Friday, March 30, 2012

Grilled black sea bass with grilled asparagus and shiitake mushroom ブラックシーバスの塩焼き

After hanami, the weather turned more seasonal (cooler) but it was still nice enough to grill outside. One weekend, we bought a whole black sea bass and decided to just simply grill it on the charcoal fire. At the market, there were few fresh whole fish available, Arctic char and black sea bass looked good to me and I chose black sea bass since we eat salmon frequently and char is somewhat similar to salmon. This black sea bass was a good sized fish.

What is the Japanese equivalent of black sea bass? I am not sure but I could not find similar Japanese fish. Thus, the Japanese phonetic expression of "black sea bass" ブラックシーバス appears appropriate. It is a white meat fish but has nice firm sweet meat. It can be grilled, fried, simmered and is available as a sashimi item in sushibars. I did not think, however, that this was fresh enough for that.

Black sea bass: This was about 13 inches long. I had it gutted, scaled and the dorsal fin removed (very spiky) by the fish monger. I decided to simply salt it and grill it without further embellishment. I made shallow cross cuts on both sides of the fish to prevent the skin from rupturing during grilling. I salted inside and out a few hours before grilling, covered and put it in the refrigerator. Just before grilling, I patted the skin dry with a paper towel and smeared light olive oil on the skin (mostly to prevent the skin from sticking to the grill).

Vegetables: I grilled fresh shiitake mushrooms and aspragus at the same time. For the shiitake mushrooms, I removed the stem. For the asparagus, I removed the woody root ends.  I coated them with olive oil and seasoned both with salt and pepper. 

Grill preparation: I used slightly less lump charcoal than I usually use--(about 80% of what I would use to roast a whole chicken). I ignited the charcoal using a chimney charcoal starter. After the charcoal was ready, I just dumped in on the bottom grate of the Weber grill in an oval-shaped mound corresponding with the shape of the fish with the center portion having few layers and the periphery less charcoal so that the fish get hottest fire and the vegetables less so. I cleaned and sprayed the grill grate with a non-flammable non-stick oil spray

I placed the fish on the grill, put on the lid but left both bottom and top air vents fully open.  I let it cook for 5 minutes and then placed the mushrooms and asparagus on either side of the fish. After another 5 minutes, I turned over the shiitake mushrooms and moved them further away from the hot charcoal to prevent charring (my wife does not like "blackened" mushrooms  i.e. mushrooms with burned sections). I also turned the asparagus but left them in the rather hot area of the grill next to the fish. I flipped over the fish trying not to damage the skin. I cooked another 5 minutes with the lid on. I thought the fish was just done but my wife who peeked into the flesh said it was still transparent near the bone.  I had to put the fish back for another 5 minutes to complete the cooking.
 My wife deboned the fish and separated the meat as you see above. We shared this plate. We had this with a bowl of white rice. I also served "Ikura" salmon roe, "Tobiko" flying fish roe, and seasoned nori or "Ajitsuke nori". This was very enjoyable and we finished up the entire fish. The meat was a bit overcooked but still quite nice. The shiitake mushroom was succulent and almost tasted like meat with a nice smoky flavor (and I did not burn them this time).

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Udon noodle in hot broth かけうどん

This is again not blogworthy but a perfect ending dish or light lunch. I found a unopened package of dried udon うどん noodle in the pantry. The date of "best used by" had expired by few months. I thought I better use it quickly.

Udon is a type of Japanese noodle made of wheat flour. The ones we can get here is either frozen or dried. Of course, you could make it from scratch if you so prefer. I have posted hand-made udon by Chef Kitayama of Sushi-taro

Udon can be eaten many ways; simmered in broth ("Nikomi" udon 煮込みうどん), in hot broth ("Kake" udon かけうどん), cold or hot with a dippin sauce ("Zaru" udon ざるうどん or "Kama-age" udon 釜揚げうどん), cooked in a small individual earthen pot ("Nabeyaki" udon 鍋焼きうどん) etc.  Depending on the topping, it may be called differently such as Kitusne udon きつねうどん (with deep fried tofu pouch), Tanuki udon たぬきうどん (with bits of deep fried tempura without other items), "Tsukini" udon 月見うどん (with a raw egg), "Karei udond" カレーうどん(with curry sauce) etc. 

 The day I made this I had a leftover broth which was made with a dashi pack in the refrigerator. I added mirin, sake, and soy sauce to taste (I am not sure about the amount but I had about 3 cups of broth and I added 2 tbs each. And after tasting it I added more soy sauce).

For basic "kake" udon, only chopped scallion will be the topping but I added whatever I had. I had sake steamed (microwaved) chicken breast, frozen fish cake or chikuwa 竹輪, and "kyo-b(f)u" 京麩. "Fu is made of 100% wheat gluten, so if you have gluten sensitive enteropathy, Celiac disease, or otherwise avoiding gluten, this is not for you. For that matter, udon noodle is not for you either. In any case, Kyoto is famous for decorative "fu" called "kyou-bu". It comes dried. I just dump these into the seasoned broth to just warm them up, hydrate or thawed and warm up. I also added chopped (on bias) scallion and Japanese 7 flavored red peper powder 七味唐辛子. Since I had a package of "ajitsuke nori" 味付け海苔 or seasoned nori, I also lined them up at the edge of the bowl. Just before eating, you can put it on the top. This is to prevent the nori to be totally soaked and soft before eating.

This was just OK. the broth was a bit too lightly seasoned. The kyou-bu was apparently too old and had a stale taste. The udon noodle and other items were just fine.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hanami is over; one more dish, Burdock salad 花見は終わりです。牛蒡のサラダ

The cherry blossom this year lasted just one week. With rain and cool seasonal weather and some wind, by Saturday, our deck and backyard were carpeted with cherry blossom petals.

My wife took these pictures.

Here is one more dish which may be good for hanami. I wonder why Japanese are into Burdock or gobou 牛蒡, which is not one of the best looking or best tasting root vegetables. I have to admit, though, it has a nice uniquely nutty flavor and pleasing texture. I am guilty of posting few burdock dishes

This one is a non-traditional preparation of gobou salad dressed with mayonnaise and yogurt. There are quite a few variations of gobou salad recipe. Mine is an amalgamation of several recipes. Beside gobou, you can add other veggies such as carrot, diakon sprout, scallion, edamame, etc. Although optional, you can also add some type of protein such as ham, canned tuna, Spam (God forbid!), omelet (julienned to match the shape and size of the burdock). I used julienned roasted pork tenderloin, carrot and cucumber.

Gobou: I used half of the gobou root. The way I prepare gobou (for this dish and Kinpira) is shown below. Gobou is very slender and long (3-3.5 feet) and a bit unwieldy. So, I cut gobou in 10 inch segments (#1). Under running water, I scraped off the dark skin using the back of my "nakiri" knife 菜切り包丁 or vegetable cleaver. Then I sliced it rather thinly on a slant and lined them up overlapping (#2). Depending on if you are right or left handed, the direction of layering had to be changed.

While I was holding (with pressure) the burdock slices at the 1 inch or so on the left side of the blade (since the slices are properly layered, the portion the knife was cutting would stay put. When the knife blade came very close to my fingers holding the slices of burdock, I stopped and moved my fingers to one inch further to the left and continues (#3, I did not have a photographer - my wife- available, so I could not take a picture in action). The julienned burdock was promptly soaked in acidulated water (#4). I soaked it or 5-10 minutes and washed it in cold running water and drained.

Carrot: I sliced and julienned carrot similar to the way I prepared burdock (1 small).

First dressing: I cooked burdock and carrot in salted boiling water with a dash of rice vinegar for 3-4 minutes. I then drained and mixed in the first dressing while it was hot (to add "shita-aji" 下味 or base flavor) consisting of rice vinegar (1 tbs), olive oil (1.5 tbs) seasoned with salt and pepper. I let it cool in the dressing to room temperature.

Meanwhile I prepared the pork and cucumber.

Pork: This was leftover roasted prok tenderloin, about 2 inch long (the dry rub consisting of black pepper, smoked paprika, cumin, cinnamon, clove, and salt) and rosted at 350F for 30 minutes, sliced and then julienned.

Cucumber: My usual American minicucu (1 ), sliced and then julienned. I salted and squeezed out the excess moistre.

Final dressing: I drained any excess liquid/the first dressing from the burdock mixture and dressed. The final dressing is a mixture of store bought mayonnaise (1.5 tbs) and plain yogurt (1 tbs) (this makes the mayo a bit less deadly).  After tasting, I added more black pepper but no salt.

I set asided a small portion of  the julienne of the pork and cucumber for garnish.

This is a dish which goes well with wine. The cookbook I have, called "Japanese Dishes for Wine Lovers" has their version of gobou salad and the recommeded wines are Beaujolais or Chion. Since I am not a big fan of "light" reds, I will go with more heavy reds like syrah or cab but even assertive white like oaky California Chardonnay will also work. 
Actually, we were having this with an excellent and very unusual red from Douro, Portugal called Quinta Do Crasto 2009. The grapes used in this wine are supposedly from 70 year old low yielding vines of many different grape varietals. WA gave 94 and WE 93. It is difficult to describe this wine but it is the likes of Orin Swift approach of everything but kitchen sink. I don't know how they can manage "field" selection of "20-30 different grapes" to come up with this well balanced red.

Like Xmas, cherry blossom occurs only once a year. And as my wife's grandmother used to say, "There is nothing more over than Christmas", so with hanami. So, until next spring, we have to wait.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hanami continues; Japanese pancake with sakura ebi dried shrimp 桜海老、にら入り葱やき

This was an ending "shime" 〆 dish for our impromptu Hanami 花見. Because the weather has been quite warm, in our herb garden, garlic chives started poking out. With a short ceremony we conducted the first harvest of the year. Since I had these fresh home grown garlic chives or "nira" ニラ, I decided to make this "starchy" pancake as an ending dish. This is a sort of Japanese style savory pancake or Johnny cake.

This is also considered as a type of "okonomiyaki" お好み焼き and anything goes but this was what I made.

Batter: I used a mixture of AP (all purpose) flour (3 tbs) and finely milled rice flour or "jou-shinko" 上新粉* (2 tbs).

*Rice flour can be rather coarsely ground (which I use for a dredging to deep fry or "karaage" 唐揚げ to make the crust crisper) or finely milled like this one called "Joushinko". This finely milled rice flour is usually used to make Japanese sweets as you can see on the pictures of this package on the left. Adding the rice flour to the batter will give the end product a more elastic texture or "mochi-mochi" mouth feel as Japanese would say. This is optional and you could use only wheat flour for this dish or if you are in gluten avoidance mode, use 100% rice flour.

I mixed in a beaten egg (one large), and chicken stock (or water or dashi) (about 4 tbs) to make a batter similar in consistency of regular pancake batter. 

Vegetables: I cut the garlic chives into 1 inch segments (about 1/4 cup or whatever amount I harvested) and scallions (3, sliced on slant including the green parts).

Dried shrimp: I could have used chopped up shrimp or other forms of protein but I decided to use dried (and frozen) "Sakura-ebi" 桜海老 or cherry blossom shrimp (about 4 tbs). For one thing, I used them without thawing  which was much easier than thawing regular shrimp and cutthing them up.  These shrimp are also appropriate for cherry blossom gazing.

I mixed them all together and seasoned with soy sauce (about 1 tsp) and mirin (2-3 tsp).
I added dark sesame oil (1 tbs) in a non-stick frying pan on medium-low heat and spooned  enough of the batter mixture to make several oval pancakes a few inches wide . After one side was set and browned (1 minute or so) , I flipped it over and cooked the other side (one more minute). I flipped it again and brushed on soy sauce. I flipped it several more times until both sides were coated with soy sauce and the soy sauce became fragrant. Obviously I overcooked it and my pancakes got a bit too dark.

Our garlic chives, first harvest, were nicely tender. With rather strong tasting sakura-ebi, the combination of garlic chives and scallion went well. For most people, this dish may not have been enough but we were quite full at this point. By the time we finished this dish, it was getting dark and cold. We retreated indoors, turned on the outside flood lights and kept admiring the cherry blossoms.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hanami drinking snacks 花見のつまみ

For this year's hanami, we started with this fusion dish of tuna tartar.

This was followed by small assortment of "chinmi"  珍味 or rare tastes (not really rare). I just used pre-made frozen items. The front on the right is "tobiko" トビコ or flying fish roe and the next is salmon roe or ikura いくら; both are placed on a cup of cucumber. I garnish tobiko with a sliver of cucumber and the ikura slice of jalapeño pepper.

In a small, "plum petal" patterned cup is squid marinated in soy sauce and mirin or "okizuke" 沖漬け. In a small blue flower-shaped cup is a "Yukke" of "engawa" 縁側 or meat just under the dorsal fin of flat fish or hirame ヒラメ. The engawa literally means a Japanese porch/open corridor in front of a Japanese room usually facing the garden.  The appearance of the meat just under the dorsal fin of hirame is composed of lines of individual muscles resembling the way wood is laid out on the floor of an "engawa". This "cut" of fish happens to be  my favorite sashimi item. This one is marinated in sweet and hot red pepper sauce in Korean style. Both came frozen in a small pouch or container. I just thawed them and served. Both are OK but a bit sweet. The engawa lost the firm texture I cherish. The tobiko roe were also seasoned too sweetly and too brightly colored (obviously includes an artificial red coloring).

As a warm comforting dish, I served chicken thigh simmered in a black vinegar and soy sauce with taro or "sato-imo"  里芋 simmered in the same sauce with garish of brocoli.
I used to be able to get fresh "sato-imo" or taro root but I have not seen them either in the Japanse grocery store or a regular market for some time. This one was pre-cooked and frozen. I first parboiled as is while frozen removing the scum which floated on the surface. I washed them in running cold water and then cooked in the same simmering liquid. These tasted the same as fresh ones cooked from scratch with a good texture and much less work.

The cherry blossoms are going quickly. This year it is going to be a race against time not only because of the warm weather but because, for some reason, the birds have learned to eat the blossoms. It started some years ago with the house finches and the cardinals learned it from them. They grab the flower, nibble something from its base and drop the remaining almost intact flower to the ground. They are stripping the tree even as we speak and while we watch. As a result we have a somewhat premature "hana-fubuki" or "flower blizzard" consisting of full flowers instead of just petals. Our back yard is the only place I have seen this phenomenon--it clearly isn't an issue at the tidal basin or there would have been a "national" outcry. Thanks to the daylight savings time, however, we still had some light outside even after finishing the three dishes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"Hanami" Cherry blossom gazing 花見

The cherry blossoms are in full swing in Washington, DC. This is much earlier than usual years.  Even in our back yard, the cherry blossoms are in 80% in bloom. The trees in our back yard are usually 2 weeks behind the district but this year our trees are in sync with the tidal basin. The cherry blossoms aren't the only things blooming--the forsythia, the magnolia, the plum, the bradford pears and even the dogwoods are all clamoring for center stage. Usually it is a multi-act show with each plant having its own solo but because of the unusually warm weather all the acts combined into one grand display.  
We had to transplant the smallest cherry tree this year. We had planted two trees next to each other on the same day twenty some years ago. One thrived and grew to almost 3 stories high (big brother)(shown in the picture above) while the other remained about the same size as when we planted it (little brother). Last fall we discovered why. The poor thing had spent its life planted in a shallow layer of soil above a highway "jersey wall" and other trash that had been used as land fill when the house was built.  We cleaned out the trash filled void and refilled it with soil.  We also transplanted little brother to a new site on the property. Despite it's diminutive size little brother did bloom valiantly next to big brother and as a result of his transfer to better soil, the display seems a bit sparse this year. Nonetheless we hope little brother thrives in his new location and admire his will to survive under such, unbeknownst to us, adverse conditions.  

I could not get decent sashimi items to have with Hanami, so I had to rely on frozen items. Beside in this nice weather, it is difficult to leave the deck and go inside to cook. I was planning to have a bit more elaborate array of dishes but that did not happen.  This is an opening drinking snack which is another variation of "Namerou" なめろう made of frozen saku (block) of sashimi-grade yellow fin tuna. This time I added several new twists and made it a Japanese-Mexican fusion dish. This is a hybrid between "ceviche" and "namerou". 

For two servings, I used 1/2 of tuna block or "saku". Other ingredients included scallion (3 including some green parts finely chopped), Jalapeño pepper (1/2 medium, seeded and veined, finely chopped), lime zest (one, grated using a micro-grater), juice of one lime (add in increments), fresh cilantro leaves (1 tbs, finely chopped), miso (1 tsp to start and added more as I tasted).
I started with all the herbs finely chopped and mixed in cut strips of tuna sashimi and miso as seen in the left. Using a sharp knife, I started "hitting" or "tataku" たたくthem changing directions and gathering, mixing and turning over so than all the ingredients were well mixed and chopped. I added the lime juice and miso in several increments as I tasted it until I was satisfied with the texture and taste. 

I just decided to make it this way on a whim but this turned out to be an excellent Japanese-Mexican fusion tuna tartar. Some people may not like the cilantro flavor but we love it. The jalapeño pepper was not hot but gave a nice fresh peppery taste since I removed the seeds and veins. Just as a reminder and for whomever needs an extra kick I topped this fusion namerou with a slice of Jalapeño pepper with some veins (white stuff) remaining and a wedge of lime. Other dishes to follow.
We have a total of 4 cherry trees in our yard. Two were on the property when we moved in and may be between 30 and 50 years old. In addition to these we planted two--big brother and little brother. We planted them so we could enjoy hanami on our deck. Of the previously existing trees, the largest is a native American choke cherry tree. It blooms in late May and produces small sour cherries that the native indians are said to have harvested--now it is the favorite of only the birds. The other is an ornamental cherry that is a cultivar different from the kind we planted and blooms later than they do. The following picture is of big brother. 

The cherry trees all went from bud to full bloom in about 2 days. We hope the flower will last for several more days or hopefully until next weekend. Unfortunately spring and cherry blossoms come only once a year.

P.S. This is little brother...he seems happy in his new home

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Chikuwa fish cake with cucumber and cheese, avocado sashimi 竹輪の射込みとアボカド刺身

This is another padding post. One weekend, I did not have much available for making drinking snacks and this was what I came up with. Besides, as you can see, from the light of the setting sun in the image it was a beautiful early spring day perfect for eating al fresco. 

I just used leftover chikuwa 竹輪 fishcake and stuffed it with cheese (I used smoked cheddar this time) and cucumber which I posted before.

I thought we needed one more item. So I just sliced avocado and served it sashimi style.

I served this with real wasabi and soy sauce. As I mentioned before, the problem with real wasabi is that, towards the end of the tube, only the liquid comes out and the solids remain in the tube. I cut the tube open and removed the somewhat dry appearing wasabi and add back a bit of filtered water to make it whole again. Although this one is at least one month old after thawing, it still had a nice fresh somewhat pungent smell of fresh wasabi. I cannot help but think that avocado and wasabi soy sauce is the wonderful combination. The smoked cheddar was also good with this fish cake. 

Actually, this was an unusually warm March weekend and we enjoyed this outside with sake while waiting for barbecue chickens being cooked in the Weber grill. The smell of cooking chicken mixed with hickory smoke added to the enjoyment.

P.S. Spring has sprung with a vengeance in Washington. All the flowers and trees are tripping over each other to bloom first. The cherry blossom buds are plump and ready to go. This is just a preview of upcoming blogs...Hanami (Cherry blossom gazing)!

Friday, March 16, 2012

German omelet ジャーマンオムレツ

As I said before, any good breakfast could be a good drinking or mid-night snack. I made this German omelet as a breakfast one weekend but this is also perfect for a late night or drinking snack. I used to make similar omelets often on weekends when we were young, reckless and unconcerned with things like cholesterol but I have not made this for quite some time. This is essentially an open (as opposed to stuffed) omelet made out of potato, onion, and bacon.

This is a two-egg omelet for two of us but, for most people, this will serve one.

Eggs: I beat eggs (two large, brown) and seasoned with salt and pepper.
Bacon: I cut the bacon into small 1 inch pieces (one strip)
Potatoes: Baby Yukon potatoes (5 small) which my wife baked with onions and carrot for another dish--but for some reason only the potatoes were leftover. I cut these into small chunks. You could used any precooked (either boiled, steamed or microwaved) potatoes.
Onion: I halved and sliced yellow onion (one medium).
Tomatoes: I used Campari tomatoes (5)

I first fried the bacon in a small non-stick frying pan on low flame turning several times until the the fat rendered and the bacon became crispy. I set it aside on a paper towel lined plate. Using the bacon dripping left in the pan, I sautéed the onion, seasoned with salt and pepper, for 4-5 minutes until soft and browned. I then added the potatoes. I washed and scored a cross on the stem end of the Campari tometo and also added to the pan*. I put a tight fitting lid on and let it cook for 5 minutes. I removed the tomatoes from the pan and removed the skin (removing the skin is optional but we do not like tomato skin, be careful it is hot) and cut it in half. I poured in the beaten egg to make sure it was well distributed throughout the bottom of the pan. I put back the skinned and cut tomatoes on the top and covered with the lid. I let it cook for another 4-5 minutes on the lowest flame. When the eggs were just cooked, I garnish it with the bacon.

* I could have blanched the tomatoes to remove the skin but I was taking a shortcut here.

I slid the omelet on to the cutting board and cut it into quarters. I served it with some greens and a side of ketchup. This is a combination which cannot go wrong.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fried Marinated tofu "tatsuta-age" with sesame crust 豆腐のすりごま竜田揚げ

Tofu is a versatile item to make a drinking snack--this dish is an example of its versatility. I am basing this dish on a recipe I read in a Japanese vegetarian cookbook (in English) that I have had for a long time. I previously posted the mock eel dish from this same cookbook.

The name "Tatsuta-age" 竜田揚げ is usually applied to marinated and fried chicken, which is a teiban 定番 or regular dish in Izakaya. I have mentioned the origin of the name previously when I posted chicken tatsuta-age. In any case, this dish is similar in that the tofu is first marinated, then fried. 

Tofu: I used half a block of silken tofu which was left over from making red wine-marinated tofu. I cut it into 4 rectangular blocks.
Marinade: I made it simply with soy sauce and mirin (1:1). I marinated the tofu overnight in the refrigerator.
Dredging: This is a mixture of sesame seeds and potato starch or katakuri-ko 片栗粉. I first dry roasted white sesame seeds (2 tbs) using a dry frying pan. I then ground them coarsely using a Japanese mortar and pestle (suibachi すり鉢). I mixed the ground sesame seeds with about the same amount of potato starch.

After blotting the excess marinade from the tofu using a paper towel, I dredged the tofu in the above dredging mixture and shallow fried in peanut oil on medium low flame for 2 minutes on both sides or until nice brown crusts formed. Meanwhile, I reduced the marinade until a syrupy consistnecy was obtained.

As a side, I microwaved asparagus tips and dressed them with a sesame mayonnaise (mixture of white sesame paste or nerigoma 白練り胡麻 and mayonaise - about 1:2 ratio, with a small amount of soy sauce. I added water to adjust the consistency) garnished with sesame seeds. Just before eating, I added the reduced marinade on the tofu and severed extra sauce on the side in a small bowl.

The crust really made this dish, It had a nice crunch with a good sesame flavor. Tofu was nicely seasoned but the addition of the reduced marinade was also perfect. The only thing is that this has to be eaten immediately while it is piping hot otherwise the moisture from the tofu wilts the lovely crunch of the crust. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cold tofu marinated in red wine 赤ワイン漬け冷奴

This dish was prompted by our opening a bottle of Bordeaux. Although the label said it got a "Gold Medal" in Paris, this one did not even reach our Wednesday night wine quality guideline (which is the lowest we will go). It sat on the kitchen counter for a few days. I thought about making the ususal stews with this wine but I somehow remembered seeing the recipe for red wine marinated tofu. I could not find the recipe but I decide to just wing it as I often do.

Marinade: Here is the bottle of Bordeaux (the identity was concealed to prevent any negative percussions from Francophil wine drinkers) which I used. 

Tofu: I just cut a half of silken tofu into four cubes.

I poured the wine into a sealable container and marinated it overnight in the refrigerator. I did not add anything else.

I was quite impressed with the looks of this tofu dish when it came out of the marinade! It attained a beautifully stunning Burgundy (or Bordeaux in this case) color. So, the next question I faced was how to garnish and season this tofu. I decided to go with a bit of a Western twist while keeping Japanese seasoning.

Toppings: I finely chopped green picholine olives (to keep with the French theme, 5-6 finely chopped), black walnuts* (2 tsp, roasted and finely chopped), and chives (2 tsp, finely chopped).

*My wife baked bread earlier in the day and this happened to be  leftover from that.

I placed the tofu on a bed of baby arugula sprinkled with a dressing of soy sauce and olive oil. I also added wasabi and soy sauce on the side.

Despite the stunning color, the red wine did not penetrate much deeper than the surface of the tofu and did not impart a strong flavor (which may be a factor of its less than sterling basic quality). Nonetheless, there was something I could not quite put my finger on--a "je ne sais quoi" quality to this tofu. Savoring this subtle flavor as well as the enhancements from the salty olives and crunch of the walnuts, we added soy sauce and wasabi and cleaned the plate. (There is something quite intriguing about the crunch and taste of walnuts with tofu which is worth trying in other venues).  I will make this dish at least once again with more variations in the seasonings and toppings next time we have a wine which does not pass our minimal criteria for drinkability.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pork Cutlet curry with rice カツカレー

This is another Japanese invention of "Yoshoku" 洋食 or Japanese-style Western (not cowboy Western) dish. Japanese like anything "curry" and put curry sauce even on noodles such as udon. This dish,"Katsu curry" is Japanese-style curry with rice which is topped with a cutlet of pork chop or "tonkatsu" トンカツ. This is a rather high-fat and high-calorie dish. I decided to make this dish one weekday evening since I had leftover curry sauce I made on the prior weekend and frozen pork chops in our freezer which, I deemed, were "aged" enough.

Curry: I made the curry sauce in a similar maner as I posted before using S&B brand mild curry roux. the only difference was that the amount of sauce I need to prepare (we had guests) was more than one package of the roux could handle. I supplemented the packaged amount with my own brown roux (olive oil and flour, onion, and Japanese curry powder). The vegetables included potatoes (small red new potatoes), carrots, and onion. It originally contained chicken thighs.

Pork cutlet: (This was made from pork chops I had sliced from the whole loin of pork and froze immediately some time ago). After I seasoned the pork chops with salt and black pepper, I dredged with flour, coated with egg water and Japanese panko crumbs. This time, instead of deep frying I shallow fried (half inch of peanut oil) (left in the image below). I cooked them on medium-low heat for 5-6 minutes on each side or until done. According to a French cook, Madeline, if you freeze pork for 21 days or longer, there is no more danger of contracting cysticercosis or pork tape worm even from undercooked pork. Althouhg my pork chops were safe by the Madeline's criteria, I was not taking a chance here and made sure the pork was fully cooked.

There are many different ways to serve the pork cutlet in this dish (on the top of curry and rice, additional curry sauce on the top, with shredded cabbage underneath, etc) but I just put the rice with side of regular Japanese condiments of pickled cocktail onion or "rakkyo" ラッキョウ and mixed pickled vegetable, "fukushinzuke" 福神漬け as you see above and then placed the cutlet of pork chops (pre sliced) on the side (the first picture).

My wife did not see the point of combining curry and rice with pork cutlet. She prefered eating the cutlet separately. So, I added Japanese hot mustard and "Tokatsu" sauce on the rim of the plate as well.

We had this with a very unususal and good Italian red from Umbria called Sportoletti Rosso Villa Fidelia 2008. This is a Bordeaux blend (Merlot and Cab Saub) of Italian wine. This one had lots of fruit upfront and was remarkably good. It tasted like a Bordeaux blend from Napa (coming from us, this is a compliment). This one also got 93 from Wine Advocate. I wonder, though, whether this is meant for export (especially to the U.S.) rather than for domestic consumption in Italy.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mixed mushroom stir fry with "shiokara" squid しめじとエリンギの炒め物塩辛いり

This is another example of making something out of whatever is available. I made a stir fry of three mushrooms and added squid "shiokara" 塩辛 or "squid and guts" to add interest. I had a combo package of three mushrooms which included white and brown clamshell (shimeji しめじ) and royal trumpet (simialr to eryngii エリンギ) as seen in the bottom picture (#1). I bought this at least one week ago and needed to use it quickly. Although these mushrooms, especially royal trumpet, will last a long time, aging does not improve the flavor. In addtion, I found a small pouch of "shiokara" or fermented squid and guts leftover in the refrigerator, which was thawed sometime ago. I checked it and it was still Ok but moving past its prime. So, the combination of these two ingredients culminated in this quick dish.

Mushrooms: I separated the white and brown clamshell mushrooms at the root end (left half in #1). I cut into the end of the royal trumpet and tore it into two or four pieces depending on the size the mushroom. (#2).

I first sautéed a shallot (one medium, thinly sliced) in olive oil and dark sesame oil (1 tbs) on medium high flame for s few minutes until soft and slightly browned. I then added the mushrooms. After an additional few minutes of sautéing, I added garlic (one small clove, finely chopped). When the garlic became fragrant I added sake (1 tbs) mirin (1 tbs), and soy sauce (1/2 tbs) and put on a tight-fitting lid and turned down the flame to let it steam for several minutes.
After the liquid was almost all gone (#3), I added "shiokara" squid and guts (2 tsp) and quickly mixed in then cut the flame (#3). After cooking, the volume of the mushrooms reduced quite a bit and the amount was just perfect for two small servings (#4).

I further garnished it with chopped chives and sprinkles of Japanese 7 favored red pepper powder or Shichi-mi tougarashi 七味唐辛子. This was a good dish for cold sake but, to me, it was too sweet (from the mirin and sautéed shallot). The addition of shiokara gave some saltiness and subtle and interesting sea food (or "fishy" if you prefer) flavor. I am not sure adding shiokara was particularly successful. Next time, I may stick to more simple butter and soy sauce with sake to make this dish.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Chicken cutlet 鶏のカツレツ

This is not blogworthy but I needed a padding post. When I made tsukune, I reserved the nicest solid pieces of meat from the chicken thighs with all the fat and small muscle removed (skin off) after using the rest to make hand chopped ground chicken. I just placed them in a small Ziploc bag smothered in sake for later use. We found that marinading the chicken (or other meat for that matter) with sake makes it last longer and tenderizes it. I made this dish one evening.

I seasoned the chicken thigh meat with salt and pepper. Dredged with flour, egg water and panko bread crumbs.  Instead of deep frying, I shallow fried with not more than 3 tbs of oilve oil in a small (8 inch) frying pan. I fried it in medium-low flame for few minutes on each side until just done. I served this with tonkatsu sauce with Japanese hot mustard, my wife's baked cauliflower, olive and chick peas, mushed baked butternut squash (with butter and honey added). These are just a simple good combination. 

We had this with a very unusual Spanish wine made of 100% cabernet frank, Bodegas Los Aljibes Castilla Leon Cabernet Franc 2007. This one got 93 from Wine Advocate. I am not a big fan of Cab frank especially 100% cab frank. I am not sure I would give 93 for this wine. For me it is 89-90. Nevertheless, this food and wine combination was certainly nice enough for a weekday.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Braised "kinpira" lotus root 蓮根の金平

When I made chicken "tsukune" つくね patties with chopped lotus root or renkon 蓮根, I made this dish from whatever lotus root was leftover. I usually slice lotus root across so that it looks like a round with multiple concetric holes. I decided to cut it differently this time to make it really crunchy and made "kinpira" 金平 or braised lotus root. 

Lotus root or renkon: Since it is nearly impossible to get fresh renkon, I usually get cleaned and boiled lotus root which is vacuum packed. Actually, it is much easier to prepare and the texture remains quite good and crunchy. I first cut the lotus root across in 2 inch or so segments. Then cut the segments into thick (1/2 inch) pieces along the long axis. I then cut, again, along the long axis to make thick battons like you see above. I used about 3/4 of the one package of renkon which yielded 2 servings.

Kinpira reparation is the same as before. I first sautéed the rekon for few minutes in a vegetable oil (1/2 tbs) with a splash of sesame oil. I sprinkled on Japanese 7 flavored red pepper powder 七味唐辛子.I then braised it by adding sake (1 tbs), mirin (1 tbs) and soy sauce (1-2 tbs) until the liquid was almost all gone. I garnished it with roasted white sesame seeds. 

Compared to the more classic burdock root kinpira, this has a better nice crunchy texture but burdock root has a more nutty earthy flavor. This was served with tsukune with chopped renkon

Friday, March 2, 2012

Chicken "tsukune" with lotus root; two ways 蓮根入り鶏のつくね、2種類

I posted two versions of chicken patties or "tsukune" before. There are many variations to the recipe. Some put egg, grated nagaimo or yamaimo, chopped up chicken cartilage, shiitake mushroom etc. We do not particulary like having bits of cartilage in the meat. Instead, to add an interesting texture contrast, I added finely chopped lotus root or renkon 蓮根. The renkon bits do give some crunch but not like cartilage or bone bits.

Tsukune mixture: I hand chopped to make ground chicken from thighs (2 large) but of course you could just buy ground chicken or use a food processor. I like to use thigh meat with a bit of fat. I mixed in finely chopped onion (1/2 small), ground ginger (1/4 tsp), sliced and chopped lotus root (1/4 of vacuum packed pre-boiled), yuzu-kosho (1/2 tbs or more). As I mentioned, one could add more ingredients such as ground nagaimo or yamaimo, tofu, beaten egg etc. Using the same mixture I cooked it in two ways.

In the first version, I spread the meat mixture on the square (1/4 of full nori sheet) of nori and fried it--meat side first and then nori-side. Dishes with nori involved often include a word "seashore" or "Isobe" 磯辺. So this is "Isobe" grilled chicken patty. I made an equal mixture of mirin and soy sauce and added it to the pan towards the end of cooking and coated the chicken patties. After removing the patties from the pan, I further reduced the sauce until it was rather thick and put back the patties to coat. I sprinkled Japanese "sansho" 山椒 powder. I served this with "kinpira" or braised lotus root (This was made from the remaining lotus root, a subject for another post). I should have taken pictures with this dish turned over to show the piece of nori.
 The next day using the same mixture, I made the tuskune in the regular way (pan fried and then braised in mirin and soy sauce) and served it with celery salad with powdered kelp or "kobucha" 昆布茶 and olive oil.
The Addition of lotus root and yuzu-kosho made this tsukune pretty good. I like grilled yakitori style tsukue best but when you cannot grill, pan frying like this is also excellent.