What’s for Dinner?

Deep fried (in peanut oil) zucchini and soy sauce, pork chop (no photo unfortunately) …

… and strawberries in sweetened condensed milk.

Delicious Dinner

Since my mom passed away in April, I’ve fallen way off my diet. It was an intentional choice – good food provided comfort, plus I bought a grill and have been using it regularly as an odd kind of therapy … but also all of the grilled food has been absolutely fantastic. Anyway, it was a conscious decision that I was able to justify due to the fact that I had lost nearly forty pounds since January; but lately it has spun out of control and I’m starting to hear a voice in my head telling me it’s time to rein in my appetite.

But not this evening.

Tonight’s dinner included a familiar old-time favorite and something new. Both of them had one thing in common, however – they were extremely high in calories.

I started with my old standby – Korean instant noodles called Shin Ramyun, the best tasting ramen in the world.

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I first had this instant noodle soup back in the mid-’90s in Seoul. After trying it two or three times, I started adding a couple of slices of American cheese to the broth and it took the meal to a new level.

In Asia, many mom and pop eateries specialize in one or two main dishes. There may be a few things on the menu, but it’s the one or two items that people drop in to eat. So as you walk down any street you’ll see a ramen house, a cold noodle soup house, a barbecued pork belly house, etc. (Most of these places are called “jip” – the Korean word for “house”.)

After trying Shin Ramyun with cheese, I couldn’t go back to the original style. This was fine as long as I was eating at home, but it was a problem when I visited a ramen house. The first couple of times I asked if they could add cheese and the owner scoffed at such a foolish notion. One doesn’t put cheese in ramen. So I started bringing my own cheese and adding it myself. Other customers stared at the crazy foreigner like he was out of his mind, but eventually cheese ramen was on the menu in every ramen house in Korea.

A few years later, when cheese ramen was perhaps the most popular item on the menu, I frequently shared this story with my students, emphasizing that I was responsible for the invention of cheese ramen. They’d laugh, but I’d half jokingly (okay … maybe a quarter jokingly) insist that it was true.

My Korean legacy is that I am the inventor of cheese ramen. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

So nowadays when I prepare a bowl of Shin Ramyun it’s not just for the flavor, but also the memories. I bring two cups of water to a boil, add the two packets of seasoning, break the brick of dehydrated noodles in half and plop them in the water. While they’re boiling, I add two slices of American cheese to the bottom of my soup bowl. Then I cut up a hot dog and toss it in the boiling broth. Finally, I crack open an egg, pour it in the soup, and stir it ever so slightly so as to allow the egg to become stringy but remain solid.

The finished product, along with a plate of sauteed spinach and garlic:

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Eating this is like time travel for me. It takes me to a happy place.

After my trip through the past I decided to shift gears and take a detour into the future for dessert.

I mentioned in another post that Maia and I will be visiting Guadalajara, Mexico this November. One of the exciting things about traveling is not just the trip, but also studying up on the place you will visit. We were watching a video the other day about the top ten places to eat in Guadalajara and number five was a place called La Baguette. We watched a person at the restaurant saute sliced strawberries in butter before stirring in caramel and Maia, mouth watering, boldly pronounced, “We are definitely going there!”

We will indeed be going there, but I thought there was no reason to wait until we visited Mexico to try out the dessert; I could prepare it at home.

In the video it appears that they cooked some crepes and poured the strawberry caramel sauce over the top. I was too lazy to prepare crepes, so I simply bought some angel food cake, sliced a couple of pieces, and laid them on a plate.

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Then I briefly stirred the strawberries, butter, and caramel over high heat.

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I mistakenly added more caramel than they did in the video, but there are worse things than too much caramel.

Finally, I poured the mixture over the angel food cake and voila!

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Simple. It was ridiculously sweet and even better than it looks. I would definitely have it again.

But for now it’s back to my diet … in the next day or two.

Happiness is …

Happiness is being mistakenly given an extra-large iced Americano when you ordered a large. And not being charged for it. On a Friday. Casual Friday. And it’s a slow day.

A Late Saturday Afternoon Meal

Sometimes, if you put a little effort into it, you can feel like you’re traveling to faraway places without leaving your home.

Today I had a little fun grilling some thin cut ribeye steaks and asparagus on the Weber. I also “baked” ciabatta bread to dip in a mixture of olive oil, chopped garlic, balsamic vinegar, oregano, black pepper, and Parmesan cheese. Toss in a couple bottles of Guinness and you have yourself a mini European vacation.

I definitely have to do more of this.

Strawberries and Nutella

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Sometimes the simplest desserts are the best.

I prepared this for Maia, but then tasted one myself. I don’t know why, but for the first time in ages I truly savored the sweet flavors of strawberry and chocolate blended together. I mean, really contemplated the flavors as I took a bite. It was as though I was tasting them for the first time. What a pleasant experience.

“Almost” Lasagna

As part of my revamp of this blog, I am going to occasionally add recipes of new dishes that I try to make.

Beginning this week, I decided to start creating a weekly dinner menu. I have found that when I have a lot on my mind, I have a hard time coming up with ideas for what to cook. If it were just me, I wouldn’t sweat it so much – the freezer is loaded with frozen food that I can pop in the microwave on a minute’s notice. But since I am also cooking for my daughter, I want to make a concerted effort to ensure she’s getting the nutrition she needs. So last Sunday I searched the Internet for recipes and made a menu. (By the way, I should add that this makes grocery shopping a lot easier.) On Monday we had chicken tacos (which I really should have documented with photos because they turned out really good). Yesterday we had something called “Almost” Lasagna. It’s “almost” because the recipe calls for elbow macaroni instead of the traditional lasagna pasta.

I started by slicing up two small carrots and dicing a zucchini (tip: cut the zucchini into smaller pieces than you see in this photo):

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After preparing the vegetables, I boiled water with a small amount of olive oil, then added the elbow macaroni. Boil for 7-8 minutes.

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While the pasta’s cooking, start frying about a pound of ground turkey. You could use any kind of meat, but this recipe called for turkey and I quite liked it.

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Next was the ricotta cheese mixture, which was a 15 oz. container of ricotta, a handful of Parmesan, and salt and pepper. Set it to the side when finished.

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When the turkey and pasta are finished cooking, drain the oil and water, then mix both together with the vegetables and a pasta sauce. Any kind will do, but I prefer Classico because a) I like the taste; and b) they make for cool mason jars afterwards.

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Add the ricotta mix to the pasta, meat, and sauce and stir thoroughly, then add a layer of the whole mix to the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan.

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Sprinkle a cup of mozzarella cheese and then a healthy amount of Parmesan on top of the first layer.

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Then add the remainder of the pasta mix and add another cup of mozzarella and more Parmesan.

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Wrap in aluminum foil and cook in the oven for twenty minutes at 350 degrees, the remove the foil and cook for another 10-20 minutes until the cheese on top is browned. (To be honest, I cooked it for another 15 minutes and the cheese didn’t show the slightest hint of browning, so I turned on the broiler for three or four minutes and that did the trick.)

And “voila” – here is the finished product:

"Almost" Lasagna

“Almost” Lasagna

There you have it, a nice high-carb, hidden-vegetable dinner. Personally, I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars on the Scott scale because I cut the zucchini into too large of pieces – leaving them oh-so-slightly under-cooked – and I prefer traditional lasagna noodles. I think Maia gave it a 3 out of 5 on the Maia scale as well because of the zucchini … and she’s not a fan of carrots. Not bad, considering she did get her vegetables.

Thanks to Anne Coleman (aka “Short Order Mom”) and Disney’s family.com for this recipe.

Kimchi fried rice

I’ve decided to start a new category called “food” and my first inclusion is one of my favorite Korean dishes – “Kimchi Fried Rice“. Actually, I want to spend a little more time preparing some of my favorite dishes from Asia as a way to rekindle some of the memories of my time there and I figured I should include them in the blog as well.

To make Kimchi Fried Rice, you obviously must start with kimchi and rice. You’ll want to choose a sliced cabbage kimchi, the level of spiciness really depends on what you can handle. For your rice, the key is to use rice that has been sitting in the rice cooker for a day or two. You don’t want to use freshly cooked rice. This goes for any fried rice recipe.

For a fairly large single serving, I heated the pan to about 375 degrees and added about a tablespoon of cooking oil. After heating the oil, I added about one cup of kimchi and a cup and a half of rice, stirred it until most of the rice absorbed the kimchi’s reddish color, then added about two ounces of diced Spam. That’s right, Spam. Koreans have been eating Spam since American soldiers passed out cans of it during the Korean War and they love it. And I love it too … at least in my kimchi fried rice. However, you can easily substitute ham, tuna fish, pork, chicken, or beef if it suits you.

I stirred in the Spam for a couple of minutes before adding a small dollop of red pepper paste, or “gochu jjang” (actually, this is the first time that I added this paste and it is not normally included, but I quite liked the flavor). After thoroughly stirring in the pepper paste, I added a teaspoon of sesame seed oil. Again, some vigorous stirring and voila – I had this beautiful meal before me.

Kimchi Fried RiceTo me, this was enough flavor, but you could also add other vegetables like onions, peppers, carrots, or zucchini if you wish.