Saturday, January 31, 2009

For a certain special someone's belated birthday!!

I lova lova you. And we'll get on that "Bible Album" broadway extravaganza soon, I promise!

I LOVE CHERRY PIE!! (this is on my desktop right now)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sticky Cinnamon Rolls

The great thing about these cinnamon rolls is that you can make them the day before & leave them in the fridge overnight, baking them fresh in the morning. Giving everyone the impression that you are an early morning over-achiever when in fact you. Believe me, to a tired husband who hasn't had his coffee yet, pulling this out of the oven is like "The parting of the Red Sea & now THIS!!".

Mind you, I don’t take take these babies lightly. Nor do I make them very often for fear that I’ll find certain little boys will turn into sugar crazed lunatics like the time they emptied a garbage can out the 2nd floor window. But they make for a great brunch or special occasion breakfast & though the list of ingredients looks long, if you look closely sugar & butter are used in the rolls, filling, & topping. So hey ho, let’s go!

I am embarrassed to say this recipe stems from my very first cookbook ever & though I'm pretty sure it's not the worlds best cinnamon rolls, they work fine for me. (I've adjusted the sugar content according to what I thought was sweet enough but not too bland!)

The rolls:

4 c all purpose flour

¼ c brown sugar

1 tsp salt

2 packages active dry yeast (or 5 tsp)

1/3 c butter or margarine melted & cooled

1 c very warm milk (scald it on the stove & cool down)

1 egg

Mix ½ flour, sugar & yeast in a large bowl. Add warm milk, margarine & egg, beat with stand mixer 1 min, or with a wooden spoon till it’s blended well & easy to handle (pulls away from the side of the bowl) Turn onto lightly floured surface & knead for about 5 min till smooth & elastic. Turn into greased bowl cover & let it rise for about 1 ½ hrs in a warm place.

Now we’ll make the topping (which incidentally starts as the bottom):

2/3 c brown sugar

1/3 c butter or margarine

¼ corn syrup/golden syrup/ mizuame (god forbid)

½ c pecans or walnuts

Heat the sugar & butter to boiling in a small saucepan till totally melted & well blended. Stir in corn syrup. Pour into an ungreased 13x9” casserole dish & make sure it spreads over the whole bottom. Drop the nuts evenly over the sauce.

Grrr....are you a nut nut? Man, I am!

And now for the filling, don’t you dare get tired & quit halfway, that would stink & you’d be left with lots of nuts & brown sugar in various locations in your kitchen making for a pesky snitching problem tomorrow morning:

2 tbsp butter softened so it’s easily spreadable

½ c raisins

5-6 tbsp brown sugar

1 ½ tsp cinnamon

Now grab the dough & punch it down. (Whether you do this lovingly & gently or actually “punch” it, it’s sooo much fun!) On a lightly floured surface flatten into a rectangle about 15-10”. Now spread with butter, mix the sugar/cinnamon & dust over the dough & sprinkle the raisins last.

Roll it up at the 15” side & cut it using a string (ooooh, it’s just like play dough time) into 1 inch rolls. Place them like so onto the baking pan.

Now if you’re going for the over night thing here’s the part where you cover with kitchen wrap & store in your fridge till you bake it.

If you can’t wait (yeah, you know who you are!) and must have it ASAP, cover it again with a towel & wait 30 min, then bake in a preheated oven at 350f (175c) for 30-35 min till golden brown. Turn them over quick before they get stuck forever that way.

And now take a moment to watch the caramel drip down the sides of the rolls. Better yet gather your family together & watch the caramel drip down the sides of the rolls for approximately 3.5 seconds & then regret it as they trample you down in a caramel dripping craze to get a piece.

And there you have it folks. Go forth & make some great rolls.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Ooooh, brother! Is that not just a hungry-making picture? I know you probably know how to make mochi, but just to appease me since I've taken all these pictures, let's play like you don't even know what mochi is. Like you've been stranded on some mochi-less island your whole life & I'm gonna help you "see the light". Ready? OK, cool, here we go!!

Hi there! Man, you look hungry. Welcome to the wonderful world of mochi. Mochi is a "rice cake" made from glutenous rice that has been pounded to smithereens & dried out & cut into squares. What? You've never heard of it before? Well, right this way. Let me introduce you to the essential ingredients to one of the happiest-making winter snackies you'll ever enjoy. Not to mention a nifty way to pack in two bowls worth of rice in a few delicious bites. Don't be scared now, it's perfectly harmless.

We have here the ingredients you'll need:

Mochi (Duh)
Koi-shoyu (light shoyu, or normal shoyu is fine)
Brown Sugar (a must)
Kinako (Soybean powder)
Nori (Optional)

Now there are two ways to make mochi: 1) boiling 2) Grilling! We of course like grilling because there is no happier sound than the sound of a teeth biting into a crispy, browned shell of mochi revealing a gooey goopy white inside. So line up those babies on your oven grill (all Japanese kitchens have this, I'm pretty sure) & fire it up full blasty blast.

Now, depending on how many people you're making this for you'd need to scale down or up. But lets assume that you're making about 12 pieces of mochi (for either a mob of hungry kids or one hungry sumo wrestler) Put 3 tbsp of mirin in a saucepan & put the flame on medium, bring it to a boil & simmer for about 1 minute, like so.

Now dump in 2 tbsp of sugar & 3 of shoyu, and bring that to a boil for about 1 minute or more. You're trying to thicken it up & evaporate some of the liquid off but don't overdo it or it'll be unbearably salty & ruin your whole mochi experience.

Ahh, ain't that a beauty. This is also a really basic version of Teriyaki sauce if you ever want a slapped together glaze for your Teriyaki chicken or Japanese hamburger. So keep aside any left over.
If you're like me, right about now is when you open the grill, scream hysterically at the sight of your flaming mochi & toss the black & charcoaled remains in the garbage to start again. Or of course if you're sensible & have been checking on it periodically it'll look like this & you'll squeal with joy at the vision of your bloated browning mochi puffs of joy! (I know, I might just be taking this all a little to seriously, but really, it's the simple joys of life!)

Turn them over & start'm on the other side. And if you're like me around now you'll start dancing around the kitchen singing that ridiculous song from Don Quixote, "I wanna be your mochi Man.....(mochi-mochi-man, mochi-mochi-man)"

Now we're gonna dip the grilled mochi into the sauce on both sides. (If you're feeling really Xtreme you could even dab a little butter on top, but don't tell anyone I told you!) Then you'll thank God that you're alive & that I've introduced you to the wonderful new world of mochi.

Personally, I really like wrapping the whole thing in either nori or fresh shiso leaf and putting a little extra sauce in the bowl for good measure!

Now for the kinako topping. Kinako is a powder made from soybeans so it got a nice nutty flavor. And all the great healthy macho-ness of soybeans so it's great added to shakes, ice-cream & other desserts. (Have you ever had kinako & peanut whip? Ooooh, baby!) Mix equal parts brown sugar & kinako.

Now snitch that massive kinako covered brown sugar ball there, yeah that one! Hey, just another perk of being the cook!
Now if you've grilled the mochi you'll want to dunk your mochi into a cup of warm water before rolling it in the kinako so it'll stick.

Be sure you give it a good toss as the water absorbs the kinako & if you don't really layer it on it'll be a bit bland! Oh, I can hear my sister screaming from here, eh, Elaina?

Man, that's just good looking! And that's the way we roll.

Oops of course, some ocha, oolong-cha or sokenbi-cha to wash it down.

NOTE: I didn't want to do this, but I don't want you to say I didn't warn you. If you honestly haven't eaten mochi before I must tell you what every self respecting Japanese mochi muncher knows & that is that a few old people & or kids die every new year from choking on mochi. I'm not sure why everyone keeps repeating this like it's some kind of "very real danger" but traditionally you must always talk about choking on mochi while you eat it. Supposedly it enhances the taste. :) And rumor is the only way to clear an esophagus from mochi is to take a vacuum cleaner to the poor victim. True or not, if you have fast eating kids you can always bring the point home by pulling out the vacuum cleaner every time they start eating mochi.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

December Pictures

To be honest I'm stooping to just throwing up a bunch of pics since I'm just a little too brain-dead to post anything reasonable. But these are always good for a laugh & the Aunties & Uncles will love me. Except for Mas maybe! Catch you later, and send any good recipes my way!

Our family's little Christmas dinner. Under 3 hrs cooking!!

Hungry Bansome!

Uncle Mas open's the goods, Sushi food toys!
Ashley serving up the fake food for all the already stuffed Aunties & Uncles
Auntie Screaming Amy & 5/6ths of the tribe of younglings.

That's a happy little man.
Check out the excited toes.

Euphoric moments involving bubbles.

Little man, easy to please! He held to the ball for dear life all Christmas morning.

Big Dinner with the big gang.

Two people Flo-jo will be hugging soon.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Quick Fix: Soba/Udon Lunch

It’s really coldy-woldy (as my 3 year old would say). And it’s time for a fantastic coldy-woldy, quick-fix lunch. Now bear with me everyone living here in Japan, I'm not trying to be moronic or corny but I personally find a good soba/udon lunch a real "heart-warming" meal. For anyone whose new to Japanese, I guarantee if you have both tsuyu & soba or udon on hand you can throw yourself this "bread-alone" typical "school-day lunch" fare or hasty dinner.

So here’s how it goes: (I'm guessing this is where I loose the Japanese audience, that's OK...see you next time where I make Vietnamese steamed fetel chicken with prawn sauce)

The cast:
- Men-Tsuyu
- Dashi powder (or fish flakes if you’re a traditionalist, hey if you have time to iron your socks & monogram your hankies why not!)
- Boiled eggs or chikuwa or kamaboko (Getting the kids to peel eggs is a great time filler) - Dried stick of kombu @ 5 cm long (optional, but I really love the flavor it adds)
- 1 cm slice of fresh ginger
- assorted veggies (eg. Daikon, carrots, cabbage, wakame, spinach, ingen, whatever you’ve got on hand, just not broccoli please!)
- soba or udon noodles (personally, I prefer udon, hands down)
- Negi or ko-negi (essential, friends, ESSENTIAL! When you're pg wife is weeping that it just doesn't taste's the NEGI, you forgot)
- Shichimi (for udon) or wasabi (if you’re having soba)

The lowdown:

Throw the kombu into a pot of cold water (about 1 c of water per person eating) soak for 15 min.

While it’s soaking, cut up your veggies smallish. (I like vague words like “smallish” so that I won’t be to blame for the size chopping dilemma, good luck w/ that) I like doing things ‘matchstick’ or ‘waribashi’ size, I think it goes better with noodles than disk or cubes.

Cut the ginger finely so none of your whiny little kids will find a piece & yell loud enough for lawyer boy to hear “Do I HAVE to eat the ginger?”

Bring water to a boil & then take out the kombu when the water is nearly at a boil. Add dashi, (about ½ a tsp per cup) to taste.

Throw in your veggies, (Chikuwa or kamaboko if you’re using) not the negi yet, if you please. (I’m assuming you wouldn’t add cabbage, spinach or soft leafy veggies in till the end too)

Bring it to a little simmer for 2-3 minutes, add tsuyu. Again I’m not going to tell you how much but if you’re gonna have the noodles in it, it should be pretty weak. You can always add more later.
Throw in your leafy business, ginger &/or wakame. Give a little stir & turn off the heat.

Boil your noodles according to the directions. (overboiling is yucky-yucky-yucky!) Drain & serve before all the steam rises & they turn into a giant chunck of noodle that you have to cut with a knife. ARGGGG!!! Personally I have all the bowls ready & serve the noodles straight into the bowls from the boiling water & top with the tsuyu & veggies.

If you’re using eggs, slice them in half lengthwise & put in the bowl.

Bring any condiments to the table & cozy up to the best winter lunchie you’ll ever have.

And that's what she wrote folks!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Japanese food for the New Year

I don’t know about you but come the new year I feel the immediate need to switch to Japanese food. It could be the fact that I used about 50 kgs of butter & or shortening in the last 2 months or the fact that I somehow was left with all the left overs from our Christmas dinner & had to literally munch my way through the fridge to get to the tofu & moyashi.

Not that I mind the munchies, I’m all about the snackies. One small joy in being a human cow is that I can eat pretty much anything & everything and only loose more weight. But eventually I start not only craving the simple food but I’m getting the feeling that “Old Faithful” the oven & “Bruce the Manly Mixer” want a bit of a break too. It’s time for Japanese.

It doesn’t help that Oshogatsu means Japanese traditional music playing in all the stores & big sales on nimono & oden ingredients, or the fact that a majority of my childhood New Year's memories are filled with Obachan's cooking.

I find Japanese food simple, pure, for the most part healthy & always easy to make. I don’t mean to oversimplify Japanese cooking but if all I had was shoyu, mirin, sugar, dashi & sake, I would probably be able to make 1oo's of great Japanese meals. Too easy people. And the next best thing about it is you can make a 5 or 6 dish meal in under an hour. You can’t go wrong. The perfect thing for a busy mom trying to get back into gear with school. All I need do is grab something from the fridge, pour shoyu & mirin on it & VOILA....dinner is served.

Suddenly I’m just dying to go to the onsen and soak in a yuzu bath drink a massive nama beer with some sukemono. Seriously who wouldn’t want to spend a lazy day under the kotastu drinking ocha & eating mikans, or kinako covered mochi.

Before my screaming sister went home I got her over for a good old fashioned oden dinner. Terribly fun!! If I was going to have a "pot luck" dinner, I'd choose this. What’s your favorite Oden food? Mine’s Kinchaku. Those little deep fried tofu pockets stuffed with mochi & tied with a string of gourd. Gooood stuff.

Hope to get some recipes your way once I get the school situation up & running again. Till then, it’s still not too late to say, Yoi Otoshi O!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Winter Carrots: Carrot & Miso Soup

My kids are crazy about winter carrots. It really started out with DH buying a massive (and I do mean MASSIVE) bag full of carrots once in the winter. Surprisingly they were quickly devoured & so we bought another & another.....These aren't just ordinary carrots, they're winter carrots. And by that you have to understand that when the temperature goes down the carrot makes more sugar to keep from freezing, hence the sweeter carrots. The colder the weather the better the carrot.

It's totally uncontrolled "Rabbit syndrome" at my house when this happens. The kids walk around the house munching on small whole carrots and usually don't even bother peeling them anymore. The skins are thin & the carrots themselves are almost translucent, crisp, shining & juicy. Mr Trav. talks about winter carrots every time we eat carrot sticks all year round.

So I'm terribly happy my soon to be 3 year old lady decided on "Bill's Big Carrot Cake" (undeniably the best carrot cake ever) for her birthday.

And if you're feeling a little experimental here's a recipe from "Harumi's Home cooking" that I like to make in the winter:

Carrot & Miso Soup:

100g carrots (one large or two smallish carrots)
2 c water
1 chicken stock cube
1 rasher streaky bacon
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp finely chopped Celery
1/2 tsp awase miso (I like using red miso best, for this, but I think any miso will do)
Salt & Pepper
Chopped cilantro to garnish (I use negi, of course, seeing as cilantro is not very cheap)

1. Peel carrots & cut into 3 cm think round slices
put the water & chicken stock in a pan & bring to a boil. Add carrots & over with a drop lid. (Simple "drop lid" explanation)

2. Turn down the heat & simmer until cooked. Remove from the heat & mash the cooked carrots in the remaining liquid.

3. Cut the bacon into small pieces. In a frying pan, heat the oil & cook the chopped bacon till crisp. Turn off heat & mix in chopped celery. Add to the carrot soup.

4. Bring to a boil then turn off the heat & mix in the miso & season w/ s&p. (remember, boiling miso is UNCOOL & will change the texture & flavor) Pour into bowls, sprinkle w/ cilantro (or negi)
Happy Winter days!