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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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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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.