Archive for ‘recipe’

September 1st, 2011

“This isn’t really a rice crispy treat”

Yup, that’s what he said after one bite of my homemade rice crispy treat.  It’s not that he didn’t like them…he practically finished the entire batch single-handedly, but insisted on mentioning that they just weren’t the same as what he remembered growing up with.  On further investigation (read: second bite) he narrowed it down to a difference in texture. 

How am I supposed to know the exact specifications of a traditional rice crispy treat, when I had neither tasted one, nor tried the cereal they’re named after?  Besides it’s rarity, there’s one other factor preventing me from enjoying this traditional treat: butter.  Do I really want to put that much butter, or even worse, margarine, into my body? I’d rather save my butter allowance for a delicious French baguette.  Since life, and marriage, is a big give and take, I decided to try my hand at making a relatively guilt free, healthy alternative using organic puffed rice, chopped almonds, semi sweet chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and honey.  I thought it was nutty, chocolatety and pretty darn good.  After all that thought and preparation, what did I get in return?  “This isn’t really a rice crispy treat.”

I was pissed discontented with my husband’s reaction, but once the steam stopped pouring from my ears, I became curious as to what a ‘real’ rice crispy treat was like, so I went to a local coffee place and bought one.  Well, he was right on one count…obviously, they don’t look alike.

The real Rice Krispies Treat recipe was developed in the 1930’s and published on the box of Rice Krispies in 1941.  Since then, it seems like this treat has been a favorite, continually, to kids of all ages.  Too much work to make one at home?  You’re in luck; this snack is not only a homemade classic, but pre-made in factories and sold like snack bars as well.  Also new to me is that there’s a cereal made from these sticky wonders.  In tune with the 21st century, are you surprised when I tell you that there’s even a facebook fan page for rice crispy treats?  It gets worse (better): Want to celebrate your life with it, how about a rice crispy treat wedding? Maybe this treat is more American than I thought it was.  Since its recipe doesn’t require baking or precise measuring, I can see the appeal of making these treats as a part of family activity.  Maybe the appeal of the rice crispy treat is partly flavor and partly bonding?

So, now that I’ve had a ‘real’ one, what did I think?  First, the texture was little mushier and softer than mine, with a sweeter taste.  But for the true test, I asked my husband for his opinion.  Actions spoke louder than words: judging from empty container in the fridge, it looks like my ‘fake’ crispy treat is the taste test winner.  Another entry into the family recipe!

August 3rd, 2011

Nuts!

It seems like every day, we read something different about nuts.  On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we read stories that they’re a healthy snack alternative to chips or pretzels, while on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, we find articles telling us to avoid this fat laden food.  Like anything, much has to do with the way nuts are prepared and presented. This is why, at home, I usually make sure our pantry is stocked with the boring kind– raw and unsalted. While my husband and I would love to pop open a can of Mr. Peanut while we watch a baseball game on t.v., we don’t.  I think a part of getting older and wiser is realizing that the five minutes of pleasure is not worth the bloating feeling we suffer with, the next day.  On the other hand, every time I’m at a bar, I get excited to see what version or variety they serve, as more often than not, it’s more than just the standard salted nut.While on vacation  on the Big Island of Hawaii, we were fortunate to find Beach Tree.  When you’re watching the sun sink slowly into the ocean while listening to live Hawaiian music, food and drink don’t matter much.  It would literally take something out of the ordinary to make you take your eyes of the view and take notice of the taste.  That out of the ordinary, or should I say, extraordinary thing happened when our server brought us a small plate of the most delicious nuts I’ve ever eaten.  Not from a can or a cartoon wearing a monocle, these nuts were thoughtfully prepared and somehow managed to balance the salty, the sweet and the heat, perfectly.  The best part?  No guilt-ridden bloating the next day.

My husband and I are both not big on drinks.  We didn’t go to bars when we were dating, but lately, as bars have slowly evolved into gastropubs, we’ve been more adventurous.  Since I like seafood and Asian food and he likes hearty American food, it’s hard for us to find a mutually agreeable restaurant.  But at a bar, you don’t have to commit to a big entree, and with a few small plates or sips, we can quickly figure out if the place is worth our while.  The Beach Tree definitely was worth the price of admission.  In addition to a phenomenal view of the Pacific, everything was close to perfection.  We both loved their fresh food, fabulous drinks, and excellent service. As the saying goes: “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”  Heeding that advice, we went back four nights in a row, timing our visits perfectly, in order to catch the sunset and eat those nuts!

On our last day, our server thoughtfully asked if there was anything she could do for us.  I had my request ready from day one:  “What is that amazing seasoning on these nuts?”  The answer wasn’t a simple word like ‘salt’, but rather, she mentioned that there were quite a lot of spices involved.  When I hear that, my mind instantly translates the restaurant code to mean ‘secret recipe’ known only to the privileged few.  But I was wrong.  Instead, I got the exact opposite–the recipe. Do you want to guess what my first project was when our plane landed back on the mainland?  I immediately bought a bunch of raw nuts and began my attempt to recreate the Beach Tree’s magic. Having been successful was a mixed blessing.  What started as a snack, has slowly begun to replace my meals!  Thank goodness I showed some restraint as the recipe I was given was for ten gallons!  Think I’m exaggerating?  Try the recipe for yourself and enjoy a cocktail or two.  Mr. Peanut will understand.

 

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?

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.

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.

 

June 12th, 2011

My pork belly is better than yours

Pork belly; it seems to be the “in” food these days.  Today, you can get it at Whole Foods, sold as if it were some kind of fancy meat, but 10 years ago, it had the opposite reputation; I had to go Chinatown just to find it!  I’ve been enjoying telling everybody “my pork belly is better” every time we’d see it on the menu.  Then a few years ago, I was humbled by David Chang‘s pork bun, and completely knocked out by April Bloomfield‘s pork belly dish.  Let’s talk about how I lost the battle of the pork belly to these great chefs some other time.  Instead, let me give you my recipe, before another humbling experience comes my way.

All you need is pork belly and these:1) Sake, soy sauce, brown sugar, and honey.  Optional: Green onion and/or ginger and/or garlic.  These are to lessen the dish’s ‘porkiness’.  First, wash the pork belly in cold water, then put it in a deep pot, cover it with water and throw in the green onion (or ginger or garlic).2) Cook until tender (45 minutes+ in the pressure cooker; 90 minutes or more in a regular pot with a lid on; high-low med heat), next, take the pork out, discard boiled water and green onion, and when the pork belly is cool enough to touch, cut it 2-3 inches wide.  Give the pot a quick wash.

3) Put the pork belly back into the pot with 2 cups of sake, 2 cups of soy sauce, 1 1/2 (cups) of sugar, 1 cup of water, and a half cup of honey.  The liquid should reach top of the pork belly.  Feel free to change the proportions depending on your taste preference;  if you prefer saltier, more soy sauce (or tiny bit of sea salt); if you prefer milder, more sake (or plum wine is a great alternative to give it more sweetness).4) Cook at med/low heat for 30 min with the pressure cooker or an hour or more in a regular pot with a parchment paper lid.  The longer you put on the heat, the more tender it gets, and the more the flavor intensifies.  So if you are planning on leaving it heated longer,remember to adjust the seasoning prior to cooking.

This is called Kakuni in Japanese.  It’s a staple at Japanese tapas places (izaka ya), great with beer with a bit of Japanese mustard on it, or with udon noodles with little bit of chopped green scallion.  You can slice it thinner and make a little sandwich adding a slice of cucumber and Sriracha, a la David Chang; chopped and put them in fried rice, ramen topping, etc…  My all time favorite is adding it to a bowl of white rice, with a soft boiled egg.  It’s pretty damn good!