Okonomiyaki

Grilled as you like it

Plagiarised! August 31, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,recipes — laurel @ 5:26 pm
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So I was looking at my incoming links and saw that I had a hit from a site called Hirecipes. Curious about my new internet connection, I clicked on the link. Imagine my surprise when I saw my blog post on another site, word for word! Some of my original writing had been deleted (I suppose it wasn’t relative to this site’s “author”), but there was not one word of original content posted alongside my recipe, writing, and photos. It had only been about 12 hours since I’d posted the recipe, in fact-It wasn’t likely that anyone had even had time to try my recipe. I was hopping mad. I left a comment asking for the recipe to be removed. There’s no contact information about the site though, so there wasn’t much else I could do.

I felt taken advantage of. “This is stealing!” I though to myself, and told my husband so. I write for others to read and enjoy. Sure, I don’t password protect my blog, but that doesn’t mean it’s out there for anyone named “itsme” or “anonymous” or “joeblow” to drop by and lift as quick as you can say “copy-paste”. I believe in fair use too, but I think this goes beyond fair use. I think there’s some ethical glue that’s holding we bloggers together: thou shalt not post the work of others without creating original content. Am I wrong here? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

here’s a link to the offending post
here’s a link to my original post

As a relevant aside, a copyright exists for any literary work created by a US national (such as myself) regardless of domicile (meaning it doesn’t matter whether I live in Japan or the US) from the moment the work was created in fixed media (i.e., written down, even digitally).

In the meantime, feel free to use and post the writing you find here for noncommercial purposes-as long as you write something original about it. Please don’t use my photos without permission though.

copyright 2008 LMS

 

Roasted tomato and red pepper soup August 29, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Four seasons in Japan,Japan,recipes — laurel @ 6:28 pm
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fresh local tomatoes, red peppers, onion, and carrot

The hot summer weather means that my local produce market is full of cheap tomatoes. Unlike farmer’s markets in the US, where you can buy a large variety of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes in many colors, my local market stocks just a few types of tomatoes. There are cherry tomatoes, medium size red tomatoes, and most are a large, green shouldered pink-skinned variety. Another difference about my produce market is that most of the vegetables come from within my prefecture, and many are even grown just within my city. Imagine going to the store and being able to choose from 10 farms’ tomatoes that all came from within your county!

Lately the weather has gone from hot and humid to gray and rainy, so I’ve been wanting to warm up with some soup. Last Monday, we were having a friend over, so I wanted to make a dinner that wasn’t going to require too much time and attention, so I decided it would be a good occasion for grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. The truth is, I’ve been trying tomato soup recipes for years, and I hadn’t found any that I wanted to make again; they’re too sour, too gummy from the thickening starch, not flavorful enough or too heavily seasoned with spices. So I tossed out all my recipes and just went for it on instinct.

As soon as I got home, I quartered some tomatoes, peeled some garlic, and popped them in a baking dish with some rosemary, thyme, salt, and olive oil. After the peppers were baking, I fire roasted some peppers on the stove and tossed them into a lidded bowl to steam. Next, I got out my Dutch oven to sweat some onion and carrot. While the onion and carrot were cooking, I peeled and chopped the roasted peppers. At this point, the onions and carrots were softened and the tomatoes were starting to dry and brown on the edges so everything went into the pot along with a generous splash of sake (because that’s what I had, feel free to use wine, sherry, or maybe even beer), some water (homemade stock would be a tasty substitute here), and herbs. After a brief simmer, I pureed it smooth. The flavor was pretty good, but I added a spoonful of brown sugar to cut the tartness of the tomatoes.

I really liked the finished soup: it had great flavor from the roasted vegetables and sweetness from the onions and carrots. I forgot to add some potato or bread to thicken the soup, but I found that with enough vegetables it wasn’t really necessary. There are plenty of opportunities to personalize the flavor of the soup too: stir some sour cream or cream into the finished soup, top with pesto or cheese, season with herbs, spices, citrus zest, or smoked salt. With a salad and grilled cheese toasts it was a perfect comforting dinner.


roasted tomato and red pepper soup with grilled cheese toasts and basil

Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup
by Laurel S

4 large, very ripe tomatoes
3 red bell peppers or other sweet peppers
6 cloves garlic
1 large yellow onion
1 carrot
¼ to ½ cup sake or wine
2 bay leaves
fresh rosemary and thyme
2 bay leaves
salt
pepper
chicken stock or water
brown sugar
(more…)

 

Tea Ceremony August 28, 2008


tea ceremony implements: bamboo whisk, bamboo scoop, and enameled tea canister with seasonal gold leaf motif

At our recent orientation for new JETs my landlady was kind enough to host a tea ceremony demonstration for us. She was assisted by her daughter and a friend. The tea ceremony is not just about drinking tea, but also for enjoying the atmosphere of your surroundings and the companionship with the other guests. She told us, “one reason that I enjoy the tea ceremony is that even though you speak English and I speak Japanese, we can enjoy communication without words: appreciating the season, enjoying the atmosphere, and listening to the peaceful sound of the water kettle.”

In a more formal tea ceremony, we would be served both a thick matcha tea (koicha) and a thin matcha tea (usucha), but in this introductory demonstration we had just the thin tea.


wagashi: Japanese sweets for tea ceremony | matcha | usagi hana wagashi

Everyone took their seats and we began with a sweet. The sweetness helps to mellow the bitter flavor of the tea. The sweets chosen also reflect the season. One type looked like colorful cubes of ice. This image was intended to help us feel refreshed from the hot and muggy weather. The other was a small, pressed sugar flower called usagi hana, or rabbit flower. August is the moon viewing season, and the Japanese see a rabbit in the moon (where Americans might say that there is a man in the moon), so the usagi hana reflects the season. The motifs on the tea bowls and tea canister are also seasonal, and there is a seasonal haiku inscribed on the tea scoop.


presenting the tea | mixing the tea

Next, we each enjoyed a bowl of tea. First, after accepting the tea, we would say to the person on our left, “excuse me for drinking before you.” Then we would thank our host for the tea. Before drinking, you lift the bowl with your right hand and rest it on your left hand. Then rotate it 180 degrees and drink the tea. When finished, rotate the bowl back and place it back on the tatami in front of you.

After we enjoyed the tea, some of the new ALTs also got a chance to ask questions and to mix their own tea with the bamboo whisk.

water kettle and bamboo ladle

copyright 2008 LMS

 

Kakigori: the taste of summertime in Japan August 27, 2008

Filed under: Eating,Four seasons in Japan,Japan,Maebashi — laurel @ 12:34 pm
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Jumonjiya’s pineapple and ice cream kakigori

Although it may not feel like it this week due to our grey skies and rainy days, summertime in Japan is usually hot and humid. Last summer in August the temperature rose over 40 degrees Celsius (about 105 Farenheit). The muggy weather really saps my energy.

A great way to refresh your body when you’re feeling the heat is with a cooling bowl of kakigori, shaved ice. You can buy shaved ice at a lot of places like festivals and family style restaurants: you can find it anywhere where you see the red and blue flags with the character for koori, which means ice, but if you really want to appreciate the cooling refreshment of kakigori you should go to a specialty shop. Here you’ll find that the ice is shaved finely into a fluffy ball of snow and topped with just the right amount of syrup. Two of my favorite shops in Maebashi are Noguchiya and Jumonjiya.

Noguchiya is a few blocks from my school, so many students head there for an after school snack in the summer and fall. The ice is refreshing and not too expensive, but since it’s often crowded with students from many of the nearby schools, be prepared for a wait if you’re going on a weekday afternoon. They have an old-fashioned ice shaver that makes a huge, fluffy mound of ice. You can choose from a huge list of flavors. My favorite is the early-summer special flavor of no-ichigo, wild strawberry, but late in the summer it’s sold out. I also like matcha flavor, which is sweet and bitter. In addition to choosing your flavor you can also add condensed milk or sweet adzuki beans for a little extra.


Noguchiya | tools for carving and carrying ice blocks at Noguchiya


Noguchiya’s ice shaver | Noguchiya’s kakigori, kanro (plain syrup) with milk and adzuki

Jumonjiya is on the north side of town off of Route 17 in the tiny front room of a small house. The menu offers several varieties of sweets, including about five flavors of kakigori served with or without icecream. The ice is here is sophisticated, served as a neat ball topped with an adorable scoop of icecream and the syrup on the side. Your dessert comes with a steaming hot cup of green tea, which seems a bit strange in the summer, but it helps to rewarm your mouth after you’ve cooled it off with a big bowl of shaved ice.


Jumonjiya

Many people say that the keening of cicadas is the sound of summertime in Japan, and I think that sitting back and listening to the cicadas with a bowl of kakigori is the taste of summertime in Japan.

copyright 2008 LMS

 

Shokutaku tsukemono ki August 21, 2008

shokutaku tsukemono ki

One of the easiest ways to make Japanese style pickles is to use a shokutaku tsukemono ki, or tabletop pickling pot. I picked mine up at Besia recently for under 1000 yen ($10). It’s pretty small, but makes about the right amount for lunch or dinner for two. To use it, I just chop some vegetables (I like a mix that can include cabbage, cucumber, carrot, turnip, daikon, etc.), rub them with salt, throw in some seasonings like ginger, myoga, or kombu, and then put on the lid and screw it down. The pickling pot has a screw and spring-plate combination that applies pressure to the vegetables, helping to squeeze out their liquid and create a brine that they pickle in. If left at room temperature, your pickles will be ready to eat in just a few hours.

The shokutaku tsukemono ki is a handy device that simplifies the old-fashioned way of making pickles in which cabbages and other vegetables are salted and stacked in large buckets and then topped with lids and heavy rocks so that they can pickle in their own brine. When we visited our friend Tomomi’s grandparents in Okayama last winter we saw their pickling shed, which had several buckets full of home-grown cabbages that had been pickling for a few months or longer resting alongside their homemade miso. The rocks are so heavy that they have a pulley system to help lift them off of the cabbages. Since having a pickling shed like this isn’t feasible for most urban denizens, the tabletop pickling pot is a great kitchen tool for those who still crave the taste of homemade pickles even in an urban environment. There’s a recipe for “impatient pickles,” a quick pickled side dish made with a shokutaku tsukemono ki in Washoku.

quick cabbage, cucumber, and carrot pickles made in a shokutaku tsukemono ki (front)

copyright 2008 LMS

 

Conserved Tuna Salad August 18, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Japan,recipes — laurel @ 11:22 pm
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Salad of conserved tuna with potatoes, green beans, and roasted red peppers

I couldn’t resist Russ Parsons’ recipe for Italian-style conserved tuna that appeared in the LA Times food section recently. There’s never any shortage of fresh tuna at my market, so I picked up a block of mebachi maguro (bigeye tuna) to try it out. Parsons recommends yellowfin or albacore tuna, both of which can be Monterey Bay Aquarium best choices for sustainable seafood, but seafood sustainability hasn’t made the same splash in Japan that it has in the US, so most markets just stock what is popular (usually bigeye and bluefin). Since my market didn’t have yellowfin (kihada) or albacore (bincho/tombo), I chose the “good alternative” bigeye over bluefin. The bigeye tuna is also more affordable than the bluefin. If you want to learn more about sustainable seafood choices, click the link on the right for “Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.”

I started by making the conserved tuna, which was really simple. The hardest part was keeping the heat low enough since my smallest saucepan is pretty thin. Next time I try this recipe, I think I’ll use a bigger piece of tuna so that I can pack it a bit more snugly into the pan, as I had to use quite a bit of oil to cover the fish. I probably used a piece of fish that was closer to 200 to 300 grams (about half a pound).

While the tuna was cooking I prepared some vegetables for the tuna, potato, and green bean salad. I took a few liberties with the recipe such as serving the salad on top of lettuce and using balsamic vinegar and dijon mustard to make a vinaigrette-type dressing instead of following the recipe, which called for sherry vinegar. I also used fresh red bell peppers that I roasted on the stove to remove the skins instead of jarred. The salad turned out great, and there were plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day. For the next day’s salad I tossed in a few handfuls of leftover cooked chickpeas as well, but I forgot to leave out the onions, which would have been a wiser choice for lunch at work.

I loved how easy it was to make the conserved tuna, so I’m looking forward to trying it again soon. Delicious!

Here’s the original recipes from Russ Parsons; Los Angeles Times, August 6, 2008.

Conserved Tuna

1 pound fresh tuna (albacore or yellowfin), cut 1 to 2 inches thick
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons sliced garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 piece lemon peel (about 3/4 inch by 2 inches)
1 cup olive oil, plus more if necessary
(more…)

 

Nuka-zuke August 12, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Japan,kansha — laurel @ 10:46 pm
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Tsukemono – quick cabbage pickles from my shokutaku tsukemono no ki (front) and cucumber nuka-zuke (back)

I’ve been meaning to write about the Kansha Club more, really, I have. I wanted to write about the last few Kansha Club meetings but I never got around to making most of the recipes. It’s embarrassing really, that I have all these great recipes and advice from the author herself, and I just can’t seem to find time to make them. I have, though, gotten more inspiration to try new dishes from Washoku and some of my other cookbooks. But enough about that, on to the pickles.

Our last Kansha Club meeting (the third, if I’m not mistaken) was about pickling. Japanese pickles, or tsukemono, aren’t like the vinegared pickles that you can put up in your pantry forever that you might be familiar with. Some, like nuka-zuke, are quite perishable. There are many different kinds, each made according to it’s own technique, but in essence they are vegetables that have been transformed by drawing some of the liquid out and then developing their flavor with salt, vinegar, fermentation, and so on.

vegetables ready to be pickled, from left: cucumber, turnip, turnip greens

One thing that I have made time for recently is my nuka-toko. Elizabeth shared a few cups of her nuka with interested club members so that we could start our own nuka pickling pots at home. I’ve been tending my pot for the last few weeks by turning it daily and checking the additions. My pot is a 3.6 liter ceramic lidded crock for tsukemono. It is narrow at the top and bottom and wider in the middle. Apparently the straight-sided pots are better for nuka-zuke while this shape is good for umeboshi, but I had already bought the pot when I learned that and actually I have had no problems with the shape so far.

I started with Elizabeth’s nuka and added about a kilogram of iri-nuka (toasted rice bran) that I had leftover from preparing fresh bamboo shoots earlier this spring and several tablespoons of dry mustard (a special blend available in Japan for making nuka toko). I moistened the nuka mixture with water (you can use beer too) and then added a few cloves of garlic, some togarashi chiles, slices of ginger, fresh sansho berries. Then I mixed it up and put the lid back on. Later I added some more items that Elizabeth had suggested: washed, dried, and crushed eggshells and leftover iriko (dried sardine) heads. I turn the mixture daily to mix and aerate it. It has a bit of a sour, almost peanut-buttery smell that I’ve grown quite accustomed to. After about a week it was ready to pickle.

To make nuka-zuke, I scrub my vegetables with salt, rinse, and push them into the nuka, patting the nuka down over the top. In the warm summer, the yeasts in the nuka act quickly, and my pickles are ready to eat in just an hour or two. When you’re ready to eat them, just pull them out of the nuka, turn it, and rinse and slice the pickles. I’ve been sticking with turnips and cucumbers so far, but I think I’ll drop by the pickle counter at my grocery store soon to get an idea about what other vegetables I can make into nuka-zuke.

copyright 2008 LMS