Thursday, August 29, 2013

Potato with "Okizuke" squid ジャガイモのイカの沖漬けのせ

The most popular way to eat boiled or baked potato in Hokkaido 北海道 (and elsewhere for that matter) is with butter and salt (or soy sauce) ("Jagabata" ジャガバタ). Another popular way is to eat it with salted and fermented squid and guts or "shiokara" 塩辛. "Okizuke" 沖漬け is similar but it has no "innards" and is not fermented or too salty (marinated in soy sauce and mirin). I happened to have frozen squid "Okizuke" in a small plastic pouch in our freezer. So, one evening, I microwaved a small potato, removed the skin and served it with squid "okizuke".

Just to be sure the taste profile was elegant enough, I also added a thin pat of butter and a splash of soy sauce. This is a great combination. Salty, sweet and cold firm squid okizuke mixed with warm, soft, and buttery potato makes a wonderful symphony of textures and taste in the mouth. I could have used more potato. For this kind of small dish, the only thing you can choose to drink with it is sake.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Daikon and Pork filet with sweet miso sauce 大根と豚のヒレ肉の田楽風

This is mostly to show the small trapezoid-shaped bowels (one of the new bowls) we acquired in New York.  I did not have the time or energy to make anything special. I had some small daikon rounds which were leftover from making "katsuramuki" 桂剝き for the daikon Sashimi garnish  (center portion cannot be used for this). I prepared this dish rather than discarding the leftover rounds. I also found baked pork filet in the refrigerator. I decided to make sweet miso sauce and grill them in the style of "dengaku" 田楽.

Miso sauce: I used white miso (2tbs) with enough mirin to make saucy consistency. I tasted it and added 1 tsp of sugar.

I first warmed up the daikon rounds (this was previously simmered in dashi broth) and thickly cut slices of the baked pork filet in microwave oven. I then smeared the miso sauce on one side and placed just under the upper broiling unit of the toaster oven and broiled it until the miso sauce browned and became fragrant. I added blanched broccoli and sprinkled with micro grated lemon zest.

The bowls are a nice small size. I have many round ones (deep and shallow) and square ones but this one has an interesting shape. Grilled sweet miso is wonderful stuff. The dish was more than Ok for a sip of sake.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Nattou tempura  納豆の天ぷら

Mr. Segawa 瀬川 of our Izakaya substitute "Tako Grill" has had a special "Izakaya menu" for some time. We have been enjoying items from this special menu. Occasionally, he adds more items to this menu or offers one-time only special items. One evening, he offered us "nattou tempura". We really liked it and I reproduced it here. I have seen other recipes for "nattou tempura" but this one is a very good one indeed.

Close up showing delicate and crunchy crust.

Nattou: I used one package of "hikiwari nattou" 挽き割り納豆 which was previously frozen. As usual, I added chopped scallion with mustard, and seasoning liquid came with the package of nattou. I mixed it well with my nattou stirrer (Left upper on the image below)
Perilla: Now we have our own perilla ("aojizo" 青じそ or "ooba" 大葉) growing in our herb garden, it is easy to get six good sized leaves. I washed and patted dry with a paper towel. I placed one teaspoonful of nattou in the middle (Upper right in the image below). I folded it in half. Since nattou is sticky it will remain folded (lower left in the image below).
Tempura batter: I simply used cake flour and cold Seltzer water to make rather thin tempura batter.
I coated the folded perilla leaves containing the nattou in the tempura batter and deep fried it in 170F vegetable oil for 3-4 minutes turning once (lower right in the picture below).

This was very good. My wife (she who in general does not like nattou)  liked it as well. The smell of nattou and the slimy/sticky texture were much reduced. I served this with a wedge of lemon and green tea salt. For this, definitely cold sake is called for.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pennsylvania Dutch pickled watermelon rind ペンシルバニアダッチ西瓜の皮のピクルス

One day, my wife asked me to get a watermelon. I brought one back from the grocery store and it sat on the counter for a few days. As I was getting ready to cut it up, my wife informed me that she wanted the watermelon for its rind not the fruit! She was going to make Pennsylvania Dutch watermelon pickles. .
As I have mentioned before my wife grew up in the Pennsylvania Dutch area of Pennsylvania so Pennsylvania Dutch food was part of her childhood.  She claimed that this type of pickle was served everywhere including school lunches. So, to my surprise, my task was to remove the outermost hard green skin and leave just the white of the rind and maybe a little of the pink from the fruit. (My wife told me that there is controversy about whether or not to leave any red of the fruit. We decided to leave the red.) It was not as easy as you think to remove just the green skin from the rind of a watermelon, but I used a technique similar to skinning the filet of fish.
After consulting  a few Pennsylvania Dutch cook books, she decided on one of the recipes from a 30 year old cookbook called “Pennsylvania Dutch People’s Cookbook”.

I served her watermelon rind pickles with chicken salad (made from chicken hot smoked in the Weber). I served the pickles with watermelon and corn and black bean salad using the new plate/bowl combination we acquired on our recent visit to New York.

My wife took over from here.
Watermelon Rind: 2 pounds of prepared rind with dark green skin removed. Dissolve 1/2 cup of salt in 2 quarts of water. Add the rind to the brine, cover and let stand overnight. (First picture below). Next day drain off the salt water. Put the rind in a sauce pan and cover with fresh water. Cook until the rind is just tender when pierced with a fork. Take off heat and let stand for several hours. Drain thoroughly.
Pickling syrup: 1 tsp. whole allspice, 1 tsp. whole cloves, 1/4 tsp. mustard seed, 1 stick cinnamon, 1 cup rice or sushi vinegar, 2/3 cup water, 1 cup sugar
Put all the syrup ingredients in sauce pan (the recipe calls for putting the spices into a cheesecloth. I just add them loose to the pan). Boil the vinegar spice mixture uncovered stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Then add the drained rind and cook gently until the rind becomes transparent. (picture below).

My wife did not can the pickles but used them as “refrigerator” pickles so when they cooled she put them in a plastic container in the refrigerator.
They are a very sweet pickle with a strong flavor of the spices. They have a very pleasing soft but not mushy texture. My wife told me you either love or hate these pickles. I fall into the latter category and she falls into the former. I just found the flavor too strong—I found the flavor of cloves overwhelming. In contrast, she reveled in the strong sweet flavor. She said it reminded her of her childhood. She asked me what I would like to have changed. I suggested not so sweet and less spices. She replied that then they would not be watermelon pickles.
My wife pointed out that the recipe called for the spices to be removed after the pickles were cooked. She chose to leave the spices in the syrup. The longer they are in the syrup the more intense the flavor becomes. As a compromise my wife made a second batch but this time immediately  removed the cloves. She also used regular rice vinegar rather than sushi vinegar (the regular rice vinegar does not have the sugar the sushi vinegar has). I found these pickles much more tolerable. So should you decide to make these pickles, keep in mind you can adjust the intensity of their flavor by how long the spices remain in the syrup.
As a comparison, my wife found the commercial watermelon rind pickles (picture above). I was amazed you could get a commercial product. Although it looks very similar and texture is the same as my wife's, there is no comparison. The commercial one is just sweet and sour without any taste of spices.
Meanwhile my wife has been looking up other recipes for watermelon pickles on the internet. She found several using different combinations of spices…I’m afraid we will be seeing more of this.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Nattou omelet 納豆オムレツ

For some time, I have wanted to make “nattou” omelet 納豆オムレツ but, somehow, I did not have a chance to make it. I was also a bit hesitant thinking my wife might not like it since it is after all “nattou”. I am sure people may have a different recipes but I went for the simplest one I could find. I just prepared the nattou, mixed in eggs and cooked it. The picture shows one serving.

I prepared the nattou (this happened to be “hikiwari nattou” 引き割り納豆 from Hokkaido.) in the usual fashion with mustard, chopped scallion and the seasoning liquid that came with the nattou package. Using my special nattou stirrer, I mixed well to reduce the smell of nattou (#1 below). I mixed in two eggs and beat it well. I seasoned the egg mixture with a little bit of sugar and salt.

I put a small amount of vegetable oil in my non-stick square frying pan on medium-low flame. When the pan and oil were hot, I poured the egg mixture in all at once (#2). As the bottom started to set, I gradually started rolling but to make sure the egg mixture did not flow back. I had to pull back the half rolled omelet so the uncooked egg mixture spread out and came in contact with the bottom of the pan. Then I just continued rolling until everything incorporated in the roll (#3). The roll had come together quite well so I did not need to further shape it (#4). I sliced it into 6 equal portions and served 3 per serving.
This was  a "mikey likes it" moment. This might not have been my wife's favorite but she said she liked it. Cooked nattou is less sticky and appears to be more palatable to my wife's Western palate. Encouraged by this, I may make more "cooked" nattou dishes!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Pork and mushroom stuffed small sweet peppers スイートペッパーの豚肉詰め

This is a dish I made to finish up the mini-sweet peppers we got. Since I was preparing pork fillets which always produce some scraps, I decided to stuff the peppers with the ground pork.

Here is the the end result. Since I made too much meat stuffing, I made two small meatballs and served it with my marinara sauce.

All the amount is arbitrary and I did not measure anything.

Pork stuffing: I made a meat stuffing from ground (hand chopped) pork, finely chopped fresh shiitake mushrooms, and finely chopped shallot. I seasoned it with salt and pepper and mixed well.

Sweet pepper: I first blackened the surface of the peppers by grilling over a direct gas flame until the skin got blackened and blistered all over. I placed it immediately in a china bowl using a plate as a lid so that it steamed in it's own residual heat. I repeated this for 4 peppers. After 10-15 minutes, I removed the skin using a combination of rubbing with knife and peeling with fingers. This was not easy. I then removed a side from the pepper and removed the veins and seeds.

I stuffed all 4 peppers and made two small meatballs with the remaining stuffing as seen below.

This time I sliced smoked (low moisture) mozzarella cheese and used it to cover the meat stuffing. For good measure, I also placed a small square of cheese on the top of the meatball. I baked this in the toaster oven pre-heated to 370F for 20 minutes (below).

Obviously this is the combination is one that cannot go wrong. If I had more leftover marinara sauce, I would have put on more but this is a very good snack to have with the red wine we were drinking.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Momokawa sake "Silver" and "Diamond" アメリカ醸造桃川酒 シルバーとダイアモンド

Last time I posted US brewed sake, I mentioned two: "Momokawa" sake, "Diamond" and "Sliver" by SakeOne. When new batches of Momokawa sake come out, I taste them since they are different every year. Based on the most recent tasting of Momokawa I decided that the "Silver" was too austere and dry (even a bit bitter) and the "Diamond" was too cloyingly sweet. It does have a nice slightly viscous mouth feel, however, and nice fruity and "umami" flavors. I liked the new brew especially "Diamond" and wished it was not so sweet. This gave me the idea of mixing the two sakes to see if I could make a meritage I liked.

I made two different mixtures; the one on the left is one part Silver to one part Diamond. The one on the right is one part silver and two parts Diamond.

We liked the one-to-one mixture best. It is not as sweet as a straight "Diamond" but has enough added flavors from the “Diamond” to offset some of the austerity of the “Silver”. The end result was quite palatable. We’ll probably be using this combination again in the future.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Cheese stuffed small sweet peppers スイートペッパーのチーズ詰め焼き

We found a bag of colorful small long sweet peppers in our grocery store. They were very colorful with yellow, orange and red. We deiced to get one to see what we could make from it. We used some of them in asazuke 浅漬け and fried rice (thinly sliced or finely chopped), which added a nice sweet pepper taste to the dishes. We have seen cheese stuffed Jalapeño peppers recipes before. We even saw a special chili grill for the purpose of grilling stuffed jalapeno. Instead of Jalapeño pepper, which would probably be too hot for us, I decided to make a similar dish using these min-sweet peppers.

Since we do not have a chili grill, I decide to stuff the peppers from the side. I removed the roof of the peppers and removed the seeds and veins as you see below. It is not clear from the picture but I used crumpled aluminum foil so that I could place the peppers securely and horizontally.

For the stuffing, I used two cheeses; spicy harvati, which has chopped red hot peppers in it, and applewood smoked cheddar cheese. I made small dices of both cheeses and mixed with finely chopped shallot and cilantro. I also added a small amount of potato starch and mixed them all up. I stuffed the cavity of the sweet peppers (left in the picture below) and then topped it with a slice of gruyere cheese (right in the picture below).

I baked the stuffed peppers in my toaster oven preheated to 375F (convection mode) for 15-20 minutes or until the cheeses melted and brown spots started appearing (below).

I waited for a few minutes until the cheese solidified a bit before serving. This can not go wrong. Essentially you are eating grilled cheese with the nice flavor of sweet peppers, shallot and cilantro. It is a perfect drinking snack for any drink. The skin of the peppers bothered my wife and I saw her removing it before eating. Next time I may have to remove the skin of the peppers.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Live sea urchin 殻付き生ウニ

When we order sashimi items from Catalina, we like to order several items together so the shipping charges aren’t more than the value of the item being shipped. The best combination for us is “Gold Uni sea urchin” and fresh “Blue fine tuna toro” 本マグロのとろ. Sometimes this combination is difficult to achieve--one item may be available but the other is not. This time, they had the fresh tuna; both “akami” 赤身 or “loin” and “toro” of blue fine tuna. The only sea urchin available, however, was “live” whole sea urchins. I just couldn’t pass up the combination of tuna so I decided to go ahead with the live sea urchins as well.

I am not particularly fond of opening and retrieving sea urchin roe from the live animal but, in this case, I was on a mission to round out the shipment of tuna so I did not think I had a choice. Besides, I thought, I could blog this. So here it goes. The picture below is the amount of roe I extracted from one live sea urchin which is a generous serving for one. We got two live sea urchin which made two servings for us.


My wife likes the combination of sea urchin and nori so I also served thin nori strips on the side. The the sea urchin roe were excellent. They can’t be any fresher than this (the spines were still slowly moving even after I opened it up).

The roe, however, are hard won—this is messy work. The box arrived on an extremely hot day. The ice packs in which the shipment were packed were partially thawed so the interior of the box was wet with condensation moisture. The sea urchin were in a plastic bag but the spines had poked through the bag during shipment. Liquid from the sea urchins had seeped out of the holes made by the spines and combined with the condensation moisture. Sea urchin goop was all over everything including the packages of toro. Some of the spines were even embedded in the interior of Styrofoam outer case. Some clean-up was required.

There are many ways of retrieving roe from live sea urchin. Video instruction at Catalina suggest using two spoons to crack the sea urchin in half. I used the method I am most familiar with and perhaps the method most Japanese will use. To avoid having the spines and shell fragments going into the garbage disposal, I placed the sea urchin in a large metal bowl with the bottom side (where the mouth opening is located) facing up (#1 below). While holding the sea urchin using metal tongs, I cut across the bottom with a pair of sharp kitchen scissors (#2 below). After the bottom has opened up, using either forceps or long bamboo chopsticks (the latter was what I used), I removed some of the black entrails revealing the bright yellow roe (#3 below). Using the chopsticks and a long narrow spoon, I removed the roe carefully. I put them in a bowl of salted water. I removed any black stuff still attached to the roe using chopsticks and rinsed the roe in new clear salted water again (#4 below) Some roe were small and it was not possible to avoid fragmenting some of the pieces.

I do not think this is for everybody. You could loose your appetite during these processes but the end result was great fresh sea urchin roe. We savored the bounty of our labor while sipping cold sake. The blue fin tuna was also excellent. This was the best toro we have had in recent memory and even the loin meat was not “akami” but a nice “chu-toro”.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Molded or pressed "steak" sushi ステーキの押し寿司

The last time I made pressed sushi or "oshizushi" 押し寿司, I warned that my wife was interested in making oshizushi that represented “outside-the-box” thinking. It took a long time but here is one of those attempts. My wife came up with the idea and I executed it. I used leftover flat iron steak to make this “meat” sushi.

We are not sure we liked this. I may have to work on the different variations. In addition to steak,
I also layered perilla leaves and a thin omelet made from 4 egg yolks. Only reason I made this rather deadly but bright yellow omelet was because my wife made quick bread which required egg whites making 4 left over yolks (see picture below).
Rice: I made sushi rice using sushi vinegar from the bottle.
Steak: I thinly sliced medium rare flat iron steaks. I marinated this in a mixture of grated garlic and soy sauce for a few hours. On hindsight, this may have made the taste of the meat too strong.
Omelet: I just scrambled the 4 left over egg yolks, seasoned with a bit of sugar and salt. Using my square frying pan on a very low flame and with a lid, I cooked it slowly for 5 minutes until the surface was dry.

Using the mold for oshizushi, I first put in a few layers of steak slices (marinade squeezed out), then perilla leaves, followed by the omelet cut to fit the mold. I added the sushi rice and pressed it firmly.  After cutting it to small pieces, I garnished it with white roasted sesame seeds and a side of pickled ginger.

This is certainly edible but we did not particularly care for it. The meat seemed to over power the subtle flavor of the vinegared rice. Maybe I should not marinate the steak. I suggested we could make this type of sushi with “luncheon meat” (Japanese euphemism for “Spam” the magic pork product from Hormel) but that was immediately voted down.