ingredients

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...

Dashi powder? Use sparingly, if at all

I was recently sent a book about Japanese cooking for review. I wasn’t too impressed by the book for a variety of reasons, but one thing that really bothered me was that it used dashi stock powder for practically every recipe. (What made it worse is that the book’s title proclaimed the recipes therein to be “Healthy”.)

Dashi stock powder is akin to soup stock cubes in Western cooking. Like soup stock cubes, they are a very convenient way to add a concentrated dose of umami to a dish. I do have a box of the stuff in my kitchen which I use on occasion.

But keep in mind that dashi stock powder contains quite a lot of MSG. The good or bad of MSG may be a debatable subject, but when it comes to food additives I always like to be on the cautious side. Besides, with the right ingredients making dashi stock from real ingredients, even a vegan version, doesn’t take that much time - and tastes a whole lot better too. This is different from the time and effort, not to mention the mess, needed to make a good chicken stock, for example. On my list of Japanese pantry essentials, I have put MSG or Ajinomoto as something that’s optional, and I regard dashi powder in the same light.

In Japan, more and more households are turning away from dashi stock powder for health reasons, especially in families with small children. I don’t see any reason for people new to Japanese cooking to start out on the wrong leg by relying on an iffy convenience product. 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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All natural instant pickling (tsukemono) seasoning mix

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If you browse the aisles of a Japanese grocery, you may run across various instant tsukemono mixes. These come either in liquid or dry form. The dry granules in particular are very handy to have around, and they can make sokuseki zuke in a hurry. However, they usually contain MSG, preservatives and such.

Scouring around the Japanese parts of the interweb, I came across several pages that had recipes for a homemade instant tsukemono mixes, such as this one. They all used MSG or dashi stock granules though, and I wanted to come up with a mixture that was made up 100% of natural ingredients.

After some tinkering around and almost ruining the motor of my food processor, here’s the mixture I came up with. To up the umami quotient it has a full 100 grams of finely chopped konbu seaweed in it. It also has some interesting very Japanese ingredients in it such as dried yuzu peel and yukari, dried powdered red shiso leaves. continue reading...

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Dashi stock granules, Ajinomoto, MSG and health considerations

Seamaiden, who has a lovely gluten-free blog called Book of Yum, asked in the comments here whether Ajinomoto is gluten-free. Since I know that a lot of people become interested in rice-centric Asian cuisines, including Japanese, because of the wide variety of wheat-free dishes, I thought I’d post some of my findings here about Ajinomoto and dashi stock granules rather than bury them in the comments.

Monosodium glutamate or MSG is a concentrated and manufactured form of umami. It is a flavor enhancer with a lot of controversy. I won’t get into that at the moment, since reactions to MSG really vary widely depending on the individual. The reality is that MSG is present in many manufactured food products. 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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Guinness Marmite!

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Wow, look at the gorgeous black and white special edition Guinness Marmite jar! Limited to a run of 300,000 jars, this special blend of Guinness and Marmite is on sale in the U.K. right now. I’m not too sure how different it would be in taste from regular Marmite, which is after all a yeast spread. I’m speculating it might taste like the slightly beer-y Cenovis. Now how to get my hands on one… (link via Coolest Gadgets and The Guinness Blog - yes, Guinness has a blog. The portal is a bugger…just say you are from England, and old enough.) continue reading...

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The formula for making Japanese curry powder

As I wrote in the Beef Curry recipe, I don’t make my own curry powder. Lomo asked in the comments about the “secret” 15 to 20 spices that make up curry powder. After poking around a bit on Japanese web sites, I came up with this page that describes what goes into S & B curry powders, the most popular brand by far in Japan. It’s an official S & B page, so should be accurate, though as you can see the percentage given have a pretty wide range. I guess it’s because the actual formulas are ‘secret’. In any case it gives a starting point for any experimentation I think.

I’ve also included a recipe for making garam masala. Note that I make no claims whatsoever that these are authentic mixes for Indian or other curries, but I’m talking here about Japanese curry.

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Gobble, gobble, or maybe not

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The BBC News web site’s Magazine section has an article today about the history of how turkey became fast food. While it’s about turkey production in the UK, it’s probably applicable to any nation that has large scale consumption, and production, of turkey meat. continue reading...

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links for 2007-01-21

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  • Extra virgin olive oil goes rancid just as fast in the fridge as at room temperature, so storing all those bottles in the fridge is pretty meaningless. Another great report on Harold McGee's blog.

The Great Natto Diet Rush: The sticky road to weight loss (maybe) (OJFTMHYLW extra)

I was not going to talk about natto as part of my Odd Japanese food that may help you lose weight(OJFTMHYLW) series this week. But coincidentally, natto as a diet aid has been in the news big time in Japan, with claims that a 'magical' substance in this sticky food helps people to effortlessly lose weight. continue reading...

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Dried vegetables: Kiriboshi daikon, hoshi shiitake, and more (OJFTMHYLW no. 3)

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At some time in the past. all our ancestors must have relied on drying as a means of preserving food, especially vegetables. Unfortunately most of these have disappeared from our tables in the West except for grains and legumes. (See note at the end of this article for some exceptions.) continue reading...

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Seaweed: Hijiki, wakame, kombu, nori, kanten

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Next up in the OJFTMHYLW list is seaweed. But..why not call it sea vegetables? Weed sounds so unappetizing, so unwanted. Yet, seaweed is a terrific food. continue reading...

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A week of (odd) Japanese food that (may) help you lose weight

Dieting is just as popular in Japan as it is in other countries, despite the low obesity rates and things there. Fad diets are very prevalent, as are a lot of dubious diet supplements (sapurimento). But if you look at traditional Japanese food, there are a lot of items that are naturally low in calories, carbs and glycemic indeces, high in fiber, and in some cases even have a lot of beneficial nutrients. These items are being looked at anew as weight loss aids in Japan, which is a great thing I think. 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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links for 2007-01-11

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A further education in truffles

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A few days after visiting the truffle market in Richerenches, we were staying in the medieval town of Uzès in the Gard. While the Gard is technically part of the Languedoc region, it feels very much like Provence. continue reading...

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Marmite, Vegemite, and...Cenovis? A tale of salty yeast spreads

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Since it was reported a couple of weeks ago (erroneously, as it turns out) that Vegemite was a banned substance in the U.S., there's been renewed interest in the mysterious black spread from Australia, and its bitter rival in the yeast-extract world from the UK, Marmite. continue reading...

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The U.S. (allegedly) bans Vegemite...can Marmite be far behind?

I really had to look twice at the calendar to make sure I hadn't suddenly skipped ahead a few months to April 1st when I read this news story: continue reading...

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An education in olive oil

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Olive oil is so ubiquitous nowadays that you may not even think twice about it. But the world of olive oil goes so much deeper than you might imagine. It's not just about buying a bottle labeled Extra Virgin and trusting it's all good. continue reading...

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Argan oil, golden oil from ancient Berber trees

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Back in August The Observer Food Monthly ran a series of articles about ethical and unethical food. One of the products mentioned as an "ethical" choice was argan oil. I was immediately intrigued. continue reading...

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Let there be butter

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Over on my GenevaLunch blog, I've written about the wonderful taste and smell of Swiss butter. If you have a chance to come here please make an effort to try some, and if you can, melt some in a hot pan. continue reading...

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Back to Japanese Basics: The essential staples of a Japanese pantry

If there is one request I get about this site via email or in comments, it's for more Japanese recipes. I have covered many of the basics here already, but it's worthwhile to go over some things again. So, for the next few weeks I'm going to focus many of the posts here back on Things Japanese. Where better to start than with the ingredients? continue reading...

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New York, New York - and where's the domestic olive oil?

My great plans for attacking the NYC food scene haven't gone that well, due to work and family commitments. I didn't make it to the Fancy Food Show after all (today is the last day but I had meetings...) So far my exploring has been limited to evening forays to local eateries, but since this is, after all, New York, that's no hardship at all. continue reading...

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links for 2006-06-27

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Konnyaku Day

I am about to leave for a short trip to the Bourgogne (Burgundy) region of France, though via the magic of delayed postings you should see a couple of new articles while I am gone. In the meantime though, you may want to take a look at konnyaku day, hosted by Jason of Pursuing My Passions. continue reading...

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Ricola Instant Herbal Tea (Ricolatee)

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Well, I had managed to avoid getting a cold all winter, but the recent wild temperature swings here brought on a full-blast case of coughing, fever and other unpleasant things, which came to a climax over the weekend. Thankfully I had my cans of Ricolatee (Ricola Tea). continue reading...

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Heidi's hard goat cheese, perhaps

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Aged Cheddar Cheese

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Heissi Marroni (hot roasted chestnuts)

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New rice and pickled plum

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My mother recently sent me a huge bag of shinmai from Japan. Shinmai is literally new rice, rice that was harvested this season. It really tastes wonderful; there is very little nuka (rice powder) around it, and when it's cooked, each grain seems to glisten. continue reading...

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Answering some Japanese food questions

I have sadly neglected this site, and also the email and comments received. All I can say is bad on me. Anyway, I have received several emails about Japanese food, and I'd like to answer them here in the hopes that it can help more then one person at a time.

Q. How do I make tonkatsu sauce? continue reading...

Natto

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Japanese people like to consume soy beans in many forms. The most well known soy bean product outside of the country is tofu, and edamame (green soy beans) is gaining in popularity too. There is one Japanese soy bean product that probably will never become very popular in other countries though, and that's natto. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: about soy sauce

Soy sauce is a basic ingredient in Japanese as well as many other Asian cuisines.

In Japan, there are basically four types of soy sauce: regular dark, light or usukuchi, reduced sodium or genen, and tamari, which are the rather syrupy dregs of soy sauce at the bottom of the barrel. The first two are the ones most commonly used for cooking. Reduced sodium is of course used by people with high blood pressure concerns. Tamari is never used for cooking - it's usually used as a dipping sauce, for sashimi and such. continue reading...

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Sushi dane: Tuna

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I wrote this article originally for the Sushisay New York web site. I've edited it a bit for this version.

Tane or dane is the stuff that goes on top of, or inside, sushi rice to make sushi. Sushi dane is very seasonal. Right now, tuna, probably the most popular sushi dane of all, is at its best. continue reading...

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Japanese Basics: SaShiSuSeSo

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Top row: Sa (satoh=sugar), Shi (shio=salt); Middle row: Su (su=vinegar), Se (shoyu=soy sauce); Bottom row: So (miso=fermented soy bean paste)

Besides dashi stock, the basic flavors of traditional Japanese cuisine are sugar, salt, soy vinegar, soy sauce and miso. While not many sauces uses all of these ingredients, many use at least 3. continue reading...

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