Apple Pie Recipe <3

  
Japan is not known for its baking culture. Houses and apartments are not fitted with ovens. The ovens that are sold in tech stores across the country come in the following specifications: small and more for microwaving functions than anything else. You can warm up a can of beer. You can roast some veg. Frozen personal pizza sizes are okay. But you can’t make anything bigger than cookies, cupcakes, or really tiny pies.

Something else to keep in mind: the flour sold at most supermarkets will be of the cake making variety. For those who don’t have enough experience with different types of flour, most of you will have become accustomed to utilizing all-purpose. It’s like the middle ground between the moist and crumbly type used for cakes and the ‘sturdier’ kind that is the base for most breads. In Japan, all-purpose means cake flour or something akin to a midpoint between all-purpose and the cake variety.

So now that the peak of apple season is waning, sour apples go on sale – the last of the last, the unwanted of the least desirable. And they are the best for baking. This recipe calls for pate brisee (the all buttery, all fattening, all delicious French version of pie crust) and as many apples as you can lay your hands on.

For about 800 yen, you can tabehoudai (all you can eat) and take as many apples as you can carry. But that’s in Hirosaki. In Aomori City, where we conducted our yearly apple picking ritual (or, as ritualistic as the second year running can be), the nearest apple farm we could find charged 300 yen for taking home 3 apples of your choice (a bargain considering they sell one for almost that same amount at the supermarkets) and 500 yen for on-site tabehoudai. There would be no omochikaerihoudai this year. We coughed up the equivalent of $15-20 for apples that they sold on-site.

  

::For the buttery PATE BRISEE::

Ingredients

Also known as, le pie crust. Makes one crust. Double the ingredients for the pie covering, or leave as is to make apple crumble.

~1 cup of flour (and some extra for rolling out)

1 tsp of salt

1.5 to 2 tsp of sugar

1 stick of unsalted butter, diced (butter should be as cold as possible)

2-4 tsp of ice cold water (add on tsp at a time and use your common sense to gauge if it needs more)

 Directions

1. Cut your stick of butter into cubes, then stick in fridge or freezer. The colder the butter, the better the outcome. Although it’s quite difficult to blend completely frozen through butter, so make sure to take it out before it grows icicles.

2. Mix flour, salt, and sugar together. Spatula or hands, either is fine! Personally, if I can feel the flour, I am better able to tell if the ingredients are mixed in. I am not a visual person.

3. Take butter cubes out. Toss in about half. Work the dough as lightly as you can with your fingers. You want the butter and the flour mixture to crumble together. Once all the butter has been incorporated (don’t forget the other half), add a tablespoon of cold as the Arctic Sea water at a time. Continue mixing with your fingers until the crumble turns into something resembling dough.

4. Lightly dust your work space with flour. Don’t over knead the dough but, you know, give it a good old shaping until it looks like a circular blob. Pat said blob down. Roll out from the middle outwards in equidistant directions around the starting point. If you work with clay, basically what you do to clay to flatten it out.

5. Should be about a quarter inch thick or so. Or maybe about the width of a quarter. I forget but in any case once it’s as flat as either one of those measurements, lay it out over the pie or quiche pan that you will use, pat it down a bit, and cut off the overhanging parts.

6. On to the apple mixture!!!

::For the APPLE FILLING::

Get ready to have your apartment smell like a spice merchant’s ship on its way to Europe.

Tart baking apples (if like me, you have no idea what this means when you read these words in fancy food blogging recipes… it means use your favorite apples if you don’t like Fuji or the sour variety)

Apples, as many as you like, sliced

2-3 tbs of flour (ours was a small pie so two sufficed)

1/2 cup of sugar

1/4 tsp of the following ground spices: nutmeg and allspice

1/2 to 1 tbs of cinnamon

About 1 tsp of vanilla extract

1. Toss all ingredients by hand. Make sure to evenly coat all the apples.

2. Pour mixture into your waiting pie crust, also make sure the liquid at the bottom makes it into the pie dish.

3. Cover mixture with the second rolled out pie crust. Cut out four to five fancy leaf looking openings on the top. Or stab with fork, which is also the height of class and style.

4. Pinch the edges and cut the excess.

5. Bake on 350F for the next 55 minutes as you enjoy the scent of the holidays flooding your living space. Chill before serving.

Serves about 3 people if it is a small pie baked in a small Japanese oven. About 5-8 people if baked in an American-sized oven.

Bon appetit!

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Ain’t Nobody Got Time For Fancy Mashed Potatoes

With autumn practically having arrived weeks ago (oh, sweet Aomori), the air is chilled and the days grow short(er). The desire to consume pumpkins and potatoes grows exponentially… and so this filler recipe post is for the potato lovers of this world, the far from home and craving Thanksgiving food in a foreign country variety, and for anyone who really hasn’t got time for fancier meals.

Bon appetit!

Serves 1

1 large potato
1 medium garlic clove
Unsalted butter
Salt
Black pepper
Rosemary
Cayenne pepper

1. Take your potato, nicely washed and peeled (unless you adore peels but ideally scrubbed well regardless), and stab the daylights out of it. You cando this with a fork or knife, in either case after a long day at work it’s quite cathartic ;D

2. Place potato in a saucepan and fill with enough water to cover the potato and garlic clove. As the water boils on high (because ain’t nobody got time for medium or low) toss in your salt, black pepper, rosemary, and cayenne pepper to taste. Feel free to mix up your own spice combo, too, if any of the above doesn’t rock your world. Cumin and tumeric would make for great curried mashed potato variation.

3. As you go about your laundry washing and apartment cleaning, check in on your potato once in a while to compare water level and the rate at which it begins to soften. Punch in a couple more holes if it’s not softening on par with dropping water level or add more water. When the water level reaches to just covering the surface of the saucepan immediately lower the heat to low. Cut a chunk of butter and stir in while mashing. The more butter you use, the creamier and more buttery it’ll be (but also the unhealthier) so make sure you cut small chunks and add and smash in gradually until it reaches the consistency that you desire.

4. And as you vacuum and sweep tatami, savor that mashed potato; you’ve earned it ;D

Summer Chicken, Turnip, and Broccoli Soup

 

::INGREDIENTS::

1/2 to 1 chicken breast, cubed

1/2 to 1 turnip

1/4 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

Broccoli

Rubbed sage

Tarragon

Salt, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

Dash of red chili pepper

1 1/4 tsp Better Than Bouillon Vegetarian No Chicken Base (or bouillon of your choosing)

Olive Oil

Lemon (optional)

::DIRECTIONS::

1. Heat onion and garlic (until transparent) with olive oil in a deep stir fry pan or in the pot you intend to use for soup.

2. Add chicken breast cubes. Add salt, pepper, red chili pepper, and rubbed sage to your liking. Because the bouillon is quite salty, I try to keep the salt down to the merest pinch or 1/4 tsp. Once the chicken is just about cooked through (test with knife or fork occasionally), add turnip and broccoli.

3. Add tarragon to the vegetables and an extra dash of rubbed sage for flavoring. Sage is mouth-wateringly aromatic and gives chicken a nice, earthy flavor boost. However, if it’s your first time using rubbed sage, start with a quarter tsp or 1/2 tsp depending on how much chicken to use. You can always add more to the broth later. Stir fry vegetables and finish cooking the chicken.

4. With the vegetables almost completely cooked through, take the stir fry pan or pot off the stove and add just enough water to cover veggies and chicken pieces. Place back on fire and lower heat to just below medium. Allow the soup to come to a boil, stir occasionally, and serve either warm or cold. Squeeze fresh lemon into soup for a bit of zest.

So, why chicken soup? Why broccoli? Why vegetarian bouillon if it’s chicken soup?!

I’m not a certified nutrition specialist but I’ll do my best to explain the wherefores for this recipe choice, which came to me in the midst of a craving attack for all of the above food groups. Summer is a time of ice cream, seasonal jams, watermelon, and eating out. It’s a time when cooking at home is about as appealing as sticking your face into the oven at full blast. But home cookery is just as necessary in the summer months to keep you at your best, physically and mentally; after months of new resolutions and getting beach ready, one may as well continue into the summer months. Also, cold cream based summer soups are high in calories unless you substitute the cream for soy milk, but then it loses the creamy texture. In any case, the fewer calories you can pack into the punch and the more vitamins and amino acids you can include in your foods, the better. Call it getting a foot ahead of the holidays and the new year to come 😉

All of the vegetables above are low in calories, high in vitamins (particularly Vitamin C), and are sufficiently filling to keep you running all day. They can be served cold or hot, their taste not being compromised by the temperature at which they served. Turnips (boasting an impressive 28 calories per 100g), are an especially nutritious alternative to potatoes which are starchy and have as much as 87 calories per 100g when boiled. It’s also relatively quick to pull together, requiring minimal supervision.

The vegetarian bouillon was a Christmas gift from a vegetarian friend; the taste amazing of home, of other soups made by beloved Shelly. Otherwise chicken stock should do just as well if not better.

Curried Kidney Beans and Potatoes

It’s been a while since I updated the recipe section. After three weeks of convalescing (basically the whole winter break), I found myself confronting a dilemma that all the single people across the world must one day face: an empty refrigerator and no one to send on an errand to the super. Subsisting off of batches of chicken soup, I’d depleted the pantry of everything but a bag full of kidney beans, some left over potatoes, and an intense spice rack. Not going to lie, the idea for curried kidney beans came from the Great Oracle of the Googles when it spat out recipes for Rajma when I typed in key words for ‘kidney beans’, ‘spices’, and ‘recipes’.

My variation isn’t true to Rajma per se… for one, it has potatoes. For seconds… I am allergic to rice so instead I’m toasting some bread and pretending that’s naan but Rajma sounds amazing and I look forward to making a true batch one day. Note: The amounts listed for spices are approximate. My coriander bottle practically emptied a quarter of its contents when the lid fell off… it should however be 1 teaspoon. So no worries if you fudge the numbers!

image

CURRIED KIDNEY BEANS AND POTATOES

INGREDIENTS:
Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1.5 tsp ground ginger
1 can cut tomatoes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
2 tsp garam masala
Ground chili pepper to taste
2.5 cups red kidney beans
2 potatoes, cubed

INSTRUCTIONS:
0. Set kidney beans aside the night before in a bowl of water. Kidney beans must soak overnight before they will be ready to cook next day. Minimum 7-8 hour soak, can soak for longer but not less time. You can also boil them in advance so that when they are added in the final step, it cuts simmering time in half.
1. Coat deep sauce pan in olive oil. Heat onions and garlic on low heat until translucent.
2. Add potatoe cubes and fry on high heat for about three minutes. Add ground ginger as you stir potatoes, onions, and garlic.
3. Stir in kidney beans plus the can of cut tomatoes as well as any water/sauce that comes in the can. Add cumin, coriander, tumeric, garam masala. Lower heat and cover sauce pan, stirring and taste testing occasionally. Allow the mixture to cook for 45 minutes to an hour.

😀

So it was my first official week back to work. I didn’t realize just how much I missed my kids until I was up at the front again, teaching. Some days I’m so afraid that I’m doing it all wrong – I have legit freak out moments with thoughts ranging the spectrum of: “Oh my God, oh my God, they’re confused, right? I should have explained it differently! Now they’re going to fail the test… I’m the reason they’re failing English, right?” to “What if I’ve traumatized them?! What if they never want to meet another foreigner ever again?!”

This is probably a small scale version of what it’s like to be a parent.

Today one of my first graders was playing by himself on the stairwell. He’s a funny kid who’s startlingly un-Japanese. He speaks his mind. If he has questions he asks directly. He wants hugs and love and attention… he rarely sees his mother (who is remarried) and his father is quite strict and does not have much physical contact with his son. Today he was quieter than usual, ignoring me until I sit down on the stairs with him, when he asks:

“Where is your mother?” He wants to know what it’s like for foreigners to have a home life.

“In America,” I reply, munching on the last of my apple and unable to satisfy his curiosity about my home life. Lunch was late and I still had food to finish before going down to the teacher’s offices. I’m pretty sure my kids think I’m living with my parents still and that my mom’s got dinner cooking on the stove by the time I get back. The fact that I make my own bento surprises them every time.

My little first grader is unfazed by my answer. “What about your father?”

“Also in America. With my mom.”

“Grandma? Grandpa?” he asks.

“Not in Japan either.”

“Why?”

“Because I moved to Japan to teach English… so I’m living alone now.”

“Why?” he persists.

A little confused, I ask for clarification: “Why did I move to Japan or why am I living alone?”

“Both.”

“My parents couldn’t move with me and I’m teaching English to find out what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

At which point our conversation is cut short by the vice principle, who is going around collecting photos for the year book. He likes the picture we make and has us pose on top of the stairs together. The camera is a shiny toy, it distracts the little one. He’s forgotten our conversation and now follows the vice principle as he makes his rounds through the classrooms. By then, I’d whittled the apple down to the core. I could eat it, like I normally do, but I’m not in the mood anymore. I chuck it into the nearest bin, remembering that I’ve got to do the grocery shopping tonight or starve.

I once read online that most twenty-somethings thought that becoming an adult meant no longer having a bed time… The reality: it just meant having to be in charge of one’s own bed time. How very true. It also means getting to decide where one will be working for the next year. In my case, I’ve just finished signing my contract for 2015-2016. Year two as an English teacher in Japan commences. And I couldn’t be any happier, or any more frightened, if I tried 😀

English Speech Competition + Creamy Zucchini Soup Recipe

So I bought this gigantic zucchini and it had been sitting in my fridge for almost three days. I’m not going to deny… that zucchini was an impulse purchase. I’m still not used to seeing veg for so cheap O.O Need to stop hording all the vegetables like I did back in Tokyo. As soon as something went on sale I would stock up because I knew that I would not be seeing that price for weeks or months or maybe never to come again. This is the true, sad story of being a broke student in a foreign country… a tale that is not being repeated this time around because thankfully, I (legally) have a job.

Yes, that job mostly mainly consists of teaching proper pronunciation to a student population that may never in their lives need to use it again after high school and I only visit each school once a week (different school Monday through Friday, but only because we’re short staffed). But that doesn’t make me any less of a teacher! My boss admitted that even though he had been studying English diligently since middle school (English language is now just barely becoming compulsory in fifth and sixth grade of elementary school) and continued well into college: he can’t speak a word of it. Which in one part a) it’s his shy nature to admit that he can’t when the opposite is quite true… because… he can get the basic idea across. That’s more than most speakers of a foreign language can do. And for the most part he’s spot on in understanding what I’m saying. Plus b) all he’s lacking is the practical application of the language and not much more as his theory of it is pretty much down pat at this point.

And that’s the crux of the problem: Japanese people are such shy, hard workers that they freeze up at the opportunity to speak English because they don’t want to let anyone down. It’s such a strange dichotomy: on one hand they study really hard to gain the basic theoretics only to stop themselves from gaining full potential because they don’t want to stand out or because they’re quite afraid of failing.

At the moment, none of the kids are in school so my job is to coach the ones who will be participating in the English speech competition. It’s utter madness in a nutshell. The kids are expected to write at a certain level but with language education only just becoming cumpulsory at the lower levels… word on the street is: JETs write the essay and the kids memorize/recite it in their best English (ahem, Rokunohe and Shingo *cough cough*). Not so for Gonohe! We flat out refuse to write any essays for our kids: they do all the work while our main function remains to polish their existing skills. For a JET, this pretty much entails the reading of essays, grammar correction, and creating CDs with the lovely voice of yours truly reading said essays at native speed (to be fair I include two file versions: medium and native speed). I also work with the kids directly, which is a bit trickier because it’s a combination of coach, tutor, teacher, best friend, and personal cheerleader.

So far, though, and mind you I perfectly understand this is perhaps too early to say but I’ll say it anyway: so far… I like this job! Some might say it’s not challenging enough but for my skill level right now it’s 丁度いい or choudoii (otherwise in English: just right) 😀

As I was saying: in comparison to the previous time when I didn’t (legally) have a job, I’ll be making bank. Not to say it’s bank according to my age and educational level, but it’s bank for someone who used to be a secretary at $8/hour. And so going to the supermarket this far up North, where the majority of the produce is grown, I sometimes forget that although a veg might be on sale even the non-sale price is more affordable than Tokyo.

And now we come full circle to the dilemma of the giant zucchini that cost me under a dollar and of which half is still in my fridge. After scouring my spice rack, I came across French Tarragon, which according to my sources goes well with veg. Giant zucchini in fridge and a bag of potatoes waiting to be used, an onion, more garlic than I could use in a month, and salt and pepper… the recipe began forming in my mind. After a few Google searches to make sure I had some approximate measurements for one, I combined two that I liked best and included my own intuitive hand at the spices. I’ve got enough leftovers for another couple of nights so I’d say that this following recipe can serve at least four people and three at the very least.

CREAMY ZUCCHINI RECIPE

INGREDIENTS

1 large zucchini (or 3-4 small to medium-sized ones), chopped

4 small/medium potatoes, peeled and chopped

½ medium white onion, chopped

1 fresh garlic clove, chopped

4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock brought to a boil

½ cup of cream

Oil for frying

1-1½ tsp dried French tarragon

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

1. I like to use the same pot where the soup is going to boil instead of dirtying a frying pan for this step but ultimately the choice is up to you: pour olive or vegetable oil (I used Sarada Oil – in Japan Sarada or Salad Oil is a mixture between canola oil and sesame oil – because that is all I had left but if it were up to me… olive oil would give this soup a great taste). Heat the onion and garlic for a few seconds before adding zucchini and potatoes. Fry for about five minutes or until just softened, add 1 teaspoon of tarragon to season. You do not want to cook the veggies through! Make sure they do not brown.

2. Once done heating the vegetables, turn off the stove and begin boiling water for your stock. Add in your stock and bring to a nice simmer. At this point you’ll want to add the other half teaspoon of dried tarragon to give your stock added flavor but this is optional. I actually love tarragon and found that seasoning both vegetables and stock to be beneficial towards the flavor I was pursuing. Don’t go above a teaspoon and a half for this recipe, though. Tarragon in excess can overpower with its flavor instead of enhancing the dish. Once brought to a boil, turn off the stove and wait a couple minutes before pouring into pot with vegetables and cover.

3. Bring vegetables and broth to a boil of about two minutes. Lower to a simmer for the next twenty minutes. You might have to blend in batches so be prepared with Tupperware or bowls for this next step: a) you can blend with a hand processor or b) you can use a blender. I only had a blender handy so I blended mine in three batches and used Tupperware to contain the already blended contents until thick and creamy before moving on to the next batch. That same Tupperware is holding the leftovers of my soup so it’s not like I was dirtying unnecessary kitchenware 😀

4. Once soup is well blended, return to pot and turn up the heat to medium. At this stage you will add the cream as well as salt and pepper for taste, checking occasionally to make sure that mix well and that you don’t over or under do it.

5. Can be served hot or cold! Bon appetite!

Summer Time: Cold Soba Noodle and Soup Recipe

Okay. So. It’s time. I’ve been working up my courage to using Japanese ingredients for Japanese recipe purposes instead of using them in my previous fusion cooking recipes. As a cook, I’m proficient enough in Western style meal planning and trust myself not to burn the kitchen or apartment in the process. But when it comes to Asian cooking, particularly Japanese styled cooking, I feel so inadequate as a “chef” (actually I’m more of a baker by nature than a cook hence the quotation marks).

I used to make bentou all the time last time I was here: steamed vegetables, fried sausage, steamed rice, tamagoyaki, nasuyaki… you name it and if I could pack it in a box for lunch, I would and without a second thought. I even participated in Waseda’s Yataimura, a food festival the likes of which I have never seen since. The branch I chose with which to participate? The washoku theme that year (Sakamoto Ryoma was our spirit animal \O/). But when I returned to the States… first off, you can’t find the same level of freshness for ingredients, so already your taste is compromised. Secondly, I couldn’t always find the seasonings needed to pull off a dish. Even in California. Making home-made dashi was nearly impossible if my Asian supermarket didn’t happen to have a certain item or other on stock (I guess I could have bought pre-made dashi… but, yeah, I can be a bit of a foodie – I prefer to make it myself than out of a box). One culinary disaster after another and in the end, my wounded pride threw in the towel and hoisted the white flag of surrender. From there I devolved into a crippled shadow of my former self: the mere mention of anything -yaki would send me into an agitated sweat. Inevitably, over time it just became easier to eat out at a Japanese restaurant than to fuss over it at home.

Such is the life of a walking culinary disaster.

momen

Curses! I will fry you yet… one day… soon >.>”

But now that I’m here again, or rather a bit further north and much closer to the food source, I plan on honing my skills once again… slowly but surely! Last night, I was planning on making miso glazed, fried tofu and either the Japanese cooking gods weren’t feeling like it was tofu night or else I may not have prepped it correctly. Tofu is surprisingly moist and does not fry well under those wet conditions. Thankfully, however, once I realized this wasn’t happening I was able to change gears entirely because my predecessor Michael had left me with what I believe to be a five year supply of noodles: entire boxes of soba, udon, and raamen.

Alrighty then! Soba night it would be!

Soba noodles are made of buckwheat and quite thin. In Japanese cuisine they can be served cold with the sauce apart or hot within their own broth, making them a natural choice as a summer- or winter-time favorite. Restaurants serve the cold variety on a little mat made of bamboo, called zaru, and is served with the dipping sauce (tsukejiru), green onion, fresh ginger and wasabi. It’s probably the cheapest kind you can find on the menu coming in at around ~500 to 550 yen but the varieties of soba are endless as flavorings can be added quite easily into the broth. My favorite kind is tensoba which is a combination of cold soba noodles on the zaru mat but with a bowl of tempura as well!

Note on noodle eating culture: one word… slurp! While impolite to slurp noodles in Western culture, it’s quite the opposite on this side of the pond. Slurping your noodles (be it raamen, udon, or soba) is considered good manners, which is one cultural norm I wish would take off in the States. Upon my return back in 2012, my first experience with culture shock (apart from the racial diversity) was eating at a restaurant and receiving many stares after slurping up my noodles. My mother was absolutely mortified and I never did it again… until now!

Anyone have a favorite cultural norm that might not go down very well in the States? Share in the comments below!

~COLD SOBA NOODLE RECIPE~

For the Traditional Soba:

1/2 of the packaged soba noodles

Boiling water

(Optional: Salt to taste)

Directions:

1. Pour water into a pot and sprinkle with salt for light seasoning. Bring to a boil.

2. Add the soba noodles and boil for 5 minutes. Test the soba noodles; if not done, continue to boil until they soften.

3. Pour contents of pot through a colander and toss lightly to shake out excess water.

4. Serve on zaru mat for traditional look or just arrange nicely on a bowl like I did.

For the tsukejiru:

I followed this wonderful recipe by Makiko Itoh from Just Hungry and Just Bento. It calls for 1/2 cup of kaeshi and 1.5 cups dashi stock (either vegetarian or non-vegetarian). It will slow down your cooking process as you have to let it set for about an hour. The alternative is to purchase tsuyu or mentsuyu and water it down, which I’ve done as well and tastes just fine.

For the Non-Traditional Page One Adventures-styled nasuyaki:

This is non-traditional nasuyaki.

2-4 Japanese eggplants (the small and thin variety, not the bulbous European/American aubergine)

1/2 tbsp (or less as it is quite salty) of red miso paste (usually, please purchase the white miso, I bought red for soup and didn’t have white on hand for glaze)

1/2 tbsp of sesame or vegetable oil

1/4 cup of reduced sodium soy sauce (usukuchi)

1/4 cup of sugar

1 clove of garlic, coarsely chopped

Directions:

Glaze prep: combine miso paste, soy sauce, oil, sugar, and garlic in a separate bowl

1. Wash and de-stem your selected amount of eggplants. Cut them lengthwise.

2. In a non-stick frying pan, heat the eggplants until they take on a somewhat roasted appearance (bruising but no complete browning).

3. At this point add the miso glaze sauce and continue to stir eggplants in frying pan. Heat to a boil (this will thicken the sauce). Make eggplants are well coated.

My glaze came out somewhat sweet with a salty after taste so red miso paste should definitely not be used (white is lower in sodium and has a better taste for glazing) but it’s all I had at the moment T.T

Normally the traditional method is to mix soy sauce, sugar, and mirin to make the sauce but as I didn’t want to waste the miso sauce I had originally made for my failed stir fry and I decided to use that. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how we learn from our mistakes!

For the Non-Traditional Page One Adventures-styled Roasted Kabocha:

Any desired amount of kabocha (Japanese Pumpkin, characterized by it’s sweet-tasting, orange flesh and vivid green outer shell)

Unsalted Butter for sauteing

Salt for very light seasoning

Directions:

Prep: I bought the kabocha chunks from the supermarket, so all I had to do was wash them before use. If you purchase the entire kabocha, make sure to properly wash, cut lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds before continuing to chop into smaller squarish chunks.

1. Heat butter in frying pan. Once the pan has evenly heated, add the kabocha and season lightly as you saute them until just heated.

2. Place in oven, evenly spaced and check on them in five minutes.

3. Kabocha slices should look somewhat browned on the outside or test them with a toothpick. If the toothpick slides in and out easily that means they are done.

 

Traditional Japanese Mugicha

mugicha

When the heat and humidity get rough in this country, the Japanese make MUGICHA (roasted barely tea). Granted Aomori is pretty cool in comparison to the 70% humidity going on in Nagasaki during the summer (being this far North has its advantages and disadvantages) but for a good two weeks, the atmosphere gets muggy and gross. For those of you who have never experienced humidity: it’s the feeling of just barely stepping outside and sweating all over. ALL OVER. It’s the feeling of needing a shower every three hours or so. In short, it’s unpleasant and dehydrating.

Native Californians have no idea what humidity means. Even on the rare occasion when the winds blow just so, bringing in a bit of moisture, the heat in SoCal is for the most part dry. On an evolutionary footnote, I should be an ideal candidate to withstand humidity (Mexico can get as humid as 87%) but it sure doesn’t feel that way whenever I’m in Japan.

My first summer in Japan, I spent most of my time drinking the mugicha recipe I will provide in a bit. My host mom brewed a whole 2L pitcher of it, told me to drink up because it would regulate my heat temperature, and showed me how to make it in case I ran out when she wasn’t around. Three years later and here I am making it in my own humble apartment to stave off the heat, which isn’t nearly as bad as Tokyo but the taste is quite nostalgic.

Mugicha.

Mugicha.

In Japan, finding bagged mugicha is quite easy: from local pharmacies to nation-wide chain supermarkets. But if living in the states, you might only be able to find it at the nearest Asian supermarket and sometimes its seasonal availability will be limited to just the summer months. In either case, mugicha is inexpensive and normally comes in bulk!

The tea bags are actually huge, approximately 3.5 times larger than your typical Twinnings. The contents are coarser as well and have an earthy, full aroma and taste. Mugicha can be sweetened with either honey or sugar (considered childish in Japan) but I prefer my teas and coffees without sweetener unless I’m sick, in which case my taste buds need something to let them know that they’re actually consuming something. Not sure how well this type of tea does with cream or milk but I’ll have to give it a try. Mugicha is mostly served cold but there’s no rule in the book that it can’t be served hot as well. You might get a more concentrated flavor but try it cold first to see how well you like it.

MUGICHA RECIPE

Mugicha can be prepared in one of two ways:

Method 1:

a) Fill kettle with water and bring to a boil with mugicha tea bag inside. For every 1L of water : 1 mugicha bag.

b) Pour contents into a pitcher and set in refrigerator to cool. Serve with ice cubes and sweet snacks such as red bean paste manjuu, dango, or filled mochi.

OR

Method 2:

a) Pour room temperature water into pitcher. For every 1L of water : 1 mugicha bag.

b) Set on counter or kitchen table and let the contents diffuse. Once the water has reached a certain level of darkness, place the pitcher into the refrigerator and let cool.

c) Serve with ice cubes and snacks or a complete meal. Mugicha compliments food quite well.

Note: Mugicha has gluten content so if you’re particularly sensitive to this, perhaps watering down your tea might help.

Breakfast with Chopin + Vegetable Frittata Recipe

breakfastwithchopin

This morning hour is dedicated to the delightful music of Frederick Chopin and a simple vegetable fritatta recipe adapted from the more traditional tortilla española. The most classic of breakfast foods with one of the most romantic composers makes for a perfect rainy morning. For me, classical music has always been a source of great comfort: it’s what is left after there are no more words in any language to describe the strong emotions that remain. Compositions are moments frozen in time and immortalized in written form that bridge the gap between the past and present. It’s quite sad that most people think of classical music as dull… at one point this music was quite revolutionary and exciting! It was fresh, bold and daring!

As a musician and amateur composer, I can’t help but feel connected to the composer as well as to all the other musicians who have played the same piece, whether I perform it myself or listen to it for the first time. The same can be said of any music, really, though for me I feel that connection more strongly in classical music. Perhaps it’s because as a classical music enthusiast it’s so rare as it is to find someone as excited as I am about this genre… we’re a dying breed.

As for cooking, though, the technological revolution in mass communication has made it even easier in the past few decades alone to disseminate a world of culture and tradition with a few clicks of a mouse. Someone’s authentic Italian, passed-down-through-the-generations recipe for Spaghetti Bolognese might end up on my dinner table here in Japan one night. Metaphors and poetics aside, it is quite beautiful to feel that human link and know that somewhere out there someone might just be serving your version of apple tarts for a dinner party and so on, that a little bit of you could touch someone else’s life if even for a moment 😉

Here’s to good food, good music, and to the human connection! Cheers!

SIMPLE VEGETABLE FRITTATA

INGREDIENTS
3 eggs
4 small potatoes, sliced into thin rounds (with or without skins)
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/2 clove garlic, chopped
One small bunch of kinoko mushrooms, chopped
Olive oil
Dried rosemary for seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
(Optional: 1/2 cup cheddar cheese for garnish; Julienne bell pepper slices; sun dried tomato; fresh basil, chopped)

DIRECTIONS
1. Heat the olive oil. Fry the potato slices in batches until they turn gold. Salt and season well on both sides as you fry, make sure they are well cooked through before transfering the fried potatoes to a separate plate and pat dry the oil off. Take three eggs, beat them well to form egg mixture. Add a dash of black pepper for seasoning and some salt to taste. Keep on standby in the fridge.

2. Once completely done with frying, the next step is to heat the garlic, onion, and mushroom until soft but not completely cooked through. At this point, quickly arrange the potato slices in scalloped tiers.

3. Pour the egg mixture over potatoes. Make sure to tilt the pan so that an even coating will cover the potato tiers. Cover the pan and cook on high for five to ten minutes. Flip the frittata face down to brown the top. This should take about three to four minutes. Use your spatula to gently push down against pan.

4. Transfer to plate, face up, and serve immediately. Goes well with home made tomato salsa or creamy guacamole (neither of which I made this time around but it tastes amazing on its own as well). The optional veggies all taste so well when combined in this recipe but I don’t have access to them at the moment. Living in a small town has its down sides: fruits and vegetables are not always available as consistently as they are in markets in bigger cities, where demand pushes availability.

frittatanflowers

Dinner with Murakami + Recipe

It’s time for a recipe! Eating on the cheap is no joke in Japan but this is a meal that cost me 590 yen and I didn’t use up all the ingredients, which means I can make another meal on that same amount.

When in Aomori, eat all the vegetables! This prefecture may not be as convenient as more financially prosperous ones but it sure has some damn fine veg. Although still quite expensive by American standards, it’s still a very far cry from the grocery expenses I racked up in Tokyo. So what’s a girl to do in a hard-boiled wonderland filled with all the veg she could want and an insatiable love for reading?

Simple. Dinner with Murakami night! Tonight’s specialty is a hearty vegetable soup with a side dish of roasted potatoes and the wonderful company of Murakami’s novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Also, this serves as cooking practice for when the one and only Michelle comes to visit next year! A staunch vegetarian and vegan Monday lover, Michelle made sure to give me her favorite vegetarian broth in a jar just before I left for Japan.

WARNING: Depending on the kind of vegan you are, check for a Better Than Bouillon label that does not include honey. The kind that I used has honey listed in the back but it only says vegetarian friendly though I’ve heard this company has all sorts of bouillon substitutes. I’m sure they have a vegan one, it’ll just take some Googling.

BETTER THAN CHICKEN SOUP RECIPE (Vegetarian and vegan friendly version)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2-1 cup of chopped potatoes, washed and peeled
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/4 lotus root, three round slices and julienne the rest
  • 1 quart of vegetable broth (water + Better Than Bouillon added)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)
  • (Optional veggies: tomato, mushroom, broccoli)

DIRECTIONS

Prep/Notes: Wash all vegetables well, make sure to chop them ahead of time to save time. When slicing the lotus root, try to keep it at about 1/4 inch thickness. You don’t want them to be too thick or they won’t cook thoroughly but too then means that it will break apart when boiling. Begin simmering water for vegetable broth a pot large enough to accommodate vegetables as well. When using Better Than Bouillon make sure to taste the broth regularly. I started with a teaspoon and worked from there. Make sure it dissolves completely before adding more.

1. In a large frying pan, pour some extra virgin olive oil and gently heat the rosemary to infuse it with flavor. Next, stir in the onions, lotus root, and garlic. Saute them for about five minutes or until you see the onion becoming transparent. Add a pinch of salt.

2. Add the lotus root (round and julienne slices), carrots, and potatoes and continue to fry on medium heat. Once the potato and carrots begin to turn soft, transfer to the vegetable broth and boil on medium to high for thirty minutes. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon or less of pepper to taste. Stir occasionally and check the flavor every once in a while. Adjust broth/salt/pepper levels as necessary.

3. Serve immediately and squeeze some fresh lemon juice for an added kick! Let cool before eating.

ROASTED POTATOES WITH ROSEMARY

INGREDIENTS

  • If using three small potatoes as depicted, measure out about a 1/2 to 1 cup of the chopped potatoes for your soup (some people prefer to use less potato and more of the other veggies, so depending on your tastes), use what’s left for this recipe.
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

1. Pour olive oil in frying pan. Warm the garlic and rosemary. Once heated add the chopped potatoes and sprinkle salt and black pepper to your taste.

2. Serve once all potato chunks have cooked through and are golden brown on the outside

3. Pour yourself a glass of grape juice (or wine), set out your favorite Murakami novel and enjoy the tastes of a vegetarian friendly meal with all the comfort and taste of home.

This meal cost me about 590 yen, or about a six dollars, and serves anywhere from three to four people (depending on appetite and how likely you are to go for seconds). It might also be more expensive depending on what you have to buy (for example, I inherited a massive spice rack and olive oil from my sempai) but if you don’t have something, McCormick’s at Walmart/Target work wonders. For the lotus root, look for it in an Asian supermarket.

Enjoy!

Making Your Own Vanilla Extract + Time Machine Archives ii

beanilla

::Beanilla Recipe for Home-Made Vanilla Extract::

-What You’ll Need-

Homemade Vanilla Extract Infusion Kit (I used the Bourbon-Madagascar variety)

1 cup rum

Some elbow grease (and groovy dance moves)

8 weeks worth of saintly patience

Lots of love ❤

vanillabottle beanillapost

beanilla

beanillapost2

Stumbling across Beanilla was my best piece of luck last year 😉 The aroma of real vanilla is mouthwatering and soothing all at the same time  ❤ Until you smell a fresh vanilla bean, you have no idea what heaven smells like… okay, totally one-sided view of heaven. I especially loved how the scent wafted in the kitchen for a good couple hours. I could almost hear Bach’s Hallelujah in the background. It was glorious.

Some might be hesitant to begin making their own vanilla extract but it’s really just that simple: alcohol + sterilized glass bottle + deliciously scented vanilla beans = magical never ending supply of vanilla extract! For $15.00 you will never have to buy vanilla extract again! So long as you keep the vanilla beans in the bottle, just keep topping off your 8.5 fl oz bottle with alcohol of your choice (preferably same alcohol type and brand that was originally used) and you have a practically never ending supply of vanilla extract. And when you run out of alcohol just buy more. No, seriously… it helps out the environment and it’s worth every penny once you do the math:

Great Value Pure Vanilla Extract, 1 fl oz – $2.48

Pure Vanilla: Premium 100% Pure Extract, 2 oz – $4.12

McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract, 16 fl oz – $9.98

(And those are Walmart prices; as soon as you run out you have to go buy them again)

And some more Time Machine Archives… the baking adventures before life, work, and school puttered me out of my demanding side job of self-appointed cookie chef and baking experimenter extraordinaire 😉 I used my vanilla extract in souffles, chocolate chip cookies, biscotti, and the gem of gems: Linzer cookies! The flavor came out best in the souffle since it wasn’t competing with anything other than the egg. I still don’t like souffles though… all that eggy-ness.

souffle1 souffle2

biscotti

linzer1 linzer2