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Oahu, Hawai'i Part 2, Waikiki, Farmers' Market and Beyond

Hotel balcony, Waikiki

This was the vision I had of a hotel in Hawai’i! continue reading...

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OMG, Turducken

From the archives. I did this 3 years ago, and will likely never do it again. This is offered as a cautionary tale should you be contemplating creating a Turducken for your Thanksgiving or other holiday feast. Originally published on December 28, 2005, and edited slightly.

I am not sure what came over us. We were planning a quiet, simple Christmas dinner - maybe roast a goose, or a nice chicken or two, or something. But then someone blurted out the infamous words.

"Hey, why don't we try a Turducken?"

In case you are not familiar with turducken, it is basically a Tur(key) stuffed with a duck(en) stuffed with a (chick)en. It supposedly originated in Louisiana, and has been popularized by famed New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme. continue reading...

Oahu, Hawai'i Part 1, North Shore: Kahuku Shrimp and Shave Ice

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The joys of shrimp and shave ice on the North Shore of Oahu. continue reading...

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100 Japanese foods to try

Ever since I completed The Omnivore’s Hundred, I’ve been thinking about this: What 100 Japanese foods would I recommend people try at least once? I’ve been mulling over the list for days now, and I’m more or less satisfied with what I’ve come up with below.

I tried to keep away from foods that are only available in certain regions, or even certain restaurants or homes (e.g. my aunt’s homemade udon) and stuck to foods that are widely available in Japan. I’ve also tried to include foods from all categories and all price ranges, from wildly expensive matsutake mushrooms to el-cheapo snacks. I also did not limit the list to ‘genuine Japanese’ foods (純和風), but include Western-style yohshoku dishes and a sprinkling of chuuka (imported Chinese) foods that are so ingrained in Japanese food culture that most people barely think of them as Chinese any more. And of course, I have eaten all of the foods listed at least once - in most cases many, many times. I like them all!

The list is not numbered in order of preference. It’s just how I happened to list them.

[Update:]

I’ve now added descriptions and links to recipes if they are on the site, as well as the food names in Japanese - now with all 100 descriptions completed! I’ve made it so the descriptions are hidden initially, so you can have fun guessing what they are or trying to remember. Just click on the ? mark after each item! And I will keep adding descriptions gradually.

And no, nigiri-zushi and the most common types of sushi are not on the list, because I am assuming that if you are reading this, you’ve already had sushi. (Though… are you sure you’ve had great sushi at a top notch sushi-ya? See Judging a good sushi restaurant.)

I did not intention this to be a meme, but rather as a list of quintessentially Japanese foods that you might want to try. If you would like to post the list to your blog and play along though, please do so! Actually it would be even more fun if you make your own 10, 50, or whatever list of favorite foods if you dare. (It takes a whole lot more time and thought that you might think.) continue reading...

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About Japanese ingredients and substitutions

[Updated to add Substitution section.]

I haven’t exactly counted it up, but of the thousands of comments left on Just Hungry, not to mention Just Bento, probably at least a quarter are questions about ingredients or ingredient substitutions. So I thought I might put down what my criteria are for what kind of ingredients I choose to feature in the recipes on either site, especially when it comes to Japanese recipes. [Update added on August 15th, 2008]: I’ve also added some suggested, and acceptable, substitutions. continue reading...

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Full Japanese Breakfast, slightly scaled down

Recently, a reader asked in the comments about what I have for breakfast. It is definitely not as elaborate as this one.

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The Supersizers Go ... Regency

The sixth and final episode of The Supersizers Go was dedicated to the Regency period, the time of Jane Austen and the lecherous, gluttonous, foppish, trend-setting Prince Regent, later George IV. Again, Giles and Sue play a well off middle-upper class couple of the day—he is a small landowner with an inheritance of around £50,000—but instead of being married as in other episodes they are brother and sister. This is so that they can portray the difficult state of an unmarried woman (Sue) with not much of her own income. The cold and sometimes horrified expressions on her would-be suitors’ faces reacting to her desperate advances seemed a bit too genuine. Here she is trying to hang onto a gentleman.

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The Supersizers Go...Elizabethan

The erstwhile food time travellers went back to the earliest era covered in the Supersizers Go series, the Elizabethan period, which would be the equivalent of the Renaissance in the rest of Europe. It was a great time in British history, with adventurers exploring the world and bringing goods back from the New World, and the arts thriving, especially in the form of the Great Bard William Shakespeare.

It was also a quite exuberant and uninhibited society, one of the reasons why it’s one of my favorite periods in history. Here you see Sue Perkins contemplating Giles Coren’s massive codpiece with amusement.

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Meiji Chelsea, the Japanese candy with the '70s vibe

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Since watching the ’70s edition of The Supersizers last week, I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia kick. I was lucky (or unlucky, depending on the perspective) enough to have spend my ’70s childhood in three countries due to my father’s job—England, the U.S. and Japan. I have fond memories of food, especially sweet snacks and candy, from all three places, my tastes have changed so much as and adult that I can’t stand many of them anymore. The one sweet from that era that I still love is Meiji Chelsea butterscotch candy. continue reading...

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The Supersizers Go...to the 1970s, grooovy

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Near the end of the fourth episode of The Supersizers Go in which the food time travellers go to the 1970s, Sue Perkins says that she saw the ’70s through the banisters of the staircase, as she and her siblings peered downstairs at the goings on of the adults. This was how I experienced a good chunk of the ’70s too. I used to peer through the treads of the very ’60s open wooden staircase in the house my parents rented in Wokingham, Berkshire, head upside down, spying on my parents and their guests when they entertained.

In any case, the ’70s episode was a lot more entertaining than I thought it would be, purely for the nostalgia value. I kept on squealing in recognition at many of the various foods trotted out. It did help that I actually spend a few years in the ’70s living in England with my family, since the Supersizers focused naturally on a very British version of that decade. continue reading...

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The Supersizers Go...Victorian

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The third episode of The Supersizers Go was not as interesting to me as the previous two, simply because I knew a lot about how the Victorians ate already. I didn’t realize how much I knew until I’d watched the episode, but it’s all come down to us via Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell and other period literature, not to mention Mrs. Beeton or even the American Fanny Farmer. Also, it doesn’t look like a whole lot changed between the Victorian era and the Edwardian period, which was covered in Edwardian Supersize Me. Still, those Victorians were sufficiently different from us in their eating habits to seem quite alien, but this was definitely the transitional period between the past and modern times. continue reading...

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The Supersizers Go...Restoration: No water, lots of meat

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I was not intending to do a recap of each episode of The Supersizers Go, but they are so interesting and just right up my alley. So, if you don’t have access to BBC 2, are here for the Japanese recipes, or both, please indulge me. I’ll try to be brief. continue reading...

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After one month with a Wii Fit

I’ve had my Wii Fit now for almost a month (it was released in April here in Europe). I know it’s not directly related to food, but since a lot of people who visit Just Hungry are interested in fitness and weight loss, I thought I’d share my thoughts about it after using it for some time, especially since it just became available this week in the U.S. (Besides, way more people are likely to read it here than on my sporadically updated personal blog.)

Incidentally, I’ve written about the Wii as a fitness device previously on my personal blog, focusing on Wii Sports. In a nutshell I was not convinced that playing Wii Sports would do much to improve your fitness.

So, what about Wii Fit then? continue reading...

The Supersizers Go... on BBC Two: A fun look back at food in history

supersizers-1.jpg Giles, Sue and Allegra examine a week’s worth of rations during WWII.

Last year, a very interesting hour-long program(me) called Edwardian Supersize Me aired on BBC Four. Taking their cue from the hit documentary Supersize Me, Giles Coren, food critic for The Times, and writer/actress/comedienne Sue Perkins spent a week eating as the middle-class Edwardians did - meaning a lot. The pair are back, upgraded to BBC Two, in a new multipart series called The Supersizers Go…. The premise is the same as Edwardian Supersize Me - in each show Sue and Giles spend a week eating as people did in a certain historical era. The first episode aired last night, and the era was World War II. continue reading...

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Different types of Japanese tsukemono pickles, and how some may not be worth the hassle to make yourself

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Periodically, someone asks about Japanese pickles - those crunchy, salty, sweet-sour, even spicy bits of goodness that accompany a traditional meal, especially breakfast. There are a big variety of Japanese pickles, and sooner or later you might consider making them.

Some time ago I did a week-long series on making instant, or overnight pickles. These pickles can be made very quickly, usually with ingredients that are easy to get a hold of. If you want to try your hand at Japanese style pickles, I recommend starting there. There are also a couple of cookbooks in English dedicated to quick and easy pickles, both of which are quite good: Quick and Easy Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes by Ikuko Hisamatsu, and Easy Japanese Pickling in Five Minutes to One Day: 101 Full-Color Recipes for Authentic Tsukemono by Seiko Ogawa.

However, the type of pickles that you are likely to be served in a high class traditional inn in Japan, or even the type you can buy in vacuum sealed packs at a supermarket, are a bit more complicated to make, especially outside of Japan. Here are some examples. continue reading...

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Of cherry blossoms, ohanami and Japanese culture

It may surprise you to read this, but I do not actually miss living in Japan that much generally, except for my family and the food. My home territory there is the greater Tokyo area, and while Tokyo is a great metropolis, it’s also unbearably congested and you are living on top of other people all the time. To borrow a term used for another place in the world, generally speaking it’s a nice place to visit, but I’m not sure (given a choice) that I’d want to live there. But there are certain times of the year when I do wish I were there, and right now is one of them. It’s cherry blossom time. continue reading...

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JustHungry road trip report: Hello London, part 1

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Because Maki went under the knife last week, an understudy (yours truly) was sent to London for an interesting event. Here’s part one of my trip report. continue reading...

Pressure cooker love

(This is the web elf. This article is one of the articles Maki instructed to post while she’s on the disabled list.)

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If there’s a kitchen appliance that needs a serious image makeover, it’s the pressure cooker. Old myths abound about how dangerous and scary it is to use. Horror tales linger from the olden days of exploding lids and contents getting stuck on the ceiling. I’m not even sure if those stories are acrophyal, but I do admit that I sort of believed them too.

But then I inherited a 20 plus year old pressure cooker a couple of years ago. It belonged to Martha, Max’s mom, and she used it all the time until she wasn’t able to cook any more. It seems that pressure cookers are as ubiquitous in Swiss kitchens as rice cookers are in Japanese ones. (Incidentally, pressure cookers are getting more and more popular in Japan too.) Martha used to use hers for everything from soups to cooking potatoes. After my initial fears, I’ve grown to absolutely love the cooker. continue reading...

Time-tested vegan proteins

More and more these days I’m getting requests for vegan and vegetarian recipes. While I’m not a vegetarian as I’ve stated here before, I like to eat a daily menu that’s light on meat, and am always interested in vegan and vegetarian protein options.

There are several what I’d call factory-manufactured vegan protein products out there, from TVP to quorn. I’m sure they are safe and wholesome to eat, but I’m more interested in traditional, or time-tested, vegan/vegetarian protein alternatives.

This is the list I’ve come up with so far. They are Japanese-centric, since that’s what I’m most familiar with. Do you have any others to add? continue reading...

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Fu, the mother of seitan

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Vegetarians are probably familiar with seitan as a meat substitute. Seitan is wheat gluten that has been kneaded in such a way that the gluten threads align themselves to resemble meat. It was invented by advocates of the macrobiotic food movement in Japan, specifically as a meat substitute, in the 1960s. (Fairly accurate (from what I’ve read elsewhere) Wikipedia entry.)

But way before there was a macrobiotic movement, let alone seitan, people in Japan were already eating a wheat protein product called fu (麩). Like seitan, fu is made from the gluten that is extracted from wheat flour. Sometimes the gluten is mixed with other ingredients. There are two kinds of fu: raw (namafu 生麩), which is basically fresh fu; and grilled and dried (yakifu or yakibu 焼き麩). Here I’d like to focus on the dried kind which is much easier to get a hold of for people outside of Japan. It’s also a great pantry item, since it keeps for a long time. continue reading...

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Zakkokumai: Rice with seeds and grains and bits

[Update:] There seems to be some confusion about how zakkokumai is cooked and looks like, so I’ve added some more photos and such.

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Rice is such an integral part of a Japanese meal, that the word for ‘meal’ (gohan, ご飯) also means rice. White rice is the norm, both for taste and for various cultural reasons. But as you probably know, white rice (hakumai, 白米) is rice that has been stripped of most of its nutrients, leaving just the starch.

Brown rice (genmai) is the obvious healthier alternative. But brown rice can take some time to cook, what with the soaking and so on that’s needed, and some people simply don’t like the taste or texture.

In recent years, something called zakkoku-mai (雑穀米)has become increasingly popular in Japan. Zakkoku just means “mixed grains”, and mai is rice. Another name for essentially the same thing is kokumotsu gohan (穀物ご飯). continue reading...

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Ask Maki anything, well almost anything (or just say hi)

This post is now closed to new comments. It’s now replaced by the new forum section, Ask Maki Almost Anything.

makiface-redshirt-sm.pngThanks to you (yes, I’m looking at you!) Just Hungry and Just Bento have really grown in popularity recently. This has also meant that I’m getting more emails. I do very much appreciate getting your emails, but there’s a couple of disadvantages to email.

  • It’s a one on one communication so your question will only benefit you. It might just benefit a lot of other readers. I do actually end up answering the same thing several times.
  • I may not know the answer but someone else might!
  • I’m really bad at email. Don’t ask me why. I try to answer things as fast as possible but sometimes emails languish in my inbox for days, or I forget about answering them. Then you get mad at me and think I’m ignoring you, etc.
  • Answering lots of individual emails takes time away from me writing new posts, not to mention spending time with my family/friends, exploring new foods, and all that kind of thing.

Hence, this is Ask Maki (almost) Anything. comments here will remain always open, to ask me anything that doesn’t fit into the context of a particular post. Unless it’s something that must remain private, please post here before emailing. Thank you! continue reading...

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Answering some rice cooker questions

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A few readers have emailed me recently about rice cookers by coincidence. So I thought I would put my answers here for everyone’s benefit. continue reading...

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Christmas in Japan, Switzerland, elsewhere

Confiserie Sprüngli Zürich Christmas Chocolates

A reader emailed me asking, how people celebrate Christmas in Japan.

My answer to that is … “Not very well.” But I get to pick and choose. continue reading...

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Thank you for sharing your wonderful food memories!

First of all, thank you so much to all of you who shared your food memories for our 4th Anniversary event. You made us laugh out loud, you made us chuckle, and you brought tears to our eyes. If we could we would have given the prize to everyone! But we only have one book in our budget…so, after a weekend of arguing back and forth, we finally selected one jewel out of a whole boxful of treasures: Mitch’s entry, I Ate Love. continue reading...

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Just Hungry 4th anniversary book giveaway: Hungry Planet

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[Update: The winner is announced!] continue reading...

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Comparison shopping: Ordering Japanese books and media online

This not quite food related, but I thought it might be of interest if you’re reading this site and like to order Japanese books, DVDs and other media.

I go through books like I can go through a bag of potato chips. I order quite a lot of books almost every month from Japan. I don’t have a local Japanese bookshop available, so I get everything from online stores.

I’ve ordered books in the past mainly from three sources: Amazon Japan, Yes Asia and JList. (Disclaimer: Just Hungry is an affiliate of all three companies, and product links do contain affiliate code that helps to pay costs for running the site.) Each has its advantages and disadvantages. continue reading...

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Announcing Just Bento, a site about healthy, tasty bento box meals

Just Bento, my new brand site dedicated to the making of bento box meals, is now officially open! It will have bento-specific recipes, tutorials and tips galore. While the majority of the bento box examples will be Japanese or Japanese-style bentos (geared and adapted for people who don’t live in Japan), there will be foods and recipes from many other cuisines too, just as on Just Hungry.

The focus is on bento lunches for busy adults, especially those who are looking to using bento lunches to regulate healthy eating habits and/or lose weight. Why? Because that’s how I use bento lunches. Late last year I made a resolution to try to lose some weight in 2007. While a lot of things I attempted in order to achieve that goal fell by the wayside, one of the things that ‘stuck’ was making bento lunches at least 2 to 3 times a week, if not more. So far, I have very slowly lost about 30 pounds (15 kg), and plan to keep going! I occasionally indulge in more luxurious and/or time-consuming bentos too, but that’s all part of keeping things fun and loose.

Time is of the essence in the morning, so every bento example will be presented with a graphical timeline besides step-by-step instructions. (See Bento no. 1 for an example). Most bentos will be take less than 30 minutes to make, and the majority will clock in at 20 minutes or under.

There are already several articles up on the site. And no, Just Hungry will not be neglected; there’ll be a lot of cross-referencing of tips, recipes and more between the sites. continue reading...

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Romancing the truffle in Richerenches, Provence

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Originally published on December 9, 2006: We won't be able to go to Provence this winter because of work, but I still dream about it, and plan for the next trip hopefully in the spring. Here is an article from our trip last year, about a wonderful truffle market in northern Provence. I hope you enjoy it!

The lady vendor with the intense blue gaze and the black beret on her head looks a little like a French Resistance worker from an old movie. She gestures with her hands as she talks, occasionally taking one of her wares gently in her slender fingers. Around her a curious group of people gathers, looking and sniffing intently, asking questions. I slowly inch my way to the front and look into the bowl, then up to her face, my meager French deserting me. She smile and tells me to pick one. continue reading...

Hoku hoku is fall (and some Japanese words for food)

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My general ‘simple is better’ attitude to food has continued into the fall. At the moment I’m not cooking much per se, but I am enjoying the foods that are so good at this time of the year. A lot of these foods share a similar quality, for which I can’t think of an appropriate word in English to describe. There’s a perfect word in Japanese though - hoku hoku. Hoku hoku is the word that is used for a starchy, dense, sweet flavor and texture. Think of roasted sweet chestnuts, winter squash, and sweet potatoes. Baked white potatoes can be hoku hoku too.

My favorite hoku hoku food is sweet potato - though I do mean the kind we get in Japan (called satsuma-imo), not the kind that’s most commonly seen in the U.S. (and here in Europe too). The U.S. kind of sweet potato has an orange skin and bright orange-yellow flesh, but the Japanese kind that I grew up with has a pale cream-white flesh and pink-purple skin. It’s less fibrous and sweeter than the orange-flesh kind, which I feel needs added sweeteners most of the time (which is why it’s so great in sweet potato pie and the like). continue reading...

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Pondering macrobiotics

In the last few years, there seems to have been a resurgence in the interest in macrobiotics in Japan. At least it does seem so judging from the magazine articles and cookbooks devoted to the subject.

If you’re unfamiliar with macrobiotics, it’s a form of almost-veganism (macrobiotics does allow for some fish) with quite idiosyncratic theories. It originated in Japan, was exported to the West, and gained popularity in some circles, especially the ones devoted to alternative lifestyles (like hippies and such). There’s a tendency in Japan to get overly impressed by anything (or anyone) in Japanese culture that gets popular in other countries, which I think accounts for at least part of the renewed popularity of macrobiotics - or makurobi as it’s abbreviated to - there. The macrobiotic diet has a lot of similarities to the traditional, or pre-WWII, diet, but isn’t quite the same. It’s also not the same as sho-jin cooking - elegant vegan cuisine that was originated by Zen Buddhist monks.

I’ve been generally trying to increase my repertoire of vegetable and grain based dishes this year (though I’m not a vegetarian), so I’ve done quite a lot of research into makurobi these past few months. There are plenty of very appetizing looking cookbooks coming out regularly, and I’ve collected quite a stack of them.

Yet it’s quite unlikely that I’ll be turning into a full-fledged macrobiotic convert any time soon. The main reason is that I can’t fully buy into one of the central philosophies of the religion - I mean, theory - that of yin and yang foods. Basically the theory is that all foods have yin (dark or cold) and yang (light or warm) energies, and we are better off eating close to the center of the yin and yang scale. Foods that are at the center are generally things like whole grains, beans and other pulses, root vegetables (but not potatoes), and so on. Since macrobiotics did originate in Japan, brown rice is the king of grains. continue reading...

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A belated review of Ratatouille

ratatouille-movie.jpgYesterday, we finally got to see Ratatouille (the movie that is, not the dish), when it opened in western or French-speaking Switzerland. The movie theater in Lausanne was only sparsely filled, though since the weather was so glorious, and it was Swiss National Day (sort of like Independence Day in the U.S. in terms of the way in which people celebrate it, with barbeques and fireworks) I guess that was sort of understandable. Anyway, my review, with many spoilers, follows after the jump. continue reading...

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Nature has the best recipe

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At the moment, cherries are everywhere here in Switzerland. Roadside signs proclaim “Kirschen” or “Chriesli” (the Swiss-German dialect for cherries), luring you to farms and fruit groves and farm stores. They’re on sale at the Migros supermarket too, for the busy person to pick up in a hurry.

When I get started on cherries, I can’t seem to stop until I’ve had my fill, and I do mean fill, of that sweet, dark juice with a hint of sourness. Fresh cherries are so good that I just can’t bring myself to do anything more than pop them in my mouth one after another, methodically spitting out the pits. I know there are numerous cherry recipes out there, but as delicious as things like cherry pie and cherry clafouti are, there’s really nothing to beat the naked, unadorned cherry. continue reading...

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Salty bread and salty tears

monsegur-lostsign.jpgThe sign that is no more.

As we approached the tiny hilltop village of Montsegur-sur-Lauzon in northern Provence, my mouth was already watering in anticipation of the bread at the one and only boulangerie (bakery) there. I’d been looking forward to this for months, ever since last November, when we’d made one last stopover to load up on bread to sustain us for the long drive back home and a couple of days beyond.

I’ve written about my love for this boulangerie before. The bread there was the best I’ve ever had - bursting with flavor and character. Even when the loaves turned a bit stale after a couple of days, they were still so good. I was convinced that if the baker, Monsieur Metaud, was in Paris, he’d be world famous.

It was a Sunday, and there was a small queue of people waiting for their bread in the tiny store. Neither of the two people behind the counter, a young man and a middle aged woman, were Madame or Monsieur Metaud, but that didn’t concern us - they had other people selling bread there before, especially on weekends. But as we shuffled closer to the front of the line, something seemed a bit off. The collection of exotic teas that used to line the wall shelves were gone. The pretty display of confections was quite pared down. continue reading...

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I have seen the peanut brittle light, and it shines from Virginia

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One of the (many) food obsessions I have is nut brittles. Peanut brittle, macademia nut brittle, almond brittle (which, when pulverized, turns into praline). I love that combination of caramel and nut flavor. Peanut brittle is the most handy kind to get a hold of, and make. I make it as often as my teeth and waistline allow.

But, I realized yesterday that I have never had truly good peanut brittle. continue reading...

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The Edwardians and their food on BBC Four

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BBC Four is running a series of program(me)s about the Edwardians, and two of those are about the food of the era. They have already aired but will be repeated several times as most BBC Four shows are. Both are well worth watching for anyone interested in food and history.

Edwardian Supersize Me is the showier of the two. Giles Coren, food critic for The Times, and TV presenter Sue Perkins lived the life of well-off Edwardians for a week, and ate like the Edwardians of the upper-middle class did - in Sue’s case while wearing a corset. Their in-house meals were cooked by famed food writer Sophie Grigson, from an Edwardian housekeeping book, and they also ate out frequently since this was the era when restaurant dining became popular in England. continue reading...

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Tasting Guinness Marmite

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Back in February I reported on the new limited edition Guinness Marmite. Since then, the salty yeast spread connoisseur in me yearned to taste this mysterious combination. Parts of me panicked at the thought of it selling out before I had a chance at it.

Enter my friend Mimi to the rescue. She kindly procured not one, but four, yes 4, 250 gram jars of Guinness Marmite for me, which arrived in the mail today. My first reaction: “ZOMG, a kilo of Marmite!” (That’s about 2.2 lb for the metrically challenged.)

Calming down, I proceeded to inspect it in detail. continue reading...

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Onigiri in the movies: Kamome Diner (Seagull Diner) and Supermarket Woman

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Whenever I am feeling blue, one of the foods that I crave is onigiri. You could just chalk that up to the fact that it’s mostly rice = carbs and I’m just craving a carb fix. But it really goes beyond that. It’s tied to memories of my aunts making row upon row of perfectly shaped onigiri for a family gathering, and the salty tinge on my lips from the giant onigiri my mother made for me for a school outing.

Two of the most popular articles here on Just Hungry are the ones about onigiri. It’s great to see so many people from around the world enjoying this quintessential Japanese comfort food.

There are two very interesting Japanese movies where onigiri play a starring role, in quite different ways; Kamome Diner (Kamome Shokudoh) and Supermarket Woman (Suupaa no Onna). Although neither seems to be available on DVD in English speaking countries yet, I thought I’d talk about them a bit. continue reading...

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Introduction to quick Japanese tsukemono (pickles)

In Japan, tsukemono or pickles are used as hashi-yasume, literally “chopstick resters”, side dishes that have a totally different texture and flavor. So for instance if you had some grilled meat with a sweet-savory sauce as the main course, you might have some simple, crunchy pickled cucumber slices to go with it.

This week I’ll be posting some quick Japanese vegetable pickle recipes. Japanese pickles can be very loosely divided into three kinds: the kind that take some time to ‘ripen’, but then last indefinitely, rather like Western style pickles; the kind that is ready in a few days, but which require a pickling bed that takes time to make and to maintain; and finally, the quick and easy kind that can be made and eaten within a day. The last two kinds do not keep well - just like fresh vegetables, they must be eaten within a short time.

Quick pickles, called sokusekizuke (instant pickles) or ichiya-zuke (overnight pickles) depending on how long they take to come to full flavor, are very easy to make as their names suggest. They are a great way to prepare vegetables without having to add any additional fat, though a few recipes do call for some oil. continue reading...

A typical Swiss farm shop (Food Destinations #5)

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For Food Destinations No. 5, the theme of which is “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”, our first inclination was to pick a restaurant we go to often. But while we have some favorites, we don’t really go to any one restaurant more than once or twice a month on average, since we like variety when eating out. On the other hand, there are a couple of food stores that we shop in almost every day, where they truly know our names. One of our favorite haunts is our very typically Swiss local farm shop in the suburbs of Zürich. continue reading...

A dozen Japanese herbs and vegetables to grow

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I am finally getting around to sowing some seeds for the vegetable garden. I really should have sown some things earlier, but I figure it’s not too late yet.

If you are planning a vegetable garden, or even a few pots on your windowsill, and want to introduce some Japanese flavors, here’s a list of some herbs and vegetables to consider growing, in order of importance and ease of growing in a temperate climate. (That’s one with real winters…at least, before global warming.) The ones marked with an *asterisk can be grown in pots. A couple of my favorite seed sources are listed at the bottom. continue reading...

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Suribachi, Japanese grinding bowl or mortar

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When I wrote about essential Japanese cooking equipment a while back, I forgot to mention one item that I use quite often, a suribachi. A suribachi is a sturdy ceramic bowl that’s used with a grinding stick called a surikogi like a mortar and pestle. While I’m a big fan of handy electric equipment like food processors for many tasks, sometimes the results you get by doing things by hand are well worth the elbow grease needed. continue reading...

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Yakitate!! Japan

yakitatejapanbig.sidebar.jpgYakitate!! Japan is a popular manga series. So popular in fact that it’s one of the few manga that’s available (legitimately) in English. There was also an anime series, which so far is only (legally) available in Japan. It sort of belongs to a genre of manga called Gourmet (gurume) Manga, manga whose main theme is food-related. The Wikipedia Japan page for Gourmet Manga lists more than 100 titles in this genre, though as far as I know only Yakitate!! is available in English at the moment. (I’ll be talking about other gourmet manga eventually.)

The Yakitate part of the title means “freshly baked”. The Japan part is a pun of sorts: pan is the Japanese word for bread (the word was imported from Portuguese most likely), and the goal of the main character is to find the ultimate JaPan, or Japanese bread. The title sequence of the anime says that “There’s furansu pan (French bread), igirisu pan (English bread), doitsu pan (German bread) but no bread to represent Japan”. The story unfolds in the form of several big Iron Chef style baking competitions, where the main character Kazuma Azuma and others vie with each other for fame and glory. A running gag is that the bread creations are so delicious that they make the eaters, especially main judge Kuroyanagi, have extreme reactions like dying and going to heaven, or (from another judge) sprouting a live peacock out of his head. continue reading...

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Troubleshooting homemade tofu

Recently reader Joanna emailed asking why her home made tofu was, while creamy, not turning into an actual block of tofu. This happens to me sometimes too. The non-coagulated creamy tofu (which looks rather like fresh ricotta) can still be used in ganmodoki and other recipes that call for mashed up tofu, so it doesn’t have to go to waste. Still, it is disappointing when, after all the trouble you’ve gone to to make tofu, your carefully formed block disintegrates instead of holding firm. continue reading...

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Soy sauce based dipping sauces used in Japanese dishes

A lot of Japanese dishes are quite subtly flavored to start with, and are eaten dipped in a simple soy sauce based dipping sauce. You’re probably familiar already with the wasabi + soy sauce combination used for most kinds of sashimi and sushi, but there are a few others. Which sauce goes with which dish really seems to depend as much on tradition as anything, though certain combinations just fit better than others. The ratio of flavoring to soy sauce is a matter of personal taste in most cases.

Whenever using a dipping sauce, try not to dunk whatever you are eating into it. The common sushi eating mistake made is to dunk the rice side into soy sauce - this not only makes the rice grains go all over the place, often down your front, but absorbs way too much soy sauce. Turn the sushi over and dip the fish just a bit instead. (I tend to think that this rice-dunking is why a lot of the finer sushi restaurants nowadays serve their sushi pre-seasoned, needing no dipping.)

Here are the most commonly used dipping sauce combinations: continue reading...

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Adapting the No Knead method for desem bread

desem_sliced1.sidebar.jpgLike probably everyone, or at least every food blogger, in the world with an oven and a fondness for baking bread, I tried the No Knead Bread as written up in the New York Times in November. Authored by Mark Bittman via Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York, this almost perplexingly easy method of mixing up a bread dough that has that distinctive 'artisanal bread' crumb and thin, crackly crust caused a sensation in the teapot that is the world of food blogging.

As just about everyone says, it does produce a very good bread. And yet...for me it lacked that something extra special. This has a lot to do with the fact that in this country good bread is quite easy to get. Even the bread sold at the major supermarkets is not bad at all. The rather shiny, slightly gummy, open-grained texture of the No Knead Bread reminded me of pain paillase, a very popular twisted loaf bread that's widely sold in Swiss bakeries. The thing is though, pain paillase, being a sourdough bread and baked into a fat baguette shape, is tastier than the all-white flour No Knead Bread. So, I haven't baked any basic No Knead since the first couple of loaves. Besides. I'm trying to cut out white flour at the moment. continue reading...

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More about onigiri: keeping them fresh and more

In a comment to my Onigiri Revisited post, Jennifer said:

I’ve made fresh onigiri a number of times and would love to be able to make it the night before and take into work with me the next day. How do I do that? (or am I out of luck?) The rice gets all hard and I’ve tried sprinkling water on it in the microwave, but then it falls apart. Suggestions? Do I need a special type of rice? How do I store it after it is made?

Onigiri really are better if made the morning of the day you’re going to eat them. I remember my mom waking up very early in the morning to make onigiri when we had a school outing (which usually meant an obento lunch with onigiri).

That being said, you can make them the night before, but you need to take some measures. There are a few things you can do to have moist (but not wet) rice balls. continue reading...

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Looking at rice

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(I've updated this very popular post with some info about germ rice (haiga-mai) and sprouted brown rice (hatsuga genmai). In case you missed it the first time around, here it is again in your RSS reader and on the front page.)

Rice is a big part of my food life. While I do like other kinds of carbohydrates, especially good bread and pasta, rice is definitely my favorite. I usually have on hand several different kinds of rice, each with a different use. Here are the ones I have in the pantry right now that I use in everyday cooking. continue reading...

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Food Destinations 4: Schweizer Heimatwerk, Zurich

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Schweizer Heimatwerk store signThe theme of the fourth round of Food Destinations, hosted by Paula of Mango and Lime, is My Favorite Gourmet Gift Shopping Spot.

Memories of New Year's feasts in Japan

I love Christmas celebrations, and Thanksgiving when I'm in the U.S., but the holiday that has the most memories for me is New Years. This is the biggest holiday celebrated in Japan. continue reading...

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