Friday, April 18, 2014

Cherry blossom gazing part 2 続花見

We continued with our hanami. We have mentioned before that, for some reason, the birds (and now other creatures) eat the cherry blossoms from the trees in our backyard. These are ornamental rather than fruit producing cherry trees so we’re not clear why they do this. In addition, we have not heard of similar behavior toward the trees on the Tidal Basin or anywhere else for that matter. It started some time ago with the house finches. Then apparently the cardinals learned from the finches and we have a few pictures here as “proof”. Sometimes it feels like a race to finish our hanami before the birds finish the blossoms we are celebrating. Often the petals are raining down around us at a furious pace as we raise our sake glasses in libation (Occasionally having to pause and fish out petals that plop into the up-raised glasses.)


As you can see this one got caught “red beaked” as it were. Come to think of it their beaks are always red.


They only eat the bottom of the flowers which must contain a sweet nectar or something.


Amazingly, some of our squirrels appear to have learned from the birds. This is the first year we caught one eating the flower. As a result, even before full bloom, cherry petals were dropping.

In any case, we continued with our feast despite this distraction. This one is "Nanohana" (broccolini) and shrimp dressed in “kimisu” 菜の花と海老の黄身酢和え. “Kimisu” is a sort of Japanese hollandaise sauce without butter. I also added cucumber cup with tobiko roe on the side.

I got this idea when Chef Kitayama of Sushi taro served a dish with “kimisu” the last time we dined there. His was very rich and thick. He said he attained that texture by freezing the eggs in the shell. This makes it easier to completely remove the egg white (after thawing I assume) and also removes extra moisture from the yolk. I, of course, did not take this extra-step. Here is my recipe (the standard recipe but I did not measure the ingredients, the below is my estimate).

Kimisu” 黄身酢:
One egg yolk (I used pasteurized shell egg)
Sugar (1 tsp)
Salt (small pinch)
Sake and mirin (1  tsp each)
Rice vinegar (1 tsp)

I mixed everything in a small sauce pan, on the lowest flame. Using a silicon spatula, I continuously mixed until the sauce thickened. I moved the pan on and off the fire to prevent scrambling the eggs. Since I did not remove the chalaza completely from the yolk, it became white hard specks in the sauce. I used a fine mesh strainer to remove it. I placed it in a small sealable container and refrigerated until use.

Nanohana” 菜の花: I have posted information about flowering rapeseed plants and possible substitutes in the U.S. The substitute is between broccolini and broccoli rabe.  I used broccolini for this dish. I just blanched it in salted boiling water for a few minutes and shocked it in ice cold water and drained.

Shrimp: These were shell-on frozen shrimp. I thawed them under running water. I rather severely salted it and let it stand for a while.  I then cooked them in gently simmering salted water splashed with sake for few minutes, let them cool in the shell and then peeled the shell.

Although the sauce was not as rich or thick as Chef Kitayama's it was rather luxurious with some tang and sweetness gently wrapped in. A perfect, subtle spring dish.

The 3rd dish was usual “dashi maki” 出し巻き Japanese omelet. I served it with grated daikon and soy sauce on the side.

We switched the sake glasses . These came from Kitaichi glass 北一グラス in Otaru 小樽. Left is with sake in it, the right is without sake. Once the glass is filled with liquid, the cherry blossom pattern around the base appear to float up but it is not easy to capture this in a photograph. In any case, these were more appropriate glasses for the occasion.

The 4th dish was Wakatake-ni 若竹煮. Although it is the season for bamboo shoots and fresh wakame seaweed in Japan, we could not get these seasonal items around here. I used packaged boiled bamboo shoot (I am sure from the last year crop) and salt preserved wakame sea weed (which was kept frozen in the freezer).

The 5th dish was  our usual yamakake 山掛け (cubes of marinated tuna and graded nagaimo). Since we did not have perilla leaves, I used fresh basil leaves we had growing on the window sill.  (I gave my wife the choice of fresh mint or basil leaves. She suggested basil). Unexpectedly, this combination was really good. I think we’ll use it again.

Although these were small dishes, we are getting quite filled up at this point. Since the day was so warm, we turned on the flood lights and went into night time cherry blossom gazing or “yozakura kenbutsu” 夜桜見物.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cherry blossom gazing Part 1 花見

Finally, spring has sprung. This winter was one of the coldest we can remember. To add “insult to injury” we even had snow in late March. As a result, spring is “late” this year and is very compressed--all the flowering trees are blooming at once. The picture below is of magnolia in full bloom which usually occurs much earlier than cherry blossom but this year both are in bloom at the same time.

Usually the cherry trees in our back yard bloom about one to two weeks later than the ones at the Tidal Basin. This year, however, ours came out around the same time as the ones in the Tidal Basin. The buds started to ripen on Wednesday and by Saturday, they were in full bloom.

So, we had to have hanami 花見 cherry blossom gazing.

Since I did not have time to order any good sashimi items, I had to make something from what I had at hand--frozen yellow fin tuna from our freezer.  This seems to happen often for hanami.

I made this "zuke" of tuna.マグロの漬け. To make it interesting, I layered it with thin half moon slices of daikon which were salted, washed and dressed with sushi vinegar. I also made a "scallion"sauce with coarsely ground roasted sesame.

The sake glasses came from Asakusa craft center 江戸下町伝統工芸館. It has etched plum flowers on it.

Here is a close up of the zuke of tuna sashimi. I made a slightly different marinade with sake, mirin, soy sauce in 1:1:2 ratio and heated it up to remove the alcohol and then cooled it down. I added the juice of grated ginger (to taste) after it cooled to room temperature. I did “yubiki” 湯引き to the block of tuna and made rather thick slices and marinated them for several hours in the refrigerator. Just before serving, I made “negi” sauce which is a mixture of finely chopped scallion (soaked in water with the moisture then squeezed out using paper towels) and the marinade. I added coarsely ground roasted white sesame to the sauce as well as used for garnished on the top.  Considering the quality of original frozen tuna, this treatment really made this tuna palatable. Of course, this is the first dish and hanami went on (to be continued).

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Savory breakfast bread pudding 朝ご飯ブレッドプディング

For some time, my wife has been into breakfast and Indian-style cooking. She is always on the look-out for new recipes for weekend breakfasts and I am the beneficiary. This is a savory breakfast bread pudding. My wife found it in, of all things, a mail-order catalogue for “kitchy” home furnishings. I suspect my wife was attracted to it because the recipe called for dry seasoned croutons--she used Pepperidge farm herb seasoned stuffing. I have to mention she loves this bread stuffing (as at Thanksgiving and Christmas) and according to her what better excuse could she have for introducing bread stuffing flavors to breakfast.

This is the final product. Nicely puffed up and surface is golden brown.

The inside is moist and bready.

Ingredients: 2 cups of dry seasoned croutons, 4 oz. grated cheese (parmesan), 4 eggs, 1 tsp. mustard, 2 cups milk, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper.

Blend eggs, mustard, milk, salt and pepper set aside. Divide dried croutons into 4 large single serving ramekins. Sprinkle the cheese on top of the croutons. Add the egg mixture. Cook in a 350 degree oven for about 30-45 minutes or until the eggs are set.

After baking it more than doubled in volume and nicely puffed up.

The combination of eggs, spiced bread and parmesan cheese cannot go wrong. Although the flavor of parmesan was not as prominent as we expected, this is a nice breakfast. Later, we served this as a drinking snack. My wife managed to "unmold" the pudding and served it as a little loaf after heating it up in the microwave. She served it with a dipping sauce made of a combination catsup and surachi hot sauce. This gave it a nice zing. Overall it was a very satisfying dish either for breakfast or as a snack.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Three "Otoshi" appetizers お通し3品

Ok, this is a sort of padding post. These were three small snacks I made on a weekday evening, using some left overs from our March birthday party. Since I forgot to take a picture of the asparagus with tofu dressing from Tako Grill, this is a good chance to show how this dish looked since I used some of it here. Of course, the idea of multiple small "Otoshi" came from "Suiko" 酔香 and "Shuhai" 酒杯.

From left to right; asparagus with tofu dressing アスパラの白和え, potato salad with rakkyo and pickled myouga ラッキョウと冥加いりポテトサラダ, chicken salad* チキンサラダ.

Here is the close up of asparagus with tofu dressing. For this presentation, I further sliced the asparagus pieces on a slant and also added drops of light colored soy sauce to add a bit more saltiness appropriate for a drinking snack.

You cannot see well but there are sliced home-made pickled myouga (this was the last batch from the last year’s harvest) and picked Japanese cocktail onion or "rakkyo".

* I did not take a picture of  the "chicken salad". I just used breast meat from a leftover Weber hot smoked chicken which I shredded in small strands by hand and dressed with mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, lemon juice with finely chopped  celery.
For a week day evening, this was a rather stupendous "otoshi" drinking snack—if I do say so myself.

We opened Havens Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. This has a rather classic Napa Cab profile of nice black fruits and tons of vanilla upfront. These three "otoshi" are rather neutral and go well with either sake or wine and certainly went well with this California Cab.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Pork and lamb curry with coconut milk インド風ポークとラムのココナツカレー

This recipe is again based on the book (Madhur Jaffrey’s “Quick & Easy Indian Cooking”). Again my wife took liberties with the basic recipe. She used lamb shoulder but because we had some left over pork loin she added that as well.

12 Fresh curry leaves or 3 bay leaves (I only had dried curry leaves so I used about 6 of them.)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cardamom
1/4 tsp cloves
2 chopped onions
3 potatoes peeled and chopped into cubes
3 carrots chopped into pennies
1/4 turmeric
1Tbs coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 jalapeno chiles
1 1/4 tsp salt
14 oz can of coconut milk.
about 1 lb. of lamb shoulder, and about 1/2 lb. of pork tenderloin

put 3 tbs of olive oil in the pan and add the curry leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, and let the spices bloom in the hot oil. Add the onion and sauté until they become translucent. Then add the rest of the ingredients and 1 cup of the coconut milk. Cover the pan and cook for about 70 minutes or until the meat is fork tender. Just before serving add the rest of the coconut milk and heat through.

We had this with spicy shredded carrot salad which was good match for this curry.


This was a good curry. The potatoes picked up the taste of the sauce. We found the coconut milk made the curry a bit sweet. The carrots also added to the sweetness. We probably prefer a curry with a yogurt base. The combination of lamb and pork added a nice complexity of flavor and texture.  Served with rice.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Party platters from Tako Grill タコグリルからのパーティープラター

On our last trip to Japan we, of course, visited my mother. We offered to take my mother and her two sisters (my aunts) out for lunch, but she said it was easier and more relaxing if we just stayed in and had the get-together at the house. My mother then produced a flyer she had just received from a chain sushi restaurant called "Kaisen-maru" 海鮮丸. Although she had not tried them before, she suggested that we order a sushi platter for our “aunts’ luncheon party. Just one phone call and a few hours later, a very polite and professional young man appeared at the front door with a large sushi platter and an order of chawanmushi 茶碗蒸し(still warm). (The choice of '”side” was miso soup or chawanmushi). He collected the money (a very reasonable price) and said "please leave the empty sushi-oke and bowls outside the front door when you finish". He added that he would come back later and collect them; which he did--they quietly disappeared soon after we put them out. The degree of service was just amazing (the sushi came in real "sushi-oke" 寿司桶 not a disposable plastic plate and the chawanmushi came in real porcelain bowls). My mother made miso soup using baby clams which happened to be one of my Aunt’s absolute favorite. The quality of sushi was pretty good considering it was a delivery from a chain sushi restaurant. We had a quite a feast and a very relaxing good time.

March is a busy birthday month for us with 3 to celebrate including our best friends. Using the Aunt’s party as a prototype my wife suggested we order a sushi platter from our Tako Grill for a “March Birthday” party. To “increase my enjoyment and relaxation” my wife forbade me from cooking for the occasion.  So we ordered a sushi platter from Tako Grill.

Since one of the guests was a vegetarian, I asked Mr Segawa of Tako Grill to include more vegetable rolls than usual.

It was very nicely presented and even the "gari" ginger was arranged like a yellow rose. California roll in the front and "kankyou" maki かんぴょう巻き (vegetarian)  in the back (above picture).

As you can see, sushi included tuna, yellow tail, flounder, eel, mackerel, salmon roe, California roll and few interesting vegetarian rolls. In addition to the sushi platter, we also asked Mr. Segawa to prepare Japanese-style appetizers.

The above is konnyaku dengaku (vegetarian) こんにゃくの田楽; the darker one are with peanuts sauce and the lighter ones (right) is more traditional miso sauce.

In the back, these are very nice and crispy chicken kara-age 鳥の唐揚げ, the front right are  pork and onion kushiage 串揚げ and the front left are grilled marinated cubed steak サイコロステーキの串焼き. Mr Segawa also gave us asparagus dressed in tofu dressing (vegetarian) アスパラの白和え, which I forgot to take a picture.

As a desert, my wife ordered a dozen cupcakes on the internet from Georgetown Cupcake for pick-up at the Bethesda store. I am not sure why cupcakes are so popular now-a-days but Georgetown cupcake appears to have started this trend. My wife said she has even seen a pink truck labeled Curb-side cupcakes selling cupcakes in downtown DC and people line up on the side walk to buy them. When we arrived at the store for pick-up, the line extended out of the store and half-way down the block. This was despite a very heavy rain.

Everything was wonderful. The chicken, pork and steak were flavorful—the chicken especially crispy. The vegetarian rolls were creative and plentiful. Even the non-vegetarians were satisfied.  We all had a wonderful time and was indeed the best birthday party ever.

Disclaimer: Although Tako Grill has its party platters including sushi, rolls, and appetizers, the platter shown here included some personal modifications Mr. Segawa made for us that may not be available on the usual menu.  

Monday, March 31, 2014

Indian-style Pork "Vindaloo" curry インド風マスタードポークカレー

Although I started cooking again, here is another installment of my wife's Indian-style dishes made while I was out of commission. This one is a bit spicier than her usual but we liked it very much. We garnished it with sautéed half tomato (skinned and seasoned with salt and pepper) and fresh young cilantro which we are growing on the window sill.

She made a few of her own modification; such as the addition of dry roasted mustard seeds and instead of using coconut milk as suggested in the original recipe, she substituted yogurt. This is not because we do not have an easy access to coconut milk but we like the taste of yogurt in this dish. Coconut milk, at least to our taste, adds a sweetness and distinctive "coconut" flavor (I am sure that must be the whole purpose of using coconuts milk). Besides, yogurt is a bit healthier (we hope).

The addition of cilantro leaves (not in the original recipe) really added to the flavor dimensions. My wife added a bit more yogurt to adjust the heat just before serving.

  • 2 Tbs. grainy (grey poupon) mustard
  • 2 Tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 Tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 Tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tsp. salt
  • 2 Tsp. sushi vinegar (the recipe calls for red wine vinegar but sushi vinegar is what we have on hand and I really like its mild taste in dishes.)
  • 3 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 2 onions cut into half rings
  • 2 cloves garlic finely cut
  • 1 1/2 lb. pork shoulder cut into large cubes
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt (the recipe calls for coconut milk but we find it makes the dish too sweet and besides we like to think the yogurt is better for us.)
Put the mustard seeds into a dry frying pan and roast until they turn a slight grey color and start popping. Remove from heat a set aside (#2 in the picture above). Mix the mustard, cumin, turmeric, pepper, salt, and sushi vinegar together in a little dish and set aside (#2). Put the oil in a pan and sauté the onions until they are translucent (#1) and add the garlic (#2) and continue for a few more minutes. Then add the mustard mixture (#2) letting the spices bloom in the hot pan. (they will start to stick to the bottom but don’t panic). Then add the mustard seeds. Turn down the heat and whisk in the yogurt taking up any of the spices that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Once everything is incorporated add the meat (#3) and simmer for about 70 minutes or until the meat is fork tender (#4, we do not brown the meat since it does not add much in this type of curry dish).

This appears to be one of my husband’s favorite curries. He asks for it frequently. I thought it would bring him some comfort while his hand healed. This is a nicely assertive curry. The processed mustard fortified with the additional mustard seed and vinegar provides a pleasant contrast to cut the richness of the pork.