Since moving here from Seattle nearly ten years ago (wow that makes me feel old), there are a few things I really miss: the presence of all kinds of seafood on menus, oyster happy hours, and serious Chinese food. Don’t get me wrong, I love that Portland now has 1,327 ramen restaurants and that it seems like every week a new izakaya place has opened, but the comfort food of my youth was usually Chinese food. And I don’t mean greasy beef & broccoli or orange chicken – though there were phases when I loved the stuff. I mean hand shaven noodles, bamboo shoots, and those damn scallion pancakes.
When I heard that there were two new Chinese restaurants opening in sleepy little Sellwood, they immediately went on my “to try” list. And isn’t it nice when your restaurant list lines up with the restaurant lists of the ones you love? That’s exactly what happened when the stars aligned and we had my dad, stepmom, and Jonah’s mom all in town for lunch. So we scooted down to Sellwood to get our hands (or chopsticks, really) on some of the noodles at Wei Wei – A Taste of Taiwan.
The place is relatively small, with only 5 or so tables, and the menu is scrawled out on a large chalkboard wall when you enter. Have a seat and get yourself some starters. We enjoyed the scallion pancake (I told you, it’s a comfort food and one I simply cannot resist) and a special cucumber salad, which was perfect given the 80° day. Then it was time for the noodles – I recommend the beef noodle soup if it’s soup eating weather, or the house spicy noodles, which are dry (served without broth). Neither are that spicy, so I recommend reinforcing with some of the house made chili oil. Let’s talk about the noodles. Both of these dishes came with homemade wheat noodles, often cooked up by the owner’s parents in the kitchen. They are fat, perfectly soft, with the right amount of heft and bite to them. What they are is damn good. The beef soup was super savory, with broth as dark as the large pieces of braised beef it’s packed with. The beef comes apart with the pull of your chopsticks and is accompanied by pickled mustard greens, and spinach. The dry noodles are anything but, coated with a glossy sauce of minced pork, water chestnut, and shiitake mushrooms. Both dishes could have easily served 2 if not 3 people, so come hungry or with a friend.
A couple weeks ago, we went to the beach. I’ve told you about the beach house before, and this trip was no exception to the perfection that is that little slice of heaven on the Oregon coast. We went for our friend Walt’s birthday: there were three couples, and of course the second order of business was what are we going to be eating ? (The first was “ARE THE PUPPIES COMING?!”) We each decided to tackle one major meal while we were there, which I’ve found is a nice way to plan cooking with friends – no communal google docs full of recipes and grocery lists and confusion about who is bringing what.
For our one dinner together, Walt smoked a pork shoulder and his girlfriend Kylie made this delicious Asian slaw. It was tangy, crunchy, and refreshing, a perfect complement to the smoky rich pork (which we used to make bahn mi). I knew I needed to recreate it at home, and that it would quickly become a staple in our kitchen, since we eat a lot of Asian food.
I loved Kylie’s slaw, but per her suggestion, wanted to jazz it up a bit. I added sliced mango and salted roasted cashews, but the possibilities are endless – grated carrots, mint, cilantro, peanuts, mandarin slices, etc. We paired our slaw with some easy tofu, pressed and marinated in canola oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, sriracha, and orange juice, then baked. It was an easy and delicious meal. My favorite kind.
Asian Slaw with Ramen Noodles
1 large head of napa cabbage
1 package of instant ramen noodles (flavor doesn’t matter – you won’t be using the flavor pack)
1 ripe mango
1/2 cup cashews, salted & roasted
3 Tbl rice vinegar
3 Tbl soy sauce
1 Tbl sugar
1 Tbl toasted sesame oil
Optional additions: sriracha, mint, mandarin slices, peanuts, cilantro, grated carrots.
Chop cabbage into bite-sized pieces. I cut mine in half lengthwise, then in half again lengthwise, and then sliced it horizontally from there. Rinse and dry, and put in a large bowl.
Crush up the ramen noodles and set aside. Cut the mango into slices or chunks, whichever you prefer, and set that aside as well.
I like to mix my salad dressings in a small jar – no whisking, just shaking – but you can make yours in a bowl if you like. In whatever vessel you choose, combine the rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil. Whisk or shake until thoroughly mixed. Taste and adjust ingredients as you like.
Add the mango to the cabbage. Pour the dressing over the cabbage and mango and toss to coat. Let it sit for a minute. You can add the ramen noodles and cashews now, or top each serving individually. I will warn you though, that if you add the ramen to the salad and you have leftovers, those noodles will lose their crunch.
Serve, dotted with sriracha if you’d like, and enjoy.
Almost a year ago, there was a piece in the New York Times. I’m not sure where I found it – most likely someone posted it on Facebook – but it struck a chord. It’s called “When a Food Writer Can’t Taste,” by Marlena Spieler, a James Beard Award winning food writer. In the article, she writes about how a car accident, in which she broke both arms and sustained a concussion, completely demolished her ability to taste and smell.
Now, that sounds horrible no matter who you are. But when a food writer loses the senses that bring her the most joy and allow her to work, it’s devastating. Her descriptions of tasting what had once been some of her favorite foods are heartbreaking: “Cinnamon drops, a childhood favorite, were bitter, horrible.” “Bananas tasted like parsnips and smelled like nail polish remover.” “Gently sautéed mushrooms seemed like scorched bits of sponge.” Luckily, the nerves were only damaged, not severed, meaning that she would, in time, recover. She created her own rehabilitation plan, eating and tasting a huge range of foods, forcing herself to taste things like chocolate over and over again, starting with milk chocolate and slowly upping the cocoa content. Things she hadn’t particularly loved before – fish, especially – became a daily craving.
In the end, she recovered most of the way, and though her senses still occasionally go haywire, she can enjoy food to an incredible extent. But I’d like to focus on a specific part of this story: about halfway through the article, she tells us how, though she used to “lack a sweet tooth,” her sweet tooth now couldn’t be ignored. She lists a few things she baked, and they all sound delicious, but one jumped out at me: miso sticky toffee pudding.
When I studied abroad in London, I became a fan of sticky toffee pudding. It’s not pudding like we think of in the states. It’s a cake that is sweet but not too sweet, drenched in a warm toffee sauce that seeps into the cake, resulting in a moist, warm, absolutely fantastic dessert. Now I have looked for a recipe for Spieler’s mystical dish, and I am not the only one. The day after the article was published, someone tweeted at Spieler asking for the recipe. There’s a Chowhound thread asking if the recipe can be found anywhere (yes, I commented). But I couldn’t find it, and it seems, neither could anyone else. There are recipes for miso toffee, and for sticky toffee pudding with miso ice cream, but not this exact dessert. So, after talking with my baker friend Caitlyn, we decided to make one ourselves.
We decided to adapt David Lebovitz’s sticky toffee pudding recipe, and really, there were only a couple simple changes to be made. (In retrospect, I should’ve used Spieler’s sticky toffee pudding recipe, but I never happened upon it until I was sitting down to write this.) The resulting dessert is sweet, salty, caramelized, strong, and unique. Its flavors are perhaps a bit confusing at first, but I think the way they swirl around your tongue, combining to create a balance of sweet and savory is a fun adventure.
Miso Sticky Toffee Pudding
Note: I have made this recipe now with both red and white miso paste. While I personally liked the white miso better, Caitlyn, Jonah, and Caitlyn’s boyfriend Dylan liked the red. On one hand, I think the deeper, more caramelized flavor of the red miso was nice, and on the other, the white provided a little more brightness, while bringing the same level of saltiness. Both are good, so it’s up to you which you use.
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup muscovado sugar (if you don’t have that, demerera or dark brown sugar will do)
2 1/2 Tbl molasses (we used Blackstrap)
2-3 tsp miso paste (start with two teaspoons, and add up to another teaspoon to taste)
1-2 Tbl toasted sesame seeds
6 ounces pitted dates, snipped into small pieces
1 cup water
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup candied ginger, chopped
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt, preferably fine
4 Tbl unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
toasted sesame seeds, to serve
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and butter an 8 1/2 inch porcelain soufflé dish, or something of a similar size.
In a medium sized saucepan, bring the cream, muscovado sugar (or other dark brown sugar), molasses, and miso to a boil, stirring often to melt the sugar, and keeping a close eye to make sure it doesn’t burn. Lower the heat and let simmer for about five minutes, stirring constantly, until the sauce has thickened and coats the spoon. Try your best to break up any chunks of miso. Pour roughly half the sauce into your buttered baking dish, sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds over the toffee sauce, and place the dish in the freezer. Set the pan with the rest of the sauce aside for serving.
In another medium saucepan, bring the dates and water to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda and ginger. Set aside, but keep slightly warm – leaving it on low heat isn’t a terrible idea.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large mixing bowl (you can use an electric mixer), cream together the butter and granulated sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, and then the vanilla, stirring to combine. Add half of the flour mixture, then the date mixture, and then add the rest of the flour mixture, stirring between each addition. Be careful not to over-mix the batter.
Remove the baking dish from the freezer and pour the batter in over the toffee and sesame seeds. Bake for 50 minutes, or until it passes the toothpick test. Allow it to cool slightly before serving. To serve, warm the toffee sauce, spoon portions of the pudding onto plates or bowls, and top with the warm toffee sauce and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream will make a nice topping. I’ve also topped mine with some homemade anise-cardamom ice cream (based on the anise ice cream from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop).
According to Lebovitz, if you’re making the pudding in advance of serving, bake it without the toffee in the bottom of the dish. Close to serving time, poke the cake about 15 times with a chopstick or skewer, and distribute half the toffee sauce over the top. Cover with foil, warm in a 300 degree oven for about 30 minutes, and then follow the serving instructions above.
Yes, yes, at this point, we all know that I have a thing for soba noodles. They are healthier than normal wheat pasta, and when you’re more into Asian food than Italian, they make a great alternative. They serve as a fantastic base for lots of sauces, from heavy (like peanut sauce) to light (like this sauce made of sesame oil, tamari, and agave), and are great to toss with seasonal ingredients (mango and zucchini in the summer, kale in the winter) and a range of proteins (shredded teriyaki chicken or seared tofu).
More than anything, for me, they’re easy. It’s easy to add lots of healthy vegetables, they make great leftovers, and I know that I can whip up a sauce for them in 10 minutes or less. Throw in some sautéed vegetables or shrimp and you’ve got a dinner. Can it get easier than that? No. So on a busy night a couple weeks ago, Jonah and I made this delicious simple soba noodles with shrimp. This recipe served Jonah and I, with no leftovers (keep in mind, we were hungry). Go ahead and double it if you’re feeding more than two.
Soba Noodles with Shrimp, Lime, and Crispy Shallots
6-8 oz soba noodles
2 Tbl sesame oil
3 Tbl tamari or soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon agave syrup or honey
1 Tbl vegetable oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced and separated into rings
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
zest and juice of one lime
1/2 lb. shrimp, shelled and deveined
1-2 scallions, thinly sliced
~1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
red pepper flakes or sriracha to taste
lime wedges for serving
Boil a large pot of water, cook your soba noodles until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. In a medium bowl, combine 1 Tbl of the sesame oil with the tamari or soy sauce, and agave or honey. Add the soba noodles and toss to evenly coat them with the sauce.
In a heavy bottomed pan (cast iron works great here), heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until they’re golden and crisp. Remove the shallots to a plate covered with some paper towels. Lower the heat and add the garlic, cooking until it too is golden and crisp. Transfer to the paper towels too, and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine the lime zest and juice with the remaining 1 Tbl of sesame oil. Stir in the shrimp and season with salt, making sure the shrimp are evenly coated. Empty the contents of this bowl into the pan (the same one you cooked the shallots and garlic in), and cook them until they’re nice and glazed and just white throughout, about three minutes. Don’t walk away from the stove at this point – overcooked shrimp are not great.
Add the scallions, cilantro, and whatever amount of spicy ingredients you want to the noodles, and top with the shrimp. Serve with a lime wedge to squeeze over the top. Enjoy.