Kenji’s Vegan Ramen, a Kitchen Conclusion (and a spice blend for you)

I’m a huge fan of Serious Eats.  Besides referring to it for general cooking questions I might have, I really adore their series “The Vegan Experience” (and I’m not vegan… heck, I’m not even vegetarian).

One of the vegan recipes that I bookmarked but was intimidated by the number of ingredients and steps was Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Ultimate Rich and Creamy Vegan Ramen With Roasted Vegetables and Miso Broth.  What does one do when they are not sure they can pull off a recipe on their own?  In my case, it was finding a friend who said “So when you want to cook together? I want to do something new and crazy.  Just something fun, y’know?”

New?  Check.  Crazy?  Check.

Let’s do this thing!

Our observations:

The ingredient list isn’t all that bad.  It would have been nice if there had been a condensed shopping list.  It’s essentially this:

eggplant
onion
garlic
ginger
oil*
fresh shiitake
fresh maitake
kombu*
dried porcini
dried shiitake*
napa cabbage
leek
scallions
sweet potato
shichimi togarashi*
mirin*
soy sauce*
miso*
tahini*
noodles

Everything with an asterisk were things already in my pantry.  Well, except for the shichimi togarashi but we’ll get to that later.  And for the ramen noodles, Jared and I decided to be extra experimental and try the pasta with baking soda trick.  Several times, we asked each other if we had forgotten something because our shopping cart seemed like it didn’t have nearly enough ingredients waiting to be paid for.

One hurdle done.

But the doing?… ah, this was the real challenge.

And half the challenge was matching the ingredient list with the ramen component we were working on.  We both really wanted to reformat the whole recipe for easier reading in the kitchen.

On my own, I had read the recipe through a couple of times but I wish I had studied the photos in the blog post more.  We didn’t notice that the sweet potatoes and the maitake were not mixed on the baking sheet.  It made for a slight inconvenience to pick out sweet potato chunks for the blender.

For the soy-tare, I would leave the ginger and scallions in large identifiable pieces because you have to separate it from the quartered shiitake caps when done.

We also recommend upping the eggplant from 1 small to 2 small.  We had very little eggplant compared to the number of servings when all was said and done.  Also, you don’t get a lot of cooked liquid from 1 small eggplant.  Spinning out said liquid felt fiddly.

But more importantly, how did it taste?

The components of the ramen are their own were good but nothing I felt impressed by.  The baking soda noodles were really interesting!  The baking soda made the noodles a bit chewier, and taste very eggy.  The sweet potatoes baked in the spice blend gave a nice heat that quick dissipated.  But, altogether, the dish was very lovely and satisfying.  Jared’s wife got a gluten free version for health reasons.  We replaced the soy sauce with GF tamari in the recipe, and made a separate pot of rice noodles just for her.  Her reaction was “This is amazing!”  We also fed a friend of theirs who is vegetarian and planning to go mostly vegan.  The friend thought it was one of the best things she had had in a very long time.  In short, those with dietary restrictions are probably going to enjoy it best.

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Making flavored oil

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I can definitely see myself making parts of the recipe for other noodle and soup recipes.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever make the whole recipe on my own (but if I do, I think I would spread it over two days).  Jared and I may make it again, but not for at least 6 months and we’ve had time to recover from the amount of steps this ramen involved.

I will definitely make the sweet potatoes again.  I never thought to bake them with shichimi togarashi before, and I like the idea blending some of it to give the broth more body.  True story, I’ve never cared for shichimi togarashi before.  So I didn’t have it in my pantry, nor did I see the point in buying it for just this recipe.  So I made it with ingredients I did have in my pantry.  The spice blend is supposed to be a blend of seven spices.  (Shichi means seven.)  I used five, so I’m going to start calling my blend “five-mi togarashi.”  It is not traditional but I was quite happy with it.  (I suppose I could also call it go-mi togarashi since go is five in Japanese).

FIVE-MI TOGARASHI (GO-MI TOGARASHI)

1 tablespoon mandarin orange dust
4 teaspoons gochugaru
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seed
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

Mix altogether, and store in a tightly fitted lidded jar.

Reference Links

https://www.seriouseats.com/2015/02/how-to-make-the-ultimate-vegan-ramen-rich-and-creamy-vegan-experience.html

https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/02/vegan-ramen-miso-creamy-vegan-vegetarian-food-lab-recipe.html

http://penandfork.com/recipes/cooking-tips/mandarin-orange-dust/

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Cardamom and loaf pans, a Kitchen Conclusion

Another Kitchen Conclusion post to start off 2018!  This time, I’m highlighting two recipes from Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Magazine.  Both just happen to involve ground cardamom and loaf pans.

Not a resolution per se, but I want to be better about cooking and baking from my plethora of cookbooks and magazines in general.  And let’s not forget all the cookbooks that I take out of my local library.  I also like to cook with people, and for people.  It makes for a better incentive than just cooking for little ol’ me.

When my sister proposed that we bake the Milk Street Magazine’s pistachio cardamom cake on New Year’s Eve, I easily agreed.  She had most of the ingredients while I had the flour.  It went faster with two people.  I handled the grinding of the pistachios and the other dry ingredients.  She prepped the wet ingredients.  We skipped the glaze because (1) we weren’t presenting this cake to anyone, and (2) neither of us needed the extra sugar.

The only criticism I have is the bake time printed.  It said 325ºF for 50-55 minutes.  As we were sliding the loaf pan into the oven, I had huge doubts about the bake time.  It’s hard for me to say how long it took in total since I had to keep adding time, but it was probably about 70 minutes in my oven.  No, my oven doesn’t run under-temperature.  If anything, it’s usually running a few degrees higher than the displayed temperature.

Overall impression of the cake itself?  Maybe we didn’t toast the pistachios long enough.  The dominant flavors seemed to be orange and cardamom.  I think I even tasted the tang of the Greek yogurt more than any pistachio flavor.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The cake was still very tasty.  But for my sister who is a big fan of pistachio, it was a slight let down.

And then last week, while I was enjoying a day off from work, I decided to try the Milk Street Magazine recipe for brown butter cardamom banana bread.  I’m generally not a huge fan of standard banana bread.  I have a version with chocolate chips and cinnamon that I like, but that’s probably because the chocolate and the cinnamon tend to distract from the banana flavor.  (Oddly enough, I love fresh bananas on their own.)

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Brown the butter!

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mixing the wet ingredients

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I did like the cardamom and banana combination.  Ok, not more than chocolate and cinnamon, but I’m definitely willing to bake this one again.  I also gave a few slices to a friend.  Their reaction came back as favorable.

Having said that, I couldn’t taste the brown butter.  Maybe I didn’t brown it enough?  I mean better to under brown than to burn something, but maybe this is a theme in my kitchen.  I don’t know.  I guess I’ll just have to try again sometime.

In general, I find the Milk Street Kitchen recipes to be unintimidating and delicious.  I like their use of bolder flavors.  I have also made their savory sweet potato gratin with happy results, lest you think I only make desserts.

I definitely recommend giving them a try if you haven’t already.

Reference Links:  Warning, depending on when you are reading this post, you may hit a paywall.  If you want to see the recipes in full, I believe that they are both in the book Milk Street: The New Home Cooking.  Chances are that your local library carries a copy! 

https://www.177milkstreet.com/recipes/pistachio-cardamom-cake

https://www.177milkstreet.com/recipes/banana-bread

Granola clusters, a Kitchen Conclusion post

First of all, I’m going to try to make this a series of posts.  I’m going to try to get off my duff and post more regularly.  I aim to cook more from my cookbook and recipe collection, and I’ll post those items that I feel warrant attention (for better or for worse!).  Here’s the first of (hopefully many) posts that I’m going to call Kitchen Conclusions.

PSA – if this series title doesn’t work for you, feel free to suggest a better one.

I have to admit that I’m a fan of Bon Appetit’s YouTube channel.  I adore Claire, Carla, and Brad who are probably the staff faces that pop up most often.

When I saw Carla make cookies by mixing granola and meringue (which is actually a Claire recipe), I knew immediately that I wanted to try it out.

It also didn’t hurt that it snowed last weekend, and that I had all of the ingredients.  (To be fair, I did make a last minute run to Trader Joe’s before it snowed, because I wasn’t convinced that I had all of the ingredients.)

The process?  Pretty straight forward.  It’s a very sticky mess when you mix the granola and meringue.  Don’t stress out over meringue.  I made a sad looking meringue, and the clusters still baked just fine.  But I highly recommend using parchment paper, because it’s so sticky.

I was good and let the clusters cool overnight, but only because Carla mentioned that the clusters were very flexible when still warm.  If you absolutely don’t have parchment paper to use and you used a greased baking sheet, the clusters will need a thin, stiff spatula to help with removal.  Or maybe just try remove the clusters when they haven’t cooled completely?  One of the baking sheets I was using had leftover coconut oil greased onto it (from making the granola portion), and I regretted using it for baking half of the cookies by the morning.  They were pretty stuck on.

Having said that, I will never ever regret making these granola clusters.  They were delicious!  I ate two and had to convince myself not to eat a third – that’d be extra snow shoveling for the sake of calorie burning than I was willing to do.  Yes, I actually ran the recipe through a calorie calculator just to help convince me not to eat a third cookie.

And then?  On Monday when I was at work, I bought a cookie with me, and basically spent half the morning staring at it.  I was trying so hard to save it for lunch, and it never made it that long.  I also gave some cookies to a co-worker just so that I didn’t end up being the only person to eat all of them.  Said co-worker and her husband also enjoyed the cookies.

In sum?

Recipe level:  Easy

Would I make it again?  Hell yes.  In fact, I might make them again this weekend for a party.  Also, it’s easy to keep these cookies gluten free if you need to.

The recipe:

https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/granola-cluster-cookies

 

The YT video: