Pork & Udon Soup

Every Friday or Saturday, usually as we’re nearing the end of dinner, I say to my husband, “So, what do we want to eat next week?”

It’s a habit of ours to talk about food while we’re eating. It seems an appropriate time.

Often during autumn or winter, my husband will say, “Udon!” Sometimes he says it even during summer, when soup doesn’t always make an appearance on the weekly menu. My response is usually, “I’ll check the weather,” because I prefer a cold evening for udon soup, because it’s a meal that will warm you up and keep you warm for a good long while.

This weekend, we’ve had freezing temperatures, a not-so-common occurrence in our area of Texas, even in winter. My go-to Pork & Udon Soup recipe seemed like a perfect meal to end a cold weekend, especially since we’d be getting back up into more reasonable temperatures in the coming week.

What is Udon? Besides fantastic? Udon is a thick wheat noodle of Japanese origin. And by thick, I mean thick. It’s not like an Italian noodle, or even a ramen noodle. Think much thicker. As a result, it’s doughier and heartier, and it’s delicious. There are a dozen ways to make udon soup, depending on how you flavor it and what you add to it. What I use is a simple recipe that’s overflowing with vegetables and pork. It’s probably not an authentic udon soup – it is Food Network, after all, and though the effort is sometimes there, authenticity doesn’t always follow. But, it is a tasty udon soup recipe, and the pork – while not cha siu levels of delicious – still delivers on taste and is really simple to make.

I will note that I don’t follow the recipe 100%. First, no onions, because we are a no onion household. Second, I use whatever stock I happen to have. This time around, I used three cups of seafood stock and five cups of water. Still tasted fine. Third, I don’t use just soy sauce to add flavor to the broth. I also add toasted sesame oil and rice wine vinegar. I just like the depth they add to the flavor. Makes it a little more interesting. Fourth, I don’t usually bother with the cilantro (because I don’t like it) and the bean sprouts (because they only come in large packages and we don’t need that much of them). Fifth, regular cabbage and mushrooms are fine. No need to get fancy.

This recipe makes a ton of soup. It says 4 servings, but those must be huge servings, because we can get almost twice that much out of a batch. Or maybe we’re just eating smaller servings. Either way, for us, there is more than enough for lunch and dinner leftovers. It’ll keep us warm and full for days.

Udon noodles go into the bowl first and then are topped by ladles of hearty, flavorful broth.

Udon noodles go into the bowl first and then are topped by ladles of hearty, flavorful broth.

A nice big bowl of warming udon soup.

A nice big bowl of warming udon soup.

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Pear-Apple Crumble Pie

Source: Food Network Magazine (Pear-Apple Crumble Pie)

I made this for a pre-Thanksgiving playdate potluck. I had already decided that I was going to make the Sweet Serenity Apple Pie (which I posted about already) for Thanksgiving, but I thought it would be nice to give something else a try.

I don’t often make pies, even though I do like them. I don’t mind working with pie crust dough now that I’ve had more experience with it and feel much more comfortable with it. I make big batches of four at a time and always have some hanging out in the freezer. It’s doing all the rolling and the pre-baking and the cooling that adds time to even simple pie recipes and puts me off a bit. Mostly, there’s just something holiday-ish about pies. I bake cakes and cupcakes and cookies quite often, but pies are truly special occasion desserts. I like them for holidays, they just seem to fit.

I chose this pie because I had everything I needed on hand, and it didn’t require too much effort. I usually make treats for playdates in the morning, so I wanted something that wouldn’t take too long or be too difficult. This still took quite a bit of time, mostly in the cooking time and the prep work. It baked for an hour and a half.

Three pounds of fruit went into this pie in the form of three apples and four pears. It was too much. When the pie came out of the oven, it was mounded like a little fruit-crumble hill. It deflated as it cooled, but it was still quite large. It was difficult to manage, in both cutting and eating. There wasn’t a lot of distinction in the flavors, which might have had more to do with my fruit than the recipe itself. With the amount of filling I had, I felt like I should have made two pies instead of just one. Also, there was too much lemon juice for my taste.

On the plus side, it wasn’t an overly sweet pie, so a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream would have helped it out a lot without ruining the balance by adding both a little flavor and sweetness. Overall, though, I wasn’t impressed. It went over well at the playdate, but sometimes I wonder if they just tell me they like it so they don’t hurt my feelings.

(For the record, it doesn’t. Nobody can be more critical of what I make than I am. Also, food is totally subjective. What I like is what I like.)

Rating2 of 5 stars. This just didn’t work for me. I didn’t really like the flavor, I didn’t like the bulkiness, I didn’t like the texture much. Almost everybody else liked it, so maybe it’s just me. I just feel like it could have been better – or I could have made it better. I don’t know.

Would I make it again? Nope. It’s nice to try something new every once in a while, but sometimes, it just doesn’t pan out. I’d rather stick with a classic old favorite.

Lemon Chicken with Roasted Kabocha and Brussels Sprouts

Source: Food Network Magazine (Lemon Chicken with Butternut Squash)

I have a soft spot in my heart for Food Network Magazine. In the days before I had a toddler dancing around my legs and stealing my free time, I could start cooking at 3 in the afternoon. I could take my time, and it wouldn’t matter if we ate at 6 or 7. I could skip over the “Weeknight Meals” section of the magazine and move on to more advanced fare that usually involved time and technique.

Now, I don’t usually start cooking until my husband gets home, which is roughly 90 minutes before dinner time, which I aim to have on the table at 6. Or at least by 6:20. If I don’t wait for my husband to come home and distract our toddler, she stands at my side and shouts, “See? See! See?!” until I give in and let her bring her step-stool over or I give up and wait for Daddy to come home.

In other words, the “Weeknight Meals” section of Food Network Magazine has become my favorite part of the magazine. I go for the lower-calorie ones (in my world, 600 calories or less, which rules out about 25% of the recipes) that use seasonal ingredients or are easily adapted to them. And, of course, they have to past certain tests: does the recipe require onions, peppers, or other things we do not like? Can those ingredients be replaced without the dish completely falling apart? Does the husband agree that this would be nice to eat? Does it fit into the weekly meal plan? Will the toddler consider eating it, or will she be having a dinner consisting of Greek yogurt and a veggie pouch?

This recipe passed muster, with two changes: I used kabocha squash instead of butternut squash, and I added Brussels sprouts, because green vegetable.

We like butternut squash, but we like kabocha better. Kabocha is a Japanese pumpkin with a green, edible skin and orange flesh. It’s the only kind of pumpkin I ever saw while living in Japan, but that was okay, because it’s delicious. It’s sweeter than a butternut squash and can be used in a variety of dishes, including soups, stews, and stir-frys. In Japan, it’s often served in tempura dishes (and it is awesome this way) or as nimono, which is simmered in a stock of soy sauce and sake (also very tasty). But sometimes simplest is best; more often than not, I just sprinkle it with salt and pepper, apply olive oil, and roast it. Perfect.

The toddler loved it last year, and it took a little prodding before she remembered that she loved it. She ate her fair share of this time around, though she would not touch the Brussels sprouts, which were roasted along with the kabocha. I don’t blame her for that. I was 30 before I realized Brussels sprouts could be worth eating. She did eat the chicken but only after I gave her ketchup, which is pretty much the way things work around here. She ate the meat, that’s the important thing.

Overall, this got 3 stars out of 5. The veggies were a 5, the chicken not so much. Partially my fault for over-cooking them a bit, but the seasonings didn’t do much. Chicken with lemon is alright but not mind-blowing.  A little lemon cream sauce would have been a nice addition and would have gone with the veggies too. It was very easy to make (other than the tedious job of cutting up kabocha and trimming Brussels sprouts), so that’s always a plus.

Would I make it again? Nah, probably not. I can roast vegetables on my own, and I can do chicken better than this. I might do variations, but this recipe won’t be a repeat.