Archive for ‘seasonal’

January 26th, 2012

Fish bits

My husband doesn’t like seafood, but at least, he always tries.  He finds a few things here and there that he doesn’t mind , with ‘doesn’t mind’ meaning he wouldn’t go as far as saying he likes it nor would he order it by choice.

I noticed that most American fish dishes are fillets, so not only my husband, but also many of my sushi loving American friends are not big fans of seeing an entire fish on a plate, head and all! For Japanese people, ordering fish and receiving an actual, entire ‘swim ready’ fish is as normal as getting a pizza with pepperoni on it.I have news for you.  If you think an entire fish is disgusting, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Let’s take a look at what I ate lately.
Mentaiko, spicy cod roe, is a Japanese favorite. As a matter of fact this is always on top of our “what do you want to eat with rice?” list.  It’s kind of like cod roe kimchi without the pungent smell, and it makes both a great pasta sauce and fantastic drinking food.We don’t discriminate when it comes to odd fish parts.  Besides eggs, we’ll gladly eat fish milt as well.  Even better is cod milt, shirako grilled on a bamboo leaf.  Its cheese-like, creamy texture melts in your mouth and can be better than foie gras.

Speaking of liver, this is ankimo, which is a monk fish liver, salted, steamed, cut and served in ponzu.  American sushi places started serving this over the last few years or so.  Believe it or not, it’s actually a seasonal thing and best between November and February when water is cold and livers gets fat.  Just like foie gras, it’s basically fat…creamy, delicious fat.

If my husband reads this, I think he’ll dislike seafood even more.  He’s barely past fish and chips.  Oh well, one step forward, ten steps back.

December 24th, 2011

Christmas in Japan

I wrote to Santa every year with a simple, easy gift request: a 5 bedroom house.  It looks like my letter was lost somewhere between Tokyo and the North Pole, but even still, that didn’t stop me from enjoying Christmas, growing up in Japan.  What better to decorate a small fake tree with, than fake snow?  Christmas dinner was special too.  Besides the excitement over my mother’s homemade strawberry short cake, there was something even better to look forward to: picking up a traditional Christmas dinner– Kentucky Fried Chicken. Yes, you read it right, KFC.  For Japanese people, Colonel Sanders may be the bearded man that brings the most Christmas joy, as KFC has been THE Christmas dish for Japanese people for many, many years.

My recent trip to Tokyo confirmed this trend.  At the Aoyama location of KFC, where they allegedly started the “fried chicken on Christmas” tradition, there were signs for Christmas dinner reservations everywhere.  According to KFC Japan website, foreigners came to this location about 40 years ago to buy fried chicken because there was no turkey (and apparently no whole chicken) available.  Capitalizing on this, the store manager came up with the “eat fried chicken on Christmas” advertising campaign, which apparently, became one of the most successful ones in recent memory.

This is the Christmas menu from a Japanese KFC:

Combo of 8 chicken pieces, a bowl of salad and a “glocage chocolate” cake.  All for 3940 yen (approx. $50)!  There was also the Premium Roast Chicken ($70) — a roasted whole chicken called Gokoku Ajidori, which is raised on a special diet consisting of a combination of 5 different grains including soy and brown rice.  In addition, no KFC meal would be complete without raisin bread with liver paste.  Is it me, or do these ‘fast food’ menu items sound like they belong in a fancy restaurant?

As you can probably see, as I’m finally getting used to turkey on the holidays, I’m now fascinated by non-turkey people.  Fried chicken in Japan makes sense, having no other options, but what’s with the holiday ham culture here in America.  I love it in a sandwich, but as the star of a holiday meal?  Why not holiday bacon?  Chew on that…until part 2, tomorrow…

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 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?

October 5th, 2011

Kale soup

All of the sudden, the temperature drops 20 degrees and it’s cold out!  Didn’t I just mention that because it was so unseasonably hot in Los Angeles, we ate cold pasta.  Today, we switched gears and opted for soup…and the heater!
A few years back, I would’ve bet that had he seen  “Kale soup with fava beans and polish sausage,” written on paper, my husband would’ve stopped reading after the word kale.  Come on, this is the guy that refuses to eat mesclun salad because, as he puts it, “it tastes like dirt.”  But for some strange and miraculous reason, he loves a healthy vegetable that packs plenty of health benefits.

This warm and hearty mixture of meat and vegetables is not only delicious, it’s easy to make.  If you can chop, you’re ready.  Simply chop the ingredients listed above, saute them, and cook them together in chicken stock and you’re all done.

Soup is by far, one of my favorite American dishes.  My soups are always meals in themselves because I make them hearty, with lots of vegetables.  Most Americans may not agree, but for me, soup isn’t just a lunch or dinner thing.  In the Japanese diet, most meals, even breakfast, come with a side of soup.  But these soups aren’t hearty enough to be stand-alone meals with the exception of tonjiru, a miso soup with pork with vegetables.

Japanese soups, while delicious, have one fatal flaw:  too much sodium.  This is probably the main reason that Japanese portions are limited to a side serving and not an entree sized portion, like we might see in America.  But for the delicious taste, maybe it’s worth a few hours of that bloated feeling.  Just wear your loose pants and enjoy.By the way, my husband describes Japanese soup as looking like where Yoda lives.  I should be insulted when he refers to one of my national dishes as ‘swamp water’ but it is pretty funny.

August 5th, 2011

Summer Treats

During those hot, air-conditioning-less summer afternoons in Japan, my grandparents used to cool us down with one of my favorite treats–shaved ice.  In Japanese, we call it kaki gohri but by any name, it still tastes as sweet.  Thankfully, my grandparents always had a huge block of ice in their freezer and a few choices of syrup in the cupboard, including melon, lemon, and my favorite…strawberry.  Of course it tasted nothing like strawberry, but in the middle of scorching heat, it was easy to convince myself that strawberry was bright pink and tasted like sugar.  Besides being a tasty and refreshing dessert, shaved ice gave us some entertainment value as well, as my cousins and I made a game of sticking out our tongues to see whose had turned into the strangest color from the syrup.  I still laugh when I think back to those carefree days.  As I grew older, my tastes began to change, and I started liking sweet red beans on ice and/or green tea syrup.  While I enjoyed the mores sophisticated taste, I missed my bright red tongue.  With that in mind, is it surprising that whenever I go back to Tokyo, I always make sure to visit a sweet shop to recapture a taste of my youth?

Ice cream is a great cold treat no matter what the temperature is outside, but its texture gets a little too heavy beneath the daunting heat and humidity of summer.  I guess more people agree with this sentiment, as Hawaiian ice seems to be gaining in popularity these days.  Hawaiian ice is very similar to Japanese shaved ice, which is nice, because it lets me enjoy a taste of home without having to take a ten hour flight.
The other night, about thirty food trucks made their home in our neighborhood so my husband and I had to visit.  You can imagine how excited I was when we came across the Breezy Freeze Snowball shaved ice truck.  I just had to stop and check it out, and I have to say,  I was not disappointed.  They had about 2 dozen flavors to choose from, which put my grandparents few syrups to shame.  And keeping with recent developments in the pop culture world, they even offered a “tiger’s blood” flavor!  Of course I had to ask, and luckily, it was just a mixture of strawberry and coconut–sorry Charlie (Sheen).  On this particularly hot August night, the line was long, and full of anxious children waiting for their chance to brighten the Los Angeles summer evening by sticking out their syrup stained tongues like my cousins and I used to do.What flavor did I finally decide on?  To make matters easier, you were allowed to pick two, so I had to re-visit my childhood friend, strawberry, which I paired with cotton candy.  To add more sweetness to the mix, I topped things off with sweet milk.  It was a great way to rekindle old memories, as just like in Japan, it tasted nothing like strawberry (or cotton candy for that matter), but that wasn’t the point.  The finely shaved ice was like eating sweet velvet snow.  Nostalgic for my childhood, I couldn’t resist sticking my tongue out at my husband and asking, “How bright is it?”