I was born and raised in Kansas and learned to cook alongside my mother. Now, along with my wonderful husband, I have taken the plunge into the city life in New York. These are my food adventures: in my own tiny kitchen, and in the many restaurants of the city.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pork and Soy Ramen

Joe and I often talk about all of the things we would miss if we were to move out of New York City. High on the list are the theatre, the abundance of museums, the fact that it's virtually impossible to be bored. But I think the thing that actually makes me fear for that day, if it were to ever come, is the loss of huge variety of great Asian food. The soup dumplings, dim sum, yakitori, Korean BBQ, Korean fried chicken, ramen, great pad thai, etc. etc. have all opened my tastes buds through our years here and I can't imagine living where they aren't readily available.

I have some moments of extreme panic when I think of leaving all of this behind (despite the fact that we have no plans to leave anytime soon) and feel myself drawn to the kitchen to hopefully recreate a dish or two to be able to always carry this cuisine with me, no matter where I go.

With the cold temps and even colder wind blowing through these parts lately my biggest craving has been huge bowls of ramen. We are lucky to live very near an excellent joint in our neighborhood called Chuko that I find myself drawn to over and over again (if you make it there yourself don't miss out on the kale salad as well as the ramen--probably my all-time favorite salad ever). Last night, however, I decided it was time to try a version of my own.

Shoyu ramen tends to be my favorite--I love the salty, unami filled broth, but I also love anything involving pork so decided to do a blend of styles based on a recipe from David Chang in the first issue of Lucky Peach (the tare recipe is basically his). It also involves mostly ingredients I could  find at my local grocery store (where we don't have a huge spread of Asian ingredients). My favorite thing about this recipe is that it is really very easy to play around with and change based on your own taste preferences. The ingredient list looks large and intimidating, but it really isn't much hard work--just a bit of waiting time.

Pork and Soy Ramen
(serves 3-5 depending on add-ins)
For the broth:
1.5 lb. pork necks
1 TB oil
2 carrots, peeled and cut into a couple of pieces
3 stalks celery, cut into large pieces
1 onion, quartered
3 cloves garlic, peeled
white and light green parts from 1 bundle of green onions
1/4 c. dried mushrooms
2 large sheets nori*
10 c. water

*many ramen recipes I found called for konbu, which is an edible kelp. Since I couldn't find any in my local grocer I decided to add a bit of "sea" flavor with sushi wraps. These broke apart a lot during the cooking but were mostly strained out through a fine mesh sieve after the broth was finished. The tare for this soup is so dark that I didn't mind the darker color of the broth.

Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot add the pork neck pieces. Sear these on all sides until they have a nice brown color all over. Then add the remaining ingredients to the pan. Bring to a boil, and then turn the heat to low and allow the mixture to barely simmer for 3 hours. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and skim off any fat/scum from the top.

For the tare:
(recipe adapted from David Chang's Lucky Peach)
.25 lb (1 medium piece) of pork neck
1 TB oil
1/2 c. sake
1/2 c. mirin
1 c. soy sauce
2 slices thick cut bacon, cut into thirds

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a small saucepan. Add the pork neck and sear until it is nice and caramelized and dark brown all over. Remove the pork neck from the pan briefly and turn the heat off momentarily. Add the sake to the pan (careful as it will pop and splatter a lot) and stir to deglaze the pan and pick up the porky bits stuck to the bottom. Turn the heat back on and add the pork neck back to the pan along with the remaining ingredients. Bring the liquid to the barest of simmers and then turn the burner to the lowest heat possible and cook for 1 1/2 hours. You don't want the mixture to really reduce--you are just infusing the flavor into the liquid. Then strain, allow to sit for a little bit of time and then skim the fat layer off the top.

Once both the broth and the tare are finished you are now ready to mix them together. I like an extra strong, salty broth so I used all of the tare. I would suggest adding a bit at a time and tasting to make sure you have a soup base to your liking. If you want it even stronger you could add even more soy sauce, fish sauce, mirin, etc. to the liquid for flavoring.

Now you are ready to build the ramen:

noodles (I used these, which are about 3 cups and are fresh/mostly cooked. If you can't find anything similar you can just use the noodles from a couple of packages of instant ramen without the seasoning packages)

cabbage, shredded
bok choy, shredded
green tops of green onions, sliced
bean sprouts
enoki mushrooms
meat (perhaps braised pork, cooked ground pork, chicken? I used thinly sliced smoked duck breast that I get at my farmer's market)
poached or soft-boiled eggs

Cook the noodles: I cooked mine for a couple of minutes in the broth, but you could cook them separately, drain, and then assemble.
Take a large, deep bowl and place a pile of the cooked noodles at the bottom. Top with any of the ingredients you would like and then spoon over a good portion of the broth. If using, top with a poached or soft boiled egg. Add some heat with chili garlic oil (recipe below). Serve with chopsticks and a large spoon. Feel comforted and warm and happy as you lean over the bowl to devour and the broth facial invades all of your senses.

Garlic Chili Oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 t.+ red chili flakes
1/3 c. olive oil

Place all of the ingredients into a small saucepan. Place over low heat and slowly cook, stirring frequently, until the oil is infused and the garlic has become very slightly browned and crispy. Remove from heat and use to stir into your ramen.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Vin D'Orange

It's that time of year when New Yorkers can't help but dream of far-away places. The cold feels like it will never end, the wind whipping off the rivers is relentless. We are tired of being cooped up in our tiny apartments but the weather is too rough for a stroll around the neighborhood or a trip to the park.

There are a few ways to deal with this restlessness. One of the cheapest is to whip up some dishes from the locale you'd prefer to escape to. The fact that citrus fruits are in season right now on the west coast helps to conjure thoughts of warm, beach-side trips. I used a batch of particularly gorgeous oranges to make Vin D'Orange: a light, citrusy aperitif that hails from France. I used gin instead of vodka in my version to add some more floral notes. Unfortunately I won't get to try the result for a few more weeks. Luckily this does give me something to look forward to through the cold weeks to come.

Another way to deal with the winter blues? Plan an actual trip to get out of town. Joe and I have decided it has been far too long since we have taken a true vacation and therefore are off to Paris come spring. So I would love any suggestions you can offer up: places to see, things to do, and most importantly: things/places to eat! We are planning on spending most of the time in Paris but may spend a couple of days in a smaller town--perhaps in the Loire? Any advice here would be great, too. Thanks for any guidance you can give me!

Vin D'Orange
recipe adapted from Gourmantine's Blog
3 large oranges
7/8 c. sugar
3/4 c. gin
1/2 vanilla bean
1 bottle white or rose wine

Make sure the oranges are very clean and then slice and place into a large pitcher. Sprinkle with the sugar and then pour over the gin. Split the vanilla bean in half and add it to the pitcher along with the bottle of wine. Stir the whole mixture together and then cover and refrigerate. Allow to macerate for about 40 days, stirring every few days or so.

After the mixture has soaked for weeks, you want to strain it through a coffee filter or 3 layers of cheese cloth and re-bottle. Allow this to age for another few weeks before serving.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Chicken Ranch Lettuce Wraps

Last Saturday night at work the bass was thumping and the din of conversation from patrons was at a level much louder than a roar. Guests were packed in around the bar, around the host stand, and tables were not turning fast enough to get reservations down on time. It was a night of constant movement, endless trips up and down the stairs to and from the kitchen and never really being caught up. As I came home to my still apartment at 2:30am, my ears still throbbed and my body pulsed from the residual energy of the night. I crawled into bed feeling my feet and joints aching.

Sunday night rolled around and it was a dinner for 4 with the husband and another couple. A trip to the Upper East Side for shabu shabu and multiple carafes of sake. After a couple of hours of good conversation we made our way back onto the subway for the late-night ride home.

Monday was another dinner out with friends, this time Korean barbeque. Dish after dish was brought to the table along with cocktails and wine. The view from the 39th floor in this Koreatown joint was breathtaking. As often happens with this group of friends, our conversations around the table grill lasted hours, meaning yet another late night (though so worth it).

By the time Tuesday rolled around I was ready for nothing more than a simple evening in, with simple food that would be light and healthy. Lettuce wraps seemed just the thing. Brown rice for the base to add a little heft, chicken breast, and lots of veggies. For a sauce a homemade ranch made with yogurt inspired by Not Without Salt. And since I knew the husband had just had a long day at work I added on Honey Buttermilk Biscuits from Saveur as a treat. Though they probably don't fit the "good for you" category, they are one of the best things I've made in recent history (and I've made a lot of great food lately). I devoured the leftovers for breakfasts and lunches because I couldn't get enough. I guarantee you won't be disappointed with them. You should know they make a MASSIVE biscuit when prepared exactly as the recipe calls for, though when paired up with something as light and healthy as these lettuce wraps you won't feel quite so bad about eating a whole one (or two).

Chicken Ranch Lettuce Wraps 
makes about 8 wraps/4 servings

2 large chicken breasts
1 1/2 c. cooked brown rice
2 carrots, shredded
1 cucumber, chopped
1 can (15 oz.) chopped tomatoes (or fresh chopped tomatoes if they are in season)
8 large butter lettuce leaves
ranch dressing (recipe below)

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and then cook the chicken breasts until the meat is cooked through and no longer pink. Remove from the pan and allow to cool slightly, then shred using 2 forks.

Mix together the shredded chicken, brown rice, carrots, cucumber and tomatoes. Spread onto the lettuce leaves and top with a dollop of ranch dressing. Roll up and serve immediately.

Ranch Dressing
(adapted from Not Without Salt)
3/4 c. Greek yogurt
3/4 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1 t. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 TB fresh dill, finely chopped
1/4 c. milk

Mix together all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Add more milk if necessary to make a thinner dressing. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.