Archive for ‘family’

April 16th, 2012

Jewish Deli

My father-in-law always asks me if there’s still a Jewish deli in Tokyo.  Apparently, he saw one when he visited back in the 90’s, and that surprising image has stuck with him.  To give him an answer, I couldn’t rely on experience, I had to trust Google. Growing up in Tokyo, I had never seen or heard of a Jewish deli.  In fact, I didn’t even know what the heck a Jewish deli was until I moved to NYC after graduating from college in Boston.  Come to think of it, did I ever even try a bagel back then?  Luckily, I’ve made up for it since, thanks to my Jewish American husband.

Obviously I’ve changed, because now, Jewish delis are some of my favorite places.  Don’t believe me?  Visit one to experience the excitement for yourself.  As you walk in, every sense is engaged.  You hear veteran servers shouting out orders.  You see black and white cookies and hearty, doughy bagels waiting to be taken to a good home.  You smell succulent pastrami as it’s being sliced, AND if you ask nicely, you can taste a sample.  Finally, at your table, your sense of touch grabs that dill pickle to stave off the hunger pangs you’ve just acquired.  You may only recognize half of the menu and display case items, but you know they must be good as it’s always crowded– ALWAYS.

I’ve come a long way in my appreciation of the Jewish deli.  Before I met my Jewish American husband, only things I ever ordered were items in my comfort zone, like pastrami sandwiches and cheese cake.  To be honest, I was just scared to venture into the unknown, never setting foot into the foreign lands of matzo bowl soup and knishes.  Even when I conquered that fear, one hurdle remained–pronunciation.  How in the world is a Japanese person supposed to order kasha varnishkas or matzo-brie?  Thank goodness I’m long past just pointing to many shades of beige items on the next table, when telling the server what I want.

Now with experience, I can proudly say (and pronounce) “Although I like matzo ball soup, I prefer kreplach soup”.

And no, I still haven’t found a Jewish deli in Tokyo.  While there are many delicatessens which sell cured meats and European delicacies, sadly, there’s not a matzo ball to be found in Tokyo.  Any investors out there?  Give my husband a call.

August 27th, 2011

The day I hosted my first taco party

All I needed was an excuse.  For what, you ask?  To make fish tacos as good as the ones that my fish-phobic husband ate multiple times a day during our trip to Hawaii.  Sure, the beautiful sunset probably had something to do with it, but when there’s any kind of momentum in the ongoing quest to turn my husband into a seafood lover, I’m going to do what I can.  Anything to help achieve my dream of enjoying seafood (and Asian food) with him everyday (I can already sense his fear as he reads this post).

How did I get fish back on his plate on the mainland?  Having our niece and nephew in town from Florida was the perfect excuse for a family meal.  I volunteered to cook as my menu was already planned out in my head–fish tacos.  Of course, I was going to make beef and chicken options as well, but if I could duplicate the taste of the fish tacos he ate on the big island, it would be easier to introduce more seafood into his diet later.  Now you have to understand, a taco ‘party’ is a pretty ambitious move for a girl who just discovered soft tacos in the first place, but when it comes to cooking, I have no fear.  Sure I had rookie questions, like: ‘Do I heat up the store bought tortillas first?’ but I wasn’t going to let those deter me from completing my quest.  As far as toppings go, my plan was to make regular tomato salsa, mother-in-law’s green sauce, and a spicy mayo just for the fish.  Once the actual cooking began, the chicken and steak were the easiest to prepare; just marinate and grill. Preparing the perfect fish taco, however, would require a bit more effort, starting with the shopping!

Finding the perfect kind of fresh fish would be a battle.  Mahi mahi is the ideal choice, as it’s a meaty white fish, whose texture is similar to that of swordfish, but where could I find it?  I have lots of childhood memories of my mother buying fish, and I could hear her advice in the back of my mind.  She NEVER bought fish from the supermarket, but rather, preferred the fish market.  Her philosophy was, “The fewer the middlemen, the fresher the product.”  But I don’t live in Tokyo anymore… This is Los Angeles, where there aren’t fish markets in every neighborhood.  Where could I find fresh mahi mahi without having to wake up at 4am and drive down to the docks?  Luckily, I happened to remember
Santa Monica Seafood, one of the few places in this town where you can find a good variety of fresh fish.

With fresh fish, spicy salsas and warm tortillas, everything was in place.  How did it go?  Well, if the reaction of picky teenagers is any indication, it went pretty well, as I saw them return more than once to assemble seconds, thirds and even fourths!  But the big test was watching my husband as he carefully looked over his three meat choices.  Would he go for the tried and true options of chicken and steak, or would he continue to expand his horizons?  He chose the fish!  Mission accomplished! As you can imagine, there is no one happier than I am…with the exception of you, with whom I’m now going to share the recipe.  And yes, if you’re wondering…you should heat the tortillas before serving.

July 22nd, 2011

Dora’s enchiladas

Until recently, the only Mexican dishes I knew were burritos and tacos.  Whenever I would see a commercial for Mexican fast food on TV (and there are a lot in Los Angeles), I’d ask my husband “What is a quesadilla?” “What are flautas?” “What’s the difference between a chalupa and a tostada?”  By now, I’ve probably asked at least 3 times about each dish.  They’re hard to tell apart for someone who hasn’t grown up with them since their descriptions seem pretty much the same on the surface.  But, I was soon to learn about one Mexican dish, intimately.

One day, we were at my sister-in-law’s house eating a buffet style dinner. My husband pointed at one of the dishes on the counter and told me “That’s an enchilada.”  Although I had to say, “Tell me again what an enchilada is?” I tried it and LOVED it!   It was light, moist, and little spicy with a very unique flavor.  It wasn’t anything like my pre-conceived image of  Mexican food, which to me, seemed dense from beans, cheese, and sour cream, drenched in heavy sauces.

One of my hobbies is to try to duplicate restaurant dishes that I enjoy.  My husband always jokes that he can see the wheels turning in my brain as I take each bite, analyzing, rating and comparing flavors and textures.  With that in mind, I think you can understand what was coming next… I HAD to duplicate that enchilada.  For starters, the ingredients: They weren’t overwhelming in number, just chicken, sour cream, tortillas and my mother-in-law’s green sauce,  however the recipe turned out to be more complex than I had imagined, as I learned after my first few unsuccessful attempts. What went wrong? Well, I managed to capture the lightness, but for some reason, not the moistness.

I had to go to the expert, my mother-in-law, for advice.  It turns out that the fantastic flavor of the dish comes from not just adding the green sauce externally, but internally as well.  She told me I needed to soak the tortillas in the green sauce to give the dish that extra bit of flavor.  Thanks to that tip, I finally have a perfectly light and moist green chicken enchilada recipe, in my arsenal, that wins my husband’s approval.  Even more importantly, I have taken one more step in the incredibly challenging quest of introducing Mexican flavors to a discriminating Japanese palate.

July 13th, 2011

Lina’s green sauce

My mother-in-law, Lina, makes the best salsa verde!  It is so good in fact, it was  one of the main reasons I began to change my opinion on Mexican food.  Like I have mentioned before, Mexican food had always been at the bottom of my list of cravings, but once I married my husband, it became a necessity to find a way to bring it into my life; he grew up with it, and more importantly, he loves it.  Also, living in Los Angeles, home to one of the largest Mexican populations in America, why not expose myself to the culture?  Ongoing trial and error tastings have led me to a few fantastic foods.  Lina’s “green sauce”, as my husband calls it, is one of my favorite discoveries.I didn’t know anything about salsa or Mexican food before I came to America in the late 80’s.  This is how my (American) Mexican food knowledge progressed.  The first traditional Mexican ‘dish’ I was exposed to was tortilla chips; the building block of my newly discovered favorite snack, nachos.  These were not the good restaurant style nachos though, but rather their disgusting dorm cousin, made with microwaved cheese.  I remember being so excited to be a part of the nacho culture, that when I went home for the summer, I brought a jar of Tostitos salsa with me so that my Japanese friends could taste a part of what they were missing.  Their response, “Interesting…” Until about 5 years ago, I thought all salsa was red and came in a jar.  Now, thanks to my mother-in-law, my world has expanded, and I can make both red AND green salsa.

The main ingredients in Lina’s green sauce are tomatillos–lots of them.  I had never eaten a tomatillo, so when I first tried this sauce, it was a multi-sensory experience.  Visually, it is a beautiful green color, and the cilantro gives it a fresh from the garden aroma.  And the taste–Tomatillos retain their crunchness, so a little heat and garlic turns them almost into a spicy soup.  As a matter of fact, my first few times trying it, I ate a half bowl of pure sauce, like soup, with nothing in it, just trying to figure out what made it so good.  When Lina makes her sauce, it’s usually in a big batch, and we are always lucky enough to get one or two Tupperware containers full.  Even though it’s good with pretty much everything, my husband uses it almost exclusively on eggs; replacing his normal ketchup.  As for me, I still like eating it as a soup.  Lina giving me her recipe was a delicious way of welcoming me into the family!  Thanks Lina!

July 9th, 2011

The good, the bad and the ugly of Huntington Beach

The bike lanes along the pacific ocean are gorgeous.  Today, my husband and I visited his sister in Huntington Beach, and went for a nice bike ride.The only thing I ate today before leaving the house, was a couple of celery sticks with peanut butter, so, as you can imagine, I was starving after a 20 mile bike ride, and barely hung on as we waited for a table at a restaurant for over 30 minutes.  We went to Sandy’s Beach Grill, a new addition to the Duke’s restaurant group.  The atmosphere was nice with the 10 of us getting a table with an ocean view. The niceness stopped there though, and the storm clouds arrived.  First, no bread for the table.  I’m not usually a bread person, but like I said, after the bike ride, I was starved!  I was excited when the food came, as I was looking forward to the Crispy Skin Barramundi I ordered, which came with shrimp tempura and risotto, but sadly, the only thing to be found that was crispy, was in the title.  To make matters worse, the fish wasn’t seasoned.  That should have made me angry, but I was way too hungry to argue with anybody.  Besides, after a nice day at the beach with family why would I want to ruin an evening complaining about food?

If only that were the only problem…  My husband never got his steak!!  His sister ordered the same dish, and she got her food along with the other nine people in our party.  When I got my plate, I heard the waiter mention that his steak was overcooked, so he’d bring a new one in a few minutes.  25 minutes later, his food arrived.  Unfortunately, by that time, everybody was done eating.

I’m not a restaurant manager or waiter, but if I were entertaining friends’ at my house and there was a problem, I’d try to keep my guests from starving by feeding them chips or something light, and definitely update them on the ETA of their meal.  There was none of that courtesy from this restaurant.  Our waiter left us with the impression that his dish would come out soon, and he never came back until he finally brought my husband’s dish.

I felt helpless.  I wanted to share my meal, but we have a rule: “If the fish isn’t great, don’t share,”  Bottom-line, if I want my meat and potatoes husband to start liking fish, I better not give him anything that might turn him off.  I’m an optimist and a hopeless romantic and I truly believe that if I keep giving him a bite of fish here and there, he may start to enjoy it.  Actually, there have been a few successful experiments in the past.  He liked the fresh fish tacos we accidentally found in Maui– so much so, we went back to eat there 3 nights in a row!  So, the dilemma was clear: do I offer him a piece of bad fish and ruin my dream, or do I watch him starve in agony?  Although I hated to see the empty table space in front of him, I didn’t insist on him sharing my plate.  He starved in agony.

July 4th, 2011

Jeremy salad

While some people want a piece of tart, I actually made a ‘peace’ tart for the 4th of July.  Just wanted to show off share.

We have a very smart 11 year old nephew, Jeremy.  He already has a stock market account, teaches me about gadgets, and negotiates prices with ‘replica’ vendors in China. Yet with all that sophistication, he still enjoys laughing at bodily sound-effects played from an app on his iPad.  As far as kids go, he’s actually very cool to hang out with.  One night, we were enjoying dinner at his house, and while I don’t remember the main course (sorry, sister-in-law, I’m sure it was something delicious), I never forgot the salad Jeremy made as a side.  It was like an Israeli salad, chopped cucumber, tomato, carrot and radish with squeezed lemon and salt & pepper.  Very refreshing and delicious.  My husband still requests it under its new name, “The Jeremy Salad” from time to time.

You can probably guess that my husband is not just picky when it comes to Asian food.  So if I find a dish he likes, I want to include that in our rotation– And it’s not that simple.  It’s actually a bit tricky.  Let me explain.  Even if he likes one dish one time, it doesn’t guarantee he likes the exact same dish a second time.  Need an example?  Cold ramen (Hiyashi Chuka).  I took a risk making it because I knew he was not familiar with cold noodles, and doesn’t care for them much.  But on a hot 100 degree L.A. summer day, all I craved was cold noodles, as we, Japanese, live on cold noodles (soba, ramen, udon, anything) during the hot months.   Success; he liked it!  Before I could congratulate myself for bridging the gap of pickiness, I made it for a second time and the result– he doesn’t want it.  Annoying, I know!  It’s like dealing with a child with no reason.  You see, my husband eats with his brain.  He over analyzes food before, during and after he eats.  Instead of just accepting a new flavor or texture, his brain goes to work, trying to compute answers to questions like: what is this I’m looking at, what am I chewing, what is this strange flavor/texture in my mouth?  The second time he ate the cold ramen, instead of remembering that he liked it, he defaulted to his “I don’t like cold noodles” rule.  Annoying, right?  Especially when I spend time and effort preparing something that he later, refuses to eat– but there is a fun, entertaining quality to watching him eating completely foreign food and trying to figure out what it is.  I guess they call that ‘love’.  Awwww.

The now famous, “Jeremy Salad,” is in our rotation.  The ingredients change depending on what we have in the fridge, but as long as we have cucumbers and tomato, it earns its name. Here’s one version with tzatziki dressing.

2 servings

  • chopped vegetable(1 cucumber, 1 tomato,1 stalk of celery for today)
  • your favorite plain yogurt   2tbs
  • garlic paste (I love this)   1tbs
  • dill (fresh or dry)
  • lemon juice   1 tbs
  • salt to taste

 

  1. Mix yogurt and garlic paste, add lemon and dill
  2. add all vegetable but tomato and mix, very little salt to taste
  3. add tomato, mix, and chill in the fridge until serve
  4. great with grilled chicken on a hot day!