Tuesday, November 25, 2008

sweet-hot lotus root

I used to study Japanese by hanging out (nerdily, yes, I admit) at our local library in Aichi Prefecture, reading cookbooks and translating recipes that I thought looked especially oishii (drool worthy) into a notebook. This is one of those, taken from a cookbook called Okaasan No Aji (literally, "the flavor of mother", or basically just good home cooking).

Crazily, I only just made this for the first time the other day, and now that I know how amazing it is, I want to eat it every day from now on until I kick the bucket full of lotus root.

You'll need:

1 renkon (lotus root)
sesame oil
seven spice seasoning
1 T. mirin
1 t. sugar
1-2 T. soy sauce

Do this:

Clean the lotus root and slice it thinly. Fry it up in some sesame oil till it's starting to turn crispy and brown, then add the mirin, sugar, and soy sauce until bubbly.

Serve it on a plate with some seven spice seasoning, and enjoy!

And oh, will you ever enjoy it. Scoutette's honor.

Friday, November 21, 2008

persimmon pudding

Remember I said kaki (persimmon) were in season? Well, they still are, but this pudding was from several weeks ago. I've got more of the fruit in my fridge, so maybe I'll make some more...mmmm...

Isn't it a gorgeous color in its au naturale state?
It's yummy as is, or you can make a dark, rich pudding from it, too. I got my recipe from my grandma's church circle ladies' recipe compilation, Cooking in Circles. I never saw a persimmon in Florida in my whole life, but maybe Naomi (Mrs. Wilbur C.) George was a snowbird from up north.
Peekaboo! Do you see the camera and camerawoman's finger?

You'll need:

1 c. persimmon pulp (I just guesstimated on this part, must've used too much, 'cause my pud was pretty sludgy)
1/4 t. cinnamon
2 t. baking soda
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. milk
1 c. sugar (I used 1/2 c.)
1 T. melted butter
1 1/4 c. flour
1/2 c. nuts
1/2 t. salt

I also added raisins and a bit of molasses for some extra richness, and if you've got a toddler, I promise you they'll love it.

Do this:

Mix in order given. Bake in a greased mold in a pan of water at 350 F (180 C) for 1 hour. (I wrapped my springform pan in foil so nothing would leak in, just in case.)

Serve with whipped cream (I didn't; call me a circle rebel--I tend to be a bit more square).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

fastest meal in the east

Costco rotisserie chicken

plus big gobs of fresh spinach
plus olive oil and Dead Sea salt

plus really suh-weet carrots from the co-op (boiled with a bit of salt) equals
one mighty fine and FAST dinner. (Quick blog posting, too.)

Maybe I should call it a meal half-made with mama-love (half the effort, all the lovin').

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

meatball-soup ingredients correction

If you tried to make the meatballs for my meatball soup and wondered why they didn't turn out quite right, it was probably because I forgot to list the 1/2 c. evaporated milk/whole milk. I've corrected the ingredients list, so feel free to try again! Sorry about that, folks. I'll go drink a cup of my toddler's whole milk in penance. (OK, not too hard for me since I like milk anyway.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

red lentil, spinach, and ginger penne

I love me some pasta--in any way, shape, or form. It just so happens that this way, with cute little baby red lentils, verdant spinach, and ginger-with-a-kick, is AWESOME, DUDE! (The British hubster, don't ask me why, taught this 80's Valley-kid phrase to our toddler, and now it's flying around here like there's no surfer tomorrow.)

Though I'm not vegetarian, I've never been a big carnivore either, and if you throw a legume-centered meal my way, I'll give you a big kiss. My eyes thank you (beans are adorable, aren't they!), my teeth thank you (I used to chew each bite of meat for ages when I was younger, trying to will it down my throat), and my tummy thanks you.

Don't just look at this extraordinary dish and think, oh wow, that sounds pretty good. TRY IT. NOW.

This comes from one of my favorite cookbooks - Vegetarian Planet, by Didi Emmons.

What you'll need:

1 pound dried penne or other pasta
8 T butter (I ain't lyin'.)
2 large garlic cloves, sliced very thin
1 2-inch piece of ginger, cut into thin julienne strips
1 t minced fresh sage, or 1/2 t crumbled dried sage (I only had powdered sage, so used 1/4 t)
3/4 c red lentils
1 c water
2 c fresh spinach, firmly packed
1 t salt
fresh-ground black pepper to taste

Do this:

1. Bring a pot of salted water to boiling, cook the pasta (al dente is best in my book), drain it, and rinse it well.

2. Melt all that luscious butter in a large saucepan or skillet (I used a skillet) over medium heat, and when it starts to turn golden with some brown specks (OK, I admit it, I didn't wait that long and it didn't seem to hurt anyone), add the garlic and ginger. Cook for 1 minute, stirring, then add the sage, lentils, and 1 c water. Bring it to a boil, cover the pan, and reduce it to low heat.

3. Let it all simmer for about 10 minutes, until the lentils are pretty much cooked but a little bit chewy, add the spinach and salt, stir, and turn up the heat. Stir until the spinach wilts. Then add the penne and pepper, and heat it all up!

4. Serve. Volley. Pass. Whatever. Just eat it, in the words of Weird Al.

(By the way, this is my first-ever entry for Presto Pasta Nights, hosted this time by Soy and Pepper.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

rooibos tea and spicy cookies

I'm so glad we decided to go through the community library to get to the Foreign Buyer's Club at Rokko Island today. We lucked out, man! They were having a special international food/craft/antique/fun fair and the four of us spent quite a while there, examining exquisitely made Japanese dolls, handmade pottery, Indian tunics, jewelry, food, and much more. (OK, I think Stephen and I had more fun than the kids, but they seemed happy, anyway. How blessed can a mama be!)

I bought myself four mugs (see photo) for an early Christmas present, and those GORGEOUS shortbread cookies. One was curry and cardamom and the other was rosemary and thyme. Oh wow.

My new mission in life: Replicate them, and pronto.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

cranberry rice pudding

This one took about six or seven years to make, and I'm not exaggerating! I cut out the recipe from a Family Circle magazine that long ago, just sitting on it (poor recipe - ouch!) and keeping my stove warm until we moved somewhere that I could buy dried cranberries. Well, we moved to this area of Japan over 2.5 years ago (with a Costco - yea!), and I plum forgot about my cranberry rice pudding cravings until I stumbled across it in a recipe notebook while looking for something else. It's been very patient, waiting all that time for its debutante ball.

Well, I got out my fancy dress (jeans) and made up a batch the other day! Wow. It was REALLY worth the wait.

You'll need:

1 3/4 c. water
3/4 c. long-grain white rice rice baby (I used short pudgy Japanese rice and it was just dandy)
1/4 t. salt
1/3 c. sugar (this was just the right amount for our tastes--not too sweet)
2 t. cornstarch
1/8 t. ground cinnamon
pinch ground nutmeg
2 c. fat-free milk (I used the Toddler Bean's full-fat stuff and it sure was GOOD)
1/2 c. sweetened dried cranberries or sweetened dried cherries (the cranberries were awesome!)
1/4 t. vanilla extract (I doubled this)

Do this (this instant):

1. In a saucepan, bring water to a boil and then add rice and salt. Simmer while covered until all water is absorbed, about 20 min.
2. In a separate bowl, mix sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and nutmeg, then stir in 1.5 c. milk until it's all amalgamated.
3. Stir the mixture from the bowl plus the cranberries into the rice and boil it uncovered until thick, about 3 min. Remove from heat and stir in remaining 1/2 cup milk plus the vanilla. Spoon into individual serving cups and serve warm or cold. I put mine in the fridge a couple of hours (covered with plastic wrap) and it was great, but I also warmed some up the next day and that was pretty yummy, too, and perfect for a cold day.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

beef and gobo with balsamic plum sauce

I sometimes end up watching "Oshaberi Kukkingu" (Chatting and Cooking) at 1 pm on weekdays as I've just put one son to bed for his nap and I'm immobile on the couch, feeding the other one. It's hard to wash dishes and fold clothes when you've got a nursing babe at the breast, so gosh darn, I have to suffer and watch a cooking show. It's only 15 minutes, which is perfect timing and about how long the Beansprout hangs on anyway, and even though I can't really write anything down as I watch, they've got it all online and you can look up the recipes by the date that the shows aired. The lady who hosts the show is really chatty (obviously) and has three chefs as guests who rotate each day. This meal was categorized as "Western" (maybe because of the olive oil?) and showed on Friday, November 7. For some reason I can't link directly to this recipe, but if you go to their official website, click on the calendar at the top, find November, and then click on the 7th, you'll have a list of ingredients and directions, all in Japanese. (Just kidding! I won't do that to you. No heart palpitations, please. Don't worry--I'll write it out for you here. Because I'm nice.) Anyway, even if this combo of ingredients sounds a bit bonkers, just try it anyway, and I think you'll be as amazed as we were at the symphony of flavors working together to create one beefy hunky masterpiece. The host of the show couldn't believe how tender the meat was, and she said she doesn't need to go to restaurants anymore, she'll just make this dish. I had everything on hand except for the gobo, so it was easy to pick up just that one thing at the store. And then...meal magic!

Gobo (aka burdock) is a root vegetable, and it's mmmm mmmm good...nice and crunchy...I guess if you don't have access to it you could substitute parsnips or turnips, maybe. (The fork is there to show you the size, not to suggest you need to just dive into this stuff when it's raw. As if.)

It's easy to peel...

And you soak it in water for a few minutes to subdue the powerfully earthy flavors.

The recipe called for 500 g (about 1 lb.) pork (I used beef) but I only had 280 g, so I added a peeled and chopped Japanese sweet potato (seen here in its embarrassing dirty pre-washed state).
You'll need:

  • 500 g (about a pound) of pork or beef chunks (or like me, half meat and half sweet potato)
  • 150 g gobo
  • 150 g dried plums aka prunes aka extra fiber (I used 15 plums)
  • 100 g onion (I used half a medium-sized one)
  • 1 T flour
  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 c. red wine
  • 2 c. beef bouillon (I used 2 cups water and 2 beef stock cubes)
  • 2 T chopped parsley
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil
Do this (pronto!):
  • Cut the meat into 4 cm chunks and the gobo into 5 cm lengths, then soak the gobo in water for at least 4 minutes. Dice the onion.
  • Toss the meat into a big pot, salt and pepper it, and sear it with some olive oil.
  • Add a bit more oil and the onion and fry that all together.
  • Then add the flour, stir it in, and after that add the vinegar, wine, bouillon, gobo, and plums, and simmer it over medium heat for 40 to 50 minutes. I have gas burners so I had to turn mine down to the lowest setting.
  • Taste and add more salt and pepper if you need to, and the parsley. Serve it up! Hubby liked his best leftover and over rice for lunch today, but I enjoyed mine just as it was last night.
Whatever way you eat it (standing on your head, driving to the mall), it's GORGEOUS! Your taste buds will thank you...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

butterfly award

Ivy, a Greek blogger who makes me hungry when I read her recipes over at Kopiaste, recently gave me a cool-blog award! I love butterflies anyway and this one made my day.

I'd like to pass it on to Nina (My Easy Cooking), who always makes amazing food and takes absolutely show-stopping photos, La Fuji Mama, with whom I have a love for Japan (and she makes creative and darn good grub!), Kim (Kim's Kantan Cooking), a blogging/e-mailing friend and fellow expat in Japan who got me started on the pickling road, Carrie (Carrie's Creative Cookery), who makes really healthy yummy-looking food (and you have to admire anyone who's run a marathon!), and Alexander (The Happy Gentleman), a really artsy guy who always has eclectic posts that I enjoy reading and photographs I think are uber cool (I really want to steal that twirly tree header)!

rum raisin cheesecake

My poor mom got braces on her teeth when she was in her thirties and because she couldn't eat much solid food after they were tightened at each appointment (man, I know that pain!), the good folks at Andrea Quality Cheesecake down the road from our house got to know her by name. We kids were graciously allowed to tag along on each jaunt and to pick out our own favorite baby cheesecake (mine was usually pineapple or turtle). (Mom, I bet you went on some secret missions by yourself, too! Just a wild guess on my part. That stuff was too good to stay away from for very long.)

And thus was born my insane love of everything cheesecakey.

I normally go bananas for pumpkin cheesecake (recipe to come soon!), but just recently I started dreaming of a beautiful marriage. (Yes, I'm in a great one but read on! Don't gasp and stop here!) If you were to ask me what ice cream flavor I would normally choose, I'd have to say that I pick rum raisin on a pretty regular basis (when I do indulge). Well, I got to thinkin' (always a dangerous thing). If rum raisin ice cream is yummylicious, and cheesecake is my FAVE, why not arrange a clandestine meeting for the two in my kitchen and see what would happen?

I'd say blind dates are probably a 50/50 proposition, they really could go either way, but I'm happy to announce...ta da!...as I popped open my trusty springform pan and unveiled the lusciousness within...

It's a match made in heaven!

Mmmm, each bite a coupling of sweet juicified plumped-up raisins and smooth-sharp booze. You just can't go wrong with this love-child. (Definitely meant to be.)

Japanese dark cooking rum getting a suntan on top of my air-conditioner compressor unit

I got the secret to a happy marriage from Flora's Recipe Hideout, with her Rum Raisin Cheesecake #2. I don't know why #1 didn't work out, but we won't ask any probing questions, will we.

Stuff I did differently this time: I've got a smallish 8-inch (20-cm) springform pan, and the thought of spending two arms and two legs to buy two pounds of cream cheese in Japan did not fill my wallet with glee, so I halved the recipe. It worked fine! (Come closer. Closer. A leetle too close! Watch it! There, that's better. Now I'll let you in on a little secret: I didn't halve the amount of rum. Or vanilla. And actually, even if you don't believe me, it was by mistake, but neither of us is complaining.) The recipe called for 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs, but I found it wasn't enough, so I ended up using about 1 cup, and I used coconut sable cookies and pulsed them to smithereens in my food processor. I didn't add any sugar to the crust because hey, cookies are loaded with the stuff anyway. It said to soak the raisins in water to plump them, but I went one step further and nuked them for a minute or so in the water as well. Made for extra fluffy, huggable, squeezable withered grapes. Oh, and for the sour cream topping, I did NOT add the rum it called for (because of aformentioned sloshed-cheesecake mistake), just in case you were worried about me. Oh, yeah, I baked the crust for 5 minutes before adding the cheesecake batter, and I also baked the topping for another 5 minutes after I spread it on. That's what I do with the sour cream topping on my usual pumpkin cheesecake and it works well. Try it. See what you think.

Stuff I'll do differently next time: One of my favorite treats is rum-chocolate-covered raisins from the co-op, and I meant to add some chopped bits of dark chocolate to the cheesecake this time around, in homage to the co-op, but I completely forgot. Next time, I promise. My preciouses.

Note: Let this baby rest in the fridge overnight and you won't be disappointed. But if you happen to sneak a bite or two before then, it wouldn't be so terrible either.

Do you love plain traditional cheesecake, or do you go for a certain love-child match? What's your fave?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

hokkaido yokan

One of my friends and neighbors is from Hokkaido and recently took her two children up there to visit Grandma for a month (their dad is training to be a train driver at the moment and he's working odd hours). They returned a couple of weeks ago with yokan in hand, which of course immediately went into my tummy, where all good snacks belong. Yokan is jellied sweet red beans, thicker than American-style jello (and much yummier in my humble opinion). It's usually served in a block and sliced, but these particular ones were like push-up popsicles (no brain-freeze involved, though, thank goodness).

I know it looks like these puppies are skyscrapers and I took the photo from a helicopter, but I must say the reality is a bit more prosaic: They're about the height of a finger and they're sitting on top of our air-conditioner compressor on our teeny-tiny balcony! So now you know my special photography secrets. Shhh, don't tell anyone!