Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sweet Seasons / July 2007 - Young Sweetfish -

"Wakaayu" (Young Sweetfish)

It's been a hectic week for me, and as if it's not enough, a typhoon is coming (AGAIN!) It might hit us tomorrow evening. (Well, I cheated on the date again. I actually wrote this on Aug. 1st.) So I wanted to post a refreshing photo here in order to soothe my mind as the week gets messy.

I'll write more about this cute wagashi later this week or weekend. Until then, PLS enjoy this photo. Hey, don't you feel like jumping in the stream and swimming with this sweetfish? ;)

Wakaayu is a common summer wagashi that you can find at most traditional wagashi shops in Japan in June and July (maybe August, too.) The cute face and fins are branded on the golden-brown wrapper, which is usually done by hand work.

Those who are familiar with wagashi such as dorayaki or mikasa might expect to see an (sweetened bean paste) inside because this pancake-like wrapper and an makes such a popular combination. Actually in Kanto area, i.e., the eastern part of Japan, sweet bean paste is wrapped inside this wagashi (sometimes WITH gyuhi). However, in Kansai (the western part of Japan), especially in Kyoto, what’s inside of wakaayu wagashi is only gyuhi, soft and sweet rice cake made from mochiko.

When I tried this wagashi for the first time in my childhood, I was a little disappointed to feel the texture of gyuhi on my palate because I was expecting an inside. But now, as a middle-aged woman, :P I very much enjoy the lighter sweetness and silky texture of gyuhi with this not-too-sweet wrapper. Wagashi with too sweet bean paste often makes me thirsty, but wakaayu doesn’t, yet it goes very well with cold green tea, I think.

This site shows you how wakaayu is made. See how they shape the hot pancakes with their fingers? Though this wagashi is supposed to represent the refreshing coolness of the river in summer, the procedure of making it seems to be the opposite. (Thank you, confectioners, for doing all these works to please our taste buds and eyes.)

* Wagashi by Ogasawara


Lovely Breakfast with Hawaiian Touch

Passion Fruit Butter Spread from Hawaii

This was something totally new to me. And I'm so happy that I had a chance to taste this fruity spread. What a refreshing taste!

You know, breakfast is very important to me. I never skip breakfast no matter what (though it should be called brunch rather than breakfast most of the time). And when I have a special food like this to start the day, it sure gives me energy to face whatever happens later. It's not just the good taste. It's the kindness and friendship associated with the food that helps me get going, I think. The problem is, though, that the heavenly taste of this spread makes me feel like staying at the breakfast table all day instead of going to work. :P


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Before Anything Else...

GRITS for Breakfast. (Gosh it's been a while since I did this last time...)

Yeah, the passion fruit butter spread looks awfully tempting, and the warm chocolate sauce over ice cream sounds heavenly. But before anything else, I just HAD TO do this!

Too bad I forgot to sprinkle black pepper before taking this shot. It looks a little bland without it, I guess...


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Goodies from Hawaii!!

No, this is not a dream... These are really in my apartment now!

How many times have I mentioned that blogging has made my life richer? Well, I don’t mind. I will repeat it as many times as necessary. Look! This time blogging brought all these goodies from Hawaii, and that really brightened up my bland summer days!

What did I do to deserve this? Nothing really. Just emailed a recipe to someone who visited my humble foodblog. Then she kindly asked me if I wanted anything from the USA (Hawaii), and (oh I was such an evil-hearted creature!) I told her that I had been looking for a way to get an American measuring cup. Then she sent me one -- with all these goodies packed in the same package!

I went “OMG! OMG!” the whole time while opening the package. The measuring cup and a beautiful card... and these cute little jars of jam/jelly/curd, passion fruit butter spread, honey, natural cane sugar, chocolates, tea, macadamia nuts, fudges and... and... GRITS! yay!
Thank you, Winnie. This sure is a highlight of this summer.

Now I guess many of you readers know what’s coming next… Yeah, you’re right. Stay tuned for Obachan’s breakfast post tomorrow (or the day after).


Monday, July 23, 2007

Something with a Kick -- Spicy Stir-Fry --

Shrimp and Vegetable Stir-Fry

It was such a humid weekend that my body craved spicy food. Yeah, spicy food WITH ice-cold beer. You know, something with a kick. I thought about making a Mexican dish once, but since I had so much cooked rice left, I went for a spicy stir-fry which goes well with both rice and beer.

Sorry, I can't post a recipe here because I didn't measure anything... as usual. But let me list the seasonings I used. They were: dou ban jiang, soy sauce, sugar, sake, salt, pepper and a little vinegar. Yep, I made it really spicy and garlicky (I wasn't going to see anyone that night, so who cares?) and I loved it so much.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Ume Miso

Ume Miso (First week )

Yep, this is one of those food fads in Japan AGAIN. Every now and then, a certain home-made food or a drink becomes very popular throughout this country and you find the food/drink in almost every household, such as Caspian Sea yogurt or shiso (perilla) drink -- just to name a few? (Well, maybe the shiso drink was popular in rural areas but not so much in big cities? Shiso is expensive when bought at the stores, so the juice was popular among those who grow the herb themselves.) Now it’s time for this “ume miso,” and I was able to jump on the bandwagon at the very, very last minute.

Usually I don’t join a fad too easily. I did try Caspian Sea yogurt but I didn’t care for the taste very much. As for the shiso drink, I had to -- still have to -- consume some of the result of my mom’s persistent work every summer, so there is absolutely no need for me to make it myself. But this ume miso is different. I decided to make some right away when mom told me that she made a great success at the feast for a Buddhist ceremony in my hometown. She made nuta (blanched green onions and boiled squid dressed with vinegar-miso dressing) with her ume miso dressing. The salad bowl was emptied quickly, according to her, and a few female relatives came to her asking for the recipe. Gosh, then I’ve got to give it a try right now!

I guess some of you may know “ume miso” as miso (fermented soybean paste) mixed with umeboshi (very salty, pickled Japanese ume plums) paste. That’s the traditional one often used for traditional Japanese dishes. But this “ume miso” is different; it is made from fresh ume plums and seems to be used as a versatile dressing.

What you do is VERY simple. You wash and pat dry fresh ume plums and pickle them in miso and sugar. The proportion of the weight of the ume, sugar and miso is basically 1:1:1. If you use 1 kg ume (unseeded), use 1 kg miso and 1 kg sugar. You might want to use less sugar when using ripe, yellow ume instead of green ones. That’s it. Now some instructions on the net say “Cook ume with miso and sugar,” but others say “Just place ume, miso, sugar alternately in a jar and let it rest.”
Of course mom and I went for the easier method. Mom said she didn’t even stir it at all, but I do stir the paste once a day as recommended on some recipe websites.

It looked like this photo in the beginning, and in a few days, the juice came out from the fresh ume plums made the paste quite runny as in the top photo. Some say that the miso will be ready in a month and others say half a year, so I'm going to try it in three months or so. :P

I wanted to use green ume so badly, because the paste would be more fragrant that way, but it was already the end of ume season when I gave it a go and I couldn’t even find ripe ones anywhere. I was so delighted when I finally found one stall at the Sunday Market selling a few bags of the last ume plums of this season. The old lady at the stall said, “Oh, you’re going to make ume miso?” as she gave me the change.
Yeah, a bandwagon. Really. ;)


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pear Tart

Pear Tart

I realized that a good way to enjoy seasonal fruits is making tarts with them. I also realized that I can freeze tart shell dough and almond cream. (Right?) So that’s what I did today. I made this with canned La France pear (so this is not “seasonal fruit” to be precise), and still some dough and cream are resting in the freezer waiting for the next project.

Candidates for my future tart projects are cherries, figs and peaches. Oh, that reminds me. I’ve got to buy and make either tarts or a cobbler (or both) while nectarines are available. They seem to be available for limited time only here... Usually it's a few weeks in August, but I already saw some on the shelf at a nearby supermarket yesterday.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Is My Salad Burning?

Leftover Veggies with "Firemen's Salad Dressing"

This is a long weekend here in Japan with Monday being a national holiday. But for many of us, it was not a great one because of the typhoon, and for some people, big earthquake. I really hope that the earthquake this morning did not cause a terrible damage (esp. to the nuclear power plant there).

Anyway, for me, it’s a cloudy and eventless national holiday today. To cheer myself up, I tried out the salad dressing recipe that one of my readers had sent me a couple of weeks ago. Yep, he kindly emailed it to me in return for the onion dressing recipe. How nice! :D I loved this recipe, and he said it is OK to post it on my blog, so here it is. A nice salad dressing recipe from Hawaii.

Firemen's Salad Dressing
1 cup oil
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar or to taste, depends how sweet you like your dressing
2 bay leaves, uncrushed since it's hard to chew on
2 cloves of garlic, grated fine with Japanese grater
1 tsp. French's brand mustard (I never tried it with Dijon)
1 tsp. Worcheshire sauce
1/2 round white medium size onion grated fine with Japanese grater
8 Tbsp. mayonnaise
optional: garlic salt

(Recipe by the firemen of Hawaii)

Did you think, “Why firemen?” I did. Well, according to him, this is the recipe that his brother got from fellow fireman. Sounds like, in Hawaii, firemen (or some of them) take shifts to cook for the whole crew, so they are usually good cooks. He even said that there may be “firemen’s cookbook” out there, so I googled and got more than 50 hits. Mmmmm… I didn’t know this before. Live and learn, right?

He also mentioned about adding a little white miso to the dressing, and that’s what I tried today. I agree. It “added another dimension,” as he wrote. I think this addition made the dressing go well with “typically Japanese” ingredients. I’m going to try this with tofu salad tonight.

BTW, I googled about Japanese firemen and found this site. Yeah, they, too, seem to take shifts to cook, and they seem to make donburi pretty often. ;)


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Buta no Misozuke Yaki

Buta no misozuke yaki (Grilled pork marinated in miso)

The wind and rain are getting worse outside as the typhoon MAN-YI approaches. It's going to ruin our whole weekend.

This was my dinner last night. Tonight I might be enjoying my dinner in the candle light. Romantic, ha? The thing is, though, the air-conditioner would probably be off then.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

It Took a While But Definitely Worth It!

This blog looks slightly different now, doesn't it? See the small but really neat addition to the right sidebar named "labels!" Isn't it nice?

To do this, I had to download a later version of this 3 column template in order to upgrade it, and label most of my past entries. Yes, I have been aware that the categories by areas was not such a good idea, and thinking about re-categorizing my posts by the types of dishes using blogger labels. But I hated adding a long list to my sidebar. Thanks to a great hack by Ramani posted here, I was able to make the list into a pulldown menu!
Just what I wanted!! :D

I still need to work on labels and make some minor changes reg. fonts and spacing, but I'm so happy with this new template.
Hope you like it, too.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

I Picked Seventeen Berries This Year!!

Fresh Blueberry Tart with the berries from my balcony garden

Haha... This was the best I could do with the SEVENTEEN blueberries I picked this summer. (Well, actually, three unripe ones are still left on the bush.) Yes, I baked a 18 cm tart shell (recipe here, but I scaled it down), filled it with custard cream (recipe here, in Japanese), then cut out this tiny piece and put all my blueberries on it.

I know. The cream got warmer and softer while I was taking these shots. The berries in this photo look almost ready to make a landslide, don't they?

Unfortunately the berries were not as sweet as the ones I picked in previous years. I wonder why... Maybe I should have waited longer? Then I realized that I picked blueberries and used them in August in 2005 and 2006. But this year, everthing was earlier... The bush started blooming earlier, and the berries started ripening earlier. And I waited for at least 2 weeks before I picked them. But still... They probably needed to experience the summer heat to turn sweet?

But these were good, fresh berries and the tart was not bad, after all.
One good thing is that I still have the rest of the cream-filled tart shell in the fridge, so I can make a different kind of fruit tart with it. Two different fruit tarts from one tart shell. Sort of like killing two birds with one stone? (←No.) :P

BTW, this was my first time using microwave for making custard cream, but I didn't like it very much. I prefer a saucepan.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Teatime with Healthy Cookies

Oatmeal Maple Cookies

These are what I would call "guilt-free cookies" because the recipe (in Japanese) does not call for sugar, egg or butter. Yep, using maple syrup and vegetable oil (I used canola) is the key. These cookies are pretty crunchy and the maple syrup gives them very nice, rich sweetness enhanced by a pinch of salt.

To make it easier to handle, I reduced the amount of oatmeal and flour just a little. To add an extra crunchiness, I replaced 10% of the amount of the flour with corn starch. Now I’m wondering how it would turn out if I used rice flour in place of the corn starch.

These cookies didn’t knock me out at the first bite, but when I finished eating one whole piece, the pleasant aftertaste of maple syrup made me want another piece, and one more … and ...
Oh, come on-- No butter, no egg, and maple syrup instead of sugar. Why would I stop?