Wednesday, June 24, 2009

berry-surprised father's day chocolate cake

The Nigella chocolate-orange cake never gets old, but since I just made it at the beginning of June for hubby's b-day, and then again a week after that, I thought I'd revamp it just a little for Dad's Day.

Last year I'd bought a (rare-in-Japan) can of jellied cranberry sauce, thinking I'd use it as a last resort if I couldn't find some of the whole-berry kind, but then I went and made my own sauce from dried cranberries and plum wine that ended up being perfect over cheesecake for Christmas.

I still had that can lolling around and haunting me for spending about US$5 on it. I wondered why I couldn't just go ahead and and blast it with my immersion blender, add it to the cake instead of the orange marmalade, and then add in some frozen mixed berries (raspberries, marionberries, and blueberries) that I recently purchased at Costco (don't even ask how much I paid for those beauts!). (I defrosted them a bit first but you probably wouldn't have to.)

So that's what I did. I'm sure if you had cranberry curd (which I still can't wait to try) or jam, it would work just as well.

The cake ended up being uber moist and WAY delish - if I do say so myself. I'm really partial to the berry-choco combo and this just worked. It worked WELL.

Oh, and for those of you out there who asked me last time about leavening for the cake, I realized I did use Japanese bread ("strong") flour last time I baked the choco-orange version, and this time for the berryfied beauty as well, and it rose nicely and stayed firm.

This is wonderful freshly baked and still warm, or even more amazing after it's chilled in the fridge. I'm sure you could jazz it up with some very slightly sweetened whipped cream and some mint leaves or extra berries on top, but we ate it as it was and it was perfect for us.

I just love cake cracks, don't you? Makes me feel all homey inside.

Monday, June 22, 2009

just-dug-potatoes feast - spring rolls, etc.

When I say these puppies were fresh, I mean fresh (as in, just dug up five minutes before cooking)! Check out our adventures digging them up (potato harvesting in Japanese is called imo hori).

If you're drooling to know how my friends made these amazing (and the best I've ever had) harumaki (spring rolls), then read on, my friends...

Start by gathering the potatoes from the garden plot and these verdant, fresh-tasting shiso (perilla) leaves from a plant on your balcony.

Best when working as a team with hubby. Get your gaijin friend (aka Mamatouille) to wash the potatoes (see, I did help!), julienne those freshly washed and unpeeled spuds (the skin was very thin and fresh so didn't need any peeling), and saute the potatoes and some enoki (long, white, thin) mushrooms in sesame oil till all is tender, then sprinkle some salt over and let it cool a bit.

Employ the gaijin friend again to (gently and carefully) peel apart/separate all the spring-roll papers, then lay a shiso leaf on one, and cover that with a bit of the potato/mushroom saute.

Use a flour/water mixture to rub on and seal the edges after rolling each one up, then fry in hot oil till brown and crispy.

Dip in a mixture of soy sauce and hot Japanese mustard (karashi), and serve alongside a roasted dish of those new potatoes, chicken legs, rosemary, onions, and some celery leaves and spices. Yum!

Friday, June 19, 2009

okonomiyaki - version 2.0

I make an okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancake) with ramen noodles sometimes, but it's also really good Osaka style (recipe here, though read on to see how I change it a bit) - with pork, cabbage, and green onions. Gets those salivary glands going (especially if you're breastfeeding and hungry all the time anyway, though I don't know anyone like that). Okonomiyaki has such a variety of flavors and textures that all sing in your mouth to create this addictively beautiful melody with notes of sweet (the brown sauce), sour (the pink ginger pickles), sharp (onions), salty, crunchy, soft.

Matthew the Preschooler Bean likes to help me make them.

Whisking the eggs...

Mixing the batter...

Chowing down (please excuse the excited gaping-mouth-full-of-food)...going, going...


Our favorite okonomiyaki shop (Miyako) is actually in the food court of a mall, if you can believe it!

There's always a huge line of people waiting there to get their hands on this good stuff...

(These pics were actually from March, in case you're wondering about the warm clothes!)

The recipe in the link above calls for tenkasu (tempura flakes), but I just use panko (Japanese breadcrumbs). I'm sure wherever you are and whatever you have (or don't have) access to, you could just use regular breadcrumbs. I used water instead of dashi, and in addition to the pork, cabbage, and green onion, I also added grated carrots (toally un-Japanese of me).

I served it with mayo (just for hubby - I'm not much of a mayo girl myself but it's the big thing over here to have on your okonomiyaki, believe it or not), tonkatsu sauce (kind of a sweet tangy brown sauce - recipe here if you don't have access to it in your neck of the woods), katsuobushi (bonito fish) flakes, extra green onions, and beni shoga (pink pickled ginger strips).

Have you ever made okonomiyaki, and if so, was it similar to this style or pretty different? There are so many ways to make it over here in Japan - with seafood, chicken, pork, different veggies, you name it.

got leftover rice?

Oh, what to do? Go to to find out some really great ideas!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

seasonal treats

I'm loving this season's harvest so far: the biwa (loquats) from Stephen's company's tree (picked by the owner to give out to employees) and the suh-weeeeeet sweetcorn from our local supermarket.

Stephen's coworkers were surprised about those cornholders - apparently they don't sell them in Japan (I brought ours from the States). Do you use them?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

snack bento for three

One box - three happy tummies (mama bean, preschooler bean, and toddler bean). A few peanut-butter balls (to which I added wheat germ as well this time), cashews, dried cranberries, two "baby cheese" in foil (toddler bean calls it "jeez"), and some purple sweet potato crunchy snacks (not dyed - actually made from purple sweet potatoes!).

Wheat germ exports me to another land...a land where little toasty crunchy bits make my mouth sing (though you probably couldn't understand the warbled tune because of the snackies in the way).

What do you tote along on outings where you'll know you'll get the munchies? And how do you pack it? In bento boxes? Ziploc bags? A shoe box? Your shoe?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

colcannon meets fish pie meets headache meets major yum

When I made colcannon (an Irish dish with cabbage and potatoes) last year, I said if you don't have a dishwasher, don't even attempt it. Well, I still don't have a coveted dishwasher (though hubby does help), but I've gone and done it again, this time upping the proteinacious qualities that keep my crazy blood sugar at its happiest. (I used an immersion blender this time round, and it did cut down on the amount of dirty dishes. Though not enough, in my book.)

This is colcannon jazzed up to infinity and beyond: I added salmon, and carrots, and cheese, and garlic, and two kinds of potatoes. And other really good stuff, too. Read on!

I'm not giving exact amounts of everything because I just guesstimated and conjured as I went along. Sorry! Hope you'll forgive me just this once. (Or maybe again in the future, too, if you're really kind folk - it just might happen again. You know the 77-times rule, right?)

You'll need:

  • regular potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • sweet potatoes, ditto
  • carrots, ditto again (cut these smaller than the potato chunks because they take longer to cook)
  • chicken bouillon
  • 1/2 head cabbage
  • olive oil
  • margarine or butter
  • minced garlic
  • 3 large pieces of de-boned salmon
  • whole/full-fat milk
  • grated cheese, whatever flavor floats your boat (I used cheddar)
  • nutmeg (read the directions to find out why this was a really special ingredient!)
  • salt and pepper
  • seasoned salt
  • the kitchen sink
  • maybe some other stuff that I now forget because my blood sugar was at a bad low when I was making this - I was forcefeeding myself chocolate and orange juice as I went along to try to get rid of my headache and drown out the sounds of a teething toddler and ants-in-his-pants preschooler (poor guys - they're awesome kiddiewinks but RIGHT at dinner-making time is the worst - we do have snackies after nap time but I hope they don't have my low-blood-sugar problem going on)
Do this:

1. Boil the potatoes and carrots in some water and chicken bouillon.
2. Chop the cabbage and saute in olive oil, margarine, and garlic, then set aside in a large mixing bowl (I used a plastic one that was safe for using my immersion blender in).
3. In the cabbage pan (without washing it), add a bit more olive oil and cook the salmon on both sides till no longer pink. Let it cool a bit, then shred it with forks, really checking carefully to make sure there aren't any bones. You don't want little mouths (or big ones, for that matter) chomping on anything like that.
4. In a microwave-safe large glass bowl, heat up the milk, cheese, and some more margarine (or butter) till the cheese is pretty much melted. Pour that mixture into the cabbage bowl and blend it all with the immersion blender.
5. Pour away the chicken bouillon/water mixture from the potatoes and carrots after it's all tender, mash it, then add the cabbage/milk/cheese mixture and the salmon, giving it all a really good stir.
6. Add whatever salt, seasoned salt, and pepper you need. And I don't think you're going to believe this, but as I made this, Matthew (our three-year-old) went to the fridge (totally unprompted), opened the door, got the grated nutmeg from where I keep my spices in the door (to keep them fresh), and brought it to me to add to the pot. I do add nutmeg to potato dishes, and I guess he remembered this. He totally amazes me.

I served it with peas to which I added margarine, lemon-pepper seasoning, and parsley. Mmmm.

What I would do differently next time:

1. Win the lottery and hire a full-time, very well-qualified and FBI-background-checked nanny.
2. Start earlier in the day and do a few steps then instead of waiting to do it all at once just pre-dinner time.
3. Eat this for dinner every night for a week. Even though my hubby kids me about how much meal variety I need, I think I could eat this A LOT, and all in a row.

Monday, June 8, 2009

hiyashi chuuka

It's amazing what you can do with some fresh soumen (noodles) from the grocers. I always tend to buy hiyashi chuuka (Chinese-style chilled noodles with various toppings) at the convenience store in the summer, but decided to try my hand at my own this time.

The pack of fresh noodles I bought from the refrigerator section also had a packet of lemon and soy sauce "soup" with it, so all I had to do was boil the noodles for a few minutes, cool them down (you can do this with ice water or put the rinsed noodles in the fridge), and then add my own toppings.

Because the sauce was lemony (though not overpoweringly so), I decided to go for a seafoodish theme - I boiled some shrimp and put them in the fridge, shredded a few pieces of cold krab (with a "k"), sliced some Japanese cucumbers, and made a flat omelet from whisked eggs, milk, and some seasoned salt (which I allowed to chill in the fridge and then cut into thin strips).

Then all you do is toss some of the noodles in a bowl, arrange your toppings, throw on some sliced green onions, pour on the sauce, and you've got a cold colorful treat for hot weather.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

chocolate-orange birthday-boy cake

This is kind of a cross between decadent fudgy-fudge and a proper spongy cake - and it has a completely different texture when it's warm than it does after it's been in the fridge and gotten extra moist and dense. I've been making this easy recipe since 2002 and I honestly couldn't tell you how many times we've eaten it! It comes from Nigella Lawson's How To Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking.

All you need is a springform pan, some dark chocolate, orange marmalade, and a few staple cakey fixins, and just look at that yummy batter!

Stephen asks for this all the time, and even though I made it again for him for his birthday a few days ago, it never gets old around here.

You'll need:

1/2 c. (100 g) butter (I use salted - doesn't really matter)
4 oz. (114 g - I use two bars of Meiji Black) dark chocolate, broken into pieces
1 1/3 c. orange marmalade
1/2 c. sugar
pinch of salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1 c. self-rising cake flour (I use Japanese "soft" flour and it seems to work just dandy)
8-inch (20-cm) springform pan, buttered and floured

Do this:

Preheat your oven to 350 F/175 C. Put the chopped-up butter in a pan on low to melt, and when it's pretty much all melted, add the chocolate. Stir for a second or two, then take the pan off the heat and stir it all up till it's gooey and smooth. Stir in the marmalade, salt, sugar, and eggs, then beat in the flour bit by bit. (The recipe doesn't call for this, but at this stage of the game, this last time I made the cake, I stirred in about 1/2 c. unmelted 60% cacao chips - added a lovely new dimension of melty choccy pockets after it was baked.) Pour into the pan and bake for about 50 minutes (start checking after 45). Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before taking it out. I like to dust confectioner's sugar over ours for a little bit of a snowy effect.

Eat it warm or cold, and your taste buds will throw a party in your honor. Doesn't even have to be your birthday.