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!

Late Night Ramen

Ever have one of those nights where you just forget to have dinner? I did that the other day. I had a late lunch, which threw off my internal schedule, and then I wasn’t at home for dinner. It didn’t even occur to me until something like eleven o’clock at night that I should probably eat something. Of course, by then most things are closed, so going out to pick up some ingredients was problematic at best. Normally my late-night food runs toward sandwiches or cold cereal, but the girls had polished off the bread and all that was left in the cereal bag was dust. So I had to get creative.

I rummaged through the freezer and found some ramen noodles and sauce packets — originally from two different meals and hence likely by two different brands, but they were missing their original packaging. I did have a few eggs, the remnants of a frozen naruto fish cake stick, some frozen masago, and a few frozen dried shrimp. Aside from the green onions, which I grabbed from the garden, it was a little short on the veggies, but the fridge was bare! I grabbed an apple on the side to make up for the lack.

It wasn’t a difficult meal to make, but it’s definitely more effort than I usually put into food right before bed.

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.

Chicken Pot Pie Noodles

Last night I wanted to try something new for dinner, but I didn’t want something that would take forever and a day to prepare. The perfect compromise was the Chicken Pot Pie Noodles recipe from Delish that came across my Facebook feed the other day.

It was as easy as promised, although it did take me a bit longer because I had to cook the chicken beforehand — but that was just a matter of throwing some chicken legs and thighs on a roasting pan, seasoning them, and putting them on a roasting pan at 350°F (175°C) for about 45 minutes. This recipe would be much faster if I had precooked chicken, and I think it would be a great way to use up leftovers. I had to make my version dairy-free, so I substituted margarine for butter and coconut milk for heavy cream. I’ve found in the past that these are good replacements, and they worked just as well as expected. There was a slight flavour of coconut to the sauce, which isn’t strongly spiced, but that didn’t bother me. Also, I used macaroni instead of egg noodles, just because that’s what I had in the pantry, and it worked just fine.

Would I make this recipe again? Most definitely! I think it’s a great addition to my weeknight repertoire.

Beef Stroganoff Recipe

I’ve been making beef stroganoff for fifteen years or so, but I hadn’t had any since a consultation with a dietician who suggested that I may be lactose intolerant. It’s been about a year since I started avoiding lactose, and my gut is much happier for it. I’m not touting this as something that everyone should try, since I know that there are a whole lot of people that tolerate lactose just fine — but sadly, I’m no longer one of them.

Lately I’ve been quite happy to discover that, in addition to the vegetarian/vegan options to milk that are out there, a few dairy companies have started to sell lactose-free versions of their products. I’ve found PC lactose-free old and marble cheddars in my local grocery store, and, for the first time just this week, Gay Lea’s lactose-free sour cream. As soon as I saw the sour cream on the shelf, I knew that I had to make some stroganoff this week.

Now, I’m not vouching for the authenticity of my stroganoff or anything. I can’t even remember where I first learned how to make it; it certainly wasn’t from someone who taught me in person. My version is the combination of a number of recipes over the years that have created what I’d consider to be a good meal for when you have a little bit of time to cook, but you still have other plans for the evening. It’s full of mushrooms and onions, but I recommend serving it with steamed veggies or a side salad to round it out. At the very least, this will add a splash of colour, since stroganoff is such a beige dish!

Beef Stroganoff
Serves 4-6 adults

In a large, deep frying pan, heat at medium-high:
2 Tbsp canola or sunflower oil
Into the heated oil, place:
1 yellow onion, chopped (about 120g before peeling & chopping)
Cook the onion gently until slightly browned, then add:
1 package of cremini mushrooms (227g)*
Cook until mushrooms begin to soften, then add:
450g steak or chopped roast chopped into bite-sized pieces with the fat trimmed off
Stir it all together, then sprinkle over the mixture:
1 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
Cook until the meat is browned on the outside and medium (pink, but not bloody) in the middle. While the meat is cooking, cook according to package directions:
2 cups of dried pasta
Traditionally stroganoff is made with broad egg noodles, but in our house we usually use penne. Rotini, fusilli, farfalle, and even elbow macaroni (pictured) also work well. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and set it aside.
Once the meat is cooked, add to the pan:
1 cup sour cream (14% or greater) (regular or lactose-free)
Optionally, you can add:
1/4 cup cream cheese (optional)**
Stir the sour cream and cheese in until they are evenly distributed and have created a sauce; the sauce will have picked up some of the browning and spice and will have turned a nice light brown.
Add the drained pasta to the pan, and stir it all together until coated. Serve!

*You can add more mushrooms (up to double as much if you like), but this is the amount that my family prefers.
**I used to make my stroganoff with cream cheese every time, since I find it’s much creamier this way, but I have yet to find a lactose-free version. So for now I make it without.

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.