traditional French onion soup. The amount of salt I had to use to really begin tasting the soup was somewhat alarming, but I think that is something a home cook needs to get over if they really want to elevate their cooking. In all likely hood, it’s still far less than what you get in a restaurant or from a can. I consumed 2 bowls along with some toasted French bread I made using a bread maker. Soup absorbed bread is not something to be missed. The remainder of the evening was spent thinking of ways to consume the leftovers and peeing the consumed soup.