Archive for ‘sweets’

October 30th, 2011

Halloween candies

I moved into my husband’s house on a significant day in American culture, Halloween.  Of course living together would mean lifelong lessons on sharing and compromising, but before all of that could start, my first lesson would be that strange American tradition known as trick or treating.  Sure, I’ve seen Halloween come and go, having lived in America over twenty years, but having lived in apartment buildings where any cobwebs hanging on the wall would have been reported to management and removed immediately, I never really experienced the actual costumed trick-or-treater.

So as you could imagine, I couldn’t wait for our first doorbell ringer, though I did have a few questions for my resident expert on American culture, my husband. My questions?  Where should I begin?

-Can’t we give healthy snacks?
-Can’t we give out homemade treats?
-Can’t we just leave a bowl full of candy out front with a sign saying ‘take one’?

My husband laughed.

Healthy snacks?  Seems obvious, right?  That is, until my husband explained to me the concept of T.P.-ing a house.  Japanese people are supposed to be good at math, but I never learned the equation that states that the amount of vandalism your house experiences is inversely proportional to the quality of the treats you hand out for Halloween.  To the laymen, that means, “Give away snickers and your property is safe.  Give away organic nuts and plan on spending November first cleaning shaving cream out of the mailbox.”

Homemade treats?  What could be better than something homemade?  Oh, razorblades, really?  Has that ever really happened?  Probably not, but why chance it.  Besides, I know MY kitchen is clean, but who knows about that neighbor who’s smoking while she cooks, letting the dog lick her finger as her cigarette butt falls gently into the mixing bowl.

Take one?  Oh yeah, for a minute there, I forgot that I grew up in Japan, where kids don’t learn the law of the American playground, “Finder’s keepers, losers weepers.”  In my mind, I’m imagining a pumpkin shaped candy dish with a bowl of candy or even pennies, with a nicely drawn sign reading, “Take One,” in front of which, well mannered children happily wait in line to pick a treat at random, before merrily skipping away.   My husband reminded me that this most likely won’t work, as the first, ‘entrepreneurial’ kid would get the idea to dump the entire contents into his bag before some bigger kid pushes him down to take it away.

The last lesson on Halloween is the hardest of them all.

-Never buy candy you like, to give away.

Some rules are made to be broken.  I bought a huge bag of candy contains as much as caramel and toffee bar as possible.

Happy Halloween!

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 14th, 2011

Croissant

We have a healthy Sunday morning ritual that probably came into existence to balance our not-so-healthy Saturday night tradition of eating out at our favorite restaurant like prisoners eating their last meals.  Still in our food comas when the first glimmers of Sunday morning arrive through the shutter’s slats, we do our best to linger in bed just a bit longer, before waking up and heading to the Studio City Farmers Market.  After that, our next stop is yoga class, where we attempt to use the wisdom of the East, to repent from the sin of the West, gluttony.  This week, it was even more difficult to listen to our yoga instructor preach detox, when our minds were somewhere else…namely, 50 feet away, in our car, where the Nutella croissant we bought, was sitting…waiting.

Don’t assume we go to the farmer’s market purely to indulge on baked goods.  Trust me, we buy fresh fruits and vegetables too, which is tough when you’re surrounded by kettle corn, fresh roasted peanuts, cookies and cakes.  With strong wills, we are able to avoid most temptations.  Still, there is still one vendor we must visit weekly, if nothing else, just to say hello…or more accurately, “Bonjour.”  The vendor?  Top Bakery out of Long Beach, California.  What makes Top our top choice?  Simple, buying French bread from an actual French person just adds that touch of authenticity that makes every bite just a bit better.  With a quick ‘bonjour‘, and a fresh baguette, for a brief moment, regular, ordinary, suburban Los Angeles magically transforms into cosmopolitan Paris.  While we would love to continue our French adventure by buying everything in sight, we usually show some restraint, only buying one baguette, and sometimes, just to keep it company, pain de campagne (country bread).  However on our last visit, there was one item, so awe-inspiringly decadent, we just couldn’t resist.  That bit of baked goodness was:  the Nutella croissant.

I developed an obsession for croissants when I moved to America.  Sure, we have croissants in Japan, but made to Japanese tastes, they’re just not the same. Basically, they’re too flaky (read: light), so they turn messy, breaking in pieces when you try to eat them. I would gladly sacrifice some of the flakiness for moistness, which brings me to the topic of filled croissants.  We all know that Japanese sized portions are smaller than their international peers, but sadly, that trait applies to filling as well.  Order a chocolate croissant in Japan, and you’ll be in for a non-chocolately surprise.   So when it comes to foreign-made croissants, America, the land of plenty, wins hands-down.

Waiting in the car in the summertime heat, while we stretched to the strains of our yoga instructor, our delicious croissant filled the air with its delicious aroma.  It was all we could do to wait until we made it home before ripping it apart like hunger-strikers finally ending their protest.  But, being the good fake Parisians that we are, we waited just a bit longer to make some French-pressed coffee, to go along with our chocolaty reward.

Finally, the moment of truth had arrived.  The first bite, as promised, was flaky on the outside and moist on the inside, with Nutella filling every inch.  Suddenly, my English faded, replaced by French, leaving me with only two words to describe the beautiful creation sitting in front of me — si bon!

See you next Sunday at the Top Bakery stand.

August 7th, 2011

The greatest discovery of summer 2011

What is the most memorable food you’ve tasted this summer?  Did you finally try grilling a peach?  Did you get that perfectly cooked catch of the day at your favorite seaside restaurant?  Did you eat that burger so juicy that you were sad to see it go? Although I enjoy all the previous, the best food find of the summer of 2011 was purchased at the most unlikely place, and it’s somewhere, most of us have been……That place is Costco, and that dish, is the hand dipped ice cream bar ($1.50).  If you’ve been reading my blogs, you may remember me mentioning that ice cream is too heavy when it’s hot out.  But exceptions have to be made once in a while, right?  Try one and you’ll understand.  These bars are so good that Häagen-Dazs may have to move back to Denmark, Bronx.   What makes Costco’s ice cream bar so special…the two words: hand dipped.  Yes, a human hand actually dips your ice cream bar into milk chocolate sauce, and then has the nerve to coat that with a downpour of almonds.  It’s not for the faint-hearted dieter, as it is about twice the size of on an Iphone, but with better reception (at least from me!) .  I used to dread the crowds of Costco, but now I have a reason to join the herd.

The idea of Costco itself, is hard to comprehend.  A store on such a massive scale with an endless variety of everything seemed like a friend’s exaggeration. I’m from Tokyo, where land is scarce and from there, I moved to big American cities like Boston and New York where you don’t buy in bulk because you either don’t have the room for it, or you don’t have a car to haul it home.  So when my husband gave me a Costco membership card (along with an AAA card), I felt like I became an official American.  Sadly, our trips to Costco are only few in number, as we lack the storage space in our garage and in our ‘trunks’.But maybe, we should go there more often…

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?”

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!

 

 

June 28th, 2011

PB & J

When a Parisian can order “Le Big-Mac” on the Champs-Elysées or a typical Japanese businessman can grab a bagel in a Tokyo subway station, it’s pretty easy to see that for good or bad, American food has quickly conquered the world.  However, there is still one American staple that still hasn’t reached the international kitchen: the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  This traditional combination is virtually unknown outside of the U.S., and to add a personal insult to its anonymity, my Japanese best friend actually thinks it’s gross.

The PB of PB&J fame, was introduced to the general public at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair, and it found its mate during World War II, thanks to soldiers in need of a cheap and easy source of good protein, but since then, has taken on a life of its own.  PB was introduced to me by another picky eater in my life… my mother.  She is as picky as my husband.  Although Asians live on carbs, my mother doesn’t like rice, pasta, bread…   I’ll talk about my mother issue at some other time.  But I actually grew up with peanut butter (Skippy, no Jif in Japan).

Back in 1998, when I was working in Greenwich Village, NYC, a store called Peanut Butter and Co. opened. If you think the store’s name would limit its offerings, you’d be mistaken, as they’ve somehow managed to concoct an amazing array of peanut butter, along with every variation of PB&J sandwich and dessert imaginable!  You won’t find this in Japan, or not many places in the United State either!

When I visited there recently on a weekday afternoon, a family of 4 was sharing a creation aptly titled, “Death by Peanut Butter Sundae,” which is NOT intended for the sugar substitute crowd as it consists of 3 scoops of vanilla ice cream, peanut butter sauce, peanut butter chips, Reese’s Pieces, peanut butter Cap n’ Crunch cereal and is topped off with whipped cream.  It tastes exactly how you might imagine–VERY peanut buttery and VERY sweet.

Although basically a simple offering, the PB & J has been evolving since Elvis was forced to switch to a larger sized stage suit from his addition of  bacon and banana to the equation.   But that’s to be continued…

 

June 20th, 2011

Gr-r-reat soft serve

Do you like frosted flakes?  Do you like to drink that sugar infused milk at the end?  I do.  Imagine that super sweet milk as soft serve.  That was exactly the taste of Cereal Milk Soft serve at Momofuku Milk BarWhen I was a kid, my grandmother took me shopping every Sunday.  Our first stop was at the Sanrio store to buy  the latest Hello Kitty things.  Our next stop was the Dairy Queen for a frozen treat.  My favorite: vanilla with butterscotch sauce.  I loved watching the server dip my soft serve in a pot of butterscotch, then immediately seeing it freeze.  Sometimes we went to Baskin Robbins (we call it “thirty one” in Japan), but I always preferred to go Dairy Queen to get the soft serve and watch the dip show.  Last month, for the first time in 30 years, I went to get a Dairy Queen soft serve in a Los Angeles mall.  It wasn’t as great as I remember.  There was no butterscotch sauce but more importantly, no grandmother.

Although it wasn’t dipped in anything, Cereal Milk soft serve from Milk Bar was amazing.  Yes, AMAZING.  The flavor of the leftover milk from eating sugary cereal was uncanny.  There’s nothing like this.  I love when an unexpected flavor succeeds.  When I had my first lick, I thought “It really was the taste of the cereal’s milk!  Yeah, I remember I love that cereal milk!!”, then after the second bite “how do you get this flavor?  This tastes exactly like Frosted Flakes!!”  Often, when stores try imitating other forms of flavor, for example, cheesecake flavored ice cream, it usually tastes more cheesecake-ish, than cheesecake.  So when I tasted cereal milk flavor, it was a fantastic surprise to find out they actually created the flavor.  What a treat!

By the way, we call soft serve “sofuto kureemu” (soft cream) in Japan, and sadly, while Hello Kitty continues to flourish there’s no more Dairy Queen in Japan…

June 18th, 2011

Black, white and beyond

Black and white cookies falls into NYC classic category.  Not necessarily people grow up eating them, but New Yorkers grow up seeing them on the windows of many delis.  The origin of this cake like cookie seems rather vague.  Some says it is related to Germany’s Amerikaner cookie (only the white icing) or it is a version of half-moon, which was originated in upstate New York, and if it were for half-moon, the history goes back to early 20th century.  Cupcake stores have been popping up everywhere with tons of flavors like cotton candy, key lime and Artie Lange (not a beer).  So it was matter of time that beloved black and white cookie became a cupcake at Crumbs Bake Shop in NYC.  The texture of black and white cookie resembles already like a cake, so why not?  Taste?  I thought it was a good vanilla cupcake, and the chocolate fondant icing was rather really tasted like chocolate, whereas B&W cookie’s black fondant tastes only chocolate-y.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, there are variations of all different colors.  These novelty items, which is really cool, for example, for birthday, Christmas and/or Hanukkah gifts to be creative.  I’d say “so cute!” if I receive one of these for Valentine’s or something (although, note to my husband, I always prefer really good cake), and if I bring these colorful cookies as souvenir to my friends in Japan, they’ll also scream “Kawaii~” (cute).   However, black and white cookie has been in New York City staple because it’s black and white.  There are reasons that these colored variations are not in store front everyday.  Basic cake flavor is always vanilla and chocolate; so is cookies.  It’s gender/age neutral.  My dad wouldn’t want to eat a baby pink and white cookie on the street, but he won’t mind black and white.  If you don’t live near New York City, and want to try, William Greenberg Dessert will ship and has great variation in color and sizes (I tried their pink and white, it didn’t taste like strawberry), or you can go fancy with Dean and Deluca or go crazy with these guys who has many color as well as shapes!  If you wanna make it yourself, this recipe seems most delicious.

June 15th, 2011

Black and white cookie

I love Seinfeld.  For a while, that show about nothing became the main reason I stayed in America.  It introduced me to a completely different culture.  Where would a girl from Tokyo learn what a moil was?  Who, if not Jerry, was going to teach me about the cultural significance of Jewish Deli food?  There’s one item in the Jewish culinary world, apart from the salted, cured meats, that’s especially noteworthy, the black and white cookie.You’ve probably seen the big, two-toned cookie a million times at Jewish delis but have you ever tried it?  For the uninitiated, it’s a big and vivid black and white creation tightly wrapped in plastic.  The name “cookie” on this sweet is misleading, and resembles its appearance more than its texture, because it’s more like a thin vanilla cake with two semi-circles of brown and white icing (chocolate and vanilla, although the white icing is sometimes lemon flavored).  I didn’t grow up with any kind of frosting, so at first, it didn’t look very appetizing.  But after seeing a Seinfeld episode, dinner party, I began fantasizing about this delicasy.  In the episode, Jerry and Elaine are at a bakery, where Jerry explains his method of eating the black and white cookie, which involves getting both vanilla and chocolate in the same bite.  His theory?  ‘If people would only look to the cookie’ all racial problems would be solved.  Jerry then raises his cookie in a salute of brotherhood to an African-American gentleman across the store, eating the very same, racially balanced dessert, who returns the gesture.  Surprisingly, it took me over a decade to try the black and white cookie in person, but thanks to the location being Yankee Stadium, it was worth the wait.  To this day, I don’t remember if the Yankees won, but I still remember that cookie.  My first thought after the first bite was, “What?  it’s soft?”  Remembering Jerry’s technique, I tried to get a little bit of both colors in each bite.  To be honest, and with no racial undertones whatsoever, I just prefer the white side.  Sorry Jerry.  The reason?  The black side’s icing usually doesn’t taste anything like chocolate.  It’s one of these “chocolate-y” flavors that doesn’t quite get it right.  Yet, if this cookie had only white icing, it would lose 100% of its cache AND its name would make no sense.  So why produce this riddle of a cookie?Maybe Jerry is right.   Maybe the appeal is just the sentiment reflected on this cookie– In a crazy world, maybe people can only find harmony in the balance of icing on the smiling face of this cookie…  Or maybe it’s just I’ve watched Seinfeld way too many times and I like cake.