Classic Cold Soba

Classic Cold Soba makes a great summer dinner as the noodles are served room temperature or even cold. We like to serve the noodles with sliced leftover roast pork, such as leftover Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Maple Chipotle Sauce. Steamed Edamame makes a nice accompaniment as well. To find the soba noodles, the dashi kombu and the bonito flakes that the recipe requires, you will probably have to venture to an Asian grocery. Once you have them though, they last a long time. We now buy these ingredients in fairly large quantities and always have them on hand. For convenience, I am reproducing the recipe we use here. However, this information has been gleaned from two different sources and combined into one. The first source is norecipes.com and the second is seriouseats.com. I quickly tired of paging through multiple page documents every time I wanted to make this, and so here is a more user-friendly version.

Classic Cold Soba

Ingredients:

For the Dashi:

2 C cold water
6 g dashi kombu (a kind of flat seaweed)
15 g bonito flakes

For the Dipping Sauce:

1 1/2 C prepared Dashi
1/2 C Soy Sauce
1/2 C Mirin
1/4 tsp granulated sugar

For the noodles:

1 package soba noodles
Large pot of water, salted liberally

Directions:

In a small saucepan, combine the cold water and the dashi kombu. On medium heat, bring to a near boil. Remove the dashi kombu. Take off the heat, and add in the bonito flakes. Steep for two minutes. Strain in a strainer lined with a coffee liner or a paper towel.

Measure the dashi to 1 1/2 cups. Rinse out the saucepan and return the dashi to the saucepan. Add the soy sauce, mirin and granulated sugar. On medium heat, bring to a gentle boil. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Bring the large pot of liberally salted water to a rolling boil. Add the soba noodles, stir once, and boil for 5 minutes. Noodles should be tender when done. Remove from the boiling water and put straight into cold water until ready to serve.

Serve noodles with individual bowls of dipping sauce.

Leftover noodles and sauce will keep a few days in the refrigerator, but you should store them in separate containers.

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Stovetop Popped Popcorn

I can clearly remember the years before we got our first air-pop popcorn machine. Mom would heat oil in a pot, add the kernels, and then as it popped she would shake the hell out of it over the burner. Sometimes it burned. To this day, I’m not sure why. Over the years, I have managed to perfect my system for stovetop popped popcorn, and I rarely if ever burn it. My best guess is that Mom wasn’t using enough oil. My discovery is that if you use enough oil, then you don’t need butter at all.

Unfortunately, my stovetop popped popcorn recipe isn’t really a recipe. I think maybe that’s ok. Amounts are going to depend on the size of your pot. In my experience, you want a pot that has higher sides, but a smaller bottom area, basically, taller than it is wide. This is because if you have a really wide-bottomed pot, your popcorn will pop out and over the sides before it is fully done popping. So, a pot that is taller than it is wide is optimum, preferably with a glass lid so you can see what is going on, although this isn’t absolutely necessary.

Once you have found your pan, coat the bottom LIBERALLY with vegetable oil. Give it what you think it needs, and then give it an extra glug. Yes, this amounts to an extra hundred calories or so, but it will taste so good that you don’t need butter. Put 3 kernels in the pot with the oil, lid on, and turn heat up to HIGH. Wait until the kernels start to sizzle, and then coat the bottom of the pot with kernels. Put the lid back on. Turn the heat down a few notches; you want the kernels to fry a bit. Give the pot a few shakes. Once it starts to pop, crank the heat back to high, tilt the lid slightly to let out some steam and then shake the pot back and forth over the burner, keeping the kernels moving on the bottom. When the popping slows down, 1 or 2 seconds between pops, turn the heat off, turn popcorn out into a large bowl, and sprinkle liberally with salt, stirring as you go.

In my experience, not all popcorns are created equal. My favorite is Amish Country Popcorn, medium white hulless, but Ovrille Redenbacher’s is a close second, and perhaps more widely available.

I recently used this method, using the Amish Country Popcorn, for a close friend and she came just shy of saying it was the best popcorn she had ever had.

Baked Brie

Baked Brie is usually either baked covered in puff pastry dough, or baked naked and drizzled with honey. We cover ours in pie dough. It’s simple to do, we can make it ourselves, and if we’ve had the foresight to pick up a small wheel of brie (which we often do) this becomes party of a pantry meal. My 12-year-old insists that when she goes away to college, sometimes she can see this being her dinner (maybe with some fruit, hopefully). We like to do this occasionally as a part of our weekly Snack Plate tradition.

Baked Brie

Ingredients

1 4 – 6oz wheel of brie cheese
1/2 recipe of Wesson Oil Pie Crust

Directions

Make the Wesson Oil Pie Crust as directed. Roll out the resulting ball of dough between two sheets of wax paper. Keep rolling until the dough is as thin as you can get it.

With a sharp knife, cut off most of the rind from the cheese. Brie rind is edible, so you can skip this step, but leaving the rind on will prevent the cheese from getting as gooey as you might want it.

Remove the top layer of wax paper covering the dough. Place the entire wheel of cheese on one end of the dough. Using the wax paper to support the delicate dough, flip the other end of the dough over on top of the cheese. Gently press down from the top where the dough meets the cheese. Cut off the extra dough with a sharp knife. Using a fork, crimp the edges of the dough together to create a seal.

Bake in an oven-safe ramekin or on an oven-safe plate at 400 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes. Serve with crackers and fruit either as an appetizer, or as a part of Snack Plate.

Classic English Toad in the Hole

The Toad in the Hole that I grew up with was an egg fried inside a slice of bread with a circle cut out of the center. This is different. Classic English Toad-in-the-Hole is chewy, eggy, slightly sweet batter surrounding sausages, traditionally English bangers. If you’ve ever had a popover, the taste and texture is similar. We have a favorite neighborhood butcher who makes their own sausages as our source for the bangers. You can really use whatever kind of sausage you like and that is readily available to you. My kids don’t care for the bangers, so we usually throw in some traditional breakfast sausage as well. We just have to remember where we put which kind of sausage in the pan. For lazy weekends at home, or brunches with company, this is a recipe that I intend to use forever.

Banana Walnut Oatmeal

Banana Walnut Oatmeal is my go-to “home alone for breakfast on a weekend” recipe. My husband tolerates oatmeal if it appears suddenly, but he doesn’t seek it out; he’d rather have muffins. The kids won’t touch it. I have always liked it, even plain, but this simple recipe takes it up another notch from just warm and comforting to downright tasty. The addition of the maple syrup and the banana give it a balanced sweetness without adding any extra processed sugar. I make this recipe pretty much as written, although I don’t measure the nuts; I just use a small-ish handful, give them a chop and mix them in to the whole batch. If, like me, you are cooking this for just yourself, the second serving that this makes will reheat well the next day.

Spaetzle

Spaetzle, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a wheat-based Central European side dish that is a bit of a cross between noodles and dumplings. For our family of four, we have to double this recipe, but otherwise we do it as written. Because they are boiled, spaetzle are soft on the inside, and because they are sauteed in butter after boiling, they become just a little bit crispy on the outside. Everyone in the family loves spaetzle, so they make a regular appearance on our dinner table.

Snack Plate

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Snack Plate was invented out of necessity when I went back to work two years ago. After cooking four nights in a row, by Friday my husband and I were both worn out and ready for something easy. The first time was a fluke; we didn’t want to cook, we had a variety of cold cuts and cheeses stashed in the refrigerator for a rainy day, and a tradition was born. Ever since that night, every Friday night has been snack plate night at our house.

Pictured in this photo is Boar’s Head capacollo, Olympic Provisions Cacciatore Salami, home-grown apples, cucumber, goat gouda, jalapeno-stuffed olives, castelvetrano olives, pickled asparagus, Cherry Jalapeno Pepper Jam, Triscuits and a cocktail for the adults.

Other Snack Plate favorites include baked brie, sliced hard salami, Wheat Thins, Boar’s Head prosciutto, Creminelli Wild Boar Salami, honeyed peanuts, sliced fresh oranges, fresh grapes, and sliced avocado drizzled with balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with coarse sea salt.