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Sunday, January 17, 2016

'Cause I Ain't Got Nothin' but Time: Pickles & Fermented Carrots

For Christmas this year, Rob got me a fermenting kit. It's a lot simpler than I expected something like this to be: it's just a few lids with airlocks and stoppers that fit directly on Mason jars that we already own. 

I guess he figured that since I'm basically spending my life sitting and waiting, we might as well get some pickles out of it.

Two weekends ago we decided to get started with some experimentation. First, basic pickles: dill and garlic on the bottom, slices of cucumber (as many as could fit standing up) topped off with salted water. No vinegar! We wanted to add grape leaves to help keep the cukes crispy, but we couldn't find any. I guess I'll have to wait until my friend's grapevine is ripe again.

Second project was the sparkly carrots recipe that came with the kit: pieces of ginger, carrots standing upright (again, as many as could fit), completely covered in the salty water solution. Then we put it in the closet that has since become our dark, cool fermenting spot for Rob's beer and our kombucha (which is very exciting and will require a post of its own!)

Friday night we decided to have a night in instead of our usual drive to Moscow for dinner. After a home-cooked pasta with cauliflower and olives, we kept pouring the wine (we were watching the fascinating documentary Somm, after all), and made a charcuterie board with our newest salami-of-the-month shipment from Olympic Provisions (Saucisson D'Arles, the salami made of just pork and salt, its simplicity just absolute porky perfection), a few cheeses that were sent us via mail for Christmas (I guess we only eat postmarked treats these days), and our newest home-fermented goods. 


The carrots were still amazingly crispy, with not so much a ginger taste but a fermented ginger tang. They were a nice addition to our salty board.


As for the pickles, the second week truly transformed these suckers into actual sour pickles. The first week we tried them in hopes they'd be ready early, but they just tasted like salty cucumbers that weren't even permeated with the brine. Now, they have the fermented taste and texture of any good pickle you'd find in restaurants (though, probably much better than restaurants around here). 


For round two, we got some green beans going. We also bought some colored carrots at Trader Joe's today for another, perhaps more exciting stab at "sparkly carrots". They're squeezed in next to my bottles of kombucha and all Rob's beer stuff. I keep track of what's fermenting and for how long on our whiteboard. It's like having small victories to look forward to, little milestones that make sense to me. Instead of at least another year and a half in Pullman? It's two more weeks until I get pickled beets and three until I have strawberry kombucha. 

These are the things that'll keep us going through a cold and lonely winter. Because again, what else can I say? I ain't got nothin' but time, and I might as well have fermentables to get us through. 



Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sad Pho + How to Make Your Own Ramen

In the middle of a cold January, there's nothing I crave more than a hot bowl of soup. With lots of delicious little morsels of stuff in it. I want meat and vegetables and herbs and lots of flavors. It should be authentic and probably from Asia. Chicken pho, or pork ramen.

I guess it's one of those things that I don't even realize I want until I have a bad version of it.

And Oasis Restaurant in Pullman is one of those places I can count on to re-break my foodie heart and make me miss New York more than when I wander around in my usual sleepy haze of disillusionment.

A bowl of chicken pho, ordered from Oasis, it's only redeeming factor that it's actually quite hot. Tasteless broth. Overcooked noodles. Dry chicken, which seems impossible given its position in a bowl of liquid. Wilted bean sprouts. The surface of the bowl a tiny bit and mysteriously bubbly, as though the bowl wasn't quite rinsed after it was washed last. In all, a soggy bowl of unflavored beige, served in the most unappealing atmosphere of an old Taco Time. 

Alright, soup. Game on. Now it's my turn. 

In New York, the answer to this dilemma was always so simple: Go to Ippudo. Just. Go. To Ippudo. Snack first, wait the two hours with patient diligence, walk through the doors to jarring cheers of IRASSHAIMASE!, order to Akamaru Modern. Inhale the salty steam, dip your spoon, and swoon. There was no reason to attempt this at home. But now, following my disappointment, I crack my knuckles and give it a go. Akamaru Pullman.


How to Make Ramen: The Stock

First and foremost, the backbone of the soup, if you will: the stock. I'd saved the carcass of a whole slow-cooked chicken (this coconut-turmeric chicken, if you really want to know), plus the bones of some oven-baked pork ribs we had over the weekend. Some chopped onions and carrots, a few bay leaves. Covered the whole thing with water and slow cooked on low for 24 hours so every bit of mineral was extracted from the bones.

The Egg

As far as I'm concerned, there's no point in ramen if there's no runny egg yolk to mix into everything. To be honest, I'd never soft-boiled an egg before yesterday, but I felt like if I was giving it the old college try, it was worth a go. I brought a shallow pan of water to a boil before reducing to a very low simmer, adding the eggs, and cooking for six minutes. (Sidenote: it could have probably gone for 7 or 8). Dipped them straight into an ice bath for a few minutes (Sidenote: could have been a few minutes more). 

Then the marinade, which was mostly just made up based on what I had: equal parts water and soy sauce (maybe 1/2 cup?), a splash of mirin, sesame oil and ponzu. Clumsily peel eggs and dunk into a tiny bowl where marinade just covers eggs. Let it sit while everything else comes together.

Sauteed Stuff

Oyster mushrooms. Sliced beef. This part could easily be switched up: carrots and pork. Tofu and cabbage. Whatever! We did oyster mushrooms and beef, which I guess helped make the chicken/pork broth stand out.

Noodles

Just a regular old package of ramen noodles, cooked in the stock. Here's a good broth-flavoring hack: Add the marinade from the eggs, and then adjust seasonings as necessary. Add a little miso, too. It's needed for that cloudy umami taste.

Topping it Off

Once the ramen is in the bowls, with mushrooms and beef and the soft-boiled egg slid on top, now it's time for last-minute flavorings. Sliced scallions, chili oil, grated ginger, raw minced garlic. 

And that's it. It's colorful, it's flavorful, it's hot, and you're not sitting in an old Taco Time.

Win-win-win.