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June 2017

of interest

Top Ten Tuesday – Best Books You’ve Read in 2017 So Far

Hi everyone! It’s Tuesday, and it’s my first time participating in a Top 10 Tuesday list, which I’m super excited about. This is an original weekly blog meme that was created at The Broke and the Bookish. I only plan to participate once or twice a month, due to other scheduled meme posts, but each week there is a new, fun bookish topic for bloggers to create literary lists about. If you’d like to know more about it, check it out here. Now let’s get to it!

These are in no particular order except that the first one was my absolute favorite:

One. Small Great Things 

This has been my only 5-star book so far this year, and while I’ve really enjoyed others, I loved loved loved this one. I have also recommended it like a million times. It’s a tough read, but it’s worth it – one that gets you thinking and provides a great jumping off point for discussion and future learning.

Speaking of which, this article was brought to my attention by Tanya from A Mindful Migration. I found it so interesting. If you’ve read the book, definitely check it out. If you haven’t, I’m sure you’ll get something out of it too. 🙂

Recipe Pairing: Trio of Bite-Size Appetizers

 

Two. Dark Matter

This fast-paced sci-fi book is another one that will get you thinking. Both Scott and I loved it, so it definitely has broad appeal! Recipe Pairing: Spanish Bean Stew with Chorizo

 

Three. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

Ah, Lillian! This BOTM pick was one of the first books I read this year, and it was a lovely way to start 2017. I hope to be as vibrant and open-minded at the age of 85 as Lillian. Recipe Pairing: Oreo Cheesecake

 

Four. The Boston Girl 

This book was happy and hopeful, even though the lives of the characters were not at all easy. The first person narration drew me right in, and the simple, heartfelt story kept me interested through the end. Recipe Pairing: Chinese Fried Rice

 

Five. The Handmaid’s Tale

This book is a classic, and everyone should read it if they haven’t. I read it once a few years ago and liked it, but when I read it again this year, I loved it. So relevant right now. Recipe Pairing: Strawberry Pie

 

Six. The Royal We

Mostly this was a fun read, and I haven’t had a lot of those lately. It makes every girl think maybe one day they could be a princess. Recipe Pairing: Tea Sandwiches

 

Seven. Becoming Nicole/This is How It Always Is

I’ve read two books this year revolving around transgender children. Both were profound, and though the subject matter was similar, the stories were each unique. Both are very relevant today and are bound to lead to excellent discussions. This Is How It Always Is Recipe Pairing: Still deciding…any suggestions?

 

Eight. Lilac Girls

Set in WWII, this novel revolved around three characters following very different paths, all interesting in their own way. I’m always drawn to stories about this time period, and I couldn’t put this book down. Recipe Pairing: Poppyseed Cake (stay tuned!)

 

Nine. The Sisters Chase

Another BOTM selection, I started reading this book with high expectations, which it mostly lived up to. The twist towards the end made me want to go back and start reading it all over again. Recipe Pairing: Powdered Donuts (stay tuned!)

 

Ten. Kitchen House

Phew! I’ve been reading a lot of difficult novels this year. Another one for that list, this novel really blew me away with it’s intricate story and character development. Recipe Pairing: Cracklin’ Cornbread

 

Bonus. Beartown 

I don’t know if this truly belongs in my Top 10. I know everyone loves it, which is maybe why I’m on the fence. So much hockey, so much heartache. There’s no denying it was good, so it might be worth a second read down the road. Recipe Pairing: Almond Bear Claws (stay tuned!)

book review, recipe

The Royal We + Tea Sandwiches

Happy Summer, everyone! It’s been awhile since I’ve read a rom-com-type book, and I forgot what a breath of fresh air they can be. I was unable to resist the cover of The Royal We, which is clearly depicting a couple so like William and Kate that it’s surprising that it’s not them, and the novel ended up being an excellent way to kick off what promises to be a busy summer of reading.

This is totally fan fiction about everyone’s favorite British royal couple, with the major exception being that Rebecca Porter isn’t British at all – she’s American. She also has a twin sister who keeps things much more interesting than Pippa ever did. I wasn’t expecting an American girlfriend – expecting William and Kate as I was – but it was a nice surprise. Sort of like The Prince & Me, it gives American girls hope that they too can have a prince one day. There’s no denying it, I probably liked this book so much because the hope of a royal meeting was part of the my decision to study abroad in London too. 😛 No such luck, but lots of fun adventures, nonetheless! It brought back memories

Overall, the book was a tad drawn out, maybe a little bit longer than it needed to be, but the struggles Bex and Nick went through during their long courtship seemed pretty realistic. The story was really dramatic and entertaining, an (almost) endless will-they-or-won’t-they propelling it forward. I’m not sure I’d read a sequel (princess movies sequels are never that good…), but I certainly enjoyed this one.

When choosing a recipe for this book, it was a hard decision between Pimm’s Cup, which was not only a favorite of Nick and crew but also my favorite British drink while abroad, and tea sandwiches, which of course were ever-present throughout the story. Because England. In the end, I had to go with the tea sandwiches because while cocktails are a pretty big part of American life, high tea is something that comes along less often, and I love high tea.

I decided to make three different kinds – the classic cucumber, an egg salad with watercress (one of my favorite sandwiches while in London), and the tasty combo of ham, brie and apple.

I started by prepping the eggs, and while they were hard-boiling, I whipped up the cream cheese mixture for the cucumber sandwiches. The majority of tea sandwich-making is the actual assembly and, of course, the removing of the bread crusts.

To make the cream cheese mixture, I combined 1 package of cream cheese and ⅓ cup of mayonnaise in my food processor until smooth. To that, I added garlic salt and fresh dill. I don’t think you should be shy with the dill – I used around a tablespoon, while the original recipe called for 1 teaspoon.  

When eggs were finished boiling, I let them cool in an ice bath, peeled them, and used my egg slicer tool to chop them into small pieces. I combined the egg with mayonnaise, white wine vinegar, dijon mustard and Lawry’s seasoned salt.

With the two main spreads done, I began prepping the rest of my sandwich ingredients. I sliced the cucumbers into thin slices, I rinsed the watercress and removed the leaves from the stems, and I sliced the green apple and brie for the last sandwich. Last but not least, I removed the crusts from my bread. For the cucumber sandwiches, I made the bread into rounds using a large cutter (no need to remove the crusts first if you’re doing this).

When it was time for the assembly, I set out the bottoms on a large cutting board and got to work. First, I spread the cream cheese mixture on the rounds and topped them with sliced cucumber.

Next, I spread a thin layer of dijon and butter on half of the remaining squares, topping it with ham, sliced brie, and thinly sliced apple halves.

Finally, I carefully put the egg salad atop the rest of the bread and placed some watercress on top.

Then, each sandwich got a lid and we were ready to go!

It’s really too bad I didn’t read this for book club. An afternoon tea theme would’ve been perfect for the meeting. Instead, Scott and I got to enjoy them ourselves, which wasn’t bad either.  

Cucumber Tea Sandwiches

  • Servings: 20 rounds
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • ⅓ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled and sliced thinly
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh dill, or to taste
  • 40 slices of thin sandwich bread

Directions

  1. Process cream cheese and mayonnaise in a blender or food processor until smooth, stopping once to scrape down sides.
  2. Combine cream cheese mixture, garlic salt, and dill.
  3. If creating rounds, use a 2- to 3-inch round cutter to cut bread, discarding the edges. Or, if you prefer triangles or squares (which makes 80 sandwiches), cut the crusts from the bread and discard and cut into quarters.
  4. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly onto half of the bread slices. Place 3-4 cucumber slices per round on top of the mixture. Lightly coat the top slice of bread, just enough to keep the bread in place over the cucumbers and place on top.
  5. Serve immediately, or you may store cucumber sandwiches in an airtight container for up to 1 hour before serving.

Adapted from: Southern Living, by way of MyRecipes.com

You may use whichever type of bread you prefer. Traditional tea sandwiches are usually made with white bread. I used wheat bread, and the original recipe calls for one slice of each per sandwich.


Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches with Watercress

  • Servings: 12 halves
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs, hard-boiled and peeled
  • ⅛ teaspoon Lawry’s seasoned salt, or salt and pepper to taste
  • ⅓ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 12 slices of thin sandwich bread
  • Small bunch watercress

Directions

  1. Roughly chop your hard-boiled eggs, or use an egg slicer if you have one. First, slice the egg horizontally, carefully flip the egg to the vertical position and slice again. (If you don’t have your own preferred method for hard-boiling eggs, please see notes below.)
  2. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard and seasoned salt. Gently fold together.
  3. To construct the sandwich, remove the crusts from the bread and cut in halves, forming triangles (or your preferred shape).
  4. On half of the bread, add the egg salad and top with watercress leaves. Add a slice on top of each to complete the sandwich.

Adapted from: Serious Eats

To make hard-boiled eggs: Bring a pot of water to a boil, make sure there is enough water to completely cover the eggs. Once boiling rapidly, carefully add each egg using tongs. The eggs should be still cold from the fridge. Allow to boil for 12 minutes. Remove from the boiling water and allow to cool in an ice bath for 5 minutes, or until cool to the touch. Peel.

A note on sandwich size: I specifically used a loaf of “sandwich bread” from my grocery store, which were smaller and more square than a usual loaf of bread. These formed small halves, as you can see from my photos. If your bread is larger, or you want smaller sandwiches, feel free to cut into quarters.


Ham, Brie and Apple Tea Sandwich

  • Servings: 12 halves
  • Print

Ingredients

  • ½ lb deli ham of your choice (I used Virginia Ham)
  • 6 large slices of brie
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced
  • dijon mustard
  • softened butter
  • 12 slices of thin sandwich bread

Directions

  1. Remove the crust from the bread.
  2. To assemble the sandwiches, spread half of the slices lightly with softened butter and dijon mustard. Place 1-2 pieces of ham on top of each, followed by 2 slices brie side-by-side lengthwise, and finally place 3-4 slices of apple on top. Finish with an additional piece of bread.
  3. Cut each sandwich into halves lengthwise to form rectangles.

Inspired by: The Food Network

A note on sandwich size: I specifically used a loaf of “sandwich bread” from my grocery store, which were smaller and more square than a usual loaf of bread. These formed small halves, as you can see from my photos. If your bread is larger, or you want smaller sandwiches, feel free to cut into quarters.


book review, recipe

The Kitchen House + Cracklin’ Bread

As you may know from my latest life update, Scott and I recently moved into our first house. The following Monday, I ventured out to find the local library and become a member. I also found out about an upcoming semi-annual used book sale hosted by the Friends of the Library – it was just a few weeks away, and I was so excited I hadn’t missed it! I ended up buying 13 books that day and The Kitchen House was one of them.

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I’d read about half of the books I bought and took a gamble on the other half. Not sure of where to start, I posted the haul on my online book club’s page and was overwhelmed with suggestions to start with Kathleen Grissom’s novel; so I did. It’s not exactly the expected tale of Southern plantation life, and I loved it all the more for that.

After her parents die on the journey from Ireland to the States, newly-orphaned Lavinia is taken in by the master of a tobacco plantation and placed under the care of Belle, a slave in the kitchen house. Though she lives and works with them, the difference between Lavinia and her adopted family becomes more and more clear as she grows up. She is given opportunities that are intended to improve her life, including whisking her off the plantation and providing her with an education.  

Eventually, the bond Lavinia shares with her adopted family puts them all in a precarious situation and tough choices must be made. I found myself rooting for Lavinia, Belle and every one of their family members.

Early on, Belle makes cracklin’ bread, cornbread with “crunchy bits of pork fat” mixed in. Lavinia and Fanny ate the cracklin’ “with zeal” and, from that point on, all I could think about was making my own cracklin’ bread. I couldn’t get my hands on any cracklin’, nor was I exactly sure of how to go about finding the pork bits to make it, so I unfortunately had to substitute with bacon crumbles. Don’t worry, the recipe I found from Southern Living said it’s okay, but maybe it’s just trying to make northerners like me feel better.

It was very easy to make, and I started by rendering down my bacon. Once it cooled a bit, I chopped it into small crumbly bits. I preheated the oven to 425 and melted the butter in my skillet.

In a bowl, I used a whisk to mix the cornmeal, baking powder and salt (making my own self-rising cornmeal) with the flour.

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In a separate bowl, I mixed together the buttermilk and eggs before adding to the well in the middle of my dry ingredients. I added the crumbled bacon as well and stirred until just wet. I poured the whole mixture into the hot skillet.

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After baking for about 25 minutes, the cracklin’ bread was a beautiful golden brown.

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Grannie’s Cracklin’ Bread

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Print

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup butter or margarine
  • 2 cups self-rising cornmeal*
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2½ cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup cracklings**

Directions

  1. Place butter in a 9-inch cast-iron skillet (or other oven-safe skillet), and heat in a 425° oven for 4 minutes.
  2. Combine cornmeal and flour in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture.
  3. Stir together buttermilk, eggs, and cracklings; add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Pour over melted butter in hot skillet.
  4. Bake at 425° for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

From: Southern Living, by way of MyRecipes.com

*If you don’t have self-rising cornmeal, you can make your own by adding 1 TBS of baking powder and 1 tsp of salt to 2 cups of regular cornmeal.

**1 cup cooked, crumbled bacon (12 to 15 slices) may be substituted for cracklings.


Here is the rest of my book haul. What should I dive into next?

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of interest

Show Us Your Books – June Edition

Show-Us-Your-Books

This is my first time participating in the Show Us Your Books linkup, but I’m excited to be a part of the conversation and hopefully meet more bloggers who love reading as much as I do. (Thanks to Heather of Heather’s Hurrah for telling me about it!)

Linkup Guidelines:
This linkup happens the second Tuesday of every month. The next is Tuesday, July 11, 2017.
1. Please visit and comment with both of your hosts, Jana & Steph
2. Please display the button or link back to me and the linkup hosts on your blog post
3. Please visit a few other blogs who’ve linked up and get some book talk going!

I guess the best place to start is what I’ve read over the past month.

Engrossing Reads

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family – I think I’ve mentioned before that my office has a Diversity Book Club, and though I was gunning for The Golden Boy to win as our recent pick, this book proved to be an excellent nonfiction version of the same story. It’s definitely an eye-opening read, and one that I would recommend.

The Kitchen House – I bought this book on May 19th at my new local library’s used book sale (along with 12 other books!) and, on the many, many recommendations from one of my online book clubs, I didn’t wait long to dive right in. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a piece of historical fiction that I truly enjoyed. I can’t wait to tell you more about it in my blog post later this week!

The Royal We – part The Prince & Me, part William and Kate’s love story, and basically every girl’s princess dreams come true, this novel was the perfect read to kick-off summer. Filled with drama, I couldn’t help but get sucked in as an American girl studying abroad (why couldn’t that happen to me?!) unexpectedly meets her real Prince Charming and takes us along for the ride. I sped through it.

Lilac Girls – Perhaps “enjoyed” is the wrong way to describe a WWII Holocaust novel, but for such intense subject matter, I still couldn’t put it down. I wouldn’t normally put a 3-star book in this category, but if it weren’t for Caroline’s chapters, I would’ve given this book four. I really wanted to try cooking with lilacs for this one, but unfortunately I started reading it about a month too late. Stay tuned to see what I do make 🙂

The Sisters Chase – In a Facebook group of fellow bookworms, this book was talked up as the best selection for June’s Book of the Month so, of course, it’s the one I selected. It was a super quick read and had a twist that I didn’t see coming.

Passed the Time Just Fine

Truly Madly Guilty – Liane Moriarty’s latest installment was a hot commodity when it came out, and with HBO’s Big Little Lies just finishing up, I couldn’t wait to read it. It probably suffered from a little bit of over-hype or high expectations, but it was pretty good. Plus, it led to some delicious “shrimp on the barbie” and you can’t beat that!  

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake – I usually pick up a book to read because the story sounds good and I want to actually read the story, but occasionally I really want to make something specific for the blog, and I find a book to fit that bill. This book was one of those, and it was all about the cake. Anna Quindlen’s memoir wasn’t bad, but it just wasn’t for me, right now.

Not Worth It

The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Phew, this one was hard to get through! I’m sure you know the feeling – if it wasn’t for book club, it definitely would’ve ended up in the didn’t finish column.

All Grown Up – Luckily a short and easy read, I just didn’t empathize with the characters (or like them very much) and the immature attitude of the main character, who is very not grown up, was frustrating.

Did Not Finish

None this month – I persevered!

Currently Reading

Cloud Atlas – This is one of my friend Deanna’s favorite books and I’ve been hanging onto it for far too long. I figure it’s about time I started it, so she can have it back. I’m not even finished with the first chapter (which admittedly isn’t easy to get into), but I’m hoping for the best. I’m also looking forward to *maybe* making some goofy sort of cloud egg recipe (like this one), but we’ll have to see where the story takes me…

The Country of Ice Cream Star – I got sucked in by the title of this one too, and (surprise!) I really wanted to make ice cream to go with it. I got about 10% in and dropped it in favor of four other books, but now it seems like it’s time to give it another try. It may end up in the “did not finish” pile…

Until next month!

Life According to Steph
This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here
book review, recipe

All Grown Up + Grown-Up Ramen

There was a time before my blog, and before I became obsessed with Goodreads, that I kept track of what I read with a Google spreadsheet. It was pretty simple – title, author, notes, date finished and a Y/N column for whether or not I’d recommend it. That spreadsheet is my only memory of the last time I read a Jami Attenberg novel and my succinct reaction was “the ending was predictable; I cared about exactly zero of the characters.” Four years later, with her novel All Grown Up, I found myself having deja vu.

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Andrea is a thirty-nine-year-old single woman without children. She wanted to be an artist, but instead finds herself in an unfulfilling career so she can pay the rent. In New York City, that’s not remarkably unusual. What is remarkably unusual about Andrea is that she refuses to grow up, and the people around her think that’s perfectly alright.  

I didn’t find it predictable, though perhaps I should have – a 40-year-old woman who still acts like someone fresh out of college can’t be expected to grow up at that late stage – but I didn’t care about any of the characters. In the end, I found Andrea’s life and the novel on the whole quite sad, but on the plus side, Attenberg’s writing was lovely and made the less than 200 pages easy to get through.

In a transformation like the one I hoped Andrea would have, I turned a college classic into something a bit more put-together, a posh NYC favorite – Grown-up Ramen Noodles. I found a recipe from Fork Knife Swoon to go off of and set to work.  

To start, I began cooking a chicken breast seasoned with salt and pepper in a skillet with olive oil. Once the rounded side was browned – about 7 minutes – I flipped it over and cooked the other side for another 5 minutes or so. I transferred it to a small foil-lined baking sheet and placed it in my preheated 375-degree oven to finish cooking.

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While the chicken was cooking, I began my broth and set the water for my eggs to boil. In a medium saucepan, I heated some toasted sesame oil before adding minced garlic and ginger. I allowed those to cook for a few minutes until fragrant. Then, I added the soy sauce and rice cooking wine, stirring to combine. After another minute, I added the chicken broth, covered the pan and brought it all to a boil.

Once boiling, I turned down the heat and allowed it to simmer for 5 minutes. I added the dried mushrooms and let the broth continue to simmer. Meanwhile, I removed the chicken from the oven and set it aside. I also added the two eggs to the separate pan of boiling water and set a timer for 7 minutes.

I used this time to prep my scallions and seaweed, and once the chicken had rested, I cut it into slices.

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After 10 minutes, I removed the mushrooms and placed them in the waiting bowls. (If I had sliced them, I would’ve done so here. If I was making this again, I would slice the mushrooms into more bite-size pieces, as noted in the recipe below.) I also placed the eggs into an ice bath so they could cool before peeling.

I added the dried ramen noodles into the prepared ramen broth, discarding the flavoring packets that come with the noodles. (College memories!) You could cook the noodles in plain boiling water instead, but I have always preferred to make them in the broth/flavoring to impart some of that flavor on the noodles.

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Once the noodles are ready, carefully place them in each bowl and top with the broth. Carefully peel each egg, slice in half and place in the bowls on top of the noodles and mushrooms. Add the sliced chicken, scallions and seaweed. Serve and enjoy!

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Grown-Up Chicken Ramen

  • Servings: 2
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to season
  • 1 TBS unsalted butter, or olive oil
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 3 tsp fresh garlic, minced
  • 3 TBS low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 TBS rice cooking wine
  • 4 cups chicken stock or broth
  • ½ – 1 oz dried shitake mushrooms
  • 1-2 tsp sea salt, to taste
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup scallions, sliced
  • 2 (3 oz) packs dried ramen noodles
  • optional: roasted seaweed snacks, in ribbons, for serving

Directions

  1. Cook the chicken: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Melt the butter (or heat olive oil) in an oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken breast, round side down, and cook until golden brown and it releases easily from the pan, about 5-7 minutes. Flip the chicken over and cook for another 4-5 minutes, until golden.
  2. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. (If you don’t have an oven-safe skillet, you may transfer the chicken to a small baking sheet lined with foil.) Remove from the oven, transfer the chicken to a plate and cover with foil until ready to serve.

  3. Make the ramen broth: Heat the sesame oil in a large pot over medium heat, until shimmering. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook for a few minutes until softened. Add the soy sauce and rice wine, and stir to combine. Cook for another minute. Add the stock, cover, and bring to boil. Remove the lid, and let simmer uncovered for 5 minutes, then add the dried mushrooms. Simmer gently for another 10 minutes, and season with salt, to taste.
  4. Otherwise, take the mushrooms out of the broth using tongs, and carefully, slice them into thick bite-size slices on a cutting board. (For particularly large mushrooms, you may cut them in half before slicing.) Place in bowls for serving.

  5. Make the soft-boiled eggs: Fill a pot with enough water to cover the eggs, and bring to a boil. Gently lower the eggs (still cold from the fridge) into the boiling water, and let simmer for 7 minutes (for a slightly-runny yoke) or 8 minutes (for a soft, but set-up yoke).
  6. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice water. When the timer finishes, transfer the eggs to the ice bath to stop the cooking process. Wait at least 5 minutes, or until cool enough to handle, then carefully peel away the shell and slice in half, lengthwise. Set aside until ready to serve.

  7. Assemble the ramen bowls: Meanwhile, chop the scallions and slice the seaweed snacks into ribbons (if using). Slice the chicken into thin pieces. Set aside. When the eggs are in the ice bath, add the ramen noodles to the broth. Cook for approximately 3 minutes, until soft, then divide the noodles into two large bowls, next to the mushrooms. Add the ramen broth, dividing evenly. Top each bowl with half of the sliced chicken breast, a soft boiled egg each, fresh scallions and the seaweed. Serve immediately.

Adapted from: Fork Knife Swoon

To save some time, or if you’re making this on a warm day like I was, substitute pre-made rotisserie chicken.


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