Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My City and Milk Toast

One memory from my childhood that sticks out is driving home from my grandparent's house. Since my parents both worked full time, my mother's parents took care of my brother and I during the day. We had to be around six or seven. On this particular drive, I don't remember what possessed us to do this, but we said,

"Look Dad! We're Asian!"

And we put our palms to our temples and pushed back to make our eyes extra squinty.

I don't know who was more shocked, my dad, whose children were doing rather inappropriate racially insensitive things; or us, when he told us that we actually were Asian, in part.

"Look at your grandma, she's 100% Asian American and her eyes don't look like that! Besides guys: your eyes are already almond-shaped, you inherited that from her. You eat mochi, dried squid and nori for after-school snacks, you're both Japanese American."

Talk about floored.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Biscuits and Bacon Gravy

I've made tons of sausage gravy (and eaten even more) but when Mr. Mochi came home with a steal: beautiful thick-cut bacon for 40 cents a pound, I knew I wanted to try bacon gravy. Bacon gravy is made the same way as sausage gravy, with a few quirks.

Now, this recipe is just made for serving over piping hot biscuits! Unfortunately, my oven decided to die on me, so I was not able to make any fresh biscuits. I don't know whats wrong, but the oven just won't heat up, and my biscuits just sat there as I fiddled for over an hour with the dial, turning it on and off and waiting 10, then 20 minutes to see if the oven would ever heat up. Hurray for cheap apartment living?

Putting aside my oven's betrayal, let's focus on those quirks. The bacon will take longer to cook than the sausage, because you want it nice and crisp to stand up to the gravy. It will also release quite a bit more fat, so you either have to use less bacon, or drain away some of the fat.  It is also less seasoned than sausage, so you will add more pepper, but less salt since the bacon is cured.

Monday, August 27, 2012

L.A. Street Dog

Downtown Los Angeles. A sprawling concrete and steel behemoth of a city that replaced the chaparral to become one of the biggest cities in the world.

Smog, sweat, hopes and dreams seem to settle in Los Angeles. Hope for a better life, dreams of making it big on the silver screen. While L.A. shines as a beacon of light for others with its glittery image, most locals know it as the place they toil and trudge day in and day out with the skyscrapers watching overhead.

I know Los Angeles as the place I went to college. Unlike USC, UCLA is in with the glitter. Bordered by Beverly Hills and Bel Air, UCLA resides in the hoity-toity Westwood area. Think Pinkberry and vegan cafes, posh shops and brand name shoes; a cab ride away from Rodeo Drive and Sunset Strip.

I always contrast that with going to my mother to the downtown districts. It is loud, dirty, and wonderful. The flower, fashion, fabric and jewelry districts are filled with people of all walks of life doing business, striking deals, and making friends. My mother would always bring presents for her favorite shopkeepers, who would always be glad to see her and haggle prices. She spent the most time in the fabric district and I loved running my hands along the rows of fabric bolts: silky satin, rough corduroy, and gauzy silk.

Walking down the gritty cracked pavement that still reflected the sun too bright despite the June gloom, I would always steal a peek at the street food. Catering to mostly Latinos, the fruit the carts peddled is always what tempted me the most as a child. The jewel colored spears of fruit seemed to sparkle; watermelon, papaya, and mango sang out to me. I wanted whatever they were sprinkling on the the fruit along with lime and eating with their fingers, the juices running down their fingers and faces. Little did I know it had cayenne pepper, and I probably wouldn't have cared for it too much as a child.
I like my Ghetto Dog without ketchup

Now that I go there as an adult, the fruits aren't as captivating to me as the most infamous L.A. street food, the Street Dog. Also known as Danger Dogs, L.A. Ghetto Dogs, or Dirty Dogs, you can smell them before you spy the cart. A heady mixture of fajitas and bacon wafts over the crowd of shoppers, leading you to a vendor's grill. Thick hot dogs are spirally wrapped in bacon, grilled to crispy juicy perfection, then topped with grilled onions and peppers and your choice of condiments that range from the typical ketchup/mustard to mayo and pico topped with a roasted jalapeno.

Friday, August 24, 2012

X Rated Mimosa Popsicles

Mr. Mochi tells me I have become popsicle obsessed. Well if you were in this apartment in Southern California, you would be too. Right now, deep into August, we've been having quite the heat wave. After the kero kero pops, I decided I wanted to make another set of boozy pops.

My grandmother always used to mix soda and orange juice into a fizzy drink for us as kids. Almost like a virgin mimosa, it is still one of my favorite drink combos. I decided to make a popsicle mimosa after looking in the fridge and wondering what I was going to do with an almost full bottle of sparkling wine. Mr. Mochi is a beer fan, and I can't drink the bottle fast enough before it goes flat.

And because I am a big fan of the "oh why the hell not," I threw in a couple layers of X Rated liqueur, which one of Mr. Mochi's friends left in our fridge. X Rated is blood orange juice with mango, and passion fruit mixed with vodka. It's quite girly looking with it's bright pink color, but apparently the men are very secure in their manhood, and its pretty damn tasty.

I didn't realize it was a hip or new liqueur until I googled it for this blog post. I am so clueless when it comes to the drinking scene.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lazy Spam Donburi

Today is one of those lazy days when even making some spam musubi is out of the cards. I want to do nothing but lay around on my precious day off and take a nap with Tiara. Even Tiara wants to do nothing but doze off in the air conditioning, and she's a hyper Australian Shepherd! I blame the heat, personally.

So this donburi is kind of a deconstructed spam musubi in a bowl. I have shared my unending donburi love in previous posts, but really, there is nothing easier than a one skillet meal on top of fresh rice.

Lazy Pooch!
The same flavor elements of a spam musubi are present, without having to bother with molding the rice and wrapping it in nori (yes I know it's not a lot of work, but haters please refer to the first word in the name of this post).  You can either use just equal parts sugar and shoyu, but I like the glossiness that mirin lends to the sauce, as well as keeping this whole dish from being too salty.

Like with my spam musubi post, I encourage you to play around with the toppings. Green onions, avocado, okonomiyaki sauce and mayo, shichimi togarashi, sriracha mayo, wasabi mayo, it's all game.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tom Kha Goong Ramen

I have a confession: I love instant ramen. I know it's chock full of sodium and lacks protein, but it's also cheap and easy, not to mention totally crave-able. My grandma used to serve it for a quick lunch, with some veggies and saltines for dipping in the broth.

One thing I love more than instant ramen is ramen hacks. Simple as adding in some scallions to making a totally different style of dish, ramen hacks are fun and ingenious. My favorite quick hack is adding some fried onions and a shoyu tamago, for added protein and some crunch. Search for ramen hacks on the internet and you find that people have taken the humble noodle to great heights by adding ingredients and modifying the way it is prepared. From ramen carbonera to ramen pizza, it takes the dorm room staple to the dinner table.

If you are looking for a comprehensive guide to ramen hacking, I strongly suggest visiting Serious Eats' ode to the instant noodle written by fellow hapa Kenji. He goes through the simple additions, like adding fish cakes (kamaboko) or sriracha, all the way to ramen poutine!

One idea he put in my head was taking the classic Thai coconut shrimp soup, tom kha goong, and making it into a ramen hack. Below is my version of the theme.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Kero Kero Pop! Midori Sour Popsicle

One of my favorite alcohols is Midori. Midori is a vibrant green melon flavored liqueur first made in Japan in the 1970's. Midori (緑) means emerald green in Japanese, and this liqueur is a super sweet and heady concoction of melon and alcohol. Really, leave it to me to love the one alcohol most similar in taste and smell to the melon chewing gum from Sanrio. *Their Keroppi melon erasers really don't taste as good as they smell, stick to the candy and gum.

Besides drinking it in Japanese slippers, Tokyo teas, and Midori sours, I love to make popsicles with it! Especially now, since it has been so hot lately, pops have been on my brain. This blog post is my popsicle version of the Midori sour, affectionately named "Kero Kero Pops" in honor of my favorite Sanrio character, Kero Kero Keroppi.

I am really the last person who should be talking about alcohol. I can't really drink. I am, however, somewhat of an expert on Keroppi, as my family can attest.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Izakaya Honda-ya

An izakaya (居酒屋) is a Japanese pub that serves food as well as drinks. Originally, an izakaya (which literally means I="to stay" and sakaya="sake shop") was just a place that allowed you to buy and drink sake on their premise.  Since then, it has evolved into a drinking place that usually has an extensive menu of my favorite types of Japanese food: Japanese home-style soul food. Or at least that is what I think of izakaya food as: the type of food you eat at a summer festival, at home on the weekdays, or simple comfort food. Everything you want to eat with a cold beer, good friends and good conversation.

Izakaya menus usually have a lot of small plates, encouraging you to order a string of different nibbles to share while downing a pint. Grilling skewers of meat (yakitori), fried chicken, croquettes (korroke), and rice balls (musubi) are typical fare.  Nasu dengaku, a plate I've already touched on, is a common dish found in izakayas.

Unfortunately, here in America it is much more likely to find a sushi bar than an izakaya, or perhaps a teppanyaki place where the food is secondary to the chef's antics. Changing the Japanese American dining scene is places like Honda-ya, a yakitori izakaya that is introducing the United States to the wonders of Japanese pub food.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Shoyu Tamago (醤油 卵)

Shoyu Tamago (醤油 卵) means soy sauce egg in Japanese, which is a pretty self explanatory name: hard boiled eggs cooked in soy sauce until the outside is wonderfully salty and umami-filled, with a beautiful mahogany color.

The best thing about shoyu tamago is that these eggs wonderfully portable and great for picnics. Unlike plain hard boiled eggs, there is no need to bring along salt and pepper because these are preseasoned.  A spam musubi and a shoyo tamago, along with some celery and carrot sticks, make an amazing packed lunch.

Since I always have access to insane amounts of eggs (see my Hapa Farm Girl post on eggs) I tend to try and use eggs a lot. Especially since nutritionists have found that eggs are no longer a cholesterol scare which was touted back in the day, and they have found the healthier the chickens eat, the better the eggs are for you.

There's only one snag: Mr. Mochi hates hard boiled eggs, even deviled eggs!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Pink's Hot Dogs

My next installment of Dog Days of Summer is not only pooch friendly, but a Los Angeles landmark, Pink's Hot Dogs.  When my cousin came down from Oregon, she had a fine list of food establishments she wanted to visit. We hit the Kogi Truck one night, trundled through Little Tokyo, and tried the dogs at the venerable Pink's in Hollywood.

Unfortunately, she didn't realize that where I live in Orange County is actually about 1-2 hours from Hollywood, depending on traffic. If you live in Southern California, people tend to think you are from Los Angeles, not Disneyland country, I guess.

Travel didn't daunt us, and we took the trip up to try our hands at chili dogs and tasty treats.

Pink's was originally a hot dog cart on the corner of Melrose and La Brea during the height of the Great Depression in 1939. A hot dog topped with Betty Pink's chili, mustard and fresh onions cost ten cents back in those days! Even today, they are very reasonably priced for what you get, considering they only use Hoffy's all beef hot dogs. Pink's moved into a building in 1946 at the same spot of the cart and has been making history, doling out hot dogs and burgers from the same establishment ever since. They have an impressive celebrity clientele and have fun naming their specialty hot dogs after them.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hapa Farm Girl: Nasu Dengaku (茄子田楽)

Time for another edition of Hapa Farm Girl! The nice thing about summer is the fresh veggies! My mom gave me a care package this week: 18 eggs, a bunch of shiso leaves, cherry tomatoes, and a couple Japanese eggplants.  I toyed with the idea of making a mini caprese salad with the tomatoes, some bocconcini and shiso since I don't have basil, but I ended up just eating the tomatoes on the spot from the bag. I love cherry tomatoes!

So onto the eggplant.  I have never liked the name eggplant, considering the varieties that look like eggs rarely pop up anymore.  Also know as aubergines, or in Japanese, nasu (茄子). Some funny facts about the eggplant: it is part of the nightshade family like tomatoes and potatoes, is related to the tobacco plant, and has more nicotine than any other edible plant. Still, you would have to eat 20lbs of eggplants to equal one cigarette. Wikipedia is a crazy place.
Japanese eggplants are generally very dark thin-skinned, almost black, and long and skinny.  There are round Japanese varieties but they still have the hallmark thin skin, so most Japanese eggplant dishes do not peel them. I decided to make some traditional izakaya (pub) food, nasu dengaku (茄子田楽).  For this recipe, the eggplants are split in half, grilled and then slathered with a sweet miso sauce that gets caramalized for a smooth sweet/salty/smokey snack that is delicious on its own or with rice.

Shoyu (醤油)

You might think that soy sauce needs no post. True, shoyu is present at every asian food restaurant, ubiquitous everywhere from Panda Express to your favorite sushi joint. But there are a lot of different types of soy sauces, and I'm here to tell you about them.

First, a little bit about shoyu in general.  Shoyu was first reported to be used in China in 2000 BC, and spread to Japan in the 7th century along with Buddhism. It is the liquid product of fermented soy beans, wheat, salt, water, and some sort of yeast to get the fermentation going.  The fermented mix is squeezed and the run off is soy sauce, which gets aged then bottled. Nowadays, there is also a chemical process involving acid-hydrolyzed soy proteins that I won't even pretend to understand, other than that the whole soy bean is not used so it ferments faster and is used in most mass produced soy sauce.

Now there are tons of different types of soy sauce, as every country has its own way of making it. For example, a type of Indonesian soy sauce is thick like molasses, and in Brazil they use corn rather than wheat as the grain. But let us talk about the Japanese styles, since those are the ones I use in my pantry.