Saturday, December 29, 2012

Salmon Miso 鮭味噌

This is a quick small dish I made to go with a drink one weekday evening. We had a small amount of grilled salmon left  over from the weekend and I wanted to make sure it was eaten before we forget. This is a perfect small dish which goes well with sake or rice depending on the amount of miso used.

Miso sauce: I mixed miso (1 tbs), mirin (1 tbs), and grated ginger (1/4 tsp) in a small bowl. I also made finely chopped scallion (from 3 stalks) and set it aside.

Salmon:This is leftover grilled salmon (without skin since we ate it all while it was crispy on the night we cooked the salmon). The amount is arbitrary but we had a rather small amount. My wife does not like very small pieces of salmon, so I just crumbled into large chunks.

In a small non-stick frying pan, I added dark roasted sesame oil (1/2 tsp) and sautéed the scallion for 30 seconds and then added the miso mixture. When it was bubbling and started thickening a bit, I added chunks of salmon and mixed to coat all the surfaces and also to warm up the salmon (for 1-2 minutes).
If you increased the amount of the miso sauce, this will be perfect for eating with white rice. My rendition here is good with a drink of sake. This is a very standard flavors of miso, some sweetness and ginger which cannot go wrong.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Monkfish hot pot アンコウ鍋

This is a rather standard Japanese hotpot dish with monkfish. It is perfect for a cold winter’s night. In Japan, you can buy a package of Monkfish for “nabe” . The package usually contains monkfish meat, some with skin attached, bone -for broth-, other innards and the most important item, the liver. In an authentic ankou nabe, at least, the liver must be included. The only Monkfish I can get here, however, is a fillet or the tail meat. In terms of seasoning, for the nabe you can season it with soy sauce or miso. Sometimes people use both soy sauce and miso. This time I decided to make a soy sauce flavored “ankou” nabe.

More about Monkfish: Japanese eat almost all parts of the monkfish with the liver being the most valued and cherished ("ankimo" あん肝). So-called "Seven tools of Monkfish"  or "Nanatsu dogu" 七つ道具 include: 1. liver, 2. tail and ventral fins, 3. gills (!!), 4. ovaries, 5. stomach, 6. skin, and 7. tail meat. By the way, we only eat female monkfish. The male is tiny-winy and not worth considering for food.

Broth: I used a combination of kelp and dashi pack with “iriko” いりこ or “niboshi” 煮,干small dried fish, to make a broth. A combination of kelp and bonito flakes is also good. I started with cold water (about 4 cups) and placed a 2x3 inch rectangle of kelp and one dashi pack and simmered it for 10 minutes before removing them.

I added mirin and soy sauce (1:2 ratio) as I tasted but I could have added either salt or more soy sauce. If you do not like a dark colored sauce you could use a combination of salt and light colored soy sauce or 薄口醤油.

In addition to the fish, you could use whatever vegetables or tofu you like. I used nappa cabbage or “hakusai” 白菜, threads of devil’s tongue* or “shirataki” 白滝 (see below for additional preparation), tofu, fresh shiitake mushrooms and snap peas.

(*"Shirataki" preparation: After removing from the package, I washed it in cold running water and then parboiled it. I drained it before putting into the nabe. This is important since it has a peculiar smell which is not particularly pleasant).

Monkfish: I used a bit less than 1 lb of monkfish fillet. I removed the slimy membrane and cut into large bite size pieces. If you use bone, skin or other parts of the monkfish (especially innards), you may have to pour hot water over the pieces to remove any fishiness but for the tail meat, it was not needed.

Instead of cooking the nabe at  the table, I cooked this nabe on the stove. I added vegetables and devil's tongue threads and put on the lid. After a few minutes, when the vegetables are almost done I added tofu and then the Monkfish. It only takes few minutes for the fish to cook.

I served the nabe in individual bowls with some broth. As condiments, I served small wedges of lemon (since I did not have “yuzu” ゆず), finely chopped scallion, Japanese red pepper flakes or ichimi tougarashi 一味唐辛子. Hot sake may be the usual choice for libation but we had cold sake.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Breakfast Bread pudding パンのプディング

This is another post from my wife’s discovery of some “ancient” recipes written on used computer punch cards and stored forgotten in a Betty Crocker file card recipe box in the basement for at least 25 years. Like the previous one this must be another “Minnesota Hotdish”. Like many such recipes it is designed to feed multitudes at such events as church suppers or firehouse dinners or large family brunches. The amount my wife made represents 1/3 of the total recipe and it made two extremely generous servings. Should you be serving a lot of people just scale it up by a factor of 3.

Ingredients: 5 slices of white bread, 1/3 lb. cheddar cheese (I used smoked cheddar), 2 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1/3 tsp. salt, 1/3 tsp. dry mustard, 1/8 Tsp paprika, 1/8 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 1/8 lb. butter melted.

Butter 2 deep ramekins. Toast the bread and then cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Layer the ramekins with 1/3 bread, then 1/3 cheese until all the bread and cheese have been distributed. Beat together the eggs and milk and add the seasonings. Slowly pour the mixture over the bread. Pour the melted butter over top. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove the ramekins from the fridge and bring them to room temperature before baking. Place them in a pan of water (picture on left) and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about an hour or until they puff up, turn brown and a knife inserted comes out clean (picture on right).

After tasting this dish I remember why I asked for the recipe. I liked it then and I like it now. My husband kept asking, “This is good but how much bacon did you use?” None. “But I am getting the taste and texture of bacon.” Turns out the texture came from the lovely crisp bread and the smoky “bacon” taste from the smoked cheddar I used. This is a brunch classic which I will be making again.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Steamed marinated duck breast 合鴨の蒸し煮

This is a Japanese way of cooking duck breast and the recipe is based on one I saw on line. This takes some effort since it has to be browned in a frying pan, steamed in marinade and then allowed to rest in the marinade overnight before it can be served. The end result, however, is rather good and the multiple steps worthwhile. This dish will go with sake, beer or wine, maybe sagiovese or syrah but cab saub will be also good.

Duck breast: I had a rather large duck breast. As usual, I scored the skin in criss-cross fashion to expose the underlying fat for rendering. I rubbed salt and pepper sparingly on the skin and meat side.

Initial cooking: I placed the duck in a dry frying pan on medium-low heat with the skin side down. As the fat rendered, I mopped it up using paper towels. After 6-8 minutes, the skin was nicely browned and quite a good amount of fat was rendered. I flipped the breast over and browned other side for just 1-2 minutes.

Marinade: While waiting for the duck breast to brown, I prepared the marinade. In a small sauce pan, I added sake, mirin, and soy sauce in the ratio of 2:2:1 (I made about 1 cup of the mixture) but you may want to adjust the taste of the mixture to your liking in terms of sweet and saltiness by adjusting mirin and soy sauce). I then heated the marinade until came just to the boil. I poured the hot marinade into a deep soup bowl large enough to hold the duck breast comfortably. I  put the duck breast in the bowl with the marinade turning it once to coat all the surfaces.

Steaming: I used an electric wok for steaming. I placed the soup bowl with the duck breast and marinade in the wok with continuous steam for 8 minutes, flipped the duck and steamed another 8 minutes (total of 16 minutes). As you can see, after removing the duck, the surface of the marinade showed a good amount of rendered duck fat (which should to be removed, see below).

I am not sure this is necessary but I hung the duck breast over the sink with a metal skewer through one end and let the blood and fat drip down (picture below) as it cooled to the room temperature.

My wife was somewhat horrified with this step. She said I was losing one of the best ingredients to make a rich sauce. She was alluding to the “duck press” with which French extracted the very last drop of blood from duck carcasses by crushing the bones using the resulting extract for a sauce. I just said, I was following the recipe and that this may be to reduce the gaminess. To which, she retorted “Why would you want to do that. If you do not like a gamey flavor, what’s the point of eating duck?” (I suspect she has a penchant for gamey flavored meats).

Meanwhile, I put the marinade in a sealable plastic container in which the duck breast can snuggly fit. I placed the marinade (without duck in it)  in the refrigerator to cool. After 1-2 hours, the fat was congealed on the surface, I removed most of the fat and placed the now cooled down duck breast in the marinade. I let it marinade 24 hours in the refrigerator before serving.

When I sliced the duck breast the next evening, it was homogeneously rosy pink. Since it was nicely seasoned I did not add any sauce or the marinade but served it with just a dab of Japanese hot mustard.

This was remarkably good. Even the fatty layer developed flavor and unctuous texture reminiscent of well-cooked pork belly. Although it takes some time to prepare, this can be cooked ahead of time and is perfect for a small appetizer with a drink. Maybe next time I will try adding the drained liquid into a sauce.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Cheese ball チーズボール

This is a recipe from a very dear friend who passed away this fall after a short but intense battle with cancer. She had been a friend of the family for many years and every Christmas, she made these cheese balls which she served at holiday dinners and gave as gifts. Over time they came to symbolize the holidays and festive fun. As a tribute to her, In her absence, and to reignite the joy she contributed to the holidays we decided to try making a batch ourselves.

Ingredients: 1 lb cream cheese, 1 lb Wisconsin Pride Cheese Whiz (WisPride Aged Cheddar) , 1 lb blue cheese, 3 garlic cloves crushed, 3tbs Worcestershire sauce, toasted walnuts or pecans (This will make a bit over 6 cheese balls).

Bring cheeses to room temperature (this will make mixing a lot easier). All the cheeses eventually have to be creamed together in the mixer. I found the blue cheese was the hardest to cream and actually stayed in small pieces as shown in the bottom picture. For this reason I suggest starting with the blue cheese by putting it in a mixer and mixing until it is creamed. Then add the other ingredients and mix until fully incorporated. I then rolled small handfuls into a ball and put them on a parchment covered cookie sheet in the refrigerator until they firmed up a bit. Then I rolled them in the chopped toasted nuts. The nuts actually helped stabilize the cheese into a round shape.

These were a remarkable facsimile of the famous cheese balls our friend used to make. While making them it was fun remembering all the good times we had together while eating them. Since her son and daughter are also trying their hand at making these cheese balls we are planning a cheese ball tasting to see who did the best justice to “mom’s” recipe.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Scallop braised on touban grill 帆立の陶板焼き

Touban 陶板 means a ceramic plate, which I used previously to cook matsutake. It has a shallow ceramic plate base and you can use it to grill, or since it comes with a ceramic dome with steam hole in it you can grill/steam.

Compared to a cast iron or metal pan, ceramic plate somehow conveys heat more gently and evenly. Touban can be used on the table top for cook-as-you-eat dinners. I decided to cook shiitake mushroom and fresh diver scallops using touban.

While I could have cooked and served this at the table I cooked it on the stove and then served on plates as shown above.

Scallops: These were large diver scallops. For two appetizer-size servings, I used 4 scallops cut into two discs (total of 8 discs). Reducing the thickness allowed it to cook more quickly and evenly.

Shiitake mushrooms: I used two rather large meaty fresh shiitake mushrooms. I removed the stems and made decorative star-shaped cuts but this is optional.

I first heated up the touban on medium-low flame for 3-4 minutes until it got hot and melted a small pat of sweet butter (1 tsp). When it melted and was slightly browning I started cooking the shiitake. When I turned over the shiitake after 1 minute of cooking, I placed the scallops on the grill (left on the picture below).  I grilled one side for 30-40 seconds and then turned them over and grilled another 30-40 seconds. I then added sake (1 tsp) and let it steam for 10-15 seconds with the lid on. I removed the lid and added a dash of soy sauce (less than 1 tsp) and let it cook for another 30 seconds (left on the picture below). I turned the scallops so that the sauce coated both side. I just added cooked green beans in the last 10-15 seconds to warm them up.

The combination of brown butter, sake, and soy sauce is always an easy winner. The scallops exuded more juice than I expected. I served this on the small plate (2nd picture) and poured some of the sauce over it. I knew my wife likes this type of sauce, so I served the extra in a small dipping bowl.

The shiitake mushroom was great, almost meaty in taste. The scallops were perfectly cooked (We hate over cooked rubbery scallops; something we occasionally encounter at restaurants). My wife served small squares of toasted bread to soak up any sauce/juice from this dish. Cold sake was what we had with this.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Baby clam "Minnesotan hotdish" 子ハマグリのミネソタ風キャセロール

Recently we cleaned out the basement and my wife found an old box of “Betty Crocker” recipe cards. This was the first cookbook she ever owned. She subscribed to the cookbook and every month she would get a packet of recipe cards which she could store in the  large plastic box they provided for the purpose. In about a year she had the whole cookbook of cards. Over time she stuffed other recipes cut out of newspapers or received from friends into the box. Eventually she moved to more sophisticated recipe books and the box sat gathering dust for at least 25 years. The eclectic collection of newspaper or hand written recipes from friends were by far the most interesting.

This recipe was written in a very careful hand on a used computer punch card (which gives you an idea of how old it is). My wife didn’t remember the dish but the fact she asked for it from a friend indicates that at one time she really liked it. So we decided to make it. As the dish started to take shape we realized that it had to be a “Minnesota hotdish”.  The additional fact that, my wife had a friend from the midwest who was a computer specialist working on a mainframe computer that used punch cards cinched the identification.

The recipe starts with the unlikely combination of 20 coarsely crushed soda crackers soaked in 1 1/2 cup milk for 20 minutes. In another bowl, mix 3 well-beaten eggs, 1tbs grated onion, the entire contents of a can of baby (or chopped) clams (10 oz can, liquid and all), 1/4 cup melted butter and salt and pepper to taste. After the crackers have soaked add them to the egg mixture. Pour the mixture into a greased 13x9x2 inch pan. Bake in a 300 degree oven for 1 hour.

This comes out like a clam quiche without the crust. The soda crackers completely disappear. It has a very pleasant clam-y taste. It has to be a classic hotdish--easy to make, complete with canned ingredients. Maybe this, unbeknown to us, is a classic “long lost” hotdish favorite. Despite its oddity, I really kinda like this dish. I can see why I asked my friend for the recipe. My husband, however, remains a bit skeptical due to the unusual combination of ingredients. I can see potential here however—sorry hubbie you may be seeing this again in other mutations.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Pennsylvania Dutch Gingerbread  ジンジャーブレッド

This is another one of wife's quick breads. I only helped by mixing together the dry and wet ingredients (since my wife tends to make a large batch of this bread then freezes it for future use). This PA Dutch gingerbread is very moist and flavorful. We mostly eat it as a breakfast bread. Since I am not wild about the taste of molasses my wife adjusts the flavoring to my preference by using “light molasses” (as it is called in the old Pa Dutch cookbooks). This is a half and half mixture of molasses and corn syrup which tones down the molasses flavor. The original recipe, of course, calls for all molasses (no corn syrup) referred to as just “molasses” in the recipes. If you like an intense molasses taste go with the original specification.

This recipe comes from a cookbook called “the Dutch Peoples Cookbook” Which was published in the early 1960’s. But I think many of the recipes are reprints of much older ones. When I make this I quadruple the recipe which are the amounts shown in the pictures—you can relax, a single amount does not require the 8 eggs shown here.

Single amount recipe: 3 cups flour, 1tsp. baking soda, 2tsp. ground cinnamon, 2 tsp. ground ginger, 1 tsp ground cloves, 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg, 1/2 cup butter, 1 cup sugar, 2 eggs well beaten, 1 cup light molasses (1/2 cup molasses plus 1/2 cup corn syrup) (or regular molasses if you like the taste). 1/4 cup boiling water, 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk. (Diversion alert: When old PA Dutch recipes call for “sour milk” they do not mean milk that has been left to go bad but rather milk to which an acid has been added. For example, instructions for sour milk read: “put 1 tbs. vinegar or lemon juice into a cup measure and fill the remainder with milk”. This is a good substitute to keep in mind if you don’t have buttermilk.)

Sift together the first 6 ingredients and set aside (picture 1). Mix together the molasses, corn syrup (or just molasses if you are not using light molasses) and the boiling water until they are completely blended and set aside (the measuring cup with the spatula in it in picture 2).  Cream the butter until fluffy (picture 3) and then begin adding the sugar, eggs and molasses mixture shown in picture 2 starting with the sugar (bowl on the left). When it has been incorporated and is fluffy add the eggs one at a time and beat until the mixture is fluffy. Slowly add the molasses mixture. At this point it will look like the mixture has “broken” but don’t worry all is well. Alternatively add the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the butter-egg mixture. (This is where my husband helps because when you are making 4 times the recipe it requires some muscle to mix it together). Pour the batter, which will be very runny, into a well greased (bottom only) 13x9x2 in pan. Bake at 350 degrees about 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

This is without a doubt the best gingerbread I have ever eaten. It is moist, full of cinnamon, ginger, molasses flavor with a pleasingly dense texture. I served it with port stewed dried figs as shown in the picture and that is a great combination. I usually make this in the fall and it has become one of our seasonal dishes. I make it in large batches because small batches don’t last long.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Persimmon salad 柿のサラダ

Persimmon or “kaki” 柿 is a quintessential autumn fruit of Japan. Persimmon are not particularly popular in the U.S. mostly because the varieties available may be inedible if not completely ripe—supremely unpleasantly puckering in the mouth. Well, you have to know the type of persimmon and how to avoid the astringent puckering taste (tannin). In contrast, persimmon in Japan are lusciously sweet. Fortunately, the sweeter varieties are appearing in the market in the United States. In any case using sweet persimmons, I made a quick salad one evening by also using leftover blackened Brussels sprouts from Thanksgiving.


I just sliced American mini-cucumber, blackened (baked)  Brussels sprouts and dressed with mayonnaise and seasoned with salt and black pepper. I placed the salad on the bed of baby arugula. I think you could do “shira-ae” 白和え using tofu as a dressing (tofu, sesame paste, light colored soy sauce).

Because of the nice sweetness of persimmons and different textures of persimmon (firm but soft), cucumber (crispy and refreshing) and Brussels sprout (soft) but also sweet in its own way, this was a nice salad to start.

Digression alert: A few words about persimmon. Persimmon contain a large amount of tannin (the same substance that develops in red wine). Depending on the type of persimmon and its ripeness, it could be astringent or it could be wonderfully sweet. Many Americans do not know this and often end up biting into a totally inedible astringent persimmon and never to try it again. My wife fell into this category.

When I was growing up, there are many kinds of persimmon including some with big stones (seeds) inside and some which puckered your mouth called “shibugaki” 渋柿 but, in my more recent memory, all the persimmon were sweet or “amagaki” 甘柿 with no seeds or stones. This must have been because of the selection of cultivars with only the seedless sweet variety being sold. Other ways to remove the tannin from persimmon is by drying them called “Hoshigaki” 干し柿.  I used to eat this often as a kid. Another way is soaking them in alcohol or “tarugaki” 樽柿. I read also that placing them in carbon dioxide also removes tannin, which was reportedly done on a  large industrial scale.
In any case, at least in our area, at some gourmet grocery stores, you can get persimmon and I see two different kinds being sold.

Here is one kind called “Hachiya” 蜂谷. This one has a pointed end and is classified as “Shibugaki” 渋柿 or astringent persimmons. This  means that if you eat this before the meat of fruit become soft and pudding-like, it will pucker your mouth in a big way—”like the mouth of a tightly pulled drawstring purse” according to my wife. I let it sit on the counter for almost 2 weeks before we ate it. As you can see on the right, the meat of the fruit became soft and semi-transparent. This type has a nice sweetness and the fruit melts in your mouth with nice soft pudding-like texture.

Persimmon Hachiya

Here is another type called “Jiro” 次郎. This is square in shape with a flat bottom. This is classified as “amagaki” 甘柿 or sweet persimmon. As long as it is ripe, you do not have to wait until the meat becomes soft. As you can see on the right, the appearance of the meat of this persimmon is quite different from the previous one and the fruit is still firm yet it is not astringent. This is the one I used in the salad.

Persimmon, Hacchin

Once you know these tips about enjoying persimmons, it is one of the most wonderful fruits you can have. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people in the U.S. enjoy persimmon. On second thought maybe that is good thing; more for those of us who know what to do to enjoy them.

Finally, here is a famous Haiku of Shiki Masaoka 正岡子規 about autumn, the temple bell and persimmon.


I am not going to translate this but Roger Pulvers did this for us in the article in Japan times (9/20/2010).
As lovely and evocative as that is (referring to his friend Natsume’s autumnal haiku), Masaoka went one better than his friend with what has become one of the most well-known haiku in Japan, set at Horyuji Temple in Nara:

"Eat a persimmon / And the bell will toll / At Horyuji."

The tolling of the temple bell is a potent symbol, going back 1,000 years and resonant of the transience of life.”

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Home made tofu from store-bought soy milk 市販豆乳から自家製豆腐

The quality of tofu we can buy in the U.S. is variable. Some of the soft tofu (Japanese brand) we can get at the  Japanese grocery store is not bad at all. Our surrogate Izakaya “Tako Grill” makes a excellent “sukui-dofu” or un-pressed tofu. But I am not satisfied with “momen-dofu” 木綿豆腐 or firm tofu, either from the regular grocery store or from the Japanese grocery store. For this reason, I wanted to make tofu at home but the amount of effort and time made me hesitate to undertake this project.

Recently, while I was browsing through the new cook book called “Japanese farm food” by Nancy Singleton Hachisu, I came across a recipe for home-made tofu and it rekindled my interest in making  tofu. Since this book had a list of Japanese food/cooking tool suppliers, I promptly ordered the tofu press box and nigari にがり coagulant (magnesium chloride). Then, I procrastinated for some time.
Finally I made my first attempt which was a qualified success

Here is my very first home made tofu served as “hiya-yakko” 冷や奴.


Soy milk: Almost all recipes I can find start from scratch, i.e., making soy milk from dried soy beans. As a matter of fact, the place I ordered my tofu box mainly sells an automated soy milk maker. Before embarking on making soy milk myself, I decided to use store-bought organic unflavored non-sweetened soy milk. I could not find any specific recipes if store-bought soy milk can be used in tofu making. So nothing to loose, I decided to try it on my own. I used half a gallon (2 quarts or nearly 1.9L) as you can see below (#5).

I heated up the soy milk to 180F stirring occasionally to prevent scorching (I measured the temperature using an instant read digital thermometer). As soon as the temp has reached, I cut off the flame #1).

: I dissolved 1 tsp of nigari (magnesium chloride) in 1 cup of warm water and stirred it into the soy milk. Since I stirred several times, it made a very fine curd. This is the area I have to experiment with and improve further.

Tofu box
: The tofu box has a removable bottom with slots and the box has several side weeping holes. I set the bottom and side and lined the box with the cloth that came with it. The entire box was set up in a square metal basket which spanned the edges of the sink (so that there would be no chance of back wash). After 10 minutes or so when the curds were fully developed, I poured the curds and whey into the box (#2). I skimmed off any bubbles that formed on the surface.

As the excess whey dripped down and the level was 1/2 inch below the edge, I folded the excess cloth over the curd (#3). I then placed the top plate (#4).


As a weight, I used the empty carton of soy milk (#5) filled with water and placed in the center of the top plate (#6).


I left the weight for 30-40 minutes. I slipped the still-cloth-wrapped tofu into water (I used our reverse-osmosis filtered water) and unwrapped it under water(below, after I cut it into two). It is not as firm or as solid as I wished but it held its shape.


I cut the tofu into smaller blocks under water and served it as you see in the first picture with a garish of chopped scallion, bonito flakes, and thin strips of nori sea weed. I added a small dab of real wasabi and poured undiluted kelp dashi noodle sauce (2x concentrated from the bottle).


The taste was pretty good—the slightly peanut taste of a legume. It was not as silky in texture as commercial silken tofu but not as grainy or firm as firm tofu. It did not have any off smell/taste which are common among US-made tofu. It could have stronger soybean flavor but this is quite good for my first attempt especially from store bought soy milk.

I read later that, to make a good tofu, soy milk needs to have higher protein than one in the store-bought one (I assume 3-4%  but I am not sure this is correct). It is certain, however, that tofu can be made from store bought soy milk. I may try some more times with store bought soy milk (I have some idea of increasing the protein content) before venturing into making my own soy milk.