Archive for November, 2011

November 30th, 2011

Game day food

I remember seeing my father watch the Tokyo Giants baseball game every night during the season, but thinking back, I can’t remember whether or not there was a special game-time snack he’d typically enjoy.  Why am I thinking about this all of a sudden?  Let’s just say I’ve noticed that things are a little different here in the U.S. when it comes to sports.  Here, people treat ‘the big game’ like the Fourth of July.  No game-day celebration seems complete without multiple varieties of chips, dips, wings, and burgers.  Seeing a real American tailgate party looked like a lot of fun.  (the food that is, not the sports-watching).

My husband is not a crazy enough sports fan to paint his face (thank goodness!), but there are a few games that he’d hate to miss.   I’ve sadly learned that in the fall, Saturdays have to be planned around college football.  On the most sacred Saturday of them all, Los Angeles is split in two, as sides are taken for the big UCLA vs USC game.  Last weekend was that very Saturday, and like all true sports fans, my husband wanted a snack.  My solution–an open faced mushroom ragu sandwich.  He liked it, but confided in me that he was craving a continuous series of little snacks.

Continuous?  Although I immediately thought of buffalo wings, I remembered that our Thanksgiving dinner was not that long ago, so maybe those wouldn’t be the best choice.  Hot dogs?  Continuous hot dogs would probably kill you, so maybe that’s not an option either.   Finally, I came up with the perfect plan:  mini corn dogs.  I grew up loving corn dogs, except back home in Japan, we called them “American dogs (American doggu)”.

To prepare the small snacks, I used a Japanese takoyaki pan (similar to this half sphered pan from William Sonoma), which was nice, because it let me avoid frying.  The ingredients were simple: wholewheat pancake mix and chopped organic hot dog meat.  I can’t claim that it was entirely healthful, but as far as continuous snacks go, I think I did o.k.

Did he like them?  Well, this year as a UCLA fan, his only smile came from the snacks!  A 50-0 loss! Ouch!  There’s one more game this Friday.  Will he root for the UCLA Bruins or the American Doggus?  We’ll have to wait and see.

November 25th, 2011

The day I acutally enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner

I must have done it right, because It’s the day after thanksgiving, and I’m still full.  Sure, half of America is saying that right now, but for me, it’s the first time I’ve ever uttered those words AFTER Thanksgiving.

You see, I don’t like turkey.  Let me rephrase that, I used to not like turkey.  For some reason, every time I ate it, there was this strange “turkey” flavor that I couldn’t get over.  But, something happened at dinner yesterday that not only changed my long-standing opinion of turkey, but actually made me say the following four words, “I love this meal!”

There are millions of restaurants out there, but how many of them do you go back to over and over, every time leaving happy? Not many.  Stefan’s at L.A. Farm is our exception.  We always leave satisfied.  It’s hard to believe that from one restaurant, I’ve discovered so much great American food.  Now, I can proudly add Thanksgiving dinner to that list.  While the entire meal was delicious, a few dishes, on their own, actually changed my opinion on Thanksgiving dinner.

As I explained yesterday, my husband picked Stefan’s for our first ‘restaurant’ Thanksgiving dinner from just looking at their menu.  Why did he pick Stefan’s?  The menu offered the straight forward, classic Thanksgiving meal he was hoping for: roasted turkey, gravy, stuffing, yams and yes, mashed potatoes, which he believes is a must dish for Thanksgiving.  Judging from their regular menu, I was expecting a good meal, but I have to admit, I was reluctant that I had to eat turkey as a my main dish.  As we were driving to the restaurant, I even said to my husband “if I don’t like the turkey, we’ll just stop at a Japanese noodle shop later.”

Surprise, surprise, I actually loved turkey!  Instead of that strange taste I was expecting, I enjoyed only flavorful tender meat.

Another dish I don’t like is yams.  It’s usually served either very, very sweet, and/or too watery.  The texture of the marshmallows placed on top usually doesn’t sweeten the deal for me either. With a combination like that, you can imagine that the idea of candied yams is not at all appetizing for me.  But tonight, Stefan’s baked yams with marshmallows completely won me over.  The marshmallows were slightly crunchy and the yams were cooked sweet, but in a very delicate degree.  Finally, it made sense that these two should be served together, or should I say, three, as the dish went well with the turkey!

It’s hard to believe that it took me a quarter of a century to truly appreciate the Thanksgiving meal.  So to honor the tradition of Thanksgiving, let me say how thankful I am that my husband insisted on picking a restaurant with mashed potatoes.  I’m also thankful for Chef Stefan and his staff who always treat us like family!

November 24th, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Every year, as if he forgot, my husband asks: If we were in Japan during November, would I be able to cook a traditional Thanksgiving meal?  My answer, ‘yes, and no’.  The side dishes would be a snap, but the turkey itself, would be a more difficult issue.  Japanese people don’t really eat turkey, and finding it in Tokyo would probably earn me a long trip to what we jokingly call ‘Americatown’, where restaurants and stores are mostly geared to tourists who need that quick burger to re-energize before exploring the rest of the city.
Even though I’m not the biggest fan of the taste of turkey, I have grown to love cooking the traditional Thanksgiving meal.  My husband proudly states that Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday, and when asked to explain, will offer you three points:  you get a great meal, there’s football on tv, and if you’re a guy, somehow, you get out of cleaning up.  He does make a solid point.  As if I needed more convincing, he adds that during his bachelor days, there was an added advantage: you get all the leftovers!  He’s lucky he married someone who loves to cook, because now his leftovers are already in the fridge, with three exceptions: cornbread stuffing, wild rice stuffing and pumpkin mac and cheese.  There’s an old rule of cooking that states that in order to have leftovers, you must actually leave some over.  That just doesn’t happen, as we devour these three sides every year.  At least stuffing is good for you, right?

This year, though, would be different.  With his parents out of town, we decided on our first ever ‘restaurant Thanksgiving’.  I carefully picked a few restaurants to choose from, with a few guidelines in mind.  Since it’s an American Holiday, I avoided Italian and French, and steered towards chefs who cook American cuisine.  And since this is the one holiday where eating two desserts is seen as a badge of honor, I had to find a place that would offer more than just a slice of pumpkin pie.

I finally found a few places to choose from.  So he wouldn’t be biased, I covered the names of the restaurants, and just showed him the menu.  I was surprised as he immediately rejected half of the restaurants by uttering this question, “No mashed potatoes?”  There it is.  I never realized mashed potatoes were such a crucial component to the Thanksgiving meal.  As long as there’s cooked turkey, cranberry sauce and some kind stuffing and yams, isn’t the rest optional?  Apparently not.   What do you think?

Maybe I just watched the wrong American movies growing up, because I also, mistakenly thought that mac and cheese was a popular and traditional holiday menu item.  When I made it each year, people loved it, but, while checking a few menus, I saw that almost none of the restaurants offer mac and cheese.

So, after multiple mashed potato and dessert dilemmas, we ultimately decided on our tried and true favorite spot where the people are friendly, the cocktails are strong, and most importantly, the food is delicious.

(I’m secretly going to be mad if he doesn’t eat his mashed potatoes.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 1st, 2011

Grilled cheese and tomato soup

Burgers and fries, cookies and milk, bacon and eggs…some foods are just meant to be in relationships.  While there are many classic food duos in American culture that I love, there is one that I just don’t understand: grilled cheese and tomato soup.  Now, as a Japanese person, I have nothing against soup; I grew up eating Miso and still love it.  But what makes tomato the soup of choice when the sandwich option is grilled cheese?  Wouldn’t chicken noodle or cream of broccoli work just as well?
I was excited when we had lunch at Bar Bouchon in Beverly Hills, and I saw the grilled cheese/tomato soup combo on the menu.  While the BLT with the sunny side up egg on top sounded great and would surely lead to lunch satisfaction, I had to do the research on the grilled cheese/tomato soup duo for you, my reader.  Not a problem though; how could I go wrong either way, eating at Thomas Keller‘s place in Beverly Hills?  So while I sacrificed the guaranteed pleasure of bacon and egg for the sake of research, it was with mixed feelings when the server asked my husband what HE wanted, and his reply was, “The BLT.”  At least I would still get to try it!
The problem I have with Grilled cheese and tomato soup is the soup part.  I’ve just never cared for tomato soup.  I think it’s too tangy having a taste that to me, is somewhere between watered down ketchup and tomato juice.   Would the great Thomas Keller be able to change my opinion?  Drum roll please….  Unfortunately, no, even with the Thomas Keller stamp, tomato soup was still tomato soup…not for me. In Keller’s defense, it was better than watered down ketchup, but still, no server will ever hear me utter the phrase, “Tomato soup please,” in the future.  My American food guide, my husband, tells me that the proper technique is to dip the sandwich into the soup, which is why the sandwich is typically dry.  I don’t know if I agree with his logic, but he was right about the sandwich being dry.  I did remember the menu stating that the cheese was aged two years, but after my first bite, I was wondering if they aged it inside the very brioche I was holding.Taking my husband’s advice, I dipped the sandwich into the soup.  It was better than eating by itself, but still, didn’t make me appreciate the combo. My husband went on to explain that grilled cheese and tomato soup is a nice, warm comfort food for kids on a rainy day.  I can see that, but still there’s the issue of the taste.  Of course, he has a theory on that too.  According to my husband, kids love pizza.  Grilled cheese and tomato soup is just another form of that flavor profile.  Think about it; melted cheese on flat bread with the taste of tomato sauce all in the same bite.  Did that help?  Well, no, considering I am not a huge fan of pizza.

So the grilled cheese/tomato soup combo is lost on me.  Somehow, I’m sure I’ll find something else to eat and write about.

Aren’t you lucky?