Comfort Food for a Sick Family

The cold/flu that flattened our family for a good three weeks seemed to have gone away, but over the last few days it reared its nasty head again, albeit in a more subdued form. Thing 1 ended up home with a fever, while at the same time Thing 2 has a nasty, chesty cough. I am not immune, and still have sinus congestion and pressure issues. This means that, on our least-energetic days, we all want comfort food, and I haven’t felt up to cooking anything complicated.

This is where chicken noodle soup came in the other day. I didn’t even have to go out to get the ingredients! I had homemade broth in the freezer (I try to always keep it stocked), along with some chicken thighs that I baked. Then I boiled up some ditali noodles, threw them in a pot with half of the broth and half of the chicken, and there was chicken noodle soup for the family. Earlier in the day I also managed to throw on a loaf of herb-free Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread (it’s become my go-to loaf for a nice, light white bread), so we had fresh bread to go with the soup.

Now, you may have noticed that I only used half of the broth and chicken, and that was so that I would have leftovers. Chicken noodle soup doesn’t generally refrigerate well because the noodles swell up and absorb most/all of the liquid over time. Instead, I refrigerated the ingredients separately, and last night I threw them all in a pot with a half of a cup of rice and simmered it all together until the rice was cooked (about 20 minutes).

It’s nothing fancy, but culturally our first go-to around here is chicken noodle soup when we’re not feeling well. If chicken noodle soup isn’t available, something bland, nutritious, and warm is the next option on the list. It seems to have worked this time, because the girls are already getting their energy back. I hope this means we’ve managed to kick this thing for good — knock on wood!

The Continuing Quest for Great Ramen

I’m still working on getting the best ramen — especially the best tonkotsu ramen — possible in this neck of the woods. It frustrates me so that you can get decent, if not downright good, ramen on just about every street in Japan, and cheaply, too! It’s generally not considered fancy food. But here it’s practically gourmet fare, hard to find, and expensive.

So I’m still trying to make my own passable version. Overall, the best ramen broth I’ve made was shoyu ramen from page 8 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016) (or her website easypeasyjapanesey.com. But my favourite type of broth is still tonkotsu, and to be frank it’s more than a little intimidating because there are so many steps that must be gotten just right. I’ve been trying to skip the cooking step on this one and just find a pre-made alternative, but I haven’t had a lot of luck.

Last night I made another attempt at using a pre-packaged soup base. I couldn’t even read anything on the package except “tonkotsu ramen” (what can I say, it’s been twenty years since I took Japanese lessons), and I am still kicking myself for not taking a picture of the packaging. The base came in what was essentially a bag, and was fully liquid. As with many other such things, I bought it at T&T.

The broth was okay I guess, but nothing spectacular. It was better than any of the dried kinds I’ve tried, but still not as good as the fast food places that I know for a fact use instant broth (I’ve watched them cook it). So yeah, nothing to write home about.

The noodles, were a bit soggy and floury. I’ve used this brand before (Nissin Frozen Ramen Noodles), and at this point I’m just using up what’s in my freezer. I don’t plan on buying them again.

The toppings, though, were really tasty. I made pork belly with soy sauce, a dash of sake, and a little bit of sugar. I think I could have gone a little bit lighter on the soy sauce (it was a little salty), but otherwise I liked this pork belly much better than the kind I have made in the past. I think what helped was that I browned it first, then added the liquids and let it simmer for a while. It really enhanced the flavour.

The other toppings included soft-boiled eggs, enoki mushrooms, thinly sliced carrot (made easy by using a veggie peeler instead of a knife), narutomaki (fish cake), green onion, and tobiko (flying fish roe). The toppings were tasty, complimentary, and easy to prepare.

It’s getting to the point now where I think I had best just start making tonkotsu broth and ramen noodles from scratch in order to meet my own standards. I’ve wasted so much time trying to find decent pre-made ingredients when I’m starting to think that they’re just not available this side of the pond. I think the next step is investing in a pasta machine. At the very least, I think I’ll be waiting for autumn to start making my own broth — since it takes so long and so much boiling, it doesn’t seem wise to start cooking broth during the dog days of summer if I can avoid it.

Sun Noodle Brand Instant Shoyu Ramen

My trip to T&T last week resulted in me bringing home a whole load of new things I wanted to try, of course. The first one that I broke out was Sun Noodle Brand Instant Shoyu Ramen. It’s about $6.50 per frozen package, but each one serves two, so even though it’s not as cheap as the dried, instant stuff, it’s still a pretty darned affordable meal.

I’ve had shoyu broth, which is predominantly chicken and soy sauce flavoured, in Japan, and at Ichiko Ramen (formerly Ginza Ramen), and I’ve made it at home as well. (The fantastic — and easy! — homemade soup base recipe can be found on page 8 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016) or at easypeasyjapanesey.com.) Although I’m by no means an expert, I think that I can at least tell what shoyu ramen is supposed to taste like, for the most part.

The package only contains the noodles and the broth, though; the instructions on the back of the package recommend adding your favourite toppings. I needed to make a quick meal, so I went with what we had in the fridge/freezer/pantry: soft-boiled eggs, narutomaki, enoki mushrooms, dried shrimp, and nori.

The verdict on this quick dinner was pretty positive. Sure, it’s not as good as homemade, and definitely not as good as restaurant fare. But it’s miles better than the dried instant kind. The noodles have a better consistency, which in the case of ramen means that they’re chewier (dried ones have a tendency to be soggy when cooked). The broth had more depth of flavour, although the one complaint I did get is that it was a little bit too salty. That might have been because of the dried shrimp, which are quite salty in and of themselves. Usually I add them to my homemade broths, which are very low in salt, and that works well, but they may not be a great combination with packaged stuff. It also could have been because I didn’t water down the broth enough. The instructions gave a range of the amount of water you could use, and then said “to taste”, so I guess our “to taste” is a little more watery than the official directions.

That being said, they were definitely good enough to try again! Maybe I’ll switch up the toppings next time; we could definitely have used more vegetables that night.

Wonton Soup

Last night the girls were off to Guiding, so I needed to make a quick and easy dinner. It was still wet and rainy, so I thought that it would be a nice idea to have some soup. I’ve been making a point of turning my frozen stockpile of bones (left over from roasts and rotisserie meals) into broth, so I used some of my recently-made chicken broth to make up some wonton soup.

There wasn’t really a recipe as such. I threw some of the leftover chicken from Family Day, some baby bok choy, and a generous sprinkle of salt into the broth while I brought it to a boil. Then I added a couple of handfuls of fully-cooked chicken & cilantro mini wontons (bought at Costco) and cooked them for about two minutes. The broth didn’t need much seasoning because the wontons themselves are bursting with flavour — a very cilantro-based flavour, so I’m really lucky that none of us have that gene that makes cilantro taste like soap. And that was that!

Pork Belly Ramen

Earlier this week I accidentally bought two packages of pork riblets. I was distracted by the fact that each package was less than $2.00 and didn’t read the label very well; I thought that what was inside the package was solid meat instead of mostly bone. When I went to cook it I was highly disappointed! So I threw the bones into a crock pot and simmered them for two days in order to get a passable broth.

On that same shopping trip I bought some pork belly slices for about 75% off, with which I was much less disappointed. I haven’t had much luck cooking pork belly in the past (one time I over-salted, another I cooked them for much too long and they were tough). I went to the Internet and found that one way to cook them for soup is to simmer them. I used:

– 1 tsp ginger
– 3 Tbsp sugar
– 4 Tbsp soy sauce
– 4 Tbsp sake
– 2 green onions, roughly chopped
– 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
– 1 1/2 cups water

When the meat was done, I set it aside and added the remaining simmering liquid (with the large particulate strained out), plus 1 tsp instant dashi granules and a drizzle of mirin, to a pot of the pork bone broth I’d made. The broth turned out nice and flavourful, but the pork belly still needs a bit of work; perhaps if I marinaded the pork belly in the liquid first, simmered it, then grilled it briefly to get some browning? I definitely need some more practice before I get it 100% right.

In my ongoing quest for a better noodle, I served the pork and broth over a base of Kumai Japanese Style Handmade Ramen noodles by Chewy International Foods Ltd.. They’re still nothing close to fresh handmade noodles, but they have been the best pre-packaged noodles I’ve tried so far. You only have to cook them for 30 seconds in boiling water, which I think really helped them stay nice and chewy.

I served the ramen with shredded Napa cabbage, soft-boiled eggs, and green onions, in addition to the pork belly and broth I’d made. It wasn’t perfect, but it was quite tasty, and I enjoyed it. Too bad Thing 1 is down with a cold again and couldn’t really enjoy it, since it’s generally the kind of dish she prefers. At least the warm soup felt good on her sore throat.

Shoyu Ramen

As I have said before, I am a huge fan of ramen. Not the instant stuff (although in a pinch, that stuff’s not half bad), but the fresh kind with real toppings. I fell in love with it in Japan, and I get out to Ginza Ramen whenever I can. But ever since my husband’s birthday dinner, now that I’ve learned how to make the good stuff at home, I probably eat it way more than I should. Not that my family minds, they’re just as big into it as I am.

I started off by using up the Shoyu base (page 8 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016)). The recipe is also available for free on the author’s website at easypeasyjapanesey.com. I have since made a couple of batches of this broth and I still love how easy it is to make and how packed with flavour the broth turns out. If you’re like me and you like making things that you can just throw in the slow cooker for eleven hours, then you’ll love this recipe. I also like that this recipe makes up enough broth for eight or so servings, so I can freeze the excess for an easy meal later on.

As with many of my noodle soups, the toppings were less a pre-planned dish and more whatever we had in the fridge/freezer at the time. I included soft-boiled eggs, garlic shrimp, masago (capelin roe), and mussels cooked in white wine and garlic butter. The mussels were the kind that come in a vacuum-pack with the sauce and are meant to be cooked in the microwave or by dumping the whole pack in a pot of boiling water. I’m fully aware that this isn’t terribly classy, but it was delicious.

My second shoyu ramen was topped with soft-boiled eggs and garlic shrimp; these two ingredients are pretty common in the food I prepare because there are almost always eggs in the fridge and shrimp in the freezer. This time I also included baby bok choy and squares of nori (dried seaweed sheets).

I topped my third ramen with soft-boiled eggs, carrots, bok choy, and teriyaki chicken breast. I had never thought to combine teriyaki and ramen until I went to Umi Sushi Express in the food court of Rideau Center a while back, and I was pleasantly surprised when I ordered this dish. I mean, Umi Sushi is still fast food, and it’s nothing compared to the fantastic variety of ramen available in Japan, but it’s probably the best thing in the food court. Now if I can only find out what kind of hot sauce they used.

Birthday Dinner

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday, and the tradition at our house is that you get to eat whatever you want (within reason) on your birthday. This often involves going out to a restaurant, but this year my husband asked me to make his dinner instead. His choice of dinner necessitated a special trip to T&T Supermarket for ingredients, which was, as usual, an event in itself. Every time we go, we have a meal in the cafeteria, and then the kids have to check out all of the samples and go watch the live fish and seafood in their tanks. We also have to peruse the produce and packaged goods sections for food we’ve never tried before, and for ingredients for new recipes we’d like to try. There is no such thing as a quick trip to T&T with my family.

The main meal that my husband requested was California Ramen from page 86 of Simply Ramen (Amy Kimoto-Khan of easypeasyjapanesey.com, 2016). My copy of the book was actually a birthday gift to me from my husband a few months back, and I feel this may have been a not-so-subtle hint on his part. This dish is based California roll sushi, with toppings of avocado, cucumber, and crab. The recipe recommends fresh Dungeness crab, but I had never cooked live crab before, and I have to admit that I chickened out and used frozen crab instead. I distributed one package of frozen crab meat out around our family of four, but I admit that I probably could have used half as much crab and been just as happy. I also ended up using soft-boiled eggs instead of the marinated half-cooked eggs recommended, mostly because I misread the directions and didn’t realize they had to start marinading two days before the dish was to be made. Whoops.

The standout flavour of this dish, though, was the shoyu base broth. I’d never made it before, but it was both delicious and very simple. It packed a huge amount of flavour and tasty aroma into what I would have thought is just another slow-cooker broth. The recipe calls for dashi granules and soy sauce (both of which are high in sodium) and salt, but I had to take into account my family’s tastes. I left the salt out, and I am glad I did. The broth was just fine without it. In addition to the broth, I ended up with a lovely cooked chicken and melt-in-your-mouth oxtail (both of which are supposed to be discarded after being strained out of the base), so that’s two meals in one, really. All in all, it was a 10/10 recipe, and I will definitely make it again after I use up the leftovers that I froze! Now I want to try all of the bases in this book, especially the tonkotsu — my absolute favourite when I go to a ramen restaurant.

Of course, no birthday in our house is complete without dessert, and as my husband is not a big fan of sweet dishes, I made him up a fresh reduced-sugar blueberry pie. I cut down the sugar from the recipe by a third, but the blueberries were so sweet by themselves that I could probably have reduced it by a half or more. Once again, I used the Purity Pastry crust from page 73 of the Purity Cookbook (2001 edition), and the fresh fruit pie filling formula on page 228 of The Canadian Living Cookbook by Carol Ferguson (1987). I made a latticework crust, which turned out pretty well considering that a) it was only my second time making one, and b) Thing 2 somehow managed to step on the edge of uncooked pie while I was showing it to her, and I had to totally reassemble it. If you’re pondering the logistics of that, be aware that there was a stool involved so she could see what I was working on at the counter, and that the pie’s innards all fell out onto a clean baking sheet.

As many of my pies do, the blueberry one did not stand up well to a serving knife… It kind of crumbled and fell apart. I figure that’s not so bad because that means that the crust is nice and flaky. And yes, I did keep thinking of The Frantics’ A Piece of Pie while I was making this dessert. “Great big blueberries!”