Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Best Bowl of Soup in Town - Sapporo Ramen

As the temperature drops, our desire to hover over a big bowl of steaming delicious soup rises. It's not easy to find a GREAT bowl of soup though. Many restaurants don't give soup the attention they really deserve. And often the portions are too small because it's considered more of an appetizer. So where should you go if you want soup and nothing but the soup? Sapporo Ramen in the Porter Exchange's "Little Japan."

Located just a block from the Porter Square "T," the Porter Exchange building looks sort of like a mini mall from the outside. There's a City Sports, a Gap. Where's the food? Well, one step inside and you'll see and smell all the great Asian restaurants packed into one narrow section. You'll find Japanese, Korean and Chinese food. Something for everyone. All restaurants have seating (albeit limited) and the prices are very reasonable.

Sapporo Ramen is always packed. Often there is a wait for a table but it's well worth it. For around $8.00 you will receive an enormous bowl of noodles - enough for 2 actually but I have to say I've never shared. You can choose from different broths - miso, soy and clear. I highly recommend the clear which really undersells it. Clear does not mean tasteless. In fact, it is a very flavorful broth. Absolutely delicious. Along with the fantastic ramen noodles (do not confuse these with the awful dried Ramen Noodles you had in college!), in your soup you'll find slices of pork, ground pork, bamboo shoots and a small piece of nori on top. You can order it without meat but I personally wouldn't. I recommend topping it off with a little red chili sauce for a bit of a kick. One thing you'll notice is that when the soups is served, all conversation comes to a screeching halt until a fair amount of soup has been packed away. It's irresistible. Celebrity Chef Ming Tsai is also a huge fan so if you don't believe me, take his word for it.

If you still have room in your stomach after the soup, stop by the Japanese Bakery which is in the same building right near the Blue Fin sushi restaurant. They have THE BEST desserts. Not too heavy or sweet. Their Sweet Red Bean Paste Donuts are absolute perfection as are their Custard Buns which consist of a sweet bread on the outside and creamy custard on the inside. Definitely try one or bring it home and have it later.

Sapporo Ramen
Porter Exchange Building, 1815 Mass Ave, Cambridge
Porter Square (right near the "T" stop)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bea's Cranberry Bread - A Massachusetts Must

As you can see, I'm in a Fall seasonal ingredient frenzy. First, Stuffed Pumpkins, then Pumpkin Gnocchi, next Butternut Squash Soup, and now Cranberry Bread. The thing is (and I have learned this the hard way) that when cranberries are in season, you have to scoop them up because once winter rolls around, they're nowhere to be found, not even frozen. This year, I'm actually going to freeze some so that I have them in the winter. I recommend you do the same. They're great with venison and things like that.

What I want to know is who is the genius that figured out a way to make the horribly bitter cranberry a dessert favorite? Have you ever gone to a cranberry bog and eaten a fresh cranberry? Yuk. Terrible! P'tooey! But of course, add a heap of sugar and butter to it and voila, it's a fabulous, slightly tart and very colorful addition to your bread. Ahh the magic of baking.

Following is my mother's recipe. Bea is the quintessential New Englander so you can trust that this recipe is the real deal. Personally, I think the secret ingredient is the orange juice. It keeps the bread nice and moist. Hope you like it. Enjoy it with a nice hot cup of tea or coffee. Good stuff.

Cranberry Bread Recipe

• 2 cups flour
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 cup cranberries cut in thirds (or pulsed in the food processor if you have one - don't overprocess!)
• 1/3 cup orange juice
• 2 tbsp canola oil
• 1 egg beaten
• 1/2 cup chopped nuts

How to:
- Sift together flour, salt, powder, baking soda and sugar.
- Add orange juice, canola oil and enough boiling water to make 3/4 cup. Add egg, nuts and cranberries.
- Bake in greased loaf pan for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.
- Slice into 1" slices and serve.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Creamy, Delicious Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut squash is a great comfort food you can enjoy without the guilt of major calories and fat like so many other delicious and sinful comfort foods. Of course you can make it a tad evil by adding coconut milk or cream but it's really not necessary. This is also a very easy soup and doesn't require lengthy cooking time. Sage leaves add nice flavor and color to the soup. Squash and sage are a classic pairing. Give it a try.

This recipe is adapted from one I found on epicurious.com.

- 2 butternut squash (about 4 3/4 pounds total), halved lengthwise, seeded
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 cups thinly sliced onion
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice or 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp minced fresh ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 5 cups (or more) canned chicken broth
- Sage leaves for flavor and garnish (optional)

other options:
- Add in 1 cup of coconut milk when it's done to add a nice, creamy flavor
- Substitute 1 tsp Pumpkin Spice (or 1/3 tsp nutmeg, 1/3 tsp cinnamon and 1/3 tsp allspice) for the cinnamon stick

How to:
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Oil baking sheet. Place squash, cut side down, on baking sheet and bake until squash is very soft, about 50-60 minutes (knife should go into squash very easily).
- Using paring knife, remove peel from squash; discard peel. Cut squash into 2-inch pieces.
- Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-low heat.
- Mix in onion, brown sugar, ginger, garlic and pumpkin spice.
- Cover pot and cook until onion is tender, about 15 minutes.
- Add squash and 5 cups chicken broth. Bring to boil.
- Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer 10 minutes.
- Working in batches, purée soup in blender or use an immersion blender (my person favorite because you can stick it right in the pot instead of pouring the hot soup into a blender and risking it exploding all over the place - not fun). Season soup with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve with sage leaves or chopped sage on top.

Remember to let soup cool to room temperature before refrigerating.