Dinner Plate Travails

Our culinary adventures!

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Tonkotsu ramen

Tonkotsu soup

I am a noodle-head.  It is a soul-warming, comfort food. That said, I am new to the joys of really good Japanese ramen. To get a glimpse of ramen-mania, watch Tampopo–a true noodle western film released in 1985–so awesome! I didn’t *fully* get it until I actually tasted good Japanese ramen, thanks to Toronto’s latest foodie craze. Some high quality, serious Japanese ramen places have popped up here in recent years. I had been to a few, and Jeff and I went to one of the more recently opened places that was highly recommended by our Japanese friend, Miki. At Sansotei (http://www.sansotei.com), we had the BEST ramen we have ever tasted to date. Maybe we will have better somewhere else, sometime in the future… but for now, this is it. Never was a broth so creamy (without actual cream), so full tasting and flavourful. I went on a quest to replicate it!

Marc Matsumoto offers a recipe that appeared to reveal the secrets of making good tonkotsu ramen, including the condiments and garnishes (http://norecipes.com/blog/tonkotsu-ramen-recipe).

I have made two attempts at this broth recipe, and each time, I messed up on some small detail by omitting or substituting an ingredient. On the first attempt, I had no chicken bones and I used pork ribs instead of pork bones. The broth was thin-tasting, not full, as he warned. The second time, I used pork spine bones. It was still not as ‘creamy’ as sansotei’s broth, possibly due to the lack of marrow (as is found in leg bones) and not enough simmering action to emulsify the fats in the stock. The chasu recipe, mayu and marinated eggs were relatively easy to get right, and I found a place to get fresh ramen noodles (Sanko on Queen Street).

While my ramen was pretty good, it wasn’t mind-blowing like Sansotei’s. Next time, I will source out fresh pork leg bones and follow Marc’s recipe EXACTLY to get to the bottom of a perfect bowl of ramen… there may be other secrets to unlock here. The journey continues!


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Vietnamese pork patties (cha)

Ba's patties

My mom makes delicious, juicy pork patties. In Vietnam, they are made with fresh pork meat and fat, laboriously minced by hand into a smooth paste. My mom’s modernized version uses ground pork and a food processor; the rest of the recipe is pretty authentic. The cinnamon is inspired by the version made in Hue, central Vietnam.

We eat it in thin slices (like deli) in sandwiches (banh mi–with pate, pickled carrots, and coriander); with steamed rice rolls (banh cuon); on steamed rice with some vegetables. When she makes it, we all grab a fresh piece soon as it comes out from the oven, the skin still crispy! Recently, she showed us how to make it, and I am sharing her recipe.

3lbs ground pork

11 grams baking powder

100 ml water

75 ml cooking oil

75 ml fish sauce

3 tsp potato starch

1 tsp sugar

pinch ground black pepper

pinch ground cinnamon

pinch msg (optional)

Dissolve the baking powder in water. Mix all ingredients together well. On a cooking sheet, lay out the meat mixture in 1 inch thick portions; cover and put in freezer for 6-8 hours. By freezing the meat before processing, it prevents the food processor from heating up the meat and cooking it pre-maturely and doesn’t achieve the crunchy, chewy texture we want.

After 6-8 hours in the freezer, remove the near-frozen meat and grind smooth in a food processor. Place the processed meat into well-oiled trays, about 1-2 inches thick. Brush the raw patties with the annatto colouring for a red appearance traditionally found in Vietnamese patties.  Pre-heat oven to 355 F and bake uncovered for 35 min. Increase oven temperature to 375 F and bake further for 10 min. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

These patties freeze very well! Let the patties cool then wrap tightly in foil and place in a freezer bag. To reheat frozen patties and get that crispy outer skin, place in toaster oven for 15 min at 375 F

To make colouring (optional): pour about 3 tbsp of hot oil on about 1 tbsp of annatto seeds. Let  sit for 1/2 hour for the colour to infuse the oil, then discard seeds.

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Doro Wot

I used this recipe as a guide: http://www.ethiopianspices.com/html/recipes.asp

This is relatively easy to make if you have some Berbere spice paste. I didn’t really bother with the “finishing” spices (I just added ground [green] cardamon and some more Berbere paste [about 1.5 t] 10-15 mins before I served it).

It ended up tasting quite similar to the Doro Wot that our regular Ethiopian restaurant serves.


Cook the onions until they are a bit brown, then add the garlic and ginger. The onions, garlic, and ginger should not burn. Either chop the onions (especially), garlic, and ginger finely before adding. or mash with your cooking utensil when it is soft.

The idea  is to simmer the chicken in the onion and spice mash until the chicken is soft, then liven up the mix before serving with some fragrant spices.

** Mai’s review **

This is the first African meal Jeff has ever made, and it was very very good! We have two excellent Ethiopian restaurants in our neighbourhood where we go to eat regularly. We’ve also eaten at Ethiopian restaurants on Bloor Street in Toronto and in Manhattan (near Washington Park). I think this makes us somewhat experienced in the flavours of good Ethiopian food. We just love it!

Jeff also made collard greens and beet salad to accompany the doro wat. Each one added flavours that complimented and balanced out the others. The sweet and tarty beets cleansed the palate following forkfuls of the intense savoury spiciness of doro wat. He cooked it to the right level–not too over-cooked where the crunchy and fresh taste is cooked out, and not undercooked where you still get the earthy taste (though I kinda like that). The collard greens contributed a refreshing blend of fragrant spices to the meal and had a creaminess to it, without feeling fatty. He used a LOT of butter!

Jeff’s venture into Africa was set back only by my failure to source out good injera bread on my way home from work…  I did spend the next 3 days trying to clear the house of the lingering smells of roasted, oily spices. The upside is that we now have a small batch of berbere paste to use for next time! Next time, Jeff is going outside to make his spice paste… 😛

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Berbere Spice Paste

Many of the recipes online seemed far too westernized. I’m going to check this against the Ethiopian cookbook we have (somewhere in the house–who knows where) before I make it again.

I am nearly certain this is responsible for oily, curry-like smell that is still detectable in our house 3 days after I made an Ethiopian dinner (part of it may have come from the Doro Wot I made right after). Wow! When you cook these spices–be careful–keep windows open and your stove fan running at full blast (oh, and use the back burner)!

Here is my adaptation.. Makes slightly more than 1/2 cup:

16 cardamom pods
1 T cumin seed
1 t black peppercorns
1 t fenugreek seeds
1.5 t allspice berries
6 whole cloves

3 T peanut oil
4 minced shallots
2 minced garlic cloves
2 T grated fresh ginger
2 fresh red chilies

1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons paprika (hot and or sweet–preferably hot)
1 tablespoon cayenne
1 teaspoon turmeric

  1. Toast all the whole spices in a dry pan over medium heat until they are fragrant. This will produce a very strong smell.
  2. In the same pan, heat the oil and sweat the shallots, garlic, and chilies over medium heat. Do not let them color. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  3. Grind the toasted whole spices and the red pepper flakes in a spice grinder, then mix them with the powdered spices.
  4. In a mortar and pestle, pound the shallots, garlic, and peppers until soft and blended.
  5. Add the ground spice mix to the wet mixture and pound in batches.
  6. Heat back up the pan and lightly fry the mixture.
  7. Put into a container to store.

This recipe was helpful: http://honest-food.net/wild-game/sauces-for-wild-game/ethiopian-berbere-paste/

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German Potato Salad

I still don’t get why some Germans want to add mayo to cooked potatoes (in other traditional recipes, mostly from southern Germany). This side dish should be savory, tangy, and starchy–mayo, and even mayo and Dijon does not accomplish this as well! The pieces of bacon and bacon grease are the key to the whole dish since they act as the savory anchor to the starchy and tangy flavors. The parsley and capers add depth to the vinegar zest… You may also want to add some lemon juice.


2.5 lbs cups small potatoes OR large sliced potatoes. Leave the skins on to add keep texture and minerals.
3-4 slices bacon
1  sliced white onion
1/5 to 1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 t sugar
salt and pepper to taste
2 T chopped fresh parsley or 1 T(?) capers
Few dashes of celery seed


1. Boil the Potatoes in a medium large pot. Drain and set aside.
2. Fry the Bacon, adding a small amount of oil (in the same pot), until it is crispy. Avoid burning the bacon.
3. Remove the bacon and discard any small burnt bits.
4. Cook the onion until slightly soft in the bacon grease.
5. Add the potatoes back in along with the vinegar, sugar, and a bit of salt and pepper.
6. Stir. About 10-15 min before serving add the parsley or capers. Don’t be afraid to mash the potatoes a bit.

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Collard greens

The most awesome thing about collard greens is how easy they are to make as well as how good they taste! Many recipes for southern-style collard greens involve smoked meats (turkey, pork hocks, etc.), onions and red pepper flakes. Some people boil the greens first, some will cook them for hours. I like my vegetables to retain some of their natural vitamins, flavours and textures, so I often will cook them less than called for in some recipes. However, the longer the collard greens are cooked, the sweeter they seem to get (and lose more of their bitterness, if that is not a taste you like). I can be lazy sometimes but still like tasty food. This recipe is fast, easy and simple. AND soooo delicious.

First, cut out the centre stem of the collard greens and chop them into 1 cm strips; smash 4-5 cloves of garlic (more if you really like garlic, which we do). Then, fry 5-6 strips of smoked bacon and reserve some of the fat. When the bacon is crispy, remove and cut into small pieces to add back in at the end. Set aside some of the bacon fat to cook the chopped collard greens in. The bacon fat is already salty, so the only additional spice I added was ground pepper to taste. Cook the collard greens for about 45 min-1 hour. The longer you cook the collard greens, the more of their bitterness is cooked out.

Next time, I will try the more involved southern-style collard green recipes and use smoked turkey left-overs or smoked hocks.

UPDATE: Next time came! We were in Omaha visiting Jeff’s family for Christmas 2012. Amy brought home a smoked turkey she won in a raffle at work. Of course, I *knew* we’d have left-overs, and it was an opportunity to try this, old-school! What better use of Christmas dinner left-overs? There was also smoked ham, but I thought it might be too much to use that too… The only modification to the recipe above was to add the bits of chopped smoked turkey meat (about a cup) and two whole chili peppers. It was delicious (I’d say)! The smoked flavour was even stronger–maybe the bacon could be omitted if you do it this way. Rosemary found the chilies to be a little too spicy, and I admit it wasn’t evenly distributed (surprise!). The afore-mentioned smoked ham and Amy’s awesome cranberry sauce were very charming dinner guests.


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Crockpot Pulled Pork

I used this recipe as a rough guide: http://www.crumblycookie.net/2008/05/30/crockpot-pulled-pork/

It was a success on the first try and required relatively little effort for a great meal! The extra meat kept well in the fridge… If you start it when you get up in the morning, it will be ready for dinner.

I particularly liked the flexibility of  this dish–all you most likely need is the pork shoulder (that is readily available at most supermarkets)–the spice mixture can easily be tweaked to fit what you have on hand, and a complete meal can be pieced together with whatever starch and veg. you have around.

Some notes:

I just made the spice rub to taste, using this recipe as a general guide, then added a sliced onion, a few sliced carrots, and some whole garlic cloves to the crockpot before adding meat. I didn’t bother to wrap the meat and refrigerate as the above recipe mentions (I don’t doubt that this can improve the flavor, but it is not worth the planning). When applying the spice rub be sure to work it into the fatty marbling so that more of the meat is exposed to the spices.

I flipped the meat and added more spices to the meat partway through. I don’t know if this helped, but I wanted to keep the meat covered with the rub as it cooked so that as much flavor as possible would be absorbed.

After the meat was cooked I removed the onions, carrots, and garlic and pureed them with some of the meat juice and BBQ sauce before adding it back to the pork. I discarded some of the fatty meat juice. This made the meat extra creamy… I might not use all of the vegs. next time as the final sauce was a bit too creamy. A bit of the pureed mixture will add to the texture, but too much makes it taste odd.

We had the pulled pork with crispy, toasted slices of bread–an open faced sandwich–and slow-cooked collard greens. I added some hot sauce to the pork (I really have started to like the Grace brand hot sauce: http://www.gracefoods.ca/drupal/special-product/266). Maybe Mai will comment on the Collard greens she made the same night. They were awesome.