Monday, April 14, 2014

So I Made Ramen

Remember when I was talking really big last week about making ramen from scratch after I read Ivan Ramen? Well, I made it. It took about twelve hours from start to finish and it was almost worth it.

I set the alarm for 5:00 AM on Ramen Day and headed straight to the kitchen to unpack the meat. Making ramen the Ivan Ramen way involves a lot of meat—and not the nicely trimmed pieces of chicken breast that you get from Fresh Direct. I’m talking about whole chickens chopped up into parts and slabs of fatty pork with some bristles still left on the skin. If you’re squeamish, like I am, there is a definite ick factor.

Still, I managed to hold it together and got what needed to be simmering on the stove simmering on the stove. When I sat down to breakfast, all of my large pots were bubbling a way and a tray of sofrito was cooking slowly in the oven. I was on my way to getting together the different components of ramen, which are chicken fat, pork fat, shio tare, sofrito, katsuobushi salt, chicken stock, toasted rye noodles, half-cooked eggs, menmo and dashi. 

One of the things that Ivan Ramen taught me is that there’s a fair amount of precision needed to make ramen—the chicken broth, for example, has to remain at a pretty specific temperature for a very long time—but there’s also a lot of down time. I used some of this to send my sous-chef (also known as my husband) to Fairway to buy some fresh noodles.

After several hours of relative calm, work started up again and I was making the half-cooked eggs and chopping scallions to finish everything off. And then, almost before I knew it, I had the seven components of ramen in various containers in my countertop and we were ready to eat.

We’d invited a friend over for dinner—if you’re going to make ramen from scratch, you definitely have to show it off—and as we assembled our bowls, I realized the triumph of my achievement. I had made ramen almost entirely from scratch. In a way, it almost didn’t matter how it tasted. But man, it was good.

Steps one and two: making chicken fat, pork fat and chicken broth 

Steps three and four: assembling the components for a good bowl of ramen!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ramen It

Probably because I’m a masochist, I decided that it would be a good idea to make ramen from scratch. The idea popped into my head after I finished reading Ivan Ramen. I mean, who DOESN’T want to spend an entire day making the seven component ingredients of this traditional Japanese noodle dish?

One thing you should know—I’ve never actually eaten real ramen, apart from the dried noodles that everyone eats at some point in college. So why do I want to do it? Essentially, Ivan Orkin, the book’s author, made me fall in love with the idea of ramen because of his own passion for it. Plus, there is nothing I like more than a long, difficult task with a questionable outcome. In a way, it’s kind of like writing a book.

After reading the recipe through several times, I realized that the individual components of ramen aren’t difficult to make. The difficulty comes in the length of time needed to make some of the ingredients and the sheer number of ingredients needed for dashi, a fish broth that is one of seven components.

With that in mind, I decided to buy dashi and make everything else--chicken fat, pork fat, shio tare, sofrito, katsuobushi salt, chicken stock, toasted rye noodles and menmo (bamboo shoots)—from scratch. To be fair, I delegated the rye noodles to my husband. He has a pasta machine and isn’t afraid to use it.

It’s definitely going to be a process but it’s nothing that a little determination and an excel spreadsheet can’t fix. Wish me luck!

Monday, March 31, 2014


I’m not the kind of gal who admits failure easily but I’m starting to think that making macarons—those tiny, delicious almond sandwich cookies—are beyond my skill.

It’s not like I don’t have some baking skills.  I mean, I’ve made a Busch de Noel, complete with marzipan berries, leaves and vines, for goodness’ sake! But every time I try to make macarons, I end up with flat, runny oblongs instead of the pert little puffy circles that I’m aiming for.

I’ve tried tested recipes from bakers like Michael Peterson and Nancy Baggett. I’ve tried untested recipes that I’ve found online. I always get the same result, though. It’s getting frustrating. And almond flour isn’t exactly cheap.

But I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel yet. I think I have one more attempt in me. So…does anyone have a good macaron recipe?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Starting From Scratch

I make a lot of things from scratch: combining a lot of small amounts of things into cookies, brownies, caramel popcorn, mashed potatoes, pizza, jam and a variety of things that it would be easier to buy. I also make a lot of quilts, which means that I buy very large pieces of fabric that I cut into smaller pieces and then sew back together.

I write books too. And now that I’m shopping my manuscript to agents, I need to start from scratch again. It’s exciting and terrifying, kind of like starting a new quilt or embarking on another time-consuming attempt to make an ethnic food as authentically as possible in my apartment.

With a book, I don’t have a set starting point, like pre-heat oven to 350. I’ve got ideas and notes, character names and scenes but not much else. While I can adapt a quilt pattern or an existing recipe, I find it incredibly difficult to make up my own. Writing, through, is a different story. This is the part that I love!

Monday, March 17, 2014

No Brownie Points

I like to think that I’m a pretty good baker. I’ve got a good understanding of the basic ratios of fat, sugar and flour needed to make a mean cookie and I’m good at judging when a batter is right and when a batter is just not right. But for the life of me, I can’t make brownies.

Part of the problem is that I’m so used to adapting cookies and cake recipes as I go, I think that I can adapt brownie recipes with the same abandon. I can’t. Another part is that I am always incredulous about the number of eggs (three to five) and the super-high sugar content (often more sugar than flour).

Intellectually, I know why the recipes are written this way. I just am so used to not following cookie recipes that I can’t stop myself from improvising when it comes to brownie recipes.

In any case, I accidentally made good brownies today. Here’s the recipe. It’s pretty easy, even for someone like me.

The Accidental Brownie

12 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of sugar
150 grams of bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 cup of flour
½ cut of walnuts

Pre-heat oven to 350
Spray a 9x9-inch pan with some cooking spray.
1. Put the butter, sugar, chocolate, cocoa power and salt into a decent-sized saucepan over low heat. Stir it together as the butter starts to melt. When it’s all melted, take it off of the stove and scrape it into a bowl with a spatula.

2. Whisk in the vanilla extra. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until they’re well-combined and the batter is glossy.

3. Fold in the flour. Don’t over mix it. Fold in the walnuts.

4. Pour it all into the baking pan and pop it into the oven for about 20-25 minutes. You know it’s done when you stick a fork into it and the tines have some moist brownie residue.

5. Cool and enjoy.