fennel sausage with butter beans and long hots

As any East Coast transplant will tell you, fried peppers in general and Long Hots in particular are a critical component of the best sandwiches, as well as dogs, dips, eggs, and, well, certainly most savory foods involving meat and/or bread.  They are also notoriously difficult to find here in San Diego, which is why I was so excited to stumble across a jar of Mancini Fried Long Hots on a recent trip to Little Italy.  Serendipitously located on a shelf next to some butter beans, I grabbed two jars of each, a pound of hot fennel sausage and a beautiful loaf of focaccia, and scurried home to start dinner. 

Long Hots, Butter Beans, and Sausage

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tajima after dark

Is there anything more satisfying than delicious, greasy, post-bar, late night restaurant adventuring?   The biggest challenge in San Diego can be actually finding a place that’s open (assuming you’ve had your fill of Denny’s, Jack in the Box, and [fill-in-the-blank]-berto’s).   Although we’ve done a lot of growing up in the last few years, San Diego still retains some sleepy little town feel when it comes to kitchens still serving after midnight.  

We recently hit one of our go-to spots for late night grub – Tajima Japanese Noodle House.   Open and serving food until 3am thurs-sat, this location of Tajima is a ramenya, a restaurant specializing in hot, (hopefully) tasty bowls of ramen.  In Japan, ramen is a sacrament with fervent disciples debating ramen ideology.   The New York Times describes Tokyo’s ramen scene as a “…sprawling ramen ecosystem, a realm that encompasses multilingual guidebooks, glossy magazines, databases that score shops to three decimal places…comic books, TV shows, movies (like the 1985 classic “Tampopo,” in which a Stetson-wearing trucker helps a beleaguered widow learn the art of ramen) and, according to the Shinyokohama Raumen Museum…the 4,137 shops selling bowls of noodles in broth.”    

At Tajima, the setup is simple – small, close-together tables (expect a line at “bar-thirty”), and a short menu emphasizing ramen and a few Japanese tapas-style dishes (the main focus at the Izakaya Tajima location down the street).   To order ramen at Tajima, you first select your ramen type: Regular (BBQ pork & egg), Spicy (spicy ground pork & egg), Vegetable (vegetables, pork & egg), Extra BBQ (extra pork & egg), Kakuni (pork belly & egg), Mabo Tofu (tofu, ground pork, egg), or Asari (asari clam & egg).  From there, choose either thin or fat noodles and soup flavor (soy sauce, salt,  miso, tonkotsu).   

ikasugata at Tajima

We ordered a bowl of regular tonkotsu ramen with fat noodles to share.  Because we were pathetically starving, we also ordered Tonpei (grilled pork with egg) and Ikasugata (grilled squid) to share from the a la cart menu.  

The tonpei and ikasugata were the first to arrive.  I love the ikasugata and always end up ordering it at either Tajima location.  I think I keep ordering the tonpei and forgetting that I don’t really like it – menu description and presentation look interesting, but it ultimately just tastes like ham and eggs in mayonnaise to me.  It’s certainly edible (pathetically starving, remember?), but I wish I’d ordered the Tan Shio instead.  

If you go to either location, I really do recommend trying the tan shio.  Yes, it is beef tongue, but it has a kind of beefy bacon flavor and comes with green onions and a nostril-clearing spicy mustard – delicious –  it’s honestly probably the best post-bar tongue you’ll get that night.  I kid, I kid!  Besides, isn’t our motto to be adventurous and try new things, especially delicious ones?  Hooray, it is!  

The ramen comes out quickly and is topped with chashu (simmered pork), nori, negi (green onion), and hanjuku tamajo,  a sort of halfway hard-boiled egg with a firm white and semi-l iquid yolk that’s been steeped in a soy sauce marinade.   The noodles definitely have a lot of chew to them – ramen noodles are typically expected to have some bite to them and some people think they are undercooked or “hard” – you can try to order yours soft or “yawarakame” if you like them less firm.   

  

ninniku-dare

 I like to add a big scoop (or two) of ninniku-dare (garlic paste) from the condiment tubs on the side of the table.  Hooray garlic!   

Grand total for ramen, squid, tonpei, and tea?  Just over $20.  With nearly 200 places in San Diego selling ramen, is Tajima the best ramenya in town?  Is it authentic?  I can’t claim to have the expertise to really answer either question.  I can, however, vouch for it being a pretty darn good choice for cheap 2 am eats, whether or not Tampopo is in your Netflix queue.  

 

Tajima Japanese Noodle House, 4681 Convoy St., San Diego, CA 92111 (858)576-7244, open lunch, dinner, and late night (thurs-sat 10:30pm-3am).

 

Want to know more about ramen?  Check out Ramenate, Ramen Adventures, or Serious Eats for ramen eating in Japan and beyond, mmm-yoso for what’s what in San Diego ramen, or RAMENRAMENRAMEN to brush up on your ramen terminology.

Ramen not your proverbial cup of tea?  Still recovering from the Great Ramen Eating Contest of 2010?  Stayed tuned for an upcoming post on eating after midnight in San Diego!

 

a few old favorites

A few old projects inspired by great recipes from some of my go-to blogs.

Salted Butter Caramels:  David Lebovitz, former pastry chef at Berkeley’s legendary Chez Panisse, now living in Paris, is a great source for sweet and savory recipes, as well as affable observations from an American living in France.   His recipes (and insights) tend to be spot-on, and I really enjoy his easy-going and humorous approach to quality cooking.  Check out his simple recipe for making wonderful salted butter caramels at http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2010/01/salted-butter-caramels/.  I used this recipe to make rosemary infused salted butter caramel lollipops to give as holiday gifts – just heat a bit of fresh rosemary in the heavy cream then strain before using it to make the caramels.   The hot caramel was poured into a silicone lollipop form and the resulting treats were wrapped in foil and gift bags (all available in the baking section of the craft store).   As with any recipe that emphasizes a few simple ingredients, this is worth using quality butter and salt for the best flavor and most bang for your time in the kitchen.

A few other favorite recipes from David’s blog are French vinaigrette (easy! delicious!) http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2009/11/how-to-make-french-vinaigrette/ and apricot jam, which I make in the summer when apricots are cheap and plentiful http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2009/08/apricot-jam/.   I like to throw in a handful of dried food-grade lavender as well as a few apricot kernels – it makes a delicious, herby, tart jam that can be combined with equal parts Dijon mustard for a great chicken or pork marinade, spooned over goat cheese and served with crackers, or spread as a jam layer on a layer cake to seal in the crumbs before you frost.  Or, you know, just spread on toast or eaten out of the jar with a spoon (but I say when in doubt, eat with cheese).

Salsa: Yes, I know you can buy fresh salsa at the store for $3.  Yes, I know it can be really, really, good.  But this.  This makes what is seriously the best salsa I’ve ever had.  Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman, is a great site for easy, fun recipes that will not make you feel embarrassed for occasionally using a box cake or for ordering a side of butter to go with your pancakes (you know who you are).  She also has regular give-aways for excellent kitchen goods, so it’s worth checking out, even if you insist on buying your own salsa.  This recipe does make a lot of salsa, so it’s worth the time if you’re throwing a party or other event that will be full of salsa-loving guests.  Or make it for yourself and don’t tell anyone.  Good news – canned tomatoes are actually higher in lycopene then fresh tomatoes.  There, now you have permission to eat a quart of salsa.  You know, for health purposes.  I like to double the lime juice and garlic in this, and will often use Trader Joe’s pre-cut Onions, Garlic, and Shallots as a time saver (Onions, Garlic, and Shallots, you stink up my car on the drive home from the store but I love you). http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2010/01/restaurant-style-salsa/

Halloween: Martha Stewart always has such great Halloween recipes on her site.  Unfortunately, it seems like they’re often over complicated or look much better than they taste, which just doesn’t work for me.  This recipe for “Lady Fingers” on the other hand, is fast, looks creepy, and – best of all – is fun to make!  I tinted half the dough with green food coloring and used black food coloring (available at the craft store around Halloween) for the nails to make a batch of troll toes to go with my lady fingers.  Full disclosure – I did have a few guests that thought they were too creepy to eat.  However, I lack patience for the stick-in-the-mud sort, especially if they are the type to turn down cookies (because…COOKIES!).  Original recipe and article at http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/ladies-fingers-are-easy.

 

Lamb and Chickpea Tagine:  This is an easy and relatively frugal approach to making great Moroccan food at home.   Do not be intimidated if you think this sounds too complicated – YOU CAN MAKE THIS!  IT WILL BE DELICIOUS!  http://www.therecessioncookbook.net/2009/03/lamb-tagine.html.  We served this on a bed of spinach rather than couscous to lower the carb count, and the result was so good we ate it all before I could get a picture.  Guess I’ll just have to be faster on the draw (or click, as it were) next time…

 
 
 

a fine kettle of ish…

So what are we doing here?  Just a collection of thoughts on food: great (and not so great) recipes, food news and writing, eating well while living healthy, fun holiday food, restaurants, travel, and the occasional post by some wonderful folks who regularly school me on food and drinks.  You know…all the usual food blog ish.

Be forewarned, our philosophy is to take the bull by the horns and the cabbage by the greens.  Cooking is something to be experienced and enjoyed, not feared – just get in there and do it!  Sometimes things won’t quite work out, but that’s how you learn to be a great home cook.   So there will be a lot of cooking au pif, or by the nose, as the French do.   There will be some spectacular failures, a good measure of profanity, and a lot of joy if you jump in and hang on for the ride.  In fact, this ish is an awful lot like life.

 For more info about this fine kettle of ish, check out our about page.

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