recipe

Kanten vs. agar plus tokoroten in the Japan Times, plus a sweet version

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About the difference between kanten and agar, plus cool, slippery glassy noodles. continue reading...

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A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for roasting a chicken

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A whole chicken in Japan is luxurious feast food. In France, it’s everyday dinner on a budget. continue reading...

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Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: Caramel Stewed Apples

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[Update] As of March 2014, Kinou Nani Tabeta?, re-titled What Did You Eat Yesterday? is now being released in English by Vertical! Volume 1 is available now. I am re-featuring this review that I wrote in December 2010 to commemorate this happy news. ^^

Kinou Nani Tabeta? (What did you eat yesterday?) is a wonderful manga series that features lots of delicious recipes. One of them is a supremely simple recipe for stewed caramel apples. continue reading...

Washoku, Japanese citrus and yuzu-cha (yuzu 'tea')

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Catching up on various things, plus a not-really-a-recipe for yuzu tea or yuzu-cha. continue reading...

Pepper-Lemon Chicken Karaage: Wheat, gluten and soy-free

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This is a gluten and soy-free version of a classic recipe, that's just as tasty as the original. continue reading...

Baked Kuri Kabocha Squash and Apple Maple Pudding (and it's vegan too)

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(The 10 year anniversary of JustHungry is at the end of this month. To commemorate this event I’m highlighting some of my favorite posts from the archives. This very healthy squash pudding or crustless pie would make a very good side dish for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s vegan, so anyone can enjoy it without worry! It is not that sweet - probably less sweet than many traditional side dishes. I hope you give it a try! Originally on published November 19, 2007, and tweaked a bit since. If you want this to be gluten-free, choose an appropriate type of miso. The miso adds a small but critical bit of umami and richness.)

You know how certain diehard carnivores react to words like ‘vegan’ ‘no dairy’ and, gasp, ‘tofu in a sweet dish’. There’s no reason to tell them that all of these phrases are applicable to this smooth, creamy baked squash pudding, until they’ve actually eaten and enjoyed. It even is devoid of white sugar, though it is sweetened with maple syrup. The simple combination of creamy squash pudding, flavored and sweetened with real maple syrup with the pure sweetness of the squash shining through, and sweet-sourness of the apples works perfectly together. (The tofu merely adds the creamy texture; you don’t taste it at all.) It’s rich, but rests very lightly on your stomach - not a bad thing after a heavy main course. continue reading...

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A Proper Swiss Cheese Fondue

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(The 10 year anniversary of JustHungry is at the end of this month. To commemorate this pretty big birthday for the site, I’m highlighting some of my favorite posts from the archives. This recipe is for an authentic Swiss cheese fondue. It was my late mother in law Martha’s recipe. It’s perfect for a chilly evening. Originally published on December 26, 2008, one year after Martha passed away.)

Martha passed away on the 26th of December, 2007. When she was still healthy, we shared many a pot of cheese fondue with her during the cold winter months. Her fondue was without question, the best I’ve ever had anywhere. So in her memory, we made a proper cheese fondue.

I’ve already posted Martha’s fondue recipe 5 years ago (she was still making them then), but since it was one of the very early posts here on Just Hungry, it has no relevant picture to accompany the recipe or anything. To rectify that, here again is Martha’s proper Swiss fondue, with many photos and detailed instructions. continue reading...

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Small Stuffed Peppers With A Tiny Bite

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A mini-version of the usual stuffed peppers. continue reading...

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Goya Chanpuru or Champuru - Okinawan Stir Fry With Bitter Gourd

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About bitter gourd or bitter melon, called nigauri in Japanese and goya or go-ya- in Okinawan. Plus, a recipe for the most homey of Okinawan dishes, goya chanpuru or champuru. continue reading...

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Fresh shiso leaf tea

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Fresh shiso leaf tea for hot summer days. continue reading...

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Red, White and Blue Dessert

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(From the archives. If you're planning a big Fourth of July party, consider this very colorful, cool dessert, which I made for a party several years ago. There are a lot of steps involved, but you can cut corners with storebought meringue and sugar cookies if you prefer. Originally published in July 2006 (!))

I love outdoor parties in the summer, especially when it means a barbeque. July the 4th barbeque parties are the best, and I miss them sorely when I am not in the U.S. This year though, we are going to have a July the 4th party on Sunday (since the 4th is not a holiday here), complete with grilled hamburgers, wurst, and chicken. Someone else is going to do all that grilling, so I am making the dessert. continue reading...

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Pasta With Peaches and Basil

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Juucy fragrant peaches work surprisingly well in this summertime appetizer pasta. continue reading...

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Japanese-style cucumber salad with a very versatile sesame dressing

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The weather has finally gotten warm around these parts after a very cold spring, and we're eating more summertime food now. This is one of our favorite salad-type dishes. The sesame dressing is very versatile, and you can use it for any manner of things, but here I've just used it with cucumber.

Tip: the longer you let it rest before serving, the saltier the cucumber will get, so if you want to serve it as a salad you'd want to combine the cucumber with the dressing just before serving. On the other hand, if you let it marinate in the refrigerator the cucumber becomes assertive enough to eat with plain rice as part of a Japanese meal. continue reading...

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Mugicha (barley tea) is the flavor of summer in Japan

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From the archives: We apparently had the coldest spring on record in this area. It’s finally getting warm again, and today I started my first batch of mugicha this year. Here is a slightly updated article about mugicha, or toasted barley tea, my favorite non-alcoholic summer drink. This was originally published on May 10, 2007, and updated on June 10, 2008. I’ve added another update at the end.

When we were growing up, my mother frowned upon most sugary drinks for us kids. So things like sodas were generally not stocked in the house - an ice-filled cup of Coke was a great treat whenever we went out to eat. Things like Calpis, or when we lived in the U.S. Kool-Aid, were strictly rationed. The cool drink we always had in the refrigerator was mugicha, or barley tea. Even when we lived in White Plains, New York, there were always a couple of jugs of mugicha in the large American refrigerator.

Mugicha is traditionally made by briefly simmering roasted barley grains. It has a toasty taste, with slight bitter undertones, but much less so than tea made from tea leaves. To me, it’s much more refreshing to drink than plain water.

My anti-sugar mother always made sugarless mugicha, but my younger self craved the sweetened mugicha that most of my friends’ mothers seemed to make. I always begged my mother to make sweet mugicha, but she always refused. Some day, when I am the one making mugicha, I’ll put all the sugar I want in it, I used to think. So, when I reached my teen years, and my mother was back working full time, I used to pour rivers of sugar into the mugicha. My little sisters loved it. I’m not sure if it made them more hyper than usual, though I have vague memories of my younger sister sitting on my head when she got bored.

Now that I am nominally an adult, I much prefer unsweetened mugicha. I’m growing more like my mother as I get older, a rather scary thought. continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 6: Putting It All Together

Components of a typical Japanese meal

Welcome to the last lesson in Japanese 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku. I hope you’ve enjoyed the course and learned a few things along the way.

In this last lesson we’ll take a look back at what we’ve learned, and also see how to put it all together to great an authentic traditional Japanese meal at home. continue reading...

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Fish bone crackers (hone-senbei) with shoestring potatoes

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There's no need to throw away the bits of fish that you cut off when you filet them and so forth. Fish bones and heads can be kept for making soup. Or, if the bones are tender enough they can be made into delicious fish-bone crackers.

At the sushi restaurant in New York I worked at many years ago, the chefs used to serve these as extra treats to favored customers. One of those was a lovely little girl, who used to come regularly with her father. She just loved those fish bone crackers. So, one year the chefs made a big batch of them and gave her a takeout box full for her birthday. She was so happy I thought her eyes were going to pop out of her head.

I've paired these with shoestring potatoes, which taste surprisingly sweet next to the umami-rich fish bones. The type of potato is important - choose a nice firm waxy type, not a floury type like Idaho baking potatoes. Alternatively you can use sweet potatoes. continue reading...

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Iwashi no Tsumire-jiru (イワシのつみれ汁) - Sardine balls in clear soup

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Now that you know how to gut, bone and clean sardines, one of the nicest ways to eat the sardines is to turn them into little fish balls which can be floated in a hot pot, pan-fried, and so on - or most classically, served in a clear soup. The ginger and onion takes away any kind of 'fishy' taste. You can even serve this in cold soup for a refreshing change. (Warning: Not many fish guts below but there is a lot of raw fish!) continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 - Fish, Part 3: How to break down small fish

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We are entering the home stretch here for both Lesson 5, Fish and the whole Japanese Cooking 101 course. In this lesson we are going to get very intimate with fish.

Warning to the squeamish: If you find up-close photos of raw fish the way nature made them, with guts and stuff, please do not click through.

I’ve put everything ‘below the fold’ here, so if you want to read the rest please click through to the full article on the site. continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 - Fish, Part 2: Fish buying tips, plus how to "open" a fish

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More fish! In this lesson: How to suss out a good fish shop, how to gauge if a fish is very fresh, plus ‘opening’ up a whole fish. continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 - Fish, Part 1: Salmon Teriyaki

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We are starting Lesson 5, Fish, with an easy bit of salmon cooking. continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 4, Part 2: Prepping Vegetables For Sunomono

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In Part 2 of the sunomono lesson we’ll take a look at some way of prepping the vegetables. continue reading...

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 4, Part 1 : Awase-zu (Vinegar Sauces) For Sunomono

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This is Lesson 4 of Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku. In this lesson we’ll learn how to make the little refreshing side dishes called sunomono (酢の物), which often accompany a Japanese meal. Part 1 is about the various vinegary sauce combinations, called awase-zu. continue reading...

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 3 extra: Nimono without dashi

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Not all nimono dishes need to be made with dashi. If one of the ingredients has plenty of umami on its own, you can make a dashi or broth from it without having to add any more. One such ingredient is squid (ika) or calamari. If you live in an area with a sizeable Italian, Greek or other Mediterranean immigrant population, as well as us Asians, chances are you can get a hold of good quality squid. If you can, get a nice one and try this quick and simple nimono. continue reading...

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Easter brunch bunny bao (steamed buns)

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[From the archives: Easter bunny bao! One of the most successful recipes on JustHungry, these little light savory steamed buns are perfect for Easter. Originally published in April 2007.]

For a planned Easter lunch, I wanted to do something in the brunch realm, but with an Easter theme. Brunch purists may insist on eggs and pancakes and croissants and champagne for brunch, but for me ‘brunch’ means an early lunch feast after little or no breakfast, and so dim sum is my favorite kind of brunch.

Putting Easter and dim sum together, I devised these bunny shaped bao, or steamed buns. (The inspiration for the shape came from a pair of fluffy white bunny slippers I saw at a flea market last summer.) They are quite simple really: tender steamed bun dough is filled and formed into an oval, and the ears are cut with scissors. The faces are optional - for a minimalist bunny, you could just leave them blank and unadorned. Or, you could go all-out and add whiskers with slivered green onion, or whatever strikes your fancy.

The bunny bao could be stuffed with any kind of steamed bun filling (see my roast pork filled steamed buns), but keeping with the brunch theme, I’ve filled these with an egg, bacon and chive mixture. It all makes sense - eggs, and ham, and bunnies, plus spring chives. So very Easter.

You could of course omit the bunny-shaping part if you want to avoid the cuteness. continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 3: Nimono (simmered dish) basics

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This is Lesson 3 of Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku. This lesson is about making nimono (煮物) or stewed dishes, while we make a simple stewed or simmered winter vegetable dish. continue reading...

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 2 Bonus: Sushi Rice (Shari) plus Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Chirashizushi

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Once you know how to cook perfect Japanese style rice, sushi rice is a snap. continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 2: Prep and Cook A Great Bowl of Japanese Rice

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A perfectly steamed bowl of plain rice is the unquestioned star of a Japanese meal. And here’s how to cook it, in copious detail - in Lesson 2 of Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku. continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 1-Addendum: Making Miso Soup and Clear Soup with Dashi

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Now that you know how to make a proper dashi, you’re 90% on your way to making delicious miso soup and clear soup. If you have ever wondered why your miso soup doesn’t taste quite right, and you were omitting the dashi part…you’re in for a treat! continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 1: How to make dashi stock, the foundation of Japanese cooking

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Welcome to the first lesson of Japanese Cooking 101! Throughout this course I hope to teach you about the foundations of traditional Japanese cooking or washoku, as well as how to cook some Japanese dishes. We’ll start with that most critical of Japanese cooking components, properly made dashi. continue reading...

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Much too easy fruity low-sugar frozen yogurt

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A recipe that’s almost too easy to write about. continue reading...

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Hooray for Fermentation, plus Hummus with Miso

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Attempting to turn cranky Maki into happy Maki through the power of fermentation. Plus a recipe for hummus with miso. continue reading...

Recipe for Dorayaki, Doraemon's favorite snack

Doraemon's favorite snack

When I wrote about dorayaki, the sweet pancake-sandwich that is cat-robot Doraemon’s favorite snack for the Japan Times back in October, I promised to post a recipe for making the little pancakes. Well finally here it is! continue reading...

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Galettes Bretonnes, golden butter cookies from Brittany

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[From the archives. I’m not making a lot of cookies these days, but when I do these are still big favorites. They are quite plain but buttery-good, rather like shortbread but a little less rich. They are great Christmas cookies. Originally published December 2008.]

When it comes to cookies, I like them rather plain and not overly sweet. This traditional cookie from the Bretagne (Brittany) in France is so plain and simple, that the ingredients really shine. It is made of flour, sugar, egg, and the famously delicious salted butter (beurre demi-sel) of the region. Somewhat related to shortbread or sablé cookies but not as rich, for me they are almost the perfect cookie, and very more-ish.

The salted butter is the key to this cookie’s distinctive nutty, buttery sweet-salty flavor. The best salted butter from the Bretagne and other regions along the Atlantic in France are creamy-fresh and rich, with little glistening crystals of salt still visible. If you can get a hold of really good salted butter, you can use traditional recipes and the cookies will turn out the way they should. If not, some adjustments need to be made. So, I would recommend following the variation of the recipe that meets your butter quality.

(You might see something called galettes bretonnes au sarrasin. These refer to a thin crêpe or pancake made out of buckwheat (sarrasin) flour, usually served with a savory filling. I love those too, but these article is about the cookie galettes bretonnes.) continue reading...

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Shusse-uo (fish that get promoted) plus yellowtail teriyaki

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Fish that get on in life, plus a super-simple recipe for teriyaki fish made in the oven. continue reading...

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Takoyaki, the great street snack that's fun to make at home

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[Note: I am reposting this article from the archives because of this paragraph. Several people have said in the comments that a Danish Æbleskiver or ebleskiver pan would be a good substitute for a takoyaki pan. You also see this mentioned on other sites. I finally got a chance to hold a real ebleskiver pan in my hands, and the bad news is that I am not sure it really would make a good substitute. The pan makes round cakes shaped similarly to takoyaki, for sure, but they are maybe 5 to 6 times the size of a takoyaki. So what you’d end up with are huge dumplings, which would need to be cooked a lot longer than takoyaki do. One of the main features of a takoyaki is the contrast between the slightly crispy outside which gradually softens under the sauce, and the just-cooked, piping hot creamy interior. I really don’t think you can get that with a huge er, ball. But if you have tried it for yourself, please let me know.

Another note: The video I mention below that was so great has been withdrawn due to copyright violation from YouTube. I’ll replace it with more complete instructions as soon as I can, but in the meantime you can still make takoyaki from the recipe.

This was originally published in July 2007.] continue reading...

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Mochi and New Year's article in the Japan Times, plus a very rich buttery mochi dish

Mochi with brown butter, green onions and nori

All about mochi and New Year’s in the Japan Times, plus a ruinous-to-your-waistline buttery mochi recipe. continue reading...

A recipe for katsudon, plus tonkatsu and pork in The Japan Times

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A recipe for katsudon (a fried pork cutlet on rice topped with scrambled egg), and the history of pork in Japan. continue reading...

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Spring rolls (harumaki), Japanese style

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These crispy spring rolls or harumaki are authentically Japanese-Chinese (chuuka) style. continue reading...

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Nanban sauce glazed onions

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A simple thing, delicious, and eyecatching recipe starring the humble yellow onion. continue reading...

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Homemade Umeboshi (Japanese salty pickled plums) - now with troubleshooting notes

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Update: I’ve revised this, possibly the most popular umeboshi recipe in English online, to include some key troubleshooting notes. Originally published June 18, 2009. My mom has been making a batch of umeboshi every year since, and I’ve also added some more notes from her.

My mother came for a visit this week, bringing along a pot of her homemade umeboshi. I asked her to tell me how she makes them; not only did she write it down for me, she even had pictures she’d taken of her attempts in the past couple of years! So, here is my mom’s version of how to make homemade umeboshi. I’ve freely translated her Japanese explanation to English.

My mother [my grandmother - maki] used to make umeboshi every year. When I lived in New York, I was too busy working to do much cooking, let alone umeboshi! But now that I am retired, I’m trying to remember how to do things the old way. Homemade umeboshi is so much more delicious than store bought, so they are worth the effort. continue reading...

Takenoko Miso Potage: Creamy Bamboo Shoot Soup With Miso

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A very simple creamy soup, made with a quintessentially Japanese spring vegetable, bamboo shoot or takenoko. continue reading...

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Chicken Karaage: Japanese Fried Chicken

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One of the all-time favorites on this site, revised and updated. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

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Three versions of a versatile Japanese sauce that can be used as a marinade, dipping sauce or dressing. It's called Nanban or "wild southern savage" sauce. continue reading...

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How to cook perfect rice - in a frying pan

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Here’s how to cook rice quickly and easily using a regular old non-stick frying pan. It’s so easy and foolproof you won’t believe it! continue reading...

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Not-so-sweet Tsubu-an: Japanese Azuki Bean Paste (revised and updated)

Sweet azuki beans

(Update posted January 2011:) I've updated this recipe for classic tsubu-an or "chunky" style sweet azuki bean paste, originally posted back in June 2006, once again. In March 2010 I added instructions for making it with a pressure cooker - the way I've been making tsubu-an for the last couple of years. Since this was originally posted, I've received a number of comments from people who had trouble with their beans getting soft enough. After some experimentation, I've found that if the beans are fresh you can just add the sugar while cooking without much trouble, but if the beans are a bit old - which is the case more often than not unfortunately - you may run into problems. So, in this latest edit, I've revised the instructions so that people having problems with the (possibly old) beans getting soft enough, will have more success.

A lot of Japanese sweets are based on beans that are cooked with a ton of sugar to a paste-like consistency. Red azuki (adzuki) beans are the most popular kind of beans to use in sweets, and sweet azuki bean paste is called an (餡) or azuki-an (小豆あん).

I've updated this recipe for classic tsubu-an or "chunky" style sweet azuki bean paste, originally posted back in 2006, with instructions for making it with a pressure cooker. continue reading...

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Sakekasu (sake lees) article and recipe in The Japan Times, plus amazake recipe

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My latest Japan Times article and recipe are about sakekasu, the lees left over after sake is pressed. Plus: a bonus recipe for amazake, aka “Japanese eggnog”. continue reading...

Homemade mochi (pounded rice) the modern way

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How to make fresh mochi, or pounded rice, at home, with ease, and without a mochi making machine. continue reading...

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Pound cake with brandy soaked raisins for a low-key Christmas

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A recipe for a very simple yet delicious cake, suitable for the holidays or any time of the year. continue reading...

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Basics: How to sasagaki cut burdock root (gobo)

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Step-by-step instructions for making very thin shavings or doing the sasagaki cut on fibrous root vegetables like the burdock root or gobo. continue reading...

Double satoimo (taro root) with miso, sesame and honey

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This is a traditional satoimo or taro root recipe, where some of the root is used in the nutty sweet-savory sauce. It’s a very ‘fall’ dish. continue reading...

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Tororo Soba (Slimy soba noodles with grated nagaimo)

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Here’s a rather unusual (to Western tastes anyway) way to enjoy cold soba noodles - with slimy grated nagaimo root. continue reading...

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Squid and vegetable ohitashi, plus some Japanese home meals

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A simple side dish or salad to serve as part of a Japanese meal, or on its own. Plus, take a look at a couple of real Japanese home meals! continue reading...

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Perfect fried rice in a frying pan - even on an electric range or hotplate

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So you love fried rice, but don’t have a wok, or even a gas range? Here’s how to make great fried rice with a frying pan, even if it’s on an electric hotplate. (Note: this is not a low carb dish.) continue reading...

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Soupe au Pistou (a Provençal classic)

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Recipes abound in print and online for Soupe au Pistou, a bean and vegetable soup that is a Provençal classic. Mine is not much different from the rest, but it’s here because I love it so much. It reminds me of why I wanted to move here in the first place. When a pot of Soupe au Pistou is simmering away on our crappy hotplate (yes, it can be made on a hotplate) it makes my continuing kitchenless state somewhat tolerable. A big bowl warms me up when the temperature drops to the single digits celsius, and the chill seeps into this old stone house from all the gaping gaps in the doorways and windows and walls.

I make it around this time of year with fresh, undried beans - coco blanc and coco rouge - that we can buy at the markets here. They are so gorgeous, before and after shelling. However, it’s probably a lot easier for most people to get a hold of dry beans so the recipe calls for them. If you can get fresh beans, just use a tad more - 3 cups total - and skip the soaking and pre-cooking part.

For the first time on Just Hungry, I’ve included a Japanese version of the recipe too. This is mainly for my mom and aunt to read, but take a look if you are studying Japanese - or point your Japanese friends to it. It is not a translation of the English, but a version specifically for making this soup in Japan. continue reading...

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Konnyaku with garlic, olive oil and chili peppers (Konnyaku aglio olie e peperoncino)

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Konnyaku is a wonderful food for anyone on any kind of diet - provided, of course, that you like it. I do like it - it has a very unique chewy-bouncy texture. I have described konnyaku and its noodle-shaped cousin, sharataki, before, but briefly, konnyaku is a grey to white colored, gelatinous mass which basically consists of water and fiber. It has almost no calories. Right out of the package, konnyaku and shirataki have an odd smell, but if you treat it properly (directions given below) you can get rid of that and just have the flavorless yet curiously interesting mass of goo that is going to fill up your belly in a very useful way.

This is something very easy to make in a jiffy. It’s basically taking a classic Italian spaghetti recipe and applying it to konnyaku. You could make this with shirataki too, in which case it will actually look like noodles, but I rather prefer the chewier texture of konnyaku. The only thing to watch for if you are on a diet is the amount of olive oil and optional cheese you use. continue reading...

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Negimiso or Misonegi - Japanese onion-miso sauce or paste

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This is one of those really useful and versatile sauces or pastes (the consistency just depends on how long you cook it down to evaporate the moisture) that is so easy to make that it’s really barely a recipe. It’s a basic standby in Japanese kitchens. continue reading...

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Single variety tomato sauce

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Minimalist tomato sauce, made from a single variety of heirloom tomatoes. continue reading...

Low-key iridofu or scrambled tofu with vegetables - a low-carb foil for a Japanese (or other) meal

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A low-carb, low-key tofu dish that serves as a background element to a meal, serving the role that rice usually plays. continue reading...

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Tomatoes, at what temperature? Plus a super-easy tomato recipe

Heirloom tomatoes for lunch

Ahh, tomatoes. What temperature is right for them? continue reading...

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Tamago dofu: Cold savory egg custard

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(From the archives - something cool and easy, perfect for the summer. Originally published in July 2008.)

Previously, I explained how some dishes that are not tofu are called -tofu, because of the shape, texture or both. This is the case with tamago dofu, a smooth savory egg custard that’s served cold.

You can make it in a square mold, to make it look tofu-like. But I prefer to keep it a lot simpler by cooking the tamago dofu in the serving container it will be served in. This can be anything as long as it’s heat-proof. Here I have used some sturdy glass cups made of pressed glass, but I’ve also used little pudding molds, tiny glass bowls made for holding ingredients while you’re cooking, and even coffee cups.

There are very few ingredients in a tamago dofu: dashi or soup stock, eggs, and a few flavorings. Because of this, each component should be of top quality, because you’ll taste each one quite clearly. Traditionally the soup component is dashi, but I don’t really like the fish flavor of dashi when it’s cold. So I prefer to make a simple vegetable stock instead.

Tamago dofu should be served ice cold. It’s a great appetizer for a summer meal, or an interesting and soothing snack. I have been guilty of making 4 cups and ‘hiding’ them so I can eat them all by myself. continue reading...

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Strawberry Jam in copious detail

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I’ve left it until rather late in the season, but here is a recipe for a a very straightforward strawberry jam. continue reading...

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Gyoza Quesadilla

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A quickie, deconstructed version of gyoza dumplings. continue reading...

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My mother's glazed sardines (Iwashi no kanroni)

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One thing I’m really enjoying here in Japan is cooking simple things at home with my mother. To me, quintessential Japanese home cooking is a dish like this. Sardines, which happen to be quite inexpensive (and sustainable too), are slowly cooked until they are well flavored, meltingly soft, and glossy with a typically Japanese sweet-salty sauce. (The ‘kanroni’ (甘露煮) in the name refers to the method of simmering something in this sweet-salty sauce.) It uses just a few basic ingredients, so please give it a try if you can get a hold of very fresh sardines or similar oily fish. (The fish do have to be very fresh for this to be really good and not-fishy.)

I had a bit of a job working out this recipe, which comes from my mother, since she really doesn’t measure anything when she makes this! After some trial and error, I think these ingredient amounts work well. continue reading...

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Layered Cabbage Casserole - Kyabetsu no Kasaneni (an everyday favorite)

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(From the archives. A perfect leave-to-cook, warming dish for a cold evening! Originally published December 2008.)

Some dishes dazzle you with their prettiness. Others may look plain, but are just plainly delicious. This simple, filling yet healthy winter dish of cabbage layered with a meat and tofu stuffing and then poached in a flavorful liquid belongs to the latter group. continue reading...

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Nanakusagayu: Seven greens rice porridge to rest the feast-weary belly

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The more I study old Japanese customs, the more I am impressed by the logical thinking behind many of them, even when examined with modern eyes. One of these the custom of partaking of a bowl of nanakusagayu on the seventh day of the New Year, which supposedly started in the Heian Period (around the 12th century), in the refined court of Kyoto. Nanakusa means seven greens, and kayu (or to use the honorific term, okayu (お粥)), is rice porridge. The Imperial Court, now in Tokyo, still has a nanakusagayu ceremony on the morning of January 7th. continue reading...

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Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

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It’s been a cold and snowy winter so far around these parts, which usually means soups and stews for dinner. This classic Japanese soup is hearty yet low in calories, full of fiber, and just all around good for you. It helps to counteract all the cookies and sweets you might be indulging in at this time of year.

The name kenchinjiru (けんちん汁)derives from the Zen Buddhist temple where it was first made (or so it’s claimed), Kencho-ji (建長寺)in Kamakura. (Kamakura (鎌倉) was, for a brief while, the capital of Japan in the 12th and 13th centuries. Nowadays it’s a major historical tourist attraction, and a fairly easy day trip from central Tokyo.) Since kenchinjiru is a shojin ryouri or temple cuisine dish, the basic version given here is vegan. It’s still very filling because of all the high fiber vegetables used. You could make a very satisfying vegan meal just from this soup and some brown rice. continue reading...

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Recipe: Glühwein, mulled wine for Christmas and wintertime (and a bit about Christmas markets in Europe)

Originally published in December 2005, edited in November 2008.

Bubbling Vin Chaud continue reading...

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Leaf shaped black sesame cookies with matcha tea icing

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[From the archives. These sesame cookies with matcha icing look and taste quite dramatic. In leaf shapes they are rather spring-like, but try simple rounds or squares for year-round appeal. Originally published in April 2007.]

Flavor wise black sesame seeds aren’t that different, if at all, from white or brown sesame seeds. But there is something about their dramatic black-to-grey color that is quite exciting. At the moment I’m quite enamored with black sesame seeds, and have been using them instead of the regular brown ones in everything from sauces to salads.

These leaf shaped cookies contain toasted and ground black sesame seeds, dark brown muscovado sugar, and whole wheat flour, and are decorated with matcha (powdered tea) royal icing. The sweetness is quite restrained, both in the cookie and in the icing. You are first hit by the tea-flavored, very slightly bitter icing, followed by the nutty darkness of the cookie. It’s an intriguing combination. They are a wonderful accompaniment to tea, black or green, hot or iced. If the ultimate cookie to you means something very sweet and gooey you may not like these. They are quite adult cookies.

I had to shoot the pictures in a hurry, because they were disappearing faster than almost any other cookie I’ve made recently.

Since I don’t have a leaf shaped cookie cutter, I just made a simple paper template and cut the leaves out with a knife. You can cut them out into any shape you’d like of course, though given the coloring leaves seem appropriate. Quite spring-like, in fact. continue reading...

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Black bean vegan mini-burgers

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From the archives. This is terrific freshy made and hot, but is even better cold, so it’s great for bentos. Originally published in November 2007.

Over the past couple of years as I’ve pursued largely vegetarian eating, I’ve gradually accumulated a small arsenal of small, round bean patties or balls, which are great as snacks, for bento boxes, and just for dinner, in my regular rotation. This one was inspired by one of the first beany-round thing I made, the samosa-like lentil snacks from The Hungry Tiger, and a Japanese vegan cooking book called Saisai Gohan (Vegetable Meals) by Yumiko Kano. (Yumiko Kano is currently my favorite cookbook author in any language, and I’ll talk more about her down the line.) I’ve adjusted a few things to make them gluten-free.

These have the earthy, deep flavor of the black beans that is enhanced by the spices and the sauce, and they are delicious hot or at room temperature. Even diehard carnivores like them. They’re really perfect for bento lunches, and I’ve used it in the all-vegan Bento no. 5 on Just Bento. I also used them as a pita-sandwich filling in Bento no. 6.

I have described two methods of cooking these: in the oven, which is good for making them in quantity, and in a frying pan, which is perfect for making a few at a time. continue reading...

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Zucchini (Courgettes) braised in rosemary infused olive oil

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I have not doing a lot of serious cooking lately, at least not the kind that results in a useful blog post. Most of my cooking energies have been expended on another project, which is wearing me down a bit (more on that at a later time). What I have been cooking for actual meals is very simple food, that requires minimal kitchen time, though not necessarily quick to cook.

The subject of this article is zucchini (courgette) slices that are slowly braised in a fragrant oil. It requires perhaps 10 minutes of actual kitchen time, but an hour or more to complete. Days even, if you choose one option. You don’t need to hover over the pan for that time, but you do have to be nearby, to keep an eye on the hot oil, not to mention any errant pets, children or clumsy adults that wander in.

The wait and vigilance are worth it though. The zucchini slices, scented with the pine-mintiness of rosemary, become brown and sticky and almost caramelized on the surface, and soft and creamy on the inside. It’s great as an accompaniment to roast or panfried meats or fish, or as part of a vegetarian meal (try it with pasta). I could have it every day, just on its own, if it weren’t for the rather ruinous effect it has on my waistline, even if the oil is good-for-you olive oil.

This is the taste of late summer in Provence for me. continue reading...

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Nasu no miso dengaku: Japanese slow-roasted eggplant with dengaku sauce

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It’s still summertime, but I can feel the cooler days of fall coming, especially in the evenings when the temperature is dropping just a bit more than it did a few weeks ago. This is one of the best times of the year for food lovers, especially if you love vegetables.

Eggplants (aubergines) are in high season now and will be around for at least another month or so. While you can get them year-round, they are at their best of course in their natural season.

This is a classic Japanese way of serving eggplant, and it’s really easy. All you do is to slowly roast the eggplant until tender, either in the oven or on the stovetop in a frying pan, then serve with a glossy, salty-sweet dengaku (田楽)sauce. I could eat this every day, with a bowl of plain rice and some cold mugicha to wash it down. continue reading...

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Mackerel braised in miso sauce (Saba no miso ni)

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Here’s another classic Japanese recipe from my mother. I have to admit that I’m not very good with fish, with the exception of simple grilling or panfrying and so on, but my mom has all kinds of great fish recipes up her sleeve.

Last week we spent a rather chilly week in Brittany (Bretagne), where the highlight was definitely the abundance of cheap, really fresh fish available to us. One fish in particular that was really good and inexpensive was maquereau, or Atlantic mackerel, which we know as saba (鯖 さば)in Japanese. In Japan, mackerel is usually treated one of three ways: grilled over an open flame (amiyaki), treated with salt and vinegar (shimesaba) and turned into an old fashioned kind of sushi (sabazushi), or gently braised in a sauce with the classic Japanese combination of salty-sweet flavors. This mackerel is cooked in a ginger scented miso sauce, then allowed to cool down in the liquid overnight, which allows the flavors to penetrate the firm flesh of the fish. You barely notice the oiliness at all, and the sauce is plate-lickingly tasty. I like to eat it chilled, right out of the refrigerator, with plain rice and a simple salad on the side. It makes for a refreshing yet rich dish for a summer meal. continue reading...

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Vegetable Tempura

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I’ve never really been good at making tempura, the quintessential Japanese deep fried dish. My mother’s tempura has always been terrific - crispy, light, and not greasy at all. So, taking advantage of her extended vacation here this year, I drilled her properly on how she makes tempura.

Her method does not rely on special tempura flour (cheap in Japan but expensive or hard to get a hold of elsewhere), or other recently touted additions like vodka or other high-alcohol liquor, so anyone should be able to do it. Just follow the key points listed below. continue reading...

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Basics: Cold soba noodles with dipping sauce

I’ve updated this very popular article a little bit and pushed it up from the archives, since it is the season for cold noodles now. I’ll also have a followup recipe soon for the perfect accompaniment to zaru soba. Originally published in May 2007.

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Most of Japan gets very hot and humid in the summer. To combat the heat, a number of dishes meant to be eaten cold have been developed. One of the main cold summer dishes is cold noodles.

Soba noodles, made of soba (buckwheat), are available all year round but are really popular when the heat turns unbearable. As with other cold noodles, they are prepared in a way that may seem strange if you’re used to pasta and other Western-style noodles. Unlike pasta, most Japanese noodles, including soba, are rinsed rather vigorously in cold running water. This not only cools them down but gets rid of excess starch, which adversely affects the flavor of the noodles. Many recipes written in English omit this critical rinsing step: you don’t just plunge it in cold water, as many directions incorrectly state, but you actively wash the noodles. Once you’ve done this once, you will definitely notice the difference. I’ve given detailed instructions for this procedure below.

Dipped into a properly made sauce or soba tsuyu, with plenty of spicy condiments or yakumi, there’s nothing more refreshing to eat on a hot summer evening. continue reading...

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Homemade Umeshu (plum wine) and Ume Hachimitsu Sour (ume honey-vinegar drink)

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Since so many people liked my mom’s umeboshi recipe, here are two more recipes using ume plums from her. She doesn’t have photos for these, so I’ve taken a picture of her notes, with a little illustration she did of how to layer the ume and sugar for the umeshu (plum wine). continue reading...

Konnyaku and shirataki FAQ: The almost zero-calorie, weird wobbly food from Japan

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From the archives. For some reason I've been getting several email questions about konnyaku recently, so here is my definitive (I hope) guide to preparing konnyaku and konnyaku noodles, or shirataki. Originally published in January 2007.

The quintessential Japanese foods that (may) help you lose weight, are konnyaku and shirataki. Both are made from the same substance, the corm of the konnyaku or konjac plant. Shirataki is also known as konnyaku noodles, to further confuse things, but I prefer the original name which means "white waterfall". It's basically konnyaku shaped like long thin noodles. continue reading...

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Sweet onion and soba salad with fat-free umeboshi dressing

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We still haven’t found a house to buy (though we may getting close), and due to the way things work in France, we are probably going to be nomads for at least 4 more months even if we put in an offer for a place tomorrow. I’ve gotten more used to cooking in tiny holiday home kitchens, but I’m still not up to anything too complicated - or in other words anything that requires the use of more than 2 burners at a time.

Fortunately it’s now summer, which means lighter, less complicated meals anyway. This salad, which can be a meal on its own, a starter or a light side dish, features sweet salad onions (spring is the season for them, at least around these parts), sliced paper-thin and refreshed in ice cold water. The tart dressing features umeboshi (pickled plums) and uses no oil, so this is an almost fat-free, fairly low calorie dish, that’s vegan to boot. continue reading...

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Easter Bunny Cupcakes

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It seems that quite a few people have been trying out the kasutera/castella recipe recently, and running into problems. Castella is not an easy cake. So, since it's Easter, I thought I'd haul this out of the archives attic. These little 'rich tea cakes' are much easier to make, and while they have an entirely different texture they are really quite delicious. I hope you'll give them a try! The fondant is not too hard if you can get a hold of the glycerin, but alternatively you could use store bought Easter themed cake decorations. Originally published in March 2005, as part of the late lamented Is My Blog Burning food blog event. continue reading...

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Inarizushi (sushi in a bean bag) Redux: Cooking your own inarizushi skins

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Four years ago I posted a very basic recipe for inarizushi, homely sushi that is stuffed into a fried tofu skin or aburaage. It’s been one of the most popular articles here on Just Hungry ever since. That only gave instructions for stuffing pre-made (canned or vacuum packed) skins, so I thought I’d update it with instructions for making your own inarizushi skins from scratch. These instructions will be particularly useful to vegetarians and vegans, since most if not all premade skins are cooked in a fish-based traditional dashi stock. And, for all of you who have had problems making Eggs in Treasure Bags with those small, thin canned skins: You’ll find that making the eggs from your own, sturdy skins is so much easier. continue reading...

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Shell-shaped sushi (Hamaguri-zushi) for Girls' Festival

From the archives, originally posted March 2, 2007. These delicately colored sushi are a great way to use usuyaki tamago. I know I’ve been re-posting things from the archives a lot lately, but I hope you’ll forgive me - I’m moving tomorrow! In any case, I hope you’ll give these delicate sushi a try, especially if you have daughters or granddaughters.

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The 3rd of March is Momo no sekku or Peach Day in Japan. Peach blossoms usually start blooming around this time, signifying the coming of spring. It’s also the day for hina matsuri, the Doll Festival or Girls’ Festival. Households with daughters display hina ningyou-, traditional dolls that represent a princess’s wedding procession. This is because the ultimate happiness expected for a girl was for her to make a fruitful and comfortable marriage. Nowadays girls may be expected to do other things besides become happy wives, but on this day at least traditions still hold strong.

In Japan there is a long standing stereotype that girls and women like very sweet things, while manly men like less sweet and bitter things. So, for Hina Matsuri the guests are served sweet things like amazake (a very thick non-alcoholic hot drink made from the lees of sake, rather like eggnog in color and cloying sweetness), hishimochi (tri-colored mochi cake) and okoshi (colored sweetened puffed rice). Although there were three girls in our house, none of us liked amazake at all. However, my mother often made some kind of sushi for Hina Matsuri, which we really loved.

Here are two kinds of very pretty, girlie sushi in feminine pink, yellow and white with a touch of green. These colors fit the theme of Hina Matsuri perfectly: the traditional hishimochi is colored white, pink (or light red) and green. continue reading...

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Japanese Basics: How to make Japanese-style plain rice and sushi rice

Update: I've updated this post substantially in these two articles, 10 years later: How to cook great Japanese style rice, and How to make sushi rice (shari). Please take a look there - you'll probably find them a lot clearer. I've learned a lot myself in 10 years! ^_^

This is the first how-to and recipe that I posted on Just Hungry. Properly cooked rice is the foundation of a traditional Japanese meal, and you absolutely cannot skimp on the steps detailed here if you are aiming for anything approaching authenticity. I've edited the text to make some things clearer. Back to basics! Originally published in November 2003.

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Rice is the staple of Japanese food, and making it just right can be rather difficult if you don't know how. If you think you will be preparing rice regularly, an electric rice cooker will make your life so much easier. You can cook non-Japanese style rice in it too, though I tend to make those in a regular pan. continue reading...

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Moffles

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How to make moffles or mochi waffles, a relatively new but very popular snack in Japan, in a regular waffle maker. continue reading...

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Roulade au Chocolat Saint Valentin: Chocolate Roulade Cake for Valentine's Day

From the archives. The very iffy photo shows that it is from the very early days of Just Hungry! I look back at this with nostalgia, because not only have my photography skills improved somewhat, it reflects a time in my life when I was into a far more complicated kind of cooking than I am now. I no longer bake things like this, but if you want a pretty spectacular chocolate dessert for Valentine's Day, and have the time and patience, I do highly recommend this rich yet feathery light little confection. I've edited it slightly to be more accurate (what the heck did I mean by 'small container of cream' anyhow). Originally published on February 13, 2004.

roulade au chocholat continue reading...

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Melt In Your Mouth 'Raw' Crème Fraîche Caramels

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Since last year, there has been a craze for something called nama kyarameru (生キャラメル, raw caramel) in Japan. The demand has been so great that people form long lines to buy it, and at least at the beginning of the fad there were frequent reports of sell-outs and long waiting lists. Raw caramel means meltingly soft caramel candies that have been made with fresh milk, fresh butter, and no additives. It’s been a great marketing ploy for some dairy farmers in Hokkaido.

Given that getting nama kyarameru from Hokkaido is not that easy for me, and believing firmly in the superiority of Swiss dairy products, I set about to make my own version. After many attempts, here is my version of raw caramel. They have a very slight fermented-sourness from the crème fraîche, and the pure salt flavor from the fleur de sel. And the sugar component is made richer by using golden syrup.

I have a feeling I will never buy caramel candies again. continue reading...

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Ehoumaki (ehou maki): Lucky long sushi roll for Setsubun no hi

ehouzushi-eating.jpgThis year, setsubun no hi (節分の日) falls on the 3rd of February (some years it’s on the 4th). It marks the start of the spring season or risshun (立春) in Japan according to the old lunar calendar. It’s not an official national holiday, but it is celebrated in ways all meant to drive away bad luck and bring in new, good luck. Most of the traditional rituals revolve around beans, because beans are considered to be very lucky. But there is another way of celebrating setsubun no hi, and that’s with a big, long, uncut sushi roll called ehou-maki.

I grew up in and around the Kanto region, which is the area around Tokyo, so I didn’t know about ehou-maki ((恵方巻き)growing up, because it’s a Kansai region (the area around Osaka and Kyoto) custom for setsubun no hi. Nowadays though the ehou-maki tradition has become popular nationwide. They are sold everywhere, especially at convenience stores, who take this as an opportunity to get people to celebrate, buy and eat in that awkward gap in between New Year’s feasting and Valentine’s Day chocolate gorging.

[Edit: ehou is pronounced eh-hoe by the way, not ee-h aw.]

So, what makes an ehou-maki different from a regular sushi roll? There are basically three rules:

  • It must contain seven ingredients, because seven is a lucky number.
  • It must not be cut, because it might cut (off) your luck.
  • You have to eat it while facing the lucky direction, which changes every year! This year’s lucky directly is hinoe (丙 (ひのえ)), which is a little bit to the south of south-south-east on a regular compass. If you can read kanji, this page has a good chart.
  • Finally, you must eat the whole roll in total silence.

A seven-ingredient sushi roll is basically a futomaki, or fat sushi roll, and that is what the directions are for. I’ve suggested several filling variations.

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Last year, the Superbowl fell right on Setsubun no hi, so there’s a New York-Boston filling combo below. This year, I guess the Cardinals were out of luck, ehou-maki wise. (What would have been a good Pittsburgh-themed sushi roll filling?)

You can of course order a regular futomaki from your favorite sushi takeout, and ask them to put in seven ingredients and to not cut it. Then on Sunday, face the right away, and solemnly eat your roll in total silence. continue reading...

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How to cook lotus root (renkon)

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Lotus root (renkon in Japanese) is actually the rhizome of the lotus plant. It’s a popular vegetable throughout southern and eastern Asia, but it’s still not that well known in the west. Lotus root is full of fiber and various vitamins and other nutrients. In Asia it’s believed to have various medicinal qualities, but in macro-nutrient terms it’s best to think of it as a starchy vegetable, like potato. Visually of course, it’s very appealing with all those little holes. Here I’ll explain how it’s prepared and eaten in Japan. continue reading...

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Classic Sukiyaki, The Quintessential Japanese Beef Hot Pot

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Sukiyaki (すき焼き)is a Japanese word that is widely known outside of Japan, but very few people have actually had the real thing unless they’ve been invited to a Japanese person’s home for dinner - or gone to a traditional inn or ryoutei (high end traditional Japanese restaurant) where it is cooked for you at the table. This is because, like tori nabe, this is really another nabe that is cooked at the table, at home, rather than eaten at a restaurant. You may encounter ‘sukiyaki’ on some restaurant menus, but if it’s been cooked in advance in the kitchen, it really isn’t sukiyaki. (I’m not sure why there are dedicated shabu-shabu restaurants but no sukiyaki restaurants, but I think it’s because sukiyaki is so strongly associated with home cooking.)

Unlike tori nabe, sukiyaki is not inexpensive, since you need top grade steak-quality meat. If you have access to a Japanese grocery store or a butcher that is familiar with the ‘sukiyaki’ cut, you can buy ready-cut meat there. (In New York, I used to get sukiyaki meat from Schaller and Weber on the Upper East Side). If you can’t get sukiyaki meat, get a piece of sirloin with a good amount of marbling and a thick piece of fat attached. Allow for about 100 grams / 3 1/2 ounces of meat per person. You do not need to use wagyuu or Kobe beef - that would be overkill. In Japan, sukiyaki is the quintessential gochisou (御馳走) - feast or treat, because good beef is the most expensive kind of meat. It’s what you have for a special occasion, or just after payday.

Sukiyaki can be enjoyed at any time of the year, but any kind of nabe seems to be best suited to the winter, when the family can gather around the dining table helping themselves from a fragant, steaming pan of food.

There are two basic methods of making sukiyaki: Kanto, or Tokyo-area style, and Kansai, or Kyoto/Osaka area style. Since I’m from the Tokyo area I’ll show you how to do the Tokyo style, with a recipe for the Kyoto method below. continue reading...

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Tori Nabe: Japanese Chicken and Vegetable Tabletop Hot Pot

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Nabe (鍋, pronounced NA-beh) is the Japanese word for a pot or pan. But it also means a one-pot dish where several ingredients are cooked together in a broth. While nabe can be cooked in the regular way on the stovetop, the most popular kind of nabe are cooked at the table on a portable burner. The quintessential image of a Japanese happy family is one that gathered around the dining table eating a nabe. (Nabe cooked at the table is also called yosenabe (寄せ鍋), which just means a nabe where the ingredients are gathered together (寄せる、yoseru). Because a nabe is piping hot, it’s a great winter meal, with very little preparation.

A lot of Japanese nabe recipes call for ingredients that are only widely available in Japan, but this is a recipe for a nabe that you can recreate wherever you are. It uses chicken and a lot of vegetables, so it’s very healthy and frugal - perfect recession cooking! The only special equipment you need is a tabletop cooker of come kind, that can sustain a boiling heat. See more about tabletop cookers in the Notes at bottom. continue reading...

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Ozouni or ozohni or ozoni: Mochi soup for the New Year

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Happy New Year! I wanted to post this a little earlier, but better late than never I hope!

During the New Year holiday period, traditionally rice is not cooked, to give a rest to the cook. Instead, dried mochi cakes were used as the carbohydrate. Ozouni (お雑煮 おぞうに), which literally means ‘mixed stew’, is a soup with mochi cakes in it. There is no one set recipe, and there are lots of regional variations. This one is a simple Kanto (Tokyo area) style ozouni, the way my mother makes it. It’s very simple, not to mention economical - just clear soup, greens, chicken and mochi. Garnish is optional. continue reading...

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Toshikoshi Soba or Year-End Soba: A bowl of hot soba noodles to end the year

img: a hot and steamy bowl of soba noodles to end the year

Revised and updated: This recipe for Toshikoshi Soba, or Year-End Soba, traditionally eaten in Japan on New Year's Eve, is one of the earliest recipes posted on Just Hungry. I've expanded the directions so that you can use various methods for making the soup. Originally posted December 30, 2003. continue reading...

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Sweet Potato, Coconut and Shrimp Miso Soup

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This rich fusion-esque soup is something I just came up with while fiddling around with the idea of a bisque-like soup without any cream or milk in it. It is fairly frugal despite its richness. continue reading...

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Apple crumble cake (an everyday favorite)

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[From the archives. This very easy cake is especially nice at this time of year, when apples are in season. We don't actually eat this every day, but it's one of my go-to simple sweets to make. Originally published January 11, 2006.] continue reading...

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Drunken Tangy Chicken Wings with Carrots (an everyday favorite)

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This is another everyday go-to dish around here. Chicken wings are not nearly as cheap as I remember them being during my frugal student days, due to the popularity of things like Buffalo wings. They’re still a pretty good deal though. While we love crispy oven-fried wings and such, these deeply flavored braised wings are a great leave-to-cook favorite, especially when the weather gets cold.

This is a dish that is very easy to throw together. continue reading...

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Daigaku Imo - Japanese University Sweet Potatoes

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In the fall, many universities throughout Japan have big festivals called 大学祭 daigaku-sai, meaning university festival, or 文化祭 bunnkasai, Culture Festival. They are basically street fairs held on campus, with lots of food and fun stalls, concerts, even ghost houses and amusement rides. Many of the big ones also hold concerts in which top Japanese singers and bands appear. Daigaku Imo, which means University Potato, are candies sweet potatoes, a sweet and slightly savory snack that is often served at university festivals in Tokyo.

The snack itself probably originated as a cheap, calorie-rich, affordable snack sold to cash-poor students around universities in Tokyo around the turn of the 20th century. The idea for deep frying and then sugar coating potatoes most likely came from similar snacks in Chinese cuisine.

Daigaku imo is simple to make, yet a bit tricky. You ideally want to coat the sweet potato slices completely with a hard caramel sugar coating, but too often the sugar gets crystallized. It doesn’t taste bad when it does, but it looks far better with a shiny, smooth coating. I’ve found the best way to accomplish this is to make a fresh batch of the sugar coating for each batch of potatoes cooked. This is not diet food by any means, but regardless, to me they are one of the main treats of fall. continue reading...

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Konnyaku no Tosani and Konnyaku Kinpira

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I have talked about konnyaku before, the almost zero calorie, rubbery-jellylike food that makes me really wonder at the ingenuity of people of the past. Why would they think that an almost flavorless, almost nutrient free substance would be edible?

Well, konnyaku is not about its innate flavor - it’s all about texture. And since it realy has so little calories, it’s a great addition to meals for the dieter, giving a feeling of fullness.

I tend to make konnyaku dishes when I want to really watch the calories, but still have a hearty appetite. continue reading...

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Variable Roasted Vegetables (an everyday favorite)

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Following up on the previous post where I asked about your favorite go-to everyday dishes (keep your ideas coming!) I thought I’d introduce some of mine. The posting of them may be sporadic, since I’ll be taking pictures and things when I actually made them for dinner.

First up is something that is very easy to assemble, quite healthy, cheap, as seasonal as you want it to be, and almost infinately variable. It’s simply roasted vegetables. I make this all the time, throughout the year, using whatever vegetables I have. It’s a good refrigerator-clearer too. continue reading...

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Roasted spicy-sweet red pepper jam

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Being a sucker for anything On Sale, a couple of weeks ago I was lured by a big AKTION sign at the supermarket into buying a 3 kilo (about 6.6 lb) bag of sweet red peppers. As much as I love peppers, it was going to be impossible to consume all of it in regular ways. Making a jam or jelly out of them was an obvious answer.

I wanted a jam that could be used as condiment or sauce as well as in regular jam-like ways, e.g. spread on bread. I set about trying to find a good, easy to make and not too sugary red pepper jelly or jam recipe on the internets, but nothing I read really stood out on its own to me. So I set about taking this from that and that from the other recipe, and after ruining about a kilo of the peppers in the first attempt, came up with something that is not bad at all. continue reading...

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Slimy slimy goodness all together in a bowl

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You want slime? I’ll give you slime multiplied! continue reading...

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Botamochi for spring, Ohagi for fall: Sweet Japanese rice and bean cakes

[From the archives: Today (September 23rd) is the first day of the fall o-higan (お彼岸), when ohagi or botamochi are offered to ones ancestors, as well as oneself! My mother and my grandmother always made these at home around this time of year - I love their not-too-sweet stickiness. O-higan ends on the 26th, so if you like wagashi, why not give these a try? Originally published March 2007.]

botamochi1.sidebar.jpgThe seven days centered around the bi-annual days of the vernal equinox is a Buddhist festival period known as higan (or o-higan for the honorific term) in Japan. The fall (autumn) higan is aki no higan, and the spring higan is haru no higan. Since the day of the spring equinox is March 21, we’re about to enter the haru no ohigan period.

During haru no higan, a sweet confection called botamochi is eaten. The mochi part means sticky, pounded rice, and the bota part comes from botan, or the tree peony. Botamochi is supposed to ressemble a tree peony flower.

During the autumn equinox (aki no higan or simply (o)higan)) period, a very similar confection called ohagi is eaten. This is supposed to look like a hagi or bush clover flower (Latin: Lespedeza thunbergii). Botamochi and o-hagi look the same to me, even though a hagi flower looks nothing like a tree peony flower, but the good old ancestors were probably a lot more imaginative than I am.

Botamochi and o-hagi are made of sticky rice and sweet tsubuan, ‘chunky-style’ sweet azuki bean paste. They are a bit fiddly to make but not difficult, especially if you use one of my favorite cooking helpers, plastic cling film. Since these are best eaten freshly made, it’s well worth the effort to make them at home if you like bean-based Japanese sweets. You can adjust the amount of sugar in the tsubuan to your taste. Here I have made three variations: coated with black sesame seeds; coated with kinako (toasted soy bean powder); and the most traditional form with the rice cake wrapped in a layer of the tsubuan. continue reading...

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Japanese country style stewed eggplant or aubergine (nasu no inakani)

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It’s hard to take an appetizing picture of this eggplant (aubergine) dish. But I promise you that it’s absolutely delicious. Plus, it’s so simple to make, requiring just 6 ingredients and water.

I found it in an old Japanese cooking magazine, which had an even worse photo of the dish than the one here. I was a bit sceptical but had bought a too-big batch of eggplant at the market, and wanted a way to use some of them up. I am so glad I tried the recipe, because it’s now one of my favorite ways to have eggplant. And it’s vegan too.

There’s a saying in Japanese, akinasu yome ni kuwasuna (秋なす 嫁に食わすな). It means “Don’t let your daughter in law eat fall eggplants”. People debate what the intent of this saying is; does it mean that fall eggplant are too delicious to feed to the daughter in law, who was traditionally the lowliest member of the family? Or perhaps it’s a thought of kindness, since eggplant is supposed to be a ‘cooling’ vegetable, which is not good for a pregnant or fertile young woman. Either way, there’s no doubt that eggplant is particularily delicious in late summer to early fall, when they usually produce a second crop after a first one early on. continue reading...

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Yatsuhashi, Cinnamon sweets from Kyoto

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Just about anyone who takes a trip to the historical city of Kyoto goes home bearing a box of yatsuhashi (八つ橋), a small delicate sweet that is flavored with nikki or cinnamon. While I am not from Kyoto, I get a fit of nostalgia for yatsuhashi on occasion. Fortunately they aren’t that hard to make at home. Added bonuses: they are more or less fat free, gluten-free, and vegan!

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New potatoes with sweet-spicy miso

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Here is another great way to enjoy new potatoes. It’s almost as simple to make as new potatoes with soy sauce and butter, though it uses a few more ingredients. Boiled whole new potatoes are panfried in a little sesame oil, then coated in a sticky sweet-salty-spicy miso sauce. The strong flavors of the miso sauce really go well with the blandness of the potatoes. continue reading...

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Corn on the cob with butter and soy sauce

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I have to admit that I’ve been quite taken aback by how popular the new potatoes with butter and soy sauce recipe has been. Butter and soy sauce are so familiar to me as a tasty combination that I hadn’t quite realized that it would be new and exciting to a lot of people.

Anyway, here’s another extremely simple yet delicious way of using this magic combination on another summer vegetable - sweet corn. Here in Europe, eating corn on the cob is a relatively new custom imported from the U.S. - corn around here is either dried and ground up (as polenta and so on), or used as animal feed. So it’s not always possible to buy great, very fresh sweet corn. This treatment can perk up even an ordinary supermarket-bought corn on the cob, and will really shine with corn that you’ve just picked from your own garden. continue reading...

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Steamed eggplants (aubergines) with spicy peanut sauce

[From the archives: This eggplant/aubergine dish is really nice served cold, though it can be served warm too. It doesn’t heat up the kitchen since it’s made in the microwave (yes, the microwave, and it works great!) so it’s great to make on a steamy hot summer evening, with in-season eggplant. Originally published July 2007.]

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Here is another summer dish. I love eggplants (aubergines), but cooking them without using a lot of oil can be a bit tricky. I read about this method of steam-cooking eggplants in the microwave in a Japanese magazine some time ago, and ever since it’s one of my favorite ways of preparing these rather spongy vegetables - they’re done in just 5 minutes without heating up the kitchen, which is hard to beat on a hot summer’s day. The whole dish takes less than 10 minutes to prepare.

Here they are served cold with a spicy peanut sauce, which makes it a very nice vegetarian/vegan main dish. Serve with rice or cold noodles. continue reading...

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Chilled wintermelon and shrimp soup

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These days, the house generally looks like a warzone because of the packing, and I am not in the mood for involved cooking. So I’m making very simple bentos, and mostly one-dish/one-pot type of things for dinner. A great one-pot meal is soup of course, but it is also summer, when we aren’t always in the mood for a steaming hot bowlful.

The answer is chilled soup that can be made ahead and just taken out at dinnertime. This one is really easy to make too, which is a big plus. Winter melon has a inherently cooling quality according to old (Chinese) medicine, so this is really nice to have on a warm evening. continue reading...

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New potatoes with butter and soy sauce (Shinjaga shouyu bataa)

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A very easy way to treat yourself to tiny new potatoes. continue reading...

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Strawberries, tsubuan, ice cream

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There are some food combinations that you think just shouldn’t belong together, but do so well. Strawberries with sweet beans? Surely not, you think, until you taste an ichigo daifuku - a strawberry wrapped in some azuki an and thin gyuuhi, a dough made of rice. I’ve had ichigo daifuku on my mind lately but have been too lazy to make the dumplings. This is a very easy alternative. Arguably it’s even better. continue reading...

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Kuzumochi, a cool sweet summer dessert

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I wrote about the use of kuzu powder in the goma dofu (sesame tofu) recipe. This time it’s a very traditional, simple sweet dish using kuzu.

Kuzumochi are sticky ‘mochi’ cakes made with just kuzu powder, sugar and water. The texture is somewhere in between gelatin and mochi made from rice flour - wobbly but not too sticky. It’s traditionally served chilled, so it makes an interesting, gluten free (and vegan) summer dessert. continue reading...

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Goma dofu: Sesame tofu that's not tofu

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There are some dishes in Japan that look and have a texture like tofu, but are not tofu in the traditional sense; that is, they’re not made from coagulated soy milk. One of these not-tofu tofus is goma dofu (ごま豆腐)or sesame tofu. Goma dofu is made from three simple ingredients: ground sesame paste, water, and kuzu or kudzu powder. continue reading...

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How to cook bamboo shoots (takenoko)

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There are two Japanese vegetables that I can’t get fresh here that I miss very much. One is burdock root or gobo; the other is bamboo shoot or takenoko (竹の子 or 筍). Bamboo shoots are very much a spring-only vegetable, much like asparagus, so around this time of year I always get a craving for the crunch and subtle flavor. continue reading...

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How to cook taro root or satoimo

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How to prepare that hairy looking beast, the taro root or satoimo. continue reading...

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Quick take: Yogurt (yoghurt) cheese with garlic and olive oil

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Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has an article about how to make yogurt (or as they spell it in the UK, yoghurt) in the Guardian. I did not want to go to the trouble of making yogurt from scratch, but I had a big pot of plain yogurt that needed to be used up so I made a sort of variation on the yogurt cheese balls further down on the page.

Yogurt cheese, in case you are unfamiliar with it, is just plain yogurt that has been drained of much of its liquid. To make it, just line a sieve with some porous cloth like cheesecloth, muslin, a coffee filter or even a couple of paper towels, spoon the yogurt in, and put the sieve with a bowl underneath in the refrigerator for at least a few hours. The more you let it sit, the drier it will become.

I strained about 2 1/2 cups of yogurt mixed with 1 teaspoon of sea salt from Friday evening to Sunday morning, by which time it had become the consistency of whipped cream cheese. I put this into a bowl, grated one garlic clove over it and drizzled on some extra virgin olive oil and mixed it up. It was the perfect spread for freshly baked hot savory scones.

I’ve never been a big fan of very sweet yogurt, so this savory yogurt spread may make more breakfast appearances.

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Cooking whole dried soybeans

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Until fairly recently I had a blind spot when it came to the humble soybean. I regularly consume soy products like soy milk, tofu and okara, not to mention fermented soybean products like natto and tempeh. And green soybeans or edamame are always a great snack.

But for some reason, I didn’t really get into eating the whole dried (and cooked) soybean. It’s not that they are that much harder to cook than other dried beans either.

In any case, I’ve rectified that situation and now I cook up a batch of soybeans quite regularly and store them in the freezer. Plain boiled soybeans are amazingly delicious, and just packed with nutrition. The cooking liquid is so rich that it can be used as a very nutritious stock or dashi for making soups and such.

There are a couple of points to watch out for when cooking whole soybeans, which are noted below in copious detail. continue reading...

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A vegan version of nikujaga (Japanese meat and potatoes), plus how to remake Japanese recipes to make them vegan

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Nikujaga, stewed potatoes with meat, is a staple of Japanese home cooking. It’s filling and comforting, and appears quite frequently for dinner at our house. Recently though I’ve been making this vegan version more frequently, which is just as tasty as the meaty version. Thick fried tofu (atsuage) is the protein replacement, but it’s not just there for it’s nutritional benefits - I love the texture in a lot of dishes.

The recipe, plus some ideas on how to reform Japanese non-vegan recipes to make them vegan, after the jump. continue reading...

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Wine, cheese and walnut whole wheat bread using the Almost No-Knead method

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Notes on the Almost No-Knead Bread method, plus a recipe for bread with wine in the dough. continue reading...

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Spaghetti Napolitan

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Continuing my yohshoku mini-marathon, here’s the infamous Japan-ized pasta dish called Napolitan or Naporitan. (Japanese doesn’t have an L or R sound, which is why Japanese people often mix them up when speaking Western languages.) As far as I know, there’s nothing remotely Neapolitan about Napolitan, except for the use of spaghetti. It is made with a creamy ketchup-based sauce, and has the salty-sweet flavors that Japanese people love. continue reading...

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Menchikatsu (or Menchi katsu)

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While I make Japanese style hamburgers all the time, I rarely make menchikatsu, its breaded and deep-fried cousin. I guess it’s the breading and deep frying that deters me - it’s a messy process, and I’m not sure it’s worth the effort. So I made these ones for the blog! Fortunately they were consumed very eagerly. continue reading...

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Hambaagu or hambaagaa: Japanese hamburgers

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As promised, here is my recipe for making Japanese style hamburgers or hamburger steaks, one of the quintessential yohshoku or Japanese Western-style dishes. They are called hanbaagu (though they are sometimes called hambaagaa, but that variation usually refers to the kind that comes sandwiched inside a bun) in Japan, and are very popular for lunch or dinner, and are eaten as a side dish to rice (okazu) in Japanese homes. In fancier restaurants that specialize in yohshoku, they might be eaten with a knife and fork, but at home they’re eaten with chopsticks. Whenever Japanese food magazines have a poll about popular okazu, hamburgers are always in the top three, especially amongst kids.

They don’t have much in common with the American style of hamburger, except for the fact that they both start off with ground meat. A Japanese hamburger has more in common with meatloaf, and a rather similar texture. They are similar to the old TV dinner standby, Salisbury steak, but I think a lot better. continue reading...

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Bread pudding made with leftover hot cross bunny buns

I am still not up to much cooking, but I did want to share this in case anyone ends up making the hot cross bunny buns, or just regular hot cross buns, for Easter, and have leftovers. I did the trial run for the bunny buns a couple of days before I went to the hospital. Eight (!) of them were consumed almost right away, but the rest ended up getting hard and forlorn since (cough) someone forgot to put them in the freezer fast enough.

Never fear though, they made great bread pudding. It was so good that even I was able to eat a little, in my current uncomfortable-swallowing and lack of appetite state.

Sorry for the lack of photos…it got devoured before I had a chance to shoot. I’ll put some in next time I have leftover hot cross bunnies. continue reading...

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Hot Cross Easter Bunny Buns

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

I love bunnies, and Easter is a great excuse to make something edible in a bunny shape. Last year, I made bunny bao. The year before that, I took a class in making chocolate bunnies. I’ve also made pastel colored Easter Bunny cupcakes, and given you a diagram for cutting usagi ringo (apple bunnies).

This year I have an urge for the traditional British Easter treat, hot cross buns. But, as bunnies.

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Hot Cross buns are soft and light, spicy fruity buns with a sugar glaze. They are called Hot Cross buns because they usually sport a cross on top. I prefer the bunny as my Easter motif.

These bunnies are made using the Hot Cross bun recipe on the BBC Food site, which yields a realy nice, light bun with a wonderful spicy fragrance. I did change two things: I added some orange zest in addition to lemon zest to the dough, and simply pressed some dried fruit into the dough as I’ll show below instead of mixing it into the dough. This was done in order to produce bunnies with fairly smooth faces. The drawback is that you don’t get fruit in every bite, but I think the cuteness more than makes up for that. continue reading...

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Mitarashi dango, rice dough dumplings with sweet-salty sauce

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Even if I am Japanese, I don’t like all Japanese food. And I must confess that I don’t like a lot of traditional Japanese sweets that are based on sweetened beans. For the most part they are way too sweet for me, and if I make them for myself I’m always adjusting the sweetness level, as with my ohagi or botamochi.

Mitarashi dango, however, are my absolute favorite traditional sweet. They are not really that sweet really - that shiny caramel colored sauce (which is called mitarashi sauce) is sweet and savory at the same time. It goes perfectly with the bland, slightly chewy dango or dumplings. (Dango is the name for unfilled solid dumplings.)

You may see the dango just plained boiled more often than not. But grilling the dango makes them so much better, in my opinion. continue reading...

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Lotus root mini-cakes with sweet chili sauce

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These tasty little savory cakes are made of ground lotus root. The texture is quite surprising - almost like mochi cakes. It’s a great vegan, gluten-free savory snack that’s high in fiber and packed with flavor. continue reading...

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Some unresolved thoughts about white bean paste

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Usually when I put a recipe up here, it’s something that’s been fully resolved: that is, I’ve tried it out for myself (in most cases several times over), and I know that it works. This one is a bit different, but I thought I’d write about it in-progress, as it were, anyway. continue reading...

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Okonomiyaki, Osaka style

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Okonomiyaki is getting slowly more popular outside of Japan. It’s often described as a Japanese pizza, but it’s more like a savory pancake.

Okonomiyaki was invented, they say, in Osaka, which is a city famous for cheap and good eats. Okonomiyaki is a snack more than a full meal, though it is pretty filling. It’s a quintessential yatai or streetside food stand food, though nowadays you’re more likely to eat it indoors than sitting at an outside stall. It’s a very communal type of food, especially if you cook it on a tabletop griddle.

This is a fairly authentic recipe I think, or as authentic as a Tokyo born-and-bred girl can get. continue reading...

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Cod marinated in miso and kochujang

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I have not featured many fish recipes here on Just Hungry. This is because at the moment I live in a landlocked country, where sea fish must be shipped in, and is expensive to boot. When I do buy some fish, I savor it as a treat. (I may be preparing myself for something that all fish eating people might have to endure soon, given the problems of overfishing.)

This is a classic miso marinade with a spicy twist. Instead of using just miso, I’ve added a little bit of kochujang, spicy Korean bean paste. I’ve used cod for this, but you could use any firm, flaky white fish instead - or even an oily fish such as salmon or swordfish. The pieces of fish should have a certain thickness, so thin fish like flounder won’t do. continue reading...

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Bacon wrapped tofu

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Bacon. Tofu. Two proteins on the opposite ends of the food social scale. One is revered, serenaded, hailed as the food of the Gods. The other is reviled, sneered at, as being bland, boring, even disgusting.

When I saw this conflict depicted as bendable figurines (via Serious Eats) I had to do something to end this conflict.

The only reason why tofu is put down is because of its mishandling by well meaning but unskilled cooks who focused only on its healthy benefits. There are plenty of Westerners who hate tofu, but you’d be hard put to find many Asians who do. That is becase in eastern Asian cuisines, tofu is infused with other flavors, as it should be.

So, back to the bacon and tofu. This is actually not an uncommon dish in Japanese households. It’s called either just bacon tofu (or tofu bacon) or even bacon tofu steak. The salty bacon-ness of the bacon infuses the bland tofu, and the two marry together to become a tasty morsel that’s good hot or cold. It’s salty-crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. (Yes, it’s good for bento, and it will feature in one shortly.) continue reading...

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Vegan miso tahini walnut carrots on Just Bento

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I know that a lot more people read Just Hungry than read Just Bento (and I know a lot read both - thank you!) Most recipes are posted here, but when there is a recipe that works especially well in a bento lunch, I post it on the bento site.

These miso-tahini-walnut topped baked carrots are great for bento, but are really even nicer warm out of the oven. And I think the world needs more tasty vegan protein recipes. So in case you don’t read Just Bento, but you are vegetarian/vegan (and this is dairy free and all that, could be made gluten-free quite easily by choosing the right miso…only nut allergy people wouldn’t benefit) head on over to Just Bento and check it out. Another one that is very bento-suitable that you might like is shio kombu or kombu no tsukudani, kombu seaweed cooked in soy sauce…I know several people have asked me for a recipe…well, there it is, right there!

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Brown rice and green tea porridge (genmai chagayu)

genmai-chagayu.jpgA traditional custom in Japan is to eat nanakusa gayu, or seven greens rice porridge, after the New Year’s feasting period, to rest the stomach and bring the body back into balance. At any time of the year, kayu or okayu are eaten when the body is weakened by sickness, fatigue or overeating.

Chagayu or tea rice porridge is a speciality of the ancient city of Nara and the surrounding area. (Nara was briefly the capital of Japan in the 7th century, and is one of the most historical cities in the country). Chagayu is usually made with white rice, but I used brown rice (genmai) instead, plus a small amount of firm green puy lentils from France. The lentils are not traditional, but I like the contrasting texture.

This has been my breakfast for about a week now. It’s not in the same category as eggs and bacon or a stack of pancakes, but I find my body needs something like this sometimes to bring it back into balance. It’s filling and warming, yet feels very cleansing to the body. A cup of this has less than 100 calories, and is high in fiber. continue reading...

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Japanese pan-roasted and marinated duck breast (Kamo ro-su)

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I had to make this beautifully easy duck breast dish three times over within a span of two weeks. The first two attempts disppeared before I could take a photo. continue reading...

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Oden, a Japanese stew or hotpot

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Happy New Year! If you live in Japan, you are probably still in holiday mode. Elsewhere though, chances are you’re back to your normal routine. That’s where I am now - back to work!

I often get requests for various popular Japanese recipes. I keep on thinking I’ve written up so many of them already, until someone asks for one and I think “why didn’t I put that up already?”. One such recipe is for oden, a very popular Japanese stew dish that is especially suited to winter. Traditionaly it’s made in a donabe or pottery pot, but it’s not a requirement to use one. It’s simmered slowly, so is perfect for a crockpot or my favorite for stewing anything, a Le Creuset-type of cast iron enamelled pot.

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Hayashi raisu (rice): Japanese beef stew

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Hayashi raisu or hayashi rice is a Japanese version of a rich beef stew. It’s a classic yohshoku (Japanese-adapted Western food) dish. continue reading...

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Homemade whole wheat pita bread, no oven needed

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Even with more than 900 (and counting) posts and almost 200 recipes posted on Just Hungry, there are still lots of things that I make all the time, but haven’t got around to writing about yet. A lot of those things take more time to write up than cook, almost. This whole wheat pita bread recipe is one of them. You do have to account for the obligatory rising time for the dough, but otherwise it’s dead easy, and your kitchen working time in total is maybe 20 minutes, 30 tops. For fresh baked bread!

The key is that the pitas are not baked in the oven. No need for preheating baking stones or quarry tiles or all that stuff. They are baked, so to speak, in a plain old frying pan. You can make them any size you want as long as it fits in the bottom of the frying pan. I like to make small, palm-sized ones for easy snacking or bringing along for lunch.

This recipe also only requires 3 cups of flour in total. I sometimes get a bit frustrated by bread recipes that call for like 6 cups of flour, since we are a small household watching our collective waistlines and there’s no way we can eat that much bread in a reasonable amount of time. Sure you can freeze the excess, but then you can quickly accumulate massive amounts of frozen bread if you bake often. So anyway, this makes 12 smallish pitas, which are gone quite quickly, especially with a resident Bread Fiend in house.

I referred to many other pita bread recipes, especially this excellent one on About.com, before arriving at this version. The cooking in the frying pan concept came from watching naan bread and Chinese flat breads puff when cooked on griddles. A griddle is not necessary though - and I think most people have at least one frying pan. continue reading...

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Japanese-style vegan mushroom rice: Kinoko no takikomi gohan revisited

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The very first full recipe I posted on Just Hungry almost 4 years ago was Mushroom Rice (kinoko no takikomi gohan), and it still gets a lot of visits and comments, even though there’s no photo to whet the reader’s appetite or anything.

The original recipe called for traditional dashi stock made from bonito (fish) flakes, and suggested adding chicken and other things.

This version is a lot simpler to assemble and it’s all vegan, but it’s just as tasty. And it comes with a photo! (My early photos on the site are pretty awful. I like to think I’ve learned a little since then.) I am using this in an upcoming bento, but it’s good for regular dinner too, so it’s posted here. It’s actually the best when it’s freshly made - the aroma of the mushrooms fills the kitchen, quite irresistible if you love mushrooms as I do. It is a very autumn (fall) kind of dish.

I think that this dish reflects my changing tastes and eating habits too, not to mention how I approach writing for Just Hungry, too. 4 years ago, I wasn’t that worried about health issues or anything of that nature in regards to food. Now, I am rather proud that I have a tasty dish that is sugar-free, gluten-free (if you use a gluten-free soy sauce), and vegan! I feel a bit trendy. continue reading...

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Buta no kakuni: Japanese Braised Pork Belly

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Today is my mother’s birthday. In her honor, here is one of the few meat dishes that she still allows in her diet: braised pork belly, or buta no kakuni. It’s amazing that she will still eat this, because basically pork belly is bacon without the smoke or salt cure. And in buta no kakuni the bacon, I mean belly, comes in big chunks of layers of meat and unctuous pork fat.

Pork belly recipes exist in other cuisines, especially around northern Europe, but I can’t really stand most of them, even if people in Germany and Britain rave about roasted pork belly with crackling. (The crackling part is ok, but the meat part…I don’t know.) I like fat in moderation as much as anyone, but that amount of gelatinous pork fat is rather hard to bear. That is unless it’s been slowly braised in a salty-sweet liquid for hours and hours, until both the fat and the meat melt in your mouth.

Very similar recipes exist in Chinese (from Peking-style especially) cuisine, and a great Okinawa speciality is rafute. This is a bit like rafute but has a bit more spice and things in it, so it’s closer to the Peking style I think. Either way it’s a great treat once in a great while. It’s definitely a cold weather dish. continue reading...

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Wafuu Pasuta (wafuu pasta): Japanese style pasta

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The word wafuu may sound like someone trying to say yahoo and not quite succeeding, but it actually means “Japanese-style” in Japanese.

Italian style pasta has been popular in Japan since the post war period. In the beginning it was served with Italian, or at least Western European, style sauces, but some time in the ’70s or so people started to experiment with Japanese flavors. Essentially, things that are usually eaten with white rice were mixed into or put on top of spaghetti and other pastas. These are known as wafuu pasuta or wafuu supagetti (say these out loud and you’ll know what they are), and became popular on the menus of Japanese cafés (kissaten) and the like.

There is at least one restaurant in the U.S. that I know of that has a couple of wafuu pasuta dishes on their menu - Basta Pasta (warning: icky Flash-only site!), in New York. They don’t really go far enough in my opinion though. If you love Japanese flavors you’ll probably love wafuu pasuta too.

Most wafuu pasuta recipes are very quick and easy to make, so they are great for quick dinners. Incidentally, to achieve a more Japanese texture cook the pasta about a minute or so longer than you might otherwise, so it’s a bit past al dente. Japanese people generally prefer softer pasta.

Following are three of my favorite quick and easy wafuu pasuta dishes. continue reading...

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There and Back Again: My Perfect Spaghetti Bolognese

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I love pasta in many guises, but when it comes to ultimate Comfort Pasta, there is nothing that compares to a spaghetti bolognese. By spaghetti bolognese, I mean spaghetti topped with a rich, ground-meat and tomato based sauce. No fancy ragu or such. I don’t think it’s that authentically Italian, but I don’t really care. It’s one of my favorite cool-weather dinners.

Once upon a time, I had what I thought was a perfect recipe for spaghetti bolognese. Then, about a year ago I lost my way. After a year of bewilderingly off-target bolognese, I’ve found my way back.

I blame Heston Blumenthal for messing with my head. (Disclaimer: I am otherwise a big fan of Mr. Blumenthal.) Last year, he tackled spaghetti bolognese on his In Search of Perfection television series (and in the book of course), and came up with a “perfect” version. The perfect Blumenthal version of spaghetti bolognese is, naturally, extremely complicated, but compared to the other “perfect” versions of various popular dishes it seemed to be the most doable. So, we (note the plural: it required a team effort) tackled it, piece by piece. It does help in life to have an almost equally food-obsessive partner for such quests.

It took us 3 full days to accomplish, starting from the pre-ordering of the meaty oxtails at the butcher counter (it’s not a commonly used cut here), finding the perfect spaghetti, ripe tomatoes in December (yes, I know) and the final slow cooking of the sauce. And the result?

It was good, yes, but perfect? Neither of us was sure. But yet it had flashes of something great in there; the meatiness of the gelatinous oxtail, the unctuous richness. So, we embarked on a long journey of trying to tweak that recipe. We tried different meat combinations. (Turkey is a definite no.) We experimented with bacon, chorizo, various sausages, salami. We tried less or more of the vegetables, canned tomatoes alone or fresh alone.

All were interesting, but I still felt off kilter. Then, the other day I made bolognese more or the way I had made it for years until the Blumenthal experiments - and, it was just about perfect.

Mind you, it’s probably because my criteria for a perfect bolognese are different from the great chef’s, as I explain below. And some of the ideas gleaned from the Blumenthal version and the ensuing experiments did creep in, making the sauce even better. In any case, I’m now happy that this is my Perfect Spaghetti Bolognese. I can now move on to perfecting other things. continue reading...

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Sweet and spicy roasted kabocha squash

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I hesitated to put this recipe up, because it’s not the prettiest thing in the world. But it’s so tasty, dead easy to make, and of this season - so, here it is. As a bonus it’s full of fibre and is relatively low-calorie, low-sugar etc for people who want a bit of something sweet without going on a massive guilt trip.

Most recipes out there for using winter squash seem to involve pureeing them, but I rather like them when they are in chunks or slices. This roasted squash has a sweet, spicy and salty glaze of sorts on them, which brings out the dense sweetness of the fruit. Cut into fairly thin slices like this, it makes interesting finger food. You can vary the sugar and spice to your taste, though too much of either may overwhelm it.

You do need to use kabocha-type squash for this ideally, though butternut should work too. You will need a dense, starchy and sweet squash. Don’t use regular pumpkin, which is too watery and lacks sweetness. (Rouge d’etampes pumpkin may work, but I’ve found their sweetness to vary quite a bit.) continue reading...

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Preserving shiso, basil, lemon verbena, and other herbs

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Around here it’s already cool enough to declare that summer is over and fall is here. (Actually we had a very cold, wet summer anyway, but nevertheless.) So the summer vegetable plants in my garden are dying off, and I’m in the process of salvaging the remaining tomatoes and eggplants, picking the last zucchini, and eyeing the winter squash to see when they will be ready.

Tender herbs like basil are on their last legs, so I’m picking and preserving those flavors of summer so that they can brighten the dark winter months. Last year I took the lazy option and froze everything, packing the picked leaves in plastic bags and throwing them in our big locker-type freezer. Freezing is okay if you’re too busy to do anything else with your herbs, but not really the optimal way all the time to keep tender herbs in the long run. So this year I’m thinking things through a bit more and considering how I want to use each herb, and preserving them accordingly. Each method is quite easy and really doesn’t take that much time. continue reading...

Lemon verbena and honey granita

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The lemon verbena plant that I planted last year and almost lost to a summer storm, is now firmly established and positively thriving. Whenever I pass it I can’t resist rubbing a leaf, because it smells so wonderful.

Transferring that wonderful lemony scent to taste is quite easy - simply steeping it in some boiling water for about 10 to 15 minutes does the trick. This granita is infused with the aroma of lemon verbena, soured with a little lemon juice, and sweetened with a delicate acacia honey. Any light colored honey will work here instead. It makes a wonderful light dessert or palate cleanser, or cooling summer snack. continue reading...

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Deconstructed Tomato: Tomato gelée with tomato coulis

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Have you ever made tomato water? It’s the clear liquid strained gently from a ripe tomato, and one of the best treats of summer. When made from juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes, it has a sweet yet green-tomatoey taste that is so intense that a little goes a very long way.

Making tomato water is very simple. All it requires is a blender or food processor, a fine mesh sieve, paper towels, and patience. What you do with the resulting water is up to your imagination. Here I have added a little gelatin to make it into a tomato gelée (or, to be non-fancy, jelly). Served on top is a tomato coulis made from the pulp that is left over after the water is strained. The only heat-adding cooking involved is in melting the gelatin. It fits in well with my minimal-cooking mood this summer.

This would make a very interesting first course for a summer meal, or an amuse-bouche if served in tiny portions. It would be a great in-between courses palate cleanser too, if you are having an elaborate meal. continue reading...

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Zucchini and chickpea pancakes

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Continuing with my light and quick summer dishes:

This year we got a bit more serious than usual about our garden, and planted three zucchini plants. If you have a garden with zucchinis, you know that sometime around midsummer they start to produce babies like crazy. We’ve had a rather cold and rainy summer here up until now, but this week our three innocent looking zucchini plants have gone into high gear, and we’re picking them as fast as we can before they turn into seedy, tasteless baseball bat sized monsters.

Zucchini pancakes are one way to use up a lot at once. This version uses chickpea flour instead of wheat flour or eggs, with a little bit of spice in it. It’s great hot or cold, and is a perfect snack, side dish or complete vegan main dish, since the chickpea flour is such a terrific source of protein and carbs (nutritional info). Serve it with a salsa, curry, or just on its own. Here I just served them with some super-ripe tomato wedges. The shredded zucchini adds moisture and a rather creamy texture, which I love.

Chickpea flour is used in Mediterranean and Indian cooking. I get mine from a local Indian grocery store, where it’s sold as gram flour; it’s also known as besan, ceci flour, and so on. continue reading...

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Tabbouleh with heirloom tomatoes and shiso

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I haven’t been posting a lot of recipes here recently. This is mainly because I haven’t actually been doing a lot of full-on cooking, as in hauling out a lot of pots and pans and having the oven full blast and so on. It’s summer after all, and I’ve been enjoying fruits and vegetables as close to their natural, fresh, ripe state as possible. So this week I’ll be posting a few such recipes - requiring minimal active cooking, full of fresh summer vegetables, and nice to have on a warm summer day or evening.

The first one is my standard recipe for tabbouleh, with a twist - instead of using mint, I use shiso (perilla). Shiso has a slightly minty but wholly unique flavor which I really like in just about anything. I also make it with a lot less olive oil than most recipes call for, which I think adds to the fresh taste. We love to have a bowl of tabbouleh in the fridge for easy self-service lunch and snacks throughout the day - it tastes so healthy and is quite filling. It’s also a great side dish for a barbeque.

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Fresh tomatoes are the key to a great tabbouleh in my opinion. You need ones that are ripe and full of flavor, yet firm. One of my favorite tomatoes at the moment are an heirloom Swiss variety called Berner Rosen - they are a rosy pink when ripe, and full of juice and flavor. (If you’re in Switzerland, Berner Rosen are all over the place at the markets right now.) If you can’t get hold of a good heirloom variety like this, use cherry tomatoes, which are usually reliably firm yet flavorful. continue reading...

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Vegetarian / Vegan dashi (Japanese stock)

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As I’ve stated many times here over the years, the basis of most Japanese savory foods is a good dashi, or stock. Dashi is not just used for soups, it’s used for stewing, in sauces, batters, and many, many other things.

The regular way to make dashi was one of my first entries on Just Hungry. It uses kombu seaweed and dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi). Some people use niboshi, small dried fish, in addition to or instead of bonito flakes.

Katsuobushi and niboshi are both fish-based, so not vegetarian. So how do you make a good vegetarian, even vegan, dashi? continue reading...

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Japanese Basics: Kaeshi, soba and udon noodle soup or sauce base

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When the weather gets warmer, we eat a lot of cold Japanese noodles: soba (buckwheat noodles), hiyamugi (thin wheat noodles), so-men (even thinner wheat noodles), Sanuki udon (thick wheat noodles- Sanuki is the name of a region famous for udon) and harusame (bean or ‘glass’ noodles). For most cold noodle dishes a salty sweet soy sauce based soup or dipping sauce called mentsuyu is used. You can buy pre-made mentsuyu concentrate, but to me most of them taste too sweet or are overwhelmed by a too-strong MSG or similar artificial tasting umami flavor. Making mentsuyu at home from scratch is not so difficult, and the difference in taste is quite worth the little extra effort.

The base of mentsuyu is a mixture of soy sauce, sugar and mirin called kaeshi (or hon-gaeshi: hon means “real” or “authentic”). It can also be used as a flavoring base for many other things. You just need good quality dark soy sauce, white sugar, and good quality mirin. It keeps for months in the refrigerator, or even in the freezer (where it will stay liquid) so I like to make as big a batch as I can afford to price-wise and fridge-space-wise.

This is similar to the Japanese essence mix, but doesn’t include the kombu seaweed or bonito. If you are a vegetarian you can use kaeshi safe in the knowledge that it’s totally vegan, and combine it with a vegetarian stock. Kaeshi also lasts a lot longer since the basic ingredients are indefinite keepers.

I’ll be talking about cold noodles and such in upcoming posts, so if you’d like to follow along, you may want to make some kaeshi to be ready.

This is a very traditional basic recipe. continue reading...

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Poached and marinated pork (Nibuta)

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With summer just around the corner, I like to think of food that can be made well ahead and tastes great served cold, or at least cool, to keep me out of a hot kitchen. The vegetable part of this is usually taken care of with seasonal vegetable salads and the like. If the protein part means meat, I like to have pre-cooked pieces tucked away in the freezer.

One of my favorite cold meats is poached and marinated pork, or nibuta. (Ni means to cook in liquid, and buta is pig.) It’s very easy to make, stores beautifully in the refrigerator for about a week or much longer in the freezer, and of course, tastes great - savory, slightly sweet, and very juicy. It can be sliced very thinly or julienned for one-dish meal salads or in sandwiches, or chopped up and added to stir-fries, wraps, and so on. It’s a great addition to a bento box. It can be cubed or coarsely ground and used instead of char siu (roast pork) in steamed buns or bao. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

There’s one unusual ‘secret ingredient’ in the poaching liquid, umeboshi or pickled plum. You can omit this if you like, but adding just one umeboshi seems to de-fat the meat a bit more than just poaching, plus making it taste a bit cleaner and fresher in an interesting way. continue reading...

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Rhubarb berry trifle

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On rhubarb, stewed fruit and England

I first saw this curious plant called rhubarb during the time we lived for 5 years in Berkshire, England. I was 5 when we moved there. The rhubarb grew like a small jungle in a corner of the vegetable patch of the house we were renting, alongside some equally puzzling gooseberry bushes. Neither existed at all in Japan at the time, and my mother was at a loss as to what to do with them, until our next door neighbor lady told her how to stew them. The neighbor lady believed in stewing most fruit - she told my mother to stew or jam all of the raspberries too, since eating them raw may lead to upset small tummies. Thankfully my mother didn’t take her advice for all of the raspberries, and I still have memories of stickily enjoying bowls and bowls of red, ripe raspberries with clouds of whipped cream. One of the first things I did when I got my own garden was to plant several raspberry canes.

Stewed and cooked fruit figures quite prominently in my memories of English food at the time. This was in the ’70s. Whenever I was invited to tea at a friend’s house, there was usually always some sort of cooked fruit dish, be it a compote of peaches in the summer or apple and blackberry pie later on in the year. I think we only ate fresh, raw fruit at home, except for bananas and strawberries. I didn’t even know that gooseberries could be anything other than sour, green and only edible stewed with sugar, until I came to Switzerland and saw them left to ripen on a bush, turning a bright reddish-purple.

That penchant for cooking fruit does mean that there are many terrific fruity desserts (aka puddings) in British cookbooks. One of them is trifle. I’m in the midst of my annual rhubarb orgy period, and it’s one ‘fruit’ (though it’s botanically a vegetable) that needs to be cooked. Hence, the rhubarb trifle.

The slightly modernized trifle

A trifle is small pieces of sponge cake soaked in a sweet, fruity liquid, and topped with custard or cream. Some versions of trifle are quite alcoholic, but this one has no alcohol in it since I imagine my 8 year old self tucking into it. The components are simple: the fruit-liquidy mix, the cake, and the creamy topping. The key part that makes this trifle different is the rhubarb soaking liquid part, which is quite sour and not too sweet. I’ve added a few frozen berries (raspberries from last summer’s crop in fact) to make the red color more intense - if you have fresh strawberries by all means use those instead.

Trifle is traditionally topped with custard, cream or both. Here I have combined the two so to speak and topped it with vanilla ice cream instead - this is the slightly modernized part. It’s homemade but you can use a good store bought ice cream if you don’t want to bother, or don’t have an ice cream maker.

I think that the key to a good trifle is to not overload it with sponge cake, which makes it go rather stodgy. Add just a few pieces for the interesting texture. Note that I’ve used pieces of store bought roll cake here (called Swiss roll in England, but not really Swiss as far as I know) which adds some extra flavor. You can assemble it all in a big bowl, or in individual glasses as I’ve done here.

This is my pre-planned entry for Sam’s Fish and Quips event celebrating British food. See also my other two British-theme posts this week, Tasting Guinness Marmite and The Edwardians and their food. continue reading...

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Rhubarb, ginger and berry smoothie to chase away a cold

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I have a raging cold at the moment. Stuffed head, fever, ringing ears, streaming eyes, the lot. What makes it worse is that the weather is glorious outside, and here I am stuck inside, groaning a lot and feeling sorry for myself.

In times like this the only things I can even think about eating and drinking are fruity yogurt, juices, and tea. This smoothie, which is an adaptation from a recipe in the adorable Innocent Smoothie Recipe Book, combines two of those elements and is tart yet spicy in a nice chest-clearing sort of way. It also tastes wonderful. Although, I’m pretty sure it would taste even better if my mouth didn’t feel like cotton wool.

It’s a good thing I took this picture against the clear blue spring skies before the cold took over at full steam. continue reading...

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Banana coconut cake

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Some recipes come about from long experimentation and several tries to try to perfect them (like those darned bunnies, or my ongoing attempts to make natto at home). Others just seem to happen. We had a bunch of bananas that were rapidly turning very brown and spotty on the kitchen table. I froze some (nothing like frozen bananas as treats), and turned some into a cake.

It’s nothing fancy at all - it’s basically a pound-cake like base (but with a bit less sugar), with added cut-up bananas. The coconut part was added on a whim also. The cake doesn’t rise much, probably because of the bananas, but it’s moist, not too sweet, and very comforting. It’s perfect with a cup of tea.

So far in my life I’ve not had the opportunity to go to Hawaii (unless you count a short layover en route from LA to Tokyo) but I sort of imagine that this cake would not be too out of place there. continue reading...

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Corn cream soup with intentional lumps

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What’s the soup of your childhood? The one that your mother made for you when you had a cold, needed cheering up, or just as a treat? For me, there’s no question: it’s corn cream soup.

Corn cream soup (and yes, it’s called like that, not ‘cream of corn soup’ or ‘creamed corn soup’) belongs to the yohshoku category of Japanese home cooking. It’s an old fashioned, milk based potage, with creamed corn in it. It smells milky, and tastes sweet and savory. It’s loved by Japanese kids.

Now, while my mother was a pretty good cook generally, she did have trouble getting some things right. Her curry for instance was always rather watery. And her corn cream soup, instead of being silky smooth, always had little lumps of undissolved roux. I loved those little lumps though - they tasted like tiny dumplings. Later on when I started to make my own corn cream soup I followed recipes, so my corn cream came out smooth and lumpless. That was fine, but I missed the lumps from my childhood memories. So, I incorporated them back.

Everyone uses canned corn to make a corn cream soup. You can be fancy and use fresh, but that lifts this humble soup into the realm of gourmet special-occasion big deal cooking, which is not what my memories are about at all. I have adjusted the usual way of making this soup by using whole corn rather than creamed, since whole corn cans have more actual corn in them and I suspect less added sugar, and I like the mixture of crushed/creamed and whole corn kernels. Besides, creamed corn cans are unheard of here in Switzerland. continue reading...

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5-a-day lemon honey mustard salad pickles

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To finish out the week of instant tsukemono or pickles, here is a mixed vegetable pickle with the rather non-Japanese flavors of lemon juice and honey. Despite these flavors it does go pretty well with a Japanese meal, though you can drizzle a bit of soy sauce on top to make it more Japanese-y. It can be made in a batch, stored in the refrigerator, and eaten like salad until it’s gone (though you should try to finish it within 3 or so days.) Using lemon as the acid is a nice change from the usual vinegar, as is the honey as the sweetener.

I’ve called it 5-a-day pickles because that’s the recommended number of fruit and vegetable servings you’re supposed to eat every day, according to the UK National Health Service, but I often hear people complain that it’s hard to eat that many servings. A good sized serving of these mild, salad-like pickles would do the trick in one go.

I’ve used some winter vegetables since we’re still at the tail end of winter (and it’s been snowing hard here all week), but any vegetables in season can be used. You could use cauliflower florets, chard stalks, turnips, kohlrabi, celeriac, cabbage, etc. In summer I’m thinking of fresh cucumber, still-firm de-seeded tomatoes, green beans, peppers… Always blanch the tougher vegetables for a short time. Putting it in the marinade while still warm helps the vegetables to absorb the flavors better.

I love the idea of a big bowl of this ready and waiting in the refrigerator, so at least the veggie part of dinner is done. 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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Celery with chili pepper pickles (Serori no pirikara zuke)

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Celery isn’t a very Japanese vegetable, but with the addition of the right flavors it can be turned into a refreshingly crunchy pickle that goes well with white rice, which is the base criteria for determining whether a pickle fits a Japanese meal or not. Besides, I always seem to have some celery in my fridge (who doesn’t?), and this is a good excuse to use some up.

This is a nice salad-like pickle, that’s best eaten with some of the pickling liquid spooned like dressing over the top. There’s a nice bite and a color zing from the thin slivers of red chili pepper. (Pirikara means spicy-hot.) There’s a little sake and mirin in the dressing, which gives it a twist.

Since celery is more fibrous than cucumber, it needs to marinade for a bit longer. Give it at least 3 hours, or overnight. It doesn’t keep too well at room temperature, so reserve this for eating at home. It assembles as quickly as the other quick pickles in this series. continue reading...

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Sweet and sour cucumber and wakame pickles (kyuuri to wakame no amasuzuke)

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This Japanese sokusekizuke method of letting vegetables marinate in a vinegar-based marinade is similar to Western pickling methods, but there’s no canning and sterilation and things involved since these are meant to be eaten within a couple of days like all quick pickles. The vinegar marinade is simply meant to enhance the flavors of the vegetables rather than preserve it for long keeping.

These cucumber pickles are sweet, sour and a bit salty all at the same time. The flavor is quite mild and fresh, so I can eat these several days in a row and not get tired of them. The wakame seaweed can be left out if you prefer, but makes a nice contrast to the cucumber while adding its own umami to the marinade.

The pickles can be eaten anytime from a couple of hours after putting them in the marinade to about 3 days later or so, if you keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. continue reading...

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Quick and spicy Chinese cabbage tsukemono or pickle (Hakusai no sokusekizuke)

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This has to be one of the easiest and tastiest ways of preparing Chinese or napa cabbage (hakusai) that I know of. All you taste is the fresh essence of the cabbage, with the heat of the red pepper and the slight twist of the orange zest.

Did I say easy? Wash and chop up the leaves, mix together the flavoring ingredients, dump all in a plastic bag, shake then massage. That’s it. It’s ready to eat right away, though the flavors to meld a bit better if you can manage to keep it in the fridge for at least an hour before eating.

I’ve used ingredients that anyone should have, even if you aren’t stocked up on typical Japanese ingredients. Adjust the amount of red pepper flakes up or down to your taste. continue reading...

Asparagus with black sesame sauce (asparagasu no gomayogoshi)

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We’re starting to see asparagus at reasonable prices again in the stores, which I’m really happy about. The ones available now come from California and Mexico, so they aren’t very food-miles-correct, but I still can’t resist buying a bunch or two. In a few weeks we’ll start seeing asparagus from a a bit closer places like Spain and France, not to mention fat white asparagus from Germany.

This is aspagarus with a ground sesame sauce, which would be called aemono (as explained in the broccoli ae recipe) if made with white sesame seeds, but since this version is made with black sesame seeds it’s called gomayogoshi, or “dirtied with sesame”. I don’t think it looks dirty - I really like the contrast of the bright green asparagus with the black sesame sauce. You can, of course, use regular white (brown) sesame seeds instead, in which case it would be called asparagasu no goma ae. The sweet nutty sauce compliments the asparagus quite well.

I’ve included step by step instructions for grinding sesame seeds in a suribachi. You can grind up the sesame seeds in a plain mortar and pestle instead. You may be able to buy pre-ground sesame (surigoma), though that isn’t nearly as fragrant as freshly ground sesame.

It makes a great side dish, as well as being great for your bento box. continue reading...

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Broccoli with wasabi sauce (wasabi-ae)

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All hail the mighty broccoli. While it’s always available in the produce section, it’s one of the few fresh vegetables that haven’t been shipped halfway around the world to reach people who live in many parts of the northern hemisphere during the colder months. In the spring we even get very locally grown broccoli and its relatives like romanesco.

Broccoli can be rather boring if it’s just served steamed, boiled or, god forbid , raw. (I’m sorry, I don’t really get raw broccoli. Raw cauliflower yes, but not raw broccoli.) A way to perk up broccoli without relying on those yummy yet caloric additions like mayonnaise, cheese sauce or garlic-and-olive-oil, is to make aemono or ohitashi with them. Ohitashi is basically vegetables that have been steamed or blanched/boiled served with a sauce that contains soy sauce, often but not always a little dashi stock, and sometimes a bit of sake or mirin and sugar. Aemono uses a similar sauce, with added ingredients like ground up sesame seeds. In this recipe, the sauce contains wasabi, so it’s aemono.

As long as you have all the ingredients on hand it’s very quick to make, and very tasty. The sinus-clearing qualities of the wasabi are softened by the other ingredients in the sauce, while still giving the broccoli a nice, bright flavor.

It makes a great side dish as part of a Japanese meal, or even a salad. It’s also a very nice bento item (you may want to contain the sauce in a paper cup or its own container). continue reading...

Basics: Tamagoyaki or Atsuyaki Tamago, Japanese sweet omelette

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Tamagoyaki is such a integral part of Japanese food that I am rather kicking myself for not having posted a recipe for it before here. The name tamagoyaki means “fried egg”, and the alternate name, atsuyaki tamago, means “thick fried egg”. (Some books or restaurants erroneously called it just tamago, which just means “egg”.) A slightly sweet, moist square-shaped egg concoction, tamagoyaki is a bento box staple, as well as being a popular sushi neta (topping). It’s also great as a side dish for any meal.

You don’t really need a special tamagoyaki pan for making this. A regular small non-stick frying pan will do. The one advantage of having a small tamagoyaki pan like this one is that the size is good for making small, thick tamagoyaki without using extra eggs. Conversely, a big square tamagoyaki/atsuyaki tamago pan is used for making those thick tamagoyaki served at better sushi restaurants. (Cheap sushi places use manufactured tamagoyaki, which is an abomination.) However, I’m assuming most people are likely to own a small frying pan, so that’s what I’ve used for the photos here. The one I have is an ordinary (pretty cheap) Tefal model that I got at a sale somewhere.

Once you get the hang of making the multilayers of egg, it’s very easy to do. A 2-egg tamagoyaki takes less than 5 minutes to cook, and a 4-egg one just a bit more. 4 eggs is the maximum that’s practical to cook in a 20cm / 8 inch standard frying pan.

I prefer my tamagoyaki to not be too sweet so there isn’t much sugar in this - I’ve seen recipes that add up to 3 tablespoons for 4 eggs. You can add more or less to your taste. continue reading...

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Smoked salmon temari zushi: Ball-shaped sushi

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Following up on the previous recipe for shell shaped sushi, here is another kind of sushi that’s great for parties. Temari are small cloth balls made from leftover scraps of kimono fabric, and temari zushi are meant to look like these colorful toys.

You can make temari zushi with any number of things, such as thinly sliced sashimi grade fish, boiled and butterflied shrimp, thinly sliced and cooked or uncooked vegetables, and even thin slices of cheese. You will likely never see temari zushi at a sushi restaurant - this is homey home-style sushi.

For these, I’ve used thinly cut slices of pale pink smoked salmon, with tiny amount of cream cheese inside, rather in the same vein as a New York Roll - quite non-traditional but it’s a great combination. The key is to make the temari zushi on the small side since they are quite rich. continue reading...

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Japanese Curry Bread (Kare-pan)

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There’s a whole category of breads in Japan called okazu pan. Okazu are the savory dishes that you eat with your bowl of rice at a typical meal, and okazu pan are little breads with savory fillings.

Since curry flavored anything is a hit in Japan, curry bread or kare- pan is one of the most popular okazu pan varieties. It’s a bun made of slightly sweet dough, filled with a spoonful of curry, breaded and deep fried. I am not sure how curry bread originated, but I am guessing it was inspired by Russian piroshki (piroshiki is also a popular okazu pan, though in the Japanese version it often contains very non-Russian fillings like harusame, thin bean noodles). Curry bread is sold at bakeries and convenience stores throughout Japan.

Making curry bread is a bit tricky since it’s deep-fried. It’s easy to make an oily, soggy lump if you fry it too long or at too low a temperature, but if you don’t fry it long enough the center part where the dough meets the filling may be raw. My solution for this is to fry it until it’s puffed and crisped, then to finish it in the oven. The other trick is to roll out the dough as thinly as you can manage without making it so thin that the curry is going to burst through.

You also have to be careful about the consistency of the curry filling. It’s most convenient to start out with some leftover curry, but it has to be reduced down to a very thick, paste-like consistency, otherwise it will run over the dough and make the dough hard to seal. If the dough is not sealed properly, the bun will burst in the oil, which ends up to be quite a mess (oil seeps in, filling seeps out).

All in all, I am not sure I would bother to make curry bread at all if I lived near a Japanese bakery, but I do on occasion get a craving for this very down to earth snack. Try it if you’re up for a bit of a challenge. This recipe is adapted from one in an out-of-print Japanese bread book. continue reading...

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Very easy Pao de Queijo, Brazilian cheese bread via Japan

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This may not be well known outside of the two respective countries, but there are pretty strong historical and cultural ties between Japan and Brazil. There was a wave of emigration from Japan to Brazil in the early part of the 20th century and later on around the ’50s and ’60s. And in the last 30 years, many Brazilians of Japanese descent (people of Japanese descent born in another country are called nikkei-jin) have in turn emigrated to Japan to fill labor shortages. Perhaps because of this, a few years ago one of the staples of the Brazilian diet, pao de queijo, little cheese breads, became very popular. While their popularity may have descended a bit from their peaks (Japan tends to be periodically swept up by big food or fashion trends, which after a time get dropped without warning when people move onto the next thing, but that’s another story), they are still made by bakers throughout Japan.

I think that pao de queijo appeals so much to the Japanese palate because they are small, round and cute, and have a distinctive gooey-sticky-glutinous kind of texture inside. This texture is called mochi mochi, after mochi, the very gooey-glutinous rice cakes. continue reading...

Righteous tofu pudding in under 5 minutes

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One of the things I like to do with tofu that didn’t quite come together is to turn it into a pudding. Now I do not pretend to you that this tastes like a proper pudding or mousse made with cream and such, and if anyone tries to convince you that a tofu based dish like this is ‘just as good/rich as the real thing’ they are either lying or have no taste buds. It’s different, but still good. It’s a lightly sweet, cool and creamy dish that will quiet a sudden urge for Something Sweet. Since it’s quite healthy it will leave you feeling righteous, thus the name.

It’s also a dish that you can whip up in no time at all. I realize that many of the recipes here take a lot of time, effort or both, and I’m going to try to rectify that. Look for recipes with the quickcook or under 10 tags. continue reading...

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Ganmodoki or Hiryouzu: Japanese tofu fritters

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Ganmodoki or hiryouzu are small deep-fried fritters made of tofu and various ingredients. They are either eaten as-is or cooked in a broth. They are used as a meat substitute in sho-jin ryouri, vegan buddhist cuisine. (They are supposed to taste like deer meat, though they don’t at all.)

Ganmodoki is sold pre-made in supermarkets, in the refrigerated section, and is usually eaten in an oden, a sort of stew of various fishcakes and such. But store bought ganmodoki, which has the texture of a sponge, is nothing like freshly made ganmodoki. Once you have tried a freshly made, piping hot ganmodoki, it’s just about impossible to think about saving them for later.

I have tried baking these or pan-frying them instead of deep frying, but the texture just isn’t the same. It just demands that crispy-crunchy delicate crust given by the oil. If it’s any consolation, they don’t really absorb much oil.

Yamaimo

One ingredient that gets omitted in a lot of English-language ganmodoki recipes is yamaimo, often called Japanese Yam. It is a root vegetable that is tremendously viscous in texture, sort of like the inside of an okra. It gives a sort of bouncy yet light texture to whatever it’s added to. You can find fresh yamaimo in the produce section of Japanese grocery stores, cut into sections and wrapped in plastic. It’s quite expensive but you usually only need a little bit of it, and keeps quite well in the refrigerator well as long as you re-wrap it in plastic to prevent the ends from oxidizing. The cut ends were traditionally dipped in some fine sawdust for storage. You may also be able to find yamaimo powder (Note to European readers - Japan Centre in the UK carries this). Regular grated potato can be used as a substitute if you can’t find yamaimo - it gives a different texture but still adds that sort of bouncy quality. It has to be grated to a fine pulp, not into shreds.

The other ingredients

All the additions to ganmodoki are there to add texture, umami, or both. You can vary it quite a bit by adding things that capture your imagination. You can even turn it into a more Western-flavored item by adding things like green peas, finely chopped and cooked mushrooms, and so on, and eating them with a bit of Worcestershire sauce or even ketchup. However, to my mind the traditional Japanese flavor is the best. continue reading...

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Quinoa kedgeree

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Here’s another very easy ‘dry’ type curry dish that’s a favorite in our house, though it’s not Japanese. Kedgeree is a very British dish, that doesn’t seem to be well known outside of the U.K. It was originally created by the British colonists in India, who took the spices and grain of the land they were in with the smoked haddock from their homeland. It used to be served for breakfast, but nowadays it’s a supper dish.

This version of kedgeree uses quinoa as the grain (technically it’s a seed but it’s used as a grain in cooking, so that’s what I’ll call it). Quinoa has a unique bubbly texture and a neutral flavor that takes on any flavors added to it. It’s also very filling, which makes it rather ideal when you’re trying to watch the intake. It’s very easy to cook, and never seems to go too watery and so on. I’m just a recent convert to quinoa, but I love it already and have it at least a couple of times a month.

I’ve used cod as the fish here but you can use any fish you like, even canned tuna or salmon. It doesn’t taste ‘fishy’ in any way - the lemon and the curry take care of that. The key to making this kedgeree taste fresh and bright is to add tons of parsley (instead of the traditional coriander) and lemon juice. It turns into something that’s like a warm, spicy dinner salad. To keep the whole healthy thing going I’ve used olive oil instead of butter.

Any leftovers store nicely in the fridge, and like the previous dry curry makes a great obento lunch too. It tastes fine cooled or at room temperature. continue reading...

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Japanese Dry Curry

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While the standard curry dish in Japan is a kind of curry stew served on plain rice, dry curry, which is a sort of fried rice with curry flavor, is almost as popular. And unlike the stew-type of Curry Rice it’s very fast and easy to put together.

What makes it Japanese really is the use of japonica (medium-grain) rice. Dry curry made with Japanese rice makes a great obento lunch, tasty at room temperature or warmed up in the microwave. The stick-together moist quality of the rice keeps it edible where a dryer stay-apart rice like basmati might taste too dry. Dry curry also has the mixture of sweet and savory, which appears quite a lot in Japanese food, especially the kind that comes from the Kanto (Tokyo-area) region where my family is from. continue reading...

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Spiced chocolate cupcakes

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In the movie Chocolat, Juliette Binoche plays a somewhat mysterious woman who opens a chocolate shop in a small French village. She uses ancient Aztec spices in her chocolate confectioneries, which soon prove to have almost magical, often aphrodesiac, properties. While Chocolat is not in my top 5, or even 10, favorite food-theme movies (see here for that list), the idea of spiced chocolates has intrigued me ever since I saw it. One of my favorite chocolate bars is the Masala one made by Dolfin.

Making a spicy chocolate confection is a bit of a tricky affair though. You don’t want the spices to overwhelm the chocolate - it should just form a sort of interesting background, yet provide a bit of a surprising bite and a warm, ‘what is that?’ quality.

These cupcakes have a rich but not too sweet bisquit (cake) base, with the warmth of curry powder and the bite of coarsely ground pepper. They are moistened with a teaspoon per cupcake of mocca liqueur, which increases its intensity and pushes it into the realm of an adult indulgence. The chocolate ganache has a pinch of cayenne pepper in it. The marriage is quite successful (or so the Tasters emphatically agreed). I’m not sure if they work at aphrodesiacs, but if your sweetheart is a chocoholic, you never know… They make a terrific Valentine’s Day dessert or treat in any case. 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.

continue reading...

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No Knead Desem Bread

desem_loaf1.sidebar.jpgI’ve adapted the No Knead Bread method for making this bread as described here, for a bread that originally requires at least 20 minutes of kneading. It turns out a quite light, crispy-crust, delicious loaf. continue reading...

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Japanese beef curry (Curry Rice)

Beef curry (Japanese style)

Japanese curry belongs to the group of typically Japanese foods that have origins in European cuisine, called yohshoku. Curry is tremendously popular in Japan - it's on the menu at just about every 'family' restaurant and department store restaurants, and there are curry-only restaurants as well as ones that specialize in high class yohshoku in general.

Japanese curry, called curry rice (or kareh raisu) since it's always served with rice, is not much like the curries from India, Thai or other places with better known curries around the world. The best way to describe it is probably to say it's like a English style stew with curry. (It's not at all like the curries you get in modern Britain, which are firmly in the Indian or Pakistani curry families.)

beefcurry_closeup1.sidebar.jpgIf you've ever been to a Japanese grocery store, you've probably seen the blocks or bags of curry base taking up an inordinate amount of shelf space. Competition amongst curry base makers in Japan is fierce. The bases are pretty convenient to use, but these days I use them less and less, since I discovered that making curry properly from scratch is not that much more effort than making curry with a readymade curry base. Commercial curry bases contain things like sugar or corn syrup as ingredients, plus some of them use mystery fats (always check the ingredient lists). I add sweetness just via the vegetables, especially a huge mound of slowly sautéed onions.

Either way, to get the most flavorful curry takes a long time. This is definitely a slow-cook meal.

This recipe for beef curry can be adapted to other kinds of meat, or to vegetarian options too. I've included instructions for using a store bought curry base as well as making your own curry roux base. 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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Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the stovetop in a pot

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As part of my weight loss efforts, not to mention generally trying to 'eat better', flirting with 'makurobi' (the Japanese word for macrobiotic, and also meaning a 'hipper' version of macrobiotic cooking) and such, I've been cooking more brown rice as opposed to polished white rice. Fortunately my rice cooker has a gen-mai (brown rice) cooking setting.

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Recipe: Beef and vegetable stew with parsley dumplings

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In the holiday rush to get so many things done, it's easy to forget to feed ourselves properly, and to rely on takeout and readymade meals. But I think that when we are super busy, it's even more important to slow down a bit, and to eat properly. continue reading...

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Fairly low-fat creamy red pepper, tomato and garlic soup with not low-fat grilled cheese, bacon and mushroom sandwich

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The theme of the elimination challenge in the most recent Top Chef was to create an adult version of childhood comfort food. The winning combo, created by Betty, was a variation of the classic pairing of cream of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich. Instead of just tomatoes, she added roasted red peppers to the soup, and instead of just cheese, she put grilled portobello mushrooms in the sandwich. continue reading...

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All-day Boston baked beans

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I often think of a day like a pie. I wish the pie could be bigger, but it's always the same size, 24 hours. Cutting down on the portion for "Sleep" never really works, so the other portions get re-arranged according to priorities at a given time. continue reading...

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Lets GourMets! '80s retro cooking with the New York Mets

In the corner of the world where I live right now, the Major League Baseball playoffs are not exactly a hot topic. 99% of Swiss people do not know, or care, anything about baseball.

When I moved here several years ago, I tried to follow baseball via the internet and other means, but it wasn't the same. MLB.com started offering streaming video and radio of some games, but the time difference was just too tough. Staying up night after night for games that broadcast in the wee hours of the morning here became too much. So, I lost touch. continue reading...

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Spicy crunchy chick pea snack

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When I'm really into something, whether it's trying to debug some code or work out a design that won't gel, I forget about everything else, including eating. Then, hours later I raise my head out of the mire and I'm starving and ready to eat everything in sight - usually stuff like potato chips and cookies. continue reading...

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Produce: Swiss chard

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Ratatouille

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Although ratatouille seems synonymous with summer, perhaps because it comes from sunny Provence, I think it's really a dish to make right now, in early fall. This is when the essential ingredients - eggplants (aubergines), fresh tomatoes, zucchini (courgettes), sweet onions, and peppers - are all at their peak. You can get all of those things year-round nowadays of course, but vegetables in season are always just a bit sweeter. continue reading...

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Cheesy-peppery savory cookies or scones or biscuits

Now that the weather is getting cooler, at least in these parts, there's nothing as appealing the smell of fresh baking filling the house. I don't think I have posted a simple baking recipe in a long time, so here's one that has become a favorite because it's so delicious and versatile. Here you see them in their cookie incarnation. (I used vegetable-shaped cookie cutters.)

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Up close, for scale:

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And here is the big scone incarnation:

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The recipe is based on one for English scones, but it's savory rather than sweet. Inspiration also came in part from Hungarian cheesy scones called pogasca, which I first had on a short trip to Budapest some years ago, and can't forget since. Depending on how big you make them, they can be fluffy-in-the-middle scones, or crispy yet soft little cookies, or biscuits for Brits. (Confusing the matter even further is of course that scones are very much like American biscuits.) In any case they are really easy to make, especially if you have a food processor.

These savory scones/biscuits/cookies are made with olive oil, which imparts the unique fruity-peppery taste of the oil, and also makes them theoretically a tiny bit healthier than using vegetable shortening or butter. You can use butter of course if you prefer that taste. (I hardly ever use vegetable shortening in my cooking, so I can't speak for it. I use lard sometimes, but that's another story.)

I have used three cheeses for this - Gruyère, feta and Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) (plus cottage cheese), but you can use any bits of leftover hard or semi-soft cheese as long as it all adds up to about 1 cup in total.

If you make the scones very small and bake them until they are quite crunchy on the outside, they make perfect nibbles for a wine tasting. Make them larger and they are great fluffy biscuits/scones to have with a hearty soup or stew. You can also turn the large versions into very rich small sandwiches with a little roast ham or something in the middle.

These freeze beautifully and can be heated up in the oven, wrapped in foil, at 300°F/150°C for about 5 minutes for the little ones, 10-15 minutes for the big ones. The little ones can also be kept in an airtight cookie tin for about a week, so they are great to make ahead for a party. continue reading...

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Produce: Plums, plus plum jam

To me, plums are like the last gasp of summer before fall settles in. They are related to other summer stone fruit, like peaches and apricots, but they have a much more elusive flavor.

Plums continue reading...

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A week of miso soup, day 4: Hokkaido-style corn, chicken and cabbage soup with miso

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Today's miso soup may not look like miso soup, but it does have miso in it. It shows how to use miso as a background flavoring, instead of the predominant one. Since it has milk and a little butter in it, I've called it Hokkaido style after the northenmost main island in the archipelago that makes up Japan. continue reading...

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A week of miso soup, day 1: Zucchini miso soup

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Continuing my series on Japanese home cooking, this week I would like to introduce different kinds of miso soup. Miso soup (misoshiru) is one of the key parts of a Japanese meal. Another kind of soup that is served often is a clear soup called osumashi, but the miso soup base is more adaptable to all kinds of variations. continue reading...

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Summer berry and lemon verbena jelly

The tall, willowy plant with the long, narrow leaves waved around in the breeze, behind the rows of neat balls of mini-basil. Wondering what it was, I stretched out a hand and rubbed a leaf.

Immediately, my senses were filled with a lemony, refined aroma. It was like a lemon scented geranium, but not quite. It was like lemon balm, but not as minty. The sunburned, kindly faced owner of the market stall said that it was verveine. He went into a long explanation, of which I understood perhaps half, about how to care for the plant. I nodded ernestly and took notes. continue reading...

Kasutera (castella), a Japanese sponge cake, and oyatsu, 3-o'clock snack time

In my previous post about Japanese food, I talked about what makes up a typical Japanese meal, which applies to breakfast, lunch and dinner. There's a fourth meal that is very much a part of Japanese food life - oyatsu. Oyatsu is snack time, and it's usually eaten at 3 in the afternoon. continue reading...

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Weekend project: Peaches poached in red wine

Summer is slowly drawing to a close. Sure it's mid-August, and the weather here has actually warmed up since the cold spell we had around the beginning of the month. But I can tell that summer is now an old lady because the taste of some produce is already changing. Peaches for instance. They were so sweet and juicy just a few days ago, but the ones I've bought the last few days are already either a bit too hard, a bit too sour, or rather mushy (showing they've been 'ripened' after being picked). continue reading...

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Weekend Project: Garlic, garlic, garlic!

Garlic

Weekend Project is an ongoing series of slightly more involved recipes or food projects that are best tackled on the weekends.

I love garlic. It's hard for me to even conceive of the notion that someone can actually not like garlic. But indeed, there are a few lost souls who don't like garlic that much. continue reading...

Tomato granita

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Is it still steaming hot where you are? It has finally cooled down a bit here - yesterday it rained all day, and right now it's comfortably cool. We may yet have a heatwave though, and I'm still craving icy things to eat. continue reading...

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Tapenade with walnuts

Regular readers of this site may wonder about the lack of recipes recently. Truth is, I haven't been doing much real cooking lately, as in taking out the pots and pans and turning on the heat. While summer here in Switzerland is quite tolerable due to cool mornings and evenings, during the day the temperature does reach the 30s celsius which isn't too nice since, as with most Swiss houses, we don't have air conditioning. Besides, even if you do have air conditioning or cool evenings, there are so many other things to do during the summer that cooking becomes a low priority, doesn't it? continue reading...

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Hiyashi chuuka: Japanese Chinese-style cold noodles

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Summer in most parts of Japan is hot and very humid, so cold foods are very popular. There are a lot of cold noodle dishes, such as chilled soba noodles and thin wheat noodes (hiyamugi or so-men). I love them all, but I think my favorite is hiyashi chuuka, which is Chinese-style cold noodles as interpreted by the Japanese. continue reading...

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Fun With Brioche

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Brioche bread is so delicate, light and buttery that is just one tiny step removed from being a pastry. Plain brioche bread is delicious on its own, toasted or with loads of jam. But brioche dough also makes an ideal casing for all kinds of fillings both savory and sweet. It's my favorite dough for making anything en croute, as well as for sweet filled breads that are so nice for a brunch party. continue reading...

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Japanese Potato Salad

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IMBB 25: Good uses for Stale Bread: A Simple Bread Soup

Posted by Max

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In the small household I grew up, there was always an issue with bread. Either it was gone because it was fresh and very good, or it was not that fresh anymore, and stayed until stale. To clear up this stale bread, my mother made a simple soup out of it. This simple recipe fits very well in Is My Blog Burning, edition 25, hosted by Derrick Schneider's An Obsession with Food. continue reading...

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What to do with Okara (Milking the Soy Bean, Part 3)

This is the concluding article of my 3-part series on Milking The Soy Bean. In Part 1, I described how to make soy milk with no special equipment, and in Part 2 I showed how to make tofu. continue reading...

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Two Classic Japanese Tofu Dishes: Hiyayakko and Agedashi Dofu

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What's the best way to eat really fresh tofu? My favorite every time is hiyayakko (cold tofu), but agedashi-dofu (deep fried tofu with dashi sauce) is a close second. continue reading...

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How to make tofu (Milking the Soy Bean, Part 2)

In Part 1, I showed you how to make your own pure, unadulterated soy milk. Now let's turn this into tofu(豆腐). Tofu is soy milk that has been coagulated with the addition of a harmless chemical. (Incidentally the kanji characters for tofu literally mean fermented beans, but tofu is not fermented in any way - at least as it's made currently.) continue reading...

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Making Soy Milk (Milking the Soy Bean, Part 1)

Sometimes I wonder if cooking is an art or science. I guess it's a bit of both. Some types of cooking though are almost pure science. Bread baking for example, especially when dealing with natural leavening or sourdough breads. Making a pie crust or a delicate cake is rather scientific too. continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge day 24: Pork chops in Cider, Prune and Apple Sauce With Red Cabbage; Rhubarb with Two Creamy Cheeses

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It's the final day of the Masterchef ingredient test challenge that I set out to do some weeks ago. My thoughts on the whole experience will follow, but here is the last ingredients list: continue reading...

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Baked Early Rhubarb

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Here in the central part of Europe we have had a ton of snow over the past few days. In our corner of Switzerland we had about half a meter (about 19 inches) of the fluffy white stuff descend on us over the weekend.

In spite of that, there is a definite sign that spring is almost here: rhubarb is back in the stores! continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge day 23: Tarragon Chicken and Spinach pie, Mushroom Lemon Soup

Despite being discouraged by the previous day's ingredients, day 23 revived my interest. The ingredients are: continue reading...

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Japanese basics: Osekihan (Sekihan), Festive Japanese Red Rice and Beans

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I haven't posted a basic Japanese recipe here in quite a while, so it's about time I did again! The main basic here is the method for cooking sweet rice. continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge day 21: Anchovy bread pudding, Lamb Bourgignon, Barley Pilaf and Braised Swiss Chard Stems

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I almost gave up on continuing the Masterchef challenge when it was revealed that for the final week of preliminaries, they were going to make the candidates do two dishes within 50 minutes, instead of one dish in 40 minutes. The reason for this is that this week's candidates are also-rans from last season, who were invited back because they demonstrated potential. continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge day 20: Chicken Liver Paté; Tartines

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I am a week behind in posting this, but here we go. Day 20 of Masterchef brought us these ingredients: continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge day 19: Vegetarian Okonomiyaki

For a more authentic okonomiyaki, try this detailed recipe.

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Day 19! The ingredients are: continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge day 18: Syllabub with Vin Santo and Almond Tuiles

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It's day 18, and here are the ingredients: continue reading...

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IMBB 23: Brandade de Morue

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Masterchef challenge, day 17: Spinach, Cheese and Tofu Frittata

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We are into Week 5 of MasterChef. The ingredients for day 17 are: continue reading...

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Homemade mayonnaise without tears (Basics)

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If there is one food that has defeated me over the years, it's mayonnaise. For the longest time I couldn't figure out how to make a good mayonnaise. I read the instructions in numerous cookbooks. I watched the Good Eats episode about it. I tried using a food processor, a stick blender, whipping by hand. continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge, day 16: Liver with Balsamic Vinegar

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[Edit:] The picture is really sub-par. It's hard to take a good picture of liver. Sorry. :(

It's day 16 of Masterchef. The ingredients: continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge, day 15: Fish quenelles in vegetable soup

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Day 15 of Masterchef! Here are today's ingredients: continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge, day 14: Feta, olive and onion pizza

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The ingredients for the second day of the 4th round preliminaries were: continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge, day 13: Grilled Sardine on Avocado and Endive with Momojioroshi

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It's now week 4! The ingredients for the first day of the 4th round preliminaries were: continue reading...

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MasterChef challenge, day 12: Maple glazed duck breast with sweet potato, potato and parsnip oven fries

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Well it's day 12, the last day of the third week of the preliminary rounds. The ingredients were: continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge, day 11: Calamari fritti and roasted red pepper salsa

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It's day 11 of MasterChef! The ingredients: continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge, day 10: Vegetable and Mussel Risotto

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It's day 10 of MasterChef, and the ingredients were: continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge, day 9: Pork Medallions and Bubble and Squeak

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The ingredients for the 9th day (1st day of the 3rd preliminary round) of MasterChef were: continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge day 8: Seared tuna, arugula and basil linguine

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It's day 8, and the end of week two of MasterChef. The ingredients were:

  • Tuna steak
  • Fresh basil
  • Fresh (?) linguine
  • Potatoes
  • Olives
  • Parmesan cheese

Potatoes, again! This week potatoes have been in the list every day. I decided to go with the linguine instead - I was missing pasta anyway. continue reading...

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MasterChef challenge, day 7: Cabbage Rolls and Potato Pancakes

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The ingredients for day 7 overall, and day 3 of the 2nd round of preliminaries were: continue reading...

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MasterChef challenge, day 6: Not So Classic Fish Pie

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The ingredients for this day (day 6 overall, and the second day of the second preliminary round) were: continue reading...

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MasterChef challenge, day 5: Baby Lamb Chops and Stove-Top Pommes Anna

masterchef_day5.jpg

It's now the second week. The ingredients for this day (day 5 overall, and the first day of the 2nd preliminary round) were: continue reading...

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MasterChef challenge, day 4: Lamb Pilau with Beet and Kumquat Chutney

masterchef_day4.jpg

First off, I must apologize for this picture and the placement of the chutney on the plate. I didn't realize until all the food was consumed, thus making it too late for a re-shoot, that it looks like Mickey Mouse had a very unfortunate accident and got his brains shot out. continue reading...

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IMBB 22: Kitsune Udon with fresh udon noodles

Kitsune_udon

I haven't participated in Is My Blog Burning, the original food blogging event initiated by Alberto, for quite a while. However, I couldn't pass up on this month's theme, hosted by Cooking With Amy: noodles. I love noodles in all shapes and from all corners of the world. continue reading...

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MasterChef challenge, Day 2: Really Asian Fusion Soup

Masterchef_day2

The ingredients for day 2 of the MasterChef preliminaries were: continue reading...

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MasterChef challenge, Day 1

Masterchef_day1

The ingredients for the first day of the MasterChef preliminaries were: continue reading...

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Forget the diet Macaroni and Cheese

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Perfect roux and bechamel

I have two articles on the back burner at the moment, and both of them use roux. Roux is a basic that every cook should know about, but for various reasons it's rather shrouded in myth.

Roux is basically a mixture of flour and oil, which are brought together to become a thickening agent for liquids. It is used for anything from gravy, stews, soups and various sauces. The most commonly used oil is butter, clarified or not. continue reading...

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It's The Season For Shepherd's Pie

Shepherds_pie

Having spent some of my growing-up years in England, I have a special place in my heart for shepherd's pie, otherwise known as cottage pie. It's definitely winter food though, because nothing is as warming as piping hot shepherd's pie straight out of the oven. continue reading...

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A festive stack of crêpes

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Samosa-like lentil snacks

Lentil snacks

As I have mentioned before, The Hungry Tiger is one of my favorite food blogs. Ms. redfox, the owner, recently posted about a delicious looking lentil snack called kibbeh. Lentils are one of my favorite things, so I just had to try it. continue reading...

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Rhubarb ginger muffins

Rhubarb_muffins

As if last month's IMBB muffin (and cupcake) orgy weren't enough, here is another muffin that has definitely entered my must-make list. It's yet another way to enjoy the tanginess of rhubarb, with the added twist of preserved or crystallized ginger. (I used my precious homemade crystallized ginger, but you can use the store-bought kind with no problems.) continue reading...

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Asparagus

Asparagus

I have a confession: for the last couple of weeks, I've been having asparagus for dinner almost every other night. continue reading...

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Inarizushi: sushi in a bean bag

Inarizushi

Note: This article has been substantially improved and updated here, but I'm leaving this original as-is for the simpler approach using canned skins.

[Another update: Lower-calorie inarizushi filled with a mixture of rice and hijiki seaweed continue reading...

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Double chocolate pecan brownie

Brownie

For Oscar night, I made these dense brownies. They disappeared very fast. The "double chocolate" part comes from the fact that there are two whole 100 gram (or 3 1/2 oz.) dark chocolate bars in it.

This is an extremely easy recipe. I don't even bother to chop the pecans with a knife; I just bash them in the bag. Same with the chocolate. For this reason, this would be a really fun thing for kids to make I think. continue reading...

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Baked beets

Beets

I get cravings for the oddest things sometimes. A few days ago, the craving was for beets. Surely beets are one of the top 10 "eww" foods, especially for kids, and for quite a few adults too. continue reading...

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Scandinavian cucumber salad

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Gyoza dumplings

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Japanese basics: the essence of Japanese flavor, in a bottle

I’ve got an amazing bottle in my refrigerator now. It’s filled with a mixture that forms the base for just about any sort of Japanese food. It takes all the drudgery out of making a clear soup, or a Japanese style stew, or the dipping sauce for noodles. I can’t live without it anymore. continue reading...

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Julia

Julia Child passed away yesterday, at the age of 91. Probably most people who are passionate about food and cooking, and spent any time in the U.S. in the last 30 years or so, have felt her influence. I'm no exception - one of my standby cookbooks is her Way to Cook (a perennial recommended book in my sidebar here). continue reading...

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Zucchini basil muffins

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Rhubarb crumble pie

rhubarb_crumble

Rhubarb remains one of the truly seasonal produce items, only available in the spring. We're now at the tail end of the rhubarb season, so I'm trying to enjoy it as much as possible. Rhubarb has a distinctive tart flavor that is really wonderful, and quite different from any "fruit". (Of course, the edible part of the rhubarb is technically not a fruit, since it's the stalk, but it's treated as a fruit in culinaric terms.) continue reading...

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Early strawberries in balsamic vinegar

strawberries in balsamic vinegar

We are starting to get good fresh strawberries now. They are being shipped from places like Spain and Italy, which is not quite the same as the freshly picked ones that will be available from local sources in a few weeks. Still, they are much better than the real long-distance travelers from places like Israel and California with woody insides that are sold out of season. continue reading...

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How to make apple bunnies, to eat with a Camembert in Calvados

camembert_bunnies.jpg

On Easter, we had a selection of cheeses, one of which was this very interesting Camembert soaked and aged for a while in Calvados. Since Calvados is an apple cider-based brandy, apples seemed to fit well. And, since it was Easter, the apple wedges were transformed into apple bunnies. continue reading...

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Chocolate chip and almond cookies

chocochipcookies.jpg

The usual image of homebaked chocolate chip cookies, at least in the U.S., is that of large, thick cookies with a soft, rather gooey center. The soft and gooey texture is so desired by many people that commercial cookie manufacturers even manage to maintain that in cookies that have been on the shelf for months. This to me seems very wrong. And, I don't think that gooey-soft necessarily indicates a good quality chocolate chip cookie either.

Sure, when you take the cookies out of the oven and eat them right away, they are sort of gooey and soft. But once they cool down, I prefer them to be rather crispy, even lacy, and delicate. For this reason I add a bit more butter than is normal in the traditional Toll House type of chocolate chip cookie. This makes the dough spread out more during baking, making the cookies thinner. Using slivered almonds instead of chunky nuts also makes them lighter and crispier.

If you prefer the gooey type of cookie though, use more flour or less butter.

I also use raw (light brown) granulated sugar instead of the fluffy dense brown sugar used in the traditional recipe. This is mainly because we can't get that "packed" sort of soft brown sugar here. Also, the dark brown sugar has a very pronounced molasses-like taste to me, which I don't think really fits for this cookie.

These are very adult chocolate chip cookies, because of the almonds and the dark chocolate chips. Of course kids love them also. I made these with the lemon bars in the preceeding recipe and meringue kisses for Easter, and boy were they popular. continue reading...

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Lemon squares revisited

lemonbars.jpg

A while back I posted a recipe for lemon squares, a sort of cross between a cookie and a tart with a lemon-curd topping. Some people tried it out, and found it a bit too tart. I went back and fiddled around with the proportions of sweet to sour (lemon juice), and here is the result. There is more curd, which I think makes it even better. The curd is quite a bit sweeter with 1 cup of sugar, and the extra egg makes it creamier also. continue reading...

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mmm, anchovies

I love anchovies. I can't get enough of them. They are the perfect salty flavor enhancer, on pizza, pasta, and so many other things. One of my favorite pizzas is a simple margarita base (that's tomato sauce and mozzarella), with calamata olives and anchovies. continue reading...

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Cream puffs

choux.jpg

It seems that a new food craze in New York these days are cream puffs from a store called Beard Papa, on the Upper West Side. It's owned by a Japanese company. This makes sense to me, because cream puffs are a part of my childhood in Japan. continue reading...

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Basics: Choux pastry

Choux pastry is what is used to make cream puffs, profiteroles, and eclairs. It is also used to make such delights such as the Paris-Brest, a giant cream puff ring filled with flavored cream. continue reading...

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Dark chocolate peanut butter cups

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Is my blog burning: tartine edition (with a recipe for hummus)

continue reading...

I wasn't too well prepared for the tartine edition (hosted by Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini) of Is My Blog Burning? (conceived by Alberto of Il Forno). I forgot to buy any special bread, so had to make do with regular toast bread and some pumpernickel.

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Mushipan: steamed bread/cake

steamed cake

For Japanese kids, oyatsu is a big part of the day. It means snack time, and is usually in mid-afternoon. It's sort of like afternoon tea or elevenses in England. My mother usually was working when we were growing up so she didn't have much time to make us homemade oyatsu, but when she did one of the things she'd make was mushipan. continue reading...

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Stuffed bread

stuffed_bread.jpg

This is the other thing served at at our Oscar-watching party. Since the show went on from 2 am to about 6:30 we were quite silly, so the food had to be low-stress, no utensils, and tasty. Both this bread and the soup (in the previous entry) were a hit. continue reading...

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Carrot-Ginger-Orange Soup

carrot_orange_soup.jpg

We had a small Oscar-watching party last night, and the two things I served were this soup (in mugs) and the stuffed bread described in the next entry. continue reading...

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Jalapeño and cheese cornbread

jalapenocornbread.jpg

Although I do love baking as a hobby, the fact is that it's possible to get great bread from the local bakery or even the supermarket here in Switzerland. So, most of the day to day baking I do is of quick-bread type of things. continue reading...

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Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

nikujaga.jpg

There is a category of cooking in almost every cuisine, "mother's cooking". It means something that's simple, homely, filling, and invokes strong feelings of nostaliga. In Japanese this is called ofukuro no aji (mother's flavor). Nikujaga, or stewed potatoes with meat, is one of the mainstays of Japanese-style mother's cooking. continue reading...

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Is my blog burning?: Spiced Spinach Soup

spinachsoup.jpg
Here is my entry for the the soup blogging day proposed by Alberto of Il Forno. continue reading...

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Temple Food II: Zohsui (Japanese rice soup)

ojiya.jpg

Continuing on the theme of temple food - simple, easy to digest food that is gentle on the stomach and the soul - here is zohsui, or ojiya. Where I grew up, we called it ojiya, which is considered a more vulgar term. Whatever you call it, it's essentially a soup made of rice, various aromatic vegetables, egg, and sometimes some seafood or chicken. It's closely related to Chinese congee. continue reading...

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Temple food and braised vegetables

braised bok choi

I haven't posted here this past week, mainly because I have been very busy, and haven't had much time to do any sort of serious cooking. I've also felt that I'd overindulged a bit over the past weekend, what with my birthday and all. So I've been trying to have some simpler food to get back to some sort of state of balance. continue reading...

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Mousse au chocolat

mousseauchocolat.jpg

For my birthday dinner dessert, Max made his speciality - a melt in your mouth mousse au chocolat. Unlike many other mousse recipes, this one contains no cream, and no added sugar. It's just bittersweet chocolate, eggs, and a little butter. Of course, it uses a very Swiss ingredient, chocolate. continue reading...

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Saltimbocca and risotto

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Consider the omelette

omelette.jpg

Sometimes making a particular dish takes a long time, involving several steps, but if you follow the directions carefully enough it's fairly easy. On the other hand there are things that only take a few minutes to prepare, but may take years to really get right.

One such item is a classic plain omelette. continue reading...

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Melange of mushrooms soup

We are a little past the peak of the mushroom season now, but it's still quite possible to get a whole variety of fresh cultivated and wild mushrooms. And what better way to have them than in a simple soup, that really brings out their flavor? continue reading...

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Homemade pizza

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Basics: pizza dough

continue reading...

I have to admit, that a lot of the baking I do is quite time consuming - such as the desem bread. For me, baking bread is sort of a hobby, not something I just do for the sake of making bread, but it's not practical to bake things that require long kneading and hours of rising time frequently. But not all bread doughs like that. This dough, which can be used for pizza, foccaciaa, calzone, and the like, is very simple to make, especially if you have a food processor.

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Basics: tomato sauce

tomato sauce

I've been posting some of the basic building blocks of Japanese cooking, and I thought I would add some other basics too. While I like to experiment with a new recipes sometimes, for everyday cooking this isn't too practical. So I rely on a few basic recipes that I have more or less memorized, and vary them to produce different results. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: teriyaki

The term "teriyaki" is used a lot these days. Usually it indicates that a sweet-savory soy-sauce based sauce called teriyaki sauce has been used. However, teriyaki is actually the word for a cooking method - and it's very easy to do. continue reading...

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Ochazuke, rice with tea

ochazuke
ochazuke is rice, tea and a lot of very Japanese stuff.

Ochazuke combines two quintessentially Japanese ingredients, plain white rice and green tea. Ochazuke is commonly served at the very end of an elaborate Japanese full course meal. It's also favored as a midnight snack, a hangover cure, or just when you want something hot and filling. It's commonly made with leftover rice, though ideally the rice should be heated up if it's cold. continue reading...

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Oranges and lemons, with lemon squares

oranges, lemons, limes

[Update:] A few people found this recipe to be not sweet enough. If you like your lemon bars to be a bit sweeter, try this recipe instead.

It's winter now and not much is in season fruit-wise. Of course we can get any kind of fruit and vegetables year-round now, but a winter strawberry is pretty tasteless. Fortunately, we have citrus fruits, shipped from warmer climates. continue reading...

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Bagels and baguettes have to be eaten fast

There is a great article in the New York Times about bagels, the quintissential New York bread. It made me feel quite nostalgic. continue reading...

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Tonkatsu, Japanese deep fried pork cutlet

tonkatsu, Japanese deep fried pork cutlet
tonkatsu, breaded deep fried pork cutlets

Tonkatsu is a typical Japanglish word - ton is pig or pork, and katsu derives from the word cutlet. Tonkatsu is one of the western-style Japanese dishes that can be classified as yohshoku. However, tonkatsu is so popular in Japan that there are even restaurants that only serve tonkatsu and similar items such as kushikatsu (bite-sized fried bits of pork and other things on a skewer).

One of the key ingredients for tonkatsu, or any breaded deep-fried item in Japanese cooking, is panko. In recent years panko has been adopted by the trendy world of cuisine, but it's not anything special - it's just dried bread crumbs. The thing that makes panko unique is that the flakes are bigger and crunchier than the kind sold by non-Japanese food manufacturers.

You can buy panko ready-made at Japanese food stores, or make your own. To make your own, take off the crusts of day-old good white bread. Flake the white part of the bread by hand, not the food processor, which would turn the bread into powder. Spread out the bread crumbs on baking sheets and dry in the oven at a very low temperature until the crumbs are thoroughly try - not colored, just crunchy. You can store this in tightly sealed plastic bags or containers for quite a long time. continue reading...

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Blini, caviar and local sparkling cider

Happy new year!

Last night, we had two favorites for our little New Year's Eve party - blini with caviar and smoked salmon, with a local speciality called Blauacher Chlöpfmoscht. continue reading...

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Desem, the final chapter

This is the final chapter of my accounts of making desem bread, which is made with just flour, water, salt and nothing else. It's somewhere between regular baking and a science project.

My desem is now about three weeks old, and is quite mature. How do I know it's mature? Because, after it's been fed some fresh flour and water, it turns quite spongy within a few hours. It also dissolves completely in water, leaving no strings of gluten in my hand. continue reading...

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Chutney, and old-fashioned flavors

Palm Digital Media has been giving away a free ebook a day for the "12 days of Christmas". One of the free books was Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. I hadn't read it in quite a long time, and it was like visiting an old friend from my childhood to do so now. Its slightly preachy, rather sappy and quite Victorian tone is really perfect for the Christmas season. continue reading...

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Desem, Second Baking

This is the continuation of my accounts of making desem bread, which is made with just flour, water, salt and nothing else. It's somewhere between regular baking and a science project. continue reading...

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The Care and Feeding of Desem, Week 2

So, once you have a desem, how do you take care of it?

For the second week (that is the week after it's been born, then grown in the in the incubator flour bed), it has to be fed every day. The thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn't feed it more flour than is already in it. continue reading...

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Desem, Day 8-9: The First Loaf

This is the continuation of my accounts of making desem bread, which is made with just flour, water, salt and nothing else. It's somewhere between regular baking and a science project.

I am writing this somewhat bleary-eyed after a late night...

The process of making the first loaf of desem bread is very long, and it's easy to miscalculate the time needed. That's what I did. Here's how it went... continue reading...

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Japanese basics: thin omelette (usuyaki tamago)

(This is a revised and expanded version of a recipe that I posted when Just Hungry was brand new.)

Japanese people love eating eggs in many ways. One of the most popular uses for the egg is to make a very thin omelette called usuyaki tamago (literally, thinly cooked egg). Usuyaki tamago is used julienned as a garnish, or as a wrapper for sushi rice and other things.

chakin1.jpg continue reading...

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Handrolled sushi

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Desem, Day 7

This is the continuation of my accounts of making desem bread, which is made with just flour, water, salt and nothing else. It's somewhere between regular baking and a science project. continue reading...

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Desem dosas

Yesterday, I took the cut away desem and made desem dosas. I had never made dosas with desem that was so young before, it but it still came out great. continue reading...

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Desem, Day 6

This is the continuation of my accounts of making desem bread, which is made with just flour, water, salt and nothing else. It's somewhere between regular baking and a science project.

The desem has spent its final day covered with flour in the incubator-pot. Today I take it out to start it on its way to being a "mother", for many delicious desem breads to come. continue reading...

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Fishfinger buttie

I grew up in Japan, England and the U.S., so all the good and bad of the food culture of each country is part of my food vocabulary. While I like to try out new things as much as any enthusiastic cook. "comfort food" to me means things that I used to eat when I was little. continue reading...

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Desem, Day 5

This is the continuation of my accounts of making desem bread, which is made with just flour, water, salt and nothing else. It's somewhere between regular baking and a science project.

The desem isn't as active today, but it's certainly moving and growing. This is how the incubator-pot looks when I opened it up: continue reading...

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Desem, Day 4

This is the continuation of my accounts of making desem bread, which is made with just flour, water, salt and nothing else. It's somewhere between regular baking and a science project.

Yesterday I was a bit worried because the desem hadn't grown or changed at all. So I made two adjustments: I increased the amount of water in the dough a bit to make it softer, and I switched the location of the incubator/pot to a warmer location. continue reading...

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Desem, Day 3

This is the continuation of my accounts of making desem bread, which is made with just flour, water, salt and nothing else. It's somewhere between regular baking and a science project.

The desem has been incubating for 2 days since it was born. I take the pot up from the washing machine room and open the lid. continue reading...

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Desem, Day 1

This is the continuation of my accounts of making desem bread, which is made with just flour, water, salt and nothing else. It's somewhere between regular baking and a science project.

Time to start the desem now. The ingredients for today: continue reading...

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Desem, Day 0

I've decided to start a desem again.

What the heck is desem? Well, it is supposed to be a Belgian whole wheat bread, though my only Belgian friend d__ doesn't know about it. In any case, it appears in the best whole-grain bread baking book I've ever read, The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book : A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking. My Amazon review is quoted here: continue reading...

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Baking bread (or thinking about it)

I love to bake bread.

It's a very relaxing thing to do. It's messy enough to remind you of when you were little and played with mudpies and Play-Doh. It's a mindless thing, or at least the kneading part is. It can even help to get out some frustration, by banging the dough about (a good way of developing the gluten). continue reading...

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Onigiri (rice balls)

onigiri.jpg

[Update:] Be sure to check out my easier, neater way to make onigiri!

Onigiri are rice balls, usually with a tasty filling. They are very portable, and therefore are very popular for carry-along lunches. Part of their appeal lies in the fact that if you're Japanese, you just love the taste of rice. It's genetic. [Edit: another word for onigiri is omusubi. I guess it just depends on what word you grew up with. In our house it was always onigiri.]

Onigiri can stand on their own, or be part of a bento or boxed lunch. (For some reason it's never just called "nigiri", though bento is also called obento, which is the honorific term.) Onigiri are also a great make-ahead snack for a crowd, since with the appropriate fillings they keep rather well. I remember my aunt making 12-cups of rice worth of onigiri at a time for the large family gatherings at New Year's or Obon (August festival to pay respect to our ancestors). Her hands would be bright red from the heat of the rice. She favored salted salmon (shio zake) as the filling usually - very salty salmon in fact.

Onigiri is also one of my top comfort foods. It reminds me of the ones my mother used to make for me for school outings (ensoku) as well as countless school lunches. When we stayed at my grandmother's and my cousines and I would take trips to the Chichibu mountain area, my aunt would make huge rice balls to assuage our appetites. There's a comforting feeling of continuity with history too, because Japanese travelers have sustained themselves on those salty rice balls for hundreds of years.

Like obento boxed lunches, onigiri can be elaborate creations, but the simple versions the are best in my opinion. We often bring some onigiri with us on long train trips: it's a lot better than buying the overpriced sandwich buns from the vending carts. Yes, sometimes people look at us curiously as we bite into those soccer-ball colored balls. We don't care one bit.

While I was working on writing up this entry, I came across this post by Mimi Ito . Japanese people have a lot of emotional attachment to obento, and to onigiri too. continue reading...

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Lentil-chestnut soup

Let's face it, any woman (or man) who works, presuming s\he's the one in charge of the cooking duties in the house, appreciates a one-pot meal. A one-pot meal not only has to fit in one pot, but the contents of said pot should be nourishing and satisfying enough so that you do not find the people you are trying to feed looking forlornly in the refrigerator one hour after dinner.

A soup that falls into the hearty category like this one, fulfils that requirement admirably. When the weather turns cold, there is nothing like soup with legumes in it to warm your tummy as well as filling it.

Lentils are the handiest legume ever, since you don't need to soak them beforehand. You can just throw them into a pot and say, 20-30 minutes later, they are nicely cooked. Esau's potage (see Old Testament) is supposed to have been made of lentils. Lentils also have a slightly peppery flavor which perks up the flavor of the soup. For this soup I prefer to use red lentils, but the grey ones work fine too.

The other main ingredient is chestnuts. This is a bit tricky, actually. If you have time and patience, you can buy raw chestnuts and either boil them or roast them (on your open fireplace, if you have one, in a tin made for this purpose, or else wrapped in double-triple-layers of foil and places near the edge of the fire). But who has the time for that? Here in Switzerland, as well as in Austria, Germany and France, it's easy to buy bags of "heisse Marroni" (hot roasted chestnuts) on the street during the cold months. You do need to peel them but the shell does pop off easily. Try not to pop too many in your mouth while you peel them.

If you have money to burn, you can substitute chestnuts-in-honey or syrup or whatever you can find at your local gourmet store. This is what Nigella Lawson does in the original recipe from which this recipe has been freely adapted. I would not be so crazy as to use real, beautiful marron glacé though. Here we can also buy peeled frozen chestnuts at the supermarket, which do the job just fine.

If you don't have any chestnuts, I would (and have) substitute an equivalent amount of cut up sweet potatoes, or Japanese-type squash (kabocha). Butternut would be okay too. You just need a rather dense, sweetish, floury ingredient. Plain potatoes lack the sweetness factor.

For this sort of soup you don't need to get too fussy about the stock. Plain water plus a vegetable stock cube does the job, provided you start with the sauteed vegetable mix.

This is a pureed soup, so you need a stick blender. Believe me, a stick blender is well worth getting, and they are really cheap. Even if you have a food processor or blender, it's way easier to just puree a soup in the pan. I don't worry about tiny little lumps being left - it just makes it more rustic and satisfying. continue reading...

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Sunday Breakfast Fry-up

One of the strangest habits of the Brits is the Fry-up. A fry-up is consumed for breakfast, is supposed to be a great hangover cure, and is a big greasy mess. Here is a rather sedate version. I've seen ones with fried kidneys, blood sausage, and more too.

I sort of wonder how the British got into the habit of consuming this lethal mixture of fat, protein, and more for breakfast while throughout the rest of Europe people settled happily for bread and coffee. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: dashi stock

One of the regular features I’ll be putting here are some basics of Japanese cooking…since that’s what I am (Japanese). Believe me, it’s not as hard as you might think it is. continue reading...

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Mushroom rice

Fall is the season for wild mushrooms. We can get mushrooms all year round now of course, but the wild variety are at their best when the fungi can draw lots of nice nutrients from the rotting leaves and wood that is lying around.

Fungi are a strange thing. They feast on decay. All plant material draw energy to grow from their decayed ancestors, but fungi are the only things that draw all of their energy from this source. And, the more they can suck up, the more flavorful they seem to be.

Truffles for instance, are so greedy that they don't even raise their heads out of the earth, until their are sniffed out by pigs or dogs. (Allegedly, virgins can also detect truffles.) I was quite sceptical about the reputation enjoyed by the truffle, until the day I actually had one, a real one, not just truffle oil or the microscopic specks of truffle that are allegedly in some canned patés. This was a real truffle, sliced into bold chunks and baked inside a dish modestly called a galette de pommes (potato cake) on the menu of the Beurehiesel in Stransbourg. (The Buerehiesel is a 3-star Michelin establishment, and our favorite restaurant right now. It will be mentioned many times in this blog I'm sure.) The wonderful fragrance of the truffle permeated the potato cake and made it something out of this world.

While we can't afford truffles on a regular basis, we can enjoy wild mushrooms. One of our favorite ways of enjoying a delightfully smelly bag of mixed fungi is simply cooked in our trusty rice cooker with a basic dashi stock. It can be assembled in no time, and then you just wait for your kitchen to be filled with the fragrance of the 'shrooms. It's low-fat too. continue reading...

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