Diary Entry #5: Sukiyaki

According to traditional Japanese customs, sukiyaki is a stir fry style dish consisting of meat and vegetables cooked at the table in an electric pan. In Japanese, “sukiyaki” should be pronounced “ski-ya-ki”, but there is a legend dating back centuries that makes the pronunciation “su-ki-ya-ki”, like it is read. In this sense, the word “suki” means a shovel and “yaki” means fried. The legend is that sukiyaki is a dish for the poor farmers that worked out in the fields in the blistering sun and cooked what they had harvested on a shovel because it was so hot, it would cook in the sun. No matter how one pronounces it, sukiyaki is still a very popular dish in Japan, especially for special occasions and when one needs to feed a large number of people.

My version of sukiyaki (since it is a dish that can be made with whatever is on hand) consisted of all ingredients that I bought from Mitsuwa Marketplace. First, I used pork that I thinly sliced. I did this when it was slightly frozen so that it was easier to cut. As for vegetables, I used three different kinds of mushrooms, two kinds of greens, and snow peas. I also used tofu and yam noodles (which are very popular in sukiyaki for their ability to cook for long periods of time and never loose their chewiness). I used three kinds of mushrooms to have a variety of textures even after cooking. The three kinds were shitake (leathery), enoki (small and crunchy), and baby button (somewhere in between). The two kinds of greens were Napa cabbage and bok choy. Although bok choy is Chinese originally, it is very popular in sukiyaki is Japan. I used firm tofu so it doesn’t fall apart. Unfortunately, the tofu was American since Japanese tofu is hard to find and usually is quite thin and paste like. Americans have created the concept of hard tofu that stays together to be cooked. I also needed a sauce so that all of these delicious ingredients wouldn’t stick to the pan and not cook evenly. They needed something to moisten them and allow them to move around the pan freely. Although there are many pre-made sauces I could have bought at Mistuwa, I decided to make my own since it’s a very simple recipe. It consists of mirin (a very sweet Japanese wine), soy sauce (called shooyu in Japan), and sugar. This recipe is very sweet but the sweetness gets diluted a bit while cooking and leaves a wonderful flavor in all the vegetables.

The cooking process takes about half an hour, but it’s traditional to have a conversation while waiting for the food to cook. The main thing to remember is to keep the food moving so that it doesn’t burn and to move things into the middle of the pan once they’ve finished cooking so you can add more of the ingredients. It’s also important to keep adding the sauce so it does’ become too dry. This dish is served over rice and usually eaten with a raw beaten egg to dip the ingredients in before putting them of the rice.

There are many rules about chopstick etiquette, but the two most important rules to remember while eating sukiyaki are to not take food from the center of the pan, only the edges, and to never leave your chopsticks in your rice or placed on the edge of your bowl. When not in use, your chopsticks are supposed to be placed on a chopstick rest.

This dish was very successful and seemed to go down well with my family and guests.

Diary Entry #4: First restaurant visit

Tonight, I visited Blue Fin Sushi, a high quality, rather expensive, authentic Japanese sushi bar with my family. The sushi tender was named Sam and he was very popular among the customers, but we managed to get talking to him. Another tender taught me about knives and the kinds that he prefers. He says that in Japan, sushi tenders use long straight knives to cut fish, but he prefers to use American ceramic knives because they are slightly curved and allow him to ease into slicing a sushi roll. With my family, I ate hirame (halibut), tako (octopus), toro (tuna belly), shima aji (striped jack), hamachi (yellowtail), unagi (sea eel), kampachi (amber jack), soft shell crab, sesame pudding (which was surprisingly delicious considering it was supposed to be a dessert), and uni (sea urchin and the most feared sushi known to man). I have eaten sushi before, but almost all of the foods that I tried tonight were new experiences. On top of all that, they were all imported fresh directly from Japan. Sitting in that sushi bar and listening to the bar tenders demand things of each other in Japanese as the waitresses came around to swoop up your empty plate to leave room for the upcoming concoction that Sam has personally created for you was exhilarating. I learned that sushi bars are not purely for eating wonderful food, but also for conversing with people and bonding. We got to know the other people sitting at the bar with us as well as Sam the sushi tender. Most of the people sitting at the bar were regulars of Blue Fin except for us, but they talked to us like we came there all the time. It amazed me how much passion the tenders showed for their art and how the customers respected their judgements. I put my entire dinner experience into the hands of a sushi tender I had never met before because I knew he would serve me the finest and most delicious sushi he could possibly find. This experience was, in one word, enlivening.

Diary Entry #3: Continuing with Takuan

Following the first post about takuan, I have since finished the drying the drying process and begun the actual pickling process. One major thing that I learned was that pickles don’t require any liquid to pickle them so pickle juice in purely the excess liquid within the vegetables. In this case, the remaining liquid in the radishes had to be activated by rolling the daikons before putting them with the other ingredients. In order to release the juices, a strong pressure must be added to them while pickling. In my case, I put bricks on top of a bowl full of the substance (refer to the picture). The ingredients involved in the pickling substance are rice bran, salt, brown sugar, chili pepper, konbu/dried seaweed, persimmon peel, and white sugar. As seen in the picture, I mixed them all together and layered the daikons between layers of the flavorings. I sealed it with plastic wrap and a plate and put 6 five pound bricks on top to add pressure
. In Japan, they have special iron bricks they use as weights to add the proper amount of pressure for the pickles to become the perfect texture, but I hope my method will work.

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All pickling ingredients mixed together

 

 

 

 

 

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Pickling ingredients with daikons layered

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After completing the layering, I added persimmons on top for color and a bag of beans to take up the remaining space to make the pressure for pickling work better

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Bricks on top of bowl with plate for pressure

Diary Entry #2: Takuan Beginnings

My first attempt at creating Takuan (pickled daikon radish) was a failure. My recipe called for very large Japanese daikon radishes and I bought very small American ones. I was instructed to let them dry outside for 2-3 weeks, not realizing that those instructions were for very large radishes. I learned my lesson. About 4 days into the drying process, my radishes began to reek of mold and were as limp as yarn. I decided to try again.

My second attempt has been a success so far. I went down to Mitsuwa Asian Market and got Japanese daikon radishes about the size of a baseball bat and began to leave them out during the day to dry. They are already beginning to become limp as they are supposed to and its only been about 4 days. I’ve learned to keep a close eye on them to make sure they don’t mold and to bring them in at night so that no dew gets on them and undoes the drying process.

My next step will be to create the pickling sauce and begin the 4 week pickling process, but I will post again when I begin that part of the recipe.

Takuan

10/21/15 (drying process)

Diary Entry #1: Postwar Era in Japan

I have been researching the time after the war in Japan and trying to determine whether the American’s could have had any effect on the Japanese culture because this evidence could later prove that the Japanese cuisine was effected as well. I first began by researching the reformation and rehabilitation era in Japan from 1945 to 1952. This was the time after Japan had surrendered and American General Douglass MacArthur and the Allies (being England, France, the Soviet Union, and China) were assigned to make sure Japan stayed demilitarized by helping rebuild their economy, but mainly basing it on American ways to reform the Japanese people and prevent them from declaring war again. By this time, the Japanese people had already given up because they were starving to death and would take any help they could get. In addition to making preventing Japan from declaring war, the American soldiers who lived in Japan at the time became close to the citizens they lived near. Some people even created friendships which flourished as the Americans continued to supply for the Japanese. Some soldiers were known to give American chewing gum and candies to their Japanese friends and they showed a keen interest in Japanese culture. Unfortunately, over time the Japanese began to realize that the American’s were invading their country without formally declaring it and they protested to their government that the Americans’ actions were unconstitutional according to the Japanese constitution. They also believed this kind of relationship could potentially lead to war. These protests were denied and the higher courts of Japan proved that the American bases were constitutional, which forced the Japanese people to embrace the American culture. This mix of societies was most likely the beginning of the American influence on Japan.

Jell-o Rock (Unrelated Tidbit #1)

So I have decided that the music of the early 2000s should be categorized as “jell-o rock”. You may ask “why jell-o?” Well I give you these reasons. For starters, I am a cook. Everything has to do with food. No matter how cheap (aka Jell-o or Twinkies) or how expensive (aka caviar or frambois), every food is made for some reason or other. Every food is designed to target a different sensation, and each food gives different sensations to different people. I may take a bite out of a Twinkie and taste the watery marshmallow foam made from artificial crap and preservatives and think “why does anybody eat this stuff? It’s terrible!” while someone else may think “This is the greatest thing since sliced bread!” I would respect their opinion, but pity them for not having taste buds.

My next reason is this: jell-o rock is the third level of rock. At the top is the hard rock bands such as Guns n’ Roses or Van Halen who are convinced that their sole reason for making music is to yell into the microphone and make lots and lots of money. This is a valid profession, but not very worthwhile. Next on the pyramid of rock is soft rock bands such as the Eagles or the Rolling Stones who’s purpose is have a melody, but one that should only be listened to when either high or drunk. At the bottom of the pyramid comes jell-o rock bands such as Howie Day or OneRepublic. They produce what many like to call “feel good music”. I could call it this, but I prefer “jell-o rock” because when I listen to it, I get sleepy and I start to feel like jell-o. It’s even softer than the softest rock that it shouldn’t even be classified as rock music.

Finally, jell-o is one of the only types of manufactured foods that I will eat with pleasure. Just as jell-o rock is the only type of rock I will listen to with pleasure. Jell-o, to me, is delicious because of the way it melts on your tongue and feels gooey and sweet on your throat. That’s just that same with the music. It sounds so relaxing that when you take it in, you calm down and start to feel better.

So there you have it, my newest invention, jell-o rock. Just listen to the radio on your drive home from work. You’ll turn on your favorite station and listen. Man, that song is really good. It’s not really pop, it’s not hard or soft rock either. What should I call it? That’s it! Jell-o rock!

Some examples of jell-o rock:

Howie Day – Collide (2003), The Fray – How to Save a Life (2005), Five for Fighting – 100 Years (2004), Train – Drops of Jupiter (2001), Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars (2006)

 

Roast Chicken with Rosemary and Garlic

This recipe is for slightly more ambitious cooks. Although it seems pretty straight forward and simple, it requires a lot of time heating up your kitchen and can become tiresome. But I promise you the result is worth it. It’s a sophisticated meal and perfect for dinner with friends or family on Sundays.

Ingredients:

1 whole Chicken
2 tbsp of Butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp of Rosemary
1 tsp of Salt

1 head of Garlic

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the chicken in a large glass pan. With your hands, smear the butter all over the outside of the chicken. Sprinkle the rosemary and salt on top. To deal with the head of garlic, cut off the tops of each clove to expose the clove. Drizzle olive oil over it just to cover. Wrap heavily with aluminum foil and place next to the chicken in the pan. Cook both for about an hour or until a thermometer inserted into the meat (make sure not to touch the bone) registers at least 165 degrees F.

Possible mistakes in making a Chocolate Cream Pie

1) Adding too much Cream of Tartar to the beaten egg whites adding an acid and sour flavor.

2) Undercooking the filling as to not let it get thick enough leading to it being runny and causing the crust to get soggy.

3) Undercooking the pie crust when you are prebaking it causes it to be soggy and fall apart when you touch it and also stick to the pie pan.

4) Not allowing it to cool in the refrigerator long enough causing the filling to be too runny and make a mess.

5) Undercooking the merengue so that it gets a flat and grainy texture and a sour flavor.

 

Sesame Noodles

Personally, I think these noodles are appropriate for any occasion. Whether you’re going to a potluck and need to bring something last minute or you’re just having a quite dinner at home with the family, these sesame noodles are always a success. They’re quick and easy to make without much cleanup afterwards and they’re really popular with younger kids. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 pound of Spaghetti
5 tbsp. of Brown Rice Vinegar
3 tbsp. of Toasted Sesame Oil
About 7 tbsp of Soy Sauce
1 tbsp of Sesame Seeds

Directions:

Boil a pot of water then cook spaghetti for 7 minutes or until tender but chewy. Drain and run cold water over it until very cool. Return to the pot. Drizzle brown rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, and soy sauce over the top. Mix well then top with sesame seeds.

Oven-Baked Tilapia with Tomatoes and Basil

Tilapia is a very mild and slightly sweet white fish. This recipe is perfect for when you’re not really that hungry, but need to whip up a quick dinner. The tomatoes and basil to garnish pull out the fresh flavor of the fish and make the whole meal taste more homemade. I recommend using fresh fish as opposed to frozen if at all possible because it just goes better with the fresh flavors of the tomatoes.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs of Tilapia
4 tbsp of Butter
Pinch of Garlic Powder
2 tsp of dried Basil, or to taste (1/2 tsp for each piece)
16 Cherry Tomatoes (4 for each piece)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Rinse the pieces of tilapia and cut off their tails then place them in a square glass pan. Drizzle the butter over them. Sprinkle the garlic powder on top. Place in the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes or until they are flaky when poked with a fork. Remove from oven. Place each individual piece on its own plate.  Sprinkle dried basil on top and place cherry tomatoes on the side. Serves 4.