Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sweet Seasons / September 2007 - Hasami giku -


If I’m not mistaken, making this chrysanthemum-shaped wagashi is one of the tasks of grade-1 skill test for wagashi confectioners in Japan. This piece of art is called “hasami (scissors) - giku (chrysanthemum),” and as its name indicates, it clearly shows how skillfully the confectioner can use the scissors. There seem to be certain rules about how many rows of how many petals (maybe usually 20 petals?) have to be made.

The dough is nerikiri dough, and the special scissors look like these (scroll down). It must take a lot of effort to make the petals beautifully and evenly, adjusting their size properly so that each row has 20 petals… That is something I can never do.

At this wagashi shop, they usually don’t have hasami-giku on display, but you can call them and place a pre-order. Ever since I found out about that, I had been wanting to get one, and I finally did so today. This elaborate wagashi was twice as expensive as the ones I usually buy to post about on this blog, but it was worth it. :)

*Wagashi by Shingetsu


Sweet Chestnut Financier

Sweet Chestnut Financier

When I was a child, Tenshin amaguri 天津甘栗 (Tianjin sweet roasted chestnuts?) were my special favorite food. They were not available in my hometown, and the only time I could eat them was when my grandparents or parents brought some from Kochi city as a souvenir. The sweet smell of the chestnuts was so tempting, and their taste never disappointed me. I kept eating them and didn't care about my fingers getting dirty from cracking the shells. (Their shells are so sticky from the syrup added during roasting.) When reading my favorite books munching on the sweet roasted chestnuts, I was definitely the happiest child in the whole world. Most of my favorite books from childhood have brown fingerprints here and there, showing how often I had such blissful moments. ;)

Good thing is that these days, they sell peeled Tianjin amaguri in retort-pouch-like package, so I don't have to worry about making a mess on my books or those checked out from the library. But today, instead of munching on them while reading, I threw some of them into food processor to make ground chestnuts. Yes, to make financiers.

Using ground chestnuts in place of almond flour for making financiers was not my idea; it was in a recipe posted on a Japanese recipe site. And the result was a great success! My ground chestnuts were pretty chunky (because I didn't want to spend too much time with the food processor), but I liked them that way. The amaguri chunks -- as well as the golden-brown, caramelized edges -- gave nice accent to the lovely tea cakes. With a nice hot milk tea, the amaguri financiers cheered up my gloomy, cloudy afternoon. (Yeah, I'm still haunted by the bento anxiety, you know.)


Friday, September 28, 2007

Mabo Don

Today's Lunch -- "Mabo Don"

Dear readers,

Yep, I'm still hanging in there at the new workplace (bento shop). Still trying hard to learn new things -- a lot of them -- at work. No, even after work, in my apartment, too! I wish I could show you my bento drawings scattered all over the floor. Yeah, they are artistic... in a sense, I would say.

One great thing is that I learned the secret ingredient they use to make their tamagoyaki tasty. It's probably their confidential information so I shouldn't post the recipe, but I might modify theirs and make my own tamagoyaki recipe sometime in the near future. I'll post it if I come up with a good one. ;)

Well, today's lunch does not have anything to do with the tamagoyaki story above. I just had a quick lunch with the leftovers in the fridge and these photos show what I had. We call this dish "mabo donburi" or "mabo don" here, because in Japanese, 麻婆豆腐 is usually pronounced "mabo dofu" instead of "mapo tofu." How I made the mapo tofu? ... Just heated chopped silken tofu in one of those pre-made sauce in retort pouch. Easy enough.

BTW, I don't use a spoon when I eat mabo don; I can eat it with chopsticks. Great, ha? ;)


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Crepe Suzette

Crepe Suzette

Now I guess I have gathered enough strength to write about my past week and share it with you guys. Oh, no no! It’s nothing serious. Nothing terrible happened. Don’t worry. It’s just that my mind has been occupied with all the new things I have to learn at a new workplace, and it was a bit overwhelming to put my feelings – mostly anxieties – into words. But after experiencing a sort of emotional rollercoaster in the very first week, I’m feeling a little calmer now and able to write about it.

You might be wondering what kind of difficult or complicated job I started to feel so nervous? Uh… I’m ashamed to tell you, but it’s just a half a day’s work at a small bento shop in my neighborhood. Actually, it’s not as physically demanding as the work at the izakaya. But I never thought they had such a wide variety of bentos! For the past week, I spent hours and hours every night drawing and re-drawing bento illustrations to memorize what food should be packed in which bento and what kind of sauce/pickles should come with it.

The manual with photos shows where in the bento box each food/garnish should be put. Oh, and of course the color, shape and size of the plastic bento boxes differ depending on the type of bento. There are many small plastic cups in several different sizes and colors for side dishes and there are of course certain rules for their combinations. AHHHHH!!! And this is my first time handling the cash register!!

Those who have experienced similar job must be thinking, “Oh, come on, Obachan. It’s not such a big deal!” Right? Maybe I’ll feel the same way once I get used to all the work procedures. It’s going to take some time, though.

Anyway, that was what my past week was like, and all the worries completely spoiled my long weekend. So yesterday (Sunday), I got to the point where I HAD TO make something -- something sweet -- to heal myself.

I’m not quite sure why I chose to make crepe suzette when I was on the edge like that… Maybe I was so stressed that vitamin C in orange juice attracted me?

I think it was more than 20 years ago when I first made crepe suzette. I still remember the photo of the dessert in mom’s big, heavy and old cookbook. The French dessert tasted wonderful then even though I didn’t have any liquor (such as brandy or orange liqueur) to flavor it.

What I made this time was not bad, and I do think these photos have some healing effect. But the dessert could have tasted much, much better with more orange sauce. My mistake... I had only one orange, and used half of it for making orange chicken the night before.

Anyway, dear readers. I'd very much appreciate your emotional support for a few more weeks until I get used to my new job, unless they kick me out tomorrow for being such a slow learner. Please share your experiences, if it's OK with you... I guess I'm more vulnerable now than I was before the surgery last May. Hahaha...

One good thing is, though, I can start another series as the sequel to the izakaya and kaiseki chronicles I wrote in 2006.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Long Weekend and My Stomach Needs a Break???

Obachan's Very First Boule

It's a long weekend with lousy weather here in Japan. Perhaps it's the best chance for a new cooking/baking adventure, but for some reason, my stomach has not been feeling good since the day before yesterday. Udon noodles and rice porridge were my meals yesterday, and today I wanted something different. But what would be a nice dish that is fun to make (to kill time on this long weekend) and does not upset my stomach?

Then I thought, "Maybe bread soaked in nice hearty soup would be kind to my stomach... And why not bake the bread myself?"

So I picked a french bread recipe (in Japanese) which looked easiest to me and tried it out. The texture of my bread did not turn out exactly the way I wanted, perhaps partly because I used regular bread flour only while many recipes recommend mixing bread flour and cake flour at certain proportion, and partly because the recipe called for melted butter to add to the dough while most french bread recipes, I believe, do not. Yet my very first boule, especially the crust, tasted pretty good when soaked in the home-made vegetable soup, and my stomach seems to be satisfied and not upset after this meal.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Before the Summer Is Over...

Tomato and Zucchini Pasta

Did someone say, "This summer I’m interested in expanding my repertoire of Italian dishes?" Do you remember reading something like that? Oh well, that person must have thought that she had to keep her word and make another Italian dish before the end of summer. Hahaha...

Honestly, it's getting cooler here -- FINALLY! I don't need to have the air conditioner on at night any more. And a couple of red dragonflies I saw today told me that the summer is almost gone, which pressured me to cook (and post) at least one more Italian dish before it is officially autumn.

So, this was a quick, easy and tasty lunch I whipped up today. I got this idea from someone's blog (Japanese) several days ago. Actually she added things like balsamic vinegar and anchovy, but what I made today was much closer to this English recipe, if you're interested. It was still very good without those fancy stuff, I would say.

BTW, I had good luck with my basil this year. The leaves did not grow big like previous years, but the plants were healthier and absolutely no insect problem! :D


Monday, September 10, 2007

No, This is Not Tofu

Soy Milk Jelly with Kiwi Fruit Sauce

Did you think that Obachan went nuts and poured kiwi fruit sauce over Morinyu tofu? No, not yet. I haven't gone that far ... at least at this point. ;)

This is all because of a cheap kiwi fruit I bought today. It was sour -- so terribly SOUR! I got mad and immediately chopped up the fruit and threw it in a saucepan with bunch of sugar, a little water and sherry to make sauce. Then I thought, "How about panna cotta with kiwi sauce?" Doesn't it sound like a decent dessert? But when I opened the fridge, I found that the milk was expired. The only alternative was soy milk. Hence... this invention (if I may call it an invention. :P)

The jelly did not taste like real panna cotta, and I didn't think the flavor of the soy milk made a perfect match with the kiwi. Still, the dessert was bearable, but I don't think I'm going to make this again. Haha...

And I still have some kiwi sauce left.
... Another tart, maybe??


Sunday, September 02, 2007


Pork and Vegetable Stir-fry with Miso Sauce

Believe me. I tried...
I tried to post a recipe for this dish. But it was so terribly painful for me to measure the seasonings with a measuring spoon... especially when making a stir-fry.
Oh well, next time. And it's going to be very soon, I think.

This was supposed to be nasu-miso (eggplant stir-fry with miso sauce), but obviously eggplant slices are the minority on this plate.

OK. For those who might be interested...
Here's my recipe for the miso sauce for this type of miso-itame (stir-fry with miso sauce)

(For 2 servings)
1 Tbsp..... miso
1 Tbsp..... mirin
2 tsp ..... sugar
2 tsp ..... sake
1+1/2 or 2 tsp ..... soy sauce

This is the way I usually do: I mix above seasoning ingredients in a small bowl to dissolve miso and sugar, then pour the mixture into the frying pan when the meat and vegetables are almost done. (Actually, I use only half of the soy sauce for making the miso mixture. After seasoning the stir-fry with the mixture, I pour the rest of the soy sauce along the side of the frying pan and mix it with the ingredients by shaking the pan a few more times. They say that this way you can make the stir-fry tastier with the appetizing aroma of the slightly burnt soy sauce.)

You might want to use less sugar and/or mirin if you like more savory miso itame. Mine is rather sweet, I guess.