Monday, September 29, 2008

Quick Fix #4 Age-dofu

As much as I love to cook & talk about it, I’m a little disheartened to think that cooking has really become soooo “daily” ever since the new school year started. I really just end up scrambling to make the simplest meals possible to keep up with the school time/potty time/laundry time etc…
Somehow making a double batch of coconut curry or chicken adobo (excess for lunch the next day), or the ultra simple meals like tofu/moyashi itame or parmasean chicken seem less cool then trying out new & daring recipes. I can’t even remember the last time I baked a pie.

Till then, I thought I’d give you an ultra simple tofu recipe, which all you Jap-japs will roll your eyes at me over. “Who doesn’t know how to make Age-DOFU?”. Well, shush & move along then!

I don’t know if you know this about me but I DO NOT CARE FOR DEEP FRYING. So this age-dofu is a real display of my undying love for my children, they just love it. Though every time I make it I remember how easy & deliciouly simple it is.

So here goes, You’re gonna need some tofu. If you’re brave enough to try kinugoshi-dofu (silk) tofu, (left) instead of momen-dofu (cotton) type (on the right) then be prepared for a royal mess, esp if it’s cheap tofu. (Though the taste is much more soft & subtle.) I prefer momen for age-dofu as it’s much easier to handle. Leave it to drain on a cake rack or something for at least ½ an hr. This is a step you don’t want to forget unless you like getting “oil splatted”.
So here’s your tofu chopped up into thirds or fourths. (this tofu pack was longer than the “standard” type)
Next you’ll need katakuriko (potato starch). The result is a much more crunchy crust, less fine of a covering than cornstarch & a really nice texture even when softened by tsuyu. But in a fix I’m sure cornstarch will do OK. And of course behind that is........our VAT of oil! (God, have Mercy! I just wanna dive in! Grrr!!) Now coat the tofu with the katakuriko. Not rocket science, eh? My only tip is, have your oil ready. Don’t leave the tofu too long on any surface after coating or the starch will absorb the liquid in the tofu & stick to whatever you put it on.
Don’t expect it to be a tidy process, but using hands is always fun. Tongs or hashi are out of the question.
Yes, I’m aware potatoes & tofu don’t go together. So, I was multi tasking! Like I said I don’t deep fry often so I was trying to make the most of it. I even made donuts the next day. Heat should be medium. And be patient cuz’ it’ll take about 10 min per side. Turn it over when it’s golden brown & crispy. Well, I don’t have a great picture of the end result, it was a "Chaos-lunch" day...but regardless, take it from me….Great eating & MUST BE EATEN HOT!! The steam from the inside can turn the crust into a rather unpleasant “gummy” texture on the bottom if you leave it too long.

Now lets talk toppings.

I personally think, daikon oroshi (grated daikon) & tsuyu on top are best for deep fried tofu. Please, don't just dump shoyu on it if you can help it. But there are so many toppings that you can put on age-dofu, or fresh tofu for that matter. (saving for another post)

If I had to choose my top 3 it would be: shiso, daikon & ko-negi (beefsteak/giant radish/chives).

............And that'll be the last deep frying for a long time God willing. Though there is a bit of an itch to make beer battered onion rings somewhere back there.

Till all the cows come home from the pasture, Later!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

And it's that time of year!

That's right I will be Birthday-ing soon & since I've been asked by teeming masses of concerned readers (approx 1 person) to give them an idea of what to get me, I figure....let's go all out. Some of my best birthday gifts have been foodie items. Odd or rare spices & ingr. etc...I hold them all close to my heart.
PS. Don't get me the Kitchenaid mixer or I might feel indebted to cook for you for life! Let me keep the commentary to a minimum as we sigh longingly & gaze upon these heart-warming pictures!
Cast iron skillet
Reggino Parmigano
Kitchenaid stand mixer

Fresh or frozen cranberries

Hey, don't mock my Gorgonzola
Iron Dutch oven. Le creuset rocks!
Microplane grater!

Good qual whetstone for sharpening
Whole nutmeg seeds

....or just an E-card would be fine!!

Won't quit my day job!

Just to remind myself why I'm not posting more about cooking!

For possibly only one hot French lady whose interested here's the new school set up!
I moved the school room downstairs before we started school again, they were always doing school around the DR table anyway. Turned the "school" table for better lighting. Note the neat stacks of school books that have been corrected the night before by "dog tired mom" awaiting "eager" students. Also note, Travis' new "handsome-bandsome-boxer-briefs" that somehow snuck their way onto the table because his old ones were not so "tightey" and not so "whitey".And we moved the terrifyingly heavy school shelf with all the books in the whole house on it, but the good news is the kids do a lot more reading in their spare time instead of pulling out all the toys in the house. The DR table is OFF limits for school as certain evil-doers feel inspired to poke holes, color, paint & otherwise destroy the table cloth.Note that Travis makes no pretense of not relishing writing practice.This is Hunter, he does not go to school yet! But he seems to always find inventive new ways to freak me out. (here he has ran away upstairs and is about to empty the contents of the garbage onto his head while blindly walking towards the stairs)Here is my hopelessly ambidextrous daughter. First the right hand....And then the left

And, that's a wrap!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Post 100!! A Noisy Story!

Hey there citizens!

I’ve tried to keep this blog a happy place, a nice & neat rational place with lots of happy-making food with only the occasional splat here & there. I try to be positive & impartial to all food groups, even mayonnaise. I don’t particularly care for blog ranting and don’t think I’d be good at it anyway.

The other day something rather unexpected happened to me & I felt immediately compelled to rant, rave, draw a huge cyber-crowd & grab my handy dandy megaphone & “flip out” good & proper! But of course….first I had to shower a certain individual who pooped an alarming colored poop (but we won’t talk about that) and somehow I lost the immediate incentive, so now that I’m all good & calm I figure I’ll just tell you all about it.

Pull up a chair, tune up the violins & cellos. Cuz’ you’re about to hear the tale of Lawyer boy.

So there’s this neighbor (yeah, you know where this is going)…actually there’s this family of neighbors. We like to refer to them as: the Father, Son & Holy something or the other. They are an elderly retired couple with their 30 something yr old son. We live roughly about 5 feet away from them.

After about a year of living here, one day they rang the door bell, DH was greeted with the whole group of them in a nice neat row. (excusing themselves for living….yada yada yaaa….this is Japan, remember?) and the point is…our kids are very loud. And they have been being bugged for one year and can’t stand it any longer, they must complain! Of course we reciprocate sorry-ness, “you should have come sooner. We’ll try harder, if there’s ever a problem please do come & let us know. Etc etc..” (bad move)

(A few days later DING DONG!!) All 3 come in a nice neat row: “Late last night (10:00) some large kid (a 1 year old girl) was doing jump-rope (walking around)…..Much too late, please try harder…” They go on to explain that their son (standing in the front, & looking as solemn as ever) is studying to be a lawyer & goes to bed at 9:00 so could we please be more quiet? Of course, we are again deeply sorry and say we will try to be quite from 9:00 on.

I must add here that it’s not the fact that they come over that is disturbing, it’s just the nature in which they do it. All three…always either the father or son heading up the attack standing nearest to our door with the other two in the rear for support, (always somewhat nervous & awkward in their delivery) each chiming in additions to the others commentary, till you’re not sure who to aim your responses toward. And at times reaching a rather confusing crescendo of all three talking at once in the hopes of making it VERY clear that our house echoes terribly & our children are the loudest children in the entire prefecture. Do you get the picture? They’ve even called the Landlord who lives in Canada over it…..oh, brother!

NOTE: Our house is (unlike most Japanese houses) mostly wooden flooring & somehow from the outside it seems very hollow & you can hear the low sounds pretty good. (running, chairs skidding etc..) We are at a disadvantage in that….we have children, & as anyone who has children knows they have the shock absorbers of an elephant. And one happy 4 year old boy can sound like the equivalent of 5 angry men charging down the stairs.

Each time this happens, DH & I search our souls & try with all our might to transform each child’s shlumpy footstep a princess tip-toe walk. We bar running, jumping, and being happy in general. We try to explain that there are some neighbors who should have chosen to live on an island off of Hokkaido but instead live next door. We even give the son a cute, happy sounding name. “Lawyer-boy” we call him. We even try to remind the kids at 8:30 (which is un-officially “silent-mode” time) that Lawyer boy is also getting into his possibly poka dot PJ’s, slipping into his Doraimon night slippers & brushing his teeth with his Anpan-man toothbrush. But for all our heart felt attempts, eventually time dims the seriousness of the situation & our children AGAIN….behave as children.

The other day it was the 3rd rainy day in a row & the 2nd day I was home alone w/ the kids trying to keep them from bunge jumping off the balcony in an explosion of energy. Ryan & Travis started a game of indoor basket ball with a little mini hoop & a couple of soft balls and Lani joined in. I was having too much fun watching them get happy, sweaty & crazy to stop them so I let them duke it out for about 20 min or so. After that all except Travis died of exhaustion and they all sat down to watch a documentary. And what do you know while I’m trying to put down Mr. Bunter. for a nappy nap….DING DONG! DING DONG! DING DONG! (and just in case I was trying to ignore them) DING DONG!!!

Lawyer boy in the lead (& his mother taking up the rear) has a pen & paper & has a rather strange look on his face which after much thought I have concluded was from an excessive amount of repressed anger. And here’s how it went

“Are you the wife?”
“Are you sure?”
“How many kids do you have”
“6? Really? That’s all?”
“That’s all” (isn’t that enough?)
“How old are they?”
“Why is that?”
“I just want to know”
“Well, they are from ages 10 to this guy” (I was holding the baby)
“Are you sure there aren’t a whole lot more LITTLE kids?”
(Attempting not to loose too much of my non-existent cool)”No, they’re really ten down to zero”
”Would you like to see their birth certificates?”
“No, that’s fine. But there were 8 kids here this month, I counted.”
“Yes, friends came to visit for 2 days”
“And you only have 6?”
“………………….(wondering where this is REALLY going)

I do feel a certain amount of empathy, after all he IS wanting to be a lawyer. He probably was really excited about this great opportunity to practice gathering evidence to prosecute the noisy children next door.

I tried to explain that they were playing rowdy for a little while cuz’ it was raining. I was told that NORMAL Japanese children know that rainy days are for sitting & reading & being quiet. (I wanted to bring out Travis…..) And further more if we were normal we’d have our children in school & they wouldn’t be in the house.

Well, I won’t bother with the rest of it but there was one main theme & that was that he was NOT happy. And he repeated again & again that if we didn’t get our kids to be quiet that “there would be trouble”. He said this as his “closing line” two times in a row while staring blankly at me and pausing a few seconds each time for effect (or perhaps it was some other lawyer tactic I’m unaware of). I’m not sure what he was expecting me to say cuz’ all I could muster was a sort of “teeth-gritting” “Wakarimashta!”. (I take it back, I DO know what he expected me to say but it involves something similar to a scene in a Samurai Movie) And Lawyer boy’s mommy even had to tug on his shirt to get him to back off & go home.

Of course that was disturbing for us to realize that we had upset them all so greatly so later dear brave husband who was a few levels calmer than I was went over (with his own notebook & pen) to talk to them & find out what he meant by “trouble”. Were we in danger having a couple of his lawyer buddies come and beat us with their notebooks? He begrudgingly admitted that he may have spoken too strongly as he was very “emotional”. (You think?) Knight in shining armor husband, was able to talk with the happy family & hopefully we’ll get on their better side. (by gluing all our kids to their chairs)

I’m better now & though I was thoroughly livid & insulted on so many levels. On the subject of large families, on the subject of choosing home schooling, etc etc… I do have to admit that we are rather unusual bunch of gaijins living next door. And if nothing else when we move from this place (sooner rather than later) we hope to live further from our neighbors. Since then I’ve seen Lawyer boy walking along with his back pack tightly strapped on his back & I admit I didn’t smile at him per se. But he couldn’t even bring himself to look at me & all my little hooligans in the eye. I almost wanted to stop the kids & line them up in front of him & say. “Dozo, goran kudai sai…..yappari rokunin imasu ne?”

Thus ends my tale of Lawyer boy and his happy house hold next door. And pray in earnest (as I do) that he will find a hobby/girlfriend/happy place & move out from his mommy & daddy’s house. Till then, we will think happy thoughts towards him & tread softly!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I need a FIX....

Nothing says comfort food to me like instant Ramen. Real ramen is great & one of my most favoritist eats when I’m out but every once in awhile I get a terrible craving for instant ramen. You know, that total & utterly processed MSG laden instant ramen that you can make in 5 min flat and then woof down, slurping as loud as you can while sweating it out in front of the fan on a hot muggy day. Look I’ll show you:

This is my all time favorite ramen. (It’s a Korean brand, see) But ever since we got a box full donated to us, I really went nuts for it. As you can see from the label it’s “chooo karai”….ohhh…baby! Dump the artificial powdered soup in the bowl & start a saucepan of water boiling

Dump that glob of freeze dried noodles in the water

Mustn’t forget your eggie, (Oh, brother…this is making me hungry)

Don’t over boil cuz’ that’s yucky yucky yucky.
Now pour your water first

.......& noodles into the bowl of granulated MSG & flavor enhansers. (Whatever you do DO NOT break your egg yolk or your lamen experience will be marred beyond repair.)

See, now! That yolk is really just screaming to be broken & slurped up with a steamy bite of noodles.Oops, gotta add the fake negi & shitake mushrooms.

Deki Agari.

Slurp away, and have a good day!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


If you’ve never grown fresh basil, YOU MUST! If you’ve never taken a bunch of basil & made Pesto, YOU MUST!! That’s right you MUST!! Now, I’m hesitant to get on my pesto “soap box” to wax poetic about pesto but I can’t think of anything that rhymes with Pesto. (Masa? Ideas?) But I will say that if there's any way to preserve a piece of summer & pull it out on one of those freezing, gloomy winter days, this could be your answer. (Well, if you’ve got the means, I suppose flying to Hawaii could also be the answer, but anyway)

Oh………….well, alright if you insist. (grabs wooden crate & climbs on top) Basically, pesto has just got to be the simplest way to use basil & to keep the fresh taste of basil when you don't have it growing fresh. Pesto is basically idiot proof, which is really great for me. All you have to do is grab a bunch of basil, some garlic, olive oil & a few pine nuts & blend it. How hard is that? Oooh, it’s so good, even just a tiny tsp. full will add some great flavor to pretty much any dish you put it in. Plus it’s GREEN. I mean, who doesn’t like green? And the list of things you can put it on are endless, off the top of my head:

- As a base for cream pastas
- Or cold pastas
- On focaccia
- Or as a base for cheese toasts
- In dressings (ask Chala about this great ‘cheat’)
- In a sandwich (spread it on the bread)
- In a tomato/cucumber tossed salad
- In a sauce for fish (sour cream based)
- With chicken (try Parmesan chicken with pesto in the butter, it’ll give your guests quite the scare, so beware)
- With tofu….(yeah you heard me, shhh, don’t give me no lip!) If you use momen dofu, it makes the tofu taste like a sort of cheese. My kids Loooove it!

Well, you know summer is officially over when you bring in a big harvest of basil for pesto & freeze it instead of canning it and this is what I did today.

So here's the dealo:

Mind you, I usually make pesto with no recipe, there are various suggestions for levels of olive oil or garlic. Generally most traditional recipes include pine nuts or other nuts to make it more like a creamy spread than an blended oil. Now they are pretty pricey here in Jap-Jap, but I don't suggest substituting with walnuts cuz' they have a pretty bitter skin, the good news is that Parmesan cheese also makes it pretty creamy. Anyway, here’s the basic scoop:

4 cups of packed freshly picked basil (best to pick it first thing in the morning or evening, for better release of the oils)
1 ½ c extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves peeled
½ tsp salt
1/3 c pine nuts
1/3 c Parmesan cheese

Wash the basil & drain of water (use a salad spinner if you have one, Kari J )
Put basil, garlic, salt, pine nuts & Parmesan cheese in blender with about ½ c of olive oil.Blend pulsing, and push the basil down occasionally with a long spoon or cooking chopsticks. But PLEASE make sure the blender is off or you will have a nasty surprise involving broken metal ware & lots of green oily business on your clothing & face.

When the basil is basically chopped small, add the rest of the oil in a small stream till it’s well blended. You can add more olive oil accordingly. Some people like the pesto kinda chunky but I like it SMMOOOOTH!! Mmm-hmm! So blend away, baby! Lookie there! That's some handsome green goop. That made about 2 cups or so.

Now you can store it in a jar for months, though the top layer will always discolor with exposure to the air. So seal tightly & don’t be surprised if it turns brownish-black on the top.
If you want to freeze it you can either put it into an ice tray. (though good luck cleaning the tray when you’re done) I freeze it in a large Tupperware & then chop it & put it into zip lock bags. Then when you want to use it just pop it into a bowl to defrost or microwave for a couple of secs.

Now who could ask for anything more?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Autumn Reigns Supreme

Hurrah for the Harvest months.

The most comments ever received on this blog happened after I posted a batch of Japanese summer food pictures. I don't know why but it struck a chord big time for some people. So I figured I'd put up a few more pics to celebrate this next season.

I've got to be honest & say my blogging time has been curtailed sharply since school started and any of you home schooling moms know what that means. I'm afraid I may not be able to get many posts up. Any requests for recipes would be welcome. I'm actually hoping to get some Christmas posts prepared before the season as I generally become inundated with Turkey/eggnog/stuffing how to phone calls at all hours of the day. Stay ahead of the game, mate! ........but till then the best I can do is a few autumn pics to brighten your cool autumn day. Nashi (when my Grandpa comes to visit us from the States he always buys nashi in abundance, his favorite fruit)
Yaki-imo. Did you know that this was first sold as an aphrodisiac for older ladies? Woo-hoo!!

I loooove kaki still sweet but with a little crunch left!
Shimeji is one of my favorite mushrooms.
Oooooh, these babies are so luscious & sweet. Peel off or on!
Pumpkin pie here we come!
Kuri. Greatest memories of my dad coming home with a paper bag of roasted chestnut for us girls to crack open.

In Japan autumn is the season of abundance in the foodie world. All the best of the fruits & vegetables & fish. It is really THE season of food. It's true! The other night when I made simmered pumpkin with spices like: ginger, nutmeg, cloves & cinnamon, I swear I could almost smell a flaky buttery pie crust by association. Ti's the season for cobblers, pies & baked goodies!! What's your favorite autumn food?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lookie at My Kitchen!!

Ivan & Kari & the princesses came to visit for 2 ½ fun filled days. The kids had a great blasty blast swimming/playing/eating cake that would have stained their clothes forever (if it hadn’t been for miracle spray & wash), we ate yummy meals (with all the trimmings) and the grown ups drank a beer or two and 3 times as much coffee & espresso. And then just when you didn’t think it could get any better I wake up on the morning that they are leaving & my monstrous pile of clean laundry is folded & my kitchen is so clean you could eat out of the sink drain. Kari had cleaned my kitchen/laundry/house (God knows what else) the night before.

Look at that? Does the sheer cleanliness not just blind your eyes? Lookie, even cookie bear looks like he's happy to be squeaky clean & my 6 piggie chefs are neatly placed on the ultra clean window sill instead of huddled together like their in some clandestine evil piggy chef gang. Isn't it just too good to be true? Yes, my friends, I may not ever use this kitchen ever again to keep it in it’s pristine state of excessive hygienic bliss.

So, Kari, thanks a heap. If I ever forget what my kitchen's supposed to look like I'll be sure to scroll down & be motivated to have you over again......(juuuuust kidding) I'll get my cleaning get up on & get to work. And I expect a full & glowing report on your cooking assignments.

PS. Yes, that is indeed an alarming picture of me. I look like I had 3 espressos too many. Actually, sadly, I make that face all the time..........(of course, I do) right before DH leaves the house with all the kids for an afternoon at the park.