Soup’s On: Weeknight Ramen

We love ramen. In restaurants, we love the delicate broth, fantastical mushrooms, and tender chashu pork. But, at home, we love the versatility. If you can get everyone to agree on broth and noodles, you can easily set up a toppings bar that meets the desires of both the adventurous and timid.

Like most recipes I share here, there are easy ways and hard ways to get to where you want to go with ramen.

The easiest way is to open a box of chicken broth. If it’s 6 pm and you’re only feeding your picky elementary school children, do it. If I’m not using broth I’ve made myself, I use Better than Bouillon’s chicken base, which Cook’s Illustrated rates as the best bouillon. Or I use broth that I’ve made myself. I often keep a simple chicken stock in the freezer, something neutral enough that I can turn it into chicken soup, chicken pot pie (Pennsylvania style, which means it’s not in a pie crust), chicken and noodles, chicken and vegetable soup, or ramen.

You’ll also need noodles. I’m not above a package of Maruchan instant ramen noodles on a rare occasion (minus the seasoning pack, which has way more sodium than is healthy), but you probably have better options than that. A variety of noodles–fresh, frozen, or dried–will work. Ramen, its lovely yellow color a result of the alkaline (baked baking soda if you are making ramen noodles from scratch), is probably most familiar. Fresh or frozen ramen noodles are delish, but fresh chow mein (AKA Chinese egg) noodles also work well. Soba, which is made from buckwheat or a buckwheat-whole wheat blend, which makes the noodles a little easier to handle, is another great choice, especially if you like very smooth noodles. Udon, similarly smooth but even thicker, is great if you are looking for something hearty. These are the most common noodles available in US grocery stores, but, of course, if you head to an Asian market, you’ll have even more choices. Spiralized zucchini noodles work well, too, if you want to cut wheat from the recipe and up the veggies even further.

The last requirement is a jammy egg. Think that eggs with runny yolks are yucky? Stop that sad thought by eating one exactly 6 minutes and 15 seconds from now. They’re delicious, and when broken open into a bowl of hot soup, they create a cloud of richness.

Everything else is optional, and I like lots of options. That’s why this meal is a great choice for COTR night. Knowing that ramen night is coming up can also make it easier to find motivation to box up leftovers (or not eat the last bit of kimchi from the jar when you’ve opened the fridge for the 10th time today, bored and looking to snack). A few tablespoons of leftover edamame are worth keeping. A stalk of celery starting to look a little sad is easy to transform into something tasty. Set out in salsa bowls, even a small amount of something special is beautiful.

Image may contain: food

Above, weeknight ramen–homemade chicken broth, roasted chicken, kimchi, and a jammy egg. Start to finish, under 20 minutes because the broth and chicken were leftovers.

So, for me, ramen almost always captures produce at the end of its life or leftovers. The three ingredients I buy especially for it are toasted sesame oil, white sesame seeds, and black sesame seeds. You might want to add kombu (sheets of dried seaweed) and bonito flakes (dried fish). 

Otherwise, I take my ingredients and divide them into half, thirds, or fourths depending on how many ingredients I have and how many people I’m serving. One portion of them, I cook very plainly so that people who want a simple soup have it. This almost always includes chicken (which is typically just leftover from a roasted chicken or chicken I cooked plainly the day before while also making barbecue chicken). Other good choices include edamame, spinach, mushrooms, sweet corn, scallions, and celery, all of which I cook enough to soften. Jalapenos, bean sprouts, and cilantro are add-ins that you don’t have to do anything to other than wash and slice.

The other items, I use one of these approaches:

  1. Ginger, ginger, ginger. I love it. I slather a paste of raw ginger (Go ahead–buy a tube of it. Depending on your grocery store, it’s going to be better than the ginger root that’s been sitting in produce for far too long.) on carrot coins, matchstick sweet potatoes, matchstick daikon, sliced onions, and slices of bok choy or halved baby bok choy. Roast in the oven. (I also tend to roast scallion, but without ginger.)
  2. Miso. Made from fermented soy beans and, depending on the recipe, rice, wheat, and barley, miso comes in a variety of colors: white, yellow, red, and brown. In general, the darker the color, the more pronounced the flavor. Cook turnips, brussel sprouts, or carrots in a combination of miso and butter. Or put a small amount of it directly into your broth.
  3. Gochujang. A Korean pantry staple, this spicy paste is made from chili peppers, fermented soybeans, rice, and salt. If you don’t love the first brand you try, try another. I use it on tofu.

I’m a kimchi lover, though its flavor is so powerful that I often add it to a very simple chicken-and-jammy-egg ramen.

While it’s fun to host a ramen bar with a few different kinds of broth (including at least one vegetarian one) and a mile of add-ins, what makes ramen a family favorite for us is that 1) we can prepare for a bit at a time all week, either by saving leftovers or by cooking a bit more of another ingredient for a different recipe and setting it aside for ramen and 2) you can put out just four items–broth, noodles, chicken, and egg–and you’ve got a solid, soothing meal.

 

 

 

 

 

Bread Making and Bread Breaking: Pumpkin Breadl

There isn’t a season that doesn’t offer me some excuse to be naughty in the kitchen. Fall is when we get to turn perfectly nutritious fruits and vegetables into high-calorie, high-carb breads.

Nothing gets the kids out of bed on a sleepy Sunday morning faster than the smell of pumpkin bread coming out of the oven. (Okay, adding bacon helps.) Between five of us, the first loaf disappears pretty quickly, so if I want something to toast the next day in a little butter (which I always do), I make two loaves.

img_0055.jpg

If you make this and think that some other pumpkin bread is better, please contact me immediately to share your recipe. Because I can’t even imagine a pumpkin bread tastier.

  • 29 oz can of canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/2 c. vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 2/3 c. sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 c. flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two loaf pans, and either flour them or “flour” them with powdered sugar.
  2. Beat together pumpkin, eggs, sugar, and oil until well mixed.
  3. Combine remaining ingredients in a separate bowl. I sift them together, personally, but you could skip this.
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet.
  5. Divide batter between loaf pans.
  6. Bake for about an hour (depending on size of loaf pan), until top of the pumpkin bread bounces back after you touch it.
  7. Serve with salted butter, honey butter, and/or powdered sugar.

 

 

 

 

Strawberry Season: Shortcake

Strawberries have always been my favorite fruit. Maybe it’s because I was a strawberry blonde as a tot or because I have a strawberry birthmark on my shoulder that always made me feel like I’d be kissed by someone with strawberry-stained lips. Or maybe because my elementary school’s annual fundraiser was a strawberry festival, complete with the chance to win a 2 liter bottle of soda but, more importantly, to eat a piece of shortcake as big as your hand, covered in strawberries and a cloud of whipped cream.

Strawberries are also so precious because, like tomatoes, in-season and out-of-season makes them two entirely different experiences. That also means that I eat strawberries every day of May and June, before they disappear for another year. If I live to be 100, that’s only 100 strawberry seasons, which is seems like a tragedy.

Here’s how we’re eating strawberries today. This recipe is a riff on the Hard Cake recipe in Sarah E. Myers and Mary Beth Lind’s Recipes from the Old Mill: Baking with Whole Grains one of those cookbooks that I’ve used so much that it’s now held together with a rubber band.

img_0061

Strawberry Shortcake

  • 1 c. white flour
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 c. shortening (If this isn’t something you have on hand, you can use softened butter but will get a slightly different texture)
  • 1/2 c. + 2 Tbs. cold milk
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees; grease a pie pan.
  2. Mix dry ingredients.
  3. Cut in shortening.
  4. Add milk, stirring just until moistened.
  5. Pat into the pie pan. Try not to handle the dough too much.
  6. Bake for 25-35 minutes, depending on size of pie pan.

Serve topped with sliced strawberries and milk, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla ice cream, or–my favorite–sour cream with a little sugar stirred in. Call it dessert, or if you want to lie to yourself, breakfast.

This is a good recipe to make with kids because they can practice measuring without having to use a million different measuring cups or spoons, and they get to use a pastry blender, if you have one, which is a skill that other recipes we use with kids, like cookies and cake, don’t typically require. And patting it into the pan is fun since you get to get your hands.

Remember: Strawberries should never be refrigerated, so eat them they day you buy them. This is why we say that prayer “Give us this day, Lord, our daily strawberries” this whole month.

 

 

 

Good Eggs: Egg Curry

Thanks to my friend Angela for suggesting that we try egg curry. Regular readers here know that eggs are a big part of our diet. They’re cheap and nutritious and good for guests on low carb or gluten free diets, and we almost always have them in the fridge. In honor of springtime, we will be sharing our favorite egg recipes all month in this little series we’re calling “Good Eggs.”

This egg curry came together pretty quick in my InstantPot. As always, our variation skips measuring most ingredients in favor of washing fewer dishes. Since we almost always have hard boiled eggs ready to go, this comes together with just four dirty dishes (a knife and cutting board to cut the onion, a wooden spoon to stir, the pot to cook it in, and the rice pot.)

egg curry

  • 12 hard boiled eggs
  • Ghee or oil
  • Turmeric and salt
  • Onion, thinly sliced
  • Garlic (powdered, fresh, or paste), Ginger (powdered, fresh, or paste), small amounts (1/4 tsp-1/2 tsp) of each cumin, more turmeric, coriander, chili powder, and salt. Alternatively, use your favorite curry powder or paste. OR use a can of diced tomatoes, garam masala, bay leaf, chili powder, a cinnamon stick, cloves, and fengugreek.
  • Basmati rice, for serving

Set your InstantPot to “Saute” and add a slug of ghee or oil. Poke holes in the eggs with a fork. Saute eggs in a mix of turmeric with a little salt. Remove eggs from pot.

Add sliced onions, ginger, and garlic or alternative spices if you are using them. Saute until softened, 3-5 minutes. If things get sticky, add a little water.

Return eggs to pot. Add a cup of water OR, if using, tomatoes. Add remaining spices. Cook on high pressure for 6 minutes.

Serve over rice.

 

Wintertime Adventures with Flat Stanley!

IMG_0119

We love to host Flat Stanley (or Flat other people, too!), so we were glad that a friend of ours, second grader S., recently sent him our way for a visit. We live in northeastern Utah. The state is the ancestral home of the Ute, Dine (Navajo), Paiute, Goshute, and Shoshone nations. Today, about 60,000 indigenous people live in Utah, about half of them on reservations in the southern part of the state. Outside of the reservations, our county has some of the most Native American people.

Here are some highlights of our time together in the Beehive State.

img_0007

On the campus of Weber State University, home of the Wildcats. WSU has more than 27,111 students and just celebrated its 120th birthday while Flat Stanley was here.

img_0099

Purple and white are the colors of Weber State. Since Stanley went to college for a day, we thought he might like a Weber State Wildcats sweatshirt–and a cup of hot cocoa. He like our dog Sonny so much we thought he might enjoy a pet or two of his own, so we helped him adopt a puppy and a kitten.

img_0077

Enjoy chocolate-chip-peanut-butter-banana pancakes. I guess it makes sense that Flat Stanley’s favorite breakfast food would be something flat.

img_0008

Out to dinner for Indian. He was very polite and didn’t pick out all the paneer for himself.

img_0100.jpg

Stanley forgot his boots back in Maryland, so we made him a pair. On average, Utah gets 60 inches of snow per year at the capital, Salt Lake City, which is about 30 minutes away from us. That is about three times as much snow as Baltimore gets. But snowfall in Utah is very uneven. Our climate includes a wide range of ecosystems, including the Mojave Desert, the driest desert in north America, in the Southwest corner, and the high peaks of the western edge of the Rocky Mountains. Our house is at 4,300 feet above sea level. (When you go to Ocean City, Maryland, you are at sea level–so we are more than 4,000 feet higher than you!) But other parts of our town are much higher since our town is built into a mountain. That also means some places get a lot of snow. One of our area mountains had more than 25 feet of snow this year so far–and it will get more before winter is over!

IMG_7911

We took Stanley to Crystal Hot Springs in nearby Honeyville, Utah. These hot springs  have a higher mineral content than any hot springs in the world–9,000 pounds every 24 hours! 450 generations of indigenous people used the area for their winter camping grounds. Very close to here, the Golden Spike joined the eastern and western parts of the transcontinental railroad, joining one end of the US to the other by rail. Many Chinese immigrants helped build the railroad. They build wooden tubs in Honeyville to capture the hot water so they could soak in them after a long day of hard work. Later, after World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent wounded soldiers by bus to the hot springs so that they could relax in the water. We took Flat Stanley swimming there in the middle of a snowstorm! You can’t see it in the photo, but snowflakes were falling all around us. No matter what the temperature outside, though, in the water, it is always 120-134 degrees F in the hot springs. And just a few feet away, there is a cold spring that is always 65-75 degrees F. If you get to warm in the swimming pool fed by the hot springs, you can jump in the cold water pool–or jump out and roll around in the snow, then jump back in!

IMG_0118

Utah has “the greatest snow on Earth,” as our license plates say. (Get it? Like the greatest show on earth!). On cold and snowy nights, we like to settle down in front of the fireplace with a book. And when you are flat, you can be your own bookmark!

Image may contain: outdoor and nature

Thanks for joining us, Flat Stanley! We’d love to see you again!

Seriously, if there is a Flat Stanley in your life, send him our way! We love to send postcards, too, so if you or a child you know is in need of one, just ask. 

 

Soup’s On: Straightforward Chili

We host a sometimes-annual chili cookoff that involves secret judges and prizes both silly and substantial as a fundraiser for the local food pantry. One benefit of hosting is that you get to try a lot of chili recipes (Lorna H.’s Floribbean Chili remains one of my favorites!) and find inspiration to tweak your own. We eat a lot of chili at our house in the winter. Here’s our favorite relatively straightforward (We won’t call it “traditional” because I have no desire to lose that fight with my Texan friends.) chili.

img_0059

Straightforward Chili

1-2 lbs ground beef

3 Tbs garlic powder or a head of garlic, chopped

3 Tbs onion powder or 2 onions chopped (We often use onion powder if we are serving kids who think they dislike onions but who won’t notice complain if there is onion flavor but not texture in a dish)

1-2 tsp cayenne powder

2-3 Tbs chili powder

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp oregano

6 oz. tomato paste (one small can)

12-16 oz can crushed or diced tomatoes, or whole tomatoes cut up

5-6 15-16 oz cans beans, unrinsed. We use a mix of what we have, but this typically includes dark and light kidney beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, and black beans.

  1. In a Dutch oven, brown ground beef. If using chopped onions, add to the meat partway through the browning process; add raw garlic, if using, toward the end. Then, follow one of these two steps, depending on how ambitious you are:
  2. Dump the meat into a metal strainer set over a metal bow, then dip out a few spoonfuls of fat to return to the pot. Heat fat on medium-low, then add remaining spices and herbs, including onion powder and garlic powder, if using.
  3. Drain fat however you prefer and simply add the remaining spices and herbs, including onion and garlic powder, to meat.
  4. Add tomato paste and crushed or diced tomatoes. Cook over low while you open all those cans of beans. We unapologetically use canned beans. If we ever master dried beans, we’ll let you know.
  5. Add beans. If the consistency isn’t what you like, add water.
  6. Cook on low on stove, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or longer. Alternatively, cook in the oven on 250 or 300 or 350 (depending on whether you are making some baked mac and cheese or some cornbread or baked potatoes to go with it). This will burn, so don’t ignore it.

img_0060

We eat ours with cornbread, which is just some combination of a basic cornbread recipe plus either a little honey or green chilis or canned or frozen sweet corn or sour cream or creamed corn or half a cut-up bar of cream cheese, depending on what kind of leftovers we’re trying to get rid of and how deeply I want to horrify my Southern relatives.

img_0058

 

 

Not-a-Meal-Plan: Chopped, the Pantry Version

Hate meal planning? Us too. That’s why we skip it in favor of a not-a-meal-plan, which involves figuring out where you want to turn to find dinner (pantry, fridge, freezer). As long as these are well-stocked, you can make a meal. In this short blog series, we describe what we do when we look in each of those places. 

We also aim for a once-a-month pantry audit. Sometimes things end up in the pantry that just don’t make sense. (I said to buy “chilis,” but someone buys a can of beans in chili sauce. I convince myself I’m going to love lentils this time but bring them home and can’t persuade myself to actually cook them.) These inspire our Chopped nights. No, no one is allowed to make dinner out of stinky tofu, finger limes, smoked pork tails, and raspberry Toaster Strudels. Instead, a child works with a parent to make a meal out of what we have, working with flavor profiles we know that our family likes. Yes, this means a lot of variations of chili (because we have a lot of beans), grain bowls (Why did I buy millet?), and curry (because we almost always have coconut milk).

See the source image

For some reason, Chopped and The Amazing World of Gumball are our go-to choices for watching TV in hotels. Anyone else reserve food-related TV for travel?

 

Popcorn Time! Movie Theater Floor Snack Mix

Popcorn is the perfect snack because it’s an actual whole, unprocessed grain. And since you should make half your grains whole, the more popcorn you eat, the more non-whole grains you get to eat.

Okay, that part isn’t quite true. I mean, you can’t eat a pound of pasta just because you ate a pound of popcorn. And, anyway, popcorn is so filling that you wouldn’t want to. Scientifically, it’s perhaps the perfect snack. 

Today, Mr. Prickles shares with us his recipe for Movie Theater Floor Snack Mix, which has to be the most unhealthy way to eat popcorn but is a lot of fun to shop for and make.

****

Hi, this is me, here, now, explaining how to make this popcorn.

Step 1: Use the power of radiation and science to microwave an 11.5 oz bag of white chocolate.

img_0113

Step 2: Throw a 17 to 20 oz bunch of candy into a bowl along with 5 oz of Fritos and 10 oz of mixed nuts.

Step 3: Throw the white chocolate onto the candy, violently.

Step 4: Mix it.

img_0114

step 5: Put it on 4 cups of popcorn.

Step 6: Wait 15 minutes.

img_0117

Step 6: Eat it, or give it to a pigeon, or an old friend trying to sell you mlms, or the CEO of Fritos. Just beware: anyone who eats it will become your best friend.

Foxhole Advice: I want to watch scary movies. And I also DON’T want to watch scary movies.

Dear Family Foxhole,

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’m twelve and do not like to watch the scary movies that my friends enjoy. Right now, if I go to a friend’s house and they want to watch something scary, I just say that I’m not allowed to watch PG-13 movies (which isn’t quite true; my parents let me watch some PG-13 movies but not others) and then we all roll our eyes and say that my parents ruin all our fun, then watch something else. But I’ll be 13 soon, so this lie isn’t going to work anymore!

How can I overcome my fear of scary movies so I’m not left out?

Scaredy-Cat

Dear Scaredy-Cat,

Before the party, suggest a list of movies for the party that provide your friends with enough choices that they don’t even realize that there’s nothing scary on the list. You could include some PG-13 movies that aren’t scary (comedies, romantic comedies, superhero movies).

Plan a party yourself! Pick a theme that is upbeat (“Surf’s Up!” or “Dinner is Served!”) and organize the food, decoration, games, and movie around that theme. You can set the expectation among your friends that parties will be fun and positive. If, later on, someone plans a party around a scary theme, just go for the first part (before the movie starts) and then tell them you have a super-important meeting in the morning (Be mysterious!) and need to get your beauty rest.  You won’t be missing out on the fun since you wouldn’t be having fun anyway.

Lamb

Lamb

************************

Dear Scaredy-Cat,

Creep out your friends by saying, “I can’t watch [whatever movie it is]. It brings back too many memories.” Then get a faraway look in your eye, then shake your head, like you’re trying to forget about that time a creepy girl crawled out of your TV to eat your face off.

Also, always bring a book wherever you go. Once the scary movie starts, just sneak away to read. If anyone catches you, just say that you thought that movie was boring. Be disdainful and give a big yawn. Try something like: “Once you’ve seen as many horror movies as I have, it’s hard to be surprised.” Be the stereotype of the disinterested, bored teen. Use it to your advantage, then get back to your book.

Mr. Prickles

Mr. Prickles

************************

Dear Scaredy-Cat

You don’t have to overcome your fear. Some adults don’t like scary movies. It’s not a sign of maturity. In fact, that you know yourself this well is a sign of maturity!

However, if you do want to join in, ask the title of the movie they’ll be watching before the party. Ask a parent to watch it for you and tell you about all the scary parts. If there is a certain kind of scary activity that you can’t stand (jump scares, gore, monsters, scary children, meanness to animals, etc.), be sure to tell them to be on the lookout for these things. Then watch it together. As a scary part approaches, stop the video and ask them to tell you what is going to happen. You might even watch it in fast forward to see what happens without the sound on.

I’m a grown-up, and I still watch any movies this way!

Honey

Honey

 

 

Not-a-Meal-Plan: COTR Night

Hate meal planning? Us too. That’s why we skip it in favor of a not-a-meal-plan, which involves figuring out where you want to turn to find dinner (pantry, fridge, freezer). As long as these are well-stocked, you can make a meal. In this short blog series, we describe what we do when we look in each of those places. 

Which night do you take the garbage to the curb? That’s what we call COTR Night (pronounced like Ry Cooder’s surname. We do try to refrain from saying “COTR Night” in front of company.) That’s the night we Clean Out The Refrigerator. This night anchors our week, because by this night, anything that isn’t looking a limp gets eaten that night. Meals that help you COTR are quiche and egg casseroles (for cheeses and vegetables on the edge), grain bowls or winter salads (for vegetables you can roast in fun spice mixes), and soups (for those vegetables, plus any small amounts of meat leftover from other meals).
Image result for ry cooder

I’m Ry Cooder, and I approve this not-a-meal-plan.