Personal Projects That Are Too Fun Not To Blog

Homemade Japanese Style Ramen Soup

SONY DSC

I got on a ramen kick last year and have been messing with this recipe ever since. The fun thing about ramen is that it can be modified several different ways. You can change up the toppings to dazzle your guests each time you make it. Make this vegetarian or even vegan by switching to vegetable broth–and leaving out the bacon (duh). My recipe for the broth isn’t exact–but stop being such a nervous wreck, it’ll be great. Here’s my recipe to get you started.

SONY DSC

Start by sautéing the ginger and garlic in a light oil. I then add about six cups of water. Next add some big scoops of the miso soup base, several teaspoons of beef stock base, a few generous squeezes of lemon grass paste, a splash of soy sauce, some brown sugar. Add one package of shitake mushroom blend (fresh). Bring to a simmer. Meanwhile bring another pot of just water to boil for your noodles. Use generous amounts of the beef broth soup base and miso soup base–you can always water that sucker down if you get it too strong. But remember–you want this to be rich and delicious.

SONY DSC

I like to cheat with the lemon grass and use the paste that you find in the produce section of the grocery store. The Miso soup base will mostly likely have to be purchased at an Asian grocery store, but it will last you forever. A note on Asian grocery stores: bring cash. That Chinese lady ain’t gonna take your card…I don’t care if it says “VISA” on the cash register, and you can SEE the credit card machine….she’s not doing it. You can, however, count on an entire aisle devoted to cool dishes at great prices. I like having big ramen bowls and fun spoons for a nice presentation.

SONY DSC

Make the noodles in a separate pot of water and then add them to the individual ramen bowls using tongs. That way they don’t get lost in the soup and you can control the presentation a little better. Put the baby bok choy in at the same time as the noodles (the noodles should only take 3-4 minutes). The ideal noodle should be wheat based. When you’re in the Asian grocery store grab a few different kinds to experiment with. Don’t use rice noodles–they’re too wimpy and will leave everyone hungry.

Add the seaweed pieces to the bottom of the bowl, top with broth, mushrooms, bok choy, cooked bacon, fresh asparagus (the hot water will make it crisp tender), an egg (it can be boiled or fried), and garnish with green onions. Drizzle with sesame oil and chili oil. I serve the chili oil on the side so each person can make it as hot as they would like. Serve with sake or Japanese beer and then enjoy the rose petals that will shorty be raining down on you.

SONY DSC

We burn through chili oil–so I made my own! A fist full of crushed red peppers, peanut oil, and a few splashes of sesame oil. shake shake shake.

Other garnish ideas:

– shaved carrots

– corn

– shrimp or scallops

– chicken

– tofu

– broccoli (like the asparagus, add it to your bowl fresh and let the hot water cook it) or I’ve seen recipes calling for it roasted which would be great too

– snow peas

– thinly sliced radishes (you could let them sit in your pickle jar for a few days prior for extra credit)

– lightly pickled red onions (like the radishes, you can pickle your own no muss no fuss…assuming you remember to do it a few days ahead)

Pork Carnita Street Tacos

SONY DSC

I love pretty much all kinds of tacos; Mexican street tacos are one of my all time favorite dinners. I always make these for company because the meat is super flavorful and these are easy peasy to put together. Make the carnitas ahead and freeze. Pull them out when you have house guests and just add: tortillas, cilantro, diced onion, avocado, salsa, limes, and dinner is ready!

SONY DSC

Get all your ingredients put together before you muck up your cutting board with raw meat.

SONY DSC

Cube up the pork shoulder and then toss everything in a pot over the stove.

SONY DSC

Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook it forever. This is a recipe you want to put together when you’re going to be hanging around the house. For me it’s usually over two hours until the meat breaks down and all the liquid is absorbed.

SONY DSC

Let the meat cool and then freeze!

SONY DSC

When you have company coming, pull out the day before to thaw and add the fixings you like.

SONY DSC

Reheat the thawed carnitas over the stove on low. I like to use white corn tortillas. Soften them up over a griddle (flipping a few times)  or another flat pan on your stove top. Now just add some Mexican beers or margaritas and you have dinner!

SONY DSC

Food to make ahead and freeze for Company

SONY DSC

In the days before I had kids I would always try and make my best and most fabulous dishes when I had company. Now that I have two little kids I’ve found that trying to start an elaborate recipe at 5:00, after running around all day, is a bad idea. Not to mention, that’s not really what your house guests’ want–they want to see you and not have you be frazzled because you’re making some crazy French recipe. Having a dish ready to pop in the oven makes the night easy and fun. Meanwhile you can have a cocktail hour, and enjoy yourself along with your company, while your casserole bakes. This Chicken Tetrazzini recipe is quick and easy and comes out gooey and delicious.

SONY DSC

Start by browning the mushrooms in butter for 8-10 minutes until they’re soft and brown. Put them in a large mixing bowl that you’ll then add the rest of your ingredients to. Meanwhile cook the pasta and add it to the bowl with the cooked mushrooms.

SONY DSC

Combine cooked pasta, package of frozen peas, cooked mushrooms, and chicken that you’ve pulled from a rotisserie chicken. I like to combine milk, white wine, and broth in a large pyrex so you can pour it all slowly into your flour/butter mixture at once when you’re making the sauce. If you’re not a lover of white wine, keep a four pack of mini wines in your pantry for cooking. Then you don’t need to buy a big bottle that never gets used again.

SONY DSC

To make the sauce melt the remaining 4T of butter in your pan. Add in the 1/2 cup flour stirring for one minute until its golden brown and smells kind of nutty.

SONY DSC

Slowly pour the milk/wine/broth mixture into the pan with the flour and butter whisking constantly. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until it thickens up. Add a generous amount of salt and pepper and thyme. Stir in 2 cups parmesan cheese.

SONY DSC

Add the sauce to the bowl with the peas, pasta, mushrooms, and chicken. Stir stir stir.

SONY DSC

Add to one large casserole dish or two small ones and cover with remaining cup of parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 mins at 400 degrees or freeze. I like to freeze it and then I just pull that sucker out when my company is arriving–add a salad and you’re done!

Organize your spices and your life will follow

SONY DSC

A spice drawer should be a reflection of who you are or who you aspire to be. As you can see from the above photo I’m shiny and amazing. I’ll tell you how I got there.

Recently I wondered into a charming little spice shop on Pearl Street in the beautiful city of Boulder, Colorado. It was dazzling. So bright and colorful and everything matched–a whole display devoted to lemon salt! I knew right away that I wasn’t leaving without one of everything (including the six page booklets with nothing but pictures of spices in them). My mom was with me–so naturally I started plotting the best way to then get her to indulge this realization. She pointed out the many times I had ranted and raved about the value of buying my spices in bulk–and why would I now convert all my spices to these high end ones? In actuality it was the glass jars and matching labels that I was after. We left empty handed.

I did go home and throw out all of my spices–which felt great. Fresh start. I rounded up beautiful jars and a label maker (buying a label maker will change your life). Next I replaced all the spices that I use with fresh ones from the bulk section of a natural grocery store. And by “bulk” I don’t actually mean bulk. It’s just the bulk section of the store. Don’t buy huge amounts–spices dull out after a while. You’ll notice a big difference when you’re using fresh spices vs a giant 2 pound tub of oregano from Costco you bought God knows when.

And don’t ever buy those horrible boxes of 20 spices that come on a spinner. Half of them you’ll never use AND they’ll be stale. Build your own custom spice rack or drawer that is specific to your cooking  habits. You should think of your spice drawer like your make up drawer–buy nice or buy twice and have only what you use and like. Luckily “nice” is actually more cost effective in this case. Pre packaged spices are way more expensive than getting a small bag from the bulk section and then adding it to your cute little jar.

Sometimes I open this drawer just to look at it.

SONY DSC

Mini Chocolate Bars as Favors or Place Cards

SONY DSC

These little chocolate bars are as cute a button AND they have a love note wrapped up inside each one. Chocolove is a Boulder based company but you can order online if you’re not local. A friend of mine used these as place cards at her wedding (we printed each name and table number on each card that was attached). All the colorful little bars looked great lined up on a table outside the reception.

SONY DSC

Mini Loaves of Bread as Party Favors

SONY DSC

If you don’t already have a mini loaf pan–buy one or two. Look how cute these are! I came up with this recipe for spiced banana bread years ago and it always goes over well. Don’t be shy with the add-ons like raisins and nuts. Be sure and spray the pan down thoroughly. Even if it says that it’s non-stick–that’s a trap, there’s no such thing.

SONY DSC

These make great little party favors or gifts. One thing I insist on is that if you’re going to do a party favor of any kind–MAKE SURE it’s something the guest is actually going to enjoy. Teachers, wedding guests, birthday party guests, or anyone for that matter, do not want little trinkets. They want homemade spiced banana bread is what they want. These freeze great, so make a double batch.

SONY DSC

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: