Friday, September 26, 2008

ratatouille - my way

You might've guessed from the title of this blog that ratatouille floats my boat! Rocks my world! Files my fingernails!

There are so many recipes out there for it, but I use this one from and then add my own twist (my kitchen's just about big enough for one or two twists).

This is what I do differently:

  • I use my skillet and not the oven - even though my oven's teeny tiny it turns my kitchen into a furnace.
  • I leave off the mushrooms and green peppers, though it would be good with those I think. I just always make this when the mood strikes me, and even if I don't have all the veggies it calls for, I go ahead anyway.
  • If I don't have two fresh tomatoes, I use a can of chopped tomatoes with all the juices.
  • I add diced chicken at the beginning when I'm sauteing the onions and garlic, and later add a bit of lemon juice to tenderize it.
  • I also throw in some marjoram, thyme, and a few splashes of red wine.
  • I add the parmesan right at the end before giving it a final stir and serving it up.
  • I serve it over couscous that I've prepared with chicken broth and olive oil.
  • This last time I made the dish I also added some black olives that I had halved lengthwise.
I'm sure this is not authentic whatsoever, but my taste buds sure do dig it.

What's your favorite version of ratatouille? We all know what Anton Ego's was.

curry-dip update

Forgot to say in my post yesterday that I deviated from La Fuji Mama's easy peasy curry dip recipe a bit. She called for a mayo/sour cream combo, and what I actually did (because the cost of sour cream in Japan is sky high) is use mostly plain natural yogurt with a little tiny squirt of Japanese mayo (I've never been a mayo fan). It turned out really well, actually! Probably with the sour cream it would've been creamier, but I've gotten to the point where I substitute plain yogurt for almost anything: buttermilk, sour cream, mayo, toothpaste. (OK, just kidding about the toothpaste.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

sweet-potato fries - variations on a theme

Since moving to Japan in 2001, we've been back and forth to our home countries of the U.S. and U.K. almost every year. On one of our trips, somewhere along the way, I picked up an Everyday Food magazine at an airport, just for some light reading. One of our favorite recipes I gleaned from it was roasted sweet-potato fries, which I'm making more now that the seasons are starting to change.

This will be my eighth autumn in Japan, a country that prides itself on the wonder of each of its four seasons. Japanese sweet potatoes are becoming more available now that it's fall and are a bit cheaper than they were previously this year.

Roasted Sweet-Potato Fries (from Everyday Food magazine, December 2004 issue - yes, a real magazine with real paper - sorry, no web link)

Serves 4

1. Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C). Scrub 1.5 lbs. sweet potatoes under cold water and pat dry. Halve lengthwise and then quarter each half lengthwise.
2. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss sweet potatoes with 1 t. ground cumin, 1 t. coarse salt, 1/4 t. ground pepper, and 1 T. olive oil until well coated. Arrange, cut sides down, in a single layer.
3. Roast, turning potatoes halfway through, until tender and brown, about 30 min.

Well, I usually cut them lengthwise and roast in the oven, as the recipe suggests, but this time I was lazy, cut them into cubes, nuked them till tender, and then just tossed them into a frying pan with the oil and spices until brown. They're yummy either way! I just hate heating up my thimble-sized kitchen with my thumbnail-sized oven if I don't have to, BUT for La Fuji Mama's chili-powder infused variation served with her easy peasy curry dip, I just had to do it the proper way. I did leave the skin on mine, just 'cause I like it when it gets all crispy, and I added 1/4 t. onion powder to the spice mix.

And they were so worth the kitchen heat. Maffa the Toddler Bean even scarfed some down, with the dip, I might add!

Leave a comment and share your favorite way to use sweet taters - inquiring minds want to know.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

herby baked salmon

By the way, if anybody can name those flowers, I'll give you a salmon dinner (yes, you'd have to come to Japan, but hey, sounds fun, right?).

Salmon is my friend, and this baked salmon is pretty easy and very yummy. Lemon juice, olive oil, fresh parsley, dried basil (though I use fresh sometimes), and garlic all meld together in a fragrant marinade that renders your fishies really juicy.

I served mine with cheesy garlic mashed taters, steamed cauliflower and purple cabbage (the fun thing was that it turned the cauliflower a lovely shade of lavender), and a salad with cucumbers, baby yellow tomatoes, and pickled baby pink daikon radishes.

fruity sake

When our friends Miki san and Kikue san came to visit us last weekend from Kanazawa, a city where my husband lived in his bachelor times, they brought some amazing sake, a rice wine with fruit flavors that's a specialty of their city. Usually you drink regular sake warm or hot, but this kind you chill, and it's got a really smooth taste. We tried the yuzu-flavored one first, and are anticipating having the ume one soon. Those cute wooden boxes are for drinking the sake from, but I use them as little holders for fingernail clippers, hair clips, and other small sundries in the bathroom. Apparently the little boy face on one of the boxes is the mascot of that particular sake company.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

mediterranean lentil salad

I heart me some LENTILS! Mmmm mmmm. They don't last long around here, and whenever I make a trip to the Foreign Buyers' Club out on Rokko Island (a manmade island about 30 minutes from here, built during the bubble), they're the first thing I head for. Lentils are my babies. (Oh goodness, Matthew and Joel (my two little beans) might not agree with that!)

Anyway, I grew up with lentil stew as a staple in our pre-trendy organic household. My mom had read a lot about nutrition, and you know what, when she took us completely off sugar, our ear infections went away! We ate pizza made with wholewheat crusts, cakes baked with carob, and loads of legumes. Yummy. At the time, I was just jealous of my friends who were allowed to eat junky tasteless birthday cake, but alas, the grass is always I'm glad that's what I grew up with (I only ever had one cavity, and that came after we started eating a bit junkier when I was in middle school and Mom went back to work).

This lentil salad is yummers - you gotta try it. A Canadian/American friend of mine here in Japan, Sarah, loaned me some magazines and didn't mind if I cut out the page with this recipe (a true friend!), but I cut it down to tape it in one of my books and I sliced off the name of the magazine. Maybe she remembers which one it was, but for the life of me, I'm at a loss.

It's better if you make it ahead of time and let it all marinate in the fridge for a day or so first (adding the tomatoes and mint at the last minute so they don't get sludgy).

Combine 4 cups water with 1 cup lentils (I used 3 cups water, though). Boil for 5 minutes, then reduce to a simmer until tender but still firm, about 15-20 minutes. Don't add any salt to the water because it will make the lentils tough. (I didn't know this for all my lentil recipes I've made in the past - I always added salt right at the beginning - but it really does make a difference.)

Stir in a couple of tablespoons of regular vinegar into the lentils and chill them till cold.

Make a vinaigrette with 1 T balsamic vinegar, 1 clove minced garlic, 2 T olive oil, then salt and pepper.

Toss the lentils with the dressing and add some cooked chickpeas, some halved baby tomatoes (I used red and yellow), and chopped red onion (which is really purple according to my eyes, but who am I to be semantic). Toss with fresh arugula or baby spinach (didn't have so didn't use). Top with crumbled feta (didn't have - too expensive in Japan) and some mint.

And now go knock your taste buds' socks off (if they wear socks - mine like to be barefoot, actually - you know, the hippy type)!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

somethin' fishy

My Aunt Tina divides her time between Connecticut (where her husband is from), Virginia (their home base), and Florida (where she comes to take care of my grandparents who are in their nineties, and who just celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary!!!). Anyway, she emailed me recently about a dinner party she had for her husband's family in CT and the fish she made sounded so yummy, I asked her to send me the recipe. It's from a Martha Stewart magazine (it was a photocopy so not sure what magazine exactly or what issue - sorry) and it's called Fish: Balsamic, Caper, and Anchovy Marinade. All of these ingredients are SO darned expensive here in Japan that I won't be making this very much, but it was nice for a special treat. Even though it's still hot as you-know-where, I fired up my massive oven (ha!)...

I just loved the colors in this dish (here, prebaked):

Dinner is served! I made "baked" (microwaved) potatoes and ribbon carrots and peas to go with it. Yum yum yum. (And we had cold mugicha - barley tea - for drinkies.)
Here's the recipe:

Makes enough for 24 oz. fish.

Best cuts: Thick halibut or other firm-fleshed white fish.

Best cooking technique: Marinate for 2 hours (though I ran out of time and only marinated it about 10 minutes), and then bake in and baste with the marinade in a 350 F (180 C) oven.

1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 T. balsamic vinegar
1/2 red onion, sliced
1/4 c. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 anchovies, rinsed well and washed (my aunt and I both left these out, though)
1 T. capers
1 T. finely grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
1 t. black peppercorns, crushed
1 t. coarse salt

Whisk everything together and use immediately.

Friday, September 12, 2008

gussied-up tuna salad

We're still in salad season over here in the Far East - I hate to make hot meals when I don't have to (the kitchen is a furnace, I tell you - and with no central air and a big wall blocking the flow from the living-room wall unit, I don't want to spend too much time in there).

So this was our din-dins the other night: Just mix canned tuna with chopped walnuts, raisins, some seasoned salt, and enough mayo to stick it all together (but not too much - I haven't ever been overly excited by mayo), slap it on some salad leaves along with whatever veggies/fruits you like, and some sliced boiled egg (nicely peeled) to go with. I did take a piccie of it all laced with some nice vinaigrette dressing, but the salad must've been a little too happy about that because the pic came out blurry.

So the undressed version will have to do (if you can handle that kind of shamelessness).

snack time - yomogi mochi and mugicha

I have to confess something to you: I ate mugwort. Yes, I sure did. No earthly idea what it is, but it sure was tasty. (Hey! Maybe that's what caused the pink elephants I saw that afternoon.)

The mugwort came in the form of yomogi mochi, a Japanese herbed-infused rice-paste ball filled with sweet red bean paste. Apparently the "yomogi" is Japanese mugwort. Well, whatever. It was delish.

And I had a glass of cold barley tea (mugicha) with it - the traditional summer drink here in The Land of the Rising Goldfish. (Oh, oops. That was just on my glass.) The goldfish is another symbol of summer, and I have to squeeze the last drops out of this season before it's gone. I mean, it's already down to a high of 29 C (84 F). Brrrrr.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

kim's pickle relish

I told you before about Kim sending me some pickling spice (yea!), so for my second attempt at pickling I tried her pickle relish. Pickle relish is so darned expensive here in Japan, about $3 or $4 for about 150 g (5 oz. or so). Kim feels my pain, being another ex-pat and all, and you know, we Western girls just have to have our pickles!

This is yummy stuff, and I think next time I'll double the batch. Four Japanese cucumbers cook down quite a lot. And she said to use as much or as little sugar as you want, but I went by her recipe to the letter for my first attempt, and I think next time I'll add a bit less than it calls for.

Stephen had some on a cheddar cheese sandwich last night and declared it delicious (in lieu of Branston pickle). I had a huge pasta lunch today so think I'll go for a cheese and relish sandwich tonight myself...I'll let you know how it goes. Looking forward to it! I'm a total pickle girl. My mom said I was the only little kid she ever heard of who asked for pickles and olives when she went shopping with her mommy.

UPDATE: I loved this on my cheese sandwich, too!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

watermelon-rind pickles

Both my grandmas are Georgia peaches (as in the state, not the country) from the Deep South, and when I saw this recipe for watermelon-rind pickles, even though I don't think I ever ate these with my grandmas, it reminded me of them. I knew I had to try it. I can imagine my dad's mom on her childhood farmhouse porch with a big glass of sweet iced tea, and my mom's mom in Savannah, coming home after one of the dance contests she was in and eating these for a snack (although that grandma is a Diet Pepsi guzzler, no traditional tea for her!).

So I busted out my precious pickling spices packet from Kim (thanks again!!!) and peeled, and peeled, and peeled that rind. If you've never used a veggie peeler for this kind of job, be forewarned that it takes a lot of doing. Watermelon skin is tough.

And you know what went wrong? I cooked those suckers a little too long (longer than "crisp-tender" should be) and they turned out a little too mushy. Bummer. (I guess that's what happens when you get distracted by the thrill of washing dishes.)

But the taste is good. Sweet and sour, just like proper pickles should be. The only thing is, I'm the only one in our household who will eat them, so I'd better sign off here and get chowing.

croque monsieur meets carrot-cheese melt

Croque monsieur (without the ham) has been a classic standby for toddler-bean Matthew for a loooong time now. He continues to refuse to touch anything foodwise that's green, so I'm always looking for more ways to get his beloved orange/yellow veggies into him (I do give him veggie/fruit juice, which has all kinds of hidden green stuff covered up by the bright purple of the blueberry and raspberry).

My mom used to make carrot-cheese melts for us (oh so yummy!), so I decided to cross-pollenate her grilled sandwich with Matthew's croque toddler and see what would happen.

It's gorgeous, and I'm going to have to make extra next time for the croque daddy who couldn't keep his jaws off the stuff.

If you've got a toddler running around or you just want a lovely little snacky all for yourself, here's what you do:

Grate some cheese (I use Scottish "cheddar" from Costco) and some carrots and mix them with enough mayo to make it all meld together. Spread it between two slices of bread. Warm up some butter in a frying pan, and beat an egg with a little bit of milk in a bowl. Soak the sandwich on both sides in the egg mixture and then fry it up! I like to put the lid on the pan so it helps the cheese melt faster.

And there you have it. Make it. Dig in. Dig it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

in a pickle

A new blogging friend, sweet Kim, took pity on my pickling-spice-lessness and sent me some from her area of Japan (northeast of here). She's also got a great-looking recipe for pickle relish I'm drooling to try, so stay tuned to mamatouille FM for some sweet-and-sour pickling madness!

Oh, and her adorable daughter, Jun, added her own special yellow-tape touch to the envelope. Thanks, Jun! I love the Alaskan card, too.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

cabbage meal #3 - okonomiyaki

I have a recipe from an American women's magazine (can't remember which one now) from many years ago for "noodle pancakes", which called for cooked ramen, shredded zucchini and carrots, and a dipping sauce made from equal parts soy sauce and lemon juice.

I've never actually made it that way, though, because I've been in Japan since 2001, right after I got hitched to my British blokey, and I started making them the (semi-) Japanese way - these pancake-thingies are called okonomiyaki.

Okonomiyaki is made different ways in different areas of Japan, depending on the local products (various kinds of seafood or pork, etc.).

You know, I still had some of that cabbage left and needed to put more of a dent in it.

I'll give you the magazine recipe and then tell you how I changed it:

1 package (3 oz.) any flavor ramen noodle soup mix
1 medium zucchini, shredded
2 scallions, cut in long, narrow strips
1 medium carrot, shredded
2 large eggs, beaten
2 T. all-purpose flour
2 T. oil
2 T. each lite soy sauce and lemon juice

1. Break the noodles into four pieces. Cook like the package says and then drain. Keep the seasoning packet handy (though my ramen already had the seasoning built in).
2. Put the cooked noodles in a bowl and add the veggies, eggs, flour, and 1/2 the seasoning packet (if you have one).
3. Heat 1 T. oil in a large nonstick skillet, spoon some of the mixture in and fry like pancakes until brown. (Should make 6 or so.)
4. Mix soy sauce and lemon juice and serve with pancakes.

I've never been taught the "proper" way to make Japanese okonomiyaki, but I've eaten them enough to know I LOVE 'em, and this is what I did to adapt the above recipe for a more eastern taste: Omit the zucchini and use cabbage instead (yea, cabbage!), omit the scallions, I still added the carrot (though a Japanese person wouldn't do that), I chopped some bacon and fried it separately and added it in, and then instead of using that dipping sauce, I used Japanese tonkatsu sauce (very similar to a special topping for okonomiyaki - like a sweet sticky brown sauce).

I served it with sesame'd kabocha and we were good to go!

Friday, September 5, 2008

sesame'd kabocha

Kabocha is called Japanese pumpkin because of its color, but the flavor is a bit different than its American counterpart (and Japanese people eat the skin) and I've never heard of it being used in a pie. It's usually served as a bento lunchbox side dish, with a meal as a savory or sweetened veggie, or in a boiled meal (nimono) with some kind of meat. I served mine with okonomiyaki, a kind of noodle pancake, so stay tuned for that recipe another day.

For this simple recipe that I got from my co-op catalog, you just cut up 1/4 kabocha (or about 1 lb. pumpkin if you have it) into bite-sized pieces, throw it in a microwaveable container with a lid, nuke it for two minutes, take it out, add 1/2 t. mirin (a sweet Japanese cooking liquid, or you could just add some sugar) and 1/2 t. dark soy sauce, stir it all around, nuke it for another two minutes, or until soft, take it out, and toss with 1 T. ground sesame seeds. You can buy them whole or ground here in Japan, but I paid all of 100 yen (about $1) for my mortar and pestle so I do like to get value for money out of it. Plus it gives my arm muscles a good workout.

Here's the toddler-bean eating the sesame seeds ONE AT A TIME. No joke.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

boiled-eggs secret

OK, maybe I'm the last person on earth to find this out, but I was browsing online the other day for some food substitutions and somewhere along the line read that if you put a bit of vinegar and some salt into the water when you boil eggs, they'll peel really easily.

And it worked! Yippee Skippy!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

spam in a can

I've never had Spam in my life (other than in my inbox), and my friend Julie wanted me to try it, so when they came to visit us from another island in Japan where they reside, she bought some for me. We went to the Foreign Buyers' Club about 40 minutes from here and while I was buying my usual lentils, toasted wheat germ, and Celestial Seasons decaf vanilla maple tea, Julie got a surprise for me!

So my question is this: How do you guys use Spam? I'm a little reluctant to try it but J assured me I would like it. It's the spreadable kind, so do you put it on a sandwich? With sprouts? What? When I was a kid my mom used to sometimes buy Vienna sausages in a can (probably nothing to do with Vienna at all), spread mustard on a cracker, slice the sausages, and lay those suckers on there. I liked those, so I think I might like this, just not sure how to use it. And I love Julie's cooking, so I trust her instincts, I'm just...I don't know...wondering what to do with the Spam.

Spam me and let me know what you think.

(By the way, thanks again, Julie!)

cabbage meal #2 - colcannon

I've got Irish in me blood (along with Majorcan, American Indian, English, and who knows what else), so my starchy potato side likes to shine through on occasion.

And I needed to use up some more of that dratted cabbage, so I went back in my mind to something I last made in 2002 but that we really loved: Colcannon. It's got potatoes. It's got cabbage (or you can use kale if you've got some of that lyin' around). Perfect.

My inspiration came from Extending the Table: A World Community Cookbook. It's a Mennonite book (though I'm not Mennonite) and full of great recipes and heart-warming stories. Have you heard of More with Less? I've got that one, too, and these sister cookbooks are amazing. You've got to get them for yourselves. You've just got to. (And the fact that they are both ring-bound and open easily and STAY open just adds to their mystique and attraction for me.)

OK, here's the recipe:

Shred 1 lb. (500 g) cabbage or kale, place in a pan with a little water and boil till crisp-tender (5 or 10 minutes). Drain well and liquefy in blender (though my blender did NOT liquefy that stuff and I had to drag my food processor out as well - hence all the dishes, and if you do not have a dishwasher, do not even attempt this recipe).

Now boil separately until soft: 1 lb. (500 g) potatoes, peeled and diced.

In (yet) another saucepan, cook about 10 minutes: 2 small leeks or onions, or 6 green onions with tops, chopped, and 1/2 cup (125 ml) milk or cream (I used my toddler's full-fat milk, and he didn't seem to mind).

Mash the potatoes, then season with 1/4 t. (1 ml) salt (though I use more), 1/8 t. (.5 ml) pepper, and 1/8 t. (.5 ml) mace or nutmeg.

Mix everything together and beat it till fluffy.

I served mine with browned sausages and ginger-glazed carrots. Yum. Yum. Yum. And the toddler-bean chowed down (but no sausage, thank you anyway, Mama).

Oh, and I wanted you to see my hubby's cool book holder that I've stolen for my kitchen. Nifty, hey?