Upping Your Ramen Game

Every spring my university (West Texas A&M–Go Buffs!) would hold a Ramen Contest. As I can recall (but granted, it’s been a few years), there were probably about 10 or so categories into which you could enter your recipes, such as appetizers, desserts, most creative, healthiest, cheapest, etc.

For kids living off the stuff, this contest was a great way to either show off one’s Ramen culinary skills and/or pick up new and exciting ways to enhance your hum drum Ramen life.

Fast forward a few years couple of decades and I now live in New York City, where I was introduced several years ago to proper Ramen. O-M-G. The freshness of the veggies, the rich broth, the creaminess of the soft boiled egg–it was heaven. But also a bit of a splurge, as I never even dreamt of making it at home.

Then something magical happened. Over New Years–when I was visiting C&T in Florida–Christi made this amazing chicken ramen. And like the stuff I get in The Village, it was truly wondrous and I may have had two bowls. Okay, so I had two bowls and seriously contemplated a third until more wine & dessert distracted me.

However, I watched Christi make it and, while it was hands down one of the best meals I’ve eaten, it took a long time and a lot of prep work to make the magic happen. So, I threw it into the “too hard so I’ll just let Christi make this for me” basket and went about my life.

Several weeks later and still thinking about it, I decided what the hell, I was going to give it a try, but hoping I could find an easier recipe that was just as delicious, but a whole lot faster. Enter Pinterest, where you can find tens of thousands of ramen recipes. They all looked amazing, but most were just as–if not more–complicated as Christi’s recipe. And then I found it: Easy Homemade Ramen Bowls.

Winner Winner Ramen Dinner!

I scanned down the list of ingredients, which were thankfully minimal and decided to go for it. As I’m shopping for a few things that I didn’t have on hand, like ramen noodles and sesame oil, I called Christi to tell her I was trying a new (and infinitely easier) ramen recipe, at which point she begged me “I know how you are with recipes and thinking you need to modify them, but please, please, please follow the instructions otherwise it’s going to be awful.” Thanking her for the vote of confidence, I finished my shopping and went home to start cooking.

With the exception of substituting bok choy for the carrots, adding a splash of chardonnay (I couldn’t help it!), and including jalapeños and fresh cilantro in my toppings, I followed Dana’s recipe to the letter (you can find her original recipe here!) and it was so delicious and so easy!

Truth be told, I enjoyed Christi’s chicken ramen more, but Dana’s allowed me to have a delicious and healthy dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes, so it’s now become a staple dinner in my household. It’s so easy to throw together and customize to your taste there are absolutely no excuses to not up your ramen game.

Killing Thyme’s Easy Homemade Ramen Bowl (as adapted by moi!)

  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 head of baby bok choy (or spinach, but personally I prefer crunch of bok choy), trimmed and cut into thick slices
  • 4 cups veggie broth (or chicken or even beef but DO NOT EVER EVER EVER make ramen without using broth)
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Very generous dash of white wine (I find chardonnay, viognier, and dry rielings pair well with ramen, especially if you like your ramen on the spicy side!) + more for drinking [you have to–it’s in the recipe! 😉 ]
  • 3 Tbsp (or more to taste) soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp (or more if you like it hot!) Sriracha
  • 2-3 bricks of Ramen (depending on how soupy you like it–personally, I prefer less broth, so I use more noodles. also, if you’re buying ramen with flavor packets, throw the packets out!)
  • Sliced scallions for topping
  • Sesame seeds for topping
  • Sliced jalapeños for topping
  • Roughly chopped cilantro for topping
  • Soft boiled eggs (I make 1 per person)
  1. In a small saucepan, fill with water and a dash of salt and bring to a boil. (NOTE: I usually start the water and then skip down to complete Steps 3-5 before actually adding the eggs to boil.)
  2. Once the water is boiling, carefully add eggs and boil for 5-7 minutes, depending on how soft you want your eggs (I like mine at 5 minutes, but that grosses most people out). When cooking time is up, place in an ice bath for a couple of minutes to stop the cooking process.
  3. In a medium dutch oven (or sauce pan), heat sesame oil and olive oil on medium heat. Add garlic and ginger, and simmer until fragrant. Do not brown the garlic otherwise (Dana advises) you’ll get a bitter flavor.
  4. Splash in the wine and then add mushrooms, simmering until mushrooms soften, about a minute, stirring frequently.
  5. Add broth, Sriracha, vinegar, and soy sauce. Stir and bring to a simmer. Let it simmer for about five minutes. Taste and adjust by adding more Sriracha and soy sauce if needed.
  6. Add the bok choy (or veggies of your choice) and cook for about 3-5 minutes. I don’t time it, I just look at how wilted the bok choy is getting.
  7. Carefully place the Ramen noodles into the pot of simmering broth and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes or until tender.
  8. Crack and peel your eggs and then slice them in half.
  9. Carefully transfer the soup and noodles to bowls, and add your toppings.
  10. Grab your bowl, your chopsticks, your wine, and, as Dana advises, fall into a state of bliss.

Bon appetit!

 

Highway Robbery

As I mentioned eons ago, last October I went to Italy.

When we started researching and telling everyone about going to Italy, it seemed the one overall theme was thievery. Horror stories about people being pickpocketed and overcharged and taken advantage of at every turn started popping up everywhere and by everyone we told about our upcoming trip.

We planned and re-planned and over planned about how to deal with this and even had back up plans if this would happen or that would happen. We obsessed over travelers insurance, which handbags to use, how to spread out our cash, where to keep our passports and credit cards, and fastidiously reminded ourselves not to leave anything in the rental car. In hindsight, I think know we (all of whom have lived in New York City at one point), spent way too much time overthinking it.

Not once in our 10 days were we pickpocketed or overcharged and never felt taken advantage of–except once. By our rental car company.

Yep. Our rental car company. Ironically, I decided to go with Avis because of all the car options we were presented with while booking, it is one that I use quite frequently here, so I thought it was the “safe” choice. They offered a great rate and when our reservation had to change literally 2 days before the trip they were very accommodating.

Once we were there, the overly friendly Avis front desk man explained to us that we needed additional insurance for the car to “cover accidents and theft.” I thought insurance was included in the quoted price but of course, it was in the middle of the night in the USA when we landed in Italy, so I couldn’t get a hold of anyone to confirm exactly what my reservation included. We opted for the additional insurance, partially because we were in a foreign country and partially because we were still in the throes of assuming everyone was out to get us (yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds but trust me, the horror stories plus the jet lag plus the 9 hours of airplane coffee had us a little on edge!).

We pick up our tiny little car. TINY. TIIIIIIIIIINY. After a bit of finagling of luggage because only 2 suitcases fit in the “trunk,” we were off!

Thankfully our tiny baby car was perfect for navigating our way through Rome, where the driving style is best described as “just go, try not to hit anything, and hope for the best” (aka a chaotic clusterfuck). You think I’m kidding, but I am not. We encountered numerous intersections without any signage or lights and one lane exit ramps with five rows of cars across it.

Our tiny baby car, whom Cait named Luigi, wasn’t so great with the Tuscan hills. And by not great, I mean we couldn’t keep up with the locals taking the uphill curves at breakneck speeds. But we made it! Sometimes with a lot of encouragement for Luigi, that he could, in fact, make it to the top of whatever mountain summit we were trying to reach. And not without a fair bit of panicking and near-death experiences. Also, may I suggest not looking down the side of the mountain to see how far you’ll drop if the car suddenly careens off the road?

After 10 days of laughing, cursing the GPS, and a lot of u-turns, we safely returned Luigi back to Avis before boarding the plane back to New York and saying arrivederci to Italy.

And then? Then we got the finalized bill, which was nearly triple what we originally quoted. I called Avis to ask about all the additional charges, and discovered that the additional insurance was nearly double that of our actual rental charge. And was further informed that no, we didn’t actually need it, we had basic insurance that would have covered everything but the additional insurance just meant that we wouldn’t have a deductible. Since we agreed to the extra insurance at the counter there was nothing she could do to reverse the charges. I tried arguing that we were told that we didn’t have coverage and it was required. Had we been told it was just an upgrade from our already included insurance we would have declined, but she wasn’t budging.

Fine. We paid the additional insurance. Not that we had much of a choice, since it was already charged to the card. But we bitched about it at length and then chalked it up to a very steep learning curve.

Six short weeks later, I got another charge from Avis along with a letter in the mail stating that we received a traffic citation and [wait for it], Avis was charging us $50 in order to process the citation and they would kindly keep us abreast of how much the citation would be when it was processed.

JUST TO BE CLEAR, AVIS CHARGED $50 JUST TO PROCESS THE CITATION, NOT FOR THE CITATION ITSELF.

Yep. True story: you can’t make up this bullshit. Incidentally, we’re still waiting for the actual citation and fees associated with it. So after all the worrying about the thievery in Italy, the only time we came across it was with our American owned rental car company. Define irony.

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at least the views were spectacular…