sansai gohan (with recipe)

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paul, elijah and i spent a week in ontario this summer. we went to visit our family and friends there.

we went to georgian bay, kingston and ottawa. it was a very busy schedule, but we managed to get a few hours in toronto to visit one place we really wanted to go – J-town!

J-town is a little japanese mall in the suburbs in toronto. there are a few small shops, and a grocery store, and a restaurant. i bought a lot of japanese books and groceries, things that i can’t usually buy in canada.

best of all, i found a package of sansai (mountain vegetables)! it’s been a long, long time since i ate sansai. sansai gohan and sansai soba are my favorite.

since elijah was born, i’ve learned to prep supper after eating supper the night before. this way, i don’t have to spend as much time in the kitchen in the evening, when elijah usually turns into mr. fussypants :D

recipe for sansai gohan

  • 3 cups rice
  • 660ml water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1.5 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1.5 Tbsp sake
  • 0.5 tsp salt
  • 200g sansai
  1. wash rice and soak in the water for 30 minutes
  2. boil sansai in hot water and drain
  3. put rice and water in the rice cooker
  4. add sugar, soy sauce, sake and salt and mix well
  5. place sansai on top of the rice
  6. cook until it’s done.

you can add dried shiitake and fried tofu if you like.

happy white day! (mille-feuille)

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in japan, women give chocolate to men on valentine’s day. and men return gifts a month later on white day (march 14th). on white day, men can give anything in white: underwear, handkerchiefs, jewelry, etc.

in canada, men give roses to women on valentine’s day. i have the luxury of receiving a gift, but there is no official day to return the favor. so i decided to return the tradition and give something white on white day. last year, i made white mochi filled with raspberries and white chocolate. this year, i made mille-feuille.

for valentine’s, paul and i went to moose jaw, about two hours drive south from saskatoon. moose jaw has a spa with a natural hot spring outdoor bath. i didn’t realize there was a hot spring in saskatchewan — i thought they were only in british columbia and alberta. so it was a nice surprise when paul found out about the spa in moose jaw.

the room we stayed in had a jet bath right next to the bed — no door involved. it reminded me of love hotels in japan, but it was surprisingly less tacky. maybe because there was no neon, or mirrors over the bed.

there’s an indoor pool on the top floor of the hotel that extends outside, where there’s a balcony surrounding the hot pool with the open sky above. in japan, this kind of thing is called “rotenburo” (literally, “bath under the skies”). people like to go to rotenburo especially in winter, when you can take a bath surrounded by snow.

this is canada, so the “rotenburo” was a pool, not a bath. everyone wears swimsuits, unlike in japan.

after dinner, we went to the outdoor pool. it was nearly midnight – around closing time, so there was only one other couple there. they were making out in the middle of the indoor pool, so we headed outside. the bath was surrounded by thousands of tiny christmas lights wrapped around the winter trees and we could see stars overhead. clouds of steam softened the effect. it was very beautiful. when the steam wrapped around the bare trees and fell down to us, it was as if we had thousands of leaves wrapped around us.

here’s the recipe i used for mille-feuille, from the joy of cooking. i cheated and bought frozen puff pastry, instead of making my own.

recipe

you need puff pastry. i bought it, cut it with a cookie cutter, and baked it according to the instructions. you can make your original pastry, if you know how. good luck…

the trick with the pastry is to press it down while baking so it doesn’t rise too much. i didn’t have anything to press it down with, so my mille-feuille is way too puffy.

pastry cream

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 TBSP all-purpose flour
  • 2 TBSP cornstarch
  • 4 large egg yolk

beat in a medium bowl on high speed until thick and pale yellow (about two minutes).

meanwhile, in a medium saucepan:

  • 1 1/3 cups milk

bring to a simmer.

gradually pour about one-third of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking to combine. scrape the egg mixture back into the pan and cook over low to medium heat, whisking constantly and scraping the bottom and corners of the pan to prevent scorching, until the custard is thickened and beginning to bubble. then continue to cook, whisking, for 45 to 60 seconds. using a clean spatula, scrape the custard into a clean bowl.

stir in:

  • 3/4 tsp vanilla

cover the surface of the custard with a piece of wax or parchment paper to prevent a skin from forming. let cool, then refrigerate before using. this keeps, refrigerated, for up to two days.

raspberry sauce

combine and bring to a boil over low heat:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water

add:

  • 1 cup fresh or unthawed frozen raspberries

stir until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.

add:

  • 1/2 tsp grated orange zest, vanilla

blend it with a hand blender and strain and discard seeds and pulp. pour the sauce back into a saucepan and reduce sauce by half.

layer the puff pastry circles with custard and raspberry sauce. serve with a glass of milk and a kiss.

osechi 2: pirikara-konnyaku, tataki gobo, and kobumaki (recipes)

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most recipes for osechi ryori (traditional japanese new year’s dishes) make enough to feed a family of four for three days. my family is only two people (paul and i) so far, so i didn’t want to make too much. we were just planning to eat osechi ryori for one day, because we can never do the same thing again and again.

so, i did some research and found a japanese website that shows you how to make osechi ryori for two people. i think it’s kind of romantic…

even though i was just making osechi for two, it took a lot of prep work and cooking to make all the various small dishes. my admiration for my mother’s effort in preparing osechi for my family every year grew and grew…

while i was cooking, i amused myself by thinking about how osechi is actually a bit lame. i might offend some japanese people by saying so, but it’s true. osechi is full of “dajare” (bad puns) and “oyaji-gyagu” (“old man gags”, corny jokes). so many of the dishes have names that are meant to bring health and good luck, but they sound like really bad jokes.

for example:

  • black beans are “kuro-mame” : “mame ni ikiru” means “live healthy”
  • kelp (kobu) : “yorokobu” means joy
  • snapper (tai) : “medetai” means joyful, fortunate
  • japanese sour orange (“daidai“): “daidai” also means “generation after generation”
  • shrimp : we eat shrimp in order to live until our backs are curved with age (shrimp’s back is curved, so…)
  • gobo (burdock root) : just like gobo, live thin and long with roots spread in the earth.

…what can i say. it might be hard for english speakers to understand the jokes, but believe me, they’re lame. maybe we’re supposed to start the new year with a good laugh, but i’m not sure if i can laugh without raising my eyebrows a little or thinking of a rimshot at the end of the each joke.

the good thing is, the jokes are so lame that they’re kind of adorable. at least, i’m used to it.

recipes (clockwise from the left of the photo)

pirikara-konnyaku

  • konnyaku 1/2 cake
  • soy sauce 2 tbsp
  • mirin 1 tbsp
  • chili flakes
  • sesame oil
  1. blanch the konnyaku in hot water
  2. slice the konnyaku (about 7mm). make a cut in the center of the flat surface. take the top and pull it through the hole to make a weave effect.
  3. heat the oil in a pan. add konnyaku, soy sauce, mirin and chili flakes.
  4. saute for a couple of minutes, just for flavor
  5. garnish with carrots cut into decorative flowers

tataki gobo (pounded burdock)

  • gobo 2 stalks (thin)
  • rice vinegar (dash)
  • white sesame seeds 3 tbsp
  • sauce: rice vinegar 50ml, mirin 2 tbsp, japanese soup stock 2 tbsp, pinch of salt
  1. wash gobo, pound it lightly with a rolling pin, and cut into pieces 4-5 cm long. if the pieces are too thick, cut them lengthwise in half
  2. put the gobo in a small pot, cover with water and add vinegar. bring to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes, until soft. drain.
  3. toast white sesame seeds in a pan. cool, then grind.
  4. add the ingredients for the sauce to a pan, bring them to a boil. add the gobo and cook until the liquid reduces by half.
  5. turn off the heat. add the white sesame.
  6. garnish with snow peas

kobu maki (kelp roll)

i improvised this one, so if i remember correctly…

  • kelp 2 x 10cm cut pieces, soak in a water for about 10 mins. save the water
  • kanpyo, soak in water for 5 mins
  • gobo, 4 small pieces (saved from the tataki gobo recipe after blanching)
  • carrot, 4 small pieces, blanched
  • sauce: soy sauce 2 tbsp, sugar 2 tbsp, sake 1 tbsp
  1. put two sticks each of gobo and carrot on top of a sheet of kelp and roll it
  2. tie the kelp roll with a short strip of kanpyo. trim off the uneven ends
  3. place the rolls in a pan. cover them with the water used for soaking the kelp
  4. simmer on low heat for 20 minutes or so
  5. add the sauce and simmer for 15 minutes

afternoon tea with rosehip tea cookies (recipe)

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it’s not fair… it’s just too cold here in saskatoon. it’s -27℃ with the windchill. it’s very unusual even in saskatchewan to be this cold this early. it’s colder than my freezer. i told my mom how cold it is, but it was more than her comprehension – life in a -27℃ world is impossible to her. my parents live in wakayama japan, where it’s around +13℃ this week. they think that’s cold… oh, well. SHO-GANAI ne.

since the outside world is depressing, i want to make my home life as cozy as possible!

so i made myself a cup of tea: rosehip tea with hibiscus flower (mmm, tropical!). i also made some rosehip tea cookies. i added rosehip loose tea leaves to the cookie dough. although they don’t taste anything like rosehip berries, it adds a touch of pretty pink color to the cookies. this happy color should make me happy.

the recipe is the same as my lavender cookies recipe except that i substitute rosehip loose tea leaves for the lavender flower buds. the recipe is here.

choux à la crème

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i slept most of the day yesterday, so i felt much better today. lucky enough, today was paul’s birthday.

i went to buy tiramisu at calories (a cafe & bakery), but they didn’t have any today. a woman suggested trifle instead saying they’re basically the same thing, but i wanted tiramisu. i gave her my asian smile to say “no, thank you” and i left.

as i was cooking dinner, i was in a bit of a panic-mode. it’s a birthday. you’re supposed to have a cake. but i’m not a baker myself. i don’t usually bake cakes so it seemed rather risky to bake a cake from scratch just two hours before paul’d be home.

then it hit me: “shu-kuri-mu! (chou cream)”

i remembered seeing a cooking show featuring “choux à la crème”. it looked very simple, like something i could make myself.

in french, it’s “choux à la crème”, but we drop the “à la” in japanese. it all comes down to how good it sounds. english teachers in japan used to make fun of their students saying “shoe cream”, but it’s actually “choux”, which means “cabbage”. i guess the pastry is cabbage-shaped? little cabbages are cute…

anyhow, i used to buy choux à la crème from cake shops in japan. they are very popular. most of the cake shops in japan sell french style sweets, which i like. i don’t see any choux à la crème in canada yet. probably you can buy them in montreal.

i wasn’t expecting a perfect result. because it always looks easy to produce perfect food on tv. but to my surprise, it was easy. all you have to be careful is to stir well!

i finished cooking 20 minutes before paul came home. i had some time left to make a birthday card. i made a card with both sides folded to the middle, like double doors. i cut out a heart shape from pink paper and attached it to the inside of the card with a spring. the heart was supposed to spring out! as he opened the card. unfortunately, the spring wasn’t powerful enough and the heart was too big. it just kind of hung there… that’s okay. i think he got the idea :D

recipe:

for puff pastry dough:

  • unsalted butter 60g
  • water 80cc
  • sugar + salt, pinch
  • flour 70g
  • egg, 2~3
  1. mix butter, water, sugar and salt in a pan and warm it until it comes to boil.
  2. add the flour all at once and beat very vigorously. turn off the heat.
  3. allow it to cool. then add the eggs one at the time. stir well.
  4. put the dough in a piping bag (i just used a spoon), drop into small balls about 4 cm apart on a cookie sheet.
  5. bake it in the oven for 15 mins at 200℃. and another 15 mins at 180℃. do not open the oven.

for custard cream:

  • flour 50g
  • sugar 80g
  • milk 300cc
  • egg yolk
  • melted butter
  1. mix egg yolk
  2. add sugar and flour and TBSP of milk. stir well
  3. add warm milk (about 50℃)
  4. strain the mixture and pour it into a pan.
  5. add the butter and let it cool.

fill the puff pastry with custard and fruits. i used blackberries and raspberries. sift some powdered sugar on top.

meshiagare! (bon appétit)

rosemary panna cotta

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i got some fresh rosemary from the farmers market last saturday. i remembered seeing a guy make a milky rosemary panna cotta on the food network one night. so i made my own last night, after midnight. that’s right, midnight cooking!

i was making obento for paul at the same time. usually people make obento in the morning, but i don’t like to rush (or get up early). i make a couple of small dishes so it takes some time.

cooking several things at once always makes me want to grow a couple of extra arms (like in this drawing). that way i could tackle multiple tasks at the same time. i could grow extra arms on my sides, but having extra arms on my back would be more helpful, because then i’d be able to cook up tamago-yaki on the stove while using my back arms to cut vegetables on the opposite counter. yes, my kitchen is that narrow.

speaking of extra arms, there are buddhist statues called senjyu-kan’non. “senjyu” means thousand hands. with some exceptions, usually senju-kan’non statues don’t have 1000 hands. they have 42 hands. the two hands praying are the true hands. the other 40 hands save 25 sufferings each, which makes 1000 hands. they’re beautiful. hands are special.

when i was little, a monk would come to my house to pray for my family’s ancestors. he was a very big old man with enormous earlobes and of course, a shaved head. he was a nice monk, but to me, at that time, he looked very strict and scary. for one thing, he was probably 6 feet tall and i was only 4 foot. my parents were both working, so usually my grandma and i were the only ones home. after prayers, my grandma would serve him a cup of tea. he’d bring some sweets and books to read for me. he would tell us some wise stories as well as a story about his son who was an american football player, a quarterback. he told us sadly that his son got severely injured during a game and was paralyzed. when he left, he would always pat my head with his big hand and give me cinnamon candies, which i hate. but i couldn’t say no.

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rosemary panna cotta recipe

(for 4 small ramekins)

  • 2 cups low-fat milk (or any milk or cream you like)
  • one package gelatin (please follow the directions on the package)
  • one stalk fresh rosemary
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • a dash of vanilla essence
  • honey

warm 1 3/4 cups of milk in a milk pan. when it’s heated, add the rosemary and the sugar. in a different bowl, dissolve the gelatin in the remaining 1/4c of milk. add the dissolved gelatin to the warm milk. stir well and strain. pour into small dishes (ramekins) and chill. serve with honey.  enjoy ;)

lavender cookies

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i worked until 4am drawing last night. so i felt kind of sluggy when i woke up this morning. i didn’t want to spend all day feeling like this so i cleaned the fridge. then i found a box of vegetable shortening sitting proudly at a corner of the fridge. it’s the leftover shortening from the nikuman that i made back in february. it’s recommend to be used within 12 months. the time is ticking off. i should use it soon. i also organized my tea cabinet and found some dried lavender buds for tea.

perfect. i made lavender cookies. usually i don’t use shortening but it’s probably okay once a while. it’s a very easy recipe. try this sometime and enjoy the aroma :)

recipe:

  • 1~2 tbsp lavender buds
  • 2c all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2tsp baking powder
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1/3c vegetable shortening
  • 3/4c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1tbsp milk
  • 1tsp vanilla essence
  1. pre-heat oven to 350f
  2. stir together flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt. set aside.
  3. beat butter and shortening for 30 to 60 sec. add sugar and lavender buds. beat till fluffy. beat in egg, milk and vanilla. add the dry ingredients to the mixture. beat until well-combined.
  4. roll the dough in to a log and wrap it in plastic wrap. let it rest in the fridge for 20 ~ 30 mins.
  5. roll out the cooled dough and cut out a shape you like. bake for about 10 ~ 14 mins or until golden-brown. serve with hot tea.

cafe at home

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cafe at home – to turn my apartment kitchen into my own cafe is one of my on-going project called “turn everything around you cute and fun” project. i love cafe-life, why not making it at home? i used to go to cafe a lot in japan. “cafe culture” in kyoto is lovely. there are hundreds of cafes in kyoto alone – from nostalgic to contemporary ones.  my favorite was cafe soiree. founded in 1948, cafe soiree resides humbly by the river takase. the cafe is lit only with blue lights. there’s no music playing, just blue lights and fragrance of roasted coffee. quiet. that’s one of the places i like to stay forever. i wanted to create the atmosphere in my apartment.

at our cafe at home, i cook and paul chooses music.

i like dining out at restaurants but after the easy consumption, sometimes i’m left with vanity. by creating something together at home, everyday life becomes much more fun.

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recipe: quinoa pilaf with cranberries

  • 1 cup quinoa, rince well and remove any debris
  • 1 3/4 cup water
  • 1 TB margarine
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 2 TB fresh parsley, minced
  • 1/2 TB dried thyme
  • 2 TB green onion, sliced
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • s + p
  • dash soy sauce
  • dash olive oil
  1. place rinsed quinoa in a large non-stick saucepan and toast, until it darkens slightly.
  2. add to boiling water, cover, reduce the heat and simmer about 20 mins.
  3. in another skillet, heat olive oil; add onion and garlic; and cook until tender. add cranberries.
  4. stir in cooked quinoa, lemon zest, thyme, parsley, pumpkinseeds; add margarine, soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste.

apricot muffins with soy milk

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if i remember correctly, i never had muffins in japan. i’m sure muffins are available, but it never occurred to me to eat them.

soon after i moved to canada, i realized there were muffins all over. at my ESL school in vancouver (a decade ago), a teacher introduced tim hortons as a part of canadian culture. not so much in saskatoon but in ontario, there’re tim’s at every corner. tim’s here, tim’s there. it’s hard to ignore.

the muffins that i’ve seen so far are huge, greasy and too sweet. i can feel my body expanding with every bite. i couldn’t help thinking about the calories in them. some of them have more than one meal’s worth. i don’t have the courage to eat the whole muffin. the part i like is the edge, the crunchy part. the spongy part, not so much. i don’t like to waste food so i don’t buy muffins at all.

but i like the idea of muffins. freshly baked food always adds a touch of warmth at a morning table.

so i made these petit apricot muffins with soy milk. i didn’t use too much sugar but the sweetness of the dried apricots is enough for me. i used vegetable oil but they didn’t end up very greasy. so, if you like less-sweet muffins, try this:
(ps. i’m not against tim hortons though. it’s nice to see canadian stores doing very well among the other american competitors. especially after laura secord chocolate was bought by american companies despite her effort…)

recipe: apricot muffins with soy milk

  • 1 1/3c all-purpose flour
  • 3/4c rolled oats
  • 1/8c brown sugar
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 1/4tsp sea salt
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 3/4c organic non-sweetened soy milk
  • 1/4c vegetable oil
  • 1c diced dried apricots, mixed with flour to prevent them from sinking in the batter
  • a dash of vanilla essence
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
  1. in a medium mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, apricots, and salt. make a well in the center of the flour mixture; set aside.
  2. in a measuring cup combine oil, milk, vanilla essence and beaten egg. add egg mixture all at once to flour mixture. stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy).
  3. add oats to the mixture. — this will prevent the muffins from getting mushy.
  4. spoon batter into muffin cups. bake in a 400c oven for 18~20 mins or until golden brown.
  5. cool in muffin cups on a wire rack for 5 mins.

bon appetit!

barley risotto with leeks and mushrooms

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i like food that’s good for me.

when i was growing up, my mom and grandma used to tell me the benefits of food. at the dinner table, they’d say things like, “if you eat carrots, your eyes’ll shine.”, “have more seaweed, it’ll make your hair more beautiful.” or “don’t eat too much eggplant, it’ll cool your body.” etc… it wasn’t like a lecture, though. it was more like…just a part of dinner conversation.

they also used food to cure my pains. when i had muscle pain, they’d make paste from flour and spread it all over on my legs. when i got a prickle in my finger, they’d sprinkle some salt to soften my skin to remove it easily. believe or not, it worked.

health-conscious information is a big deal in japan. there are tons of health-related tv quiz shows or cooking shows. in elementary schools, dietitians draw cute illustrations on school lunch menus to describe how milk will help grow healthy bones, for example.

so in my mind, health and food share the same meaning. when i need more vitamins, i don’t grab vitamin pills, i grab vegetables.

after a long week, my skin looked a little tired. so i chose barley for dinner. barley is one of the foods i like to use often. this oldest cultivated grain is said to balance the digestive system and improve circulation. if you eat it regularly, it’ll soften your skin and you’ll feel refreshed!

i know, it might be just a superstition. who cares? believing is everything.

again, i forgot to keep track of what i used. so here is the hypothetical recipe:

recipe: barley risotto with leek and mushroom

  • 1 leek (only white part), thinly sliced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • a handful or more of brown mushrooms, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • s + p

saute these in 2 tsp of olive oil in a pot until they turn golden brown.

  • 5 pieces of sundried tomato, diced

add the sundried tomatos to the sauted vegetables.

  • 1 cup of pearl barley
  • 2 cups of water

add barley to the sauted vegetables and slowly add some water. stir until the water evaporates, then add some more water.
cover the lid, stirring occasionally

  • 1 cup or more of organic unsweetened soy milk

when the barley mixture is cooked, turn off the heat and add soy milk slowly as you stir. then add:

  • dash of soy sauce
  • S + P to taste
  • minced parsley

to the risotto.

for garnish, i used sauteed asparagus and ham, diced red pepper, and shaved asiago cheese.

it’s very creamy even without adding a lot of cheese. soy milk gives a rich flavour.

to finish off, i squeezed some lemon juice on my last bite. i was left with a rich and fresh flavour… heaven!