Sunday, December 31, 2006

thanks for a great year!

(picture of the sunrise atop Mt Fuji, July 2006)

What a great year 2006 was--lots of travels, trying new recipes, re-discovering old ones, reading a LOT of books, getting to know more about myself and more about my readers too.

I want to thank my family and friends for all of their Christmas cards and letters. Every year, we really look forward to receiving them and enjoy seeing how big all of your kids are getting and also reading about what you've been up to during the year...Thank you!

I also want to thank the readers of my blog. When I first came to Japan in 2001, I used to email all of my family and friends. Worried that I was overloading their email boxes, (and maybe boring them too?) I started this blog, so that those who wanted to "check-in" on us could, whenever they wanted. I am surprised at how this blog has extended to readers in places that I have never been to, but would definitely like to visit one day. And although I do not know most of you personally, the new friendships I have made through blogging, reading your delicious blog posts, drooling over your photos--have inspired and brightened many of my days and for that I am grateful! Thank you!

As my last food post of 2006, I wanted to share with you one of Satoshi's favorites for breakfast...eggs benedict, which I made for breakfast this morning. I followed Ellie's process for poaching eggs. I was surprised to be able to find English muffins in the stores but haven't seen Canadian bacon here, so I just use the boneless ham that they sell. Also, since I usually buy packets of spices and sauces when I go to Hawaii, (I had accidently bought Bernaise instead of Hollandaise), so that was what I used. Since the amount of sauce is usually more than what we use, I usually freeze the leftovers to be used at another time. Satoshi was very happy with breakfast today.

I hope that 2007 will be filled with new recipes to try, lots of foodie experiences, good health and happiness for all.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

chocolates, chocolates, chocolates

One last chocolate post for 2006....On a recent trip to the gourmet supermarket, I found Charlemagne chocolates. These Belgian chocolates are naturally flavored with no GMO (genetically modified organisms, I think that's what it stands for) or extra oil added. Since I had never tried this chocolate before, I bought the assorted napolitans (squares).

There were 6 flavors: amer (75% cacao) a dark, rich chocolate, gingembre (54% cacao) with a light ginger taste, cafe d'orient (60% cacao) an assortment of spices, cannelle (60% cacao) a light cinnamon flavor, menthe fraiche (54% cacao) a light mint taste and jasmin (54% cacao) a flowery jasmine flavor. There was one flavor that wasn't included in the assortment, but I wouldn't mind trying some time, earl grey. Guess it will have to wait until the next trip to the gourmet supermarket.

Also at the gourmet supermarket was Venchi, an Italian chocolatier. I had tried them before and was interested in their dark chocolate with almonds. The almonds are caramelized then made into a bark covered with dark chocolate. These mini bars are just the right size.

For Christmas, I recently received these tiramisu flavored almonds by Ekchuah, a chocolatier in Osaka. The almonds are covered with caramel to give it a crunch, then covered with a tiramisu flavored chocolate and rolled in cocoa powder. Delicious!

Lastly, I bought this chai bar by Dagoba awhile back. It is a 37% cacao with chai spices and bits of crystallized ginger in it. This one is flavorful and really nice.

Can't wait for more chocolatey adventures in 2007!

Friday, December 29, 2006

o-soji

Towards the end of the year, everyone is busy doing O-soji. This is like spring cleaning in the States, except that it is done at the end of the year to get ready to welcome the New Year. There are tons of programs during this time for housewives to pick up ideas on how to clean.

Now, I don't know about you, but I don't like to clean, so I try to do bits and pieces throughout the year. I'm also the type to buy products that will save me from scrubbing or wiping...what can I say, I'm lazy!

I wanted to share with you two products that I cannot live without --the range hood cover and stove-top cover.

The range hood cover has two magnets, one on each side and attaches right on top of the grating that covers the vent. You can adjust it by sliding it to fit it perfectly over the grating. This prevents oil and dirt from directly going through the vent. When the cover has captured enough oil and dirt, there is a secret message, something like "time to change me" that appears on the cover. This cover lasts about 4 months or less depending how often you fry foods. Without it, I would have to take apart the range hood to get to the fan, dismantle the fan and scrub the fan inside...eeww!

The second product is the stove-top cover. This is a sturdy aluminum foil type. You don't have to cover each burner, just remove the old cover, wipe down the stove-top and place the new cover over the stove-top. The only part that I actually clean are the parts where the gas comes out from (sorry, don't know what it is called). Using this cover is wonderful, when your pot boils over, there is less to clean up! Fast and easy! I usually change this every 6 months or so.

So, what do we do during O-soji? We usually just wipe the windows and light fixtures, then sit back and wait to welcome in the New Year!

I still have a little more to post about before the year ends...Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

viognier and chijimi or is it pajeon?

I'm not too sure if "chijimi" is the correct naming for this dish as everything on the internet was labeled "pajeon", but everything in Japan is called "chijimi". I didn't really follow the recipes that I saw on the internet either because I didn't have the type of flour that they used. Anyway, last night, I tried to make "chijimi"/"pajeon".

Serves 1
42g thinly sliced pork
3 stalks of chive
1 egg
a little milk
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Cut the pork into bite sized pieces and set aside.
Cut the chives into 1 to 2 inch pieces, wash and set aside.
Put the oil into a frying pan and heat.
Add the pork and after the pork has turned color, add the chives.
Beat the egg and add a little milk (to make the egg fluffy)
Pour over the pork and chives.
Cook well.

The chijimi/pajeon was good, but didn't have too much flavor by itself, so I served it with some kim chee. I found these cute servings for one--it is just the right size, although if you love to eat kim chee, it may be a little too small for you.

This dish went really well with the 2005 Yalumba Viognier--a dry, fruity wine.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

mochitsuki

Awhile back, reading Cream Puff's post about "doing the tomatoes" brought back memories of our mochitsuki (making rice cakes) in Hawaii. I wanted to share some of those memories with you.

When we were growing up, several families used to get together just before the New Year to make rice cakes. Some of the men would wake up REALLY early to start the fire in order to steam the mochigome (glutenous rice) and each family would bring their washed portion of mochigome to be steamed.

One or two of the elder women would be in charge of making the an (sweet bean paste). There were two types of an, koshian (smooth, pureed sweet bean paste) and tsubushian (sweet bean paste that is slightly mashed with some whole beans). The adzuki beans (red bean) had to be pre-cooked and seasoned, then formed into balls so that it could be easily put into the rice cakes, a job that only the older women were allowed to do, because they knew exactly how big the balls had to be--as the younger ones would usually put "too much" or "too little".

When the first batch of rice was ready, it was put into an usu (mortar) that was either made from stone or wood. Then with wooden sticks, the rice was mashed and then it was ready to pound. A kine (mallet) was used to pound the rice and everyone was given a turn. We were told that it was good luck to use the mallet to pound the rice at least for one or two hits. Lifting the mallet was tough and you had to try not to hit the sides of the usu--as the splinters would have gone into the mochi.

After the kids got their chance at pounding the mochi, then the men stepped in to do the real work. As one pounded the mochi, another folded the mochi over with a wet hand. This was to prevent the mochi from sticking to the mallet and also from sticking to the usu. I always thought this job was the scariest because if you weren't fast enough, your hand would get in the way of the person pounding the mochi...ouch!

When the mochi was pounded and soft it was quickly brought to a long work table well coated with mochiko (rice flour). This flour is a little sweet and helps the mochi from sticking to your hands. All the women would gather around the table and start shaping the mochi with their hands. There was also "quality control" that would check out the younger ones' mochi, as long as the mochi was round, you passed.

There are several types of mochi that we used to make, kagami mochi, mochi with an in it, and plain mochi with nothing inside. The mochi with nothing inside is used to eat ozoni on the first morning of the New Year. The mochi with an inside is usually eaten as is or pan fried with butter or coated with a sugar/kinako (soy bean flour)mixture.

Because things started so early in the morning, mochitsuki was usually over by lunch time. Each family also brought a dish or two and the long work table turned into a buffet. It was a nice way to spend time with the family and catch up on things.

I recently saw mochitsuki at our shopping arcade, I didn't have my camera, so these photos are from the shopping arcade's website. Unfortunately in Japan, most families don't get together to pound mochi.


(left): The women waiting near the pots of steaming rice.
(right): The women working on shaping the mochi.

(left): A little boy pounding mochi.
(right): A lady using her wet hand to turn the mochi as a man pounds the mochi.

I really miss those times.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

day after christmas

It is the day after Christmas, are you at the malls? It is just another day here in Japan, in fact, a lot of people are trying to get ready to welcome the New Year--I'll post about that as we get closer to the day.

A while back, I bought a chocolate cookbook, which I posted about here. Remember I also received some dried figs? Well, since I had a bottle of red wine open, I was finally able to try this recipe.

Ganache Figue makes about 16 pieces
5 dried figs
3/4 cup red wine
1/2 cinnamon stick
3 whole black peppers
1 whole clove
125g sweet chocolate
100ml cream
cocoa powder

1. In a pot, put the wine, cinnamon, pepper & clove and bring to a boil. When it comes to a boil, turn down to simmer for 5 minutes.
2. Add the dried figs and let come to a light boil. Turn off heat and put lid on, leave contents in pot overnight.
3. The next day, take the figs out and cut into 1 cm pieces. Save the mulled wine.
4. Cut the chocolate into small pieces and put into a bowl.
5. In a pot, heat the cream on medium heat, before it comes to a boil, turn off the heat. Add the cream to the chocolate and mix with a whisk.
6. When the chocolate and cream is combined, add the figs and 3 tablespoons of the mulled wine. Let cool.
7. After cool, spoon out into 16 balls and place onto a parchment sheet.
8. Cool in refrig for 20 to 30 minutes. Using your hands re-mold it to look like a fig and cover in cocoa powder. From the mulled wine, take the cinnamon stick and cut slivers to be used as the stem of the fig.

NOTES: I ended up with about 20 pieces--I cut the figs into 4 pieces. I didn't add the 3 tablespoons of the wine, I only added 1 because I don't care too much for liquor chocolates. I also didn't read the recipe well and I cooled the chocolate in the refrig and ended up with quite a hard mess. I also didn't use the cinnamon stick slivers at the end. The figs were well soaked and it didn't taste too winey. And because I used dark chocolate, instead of sweet chocolate, it matched well with the wine taste.

The other day, I also received daikon (long white turnip) from a friend, so I tried a recipe for Japanese pickles called takuan. I got the recipe from my mom's church's cookbook. This was really easy to make.

Here's the recipe from "Wisteria Delights"
Takuwan
3 T. salt
3/4 c. Japanese vinegar (rice vinegar)
1-1/2 c. sugar
1/4 tsp yellow food coloring
3 or 4 medium white turnips

Boil the salt, vinegar and sugar until sugar is melted.
Turn off heat, then add food coloring.
Set aside until cool.
Slice turnips, place in a bowl and pour sauce over them.
Leave in bowl, turning often with a wooden spoon.
Next day, put into jars with sauce then refrigerate.
If you like it a little hot, you may add chili peppers to your taste.


NOTES: I didn't add the food coloring.

Hope you are having a great week!

Monday, December 25, 2006

chocolatey kind of christmas

Merry Christmas everyone! Did Santa bring you everything you wished for? I hope so!

I recently found this cocoa made by Monbana, a French chocolatier, whose dark chocolate I tried awhile back. There were two types of cocoa at the shop where I found these--a caramel and a cinnamon. On Monbana's website, they also note a gingerbread cocoa which sounded interesting along with other flavors.

On Saturday for breakfast, I mixed two packets of the caramel one with 2 cups of milk and also added one cup of brewed coffee. It is a 33% cacao with sugar, vanillin. With the coffee added to it, it is a nice balance. I think without the coffee it would be a little too sweet.

It also went well with our stollen.

Recently, I tried a chocolate by Perugina. It is made in Italy from their Nero line--a 48% cacao with chili peppers in it. The chocolate starts off sweet and creamy and then the chilies give you "a wake-up call" as the chocolate disappears on your tongue...delicious!

Our breakfast this morning was lavender scones, yogurt with yuzu (citron) jam and the cinnamon cocoa. The lavender scones were easy to make. I used the simple scone recipe (here) and added a pinch of culinary lavender which I ran a knife through. The cinnamon cocoa didn't dissolve as nicely as the caramel one, but it still tasted great. These lavender scones reminded me of the mix that I bought from Ali'i Kula Lavender earlier this year--this is also where I bought the culinary lavender from.

In Japan, often when you cut open an apple it will look like this. Don't worry it isn't rotten, in fact it will probably be the sweetest apple you will ever taste. These transparent areas are the natural sugars. I once heard that farmers inject their fruit with the sugars, but I now think that they are cultivated this way.

Hope you are enjoying the day!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

ho ho ho....bah humbug...sigh

It is Christmas Eve. Satoshi had to work. He also has to work tomorrow, Christmas Day.... Christmas, what is that? I grew up celebrating Christmas with my family, having dinner with family and friends, but in Japan it is different.

Christmas is for couples. Restaurants have expensive romantic dinners for two. Last year, we went out for a nice French dinner. The price of cake also goes up. Can you imagine paying $40 for an 8-inch round cake? I can't, so I usually make some kind of dessert instead of buying.

Here is a picture of our tree.

In Japan, they don't sell freshly cut ones, so for our first Christmas I bought one in a pot. That one died after 3 years, so this is the one we've had for the past 2 Christmases.

Anyway, because of a flight delay or something, Satoshi called to say he would be late, so dinner was my usual "table for one"--I guess I should be thankful that he called early enough for me to eat at a decent time.

I started off with some olives and cheese...one of the cheeses was interesting with bits of almonds. It really went well with the Yalumba 2004 Shiraz Viognier--a dry red with hints of cinnamon and spices.

A filet and baby leaf lettuce with bistro-style vinaigrette, a recipe I saw on Bean and Plum Discover the World (this blog no longer exists) and mashed turnips with olive oil, salt and pepper.

And for dessert a little cup of chocolate pudding infused with Republic of Tea's Green Earl Greyer (a green tea with bergamot oil) tea--I actually intended to make truffles, but the ganache was too soft, so now it is a pudding... strawberries and a slice of cheese cake by Marutoya, from my host-sister, Tomoko, she is a foodie too and loves to order food items from different places around Japan. The cheese cake reminded me of New York style cheese cake with a nice cookie crust.

I guess while I'm feeling sorry for myself, I'll have another glass of wine while I wait for Satoshi to come home.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

stollen



Last year, I bought a stollen which I posted about here. This year, I was determined to make my own. I found a recipe in the book that my brother gave me and gave it a try.

Somehow it took way longer than making flaxseed rolls....It doesn't look anything like the picture in the book, but it sure does taste good, despite the fact that I ran out of vanilla essence and didn't have the right candied fruits or sliced almonds. Plus, it got REALLY big while baking in the oven!

Here's the recipe if you'd like to give it a try:
Stollen, from "The Essential Baking Cookbook"--makes 1
1/3 cup (80 ml/2.75 fl oz) lukewarm milk
2 teaspoons sugar
7g (1/4 oz) sachet dried yeast
125g (4 oz) butter, softened
1/3 cup (90g/3 oz)caster sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups (375g/12oz) white bread flour
1/2 cup (80g/2.75 oz) raisins
1/2 cup (75g/2.50 oz) currants
1/2 cup (95g/3 oz)mixed peel
1/2 cup (60g/2 oz) slivered almonds
30g (1 oz) butter, melted
icing sugar, for dusting

1. Put the milk, 2 tsp sugar and yeast with 1/3 cup warm water in a small bowl and mix well. Leave in a warm, draught-free place for 10 minutes or until bubble appear on the surface. The mixture should be frothy and slightly increased in volume. If your yeast doesn't foam it is dead, so you will have to discard it and start again.

2. Beat the butter and sugar with electric beaters until light and creamy, then beat in the egg and vanilla. Add the yeast mixture, cinnamon and almost all the flour and mix to a soft dough, adding more flour if necessary. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and leave in a warm, draught-free place for 1 hour 45 minutes or until doubled in volume.

3. Knock back the dough by punching it to expel the air. Press it out to a thickness of about 1.5cm(5/8 inch). Sprinkle the fruit and nuts over the dough, then gather up and knead for a few minutes to mix the fruit and nuts evenly through the dough.

4. Shape the dough into an oval about 18cm (7 inches) wide and 30 cm (12 inches) long. Fold in half lengthways, then press down to flatten slightly, with the fold slightly off centre on top of the loaf. Place on the tray, cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size. Preheat the oven to moderate 180C(350F/Gas 4). Lightly grease a baking tray.

5. Bake the dough for 40 minutes or until golden. As soon as it comes out of the oven, brush with the melted butter, allowing each brushing to be absorbed until you have used up all the butter. Cool on a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar.


NOTES: After typing this recipe out, I realized that I forgot to add 1/3 cup warm water (it isn't noted in the list of ingredients and I tend to skim recipes...) Still, it was a good experience to try making this. And we'll enjoy it for breakfast tomorrow!

Hope your week is going well!

Monday, December 18, 2006

easy peasy chinese-y

Well, I had some nira (chives) and cabbage left from yesterday's "experiment"...so I bought some pork and added it to all these veggies. When everything was just about wilted and the pork was cooked through I added a tablespoon of cooking sake (rice wine), a dash of torigara soup (powdered soup that is made from the bones of the chicken), 2 teaspoons of oyster sauce, salt, pepper and some sesame oil.

As for a soup, I added a packet of the torigara soup to 3 cups of water, then added dried hotate (scallops). When everything came to a boil, I broke up the scallops and added green onions and stirred in a scrambled egg.

Preparation and cooking took a total of 30 minutes...fast, easy and delish!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

around the neighborhood

The weather has been kind of weird, raining off and on and blustery and the sun making candid appearances. Plus, the trees still think it is autumn, some still have their leaves and the ones that didn't get to change color have started--and it is almost Christmas!....I think something is broken...

I wanted to share with you some sights from around our neighborhood.

A persimmon tree that lost all of its leaves and still had TONS of fruit.

Tsubaki (camellia) trees in both dark and light pink.

A gingerbread house in front of a baking class. Seeing this brought back memories of the Christmases where we would get together with several families to make gingerbread houses. One of the mothers would bake the parts for the houses, others would bring the candies. We would all then gather at one house and each family would put their own house together. It was tons of fun! We used royal icing to put everything together then stuck candies on the roof and walls. It was interesting, most of us had never seen or played in snow because we grew up in Hawaii, and all of our houses had icicles hanging off the roof and there were snowmen on the front lawn.

Tonight's dinner was kind of an ad-lib. I intended to make gyoza (pot stickers), but the wrappers I had in the freezer were freezer burnt or something, they were REALLY hard and not pliable, so I had to throw them out. Left with only the filling, I decided to pan fry these up...gyo-burg (gyoza burgers). With a glass of Minoo pale ale, they were delicious!

Hope you have a great week!

Friday, December 15, 2006

gratin and the opera

Tonight's dinner was gratin. Usually in Japan, this dish is made with a white sauce and seafood or chicken. I've never had it with tomato sauce, but since I had some pasta sauce in the freezer, I decided I should try to use it up.

The Japanese also have an original version of gratin called doria, this is a gratin made with rice instead of macaroni. I sauteed some shrimp and spinach in oil with some garlic, then put everything into a baking dish and topped it with parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. It baked in the oven for about 20 minutes. (My oven has a "gratin" button, so I just press it and it cooks the dish.) It was a great dish to warm up with.

While wandering in the convenience store, I found a new candy by Morinaga, called "Winter's opera". After checking out their website, I realized it came out last month in Eastern Japan and only came out this month in Western Japan! This candy is very decadent.

The box has a hologram type film on it which sparkles when light hits it.

When you open it up, you are introduced to 9 little opera candies. All with gold leaf flecks smiling at you.

The layers: the gold leaf flecks, a slightly bitter chocolate, a coffee flavored creamy chocolate and lastly the crunch of a chocolate and cookie bottom.

Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

bead stitch-intermediate level

The weather has been rainy and cold, and kind of reminds me of London. It is cold, but, not cold to the point where you have to where all the clothing you own.

Well, my bead stitch class is over for the year, and the next class for me will be in April (I'll be going back to Hawaii for my annual visit between January-March). If you'd like to see a project that I just finished, I've posted it here.

Have a nice weekend!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

cantucci



In August, I saw Yvonne's post for cantucci, printed it out and set it aside.

Then, as I was thinking about what to bake for Christmas, I tried Lebkuchen, but Satoshi said they were "too hard".

And then, I remembered I had printed out the recipe for cantucci from Yvonne's blog and realized I should give it a shot.

The recipe was rather easy to follow. The only problem I had was that the dough was REALLY sticky and gooey, I'm not to certain why.

Still, they came out great, I think Satoshi will approve of these.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

visola

There is a shopping mall about five minutes by car, 15 minutes by bus from our apartment called Visola. They have a movie theatre complex, fitness center and large supermarket, Carrefour, plus many small boutiques and shops.

Satoshi and I went to watch a movie there this morning, had lunch and then had dessert at Hiro.

Hiro has many cafes around Osaka and the one in our neighborhood is the one we often frequent on weekends.

The dessert we tried was called "Provence" and looked like a little snow ball. The outside is a fluffy mousse-like meringue with a caramel and milk chocolate top.

The inside was a layer of cake with lots of orange zest and orangey syrup and a layer of caramel custard. This cake went well with the Sumatra Mandheling coffee that I ordered.

UPDATE: as of November 2011, Hiro and Carrefour are no longer at Visola.

Monday, December 11, 2006

chocolat chaud

Remember when I went to Tokyo in October? I was able to buy some chocolate beads from La Maison du Chocolat. Today, I made a cup of their chocolat chaud (hot chocolate).

Inspired by a blog friend, William, he is having a hot chocolate week on his blog, Chocolate Obsession--check it out if you have some time, he has an excellent stash, I decided to give the chocolate beads that I bought a try.

The 7.41ounces (210g) of chocolate beads makes 4 cups, I cut the recipe down because I wanted only 1 cup.

It was rather easy to make, just bring to a boil the suggested amount of milk and water on the package and whisk in the suggested amount of beads. (I don't have a whisk, so I used a slotted spoon and stirred constantly.) Then turn the heat down to let the mixture reduce a bit and strain through a sieve before serving.

The mixture is thick, rich and very chocolatey. It starts off sweet in your mouth and ends with a little bitter chocolate taste at the end.

I'll have to make a cup for Satoshi, he'll love it.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

arashiyama

This evening, Satoshi and I travelled to Arashiyama. Arashiyama is on the outskirts of Kyoto and is about an hour from our place by train. I had seen an ad in the train station for a light-up of the Arashiyama area. We usually visit this area during koyo (autumn colors) and during the daytime, so it was our first time to experience a light-up of the area after the autumn colors.

Unfortunately, my digital camera doesn't take good photos at night. I think I don't know about all the settings on it. I'll be willing to accept any type help. The pictures that did turn out were results of using the flash or some lighting.

The weather was nice but very cold and the wind kind of icy. Still, there were TONS of people and at times it seemed like we were standing in line for something when in actuality we were just trying to get from one place to another.

Even if I couldn't capture everything I saw on "film", the light-up was still very beautiful.

Have a nice week.