Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Buriram, Thailand

Last week, Brad and I were in Bangkok and Buriram, Thailand. We were working at an orphanage with a group of high school students and it was one of the most amazing experiences I have had to date. Experiencing Thailand for the first time, working at an orphanage and playing with the beautiful kids that live there, and of course, eating amazing food.
The experience was exciting, sad, overwhelming, and enlightening at the same time. The children were lovely. One little girl, Dtoy (pronounced like 'toy' with a soft 't'), absolutely stole my heart while were in Buriram (and I'm pretty sure she kept it there with her...) Her tender love for everything was something I had not seen in such a young girl. We played a game where I would hold her, count to three, then flip her upside down. Every time we would stand back up, I would have pieces of hair in my face. She would take her little fingers and gently move each hair behind my ear before saying, "One more" in a very soft voice. Her giggle when she was hanging upside down in my arms was enough to make anyone fall in love with her right then and there. Here she is:


Read more about our experience from our other blog here.

Before I attempt to make the dishes we had in Thailand, I wanted to share some photos of the food being made by the Thai woman who worked at the orphanage. Everything was simple and delicious. I was lucky that she did not get annoyed by my picture taking and question asking in the kitchen. I just had to learn!

One of the first dishes we had in Thailand was, of course, Pad Thai. I think it is like the Cheeseburger of America. You can find it all over the place and when it is made right, it can be the most satisfying meal. You might notice in the photos below that the cooking is happening outdoors. This is how they cooked the majority of their food. The prep happened in the kitchen, but the actually cooking (I'm assuming because it is too hot in the kitchen) happens outside on a patio.

We had fried chicken. Yep. And it was not KFC style. I tried to help with this but I guess I was too slow breading the chicken (keep in mind we were cooking for about 40 people every night- at least that's my excuse for being slow) because I got booted from my job... Anyway, along with the chicken we had stir-fried vegetables and fresh pineapple. The pineapple was my favorite part of the meal. Fresh pineapple is cut into chunks and a delicious, spicy-sweet topping of chili flakes, salt and sugar is sprinkled over the top. I made this immediately the first night we were back in Tokyo... not the same as in Thailand. Must try to get it right...

The next meal was Thai red curry with chicken. SO good! I love curry and this was possibly the best red curry I have ever eaten. She made it with sugar cane rather than straight up sugar. It gave the curry a softer sweetness and did not detract from the flavor of the curry paste.

Overall, the experience in Thailand was something I can only say is indescribable.

This week, Brad and I are moving into a new apartment, so I will not have much time for posting here. However, when I return, my posts will be full of Thai recipes! I hope you're as excited as I am!

Oh, I almost forgot... I am currently in LOVE with baby bananas. I don't know if that is their technical term, but that is how I will refer to them. We had them for dessert one night in Thailand and I think I may have eaten 4 of them... Baby bananas are lovely and delicious.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Preview of things to come...

This week, I am spending time in Buriram, Thailand working at an orphanage. We have been cleaning, painting, playing with the kids...it has all been an amazing experience.

Because the people who run the orphanage are Thai, they have been making some delicious, classic Thai fare for us to enjoy. The first night was Pad Thai (of course), last night was fried chicken and vegetables with pineapple for dessert, and tonight (drum roll please) will be red curry! I LOVE Thai curries and I am more than elated that I will be able to help prepare this dish with a wonderful Thai cook.

So, if you haven't already guessed, my blog posts when I return to Tokyo will be filled with Thai recipes that I have picked up during my time here. I can't wait to get cooking and blogging!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

No Country for Cupcakes!

All I want is a cupcake! A chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting. Or maybe white frosting. I'll take anything!

Sadly, cupcakes are a rarity in Japan. Not only because I don't own an oven and therefore cannot bake my own, but also because I never see cupcakes being sold anywhere. Has no one in this country discovered the simple deliciousness that comes from these teeny tiny cakes? This is how I felt until I found something wonderous and beautiful...

A bakery by the name of Nottinghill Cakes & Gifts set up a small stand in the shopping area down the street from our apartment. The moment I walked by and saw the gorgeous cupcakes under the glass counter, I had to have one. I bought two: Mont Blanc and Chocoholic (because that's what I am) and carefully carried the lovely treats home, trying very hard not to ruin the deliciously presented frosting.

I made it through the door and let out a sigh of relief when all of the sudden, without warning, the box containing the chocolatey gems bumped the wall. The Mont Blanc frosting was toast. It slid right off the cupcake and stuck to the side of the box. Fortunately, that was the one and only casualty. The Chocoholic stayed completely intact. Whew!

The cupcakes have been eaten and enjoyed. They were a wonderful treat! Thanks, Nottinghill Cakes!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Luck of the Irish

There is something special about St. Patrick's Day. Suddenly, in the midst of a sometimes dreary transition between winter and spring, everyone becomes Irish for a day. There is a reason to celebrate- although I don't know how many people actually know what they are celebrating. Laughter, celebration- who cares what the real reason is. People are happy.
This year, without our usual group of friends to celebrate with in the States and a busy schedule keeping us from celebrating much here in Tokyo, it seemed St. Patrick's Day would slip by quietly. This was a huge disappointment. Coming from a strong Irish heritage, I loosely refer to St. Patrick's Day as "my holiday." It was looking unlikely that this year would bring anything Irish to our table at Tokyo Terrace.

I was pleasantly surprised when Brad called and told me not to stop at the grocery store on my way home. He said, excitedly, "I'm making dinner tonight." Now, this is not an easy thing for me to deal with. Giving up my kitchen is like handing over my right arm. Okay, maybe not that severe. Still, I have serious control issues in the kitchen, mostly because I am the only one in it the majority of the time. The best way to maintain sanity when I'm not is to stay in a separate room where I cannot be a "back seat chef." So, I came home, went straight to the living room and worked on other things while the clang and clatter of pots and pans came from the kitchen.

It should be noted that when my husband cooks, it is usually from a short list of one of the following: macaroni and cheese (quite amazing actually- I will have to write a post about it sometime), grilled cheese and tomato soup, or stir fry. This experience had its moments. Before he started cooking, Brad actually had to ask what beef stock was. Later, he ran into the living room with tears streaming down his face, not from cutting himself, but from the agony of cutting eight cups of onions.
In the spirit of St. Patrick's Day, Brad made an unexpected dish that totally surprised me. It was not only Irish-themed, but something new! Two and a half hours later, two steaming bowls of Guinness and Onion Soup with an Irish Cheddar Crouton were presented for dinner:

We did not have any Irish cheddar here in Japan, so regular cheddar made an appearance instead. Although, swiss or Emmentaler would be great as well (oops...there is my back seat chef coming through). For the recipe that Brad used, click here.

As I sat in the living room, enjoying the smells coming from the kitchen, I thought to myself, "Maybe I can let go more often and let someone else do the cooking." Then, I realized I'd have to do the dishes. I think I'll stick to the cooking side of things!

Thanks to my hubby, this St. Patrick's Day was fun and special. Happy St. Patty's Day everyone!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Rainy Saturday Morning=Pancakes!

We woke up this morning to a gloomy, rainy, windy Saturday. The nice part about the rain is that it has that "almost spring" smell. The humidity is high and heavy (which is a strangely welcome feeling)and the scent of new flowers is in the air. It seemed to be the perfect morning for some lazy-day pancakes.

Pancakes make very few appearances at our breakfast table. After making this recipe, I think that will change. These pancakes have the nutrition of whole wheat flour, yogurt and olive oil. They are light and full of flavor, without being dry. I made enough to make 3 batches and am keeping the extra around for the next time we want to have pancakes. The recipe below makes enough of the dry mix to make about 36 pancakes. These are SO easy and delicious. I hope you'll try them!

Whole Wheat Yogurt Pancake (Dry Mix)

3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups white flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer to an airtight container.

Whole Wheat Yogurt Pancakes

2 cups of the dry pancake mix (recipe above)
2 eggs, separated
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup plain yogurt
2 teaspoons honey
lemon zest from one lemon

Place the 2 cups dry mix in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites, buttermilk, yogurt, honey and lemon zest. In another small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and olive oil. Whisk the wet ingredients in one bowl until combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry mix and stir until just combined. Lumps are good! Don't get rid of them!

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium non-stick pan. Measure 1/3 cup of the batter and pour into the pan. When you start to see small bubbles on the top of the pancakes and the edges are beginning to cook, flip the pancake.

Serve with maple syrup or fruit topping.

I hope this recipe cheers up any rainy Saturday morning you wake up to! For the hubby and myself, this recipe was the perfect way to kick of a relaxing Saturday at home.


Life here in Tokyo has been moving at a very fast pace lately. In general, we are keeping ourselves as busy as possible. In truth, we are blessed to be busy. At the same time, it can be hard to keep an optimistic attitude when things at home are piling up like dirty laundry- literally.

I made a decision that this Friday night would be for nothing but relaxation. This means making some yummy food that could easily be eaten while watching TV or playing video games (we do enjoy playing video games on our Nintendo Wii.)

I decided to make Japanese inspired finger food; gyoza and calamari. With a nice glass of wine, what better food could there be for a Friday night?

Since this food can tend to be less than healthy, I tried to opt for the healthiest method of preparing them. For the gyoza, I used spinach, diakon radish and tofu for the filling. The squid was more difficult to make "healthy" so I tried to make a healthy dip to go alongside using low-fat yogurt and spices.

Tofu, Spinach and Daikon Gyoza

1 cup firm tofu, cut into small cubes
4 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1 cup diced daikon radish
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon chili sauce or tobasco sauce
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
40 wonton wrappers

Combine the tofu, spinach and daikon in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, combine the fish sauce, soy sauce, chili sauce and red pepper flakes. Pour the sauce over the tofu mixture. Lay out the wonton wrappers on a cutting board or counter top. Working on one wonton wrapper at a time, spoon a small amount of the tofu filling in the middle of the wrapper. Using your finger, line the edge of the wrapper with water and seal the edges together until all the gyoza are filled and sealed.

In a medium pan, heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil until slightly smoking. Add the gyoza, being careful not to crowd the pan. Cook the gyoza for 2 minutes per side or until golden brown and crispy. Serve with sweet chili sauce.

Calamari Dip

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup low-fat plain yogurt
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
white pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon balm or cilantro

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Serve alongside calamari for dipping.

Calamari (Fried Squid)

4 small squid bodies and tentacles, sliced into rings
1 cup corn flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
2 egg whites
1/2 cup oil

Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl or on a plate. In a seperate small bowl, whisk the egg whites lightly. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan.

Coat the squid rings and tentacles with the egg whites and transfer to the dry ingredients. Coat with the dry ingredients and put on a plate. Carefully place the squid in the hot oil and fry for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Garnish with cilantro or lemon balm.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Old recipe, new tricks.

When I was about 12 years old, my mom taught me to make a chicken casserole that we called "Rachael's Chicken Supreme." It was made with chicken breasts, cream of chicken soup, and some form of cooking wine, probably sherry. It was topped with slices of swiss cheese and breadcrumbs and cooked in the oven. Super easy. Super delicious.

I haven't eaten this meal in years but when my mom told me the other day the she and my dad had Rachael's Chicken Supreme for dinner the other night, I remembered the comforting taste and satisfied feeling I had after making it for my family.

Here in Tokyo, we do not have an actual baking oven. We have a stove top with 3 burners, which is great.... but still... no oven. Without an oven, how was I going to recreate Rachael's Chicken Supreme? While the recipe turned into something vaguely reminiscent of it's original casserole, the end result was something more grown up. I guess you could say it's built more for the 25 year old version of me rather than the 12 year old.

I've replaced the cream of chicken soup with a cranberry, walnut and mushroom chutney made with a little whisky, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. I found this to be a surprising but delicious combination of flavors. Tartness from the cranberries. Sweetness from the sugar. Earthiness from the walnuts and mushrooms... The whisky added just the right amount of kick and heat, while the crunch of the walnuts helped to balance the texture of the cranberries and mushrooms.

To adapt to my non-oven way of cooking, I pan roasted the chicken, then put it in our fish oven (like a small broiler) to melt the cheese on top.

Here is the recipe:

Rachael's Chicken Supreme (the revised version)
with dried cranberry, walnut and mushroom chutney

2 chicken breasts
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
2 slices raclette cheese

for the chutney:

1 shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh mushrooms, any variety
handful of dried cranberries, chopped
handful of walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup whisky
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
white pepper

For the chutney, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a small to medium sized pan. Add the shallot and ginger and cook until fragrant, abou 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and cook, over low heat, for about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high and add the cranberries and walnuts. Add the whisky and cook for 30 seconds, then add the brown sugar, stirring constantly. Add the basamic vinegar, salt and white pepper to taste. Cook for 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a medium pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken breasts and add to the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes per side, allowing the sides to brown. (Timing may vary depending on the size and thickness of the chicken breasts. If you have the option, I would recommend browning the chicken in the pan then transferring it to the oven, covered in foil, to prevent the chicken from drying out.)

When the chicken is done, top with the raclette and heat under the broiler until it is melted and beginning to bubble and brown.

Transfer the chicken to a plate, top with the chutney and serve with a simple green salad and some crusty bread.

As you can see, my husband seemed to appreciate the meal:

Monday, March 9, 2009

Something New

After a long, stressful journey to the U.S. this past week, my husband and I were craving something healthy (as in NOT fast food), flavorful and new. Our diet has recently consisted of Subway, McDonald's, and Chili's. Ugh. I feel so bogged down by both the food portions (way too much) and the type of food we had to eat. I should mention that this is not normally how we eat when we travel to the U.S., but we were on a trip with a group of 16, 17 and 18 year old boys. Need I say more about the diet they are accustomed to?

I went to the grocery store this evening with no particular plan in mind except to fulfill the aforementioned requirements. After wandering around for a little while, I started to get some ideas. I picked up some bok choy, pumpkin (in Japan, pumpkin looks more like what we call squash in the U.S.- green skin, orange flesh), fresh udon noodles, shitake mushrooms and bass fillets. In the back of my mind, I had a list of the ingredients I already had at home and could use to put together a healthy meal. I am getting much more comfortable cooking without a recipe in front of me and trying to work with what I already know about different flavors and how to create a meal out of various types of ingredients. So, tonight was another adventure in the kitchen! Here is what I came up with...

Asian Spice Rubbed Bass with Udon and Stir-Fried Vegetables

Serves 2

2 bass fillets
Asian spice rub (recipe below)
4 tablespoons cooking oil
1 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chili sauce or tobasco sauce
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, chopped
Udon Noodles
bok choy
4 shitake mushrooms
black sesame seeds

For the spice rub:

2 tablespoons sea salt
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon anise seed
1 tablespoon olive oil or other cooking oil

In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the spice rub. Add the oil and mix into a paste-like consistency. Rub all sides of each bass fillet with the spice rub. Set aside.

In a medium or large pot of boiling water, add the udon noodles and cook according to the package directions. In a small pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the bass fillets and cook until golden brown and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side.

Meanwhile, in a wok or large sautee pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add 1 tablespoon each of the chopped garlic and ginger and heat until fragrant (about 1 minute). Add the pumpkin and mushrooms and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the bok choy and cook for 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce, fish sauce, chili sauce and vinegar to the sautee pan and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the cooked Udon noodles to the pan and toss to coat with the sauce (it will be a very light coating).

Serve with a sprinkle of the black sesame seeds.

You have to be very careful with the amount of salt in the spice rub- less is more!