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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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.