Thursday, May 21, 2009

New Blog Address!!

My blog is no longer here! I moved to wordpress. Click here to check out TokyoTerrace's new home! I hope you will continue reading, and if you are currently following this blog, please sign up to follow my new site!


Monday, May 18, 2009

Simple Sardines

It's incredible how many different foods I haven't tried. Some things are understandable. For example, it's really difficult to find sea urchin (uni in Japanese) in the middle of Minnesota. Sushi (well, good sushi) in general is difficult to find in Minnesota. I am not blaming Minnesota. Minnesota, it is not your fault and I still love you even with your lack of sushi.

There are some things that most people have tried-and love-that I have not touched. Sardines, until recently, was one of those things. Even Brad was a little unsure...

When I go grocery shopping in Tokyo, I see these tiny, silvery fish presented in a hard to resist way. They are so small it almost seems unlikely that they are edible, or worth eating. I have walked past them many times, all the while thinking, "Someday, I want to try those little guys."

Well, I finally tried them. I just threw them in my grocery basket and said to myself (I say things to myself a lot lately. Don't be alarmed, it is just indicative of the huge amounts of free time I have to spend with myself at the moment while Brad is at work.) So anyway...I said to myself, "I'm going to be daring in the most undaring way and give these sardines a spin in the ole fish oven!" Yes. That's about how it went.

Drizzled a little olive oil. Sprinkled some salt and pepper. Broiled for about 5 minutes. Served with a side of Japanese mayonnaise. Eaten in one little bite. Pretty good. Not my favorite food, but I see why people like them. They must not have been too shabby because we finished them all...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Baseball game fun and fare in Japan.

In the last of the perfectly clear, cool evenings before the rapid change into humid, sweltering heat, one has to find ways to spend as much time outside as possible. We have used our balcony, gone to the river, taken bike rides, and left our windows wide open to let in the sweet smell of spring. While these are all fantastic reasons for being outdoors (or letting the outdoors in) it is difficult to compete with attending a baseball game in an outdoor stadium. Yes, even in Japan, the act of flocking to a stadium to watch a good old fashioned baseball game with beer in hand is readily accessible and fantastically popular.

There are, of course, some drastic differences. Japan being Japan, they have successfully made it possible for game-goers to purchase bentos, beers, souvenirs, and more, from street vendors on the sidewalks between the train stations and the stadium. On our walk to the game last night, we picked up some edamame, fried spring rolls, yakisoba, gyoza, and 3 cans of beer.

Buying edamame and beer...

In front of Jingu Stadium before the game with our supply of game time fare...

The amazing thing is that you can bring all of these foods/beverages into the stadium! In the States, you can't get into the stadium with a bottle of water. Here's the catch: you have to pour your beverage of choice into paper cups provided for you. Apparently they have had problems with people throwing cans or bottles at players (hard for me to imagine, as the crowds last night were far from malicious in any way) so instead of taking away the ability to bring beverages into the stadium, they somehow keep a completely organized process of politely taking your beverage can or bottle and pouring it into a cup. Here is a little commentary on the hilarious illustration and caption from the cup:

Being the good Minnesotan that I am, I adore the Twins. I am not a fan of most other sports, but the Twins I will follow forever and ever and ever. End of story. (And if Brad asks, I am a Broncos fan too- even though I can't make it through a game without falling asleep. Woo Broncos!) Back to the important stuff. When I go to a Twins game, I always have a "Dome Dog" and a beer. Those are my staples. I did not expect to find anything close to my usual "Dome Dog" piled with relish, onions, ketchup and mustard. To my surprise, when we walked into the stadium after having our beers transferred to their allowed paper cups, the clouds parted, the angels began singing, and the sun shone down on...a HOT DOG STAND! Yessssss.

You can probably guess that I made it to the stand before the end of the game. Brad was in charge of eating the food we picked up on the way to the game, while I held out for my much anticipated hot dog. After the 6th inning, we went to stand in line. A woman came up to me with a piece of paper, asked me what I wanted, wrote it down and handed the paper to me. I had pointed to a picture of what looked as much like a dome dog as possible. After I ordered at the counter, I was handed a little cardboard hot dog holder with...a bratwurst?

So excited!!!

Somehow, I had ordered a bratwurst instead of a hot dog. Super. I decided to be excited about it anyway- I like brats, right? No worries...the "Dome Dog" will have to wait until the appropriate time at a Twins game this summer. After loading the brat with relish, onions, ketchup and mustard, we returned to the game and ordered two beers from the Beer Girls. They were crazy cool. They looked like they were carrying rocket packs on their backs but actually it was 25kg of beer! Their outfits were a riot and when you politely raised a hand to signify you needed a thirst quenching brew, she would smile delicately and with a twinkle in her eye, hand over a perfectly poured beer (in a paper cup).

I had a hard time watching the actual baseball game because the people were so interesting to watch. Maybe next time I will be a little less distracted. Maybe not. Either way, it was a perfect way to spend a clear, cool evening before the rapid change to the humid, sweltering heat of summer.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Edamame Soup in an Enlightened Kitchen.

While we were in Kyoto a little over a week and a half ago, I bought a cookbook entitled The Enlightened Kitchen. The author and wife of a Buddhist monk, Mari Fuji, compiled recipes commonly found in temple cuisine. All of the dishes are made with simple Japanese ingredients. The recipes are accompanied by a glossary of terms in the back of the book which also helps to explain how to use and select the various ingredients.

Needless to say, I fell in love with this cookbook the second I saw it. I needed something to help me understand more about Japanese vegetables (there are so many I still do not recognize or understand how to prepare). The Enlightened Kitchen not only gave me useful information about Japanese ingredients, it also helped give me a new motivation to try cooking more Japanese-influenced food. I continually fall back on the foods I am comfortable with, which does not usually involve Japanese cuisine. Lately, I have fallen into a rut of using familiar ingredients rather than learning as much as I can about the regional foods (a much cheaper option than almost all of my typical go-to recipes).

It is interesting how the food I make gives away my emotional state. This may sound crazy to some of you...or maybe you can relate to it 100%. Anyway, living in an unfamiliar place (yes, it is still unfamiliar after 9 months) can take a toll. Occasionally, I wish I could drive over to my parents' house for hamburgers and potato salad on the deck. I wish I didn't have to deal with my crazy neighbor who says he can "hear me walk" (see Brad's post on this for details). I wish I had an oven so I could make some chocolate chip cookies!

On the other hand, I get to travel to amazing places. Brad and I have had so much fun discovering little idiosyncricies about Japan. We love the school we are both working at. We have made wonderful friends. There is no shortage of excitement, happiness, and curiosity. Life is anything but boring. The fact is, we are blessed to have this experience and I am not taking it for granted. I am, however, saying that I have off days. As a result of those off days, I crave comfort food and things that remind me of home. Today might be one of those days. One of those days where a momentary feeling of homesickness takes over.

This brings me to my earlier comment when I said this new cookbook of mine gave me new inspiration. I needed some inspiration to get me out of my rut. And this is the recipe that did it: Edamame soup.

Simple. Healthy. Delicious. Cheap. All important factors. Above all, it made me remember why I love cooking. I'm always learning new things about food, technique, and even about myself. Alright, enough of that. On to the recipe!

Edamame Soup from The Enlightened Kitchen
(serves 4)

10 1/2 ounces fresh or frozen edamame beans, in their pods
3 1/2 cups konbu stock (directions for this stock are below; I think you could use vegetable stock if you can't find konbu)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons soy sauce
4 shiso leaves, finely shredded, optional (I did not use these...)

1. Boil the edamame in their pods in salted water for 10 minutes, then drain. Shell when cool, taking care to also remove the thin inner membrane.

2. Blend the edamame and konbu stock in a food processor until smooth.

3. Pour the mixture into a saucepan, add salt and soy sauce, and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes.

4. Pour the soup into individual serving bowls and garnish with shredded shiso leaves, if available.

Konbu Stock from The Enlightened Kitchen
(makes about 1 2/3 cup stock- you will need two batches for the edamame soup)

1 2/3 cup water
1 piece dried konbu, 4 inches square

1. The white powder on the surface of dried konbu adds to the flavor, so do not wash the konbu before use, simply lightly wipe with a damp cloth.

2. Place the water and the konbu in a saucepan, and leave to soak for 2 or 3 hours.

3. Place the saucepan over medium heat. Just before the water boils, remove the konbu.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dried figs poached in white wine and orange juice reduction.

My plan today was this: blog a little, garden a little, laundry a little, read a little, homework a little. Somehow my plans never pan out. I have the entire day to accomplish so many things, and yet I cannot seem to get myself out of blogging mode today. In some ways this is refreshing, as I've been feeling a little short on ideas lately in the kitchen. Still, my list is not getting any shorter.

In the midst of my procrastination/path to inspiration, I was browsing around a website for illegal/legal foods for people suffering from Crohn's disease. (This is not something I am dealing with, but I have several family members who are). As I went down the list, the illegal foods seemed endless. Occasionally I would see something legal that I did not have in my kitchen, so I would quickly move on to the next item. I decided to try a new tactic: what do I already have in my kitchen and are those ingredients legal? Dried figs (legal), an orange (legal), white wine (legal), honey (legal), fresh thyme, basil and parsley (all legal)... What on earth could I do with those! They were all legal on the list, but what the... Wait. I got it! Light bulb moment!

I had read a recipe the other day for cherries poached in red wine. Why not try poaching dried figs in white wine? I wasn't sure if this even made sense, but I figured it couldn't hurt to give it a try.

The only way I remembered eating figs (aside from on their own) was in fig newtons when I was little. I was never sure if I really liked them or not. Fortunately, my appreciation for the taste of figs has developed beyond fig newton cookies. (Can one really call a newton a cookie? I'll never know the real answer to that questions. Typically if there isn't chocolate or I can't dip it in milk, I would have to say no). Although I have grown to like figs quite a lot, my knowledge of how to use them in my cooking is limited. This recipe was certainly an adventure for me.

I began by simmering the white wine until it reduced slightly. I then added fresh squeezed orange juice and honey to the wine and allowed it to reduce by about half. I then added the dried figs and poached them for about 5 minutes. They became soft and velvety in texture, with a slight crunch from the seeds on the inside. I served the figs with some pieces of parmesan cheese and a garnish of orange zest and fresh lemon thyme.

The parmesan cheese added a sligh saltiness to the dish and helped to balance the richness of the figs. The lemon thyme added a clean, herby flavor to each bite. Overall, this was a success!

Dried figs poached in white wine and orange juice reduction

4 large dried figs or 8 small, quartered
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup honey
zest of half an orange
1 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme leaves (or regular thyme)
small piece of parmesan cheese

In a saucepan, bring the wine to a simmer. Add the orange juice and honey and continue to simmer until reduced by half. Add the figs. Poach for 5 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, put the figs on a plate. Spoon a little more of the reduction over the top of the figs. Sprinkle with orange zest and thyme. Serve, warm or cold, with parmesan cheese.

A grown-up version of a childhood favorite.

One of my favorite week night meals as a little girl was something my mom made with pantry staples. A nice piece of bread, piled with tuna and topped with a slice of Kraft cheese. My mom would turn on the broiler and melt the cheese until it started to bubble and began to brown. Simple pleasures.

These days, Kraft cheese doesn't always cut it. Call me a food snob or whatever, but sometimes a girl needs something with a little more sophistication- am I right?

Back to the point- I experienced the same delectable simplicity in sandwich form during our second week after moving to Tokyo. Yep, that's right. The inspiration for this sandwich, oddly enough, comes from a restaurant here in Tokyo called Uncle Sam's. Their sandwiches are comfort food for me when I don't really want something sea weedy or raw fishy.

Brad had the day off on Monday and instead of spending all our time in the kitchen (which is usually find with me, but Brad always gets stuck with the dishes) we made this really easy sandwich.

Here is the recipe. I hope you'll give it a try and let me know what you think!

Grilled Tuna Sandwiches with Cheese and Avocado
Makes 2 sandwiches

4 slices of multi-grain bread
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 can tuna, drained and rinsed (packed in oil if you can find it)
3 tablespoons mayo
2 tablespoons yellow or dijon mustard (or to taste)
salt and black pepper to taste
2 slices gouda, swiss or cheddar cheese
1 avocado, sliced

Brush the bread with the olive oil. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the tuna, mayo, mustard, salt and pepper.

Make the sandwiches with the tuna and cheese only to start. Place the sandwiches in a panini grill, George Foreman grill (this is what I use), or heat on the stove top in a pan until the cheese melts. Remove the sandwiches from grill, take of the bread slice without the cheese and top with the avocado slices. EAT!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Sauteed Eggplant with Garlic Chips and Red Pepper Aioli

Someone very close to me has recently begun a very strict diet as the result of a medical problem. It is not a serious medical problem, but one of the most effective ways to deal with it is through diet change. Most of my blog posts do not accommodate her diet, so I have been thinking of something that is full of flavor and feels like an indulgence without ruining her diet.

My creative juices were not really flowing when I found out I couldn't use most ingredients I tend to gravitate to in the kitchen. However, without warning, the solution hit me. Ok, it may have hit me in a less natural way than I would have liked...but either way, I had a sort of epiphany.

From that epiphany came this recipe for sauteed eggplant. It's nothing overly impressive, but it is full of flavor and is relatively filling. Best of all, it fits the diet requirements I was challenged to meet.

Sauteed Eggplant with Garlic Chips and Red Pepper Aioli
Serves 2

for the eggplant:

2 Japanese Eggplants, cut in 1/4" slices at a diagonal
1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil

for the aioli (see note for alternative ingredients):

2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons mustard (use dijon if you are not on a special diet)
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
lemon juice
1/2 clove of garlic, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil
*this recipe uses raw egg yolks. if you are uncomfortable with this, do not use the egg yolks, use 1/3 cup of mayonnaise instead.

To make the aioli, put the egg yolks, mayonnaise, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, lemon juice and garlic in a food processor. Pulse to combine. With the machine running, stream the olive oil into the food processor until smooth. Set in the refridgerator until ready to use.

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sautee until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the eggplant and sautee until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side.

Transfer the eggplant and garlic to a bowl. Drizzle with the aioli and serve.