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!

Handmade Noodles With Beet Pesto

I cooked up all of my beets and served them cold, chopped up with a bit of Dijon mustard and mayonnaise. But there was all kinds of beet juice left behind, so I thought I’d freeze it for use later. If it’ll stain anything, it should make a good colouring, right?

So I bought some 00 flour for my next pasta attempt, and I added my four eggs, and then a couple of cubes worth of beet juice. The problem was, that added more liquid, which meant I then had to add a bunch more flour in order to make the noodles the proper consistency. In the end, the colour didn’t change all that much. I was hoping for a vibrant beet red, but what I got was a kind of light peachy orange. I think that either I need to omit the eggs and use just beet juice (which will probably affect the flavour of the pasta), or boil the beet juice down an awful lot so that it’s very concentrated and doesn’t add much liquid with the colour.

To keep the pasta from sticking to itself, I made an improvised drying rack by putting wooden spoons or long cooking chopsticks under dishes in the cupboards with the long end sticking out. As silly as it looks, it worked! The noodles didn’t stick to each other at all. I think, though, if I’m going to do this a lot in the future, I’ll have to invest in a proper drying rack.

The pasta ended up being a fantastic shade of pinky red, though, because I used the jar of beet pesto. I also ran the pasta through the absolute thinnest setting this time and the consistency was just right! I’ve already learned so much after just two times working with pasta. I’m really looking forward to learning more!

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.

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.

Frozen Ramen

I love fresh noodles. I am endlessly fascinated by videos like the ones about making thread-thin suo noodles or precisely-cut Chinese spinach noodles or seemingly-effortless hand-pulled noodles (emphasis on “seemingly”). In Japan, I was lucky enough to be able to try fresh ramen and, I think, udon, but there may have been a bit lost in translation.

Sadly, it’s hard to get fresh noodles of any style around here. There are a couple of specialty restaurants that make them, but for home use the closest I can get is refrigerated ones from the grocery store — and that’s only European styles. So until someone teaches me how to hand-pull noodles, or until I can afford an automatic pasta maker (or at the very least a hand-cranked pasta machine), I’m stuck with frozen or dried noodles.


Frozen ramen that my husband prepared, topped with cooked shrimp, dried shrimp, baby bok choy, and soft-boiled eggs.

The consistency of dried noodles doesn’t seem to bother my husband. Sure, he likes freshly-made pasta on the few occasions that we do get it, but he doesn’t crave the chewiness and strength of well-made ramen or udon. When he cooks ramen for dinner (and he always uses either instant broth or my homemade broth from the freezer), the consistency of the noodles doesn’t even cross his mind.


Frozen ramen that my husband prepared, topped with cooked shrimp, sliced avocado, baby bok choy, and soft-boiled eggs.

That being said, he is willing to go along with my conviction that there are much better things out there. To that end, we’ve been trying out the other brands of ramen that are locally available, which admittedly aren’t very many. We started with dried noodles — not the ones in the instant noodle packets, but something very similar. The last two meals my husband made used Nissin Frozen Ramen Roodles in Artificial Pork Flavour. The noodles were a bit better than the dried kind, but not by much. The broth mix that went with the noodles actually had less flavour than the packets that come with instant noodles (and so far as I can tell they had just as much sodium). I think the lack of punch is funny considering that Nissin is the same company that makes our family’s preferred brand of instant noodle packet. If I have to eat a just-add-water soup, I prefer their Tonkotsu Artificial Pork Flavour with Black Garlic Oil.

So I guess this frozen ramen was overall a bit better than the dried kind, but only a bit. I have another variety in my freezer left to try, though, before I head back to T&T to see if they have any others.

As an aside, did anyone else use to eat dried ramen as a kid without cooking it first? It makes me cringe in retrospect, but we used to sprinkle the dried sauce packet over the top and eat it as is. I was reminded of this recently when I noticed that one of the local grocery stores had instant ramen on sale for 27ยข a packet, and I realized how happy this would have made me as a child, or as a broke college student for that matter. How my teeth survived unbroken I’ll never know.

New Year’s Noodles

Over the weekend I tried my hand at Toshikoshi Soba, which according to the Internet means “year-crossing noodle“, or “end the old year and enter the new year soba noodles“. Basically, it’s a dish that is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve while waiting to ring in the new year. I didn’t actually find out about this dish until after the holiday, which turned out all right in the end because I wasn’t well enough to cook anything that night. At any rate, it’s not something that can only be eaten that day of the year. The recipe that I made was Tempura Toshikoshi Soba from Tasty Japan (also available on YouTube). If you’re like me and don’t read enough Japanese to get through a recipe, you can find the English translation in the second comment on their Facebook video. Or you can run it through Google Translate, which yields very undependable results, like directing you to “make tempura clothes”.

I added a bit more shrimp and soft-boiled eggs to each bowl that the recipe calls for, just because my family is absolutely smitten with tempura. I also used narutomaki (fish cake with the swirl in the middle) instead of kamaboko (the fish cake with the pink edge used in the Tasty Japan video), not only because I like the look of it, but also because it was literally the only kind of fish cake that was left at T&T. The fridge that usually holds it was completely empty except for two stray packages of narutomaki, so I went with that.

I was really proud of myself when this dish turned out so well, mostly because it was the first time that I’d made tempura. Actually, it was the first time I’ve ever deep-fried anything! Apparently I still have to master the art of cutting tempura-coated soft-boiled eggs in half without destroying them, but they still tasted just fine. It really wasn’t as difficult to prepare toshikoshi soba as I’d feared, even though I think I dirtied every large pot in my kitchen by the end of cooking. My whole family devoured their soup. I loved the flavour of it all together. I am definitely making this again soon — and I won’t be waiting for next New Year’s Eve. Although I may serve it then too.

Fast Food Ramen

I fell in love with ramen (restaurant-style, not the cheap instant packages) when I first went to Japan in 1998, and I fell back in love when I returned in 2005. There is such a variety of ways that it can be prepared, and such a plethora of potential toppings, that I could eat it every day and not get bored. When Ginza Restaurant opened in Ottawa’s Chinatown and focused on selling the best ramen I’ve had outside of Japan, I could not have been more ecstatic. (Seriously, try their hakata tonkotsu ramen, it is to die for.) For the longest time it was the only place in town where I could get this wonderful noodle dish. Recently, though, I’ve noticed that the popularity of ramen is slowly growing, and it’s starting to be available all over town, much as Vietnamese pho came to be about ten years ago. If this means that we’ll end up with over fifty restaurants that serve ramen in Ottawa, I couldn’t be more pleased!

Here are a few of the ones that I have tried so far, all of which fall under fast food/takeout:

Umi Teriyaki & Sushi
Rideau Centre Food Court, 50 Rideau Street

This was the first non-Ginza ramen that I tried in town, and I was quite ready to be disappointed. The austere food court in the Rideau Centre mall isn’t exactly the place you go for haute cuisine — it’s where you go to grab a quick, mediocre bite. I mean, this is definitely fast food, but it’s cheap ($8.49 for the chicken teriyaki ramen that I had), flavourful, and satisfying. The noodles could use to be a bit chewier (a hallmark of good ramen is the chewy alkaline noodles, which don’t dissolve in the broth), but overall this was worth the money. Ask for it spicy (medium or hot) to clear your sinuses on a cold winter’s day.

Saigon Pho
232 Bank Street and 3722 Innes Road, Unit 2

At $13.49 for takeout and $12.49 for dine-in, this was the most expensive ramen so far. Heck, the most expensive ramen at Ginza is only $11.95! So for that price, I expected more. The broth is nice and the noodles are chewy, but they are really skimpy on the toppings. I did like that there were a variety of ways that you could customize your order. I had the tonkotsu black: tonkotsu broth with black garlic oil, pork belly, soft boiled egg, black fungus, and green onion. I just don’t think that you’re getting value for money on this one, though.

Nom Nom Kitchen
2160 Montreal Road, Unit 4

Nom Nom Kitchen is a little Asian fusion takeout place with a few dine-in tables located in a strip mall directly across from a McDonald’s. It’s not very glamorous, but the food is good, and it’s also very reasonably priced. Their lunch specials are usually around $7.00 and are generously portioned. Ramen isn’t one of their specials, sadly, and it isn’t on their online menu. It’s about $10.49 for a bowl of Japanese-style tonkotsu with pork, veggies, and soft-boiled eggs. They also offer a dish that is, I believe, a fusion of Japanese and Korean styles, and is a bit more spicy. Since this restaurant is aimed at a take-out clientele, the presentation is only mediocre, but the flavour is lovely, the broth is tasty, and the noodles are nice and chewy. I only wish that the eggs were more soft-boiled than hard. Even so, I have been back many times now and everyone I’ve taken with me has liked their food. If you value flavour over appearances, I would rank this ramen #1 of the four I’m reviewing today.

Bento Sushi
St. Laurent Mall Food Court, 1200 St. Laurent Boulevard

There are a lot of Bento Sushi locations, most of which you’ll find tucked into grocery stores peddling mediocre takeout sushi. But they do have a few standalone locations, one of which is in the food court of the St. Laurent Mall. Since this is a big chain that isn’t exactly known for its high-quality food, I went in not expecting much. However, as with Umi Teriyaki & Sushi, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not the best ramen I have ever had, but the broth was nice and the toppings were flavourful. The noodles weren’t as chewy as I like, but they weren’t horrible either. I had their chasu ramen with tonkotsu (from their menu: “thin noodles in a tonkotsu pork broth with carrots, shiitake mushrooms, green onions, and fish cake”), which was $9.99. Overall, their ramen was miles better than their sushi, which may be damning them with faint praise. But I’ll take their ramen over just about anything else in the food court — except maybe Jimmy the Greek‘s pork souvlaki and salad.

If anyone else has suggestions for ramen in Ottawa that I should try, drop me a comment with the name and location. I’d be more than happy to check them out! I have absolutely no qualms about eventually having eaten at every ramen-serving restaurant in this city.