Archive for ‘homemade’

August 1st, 2011

Mexican rice

As a Japanese person who only grew up with one kind of rice, short grain Japonica, it was an eye opening experience to see so many other varieties from around the world. I quickly learned that rice is not interchangeable.  For example, Indian rice is completely different from Chinese rice.  And while I love Japanese rice the most, I sadly learned that it doesn’t go well with Thai curry. As I’ve slowly begun to acquire a taste for Mexican food, I have to add another variety of rice to my plate.  Until recently, my only opinion of rice from south of the border was that it looked orange and had a saltier taste than I was used to.  Who would have thought a single visit to a Mexican restaurant in a questionable part of town would completely change my mind on the subject.

Salsa and Beer in Los Angeles is that restaurant.  Like most Mexican places, the menu includes  the traditional staples, like tacos, fajitas, and chimichangas, served in big portions with not so big prices. Thought the food is great, the service is sometimes slow, which isn’t a bad thing, as their large menu takes a good half an hour to get through.  On our first visit, I finally got to understand what my husband went through in Japan, as I asked him what practically every dish was on the menu.  I’m still not fluent in Mexican food, but luckily for my husband, I know exactly what I want: a side order of Mexican rice (which comes on a huge entree plate) and a green salad.  When I place my order, I know deep down that the server is really thinking, “Just because you’re Asian, you don’t have to order rice you know…we have lots of good food!” Maybe that’s the reason I feel compelled to mention each time that, “you have the BEST Mexican rice!”

My usual complaint regarding Mexican rice is the texture.  For some reason, it always reminded me of the prune-like fingers you get after staying in the bathtub too long. On a personal note, I never was a big fan of peas in a rice dish either, so I had my reservations on that first visit. But from the first taste of Salsa and Beer’s rice, I had to stop and think, what makes this rice so delicious?  I knew it wasn’t just me wondering that, because even my rice hating husband was cleaning his plate. What makes it so special? It looks perfectly cooked because it is perfectly cooked.  By itself, it’s a tiny bit salty, but when mixed with green salad and creamy habenero salsa, it becomes a savory explosion.  I’m so obsessed with this rice, I literally want to eat it every day.  And, as usual, I’ve been trying to duplicate this dish.  Have I been successful in finding the secret to its great taste? That’s a story for another day.

July 27th, 2011

Egg salad

The egg salad sandwich was my favorite lunch to take on a field trip when I was an elementary school student in Japan.  My mother had a special technique for creating this amazing meal.  She’d cut the crust off and freeze it the night before.  Why?  Because a kid walking around with mayo based food all morning would most likely result in a bad tummy all afternoon.  But a frozen egg salad sandwich in the morning, thaws out quite nicely by lunchtime.Egg salad sounds like a typical all-American food, but is it really? I’ve seen oeufs mayonaise, a simple appetizer of boiled egg with mayonnaise at many restaurants in Paris.  Also, considering that mayo was introduced to America by the French, it’s probably really a French dish…  By definition, my husband should love egg salad.  He loves eggs, sandwiches, and even Paris, (France, not Hilton) yet for some reason, the combination doesn’t work for him. His explanation?  “I like my eggs with runny yolks so I can scoop them up with bread.”  When I counter with, “But you like omelettes,” he brings cholesterol into the argument, stating, “If I’m already eating eggs, why should I make them even worse by adding mayonnaise?”  This leads us to the mayo discussion. If you ask him to elaborate on it, he’ll tell you it just tastes fatty and disgusting and that the only mayonnaise he’s ever enjoyed, came on the Burger King breaded chicken sandwich.  For all these reasons, he doesn’t want tuna salad, pasta salad or potato salad.  To me, it just sounds like a bunch of excuses, but having lived around his peculiar eating habits for a few years now, I guess it’s starting to make sense.  Besides, I enjoyed that Burger King chicken sandwich too.

My husband’s philosophy on mayonnaise suddenly changed when I introduced him to the Japanese mayonnaise, Kewpie.  Kewpie is to the Japanese household what Heinz ketchup is to the American household. It has a slightly sweeter and lighter taste than it’s American counterpart, and it comes in a plastic tube with a tiny opening so you won’t overuse it.  With a cute kewpie doll logo on the label, it’s aesthetically pleasing too.  Is it hard to find in the U.S.?  Much like anything else, these days, you can buy it through Amazon with a marked up price, or, if you’re more adventurous, you can go explore your local Asian grocer.  If there’s none in your area, I suggest venturing into that foreign food aisle at your local supermarket you usually skip, where they hide the the Asian food and kosher stuff.  Take it from me, once you try Kewpie on a BLT, you’ll wonder what the ‘miracle’ was in that ‘whip’ you used to eat.

Did the addition of Kewpie convert my husband into an egg salad eater?  Unfortunately, no.  If it’s offered, he’ll still say, what’s the point? To him, his love of the runny yolk is the whole reason to eat anything with eggs.  To illustrate the point, he’ll throw a perfectly good egg away if he breaks the yolk when preparing it over-easy.  To him, it’s like decaffeinated coffee or non-alcoholic beer.  Why ingest something that lacks the key ingredient that you enjoy?  Luckily, that same argument doesn’t hold true for tuna salad, which he now likes.  As for me, sometimes I miss those old days of field trips and delicious sandwiches, so every so often, I’ll make my own egg salad with chopped cucumbers, parsley, a bit of Kewpie and tiny bit of sea salt.  It’s great as a sandwich or with green salad.  But if you are feeling a bit adventurous, try it on warm rice with tiny bit of soy sauce and sriracha–It’s the poor man’s spicy tuna over rice…

PS: That delicious creamy taste you can’t quite identify at your favorite sushi joint–Kewpie!  Don’t tell them I told you.

PPS: I wonder if that Burger King chicken sandwich is as good as we remember?

June 26th, 2011

Sick food

When you are sick, you want the most familiar foods.  Once, while ill, I asked a friend to bring me some soup, but I wasn’t specific on what kind I wanted.  As I’ve learned from living in America for the past twenty years, when you’re sick, Chicken noodle is the American go-to soup.  Every friend to the sick knows this.  So what did she bring?   She brought me a spicy Korean cup of noodles.   While I’m sure somewhere in a hospital in Seoul, they’re serving these up by the cart-full–in America, not so much.  I’m guessing she just assumed I would want something Asian, but as they say, never assume!

What does your ‘sick food’ say about yourself? My husband usually asks for toast, a bagel, or simply chicken noodle soup when he’s under the weather.  Makes sense as he has typical American tastes with a Jewish twist.  When I’m not feeling well, I want what my mom used to give me when I was sick, with one exception.  Which one of the following would you guess was a craving I developed after a few years in the U.S.? udon noodles, chawan-mushi (savory egg custard) or strawberry flavor Hagen Daz.  You guessed it.  See, my ‘sick food’ tells a story too.  I was born and raised in Japan, but got to experience the best America had to offer-a delicious ice cream with a fake Danish name.

Udon and chawan-mushi are not that easy to make (especially for my Asian flavor intolerable husband), so unless I have an instant udon noodle in the pantry (I recommend this brand), I too, will have to resort to chicken noodle soup when I get sick. After all, my father-in-law always refers to it as Jewish penicillin.  I’m not sure if this claim is true, but it still is delicious.

My recipe is quite simple.

Ingredients (about 4 servings):

1 Skinless chicken breast

5 celery stalks chopped

2 med sized carrots chopped

1 onion diced

egg noodles (as much/little as you want)

dried bayleaf, black peppercorn, chicken stock (I’m in love with this one)

salt and pepper to taste

optional: parsley or dill (dry or fresh)

1) poach chicken breast in chicken stock (room temp or below), bayleaf, black peppercorn, then start the heat.  once boiled, simmer for 5 min, turn off and keep chicken in the pot

2) once chicken is cool down, drain the soup, and discard bayleaf and peppercorn, but keep the soup.  cut or shred chicken by hands to bite size

3) in a soup pan, sweat onion, carrot, celery, then add chicken stock (5 cups or more, including one used for poaching)

4) when vegetable are almost cooked, add dry egg noodles and chicken

5) salt and pepper to taste, add minced herbs, if you’d like to

I like less soup; because it’s more like meal than soup.  It’s also easier to freeze this way.