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.