Grilled as you like it

At-home bakery April 24, 2009

Filed under: Cooking,Japan,recipes — laurel @ 9:01 pm
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At some point, almost every westerner living in Japan will probably be asked, “do you like rice or bread?” Well, I don’t think that I need to choose; I like rice and bread. Japanese children are taught that rice is the staple food of Japan. It’s central to most meals, unless you’re having noodles, but that’s mostly just for lunch. So when children hear that bread is the staple food in Europe and America, they often get the idea that western meals must be centered around bread like Japanese meals are centered around rice. But really I think of bread as one of many possible starchy sides that I can pair with my meal. I can have bread, or rice, or potatoes, pasta, polenta, tabbouleh, couscous, whole grains, and on and on. There are so many delicious possibilities.

Back to bread though. If you’ve been following my blog or living in Japan, you’ve probably found by now that the selection of bread just isn’t great. Sometimes it’s downright terrible. I’m pretty lucky, the Grano Grano bakery at the mall actually makes a pretty good crusty baguette, bagels, and tasty sandwich bread. But sometimes I’ve got a craving for more variety, so I’m giving bread baking a try every once in a while. There have been some hits: pita, whole-wheat sandwich bread, hamburger buns; and some misses: cinnamon raisin bread. This focaccia was definitely a hit: great texture, chewy, and flavorful. I used some kalamata olives that I had brought from the US, so the next one will be without olives, but I’m sure it will be just as delicious. The recipe is from The Weekend Baker, which I think is a great book for baking beginners. The recipes are very clear and Dodge gives lots of hints about how you can break the process into manageable parts in case you don’t have time to do it all at once. So why don’t you try this recipe at your house?

Olive and Herb Focaccia
adapted from The Weekend Baker, by Abigail Johnson Dodge

425 grams bread flour (original recipe used all-purpose flour, but I liked the chewy texture when I made it with bread flour)
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups water, 115 to 125 degrees
1 tablespoon olive oil (more…)


Asian/Southwestern chicken soup April 14, 2009

Filed under: Cooking,recipes — laurel @ 10:58 pm
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Here’s a soup I came up with when I had a refrigerator full of leftover vegetables that I wanted to use up. I used some of the spices that we had brought back to Japan from our recents trip home. Can’t get smoked paprika or chipotle chile powder? No problem, feel free to use regular paprika and chili powder instead. The spices give it a comforting southwestern flavor. It’s only mildy spicy, but add more chile if you like it hot. To give the soup more visual appeal, I sliced the vegetables into matchsticks or long thin slices, but if you want to use square dice it will still taste the same. I used the veggies I had on hand, so this recipe has an Asian/Southwestern crossover feel to it with the daikon, hakusai, and cilantro. Since this is a “use it up” dish, the vegetables you use are totally up to you. I was thinking this soup might be very tasty with some zucchini next time.

Asian/Southwestern Chicken Soup
by Laurel S

1 whole chicken leg (preferably with the bone) or 2 chicken thighs
olive oil
1 onion, sliced
½ carrot, sliced
1 or 2 ribs celery, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 ½ inch piece of daikon, sliced
½ cup frozen corn kernels
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon powdered chipotle chile
¼ teaspoon Spanish sweet smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ to ½ cup sake, wine, or beer
2 bay leaves
6 cups chicken stock, broth, or water
handful of green beans sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 tomato quartered and then sliced
2 large leaves hakusai (napa cabbage), sliced into ¾ inch strips
chopped cilantro
chopped green onions
salt and pepper (more…)


Goodbye winter, hello spring April 11, 2009

Ishikari nabe – Salmon hotpot with miso broth, potatoes, corn, onion, hakusai, mushrooms, ikura, and more.

The days have turned sunny and warm and the cherry blossoms are blooming prolifically: sure signs that spring has come, although a cold snap a few weeks ago almost had me convinced otherwise. Now that spring is here, it’s time to put away my nabe pot, but if it gets cold and gloomy again (which is not unlikely since spring brings plenty of rainy days too) I’ll turn to my trusty nabe pot to make Ishikari nabe.

Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost island. It’s cool temperatures and wide open spaces have given it a reputation for great farm products, especially dairy, corn, and root crops like potatoes, onions, and carrots. It’s bountiful seafood like salmon and crab are also famous throughout Japan. Ishikari nabe is a tasty hotpot that combines some of these famous products in a miso broth accented with melted butter. I found this recipe in 自慢の鍋料理 (Jiman no Nabe Ryouri, Proud Nabe Cooking) but made a few changes to suit my taste (like leaving out the shirako and adding more yummy mushrooms). The recipe calls for fresh salmon fillets, but I can usually only find the ready-to-cook salted fillets at my market. I found that these work well too, but make sure to buy the amakuchi (甘口) fillets instead of the karakuchi (辛口) fillets because they are not as salty.

If you’re looking for a nabe cookbook (written in Japanese), I recommend this one. It has three sections featuring regional specialty nabe, all-Japan nabe, and international nabe. Each recipe is identified by the flavor it uses too: miso, shoyu, or tare (plain broth with dipping sauce).

Ishikari Nabe
adapted from Jiman no Nabe Ryouri

500 grams salmon fillets
6 tablespoons ikura
4 large leaves hakusai (napa cabbage)
1 bunch (about 100 grams) shungiku (edible chrysanthemum)
2 naga-negi (or substitute leeks or scallions)
1/3 pack enoki mushrooms
4 shiitake mushrooms
half an ear fresh corn, cut crosswise through the cob into round slices (I used frozen corn kernels instead)
2 potatoes
2/3 block firm tofu
30 grams kuzukiri (kuzu starch noodles)
4 slices kamaboko (steamed fish cake)
butter to taste
1 liter dashi
20 grams red miso
60 grams white miso
shoyu, sake, and mirin to taste (more…)


Mac – Think outside the box April 1, 2009

Filed under: Cooking,Eating,Japan,recipes — laurel @ 10:15 pm
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mmm… macaroni and cheese. I’ve given up the boxed stuff for homemade.

I recently scored a kilo of cheddar cheese from a friend who had been shopping at the nearby Costco in Saitama. A large amount of cheddar is quite the find in Japan, where the cheese is usually sold in 100 to 200 gram chunks for much too much money. So what did I do with my cheesy booty? I made macaroni and cheese, of course.

I grew up in a healthy household where things like macaroni and cheese or meatloaf were never seen on the family dinner table. Don’t get me wrong, my mom’s a great cook, but casserole is just not her thing. I think this deprivation has contributed to my love of noodles blanketed with creamy cheese sauce. I could definitely relate to Julia Moskin’s account of her search for the ultimate mac-and-cheese recipe. While many of my friends swear by the blue box, I never came around to the soft, falling apart noodles and runny sauce that didn’t quite taste like cheese. I do admit that I used to have quite a habit for Annie’s shells and cheese though. But that was before I discovered that I could make my own.

I had previously made and enjoyed the creamy mac and cheese from Ms. Moskin’s article, but cottage cheese is another one of those rare finds in Japan, so I decided to forgo that recipe and use a bechamel based cheese sauce instead (Although Ms. Moskin disdains white sauce, I’ve got no problems with it). A search of my favorite food sections turned up recommendations for Martha Stewart’s recipe and Mitchell Davis’s recipe from Kitchen Sense. Both sounded tempting and the technique was similar. I went for Davis’s “ultimate” recipe in the end.

I reduced the recipe by half so that I could fit it into my 9 x 9 pan (the version below is the full batch). I was a little disappointed at first that the layer of noodles and cheese was so thin, but then I realized that that just meant more crusty goodness. Not to mention that splitting the full recipe between two people (even if it took a few days to finish) would probably be deleterious to our health. Another life-in-Japan-friendly substitution that I made was for the Worcestershire sauce. Although I can buy it at my Clas:D market, I didn’t want another bottle taking up the precious space in my tiny fridge, so I mixed up a fairly convincing substitute from balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Maybe I wouldn’t put it on a steak, but in the cheese sauce no one will ever know the difference.

The verdict? Pretty good. But I’ve still got some cheese left so I might just have to try Ms. Martha’s recipe too.

The Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese
From “Kitchen Sense” by Mitchell Davis

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs, divided
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, or other strongly flavored imported grating cheese (about 4 ounces)
1 pound curly pasta, such as elbow macaroni, cavatappi, fusilli, or similar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard or 1/2 teaspoon dry, powdered mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch freshly ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces cream cheese
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
8 ounces extra-aged gouda, wax removed, or aged Swiss Emmanthaller, shredded (2 cups)

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Using 1 tablespoon of the butter, grease a 2-quart baking dish. Place 2 tablespoons of the bread crumbs in the buttered dish and shake it around to evenly coat. Leave any excess bread crumbs in the bottom of the baking dish. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs with 2 tablespoons of the Parmigiano or other grating cheese, and set aside.
In a very large pot, cook the pasta in a generous amount (about 5 quarts) of boiling salted water until al dente, not more, about 8 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, heat 3 tablespoons of the butter. When the butter is melted, add the flour and stir, with a wooden spoon, to make a paste (this is called a roux). Cook the roux a minute or two, stirring often, until it has very lightly browned and you can smell toasted flour. Switch to a whisk. Pour in the milk and continue whisking until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens, about 4 minutes. Turn down the heat to low. Whisk in the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne, white pepper, and salt. Add the cream cheese and stir until thoroughly melted.

Place the pasta back in the pot it was cooked in. Add the Cheddar, Gouda, and the remaining Parmigiano. Pour the hot cream sauce on top. Stir the mixture until all the cheese is melted and the sauce is well combined with the noodles. (If you are in a hurry to eat, you can actually serve the macaroni and cheese at this point; but I prefer it baked.) Transfer this mixture to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the bread crumb and Parmigiano mixture evenly over the top. Dot with the remaining tablespoon of butter. Bake in the preheated oven about 40 minutes, until the top is nicely browned, the bread crumbs are toasted, and the sauce is bubbling.