Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Baked Stuffed "Giant" yellow squash イエロースクワッシュの肉詰め

This was a bit of a challenge. I was given this over-(and home-)grown yellow squash with a comment from my friend, Jimmy, "Maybe YOU can do something with it" implying he would not cook this giant.  I decided to make stuffed baked squash.

Here is the home (over)grown yellow squash (below, upper left). It is at least 10 inch long. I scooped out the seeds in the center and sliced the skin side so that the squash would sit flat inside the glass baking dish (below upper right).

Ground pork: My wife was making a scrapple from ground pork and I used whatever she did not use. Instead of buying ground pork, we bought 2.5 lb of a pork butt roast and ground it ourselves. I intentionally did not remove all the fat. I first cut the meat in small cube with a knife and then pulsed it in a food processor until I attained the desired texture.

Meat stuffing: I used about 1 lb of ground pork. I mixed in shallot (1 medium, finely chopped), garlic (1 fat glove finely chopped), fresh parsley (1 tsp, finely chopped), dried oregano (1/4 tsp), dried basil (1/4 tsp), black pepper (1/4 tsp) and salt (1/2 tsp), Japanese "panko" bread crumbs (about 1/2 cup), and egg (one large, beaten) and kneaded it by hand until it became a bit sticky and well mixed.

Sauce: I quickly made my marinara sauce from garlic (4 cloves finely chopped) and canned whole plum tomatoes (the tomatoes from 2 cans (8 oz. each) crushed into small chunks). I cooked the garlic in olive oil (3 -4 tbs) until fragrant (1 minute) and added the tomatoes with the  juice and turned the heat to simmer. I added salt, black pepper (to taste), bay leaves (2) and dried oregano and basel. After simmering for 5 minutes I tasted it and added sugar (1/4 tsp, optional) to cut the acidity.

Assembly: I stuffed the squash cavities with the pork mixture and spread the sauce over and around the squash (above lower left). I placed slices of fresh mozzarella cheese on top and baked it in 350F convection oven for 40 minutes (above lower right).

I served this with a chiffonade of fresh basel leaves. The squash was still a bit hard! I thought baking it for 40 minutes would make this giant squash soft but I was wrong. I should have pre baked or pre-cooked it. We only tasted small portions. The next day, I added a bit more sauce and a mixture of shredded aged cheddar and Mozzarella cheese and re-baked it for another 30 minutes in a 350F oven. This time, the squash was soft. Of course, you could stuff the squash with your favorite uncooked Italian sausage (out of its casing). This tasted pretty good especially with red wine. Since I did not have suitable Italian reds handy, we went for Califronia Cab Ridgeline 2004 from Alexander valley with this dish.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Auntie N's no-crapple scrapple redux スクラップル 再登場

We previously posted scrapple which is a well-known and somewhat dreaded Pennsylvania Dutch breakfast item widely served in diners in Philadelphia. The authentic recipe requires a hog's head but my wife made it from stewed pork spare ribs and since it is not made with any offal, we called it "Auntie N's no-crapple scrapple". I came across another "civilized" scrapple recipe in the Washington Post on line which does not call for a whole hog's head boiled for several days. I forwarded this recipe to her hoping she would try it--which she did.

Ingredients from the Post article:
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
25 ounces chicken broth, preferably homemade
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup flour, plus 1/4 cup for dusting the scrapple
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, or more as needed (may substitute butter)

The recipe calls for ground pork. Since this is "no crapple-scrapple" we didn't want to use ground pork from the market because then we couldn't guarantee it didn't contain any crapple. So we purchased a pork butt roast and ground the meat ourselves. Grinding the pork was the extent of my contribution to the dish. I handed the prepared pork to Auntie N and she took over the preparation.

Auntie N wrote: While I used the basic ingredients from the Post article I put them together differently based on previous experience making scrapple. I browned the pork in a saucepan then added the broth bringing the mixture just to a boil. I added the garlic and shallots. In a separate bowl I combined the cornmeal and flour. I slowly added the dry ingredients to the pork broth mixture whisking briskly to prevent lumps. As if making polenta I stirred the mixture until it got very stiff and pulled away from the sides of the pan. Then I added the old bay seasoning, chopped fresh thyme and basil as well as salt and pepper to taste. I poured the mixture into a bread loaf pan to cool.

To cook, I sliced the pieces that were about 1/2 inch thick, lightly floured the surface and pan fried them on medium high heat for about 5 minutes a side.

The pieces cooked up very nicely with a pleasing crust outside and soft center. It turns out that this is a much more refined scrapple than the one I am used to. While it had a pleasing pork taste it was not as permeating as the more traditional recipe. In addition the various herbs and spices are a very good combination in their own right but not the intense rustic flavors characteristic of traditional scrapple (which in fact many people don't entirely appreciate). If you are one of those people this is a nice variation and worth trying.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Chicken thigh stewed in soy sauce, mirin and black vinegar 鶏腿肉の黒酢煮

I have found the simmering liquid made of equal parts soy sauce, mirin and black vinegar (the Japanese not Chinese kind) to be a very good universal stewing medium. I first used it to steam/poach chicken breast. I then used the same concoction to simmer chicken wings which is now one of our most favorite drinking snacks. I think I have now perfected it.

Here is my secret; I keep reusing the simmering liquid. I realized, especially after cooking the chicken wings, it became slightly viscous with a nice unctuous mouth feel because of the collagen dissolved into the liquid. It jelled in the refrigerator and, later, after cooking a few more batches of wings, it congealed even at room temperature. It makes a nice "gelee" when eaten alone. I often make it into small cubes and use it as a part of dressing/seasoning.

I decided to keep this liquid going much as some Yakitori joints do (making a sauce started when great grand dad started the place and spanning many generations) by adding new "tare' sauce to the pot. After stewing and consuming all the wings (I usually keep the cooked wings we did not eat in the jelled liquid reheating the leftovers), I strained the hot liquid to removed any debris and spent ginger slices and kept it in the sealed container in the refrigerator. Every time I cook a new batch of wings, I remove the congeal chicken fat from the surface of the jelled simmering liquid, heat it up, and add the appropriate amount (for whatever you are stewing) of soy sauce, black vinegar and mirin (1:1:1). I taste it and add water since water evaporates which makes the simmering liquid too strong. I also add new slices of ginger every time to renew a fresh ginger taste. This way, the simmering liquid can be perpetuated. The simmering liquid is getting better and better every time I cook a new batch of chicken. 

My wife suggested I cook chicken thighs in this simmering liquid. I said "Why not?" I just cleaned the excess fat and skin from the thighs but left the bone and most of the skin. I simmered it with an otoshi-buta for 40-60 minutes. We often let the cooked chicken cool in the liquid and then place it in the refrigerator rather than eating it immediately. This is much meatier dish than the wings. The texture is also very different from that of the wings but we really like this. The night I made this dish, I blanched broccoli florets and sauteed them in butter with chopped garlic and seasoned it with salt and pepper as an accompaniment.

This is sort of the dish without a particular citizenship. It can be served as a main dish with a starch in the Western-style or it can be a wonderful Izakaya style drinking snack. The chicken meat is so tender, you can remove the bones by hand (my wife) or using chopsticks (me), or before serving (guests). Although we considered having sake, we had this with Ridgeline Vineyards Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. This is a very decent California Cab without any harsh edges and went very well with this dish. The black vinegar became very mild and and did not compete with the wine at all. After eating two thighs each, we did not need any more food.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cold "corncob" soup 冷製コーンコブスープ

This is my wife's creation and I just helped. This corn soup is a bit unusual. I am not sure where she originally got the idea to use corn cobs as the basis for a corn soup broth but she has been making corn soup this way for a number of years. (With corn cobs there are essentially two options; feed them to your horses or make this soup). After making fresh corn pudding, she used the left over corn cobs; boiling them to make corn broth much as you would use beef bones to make beef broth. This produced an amazingly sweet and "corny" soup. I finished it and served it as a cold corn soup for the summer.

She boiled 12 corncobs--the kernels removed as well as any green parts of the stalk below the cob, in water enough to cover the cobs (about 4 cups). She also added roughly chopped onion (2 medium sized). She simmered it for 40 minutes or so removing any "scum" that appeared on the surface. At this point she removed the cobs and let the broth cool. We kept it in the fridge until I stepped in to complete the soup. 

We like to add more fresh corn to finish this soup but the fresh corn at the market did not look good and decide to use frozen corn instead. I tasted the broth which had a nice corn flavor and was very sweet. I decided to strain out the old onion and some of the debris from the corn. In a pan, I sautéed or sweated finely minced onion (1 large) in a mixture of butter and olive oil. I then added back the corn broth and half a bag of the frozen yellow corn. I cooked it for 20 minutes and using the immersion blender, homogenized the corn kernels and onion. It is good to strain the soup again at this point to remove any tough skin that may have come from the new corn kernels. I then added the remaining frozen corn to the broth and cooked it for another 10 minutes. I seasoned it with salt and white pepper.

Corn is such an integral part of what summer is all about and while this soup is not very thick it has an amazing corn flavor--representing the very essence of corn-ness (if that is a word). The additional corn kernels add a nice element of texture. Since it has been an extremely hot and humid summer, we served this soup cold but it is also good hot. A very refreshing summer soup.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chow-chow pickles チャウチャウ ピクルス

In the food section of Washington Post online, I found a recipe for scrapple (a fairly "refined" version) and sent it to my wife. Since she created Auntie N's no-crapple scrapple, I thought she would be most interested in this recipe. As she was looking through the scrapple recipe, she also came across a recipe for a dressing which is based on (store-bought) "chow-chow", Pennsylvania Dutch pickles.  Although she is not Pennsylvania Dutch, she grew up in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. She tells me that chow-chow was ubiquitous and appeared everywhere. It was even served in the school cafeteria.

Chow-chow is one of the classic Pennsylvania dutch "Seven Sweets and Seven Sours" which by tradition should be included in every dinner served to company. The seven sours included: pickled vegetables (such as pickled cauliflower, beets, or cabbage), coleslaw, dill pickles, green tomato relish, meat jelly and spiced cucumbers in addition to chow-chow. (For those who are interested the sweets included: jelly (currant or apple), apple butter or apple sauce, preserves such as quince, candied watermelon rind or wild strawberry, two or three pies such as schnitz, shoofly, funeral or montgomery and cheese cake). As a kid, my wife particularly liked chow-chow because she could pick out the veggies she liked best from the wide selection that made up the dish. Although my wife knew chow-chow as exclusively PA dutch, we found out that it is also a southern dish. The Pennsylvania version, however, is said to be much sweeter than the southern.  Over the years my wife has looked for but never found a recipe that reproduces the chow-chow of her childhood.  She searched on line and found this one based on an old Pennsylvania dutch cookbook from the 1930's.

Vegetables: Red and yellow pepper, cut in strips (one each), Cauliflower (one head, separated into small florets), celery (two stalks cut in to 3 inch buttons), green beans (on hand full), corn (kernels from 2 cobs, uncooked), kidney beans (one 15 oz can), black beans (one 15 oz can), Lima beans (one package, frozen thawed) (picture below upper left). The cauliflower and beans were precooked by steaming.

Pickling liquid: She used sushi vinegar (1 cup), (this is obviously her modification--sushi vinegar is not traditional to Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. She said she used it because it is milder than the traditional cider vinegar), sugar (1 cup), water (1 cup), kosher salt (2 Tbs.), ground turmeric (1 tbs), black pepper corns (1 tbs), cinnamon stick (one), whole all spice (1/2 tbs). She simmered these ingredients in a pot for about 30 minutes. (top right picture).  

Then she strained the syrup to remove the spices. She poured the strained syrup back into the pot and added whole bay leaves (3), hot red peppers (dried, 2), yellow mustard seed (2 tbs), celery seeds (1 1/2 tsp) and simmered the mixture for another 10 minutes. 

She arranged the vegetables in a glass baking dish (top left picture, since we did not have a glass pickling jar) and poured the hot liquid over the vegetables, stirred well and covered. After it cooled she put it in the refrigerator. The recipe said 'wait at least a week before serving. Because of the way these pickles were made they are considered "refrigerator pickles" meaning that they should be kept in the fridge and will not last more than a couple of weeks. The traditional PA dutch method is, of course sterilized, "heavy duty" canning.

After waiting a week my wife tasted the chow-chow...she was ecstatic!! This was the traditional taste of her childhood that she had been looking for all these years.  She was so excited she called me at work to tell me the pickles were a success. She said that the minute she tasted them she was instantly transported back to her childhood--summer picnics, dinners at friend's houses, cafeteria lunches, community suppers at the firehouse. As she said, Proust really knew what he was talking about with those madelaines.  

This is a very mild pickle with a pleasing sweet and sour taste. If truth be told, it is a little too sweet for me (my wife says that she probably liked it as a child because it was sweet--she said she still likes it a lot). All the additional spices give it a distinctive depth of flavor. The veggies are still very crisp and the diversity of ingredients makes it very interesting. Chow-chow is sometimes referred to as "the end of summer pickles". It includes such a variety of vegetables because these are all the veggies that are left over from pickling individual vegetables from the summer harvest. I suspect my wife will be making this again. It is certainly worth the effort.  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sardines escabeche イワシの南蛮漬け

This is the second dish I made from some fresh sardines we got. For this dish, I used two sardines. This is a classic preparation of "Nanban" 南蛮 or Japanese-style escabeche. Essentially, the fish was first fried and then soaked in sweet vinegar with other vegetables.

Preparation of sardines: For this dish, I decided to use filets rather than the bone-in whole fish. After scaling the fish, I filleted them into three layers; two fillets of fish flesh and one layer of back bone. In Japanese culinary parlance, this is called "san-mai oroshi" 三枚下ろし. I use my own quick way to do this which is more like the Western style of filleting fish than the more traditional Japanese way.  Using  a narrow-bladed boning or fillet knife (instead of more traditional "deba" knife), I cut across just under the gills until the blade hit the back bone (do not cut through). Then, I turned the blade, 90 degree towards the tail and sliced off the fillet along the back bone. I do not even bother to gut the fish beforehand. I turned the fish over and repeated. I ended up with two fillets and the head with back bone attached (hence "san-mai" or three "sheets").  Using a fish bone tweezers, I remove all visible small bones especially inside the belly portion of the fish (this is very tedious). I also cut off some of the edges. After that, I washed and patted the fillets dry. I seasoned them with salt and white pepper and sprinkled sake over everything and kept them in the refrigerator covered until I was ready to cook (#1 in the image below).

Sweet vinegar: Again there are many variations but, this time,  I used my short-cut method. I just mixed rice vinegar (3 tbs), soy sauce (3 tbs) mirin (2 tbs)  and sugar (1/2 tsp). I also added two dried hot peppers cut into small rings (removing the seeds).

Vegetables: I julienned carrot (one small) and celery (two stalks) in a slightly larger than match stick size. I also sliced Vidalia onion (1/2, medium). I like my vegetables to be "cured" so I added and soaked the vegetables several hours at room temperature in sweet vinegar in a sealed container.
Frying: I removed the excess sake on the fish filetts using a paper towel and dredged them in potato starch or "katakuriko" 片栗粉. I deep fried the fish in 170F or 340C vegetable oil for several minutes on both sides. I drained the excess oil by resting the fish on a wire rack (I use a small frying pan with just half inch of oil. I will not reuse this oil since the sardines make it taste "fishy").

Meanwhile, I removed the vegetables from the sweet vinegar and arranged them on two plates (#4 above). While hot, I soaked the fillets in the sweet vinegar and turned them over several times to coat nicely (#3 above). I placed the fillets over the vegetables and garnished them with finely julienned ginger and perilla leaves (#4).

It turned out that the red pepper I used (bought it in a Japanese grocery store) was atomically hot. Especially the vegetables got really spicy. The fish was nicely crunchy with a sweet vinegar taste. No need to worry about bones because of the preparation I did. For me, the spiciness was the higher boundary of "OK" but, for my wife, it was too much especially for the vegetables but she finished the fish with gusto. the only drink we can think of is cold sake for this dish.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Stewed sardines with pickled plums イワシの梅煮

Did I happen to mention that fresh sardines at our new grocery store often look like they just came out of a bar fight the night before? Well, today, they looked slightly better and I decided to go with the sardines. I got six and made two dishes. This is one of them.

Sardines and herrings are related but slightly different. For one, herrings can be rather large but sardines are usually smaller. The sardines we got today were larger than we see canned. So I decided to treat the sardines as though they were small herrings.

The first dish I made from four sardines is called "Umeni" 梅煮 meaning "stewed with plum". Since herrings/sardines are rather oily blue fish with a strong taste,  adding some sourness helps to cut the oiliness. This is very similar to the simmered Pacific saury or "sanma" which I posted before.

Cleaning sardines: The fishmonger at the grocery store was a bit surprised when I said I would do the cleaning myself--"so just give me the sardines as is." Scaling was rather easy since they have large, easy-to-remove scales. For this dish, I wanted to keep the shape of the fish. So I did not want to open the underbelly and gut it. Instead, I cut off the head first and from that opening, extracted the guts using a narrow blade boning knife (being careful not break the belly) and my fingers.

Pre-cooking: Some kind of preparation is in order to reduce oily fishiness of the sardines before the actual stewing. Some would just pour hot water over the fish and then washed in cold water. But I went further. I boiled them in vinegared water first. In about 1 cup of water I added rice vinegar (2 tbs) and placed the cleaned sardines. When it came to boil, I turned the flame down and simmered it for 5-7 minutes without a lid on. I poured the simmering liquid out and gently washed them in cold running water. The skin is very fragile as you can see image below (#1).

Simmering liquid: There are many variations but essentially soy sauce with some sweetness either from mirin, sugar or both. I used water (300ml), soy sauce (3 tbs), mirin (2 tbs) and sugar (1 tsp). I added two "umeboshi" pickled plums and several thin slivers of ginger root (#2) in a Pyrex pan in which 4 sardines snuggly fit (#3). I placed my favorite silicon "otoshi-buta" on the top. Since this is made of silicon, it conformed to even a square pan (#4). I put a reguar lid slightly askew over it on a medium flame. As soon as it started boiling, I turned it down to a gentle simmer and cooked it for about 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, I removed the both lids and turned up the heat and let it boil gently so that the simmering liquid reduced a bit. I removed it from the heat and let it cool down with a lid back on for several hours to room temperature before serving.

As you can see in the first picture, I garnished it with thinly julienned ginger ("Harishouga" 針ショウガ) and perilla. If you do not like a strong ginger taste, you could soak the julienned ginger in cold water for 5 minutes or so and ring out the moisture before using. I also removed the meat of the Umeboshi and draped it over the fish.

This is another homey dish, probably only served at home, in a "taishu shokudou" 大衆食堂 (eatery for the public) or izakaya. This is a perfect side dish with rice or its liquified form, i.e. sake. We had this with the latter. To enjoy this dish, you need to be a chopstick jedi since the fish has  lot of small bones (remember the "herring-bone pattern"). My wife was not expecting so many bones. She described her first bite as like chomping into a toothbrush and having all the bristles come off the handle into her mouth. But once she realized the situation, she was an expert at removing all available meat from the bones. I admit this is a very labor intensive dish (both preparing and eating) but it is worth it especially if you do not have a neighborhood Izakaya or "taishu shokudou" to visit.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Grilled chicken and soba salad 焼き鶏胸肉のそばサラダ

Did I tell you we had three chicken breasts I had to dispatch quickly? I already made two dishes in the past two days and had one more breast to go. I decided to make some kind of salad with grilled chicken breast.

I used one bone-less and skin-less chicken breast (for two servings). I butterflied the thickest potion to make it even in thickness. I, then, smeared soy sauce and grated ginger root on both sides of the meat and let it stand for 5 minutes while my Foreman's grill preheated. I cooked the breast for less than 2 minutes or until just done.

The rest of the salad components were whatever was available in the fridge. I julienned carrot (one medium) and cucumber (one American Mini-cucu). I also finely chopped scallion (two). I also happened to have leftover cooked soba noodles.

Assembly: I placed the soba on the bottom of the plate and piled the carrot, cucumber and scallion on the top. I cut the grilled chicken in 1/2 inch strips and placed it around the periphery of the plate. 

Sauce: I just mixed "mentsuyu (x2 concentrated)", sesame oil, and grated ginger and poured it (not too much) over the salad. I garnished it with Wasabi flavored "frikake" which also contains sesame seeds and nori strips.

We had this as a lunch but this could be a perfectly good "shime' 〆 dish. Obviously you could make many variations of this type of Japanified salads.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Chicken breast scaloppini 鶏胸肉のスカルピニ

For some reason, we had excess chicken breasts which needed to be cooked before going bad. On a whim, I quickly made this dish.

I used one bone-less and skin-less chicken breast. I cut it into thin (1/4 inch) bite sized pieces using a shaving cut or "sogigiri" 削ぎ切り technique. I then seasoned it with dried basil, marjoram, salt, and pepper, dredged it in flour and sauteed it in olive oil in a frying pan. I used a bit more oil than for sauteing.

I served this with a side of onion-cucumber salad. This salad is very white, so for color, I sprinkled Paprika. If I made a caper lemon butter sauce, this could have been called "chicken piccata" but I did not make any sauce. This is one of making-something-from-the-chicken breast dishes but this was a good solid effort by me. I cannot remember, but we were having a red wine with this.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Chicken breast karaage 鶏胸肉の唐揚げ

I had some extra chicken breasts which needed to be used before they went bad. So I decided to make kara-age 唐揚げ. The difference between kara-age and tastuta-age 竜田揚げ may be sometimes blurred and this one can be considered a type of tatsuta-age as well. I posted tatsuta-age using chicken thighs and marinade of soy sauce and mirin previously.

I used one bone-less and skin-less chicken breast for two small servings. I cut the chicken breast into small and flat bit size pieces using shaving cut or "sogi-giri" 削ぎ切り in which the knife blade is placed on a slant against the grain of the meat. I made about 12-13 pieces of 1/4 inch thickness.

I heated peanut oil in a frying pan (about 1/2 inch deep) to 340F or 170C on medium flame.

Just before frying, I put the chicken pieces in a small bowl and added enough soy sauce to coat (about 1 tbs) and grated ginger root (1/2 tsp, optional). I massaged or kneaded the chicken pieces so that soy sauce and ginger will evenly coat and somewhat penetrate the meat. Then, I dredged the pieces with potato starch or katakuriko 片栗粉 and fried it. Since these were rather thin pieces, they only needed to cook about 1 minute or less on each side.

I drained the oil and served the chicken pieces hot with my usual celery salad. Since the chicken was seasoned with soy sauce there was no need to salt. Compared to the thigh, this is much quicker to cook and also the taste and texture are different. Since I did not use mirin, it may be more suitable as a drinking accompaniment. Any drinks will go well with this dish but the best would be beer or cold sake.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Asazuke "Mizunasu" Water eggplant 水茄子の浅漬け

This is the second dish (rather preparation) of "mizunasu" 水茄子 I bought the other day. We enjoyed half of it eaten "raw' and made the other half into "Asazuke" 浅漬け.

Instead of my usual way of making asazuke, I used brine (salt water about 4%, slightly saltier than sea water, red pepper flakes, thinly sliced kelp, and chopped ginger). As in "raw" eggplant, I made thin wedges using combination of tearing by hand and cutting with knife. I placed them in the brine in a Japanese pickling pot, cranked down the pressure plate and left them in the refrigerator overnight. 

I served this with asazuke of daikon, cucumber and carrot which I made prior to making the eggplant asazuke. This was very refreshing and we like it. Somehow, the eggplant attained a very slight sliminess on the surface and became softer in texture than we expected. Although this dish was very good, both of us prefer eating "mizunasu" totally "raw". But who knows if or when we will be able to get fresh mizunasu again.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Raw "Mizunasu" eggplant 生の水茄子

I mentioned that the types of eggplant available in Japan are quite different from those available here. To my surprise, we found two kinds of Japanese eggplant in our Japanese grocery store; "Mizunasu" 水茄子 ("mizu" means water and "nasu" eggplant) and "Kamonasu" 加茂茄子. I assume these were imported from Japan. Although we saw several Kamonasu in the refrigerated case, only one mizunasu was remaining (left in the image below). Although it did not look particularly great (middle), I decided to get it. This is a type of eggplants which is so mild that it can be eaten "raw", although "asazuke" 浅漬けpreparation is the most popular way to serve it. I decided to make half of it in asazuke and serve the remaining half "raw".

Since the skin had some blemishes, I peeled the skin in a "zebra" pattern using a vegetable peeler. I removed the stem end and cut into the top portion of the eggplant for about one inch and then tore it in half by hand. I did this to make a more irregular cut surface (both to increase the exposed surface as well as for aesthetic reason). I repeated this several time to make thin wedges and soaked them in weak salted water (about the saltiness of a soup). This prevents the eggplant from discoloring. It also takes out some of the bitterness and seasons it lightly. I kept it soaking until I was ready to serve (for about 15 minutes, images above right).
After 15 minutes, the water became slightly brown. I patted the pieces dry with a paper towel and arranged them on a plate. The garnishes and sauce can be anything you like. Here, I garnished it with finely chopped scallion, perilla leaves, and dried bonito flakes. For sauce, I used "yuzu shouyu" 柚子醤油 sauce from the bottle. Alternatively, you could use soy sauce, mentsuyu, sesame sauce or even mayonnaise (straight or mixed with other seasonings).

You would be surprised how mild and slightly sweet this raw eggplant is. The only problem is that getting mizunasu is not easy or consistent. It was totally fortuitous that it was available this time.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Kumato, avocado, broccoli and cucumber salad with sesame dressing クマト、アボカド、ブロッコリー、キュウリの胡麻和え

I am a sucker for "new" food items at the market. I found a brown tomato called "Kumato", which was developed in Spain (I do not think this is the result of genetic engineering), and had to try it. I made a nice and healthy salad with sesame dressing.

Here is the kumato tomato (label on the left indicating this one is from Toronto, Canada. I did not know they produced tomato/kumato for export.). The right picture shows three kumatoes and a regular tomato for comparison. I skinned and then quartered the kumato for this salad. I also included blanched and still crunchy broccoli, a sliced quarter of avocado and cucumber sticks.

Sesame dressing: I first dry roasted white sesame (1 tsp) in a dry frying pan. Although the sesame has already been roasted re-roasting makes it much more fragrant). I coarsely ground the roasted sesame in a Japanese pestle and mortal or "suribachi" すり鉢 as you see in the pictures below. One small gadget you must have is this "suribachi" rake. This is a minuscule metal rake to remove all the ground material from the suribachi as you see in the middle picture below. Using this "rake" you can remove all the ground sesame from the groves of the suribachi (below right). This works well to remove items from Japanese graters especially such items as ginger or wasabi root. The more traditional form of this is made of bamboo.

I added white sesame paste or "Shiro neri goma" 白練り胡麻 (1 tbs), sugar (1/2 tsp) and soy sauce (2-3 tsp).

I served this salad with three small items; "mozuku" モズク in sweet black vinegar (in the back left), matsumae-zuke 松前漬 (center) and squid "bukkake" イカのぶっかけ, all came frozen. Kumato is a bit sweeter than regular tomatoes and has less acidity. One of our guests tried it and really liked it, although we are not too impressed.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Dried Pacific saury in mirin marinade 秋刀魚のみりん干し

No, I did not make this myself. I bought it sometime ago, frozen, and almost forgot that we had it. This is a preparation called "mirin boshi" みりん干し. Japanese love dried or semi-dried fish (This probably started out mainly as a way to preserve fish but the reduction of the water content in  the fish flesh does concentrate the flavors. So now it is eaten for its taste since there are other ways to preserve fish). On our last trip to Japan, we visited stores that specialized in dried fish at the Nishiki market 錦市場 in Kyoto (picture below).

The mirin-bosh I bought was labeled as having been made in Ibaragi prefecture 茨城県. This technique of marinading in a mirin and soy sauce mixture and drying can be applied to different types of fish, for example, species of mackerel such as aji 鯵, saba 鯖, or pafici saury 秋刀魚. I recall eating it in Izakaya while I lived in Japan but they were rather sweet and often dry or even crunchy (almost candied), especially small fish like aji. I am sure if you make it at home, it may be better.

I found a package with two "sanma" fish already prepared (bone-less) in the Japanese grocery store's freezer case. I bought it for the "sake" of nostalgia (it goes well with "sake" as well). This preparation is usually grilled and served hot but some are sold already grilled (in that case, it just has to briefly warmed before serving). The one I got was not pre-grilled. After I thawed it overnight in the refrigerator, I grilled it in a toaster oven. Because of the high sugar content with mirin, it burns very easily. I lined the bottom of a baking dish with aluminum foil and placed a metal grill over it then put the mirin-boshi fish on the grill. I set my toaster oven to "broil" and started cooking the meat surface first. I carefully watched the fish as it cooked. When it started bubbling and the edges started browning I flipped the fish and continued cooking. The skin side started bubbling up and browned much faster than the meat side.

I served this with cucumber with moromi miso and slices of tomatoes sprinkled with salt. This may not have been the best example of this kind of fish; it was rather on the sweet side and not as meaty or juicy as it could have been, but it was not far from what I remembered eating in a small Izakaya in Susukino 薄野. It was nostalgic and brought back memories of good times with friends. This went well with cold sake we were having.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Creamed spinach au gratin ほうれん草のグラタン

One weekend, we were planning to make spinach soufflé. My wife prepared a package of spinach for this but somehow we ran out of time and decided to make the souffle later.  But it is basically not feasible to make soufflé on weekday evenings. Almost one week passed after my wife cooked the spinach and there was still no souffle. Before the spinach went bad, we decided to just make creamed spinach. As a consolation prize, I decided to make it slightly more interesting by adding panko crust mixed with Parmesan cheese and calling it "au gratin".

The amount of two small servings seen above.

Spinach: The package of baby spinach (about 10 oz) was cooked without additional water in a tightly lidded pan for 4-5 minutes or until wilted mixing twice of three time during the cooking. I squeezed out the excess moisture and cut into small (1/2 inch) pieces.

Béchamel sauce: I finely chopped a shallot (one, medium). I then sauteed it in a frying pan with olive oil (2 tbs) and butter (1 tbs). I sprinkled in AP flour (about 3-4 tbs) and sauteed it for few minutes until the flour coated all the shallot pieces and got sort of wet. If you use more fat, it will be easier to make the sauce but with the flour coating the individual pieces of shallot, you can make Béchamel with much less fat. I initially added milk (1%, one cup) all at once and mixed using a silicon spatula. After the sauce thickened, If needed, I add more milk to adjust the consistency. I seasoned it with salt, white pepper and nutmeg (both freshly ground). I then added shredded aged cheddar cheese (about 1/2 cup) and the spinach.

Bread crumbs: I used Japanese panko crumbs (about 1/4 cup or more), added good olive oil (about 2 tbs) and mixed the oil and crumbs by rubbing the crumbs between my finger tips. I also mixed in grated Parmigiano Reggiano (about 3-4 tbs), You could add more on the top of the crumb layer before baking.

Assembly: I divided the creamed spinach into two small flat ramekins and spread the bread crumbs on top. I baked them at 400F in a preheated toaster oven for 7-10 minutes or until the crumbs were golden brown.

This is not as good as spinach soufflé but much more interesting than a simple creamed spinach. We had this as a drinking snack but this will be perfect with toast points or small baguette rounds.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Red snapper and cream cheese dip レッドスナッパーのクリームチーズ ディップ

After grilling a large red snapper, we had lots of fish meat leftover. I made a Japanese style salad with it but did not take pictures. My wife made this dip from the fish meat. This is based on a dip we used to make from locally produced (Northern Virginia) hot smoked trout which we used to buy occasionally. Since we hot smoked our red snapper and the fish meat had a gentle smoky flavor, we thought this may work.

She put cream cheese (one stick or 8 oz, of course, Kraft Philadelphia brand), in the food processor then added about an equal amount of the cooked hot smoked red snapper meat (bones carefully removed), lemon juice (3 tbs), horse radish (1 tbs), salt (to taste, 1/2 tsp) and blended it until creamy and all the ingredients were incorporated. She then added finely chopped dill (as much as you like, we used about 2-3 tsp).

We serve this with our favorite crackers. In this picture, you can see crackers with sesame and roasted garlic behind the glass bowl.

This is a very nice dip. We had this dip with an ice cold white wine. It is very unusual for us red wine drinkers to go for a white wine but this is what hot days will do to you. The wine was Pionero Maccerato Albarino 2009 from Rias BaixasGalicia, Spain, which got a Wine Advocates score of 90. This one has a nice apple, melon and floral note and some mild acidity. This is a good wine to sip while eating this dip on crackers sitting outside enjoying a summer evening.