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!

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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 😀

Cinnamon Tea and The Great Snow Writing Challenge

Image Source: Wallpapers AM

Image Source: Wallpapers AM

INGREDIENTS:

2-3 sticks of cinnamon

Pot full of water

1-2 cups of ice cold water

Loving friends

Optional: yuzu or lemon; honey

DIRECTIONS:

1. Fill a pot with water and add 2-3 sticks of cinnamon. Do not cover. Turn on heat to medium high.

2. Bring water to boil. Water should have a bit of foam as it rises to the top of the pot. Add 1-2 cups of ice cold water and lower temperature to medium. Allow contents to brew until water begins to boil again. Shut off heat right away. Serve cinnamon tea with lemon or yuzu and a teaspoon of honey.

3. Drink with loving friends who were kind enough to stay with you through the worst and best parts of your sickness ❀

 I’ve been catching colds on and off since October but this past weekend I had a cold that hit me harder than the others. I was achy, my head hurt, my throat didn’t feel that great either, and my nose was running like a fountain. Lots of love to the friends who helped me get over the worst of my first really bad cold, for running out to the super market to get me some groceries, for keeping me company, and letting me veg on episodes of Angel.

Thank you!!!!

😀

The great snow writing challenge of 2014: write a short story that takes place in the snow!

Snow being in abundance in this ken (prefecture), the travelling guild of writers decided to create a special snow writing challenge for the month of December. A couple other caveats that we considered: a scene with a romantic overture, development of a pre-existing character or world, dangerous things that could happen in the snow…

Ultimately the main challenge is to write a story in and around snow but best of luck with writing and any other imaginative add-ons you can think of for a delightful winter story!

Three Second Rule and Other Adventures in Home Economics

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Home economics is taught during a students’ last few years in elementary school. Here in Aomori the topics covered include sewing, cooking, nutrition, cleaning, washing clothes, and farming. Though I did not have the opportunity to take pictures of the soy bean or potato harvesting that went on a couple of months ago, I might yet be able to see the rice being collected if I get called in next Wednesday. At this point in time I would like to point out that though my elementary school had a thriving arts and science program, home economics was the far away distant dream that would not be an option until high school…

Lunch in Japan is also quite different from the United States. Food is prepared by the local school lunch plant and shipped to each school in town but it isn’t served in a cafetaria or by any staff member. Instead, kyuushoku (school lunch) becomes a collaborative effort that is distributed in each class room by the students themselves, similar to cafetaria duties. Then while everyone is eating, students selected to serve as school announcers relate the nutritional information of each meal before playing music for the lunch hour.

Cooking days for home economics at the elementary school occur once in a couple of months, if not once a semester. Students contribute ingredients and the equipment is provided by the school for them to use. Skills learned include the proper ways in which to prepare food for consumption (washing, peeling, chopping, and spotting for mold or rotten parts of ingredients), how to read and interpret recipes, substituting certain items for others, and the actual cooking part itself. All students chop their own vegetables so emphasis on class cooperation and mature level of expectations are widely understood and followed.

But that isn’t to say that kids won’t be kids, even here in Japan where so many behave like mini adult versions. In one epic moment, one of my students accidentally tripped and dropped her ingredients on the floor. Before anyone, even the head teacher, could react she grabbed the spilled veg and invoked the most sacred rule known to man, woman, and child alive by shouting: “THREE SECOND RULE!!!” And yes, in the soup they went – much to the head teacher’s horror and my amusement.

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

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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!