Check-in Station: January Cooking Project Update
This has worked out more fabulously than I could have possibly expected or hoped. Though I also have to give credit to my wife for being able to read and follow recipes and instructions so well, as well as her natural talent for cooking. Our humble, yet ambitious attempts at robust and relatively healthy home cooking have born fruit. Big, fat, succulent, juicy fruit.
Here are the meals being covered:
- Yasai Itame
The ramen was an outstanding success. I’ve always wanted to try authentic Japanese ramen. And while that’s effectively impossible until I can afford to vacation there ( I will do it one day), the ingredients I was able to cultivate created something tasty and satisfying. It’s changed the way I look at angel hair pasta forever. Before I found it to be a good alternative in certain Italian dishes, now I see it and think about how much delicious ramen I can make. Hell, I found some angel hair pasta on sale at a favored grocery store, and almost bought ten packages since they were on sale and I could shove it into oodles of delicious soup.
I swear, this recipe would have been completely inaccessible to me if I had to make the noodles from scratch. I just don’t have it in me to prepare something so meticulously yet. The use of angel hair pasta specially boiled to make it a nice, uniquely chewy consistency is a brilliant way to make this a more conquerable task. I seriously doubt I’ll go back to eating Top Ramen, or those packaged bowls of ramen again unless I’m starving with no other choice of food to eat.
In the future, I think I’ll try to adjust the stock and flavor by trying this dish with beef or fish. Though as I’ve heard it, pork is the way to go for this dish. The ONLY way. Also, I very much would like to try this meal with a soft boiled or fried egg. This is such a good, hearty delicious meal that I could probably eat this for dinner four or five times in a row. I totally can see how Naruto is so obsessed with this now.
Basically it’s Japanese stir-fry, and it coincidentally is a perfect follow up to the ramen. We used the left over chewy noodles from the ramen in the stir-fry and it worked great! After all, stir-fry at its most basic form is similar to stews in that they’re very good at being simple, concise and using leftovers to make a better meal than those ingredients would have made separately.
It helps immensely too, that we got a good, quality wok about two years ago, and it was already well and properly seasoned. It may seem intimidating at first to have such a huge, heavy and almost ancient feeling tool in your kitchen, but for me it feels like a basic necessity. If I had to choose to be without a wok or a frying pan, I’m taking the wok. It’s not just that it’s better for making more food, it’s just better for cooking overall.
The recipe we used for the yasai itame was a very good and basic starter. It has a wealth of tasty and crisp vegetables, which I’ve always preferred. I hate soggy vegetables such as stewed carrots, and I will always choose to eat a vegetable raw, or as close to raw to raw as possible if I can. I have no problem throwing raw onions or peppers into my morning egg dishes just for the texture and crispness they add. Though you shouldn’t mistake me for anything close to a vegan or vegetarian.
Moving forward, I don’t quite know if I would change anything about this easily changed recipe. Perhaps I need to taste it a third time or more to get a feel for what I would add or subtract. Right now, I’ve very happy with what I got. My fear is that if I add too much to spice or flavor this dish up, it would cease to be Japanese. Instead I would probably end up with something closer to a Chinese, Thai or American stir-fry. The moment I figure something out though, the wok is going back into service!
I’ve wanted to make this dish for years! And it’s for no apparent reason aside from me being an anime nerd. Surprisingly, this surprisingly insurmountable task for me in the past was a snap, once a certain barrier was passed. What barrier was it? Making the damn rice! It wasn’t until we mastered making sushi rice that I could even think of doing this. Though the funny thing is that my wife has been making great sushi since before last year. It’s just this year though that we got the proper rice instead of foolishly trying to “make do” with long grain jasmine rice. Take this as a lesson gaijin! Don’t be afraid to talk to your local Japanese or Asian shop/restaurant owners. The people working at a restaurant/grocery store called Tokyo Deli were very helpful, as were the proprietors of the Saigon Market (a damn good Asian market). If we needed substitutes, or unfamiliar items, they were very helpful in each and every way.
Getting back to the onigiri, once I got the rice perfected (perfectly sticky and cooked) it was just a matter of using a simple rice ball mold that I bought long ago and following the simple directions. Dump the rice into the mold, cover and press, make dimple for the filling and add filling. Wet nori sheet and apply to bottom of rice ball as a handle and a bit more taste and serve. My daughter who is already a huge fan of sushi loved it! And so have other members of my family you don’t exactly enjoy my same eclectic taste in cuisine. I’m as proud of these simple little rice balls, as I am of the more complicated meals like the sushi, stir-fry and even the ramen.
Going forward, I’d probably modify this by going with the yaki onigiri recipe, which incorporates my son’s two favorite ways to enjoy rice, soy sauce and butter. Maybe he’ll finally happily eat something new for once. Also, the filling I used this time was merely fresh cucumber. I didn’t have any pickled plum or other fruit that you’d traditionally add, plus my plan to move onigiri up on the schedule was so spontaneous that I hadn’t even taken the time to prepare the salmon flakes that I wanted to try with it. Likely the salmon flakes will be my next way of adding to this recipe, and then maybe I’ll get real fancy and make the yaki onigiri or use the well seasoned beef of beef shigureni to fill in the snack. There are just so many choices I can make from here.
If you look at my last post announcing this project, you’ll see things changed a little between then and now. There’s supposed to be a drink in this post, too. But with this month being much busier than expected, and also not having enough funds to fund this last project, I thought it’d be best to try something simpler that we already had ingredients for. It always pays to have a giant bag of rice or two hanging around your house. Given how stupidly cold January been has been for where I live, it probably would have made a lot of sense to at least try the Vietnamese coffee, but there’s time enough for that next month. This has been so much fun that I don’t want to stop at just three items a month.
Well, that’s it for now. Next month I plan on preparing all the items I listed in my initial post, plus the ciocolatta calda. An item, that now that I think about it, is a perfect little Valentine’s Day project. Now then, I just need to find me a good pan for the tamagoayaki and the dashimaki tamago…
- Check-in Station’s Cooking Project 2014
- Yasai Itame (Stir Fry Vegetables) Recipe
- Ramen Recipe
- Onigiri (Rice Ball) Recipe