Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Vinegared Crab and Squid

In spite of my recent outburst, I've decided to continue on with the project. Maybe I'll make a few off recipes, but so what. Julie Powell make some crap she didn't like thanks to Julia Child.

So my next meal was grilled squid with vinegared crab. All in all, the meal was a success. The vinegared crab had a nice tangy but sweet flavor. The squid was tasty with a teriyaki type taste. I missed part of the directions because I tried the marinated version. I wasn't sure if I needed to paint the outside with egg whites or not. It still tasted fine.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Disaster Strikes... Twice

Dear Readers,

My commitment to project Dashi has been shaken. I have had a hard time getting back in the groove since we got back from Las Vegas and then I had two recipes turn out terrible in short order.

I have to admit, I was feeling a little suspicious about Tsuji since the salad dressing with way too much miso. (I have read the recipe over and over again and I can't imagine why you'd put 3/4 of a cup of miso in anything.)

So now, I have tried the sake simmered mackerel. Theresa thought it was ok, but I felt sick all night. I think the fish was salted, or a little off. I couldn't even think about fish for days.

Also, I've tried making salt pickled Chinese cabbage. It was, again, way too salty. I felt like saying, Tsuji, I'd like a little cabbage with my salt. I am a little sensitive to sour foods, so I thought maybe it was me. I let Theresa give it a go and the "bleaaah" sound she made confirmed it.

Tsuji, what's going on. I thought you were the Julia Child of Japanese cooking. I thought you spent years writing this book, testing every recipe. Damn it, am I missing something. I'm pretty sure I've learned how to read and follow directions, in spite of my high school biology teacher's prediction about my classmates and me.

I'm still committed to getting through this book, but I'm giving it second thoughts. Should I be looking for another book? Should I cross reference all of Tsuji's recipes?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sushi Class

For my birthday, Theresa bought me a couple of classes at Cook's Street School of Fine Cooking.

I decided to take the Sushi and Sake Class. It fit perfectly with the whole sushi section of project Dashi.

First, I should note that this was more of a sushi with a side of sake class because not much time was spent on the sake portion. Some information about sake was presented, but it was washed away with the third glass. I'll have to do a sake tasting for the blog sometime.

The majority of the class focused on sushi, but with a healthy base of Japanese cuisine. We made dashi as a base of miso soup. We made rice to be turned into sushi rice. I was actually impressed by how much about Japanese cuisine I already know. I'm not nearly half way through the book and I felt like I could have taught the first quarter of the class.

And then, the new stuff. We spent about half an hour learning how to break down a fish. Starting with how to buy fresh fish and ending with "cut out the blood line from the butchered fish". It was interesting, but I'm not sure I'm ready to be a fish butcher since Costco and H-mart both provide good quality pre-cut up fish at reasonable prices.

The fun part was making the different sushi pieces: maki, nigiri, battera. They had a whole spread of several types of fish along with vegetables sliced perfectly for all types of rolls.

My biggest struggle was in making the rolls small enough to be bite sized. A few of the pieces were so big, I couldn't eat them in three bites, much less one.

I was most excited by the fact that I can fine shiso leaves and yuzu juice. The instructor said he had found both at Pacific Mercantile, downtown. I have looked all over H-mart with no luck, so I'm glad to know that I have a source for some obscure ingredients.

The other interesting thing was watching the other students.

One was a psychology student who was taking cooking classes for all of his electives. He was telling me he had made mozzarella at the house the day before. I should really draw this out to give you a full image: Imagine John Belushi, in his "College" sweater and an apron, in the kitchen at the Delta Tau Chi house, making mozzarella from scratch. Yeah.... that was this guy.

Another was this super nice couple. They were so friendly and eager to learn. They were very precise in their sushi making and they spent a lot of time tasting the sake. I think they were wine connoisseurs and may have been disappointed that there wasn't more about the sake during the class.

In the end, I made so much sushi, I couldn't even bring it all home. It was ridiculous how much good sushi went to waste that night. Next time I'll bring my own doggie bag!

I'm excited for my next class, but I think I'm going to bring Theresa along and do one of their "Culinary Date Nights".

Monday, March 29, 2010

Japanese Commercial

This is from Serious Eats, one of the blogs I've been watching since starting project Dashi. The comment below is perfect.


It's the same old story: One moment you're just sitting in the forest under a light snowfall while enjoying a cup of Milk Seafood Cup Noodles, then Cheese and Pepper aliens suddenly jump out from behind the trees and shoot cheese and pepper out of their fingertips and into your cup. Soon your screams of horror turn into gushes of gastronomic delight. Thus is the magic of Cheese and Pepper aliens. And instant noodles. Watch the video after the jump.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Sorry I've been away for a week or two. We went out of town last weekend, and I was a little sidetracked from project Dashi.

I was able to get out Tsuji's recipe for Gyudon before we left.

Gyudon is really a beef rice bowl, much like oyako donburi. This is another staple at Tokyo Joes and Kokoro, a local favorite of mine.

Of course, the first step is to make Japanese rice. Thank you pressure cooker.

Second step, cook thin sliced beef. Fortunately, this is the same thin sliced beef we needed for the beef burdock rolls and we discovered our Asian grocery carries presliced beef, which makes this a little easier. The beef is cooked in water, soy, mirin and onions. Poor this on top of a bowl of rice and you have the lunch of winners. (Breakfast of champions was already taken.)

I still prefer the oyako donburi, but Theresa really enjoyed this dish. She went back for seconds, which is a rarity.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Japanese Ministry of Agriculture Videos

The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture has put out a series of videos on youtube about Japanese food. Each video explores some aspect of Japanese cooking and features a recipe or two. They are a bit hokey, but incredibly informative.

Here are six episodes:





Forrest Gifts


Hat tip: Food Lover's Guide to Tokyo

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Who needs a rice cooker when you have a...

pressure cooker. That's right! A pressure cooker!

A few years ago, my mom found an incredible deal on a pressure cooker. I read somewhere that they cut cooking times in half or more, that they could replace a crock pot, if you knew what you were doing, and that they were great for sailors who wanted to conserve fuel on a cross ocean voyage.* What most intrigued me was that Alton Brown, king of food knowledge, made chili using a pressure cooker.

So after we got our pressure cooker, we made several batches of chili, and the corned beef. We started reading the instruction manual to see what else we can make with it. It turns out that not only can you make big hunks of meat in record time, as well as beans and other slow cooking foods, you can also use a pressure cooker as a steamer. This includes cooking perfectly prepared, Japanese-style rice.

I have to say that this makes the pressure cooker, one of the best in investments in kitchen appliances we've made. I know a lot of people say that the rice cooker change their lives. That they make more rice now than they did before they had a rice cooker. The same thing has happened for us with our pressure cooker. We make rice, much more often than we ever did before.

The best part about the rice is that it comes out perfectly. The rice we prepared is perfectly cooked, and perfect for making rice balls...if we have any leftovers.

I don't know if all pressure cookers also have a steam feature, if yours does. I highly recommend making rice with it.

*I'll go into more detail on that if anyone is interested.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Soup and three, plus one

In the introduction, Tsuji talks about a traditional Japanese meal as "soup and three", with the "three" consisting of three different, not-soup items. My wife talks about Southern meat and threes, as places that serve a meat plus three sides. I think there must be a cross-cultural connection with combinations of four, paired with a taboo against saying "four things on a plate".

Anyhow, an example of a Soup & 3: miso soup with rice, sashimi, and yakitori. Or you could have udon noodle soup with sashimi, yakimono and nimono. This sentiment was echoed in the excellent video series on Japanese food put out by the Japanese government, to be posted later. (Who doesn’t love a good food video from Japan?)

For Valentine's Day, I decided to make a soup and three, plus one, for my wife. Three of the four courses were easy. Miso soup, rice, and sashimi were simplicity itself.

Strangely, the hard part was the fourth piece: the salad. I already mentioned that Tsuji had a typo in his red miso dressing. I decided to take a safer tack and try his sesame dressing with lettuce. The problem: to do this right, I need a Japanese mortar and pestle. Not one of those smooth marble things, but a bigger, slightly more rough one for mixing and pulverizing ingredients.

I tried smashing the toasted sesame seeds with a pie server on a plate. No dice. Eventually, I decided on my coffee grinder. It worked. Perhaps, it worked a little too well. The sesame seeds were turned to dust nearly instantly. The recipe indicated that some flakes and hulls should still be visible. This was mixed with some dashi and soy to make a dressing to be mixed with spinach. Spinach was, in this case spelled: romaine.

In the end, it tasted pretty good, but it isn't a dressing I would make again. I'm not a huge fan of sesame, so that's part of the problem. The other part is this damn mortar and pestle issue. We spent way too much time cleaning the coffee grinder to make this a worthwhile application.

Meanwhile, I could have used "H’s” salad dressing instead. Next time.

“Wait,” you say, “You're not done with the post. What's this ‘plus one’ business?“

Well, dear reader, that was the beef and burdock roll, served as a final course for the evening.

All in all, it was a delicious meal. Pulling together four dishes at once was surprisingly easy with a little forethought. And Valentine's Day was a success toasted with sake.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Braciole a la Japonese

It seems like rolling things up in beef is one of those techniques that spans cultures and continents. Last year I discovered braciole, the Italian beef roll. Now, thanks to Tsuji, I've discovered Japanese beef roll.

Don't get me wrong, there are some differences. Braciole is flank steak wrapped around bread crumbs, cheese, and seasonings. Beef burdock (B.B.) is thinly sliced beef wrapped around marinated burdock root. Braciole is braised; B.B. is grilled or broiled. Braciole is unapologetically Italian with it's tomato sauce, Parmesan cheese, and Italian seasonings; B.B. is unapologetically Japanese with its burdock root, soy and dashi marinade, and subtle flavors.

The preparation of B.B. take some time because it involves a 3 to 4 hour marinade of the burdock and a one hour marinade of roll itself. This is what stopped me from making this last Wednesday.

The cooking is quick. Seven minutes under the broiler, turning once.

The result was delicious. Each bite was filled with the slightly sweet, meaty flavor of the beef , followed by the crunch of the interior burdock root. As I'm writing this, I'm starting to salivate at the thought of the roll. I could have kept eating this dish all night.

Tsuji mentions a couple of variation on this dish, replacing the burdock with asparagus or long onion.

My biggest challenge with this recipe was Julienning the burdock roots. Burdock is like a giant carrot that tastes like jicama or a cross between carrots and celery. It is about two feet long, round and pretty rooty looking. My knife skills are ok, but cutting the roots into long thin strips was a challenge. I tried using my mandolin, but that was a disaster. In the end, the knife did the trick.

Would I do this recipe again? Absolutely. I might try it with asparagus, but the burdock held up pretty well and the contrast of textures really helped the dish.

Oh yeah, I have more to say about sansho powder seasoning, but that's a different post.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Making Mochi by hand

This is one of the dishes I have been looking forward to. Japanese sweets take some getting used to, but it is worth trying mochi in all its varieties.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Delayed Meal

On Wednesday, I had planned to make beef burdock.

A combination of misread directions, improper ingredients, and car trouble stopped me from even attempting to make this.

Meanwhile, my four burdock roots are sitting on the counter, begging to be julienned and wrapped in thin sliced beef, marinated, and grilled over a hot fire.

At this rate, it might be our Valentine's feast, if I can convince Theresa that it is going to be delicious.

Be patient, the next recipe is coming soon.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Random Asian Cooking Links

I've started to tune into some cooking blogs to see what other people write about and to see if I can glean any tips from the Asian cooking oriented blogs. Here are a few:

Fortune Cookies from Serious Eats

Hibachi Steak House Sauce from Nancy (See her comment on the last post)

Japanese Fortune Rolls from About Japanese Food

Japanese Cuisine Basics from A Food Lover's Guide to Tokyo


Friday, February 5, 2010

Steamed Salmon Casserole

Last night's dinner was steamed salmon casserole. Basically, you layer a number of ingredients into a soup bowl. Place it inside of a steamer and let it cook for 10 to 15 minutes.

The biggest difficulty I had was gathering all of the ingredients. There were a few ingredients I couldn't find. One of them was yuba, which is dried soybean milk skin, which I couldn't fine. Another one was chrysanthemum leaves -- I ended up substituting a little bit of parsley in its place. Tsuji recommends replacing it with spinach leaves.

I don't have a Japanese style steamer, and the bowls needed to be in a big steamer in order to make this work. I got out my large steamer, which is placed inside a 2 gallon stockpot. It was difficult to fit all of the bowls in there, but I stacked them in order to fit everything in the steamer.

The layers were one section of konbu, tofu, mushrooms, salmon, partially, and lemon slice and sprinkled with a little bit of sake. Although this was simple, it was incredibly delicious, moist and flavorful. The slight citric flavor of the whole dish was a subtle but tasty element. I think this is a dish that I will be repeating over and over again -- I just wish I could find some of these other ingredients.

One last thing, this was supposed to be served with ponzu sauce. I realized this a little too late and tried to improvise it at the last minute...which didn't work! I'll try again with the next dish that requires ponzu.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Oyako Donburi aka Egg on Rice

Last night I made oyako donburi or Chicken-'n-Egg on Rice. So far this has been one of my favorite dishes, but I was predisposed to enjoy it.

The history is that while I was a student at DU, I ate at Tokyo Joes.... a lot. It was a staple of my diet. Between them and the fledgling Chipotle, I didn't eat much else. My favorite dish at Tokyo Joes was their Oyako bowl. I couldn't figure out exactly what the taste was, but I loved it. Egg, chicken, rice, onions, with a hint of sweetness. I gobbled it up like the Bumpus's dogs eat turkey.

Once I left school, I wasn't near Tokyo Joes nearly as often, so it became a periodic craving for me. At three in the afternoon for no apparent reason my stomach would scream..."Oyako---NOW!" A few times I thought about trying to make it at home. In fact, before I met my wife and got hold of her copy of Japanese Cooking, I had a cookbook called "The Complete Asian Cookbook" by Charmaine Solomon, which had an Oyako recipe in it. I tried making it, but it didn't taste right.

Now that I have tried a different version of the dish, I have a comparison. The major differences are: dashi vs chicken stock as a base, and sugar vs mirin to sweeten the dish. Tsuji's version chose dashi and sugar. Solomon used chicken stock and mirin. In fact, Solomon recommended dry sherry as a substitute for mirin, which seems a bit off to me.

In any case, Tsuji's version was delicious and I think it might become a staple around our house.

On another note, I have to confess a little. I am working through Tsuji's cookbook and I have a growing admiration for him as an author, chef, and connisseur of great food. However, I've been a little unfaithful. I casually mentioned Solomon's "The Complete Asian Cookbook", but I've consulted her book a couple of times during the process so far.

For instance, she had this interesting tidbit about the dashiyaki tamago:

Japanese omelette pans are rectangular. If you can get one it will make your rolled omelettes easier to handle and neater in appearance, but a round pan can be used quite successfully.

And my was successful. Not "quite successful" but merely a regular level of successful. Her recipe was nearly identical to Tsuji's. She added a parsley garnish.

So now that I have confessed, I'll say three "hail Tsuji's" and we'll continue on our culinary adventure. I will continue to use Solomon's book a reference and I'll note when her explanation is helpful. But I won't feel guilty about it.... not any more!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

My Secret Weapon

I think it is only fair to let everyone know about my secret weapon in project Tsuji. Weapon may be stretching it a little bit. Maybe more like a life line. Or more apropos: phone a friend.

The secret is my sister in law, "H", who is Japanese. My brother studied and taught in Japan for 10 years. Of course, he ended up dating and marrying one of his students. I'd say it's a little sleezy of my brother if she weren't the "older woman".

A little bit about H: She is incredibly fun loving and loves to laugh. She is creative and always willing to share a smile and her fun twist on things. I was so happy to welcome her as my sister many years ago and I am also happy that she was willing to help me on this project.

The first bit of help she gave me was on one of the salad dressings. It called for 3/4 of a cup of red miso and it tasted incredibly salty. The title of her response was "WAY TOOOO MUCH". She said the recipe should have called for 3/4 of a Tablespoon of the miso, and she gave me her own dressing recipe. (I'll be trying that this week.)

In any case, I have a little help on board. Thanks H!

Thursday, January 28, 2010


"Making good dashi" says Shizou Tsuji "is the first secret of the simple art of Japanese cooking." In flipping through Japanese Cooking, most of the recipes call for dashi. Dashi is to Tsuji and Japanese Cooking what butter is to Paula Dean. Essential and ubiquitous.

It is only made of three ingredients. Water, konbu, and bonito. How simple is that? Wait... konbu... bonito. What's that!?!

Fortunately, Tsuji is thorough. He has included a section at in the beginning of Part One called Ingredients. I've found this section to be extremely useful and could be a booklet unto itself. It describes ingredients which are common in Japanese cooking but uncommon in
western kitchens. It actually explains the difference between Tamari and Soy Sauce and indicates reasonable substitutes for hard to find ingredients. It turns out that konbu is giant kelp and bonito is a dried, smoked fish. Fortunately for me, these are sold dried and
packaged at the local Asian market, especially since I'm in Denver with no ocean in sight!

The procedure is also simple. Boil water, add kelp, remove kelp, add bonito, remove bonito. To get this right, it is important to check the flavor of the soup, the texture of the kelp, and to remove foam at the right time. It does take a bit of time.

Tsuji says in the preface to the "Basic Stock" chapter, that you can substitute other stocks, like chicken stock, but this will merely be a la Japonaise, rather than authentic. He also says that dashi-no-moto, or instant dashi, is widely available.

I am going to make an attempt to make dashi from scratch one of these days. I did, however, elect to buy dashi-no-moto from the Asian market. In the preface to the book, Tsuji says that these were pretty good substitutes for homemade dashi. I am not sure if Tsuji would
approve of my choice. I do have both konbu and bonito available to me, but dashi is a bit time consuming. So for now, dashi-no-moto it is.

The first batch that I made turned out well. I was surprised that the flavor was so familiar. It tasted like most of the clear soups I've had in sushi bars. It was just fishy enough to make my cat go bonkers while I was making it. I can see why this is so widely used in Japanese cooking.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dashi-maki Tomago

The first meal I made was Udon Noodle soup and Dashi-maki Tomago.

The udon noodle soup was actually simple. We had packages of udon noodles from the refrigerated section of our local Asian food market. The soup itself was dashi, soy sauce, sugar and mirin, combined with the udon noodles and chopped green onions. It was delicious.

The main dish was Dashi-maki Tomago or Rolled Omelette. This was a little bit trickier. Essentially, this is a french omelette that is rolled in the pan with chopsticks or a spatula, instead of folded over on itself. The procedure is repeated three times to get a pretty thick egg roll. (Egg roll not eggroll!)

The first problem I ran into was that the recipe requires a square frying pan. You are supposed to pour a small amount of the egg mixture into the pan, let it cook until it is just a little runny, then roll the egg onto itself toward you. Then move the omelette back to the far side of the pan, pour in more egg mixture, and repeat the rolling procedure. It doesn't really work in a round pan. If you push it back to the far edge, you end up with a misshapen version of the Dashi-maki Tamago.

Since I am determined to buy the minimum amount of specialty equipment for this project, I made due with the round pan. The result was ok, but not perfect. I literally tried to fit a square peg in a round hole.

The meal overall was tasty. The udon noodles are a favorite of mine for sure. They are chewy and soft and add a nice touch to the slightly fishy taste of the dashi soup.

If I were going to try this recipe over again, I would probably try to use one of those square griddle pans you use to make pancakes. I don't own one, but I have friends who do. I will say that I liked the flavor, but my favorite egg dish is still the fritata.

For next time, I'll need to write more about dashi, which was used in both of these recipes.

The Project Defined

I always think it is important for the first post of a blog to lay out the path it's is going to take. What are its rules? Its customs? What can you expect? What is the tone going to be?

From that introduction, you may think that my blog is going to involve many strings of questions. It may, but that is not the reason for this blog.

I'm blogging because I am shamelessly stealing an idea from that popular movie "Julie and Julia". I am going to cook my way through a cookbook. Specifically, I'm going to cook all of the recipes in "Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art", by Shizuo Tsuji.

Why? Because I am interested in Japanese food and culture. Because this, as best I can tell, is the Japanese equivalent of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". Because I thought Julie Powell's idea for the Julie/Julia project was smart and a good idea demands to be imitated. And finally... why not!?!

I have a few rules of this enterprise. They are:

1. I will try to prepare all 200+ recipes in Tsuji's book. I do have a few reasons I may exempt myself from a recipe. See below.

2. I will blog about the experience, with a few inputs from my willing wife.

3. I will try to prepare everything without purchasing any new equipment. I do believe that a cook should have the right tools for the right job; however, this is an east meets west affair. There are things in a Japanese kitchen which are not common in an American kitchen. Since Tsuji's book was written to introduce Japanese cooking to the anglophone world, I think I should be able to cook most everything in a typical American house.

4. This is the first exemption. I will try to cook all of the recipes in the book; however, I may be limited by the availability of ingredients. Denver, my hometown, has a number of pretty good Asian groceries and specialty stores. Even the local megamarts seem to carry a wide range of Asian ingredients. That does not mean that I can find everything. I will look to internet groceries for items that can be shipped. I will draw the line if something gets too expensive. You can have some of the best clam chowder from Pikes Market in Seattle shipped anywhere in the US, but do you want to pay $100 for a bowl of soup? I will come up with a firm dollar limit after I get some input from my wife.

5. This is the second and last exception. I haven't read through the whole book yet, but I will not be preparing natto under any circumstances.

So with that being said, I hope you enjoy this culinary adventure with me.