Wednesday, October 31, 2007

boo!

Today is Halloween. They don't do house to house trick-or-treating here (at least not in my neighborhood anyway), but slowly there are more and more decorating of houses and stores and the assortment of candies are also improving for this time of year.

I found this malted milk candy at the gourmet supermarket recently. It made me remember something that Bourgogne wrote in the comments about adding Milk Duds to popcorn.

So, after buying a bag of the malted milk candy, I then remembered that Milk Duds weren't malted milk candies but instead were chocolate covered caramels...sigh. Overall I was disappointed with the malted milk candy, it didn't have that scratchy texture in your mouth like Whoppers have. Still, I added it and chocolate covered kakinotane (spicy rice crackers that look like persimmon seeds) to freshly popped corn...delicious! The chocolate slightly melts while touching the hot popcorn, gets kind of messy and you gotta lick your fingers while eating everything...it is yet another addicting way to jazz up popcorn. (Thanks Bourgogne!)

Last week, my student gave me these delicious Halloween-y cookies...which are now long gone, right after I took the photo...gone. (Thank you!)

I'm not sure if it just the season for pumpkins or if Halloween is the reason that there are more foods with pumpkin around, though I think the former is probably the reason, but I found this foccacia that was loaded with pumpkin, eggplant, red bell pepper, onion and a little cheese...delicious!

Hope you have a safe but fun Halloween, if you celebrate where you are.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

mini honey toast

Have you ever had honey toast? I have been seeing it here and here--Kathy and Reid both had it at the same restaurant in Hawaii, but I've also seen it around Japan too. I googled and found out that a karaoke place that has rooms around Tokyo has this on their menu. You can check out what they have on their menu here. (Some are huge-mongous!)

From what I've seen, for the "plain" version, they use one loaf of bread (yep, a whole loaf), honey and vanilla ice cream. In Japan, a loaf of bread is quite small by U.S. standards, it only yields 4-6 slices depending on how thick or thin you slice it. I was quite surprised by this when I first moved here because in Hawaii we buy loaves of bread with about 20 or more slices in a bag. I was also surprised to hear that in Tokyo they only have 4 slices per package but in Osaka we can buy packages with 4, 5 or 6 slices.

So getting back to the honey toast...having never tried this before, I wanted to try one. Unfortunately, I don't like to karaoke, and probably wouldn't be able to (and shouldn't) eat a whole one by myself, so I figured I should try to make a mini version. I couldn't find a small plain loaf but instead found a mini raisin loaf. This loaf was 6 inches long by 3 inches tall. I split it in half then cut out the innards of the loaf, leaving a little bread to serve as the bottom of the "bowl". (The other half of the bread will be tomorrow's toast for breakfast.)

I then toasted the bread and the innards for about 4 minutes.

Then I melted a pat of butter with 1 tablespoon of honey. When the toast was ready, I put back the innards into the bread "bowl" then drizzled some honey mixture. Then I took 60ml (1/2 of the container) of Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream, put that on top of the toast and drizzled the rest of the honey mixture on top. I also made myself a cappuccino.

NOTES: Since I used raisin bread this reminded me of bread pudding or french toast. Is it supposed to taste like that...Kathy? Reid? anyone who has tried this? The toasted bread was crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside, drizzled with honey and the melting vanilla ice cream it satisfied my sweet tooth. I had thought it would be a sickening kind of sweet but it was actually just right.

I can't wait to make this again when Satoshi can try it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

culture shock

There are a lot of people in Japan who ride bicycles. I don't because I am afraid I will be run off the road or broadsided by another bicycle or car. (I have actually seen many people broadside or clip each other with their bicycles.) If you've ever ridden a bicycle in the area where I live, you'll realize that there are no road rules.

Walking through the shopping arcade can also be quite scary, people are supposed to get off their bicycles and push it through the arcade, instead, they speed through and think that by clanging their bicycle bells we'll have time to jump aside...just get off your bicycle and push it.

The other night, Satoshi and I were walking before dinner. Most areas in our neighborhood do not have sidewalks, so we have to "share" the road with cars, other pedestrians and bicycles. So, as Satoshi and I walked, a high schooler came behind us on his bicycle. There was lots of space to go around us, but no, he wanted to go straight. So he came really close behind us and clicked his tongue and gave us a "tsk" and a sigh...because we were in HIS way. As he pedalled on, I was yelling at him in Japanese, "Dude, doesn't your bicycle have a bell? I guess you don't have a mouth either." Cowardly, he sped off, looking back every so often. I figured if he came back, I would then yell at him in English.

When I studied here during college many moons ago, I was amazed at how many Japanese said "please", "excuse me", "thank you" and "I'm sorry"....they had manners! Nowadays, I am truly saddened. No one uses their mouth anymore, they just push their way off the trains and buses. No "excuse me" I need to get off the bus, no "I'm sorry" for stepping on your foot, "thank you" for letting me pass...nothing. It is sad that people are in such a rush or involved with text messaging/cell phone/hand held games that they do not have time to at least be civil with each other.

It is also sad that they only think about themselves. Like when riding an escalator, as soon as the person in front gets off, they stop and talk to their friends or just stand there. They don't think that maybe they are in other people's way, that there are others behind them riding the escalator...get off and step away from the escalator...and when you do realize that you are in the way, at least say, "sorry".

Getting on and off the trains are the same way. Once I had to shout and push someone out of the way to get onto the train because as soon as she got onto the train, she stood right in front of the door...move away from the door and move in towards the back of the train car! there are others behind you that want to ride the train too!

This type of attitude is quite a shock for me because growing up, I was often told, "if you want something, ask, you have a mouth". So, I use my mouth to say "I'm sorry" when I bump into someone, or "excuse me" when I want to get past someone, or "thank you" when someone lets me pass.

I could go on and on. I guess I'll just keep using my mouth and hopefully other will catch on and start using their mouths too.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

foodie kind of weekend

Saturday was cloudy with some rain. Satoshi and I took the train to a station called Tada. This town is in the mountains and quite old. There are many large houses with very large gardens and several shrines. Lunch was ramen at a place called Tobe. I think this restaurant is part of a franchise chain. The ramen soup was good, but the noodles were a bit too soft.

Dessert was at a souffle shop called Knott's Berry in Kawanishi. This place is also a franchise chain. The chocolate and caramel souffles that we had were delicious. The only thing I didn't like was that everyone around us were smoking.

Dinner was an assortment of pupus (appetizers) as we watched the Japan Series (the Japanese version of the World Series) We had poke (seasoned cubed raw fish, tomato, onion), cabbage asazuke (lightly pickled cabbage), assorted fried horsebeans flavored with curry, chili and garlic/black pepper and chips with salsa. I got to try Tokyo Black a beer made by Yonayona, I really liked this, it was smoky and full bodied.

Sunday, on the other hand, was a beautiful sunny day. We headed to Banpakukoen which was where the World Fair was held in 1970. After the fair, it was turned into a huge park. We've gone at different times of the year to enjoy the different flowers. Today we went to enjoy their cosmos. There were lots of families with picnic lunches and the weather was quite warm, it was actually hot!

Since we didn't bring our own lunch, we headed to the Expo hotel which is next door to the park, for their buffet. Most of the food had been sitting out for awhile so it was quite crusty and not too good, though Satoshi ate like he's never been fed in awhile...hmm. The highlight for me was the dessert area, there were some mini cakes, creme brulee and scoop your own ice cream. I scooped some green tea, strawberry and vanilla and used the chocolate from the chocolate fondue as a topping to make a sundae.

Dinner was steak with chili soybeans as we again watched the Japan Series.

We hope your weekend was a nice one. We sure had a lot of food and got to enjoy nature. Have a great week.

Friday, October 26, 2007

a day for soup

Today was humid, gloomy and humid. And then it began to rain. There was even a flash of lightning and a "boom" of thunder. And then the air began to chill.

Dinner would be soup.

There was a recipe that had caught my eye and I had slowly been gathering the ingredients to try it and today would be the perfect day to.

I had first heard about Moro from Michele's blog. She has gone several times and highly recommends this restaurant. I have this on my list of places to try when I visit London (some day), so I was thrilled to find the recipe for this soup from the Moro cookbook in my "Little Book of Soup".

The book says, "Forests of sweet chestnuts thrive in the mountainous regions of Spain. This recipe combines some of the classic flavours of Spanish cooking to produce a warm, comforting and mildly spicy soup that is synonymous with the onset of autumn."

I love chestnuts, more so now that I live in Japan and they are easy to buy, especially when they are in season. In Hawaii, the chestnuts that we ate were usually dried, reconstituted and used in kuromame at New Years or sometimes my mom would buy them from the market, they usually came from the mainland and she steamed them.

The hardest part of this recipe was finding chorizo. For one thing, in Japanese they call it choriso. Is it pronounced with a "s" in Spanish? Anyway, I was able to find a package of thinly sliced iberico chorizo for a pretty penny (yen) at the gourmet supermarket.

Chestnut and chorizo soup adapted from "Little Book of Soup"

1/2 onion chopped
1/2 carrot chopped
100g thinly sliced chorizo, cut into bite size pieces
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 pinch dried thyme
1 pinch dried chili
400g (1 can) whole tomatoes
200g cooked peeled chestnuts (vacuum packed)
500cc (about 2.5 cups) water
salt and pepper to taste

Put onion, carrot and chorizo into a pot and heat until everything caramelizes.
Add garlic, cumin, thyme and chili, cook for a minute.
Add tomatoes breaking them up with your spoon and after 2 minutes or so add the chestnuts.
Simmer for 10 minutes.
Mash with a potato masher, leaving a bit of texture.
Adjust flavor with salt and pepper.
Enjoy!

NOTES: This soup was really easy to put together. I loved the flavors from this soup, it kind of reminded me of Portuguese bean soup. It was a little spicy, very fragrant, a little sweet...delicious.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

holy saba (mackrel)!

This was such an easy recipe and I found it on the back of the tomato paste package!

Tomato saba soboro (ground mackrel seasoned with tomato) adapted from Kagome tomato paste package
190g canned saba mizuni (mackrel cooked in water)
100g tomato paste (about 6 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon shoyu (soy sauce)
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice wine)
2 inch nub of ginger, grated
2 tablespoon sesame seed

Put everything except the sesame seeds into a pan and heat until liquid has evaporated. Break up saba so that there are no big pieces. Put into a bowl and sprinkle sesame seeds. Eat with rice on the side or put onto your rice.

I also served this with kyuri asazuke(lightly pickled cucumbers) and steamed beans.

NOTES: I keep my ginger in the freezer, so a few minutes after taking it out, it was easy to peel and grate. Though this dish didn't look too appetizing, it was very delicious. I thought it might be too tomatoey but the ginger, shoyu and mirin actually makes this dish Japanese-y.

Has anyone tried the mackrel in tomato sauce? I haven't tried that and I was wondering what type of seasoning that has. If it is just tomato sauce, you may be able to use that and add in the ginger, shoyu and mirin to make this dish.

p.s. I wanted to show you this interesting apple. It is called Akibae and means glorious Autumn. And glorious it is, it is a cross between a Tsugaru and Chiaki apples. The red peel is so dark that it almost looks chocolatey or black. It is also quite crisp and sweet like a Fuji.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

whoo hoo!

I'm so excited, we have two tomatoes on our cherry tomato plant.

We also have some strawberries, hopefully they'll get bigger than the last time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

keeping warm

What are you drinking on those cold, nippy mornings, afternoons and evenings?

I find that I am drinking all kinds of warm beverages during the day. I say warm because I cannot drink them when they are hot. In Japanese, they call this nekojita (cat's tongue). I'm not sure why but maybe it is because a cat cannot gulp down milk and can only lap at the milk?

Tea has become something of an obsession with me. Before moving to Japan, I had never drank so much tea. Now, I think I drink it 3 times a day!

Tea Palace's Organic Lavender Grey is a nice blend of Earl Grey with lavender and some citrus bits. Brewed it is very aromatic. I love it with some sugar and some milk.

Kusmi Tea is delicious. I tried their Caramel and Chocolate Spice. Both are good straight and mellows with a splash of milk in it.

Hediard's Melange is a mixture of bergamot, citrus and black tea. When you open the can a sweet aroma wafts from the can. Although this was a nice tea, I was a bit disappointed that the sweet aroma doesn't stay with the tea after it is brewed.

I also brew some herbal teas and green teas too depending on what mood I'm in.

Cocoa has become a great evening cup with me, a warm mixture of milk and chocolate. Some are too sweet though, like the Les Confitures a l'ancienne and Monbana cocoas.

Bittersweet's cocoa is really delicious, they actually grind up chocolate for their cocoa, it has a nice balance and isn't too sweet.

Mariebelle's Spicy Aztec cocoa has a kick, it is good, but I still have a hard time getting everything to melt.

And then there is always coffee. Cafe Lola's arabica is delicious and dark roasted. It makes a nice foundation for a cappucino.

Ooh and there are times we have chai too.

I hope to explore more warm drinks with the winter months coming up. What are you drinking to keep warm?

p.s. Zorra has uploaded the Round-up for World Bread Day. Last year there were 113 entries, this year it went up to 183! There are lots of delicious entries from around the world, if you have some time, check them out!

Monday, October 22, 2007

pumpkin "pie"

Saturday's dinner was inspired from this book. In it, I found a recipe for Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Crispy Garlic.

I ended up not following the recipe and did my own thing.

Roasted Pumpkin, Onion and Garlic Soup inspired by "Little Book of Soup"

1/4 pumpkin, seeded with skin on
3 tablepoons olive oil
1 onion, halved
salt
1 clove garlic, leave skin on
1 cube consomme
300 ml water
pepper

Put foil onto pan and lay pumpkin, onion and garlic. Drizzle olive oil over the veggies. Sprinkle some salt.
Put into 200C (400F) oven and roast for 30-40 minutes.
In a pot, put together the consomme with the water, heat.
Use a spoon to scrape out the pumpkin after roasting and throw all veggies into a food processor.
Add some of the consomme to the food processor to help liquidize the veggies.
Add some salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with a 1/2 teaspoon of cream.

As the veggies roasted the aroma that filled the room was delicious. This soup wasn't thick, but it sure hit the spot.

In Japan, they call puff pastry sheets, pie sheets. I made some "pies" for us, using cubes of Monbana 70% chocolate with nibs and a squeeze of chestnut paste....delicious gooey-ness!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

clips, clips, clips

Before getting married, I worked part-time as a demonstrator. What I did was lug 4 pots of brewed coffees, cups and condiments and set up my table at various grocery stores around Oahu and also at ABC's in Waikiki.

It was quite a rough job, having to lug everything around by myself, standing up for 3 or 4 hours at a time, no bathroom or food breaks. Everything had to fit in my two-seater, which usually only left seating for me. But it was a great job, I got to learn about how to brew coffee, how to taste it and how to sell it. Another thing that was great was all the people I met while giving out samples. Sure, there were those who just wanted something to wash down the cookie samples, and others who had some coffee with their cream and sugar, but there were others who truly loved coffee and loved to chat with me about it. There were even "regulars" who would come and bring me pieces of candy or take some of the cookie samples and give them to me. These people helped me kill time when sales and traffic were slow.

Then Starbucks came into Hawaii and gave all the local brands a run for their money. Back then, I was anti-Starbucks wouldn't drink or go into their stores. Now that I live in Japan, Starbucks is the only place I can enjoy a decent cup without distraction from the smell of tobacco or annoying smoke. But whenever I go home to Hawaii, I always pick up bags of Lion, they make good omiyage (souvenirs) for family and friends here in Japan.

The reason I'm writing this is to talk about the clip that comes with the bag of coffee. While I was with the company, the clips had raised designs and came in many different colors. I was disappointed to find that the clips have recently lost their raised designs, probably due to cost cuts. Can you see the difference?

With recycling and all that, I wanted to share some of the ways that I use them. The most obvious way I use them are for open bags of tea or chips.

I've also used them to make a hat holder--tie a string between two clips and use one clip to clip onto your hat and another clip to clip onto you. Your hat will stay with you even if the wind blows it off.

My most resourceful way happened quite accidentally when we first moved to Japan. Whenever you move into an apartment or house in Japan, they do not have curtains or curtain rails. Without curtains up, you can see everyone and everyone can see you. Not having curtains is also kind of a sign, if you don't see curtains up, most times it is because the apartment or home is vacant.

So, when we first moved to Japan, there were no curtains in our apartment. Luckily though, there was a curtain rail. Since I needed something to block people from seeing into our apartment and also from having the sun shine brightly in, I took all the clips off of the packages of coffee I had packed for us and attached a paper clip into each hole at the top of the clip. I then clipped the long beach towels I packed and voila! we had curtains to tide us over until we were able to buy some.

Does your coffee or tea come with a clip? What do you do with them? I would love to hear about the ways you use your clips.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

spice cookies & pizza

Yesterday was a dreary, rainy day. Satoshi had to get up early to be in Nara by 8:00 a.m for a softball tournament. This meant I had to get up at 5:00 a.m. Since he didn't have time to eat before he left at 5:45 a.m., I made him a couple of musubi for his breakfast, he was out the door and I was wide awake. I was tired, but once I wake up, it is hard for me to go back to sleep.

So, I decided to bake. I saw a recipe for Chinese five-spice cookies the other day on Leite's Culinaria which intrigued me because I'd only used this spice in savory dishes and never thought to use it in a sweet one.

I cut the recipe in half and got the dough together. The next step was to chill it for 1 hour, so while the dough was chilling, I snoozed.

After an hour, I was refreshed and ready to roll (out the dough that is). The dough was soft and rather easy to work with. The thing about this dough is that you can't handle it too often, so you need to get it to the 1/4 inch thickness pretty much on the first try. The original recipe says to stick the dough into the freezer for 5 minutes after rolling out, but my freezer isn't big enough, so I had to skip this step.

My cookie cutter was quite big, so I didn't end up with many cookies (which was good, I guess). Though I did use my star cutter for the smaller pieces of dough.

Spice cookies adapted from Leite's Culinaria makes about 10 cookies

10 tablespoons flour
1.25 teaspoon Chinese five spice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
10 grinds cinnamon
3 grinds pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup butter (56.75g)
1/2 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the flour with the spices, set aside.
Cream the butter with the sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until fluffy.
Add the flour mixture and mix well. Shape dough into a flat rectangle, wrap with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
Preheat your oven to 190C (375F). Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut out with cutter.
Place into oven for 12-15 minutes. When done cool on rack.
Serve with black tea and a splash of milk.
Enjoy!

NOTES: I really liked this cookie, the pepper from the five spice and ground pepper add a zing to the cookie. It didn't come out hard enough to dunk as the description said it would, though I have a feeling it had to do with the size of the cookies that I made.

For dinner, I going to make pasta, but after seeing Rowena's delicious post, I was tempted to call and order a pizza for dinner. Instead, I took out a tortilla and made my pasta "sauce" with pancetta, eringi mushrooms, onions and pesto, put it onto the tortilla added some cheese and put it under the broiler...pizza! Way better than delivery and fast too! (thanks for the idea, Rowena!)

p.s. Last night Satoshi came home from the tournament and is suffering from "muscles that haven't been used in awhile" pain. You can hear him walking around the house saying, "ooh ooh", "aah ah"...quite funny actually.

Friday, October 19, 2007

o-musubi or o-nigiri?

In Japan, o-musubi or o-nigiri are very popular "fast foods". You can go into any convenience store or supermarket and find an array of different gu (fillings)--modern kinds such as ebimayo (shrimp mayonnaise) and kalbi (korean beef) and traditional kinds such as konbu (seasoned kelp) and ume (pickled plum). They have even come out with different o-musubi using different grades of rice such as koshihikari and different styles of cooking the rice such as kamameshi.

Apparently in the Kanto (Eastern Japan) area they are called o-musubi and in the Kansai (Western Japan) area they are called o-nigiri. In Hawaii, we call them musubi. When the immigrants came to Hawaii during the Sugar Cane era, a majority of them were from Hiroshima (my great-grandma included), this area calls them o-musubi, so it is thought that for this reason, the people in Hawaii call them musubi. Since this is the name I'm used to, I'm going to use the word musubi throughout the rest of this post.

In Japanese, to nigiru means to mold with your hands and there are folklore which tells of throwing a rice ball to kiru(cut/kill) an oni(ogre) = oni o kiru--->onigiri. Musubu means to join and is named for a god who would wrap the souls of people with the bounty of the soil, namely rice.

There are 4 popular shapes of musubi. Sankaku (triangular), Taikogata (flat drum shaped), tawaragata (oblong rice bundle shaped) and kyujyo (round ball shaped). The most popular shape is sankaku and is found throughout Japan and Okinawa. The taikogata shape is found mainly in the Tohoku (North-Eastern) part of Japan. The tawaragata shape is found in Kansai (Western Japan) and Kyushu (Southern Japan).

Have you ever tried making them on your own? Were your hands laden with sticky rice and it was just a big, ugly mess? Well, I have the perfect solution. I got this idea from a friend. When I was working in Hawaii, we would eat lunch together and she would bring her musubi wrapped in saran wrap. As she ate it, the shape of the musubi would start to fall apart, so she would constantly re-wrap it and shape the musubi as she ate it.

First off, make sure your rice is sticky. The minute rices or instant rices won't cut it.

Take a piece of saran wrap and place it onto your counter in a diamond shape. Scoop some rice and place it in the middle of the wrap.

Add your gu (filling).

Scoop more rice and put it on top of your gu.

Pick up all four corners.

Now start molding your musubi. Cup your left hand this creates the bottom of the musubi. With your right hand, cup your hand but face your fingers perpendicular to your left hand. Squeeze gently and rotate the "ball" of rice in your hand repeating the cupping and squeezing. After you get the musubi quite compacted, you can add your nori (seaweed sheet). Carefully unwrap your musubi. Laying the saran wrap in the diamond position.

There are two sides to nori. A smooth side. I like this side because it is nice and shiny!

And a rough side. This is the side that was touching the bamboo slats which dried the nori, it doesn't have a sheen to it.

I usually put the rough side onto the musubi and face the smooth side out towards you. You can put which ever side you like facing out.

Now, it is time to wrap your musubi up. I use saran wrap but they used to use bamboo leaves. Bamboo leaves also helps keep germs out and helps keep your musubi fresh. But in recent years due to the cost of harvesting the leaves, it is almost non-existent. I wouldn't mind using the leaves as plastic wrap isn't very green.

Holding the nori place the musubi with the tip of the triangle in the middle of saran wrap and align it with the tip of the diamond.

Bring the bottom of the diamond up and then the left and right sides. The top of the diamond will be the last "fold" (this is so that you will know where to open the musubi when it is time to eat).

All ready to go!

Most people use salted water when they make musubi with their hands. It is supposed to help with preventing spoilage and it is also supposed to taste better but I don't use salt because Satoshi has high blood pressure. I suppose if you would like to use some salt, put some salt into some water and wet your hands with this, re-shape the musubi with your wet salted hands then put the nori onto your musubi.

The nori that I buy is a yakinori (toasted seaweed sheet) and is already cut into "strips", which makes it easy to use, no fussing with scissors and trying to figure out how wide the nori should be. After opening the package of nori, I stick it into the freezer and everyday when I make a musubi for Satoshi, I take one sheet out, wrap his musubi and then stick the package back into the freezer.

What kinds of fillings do I use? I usually buy furikake (dried seasonings for rice), iwanori (wet seasoned seaweed), tsukemono (pickled veggies). I also use shiofuki konbu (dried seasoned seaweed) and tororo konbu (a thinly shaved seaweed). If you can't get these fillings where you are, anything will be fine. Leftover salmon? just flake it and put some into your musubi. The fillings for musubi are endless.

Okay, so let's eat...since you wrapped the musubi with the last fold being the tip, make sure you hold the musubi "upright", open it up.

Itadakimasu!

Have a nice weekend.

p.s. Whatever shape of musubi you make, make sure that you do not cover the whole thing with nori, make sure a little white is showing. In Hawaii, a "black" musubi is what you serve to the deceased.