Monday, June 29, 2009

Adventures in Cooking: Tonkotsu Ramen

Since going to Japan I've really had a strong urge to try my hand at making some ramen broth; I've been thinking of trying to make stock of some sort and ramen seems like a good idea (or a bad idea). While there Lyle took us to a place called Daruma Ramen in Haruna, where I had what I think was hands down some of the best ramen I've ever had. When I arrived back in the States I started searching the web for a good recipe and stumbled upon this one. With a recipe in hand, I was ready to try my hand at making some super-unhealthy ramen of my own!

A subset of he meat ingredients unpacked
This time the ingredients are presented in waves; first we have our pork. I used about 4 pounds of pork bones (half were pork necks and half were just labeled pork bones), some pig feet, and some back fat. The first step is to bring a ton of water (about 2.5 gallons) to just below a simmer and throw in the meats minus the back fat.

The pot simmering with meat
I probably kept things a little too cool resulting in a thinner broth, but it did end up working out. While the meat is simmering you'll need to keep scooping off a layer of scum that forms on the surface of the water. I followed some advice from Alton Brown and used a strainer. I let the meat simmer alone for about half an hour before adding the back fat, and then let it simmer for another 20 minutes or so.

The non-meat ingredients
Now for some healthier stuff. I cut the onions and apples in half and threw them in the stock pot and only used about an inch of the ginger. From here it's a matter of letting things continue to simmer for several hours; I took the time to go to a friend's BBQ.

Simmering the veggies too
The recipe says to let things simmer for 5 hours, but since I think I had the heat a bit too low I tried adjusting it after 5 and came back after another 4 hours or so. I put a vegetable steamer in the pot as well to keep as many of the ingredients as possible submerged and to give me a place where I could try to scoop out any scum that might show up on the surface. Very little if any showed up at this point, though sometimes there would be a thin layer of fat from the back fat.

I don't have a picture, but the broth had reduced *quite* a bit after 9 or so hours. It tasted a bit thin, but it was getting late and I went ahead and froze the broth in several Tupperware containers as well as some ice trays (again, straight out of an Alton Brown episode on broth).

This post's booze is nigori sake
A few days later I decided it was time to make my ramen! I decided that sake would be appropriate as something to drink while cooking and eating, and picked up a random nigori at Uwajimaya. It has a bit stronger floral taste than I'd prefer, but it's pretty good.

Ramen and chashu ingredients
Here are the day-of ingredients; noodles and the components for what the website with the recipe calls chashu, but I sort of doubt it's authenticity as chashu after looking it up online. In any event, it has shoyu in it, which I knew to be a vital component to the broth.

After mixing the ginger, shoyu, mirin, sake, and about a cup (6 ice cubes) of the broth, I let them simmer for a little bit before adding some pork belly and letting it boil/simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Towards the end of the boil I started poaching an egg and cooking the ramen noodles, since these both take about 1-2 minutes.

The ramen, ready to eat. いただきます!
When everything was nice and cooked, I took about two tablespoons of the chashu liquid, poured some noodles over it, and then filled the bowl with broth. Then I added the poached egg, some chives, and some of the pork belly. This batch tasted like the broth was a little thin, but was still pretty delicious.

However I poured the chashu into a container to store overnight and attempted to make things again the next day but used about four tablespoons of the chashu and this largely resolved my issues with the thinness of the broth; I don't know if it was the extra time boiling/simmering, the time sitting in my fridge, or what, but the broth was awesome the second time. Not perfect, but delicious; thinking about it makes me wish I was eating some noodles while writing this post.

All in all, this sore into a new dish was totally worth it. I'd like to try it again tweaking some of the broth ingredients to get a deeper flavor without the chashu and see how that changes things. Perhaps I'll try another noodle; udon or perhaps some pho-style dish.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Adventures in Cooking: Brownies Mexicanos

Normally brownies wouldn't be something that I'd consider to qualify as an 'adventure in cooking,' but when perusing some cooking forums someone suggested something that never crossed my mind; using Mexican chocolate for brownies. I had been introduced to Mexican chocolate at university but all we ever used it for was for hot chocolate (which, by the way, is awesome and you should totally make it; heat some milk in a saucepan and mix the chopped chocolate in and stir until it's done. Amazingly delicious on colder evenings)

Anyhow, this got me searching for recipes and I decided to follow this one. I had most of the ingredients lying around, except for the unsweetened chocolate, so after picking that and a new beer up I was ready to go!

The ingredients
Here are the culprits. As with last time, the beer is just something to tide me over while food cooks. The only unusual thing is the Mexican chocolate; I used Ibarra, which I've never had any trouble finding in west coast grocery stores.

Melting the chocolate
The first step is melting the chocolates and butter; the website I linked doesn't suggest doing it, but roommates in university ingrained the notion that doing otherwise is a mortal sin; I melted the ingredients in a makeshift double boiler. It's probably fine to do it in the saucepan alone, but superstition can be fun sometimes.

The chocolate stone has melted
Anyhow dropped the chocolate and butter in the double boiler and stirred until melted. It doesn't take too long and is pretty straight-forward. When it's done, I pulled out the bowl from the double boiler and poured the remaining ingredients in and stirred until mixed well.

Everything mixed; all is one and one is all
Mixing things isn't interesting at all; just stir.

Ready to bake!
This doesn't take long; so it's time to pour the mixture in a glass pan and shove in the oven.

This takes around half an hour to bake, leaving me with some time on my hands. There are two good things that I think come out of baking; it often has good opportunities to clean my kitchen and when I'm done with that I might as well crack open a beer.

Well, that and lick the stirring spoon once the rest of the batter is in the oven. This is the best tasting thing ever.

Captain Sig's Northwestern Ale by Rogue
And in what will likely be a trend, I drink while cooking; this session's beer is Captain Sig's Northwestern Ale by Rogue. I love Rogue's stuff and the premise of a Deadliest-catch beer was amusing enough to buy it.

Time to eat!
And eventually after the kitchen is cleaner than when I started and the beer is partially consumed, the brownies are done cooking. It's time to pull them out and let them cool down. After letting them cool for a bit I tried one and it was good; I brought the rest into work the following day.

All in all, I was fairly satisfied with these; I don't think I can bear to make regular brownies again. I simply love the cinnamon-y taste of Mexican chocolate too much.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Adventures in Cooking: Manjuu (あんまん)

In an attempt to post something more often I'm going to try something new. I'm really awful about cooking for myself, but I frequently get into moods where I want to bake or otherwise cook something that's impractical often but is a nice way to spend an evening. So in the style of a Goons with Spoons post, I figure I'll document various cooking projects I do.

This weekend's project was manjuu. I stumbled on a recipe for the bun here and decided to just go with a simple anko filling rather than going too crazy.

The truth of the matter is I've had a bit of an anko craving recently.

The ingredients minus the yeast
The ingredients are nothing special for bread; the anko was the only thing a little challenging to find. I had actually looked for this at the local Uwajimaya a few months back and completely missed it. After asking around at work I was told it really should be there, and some more thoughtful looking turned it up. I used koshian, the paste-like version that is free of bean husks. The recipe called for 'oil' which I decided meant 'butter.'

The beer was a very important "something to drink while cooking" ingredient. Though since I forgot to pull out the yeast for the photo you could say it represents that.

I microwaved the milk, added the sugar, and let it proof in the measuring cup.
Omitted from the ingredient picture earlier was the yeast; the site linked earlier has a baking soda recipe, but I prefer using yeast when I can. Step 1 was mixing the sugar and slightly warmed in the microwave milk with the yeast and letting it chill out for about 10 minutes while I worked on the beer.

New Belgium's Trippel
Waiting for yeast to proof is a great excuse to drink.

Mixing it all up
After the yeast had been sitting long enough to develop a small layer of foam, I mixed in the melted tablespoon of butter (which I had let cool a bit while the yeast was proofing), stirred well and poured it into the flour. The recipe said to mix and kneed by hand, but I bought a KitchenAid mixer recently and opted to use that instead.

The dough before rising
As with just about any bread-like thing, I let it mix until the dough stopped sticking to the pan and then switched to the dough hook for a bit. When I was convinced it was done, I pulled the bowl out, threw a clean dish towel over it and let it sit for a while to rise (probably 30-40 minutes).

When the dough had risen enough, which in this case means, when I got impatient after 30-40 minutes, I split the dough into 10 roughly even shaped lumps and began rolling.

The rolled out dough + anko

I've never been able to roll dough out to look very circular, but at least for this sort of thing it doesn't matter too much. I topped the rolled out dough with a nice helping of anko and then proceeded to messily fold up the manjuu. To make things look authentic one should twist the balls shut, but I just folded it in half and then in half again. Perhaps that's how it's always done in America, or so I'll claim.

Ten rolled up manjuu ready for steaming

Once the manjuu were rolled up and ready to go, I let them sit a bit covered to rise a little more. In the meantime I dug out my vegetable steamer and put some water in a pot to get ready to steam them. I put some cheesecloth between the lid of the pot and the pot itself to keep water from dripping on the manjuu too much while it cooked. This turned out to burn the cheesecloth that was hanging out of the pot, which was a tad worrisome but not problematic.

Cooked and ready to eat!

It turns out that cooking the manjuu upside down (i.e., folded side down) works best in the steamer; otherwise the bottom tends to stick to it. I should try using the wax paper I had the manjuu sitting on in the steamer to save myself some cleaning problems.

All in all they turned out pretty tasty; I only cooked two or three the first night, and a quick attempt the following day indicated that they should last a little bit refrigerated. This will give me a nice, albeit sweet, breakfast for the next day or two. I'd like to try some variants in a later version of this post, perhaps something like nikuman.

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