Grilled as you like it

Ume-shu chicken November 26, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Japan,recipes — laurel @ 10:14 pm
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Here’s a great recipe that I’ve made several times from my (sort of) new bento cookbook, Yappari Ohiru wa Obento (Of Course, Lunch is Bento). It’s super simple and quick, so I make it when I want a flavorful main dish, but I don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking. If I use two boneless chicken legs, there is enough for dinner for Alex and I and enough leftover for the next day’s lunch. With salad or vegetables and rice, it makes a great meal! The basic recipe is just ume-shu, soy sauce, and chicken, but last time I made it I added one of the ume from the bottle of ume-shu, chopped-up, and a splash of rice vinegar and Alex declared it the best one yet! I am thinking about adding some garlic or shallots next time for a different flavor too.

I use whole, boneless chicken legs for this recipe. You can read my previous post about why I don’t like boneless skinless chicken breasts here. I also read this great article in the San Francisco Chronicle a few weeks ago about chicken thighs as an economical alternative to chicken breasts. If you don’t like dark meat, or prefer chicken breasts, you can substitute them for the legs. Likewise, if it’s difficult to find whole boneless legs at your store, you can use boneless thighs instead. I recommend that you leave the skin on, however, as it adds fat and flavor to the dish, and it looks nice when it’s browned and glazed with the ume sauce.

Ume-shu Chicken
adapted from Yappari Ohiru wa Obento

2 boneless, skin-on chicken legs (drumstick + thigh)
2/3 cup ume-shu (Japanese sweet plum wine)
1 tablespoon shoyu
1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 ume (from the ume-shu), chopped (optional)

Trim excess fat and skin from the chicken legs if desired. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, place the legs in the pan skin-side down, arranging them so that they are evenly thick and not overlapping. Brown the legs on both sides. Drain the excess fat from the pan if there is a lot of it (save this for frying eggs or potatoes if you like). Next, add the remaining ingredients. Cook, uncovered, until the liquid reduces to a syrupy glaze. Flip the chicken a few times to coat evenly with the sauce.

To serve, allow the chicken to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Slice on the bias. Drizzle with sauce before serving.


“Pumpkin” Tart with Walnut Streusel November 10, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Four seasons in Japan,recipes — laurel @ 10:54 pm
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kabocha tart with walnut streusel

My ESS (English Speaking Society) club planned a late Halloween party last week so I decided to bring a seasonal treat: pumpkin pie.  This recipe has been one of my favorites since I first saw it in Fine Cooking magazine. Unlike a traditional pumpkin pie, it’s topped with a crunchy walnut streusel. It has the creamy, pumpkiney custard filling of a pumpkin pie combined with the crunchy nutty topping of a pecan pie (and I never was a fan of the overly sweet and gooey insides of pecan pie anyways).

Real pumpkins are hard to come by in Japan, so this one was actually a kabocha tart; kabocha is a sweet pumpkin-like Japanese winter squash. At home, I always thought of kabocha as a fall and winter vegetable, but I was informed by one of my teachers that it’s actually best in late summer-August is the best time of year for kabocha. In the hot, muggy days of August, I’m not usually in the mood for my favorite kabocha preparation, soy-simmered kabocha, but a plate of kabocha tempura with cold soba noodles sounds like a great treat then.

To make the tart, first I chopped and steamed a large kabocha squash. To make it easier to cut, I tried a tip that I learned from one of the teachers at school: microwave the kabocha for 1 to 2 minutes before cutting, then allow it to cool for a few minutes. It should be easier to cut with a than a raw kabocha. I can’t believe I’ve never thought of this before… of course, microwaving the squash for a few minutes creates steam and softens the flesh, making it easier to cut, but it doesn’t affect your finished dish any because it will be cooked anyways. I steamed the squash until it was tender and then used it in the tart recipe in the place of canned solid-pack pumpkin. Canned pumpkin is more moist than steamed kabocha, so the filling was a little challenging to blend at first, but came together eventually after I began adding the eggs. I made the filling in the blender to ensure that it would have a smooth texture.

To roll out the crust easily and with less mess, I placed the dough between two pieces of parchment paper and floured it generously on the top and bottom. I didn’t realize the parchment needed to be floured when I rolled out the crust for the first tart, and trust me, it was a bit of a sticky mess. The generously floured dough didn’t stick to the parchment and was easy to lift and transfer to the tart pan. This method is a real winner.

Next, to fit it in my oven, I use a 9-inch tart shell instead of the 11-inch called for in the original recipe. To my surprise, this meant that I used only about half of the crust, filling and topping, leaving me with enough to make a second tart this weekend. I was very generous with the amount of filling that I put in my first tart, so I added another egg and some more squash and cream to make a little more filling, but I think the original amount of filling is probably enough to make a second tart if you pay attention to your portioning. In addition to the kabocha substitution, I used brandy instead of bourbon in the filling since I don’t have any bourbon, but I just received a bottle of brandy recently. And although the reicpe calls for a food processor and stand mixer, you can make the crust and streusel almost just as easily by hand and the filling in the blender. The tart is best if it’s allowed to cool overnight or even made a day or two in advance, so I’m saving this one for my weekly Tuesday TV get-together.

Bourbon Pumpkin Tart with Walnut Streusel
Adapted from Rebecca Rather, Fine Cooking 74, pp. 52-53
Yields two 9-inch tarts or one 11-inch tart

For the tart crust:
9 oz (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
1/2 tsp table salt
5-1/2 oz (11 Tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup heavy cream; more if needed


Catching up November 5, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Eating,Travel — laurel @ 10:24 pm
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Well, I’m just back from my trip to Taiwan, and I’m already busy grading papers at school and at home I’m following the election news while burning a pumpkin pie for my English club’s Halloween/Thanksgiving party tomorrow. Hopefully it’ll be ok. Luckily, my tart pan here is quite a bit smaller than the one I usually use at home, so I think I have enough leftover dough, filling, and struesel topping to make a new one tomorrow if I can sneak into the home ec room for a bit.

I’m hoping to have an update on my Taiwan trip ready to post by this weekend. And I’ve still got lots of recipes and other stories to share too. Of course it’s hard to keep up because it seems like we’re up to something new every weekend.

In the meantime, check out this NY Times article about dining in Taipei: Feasting at the Table of Taipei. We had a great dinner at C’est Bon on Sunday night along with many other delicious meals. I think I must have put on some weight while I was there because I was feeling fuller-than-full by the end of every meal. There were still some things that we didn’t get to try though. I guess what I need for my next trip is a way to fit a few more meals into each day.