Wednesday, December 31, 2008

a winter treat: dried persimmons

When kaki (persimmons) were in the height of their short season, I ate them like they were going out of style. And now that I can buy them dried and on a stick, I'm in persimmon nirvana once again. Hubby doesn't care for kaki, fresh or dried, so that leaves more for little old moi. Lucky me!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

mamatouille apron strings

One of my favorite Christmas gifts this year! My new apron came all the way from Florida (thanks, Holly!!!) and is ready for action. I keep calling it my "bib" by accident, but I think that gets to the heart of the matter pretty well, actually.

Friday, December 26, 2008

christmas cheesecake with sloshed cranberry sauce

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas "holyday" (as a college friend on Facebook called it) and I know you're all looking forward to special New Year's times with friends and family as well. We're far far away from our kinfolk, but it's amazing to me how we're gifted with such good friends here in Japan who have become our loved ones away from home. We had a beautiful Christmas time and feast with another family who went all out to make us feel welcome and to prepare a HUGE gorgeous meal. My tummy was in ecstasy. We were all stuffed and had to wait a few hours before even contemplating dessert. But of course we did. (That's my cheesecake in the photo above hanging out with my friend Chisa's luscious chocolate cake and whipped cream. We all managed to find space (a betsubara) for some of both.)

My cheesecake wrapped in a furoshiki, ready to take to our friends' home

You know, holiday or not, I just can't seem to stay far enough away from cheesecake. Whether it's rum raisin, punkin choco, or this cake/sauce combo I concocted for Christmas, I just can't help myself.

As I started thinking about a Christmas-inspired cheesecake, it hit me that I'd never heard of the beautiful red sweet-sour fruit, cranberries, ever being paired with my cake of choice. They're such a beautiful color and flavor that I realized it would work perfectly together with creamy-sweet cheesecake. So I used an Israeli cheesecake recipe from Extending the Table: A World Community Cookbook (one of my favorite cookbooks and definitely one of my favorite recipes that I've used on numerous occasions through the years--the cookbook's full of mouthwatering food ideas, beautiful stories, and mealtime prayers from many cultures around the world). And for my sauce, because I have access to dried cranberries here but not fresh, I was searching for a way to use those, and found this gorgeous cranberry sauce recipe on VegBox. Well, I had to tweak the recipe a bit, but man alive, I can't stop hoovering this stuff down. It worked perfectly on the cheesecake, exactly as I hoped it would, and I have to say that it also brings happiness as a topping for plain natural yogurt or toast, and dramatically enhances leftover turkey. But my hubby and I agree: It's best over decadent chocolate ice cream! (The choco/cranberry combo rocks my socks. Remember my cranberry brownies?)

Don't you love that checked napkin? I was supposed to be a bridesmaid in my very dear friend Teresa's wedding, but at eight months pregnant, I couldn't make the journey to the U.S. She sent me these napkins from the reception and I love the cranberry and mint colors.

I made the sauce two days before Christmas and the flavors continued to meld together to form a beautiful whole. I kept tasting it just to make sure everything was A-okay. I'm warning you: Have a spoon handy and don't stray far from the fridge.

You'll need:

Grated rind and juice of 1 orange

5 tablespoons port (optional) – substitute more orange, if not using port (I actually didn't have any port and at hubby's very wise suggestion used our homemade umeshu (plum wine) from last year - it worked really well! Because the umeshu is so concentrated, I used 3 T. umeshu plus 2 T. water. I had the idea to use pre-made sangria if you have it - that would be lovely and the flavors would really complement this sauce. Maybe I'll do that next time.)

350g (2.5 cups) fresh / frozen / dried cranberries (I used dried)

150g – 200g caster sugar (to taste) - I used a drizzle of honey instead (but don't add too much)

½ teaspoon grated cinnamon

1 apple, peeled and grated

If you have dried cranberries, do this:

1. Wash the cranberries in a bowl of hot water, to remove any oil coating. Drain.

2. Put the cranberries and orange juice with 100ml water in a pan. Cover and simmer very gently for 10 minutes, until the cranberries are starting to plump up.

3. Leave, covered, for an hour. This allows the cranberries to rehydrate.

4. Then add ¼ of the sugar, cinnamon, port and apple and simmer for 15 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.

5. Check for sweetness and add more sugar, if necessary.

(If you have fresh or frozen cranberries, see the recipe here for different directions.)

For the cheesecake, you'll need:

1 ready-baked 9-inch pie shell (I used my son's smooshing talents again and made a crust with coconut sable cookies and margarine for my 8-inch springform pan - I baked the crust for about 5 minutes.)

16 oz. (500 g) cream cheese
2 eggs, beaten
2 t. (10 ml) vanilla
1/3 c. (75 ml) sugar (This is one of those rare times I actually increase the sugar content instead of decreasing it - I use 1/2 c.)
1/8 t. (.5 ml) salt

Beat the above ingredients together until smooth, then pour into your baked pie shell. Bake at 350 F (180 C) about 35 minutes or until set. Cool ten minutes.

(I omitted this next part this time because I was using the fruit sauce instead, but you can beat 1 c. (250 ml) sour cream until fluffy, then gradually add 1/3 c. (75 ml) sugar and 1 t. (5 ml) vanilla and then spread this over the cake and bake it another 10 minutes. Then chill and serve. If I'm not going for some kind of sauce, this sour-cream topping is superb.)

Make the cheesecake at least one day ahead of time and let it ripen in the fridge for a good while. Chillin' like a villain. (A villain to my love handles, this stuff is.)

Our homemade plum wine, 1.5 years 35% proof, make sure you don't use this cheesecake and cranberry sauce as a birthday cake with candles anywhere nearby (especially if it's a celebration for someone who's been ripening in the fridge of life for a while)...


Finally. I've been working on this post, 30 seconds at a time, for the last THREE days--I just kept getting interrupted.

This cheesecake is worth every half-a-minute brain surge, though. No lie.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

'tis the season for my favorite choco

Rummy chocolate is one of those "kisetsu gentei" that comes and goes with the seasons, and when it's gone after winter is over, man, oh man, do I crave it.

It's rich milk chocolate with sultanas and not just a hint of rum--we're talking MAJOR-impact alcohol. I always give this as gifts every year overseas, and one of my friends in Florida ate a whole box and got a bit tipsy one year (yes, you know who you are!).

I don't have much alcohol tolerance, and I'm breastfeeding to boot, so I just eat a teeny-tiny bit at any one sitting (OK, almost every night).

Mmmmmm, this is winter at its finest. This, and hot nikuman.

Monday, December 22, 2008

christmasy cranberry brownies

What better way to celebrate the birthday of someone born 2,008 years ago than with cranberry brownies? I'm sure he approves. (I even served them on a "Happy Birthday!" plate that was a present to my son from his godmother--thanks, Holly!)

We were headed to a Christmas lunch and I needed something quick and easy to make. Brownies fit the bill, and the sour-fruit wheels in my brain started turning, too. I'd never heard of anyone pairing these up, but it sure sounded good to me.

I just made up a batch of fudge brownies from my 10th-edition Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, added 1/2 c. chopped dried sweetened cranberries (from Costco) and 1/2 c. chopped pecans (from a valuable freezer stash from America--my precious!), and because the chocolate (Meiji Black, of course) and cranberries were already sweet enough, I cut the sugar down from 1 c. to 1/4 c.

As I anticipated, they were completely more-ish. And I won't just be eating them at Christmas.

Let it snow! (Even if it's just with powdered sugar.)

(I have made this fudge brownie recipe before, but for some reason this time it seemed drier than usual. It wasn't bad, but if you've got a recipe for really really moist brownies that you adore, do let me know.)


***By the way, stay tuned to Mamatouille FM for a special, one-of-a-kind Christmas cheesecake, coming up this week!***

(At least I think it's original, but even if somebody out there in this big ol' world has done it at some point already, I still think this is going to be pretty delectable.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

still giving thanks: punkin choco cheesecake

As you may recall, we celebrated Thanksgiving over here in Japan on December 6. No, it wasn't the traditional day, but this cheesecake sure made the wait worth it. I originally got the recipe many years ago from All Recipes, but I upgraded it this year to Pumpkin Cheesecake Version 5.7 with the addition of some Meiji Black chocolate (and some other tweakings). Mmmmmmm. Give thanks for pumpkin and dark chocolate together. It works, baby! (And when I was growing up in the U.S. I didn't even like chocolate! It was pretty sweet and not very flavorful, the stuff I had then, and it wasn't until I went to Europe and Japan that I really got into it. Now you can't get me out.)

Matthew helped me smooshilate the coconut sable cookies for the crust (those are the best cookies for this cheesecake, in my opinion, and they're only 100 yen for a packet - about $1). I didn't want to get out my food processor because Joel's room is right next to the kitchen and he was napping. And when they're napping, you want nothing to disrupt that beautiful slumber.
First with the rolling pin and then with his hands...
Inspecting his (OK, our) handiwork...
I don't add the sugar to the crust as the recipe calls for because cookies are already plenty sweet in my book, and I use HALF the sugar it calls for in the filling. I add cinnamon to the crust for some extra kick. My springform pan is only 8 inches (20 cm), so I have to halve all the ingredients, or make up all of it, save some in the fridge, and use it again for a second cheesecake within a few days. That's not too terrible, actually.

Don't forget the sour-cream topping. That takes the cake.
Everybody asked for seconds, so I must've done OK with this one!

Monday, December 15, 2008

the true tale of tessa turkey

Hi, my name's Tessa, and I'm in my fourth life already. It all started innocently enough for me--after cracking through my shell, I hobbled out to the very cramped cement barnyard and noticed there were exactly 3.278 million other little poults just like me, blinking under those fluorescent lights and wondering what the heck was going on. The smell was just amazing.

Lickety-split, before you know it, I was a teenager, with even less space to move around now that my body was a bit bigger. My mom had already deserted me and hitched a ride in some seedy guy's truck to run off to who knows where, the flighty thing, and I decided I wouldn't leave the rest of my family like that. Well, turns out I didn't have much choice. I was manhandled and kidnapped (sniff, sniff) and before I could even ask where I could get therapy for that, I ended up floating in plastic in some woman's bathtub in Japan. Yeah, don't ask. She said it was for some kind of project called Defrosting. Whatever. I'm not a good swimmer, lady.
Oh, wait, but I've gotten ahead of myself. First I was really really cold in some kind of big square box in Costco in Amagasaki. In between the kidnapping and that freezing place I don't remember much. In psychology they call that blocking. If you're in my position, blocking is pretty much your only option if you want to stay sane enough to write your autobiography.

That lady who threw me in the water at her apartment was apparently the one who "rescued" me from that icy inferno. (Wait, is an "icy" inferno possible? I really don't know. Everybody tells me turkeys are bred for their meat and not for their brains.) She brought her two little cute noisy kids and that tall handsome British bloke with her, and they had to wait and wait while she got out her measuring tape and sized my friends and me up. She even threw me on a black metal oven tray to see if I fit! Talk about insulting. I wasn't allowed to be any taller than 16 cm (6.3 inches). Well, excuse me. I always thought my figure was just perfect. Evidently she thought so, too, 'cause I got to go home with her. Yippee. (Oh, yeah, and I weighed in at 6.2 kg - about 14 pounds. That's what that nasty stuff they called "food" back in the cement barnyard will do to you.)

Before you could say Turkey, that darned lady set her alarm for some ungodly hour in the morning, took my plastic dress off, and gave me a creepy cavity search. Oh my word. Insult to injury. Obviously she'd never done anything like that before, because she started wailing and got that tall man out of bed to ask him where the giblet bag was. As if he knew. She finally found whatever the heck she was looking for and I heard a big gasp of relief. And they say turkeys have small brains.

So I ended up having another bath in the sink and then an olive-oil massage (that was pretty nice, actually). (Oh, yeah, then that lady started yelling again because she made a last-minute decision to use olive oil instead of butter and then was worried it was all wrong. I felt really moisturized, anyway, and after being in that cold place for so long, my skin needed some help.) I was covered in bacon strips at this point, and some round vegetable thing called an onion was shoved up, ahem, you know where. Then I was very carefully put in a really hot place (called a convection oven) that the lady borrowed (from some other lady named Sarah) because her own oven was too small. I just barely fit in this one.
That lady cooked me breast-side down for the first hour (because this website said to) and then flipped me over for the next however gosh-awful long it was in that burning place. She had to use aluminum foil because my top got really done really fast, and when the little red popper thingy popped up, apparently I was done. My legs were still pink, though, so the lady froze them and cooked them in soup later. Much later. Like a week after.
They all said my breast meat was really moist, and I'm glad I could bring some happiness to this world (on December 6, of all days). It turns out I was shipped to Japan, and they don't celebrate Turkey Day there, so these people ate me later than all my friends got devoured back in the good old US of A.
That lady I was telling you about was so busy putting me in that hot box that she didn't even have time to wash her hair, can you believe it! I think for my sake she really should've worn one of those net thingies on her head, you know, to keep me clean.
Even though I looked darn gorgeous in the above photo, that was not to be my final incarnation. Remember I told you I couldn't swim? Well, that fact is not helping me considering I'm being tossed back and forth out in the ocean somewhere now.

Maybe I'll end up in Hawaii. I love getting a good suntan.

ginger-ed coffee

It's only been very recently in Japan that I've been able to find decaf coffee, and since I've either been pregnant or nursing since the summer of 2005 (no joke), this has been a major concern of mine. Yes, if I want to spend about $4 on a cup of freshly brewed decaf at Starbucks, that's an option, but it only comes in one flavor: coffee. No adornments. No special spices. No whipped cream. No syrups. No chocolate-chip-whizbangs. Nada. Just coffee. Which is fine, if I won the lottery and was in the mood for that sort of thing anyway. (I do indulge every few months just for a mama-treat. I cannot tell a lie. But I do have a Starbucks insulated cup and that saves me a whopping 20 yen - approx. 20 cents.)

I've got this recipe for hot ginger coffee (from a magazine I no longer recall) that I've been wanting to make for ages, but I never had the candied ginger. Until now. (Thanks again, Kim!)

Akachan Honpo (a baby store similar to Babies R Us but on a much smaller scale) has started carrying UCC ready-made 97% caffeine-free coffee in plastic bottles, which costs about 298 yen for 900 ml. (If you're in Japan and looking for it, it's in the mama-section, near the nursing bras and ahem, things of that nature.)

The recipe calls for coffee grounds to be added to the filter with the spices, but all I did was use the already-brewed stuff and boiled it with the candied ginger and orange peel in a loose-tea bag, and added the cinnamon in to the pot as well.

It was really gorgeous coffee, and with a splash of our toddler's full-fat milk, even better. The picture on the recipe showed it in a clear mug, topped with whipped cream and slivers of orange peel. Whatever floats your coffee!

You'll need:

6 T ground coffee (not instant)
1 T grated orange peel (I used mikan peel and grated some and chopped some)
1 T chopped crystallized or candied ginger
1/2 t ground cinnamon
6 c. cold water

Do this:

Combine the coffee, orange peel, ginger, and cinnamon and pour into a coffee filter. Add water to your coffeemaker and brew.

Or, if you're like me, use UCC ready-made java and boil it all in a pot on the stove! Worked fine.

OK, not just fine--it's GOOD stuff! (Just watch out for that 3% of caffeine--if you're not used to it, it'll keep you awake a bit and then make you dream of your toddler appearing next to your bed with snot dripping out of his nose, needing a big wipe.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

applesauce, my way

First rule of thumb: You've got two kids two and under, so of course you're not going to measure anything! You don't have the time or the energy to faff around with that kind of minutiae. At least two diapers are waiting to be changed and you're trying to overpower that smelly mess with the beauty of Sun Fuji apples and Vietnamese cinnamon (though I ended up using some regular powdered cinnamon, too, because I was too poopilated to grind the real stuff for very long).

I used six apples, plus some water (I have no idea how much--2 cups maybe? hmmm...), then boiled it all till softish. Sometimes I like my applesauce a bit chunky, in which case I smoosh it with a potato masher, but you know that mama hens have to sacrifice a lot for their chicks. My toddler-chickpea likes sludgy applesauce with no bits, so there you go. In that case, use your hand blender, right in the pot.

Add some cinnamon, and Bob's your uncle. DON'T, I repeat, DON'T add any sweetener. This stuff is perfect as is. And perfection is hard to come by, so grab it while you can.

Even toddler-chickpeas with coughs and stuffy noses love it: The proof is in the pictures. (And don't forget your Japanese police car, or life loses its luster a bit.)

my very favorite juice of all times

I buy this stuff by the case and we all drink it like it's going out of style. OK, all except our seven-month-old, but he gets it secondhand anyway. Easier that way.

All righty then, lemme tell you what's in this nectar of the juice fairies: purple carrots, orange carrots, sweet potatoes, red shiso leaves, purple cabbage, red pepper (like bell pepper, not like the hot stuff), green cabbage, eggplant, asparagus, celery, Chinese cabbage, daikon radish, kale, lettuce, cress, spinach, parsley, beets, kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), apples, grapes, lemon, blueberries, and raspberries.

If that ain't good for ya, I don't know what is.

(Best if served in gorgeous Rennie Mackintosh wine glasses that were an engagement gift from your husband's little brother and his wife. Thanks, P and A!)

bedtime yogurt snack

Because we're boring people of habit, the hubster and I have this very non-boring snack almost every night! It's so easy: Just grab some plain yogurt (heaps), sprinkle in about a tablespoon of toasted wheat germ (don't measure, though, that's the beauty of it--doesn't take any brain power or any extra washing up), and drizzle on some of your favorite honey. Stir, eat, and start singing your favorite aria.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

pumpkin date walnut muffins with vietnamese cinnamon (I won! I won!!!)

I've had two dates in the last two days--how's that for a busy mama? The first one involved adding chopped dates to a leftover-turkey salad, and the second one was all about trying to use up some pureed pumpkin I had lying around. I had made a pumpkin chocolate cheesecake for our late Thanksgiving celebration (recipe to come soon, so stay tuned!) and didn't need a whole can of pumpkin, so I had about 3/4 c. leftover, waiting to be reinvented into something else special. My 10th-edition paperback pain-in-the-you-know-what-to-keep-open Better Homes and Gardens cookbook has a recipe for pumpkin muffins that I've made a few times before, but I wanted to take it up a couple of notches. Costco should never have started stocking dried dates because now I'm always thinking of new ways to use them! I chopped some up, added them to the batter, and then boom! That stick of Vietnamese cinnamon I won from Diane and Todd at White on Rice Couple (yes, they mailed it all the way to Japan from California for me!) was begging to be added as well, so I used my trusty mortar and pestle and ground up a little chunk of it. Talk about YUMMY! I've never had cinnamon like that! It's powerful stuff. And you can even chew on a little bit of it and it tastes like a red-hot (all natural, of course). (By the way, I wasn't "officially" a winner of the cinnamon contest, but D and T liked my comment on the post and sent me some anyway! Fun! I've hardly ever won anything in my life, so that made my day. Mine was comment #38 if you want to know what I said. I know you're dying to.) Man, that stick smells luscious. Just taking it out of the packaging and before I had even turned any of it into powder, it turned my whole (baby) kitchen into fragrance heaven.

Pumpkin Date Walnut Muffins (adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)

You'll need:

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. sugar (I used 1/4 c. Okinawan "black" sugar)
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 beaten egg
3/4 c. milk (I had some leftover evaporated milk, so I used 1/4 c. evap. milk and 1/2 c. skim)
1/4 c. cooking oil
chopped dates (I used about 1/2 c.)
1/4 c. chopped nuts (I used 1/2 c. walnuts because I'm pretty nutty)
1 t. ground cinnamon (I highly suggest Vietnamese if you have it)
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/8 t. ground cloves
1/2 c. pumpkin puree

Do this:

Preheat your oven to 400 F/205 C and grease your muffin tins (this makes 12 muffins, but I have two 6-cup tins and have to cook one tin at a time because my oven is minuscule). Don't use paper baking cups for this recipe.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, the spices and salt, and then make a well in the center. Combine egg, milk, oil, and pumpkin in a separate bowl (and if you forget to do this separately, it's not a big issue as I found out!) and then add to the flour mixture. Add the nuts and stir just till moistened (don't over stir). The batter will still be a bit lumpy. (I added the dates in with the nuts at the same time--it makes it easier when you're chopping the dates to coat them with a bit of flour so they don't stick to each other and your knife so much.)

Bake for about 20 minutes, and then split them open and slather with margarine...mmmmm...

Good with hot apple cider, too (recipe to come soon)!

thanksgiving leftovers reincarnated: palm springs fruit salad with turkey

If you've got a well-insulated home and you don't mind a cold meal in the winter, then this is the one for you! I wanted to do something creative with our turkey leftovers (though still have some in a bag in the freezer and will probably make a traditional soup with it later). Recently at Costco they started selling dates, my friend Kim sent me some of her homemade candied ginger just the other day, I have mint growing on my balcony, and I had plenty of fresh fruit in the fridge that I needed to use, so it all worked together really well. The Mariani dates bag had a recipe for Palm Springs Fruit Salad (made with chicken, but I just used turkey breast meat instead) with Orange Mint Yogurt Dressing, and here it is, for your delectation!

You'll need:

For the salad -

1/2 c. dried dates, sliced (I chopped mine)
4 skinless boneless chicken breasts, cooked and cooled (or leftover turkey)
2 large oranges (I used 3 mikan - tangerines)
1 pineapple
2 kiwi fruit
mint sprigs for garnish

For the dressing -

1 c. plain lowfat yogurt
2 T. honey
2 t. grated orange peel
1 1/2 t. finely chopped candied ginger
1/8 t. salt
1 dash cayenne pepper
1 1/2 t. chopped fresh mint

Do this:

1. Mix the dressing ingredients together in a bowl. Don't leave out the salt and cayenne pepper--they work together to add a nice tang and bite to an otherwise sweet dressing.
2. Remove peel and seeds from oranges. Slice them into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Peel and quarter pineapple and slice into 1/2 inch thick slices. Peel and chop kiwi, then arrange the fruit on 4 salad plates.
3. Meanwhile, tear chicken (or turkey) into strips and toss with the dates and the dressing. Divide mixture into 4 servings and put onto the plates with the mint sprigs for garnish.

I went a little crazy with my flowered fondant cutters, but feel free to cut the fruit into turkey shapes if you like! Gobble gobble. I had my (leftover) leftover salad with cranberry sauce instead of the other fruit, and that was yummy, too!

This dish has some quite intense flavors and it's actually really filling, so a little goes a long way. Stephen and I both had lit-up faces when we tasted it and it's definitely going in my arsenal of turkey-leftover recipes. It would be awesome in the summer with chicken, too, if I do say so.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

okazu: pork, turnips, and turnip greens

Okazu is basically anything that goes with rice, and this recipe is another one from Oshaberi Kukkingu, my favorite Japanese cooking show (actually, the only one I have time to watch because it's only about 15 minutes long!). The show that featured this particular dish aired on November 20, so feel free to check out their website to see it in nihongo (Japanese).

You'll need:

200 g thinly sliced pork
400 g small turnips
100 g turnip greens
enough sesame oil for the pan
2 1/2 c. dashi (see this easy recipe from Just Hungry via La Fuji Mama)
1/4 c. sake
1 1/2 T. sugar
150 g miso

Do this:

1. Cut meat into 4 cm strips.
2. Cut each turnip into 6 wedge sections and the greens into 1 cm lengths.
3. Cook the pork in the sesame oil till the pinkness is gone, then add the turnips. Mix the miso into the dashi, then add that plus the sake and sugar to the pot, and keep it simmering on medium heat for 8 minutes.
4. When the turnip is soft (poke it with a skewer to test), add the leaves, wilt, and serve immediately.

This is so, so yummy and great warming winter food for your tummy. I served it over multi-grain rice that has 16 different kinds of little beans and grains (a mix that you just add to your regular white rice in the rice cooker). I was planning on sprinkling some toasted sesame seeds over the top, but in the heat of the moment it slipped my mind. Next time!

Miso paste

Bonito flakes (katsuobushi) and kelp (konbu) to make the dashi

Close-up of the konbu

I used 4 small turnips...

Smaller than my fist (and much tastier than a knuckle sandwich)!

Have this over the rice of your choice and with sweet-hot lotus root on the side...yummers.