Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sweet Seasons / January 2008 - Year of the Rat -

Eto-gashi by Nishigawaya

Did you think I gave up on this series? Nope! And I think this time I really made good use of the time. In the past couple of days, when I was not at the "Hello Work" (local employment agency), I read a couple of how-to websites on food photo shooting. And today I spent the whole morning trying to apply the newly acquired knowledge to my photo shooting.

Also, this morning, I downloaded several fonts from a free font website. This one on the photos here is the one I finally picked. What do you think?

When I started this "Sweet Seasons" series, I was planning to include a wagashi trivia in each entry. Especially, I was hoping to be able to cover different wagashi ingredients (sugar, rice flour, etc.) because once in a while my readers write to me asking, "Obachan, what's the difference between XXXX and XXXX?" (There are so many different types of rice flour, you know.) But I couldn't do it as much as I wanted because when I picked wagashi that were made into the shape of plants or animals of the season, they were almost always nerikiri and their ingredients were always the same.

So this year, I'll try to post about a wider variety of wagashi, and include a trivia about different wagashi ingredients. (Well, I'll TRY, at least. :P)
Oh, in case you're wondering... I have been posting a wagashi entry on the last day of the month so that the monthly archive of this blog always has a wagashi entry on top of each month. Yeah, it's weird to see, on the last day of the month, January's entry which is related to New Year celebration. Hahaha...

OK. Now I should add a trivia about this wagashi in above photos, but I'm a bit tired. Forgive me... I'll take care of that tomorrow. For now, I just say that the Chinese character on this wagashi means "rat" and that is why this is called eto-gashi (wagashi with the Chinese zodiac theme).

* Wagashi by Nishigawaya


Almond Tarts

Almond Tarts

Not bad, huh? ;)


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Leftover From Last Night

Chige Soup (I used retort-packed chige soup base :P)

I just had lunch and it was chige soup from last night. It was another cold and rainy day yesterday, and the rain didn't stop at night. It took two bowls of this soup and a can of beer, followed by a nice hot bath, to completely warm me up before going to bed.

Today the soup tasted much milder. I'm going to throw some rice in it and make porridge tonight.

Last Sunday, I was with my parents in my hometown to help mom at her tea ceremony booth at a community event there. We (mom and her students incl. myself) did the same thing two years ago, and here is the post on that event in 2006, if you are interested.

We were lucky about the weather, and luckly this time there was no squid hanging from a rope at the next booth. :P We had about 150 visitors, like last time. I didn't mind helping, and even enjoyed it, but doing a waitress work in kimono must have made me much more tired than I knew. (Kimono is our traditional costume that we wear on formal occasions (only), and it needs to be tied so tightly with many strings and belts.) On Sunday night, after coming back from the event, mom and I didn't feel like cooking. The three of us -- dad, mom and I -- just poured hot green tea over a bowl of rice and ate it with pickles, and went straight to bed around 9 pm.

OK. I have a confession to make. The reason why I couldn't take any photos at the ceremony was that I forgot to bring... not my camera, not batteries, but... I forgot to stick a SD card into my camera! :O

For those who might be interested, here's a photo of me from a few years ago. This kimono is very similar to the one I put on for the local event this time. Do I look very happy? Well, you never know what it is like to wear kimono until you actually give it a try... Hahaha...


Thursday, January 24, 2008

I Didn't Forget

My Very First SPAM Musubi

Didn't I say (write) that I was interested in trying out SPAM musubi? Yes, I did here (in the comment section). Well, it was July. And now it's January. But I don't care. I finally gave it a try!

Yes, I loved this fusion(?) musubi very much. :D No wonder it's so popular in Hawaii.

This says 25% less sodium, but I thought it was pretty salty.

Looks like there exist many creative versions of SPAM musubi in Hawaii. I've been reading about them since this morning. It's so much fun and inspiring.
Well... Don't I still have plenty of SPAM? And plenty of time, too...??
;) ;)

Categories: ,

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Finally! Not-Too-Crumbly Oil Crust

Apple-Custard Pie with Not-Too-Crumbly Oil Crust (tart shell)

(Jan. 24 2008 * Sorry, I made some corrections to this post today. )

As you may probably know, I’m looking for a daytime job now. Which means, I don’t work in the daytime (well, actually until 5 pm) these days, and that means I have plenty of free time in the mornings and afternoons. It is indeed relaxing, but somewhat depressing at the same time, because financial worries are always on the back of my mind. But when waiting for the results of the interviews, there is nothing I can do except going through the job offers on the weekly magazines and websites for second or third choices. And the rain discourages me from going out. Ahhhh….

But looks like I can’t stay melancholic for too long. When I’m job hunting like this, usually I start thinking, “Hey, this is a perfect opportunity for a culinary experiment!” sooner or later, and it happened this time, too. Anyone remembers that I was looking for a“not-too-crumbly” oil crust recipe for tarts? Well, this time, I’m proud that I made a good use of my free time. I experimented a bit, and finally came up with an oil pastry recipe that I like! :D

First, I really, really want to thank this Japanese lady who created this oil crust recipe. I tried out hers, and it worked! It’s a whole wheat tart shell, and the dough was not too hard to roll out if used parchment paper. The dough tore rather easily, but you can patch it easily with the excess from the edges, so it wasn’t a big problem. After coming out from the oven, the crust held up as you can see in the photo of her tart shell. And I loved the crunchiness from the whole wheat flour!

It was pretty close to my “dream pastry.” Almost. But I wanted it to be a little heavier (firmer?) and crunchier when I use it as a tart shell. So I modified the proportion of the flours, added almond powder and adjusted the amount of the oil and soy milk. I also added vanilla extract, and next time I might try almond extract.
So here is Obachan’s version of oil crust recipe, based on the great work by the creative and health-conscious Japanese lady I mentioned above.

Oil Crust obachan’s version (Based on a Japanese recipe on COOKPAD)
** This is more like a cookie tart shell, so I guess I shouldn't call it a pie crust.
65 g whole wheat flour
45 g bread flour
1+1/2 Tbsp. corn starch
1 Tbsp. almond powder
(2+1/2 Tbsp. Sugar for sweet tart shell, reduce it for savory tarts)
1/8 tsp. salt
50 mL vegetable oil (I used canola)
2 Tbsp. soy milk
vanilla extract

Sift the dry ingredients together into a bowl and stir well. Add vegetable oil. Stir and crumble well with fingers until thoroughly mixed. Mix vanilla extract into soy milk and then add to the mixture in the bowl. Mix with hands and “knead” in the bowl several times. (The mixture is crumbly so it would not be like kneading bread or biscuit dough, but I thought this process was necessary to develop gluten so that the baked crust will hold up.) Pat into a flat ball and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 180 C. Pat the dough into bottom and the sides of a pie/tart pan. (I don’t think you can roll out this dough successfully.) Poke holes in the bottom with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes. (If you need to, remove the crust from the pan after completely cooled.)

I just placed apple slices over the custard cream I made with "instant custard cream mix"

The crust may not be impressively firm or crunchy when it is fresh from the oven. But it will improve as it cools, and will be (hopefully) much better after being baked again with a filling. As advised by the original recipe author, for extra crunchiness, it seems better to wait until the crust cools completely and hardens before pouring the filling into it.

What I want to improve next time is reducing the slight floury smell (from the whole wheat?). Maybe more vanilla extract or adding grated citrus rind or something?

Jan. 25 (Fri)

I had been looking for "affordable" small tart pans for quite a while, and finally(!!) I found some at my favorite wholesaler yesterday. What a great surprise! (I'm 100% sure that they didn't have any at the end of last year.) I bought 6 of them right then.

So today, I baked 6 small tart shells with the small pans. The bottom rose a little too much because I was too anxious and didn't care to poke many holes, but the texture was "two thumbs up" (for me, at least). And you know what the best part was? The tart shell came out from the pan so easily-- all I had to do was inverting it on my palm!

Oh, I'm so happy. There are so many pie, tart and quiche recipes I want to try. But if I bake one with my 18 cm tart pan, I have to eat the same thing for 2 to 3 days, because usually I'm the only one person who eats what I bake. But with these small pans, I can make only a couple of small tarts at a time. And it would be even healthier with my oil crust. This way I can make pies/tarts pretty often without worrying too much about my fat intake. YAY!! :D
(I know. It depends on what kind of filling I use, right?)

One question. Here some people say that it is (not really recommendable but) possible to freeze pre-baked tart shells. And I'm hoping it's true, because it would be really handy for me to bake many small tart shells at one time and use only a couple of them and freeze the rest. I like that idea better than thawing tart dough every time and baking only a couple of shells.
What do you think? Do pre-baked tart shells freeze well?


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Lemon Poppyseed Muffins II

I brought 2 lemons with me when I came back to my apartment after the New Year's Day. Those were from my dad's orchard, and I was going to use them for baking. (He doesn't use any postharvest chemicals so I feel safer to use his oranges/lemons when I need grated citrus rind.)
And somehow, I completely forgot about those lemons until yesterday. :P

So last night, I did a little net search to pick a lemon poppyseed muffin recipe, and this is the recipe I tried out this time. Mmmm.... not bad, but the texture was not exactly what I wanted. Maybe I should try a recipe that does not call for yogurt next time. And there was another thing... and it was not related to the recipe. It was about dad's lemons.

I'm no expert, so I may be sounding really stupid, but tell me... If a lemon tree has been grown right next to bunch of orange trees, is it possible that natural cross breeding causes the lemons to taste more like oranges? Dad's lemons are much rounder with more orangy skin color, and not as sour as store-bought lemons. And though I added enough rind (grated), these muffins didn't taste lemony almost at all without the glaze. Next time I'll probably try a different recipe with lemons from the Sunday market.

Oh, if you're tempted to say "OMG, obachan! Your poppyseeds are not black!?" see this post. Yes, we went through that stage about a year ago. :)


Friday, January 18, 2008

Oyster Chowder

Riding my bike back to my apartment tonight, I made up my mind to have a hearty soup for dinner. The temperature dropped more than I had expected, and I was almost frozen to death on my way back.

At the supermarket I dropped by, I spent more time than I wanted to, because I couldn't decide what soup to make. Once I filled my shopping basket with ingredients for chanko-nabe. But when I saw oysters on the shelf, my inner voice said, "Oyster chowder! Juicy, plump oysters in hot milky chowder with black peppers sprinkled on top!!" AH! How could I resist?

So when I finally had this nice, warm oyster chowder at my kotatsu, it was already past 10 pm. Now I'm warm and satisfied, and sleepy...


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Viva! Fusion food!

Second week of January. Leftovers from the New Year's feast must be gone in most Japanese households, but some TV cooking shows and magazines may be still featuring various ways to use up leftover osechi food, especially mochi (rice cakes). This is the time when many fusion dishes are invented.

Now, take a look at the above photo. This is not my invention-- it's one of the "New Year's specials" from our local pizza shop. Well, "mochi on pizza" is nothing new with cheese and seaweed as accompanying toppings. I wouldn't have been tempted to blog about it if this were just a regular mochi pizza. But they used something interesting to make a Japanese-style pizza sauce for this pizza. Can you guess what it was? It's seafood.

* I don't mean to say that this pizza shop is using osechi leftovers to make this "limited-time-only" version. I meant to say that it's time for "fusion food" here now and this pizza is an interesting example.

* * * * *
Thanks for guessing. :) Yes, it's uni (sea urchin). More precisely, sea urchin roe. I know some people would go "yuck!" but sea urchin roe is a terribly expensive (well, at least, good ones are) delicasy here, and if you say, "My favorite sushi is uni," it's like telling people that you are a sushi connoisseur AND rich. (But I don't blame you. I had hated uni until I tasted real fresh one a few years back.)

Anyway, I don't think they used top-class sea urchin to make sauce for affordable pizza, but I liked this pizza very much. The sauce was not regular tomato-based one, and uni added an interesting richness with a delicate sweetness, and the sauce went well with the mochi and seaweed on top. But you HAVE TO eat this pizza while it's warm. Definitely.

Categories: ,

Kuromame (black soybeans) Pound Cake, Matcha (green tea) version

OK, here's another one. Hey, those who have been in Japan for a couple of years -- Have you noticed that more and more young Japanese moms are baking pound cakes with leopard spots like this at this time of the year? It is to use up the leftover kuromame (simmered black soybeans),

one of the staples of osechi (Japanese traditional New Year's feast). It's a rather recent trend, and I had been wanting to give it a try since I read about it in 2006, IIRC.

It's so much fun to slice this cake to see the different patterns the beans make :)

The original recipe (Japanese) called for soybean powder, which I didn't have any, so I replaced it with almond powder and added matcha. It worked alright (though not perfect. I do think soybean powder is the key ingredient). IMHO, this cake tastes far better on the next day. When I tasted it fresh from the oven while it was still warm, I felt the slightest hint of dashi flavor in the beans and I wasn't too crazy about that.

Kuromame with Yogurt

Another re-use idea for leftover simmered black soybeans. Oh, please don't say "yuck!" The idea has become popular among young Japanese women in the past couple of years and they say it's a good food for weight watchers. I'm not kidding! This tastes better than it looks. Honestly.

I must say that I like this combination but only when a lot of beans AND plenty of syrup are added to yogurt.

You know, these are just holiday leftover ideas, after all... What's important about them is being able to feel, "I'm not wasting food." Right? ;) ;)


Friday, January 11, 2008

Just To Let You Know What I'm Up To...

The past couple of nights I practiced making butterflies out of carrots. No, there was no special reason. I just had nothing better to do. (How pathetic!)

The current success rate is apx. 50%.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Happy New Year!

1/1/2008 Waiting for the First Sunrise of the Year...

The ocean was unbelievably calm that morning. The world was so quiet and serene. And ...
It was so darn cold!! :O

And Look!! The sunrise.

Unfortunately, I couldn't take a photo with my camera when the sun finally greeted us like this. There was something wrong with the SD card. I asked my sister to give me one of her photos that she took with her cell phone camera, and this is the one she sent me. Impressive, isn't it?

To be perfectly honest, our family did not have much luck at the start of 2008. My younger sister, her two kids and husband got stomach flu (I think that's what it was) one after another. Each member of our "cooking troop" messed up at least one food in our osechi feast. The ebifurai (breaded and deep-fried shrimp) my sis made was not salty enough, and the kazunoko (herring roe) I prepared was a bit too salty. And mom forgot to soak thin strips of kelp overnight so they were not soft enough in her zoni soup. :P

But still, we all enjoyed New Year's food and good chat together.
You know, the good thing about not making a brilliant start is that things can only get better after that. Right? ;)

After all, it was another peaceful and cheerful New Year's holiday. And I'm ready for a brand new start.
(Need a new daytime job!!)

* For those who are interested in my previous posts on our New Year's Day traditions:
- NYD 2005
- NYD 2006
- NYD 2007