Saturday, March 10, 2007

How Hard Can it Be?

For about a good five years, I would casually toss these five words out onto the end of any statement involving a goal, action or plan. Unbearably all brass and cheek it did not matter whether or not I possessed any experience in the area the phrase was directed at. With a little effort and common sense I figured that I could accomplish what needed to be done: reroute electrical wires, decorate a wedding cake with gum paste figurines, dance with swords or build a yurt complete with felted interior. After all, "how hard could it be?"

One friend thought this hubris came from ignorance, another thought it confidence. At the time I believed that most things could be achieved through “steadfast discipline”. After years of eating my words, my mantle of poise finally crumbled and the well worn phrase phased out. With pensive consideration I now attribute this once unstoppable audacity to being young, enthusiastic, and exceedingly na├»ve. I strongly suspect that ramen noodles had their fair share in the blame as well.

Set before deep bowls of soup from a young age, I’ve had my fill of just about every kind of boiled noodle. Between slurps, homemade noodles interloped with the instant sort under my blind and otherwise preoccupied eye. Only infectious enthusiastic welcome was displayed in our household for this rip, dump and serve meal. Sprite chewy ribbons shared intimate space with sweet scallions, wilted spinach, dusky mushrooms, tempura blossoms and the requisite yolk yellow egg nestled cozy in the center. This food purred home style comfort even when I forwent the sumptuous for the simple. Straight out of the bag with the magic of a little heat and water, I could concoct hanks of stomach warming noodle within a shimmering lustrous meat broth in less than seven minutes. This was real food so deplorably easy that a child could fix it and this is where the confusion began. I left toast with cheez-whiz behind as I set my sights higher up the culinary ladder and in no time I deftly progressed to Chili and Shrimp flavored ramen artfully adorned with diagonal cut vegetables and custard webs of egg sitting kingly upon a stoneware throne. To this obvious talent I began to wonder, “Cooking, how hard can it be?”

Ramen opened the door to an exciting world of possibility. Not to mention rapid fire consumption of this holy noodle saved me from extinction in college. It was easy and inexpensive, fast and infinitely variable which suited my fickle taste buds. And like a gentle mentor, ramen noodles built up my confidence for greater challenges epicurean and otherwise. Shameful mercurial beast that I am, I eventually left my beloved bagged and preserved companion for the excitement and lure of greater things homemade, intricate and fussy. Forgetting my humble roots I began piping choux, whipping up dacquoise, toasting and grinding spices, and foraging in ethnic markets with frenzied ambition. Ingredient lists became long, methods even longer. On some occasions I cooked myself into a corner sweating and anxious; kitchen devastated by wanton disorderly conduct with barely a crumb to eat. I slowly began to observe that mastery was rarely attained in seven minutes and furthermore I was not always able to maintain the diligence required for success of a complex mission.

Life after ramen has been good, in fact richly expansive. My education in noodle taught me that simple steps can build into something momentous even wondrous. However it neglected to teach me patience and fortitude. Experience corrected and seasoned my binary vision to eventually include all the shades of grey between easy and hard, spectacular and dreadful. While impetuous behavior still manages to rear its head causing me to leap before I look, I am a more cautious creature maybe the staid sort who truly understands her available resources and now concedes from time to time to ask, “How easy can it be?”

Over-the-Top-Ramen Noodle Pillows serves 1-2: I’d love to claim ownership over this idea, but alas the credit goes to Barbara Tropp of China Moon fame who used to serve up something similar to this. My twist is to cook up ramen noodle, cool it until it congeals into a tangled mess, and then fry it up into a crunchy soft mass. Now you can have Top Ramen both ways, the crunch of “raw” and the chewy of “cooked”. And for those that like to “do it hard”, I offer an alternative method which I will try on a day when my tank is on full.


1 bag of Top Ramen or Sapporo Ichiban instant noodle or foot-stomped noodles
A few tablespoons chopped scallion
Sesame seeds
Toasted sesame oil
Grapeseed oil

Direction: Cook up your noodles until al dente, rinse under cold water and strain. Pat the noodles dry with a paper towel and mix in chopped scallions, a good sprinkle of sesame seeds. Coat with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Heat up a large reliable non-stick pan until medium high and put oil in to generously coat the bottom. When the pan is hot enough to cause a noodle to sizzle, place the noodle mass into the pan and pat down to compress. Cook until golden on one side about 5-7 minutes and then flip over to crisp the other side. When done put the pillow onto a large plate and serve it with your favorite quick stir fry of veggies on top.


Lydia said...

Hooray for Barbara Tropp -- China Moon really taught me so much about cooking Asian food. These noodle pillow sound amazing!

Ellie said...

Ooooo, ramen noodles? I like this idea!

D-man said...

Yeah, fast food! Thanks Calli, I need more stuff like this to fall back on when the family needs sustenance and quick. And we love noodles. (Did I really read recently that you have not made pad thai yet? Hard to believe. Not seven minutes, but under thirty when planned.)

Hey, for your bay area fix, we spent the day out at Hearts Desire beach after driving through Woodacre. Hitting Cowgirl and Marin Sun on the way. As beautiful as ever, and despite the low flow in Lagunitas Creek, it was a great year for Coho.


Lis said...

I have to have ramen at least once a week. This has been an addiction for the past 20 years, easily. Although I admit, I've never been creative with my ramen.. I cook until al dente, and then I pour out most of the water and shake the lil packet of salt - err, I mean spices, all over it, give it a mix and I've got lunch! lol

Now you've opened my eyes to experimentation of my favorite noodle lunch. My mom experimented once and substituted ramen noodles for Klusky noodles in her ground beef stroganoff casserole.. they didn't quite work, but might have had she broken them up some.

Now I want to go and fry my noodles! I especially like the idea of serving stir-fried veggies with the pillow - yum!

Anonymous said...

Nothing like the starchy ramen noodles to ward off a hangover. It was totally a staple in my college days. Add the packet into the boiling soup mixture for just so it cooks and is still a bit crunchy...drain the liquid...add cheese and a bit of tabasco.

Your recipe sounds delish.

sher said...

I've been thinking about ramen soup several times a week lately. And those stomped noodles? Sounds like some fun!

lumi said...

Ramen has become a staple for me after long plane rides. Belly warming soft noodles. Yes, the endless possibilities begins with additional ingredients for variety pending ones mood - my favorite is vege and egg poached in the broth. I only wish I can get over this cold of mine with extra ramen consumption.

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Freya and Paul said...

This is a genius idea - I love both the crunch and the soft of noodles, although Ramen noodles are not very common over here and when you can get them they're hugely expensive. Paul once paid £7.00 (!!) for a Ramen kit. And it wasn't great!

Callipygia said...

lydia- I think her first book is supposed to be even more informative, classical cooking.

ellie- yes, can you imagine if they came up with an instant ttuk?

d-man: OK, maybe I made pad thai once and it was awful couldn't get the rice noodles cooked right. I have to say that I don't know Hearts Desire beach is it part of Pt. Reyes or Bolinas? I do love Cowgirl and yeah for the Coho!

lis- in this post there is a link to a ramen site that has a ton of recipes to experiment with. Your mom's idea sounds good to me.

anonymous- Wow, cheese? That is great. There is a ramen cookbook for college students that is supposed to have recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner involving little more than a hot pot and a few extra ingredients.

Sher- Hmm, could we make an impossible pie with ramen? Must be the MSG talking.

lumi- I know the soft runny egg is my favorite part too. Hope you get over your cold soon.

Freya- The original recipe actually calls for chinese egg noodle. I am sure regular pasta would work too. Here ramen is ridiculously cheap, but when we were studying in Italy we would find these ancient expensive dusty bags of ramen in the store and of course buy them. Should I send some to you, let me know!

blatta said...

I used to believe I had a real gift in ramen much so that I'd whip up the occasional polyglot bowl of dissonant colors and textures as a means of impressing young women. Life was simpler then and, surprise, I spent a lot of time alone.

Your writing remains absolutely gemlike - faceted, transparent and tres-way sparkly.

Gattina said...

I love this post Callipygia! Reminding me thoes days I started baking, spending nights and nights to read "types of flours, sugars, salts...", basic, but can't do without. Just an hour ago I watched Paula Deen's show, she kicked up a big fuss in toasting breaking-up ramen with a stick of butter, then used the seasoning pack mix-n-match with more many more stuff to make a salad dressing... actaully I was a bit nauseous. I only want your noodle pillow, thank you!

Callipygia said...

blatta: ramen is a perfect net-like matter for luring high quality ladies. Remember it was the women not the noodles!

gattina: sometimes it is nice to take a break and go back to basics, not to mention our kitchens stay more orderly. I think I've seen that particular show too!

miragee said...

Well, making ramen from scratch is a very challenging idea Calli. I've watched many gourmet programs and it seems that many restaurants in Japan spend more than 10 hours to make the soup base. However, the result is more than heaven-like, only if Japanese do not put so much salt into the soup. I myself am satisfied with the quick and easy way of preparing ramen:-). I consider it a challenge to concoct the soup base in Asian cuisine.

I sometimes miss the days when I had the guts to say, "How hard can it be?" Now I usually say, "It's too hard..." I don't know if I am getting old, but I know better about myself:-).

Callipygia said...

miragee- I once attempted to make homemade soba noodles-It was a complete flop! I guess with age we are better able to assess our circumstances.

HipWriterMama said...

Ramen noodles are a great comfort food. And totally bring me back to my college days...

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