Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sweet Seasons / September 2008 - Hagi (Japanese Bush Clover) -

"Hagi (Japanese Bush Clover) in Autumn" by Nishigawaya

When we see these tiny, pinkish purple flowers at the end of summer, we realize that the sunshine is somewhat milder in the daytime and crickets are already rehearsing for their autumn concert.

This wagashi is what is called joyo manju. Manju is sort of like thin-skinned steamed bun with sweetened bean paste filling inside. And what is special about this variety, joyo manju is its moist skin. It is very moist and fluffy because rice flour is used in place of wheat flour and grated yam is added. It's just something I know. (Hooked on "Ugly Betty" recently.) ;)

The green part on top is kanten jelly, according to the woman at the wagashi shop. At first, I thought that they left the manju on top of the jelly until the jelly was completely set, and then turned it upside down to sprinkle with the cute little pink topping. But seeing how the jelly covers the white manju skin, maybe that was not how they made it...

Anyway, to me the pink topping didn't look like real flowers when at the shop, but after I combined the photo of this manju with that of real hagi flowers (see above), I went, "Wow!" Gosh, wagashi confectioners are really observant, aren't they?


Saturday, September 27, 2008

When I Need Healing...

Home-baked French Bread, Ratatouille and Apple Preserve

I have to admit that my work has been pretty stressful. But I also have to admit that I'm better off now -- compared to how I was a year ago... in September 2006. Now I have days off more irregularly but more frequently, and still I'm making more money. And I got used to getting up early. No more insomnia! So I'm not complaining.

Nevertheless, there are some days that I feel stressed out at the end of the day, and hear my inner voice saying, "I need healing!!" And I go through the list of "things that heal me" in my mind. Fortunately I have a variety of things included in the list, and yesterday morning I went for two of them: 1) hearing something simmering in the kitchen and 2) enjoying the sweet aroma from the oven. I was lazy to put everything on one plate, but you have to give me credit for making (almost) everything from scratch.

Yep, I baked the bread myself, based on this recipe. It turned out flavorful -- very flavorful, and quite chewy. (I guess I got impatient again and my bread was not leavened enough.) :P But the bread tasted very good with both ratatoille and apple preserve, so I was satisfied.

I also made this asparagus soup from scratch. You think I got sort of carried away? Maybe. But it was sooooooooo good and worth the trouble! :)

Apple Preserve

I replaced half of the amount of white sugar with brown sugar, so the preserve turned out brownish like this. And the taste was... Mmmm... It was excellent with yogurt.

Yes, I felt so good after this brunch. Taking these photos kept me a little busy, but it was worth it -- they will heal me when I need healing but don't have time to cook/bake like this.

Oh, one question to those who are in Japan:
Are stores running out of bananas in your neighborhood? I tried two supermarkets last night and two other stores this evening, but all of them were out of bananas! What happened?! Is another health craze going on now?


Monday, September 22, 2008

TLA #5 After a Typhoon...

Gold-lined Sea Bream Carpaccio, Japanese-style

Some anglers say that you can expect a better catch after a typhoon passed. The reason is that when the ocean is rough during the storm, some offshore fish evacuate into ports/bays, and they may stay there for a couple of days. Also, because the rough waves stir up plankton and stimulate the fish's appetite, they will be more active and more likely to eat the bait.

On the other hand, there are others who say that you can't expect a good catch after a typhoon. They say that increased river water (from heavy rainfalls) makes the coastal seawater dirty and less salty, which, as a result, makes most fish less active. Only certain types of sea breams are said to be active under such a condition.

Now, what I've learned in the past years is that when there are two contradicting theories, both are likely to be partially right and partially wrong, or applicable to certain situations but not all. And there's only one way to find out which theory works in my particular case. Hence, another fishing trip two days after the typhoon Sinlaku. :D

And as you can see in this photo, I caught a couple of sea breams! Not bad. Actually I caught four other fish which I didn't want to keep, so overall, it was much better than some other fishing trips in August.

I salted and grilled the smaller pink sea bream. The bigger one (called "gold lined sea bream" in English, if I'm not mistaken) is not a very popular fish here. Many people say that this sea bream tastes rather bland. So instead of making typical sashimi, I made "Japanese-style carpaccio" with it.

What was "Japanese " about my carpaccio was a couple of Japanese ingredients added to the sauce in addition to the typical ingredients such as olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice. The secret ingredients were soy sauce and yuzu kosho. The sliced fish was placed on mizuna leaves and topped with sliced onion, minced shiso (green perilla) and garlic chips. Then the sauce was poured all over.

The carpaccio was amazingly good!!! I fell in love with the Japanese-style carpaccio sauce. Oh, but don't ask for the recipe... please. I stole the idea from several Japanese cooking websites, but I was too lazy to measure each ingredient (as usual) when I made the sauce. If you're interested in this sauce, the best I can do for you is listing all the ingredients -- which I already did in the above paragraph -- and asking you to experiment yourself. Sorry! :P

Ara-daki (head and bones simmered with burdock)

And the head and bones of the sea bream turned into this tai no aradaki on the next day.

How nice. I truly enjoyed the pull when I caught these fish (esp. the bigger one), and managed to make three dishes with them. How about that?

For some reason, economical lifestyle always seems so attractive to me. ;)


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sweet Potato & Apple Cake

Sweet Potato and Apple Cake

Just wanted to enjoy the heavenly aromatic harmony of sweet potato, apple, Cinnamon and butter on a Sunday afternoon.

I was planning to go fishing this weekend, but the typhoon (Sinlaku) blew my plan. So, instead, I baked this cake, cut it into sticks like this, and enjoyed it as I painted a watercolor and later read a couple of (comic) books. Ah, domestic fun! :P

There was a murder in town the day before yesterday. The place was near the bento shop where I often buy bento on my way home from work. When I was riding my bike there yesterday, I was stopped by a detective and asked if I had seen any stranger (with a knife) around there on the day of the murder. Wow! Just like a TV drama! Unfortunately, the murderer has not been found yet.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Shy Harvest Moon

Tsukimi Dango (Dumplings offered to the moon)

If I'm not mistaken, the full moon tonight is supposed to be the "harvest moon," the most beautiful moon of the year. And we have a traditional custom to celebrate the night -- to admire the beauty of the nature and be grateful for the harvest. Dumplings and susuki (Japanese pampas grass) are the "must haves" for the celebration. ;)

Every year, my Japanese DNA tells me to do something special for tsuikimi (moon viewing), but usually I'm busy with work. There were some years that I did try shooting some photos, at least, but I have never made the dumplings myself. Fortunately this year, the special night fell on a Sunday night and I had plenty of time to search for a dumpling recipe, make dumplings and steal pick the pampas grass and a couple of autumn flowers. ;)

The dumplings are enjoyed with various sauces and toppings such as an (sweetened bean paste), sweet and salty sauce, soybean flour, sesame sauce and so on. Today I made sweet-n-salty sauce with chopped walnuts and white miso.

I thought the sauce was alright when I tasted it, but after I had a couple of dumplings with it, I thought that my nose was going to bleed. LOL

And I took this shot when the shy harvest moon briefly showed itself between the clouds. Unfortunately I couldn't get the clouds in this photo. Too bad... It must have looked much more interesting with the clouds.
(I might give it a try again later tonight...)

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Buttermilk Pancakes

Buttermilk (Substitute) Pancakes

Actually what was used for these pancakes was buttermilk substitute which I made by mixing milk and vinegar, because I can't buy real buttermilk around here. But maybe these are closer to real "buttermilk pancakes" than the ones I usually make with powdered skim milk.

Today I don't have to work in the morning, and I wanted to enjoy a lazy morning with a good breakfast. Yesterday and the day before, I had to start working at 6 am. On such busy mornings, I never skip breakfast but I never "enjoy" it, either-- All I do is just stuffing up my stomach so that I don't run out of energy in the middle of the work. So, at least once or hopefully twice a week, I really need to "enjoy" breakfast, actually tasting the food and smelling the aroma of hot coffee! Otherwise I cannot "stay myself." You know what I mean.

This morning, while I was still in bed, I thought about the sinful combination of fluffy pancakes, melting butter and generous amount of syrup, and decided to go for it. That's the kind of breakfast I deserve after the two days in hell. And I wanted to show in my photo how beautiful the golden syrup looks in the morning sunshine, but I had to give it up... I couldn't wait until I get the desired morning sunshine, and the syrup was quickly absorbed by the pancakes. :(

Anyway, I'm feeling wonderfully lazy right now and wanted to share it with the whole world. Mmmmmm... maybe I should go for another cup of coffee.

Oh, I used this recipe, if you're wondering. (I added a pinch of salt, though.)


Sunday, September 07, 2008

Homemade Pizza!

Homemade Pizza

Gee, I'm totally, completely stuffed! No more food, please...
Yep, this was my very first time making pizza crust from scratch. This weekend I had both Saturday and Sunday off (which was almost like a miracle), and I wanted to make something tasty and photogenic but not too difficult or time-consuming to make. It was hard to pick one; I couldn't decide whether I should go for homemade gyoza (Chinese dumplings or potstickers) or pizza. So I ended up making both. :D Last night I enjoyed juicy, plump homemade gyoza with ice cold beer, and knew it was a right choice.

And today, around 10:30 am, I started making pizza crust based on this recipe.
Now, I guess I made a mistake when I measured the water... My pizza dough turned out really soft. I kept adding more and more flour but the dough kept absorbing it until I added almost twice as much as the amount called for in the recipe.

But finally the dough came together, and after letting it rest as instructed in the recipe, I had fun topping it.

These basil leaves survived the terrible summer heat.

Black olive is not my favorite topping, but I added some because I thought the dark color would look nice on my pizza.

One good thing about pizza is that I can rely on store-bought stuff for seasoning it. I used Heinz pizza sauce (can) and very affordable shredded mozzarella cheese.

Tata~! :D
This is how my very first homemade pizza turned out! I know. I should have used bigger basil leaves or should have added them later. The small leaves burned and shrunk pretty soon, so I needed to add more leaves when the cheese started turning golden brown.

The crust was really fluffy. I don't know if it is the way this pizza crust should be or it was because of my mistake, but this crust was the fluffiest one I've ever had. (Next time I want to make it a little heavier and chewier. ) Maybe because the dough was fluffy and light, and the topping was not too greasy, I ate so much of this pizza before I knew. I was going to leave half of it for dinner, but now I see only a quarter piece left in the pan. Hahaha...

Now it's time for peach sorbet! :D


Friday, September 05, 2008

TLA #4 - Finally! Fresh Catch Sashimi -

Kasumi Aji (Young Bluefin Trevally) Sashimi

As a beginner angler, I have several short-term goals, and "catching a fish that is good for sashimi (sliced raw fish)" was one of them. When you say a fish is good for sashimi, it means that the fish is fresh, decent size and tastes good with not-too-many tiny bones and with no disturbing smell/fishiness. Oh, wait! Let me take back the remark about the size, because we Japanese are meticulous sashimi freaks and make sashimi out of tiny fish like sardines or even silver-stripe round herrings (and believe me, those small-fish sashimi are often so good that it is worth the trouble). But in general, "a fish good for sashimi" sounds much more prestigious than some bony, smelly ones.

Now I can hear some angler readers going, "What?! Bluefin trevally sashimi?! Give me a break. You Japanese make sashimi out of anything, don't you?" Well, live and learn. ;) Over here, we can catch young trevallies including Giant Trevally (GT), and some people are crazy about them because they pull hard for their size and taste good. They have a good reputation as sashimi fish. Yeah, I heard that those trevallies grow really big and some of the big ones could cause ciguatera poisoning, so I can imagine how strange this idea of making sashimi out of them may look/sound to some anglers outside Japan. But the young trevallies caught here are not poisonous. Don't worry. :)

Anyway, I went fishing last weekend and caught one young bluefin trevally. It was like a joke... I threw in the bait and caught this one right away. Then no more catch... :( I managed to catch just one more fish before going home and that was it. But I achieved one of my short-term goals, so it was worth going fishing that day, after all.

BTW, you might have heard that only fresh fish is good for sashimi, and the fresher the better. But if asked if this is true, I would say "Well... yes and no." I've read that the "good taste" of fish is caused by inosinic acid contained in the flesh of the fish, which needs some time to increase after the fish died. So some (not all) fish taste much better as sashimi after they were filleted and left in the fridge for several hours to develop more inosinic acid. That sounds pretty convincing. So I let the fillet rest in my fridge for apx. 10 hours.

But I was not too crazy about this sashimi, to tell you the truth. It tasted very good in the beginning, but for some reason, I felt "enough" when I ate about half of it. I don't know why... Maybe I was still worried (unconsciously) about the poison??