Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The New Year: Toshikoshi Soba (年越しそば)

I seriously cannot believe it's New Year's Eve. Can I please go back to being a kid again?

Maybe I'm not cut out for the world of food blogging, alongside the multitude of smiling happy women writing their upbeat prose; prose that makes you want to whip out an apron and spatula just to capture some of that bliss, some of that contentment with life that seems to emanate from their words.

I can't do it.

On a good day, I'm endearingly neurotic, making godzilla-worthy messes out of my kitchen, introspective and analytical to a fault. On other days, I'm fickle, wrathful, and dangerously unstable, capable of destroying people in a single spiteful sentence.

I am human, I am imperfect, I am flawed.

Right now, I'm Alice, falling down the rabbit hole. When did the years start to fly by so fast?

There's so much left undone.

I guess, given my mood, that it's ironic that some translate "Toshikoshi" as meaning "killing off the year."

Toshikoshi soba is traditionally eaten on New Year's Eve in Japanese culture as a way of ending the old year and beginning the new year. The long noodles are a prayer for longevity, and traditionally soba is used because it is easier to bite through cleanly than udon, representing a clean cut leaving behind the bad of the last year and going fresh into the new year.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Donut Man

Shun (), or seasonality, is paramount to Japanese cuisine. Not just gourmands who are constantly in and out of kaiseki restaurants, but everyone knows when the first crop of rice will hit the supermarkets and will snap up bags. Now imagine if you went to your nearest Kroger supermarket and your Wonderbread advertised that it was made from the first wheat crop of the year. That's what it's like to live in Japan, seasonality is just a part of life.

The same goes for the Donut Man. If you live in the greater Los Angeles area, you probably already know about the Donut Man, originally established as a Foster's franchise location in 1972. But for those of you not familiar with the Donut Man, it's a pretty unassuming place. A stand-alone shack on a quiet stretch of the historic Route 66, it looks like every other shop peddling sugary dough in the wee hours of the morning.
Jim Nakano (photo from DM's FB)

Except the crowd around it... and it's open 24/7, so that crowd is present at 10 pm.

So you approach, and the giant hand painted signs on the windows let you know there's more to these donuts than glazed or jelly-filled. Depending on when you make your trek, you might be lucky to score a strawberry or peach-filled donut. These beauties don't resemble doughnuts so much as a treasure chests stuffed with fresh fruit; glazed donuts are sliced and propped open like a clamshell with glazed strawberries or peach slices.

The fervor surround these doughnuts are brought to a higher pitch because they are only available seasonally. Craving a strawberry doughnut in December? Tough luck. The Donut Man will only make these fruit creations during the fruit's peak season here in Southern California. Right now, they have pumpkin doughnuts and blueberry stuffed creme puffs as well as donuts sprinkled red and green for Christmas.

Of course, being a hapa Japanese American food blogger, it is a totally fair argument that my personal worldview biases me on this, but I believe that it's no coincidence that the man behind the Strawberry and Peach Donuts, Jim Nakano, happens to be a fellow Japanese American.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Katsudon (カツ丼)

Katsudon is definitely a great choice for cold weather. It has a rib-sticking comfort food quality that never fails to satisfy. Filling a bowl with piping hot rice, slipping a crispy crackly fried pork cutlet into a broth bursting with umami and onions, and finally covering everything with a luscious blanket of egg- it only takes minutes if you plan ahead and it is one of the best soul-warming foods, right up there for me with biscuits and gravy.

Now I realize I have very disparate tastes in comfort food, with American Southern cooking competing against Japanese American rice bowls for dominance, but I urge you to give this a try. 

I think the combination of salty fried porky goodness and carbs is universally appealing.

Katsudon is one of the most famous pork dishes in Japan. In fact, if I was being sensible it would have been one of my first blog posts, way before my post on Tonkatsu Karē Donburi. Of course, I don't play by the rules, but really it's a big deal in Japanese casual cuisine. It is even a part of popular culture: in Japanese crime shows, the suspect would be given katsudon to eat in order to make the interrogator seem like a nice fair guy in order to weasel the truth from the suspect.

Another funny anecedote about katsudon is that "katsu" sounds exactly the same as the verb "katsu" (勝つ) which means "to win." This makes this dish popular for sporting teams and students about to take an important test. For example, Hideki Matsui, former World Series MVP for the Yankees, stated in interviews that this was one of his favorite dishes.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Chai Persimmon Sorbert

My great uncle grows the crisp variety of persimmons ("kaki" 柿), called fuyu. Every year, I am entrusted with a giant Trader Joe's bag full of the beautiful orange fruit. I should have weighed the bag to find out exactly how many pounds, but trust me when I say it's way too many for one Miss Mochi to eat.

I stuffed them into bundt cakes for Thanksgiving. I chopped them over Greek yogurt and granola, sprinkled with cinnamon for breakfast. I served them as an appetizer with brie and crackers. I made bowls and bowls of fruit salad.

They were still ripening too fast for me to consume or cook them all fresh. I had some so ripe they were jiggly custard bombs ready to explode. I needed to do something, stat.
Betty has a new attachment!

And then I found this recipe, and swooned immediately. I knew exactly what I would do to salvage all the overripe persimmons crowding my counters. I knew this was what I was looking for, and I couldn't wait to play up the natural spiciness of the persimmon with strong chai tea rather than plain black tea. I also couldn't resist using a gift card to get myself an ice cream maker for my tangerine-colored mixer, "Betty."

This recipe can be made with either the hachiya, which is astringent until it is ripened to jelly-level, or the fuyu, which normally you would eat when it is as firm as a pear or apple, but the fuyu is perfect for this if you let them ripen past that.