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)