Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hanami 2nd day Rapini and omelet 花見二日目、菜の花とだし巻き

This was one of the dishes we had for hanami on the 2nd day. The deep green and bright yellow colors are perfect for spring and cherry blossom gazing. If we were in Japan, nanohna 菜の花  or rapeseed plant would have been used but as I posted before, substitutes we have here are either broccoli rabe (or rapini) or broccolini. This time I prepared rapini in the style of nanohana . I  first removed the thick bottoms of the stalks and blanched the remaining tops in salted boiling water for a few minutes and quickly cooled them down in ice water to maintain the bright green color. I squeezed out the excess water and placed them in a paper towel line sealable container for future use. To add bright yellow color in contrast, I made my usual sweet Japanese omelet or dashi maki だし巻き.

After cutting the blanched rapini into 2 inch long portions, I dressed it with "karashi-zouyu" 辛子醤油 which is a mixture of soy sauce, Japanese hot mustard and sugar.

As you can see from the shadow the sun was getting low but we have just started our hanami feast.

This particular rapini was not as bitter as usual. By soaking it in ice water, I may have reduced the bitterness. I sort of enjoy the slight bitterness but the lack of bitterness was just fine with my wife. The combination of the rapini’s still crispy texture and slightly assertive Japanese mustard flavor were a nice contrasted to the soft gentle sweetness of the dashi-maki omelet. This was a good combination in terms of colors, taste, and texture.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Hanami 2nd day with cod roe and nagaimo gelée 花見二日目、長芋とたらこのジェル寄せ

This was Sunday and the 2nd day of hanami 2015. The weather was beautiful and we maximized our time outside by spending most of the day on the deck under a canopy of cherry blossoms. We only went inside to line up food items for the hanami. I made cod roe and nagaimo gelée 長芋とたらこのジェル寄せwhich apparently I have not made for some time. I also served daikon namasu 大根なます with salmon roe, cucumber cup with tobiko roe and store bought Chinese style octopus salad.

The octopus salad was often served as otoshi at Takogrill but this was the first time we (my wife) found it at our regular Japanese grocery store. Besides slices of boiled octopus legs, it has thin strips of seasoned bamboo shoots or menma メンマ with "Chinese-style" seasoning.

Of course, the main item was my tarako and nagaimo gelée. I posted this some years ago. This time instead of Tabasco, I used Sriracha.

All items on this plate were just perfect for sake, we admired the cherry blossoms and tasted a little of these items and sipped sake. Is there any better way to spend a perfect spring day?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Easter Brunch イースターブランチ

This year Easter came very late. By Easter, it was finally getting warm and we enjoyed this Easter brunch outside. My wife made two kinds of hot cross buns several weeks ago and froze them. They were very good, so, we could not wait until the holiday and we have been eating them for some time but luckily we had some left for Easter. We had a hot cross bun, sautéed hot smoked pork (smoked in the Weber some days ago) and special creamy scrambled eggs.

The presentation above leave something to be desired but once you open the egg-shaped glass container. The color of bright yellow, green and red are indeed colors of spring.

This is slight modification of creamy scrambled eggs which was reportedly served to Queen of England a few years ago when she visited Virginia (we are not sure if she tasted it but this dish was created by Patrick O'Connor of Inn at little Washington). He did not add salmon roe just asparagus tips.

Creamy scrambled eggs:
Pasteurized shell eggs: I used home-pasteurized egg using my Sous vide machine. I am not going to cook eggs completely, using pasteurized eggs are safest. Since we god three pasteurized eggs in the refrigerator, I used all three for two servings.
Heavy cream: 2 tsp
Salt and white pepper. to taste.
Butter: 1 tsp

I beat the eggs with the heavy cream, seasoned with salt and white pepper. Although I could have just used a non-stick pan, I decided to use a double boiler. I set the lower pan on low simmer and melted the butter in the upper pan. I then added the egg mixture and started stirring/scraping using a narrow silicon spatula until the eggs were creamy but not over cooked (3-4 minutes). I tasted and added a few more grain of salt. I placed the scrambled egg in the egg shaped Japanese glass container, garnished with blanched green asparagus spear and salmon roe.

This was very creamy and the salmon roe added an additional saltiness. Perfect for a warm Easter Sunday repast.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Take-out sushi and sashimi from Kanpai Sushi テイクアウト寿司

One Friday evening, I stopped by on the way home from work and picked up sushi and sashimi combo from Kanpai Sushi. It came in the usual plastic take-out sushi container. I decide to serve the sashimi and sushi separately by re-plating with additional garnishes.  The cucumber slices, perilla leaves and pickled ginger were just transferred from the container.

I added daikon namasu 大根なます and ikura いくら salmon roe. The sashimi included flounder, hamachi, tuna, and imitation crab. This was certainly good enough for a Friday evening. The pickled ginger was better than what we buy at the Japanese grocery store.

After few more dishes, we had the assorted sushi and rolls as an ending dish. The sushi items included tuna "tekka" roll 鉄火巻き, inari 稲荷. The nigiri are flounder, tuna and tamago. It also included a small sea weed salad which I enhanced by adding yuzu shoyu sauce.

Certainly this is much better than take-out sushi you will find at the grocery stores even from the ones known for "gourmet" food. Compared to other sources of sashimi such as Catalina, with this take-out, we can have the amount we want with more variety and it is also so convenient.

Hanami 1st day, garlic chive egg drop soup 花見1日目、にらのかき卵汁

Nira 韮 or garlic chives are not popular in the U.S. and I rarely see them in our grocery stores. We have been growing garlic chives for many years in our herb garden but I keep forgetting to cut them back and they tend to become very tough. The secret is to keep harvesting them to encourage the growth of tender young shoots. The tender shoots are a very different animal (vegetable?) from the tough woody leaves they turn into if left alone. This year, garlic chives were the first plants pushing out new leaves in our herb garden. I quickly harvested some and made this Japanese classic of garlic chive egg drop soup.

The base of this soup is clear soup seasoned with light colored soy sauce or usukuchi shouyu 薄口醤油. I served this as the first dish on our first day of hanami 花見 with sake. You may think soup may not go with sake but it does.

As you can see below, just a little bit of green shoots were coming out, I harvested selectively from each plant so that I would not kill it. I washed and cut the leaves into one inch lengths.

Garlic chive soup

The broth was made from a "Bonito and Kelp" dashi pack. I added sake, mirin and light colored soy sauce. I put the garlic chives in the simmering soup and cooked it for 1-2 minutes and added blocks of silken tofu. After one more minute, I put in a beaten egg and gently mixed and cut the heat.

My wife was quite impressed with the distinctive flavor of garlic chive and how tender it was. The egg is a perfect match. Although my wife is usually not fond of Japanese soup especially as part of a dinner, this one was a big hit.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Hamachi collar and grilled rice balls はまちのカマと焼きおにぎり

This was the very fist evening the weather was nice enough for us to stay outside and cook over the charcoal fire using our Yakitori grill. With my looftlighter, it is so easy to make charcoal fires. I just make a mound of lump hard wood charcoal in the middle of the grill, ignite the charcoal using my looftlighter from both sides in the base. Ten minutes later, the fire is ready (below).

Coming into this weekend, we had a sashimi/sushi combination take-out from Kanpai sushi. When I picked up the food, I noticed one hamachi collar sitting in their cold case amongst the tuna sashimi blocks. Upon inquiry, I found out it was for sale and I bought it. At the Japanese grocery store, for the first time I can remember, I found a package of frozen bonito tataki as well.

I placed a metal grill (sprayed with pam) over the fire after I spread out the lit charcoals and put on the hamachi (salted).

While we were waiting, we started with the bonito tataki which was wonderful and perfect with cold sake.

When the hamachi collar was done,  I did not have the motivation to make grated daikon. We just ate it as is. We even did not use any soy sauce since it was already nicely salted. The skin of the fish came out a bit more charred than I would have liked but it was crispy with the fat layer caramelized. It tasted much much better than it looked.

At this point, we were getting full (and pleasantly inebriated) in the heady early spring evening and went into the ending "shime" dishes of grilled rice balls. Since I had also bought some fresh deep fried tofu (center still uncooked) "Atsu-age" 厚揚げ, I included it with the rest on the grill.

The tofu was ready in short time. We just enjoyed using the chopped scallion and grated ginger and the sauce borrowed from our bonito tataki.

To make a good crust on a rice takes some time as you can see below.

Of course, I make all three sides flat and wide enough so that they will stand on their own allowing me to make a crust on all the surfaces of the rice balls. I brushed them with a mixture of soy sauce and mirin (1:1 ratio) and finished cooking them.

Since we still had some hot coals going, we nibbled on the crust of the rice balls and then put them back on the grill with the newly exposed white rice face down so the surface could become nicely grilled again. We repeated this process several times until we finished the last crispy piece.

Although the evening was not quite "warm", with the help of our heater (aptly called "Mojave sun"), we stayed outside until we finished our indulgence.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Hanami 1st day with take out sashimi 花見1日目、テイクアウト刺身

The winter was very cold and long. In addition, Easter came really late this year. At times, it seemed that spring would never come. Because of the cold weather, our plum tree did not blossom until the 1st week of April. Cherry blossoms were also late and finally reached full bloom this weekend (2nd weekend of April) in our backyard (as well as at the tidal basin which was actually 1-2 days ahead of us. Usually we are about 2 weeks behind the tidal basin but everything is happening at once this year). If asked earlier in the week, we would have said that the trees in our backyard probably would not be in full bloom by the weekend. But we woke up on Saturday and they had bloomed overnight, (the old wild cherry tree also in our backyard, however, was still only in 30-40% in bloom).

Like Christmas, cherry blossoms come only once a year and we look forward and enjoy "Hanami" 花見 every year.

The first day of hanami, we started our evening with a glass of Cabernet but quickly switched to cold sake. This time, we opened "Dassai 50". This junmai daiginjo is from Yamaguchi prefecture and the flavor profile is similar to our house sake "Mu" 無.

To start with sake, we had garlic chive and egg drop soup, which was followed by this assorted sashimi. We got this sashimi take-out from Kanpai sushi. I divided one order into two servings and added Japanese cucumber with moromi miso or "morokyu" もろきゅう, daikon namasu 大根なますwith salmon roe.

The sashimi included flounder, salmon, hamachi, tuna, octopus and imitation crab. This time I also served "real" wasabi which was just thawed. It also contained mixed seaweed salad (next to the pickled ginger).

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Bonito “Tataki” カツオのたたき

Our Izakaya substitute "Tako Grill" is in the process of moving to a new location. It will be reopening sometime in April, so we have to get our sushi and sashimi fixes somewhere else. One such source is "Kanpai Shushi" (Tako grill's sister take-out and catering sushi place). We have had a few take-outs as well as party sushi platters from there. Nonetheless we are anxiously awaiting the opening of the new Tako. Another source of sashimi is our local Japanese grocery store. One weekend we found frozen Katsuo tataki カツオのたたき at the Japanese grocery store and we had to try it.

Although this was frozen, it appears to have been seared using straw, which is very traditional, as some soot still clung to one side. I served it with finely chopped scallion including the green parts, thinly sliced garlic and grated ginger root, as you see above. For sauce, either soy sauce or ponzu sauce would be the standard but I made a hybrid sauce by mixing ponzu sauce (from a bottle) and soy sauce (about 1:1) which I served in a small glass on the slide.

This was more than enough fish for two as a staring dish. One thin slice of garlic on a slice of the bonito with the scallion and ginger dipped in the sauce really makes this so tasty. My wife was a bit skeptical about the raw garlic at the beginning (despite the fact she had eaten this many times before-although on those occasions the garlic is grated) but she had to agree with me that this was the best way to enjoy this.

katuso tataki

The above is how this bonito tataki came vacuum packed. I simply let it thaw in the refrigerator for several hours and sliced it into half inch thick pieces at a slightly slanted angle.

We had this dish outside on the patio  under the heater and an alpaca throw blanket. It was one of the, recently rare, relatively warm days--although it was a bit windy. After a relatively harsh cold winter we are finally seeing signs that spring is just around the corner. Our plum tree, which has been know to bloom in late January or February braving passing snowstorms has just now started blooming (the 1st week of April).

Cold sake went very well with the bonito tataki (and stayed perfectly chilled through out the evening just sitting on the table). We actually opened the American brewed  Yamada-nishiki Daiginjou "Shouchikubai" (this is new sake for this year).  It is indeed the real daiginjou made from California Yamada Nishiki brew in California which rivals any decent daigin from Japan.

We braved the descending cold and dark by also grilling Hamachi collar and other items over the hibachi grill. It was just so nice to spend the evening outside (We suspected that there were not many people in our neighborhood enjoying the evening and early taste of spring the way we were). Also the first Japanese hibachi grilling session of the season is always a “red-letter” celebration.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Clear Soup with Cod and Tofu たらと豆腐のお吸い物

I usually do not buy white fish since it usually lacks flavors. I made an exception one day, when I saw a cod filet. I thought I could make "fish and chips". When I presented this idea to my wife, her response was considerably less than enthusiastic. So, I decided to make several small Japanese style dishes. The first one I came up with was this clear soup with cod and tofu.

This should be garnished with "Mitsuba*" ミツバ but I did not have any so I used young Italian parsley which looks like Mitsuba but the flavor is totally different. I also added frozen yuzu peel (which has a nice yuzu flavor and is much better than the dried variety).

*I tried to grow this in a pot from seeds last winter but it was not successful.

I first cut the cod filet into bite-size chunks and sprinkled on some sake and a small amount of ginger juice (from freshly grated ginger root) and let it sit for 10 minutes. I then dried the surface with paper towels and dredged with potato starch (left upper in the picture below). I had dashi broth simmering (right upper, this was made few days ago using a dashi pack). I seasoned it with salt, light colored soy sauce, mirin and sake.  I season it lightly to bring up the dashi flavor. I dusted off the excess starch and gently placed the pieces in the simmering broth (left lower). The starch made the broth thick and viscous. I let it cook gently for about 2 minutes and then added small blocks of silken tofu (from Japan which I bought at a Japanese grocery store) (right lower).

cod soup

Instead of "mitsuba", I just took two springs of Italian parsley we had growing in a pot. I held the leaves and cooked only the stems in the simmering broth for 20-30 seconds. I then tied the stems into a loose round knot.

I placed the cod and tofu in bowls and poured in the hot broth and garnished it with the Italian parsley and Yuzu peels (first two pictures).

I think this was a qualified success.  There several things I could have done better. I should have made a better broth from kelp and bonito flakes. Probably I should not have used potato starch. I sort of liked the thickened broth and slippery surface of the cod but this appears not to be something my wife appreciated. Although the cod has a nice texture not much of its own flavor and finally, nothing replaces the smell and flavor of "mitsuba".

Monday, April 6, 2015

Nagaimo pork roll 長芋の豚肉巻き

Vegetables wrapped in thin slices of meat either pork or beef are a common and favorite theme in Japanese cooking. The most popular version of this theme in the U.S. is probably “Negimaki” 葱巻き which is scallion wrapped in thin slices of beef and then braised in a sweet soy sauce-based sauce. Since I had leftover nagaimo 長芋 and perilla leaves 大葉, I made this dish. Although using thinly sliced pork belly or "sanmai-niku" 三枚肉 would have been the best, I used some pork loin which I happened to have, thinly sliced and then pounded very thin.


To make it more interesting I also added "bainuki 梅肉" sauce which is umeboshi 梅干し meat (sans stone), finely chopped and then made into a paste using a Japanese mortar or "suribachi" すり鉢 with a small amount of mirin.

I made 6 sticks of the meat covered nagaimo and served them as an appetizer for two as shown above. I did this by first cutting batons of nagaimo after peeling the skin (approximately half inch thick and 2 inches long) and soaked them in water with a splash of rice vinegar. Meanwhile I cut thin slices of pork loin and pounded them thin using a meat pounder. I then coated the pork with flour using a fine mesh strainer to distribute the flour in a thin coat over the surface of the pork. I then placed a leaf of perilla on the pork, and a baton of nagaimo (after patting it dry using a paper towel) on the perilla, followed by a small amount of the bainiku and then rolled them together (#1 below).

In a non-stick frying pan on medium flame, I added a small amount of vegetable oil and cooked the meat roll first with the seams down turning to brown all sides(#2). I deglazed the brown bits (fond) from the bottom of the pan with sake (1 tbs) and mirin (1 tbs). When browned bits were incorporated, I added soy sauce (about 1-2 tsp) (#3) and shook the pan to roll the meat rolls until the sauce thickened and coated the surface of the meat (#4).
pork roll composit

I cut each roll in half and served it with blanched edible chrysanthemum or "shungiku" 春菊 dressed with soy sauce, sugar and  Japanese hot mustard mixture and garnished with toasted walnut bits.

The nagainmo was almost raw and still a bit slimy but had a nice crunch. The sliminess did not brother my wife (a good sign). Since the pork was not pork belly, I thought it was a bit dry but it had a nice flavor from the sauce and browning. The perilla and bainiku sauce added to the flavors. So, this was a rather successful starter dish for sake.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Edible chrysanthemum roll 春菊ロールと煮浸し

The other day, I saw fresh edible chrysanthemum or "shungiku" 春菊 at the Japanese grocery store. Since this is my wife's favorite Japanese vegetable and only sporadically appears in the grocery store, I got it. Although the most classic way to enjoy shungiku is in sukiyaki すき焼き, we were not having sukiyaki this time. So, I made a small appetizer with shungiku and served it with a skewer of chicken tenderloin in yakitori style with pickled plum 梅肉 and perilla 大葉 as a starter one evening.

I decided to make it a bit interesting and made a roll wrapped with thin omelet and a nori sheet.

In addition, I made the thick stem part into "Oshitashi" おひたし or "Nibitashi" 煮浸し garnished with bonito flakes.

I should have taken the pictures while I was making the roll but I did not.

Preparation of shungiku:
I washed and removed any wilted leaves and cut off the very end of the stems. I removed the leaves with thin stalks and separated the thick stems.

In a large pot, I cooked the thick stems first in salted boiling water for several minutes until cooked but still crunchy in the center. I scooped them up with a large slotted spoon and let them cool on the plate until I could handle them. I cut them into 2 inch logs.

I cooked the remaining shungiku for less than 1 minute, drained, and let cool on a paper towel lined plate.

Thick stems (3rd picture):
I immediately soaked them in warm seasoned broth (dashi broth, soy sauce and mirin). Once it came to room temperature, I placed it in the refrigerator. I served it garnished with dried bonito flakes.

Leaves (1st and 2nd pictures):
After I squeezed out the excess moisture, I dressed them in karashi shouyu からし醤油 (Japanese hot mustard, sugar and soy sauce). It could be served as is (after cut into a reasonable size) but I made a roll with thin omelet and then dried nori sheet using a bamboo mat. I let it sit wrapped in plastic wrap for few minutes or until the nori sheet adhered to itself. I cut it in 1 inch cylinders.

Shungiku has a very unique nice flavors. Using two different ways of preparing, both were quite good as small starter dish for sake.