Why Hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, where our felony-free author Jon has NOT started speaking in tongues. Nay, though some of the syllables in the title may be foreign to you, I assure you today’s meal is hilariously simple to make. Which is great, because, as with SO many weekends of late, things have been ROUGH for Jon, and he does NOT have time for things to get as complicated as “review 3 different novels while evading the police” this week. No no. But if you want to skip the details and get straight to the…me-tails? Nope, that didn’t work. IF YOU WANT THE RECIPE, click here! For everyone else, let’s talk about culinary simplicity, the paradox of choice, Youtube, Awards, and whatever else I stumble into.
It Started Out with A Kiss, How Did It End Up Like This?
If that last sentence summary sounded really fractured to you, don’t worry, it’s my typical over-blown nature unraveling as I should REALLY pack it in and try this in the morning, because I lost ALL the time I wanted to have to get this done. As noted on our Facebook last Thursday, I spent a fair bit of that day tending to a family medical issue that turned out to be, as far as the doctors can tell, either nothing at all, or psychosomatic. That delayed our post Thursday, which cost me both Thursday AND Friday afternoon. Especially since I had to hop on public transit on Friday to meet my mother so we could get dinner and catch my brother’s play!
Not this play, but the emotions are roughly right.
Nathan is in a show wherein he plays a man of roughly 30 who must return to his home town of ‘Barely Fictionalized Port Orchard” to help his ailing stepfather with hospice care, before his stepfather’s arguably untimely demise. There are other narratives to the story, so don’t let that spoiler ruin it if you want to see it, but it’s necessary because it’s useful to point out that that is a HELL of a story to have to portray ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF YOUR FATHER PASSING AWAY DURING HOSPICE CARE.
Oh yes, if you’re a new reader, or had missed it somehow, Nathan, Stephen and my father passed away a year ago Saturday. And that was the defining feature of our weekend. Stephen came into town to share a family dinner with my father’s parents, multiple members of my family experienced anxiety or panic-attack symptoms as the event neared, and, in general, it was a weird weekend to have a nice time.
Which is why it’s somewhat impressive that we DID have a mostly-nice time: Stephen arrived In time to help finalize much of the yard-work we started last weekend, it was a beautiful couple days in terms of weather, we played a couple games of Bocce Ball, shared family stories, and generally had a relatively good time.
We did have a broader “workforce” helping with the yard work, of course.
Which of course means I spent NO time down in my room working on the POST, which is why it’s 1:30 AM, I can SEE the edges of my vision blurring, but I still wanna lay just a LITTLE more ground work for today’s post before I call it and pass out. Which is where we get to the paradox of choice!
Many Hands Make Light Hurt
The paradox of choice is a somewhat contested point in consumer psychology which essentially posits that there are instances where increasing the options available to a consumer does not increase their happiness, but instead triggers anxiety, by tapping their fear of missing out, and creating a situation where it’s harder to make an substantially “optimal” choice.
For example: At Jack in the Box, there are two ways to get your fries: normal, and curly. And with these two options, I am certain that curly is superior, and have no issue choosing it 90% of the times I eat at Jack in the Box. At another, hypothetical restaurant, perhaps they have 4-5 different types of fries. Suddenly, I can’t be AS certain that I’m making the best choice. I would have to try ALL their fries, multiple times, to be SURE of the superior option. Thus, unless/until I do so, every time I go to that restaurant, I must face the possibility that I am picking suboptimally.
This seems like a suboptimal outcome. Fry trolls are not great citizens.
Which right now connects to the fact that…well, I don’t know what to do. Over the last several months, I’ve made quite a few recipes that I could use to give myself a week off from cooking. At this moment, I have TWELVE pre-made meals that I haven’t written about. But, many of them are…untidy. They’re recipes from Easter Dinner, or St Paddy’s Day, or even Christmas. So I’m stuck with a choice: I can throw seasonally-out-of-sync content out…Or I can wait a YEAR for those holidays to return, and hope that I remember my opinions about the recipes at that time. Which means I need to make more things. And THEN, we come into…fuck. Hold on a second.
Look, I was about to go on this whole thing talking about how I’m frustrated, because I’m trying to plan things, and I don’t know what to choose, and no one’s giving me any feedback, but frankly, that’s not your problem, It’s mine. And it’s a problem I’m worsening, because I haven’t even ASKED all that many people for their thoughts, because the idea of spending the effort to ask them is ALSO frustrating to me. And that feels more like it’s expression of the anxiety that’s running through my family right now, rather than a true ‘issue”. So I’m going to skip all that, and re-approach this from a more positive angle. This is good, because I did NOT know how I was going to get back on track with what I wanted to talk about from where I was spiraling into. Alright?
The Beard, The Buzz, and the Bits
Today’s recipe comes from a variety of strange sources. Well, technically the RECIPE comes from only one source, and there’s just a lot of cognitive weight behind it. The recipe itself is from Milk Street, whose Tuesday Night cookbook actually JUST won a James Beard award (basically the Oscars of Food. Or…Technically like, an Emmy or Peabody. The Michelin Stars are the more “prestigious”, so they’re technically the Oscars of food.)
“Excuse me, I think food already HAS an important Oscar, thank you.”
The point is that it’s a very fast and simple recipe from a source whose drive, as I believe we’ve noted before, is to bring a broader, global kind of cuisine into your home. But part of the reason I was in a place to MAKE this dish is thanks to Youtube and Bon Appetit. Specifically, Bon Appetit’s Brad Leone, and his series “It’s Alive”. The basic breakdown is quite simple: it’s Alive is a series that focuses on foods that utilize or rely on fermentation. Hence the name (Fermentation relies on active, living microbes to be performed, so the food consumed is, technically, alive. Or at least, WAS alive at some portion of the recipe process.) It’s a pretty fun show, with the editor seemingly actively invested in making Brad look like an idiot during every episode, highlighting instead of hiding line flubs and dead air. And Brad’s a fun, higher energy host. Because of his focus on fermented foods, and his notation of just how long miso lives, I was motivated to buy a…I think 3 pound bag of Miso paste.
Half a baby’s worth of miso.
Because, hey, now that I know how to make Miso Soup, why not grab something that will keep in the fridge for a couple YEARS in case I get the urge again? Of course, once you’ve got a three-pound bag of miso, everything starts to look like a nail, as the old saying does not go at all. My mangled metaphor was meant to suggest that, well, if you’ve got a lot of miso, you’re going to start looking for recipes that use miso. And so I stumbled onto this one, and decided it was a pretty cool idea for a quick and easy dinner. IT takes, from start to finish, less than 30 minutes, and that’s including prep time. Which is great for me, because let me tell you, with the way my schedule has been fucked the last couple months, I do NOT like making complicated meals after spending 4 hours writing and editing pictures of past meals.
Speaking of past meals, of the five ingredients in today’s recipe, we’ve eaten the star carb before on the site, Soba Noodles! You can check out our Soba Steak Salad post for a discussion of these buckwheat noodles, but the basics are “Brown noodles from Japan, not as chewy as ramen or udon, but heartier than rice.”
This is, in my opinion, the coolest/weirdest way people eat them: cold noodles, and a bowl of sauce, sometimes warm, sometimes cold, that you dip the cold noodles in.
We’ve actually worked with every part of this recipe before, though you’d be forgiven for forgetting our previous dalliances with asparagus: we used it once in a soup, and once as a side, so we never really focused on it. Nor will we today, because I instead spent my time talking about how bad my week was. We’ll get back to it…maybe. In any case, the steps are pretty simple.
The first step is to make miso-ginger butter. You do this by taking softened butter, white miso, and ground ginger, and mashing them together in a small bowl.
Shown here, before actually doing that thing.
You want to do this first so the flavors can meld while you do everything else, so TECHNICALLY, if you really need this to be “start to finish done in 30 minutes”, you need to soften your butter in the microwave. Low power for like 20 seconds should hopefully do it.
Then, you put a pot of water on to boil. Use the time it’s heating to mince some green onions, and cut up your asparagus. Your asparagus will only cook for around 2 minutes, so you want thinner stalks, rather than the finger-thick ones you sometimes see. Trim the last hard end of the stalk, and then cut them into roughly 1” segments, separating the heads from the rest of the stalk. (the heads are naturally softer, so they cook faster, so you add them AFTER the stalks)
It’s always a fun time when you get to chant “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS” while cooking.
The Next step is the second most difficult part, assuming you didn’t correctly soften your butter like me, and it takes a bit of effort to mash everything together. See, this recipe only needs 12 oz of soba noodles, and the bag is 1 pound, aka 16 ounces. You’ll have to carefully and precisely divide the noodles into 4 equal groups so you can get the 3/4s right and I forgot they do that at the factory, this is super easy.
I spent at least 30-45 seconds trying to portion out the noodles at the top of the bag before I slid them out of the bag, and saw I had wasted that time.
Now, one of the perks of soba noodles is that they cook very quickly. So once your butter’s ready, your veg is sliced, and your water is boiling, you’re technically only about 5 minutes away from being ready to eat. (The original recipe also fries some eggs, but I was a little burnt out the day we made this, so I didn’t put in the effort.) The noodles go in, boil for 1 minute. Then, to the boiling noodles, you add the asparagus stalks. Boil another minute. Then in go the asparagus heads, and you cook for 2 minutes. Then you swipe out ½ cup of pasta water, and drain the rest. Throw your boiled bits back in the pot, add the minced green onion and miso butter, and splash some of that pasta water back it. Stir the whole shebang with tongs, until the miso butter melts, adding more pasta water if it looks like things are getting too sticky.
After 3-5 minutes of tossing, you’ve got a mixed up mess of veg, noodles, and miso.
Somehow, I always end up sauced before the end of the post.
To serve it, you can top it with a fried egg, if you’re in the mood, or a lemon wedge, or sprinkle it with Shichimi Togarashi, the Japanese seven-spice mix we’ve discussed before. (it’s basically sesame, chili flakes, and citrus peel.) I used the lemon and the togarashi for my bowl, since, as noted, we skipped the eggs.
I COATED mine in pepper flakes, because I have a well-recorded love of spice.
And the end result is pretty good. Not perfect, as I do think that the dish really would benefit from the egg, with that different texture and added protein. As it is, it’s a very light little spring-time pasta. I could see it as a great side for like, Miso-glazed Salmon or something, but it was just a touch too light as an entrée on its own, in my family’s book. But hey, it’s quick, simple, and easy to experiment with, so you’ve got time to hammer out the dents. And that’s not nothing.
THURSDAY: SPRING HAS SPRUNG, AND WORK BEGUN, AS WE DELIVER A GUIDE TO DELIVERING A SPRING CLEANING FOR YOUR FRIDGE.
MONDAY: I GOTTA FIGURE OUT WHAT WE’RE DOING NEXT, AS NOTED EARLIER. AT PRESENT, IT”S PROBABLY A PECULIAR KIND OF PITA.
here's the me-tails, I guess!
Miso-Butter Soba with Asparagus
5 tbsp white miso
4 tbsp salted butter, room temp
1 ½ tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1 pound asparagus, trimmed
3 green onions, minced, and more thinly sliced for serving
12 ounces soba noodles
4 fried eggs (optional)
Shichimi Togarashi, for serving (optional)
Lemon wedges (optional)
In a small bowl, mix together the miso, butter, and grated ginger until well combined. Set aside
Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. As the water heats, cut the heads from the asparagus, and cut the stalks into 1” segments. Keep divided.
When the water boils, add the soba noodles, and cook for 1 minute. Then add the asparagus stalks, cook another minute. Finally, add the asparagus heats, and cook for 2 minutes. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water, before draining.
Add the cooked pasta and asparagus either into a large bowl for serving, or back into the pot. Add the miso butter and minced green onion, and some of the pasta water. Toss with tongs until pasta is thoroughly coated, adding pasta water as desired.
Divide into 4 bowls, top with desired serving elements, and eat warm.