If You’re Difficult Like Me, Maybe Go Vegan Just in Time for the Holidays

Quinoa, my gosh-darn favorite versatile super-food.

If you’ve been following along with this blog, you know I go back and forth between really healthy eating and not-so-healthy eating. Because I’m just a difficult person, I’ve decided my latest attempt at veganism is going to be just in time for the generally meat-soaked holidays (yeah, I used the term “meat-soaked”!). To get things right, and to give myself a wide variety of choices for meals, I stocked the heck out of my pantry and my refrigerator for some vegan feasts like vegan pizza, vegan mac and cheese, vegan scrambles, grade-school-style chik’n patties (made with chickpeas!), and more. In this post, I’m going to walk you through some of the things you want to stock up on if you want a wide variety of vegan meals at your fingertips. I mean, we all know produce and a variety of spices are the best, healthiest, tastiest way to go, but if you add these non-perishables or long-keeping items to your kitchen, you’ll have so many solid foundations to work from for a vegan diet.

TOFU

Well, yeah, tofu is going to be a no-brainer, because it’s so versatile. You can make cashew cheese, stir fries, creamy dips, and many many other things with this generally neutral soy-based product. I highly recommend, if you are using it in stir-fries or scrambles, to cut it into thin rectangles, and squeeze it between two paper towels and two cutting boards for at least 24 hours. Once you squeeze out the water and season it, you will be amazed at the firm texture and how it picks up the flavor of whatever you throw at it.

MISO PASTE

Not only will this other wonder soy product make a great base for soup, you can also use it in salad dressings to pack a huge flavor punch, or make an incredible sandwich spread with tahini, miso paste, and some water to thin it out a bit that will make any sandwich 1000x better (I had some beet burgers in my freezer that I hated — this spread was so good that I ate the rest of the box!).

NUTRITIONAL YEAST

Full of cheesy umami flavor, this flaky condiment is a go-to if you want to replicate mac and cheese, or just add some flavor to any vegan dish. It’s not active yeast, like you bake with, so don’t feel guilty about just sprinkling it!

WHEAT GLUTEN

If you’re going to make fake meat, from seitan to chik’n patties, you’re going to need some wheat gluten. It’s definitely not for gluten-sensitive people, but it will hold your meat substitutes together so well that you’ll forget your vegan.

NUTS

If you want to replicate the meaty filling to stuffed peppers or cabbage, or you want to make a vegan-style beef wellington (which I’m making for Thanksgiving!), you’re going to need a combination of nuts and mushrooms and onions, no question about it. Walnuts, almonds, and cashews all have a ton of nutritional value, are whole and healthy foods, and, when ground, help you make veggie burgers or other kinds of “ground meat” like meals.

QUINOA

Yes, I have sung the praises of quinoa before, I know it. But, seriously, this super-food is so healthy and good for you that you could literally live on it for a while if you had nothing else. You can add it to blends, or substitute it for white rice in stir-fries. It’s mildly nutty, and, I personally think, has more flavor that white or brown rice.

BRAGG’S PRODUCTS

Okay, I’ll admit I’m a bit of a devotee of the Bragg’s food products. Liquid Amino (which is like a healthier, lower sodium soy sauce), their nutritional yeast, their apple cider vinegar, their spice blend — these are all things I cannot live without in my kitchen, especially when I’m attempting veganism.

Pandemic Thanksgiving: Brining and Breaking Down a Turkey

Is it just you and the immediate fam for Thanksgiving this year? Thinking about skipping out on the turkey? Why miss an opportunity for $0.47/lb meat! (Seriously. That’s what it’s going for at my Kroger this week.)

In this pre-Thanksgiving installment of #apocalycious, I’m going to teach you not only how to brine a bird, but also how to take it down into more manageable portions so you can feast all through the winter.

The Brining

Brining was all the rage in the mid-00’s with every Food Network star telling you how to carefully mix your salt/sugar mixture for everything from turkey to pork chops. As a then-faithful follower of this cable cult, I too started to brine my turkey each year. And honestly, I’ve never overcooked a bird with this method.

To start, you’re going to need to clean out some space in your fridge. Enough space to put a 10 gallon bucket, which means eat up all of your goodies in advance of this project.

You’ll also need:

  • 1 10-gallon bucket
  • 1 trash bag (unscented)
  • 1 defrosted turkey
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
Getting the bird bath together.

Put the trash bag into the bucket then put the turkey into the bag. Add your salt and sugar. At this point, you can just add water and call it a day. But I like to add other things to make my brine more flavorful. Sometimes this is quartered citrus and peppercorns. Other times it’s whatever beer or wine I have in the house with some fresh herbs. Below is a list of actual things I have previously put into my turkey brine–go wild!

  • White wine
  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Old English 40’s
  • Peppercorns
  • Bay leaves
  • Miller Lite
  • Rosemary (fresh or dried)
  • Sage (fresh or dried)
  • Parsley (fresh or dried)
  • Garlic (fresh or dried)
  • Onions (quartered)
  • Jalapeños (sliced)
  • Dried reaper peppers

Whatever you add is going to impart flavor and make the bird even more delicious. I recommend some mix of acid (wine, beer, or citrus), herbal (anything from Scarborough Fair), and allium (garlic, onions, shallots).

Oranges, lemons, bay leaves, onions, garlic, peppercorns, and jalapeño went into this one!

Add these in with your turkey, then fill it with lukewarm water so that the water comes just above the bird. Tie the garbage bag, and put the whole thing in the fridge for 3 days.

When you’re ready to cook the turkey, just remove it from the bag and gently rinse it off. At this point, you can roast it whole or take it down into its components.

The Butchery

For this process you’re going to need the following:

  • A large sharp knife
  • Kitchen scissors
  • Either a vacuum sealer and bags OR gallon-sized freezer bags

Give your turkey a little pat down beforehand to make it less slippery. Then pull one of the legs away from the breast. Take your knife and cut through the skin and meat to the bone. For smaller turkeys, you may be able to find the joint and cut through. For larger ones, sometimes you need to pull the leg away from the body until the joint snaps. Once you have a place to cut through, remove the leg and set aside.

Repeat this process for other leg and both wings.

At this point, the thighs will basically be dangling off. Go ahead and trim those off so all you’re left with are the two breasts.

Once you’ve removed the wings, legs, and thighs, you’ll need to break out the kitchen scissors and use them to cut along both sides of the spine. This is pretty easy going until you get to the tailbone, which you may need to use your knife to work through. This process is called spatchcocking. (Teehee.)

Be sure to save the spine to make stock later on! (If you make broth in the Instantpot, I’d go ahead and use a cleaver to whack this into two pieces since the whole thing will not fit.)

The final step is to cut along the breastbone in order to separate the breast into two pieces. This can be done with just the knife.

And there you have it! A whole 14-lb pre-brined turkey in pieces! Now you can make fried turkey legs for your quarantine Renaissance Faire, smoked turkey wings for a sports ball night, roasted turkey thighs for a real treat (seriously!), and of course a baked turkey breast that you can use for sandwhiches, soups, etc. Also consider tossing one of those breasts in the InstantPot with some water for 30 minutes and then pull the turkey and freeze it in separate containers for soups!

There’s no reason you can’t enjoy turkey on Thanksgiving this year just because you don’t have 10-20 people to feed it to. You just need to be 10 people over the coming months as you eat through your $7 holiday bird!

Treat Yourself – An Intro to Steak & Fries

As you’re probably aware, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I get bored with certain foods easily, and I am always hunting for my new favorite recipe. However, sometimes there’s nothing better than a simple steak. No fancy toppings. No herbed butter sauces. Just meat and salt. And you know, some sexy steak frites.

The Steak

Other than salt and pepper, this is literally all that goes into this meal.

Sure you can go wild with how much you spend on a cut a beef, which can also making cooking steak intimidating and feel like it’s something you need a special occasion for. Remember, YOU are the special occasion, and you deserve it.

I’ve had *very* expensive steaks before. I’ve cooked wagyu and kobe at home. I’ve grilled a two-pound cowboy cut of prime beef. But honestly, what I love the most is a good skirt steak. These cuts are always well-marbled (fat is flavor), quick to cook, and require almost no thinking.

When steak shopping, looking for something that has a decent amount of fat, not on the cap but running through the meat. This fat will melt as you cook it, making sure your steak is juicy and tender. Most skirt steaks are already there by the nature of the cut, but you can definitely take a minute to find the best one. You’re treating yourself. Don’t try to go lean.

If you like your steak on the raw end of rare, like I do, make sure to bring your meat to room temperature before you cook it. This will mean that the rarer bits won’t be cold. Some folks will tell you to salt your meat beforehand, but I like to top mine with a crunchy sea salt for texture, so I leave this step out entirely.

Look at all that sexy marbling. Also, I have a grill on my stove, so I just threw it directly onto that bad boy.

Before you grill your steak, take a paper towel and lightly dry the meat off. This will keep the moisture from coming out into the pan and preventing a good crust while also steaming (ick) your meat.

To cook, turn on the broiler in your oven, then heat your grill pan (it needs to be something that can go in the oven, so no plastic handles) to smoking. No need for oil or butter or anything. When everything is ready (this process goes fast), just drop your steak on the grill and transfer to under the broiler. Depending on the thickness of the steak (and how rare you like it), you’ll cook it in the oven for 3-4 minutes then flip it over for another 2-4 minutes. Because you are using the direct heat of the broiler, you can leave the oven cracked to keep an eye on it.

When it’s cooked to your liking, remove the steak onto a plate and tent it with aluminum foil for at least 5 minutes so that the meat can reabsorb its juices. To plate, cut the skirt steak into strips about one inch wide. Serve with choice of sides, freshly ground black pepper, and crunchy sea salt. (I like this one.)

The Frites

When making fries, if you have the option of using Kennebec potatoes, DO IT! They are the absolute best potatoes for frying. Watch for them at your local farmer’s market.

If you haven’t yet invested in a mandolin yet, it will definitely make your fry-making easier. However, if you don’t have one, try to cut your potatoes into fairly consistently sized strips. (If using the fancy cutter, put on the larger of the two blade types.) Once you’ve cut your potato, put the future fries into a bowl of ice water for at least 30 minutes. This will draw out the starch and make for crispier fries.

But like seriously, use the hand guard.

While these are soaking, go ahead and make your aioli. You can make one from scratch, but you can also be lazy like me and just mix together some kewpie mayo (the most superior of mayos!) and finely minced garlic with a pinch of salt and whatever else you’d like to add! Mix well and pop in the fridge until dinner.

I’ve said it before, and I’m going to say it again, just go ahead and buy that deep-fryer. Look, you’re not going out and those fries don’t just make themselves. Fryers are safer than doing the same work on the stove, and you can reuse the oil, which means they will save you money in the long-run. You can set temperatures more consistently, which will be helpful for this recipe.

Turn your fryer to 325 degrees. While the oil is heating, drain your fries and pat them dry. (If they’re wet, the oil will spatter, and trust me, you do not want that.) Once the fryer is at the right temperature, drop the fries for six minutes. Then remove and drain. Work in batches as necessary.

Turn your fryer up to 360 degrees. When the temperature is right, drop your fries for a second cooking for two minutes. When they are done, drain them, salt them, and eat immediately with your steak and maybe a nice glass or two of the wine of your choosing, because you are treating yourself after all.

Okay, so I made a little salad too. We’ll get to that!

Caribbean Chowder

It curious to me that chowder became associated with winter foods since all of the items traditionally in a chowder–corn, potatoes, onions, tomatoes (if you’re a heathen)–are all summer vegetables. And there’s no shame in loving a good soup year-round.

If you want to make the most of the last of the corn at the market while also enjoying the first day of fall, this is the chowder for you!

The Ingredients

I missed the corn at the market last week, so frozen will do.

If you’re making seafood-centric iteration of this dish, I recommend a seafood stock (here I have crab stock because I’m a bougie bitch who doesn’t throw anything away, but you can also use a chicken broth or bouillon), coconut milk, and whatever seafood you have laying around–shrimp, fish, a can of smoked oysters, doesn’t matter. If you want to make this vegan, which is super easy to do, just bulk up your veg with more corn and maybe some zucchini or summer squash, and trade out the seafood stock for vegetable stock..

You’ll also need the chowder basics–corn, potatoes, onions, garlic–and I like to bulk mine up a little with some other vegetables, here carrots, celery, and a fresh cayenne pepper. I love paprika and thyme in this dish as well, but you can play around with other options. If you’re out of garlic or don’t have a fresh pepper, dried is fine.

The Process

Make sure our veg is bite-sized if background items. If you’re going vegetarian, chunkier bits are fine.

Dice all of your vegetables along with your potato and then sauté in the oil of your choosing with a good pinch of salt on medium for 3-5 minutes until the onions begin to sweat. Add your dried spices (again, paprika and thyme are my go-to) and cook a minute longer. Then add the stock (and a bay leaf if that’s your jam) so that it covers your vegetables by about two inches.

Bring to a low boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Just bubbling along.

While the soup is simmering, chop your seafood into bite-sized pieces, if necessary. If you’re going vegetarian, you can skip this step.

Chopped shrimpies.

When the soup is done simmering, add in 1/4 of a can of coconut milk per serving. (This variation here was made for two people, so I used 1/2 of a can.) Bring back to a low boil. At this point, you’ll want to taste your soup to make any adjustments for salt, spice, and other seasoning. You can also add a splash of hot sauce if so desired.

Creamy and delicious.

Now add your seafood and simmer until just cooked through, about two minutes.

To serve, add to bowl and top with fresh herbs of your choosing. I personally recommend cilantro and green onion, but basil or fresh thyme would be equally lovely.

And now you’re living that sweet sweet island chowder life. Close your eyes. It’s like there’s an ocean somewhere, making ocean sounds.

Mmmmm. Chow-dah.

Seafood Chowder! Chowda!

The cold weather is starting to set in, and that means it’s time for even more comfort food. This week, Erin and I will be bringing you two iterations of chowder. I’m going to start off with a creamy seafood chowder with salmon and scallops. This recipe is simple, delicious, filling, and comforting, perfect for the early stretch of fall when the days are getting cooler.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

  • a four quart pot
  • seafood broth or water
  • celery
  • carrots
  • onion
  • garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • a quart of whole milk or cream
  • half a stick of butter
  • 1/2 a cup of flour
  • a bag of frozen scallop pieces
  • 2 frozen salmon filets

To start, you’ll want to fill a four-quart pot with water or seafood broth. No worries if you can’t find seafood broth, we’re going to make this soup either way!

Next, you’ll finely dice your onion, carrot, and garlic. Put them in the pot of boiling water or broth, and let them cook for about 20 – 25 minutes, or until soft.

Next, you’re going to add your frozen salmon. You want to cook it until it flakes apart with a fork and imbues the broth with its flavor.

Okay, here’s the part that’s partially up to you: do you want a very heavy, rich broth, or are you going to go a little lighter? Either way, while you decide, you’ll melt your butter in a sauce pan and make a roux with the flour. You do this by mixing in the flour and stirring consistently until it thickens and browns slightly. After this, you’ll take your whole milk or cream and add it to the roux, stirring constantly until it becomes thicker.

Now that your thickened cream is ready, put the frozen scallop pieces in the pot of boiling broth. They’re a little more delicate than the salmon, and you’ll want to cook them less time, just until soft. I use the pieces for this recipe because they’re already broken apart, and less expensive, but you can use whole scallops, as well.

When your scallops are just about cooked and your salmon is flaking apart, you’ll add the thickened cream to the broth. Note here: if you use milk, you may have to thicken the brother to your liking — you can do so with flour and hot water made into a paste and stirred slowly into the broth, or by adding some sour cream. If you use the heavy cream, you should get a nice, thick consistency.

Pimento Cheese, Please

If you’re not from the South, pimento cheese may be a mystery to you. Is it a cheese that you buy in a block? Is it a cheese that comes in a jar? What the heck is a pimento anyway?

Pimento cheese is a cheese spread that you can put on crackers or Alex’s homemade baguettes, that is creamy and, for me, a bit spicy. And honestly, it’s so much better homemade that you’ll never buy one of those scary orange tubs again.

The Ingredients

Mayo, sharp cheddar, hot sauce, dried pepper, onion, fresh pepper, garlic.

The most important trick to making your own pimento cheese is that you MUST GRATE THE CHEESE. Do not skip this step by using pre-grated cheese, which has a floury coating on each strip to keep it from sticking to the other cheese pieces. If you use pre-grated cheese, your dip will have a grainy, unpleasant texture that you’re definitely not looking for.

You’ll also need mayo (which works as the binder), onion of some sort (I usually use 2 green onions, but whatever is handy), a fresh pepper (choose your spiciness), garlic, a hot sauce, and some dried hot pepper (cayenne is easiest).

The Process

Chopped veg.

Finely chop your onion and peppers and mince your garlic in a garlic press. I went with two fresh cayenne peppers for this version, but you can use jalapeños, poblanos, banana peppers, whatever you have around.

A traditional pimento cheese uses diced and cured pimiento peppers, which are a little sweet and not at all hot. Personally I think that the heat helps to balance the heaviness of the fat in the dish and helps to cut through it a bit. But all of this is entirely up to your taste buds and/or what’s around the house!

You MUST grate your own cheese for this dish.

Next grate your cheese (I recommend an extra sharp cheddar, but you can use whatever block of cheese you have around) on the widest setting on your box grater. This will make it appropriately chunky.

Mix your cheese together with your diced vegetables and then add about 1/2 tsp dried pepper, 1 tsp hot sauce, and a generous sprinkle of salt to start.

Then add your mayo one tablespoon at a time, stirring everything just until the mixture is holding together like a dip. If you don’t have mayo (or if you want to lighten it up), you can also use sour cream or a mixture of both.

Shoot for this consistency.

Keep tasting the dip and adding more hot sauce (if it needs more acid) or cayenne (if it needs more heat). Remember, this is up to your flavor preferences. If you hate spicy food, stop where you started.

And that’s it! You can eat it with a spoon right out of the bowl, spread it on crackers, or use it as the cheese in a nacho cheese sauce or macaroni and cheese base. Or, you can do as I did, make yourself a pimento grilled cheese on a delicious baguette.

Pimento Cheese Sandwich

Making some grilled pimento cheese.

The traditional pimento cheese sandwich is basically pimento cheese on white bread served cold; not really my style, alas. For this dish, I put the cheese between two pieces of baguette and made it grilled-cheese style on the stove top with a bit of butter. Grilled until toasty. Consumed. The cheese will get a little melty, but will will be a bit cold in the center, which is an excellent temperature combo with the crispy baguette!

About as easy as it gets! Also makes great finger food at parties, when we can have them again.

Finished product. Nom.

Easy Homemade Baguettes

Baguettes? you may be asking. What the heck, Alex? But let me assure you that I’m bringing you a simple recipe. No barm, no starter, just a packet of dry yeast, some flour, some water, and some salt. Simple, I promise! In just a few easy steps, you’ll have two or three baguettes for some lovely sandwiches.

Homemade bread can be a process, and this will take you hours, but most of that time is inactive. I recommend, if you want to have sandwiches for lunch or dinner, to start your dough first thing in the morning. You’ll need to let it rise three times, and that will take some time. But it will be worth it, and this recipe is far less complex than most and just as tasty as you can get.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

  • one packet of dry yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon of honey
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 cups of bread flour (or AP, if that’s what you have)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup of lukewarm water

THE PROCESS
You won’t need anything but a baking tray and a mixing bowl for this recipe. You’ll start by blooming your yeast in warm water (about 100 degrees F) with the honey mixed in. The honey will activate your yeast faster, as sugar is what it feeds on (flour makes yeast rise because it breaks down to sugar, but at a slower rate). Give it about 10 – 15 minutes.

Next, put your flour and salt into a mixing bowl and stir them together. Too much salt right on top of your yeast will kill it, so be sure they’re well mixed. If you were using a mixer, you’d put the salt in last, but you’re using your hands. Stir the flour and yeast mixture together until loosely combined. Then, add your cup of lukewarm water. You may need a little more or a little less. You want a loose, but firm dough here. Practice is the only way to get the feel of it, so you will improve with this step in time. Eventually, it should look like this (don’t overmix!):

Cover your dough in a warm, damp cloth, and let it sit for at least an hour, if not two, until doubled in size. (Side note: If your kitchen is drafty, you might just want to put your bowl in a turned off oven, used as a proofing box!)

When the dough is doubled in size, put it on a floured surface, and pat it into a rectangle. Fold the short ends 1/2 way in each, so they meet in the middle. Now flip it, turn it 90 degrees, and do this again. Put it back in the bowl, cover it, and let it rise again, until doubled in size, about 30 minutes to a hour.

When the dough is doubled, put it on a floured surface again. You’ll cut it into two or three pieces. This is where it’s important to have it shaped into a rectangle, as you’ll want long, thin pieces to start shaping.

SHAPING THE DOUGH

This is the most important and most fun part of making baguettes! The first thing you’ll do with one of your rectangles is take the bottom left corner and fold it up. Like this:

Then, you’ll start at the top left hand corner and begin folding the top of the dough down halfway, and sealing it down with your fingers, like this:

You’ll do one more fold so that the dough looks like this:

Then, using the heel of your palm, seal the bottom, pinched part. This takes a little getting used to, but you’ll have it in time, I promise. After you do that, roll the dough lightly back and forth so that you seal it completely, and the seam is on the bottom.

Last, I’m going to assume you don’t have a lame (pronounced lahm) lying around for scoring, so you’ll take a sharp knife and cut diagonal lines down the length of the loaf.

Set your oven to 450 degrees, and let the loaves rise on top of it for the amount of time it takes to warm up. Put a pan with warm water in the bottom rack of the oven. This will give your baguettes a crunchy, crispy, baguette crust. You can also put the pan in the bottom and let it get very hot, then throw ice in just before you put your baguettes in for steam.

Bake for 25-35 minutes, until golden brown. The loaves should sound hollow and be browner on the bottom when you take them out.

This is a quick-and-easy baguette recipe. For true baguettes, you need a lot more equipment and a starter and stuff that will make your life harder, not easier! Apocalycious is about comfort, though, so this is the way to shortcut all that and get yourself some delicious sandwich bread. Additionally, you can cut these baguettes on a bias once baked, toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and throw them back in the oven for a few minutes for lovely toast points for snacking (if you have leftovers, I recommend trying this!) Enjoy!

The Ramen Quintet

I will start this by saying there is nothing wrong with a bag of ramen. In fact, there is a lot right. All of the carbs, the salty broth, the dehydrated veggie packets that you tell yourself make it healthy. Maybe you’ve even upgraded from Top Ramen and are going international and trying some finds at your local Asian market or blowing out all of your taste buds on the Samyang Hot Chicken Ramen. Maybe you even are dressing it up here and there with some veggies or tofu or a few sheets of seaweed.

All of these things are great, but now it’s time to ascend to making your own ramen broth, instant packets be damned.

Good ramen has five things: a broth (usually a bone broth), a tare, noodles, a flavoring oil, and your toppings.

Your basics.

The Broth

We’ve talked about the broth before, so any bone broth that you make will do. Now if you’re making a specific type of ramen (say, tonkatsu), then there’s a very specific process and ingredients for this. Unless I’m making ramen to impress a crowd, I usually just make a pork bone broth as my base. It gives it a rich fatty texture that shimmers the soup and clings to the noodles.

Of course if you want to make a vegetarian iteration of this, you can use a vegetable or mushroom stock. (If possible, I prefer the latter.)

The Tare

This may be the thing that you’re less familiar with on the list. A tare is a flavoring agent that you add to the broth to flavor it. I eat a lot of ramen, so I make mine in bulk since it will keep in the refrigerator for at least a month. (Let’s be honest. Mine has been in there since July.)

There are three main types of tare–shoyu (which I’m going to teach you today), miso, and shio. Each of these gives your ramen its distinctive umami flavor. Please note that this tare recipe is a modified variation from Ramen Obsession by Naomi Imatome-Yun and Robin Donovan. (A must for ramen lovers.)

A shoyu tare is the easiest and most common tare that you’ll find. To make it, combine 1 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup sake or Shaoxing Wine, 1/2 cup mirin, and 1 tablespoon each of crushed garlic and diced ginger.

Bring all of the ingredients to a boil, then bring down to a simmer. Cook for ten minutes, then strain the solids. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge until use.

Look at those sexy globs of hot sesame oil.

The Noodles

I love a good wavy, fried noodle in a square packet. There’s something nostalgic and endearing about it at the same time. (Maybe it just reminds me of all the hangovers.) But there are a lot of choices when it comes to noodles. If possible, I either make my own Chinese egg noodles (not the same, but a lot easier) or buy fresh-made at our local Asian market. (Check in the frozen section!)

However, you can also buy a whole range of quality dried noodles, some of which are even straight! (Unlike me. Haha!) Try out a variety. I find some things work better with different recipes. If I’m doing a Korean iteration with kimchi and American cheese, I want the fried wavy brick noodles. But for this, you want something that’s going to really pull through your oils and fats, so consider something a touch fancier?

The Flavoring Oil

A good ramen always has a little glisten to it. Sometimes that’s just the rendered fats in the bone broth. Sometimes it’s a chili oil, or a nice fragrant sesame or garlic oil.

Personally, I love hot sesame oil, which has a pretty solid kick to it without overtaking the whole of the flavor. A little drizzle to finish is a must!

Toppings

Six-and-a-half minute eggs.

What would a bowl of ramen be without all of the delicious things you can dress it up in!

I personally always believe that an egg is a must. I’m a fan of the six-and-a-half minute egg. To make, slowly add your eggs to boiling water. (It helps if you bring them to room temperature beforehand.) Boil for 6 minutes and 30 seconds. Remove from the water and put directly in an ice bath. You can store them in the fridge this way for up to 5 days, which means if you’re taking your ramen components to go, even better for easy transportation.

If you have the time, you can also marinate your eggs in soy sauce, which helps to season them even further.

But there are ENDLESS OPTIONS for the toppings on ramen. Truly. Here is a list of some things I’ve enjoyed in mine recently:

  • Dried seaweed
  • Fish balls
  • Fried tofu
  • Sauteed corn
  • Fish sausage
  • Green onions
  • Blood cake
  • Chashu
  • Bok choy (or any leafy greens)
  • Mushrooms
  • Rehydrated wood ear mushrooms
  • Kimchi

Putting It All Together

To put it all together, boil your noodles following the package instructions. In a separate pot bring 2 cups of bone broth and 2 tablespoons of tare per person to a boil.

Strain noodles and add to bowl. Add broth-tare mixture. Top with delicious things!

Ramen with poached duck egg, fish balls, green onion, seaweed, and chard.

Ramen a great way to clear the fridge out of the last little bit of things from leftovers or the veggie drawer.

Let us know how you’ve been making your ramen recently!

Ramen Week, Part One: Vivien Ryder’s “Stay Alive, Get a Ramen Club”

Vivien Ryder as the Patron Saint of Lost Trans Folks on the cover of my memoir, Psychopomps. Drawing by Jam Jacobs.

A few years back, when everyone I knew was trans, lost, and struggling, my dear friend Vivien J. Ryder began a project called “Stay Alive, Get a Ramen Club.” The conceit was that if transgender people signed up on her Google doc, and stayed alive despite all the trauma in their lives for one year past their sign-up date, Vivien would have them over for a baller bowl of Ramen. Vivien regularly had homeless trans folks, including me, sleeping on her couch, and provided safe space and care for a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise have had it.

Now, a few years later, Vivien reflects on this time. In classic style, she underplays her impact, and offers you tips on how to make a 10 cent Ramen package into a whole meal.

Vivien J. Ryder talks about Ramen and building community:

No matter how good you promise it can be, Ramen won’t make anyone stay. No one can be tied in threads so weak, no matter how many. I was crazy. I was crazy to think so, but mostly I was just crazy and everyone around me was, too.

Try a boiled egg, try a raw egg.

Everyone loves avocado.

I didn’t ask for much, just for people to stick around: live a year. Live just one year, and I’ll make you a big Ramen loaded with whatever you like and we’ll sit down and eat it. A couple dozen or so people joined the club. It felt like community building. It wasn’t.

Mushrooms are good. Weird looking mushrooms impress everyone.

It was my own insecurity expressing itself. Maybe you stayed, maybe you left. I committed to waiting a year to find out…for a couple dozen folks who ended up not wanting to share that meal with me at the end of the year. But at least I wasn’t responsible for my own life anymore: I was responsible for everyone else’s.

Crab stick? Fish Balls? Surimi? Tofu, cooked, or cold.

I slept at night with an eye on my cell all night long, just in case it lit up with someone needing me. Occasionally, it did, but invariably, I lost sleep.

Boy choy looks good if you slice it and arrange it nicely. Or some sauteed shredded cabbage? Or a little kimchi if you have.

They all lived, at least the year, but ultimately moved on and away, which is good. People need to follow their own paths. You can’t hold on to anyone forever: maybe a year, if you’re lucky. But when that Ramen is due, or the lease is up, or whatever, you gotta be prepared to let people go.

A drizzle of sesame oil, sesame seeds, pepper flakes. Katsuobushi if you’ve got the right groceries.

They don’t owe you anything, so long as they never asked for what you freely gave.

The secret to making a ten cent Ramen look good is to bury it in all the trappings of a real meal. A big bowl helps.

Yogurt — It’s What’s for Dinner!

I’m not quite sure why Americans only think of yogurt as a breakfast item or a Jaime Lee Curtis-sponsored snack product, but the history of this dairy wonder is literally over 7,000 years old and thus has far more uses than granola dampener or fruit-on-the-bottom.

Today, we’re going to look at three different uses for yogurt at the dinner table–as a marinade, as a topping, and as a dressing.

Marinated Turkey Thigh

Yogurt marinades are common in many cultures, most notably Indian and Turkish cuisines. By marinating meat (usually chicken), the lactic acid from the yogurt helps to break down the meat (in the same way other acids like lemon juice or vinegar can) to soften it and keep it from drying out when cooked.

When making a marinade, make sure that you’re using non-flavored yogurt. (Trust me. You don’t want to use vanilla by accident. Again, ask me how I know?) Greek yogurt, which is just thickened regular yogurt, is usually called for, but really any is fine, especially since Greek yogurt can sometimes be 3x the cost.

Yogurt marinade with garlic, lemon, salt, and ground pepper.

You can just slather it on and call it a day, but I like to flavor the yogurt a bit with whatever I would usually add into a marinade–minced garlic and onion, a bit of lime zest or juice, dried spices, curry powder, salt and pepper, etc. This is a great way to mess around and try new things. You really can’t mess this one up. For this particular dish, I was marinated a turkey thigh in yogurt, dried garlic, lemon, salt, and black pepper.

From there, you put your marinade and meat into a plastic bag and let it sit in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours, though longer (no more than 24 hours) is better.

Chicken-fried turkey thigh with wild mushroom gravy.

At this point, my meat was going into a batter to make chicken-fried turkey, so I scraped off most of the yogurt before dipping and frying. (A post for another time.) But at this point you can bread and fry something on the stove top, bake it in the oven, toss it on the grill, whatever!

Baked Sweet Potato With Cumin-Spiced Yogurt

You don’t have to be this bougey with your spices. Regular cumin and dried chives are totes fine.

There’s not much better than a baked potato piled high with cheese and sour cream, but yogurt can be an equally remarkable topping with a little bit of time.

While your potatoes are baking, mix one cup of yogurt with whatever spices you want to flavor it with. If you’re using whole spices, like I was for this particular dish, be sure to toast them first to heat up their natural oils which helps to increase their flavor.

Toasting spices.

Add the toasted spices and/or whatever else you’d like to flavor your yogurt with along with about half teaspoon of salt to your yogurt and mix thoroughly. Then cover and refrigerate while your potato bakes, approximately one hour.

Mixing the topping.

When the potato is done, salt the inside of the potato (I also add a bit of cayenne when working with sweet potatoes because sweet and heat is *chef’s kiss*) and top with a touch of butter (optional) and your yogurt mixture.

If you want to emulate the one shown, I used 1 tsp toasted cumin seed, 1 tsp dried ramps (chives are fine too), a pinch of garlic powder, and salt.

Seriously, you should make this.

A Note on Labneh: Labneh is to Greek yogurt as Greek yogurt is to regular yogurt. It’s been strained even further until it has the consistency of cream cheese. If you have the opportunity to use labneh instead of yogurt in any of these recipes, please do. Make a point to seek it out at your local Middle Eastern grocer because it works as a excellent dip, sandwich spread, etc.

Yogurt Dressing

Much like with the potato topping, yogurt can replace sour cream in many things. Should it? No. Sour cream was brought to us by the gods, and you should fucking eat it. HOWEVER, there are times when there’s one of them in the fridge and not the other while there are also times you want to lighten up a recipe or get some of those probiotics everyone is talking about.

If you like a creamy dressing–and truly, who doesn’t–yogurt can sub in for either sour cream or mayo in most iterations of ranch dressings. (You can also blend it with avocado and olive oil for a lovely green goddess riff.)

The trick to ranch dressing is three things–garlic power, onion powder, and dill. That’s pretty much it. Adding those to something creamy is going to make all things Hidden Valley pale in comparison. But in order for it to work like a dressing, you will need to thin that out a bit. You can use lemon juice or a white wine or apple cider vinegar here along with a little milk or water to cut it.

For one cup of yogurt, you’ll want 2 tablespoons of your acid (lemon juice or vinegar), 2-3 tablespoons of milk or water, and 1 tablespoon of each of your spices. plus a dash of salt and ground black pepper.

Note that for the onion power, you can use the normal iterations or dried chives (which I prefer). You can also use fresh garlic instead of dried if you want to be fancy.

Chef’s salad with kale and yogurt-ranch dressing.

Let the dressing sit in the fridge for an hour before use so all of the flavors can combine. Once you have this basic recipe down, you can change it up as you want. Use lime juice instead of lemon, add smoked paprika or cayenne for a kick, stir in some chopped fresh herbs. Remember, once you’ve learned the basics, play. Make it your own.