Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Arare Gift Box

Arare Gift Box

One of my Christmas presents this year was this great looking arare (rice cracker) gift box.

I have a high appreciation for the way the Japanese package things. Wander around a Japanese market sometime and the products really seem to pop off the shelves. Color schemes are thoughtfully considered, graphics are tastefully employed, and in the fresh seafood department, fish fillets seem to be caught in mid swim in their Styrofoam trays. They have a way of enhancing the inherent natural beauty of simple objects. Presentation and attention to detail transforms ordinary into extraordinary bringing to mind words like craftsmanship and artisan.

Calligraphy Detail

This arare box is a perfect example of the art of Japanese packaging. Even though I can't read Japanese, the calligraphy on the cover immediately caught my eye. I've studied Wagami Japanese paper making back in school and part of the course involved sumi-e calligraphy painting on paper we actually made ourselves out of mulberry bark. The graphics remind me of some of my attempts which only decades of practice would bring anywhere near this level. My instructor informed us that once we learn the history and process of making paper, we will never take for granted a single sheet of Charmin again. I have to say, I still take it for granted. At least I don't have to make all my own paper. Now that could pose a problem.

Individual Packages

You can see how thoughtful consideration was put into the individual wrappers. The labeling seems to be consciously coordinated somehow and complements the unique contents of each package. The packages themselves are all propped forward creating a nice presentation.

These rice crackers not only looked pretty, they were tasty, fresh and crunchy. Each package contained it's own desiccant pack to keep the contents fresh so you could take your time to admire the packaging before eating it; so you can eat with your eyes first before tasting it with your mouth.

Leftover Bento


Make something out of nothing is kind of my motto in the kitchen. That's basically what this lunch is, a plate of nothings, but put all those nothings together and the sum looks far more appetizing.

I spent part of the late morning, as I do most late mornings, scavenging around for something to have for lunch and found a bunch of little containers filled with stuff leftover from Christmas six days ago; wasabi tobiko (wasabi flavored flying fish roe), ikura (salmon roe), tsukemono (Japanese pickles) and beni shoga (pickled ginger). The tobiko and ikura aren't typical leftovers in this house, but on this occasion I was lucky to have them sitting patiently in the fridge, waiting to be eaten. I added fried Portuguese sausage from the freezer, topped a bowl of white rice with everything and... instant bento.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Franks Foods Franks (The Red Hot Dog)

Franks Foods Franks

There's a lot to be said for the way color influences what we eat. Back in college I took a color theory class and discovered the many ways color subconsciously affects our everyday lives. Of particular interest to me was the way color has the ability to stimulate our appetites. Although the way colors affect us depends greatly on our cultural differences and individual life experiences, in general, warm colors stimulate the appetite and cool colors suppress the appetite. This may be attributed to a time when the only cues we could rely on to indicate ripeness and wholesomeness as opposed to unsavoriness like mold and spoilage were color indicators. Consider the fact that most fast food chain logos use reds yellows and oranges in their logos. My guess is, the decision to graphically warm things up was based on careful market research and color consultation and not by chance alone. Here's a link to more on color theory by Color Professor J.L. Morton.

I assume color theory to some extent must have been the original concept behind artificially colored red hot dogs. In my opinion, possible carcinogenic risk aside, (from FD&C red 40) a red hot dog looks much more appealing on the surface than a pasty, flesh colored wienie. Vivid colors imply freshness and flavor. I almost believe a red hot dog actually tastes better than a hot dog of a subtler hue. A "blind" taste test would seem in order here. I only recently found out to what extent meat producers are willing to go to in order to present the desired color in their products and their tactics extend surreptitiously well beyond coloring hot dogs red. Check out this article in the Washington Post for more information on this subject.

With all that color theory background in place, I present to you FF Smoked Artificially Colored Franks. That's exactly what they're called on the package. These franks are red. They are really red.

FF Brand Smoked Artificially Colored Franks

Red on the backside too

In Hawaii, red hot dogs and sausages are popular items. Redondo's "Winners" and Pupu Pups, Miko hot dogs, and Pupu Rockets and Uncle Louie's sausages are just some of the hot dogs and sausages available that proudly sport the bright red, fresh sun burnt complexion. On many a plate lunch menu one can usually find the chili frank plate. Consisting of a scoop or two of rice smothered with chili and accompanied by a dollop of cool macaroni salad on the side, any chili frank plate worth it's heartburn would be incomplete without the signature bright red hot dog.

Chili Frank

Hawaii is not alone in it's affinity for red hot dogs. In some regions of the country, red hot dogs are almost exclusive on local menus. Take for instance, North Carolina's Bright Leaf brand of hot dogs produced by Carolina Packers, manufacturing red hot dogs since 1941, or West Point, Nebraska's Wimmer's Meats, producing fine meat products including red hot dogs, since 1934.

So what is it about the red hot dog? Hot dog aficionados across the country swear by them. For me, the red hot dog speaks of tradition and stability in an ever changing culinary environment. Food trends seem to come and go, reluctant to blend in, adapt and assimilate. Today's hot ticket meal quickly becomes tomorrow's has-been novelty. Wow factor (I hate that term) food is all too often the main objective in fancy restaurants these days with comfort, tradition and sometimes even taste suffering as a result. Red hot dogs remind me of more carefree days spent picnicking at the beach or backyard barbecuing at friend's houses in the summer. Red hot dogs come from a time when we weren't overly concerned with what we were eating, as long as it tasted good and we ate it in moderation. We were ignorantly blissful before we found out that everything we eat is going to kill us.

I say, you should eat what you want and enjoy it but do it in moderation. Like everything that's supposedly bad for us, red hot dogs simply taste good but no one needs ten of them at one sitting to feel satisfied. Eat with your eyes, then your taste buds, then think of all the reasons why you're enjoying it.

Coronation Chicken Club Sandwich

Coronation Chicken Club Sandwich

There's a popular sandwich in England called a coronation chicken sandwich. The coronation chicken recipe is basically a curried chicken salad that was originally invented as a special dish to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II back in 1953. Today, you can find this dish or variations of it in the form of a tasty sandwich filling in pubs, restaurants and butty bars (sandwich shops) across the U.K.

I was thinking about the flavors of coronation chicken when making this sandwich. My simplified take on the recipe includes leftover roasted chicken, mayo, some diced red pepper, some diced celery and some curry powder. It's quite paired down from the more elaborate original recipe which calls for red wine and canned apricot halves among other things but I stayed true to the curry flavor. To embellish it a little, I decided to turn it into a club with the addition of a few strips of crispy bacon and some balsamic dressed mache or lambs lettuce.

Crown Me

The curry and mayo flavors really define this chicken salad. I think the sandwich turned out pretty good.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Baked Lemon Thyme Salmon

Baked Lemon Thyme Salmon

We still had some really nice stuff in the fridge from Christmas and I wasn't about to let it go to waste. I was, however, feeling a bit lazy. I enjoy cooking, but I did quite a lot of it over the past few days so I needed a recipe that was a no-brainer.

My Mom bakes whole salmon by simply seasoning it with salt and pepper and slathering the cleaned out cavity of the salmon with mayonnaise and topping it with lemon slices. The mayo always keeps the fish moist. Throw it in a 350 degree oven and forget about it for a half hour to forty five minutes or so depending on the size. Tip: the only mayo to use in my opinion is Bestfoods also known as Hellman's mayo east of the Rockies.

Instead of a whole salmon, I had some salmon fillet that got the same treatment with the addition of fresh thyme (just because it was there). I baked it at 350 for about 12 minutes and it was done perfectly.

Let's see, what else do we have in the fridge? Some pasta with olive oil, spinach, olives, tomato and fresh garlic? Guess that'll do.

Wonton of Fun


I don't make homemade wonton often enough. I think only because it seems like a lot of effort. My Mom usually makes them on weekends when she has more time to cook and when I lived at home, we would have them with mein (noodles) and soup for lunch. Wonton mein.

I bought a twelve ounce stack of wrappers at Mitsuwa Japanese market and used only about a dozen or so for our Christmas Eve foodie fest. They are thin, delicate, and almost translucent. There must have been about a hundred wrappers in the stack when I started, all individually dusted with a thin layer of flour to prevent sticking. This was a good opportunity to finally make some homemade wonton and attempt to use up all the ingredients I had left over.

Making them is actually quite easy and not much of a chore once you gear up for it. The fold, for the most part, is very similar to, if not the same technique used to make Italian tortellini. Wonton are generally bigger and stuffed with more filling than tortellini, but don't let that stop you from stuffing these wrappers with ricotta and calling them jumbo tortellini if you're having an Italian night. I've also heard of a Taiwanese restaurant in Alhambra that makes wonton the size of your fist. *note to self: gotta try place in Alhambra*

For the filling I combine minced shrimp and pork, some minced green onion, minced water chestnuts (for a once in a bite crunch) and a little garlic puree. To this, I add some soy sauce, some fish sauce, a pinch each of white pepper and sugar, and a few drops of toasted sesame oil. Everything gets incorporated and the mixing bowl gets placed in the fridge to stay cool while I prepare my work surface for the wrappers.


First, lay out the wrappers assembly line style on a cornstarch dusted cutting board and plop a teaspoonful of filling in the center of each wrapper.

Fold 1

Next, bring two corners together and seal along the two edges with a little water.

Fold 2

This next part is easy once you get the hang of it and gives the wonton their characteristic shape. Bring the two lower corners together, overlap at a slight angle and "glue" together with a dab of water. While pinching the overlap together, use your thumb to nudge the filling to the other side. You'll see what I mean. There you have it. You're a "won" man or "won" woman wonton factory.

Wonton Waiting for the Hot tub

Keep a damp dish cloth over the finished wonton while you continue making more so they won't start to dry out. Like all fresh pasta, wonton taste their best when they're cooked right away. They also freeze pretty well if you happen to make more than you can use. Spread them out on a cookie sheet and freeze them individually so they won't all stick together before transferring them to portion sized freezer storage containers.

Wonton with Green Onion, Soy Sauce, Vinegar, Chili Oil and Togarashi Pepper

To cook, all you do is bring a large pot of water to a boil and drop them in. At first, they will all sink to the bottom, but after a few minutes, one by one, they'll each float to the surface and when they do, they're done cooking. Eat'em hot with or without noodles or soup, with your choice of condiments.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sweet and Spicy Garlic Chicken Wings

Sweet and Spicy Garlic Chicken Wings

It seems like back in Hawaii, every okazuya and plate lunch place has their own secret recipe for garlic chicken and they've all been refined to pungent perfection. Hence the absence of Vampires in the Isles. Generally speaking, garlic chicken is boneless chicken thighs or wings that are floured and fried and then dipped in a garlic sauce. Sounds like it should be simple to make right?

I don't remember eating much garlic chicken growing up but I have to say I'm a big a fan. I'll take a garlic chicken wing over a Buffalo wing any day. There aren't many dishes which one can continue to enjoy into the next morning after eating it even after brushing your teeth twice. Only a well executed, authentic Hawaiian style garlic chicken can deliver the punch to make good on that promise. Only problem is, nobody up here on the mainland knows how to make it properly. Of course some of the Hawaiian barbecue places offer it on their menus but somehow, the mainland folks just haven't seemed to crack the code (or the garlic clove) yet. They all seem to be shy when it comes to garlic, perhaps a cautionary measure to appeal to lowest common denominator palates. Come on now... Really... It's called "garlic chicken".

Although I've eaten many variations over the years, I haven't actually cooked it very often so I decided to once and for all come up with my own garlic chicken recipe, (although slightly embellished). Here it is.

Crunchy is Best

I seasoned some chicken wings with salt and pepper, put them in a Ziploc bag with flour and garlic powder and shook them up to coat evenly. Next, I deep fried them in vegetable oil. I've found that if I'm only making a small batch, a pot works best rather than a pan. I can use less oil this way and as long as I fry the chicken in a single layer, the oil level, as displaced by the chicken wings, rises up to cover the chicken completely, essentially deep frying them. Also, the higher walls of the pot prevent oil from spattering all over the cook top.

Now for the garlic sauce. I minced up a lot of garlic and chopped some green onions and added them to a bowl. Next I poured in a little shoyu, some mirin, some sesame oil, a little honey and for some "heat and sweet", a good lug of Mae Ploy, sweet chili sauce right out of the bottle. The mixture was thinned out with a little water, whisked and zapped in the microwave for a minute. You should make enough to completely submerge the chicken in.

Garlicky Sauce

Now this is important. I should have mentioned the garlic sauce should be made ahead of time before frying the chicken and allowed to sit, intensify and be ready for the next step. Anyway, as soon as the chicken wings are done frying, throw them right in the bowl of garlic sauce while they're still piping hot. When they're dipped in the sauce while still hot, they keep their crispiness. Toss them around in the sauce to completely coat them and serve right away.



We called them Nehu.

On warm, still, Saturday evenings, when the moon was full, and the tide was low, we would all head over to my Grandma's beach house in Kaneohe. Those evenings were perfect conditions for torching. After the sun went down and the tide was just right, my Grandpa, Dad and Uncles would fire up the Coleman kerosene lanterns. My brothers, cousins and I would watch intently hoping to one day be in charge of the light. Sometimes, the lanterns didn't fire up right away and glow bright or they would flicker. That usually meant changing one of the mantles, the net like filament held inside the globe. I remember the hissing sound a good strong lantern made and the clean smell of burning kerosene. Once burning brightly, the lanterns were easily quieted with a quick turn of the adjustment knob. It was important for the light to burn bright so we could see three feet or so beneath the surface of the water to the mudflat below. This is where the oama slept.

Grandma at her Beach House

To catch oama, we would gently lower a faded red, flat bottomed scoop net into the water just in front of a slumbering oama. Once the rim of the net was resting flush with the ocean floor you would slowly lift your foot up and stomp as hard as you could right behind the oama's tail while almost simultaneously jerking the net up. Sand and mud immediately went up in plumes completely clouding up the surrounding water. Sometimes when you held your net up to the lantern there would be an oama in it. Sometimes even two, if you were lucky- and skilled that is. Sometimes the net was empty.

, or juvenile goatfish
(image courtesy

The evenings catch would be taken back to the beachhouse and Grandma would sometimes clean and fry them but usually she would pickle them whole, minus gills and guts, with vinegar and onion. As a kid, I was never too fond of eating them that way. Although the vinegar softened them up a bit, there were still bones and fins and other poky things to contend with.

Oama in Net
(image courtesy

A lantern glowing in the middle of a dark ocean will attract all sorts of creatures. I can recall seeing tako and cuttlefish and I think we even saw a ray of some kind slowly glide by once, not to mention all the other imaginary creatures that swam just out of view beyond the light's reach.

The light would often attract nehu; inch or inch and a half long fry or maybe they were anchovies of a sort. Some might simply call them bait fish (they weren't bait to us though). You would see their silvery sides glistening in the dim light as they schooled around, probably feeding on the plankton soup that was also attracted to the light source. All you have to do is sweep your net back and forth to catch them. It was easy enough to net a couple of handfuls. This was a nice consolation if the oama decided to sleep elsewhere.

We'd take the nehu back to the beachhouse kitchen where Grandma or Grandpa would lightly dust them with flour, guts, gills, bones and all, and quickly deep fry them in hot oil and season them with nothing but salt. They were good and crunchy and you could eat them whole without worrying about bones because they were so crispy.


Fast forward a few, (actually many) years. I saw a recipe for a Spanish tapa called boquerones and it reminded me of nehu. I imagine there are many cultures that eat these little guys in the same way. When I was doing our Christmas food shopping at Santa Monica Seafood, I found these little smelt in the frozen case and thought I'd try them nehu style, just flour, a little salt and pepper and deep fried 'til crispy. They were almost as good as I remembered, although I don't think anything can replace venturing out torching and actually catching them myself.

Beef Barley Soup

Beef Barley Soup

After all the lavish eating we did over the past two days we needed to come back down to earth and have something a little more simple.

I made this beef barley soup with leftovers from our Christmas roast. Aujus, beef broth, leftover roast beef, carrots, celery and barley make up this easy soup. The barley needed to be pre-cooked because it takes about forty five minutes to soften up from it's dry state, but other than that, it's just a matter of assembling the rest of the ingredients and bringing them all to a boil. Crusty French bread made it a meal.

Mmm Mmm Good.

Prince Edward Island Mussels

PEI Mussels

The little card in the glass case said "PEI Mussels". I wondered, Pei is a Chinese name, like I.M. Pei the architect, what's the deal, are these mussels from China or something? Anyway, they looked good and fresh and since I got to Santa Monica Seafood toward the end of the day and it wasn't too crowded, the friendly fish monger"ess" was happy to carefully sort through them to make sure I only got the lively ones with unbroken shells.

At only 6 bucks or so per pound, I thought they were a pretty good deal even though much of that weight happens to be shell. When that shell contains something so sweet and flavorful though, I don't mind spending a little extra for the packaging.

I was curious about the name so when I got home, I googled it and found out the P.E.I. stood for Prince Edward Island. Duh! Shows how often I eat mussels (not nearly enough) or how well I pay attention to the waiters in restaurants when they tell me where the mussels are sourced. Yes... call me unsophisticated.

PEI Mussels

I rinsed them, heated up a pot, put them in with a tablespoon of olive oil, some minced garlic and chopped parseley and put the lid on tightly. After a few minutes, they popped open and steamed in their own juices, perfect for sopping up with french bread. The flesh was light orange in color, tender and sweet.

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

I washed them down with a tall glass of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Yup..... I celebrated.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day Munchies (and the feast continues)

Miko Pupu Rockets and Rolled Cheese Omelet

And so the feasting continues. Carrying on with the small plate tradition, we started the day with a breakfast plate of Miko Pupu Rockets (sausage chronicle post to come) and a rolled English coastal cheddar omelet. Not wanting to over do it, this was a great way to get our breakfast fix on the end of a toothpick without topping up our tanks too early.

Sausage Rolls with HP Sauce and Salad Cream

T1 picked up these English style sausage rolls from the Tudor House in Santa Monica. Sausage rolls are a staple of many a holiday get-together in England. Savory sausage meat is encased in flaky pastry and baked. All that was required from us was to warm them up in the oven for ten minutes to bring back that freshly baked flavor and texture. Doing so also makes the house smell like an English Christmas. We should figure out how to capture that smell and turn it into a scented candle. We could market it as "English Christmas, Sausage Roll scented Candles" :)

Brie with Champignons en Croute

Our friend "K" spent the day with us. A fellow foodie, K showed up with arms full of all sorts of gastromonic goodies including this fantastic baked brie. A few minutes toasting up in the hot oven and it too was ready to join the party. We cut into it and it oozed molten brie over a layer of champignon mushrooms. As K would say, "Nice".

Bacon Wrapped Enoki Mushrooms

Based on the blurry photo and the burnt mushrooms, I'd say that by the time this picture was taken, the Christmas festivities were well under way. It would be nice if I could remember. Anyway, enoki mushrooms, wrap in bacon, put under broiler. Here's a quick idea for a munchy; take (?), wrap in bacon, broil. Always a successful formula... just try not to burn it.

We eased off on the small plates towards the afternoon to save room for a traditional meal consisting of a shrimp cocktail starter followed by a roast beef dinner complete with yorkshire pudding, roasted parsnips, fennel, carrots and potatoes. Unfortunately by that time I couldn't find my camera quick enough so I was unable to get any pics before it all got consumed. It was another great food day.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Our Christmas Eve Tradition

Christmas Eve has finally arrived. Every year, T1 and I pull out all the stops, cook all day and eat into the night. It started as a way to treat ourselves and give us a break from holding back on getting the things we'd like to eat the rest of the year. It's our one day of truly unabashed gluttony. We both look forward to it every year.

The tradition usually begins on the day before Christmas Eve. I head out early to all my favorite markets with an ice chest and a stack of reusable shopping bags in tow to see what looks good. As the day progresses I quickly accumulate the makings for a day of indulgence. I'll gravitate towards items I too often walk past; ikura caviar, premium grade hamachi, U15 colossal shrimp (both sounding and looking like miniature submarines), maybe some nice cheeses we haven't yet tried, if there's something I've been thinking about, this is the day to splurge and get it. This year, I hit Santa Monica Seafood, Mitsuwa Market, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's with very good results.

Over the course of the year, I take mental note of recipes I'd like to try and food I've had in restaurants that might be worth recreating and culinary experiments I'd like to conduct. I usually leave the house with a very loose shopping list, opting instead to see where the markets take me, Anything that happens to look fresh, in season and tasty may get picked up along the way. I'll see something and think, "that'll be good prepared in such and such a way" or "I haven't had that in a while". The most important thing is to keep things casual, fun and stress free. Most dishes only require 15 to 30 minutes prep and cook time.

This year we managed to assemble a nice collection of tasty tidbits. I really enjoy this way of eating because you get a bunch of flavor in each new dish and surprisingly, if you pace yourself, you can avoid getting too full too fast.

Colossal Shrimp Croissants.

First up, colossal shrimp croissants. If you happen to be ambitious, you could roll out your own croissant pastry dough, but in keeping with the stress free theme, I use the instant refrigerated variety. Clean and dry the shrimp, roll them up in dough, pop'em in the oven for 12 minutes, done.

Devils on Horseback
(Feta Stuffed Medjool Dates Wrapped in Prociutto)

Next in line is a keeper recipe inspired by the Two Fat Ladies. I remember seeing a version of this hors d'oeurve on their BBC/PBS program years ago, only their recipe called for chicken liver stuffed dried prunes wrapped in bacon. The recipe for this variation seems to be fairly common but I don't remember where I saw it first.

Devils on Horseback

(Wielding swords)

Pit some nice fat dates, stuff them with creamy feta and wrap them with prociutto (10 minutes), stick a pick in to hold them together, dust them with a little ground nutmeg (my personal contribution to the recipe) and stick them under the broiler (5 minutes). After 15 minutes of effort, you'll be rewarded with little flavor bombs; sugary, salty, creamy and smokey all at the same time.

Caper and Egg Salad in Twice Baked New Potato Cups

This is just a play on potato egg salad, fancied up a bit for a party. When thinking of things to make, I always return to ingredients that can be natural, edible, single serving containers; basically, anything that can serve as a cup, a scoop or a wrapper. In years past, I've used endive, little stuffed tomatoes, hollowed out cucumbers, chips and crackers.

Caper and Egg Salad in Twice Baked New Potato Cups

For these bite size potato salad versions, I baked some red-skinned new potatoes until done and let them cool down. Next I cut them in half and placed them cut side down on a baking sheet drizzled with olive oil to crisp up. The filling is just an egg salad with capers mixed through. For the bling factor, each was topped with some ikura salmon caviar.

Bloody Mary Aspic

I can't remember where the inspiration for this dish came from. I remember thinking how nice sections of little tomatoes would look, suspended in a gelatin. Tomatoes made me think of Bloody Mary's and gelatin reminded me of Jello shooters. A Bloody Mary Aspic seemed like a natural. I haven't had much experience cooking with gelatin other than the J-E-L-L-O variety. I knew pineapple juice is too acidic to set up properly in a gelatin, would tomato juice react similarly? How would the vodka in the Bloody Mary react? After Googling around for info on the matter I actually found a few recipes for Bloody Mary Aspic. Dang! There goes my points for originality.

To a can of V8 vegetable juice, I added a dash of Worcestershire sauce, some Tabasco, a couple of grinds of black pepper, a squeeze of lime juice and a good shot of Absolut. Next, I took a rectangular storage container and greased it up and layered whole little grape tomatoes in neat rows. Gelatin was dissolved per the packages directions, the Bloody Mary was stirred in and the mixture was poured over the grape tomatoes. The container was place in the fridge for three hours to set up.

At the end of three hours, the container was removed and dipped in a bowl of warm water to help release the aspic. The aspic was sliced (revealing those tomato sections I envisioned) and served on a celery salad dressed with lime juice and olive oil.

It worked. It tasted just like a Bloody Mary in Jello form. Maybe next year I'll have to try a Mojito Jelly with a fruit salad. How about a Black Russian gelatin over vanilla ice cream for desert? Definitely worth further experimentation.

Hamachi Sashimi with Jalapeno and Ponzu

Earlier in this post, I mentioned keeping track of dishes I've had in restaurants worth trying to recreate. This is one such dish. Earlier in the year, I had dinner at Nobu on La Cienega. One of the dishes we ordered was Nobu's "new style" yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno. It was excellent. The Jalapeno provides just a little bite and the tartness of the astringent ponzu balances the richness of the fatty yellowtail. Nobu knows his flavor pairing well.

This is my attempt at this dish and although nowhere as elegant in presentation as Nobu's, I think at least captured some of the key flavors.

Hamachi Sashimi with Jalapeno and Ponzu

At this point, we took a break for an hour or so just to kick back even though I was still having way too much fun in the kitchen. It's nice not to be on a schedule and just eat when we're hungry.

I was feeling like something with a bit of crunch so we resumed with crispy fried wonton. I folded a few in the traditional style and thought I'd be creative and made a few more by gathering the wrappers into a bundle and tying them off with some blanched green onion. The filling was ground pork, minced shrimp, some minced water chestnuts and green onions, a dash of sesame oil and fish sauce, a little white pepper and just a pinch of sugar. They came out looking like tri-cornered pirate hats and pouches presumably filled with treasure. We joked about these being called just that on some fancy menu somewhere.

Crispy Fried Wonton

Although we were starting to wind down, I still had a few things in the fridge I wanted to use. This last dish is spicy wasabi tuna on senbei rice crackers with wasabi tobiko.

Spicy Wasabi Tuna on Senbei Rice Crackers with Wasabi Tobiko

I picked up the negitoro (chopped toro tuna belly) from Mitsuwa market. All I had to do was mix it with a little mayo, wasabi, wasabi tobiko and green onion and spread it on some rice crackers. It was a nice end to the day of eating. Clean tasting, cool and light, not to mention as easy to prepare as spreading butter on a cracker but with tons more flavor.

Spicy Little Wasabi Tobiko

All in all, I'd say this year was a success. There's no limit to the decadence you can achieve at home when you start out with the freshest of ingredients and a little imagination. With the fridge still fully stocked, there will definitely be a few more days of good food to come but for today, we were satisfied. I can't wait to see what next year brings.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Treats from Across the Pond

Christmas Treats

We got a visit from the UPS man today. "Santa in brown" delivered a BIG box from a place called Shakespeare's Corner Shoppe in San Diego. What a surprise! We pondered over who might be the mastermind behind this thoughtful gift as we tore into it and proceeded to unwrap what seemed like an endless procession of British holiday treats. The box was filled with old favorites like Heinz beans and spaghetti, Devon custard, (great as a topping on pies and tarts), lemon curd (nice on toast), chocolates, biscuits and toffee, as well as seasonal items that only make their appearance around this time of year; mince pies, sticky toffee pudding, a Cadbury's selection box and Christmas crackers (the two gold tubes).

Halfway through the box I found a card. It was from T1's dear friend back in England. She selected all the items and placed her order on-line and arranged for delivery from the specialty store down in San Diego. Amazing what one can accomplish on this "interweb" thing. Who knows, it just might catch on:)

Thank you D & J. Hope you had a Happy Holiday! We did.

Niigata Style Sukiyaki

Niigata Style Sukiyaki

Sometimes food is accompanied by a soundtrack. Whenever I think of this dish, I hear music in my head and vice versa. Back in 1963 a song by Japanese singer Kyu Sakamoto called Sukiyaki climbed up the American music charts . "Ue o muite arukĊ", was the original Japanese title of the song and oddly enough, the renamed song's title Sukiyaki has nothing to do with the lyrics and the lyrics have nothing to do with the dish, rather, the song was renamed for the western audience with the idea that the title would be easy to pronounce and remember for English speakers. The strategy worked and over 13 million copies were sold world-wide. Today, sukiyaki the dish and the song are both known internationally.

Sukiyaki literally translates to, suki-(plow) and yaki-(broil). Perhaps the word is derived from a method of cooking meat on a metal plow-like a make-shift skillet, first employed after the ban on eating four-legged animals was lifted in Japan in 1838. (Hold on a minute, Ban on eating four-legged animals? Are they crazy? Those are the best tasting ones.)

Bean Thread Noodles

My sukiyaki recipe doesn't call for a plow or even broiling. I start with a large hot pan (I suppose you could use a plow in a pinch) and brown some thinly sliced meat, either beef or pork, and some onions in a little oil. Then I add the vegetables. I used carrots, green onions, and regular white mushrooms, but you can also use napa cabbage, tofu, chrysanthemum leaves, Tokyo negi (a type of giant green onion), bamboo shoots, enoki mushrooms or shiitake mushrooms. Next comes the broth which is made of soy sauce, water, sugar (preferably raw and unbleached) and mirin (sweet cooking rice wine). The last thing I added to the pan is a package of bean thread noodles. Jelly like, crunchy shirataki noodles made from konnyaku "yams" are the authentic way to go, but bean thread or cellophane noodles work well too. Everything is brought to a boil, the flavor of the broth gets absorbed by the other ingredients and it's ready.

Here's the soundtrack looped in my head.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Breakfast Pita

Breakfast Pita

Once again, add bacon and egg and call it breakfast. It seemed like an original idea at the time. We had a couple of pieces of leftover pita bread from dinner the night before. I thought, why hasn't McDonald's come out with the McPita? After doing a search I found out, of course they've already thought of it and they stuffed it with tandoori chicken no less, according to a photo of just such a sandwich I found on flickr. Shucks! I guess I won't be trademarking that name and making a ton of money off of Micky D's any time soon. This got me thinking, I wonder what else you can get at McDonald's and found these actual menu items from McDonald's around the world:
  • Hong Kong, Red Bean Pie
  • Turkey, McTurco, Kofteburger
  • Japan, McPork, Ebi Filet-o
  • France, CroqMcDo-I like the sound of that one
  • Germany, Schnitzel Nuggets mit Ketchup
  • Romania, McPuisor, McToast, Cartofi Wedges
  • Australia, McFeast, Chicken Tandoori
  • Finland, McRuis
  • Estonia, McLavass
  • New Zealand, Kiwi Burger
  • Singapore, McRendang, McSatay
  • Hawaii, Spam breakfast platter, Saimin
  • Morocco, McSahara
  • India, Shahi Paneer McCurry Pan, McAloo Tikki, Chicken Maharaja Mac
  • Egypt, McArabia
  • Spain, Cuarto de Libra con Queso (Quarter Pounder with Cheese)
  • Portugal, Sopa a Lavrador
  • Brazil, McNifico Bacon
  • Thailand, Samurai Pork Burger
  • Greece, McFarm Pork Burger, McGreek
  • UK, Chicken Legend
American's are criticized all too often for traveling to far away exotic places around the globe only to seek out the local McDonald's for their meals when in fact it is quite possible to sample some of the local flavor even if it is filtered through a McDonald's test kitchen. Of course it would be a shame if that's all you did.

After spending all that time looking at McDonald's websites from around the world, I happened upon this somewhat informative, McFunny article and attached comments.