Thursday, August 31, 2006

Sweet Seasons / August 2006 - Morning Glory -

Asagao (Morning Glory)

This wagashi caught my eyes because it looked very cute. I was very impressed how the pink pentagon in the center and a tiny leaf can make the white rice cake look undoubtedly like morning glory. But what also caught my eyes was the numerous tiny bubbles in the skin that I usually don't see in wagashi like daifuku-mochi.

According to the obachan (maybe the confectioner’s wife?) I talked with at the shop, this mochi-like skin is not regular mochi but something called seppei 雪平. It looks very similar to gyuhi 求肥 (soft and silky mochi made from glutinous rice flour, water and sugar), but seppei is made by adding egg whites and white bean paste to gyuhi, she said. The white bean paste is added to reduce the stickiness of gyuhi, and meringue to make it whiter. Hence, the name seppei 雪平. (The Chinese character 雪 means “snow” and 平 means “flat,” but in this case, something flat implies rice cakes. Thus, the name seppei 雪平 means “rice cake as white as snow.”)

Morning glory is said to have been imported from China to Japan more than 1200 years ago. For those around my age in Japan, morning glory is closely tied to the childhood memories of summer vacation, because we had to grow the plant and keep an observation diary as a homework. It was the task for first or second graders of elementary school, if I remember correctly.

* Wagashi by Shingetsu


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Gumbo in the South of Shikoku Island, Japan

Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo over Japanese Short-grain Rice

Okra and tomatoes are popularly grown here in Kochi, and I still miss the life in the South in the U.S. once in a while. That leads to my occasional experiments with gumbo recipes during the okra-and-tomato season.

I usually rely on this recipe for making the roux (though I use canola instead of peanut oil), but improvise a lot with the rest. Today I ventured to go for shrimp and a little expensive spicy sausage.

The sausage was worth the price and made this dish way better than my last attempt with chicken and cheaper sausage. :D

I froze about half of the gumbo base today, so next time I can experiment with different ingredients but don't have to make the whole thing from scratch. Maybe crab meat for the next time… and long grain rice.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Dream Come True - Blueberry Muffins -

Blueberry Muffins and a Rhubarb-jam Muffin

Look! These are the blueberries I harvested from my sunshine blue bush this summer. It’s a big progress from last year’s yield of three and a half berries, don’t you think? Since the end of last month, I had been picking a couple of ripe ones in every few days and storing them in the freezer. And finally today, I defrosted them all and baked these blueberry muffins.

The strange-looking one in the back is a rhubarb-jam muffin. (I made the jam a while back but didn’t post about it. It is pretty tart.) I baked 3 of them because the blueberries were not enough for a half-batch of the recipe and I needed to use up the batter somehow.

Of course, I have had better-tasting blueberry muffins before with more berries in each. But I guess you readers understand how special these muffins are to me. Five years ago, baking muffins with home-grown blueberries was a mere dream for me. Then this lovely sunshine blue bush came into my life. It survived the heat and the disease last year, and finally today, I baked blueberry muffins with the berries from my balcony garden! What a fulfilling experience.

Now I’m going to freeze the muffins … after eating one more of them. ;) Then I’ll probably take a shower and enjoy the rest of the night watching “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” which I rented today. No work, no more study tonight (I took a test yesterday) and I can sleep in tomorrow morning.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Fish Looked Much Better Before Being Grilled...

Ayu (Sweetfish) and Sazae (Turban Shells)

Doesn't this combination look a little strange, because the sweetfish are from the river and the turban shells are from the ocean? The reason behind this combination was the usual: they were on sale on the same day at the same supermarket. (BTW, the supermarket is closing in about a month!! Who said the economy is recovering in Japan?! Shops keep closing here in Kochi, and in a few years, post offices in small villages will be gone. Is anything getting better???)

Anyway, to me sweetfish is one of the most beautiful fish among those we see in Japan. They say ugly fish taste good, but I think this sweetfish is the kind that looks elegant AND tastes wonderful. One of my childhood dreams was fishing sweetfish in the river (inspired by a manga about a boy who is a fishing genius), which I haven’t achieved yet. So when I found these fish on the shelf at an amazingly low price, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to try the idea of "shichirin night," (inspired by the post by Jason of Pursuing My Passions) with my favorite fish. In a nutshell, it is an attempt to grill food (on the balcony) on a small table-top grill called shichirin. In order to add a little variety to the food to be grilled, I grabbed a pack of these turban shells, which was also sitting on the shelf near the sweetfish.

I must confess that my attempt of shichirin night did not work out. Let's blame the charcoals. I didn’t bother to buy good charcoals, and when tried with those I had at home, it took forever to light them when I heated them on the gas stove in the kitchen. Even when I thought they were ready, they didn't stay hot for long and I had to come back to the kitchen to re-heat them. Finally I gave up on using shichirin after going back and forth between the balcony and kitchen several times. These sweet fish were grilled in my electric fish griller and the turban shells on the gas stove. And both tasted good! What a shame -- they must have tasted awesome if charbroiled!

This is what I got at the 100-yen shop the other day and I’m totally happy with this little purchase. It is a device to keep chilled sake cool on the table. The ice cubes in the pocket are supposed to cool the drink without making it watery. Doesn’t this look cute? ;)


Friday, August 18, 2006

Nectarine Cobbler

Nectarines (※×%○■ #▽ Expensive)

Yes, baking peach cobbler – more precisely, nectarine cobbler – has become my summer ritual since I had a success last summer. Nectarines are not very popular here in Kochi, and the supermarkets I often visit seem to have them on shelf only for a few weeks in August. So this summer, I kept a close watch on the fruits section of the supermarkets, and managed to buy these before they disappeared from the shelf.

I used the same recipe as last year, but I completely forgot about all the modifications I thought I needed then. :P But still this turned out good, maybe because the nectarines I got this time were better than what I used the last time.

Nectarine Cobbler

BTW, looks like I’m always buying “not ripe but already going bad” fruit when I bake something with fruits, right? Have you thought, “Hey, don’t you ever buy any decent fruit for desserts?” when reading my foodblog? I felt that way when I read my peach cobbler post from last year. Well, dear readers, this time I used better nectarines, and the result was pretty good, except that I overbaked the cobbler a little. :P


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I Needed Something Refreshing for Lunch Today - Somen Noodles -

Somen Noodles

Well, I was quite busy for the past couple of days, shooting photos at the dance festival and posting them to another blog of mine. To tell you the truth, on August 10th and 11th, which were the main festival days, I didn’t eat decent supper because I kept moving from one dance venue to another all afternoon and evening, then went straight to work at night. On those two days, my supper was either one pack of takoyaki (octopus balls) or two sticks of hashimaki (Japanese thin vegetable pancakes wrapped around chopsticks). And on the 13th and 14th, I spent all my time in front of my laptop except when I was at work, editing my photos and changing the template of my scribble blog until my brain boiled. To prevent myself from starvation, I made a big pot of Japanese-style curry, and it was my lunch and dinner for those two days!

If you are interested, the photos are here, though I haven't finished the write-up yet. Please do enlarge the close-ups of the female dancers. It took me a while to upload them in that size and with that quality, without making the post crazily heavy, but it was worth the effort, I guess. ;)

Anyway, today I gave my brain and my stomach a break with cool, soothing summer dish for lunch. Somen is really easy to make if you have store-bought somen soup, but this time I used the soup I had made from scratch about five days ago and stored in the fridge. Many Japanese noodle soup recipes tell you to use kombu kelp and bonito flakes to make dashi stock, but I used dried shiitake mushrooms in addition. To me the shiitake mushroom flavor is “the must” for somen noodle soup.

Usually I serve somen noodles in soup, but today I wanted to do it the way they do in those TV commercials, so I served a little thicker soup in another bowl to dip noodles in. But I poured the soup over the noodles at the end, because I figured that it was the best way to enjoy the toppings with the soup. :P

Looks pretty refreshing?


Thursday, August 10, 2006

English Breakfast?

Mackays Three Fruit Marmalade

I got some awesome presents from my good friends from England yesterday. Two huge boxes of English tea that I have never tasted before, and four jars of marmalade! Can you imagine how delighted I am?

To express my gratitude and also to fully enjoy the presents (both tea and marmalade together), this morning I made myself an English breakfast… or at least, something close (hopefully).

The problem was that I have never been to England, and was not sure what a typical English breakfast is like. I assumed that the “continental breakfast” served at Japanese hotels may be close, but I was not sure. So as usual, I turned to my most reliable helper – the search engine. Therefore, the ideas for my English breakfast today came from this site and several other sites.

English Breakfast (?) Obachan's Version
Sorry, I poured dark soy sauce over the egg after taking
this shot. I guess it wasn't very English...

Whether this looks truly English or not, I really enjoyed the breakfast and that's the most important thing, I guess. The tea and marmalade (I tried three fruit marmalade today) tasted much, much better than the ones I usually buy here, and I know that the kindness and friendship that brought those souvenirs all the way from England to my humble kitchen in Kochi, Japan also added so much to their taste. Having this breakfast was certainly a great way to start the day.

Thank you so much, Ian and Misa-san. :)


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Very Shy Berries

Baked Blackberry Tart... Where are the berries?

It was a pleasant surprise!
I have never seen frozen blackberries at supermarkets around here, let alone fresh ones. But yesterday I found some fresh blackberries at a small supermarket that I shop at only occasionally. And believe it or not, they were on sale! So there was no way I could resist the temptation. :D

My original plan was making an easiest version of blackberry tarts, i.e., store-bought tart shells + custard cream + fresh berries. However, I learned a lesson this summer: I need to be careful when making desserts with fruits that are not completely ripe. So I tasted a little bit of the berries, and, even without looking into a mirror, I knew I had a frown on my face. No sweetness, no flavor, no-nothing. But the ones at the bottom of the container were already going moldy. So that was the reason why they were on sale. Oh well-- supermarket strategy.

Anyway, I thought that the blackberries I bought would taste better when baked into sweets, so I finally chose a recipe of baked blackberry tart with almond cream filling. It involved cooking the berries with maple syrup beforehand, which sounded like a “safe” idea to me.

The crust turned out OK. The almond cream filling was OK, too. My mistake was being impatient and not cooling the cream filling long enough before topping it with cooked berries. Though it seemed OK at this point (left photo), when the tart came out of the oven, the berries were bashfully hiding in the cream...

Taste-wise, I think I liked it, even though I overbaked it a little. But I seem to have a bit of trouble with seeds when eating desserts with blackberries or raspberries baked into them. I had to bite the seeds when I least expected it, and it was a little annoying, to be honest.

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Saturday, August 05, 2006



This was my very first time making (and eating) ratatouille, and I’m happy to tell you that it was a great success! Yes, what I have read on the net about this French dish was absolutely right. This is such a tasty, nutritious and hearty dish that you would want to recommend to someone.

To be honest, I was a little skeptical before trying this out, because it was just vegetables with simple seasonings only -- with no meat or no soup stock. Even after seeing olive oil and garlic in the recipe, I still thought, “Wouldn’t it be rather tasteless?? Maybe only vegan people love this.”

But oh, I was wrong – so very wrong – and I’m glad that I was. This is such a wonderful dish with all tasty flavors of summer vegetables condensed together! And yes, it is so good with French bread and white wine, and tastes great warm or cold, just like so many people mentioned on their websites.

My dinner today consisted of baked breaded horse mackerel (with cheese and herbs), ratatouille, a few slices of French bread and Riesling wine. How about that? I must tell you that I enjoyed the tasty veggies on the bread slices, and finally wiped the plate with a piece of bread. Yum!

BTW, I have been wanting to take a photo like this for a long time.

A close-up of cut vegetables... with nothing else, just vegetables. Nothing fancy, yet beautiful, refreshing and even healing (to me, at least). It's amazing how photogenic vegetables and fruits can be. I often think that they can be more photogenic than flowers.

Now this simple and tasty dish has become my true favorite. I wish I would be able to make ratatouille with veggies from my own vegetable garden someday. Oh, that would be so wonderful, don't you think?


Friday, August 04, 2006

If You're Lucky...

Banana Muffins

Now, you have to bear with me while I experiment this and that trying to get used to my new (used) camera. ;P

Anyway, I probably didn’t mention this before, but I LOVE muffins. I wouldn’t mind having them every morning, sweet and savory kinds alternating every day. Then why didn’t I post about them more often? Or why didn’t I make them more often? Because I couldn’t find a muffin pan that suits my small oven. The one I bought several years ago did fit in there, but it got stuck and could not turn with the turntable. (I use one of those oven-cum-microwave ovens.) Of course I can buy, at the nearby 100-yen shop, these paper muffin cups that you can just pour batter in and bake without using a muffin pan. But it didn’t seem to be a very cost-effective idea to me, and the hesitation kept me from baking muffins for years.

Then just the other day, I found these metallic cups at the 100-yen shop, and a bunch of these thin muffin baking cups at MARUCO, our favorite baking goods store in Kochi. Hence, so much for my hesitation. (BTW, what do you call these metallic cups?)

I was originally going to make apricot-jam muffins to use up the jam I made the other day, but it was no good any more. I forgot to put it in the fridge for the last couple of days!! So the plan had to be changed at the very last minute and I decided to throw in banana instead of the jam. Too bad I had only one banana left this morning and the decision was made after I took a big bite out of it… Thus, these turned out to be muffins "with a possibility of hitting tiny banana chunks if you’re lucky." But I’m totally happy with the combination of these metallic cups and paper baking cups, so dear readers, be ready for more muffin posts to come. ;)