Friday, December 30, 2005

Sweet Seasons/ December 2005 - Camellia -

Kantsubaki (Camellia Hiemalis)

No, I haven’t forgotten about this lovely project (though I procrastinated it for too long ;P).

This wagashi represents Kantsubaki (Camellia hiemalis).

I wanted to use a photo of real camellia flowers for the top photo, as I usually do, but I have none right now. Fortunately my mom has so many small camellia trees in her garden (to use the flowers for tea ceremony), so I’m hoping to be able to take a couple of shots there when I visit my parents for the New Year. I’ll finish this entry when I come back to my apartment in 2006 :)

From my mom's garden (Added on Jan. 12, 2006)


This is my last entry on this blog this year. I’m leaving for my parents’ house early tomorrow morning to spend the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day with my parents, my younger sister and her husband and kids.

To me, the year 2005 was a very special one because of all of you readers and fellow bloggers.
Thank you so much everyone for your support. I wish you all the very best of the New Year!
See you in 2006! :D

Bouillabaisse ...?

bouillabaisse -- my very first try

Shrimp and clams were on sale at a nearby supermarket today. Still craving for a healthy seafood-vegetable combination, I went for something adventurous for my supper tonight -– something I had heard of but never tried before. I made bouillabaisse!

I knew that you use seafood like fish, clams, shrimp and squid for bouillabaisse, but I didn’t know what kind of fish. With clams and shrimp in my shopping basket, I wandered around for a while in the fish aisle, trying to decide which fish to pick. Then I found a terribly attractive, big pack of salmon scrap for 150 yen, and before I knew it, my hand immediately picked it up and threw it in the basket. Now, tell me... Is using salmon scrap for bouillabaisse something really off the wall? If so… well, it’s too late anyway. I already used it. :P

Being totally exhausted from the izakaya work last night and the office work this afternoon, I didn't feel like doing conversion at all, so I just picked a Japanese recipe on the net. And I was happy that I found that recipe. Maybe what I made was far from the real bouillabaisse, but it tasted good. The broth from the seafood was so tasty that I didn’t even need to add salt, and I just LOVED the kick of the red chili pepper.

I’m definitely going to make this fish stew a few more times this winter, trying different seafood ingredients each time.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Kaki Mizore Nabe

Kaki Mizore Nabe

I’m no dietitian so I don’t know if this makes sense from a nutritional standpoint, but I crave for things like miso soup, shellfish soup and vinegared dish after I experienced an overdose of sugar, fat and alcohol. Well, I already finished my ritual of consuming miso soup, and here comes the shellfish. My supper last night was
kaki mizore nabe. Kaki means oysters and here’s the explanation of what mizore nabe is. Yeah, I didn’t have enough daikon to make this one look like a real mizore nabe, but oh well, at least I tried. 
The ingredients this time were oysters, shungiku (garland chrysanthemum), enoki mushrooms and carrot. Everything was so tasty with my favorite yuzu-pon.

And this is the ritual that follows eating nabe dish…

Rice porridge made with the leftover soup of kaki mizore nabe

Some people might feel strange about using grated-daikon mixed soup for porridge, but it didn’t taste funny or anything at all. It was just so comforting. :)

Monday, December 26, 2005

Ikura Donburi

Ikura donburi

Some of you readers probably expected something like this, huh? Yeah, I made this dish with leftover ikura (salmon roe) yesterday. It was so good, but would have looked and tasted better if nori (seaweed) strips were sprinkled on top ...

And of course, after all those sugar, fat and alcohol, obachan just HAD TO have miso soup.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

My Christmas Dinner 2005

Thanks to my friends and blog friends all over the world, my Christmas 2005 was a very calm, warm and fulfilling one. Especially the dinner was very fulfilling -- cholesterol-wise!

Many of you might pity me for having Christmas dinner alone every year, but the good thing about it is that I can make/eat whatever I want without being branded a deviant. To me Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner are the best opportunities to give myself a permission to try the food I’ve always wanted to try “someday.” But it was surprising that picking “my favorites” for the menu ended up in such a “cholesterol-rich” dinner! ;P (I’m seriously thinking about somehow getting trans-fat free margarine or shortening by next year’s Christmas to substitute butter with.)

* If you are living in Japan now and looking for a way to buy trans-fat-free shortening, here’s a news. I finally, FINALLY! found an online shopping site (Japanese) where you can order “Crisco 0 Gram Trans Fat Shortening.” They just added the product to their catalogue on Dec 22, 2005. At this point, this could be the only way to have the trans-fat-free shortening delivered to your address in Japan (unless, of course, you have friends/family in the U.S. to buy the shortening and send it to you), because other sites including Foreign Buyers Club and Super@mart do not seem to have this product. The price?.... Oh, well…. It

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Anyway, these are what I enjoyed on Christmas Eve this year after my work at the izakaya. (Click to enlarge the photos with "*" mark.

*Appetizers: Chicken liver paste is my favorite, but it's a hard-to-find item around here, so I made it myself. And I learned a lesson in a hard way: My cheap electric blender is not suitable for making chicken liver paste! I’m 100% sure that I was the only person in the entire world who was making chicken liver paste using a mortar and a pestle on Christmas Eve. :( Salmon roe tasted better with cream cheese than garlic cream cheese.

*Main dish: Baked Orange Rum Chicken Drumsticks. The recipe was from an old, small booklet, “Bacardi Party Book” which has been at the bottom of my recipe box for more than 10 years. Though not called for in the recipe, I added a little balsamic vinegar and brown sugar as hidden ingredients, and sprinkled a pinch of ground cardamom all over before baking.

*Veggies: Veggie sticks and Tofu-Avocado Dip. This was a relatively guilt-free part on the table. ;) The cherry tomatoes were stuffed with chicken liver paste, garlic cream cheese and tofu-avocado dip. (To ripen the rock-hard, unripe avocados that I bought at a supermarket, I placed them next to an apple and kept them in kotatsu heater. I know. Call me crazy… but you know what? It worked!!)


I started with a small (187 mL) bottle of Freixenet Cordon Negro. This dry, not-too-expensive sparkling wine became my favorite this year. How I loved watching the tiny bubbles rising in the glass near the candle light!

After that, I tried Moscow mule, because I had one lime left from making lime shortbread and vodka left from the memorable nashi-infused vodka attempt ;)

*This year I fully appreciated the recipe contributions by fellow foodbloggers all over the world! I tried out three cookie recipes from the Holiday Cookie Swap: Coconut Cranberry Cookies (to use up the dried cranberries left from Thanksgiving dinner), Browned Butter Crisps and Lime Shortbread Cookies (from Cookie Swap 2004). They were all so delicious! Thanks Jillian, Emily and Linda for sharing these great recipes.

*Another big hit was a Soft Ginger Cookies recipe I found on the net. Since my last year’s not-so-successful attempts, I had been obsessed with the idea of “big, soft, chewy ginger cookies with cracked tops.” After a frantic net search, I finally found this recipe, and the moment I saw these photos, I knew it was exactly the one I wanted. Yes, this recipe truly deserves a five-star rating! :D

I made matcha (ground green tea) cookies again because their green color and a little bitter matcha taste were something I didn't want to miss. Gingerbread people’s recipe was the same one as last year, but the mistake I made this year was using full-flavored molasses for the amount that the recipe called for. I loved the dark brown color which contrasted well with the icing, but the taste was too strong for me. Next year I’ll definitely substitute half of the molasses amount with honey.

*Now, what about my Christmas fruitcake?!! When I took it out from fridge and unwrapped it in the morning, I was kind of horrified with its dark color. Then I tasted it, and really hated myself again for using the full-flavored molasses. Its strong flavor just ruined everything, I thought at that moment. OMG, after all those preparations which actually started a couple of months back, did I make a garbage? But when I tasted another slice at the dinner, after leaving the cake on the table all day, I was surprised!! The annoying molasses flavor was gone, and the moist – almost creamy – texture of the cake with a nice liquor flavor coming from fruit bits was just so heavenly. And the cake went so well with the drinks!!

*I was crazy. I tried out another cake recipe, because when I picked up the soft ginger cookie recipe mentioned above, this cake recipe was also on the same site (something like “special Christmas features”) and I just couldn’t resist the temptation. My big mistake was downsizing the recipe to half, not 1/3 or 1/4. For my small bundform mold, the batter was still too much. It rose and flooded while baking, filling up the center hole of the mold, too. Maybe the mold couldn’t get hot enough because of that…? The side of the cake didn’t turn brown no matter how long I baked, and I finally gave up. The taste was sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo great, though. The refreshing maraschino cherries in cream cheese poundcake. Ahhh….!!

So, as you can see, my Christmas 2005 was full of sweetness (sugar), richness (fat) and love. :) My email inbox was flooded with kind wishes from friends in and outside Japan, and my heart was certainly filled with warmth all the time, even when I was working at the izakaya on the nights of 24th and 25th.

I hope everyone -- literally everyone on the face of the earth -- had a heart-warming and joyous Christmas this year.

Merry Christmas

Place mouse on the photo to see inside

I borrowed this “cookie gift box” idea from chika's post of December 24, 2004. When I saw the image rollover on her post, I was so fascinated that I wanted to be able to do the same thing…but soon I forgot about it. Now today, one year later, I spent the whole morning (with a slight headache from a hangover) trying to find the proper tags for the rollover effect, and finally! … It’s done. :D Chika’s site is always a great source of inspiration and to me it is an object of adoration. I hope she is not annoyed by me often trying to do the same thing as she does.

Well, I mentioned hangover. Right. I had a big Christmas dinner (for me, it was big) last night after I finished the work at Izakaya around 10:30 pm. Today I’m going to be lazy and stay inside all day, working on my Christmas dinner post, until I go to work tonight (again!)

Though I have to work both nights (24th and 25th) at the Izakaya, I’m having a wonderful Christmas time now, nibbling on the leftovers from last night and reading emails and comments from many friends. :)
Thank you very much for your warm withes, dear readers.
I wish you all a wonderful holiday season.

*** Merry Christmas ***

And I’m going to share my Christmas dinner with you soon ;)

Friday, December 23, 2005

C-B-Day!! **

Today is my Christmas baking day. I finally finished all the cookie-baking and now I'm ready for some icing work.

Pim suggested that we give one last push for the Menu for Hope II campaign. Sorry I’m late again, but we still have more than half a day (well, depends on where you live) right? Dear readers, the deadline is coming closer. This campaign will end at 12am PST on Dec. 24th. Do visit Pim’s site and join this heartwarming campaign, if you haven't done so yet. She did a great work posting the entire menu in pictures, so don’t miss it!! :D

Just to give you a better idea of what I’m offering: a bottle of dried and ground yuzu rind and a small bag of instant sweet bean paste (powder)….

This photo shows the dried yuzu rind sprinkled on udon noodles. Too bad you can't smell this. (The darker yellow bits on wakame kelp are the yuzu rind. The brighter yellow thing is egg.) Hope this stimulates your appetite and make you head for the Menu for Hope II site. ;)
* Of course I'm offering a new, unopened bottle of yuzu rind.

OK. Now I’m going into the kitchen where a bunch of faceless gingerbread people are waiting for me! :D

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Sourdough English Muffins

Sourdough English Muffin

Of course I haven’t forgotten about my dear Charlie II ;)
This was my brunch yesterday -- sourdough English muffins – inspired by the recent (?) post by Nic of Bakingsheet. Actually I wanted them for breakfast, but I wasn't careful enough when I read the recipe the night before. I didn’t pay a proper attention to the part that said,“Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with cornmeal and leave them to rise, covered with a clean dishtowel, for about 45 minutes” and I slept in yesterday morning. So when all the necessary preparations and baking were done, it was already brunch time rather than breakfast ;P

Charlie didn’t look very active, but the muffins rose pretty well. It was my first time making English muffins myself, and I liked using a frying pan, not oven, for baking them. The cornmeal tasted really good. It was my persimmon jam that wasn’t really great about this brunch, but I wanted to finish the jam no matter what. Next time I’m definitely going for orange marmalade.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Food I Enjoyed at My Parents' House #2

Miso Soup with Wild Boar Meat

This entry may suit Esther’s Weird Food Series at her Food Mall. To be honest, I don’t think this is too weird, because to me it’s not too different from pork. It’s wild boar meat... It’s not really weird, isn’t it? People eat wild boar meat in other countries, too, right? But it is not very popular here in Japan, because here you have to have a proper license to catch wild boars. Last year my dad got the license to catch (not shoot) some wild animals, and when he catches wild boars, I think he asks someone with a proper license to kill/slaughter them. (This photo is wild boar thigh.)

What’s different about the way they eat wild boar meat in my hometown is that they leave the skin on the meat, with the hair often not shaved off thoroughly. :( Though some gourmet people say that the skin is the tastiest part with an interesting texture, I can’t eat that part. But I have to admit that the fat layer right under the skin, which is not as soft as the fat of pork, is so tasty that I can’t resist. (And this kind of nutrition table makes me feel at ease ;)) The meat can be quite tough sometimes, but luckily this one was not… This must have been a younger boar. Cooked in miso soup with taro, daikon and carrots, the meat was very tasty.

Old people here say that “You never burn your tongue with cooked wild boar meat,” and I guess that’s true. I wonder why… maybe it is because of the dense texture of the meat? Anyway, it was my first and last time eating wild boar meat this year, and for me once a year is pretty enough. :)

Food I Enjoyed at My Parents' House #1

I heard that last weekend, here in Kochi city, we had a record snowfall for December. I said “I heard,” because I missed the snow. I was at my parents’ house in Muroto, which is about 100 km southeast of Kochi city, and it didn’t snow there (except in mountainous areas). Instead, we had hail around 11:30 pm Saturday night.

What was I doing in Muroto when everything and everybody were freezing? Well, on Saturday, I was picking oranges at my dad’s orchard with mom and dad.

Ponkan (Citrus reticulata Blanco) 
This year ponkan oranges seem to be ripening rather slowly and many of them were still greenish. But some of them need to be picked and kept in the storage so that they turn sweeter and be ready for sale by the end of the year.

Buntan (Citrus grandis)
Mom said these would be picked sometime in January. Buntan oranges need to be stored for a while (a month or longer?) after picking to turn juicier and sweeter.

Obachan picking ponkan
I used to pick oranges every year when I was small. In my childhood, when my grandpa was still alive, harvesting ponkan oranges was a real big thing that the whole family (and a few of extended family members, too) had to do together. The smell of fresh-cut twigs of orange tree, the sound of scissors, the color of the sky you see as you reach for the oranges high up on the tree, and the color of the ocean you see when you look down from the orchard… Those are the things I was so used to in my childhood, and still very refreshing to me.

After coming back to my parents’ house, mom and I warmed ourselves up with steaming hot zenzai (sweet azuki bean soup with toasted small rice cakes). :d

On Sunday, when TV news were reporting the record snowfall in many places in Japan, mom and I sorted the ponkan oranges according to size in the morning, and around noon…

I know. We are crazy. There were several people fishing that day, but absolutely no one was digging clams, getting hands wet. It’s something in our DNA. Both my mom and I (and my younger sister, too) just can’t resist the temptation to go to the beach on a day of spring tide and hunt shellfish, and I remember my grandma was like that, too. (It was actually 2 days after the day of spring tide, but the tide fell enough for digging clams.)

After coming back to my parents’ house, mom and I warmed ourselves up with zenzai again. (Yep, leftover from yesterday.)

Asari (Short-necked clam)
We made miso soup using these clams. Personally, I think they taste better than bigger type of short-necked clams.

Mom gathered other kinds of shellfish, too.

Kamenote (Gooseneck barnacle?) and other shellfish

These were used for clear soup. Mom loves to put some dried seaweed in the soup and make it extra fishy, but I don’t care for it very much.
Sorry I couldn't take shots of the soups.

Well, these were not the only local specialties I enjoyed last weekend. There’ll be another post about something rather “different,” so be prepared for a shock.

Monday, December 19, 2005

** Thank You **

Yes, I should have done this earlier. Sorry, I’m late --- as usual, but honestly, I didn’t expect anyone to nominate my blog for any type of award, so it didn’t occur to me to go through the site of 2005 Food Blog Awards until very recently.
Anyway, here I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to those who voted for my blog.
Thank you Melissa for nominating my site for Best Food Blog – Photography, and Thank you Amy and again Melissa for nominating it for – Theme: Japanese Food, and Thank you Arashi for nominating my humble blog for Best Food Blog – Recipe, even though I post recipes for only less than half of the entries.

I know these are not a great number of votes, but to me the fact that someone – more than one person – voted for my blog is just an unbelievable honor… So I had to do this.
Thanks, guys. :)

* The photo is my new camera and camera-case. Of course it was not made as a camera-case, but the size was perfect and I love the "welcoming-good-luck kitty," so I decided to keep my camera in it. Hope this kitty will bring you a good luck, too.

Friday, December 16, 2005

My Slow Cooker Repertoire #2 - Oden (Japanese Hotchpotch) -

Oden -- the "must have" in winter

They say it’s going to be a very cold winter this year. I’m very happy that I have a slow cooker now! :D

Here’s another dish I made with slow cooker: Oden (Japanese hotchpotch). Nutrition-wise, this may not be an excellent dish, because many of the steamed fish-cake products in cheap “oden-kit” I used this time seem to have good amount of additives and preservatives, and not many vegetables are included in this dish except daikon and potatoes. But this is just a comfort food that we have to have in winter.

The ingredients this time were:
mochi iri kinchaku
・boiled eggs
ganmodoki (deep-fried tofu product)
・assortment of steamed/grilled fish cakes
konnyaku (see the gray triangles in the photos)
gyu-suji (beef tendon) on skewers

This site has a good explanation of oden and its ingredients (Scroll down). To add to the info. on that site, mochi-iri kinchaku -- the one that looks like a small bag tied with a strip -- is rice cake wrapped in abura-age (deep-fried thin tofu). My absolute favorite. ;)

If you’re interested, here’s a couple of tips for making tasty oden that I learned from a TV program called “Mega ten” several years ago.
・Some ingredients (fish cake products, kelp, tendon, etc.) make good broth, and some (daikon, eggs, potatoes, tofu-products) absorb broth well. Use both types of ingredients in a good balance.
・It is recommended to use konnyaku, if available. Though rather tasteless itself, it makes other ingredients in oden tastier. (The calcium hydroxide used to coagulate konnyaku is said to work on fish-cake products and make them more chewy and tasty.)

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t think the fish-cake products tasted any better when cooked in a slow cooker... at least, I couldn't tell the difference. But the potatoes and daikon!! They tasted definitely better!! Oh it was soooo heavenly. :D

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Menu for Hope II

I know I’m always late, but I hope I'm not too late for this. There’s a wonderful campaign going on called A Menu for Hope II. It is a fundraising raffle(?) in aid of the victims of the earthquake in the Kashmir region. For more information, visit Chez Pim right now, because the campaign ends on December 23, 2005.

As some of you probably know, I was affected by the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake 10 years ago. After that devastating disaster, we received help from all over the world, and it was an experience that I can never forget for the rest of my life… Now it’s my turn to return the favor. And to me this campaign seems to be an awfully creative and fun way to return the favor. I’m very happy to participate. :)

Since so many people have offered a great variety of goodies and plans, I’m going for something "different" and “Japanese.” (I don’t know if anyone would want this, though ;P) What I’m going to offer is a small bottle of dried and coarsely ground yuzu rind. You can use this for Japanese hotpot dishes, noodles and grilled/simmered food to give extra flavor. Also I’m offering a bag of instant anko (azuki bean paste) powder. You can make sweet azuki bean paste real easily by just adding water and sugar and heating it. Could be something handy for a wagashi (Japanese sweets) fan living outside Japan. ;)

There are many more wonderful offers on the menu, so don't miss this opportunity.
Thanks for your support.

* Melissa of CookngDiva kindly translated the information on "A Menu for Hope II" site for Spanish-speaking readers. Click the link below for the Spanish version.
"A Menu for Hope II" en Espanol
Thanks Melissa :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Grilled Yellowtail

Grilled Yellowtail (Buri no Shio-yaki)

Just to make some people envious. ;)
This is grilled yellowtail. No, not teriyaki-sauce version. Just lightly salted and grilled.
It was really good with grated daikon, a squeeze of sucachi and a little bit of soy sauce.

BTW, if you’re interested in how I looked 10 years ago, here’s a photo.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Xmas Fruitcake Project - Step 2 -

I know. I said three weeks. I said that I wanted to let my Christmas fruitcake mature for at least three weeks this year. Well, I WAS going to bake the cake last Sunday, honestly. But I got too tired after climbing up the slope by bicycle and being wet, smoked, nearly roasted and then frozen that day. (Details here.) Then my attention was drawn to the slow cooker for the rest of the busy week, and I kept procrastinating the cake-baking until yesterday. Sorry.

Anyway, yesterday I finally baked my Christmas fruitcake. I used this recipe this time, because it says “less dense and more cake-like than many fruitcake recipes” and I thought that was the kind I like. 

I was so excited when I opened the jar of mincemeat I made at the end of October. It smelled nice… not so much of rum, because I used more of orange curacao than rum.

With this recipe, I was able to make one loaf using my 18 cm (apx. 7 inch?) loaf pan. It is good because I don’t have much space in my fridge, and this year I’m going to try more cookie recipes from the “cookie swap” entries, so I didn’t want to use too much flour/butter/eggs for the cake.

When I baked Christmas fruitcake last year, it took a long time for the cake to be done, and I wondered if it was because of the moist (liquor) coming out from the mincemeat while baking. The same thing happened this year again.
I thought the cake was done, because it looked pretty brown, but when checked with a toothpick, I found that it wasn’t. And I needed to keep checking it and putting it back in the oven for quite a while, with the top of the cake covered with aluminum foil.

This is how it looked when it was finally done. Pretty dark, (well, not so much in the photo but actually it was) ... maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be with the molasses? I brushed generous amount of white rum on top and sides of the cake and wrapped it up. Now it’s resting in my fridge. Two more weeks to wait!

Well, I might as well make a cookie dough today and freeze it. Next weekend I’m visiting my parents’ to help them with harvesting oranges, so no time for Xmas baking then. I’ve decided to use freezer effectively this year to enjoy cookie-making whenever it’s convenient for me, and I’m not making a gingerbread house this year. It’s not that I don’t have time for it… It’s just too hard for me to break it down to eat after spending so much energy into making it. ;)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Garden Report - December 2005 -

I don’t know if this is normal or not… My sunshine blue, which is supposed to be “semi-evergreen” turned beautifully into this color. Last year it was like this in November, and still blooming in December. Maybe it was fresh from a greenhouse when I bought it in November 2004.

Leaves of a few other plants turned colors, too. Look at the lemongrass. I didn’t know it would turn reddish in autumn.

Even my thyme leaves turned yellow, which didn’t happen last year. (Or are they sick?)

Rosemary is green, for sure. And I found a cute little flower :)