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!

Japanese School Lunch PICTURES

Finally, some pictures of my much-talked-about obsession: 

brown sugar bread in plastic:

ポタト コロケ Potato Croquette:

白花まめ汁 White Bean Soup (surprisingly lacking white beans! lots of potatoes and carrots, though!):

春豆と ほれんしょと しいたけと にんじんと 牛肉 サラダ glass noodle, spinach, shiitake mushroom, carrot, and beef salad:

Cutting Garlic and Onions

Once you dice garlic this way, you never go back. It's much faster and more precise than doing the mad dance with the knife I used to do. It seriously takes less than a third of the time, and the diced pieces come out more uniform and organized than my old method. How do you do it?

With a sharp knife (I use my giant kitchen knife), slice the garlic, not cutting all the way through to the root end. I find it easier to hold the garlic on its side between my left thumb and forefinger, bringing the knife down between them to slice. Try to start with the "round" side (there is usually at least one flat surface you can lay the garlic down on).

Then, place the garlic down on one of its flat side. Make slices the other way, not going all the way through the root end, kind of like a checkerboard. I find this easiest while squeezing together the already sliced parts so that they don't fray when you slice the other way.

Then, dice, beginning from the end:

Voila! Beautiful pieces of diced garlic!

If you're picky or if you're not in a rush, you can cut the garlic in half first, then remove the green sprouty part by digging it out with your fingers or a knife. Proceed as before, using the sliced edge as the flat side.

This technique also works well with onion, but cut them in half and remove the rooty ends first. With onions, you can also eliminate step 1. Just go straight to making the cross-ways slices, since onions already have natural layers that act as your hatch-ways slices.

May your chopping and dicing be forever faster and more precise, henceforth!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mister Donut

One of the few, if not the only, places in Nago one can buy a donut as Westerners know it. They have a high-traffic location at the entrance to Jusco, and they keep changing up their donuts. This month the featured donut appears to be the Easter Egg donut:

I haven't personally tried it, but I am personally not a fan of Mister Donut. There are much better desserts out there, if you ask me. The donuts look pretty, and they appear to be the donuts you grew up with, but they are usually too dry and cake-like for me. I guess I'm not a fan of dry, dense, donuts. They offer an assortment of 6 donut holes in a cute little box for 210yen. Dry. I've also tried their matcha-frosted donut that looks like a baby's teething ring. Mister Donut appears to be the premier donut source in Okinawa food courts and the like, so I've had it a number of times, but I've never been impressed. I'd rather go to a bakery and eat a pastry or something.

Despite my unenthusiastic opinion, quite a few of my American friends regularly patronize Mister Donut. They even have point cards, which allow you to win prizes in return for loyal patronage. Real food is also on the menu. They have ramen, won ton, and soup. I personally would not eat real food from a donut shop. The dishes I saw looked rather plain and uninteresting.

I do like it that they give you real glasses of water, with ice cubes. And if you eat your donut there, they will put it on a pretty white ceramic plate. And they'll come clear your dishes for you before you have a chance to get up and put it in the trash can yourself. Yeah Japanese service.

They also greet you from behind the racks of donuts with "Irrashaimasse, dozo!" Irrashaimasse is the standard welcome greeting from store workers, and dozo can be translated as, "please help yourself," "after you," "please go ahead of me," "here you are" (when serving a drink or giving someone something). I found it especially warming to hear, even if the donuts aren't stellar. Don't get me wrong, the product isn't bad. It just isn't good.

Overall: D
If you're a donut shop, mediocre donuts don't cut it

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Thai-Inspired Omlette

I'm not entirely sure why this omlette is Thai-inspired, but I definitely beat in an enormous dollop of that sweet reddish-orange chili sauce they put on Thai BBQ Chicken. Doesn't everyone love that sauce? I've been so excited about it since I picked it up at JUSCO, and this is the first opportunity I've had to make it. So, omlette and soup for dinner!

It came out tasting much better than omlettes I've made in the past, possibly because I added a lot more flavor than my usual breakfast omlettes. Omlettes are usually one of those foods that I can eat a few bites of before getting turned off and stopping because it's not tasty enough. Fried egg by itself just isn't that interesting. This one was different. And very quick to make, especially considering that it normally takes me at least an hour to cook my dinners.

Thai-Inspired Omlette with Bacon and Bell Pepper:
Total time: 5 minutes
(serves 1)

half slice bacon (they sell it that way in Japan)
olive oil
2 eggs
thai sweet chili sauce
chinese soy sauce
dried basil flakes
1 mini green bell pepper, about 1/4 cup (again, Japan-sized!)
white pepper
  1. Chop up half a slice of bacon and sautee in a bit of olive oil on low heat.
  2. While bacon is cooking, beat two eggs with thai sweet chili sauce, chinese soy sauce, basil flakes, and white pepper. Chop up one small green or red sweet bell pepper.
  3. Add chopped bell pepper to cooked bacon and olive oil. Cook about a minute. Pour egg mixture over all. Cook. Push back edges of omlette and tilt pan so that egg runs to exposed pan surface. Fold into a nice omlette shape when egg is mostly cooked. Serve.
I ate it with a bowl of Sweet Potato Carrot Ginger Miso soup I had saved in the freezer. Hit the spot.

The Secret to Crispy Moist French Toast

I eat French Toast for breakfast at least once or twice per week. I recently discovered the secret to making excellent, crispy French Toast that isn't burnt!


Yes, just add some flour to your liquid mixture.

I've found that the soft, perfectly square-shaped Japanese bread works quite well, whether sliced thick or thin. It requires a minimum of dishes (fork, bowl, and frying pan) and a minimum of ingredients for such a yummy thing. Here is a quick way to make a good, hot breakfast (or snack, or dessert) for yourself in 5 minutes, prep time AND cook time included:

smallish, shallow bowl/dish, about the size of 1 slice of bread
heavy skillet, about the size of a slice of bread or bigger

Necessary Ingredients:
1 egg
dash of flour (about 1-2 tablespoon)
large dash of milk or dairy creamer (about 1-2 tablespoon)
1 slice bread (I like Hawaiian Sweetbread best. Japanese bread is pretty good, too)
pat of butter (or other oil--but butter is the best!)

Bettering Ingredients (I always use them all):
dash of vanilla extract
2 shakes red chili powder
3 shakes salt
4 shakes cinnamon and nutmeg or to taste
maple syrup/whipped cream/crushed nuts/jam/powdered sugar/other toppings of choice

  1. Beat together all ingredients except bread in a shallow, flat plate/bowl.
  2. Dredge bread in liquid. First put in slice and wiggle it around, poking holes in bread with fork. Flip bread and wiggle bowl, trying to saturate liquid completely into the bread. One slice, even a thin slice, should absorb all the liquid. Try wiggling the dish, wiggling the bread around with the fork, and poking holes in the slice to absorb it all.
  3. Meanwhile, melt butter in pan on medium-high heat. When hot, slide bread from dish to pan. Pour excess egg mixture on top of bread (there shouldn't be much). Sizzle until golden brown and crispy, approximately 2 minutes. Flip bread to other side with fork. Sizzle until golden brown and crispy. Serve with maple syrup.

  1. Crispy, chewy, fluffy, moist, and sweet!

Cafe Rainbow Bridge

Cafe Rainbow Bridge is a beautifully earthily decorated restaurant in Chatan, Okinawa. You access the place by frolicking down winding (naturally formed?) steps of porous black rock, to reach the door with a little waterfall and fountain just outside. The restaurant appears to be set on the edge of a steep, black rock cliff. However, I have only been there at night, so I cannot say for certain. The setting is lovely, at any rate. It's the perfect place to discuss a good book.

And Rainbow Bridge just so happens to be the location of our monthly book club meeting; this month we discussed Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore. I loved it and I still live in its world. Others abhorred its apparent lack of ending. I found it funny that they thought it was inconclusive. For me, the story was like a rope unravelling then ravelling back together again.

The place is made entirely of wood, with raised tatami platforms for guests to sit on in the Japanese style. Interesting Okinawan art decorates the walls, the bathroom sink basin features a fiberglass inlaid rainbow. The entrance has a display of handmade Okinawan crafts such as fabric slippers, keychains, cell phone decorations, hair accessories, and purses. The menu proudly proclaims, "No Smile, No Life!"

Along with entrees and meals they serve Okinawan specialty dishes such as sesame tofu, goya champuru, fuu champuru (250-1000yen), a variety of coffee/latte/milk/fancystuff drinks for 400-450yen, desserts such as raw chocolate gateau cake (420 yen), New York cheesecake (420 yen), honey toast (520 yen), pizzas (1000-1300 yen), sandwiches, pasta (600-1000 yen), and soft drinks. Not your typical Okinawan restaurant. Then again, it is located much further south than where I live, and much closer too the American military base influence.

I had the "Avo Taco Rice" this time, which is taco rice with the addition of avocado. Taco rice is a uniquely Okinawan invention, and a much-loved Okinawan food. It's basically an American taco with rice instead of tortilla. The main components are white rice and ground beef with taco meat seasoning. The better versions will give you shredded lettuce and tomato. If you're lucky, you'll get some shredded cheese (Japanese cheese is so often so disappointing). This one came with the added bonus of salsa, avocado, and a single dorito triangle chip, broken into smaller triangles for decoration. 600 Yen. I did not like the taste of the taco meat. It tasted "beefy" and there were lumps of salt. The avocado and cheese saved it from being completely mediocre.

I was still hungry after my taco rice, so I ordered the honey toast, which cost almost as much as my taco rice (520 yen)! It was delicious. Then again, it's hard to mess up honey toast, which I believe is a Japanese invention. It was not quite like the honey toast at Shokudo in Hawaii, but it was still tasty. There was a large scoop of vanilla ice cream, and small triangles of toast saturated with butter and honey. Please make this at home.

In the past, I have had the Margherita Pizza, the creamy tomato sauce pasta with bacon and mushrooms, and the tofu salad with sesame dressing, and Okinawan sesame tofu.

The pizza has remained popular over the months with book club members because of the stark dearth of pizza in Okinawa. Cheese is hard enough to come by; pizza is an impossibly expensive and mayonnaise-laden exotic foreign food. Here the pizza is fairly reasonable, and is actually prepared in a Western fashion, with tomato sauce, basil, and cheese. The crust is very thin and crispy. 1000 yen. There is also a ham and salad pizza, which doesn't look like it has as much cheese as the margherita, and an Okinawan special pizza.

The Creamy Tomato Sauce Pasta with Bacon and Mushrooms was disappointing. Don't those ingredients sound delicious and promising to you? I have never had good non-Asian pasta in Japan. The sauce wasn't creamy at all. In fact, it was barely there. And I don't think they used tomatoes--it tasted a bit like canned tomato sauce, no frills added. The least they could have done was add some garlic, onions, basil, oregano, anything! I don't think cooking in that fashion is part of the Japanese cultural knowledge base. I don't blame them, they make Japanese food quite well. The mushrooms were disappointingly of the Enoki variety; not what I expect in "creamy tomato sauce" pasta. The bacon was all right, at least it was there. 800 yen. Disappointing, but all right if you're expecting the Japanese version of Italian food.

The best thing I've had at Rainbow Cafe was the tofu sesame salad. It was a bed of greens with chunks of medium firm tofu, covered with sesame dressing and sprinkled with sesame seeds. I love sesame dressing. 650 yen. However, because this dish could have been made at home with only three ingredients (tofu, lettuce, and sesame dressing), I have to deduct points on the goodness scale. Granted, it was very nicely presented, healthy, tasteful and tasty. I would eat it again.

I also enjoyed the tofu with sesame/peanut oil. I'm not sure what the Japanese name is, since it's always in Kanji and I can't read it. The tofu is of a special variety that is a bit like a cross between very chewy mochi and gelatinous tofu. The consistency is a bit gummier and firmer than mochi, because it's actually tofu! They always serve it with this special peanutty oil/sauce. You can buy containers of it of various qualities from all supermarkets in the tofu section here. As one friend said, "It's so weird--but somehow so good!"

Of course, I also enjoyed the Raw Chocolate Gateau Cake (420 yen). Rich, deep, dark, Western -style and delicious. It even had a bit of creme fraiche (or perhaps it was just whipping cream). Maybe it's because I've been starved for real chocolate desserts, but this was great after the fluffy Japanese sugarless cakes I've been eating. It would have benefitted quite a bit from some vanilla ice cream or raspberry coulis. It was a bit dry, and could've used a contrast of tang or lightness from a saucy element. It was still good. However, this time I decided to try the Honey Toast. Next time I may try the homemade New York Cheesecake.

Overall rating: I would go back. Good decor and ambience. Know what foods to order and you'll be golden. Prices decent.

School Lunch for US

This article in the New York Times screams resoundingly truthful in my ears, especially after experiencing the wonderfully orchestrated, wholesome meal that is the Japanese school lunch. All my suspicions about the supreme processed ickiness of US school lunch is confirmed and condoned by US policy. It's disgusting.

All of my public schools at least had a cafeteria, but even my affluent private high school served rather unhealthy items for lunch and snacks. Fruits and vegetables were definitely lacking in any quantity, much less the 50% of the tray they fill in many of my Japanese school lunches.

I remember that when I was in school, lunch would be the only meal some children would eat, because their parents were derelict or poor or just plain unresponsible. Some of the kids were on the free lunch or subsidized lunch program and they had to make the meal last them until the next day at school breakfast. I was such a snob that I usually didn't eat all my lunch, deeming it fatty, nutritionless, and disgusting as early as middle school.

Eventually, my middle school did create a Salad Bar Island as an alternative to the hot lunch. This was pretty popular, but lacked balance as it did not contain starch or meat! I usually brought home lunch, only occassionally getting the school lunch when I knew I would be able to palate the menu of the day.

The US should look to the Japanese system of lunch distribution if they need a new structure. Under this system, not every school has to be outfitted with a cafeteria. The food will be prepared in a central cafeteria and delivered to the schools at lunchtime. I do wonder, though, if American students will have the discipline not to pillage the best parts of the lunch, hogging and squirreling and perhaps even deliberately spilling the food for the sole purpose of making a mess and causing trouble.

By the way, yesterday's lunch was curried chow mein, chicken peroshki (a russian bao or meat-filled bun is the best way I can desribe it), salad with creamy dressing, peaches, and pineapple, and a small packet of salted almonds. The kids went nuts for the almonds!

I also really enjoyed Thursday's lunch: there was a cooked green bean salad with sesame dressing, loaded with sesame seeds, fried rice, and white fish katsu that was cooked in what I can best describe as oyakodon style, fried with a clear brown gravy, plenty of onions and big chunks of mushroom, and egg. There was also half a banana and milk, of course.

I dread ever becoming a teacher in an American school and eating the school lunch.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Chicken Vegetable Penne Casserole

When I went home for winter holidays in December, my guy made a concoction of cream cheese, parmesan, and gouda with mushrooms, baked with spaghetti. As you can imagine, it was extremely tasty, what with the immense quantities of cheese. You might call it a cheese cake. It actually came out tasting rather like the tuna and green pea casseroles my mother used to make when I was growing up.

Since then, I've been keeping the casserole idea in the back of my mind. I picked up a hard-to-find can of cream of mushroom soup last week, and this week, I created my chicken vegetable casserole. I guess you could call this the healthy version, since it features so many vegetables. I'm not sure about the nutritional information in one cream of mushroom soup can, but that's really all the fat you need. One thing my casserole lacks is the delicious cheddar cheese or crispy fried onion crinkle topping. I really miss cheese. It is so essential to most foods that I love. Nevertheless, I can live without it, and this dish still tastes good without cheese.

The beauty of this dish is that you could probably use any vegetable that happens to be on sale or that you happen to have left over in your fridge. It's also quite easy. The basic idea is to barely cook the pasta, set it aside, then barely cook the rest of the ingredients and mix it all together with creamy soup. Bake everything, top it with something crunchy or unhealthy like cheese, chips, fried onion crisps. or bread crumbs. I recommend using at least some sweet vegetables, such as peas or carrots, in addition to whatever else you want to throw in. I also added some cinnamon and coriander. I bet some nutmeg would be good as well. American food is so bland compared to all the Indian food I've been making recently. The contrast is startling. Onto the recipe--

Cubed chicken (350 g) and cubed vegetables, cut to about twice the size of a pea
1 can cream of mushroom soup
+ 1 can milk
1 diced onion
4 diced cloves garlic
small package penne pasta
chicken bullion
1 t. dried basil
salt and white pepper/black pepper to taste

My Vegetables:
3 small green bell pepper - 100 yen
1 carrot - 30 yen
1 package green beans - 198 yen
1/4 package parsley - 25 yen
1 head broccoli - 158 yen
6 shiitake - 128 yen

What to do:
  1. Boil water, cook pasta until a bit under al dente firmness. Drain and rinse with cold water to prevent pasta from getting too soft. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Sweat garlic and onion in olive oil. Add cream of mushroom soup plus 1 can milk. Add carrot, broccoli, and chicken. When chicken is halfway cooked, add remaining vegetables. Season with salt, pepper, herbs, and bullion to taste. Mix in penne pasta when chicken is just barely undercooked.
  3. Transfer to 9 x 13" casserole dish and bake for 30 minutes.
Quite healthy and easy to eat because there are so many vegetables in the creamy sauce. I just wish I had some cheese!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Creamy Rice Pudding

At a lack for what to do with leftover rice? Have a hankering for rice pudding? Need a somewhat healthy dessert? Need a dessert that tastes as creamy as the restaurant variety?

I suffered from all of the above problems, so I made rice pudding! It tastes extraordinarily creamy and rich, and is far easier than other homemade rice puddings that require you to cook the rice in milk.

Surprise! It tastes equally as good with leftover rice, cooked in plain water. It is extremely versatile, and even works with brown rice! Just make sure to use short or medium grain rice. If you're in Japan, like me, then this shouldn't be a problem.

The taste of sweetness and the taste of cream are my two favorite tongue tantalizers. When I get cravings, it is always for sweet, creamy things. This easy dessert hits the bar. I've determined that this penchant of mine is the reason I don't care for Manjula's Indian food recipes--she professes that she loves food sour and hot. Hot sour soup (Chinese) is pretty much the worst thing you could treat me to in a Chinese restaurant. I'm not going to use her recipes anymore. I like my Indian food to have some creamy to balance the bite.

Anyway, this rice pudding recipe is so good I've made it several times. And eaten it all myself! It uses only a few ingredients, all of which are usually on hand in the kitchen:

1.5 cups cooked Rice
2 cups Milk
1/4 cup Sugar
pinch of salt
1 Egg, beaten
Vanilla Extract

You can also add these optional ingredients, in any combination you see fit (I like them all!):
1 pat butter
Cinnamon (will make the pudding darker in color)
Nutmeg (will make the pudding darker in color)
Raisins (add before last step for plumper raisins)
Almond Extract
pinch of Chili Powder
Bananas (add after the last step)

  1. Combine rice, milk, vanilla, sugar, and salt in heavy saucepan over low/medium heat. Stir until mixture thickens, about 10 to 15 minutes. If you don't stir, the rice will stick to the bottom and burn! Also, do not boil the milk to death, or it will curdle and result in yucky little cottage-cheeselike curds floating in yellowish watery liquid.
  2. Pour some of the hot mixture into a cup with the beaten egg. Mix well to heat the egg a little. On low heat, stir the egg mixture back into the main pot. Make sure to do this step or the egg will cook and create stringy egg white pieces in the pudding! Cook for about 2 minutes. Serve warm.
Isn't it easy?

I also made bread pudding the other day. It features much the same ingredients, except that it is baked in the oven. And it's so easy! Since I wasn't using a recipe, I could make it just the way I like it: extremely moist and dripping with creaminess, with a crispy top. If there's one thing I hate, it's dry bread pudding! Some of the best restaurants have completely turned me off of them with their dessicated bread puddings. A good bread pudding needs to be dripping with milky sauce, and does not need extra saliva to moisten it before swallowing.

1/2 loaf stale french bread, cubed
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups milk
vanilla extract
1 egg
pinch of salt
pinch of chili powder

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Beat sugar into egg. Beat with milkk, salt, chili powder, vanilla.
  2. Pour over cubed french bread. Turn, mix, shake, and do whatever you have to do to make each bread morsel sopping wet. There should be a lot of extra liquid on the bottom of the pan, at least halfway up. If not, add more milk. Toss raisins inside the mixture (do not leave exposed on top--they will dry out and burn!). Cover.
  3. Bake covered at 350F (or a little under) for about 40 minutes. Bake uncovered for last 5 minutes for a crispy top.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mattar Paneer

Mattar paneer, take two! The second attempt is much better, but still doesn't taste as good as the restaurants. However, I discovered that avocado is the perfect silky-smooth complement! I love avocado. I could make a meal out of straight up avocado.

The paneer in my version is actually tofu, because they don't sell paneer in Okinawa, and because I am not ready to attempt to make my own paneer (yet?). By the way, paneer is a type of hard cheese that you can make by boiling milk with lemon juice, then squeezing dry the curds that form. Mattar is green peas. I used a recipe from Manjula's Kitchen, complete with YouTube video!

I made a few changes because of the ingredients I had on hand. For one, I used tofu instead of paneer. First, I dried the tofu a little to make it firmer so it wouldn't break apart in the sauce. I wrapped it in paper towels, put it under a heavy dish, and stuck it in the microwave for a few minutes. Much water sweated out! Then, I pan fried the tofu using more oil than Manjula.

I also added some sliced shiitake mushrooms at the last step. They add a yummy bit of butteriness to the acidity of the tomatoes. And I added some ground almonds to the final thing, to see if that would make it creamy. I didn't have enough almonds!

I'm proud of this dish because it's vegetarian and it's darn tasty for being meatless and low in fatness. *mental note to make more dishes like this.

I ate it over brown rice/grains, and, of course, avocado!!! This is the first avocado I've had in Japan, because they're so expensive. They're worth the 100-yen. Just like the 498-yen architechturally pre-cut fresh pineapple!

I made two batches of bread pudding in the last three days. Suffice it to say, I'm getting pretty good at it. I think french bread makes terrific bread pudding because it adds fluff but also a bit of sourness to offset the sweetness. I attempted to make banana pudding, but the egg ended up cooking and becoming all grainy. Will attempt a banana dessert this afternoon, since I have so many monkey bananas!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Thai Dark Green Curry

I call it dark green because of all the spinach. I added at least a pound or two of dark, leafy green spinach because hey, curry is an excellent way to eat vegetables! The vegetables end up tasting like the sauce instead of their somewhat unexciting selves. And, spinach is so much easier to eat when it's melted down into soft nothings!

And if you need a good way to cook chicken, simmering it in coconut milk-based anything is a terrific idea to make it tender and juicy.

This was really easy to make, too.

1 can Thai Green Curry with vegetables (bamboo, mushrooms, baby corn, etc.)
6 Garlic
1 Onion
1 red hot chile
chicken breast, cubed
hard tofu, cubed
3 small Red Bell Pepper
6 extra large, dense, heavy mushrooms (I think mine were shiitake)
3 carrots
1-2 pounds spinach, chopped
1 bunch parsley, chopped

soy sauce
dashi (fish-based)
chili powder

  1. Sweat a whole lot of garlic and a whole onion.
  2. Start with a can of Thai Green Curry.
  3. Add all remaining ingredients
  4. Stir and let simmer. Serve over rice.
It turned out tasting a LOT better than it looks. I ate it with a sweet potato I steamed with the rice to cut down on the spiciness. I made the mistake of adding too much chili, because I didn't realize that (duh) the canned curry was Thai and therefore SO HOT you could barely taste the curry behind the pain.

Next: Banana Pudding!

Friday, February 6, 2009

"Chowderlike" Miso Soup: How do they do it?

Today's school lunch was outstanding! Every time I look down at my neatly-arranged tray, I think to myself, "how balanced!": about half vegetables, half carbohydrates, meat mostly as a flavoring device, AND it looks tasty! I remember school lunches in Hawaii being mystery meat sloppy joe, a cottony roll, canned fruit cocktail, and forlorn frozen peas. The cafeteria workers basically just opened a bunch of cans and emptied them onto our trays. It was pretty unedible and unhealthy most of the time. Today in Okinawa:

half a fresh mikan, or tangerine/mandarin/clementine/something like that

Heaping pile of Mugi-Gohan, or chewy, white, short-grain rice with a touch of wheat in it. Japanese rice is always exceptional, no matter where I get it. Even in Hawaii, rice is nowhere near as good.

Salad consisting of soft, melding flavors of daikon, carrot, and other unidentified things. Also a bit of fish, in very small, flaked form. It didn't taste fishy at all. How did they do that? I love love love the way they do vegetables.

A small, golden-brown fried "cake" made from fishcake (kamaboko), infused with plenty of green onions, sweet yellow onions, and corn. Very tasty and flavorful. Something to savor.
A rich, rich bowl of miso soup with big pieces of shiitake mushroom and that clear white stuff that's kind of crunchy but looks like a noodle and is big. Maybe it's some kind of fungus? It reminds me of jellyfish you eat in Chinese restaurants, but I don't think it's jellyfish.

Anyway, this miso soup was superb. When they were spooning it out, I thought it was chowder, it was so incredibly rich and creamy, yet I know it doesn't have an ounce of dairy in it. How do they make it so breathtakingly delightful?

Believe you me, I have had my share of miso soup, but I've never really taken to it. Especially the way they do it in America, what with the dense cloud of gritty miso that always settles to the bottom and the lack of anything substantial, it feels like I'm drinking salty water with grit in it. In Japanese (in Okinawa) restaurants, they always at least add a few chunks of star-shaped kamaboko, and some substantial knots of seaweed. Still, most of the time, I don't like it because it feels empty. I like soups of substance. And I never thought I'd say that the best 味噌 soup I've ever had in my life was in a school lunch.

The secret of the chowder-like miso soup is still a mystery that I would love to solve.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Scallop & Shiitake Stir-Fry

Whole scallops, shiitake mushrooms, baby bok choy, translucent onions and fragrant garlic. Served with yellow sweet potato (which I recently learned is a very different thing from a Yam), and brown rice with grains, made haole style.

I've had the bok choy sitting in my refridgerator for over a week. Most of it was rotting, but I salvaged the good pieces. I am a bit disappointed with the scallops. They are much fishier than expected, but the texture is wonderful. I'm also quite pleased with the rice. The whole thing feels very healthy, and just salty enough.
The Rice

1 cup brown rice and grains (I believe there are kidney beans, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, black/purple beans, oats, barley, and a package of what basically looks like bird food)
1 cup water
1/2 an onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 package dashi
black pepper
1 small sweet potato

  1. Soak grains in water, at least 30 minutes. This makes them softer and more palatable later. Drain.
  2. Fry garlic on very low heat until fragrant. Add onions. Add sugar if desired. Cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add pepper to taste.
  3. Turn heat up to high. Add drained grains. Stir until crackling and translucent. Add 1 cup water. Add dashi.
  4. Add whole sweet potato to the pot. Cover and cook until done, about 20 minutes.

And the scallops, mushrooms, and bok choy were made in pretty much the same way. My favorite stir-fry sauce is as follows:

Favorite Stir-Fry Sauce
Approximately equal parts of:
  • light soy sauce
  • sesame oil
  • oyster sauce
  • sugar
You can also add the following:
  • miso
  • chinese 5-spice
  • white pepper
  • black pepper
  • dark (regular) soy sauce
Mix ingredients in a cup, then add to your stir-fry at the end. Use a wok and a real flame for best results.

Monday, February 2, 2009

French Toast & Canadian Bacon Sandwich

Total time: 7 minutes.

I believe in eating breakfast. If I didn't eat breakfast, I wouldn't be able to get through the day til lunch. As it is, I snack on chocolate, senbei, and other おかし that they always have lying around the teachers' rooms. I can't do cold breakfasts, and I recently splurged on a bottle of real Canadian Maple Syrup for 753円 (The bottle is a wee bit smaller than my hand), and I love French Toast. I was already 10 minutes late for work, so I figured 10 more minutes couldn't hurt.

Plus, don't YOU love the way maple syrup always gets all over your bacon? Sweet and salty is a key spice of life. I'd also like to say that french toast is not as bad as folks make it out to be! It can be delicious, and just as healthy (and quick) as any other "toast"-based sandwich (e.g. PBJ, butter and cinnasugar, cream cheese and something sweet, nutella, etc).

1 slice bread (older is better. I keep my bread in the freezer, so I popped it in the microwave for a few seconds [and then the fish grill part of my stove] so that it would absorb)
1-2 tablespoons milk
1 big egg
dash vanilla extract
cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, chili powder (yes!) to taste

a bit of butter

3 slices canadian bacon
Maple Syrup

The Way:
  1. Fry bacon in pan. Meanwhile, mix milk, eggs, vanilla, and spices in a dish (I have a shallow soup bowl that is almost exactly bread-sized. It works perfectly!) Soak bread in egg mixture, poking holes with fork, shaking, and flipping bread as necessary. Try to get it to absorb all of it.
  2. Remove bacon. Set aside. Rinse pan. Melt butter in pan. On medium flame, add bread. Flip when golden brown and crispy. Assemble into sandwich with canadian bacon, and drench with maple syrup. Yes!