Monday, June 22, 2009

Corn on the Cob with Garlic Butter

Now that corn is in season, I make this for myself as a snack (and, on more than one occasion, as a meal) at least once a week. It is ridiculously simple to prepare and requires only three ingredients. It's also pretty hard to mess up--just don't overcook the corn. Total time: less than 10 minutes!

Sweet corn on the cob, husked and de-silked
garlic salt (the kind with a green cap, big garlic chunks, and parsley flakes)
slivers of pats of butter, or a big chunk of butter.

Put an inch or two of water in the bottom of a big pot, and place a steamer rack in it. Don't boil the corn directly in water--it loses flavor and nutrients! Sometimes I add a bay leaf or a lemon to the water before putting in the steamer tray. Put the corn in, turn it to high heat, cover, and steam until you smell the corn from across the room or until it changes color slightly and looks done, but still crispy and firm. I never time it...maybe five minutes? a little more?

Put a few pats of butter on a plate about the diameter of the length of the corn cobs, and roll the hot cobs in the butter pats, covering nicely. You might want to use tongs or a fork since the corn will be very hot. Sprinkle garlic salt to taste on your corn. EAT!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Wonder Bars

In Haleiwa on the north shore, there is a small bakery (Waialua Bakery?) that serves the BEST smoothies and the BEST wonder bars I've ever had. The smoothies are made with REAL, live, delicous tropical fruits, such as passion fruit, guava, mango, and yummy honey. There really is nothing better on a hot day. They also make amazingly delectable wonder bars. Also known as 7 layer bars or magic bars. I had most of the ingredients on hand, so I thought I'd make them. I had to pick up some butterscotch chips, and I admit that this is my first experience with them, but what the heck, right?

I baked this in 2 pie pans so I can give one to my dad tomorrow for Father's Day in a pretty glass dish.

I took my recipe from after seeing the luscious photo on It had to be slightly modified, I think because of the 2 pie pans.

The 7 Magic Ingredients (Makes 2 "pies")
  1. 2 sticks butter (1/2 lb.)
  2. 1 cup walnuts
  3. 1 can condensed milk
  4. 30 graham crackers (how the original recipe called for just 7, I will never know)
  5. 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  6. 3/4 cup white chocolate chips
  7. 3/4 cup butterscotch chips
  8. 1 1/2 cup flaked coconut
How to do the wonder bar
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Put graham crackers in a plastic bag and smash them with a rolling pin. Or do what I did and use a bowl and a big dowel like a giant pestle and mortar. It takes forever!! Melt the butter. Mix with graham crumbs in the bowl. Grease your pie pans with oil. Press graham crust into bottom.
  2. Smash walnuts using the same procedure. Sprinkle on top of crust.
  3. Sprinkle on all the chocolate/white/butterscotch chips. Top with coconut.
  4. Pour condensed milk over the whole thing.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until top is golden brown.
Next time, I will add more condensed milk. Perhaps an entire can. And eat half before baking. I cannot get enough of the stuff.

Bacon Corn Potato Chowder

I have become a good cook! Foods I create come out edible! Of course, I feel like this every time I make a success . . . but the success rate is really about 50/50. Last time I cooked, I created a roasted eggplant/hummus/yogurt/sesameoil/oliveoil salt monstrosity that lacked in taste, texture, color, and every possible scale of food meritocracy. Good thing I made it on the same night as the seared alaskan sea scallops with seashell pasta.

Anyway, this time, I made a winner. Sometimes, a disregard for all the fancy spices and flavor enhancers actually detract from the heady natural flavors of fresh produce. Corn chowder has always been one of my favorite things to eat. It was actually the very first thing I ever cooked all by myself. I was about ten and I think I used the JOy of Cooking book. I had to walk to the store and ask my mother for money. Those were interesting days.

The success of this chowder comes from the enormous amount of fresh vegetables, and the enormous amount of thick sliced, slow-fried, crispy bacon. I used an entire pack of bacon, minus 4 slices that were mysteriously eaten beforehand....

You also have to give credit to the dubiously large amount of onions. When I added them, my big ole soup pot was literally half full of onions and bacon. But never fear, little dears. I drained the bacon fat before getting dirty with my chowder. If I ate this in a restaurant, I would have no qualms about licking the bowl.

1 pack of bacon
1 big russet potato, cubed
1 red potato, cubed
1 jumbo-sized onion (the size of 2 normal), chopped
1/2 bunch celery (about 7 stalks? including the heart?), sliced/chopped
1 can creamed corn
8 mini bell peppers, diced (about 1 cup)
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
organic chicken broth to cover, about 3-4 cups
1 cup whole milk
plain yogurt for garnish
cheddar cheese for topping
garlic salt, cayenne, and black pepper

  1. With scissors, cut the bacon into strips (1/2") into a big fat soup pot. Turn on medium heat. Let sizzle until crispy, draining liquid when it gathers. I drained it twice. Bacon should be carmelized and crisp crisp.
  2. Add onions. Stir occassionally and let cook. Add celery, potato, bell peppers. Let them get about halfway done. Then add corn and broth to just cover ingredients. Simmer or boil until potatoes are done. Turn off heat. Add parsley, pepper, garlic salt to taste, and milk. Stir. Serve with shredded cheese and/or yogurt. I eat it with both.

Friday, June 19, 2009

North Indian Potatoes

Adapted from this aesthetically unappealing recipe,, I ended up making enough food for 8 people that 2 people gladly ate all by themselves. It's a little like mashed potatoes, but with all the Indian spices you love, plus some extra vegetables for color, texture, and nutrients!

I didn't take any pictures because the consistency is nothing to brag about. It looks like tumeric-colored mashed potatoes with chunks of vegetable. The real secret is in the taste.

First, place eggplants (I used Japanese) right under the broiler on some foil. Don't remove anything, just rinse them, prick them with a fork, and stick them under there. Wait about ten minutes until the skin is black, then turn them over to get the other side. They're done when they smell delicious and when the skin is blackened. Be sure to prick them, or they will quite literally explode in your oven! Remove when done and set aside to cool. When cool, peel skin off easily. Chop.

At the same time, boil a big pot of water. Cut 2 potatoes in half. Salt the water. Add potatoes. Boil for half an hour or until a fork goes all the way through the potatoes easily. This always takes longer than I expect. Remove and peel potatoes. Mash.

Whilst the eggplant and potatoes and cooking, heat some olive oil in a pan with a whole chopped onion and several minced cloves of garlic. Add about half an inch of minced or mushed ginger, as well. Proceed to dump in 2 generous heaping teaspoons cumin, 1.4 teaspoons coriander, 1 teaspoon garam masala, 1/2 teaspoon cloves, 1 spoon tumeric, cayenne pepper to taste. Add four coarsely chopped mushrooms and a handful of chopped carrots. Cook til tender. Shake a few generous shakes of garlic salt. Add the eggplant.

Mash potatoes with a masher and add the vegetable ingredients. Add chopped or shredded cheddar cheese. Continue mashing. Add crumbled feta cheese, if desired. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve the gloriousness!

Garden in the City

We started a vegetable garden! It has neat rows and everything! I've never had a real garden before, and this one is quite promising.

What do we have? Parsley, cilantro, jalapenos, thyme, rosemary, chives, green onions, spinach, basil, mint!


I love big, burstingly beautiful sandwiches. Here are a few I've made recently:

Start with good ingredients and everything wonderful is possible.

super onion bagel toasted, grilled onions, bacon, avocado, smoked salmon, lettuce, cream cheese, vine-ripened grape tomato.
toothpicks required

Sundried-tomato roasted turkey breast, feta cheese, avocado, grilled msurhooms and onions, lettuce, tomato, milton's bread, plain yogurt, taro and sweet potato chips.

Israeli Food Festival

First of all, Guy and a few other Israelis came over to our apartment and had an epic falafel-making session. I can tell you that it was enlightening and very, very tasty! I have a few dozen pictures of the process that I'm too lazy to upload right now.

Second of all, on the Israeli Independence Day, there was a big festival downtown. They had food, food, food, and a bad guy singing folk songs accompanied by a girl in a blue evening gown who looked much better than she sang.

I had falafel in a pita from the guy who used to own the falafel place in Manoa! (eg the only kosher place in Hawaii. It has since closed). I also got to try a lot of other Mediterranean food, which apparently was not as good as the real thing.

Seared Alaskan Scallops with Seashell Pasta

I'd had a bag of jumbo Alaskan sea scallops sitting in my freezer for about a week (thank you, Costco). I'd just not yet had the chance to make them. Yesterday left me starving by evening, because I'd eaten my new favorite breakfast of pineapple cottage cheese, sliced apple banana, handful of blueberries, plain yogurt, and quaker oats granola. It beats the Jamba Juice Acai Bowl as far as ingredient quality and taste are concerned. I love it to snack on, too. Anyway, I had just the bowl and one piece of fried chicken snuck ravenously from Safeway around noon. In between, I'd had a 3-hour business meeting, run errands, went shopping, and went to my turbo kickboxing class. It was 8 p.m. and my Guy wasn't going to be home until 9 or 9:30.

Great! Time to make myself even more starving by wafting delicous cooking smells all over myself! I took two very well-reviewed recipes for scallops and edited them a little to my liking. What turned out was surprsingly simple to make, and dare I say restaurant quality. The pasta was my first experience concocting a non-tomato-sauce-based pasta, ever. My mother always, always made pasta as "spaghetti," and it always, always, involved stretching a store-brought can of tomato sauce with her own ingredients. Never had I known that you could make tomato sauce from scratch with ease, and never had I known that you could eat pasta with something other than marinara! My first attempt turned out so well I ate it for breakfast this morning :)

This meal is very impressive and deceptively easy to make. Try it!

Seared Alaskan Scallops
Deceptively delicious for something so easy to make

8 jumbo alaskan sea scallops, thawed
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
garlic salt

  1. Preheat oven broiler. melt butter and mix with lemon juice. Drench scallops in mixture.
  2. Place in shallow baking dish. Sprinkle liberally with garlic salt. Broil for 7 minutes or so. Do not overcook! Scallops become rubbery and unappetizing when overcooked!
Seashell Pasta

1/2 box Barilla Medium Shells (or pasta of your choice)
olive oil
1 or 2 onions, chopped (I used a jumbo costco-sized onion that must've been 3 lbs by itself)
4 mushrooms, sliced
8 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 tomato, diced
1 teaspoon Parsley flakes
Black pepper and/or cayenne pepper to taste
grated parmesan cheese (Optional)

  1. Boil a big pot of water. When it comes to a rolling boil, add seashells and a dash of olive oil and some salt, if desired. Stir occassionally to prevent sticking. When almost done, drain in colander.
  2. Meanwhile, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of your widest pan. Remember that this will be the sauce for the pasta, for use more oil than usual. Fry onions on medium until translucent. Add mushrooms and garlic.
  3. Turn off heat and stir in tomatoes, parsley flakes, and pepper. Stir in seashells. Top with parmesan.

Accompanying Salad

organic spring greens
sundried tomatoes
italian herb dressing

tear greens, finely dice sundried tomato, and toss all in a large bowl with a drizzle of dressing.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Quickdraw Avocado Sandwiches

It was one of those days when suddenly it was 5 in the afternoon and all I'd had was half a papaya with yogurt and honey. Not good. I popped some veggie burgers (far superior to boca burgers, if you've ever tried either) under broiler (my new favorite method of cooking), when I discovered half an avocado in the fridge! Not able to wait 10 minutes for the burger patties, I snuck one of my pieces of bread an concocted the best 2-minute sandwich of the year.

Luckily, I was still hungry enough to eat the veggie burgers when they came out. Goes great with Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce, avocado, tomato, and pickles.

2-minute Avocado Sandwich Idea:
(makes 1 sandwich)

Milton's 7-Grain Sliced Bread
1/4 tomato
handful crumbled blue cheese
small handful lettuce

  1. Put 1 slice Milton's 7-grain bread in the toaster. I love this bread for the nutty sweetness
  2. Peel half an avocado with your fingernails
  3. slice avocado fast kine. Try not to eat it all before it makes it to the sandwich.
  4. Slice 1/4 tomato with the same knife
  5. Fold bread slice in half, and dump avocado, crumbled blue cheese, tomato, dill pickle, and spring lettuces inside. Devour.
It's good to keep in mind that the simple things are often more delicious than complicated ones. I was listening to an NPR podcast about reviving recipes from The Great Depression, and the hosts did a taste test of some of the dishes. Back then, there were no such things as cookbooks or recipes. No ingredient lists or numbered instructions. You cooked with what you had on hand. The few recipes that did survive were more guidelines than recipes as we know them. The most appealing one was called chowder. The ingredients were salt pork, onion, salt, potatoes, and water. Four ingredients. The tasters were amazed at how flavorful and tasty the chowder was, which did not contain any dairy. Perahps we should hearken

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Stuffed Blue Cheeseburgers

I really, really wish I had my camera for this one. You have not experienced a blue (bleu?) cheeseburger until you have had a stuffed blue cheeseburger. If you like blue cheese and you like burgers, this is definitely for you. Something about the novelty of deliciously cheesy sauce oozing out of the center of your burger patty screams summer to me. Make it classy with fresh ciabatta rolls, stuffed sauteed mushrooms and onions, and some yummy aioli (great to kick around a fancy word for mayo, neh?)

Stuffed Blue Cheese Burgers

For the burgers:
ground beef (I got the organic 80/20 from costco)
ciabatta rolls (costco!)
olive oil
crumbled blue cheese
plain yogurt
salt and black pepper

For the Sandwich Construction:
sliced apple
more blue cheese
vine ripened tomatoes
salad greens

Mush together blue cheese and a little yogurt until the consistency is creamy. Set aside.

Dice onions, and mix into meat by hand along with a little mustard powder, salt and pepper and maybe some parsley.

Form 2 thin hamburger patties a little larger than your ciabatta rolls to allow for shrinkage. Spoon blue cheese mixture evenly over center of patty. Put second patty on top and press edges together to seal. Repeat with all meat and blue cheese sauce.

Grill, broil, or fry burgers.

Meanwhile, sautee some chopped mushrooms and diced onions in oil on the side. Chop some salad, too.

Construct your burger! I love blue cheese, so I spread my ciabatta with the leftover blue cheese and plain yogurt mixture. I decked my burger with pickles, chopped salad greens, tomato, sliced lady apple, etc. Maybe add a potato chip or two.

Serve with a crispy beverage and hearty sweet potato & taro chips. Enjoy the blue cheese oozing hotly out of your burger. YUM

Hunky Bunch Mango Bread

Mango season and lychee season are one of my favorite parts of living in Hawaii. We have two huge mango trees in the backyard, but it's a late-fruiting tree, so still no fruit. I'm a little worried because the house next door burned to the ground when the trees were still flowering, and the flowers might've gotten burned/smoked off.

Luckily, mangoes are 8 pounds for $10 at Safeway. I kid you not. I don't know how they can afford to sell them so cheaply, but everytime I go shopping I leave with two heaping bags full of mango. I'm a big lover of the ever-glroious breads disguised as cakes, most notably banana bread and mango bread. In Okinawa I made banana bread with monkey bananas at least once a month. Now that it's mango season in Hawaii, I can finally get some mango bread goodness!

I found this recipe called Hunky Bunch Mango Bread from the Honolulu Advertiser. Based on the name alone, I knew I had to use it. Just wait til you check out the backstory:

Former Tiser-ite Paula Bender e-mailed to say that her favorite mango bread was one she recalled from some years ago with the intriguing name of "Hunky Bunch Mango Bread."

I delved back into The Advertiser files and never found the recipe — that showed up in an online search — but I did find out who the Hunky Bunch was.

It was the family of the late Dr. Hing Hua "Hunky" Chun and his wife, former legislator Connie Beltran Chun. Theirs was a second marriage and each brought three children to the union — Hunky's three boys and Connie's three girls. In the 1970s, when Papa Chun decided that it would be a great family-building exercise for the eight of them to run together in the Honolulu Marathon, they got tagged with the name "Hunky Bunch," a play on TV's "The Brady Bunch."

Reached at her Foster Village home, Connie Chun explained she would bake as many as 80 loaves of the bread and serve it with homemade liliko'i juice as a post-run snack for runners in various races. It was a standard recipe that she changed around to suit her tastes. She's got three mango trees in the yard and a freezer full of mango right now, but, she said, "I haven't baked mango bread since my husband died (in 2002) because I know I'd cry."

Hunky Bunch bread freezes well and makes good toast.

And here's the recipe, slightly adapted for my tastes by the addition of many yummy add-ins and even more mango:


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup grated coconut
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup broken walnuts
  • 3 cups fresh mango, diced
  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • Prepare four loaf pans (2 1/2-by-5-inch or larger) by buttering them or using nonstick spray.

    Very important: DO NOT OVERMIX. Your bread will be dry and hard!!! Mix dry ingredients well: flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, cayenne, ginger and baking soda. In separate bowl, mix mango, raisins, walnuts, coconut. Mix well. add eggs, vanilla extract and vegetable oil until blended. Don't over-mix!

    Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir with your hand (yes, it's fun and messy and you get to lick your fingers!) until JUST BARELY mixed, meaning the flour just barely disappears. DO NOT OVERMIX!

    Fill prepared pans two-thirds full and bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes for the smaller pans or 1 hour for the larger pans; tops should spring back when touched and a toothpick should emerge from the loaf's center clean.

    Makes 4 loaves, about 10 slices each.

    I actually made 12 muffins and 1 pie tin. I love the muffins because there's more of that much-savored crispy outside crusty layer. It was hard not to eat all the mango as I diced it! It took 4 big mangoes to come up with 3 cups of mango flesh, if that helps when you buy your mangoes. Here's another good mango bread blog post you might want to consult for proper mango-cutting techniques.

    Saturday, June 6, 2009

    Simple Miso Eggplant & Sunomono (Cucumber Salad)

    I've been back in Hawaii for awhile now, and I've thoroughly enjoyed cooking with "whatever is on hand." It's a near-impossible feat to accomplish in Japan, because the way the grocery stores are set up, you buy only what you need. There is no such thing as going to Costco and buying 12 eggplant. Eggplant come in packages of 1 in Japan, and they are at most half the size of the "Japanese Eggplant" sold in America/Costco.

    I absolutely adore eggplant. NPR recently hosted a short story reading called "An Eggplant Alone," read by a well-loved author of Gourmet Magazine who had recently died. I've been making all kinds of wonderful eggplant dishes. One of my favorites is eggplant, onions, and garlic diced and stir fried in a pot with a little olive oil. Add feta or goat cheese at the end and stir. It is heavenly with just those ingredients and maybe a little salt and cayenne pepper. Perfect as a sandwich spread or yummy side dish. And so so simple!

    I've also made pomodoro alla mellanzana, baked eggplant parmesan, miso glazed eggplant, grilled/broiled eggplant, eggplant in stir-fries, and roast eggplant. All of them tasting deliciously of eggplant.

    For dinner last night, I made this simple miso eggplant stir-fry along with sunomono. The eggplant is reminiscent of an ongoing special they had at Yukino, my favorite neighborhood restaurant in Nago. I ordered it during my first "girl's night out" with a few young Okinawan teachers. I found it delicious, and I believe I've created a healthier (less oily) version that tastes just as good.

    Note: During the cooking process, I probably consumed about 10 Gummy Bear Vitamins. These things are the best vitamin discovery of my lifetime. They are a multivitamin that tastes even juicier and more delicious than regular Gummy Bears at the store--to satiate my craving for vitamins, I brought a bag of real Gummy Bears, only to leave the package half finished because the real variety were small and hard and too unforgiving compared to my luscious children's vitamins. Buy them at Costco at $9.99 or Safeway for $19.99!

    Simple Miso Eggplant (serves 2)

    2 large Japanese eggplant (nasu), halved and cut into sixths (1.5" pieces)
    1/2 an onion, coarsely chopped
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1/2" ginger, minced (you might want to grate this--I really love my ginger but feeling pieces of it in their food isn't for everyone)
    3 large mushrooms, cubed
    1 heaping tablespoon white miso
    1 tablespoon oil (I use olive)
    salt and pepper to taste

    The "How To"
    1. Cut eggplant and salt it to drain the excess water. It will absorb flavor better. Chop the rest of the vegetables while the salted eggplant rests.
    2. Heat oil in a wok. Add garlic, onion, and ginger. Cook until onions are nearly cooked/translucent. Add eggplant to wok. Cook until half done. Add mushrooms.
    3. Add miso and turn off heat. mix well. Season to taste, maybe with some chili garlic sauce or black or white pepper. Serve!
    Sunomono (Japanese Cucumber Salad)

    1 costco-sized Japanese (English?) Cucumber
    2 tablespoon rice vinegar or thereabouts
    1 tablespoon sugar
    1 teaspoon sesame oil

    1. Thinly slice cucmber. Paperthin if you can. Use one of those grater things if you have it to make very delicate slices. Salt cucumber and set aside for a few minutes.
    2. Come back and squeeze cucumber with paper towel to get out the excess water. Mix in rice vinegar, sugar, and sesame oil. Let rest in fridge or serve immediately. Simple and delicious! I ate the entire huge cucumber all by myself, it's that refreshing on a summer evening :)

    Friday, April 10, 2009

    Grocery Store Sushi

    This grocery store sushi was 398yen. It sure beats what they give you in America. Even in Hawaii.

    Friday, March 13, 2009

    Spinach Mousse


    We got it in school lunch. Many of the kids wouldn't touch it. In fact, they told me it would be bitter and gross. Lies! I tried it, and it tastes nothing like spinach. It's a slightly strange/pleasant green color, and the name and ingredients are off-putting, but it's better than any packaged pudding I've ever had in America, save perhaps kozy shack. But I'm sure this one is much healthier than kozy shak--it has spinach! It tastes creamy, milky, and smooth. It's just plain good pudding.

    I think this company just needs to find a way to market itself, so more people will eat it. The idea of "spinach mousse" is a little off-putting. Especially since it conjures ideas of truly moussey concoctions made of "pure" spinach at hoity toity restaurants experimenting with molecular gastronomy. This spinach mousse tastes so much better.

    So, who knows where I can buy me some of this stuff? I have yet to see it in the store. I would seriously eat it every day if I could.

    Monday, March 9, 2009

    Good Earth Tea

    My favorite tea of all time: Good Earth Tea. My taste in teas runs two ways: to delicate, scalding-hot Japanese green teas, and to those huge, bold teas that can stand up to big douses of milk and sugar (or better, condensed milk!) Good Earth Original Sweet & Spicy flavor tea fits the bill of the latter perfectly. It advertises itself as SWEET & SPICY. I couldn't agree more. Perhaps it's this Indian food kick I'm on, but this tea is truly sweet enough not to have to add sugar--even given my sweet tooth! I cannot believe it contains "no natural or artificial sweeteners." It's also powerful enough to taste great at a ratio of 1/2 cup brewed tea to 1/2 cup milk. You know how I love to add a dash of chili powder to everything? I swear they do something like that to Good Earth tea. It tastes like my ideal tea. A tea shop would be hard-pressed to brew me something better. I used to be a fan of the Starbucks Chai Latte, but no longer can I have that poor excuse for sweet & spicy & creamy tea after having Good Earth Tea. I also love the Organic Caffeine-Free version of the Original Good Earth flavor, which uses Red Rooibos* tea instead of black tea. What are the other ingredients?

    Organic Red Rooibos, Organic Spice Blend, Organic Chicory Root, Organic Rosehips, Organic Honeybush, Natural Flavor, Organic Lemongrass, Organic Peppermint, Organic Chamomile, Organic Orange Oil and Organic Orange Peel.
    *Red Rooibos is a red tea from Africa. I've had it by itself from other brands, and it's pretty good as a standalone, too.

    And let me tell you this: after drinking the Good Earth Chai, I could barely drink the Starbucks version of a chai latte. It was worth bringing two boxes to Japan with me in my suitcase!

    On top of the excellent tea taste, Good Earth teas try to be environmentally friendly, given that they're individually packaged bags of tea. The company makes their packaging from 100% recycled materials, and uses soy-based inks.

    On a semi-related note, when you make hot chocolate, please use common sense and add milk to the powder packet instead of water. It will taste 100% better, believe me.

    Sunday, March 8, 2009

    Spaghetti, Sans Spaghetti

    Growing up, "spaghetti" always meant mom would doctor a can of store-brought Prego with browned ground meat, onions, garlic, and a variety of vegetables. Thanks to her, I always start every dish with garlic and onions. She might add a bit of sugar or salt. It always tasted the same, and it's the only sauce we ever had accompanying pasta. It was sometimes watery, and never as tasty as in the Italian restaurants.

    In late high school, I took to piling my spaghetti on top of salad veggies. This made the vegetables more palatable. At the height of the "carbs are evil" media blitz, I began forgoing noodles altogether, and putting the sauce directly on top of the salad (usually lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, and cheese). I still prefer this method of downing raw vegetables, but I have not yet acted upon it in Okinawa.

    Which brings me to another question: What is the difference between spaghetti sauce and chili? Meat sauce and chili? Tomato sauce and spaghetti sauce? Spaghetti sauce and meat sauce? Especially made local (Hawaiian) style, the different varieties are probably pretty interchangeable: all are a slightly tomatoey excuse for eating ground beef. With chili, I suppose you sometimes had the red beans, which most of my friends would pick out because for some reason they hated beans--I, on the other hand, hated meat).

    I believe that after several attempts at tomato-based meat sauces, I have finally got it right. It is a big improvement over my mother's spaghetti, at any rate. (Spaghetti was probably my most-requested, and most-favorite food growing up. I always added extra sugar to my sauce...and I have always liked soft vegetables melding into sauce like beef stew, pot roast, spaghetti, etc.)

    Anyway, I have a few slight edges over my mother with respect to the preparation of this favorite childhood food of mine. I've lived with an "Italian" (in scarequotes because this "Italian" only ever lived in Italy for medical school) for a few months, and I had the chance to both observe and taste some of the delicious pasta sauces that tasted better than any Italian restaurant on Kauai, and very different in theory from what came out of my mother's kitchen. I also have that vast and wonderful resource the internet. Most European-based pasta sauces are much simpler to prepare than I ever could have thought. With quality ingredients, simple can indeed be grand. However, I've recently been experimenting with so much Indian food, I can't stay away from the spices. And this, I believe, is where to find the terrific flavor I love so much. The final edge: a (for practical purposes) unlimited budget for herbs, spices, and other ingredients. What did I do?

    • 3-5 T. olive oil
    • 277yen worth of leanish ground beef
    • 298 yen of little sea scallops
    • 1 onion 50yen
    • 1 entire head garlic (~a dozen cloves)
    • 2 small green peppers 128 yen
    • 2 Japanese eggplant 128 yen
    • 6 shiitake mushrooms 258 yen
    • 140yen of micro cherry tomatoes (about 1 pound? or is it more like 1/2 pound?)
    • 1 can diced tomatoes
    • 1/4 of a quart of previously frozen ginger chicken carrot pumpkin soup
    You could really use any vegetables that you personally like in your tomato sauce. It's a good way for getting rid of odd leftover vegetables you may have sitting in your fridge. These are just my favorites. I imagine spinach could be nice and healthy and melt down to nothing in the sauce. Or no vegetables at all, if meat is your thing.
    • 100 yen of sweet basil, about 20 leaves
    • several tablespoons cumin
    • black pepper to taste (1 T.)
    • chili powder to taste (1/2 t.)
    • at least 1 tablespoon paprika (has nice red color without the hotness)
    • 1/4 t. tumeric
    • 1 t. oregano (not sure how much I like it, so I only add a bit)
    • small sprinkle thyme (I hate it, but I feel bad that I never use my jar of it, so I add just a little bit)
    • 1 T. salt, or to taste
    • 2 bullion cubes
    • 1/4 cup sugar, or to taste (add it with the tomatoes, unless you like your sauce really sour)
    1. Dice garlic. Sweat on low heat in a large, flat, open-mouthed bowl-pan in olive oil. Using a large-mouthed pan reduces cooking time! Chop onion and add a bit at a time. While it's cooking, add cumin, black pepper, chili powder, paprika, tumeric to ground beef. Mix it up.
    2. When garlic and onions are translucent, add meat and spices. Brown the meat, breaking it apart into tiny pieces with a wooden spoon (I dislike chunks of meat. I prefer it to flavor the sauce). Take it all out of the pan and hold it in a separate bowl.
    3. Add salt to scallops. Add them to the already-hot pan with a bit of olive oil. Fry them for a few seconds until a bit undercooked. You can eat scallops raw, and they get stringy if overcooked. Save them to add to the finished sauce at the very end. Remove and set aside. Add meat onion garlic back to pan.
    4. On medium high heat, chop eggplant into 1/2" pieces. Add. Chop shiitake into 1/2" pieces. Add. Dice bell pepper. Add. Mix all every time you add a new batch. Cook.
    5. Remove tops from tomatoes, slice them in half. Add. Stir. Add canned tomatoes. Stir in sugar at the same time as the tomatoes. Add all other herbs and spices except for fresh basil (oregano, thyme, parsley more cumin or whatever you want). Stir, reduce.
    6. Let it simmer on low for at least half an hour or so, until all the vegetables and meat come together into a single stewy tomato sauce. I covered it and added the previously made chicken carrot kabocha soup and bullion cubes. When I saw it was too watery, I left it uncovered and evaporated away the liquid. I like my sauce full of chunky vegetables, and not watery at all. Remember, it won't have any pasta to absorb the liquid. Just lettuce. Plus, if it's chunkier, the flavor will be more condensed and overall more tasty.
    7. At the very end, add salt and pepper to taste. Then stir in scallops and torn basil. Serve over torn lettuce salad. I recommend a mild lettuce such as butter lettuce (which I just so happened to have in my fridge). Also great as a sandwich. Or, of course, with pasta. Or plain . . .
    The sauce will probably be better after resting a day in the fridge--if you can wait that long. I swore I wasn't hungry when I made this, because I'd just gone to a curry buffet (Indian, Thai, and Japanese curries!) and stuffed myself to the point of "it hurts!" Then I'd seen a beautiful pastry filled with whipped cream, covered in blueberries and raspberries. Then I'd seen a horn danish filled with strawberries and whipped cream. Already full, I ate them. I told myself I would cook spaghetti for tomorrow and the rest of the week, but alas, I ended up eating two bowls of the stuff. At least it has lots of vegetables?

    Saturday, March 7, 2009

    Midnight "Snack"

    My friends sent me a box full of American food for my birthday! Included was a bowl of apple jacks. Hence I ate cereal for the first time in over six months. And there were some "Exotic Vegetable Chips," which were a really good excuse for eating potato chips. A little harder in consistency, a little tastier, and very colorful. I always liked those.

    There was also a big jar of Nutella! I have long loved Nutella, but in Okinawa, it has been a long lost love. I made a delicious nutella and lilikoi sandwich on toasted brown bread. The tangy kick of the lilikoi and the crunch of its seeds were the perfect offset to the heavy, creamy, chocolately, cloying nutella. Would definitely do that again! Sorry, I scarfed it down before I thought to take pictures.

    ...and then I was still hungry, because I was up late watching cooking videos from I've decided that Indian food is the best food to eat out, because it's so complicated to prepare (and OH SO TASTY). I will be frequenting Indian restaurants more often (in the states, where they exist).

    SO, I made some carrots and onions with pineapple, inspired by the Indian use of many many spices. This did not turn out very deliciously. Will probably not do this again--something is missing. Perhaps protein?

    3 carrots
    1/2 onion
    1/4 of a pineapple
    olive oil (should've used butter)
    maple soy milk
    thai sweet chili sauce (you know the one--red with the rooster on it)
    garam masala
    1 cube bullion

    I first sauteed the onions with some of the spices, then added carrots, then milk, then steamed it for a few minutes with the chili sauce and bullion, then added the rest of the spices, then the pineapple at the end. This particular pineapple was a bit too sour for me to eat plain, but it stayed sour in this concoction. I'm eating it anyway--there's so much of it!

    Anyway, all that food made for a very large midnight snack!

    Friday, March 6, 2009

    Carrots & Onions, simple asian style

    Soft, sweet, and slightly salty. I made this one on the run and out the door!

    It's a "stir fry," but I don't believe in wokking onions, because they just get burnt without getting soft and sweet. Same with carrots. So, here is my asian sautee of sweet root vegetables, adaptable to pretty much anything:

    peanut oil
    1 medium carrot
    1/2 onion
    sesame oil
    soy sauce
    sugar (you probably don't need it if you don't have my sweet tooth)
    a few big pinches of sesame seeds

    1. Heat peanut oil in a heavy pan. Chop onion. As you chop them, add them to the pan in batches, so it stays hot all the time. Do the same to the carrot. Small pieces cook faster, and that's what we're going for here. Cover for a few minutes and wash the dishes.
    2. When vegetables are about soft enough, stir in a dash each of sesame oil, soy sauce, and the optional pinch of sugar. Mix in sesame seeds for garnish and extra flavor. Serve!

    BLT in Okinawa, with extras

    This is the first time I've been in a rush to cook dinner. This is also the first time I realized it may be possible to make my favorite American home foods in my Okinawan kitchen. I'd just picked up some lovely produce from JA, and I decided I needed to eat some uncooked vegetables. They're harder to chew, and they're not as mellow, but they're (supposedly) better for you because the cellulose walls, vitamins, and nutrients haven't been broken down by cooking heat. I disguised them with the clever ruse of bacon, cheese, and eggs. Not that I don't love these

    Micro Cherry Tomatoes (see chopstick for size comparison), a big bag of cuteness of

    One of my schools gave me fresh butter lettuce from their garden!

    Here's my version of a BLT in about ten minutes:

    • cheese
    • tomato
    • 1 slice bread
    • bacon
    • lettuce
    • egg
    • salt, pepper, basil flakes
    First, to sate my appetite (or maybe stimulate it--tangy things will do that!) I ate a lilikoi. As one Kauai adventure tour guide once said to a ten-year-old me, a lilikoi is nature's juice box! Also known as passion fruit (ポッション フルツ), lilikoi is one of those extraordinary flavors you usually don't find in a grocery store. Fresh ones are hard to come by, and ones as big as my hand for 100yen each were too good to pass up! I cut off the top and eat the lilikoi out of the "cup" with a spoon:

    Meanwhile, fry bacon on low heat to make it extra crispy. If you use high, or even medium heat, the bacon will curl up and the fat won't dissolve. It'll just get soft and burn quickly. Bacon = low heat! It's worth the extra time. Bacon in Japan does exist. It comes packaged in 250g packages of neatly arranged half-slices. This is about half a pack:

    About 10 minutes later, when brown and crisp, remove from pan and set aside.

    Prepare your cheese! I love the taste of smoked cheese. Heck, I just love cheese. Cheese in Japan is very expensive, and comes in bite-sized morsels wrapped to resemble candy. And, all of it, no matter what, is simply called "cheese." There are no varieties of cheese. I am very disappointed in this. However, this cheese is a close approximation to smoked gouda, in miniature. Mini cheese:I sliced a few pieces to melt onto my bread:

    Then I popped the bread into the "fish grill" part of my stove. This is a wire rack with flames that broil from the top perimeter. It's very useful (and FAST) for toasting bread. My cheese didn't appreciably melt, but what the heck, it's Japanese cheese, right? I halved some micro cherry tomatoes and added those: (notice how MINI everything is! Oh, Japan)

    In the unwashed bacon pan, crack an egg. Sprinkle on some salt, pepper, and basil flakes. By the time you're done, so is the egg!
    Slide the egg on top of the bread cheese tomato bacon layers:
    Add lettuce as the top layer. I like open-face sandwiches, because I don't especially like the dryness of bread. This one required a knife and fork. I ate it with some fresh pineapple, a very good choice. Whoever invented the ham and pineapple pizza had the right idea!

    After I'd mangled half of it:

    Of note: this brand of preserves labels their stuff "Blueberry Jam," but actually puts blueberry JELLY inside the jar!
    jelly, not jam (but I'm not complaining too much)

    Friday, February 27, 2009

    Mole Chili Portuguese Bean Soup Conglomeration

    My first ever attempt to make chili from scratch wasn't very guided. I made it on the principles of spaghetti sauce, soup, and Indian food, coupled with all the lore I'd heard from the frequent chili cookoff contests in the media. I get the idea that chili elitists hate beans, and use only meat. Then there's the meatless vegetarian chili enthusiasts. I hear the latest chili contest winner made pumpkin chili, which sounds like something up my alley. Another cook swears by chocolate as the secret ingredient. Many believe you need to let the chili "rest" for a day or two in the fridge for perfect flavor. I made a combination of all these floating ideas through a very complex process spanning several days. It began with a trip to the store to get all the vegetables on sale. I used:

    A whole head of garlic (10 cloves?)
    1 yellow onion
    2 ears fresh corn kernels
    2 packets mushrooms (shiitake and that flatter flowery one...?)
    cilantro (5 stems)
    1 carrot
    1 bag (about 4 cups?) dried kidney beans, soaked overnight
    297yen worth of lean ground beef (maybe a cup?)
    1 can crushed tomatoes
    1 can whole stewed tomatoes
    1 can Japanese spaghetti sauce base

    I believe I added these spices at various intervals throughout the cooking process:
    3 cubes bullion (chicken and beef)
    2 cups chicken soup (from yesterday)
    4 cups water
    4+ tablespoon salt
    4+ tablespoon maple syrup
    1/2 cup (maybe more?) sugar
    2 t. cumin
    1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (it scared me at first because it made the whole place smell like dessert)
    whole red hot chili pepper
    1 teaspoon red chili powder
    2 teaspoon paprika

    At least a teaspoon each of:
    black pepper
    white pepper

    I honestly probably don't remember everything I put in the pot. My basic method:
    1. sweat minced garlic in olive oil on lowest flame. Add diced onions. Add lots of cumin, paprika, less coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove. Add meat. Brown meat on medium heat. Add tomato products. Add sugar. Cut carrots into small pieces, add. Add quartered mushrooms. Add beans. Add everything else, tasting as you go. Next time I will probably use a more even meat to bean ratio. It's harder to make things tasty when you have SO many beans and not so much meat, especially since chili kind of lacks the strong spice base of Indian food...I didn't want my chili to taste Indian. Still pretty tasty, but I did have to keep adding salty seasonings at the end like bullion and salt. I didn't know I would end up with so many beans! Add cilantro near the end.
    Serve over white rice with plenty of grated cheese.

    To concentrate the flavor, next time I will not add as much water or broth. I will use more tomato product, and also real tomatoes. as well as cannned corn, which I believe is sweeter than fresh corn, which really is best eaten as buttery corn on the cob. I might not add the chocolate in as great a quantity. I will use more onion if I'm going to make so much. Perhaps some bacon. Cooking is still a big experiment, and I need experience. I'm glad it came out tasting good, but it was missing something. That something was satisfied by a sprinkle of grated cheese (the only type of cheese they sell in Japan, I might add). With cheese, perfectly acceptable, even good enough to be eaten very slowly, savored, and enjoyed. Tried it out on a few friends tonight because I made so much. They ate it, so it must be all right!

    Thursday, February 26, 2009

    Peanut Butter Banana Cream Cheese Honey Toast

    Toast and slightly warm bananas. Half with chunky natural peanut butter and honey. Half with cream cheese and cinnamon sugar. Something I frequently enjoy variations on for breakfast and snacks. Also popular with small children.

    Wednesday, February 25, 2009

    Chicken Winter Vegetable Soup

    Feeling a bit sick, so I made chicken soup with winter vegetables. Chicken Vegetable soup is really just about the easiest things you can make. I don't know why anyone would want a can of soup full of preservatives and lacking in vegetably nutrients when they can just throw a bunch of ingredients in a pot, add some salt, and serve. It's bound to make you much better than anything from a can with a shelf life of several years.

    Seriously, it really is that easy.

    Hot and steamy chicken winter-vegetable soup with chicken breast chunks, celery, kabocha (Japanese Pumpkin), carrot, fresh corn kernels, crimini mushrooms, garlic, onions, and cilantro.
    I cut all the ingredients into small pieces, threw it in the pot, added enough water to cover everything, and let it simmer for a long time. You can add rice if you want to make juk/chuk/congee. Oh, and add some salt and whatever spices you want. I personally like miso, basil, and black pepper. I may also have added a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, 2 bay leaves, and coriander. However, the natural goodness of the chicken and vegetables makes it unnecessary to add anything but salt if you're not in an herby mood.

    Just after adding the mushrooms to the pot:
    There is literally an entire wall of miso at every grocery store. I have no idea how to choose the "good" miso, but this one tastes pretty good, even if it doens't taste like your typical US restaurant dissolved-powder miso soup. Miso is very versatile and very healthy. Many Okinwans swear by it for breakfast. They also sometimes serve a spoonful of miso with rice for lunch. Add a scoop of it to stir-fries, or use some in your next marinade. Very versatile.I like this miso:

    I was so excited to see fresh corn on the cob! This is the first time I've ever seen it on the shelves in Okinawa! At 100 yen/ear I got two. I like the way it's wrapped, with a peekaboo exposure so I can check the quality of the kernels on the ear I want to buy:

    In conclusion, Join me--Let's boycott canned chicken soup as a cure for colds!