Noodle/Pasta/Rice

The shroomiest mushroom risotto, without breaking bank

when powdered and browned in hot grease, dried shiitake’s exponentially multiplied surface areas darken and deepen boundlessly, releasing every molecules of that shroominess that would otherwise cost you a limb

If you have ever found yourself frozen in front of the mushroom isles at your local Whole Foods Market, cold sweats dripping down as you struggle to understand how on earth could a fungi — categorically no different than the molds crawling underneath your drywalls — be charging sometimes more than $50 per pound, while feeling utterly shitty about yourself, well, this recipe is for you:

Poor man’s mushroom risotto.

I’m speaking from a place of deep empathy.  Having been born as a relentlessly cheap human being, I understand the hurt when even a dickhead-shaped vegetation that lives off of decomposed matters could take one look at me, and smirk.  A brainless, judgy brainless sponge that grows next to if not on top of rotten shits, thinks I’m not good enough.  Who do they think they are?  By the way I’m not talking about the cheap mushrooms like White Buttons, pfff... who do you think I am?  I’m talking about the delicious ones, the truly robust, earthy, and nutty-flavored mushrooms with Elvish names, Chanterelle, Lactarius Indigo, Blue Foot, that grows in an enchanted woods with the fairies and talk to birds.  Those fuckers.  I ain’t sayin’ it’s a gold digger; but it ain’t messin’ with no broke n-beeeep.

Can you tell this is personal?

So for years, or more accurately since the 24 heads of dried morel we obtained from our France road trip had run dry, I’ve been secretly doing this.

Dried shiitake mushroom.

Cheap, common, found almost wherever Asian groceries stand and season-neutral.  Why is it generally much more affordable than other varieties of dried mushrooms such as porcini, morels and etc?  No idea (psst, because it’s Asian).  But I can assure you that flavor-wise, it does not dwarf in comparison.  In fact, it has been aiding the flavors and complexities of a huge number of Asian dishes, soups and stews, precisely because of its high natural-occuring MSG and a deep, musky, earthy aroma.  But regrettably, typically cooked whole or in slices, its true potential has yet to be realized by the general public.

It wants to be, no, needs to be, powered.

Think about it.  Remained as a whole, or slices, or even finely diced, the mushrooms are only allowed a limited exposure to direct heat and caramelization.  But when powdered and browned in hot grease, its exponentially multiplied surface areas darken and deepen boundlessly, releasing every molecules of that shroominess that would otherwise cost you a limb.  As a supporting role, usually a couple tablespoons will suffice.  But in the case of carrying an entire Italian culinary staple, say risotto, to whole new height, I suggest we go to town.

Almost 1/2 cup of shiitake mushroom powder will fry slowly in chicken fat, as transformative as the making of a dark roux, until its pale brown complexion takes on the color between cinnamon and dark chocolate, until its faintly woody aroma expands into a pungency that is almost spicy and sweet.  All this magic is then extracted by the chicken broth, and delivered into every single grains of arborio rice in a silky, totally un-grainy finish.  Although you may deem the appearance of fish sauce and soy sauce as out of place, but they only amplify and compliments the shroominess without making an entrance.  I urge you not to swap.

So there.  Go buy expensive dickheads if you want to be like that.  But me?  I’m sticking with this.

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KHAO SOI NEUA/BEEF

KHAO SOI HAPPENS TO HAVE THE RIGHT BALANCE OF BOTH EXOTICISM AND SAFETY IN THE EYE OF A CAUTIOUSLY CURIOUS BACKPACKER.

Scad has been said about khao soi on the internet — some well-informed and some, not so much — so I think I will not bother.  It’s possibly the most famous dish from Northern Thailand, a somehow debatable status in my view.  Being back from a quick trip in Chiangmai Thailand, the capital of khao soi, I’m attempted to assume that its popularity among foreigners is contributed to its relatively benign characteristics if compared to the other more “adventurous” yet far more stunning dishes the region has to offer.  Khao soi, being chicken or beef in coconut curry with egg noodles, happens to have the right balance of both exoticism and safety in the eye of a cautiously curious backpacker.  It certainly isn’t, by far, the best thing we’ve tasted on this trip.  But I’ve always wanted to formulate a khao soi recipe after I’ve actually tried it at its source, so here it is.

Pushing it further on its muslim Chinese origin, I’m replacing dried chilis with Sichuan douban chili paste for a more complexed flavor, as well as inviting the mild tinge of numbness and floral quality from Sichuan peppercorns.  Another trick is to dial down on the amount of coconut milk in the broth itself so it can be reintroduced again right before serving, increasing depth and layers of flavors as how it is done in some of the better khao soi restaurants we’ve encountered.  In a bit of a disagreement with the blunt, under-processed pickled mustard greens that are often mindlessly chopped and scattered in the noodle as a failing contrasting agent, I’m replacing it with pan-fried pickled caperberries that provides sharp pops of sourness and complexity.  Then last but not least, a reminder of Sichuan peppercorns in the topical chili paste to bring it all together.

Enjoy.

 

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SUMMER CREAMY TOFU NOODLES

A DRESSING THAT IS CREAMY YET EXTREMELY LIGHTWEIGHT, WITHOUT THE DEPLOYMENT OF MAYONNAISE OR DAIRY-THICKENED PRODUCTS

What drives us?  What fuels the engine that set us in motion through this open water of life?  And to what extend, if any, do we understand and can we even steer this propulsion?  Or are we all, in the end, simply just being moved?  Because when you think about it, doesn’t the phrase “being driven” imply, in the best case scenario, riding shotgun?  So are we all just passengers in an autonomous car?  At this point in life, I ask myself this a lot.

Whatever it is, we are of course all driven by different things, some by ambitions, some by expectations.  Some are driven by responsibilities.  Some are driven by ideals.  I, for one, am regrettably yet hopelessly driven by the saddest of them all — insecurities.  It is, no doubt, a powerful fuel, productive even, if cultivated under the right set of circumstances.  In spite of the inconvenient mandate it has issued me since birth to render all perceived informations as glass-half-if-not-almost-empty situations, it had nonetheless also dragged me through college, got me a job sort of, kept me engaged, however minimal, in some form of social productivities, being the last line of deterrence in between me and rotting unenthusiastically in an endless pit of Cheetos and ice creams.

Where it’s most relevant to the subject on this blog, it had also, with absolute authority, dictated how I cook.

As depressing as it may sound, for me, cooking is not actually about love, gathering, or even about eating.  Cooking, however solitary, is a sport.  And sporting is about performances.  It has to stand out.  It has to exceed.  It keeps a score.  Don’t get me wrong.  I adore this sport.  But as much as I feel happiness and fulfillment through this process, every time I present a dish whether here or in front of friends and families, I am not to nourish, I am to be evaluated.  It’s utterly pathetic.  I hate myself too as I read these sentences, but hey, I’m not driving remember?  I’m being driven.

This unfortunate defect in my character has largely reduced the number of basic recipes on this blog.  Quick or simple maybe, but not basic, at least not in my mind, not without some flare, some ah-ha’s, some kind of charm offensives.

But why am I babbling about this today?  Because today I’m breaking a mould.

The initial objective in this recipe was to create a dressing that is creamy yet extremely lightweight, without the deployment of mayonnaise or dairy-thickened products, as an equally exciting solution to a much-presented problem as we are being harassed by the demands of summer.  Credited to Brook’s Headley’s vegan chocolate ganache, the unlikely firm tofu came to mind.

The scrutiny that is imposed onto this under-appreciated Asian ingredient, often being measured against other robustly more flavorful competitors on the grocery isles, is sadly unfair and misinformed.  Because tofu was never about flavor.  Tofu is a textural thing.  Being pressed into solids, the curds are silky and fragile on the tongue.  Being obliterated in a food-processor, it becomes unexpectedly thickened, smooth and creamy.  It’s the new perfect mother-sauce.

Upon identifying the subject, my insecurity immediately steered the direction towards sensationalism, something loud, something flashy, something doused in heat and spices then set on fire with lighter fuel.  But something strange if not downright unnatural was happening.  This time, in spite of myself, my mind kept defaulting on a childhood comfort that is neither special or bold — the very simple flavors of silken tofu dressed with soy sauce and sesame oil.

This recipe is not rowdy.  It isn’t trying to make a point.  It quietly invites, and it quietly receives, where it quietly untethers after that.  The weightless creaminess wraps its subjects like the touches of cold satin sheets, cooling and soothing, tightens only to a gentle point by the saltiness of soy sauce, the nuttiness of sesame oil, and the soft prickling of wasabi in the nasal cavity.  It is perfectly unextraordinary.  It’s not how I like to cook.  But it’s what I want to eat.

And believe it or not, that for only a handful of times on this blog, I’m okay with that.  I consider it a triumph.

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HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: INSTANT CREAM CHEESE SHIN RAMYUN/BUDAE JJIGAE MIX

WHY CREAM CHEESE?  BECAUSE COMPARED TO THE COMMONLY APPLIED AMERICAN SINGLES, CREAM CHEESE PROVIDES CHEESINESS AND CREAMINESS WITHOUT ADDED SALT.

WHAT:  Perhaps the most internationally embraced instant noodle of our time, Shin Ramyun, now homemade, thickened with cream cheese, and… also doubles as an instant budae jjigae mix.

WHY:  I wish to pay a tribute to the untimely passing of Anthony Bourdain, the original, the first and the last, who is perhaps, in the end, a great speculator without answers.  Here’s a dish from Korea, budae jjigae, which he had openly embraced and advocated for without irony, both being a mutated creation that exists on the tipping point of conflictions and yet, brings epiphanies and enjoyments to their subjects.  We will sorely miss him.

HOW:  The flavor profile of the base for budae jjigae and the instant noodle Shin Ramyun is, to no surprise, close siblings from the same family.  Both prominent on the fragrance and heat of Korean chili powder, smoothed by a bit of sweetness from fermented chili paste called gochujang, followed by subsequent notes of garlic, a bit of onion, and a hint of soy sauce.  By successfully creating a base for one, you would’ve done it for both.  But to aim at a higher end goal with more complexity, I like to approach the question from the perspective of budae jjigae.

There is perhaps nothing more ironical about making budae jjigae than to try to stay “authentic” with budae jjigae.  The spirit of the dish was founded on improvisation, creating something special from the givens, making lemonade.  I first set out to build the groundwork by rendering, browning and pureeing pancetta, anchovies and shitake mushroom powder, which are not traditional but they lay the common bricks for this type of Korean soup-dishes that are often a mixture of meat broth, dried seafoods and mushrooms.  Then guess what?  That’s all the cooking there is.  The only step left is as easy as blending it together with gochugaru (Korean chili powder), gochujang (Korean chili paste), garlics, onion and seasonings, then last but not least, cream cheese.  Why cream cheese?  Because compared to the commonly applied American Singles, cream cheese provides cheesiness and creaminess without too much added salt.  Not mention that it blends more effortlessly into any H2O-based substances.

From this point forward, simply simmer the mix with low-sodium beef stock for Shin Ramyun.  OR, add kimchi, SPAM, hot dogs, and just about anything that sounds really wrong to make something that tastes really right, budae jjigae.   It will be thick.  It will be spicy.  It will be heavy, and it will be enlightening.  It will be too much, and it won’t be enough.  If this can be, then what else is out there?

Go, find out.

Move.” – Anthony Bourdain

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HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: INSTANT DANDAN NOODLE MIX

IS THIS THE BEST DANDAN NOODLE YOU’VE EVER HAD?  I DARE NOT SAY SO MYSELF.  BUT YOU JUST MIGHT.

WHAT:  The untimely demise of your pre-summer diet.  An instant dandan noodle sauce that will create, for you, this iconic Sichuan street food, any time any day, in under one hello-cellulite! minute.

WHY:  Because I now have a huge jar dangerously in my possession, constantly tugging my soul in between responsibility and liberation, misery and happiness.  And they both want company.

HOW:  There are as many variations to dandan noodles as the number of people making it, each altering the ratio between sauce and noodle, the style and intensity of the seasonings, the types of noodles and toppings, all to their own particular likings.  I, for example, have published this dandan noodle recipe a long time ago, which was decidedly more soupy and negotiated its way towards the peanut-y route back when I gave more shit about my sesame intolerance (it’s like lactose intolerance but only more niche).  Now, this version, aside from the difference that it is meticulously designed as an all-in-one sauce mix, is actually more authentic to the flavors that I often found myself slobbering over when I was still living in China, more sesame-based, assembled together more as a sauce than a soup, filled with savory beef-bits that are freckled with ground Sichuan peppercorns, and it doesn’t call for doubanjiang (broad bean chili paste).

Well, authentic, up until the pickled jalapeño comes in.

Now, why American pickled jalapeño as opposed to Chinese pickled mustard greens as authenticity would’ve commanded?  Well, A)  I don’t care about authenticity.  And B)  Even in Asia, Chinese pickled mustard greens tend to vary greatly in quality, saltiness and taste, making it a very unfriendly ingredient in recipe-development.  Then last and certainly not least C)  I happen to decide that, in this particular instance, pickled jalapeño actually works more marvelously than its traditional counterpart, more acidic than salty, more ready-to-use, and more fragrant in terms of the much desired peppery-ness that beautifully integrates and aids the layering of flavors in this beloved Sichuan dish.  Each seasoning functions as an distinct entity, accurately marking their highs and lows, sharp and creamy, spicy and numbing on the tempo of their own choosing, but ultimately all comes together as a harmonic yet active, single organism.

Is this the best dandan noodle you’ll ever have?  I dare not say that myself.  But you just might.

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HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: Instant cheesy Japanese curry udon/noodle mix

 

THE UNFAILING WONDER OF AMERICAN SINGLES THAT MELTS INTO THE MOST VISCOUS INTENTION TO BRING OUT A BIT OF CHILDISHNESS IN ALL OF US

WHAT:  Using Japanese curry cubes – another one of their culinary ingenuities – as a building foundation for an even more complex, cocoa-y and cheesy curry paste that will bring instant late-night slurping to a new height.

WHY:  It’s creamy.  It’s delicious.  And if you need more than that then slap on nostalgic as well.  Because Japanese curry, or shall I say kare, is a deep-rooted comfort in just about every Asian’s dietary habit.  And if done right, it will withhold the same standing in your life as well.

HOW:  Japanese curry cube, on its own, can be a bit sweet and lacking of intensity, born out of this culture’s rounder and more reserved disposition on tastes as well as, I suspect, philosophy.  In the effort to deviate from its original path, I have been for years adding my own “defectors” to bring it just where I like it, more curry powder for spiciness, cocoa powder for complexity, instant coffee for a touch of bitterness and fragrance, and a kiss of Dijon mustard for acidity.  Then last but not least, the junky yet unfailing wonder of American singles that melts into the most viscous intention to bring out a bit of childishness in all of us.

This versatile paste can be used to create, instantly if I may stress, an array of noodle-companions ranging from a milder and drinkable broth for a Japanese staple called kare udon, to a more powerful and creamy gravy to dress any noodles “dry-style” (my favorite), all the way to possibly being used as an instant mix for this fried rice.  A soft-boiled egg, an extra single, or even a nub of cold butter, hell let’s put a few McNuggets on top.  There’s really no possible way to go overboard with it.  And even if there is, it won’t judge.

 

Instant cheesy Japanese curry udon/noodle mix

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 10 cloves of garlics, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp onion powder
  • 6 cups (1400 ml) low sodium beef or chicken broth
  • 1 regular box (230~250 grams) Japanese curry cubes, such as this one (see note *)
  • 5 slices of American cheese, torn into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup (30 grams) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 4 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp ground cayenne, plus or minus to your liking
  • 2 1/2 tsp instant coffee
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard

Instructions

  1. In a large, wide and deep skillet (the wide diameter creates more surface area and speeds up the reduction process), cook canola oil, onion, garlics and onion powder over high heat, until the edges of the onions are slightly browned. Add low sodium beef or chicken stock, continuing to boil over high heat, until the mixture is reduced down by 2/3, about 20 minutes.
  2. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into another smaller pot, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as you can then discard the solids. You should have about 1 1/2 cup of liquid left (it can be slightly under but not more). Now add the curry cubes, American cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, curry powder, cocoa powder, fish sauce, cayenne, instant coffee and Dijon mustard. Cook and stir over medium heat, until all the ingredients are fully melted and evenly incorporated into a thick paste.
  3. Transfer into an air-tight jar and keep chilled in the fridge until needed. Can be kept for up to 1.5 (estimate) months in the fridge, or 3 months in the freezer.
  4. TO USE THE MIX: You can use the mix to make a lighter drinkable curry broth, or a stronger gravy-like sauce. To make a curry broth, bring 1 cup of water to a simmer and whisk in 3~4 tbsp of instant curry mix, and let simmer for a couple minutes. Add udon noodles or other noodles of your choice. To make a gravy-like sauce, cook udon or other noodles of your choice in boiling water according to instructions. Remove the noodles and set inside a serving bowl. Mix a few tbsp of the cooking water with curry mix until it reaches your desired consistency and intensity, then mix it evenly with the noodles. As a general finishing touch, torch a slice of American cheese on top until melty, and serve immediately.

Notes

* Japanese curry cubes, or curry sauce mix, can be easily found in all major Asian supermarkets and/or online. This recipe calls for one regular box, which ranges from 230~250 grams depending on the brands (but they do come in smaller packaging sometimes so make sure you check the package). And they also come in "mild", "medium", and "hot". Here I'm using "hot".

http://ladyandpups.com/2018/06/04/homemade-instant-noodle-mix-series-instant-cheesy-japanese-curry-udon-noodle-mix/

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HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: INSTANT PHO BO MIX

 

WHAT:  Instant pho bo noodle soup mix, the answer to the prayers of all the geographically misplaced and physically unable foodies who make the regrettable mistake of watching a Vietnam street-food video on Youtube pass 10 PM.  We know who we are.

WHY:  Widely known as a labor-intensive and time-consuming dish, yet cruelly happens to be the most desired slurp from Southeast Asia in North America, pho bo has been tormenting addicts who are kept apart from a proper fix due to cold hard geography, or, something no less ruthless, a human condition called sloth.  But this barrier is no more, my friends.  Because what is mankind if not the extraordinary will to cheat its way through shortcomings?

HOW:  Every single aromatics and spices that are used in the traditional preparation of pho bo undergoes the exact same treatment in this recipe, the charring of the onion and ginger, the roasting of shrimp paste, the calculated balance of spices.  The only difference is that the mixture is blended together with an ultra-reduction of store-bought beef broth and fish sauce, into a smooth, saucy seasoning.  When the craving hits, the complete obliteration of the ingredients allows their full and speedy release of flavors and aroma where they dissipate into more beef broth (don’t worry, still store-bought), creating a marvelously close-tasting broth to the ones that take hours, all in just 2 minutes.  From this point on, all it needs is a mandatory fine-tuning of lemon juice, sliced onion and fresh herbs to bring it quintessentially Vietnamese.  Then, a couple squirts of Sriracha and hoisin sauce to make it non again.

Here you ask, is this the same as the pho bo you tasted in Saigon where you lost a tender piece of your soul behind and was left to wonder this earth forever incomplete?  Pffff, of course not!  A cheat is a cheat.  Anyone who’s tried liposuction will tell you they don’t look like Gisele Bündchen quite yet.  But I will say this, that in between all the sad Vietnamese restaurants provided by the cities where I’ve stayed in the past almost two decades – New York, Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing – or the alternative of plowing through 12 hours of labor whenever the craving hits, honestly, I prefer this instant mix over any of the above.  And if you know me at all, that’s saying a lot.  

 

FOR ALL THE GEOGRAPHICALLY MISPLACED AND PHYSICALLY UNABLE FOODIES, WHO MAKE THE REGRETTABLE  MISTAKE OF WATCHING A VIETNAM STREET-FOOD VIDEO ON YOUTUBE PASS 10 PM

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Homemade instant noodle mix series: Crack slurp mix

 

HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE, WILL NO LONGER BE AN OXYMORON

Today we’re launching yet another recipe series!  One that I’ve been wanting to put together for awhile and, if I’m being totally honest, I haven’t been this excited about something for a long time.

It’s called, Homemade Instant Noodle Mix Series!

This new series is my answer to my own struggle over the years during the frequent occurrences when instant noodles – one of my loyal and trusty, lifelong companion – fails to be A) adequately satisfying, B) available at wherever I am currently residing, C) excessively reliant on chemical flavorings and preservatives, and D) reaching the full potential of the culinary wonderland that instant noodles have every capability to become.

This series will bring you relatively easy recipes that each creates one large batch of an ultra-concentrated seasoning, very much like the flavoring packets that come with commercially packaged instant noodles except in a larger quantity, which you could later use to build better-than-most-commercially-sold instant noodles simply by adding water, stock, and noodles of your choice.  Less than 20 minutes of cooking will secure you with a great number of highly gratified, 5-minutes slurps for months to come.  Just the mere idea of having contributed a few of these into this rotten, twisted, putrid world of our own making, makes me feel like I’ve done my part as a repenting member of the society and thus releases me from a few years of intensive therapies.

Because from this day on, homemade instant noodle will no longer be an oxymoron.  From this day on, whenever we crave either the convenience or deliciousness of an instant slurp, we shall be free from concerns of being mummified by excessive preservatives or growing a fifth limb from the unpronounceable ingredients in fine prints.  From this glorious day on, we the people, shall not be denied of our rights to all the possibilities of instant noodling based on our nationality, wealth, travel visas, broken supermarket inventories, the tyranny of international trading policies and above all, the utter lack of creativity from every major instant noodle manufacturers.  Hear me, Zeus!

Okay that’s a bit much but you get the point.  This series will touch upon new slurpable delights inspired by Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asian and etc, but to kickstart it:

WHAT:  A Lady And Pups classic from the archive called Crack Slurp, now reincarnated in a single, streamlined, simplified and formulated sauce that you can keep in a bottle.

WHY:  This is actually the dish that inspired me to create this series in the first place.  As previously confessed, we eat this noodle possibly more often than any other single item on the menu, so much as that I’ve been wanting, for quite some time, to coordinate its previously tedious components into a single, cohesive formula, one that I could literally grab from the fridge and dress the noodles in one stroke.

HOW:  After some considerations, I’ve removed the one component from the original recipe that may deter some people from trying it out, and that is to render chicken fat, aka schmaltz, from chicken skins and such.  The animal fat would obviously provide an added aroma and richness to the dish, but for practicality sake, I’ve concluded that properly treated vegetable oils could bring the noodles to close standings as well, by dialing up on the uniquely floral fragrance from Sichuan peppercorns.  Then instead of having the fried shallots as a loose component, I blended it together with the rest of the seasonings to create an one-stop, fiercely aromatic, savory, spicy and tingling oil sands if you will, that properly adheres to the noodles of your choosing in a perfect ratio of smooth grit and grease.

If you haven’t been touched by the promise of fried shallots, no thanks needed.  If you haven’t been called to the light of Sichuan chili paste, the mothership of Sichuan cuisines, the pleasure’s all mine.  If you find yourself utterly powerless to pull away from this potentially addictive dope which costs nothing and goes everything, that you need to pour it down the trash before burning it with lighter’s fuel to stop yourself from salvaging… well, I offer no apology as well.

 
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