Sunday, September 30, 2007

rafute

Now, I'll probably jinx myself by saying this as I have in the past, but, I think Autumn is here! There is FINALLY a nip in the air and no dreadful humidity. Yee hah!

Anyway, it is said that the Okinawans eat every part of the pig except its squeal. Pork is a major part of their diet and I've heard that pig farmers in Hawaii were instrumental in bringing back Okinawa's pig population after WWII.

After re-connecting with my long lost Okinawan relatives a few years ago, I was interested to learn more about the Okinawan cuisine. It wasn't something that I grew up with, because my mom is of Japanese ancestry, so growing up we had mainland Japanese dishes.

One Okinawan dish that I really love is called rafute or what the Japanese call buta no kakuni (braised pork belly). Satoshi doesn't care for this dish much because it has this nice layer of fat on top, as well as some fat layered in between too. I love it because it has all this nice, melt in your mouth fat. Since he isn't home this weekend (he went to Thailand with his company, for their company trip, like those school field trips only with work members instead of classmates, and no spouses), I decided to make some for my dinner.

It was my first time making this dish and let me warn you, it is a bit time consuming--you definitely have to plan ahead. But, at least you don't have to stand next to the stove the whole time, as the book says, "just put the meat into the pot and let the heat do the cooking".

Here's the recipe translated from "Shiawase no Okinawa Ryori"

Shoyu flavored rafute -- Serves 4 (1 serving equals 2 slices)

600g pork belly (about 1.5 pounds)
3/4 cup awamori (Okinawan sake)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup shoyu (soy sauce)
1/2 cup mirin (sweet rice wine)
4 cups katsuo (bonito) stock
nub of ginger, thinly sliced

1. Pour some hot water over the pork, then put into a pot with enough water to cover the pork. Simmer for 1 hour.
2. After the pork simmers, cut into 8 pieces, 2-3 centimeters thick by 6-7 centimeters wide.

NOTE: you can use the stock that is made from simmering the pork for other Okinawan dishes like soki soba (spare rib soup with noodles) or ju-shi (rice cooked with veggies and pork)--so save it. Unfortunately, I didn't read this part carefully and threw it out and am now kicking myself for doing so...argh!

3. In another pot, add the bonito stock, awamori and sugar, bring to a boil and add the meat.
4. Boil on high for the 5 minutes, then add half of the shoyu & mirin. Turn the heat to a simmer and add the rest of the shoyu & mirin.
5. Cook on simmer for 1 hour. When your chopsticks or fork can smoothly cut through the meat, the dish is done.
6. Add the thinly sliced ginger and turn off the heat.

This is the awamori I used. It is called Churatora (chura means beautiful in Okinawan and tora is tiger in Japanese). We bought this back in 2003 when the Tigers won the Central League Championships. I told Satoshi that he should wait until they take champions again to drink from it again... so, he's been waiting, but hasn't had much luck since the Tigers haven't been doing well. At times, he's even said that he thinks he should "taste it" just to be sure it isn't rotten....ha! (it smelled fine...don't tell him I used part of it for this dish....shh)

The pork was so tender (because of the awamori), if you don't have any, I think you could substitute with Japanese sake (wine made from rice), shochu (wine-like beverage which is stronger than sake, made from barley, rice or potato) or maybe even vodka...and the caramelized gravy poured onto my bowl of rice...heavenly!

One word of caution...the last 10 minutes or so is when the gravy will start to caramelize. Just check the pot off and on to make sure your pot doesn't go dry--wouldn't want you to ruin a pot for this dish.

Enjoy!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

next door

This is a compilation of entries which I've been writing down for the past month...

About 2 weeks before our vacation at about two in the afternoon--(peak Kat's nap time), I heard a loud crashing sound. I rushed out onto my lanai to find these guys putting up these poles.

I think they are either going to tear down the building or paint the outside. Though I have a feeling that they are going to tear down the building because most of the apartments in the building are vacant.

I'm not quite sure about the house to the left of the building, but they have the same poles going around their house too....

The next morning at 10 sharp, I figured out that they are tearing the place down because I could hear breaking glass. They put up these heavy tarp to tone down the sound and also to help keep dust and stuff from flying about.

Now I realize that they are going to tear down this apartment building and the two houses next to it. It is hard to see in this photo, but there are two new houses at the end of the red tiled roofs--these were built about two years ago.

We came back from our vacation to find this....with the building gone in front of our lanai, I think I need to get new curtains since the ones we have up are thin and it feels like everyone can see into our apartment (they probably can!).

Talk about dusty!

And I'm sad because they pulled out the trees that were in front of the houses.

See the cute little dump truck in the photo above with the blue scoop-like machine? They fill this up several times a day to haul off the debris. I also noticed that a woman drives this dump truck, which is totally rare in Japan.

I was amazed that they have the debris kind of sorted out--metal in one area, wood in another area and cement in another. (When they haul it off, only cement is in the truck or only wood is.)

Today, the scooper started to dig up the foundations, boy! did it rattle our apartment. (As it was peak nap time, I thought it was Godzilla walking about..boom..boom. Our building shook that much--Scary actually.)

These guys are so prompt! They start at 8:00 am...no sleeping in for you night-shift workers, they do have a mid-morning break and break for lunch at 12 noon. Then during my nap time they are at it....and end promptly at 5:00 pm.

After a month, they have finally finished clearing the lot...I'm gonna miss the building in front, I used to use the red roof-like awning to tell whether it was raining outside or not. And I used to use the reflection from the windows to see which apartment in our building were having their early morning fights. The kids in the neighborhood are quite excited about this open space of land, I've already seen a few of them taking batting practice. I just hope that whatever they are going to use this land for, it isn't for another high-rise.

Speaking of demolitions, this building in the heart of Osaka, near Namba station has housed the Kabuki performances for the past 50 years. (I think we went to see Kabuki performed here when I was studying in Japan, way back when.) Anyway, the management company wants to move the performances and get rid of this building. But among the concrete high rises, this building is quite unique and keeps a Japanese-y flavor of Japan. Many architectural activists are trying to have this building listed as a historical site in order to prevent the building from being torn down. Hopefully, they will succeed, it is sad to see such a great piece of architecture go to waste.

Friday, September 28, 2007

happy 2nd birthday!


Last year, I made cupcakes with Magnolia Bakery butter cream frosting to celebrate this blog's birthday. Blogging for me this past year has been about trying new recipes, learning from others, sharing new food experiences and making new friends.

For this year's celebration I wanted to try something different...cheesecake.

I've made cheesecake in the past, but with those ready-made pie shells. To try something different, I wanted to use earl grey tea since I love the taste and aroma of it. I've also only discovered earl grey since moving to Japan (I know, I was living under a rock....plus, I had some leftover from our trip to New Caledonia.)

For the crust, I used the shortbread recipe that I used to make macadamia nut shortbread in August, but I cut the recipe to one-fourth. Instead of the nuts, I added about a teaspoon or so of earl grey tea. (I emptied one tea bag into a little bowl and sprinkled in the tea (not all of it) as the dough came together.)

This was my first time using a removable bottom pan. Since there are only the 2 of us, making a huge cheesecake would be nice, but you know who would be eating it?? Yours truly!...So, I found these cute removable bottomed tins at the 100yen store (only US $1! each). After pressing in the dough (which I thought was pressed in quite thinly)into the 1st pan, I had only a little left for the 2nd pan (which turned out to be the best). I filled the one with only a little "crust" with the cream cheese filling and put it into the refrigerator to set.

The one which I thought was thinly pressed in (I think I was supposed to use the weights to keep the dough from puffing up), turned out to be a thick shortbread cookie. Light and flaky this went nicely with a glass of milk.

Even though the cheesecake didn't turn out how I envisioned it would, I am happy with the results--the crust was flaky and light, the earl grey flavor was just right and matched with the cream cheese filling.

I can't believe that another year has passed, it has definitely been filled with lots of exciting foodie experiences, disasters and successes in the kitchen and the most important...friendships. I really appreciate all of you who take the time to read my adventures, I am surely having fun writing about them. I'm looking forward to Autumn and Winter because it will be cooler, but most of all, I'm looking forward to all the delicious ingredients and adventures they bring.

Happy Birthday!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

meyer lemons

Earlier in the year, I had seen many posts about Meyer lemons. I've never tried them, but they sound really wonderful.

The other day while Satoshi and I were shopping, we came across Meyer lemons...from New Zealand! The color of these lemons were a bit orangey not the "lemony" yellow that I'm used to seeing. Even though they were pricey, I wanted to try them.

I zested one of the lemons and kept it aside to make scones. With the juice, I made this refreshing pasta with shrimp, capers, garlic and veggies for our dinner one night.

With the second lemon, I zested it again and used both the juice and zest to make my favorite lemon oregano vinaigrette. Doesn't the lettuce I bought for salad look beautiful? They call it "bouquet" lettuce. The one head comes in this BIG wasteful plastic container so that the fragile leaves don't get bruised (the sad price to pay to have non-bruised lettuce). It was the first time I've seen this type of lettuce in the market and it was love at first sight. Although the price would end the relationship...it was expensive...

Since I still had some cream leftover from making cheesecake (which I'll post about later), I used it to make earl grey scones and added the Meyer lemon zest I had set aside. The aroma of these guys coming out of the oven was heavenly! Of course, I had to taste one as soon as it came out of the oven. Delicious!

I was wondering though, are the skins of this variety of lemon softer than regular lemons? They were very easy to juice and zest. Still, I'm happy I was able to try them.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

jugoya

Yesterday in the shopping arcade there was a long line for these cute dango (dumplings/cakes). They are called tsukimidango (moon watching cakes). The dumplings are tear drop shaped and covered with an (sweet bean paste)--the green one is yomogi (mugwort).

Jugoya, literally the 15th night, marks the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the Chinese calendar (which is usually mid or late September for our calendar). In China, it is called the Moon Festival and is celebrated with their famous moon cakes.

In Japan, the elite would gather beneath the full moon to write poems and drink sake, while farmers would pray to the moon to ensure good crops.

During this time, you can see many flower arrangements using susuki (pampas grass) and hagi (bush clover). In some homes, the susuki along with dumplings and vegetables are offered to the moon to pray for a good harvest. It is also thought that praying or making wishes upon the full moon at this time would help to make them come true.

I know what I'm wishing for...What did you wish for? (well, don't tell me, otherwise it won't come true!)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

die-hard fan

If you thought the rice farmer in Okayama was a die-hard Hanshin Tigers fan. There is a rice vendor in Ishibashi (where we live) who delivers rice on his Tiger-striped bicycle and in his Tiger-striped truck. If you look at the picture with the bicycle, you'll see his black and yellow shirt which he also wears when he goes on deliveries. (is he dedicated or what?) In Japanese, they call a fan like him Torakichi, which means he's crazy for the Tigers. He's been on the local news several times and featured whenever the Tigers are doing well. I guess you could say he's famous, well, in our neck of the woods, anyway.

During the day, I've often passed him along the street and he always smiles and says "hi". When we passed his shop today, he was there and graciously let me photograph his vehicles.

Although the Tigers are losing their steam, they have 8 more games until the end of the regular season. Hopefully, they'll be able to maintain their 3rd place position so that they can go to the play-offs.

I've had this peeve ever since moving to Japan..for all those television stations out there, show the end of the game!! What's the point of even broadcasting a game if you aren't going to show the end of it! (They will cut off a game in the bottom of the 9th inning with 2 out, just to show 5 minutes of commercials!)

Go Tigers!

Monday, September 24, 2007

more cosmos

I wanted to share more photos of cosmos because I really like this flower. In my last post, I forgot to mention that the Chinese characters for Cosmos is Aki Sakura (Autumn Cherry Blossoms). Don't they remind you of cherry blossoms?

The cosmos are delicate flowers and are different shades of pink. The bright colors really help perk up a gloomy day. You can also find bright orange cosmos too, but my favorite has got to be the pink.

I'm probably the last one to know about this, but I found a gadget by Big Huge Labs which helped me make this cool mosaic. Try it with your photos.

Hope you have a great week!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

cosmos no sato



Today we went to our all time favorite place for cosmos, no not the drink, the flower--Cosmos no sato.

I can't exactly remember how we found this place, but it has never disappointed, and we've visited almost every year since.

From Ikeda station, we took a bus towards Yono. The bus goes up into the mountains and all the winding roads that come with it. And about an hour later, we got off at Myokenguchi.

From the bus stop, we walked a bit (about 5 minutes). From the road you'll be able to see it---an ocean of pink, red and white.

I think this place is run by several families. Admission is 500yen (about US$5.00) for adults, 300 yen (about US $3.00) for children. Pack a lunch or snacks and make a day of it (just remember to bring all your trash home with you, there aren't trash cans or places that serve food there).

Today, the weather was really humid and overcast, so there wasn't the cheery feel and crisp air that there usually is when we visit.

Today was also O-higan (the autumn equinox) when families visit their ancestor's graves. It is about this time that you can also see Higan-bana, a red flower that pops up at the edges of the rice fields--kind of like a reminder for the day and for your ancestors.

There was also chestnut trees bursting with chestnuts.

They even had some for sale at the entrance.

After taking in all the beautiful cosmos, we took the bus back down to Ikeda and had lunch at Ikeda ramen. It was our first time here and we were surprised at how popular the place was--there was a line.

Satoshi had their dashi-aji(stock flavor)--a rich pork broth.

I had their tori-aji (chicken flavor)--a rich chicken broth.

I didn't particularly like this place because the soup was too heavy feeling--although I have a feeling it was because the day was so humid and I was still feeling a bit woozy from the bus ride.

I guess we need to go back again to give this place a fair shot.

Cosmos no Sato
Toyono-cho Maki
Toyono-gun, Osaka-fu
Phone: 072.739.1363

Ikeda Ramen
3-1 Sugahara-cho Station N Building 1F
Ikeda, Osaka
Phone: 072.751.1148
Open 11:00-23:00

Friday, September 21, 2007

ras el hanout

Way back in June, I received this huge box filled with condiments, candies and other foodie things from Bourgogne in France.

The candy and snacks are long gone, but I recently looked in the basket I keep food things in and saw a spice packet. It said "Ras el Hanout". I was trying to read what it said, but everything was in French. Well, thank goodness for the internet! I googled and came up with an explanation of what it was and how it was used.

Since it is mostly used for squab (a.k.a. pigeon) (and that isn't readily available here), I used it with chicken. I cooked some couscous in consomme with raisins and onions. Then seared the skin of the chicken in a frying pan. I then put the chicken in a baking dish with some eringi mushrooms and a ripe tomato. I drizzled everything with olive oil and sprinkled some of the ras el hanout onto the chicken. For the eringi and tomato, I just sprinkled some salt.

I baked everything for about 20 minutes. The spices baking with the chicken kind of reminded me of autumn with pumpkin pie--warm, cinnamony and a little sweet.

This chicken went nicely with the couscous. The skin was crispy and delicious. I think next time I'll try flavoring the couscous with the ras el hanout. Thank you again, Bourgogne for the huge foodie care package and for introducing me to this new spice.

We have another 3-day weekend (can you imagine 2 in one month?) Take care.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

odds & ends

Gosh, here I was ready to fly into Autumn and the weather decides to go backwards back to Summer. The past couple of days have been so hot and miserable!

So many different things that I want to post about, so I thought I would just round up some of them into one post.

Owariya's soba-ita. Thin, crisp wafer's made from sobako (buckwheat flour). We got these from Satoshi's mom awhile back, and I remembered to take a photo of them just before we finished them off. The main shop in Kyoto serves soba, hopefully we get to try this place one day.

A quick lunch of yakitori from Toriya. Zuri (which I think is the liver of the chicken), is chewy and crunchy at the same time, momo (the thigh area) and tsukune (a meatball-like concoction with minced chicken, green onion and part of the cartilage). I also like nankotsu (cartilage).

I was surprised at the different clouds. The one in the background looks lit up, while the rest were in darkness.

A rice farmer in Okayama prefecture decided to spice up his fields and show off his love for the Hanshin Tigers (a baseball team in Osaka (Satoshi's favorite)) with the team logos made from rice plants. Apparently he started doing this the year that the Tigers took League champs in 2003. Ever since, he's continued with the help of hundreds to help him plant and harvest the rice. He uses different varieties to achieve the different colors and donates the rice that is harvested to the Hanshin Tigers' team. (when the rice is about to be harvested, the logos turn a golden yellow with black--the teams colors.)

My new strawberry plants. I found them in the shopping arcade yesterday for only a 100 yen each (about US$1)! I didn't know this until recently, but the fruit come straight from the flower (that yellow center will turn into a strawberry).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

monkey hill

There is a rather old coffee shop called Monkey Hill, located about 3 minutes from the Minoo station.(Up in the mountains of Minoo, there are wild monkeys, so this is probably where the name comes from.)

We've never gone in, because it looks quite dark inside from the outside, on Monday we got brave and went in for breakfast.

For 500 yen (about US $5.00), you can order either an omelet or scrambled eggs. This comes with salad, toast and either coffee or tea. This is rather cheap because when you look at the menu, a cup of coffee is 400 yen (about US $4.00). The only thing I don't like about restaurants in Japan is that everything comes with the condiments on the food items and most times it is doused in it. (The eggs came with the ketchup on it and the toast was slathered in butter.)

The interior was quite dark and it reminded me of some medieval movie set--a sign that this place has been around for awhile. Although the photo doesn't show it, there was quite a bit of traffice while we ate there.

There was even this huge coffee mill in front of their entrance. I found out that Fuji Royal is company that started in the 50's and still makes coffee mills in Osaka.

This place was nice and very inexpensive, but I don't think we'll be hurrying back for breakfast (mainly because their breakfast menu is so limited). If we do go back, it will probably be to try their lunch menu.

Monkey Hill
6-15-9 Minoo
Minoo, Osaka
Phone: 072.722.2105

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

ramen kobou a

Today we went to Takarazuka to try a place called Ramen Kobou A (pronounced "ah" not "ay").

This place is quite particular of the type of soup, noodles, roast pork and service that they give and they say so on a big sign as you enter the restaurant. I was quite surprised that the interior of this place was nice with lots of women and families-- most ramen places you go to in Japan are kind of grungy looking and feeling; where you usually only see men eating at a counter and rather not touch anything for fear of getting dirty.

Satoshi had the se-abura (the fat from the pig's back) tonkotsu (pork simmered with pork bones and veggies) ramen with gyoza (pot stickers) set.

I had the ladies set which consisted of my choice of ramen (I chose the "A" ramen, which was a light souped ramen) with a half portion of noodles (lady sized), a pao--a nice fluffy bun with veggies and roast pork, and their special an-nin tofu, which had no almond flavor and was more like coconut pudding.

Their soup was very light and flavorful and their noodles are egg noodles and are quite thin. The roast pork had a special sauce which makes the pork very tasty and moist. And they had good, timely service.

I think we'll be back.

Ramen Kobou A
9-10 Yumoto-cho
Takarazuka, Hyogo
Phone: 0797-84-3330
Open from 11:00-25:00 (1:00am) on weekdays
11:00-24:00 on Sundays and holidays