Unfortunately, my exposure to ramen was also exclusively limited to the Top Ramen lineup: chicken, beef, or shrimp.
It was a pivital moment when Chef began preparing a cup of ramen for his lunch. Knowing him to be extremely particular about food, I called his bluff. "You're joking. You're not going to eat that!"
A boyish grin came across his face, "Yes I am....It's good!"
I eyed him dubiously.
With a walk-in cooler filled with the finest gourmet ingredients....Chef actually chose to eat ramen! Granted, the package instructs you to guild the ramen lilly by adding an egg--he used a duck egg...but no other modifications were necessary.
Watching him happily slurp long strands of noodles....clearly, I needed to investigate.
Could there be good ramen?
My ramen quest brought me to Seattle's Uwajimaya. This place is a culinary wonderland of Asian ingredients. You can find durian, bitter melon, live abalone as well as countless types of nori, tofu, chilies...and yes, ramen.
The ramen isle at Seattle's Uwajimaya
The selection of ramen at Uwajimaya is staggering. Less than 20% of the packaging has English...but thankfully, many of them feature pictorial diagrams. Smiling cartoon characters with the occasional pig or chicken depiction...provided a clue about the contents.
And if the selection above isn't overwhelming enough...that's just the varieties that don't come in a cup or a bowl! The other side of the isle features this bountiful selection:
Luckily, ramen is also cheap. Good packaged ramen may cost a little more...but it's still usually under $1.
I tried several different varieties and they were all much better than the ramen I remembered. Most varieties had the familiar spice packet...but some featured an additional packet with optional chili oil or spices for an extra kick. No doubt, these ramen were much more flavorful.
Further research revealed a whole world of ramen I knew nothing about....blogs dedicated to ramen here and if you want recipes with your ramen...check out this site.
I also discovered lovely trivia:
Maruchan, the manufactuer of Top Ramen, makes the equivalent of 81 million miles of ramen, annually. It's mind-boggling when you think...in one year, Maruchan cranks out enough ramen to circumnaviate the earth 3,253 times!
Not long after I began exploring ramen, I learned of a museum in Japan that was dedicated to the stuff. The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum features the historical development of instant ramen. The walls are lined with examples of ramen packets and commercials from around the world. They even have ramen-themed video games!
Finally, I learned that the history of Japanese ramen is really quite fascinating. After WWII, Japan was experiencing food shortages. As part of post-war reparations, the US gave wheat to the Japanese. An inventor named Ando decided if they could use the wheat to make noodles---instead of bread, people could eat a more well-balanced meal.
Ando explored noodles that were dried and then could simply be rehydrated. But then, after watching his wife cook tempura, he was inspired to make a noodle that was fried, then dried. Ando found that when reheated, the fried noodles would absorb broth and as a result, make a more flavorful noodle. He was the inventor of what ultimately became "Cup of Noodles," which spurned a myriad of instant noodle choices.
Now, turning the tables....I'm curious. Dear reader, fess up! How do YOU like your ramen????
The conversation went a little something like this:
"Hi, I'm Traca."
"I'm Michael." No need to say anything more. I was swooning already!
Then he kept talking...and I wish he hadn't.
"What's your name again????"
Ah...here we go....people often have trouble with my name.
I sounded it out slowly. "Tray....suh...."
"Okay. Theresa, this is my friend John."
John pipes in, "Did you say it's Theresa or Traca?"
Mr. Handsome is still struggling with it. "Tracy???"
"No, Traca. Like Tracy with an A on the end instead of a Y."
"Theresa?" Okay, clearly he wasn't a spelling champ.
"No, like you trace a line. Tray-suh...."
Suddenly my fantasies of him were far more appealing than the reality!
"What kind of a name is that?"
It's okay, I've been explaining the name my entire life.
Here's the story: My older brother was 3 years old when my mom was pregnant. My parents were discussing a name for their unborn child (me). Suddenly, my brother pipes up and says, "Traca." He meant to say "Tracy," but his 3 year old self couldn't sound out the vowels.
Inspired, my parents decided to go with "Traca."
And so it is.
People ask me if it's actually on my birth certificate.
Yes, it is.
Today, for the most random of reasons, I Googled my name. It turns out "traca" is actually a word in Spanish. Ironically, I've lived my whole life never knowing that. (When I travel in Spanish speaking countries, I have the least issues of all. Now I know why...)
Here's the definition:
1 (de fuegos artificiales) firecrackers
2 fig (final explosivo, sorprendente) spectacular finale
What's in a name? Now, I finally know!
But seriously, after reading this excellent demonstration on making chocolate bars from scratch...I'll never balk at paying for good chocolate again!
Another great site discussing the wonders of making chocolate is Chocolate Alchemy: The Art & Science of Homemade Chocolate. While you're there, take a look at the Alchemist's Notebook....and sign up for the newsletter. Fascinating.
And if candies and truffles make you swoon....explore your inner chocolatier fantasies at Ecole Chocolate. These online classes have impressed the likes of chocolate gurus David Lebovitz and Michael Recchiutti. The Ecole's next class begins January 5th...talk about kicking off the new year right....
Confessions of a cookbook junkie: gearing up for Holiday baking, I realized a deficiency in my cookbook collection. Happily perusing Amazon, ordered myself several books dedicated to cookies....and waited with delicious anticipation!
And then my power went out.
On December 14th, the weather forecasted severe gusts of wind with advisory precautions. I cranked up the heat, set my travel alarm, and went to bed. As predicted, I woke up with no power.
My area was hit especially hard and within miles of my home, only a small pocket remained functional.
I'd never experienced anything this severe, but figured we'd get power by the end of the day. Then I waited over an hour in line for gas. Things would not return to normal anytime soon.
I learned later that 80 transformers were damaged in the storm and over a million people in the Seattle metropolitan area were without power.
As the temperature inside my home approached the winter temperatures outside, I tried to find a place to stay for the night. The problem was, most of my friends were also in the dark.
Finally, a chef friend of mine invited me to stay with her. We made cookies together and I hoped for power the next day.
No such luck.
I ended up not having power for a total of 8 days.
Every night, I'd come home to check on the cat and grab more clothes by candlelight. As the days stretched on...the cookie books started to arrive. Vagabonding from one friend's home to another, I'd lie in bed and earmark all the wonderful cookies I'd make when I FINALLY got power again.
I'm now back in my home and things are beginning to return to normal. The grocery stores have all replaced their meat, dairy & frozen food sections, gas supplies have stablized, and nearly everyone has their power restored.
In spite of the delay, I'm starting my baking frenzy....and this chocolate cranberry oatmal cookie was first on my list. Deliciously moist and chewy with just a hint of spice...I must admit...they were worth the wait!
May you have a wonderful and warm holiday...enjoyed with treasured friends and family....and a fistful of these cookies!
Author's note: These are extra chewy due to the melted butter. Browning the butter gives them a very rich flavor.
Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from Dede Wilson's "A Baker's Field Guide to Christmas Cookies"
2 2/3 cups rolled oats (use old-fashioned, not quick or instant)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried cranberries
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghiradelli chips)
1/2 cup walnut halves, finely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 cookie sheets with Silpats or parchment.
2. Whisk oats, flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. Stir in dried cranberries, chocolate, and nuts.
3. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Continue to simmer over medium-low heat until the milk solids turn golden brown, about 4 minutes. (The foaming will subside when you are about 3/4 of the way there....) Take care not to burn.
4. Pour browned butter into a large bowl and whisk in brown sugar until combined. Whisk in cinnamon, then whisk in eggs and vanilla, beating well after each addition.
5. Add dry mixture to wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Mixture will be thick. Using a 2 tablespoon capacity ice cream scoop, drop 2" apart onto cookie sheets.
6. Bake until light and golden brown and just dry to the touch, but still a little soft inside, about 10 minutes (no shiny spots in between the oatmeal). Immediately remove them from the baking sheet and let cool on a rack.