To nourish your mind as well as your body

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Time Away

Hello, all!

I wanted to drop a line to let you know - if any of you are wondering - that I'll be away from my kitchen until July 6th due to the fact that I'm currently in production for a film. The delicious fun will resume shortly.

Wishing you a wonderful (safe) 4th of July!


Friday, June 18, 2010

Bento 6: Tri-Color Bento

Today's bento was a tasty treat. Eat each part separate or mix them all together. It tastes great either way. Good hot or cold. Which is good, because you'll end up with leftover soboro for days (I am already eagerly anticipating this...).

Turkey and Beef Soboro
(makes too many servings to count)

1 lb ground lean turkey meat
1 lb ground lean beef
1-2 tbsp sesame oil, divided
1/2 cup green onions, chopped, green and white (~2 stalks)
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp mirin
3 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp thai fish sauce

Heat 1 tbsp sesame oil in pan and stir fry green onions. Add meat; brown. Add sugar; caramelize. Add mirin; evaporate. Add soy and fish sauce; simmer. Taste for seasoning.

Now you can end there, and just enjoy it. It's very tasty at this stage. Or you can go a step further if you have a meat grinder (I used my attachment to my mixer):

Pour contents through a strainer, saving the juices in a large bowl. Then put all the meat/garlic/green onions through the meat grinder until it comes out in teeny tiny mushed up bits. Collect these bits in the bowl with the juice, stir well to coat, and refrigerate.

Carrot Brown Rice
1 cup brown rice
1/2 cup carrot juice

Using a rice cooker, put 1 cup brown rice in with 1/2 cup carrot juice and then fill to the 1 cup line inside the bowl. Cook like normal brown rice. It will come out orange and mildly flavored. So good!

Asian Pickles
(This recipe was donated by Abby Palanker, who made these delicious pickles and kindly agreed to give me the recipe when I begged.)

2 boxes persian cucumbers (TJ's)
1 tbsp salt
4 garlic cloves minced
1 tsp crushed red pepper
3 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp sugar

[Note: I made a half of this recipe and it's still a lot. I replace the sugar with brown sugar, halved the salt, and left out the crushed red pepper. Very tasty both ways.]

Slice cucumber 1/4 inch thick. Mix with rest of the ingredients.
Leave on counter for several hours, stirring now and then. Refrigerate.

And that is it. All together, it was so good! Yum yum yum. Nom nom nom.
Go on! Have a peace!

Sesame Sweet Potato Morsels

Here's a delicious recipe I rolled out of my brain today. Another sweet-potato snack that will make you smack your lips in delight. :)

Sesame Sweet Potato Morsels
(makes 44 bite sized morsels)

2 medium sweet potatoes
2 small spoonfuls brown sugar
1/2 cup sorghum flour
3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds, plus more for sprinkling
juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup carrot juice
1/2 tsp baking powder

Brush the outsides of the sweet potatoes with a thin layer of olive oil and bake at 425 F for 1 hour.

Remove them, peel them [judiciously eating the skins to minimize clean up ;) ], slice them, and throw them in a mixing bowl. Mash them up (you can use a potato masher - I used a spoon). Add the other ingredients and mix well.

Next using a small spoon (I used a melon ball scooper), dollop out a little round of the batter onto a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Should make 2 sheets of 22 dollops.

For one sheet, I dribbled a little drop of honey on top of each cookie and then sprinkled sesame seeds on top of that. For the other, I drizzled a little olive oil over the top of each, which caramelized gently during the baking process.

I wasn't sure how these were going to come out, but they ended up sort of like a cross between a soft cookie, a delicious baked yam, and a sesame bar. So good, and not too sweet. :) Go on! Have a peace!

[Note: I have just been notified that this is a "free" food on the Weight Watcher's program. Can this be true?? Anyway. Eat without guilt regardless.]

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bento Box 5: 'What's in my fridge?' Bento

I had planned on making beef soboro and sweet potatoes, but got too bogged down with research for my new acting project to make it out of the house (I'll make this on Friday). The result?

'What do I have in my refrigerator?' Bento: Tamagoyaki, brown rice, miso soup, and a dessert of a small no-pudge brownie slice and 2 strawberries. Aww. My lucky roommate.

What is tamagoyaki, you ask? Have you ever been to a sushi restaurant and gotten that delicious sweet egg omelet along with your fish sushi? That egg is tamagoyaki. I followed the recipe on Just Hungry, cutting down the sugar they used and replacing what remained with date sugar. They have an excellent, step-by-step pictorial guide through this if you need it.

(makes 2 servings)

4 large eggs
1 tsp date sugar
1 tsp mirin
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp soy sauce
oil for cooking (I used olive oil)

Prepare a small bowl of oil and a heat-resistant brush.

Heat a small, pre-oiled pan on medium-low heat.

Beat together the ingredients with a fork and then run it through a mesh strainer.

Brush the heated pan with a little oil. Put in about 3 tbsp of the egg mixture. Cook until the egg has not quite set. Roll up with a fork to one side of the pan.

Brush the expose part of the pan with a little oil.

Put another 3 tbsp of egg mixture into the pan. Spread it evenly and make sure some of it gets under the cooked, rolled egg. Cook until this layer is almost set, then roll the whole egg to the opposite side of the pan.

Repeat until you've used up all the egg mixture.

Moisten a sushi rolling mat and roll the cooked egg (it looks kind of like a burrito) in the mat. I thwak'd it a couple times with my rice mallet to really squeeze it together.

Then leave the roll in the mat over a raised rim plate. Allow to cool, then slice and enjoy. :) I served these over some brown rice in the bento.

As for the rest of the bento box, I'm just not going to tell you. :) The miso soup recipe is available here. And the no-pudge brownie recipe is available on the back of TJ's No Pudge Brownie Mix. Yeah, I cheated. *hangs head impishly* Forgive me?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Yummy Miso Soup

Have you ever had that strange experience where you're drinking some miso soup at a restaurant and it's a) too mild, b) too bland, or c) makes you feel like you rubbed your tongue with sandpaper? Never have these problems again! Make your own miso! It's ridiculously easy and - can I just say without humility - totally and incredibly tasty.

Yummy Miso Soup
(makes 4-5 servings)

~3 oz kombu (dried seaweed), was about a sheet for the brand I bought, cut into thirds to fit into my pot
3 tbsp miso paste
2 shiitake mushrooms
4 green onions, chopped
1 block extra firm tofu

Place the kombu in a pot with 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Remove the kombu just as the water reaches its boiling point and save it. (I used my boiled kombu again and made a whole extra batch for the fridge). This is what you call 'dashi stock' - sort of a salty broth.

Ladle out a goodly amount of the broth into a separate bowl and stir in the miso paste so that it melts.

Add your chopped green onions to the pot of stock. Stir for 3-4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and tofu. Stir for an additional 2-4 minutes.

Last, add the melted miso to the main pot. Stir until its well combined.

Yes. That's all folks. Prepare for the silky smooth awesomeness of homemade miso.

*And because you get to make it all for you, if you want more or less of any ingredient, or different mushrooms, or whatever - you can have it! Pretty neat, eh?

Forgo a spoon with this. Slurp with pride and use chopsticks to pick out the veggies and tofu. Slurping is a sign you're enjoying yourself. :)

[P.S. There is a version of this where you can stew some hijiki seaweed in when you add the green onions in the beginning. If you like the taste of sea weed and its enormous nutritional value, try this for an added flavor.]

[Note: I have changed this recipe. Adding the miso paste last prevents the boiling process from destroying the beneficial bacteria in the paste and keeps it from forming those clumps that are so common in miso soups!]

Q & A: What is miso paste and are there any substitutes for miso paste?

Miso paste is a sticky paste made from soy beans and/or grains that have been fermented. (This is the process used to make soy sauce, btw.) It aids in the digestion and assimilation of nutrients from food and also has antioxidant properties and contains an alkaloid called "dipicolinic acid", which bonds to heavy metals and helps the body get rid of them.

Miso paste is used for its distinct flavor and I'm pretty sure there aren't any exact substitutes for it. It comes in a variety of different ratios and subtle flavors, but there are three main categories: white, black, and red. White and red are the most easily located in the US.

Some of the versions:

Black miso paste [hat-cho miso or mamemiso] - a very strong salty variety - is made with soy beans, fermented, and aged for up to three years.
Red miso paste [akamiso] is usually made from barley or rice (not soy beans - I did not know this) and put through a fermentation process, then aged anywhere from 4-8 months depending on the brand. [If you do have a soy allergy, this might be a good alternative - double check this somewhere else before you try it though. This information has come from two different sources, but when dealing with food allergies, it's best to actually consult a physician!] *I use the red, because it's what I found when I went to Little Tokyo, and I really enjoy it. It has a full, rich flavor and lacks the tangy sharpness I've experienced with some misos.
Barley miso [mugi miso] is reddish brown and a little sweeter than some other misos.

Cold Mountain Brand Variations:
Light Yellow [shinshu shiro miso] is made from soy beans and grains, fermented, and aged 10-12 weeks. It has a light flavor and a gentle aroma.
Mellow White: "rich, natural flavor...delicate and subtly sweet". Aging time 2-3 weeks.
Kyoto Red: 60% less sodium, "dessert like sweetness". Aging 2-3 weeks.
Kyoto White: 60% less sodium, "rich and... sweet". Aging 5-6 weeks.

Now, I stand corrected from my previous comment. According to the Cook's Thesaurus, you can substitute soy sauce (1 tsp soy sauce for 1 tbsp miso paste) or a bouillon cube (1 vegetable or beef bouillon cube for 1 tbsp miso paste).

I have not tried any of these variations, so I cannot vouch for their tastiness factor or how they combine with the other ingredients. Unless you have a soy allergy, I strongly suggest trying the miso paste. I mean - it's "miso" soup. Can't have real miso soup without miso in it, right?

You can find miso paste in the refrigerator section of some supermarkets, all asian supermarkets, Whole Foods, or purchase it online from an asian grocery - I posted a link to one I've used under Bento Box 1. Buy a box, keep it in your fridge. It stays good for months.

There is also the option of buying the powdered versions of miso for soups, but I recommend the paste. I've tried both, and there's just more flavor to the paste.

A note on soy:

There was a lot in the media a while ago about how eating too much soy product (they were talking about people eating mostly tofu) leads to serious iodine deficiencies. Asian diets compensate for this by also consuming seaweed, which is rich in iodine. The main message is this: too much of any one thing is bad. The more colors on your plate (green is important and food coloring doesn't count), the more likely you are to get all the nutrients your body needs.

Q & A: Are there any substitutes for seaweed?

If you're not a huge fan of seaweed, don't let this frighten you away. The Kombu is dried when you add it and you never even have to touch it once it's been boiled, so you don't experience the "slimy factor" I hear people complain about. The stock does not taste "fishy" the way I've heard some of my less seaweed enthusiastic friends describe seaweed. Boiling the kombu releases natural salts that give the broth a delicious flavor.

Another alternative for homemade dashi stock is called "katsuo dashi", which is a variation that involves boiling katsuoboshi (dried bonito flakes). Bonito flakes are dried tuna flakes, basically. I did try this and I actually kind of liked it - although I prefer the kombu stock. Recipe for katsuo dashi.

Here are some other alternatives that I haven't taste-tested: niboshi dashi (made from dried sardines) and hoshi-shiitake (made from dried shiitake mushrooms).

Q & A: How do you use pre-made dashi stock?

If you decide to skip the (really easy) process of making your own dashi and use the pre-made kind... You can buy dashi stock - the name for the stock that results from boiling the kombu - pre-made or powdered from asian groceries. Just be aware it usually comes in smallish bottles or one serving packets.

Dashi powder: You use about 1 tsp for every 3-5 cups of water, depending on how strong a flavor you're looking for. The package will have instructions on it (hopefully in English).

Bottled dashi stock: I actually bought a bottle of this at the asian market before I realized how easy and delicious it is to make this stuff from scratch. (If you're at the store that has this, you will easily find the ingredients needed for making the stock.) What you want to do with this is taste test. Take 3 cups of water to start with and add 1/2 tbsp of the bottle dashi to the water, tasting until you find the right ratio. I never found one that I was completely happy with in the way I was with the homemade stock; you might.

Please be aware that most of the pre-made dashi stocks have extra salt in them. I'm not a big sodium hound, so I don't like them as much, but... que sera sera.

Bento Box 4: Sweet Sesame Bento

Another Monday, another bento!

When I was growing up, the only thing I would eat at chinese restaurants was sesame chicken. I loved it! To be honest, I still do, but most of the time when you get it, it's covered in breading and thick syrupy sauce. That's just no good.

Here's an alternative, along with some delectable spinach. Enjoy!

Sesame Chicken
(makes 2 servings)

meat of 4 chicken thighs, skin and fat removed, cut into bit size pieces
1 tbsp soy sauce (+ more to your discretion)
1 tsp mirin
2 tsp sesame oil, divided
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (use a nice thick one for this)
1 tsp honey
toasted sesame seeds

Mix the seasonings together in a bowl and marinate the raw chicken in it for 10-20 minutes, making sure the chicken is well-coated. Spray oil on a non-stick pan and pour 1 tsp sesame oil into the pan. Heat to medium heat. 
Lay out the marinated chicken on a piece of wax paper and shake sesame seeds out over the chicken and press them into the meat with a fork. Turn them over and sprinkle sesame seeds over the other side. Press them into the chicken again. Then transfer the chicken to the pan and cook until both sides get a nice, delicious seared brown color (took me about 4 minutes a side). As always, make sure your chicken is cooked all the way through!!
And you're done in no time. So good!

Marinated Spinach
(makes 2 servings)

~4 generous handfuls of baby spinach, roughly chopped
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp soy sauce
toasted sesame seeds

Blanch the spinach. [Boil it for 3-4 minutes, then take out, drain, and douse in cold water.] Mix the seasonings in a small tupperware container. Add spinach in, mix. Sprinkle in a generous portion of sesame seeds. Cover. Shake to really soak the spinach. Set in your fridge and chill for 15 minutes to overnight. 

Go on! Have a peace!

Q&A: What is Mirin?

Mirin is a Japanese cooking wine, or 'seasoning wine', made from glutinous rice. It has a low alcohol content and a very sweet taste. You should be able to find it in the liquor department at your local supermarket, or at a wine and spirit shop, even though it's extraordinarily low on the tipsy scale. (Manufacturers of Mirin only ferment it long enough to achieve the proper sweetness, without an eye for alcohol content.)
Mirin has a golden hue, sort of like the color you find in Tej or mead - very pretty. It is generally used as an additive in sauces and can even tone down the tastes and odors of a variety of meats (like fish). Apparently it is sometimes brushed onto fish and roasts to give these dishes a "sheen". In Japan, pleasantness of presentation is half the battle.
So that's my little expose on Mirin. Use it in very small amounts - a little goes a long way. :)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bento Box 3: Savory Strips Bento

Haha! Last bento box of the week! Another quick/easy/delicious for my wonderful roommate and me. Today was another one pan wonder: shredded chicken and cabbage stir fry and steamed bell pepper strips with sesame seeds. Again, I remind you: these two recipes, combined with 1 cup of brown rice, equals a filling meal for two people. Or one person over two meals. :)

Shredded Chicken and Cabbage Stir Fry

1 chicken breast
2 handfuls shredded cabbage
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 large green onion, diced
2 tsp sesame oil

Boil water in a deep sided pan. Insert whole chicken breast into boiling water.

Chop green onions and place into a small bowl with soy sauce. Let sit. (If necessary, also shred cabbage. I bought mine pre-shredded from TJ's.)

When chicken is thoroughly cooked (took me about 8 minutes - make sure it really is cooked through) remove it to a plate and, using two forks, tear it into little shredded bits the way you always wanted to when you were a kid but couldn't get away with.

Pour the water out of the pan, replace it on the stove, lower to medium heat, and add the sesame oil.

Now add the chicken and cabbage. Stir for about 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce and green onions. Stir until well coated. Remove and serve. Easy peasy.

Steamed Bell Pepper Strips w/ Sesame Seeds

1 bell pepper
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Cut bell pepper. Clean out seeds. Slice into thin slices. Steam. Toss with soy sauce and sesame seeds. The end.

[PS. Not quite the end - Previously, I have used my little steamer tray, inserted in a pot, to steam veggies, but I recently discovered this nifty little nuke tool from Progressive that lets you steam them in a little tray. It's small, handy, and dishwasher safe. Used it for this and it worked like a charm. :) ]
[PPS. Did you know steaming is much healthier than boiling? Boiling leeches out the nutrients from your vegetables! Which, for some folks (not me), is the only reason people eat vegetables! Ridiculous! Plus, steamed vegetables just taste better. Probably because your body is saying - yes. These have things I can use in them. Steam your veggies!]

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

June Haiku!

をさなごの中に我見る浮いてこい 上田日差子

osanago no naka ni ware miru uitekoi

         I see me

         in a young child—

         rubber duck

                  Hizashi Ueda

from “Gendai Haiku Hyakunin Nijukku” (“Modern Haiku: 20 Haiku per100 Poets”), edited by Kazuo Ibaraki, Kiyoko Uda, Nenten Tsubouchi, Kazuko Nishimura, You-shorin, Nagano, 2004

[Thank you for the reminder. I've been swamped. :) ]

Bento Box Day 2: Down Home Bento

Day 2 of my bento box experiment. For the history of this experiment, see Bento Box Day 1 and Little Tokyo. Today's bento box was for those without an asian market (see! I read my comments!): one pan soy-fried beef tip steak, brown rice, roasted corn, snow peas, and shiitake mushrooms.

Soy-fried Steak, with roasted corn, snow peas, and shiitake mushrooms
(Makes 3 well balanced and filling servings. Takes ~ 15 minutes.)

1 thin beef tip steak, in 1" slices
sprinkle of salt
sprinkle of pepper
~2 tbsp soy sauce, divided
6 tbsp corn
handful snow peas, sliced
2 shiitake mushrooms, sliced

Oil a pan and turn on high heat. Add the steak slices into the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brown well on both sides until it gets those tasty little dark brown crispy bits; pour in 1 tbsp soy sauce. Stir to coat.

Remove meat.

Add corn and snow peas to the same pan, stir in with additional .5-1 tbsp soy sauce, over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes. Last, add the sliced mushrooms in and stir for another minute or so.

Remove. And you're done. Yum yum. :)


Monday, June 7, 2010

Bento Box Day 1: Shrimp and Salad Bento

So, Day 1 of my bento box experiment went fairly well. As I mentioned previously, I have begun making bento box lunches for my lovely roommate as a culinary experiment.

Monday's box was homemade miso soup with shrimp and tofu shuumai and a carrot sesame salad. [No picture of the soup.] I'll preface this by saying two things. 1) No. I did not make these up (although I did make a few alterations; I couldn't stop myself). The intuitive knowledge of how to make shuumai was not previously in my brain. The recipes for today originated on Just Bento, which is a seriously awesome bento guidance site. 2) Some of these ingredients may look strange, but you'd be surprised where you can find them. I bought mine in Little Tokyo. But after I made my first batch of miso from scratch (and realized it was going to become a staple in my diet because it's ridiculously tasty), I started looking for nearby asian groceries and they're *all over*. And if, by some chance, there isn't one in your area, you can also order most of these directly from Asian Food Grocer.

Shrimp and Tofu Shuumai
(makes 28)

1/2 lb uncooked shrimp, chopped
1 block extra-firm tofu, chopped
1 package shumai skins (You can use wonton skins, too, but the shuumai skins are smaller and thinner)
4 green onions, diced
1 tsp miso paste
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp mirin
pinch of salt
1 tbsp cornstarch

Note: This is one of those food processor recipes.

Okay. Now that all that's done.

Place tofu, miso paste, soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil and cornstarch in the food processor and blend until it's a nice paste. Then add the green onions and shrimp and grind them up.

Now take the package of shuumai. When you open this pack, put it under a bowl to help seal in the moisture. These skins dry out pretty quick.

Place a skin on the palm of your hand. Scoop a spoonful of the blended (and tasty smelling) mix into the center of the skin. Make a circle with your fingers, placing your thumb and forefinger together, and squeeze the filled skin down through the circle. Tap on the bottom to flatten and squeeze gently with your fingers to tighten the dumpling. [If you want a visual for this, go visit Just Bento.] Repeat with all the skins in the pack.

Now take a large, non-stick frying pan. Spray a little oil on and smooth it around. Place the shuumai in the pan and carefully pour in water to half-height of the dumplings. Cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes. DO NOT DO what I did. While my dumplings came out delicious and infinitely edible, they were not as pretty as they could have been because I walked away for a minute and the water boiled over the dumplings.

I placed an edamame on top of each of my shuumai, for kicks.

And ta da! All done! Next. The vegetable side!

Carrot Sesame Salad
(2 servings)

2 medium carrots
handful snow peas
juice of 1 small lemon
1 generous spoonful soy sauce
1/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 generous spoonful furikake  (I used the bonito flake and egg mix, but there's many varieties)

Grate carrots. Mix in seasonings. Stir. Serve.