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.

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.

The Aomori Blues, Part II

Summer time in Japan is unlike any other in the world. This is a time for hanabi (fireworks) and yukata (summer version of the kimono)… and of course matsuri!

Matsuri can occur at any time of the year (for example, Hokkaidou is famous for its winter Yuki Matsuri, or Snow Festival) but for Aomori, the time to come is generally in the summer. The best part: anyone can participate in matsuri! So long as you have the appropriate wear, of course.

Up above you’ll find two example of matsuri-wear, both known as yukata although they serve different functions. The first two are a front and backside shot of summer yukata, which I borrowed from Mina who was also kind enough to help me into it. Yukata can be put on in one of two ways: alone and with great difficulty or with friends who will help you get the job done faster but with more fun! If you don’t want to participate in the local matsuri but would like to experience wearing the traditional Japanese summer wear, there are a stores in larger cities that rent out yukata for a couple of hours at a time. They also help with the dressing and undressing but yukata can be quite cheap to purchase plus make great souvenirs from a trip abroad. Ultimately it’s up to you though they are by no means mandatory to wear if your plan is just to attend as a bystander.

The third picture, however, is of a shorter yukata that is mandatory for participation in the Nebuta Matsuri. Dressed participants will join in, jumping and dancing rhythmically to the chant of: ‘Rasse-ra! Rasse-ra!” Although it’s difficult to see in the third picture, there are small bells attached to the costume. According to popular legend, if all your bells fall off during the dancing then that is very lucky. The only way to make the bells fall? Dancing even harder, of course! Frenzied dancers are oftentimes encircled by their peers as the chant climaxes ever louder and more excited until it finally dwindles down. One of the new JETs had the honor of experiencing this and we were surprised at the extent to which her energy infected the group. Japanese people are almost always excited to find that foreigners love and are more than willing to participate in their culture if only given a chance.

So what goes down at a matsuri? Pretty much the same eat, drink, and party-esque atmosphere that you can find the world over. Amazing street food stalls line the roads, Nebuta floats are dragged through the blood/sweat/tears of children and adults alike, and of course where there’s a party, there will be alcohol.

I apologize for the video. My phone wasn’t sending the important files so you only really get a concise sense of the crazy-ness of matsuri time. It’s actually a quite vibrant and exciting time to be in Japan. Not going to lie though: it’s as humid as the first eight circles of Hell and no joke about it. The further north you go, the shorter the amount of time that the region remains humid. In Tokyo, the humidity levels begin to kick in around late May to early June and only dissipate with the autumn season, which begins around mid October. According to my boss, Shinbori-san, Aomori only really experiences three weeks worth of humidity. On the downside, it gets cold fast… in late September. From there the inevitable but sure progression of autumn to winter commences at an alarming rate. The fact that I’m from California seems to have gone around town at 299,792,458 m/s. It seems as if the first thing people ask me, after inquiring how well I like the region, is this: “So for winter… will you be okay?”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the nice way of saying: “You are oh so very screwed, my friend.” Because in Aomori, winter isn’t coming… it’s arrived before you know it! Take that George R.R. Martin! 😉

Finally we have the absolute most adorable airport mascot in the world: IGUBE THE SEA CUCUMBER! I think he might a bit of a celebrity (similar to Little Sebastian from Parks and Recreation) because my JET colleagues freaked out in the same way the citizens of Pawnee flipped a table over their favorite miniature horse ❤ To be fair, he is this pudgy little sea cucumber with tiny arms and no legs: what’s not to love?! ^-^

Home-made Strawberry Jam + Time Machine Archives

strawberryjam

Hiking in the morning, making jam in the afternoon, and reading heavy fiction in the evening are some nice alternatives for the people who aren’t too beach crazy. The only way to enjoy summer properly is to partake of all its joys, my dear Californians, and yes there is a world outside of our warm, sandy beaches. Fortunately this is also the time of the year that locally grown fruit makes a comeback: lower in price and oh so ripe. The best way to preserve their full flavor and freshness? In jams! 😀

So this recipe is pretty adaptable for the most part, which is great for people who want to cut back on the sugar. My friend Diana is the greatest at coming up with cooking challenges for us to try but this one topped the cake. Not only was it fairly simple and less stressful than some of our other concoctions (pasta sauce… ahaha o.o) but it’s so much fun! Just the idea of making jam instead of having to buy it – makes one feel self suffient! It’s a family friendly recipe that’s a win-win for everyone. I look forward to seeing what else she’ll come up with next 😉

.:INGREDIENTS:.

  • 2 lbs organic strawberries
  • ~1 c water
  • 1.5 c sugar (white, brown, raw)
  • 1 lemon, squeezed

::DIRECTIONS::

  1. Wash, de-stem, and cut all of the strawberries in half. And, of course, eat a couple of them along the way >.> But not all!
  2. Blend strawberries and water until completely liquefied.
  3. Pour the liquefied strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice into a saucepan and stir sugar until completely dissolved.
  4. Boil this mixture for 30-45 minutes and stir occasionally to keep jam from burning. Make sure to skim the thick, white foam that accumulates, which although tasty is not good for the jam. You’ll know it’s ready once it turns a bright and deep red.
  5. Ladle into properly sterilized mason jars (do not touch inside of the jar) but do not fill to the brim. Carefully seal mason jar and place lid down onto a towel on a flat surface, which will help the jam to seal properly. Once cooled place the mason jars into the refrigerator so that jam can properly congeal 😉

breakfast

Even so this jam will be a little runnier than the kind you buy at the supermarket because there are no artificial additives. But it holds up well and tastes amazing. The amount of sugar listed in this recipe is just right for those who like a tart sweetness. Two cups of sugar (but no more) recommended for people with a really sweet tooth. All in all it’s a pretty adaptable recipe. Enjoy!

And now for some time machine archives from the old blog – those of you who would like access just drop me a line using the contact page: strawberry picking, otherwise known as いちごかり (ichigokari) in Japanese, is a great day trip to take if you live in the city and want to get out for a couple of hours.

ichigokari2 ichigokari ichigokari3 ichigokari_strawberriesichigokari_ella ichigokari_audrey

For about 1,000 yen (approximately $10.00) you can pick and eat as many strawberries as you want in the hothouses for a set amount of time. Most places do anywhere upwards of an hour and a half to two and a half hours of wonderful berry picking and eating.

Claremont Loop Trail

With the heat amping up exponentially to herald the start of the summer season, it can be pretty difficult to be out and about anywhere in Southern California between the hours of 11:30am and 6:00pm. But if you don’t mind leaving the house with the dawn to enjoy some mother nature, if you’re fond of exercising and hiking, then there are some beautiful locations all across our half of the state that you can take up for some tame adventure and complete well before the midday nightmare sets in all its glory 😉

They are easily found on this neat little website and information for this particular trail can be found by clicking here.

Nature is the best and cheapest therapist: plentiful in its beauty and ability to consume a soul bent on destroying all pent up emotions, it listens to your heart through the struggle you carry and in every last drop of strength it takes you to climb its craggy surfaces and dusty paths. And it forces you to face that which you would otherwise drown in distractions like books, tv, and internet.

Much as the name describes, the Claremont Loop is a single trail that loops round back to where it starts and contains overgrown side and hill paths. Easily accessible by car and on foot, it’s great training ground for uphill hiking and bicycling. Lots of friendly hikers with their dogs but keep an ear out for the bicyclists. All the ones I encountered weren’t considerate enough to attach bells or to ring them in order to warn hikers when they were rounding corners. So if you plan on bicycling just remember: do us all a solid and just ring the bell 😉

cl_1 cl_2 cl_3 cl_4 cl_5 cl_6

cl_7 cl_8

Chris may be on the intelligence side of the military but he’s definitely got it in him to take on a citadel if need be.