Friday, December 23, 2016

Peppermint Sugar Cookies

What's your favorite holiday song?

I think I must belong to an elite super group of people who have listened to obscene amounts of holiday music until they have unwittingly become armchair experts. 

Name your favorite holiday song and I can either name at least two of the artists who have recorded it without referencing the internet, sing the chorus, or both. I tested this by asking my Facebook friends for their favorite holiday song, and I am currently 8/8 nailing it in both categories.

That's pretty impressive for someone who has never willingly played a holiday song. This has all been absorbed passively from my exposure to my mother's insane holiday song collection. She estimates she has at least 200 versions of  just the song "Silent Night" to give you some perspective on how much holiday music she has.

My favorite is "The Wassail Song." I have no clue why really, I just love the refrain. Maybe it's because I can really belt it out* and the quality of singing is less important than the enthusiasm at which it is sung.  I also really love "Auld Lang Syne" but no one in their right mind would be comfortable with me singing that one.

Holiday songs are imperative to making these cookies. When I go over to my mother's house to bake cookies, they never stop playing.

*I can also belt out Frosty the Snowman both in English and Spanish. This is the only thing I know to say in Spanish, which goes to show you they teach you nearly nothing useful in mandatory language classes like "Help! I think I need a doctor!" but hey, I know a Christmas carol!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Mulled Wine Stuffing with Sausage and Chestnuts

Here's another special holiday family recipe from my mother that I had to make sure I learned how to make. This stuffing is possibly my favorite culinary aspect of the holiday season!

I love how the wine gives this stuffing acidity and a little bit of bitterness to cut through the richness of butter, sausage and bread. Most stuffings can be be a little stodgy and bland, and the use of the mulled wine brightens it up.

I've written about this stuffing on my slow cooker mulled wine recipe, as that is the ingredient that really makes this stuffing.You can add in dried fruit or nuts, or remove the meat entirely. It will still be acceptable to me. However, if you omit the mulled wine, it just won't taste right in my book. This is the only stuffing for me!

Now, the big trend for food photography for stuffing is giant pieces of bread that toast up nicely in the oven and make for a glorious picture, however I don't think that tastes as nice because everything doesn't have a chance to incorporate. If you prefer a drier stuffing, reduce the liquid to 1 cup each of broth and mulled wine. I like mine nice and mushy and don't really care if that's not as attractive to photograph. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Curried Persimmon Ham

My mom is a mad scientist when it comes to cooking. She is constantly opening up her cupboards and fridge, giving them all a good look, pulling out a motley crew of items, and slapping together something that may never be replicated. Her Turkey and Hominy Soup that I've written about is a great example, because it is really never the same batch twice. She throws in so many different things and in different quantities, it's hard to keep up, let alone write the recipe down.

She also has a gift for making mass quantities of food. If the recipe serves more than 1-2, it's a fair bet it was originally my mother's recipe. I don't have much occasion to cook for a small army, but around the holidays is the best time to cook for a crowd because you never know what sort of get-together you'll host or be invited to! My mother brings this ham to potlucks, and even gives it away as holiday gifts, that's how popular it is!

I don't think even she could come up for a thought process for this recipe, besides noting she had a lot of persimmons, and a stray block of Japanese curry roux rattling around her pantry. She moves on instinct, a trait that I did not inherit. I spend a lot of my time thinking, not just about food.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Kamaboko Dip

It's officially the holidays! Parties, potlucks, girlfriend get-togethers: I've got all that and more planned for the coming weeks, so you'll see a bit of a shift in the recipes I feature here.

There's a distinct lack of baking projects, recipes for parties, or appetizers for a crowd. I like small dishes, and this blog started as a way to feature what I cook on weeknights for myself and Mr. Mochi, and I don't deviate too often unless it is to make sure I write down one of my mother's recipe.

But with the holidays upon us, please look forward to some party dishes! First up: Kamaboko Dip!

I've made several dishes on this blog that feature kamaboko, but all of them have been pretty traditional Japanese recipes. So I wanted to showcase how we utilize it differently it as hapas and Japanese Americans here in the states. Of course I am sure you can think of plenty examples of where imitation crab (kanikama) is substituted for real crab. But here's an entirely new presentation for kamaboko.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Kamaboko (蒲鉾) and Other Surimi Products

Kamaboko (蒲鉾) is a Japanese ingredient made from white fish that have been pureed, mixed with flavorings, and then steamed to form a steamed fish cake.

Traditionally, kamaboko was formed on a wooden board for steaming which produces the hallmark half-moon shape you see it in.

Nowadays you can find kamaboko without the wood, but most varieties will still be steamed on wood.
Imitation crab sticks work great for cheap sushi

Does this sound totally weird? I wish I could have described it more appetizingly. However, the pureed white fish, called surimi, is the same process that is used to make imitation crab (called kanikama, which is short for kani-kamaboko). So if you've enjoyed a california roll, you've had surimi. The biggest difference between imitation crab and kamaboko is just the texture as kamaboko is chewier and firmer.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Turkey Mole Stacked Enchiladas

I love Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday. I can't really pinpoint why it has always been my favorite holiday, even as a kid. It has always been more relaxing than other holidays, even now that help prepare a lot of the meal.

I guess now that I'm grown, I can say I love the fact that it's not religious and therefore very inclusive, not overly commercialized like Christmas or Valentine's Day, and finally I just love to cook.

And possible more than cooking, I love leftovers. It's serious business in my family. My mom hosts Thanksgiving just to get her hands on leftovers.

Sometimes however, you need a little variety in your leftovers. You need a little spice. Most of all, you need something quick and easy because you just did a marathon of cooking and you need a quick meal.

Enter in these leftover turkey mole stacked enchiladas. The flavor of these enchiladas is radically different from most traditional Thanksgiving fare, so it helps break the monotony of leftovers. You could make the mole sauce from scratch, but you just cooked a giant meal for your friends and family, so I think you deserve a tasty and easy meal by buying premade sauce.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Persimmon Pudding

It's persimmon season! Every year, my great uncle's trees bless us with more fuyu persimmons than we know what to do with. I've shared lots of recipes over the years and suggestions for what do with the fruits besides eating them plain, and it's become a Thanksgiving tradition to whip up something with persimmons.

I asked my mom what she wanted to see this year, and her answer was persimmon pudding!

There are two basic types of persimmon, or kaki (柿): the squat Fuyu that can be eaten crisp like an apple or the heart-shaped Hachiya type that is ripened until jelly-like inside. The Hachiya cannot be eaten hard because it is very astringent unless fully ripe.

Now persimmon pudding is traditionally made with the Hachiya type (or the wild American native persimmon which is similar in texture to the Hachiya), however it can be made with fuyu. You just need to let them over-ripen to a jiggly state. Generally speaking, there's always some of our fuyu that manage to overripe before we get through our bunker crop!

No matter what variety you have on hand, make sure they are jiggly-about-to-burst ripe. We want to highlight that custardy texture of the pulp in this recipe.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Julia's Korroke

All I wanted for my birthday was to learn how to make Julia's amazing korokke. Julia is one of my mother's very best friends and someone I consider to be part of my family. They've known each other since before I was born, and I grew up going over to their house, going on road trips together, and spending holidays with them.

I learned to ride horses with Julia's instruction, while her husband introduced my brother and I to the awesome world of computer games. I was too young to notice it at the time, but they were very influential in my life, encouraging me in my academics but also my hobbies as well. I'm thankful every Thanksgiving I've had so many amazing role models in my life. I know that sounds super cheesy, but you haven't met them! Our families go camping together, horse trail riding together, and even thrift shopping with one another! I especially like playing board games at their house, and wish my work hours didn't prevent me from seeing them as often as I'd like.

Julia's son got me set on this idea when he mentioned that his favorite part of Thanksgiving was his mom's croquettes, which is served with the traditional okonomi sauce (sosu), but also ranch dip. It just wasn't Thanksgiving without it, in his opinion.

Ranch dip? On korokke? I had to see this. And then Julia brought some over to my parent's house, and I was hooked. I would have never in a million years thought that ranch would work with croquettes, but it is delicious. I personally liked to alternate between the okonomi sauce and the ranch dip, so each bite sings.

Korokke, or Japanese croquettes, are very similar to the French croquettes, but are usually made with a higher ratio of potatoes to meat and served with the same family of tangy sauces that tonkatsu and a lot of fried foods is served with.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Adventures in Japan: 2014

In 2014, I took an epic trip to Japan during the cherry blossom season, and I haven't had a chance to write about it. I wanted to make sure I did the trip justice, and I fell into a funk of nothing but business, career, and job. Now that I've got my priorities more settled, it's time to share my amazing Japan trip with you!

It was a whirlwind fifteen days. I visited cousins, gave my respects to my ancestors at our temple, visited our ancestral house, and trekked up a cliff to visit our family grave surrounded by citrus trees. I dressed up as a geisha (maiko to be specific) in Kyoto, hugged deer near Hiroshima, got lost on the Tokyo train system more than once, and explored the enchanting Ghibli Museum. Most of all, I ate tons of amazing Japanese cuisine, and I can't wait to share it with you.

Yawatahama's many graves on the hillside
I thought a bit about how I wanted to present all the information and pictures without turning this blog into a travel blog, but also not leaving you with the impression all I did was stuff my face (to be fair, it was a main feature). So for each city or province I visited, I will have a short post with some history, pictures of what I did besides eat. This regional post will be followed by a review of a restaurant if possible, or perhaps an overview of the regional food will be worked into the first post if not. Lastly, I will have a recipe for each place inspired by my visit. I hope you enjoy sharing my adventures, and I hope that my recipes will allow you to experience a little bit of what I enjoyed on my travels!

This post will stay on top until I complete my Adventures in Japan series so that you can skip to places at your leisure! Each region page will have a list of all the ingredients and recipes associated with it linked at the bottom!

Miss Mochi at Miwajima Island
Fukuoka, Fukuoka prefecture, Kyushu region

Yawatahama, Ehime prefecture, Shikoku region

Beppu and Yuifin, Oita prefecture, Kyushu region

Hiroshima and Miyajima, Hiroshima prefecture, Chogoku region

Kyoto, Kyoto prefecture, Kansai region

Tokyo, Tokyo prefecture, Kanto region

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Adventures in Japan: Tokyo

What don't you already know about Tokyo? It's the most populous metropolitan area in the world and the capital of Japan. Its GDP is more than most countries and more Fortune 500 companies are based in Tokyo than any other city. It has more 3 Michelin Star restaurants than any other city on earth. Its arguably one of the most important urban areas in our global community, at least at the time of this writing.

Tokyo has this reputation of Blade Runner-esque skyscrapers and dark grit, some sort of cyberpunk labyrinth of oriental urbanization. Don't believe me? Search "Tokyo" in google and click on "images." Highly stylized photos of an intersection of Tokyo, complete with glaring photo-shopped neon lights. And don't get me wrong, if that's what you're looking for, you can find it in pockets. But really, you're better off taking a gander at Singapore, Dubai, or Hong Kong.

Tokyo, and the surrounding suburbs, honestly kind of reminded me of Los Angeles, only bigger and better. Better public transportation, better and bigger parks, and much much cleaner. And of course, not a desert which can only make things prettier and greener. But despite being such a huge city, it didn't feel as big and scary as New York, with the skyscrapers looming overhead, taxis honking, and grim gothic architecture of its churches. I'm having trouble describing it and we didn't take a lot of pictures of the city. Just go there!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Negima Nabe (ねぎま鍋)

This is an old-school Tokyo recipe. Otoro, or fatty tuna belly, used to be something that spoiled too fast to be commercially useful. Instead of the prized sushi ingredient it is today, it was sold fast and cheap, and more often cooked than served raw, thought to be too rich to consume raw. Which is insane considering how prized and expensive otoro is nowadays. But at one point in time, we used to feed lobsters to prisoners and indentured servants here in the states because it was so plentiful. Doesn't both of these make you wistful?

Our family took us to a restaurant famous for its otoro fare, apparently the royal family has even frequented there. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to track down the name of the restaurant. I wanted to bring some of that cuisine home to Mr. Mochi and my father since they weren't able to come with us on this trip. The name of this hot pot, "Negima Nabe," is a portmanteau the two star ingredients: Japanese long onion "negi" and bluefin tuna "maguro." "Nabe" just means "pot" and refers to the donabe pot that the meal is cooked in. Don't have a donabe? A dutch oven or even a large saucepan will work fine, you might need to cook in batches however.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Sugar Margarine Snack (シュガーマーガリンスナック)

Late at night, my brother and I would wander the cities of Japan, peeking down alleys filled with laughter as the izakaya crowd were just warming up, strolling past stray cats and dark buildings with nothing but the eerily glowing vending machines in the distance to mark our path. We'd emerge on a major street, eat dinner or perhaps head to a konbini on the corner for a look around and a quick snack. Sometimes we had a destination in mind, but mostly we were just exploring.

During these explorations, I discovered my favorite konbini snack: Sugar Margarine Snack. Literally just a brick of untoasted thick-cut shokopan white bread with a smear of cold margarine, sprinkled with granulated sugar.

It's a snack that will horrify your mother and your dietician. But it's truly delicious and a testament to everything refined, bleached, and concocted by man.

I was in love.

I tried to find it in every city we visited, and sometimes was awarded with a slice of sweet sweet diabetes. Sometimes it would be something similar, sometimes they tried to fancy it up by toasting it, sometimes the price would be higher or lower. The cheapest I saw was ¥52, and the fanciest was ¥129, but my favorite was the original priced just under a dollar at ¥91. The others just tried too hard.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

All about that Konbini life

When I went to Japan in 2014, I didn't have a lot of cash to sling around. We backpacked around the country, staying in hostels, and ate a lot of cheap food. I've spent more on room service in one day than I spent on food for an entire two weeks in Japan. It helped my family took us out to absolutely fabulous meals I hope to be able to repay in kind some day, but we were very price conscious about our dining habits in between these ultra-luxe meals. We visited the local grocery stores near our hostels in order to buy groceries, and visited konbini.
chocolate covered shrimp chips

Konbini (コンビニ), as Japanese convenience stores are referred to, have taken the American convenience store concept and perfected them. Think I'm over exaggerating? Put it this way: the parent company of 7-Eleven Japan bought the original United States' 7-Eleven. Lawsons, which died out in America, is one of the largest chains in Japan and the success in Japan led to the chain returning to the U.S. via Hawaii. Konbini are serious business, and the Japanese have mastered it.

And if you visit Japan, I guarantee you will end up going to a konbini. Why? 7-Eleven has ATMs that take our credit cards. Japan has their own credit card system and a surprising amount of places don't take Visa, Mastercard, Discover, etc, but JCB and others, and even more are cash-only. If you don't stay far from the beaten path and stay around Tokyo and Kyoto you'll be fine, but just finding an ATM was tough in Yawatahama, let along somewhere that took Visa!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Adventures in Japan: Kyoto

Kyoto, also known as the old capital, reigned as the imperial capital of Japan for over a thousand years. So you can imagine a lot of history can be found there. It was also spared the worst of the bombings from World War II, something that couldn't be said about Hiroshima.

More national treasures of Japan exist in the city of Kyoto than any other and it remains one of the most important cities, culturally speaking, in Japan. It's simply a must-visit place and was our next stop on our trek across Japan.

As one of the cultural and historical hubs of Japan, Kyoto boasts not only shrines and temples galore, but also some of the best fine dining you will find. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Yudofu (湯豆腐)

Kyoto, since it was the capital of Japan for so long, is steeped in history and tradition. One of those traditions still popular today is shojin ryori, or Buddhist cuisine. As Buddhism was introduced into Japan in the 6th century, so was the idea of vegetarianism for religious ideals. This cuisine became synonymous with Kyoto as Kyoto is home to some of the longest standing Buddhist temples and sects that still carry on this tradition.

As a whole, Japan is not very vegetarian-friendly. Dashi, made with dried bonito shavings, is omnipresent and veggie dishes on most menus will have some sort of fish in it, if only the broth. If you're a pescetarian, you're in heaven, but if you're vegan or vegetarian, I'm not going to be the best person to tell you how to navigate Japan and I recommend finding a blog that specializes in both Japan and veganism. I ate things in Japan that I'm still not quite sure what I ate, so I'm not going to claim any sort of authority on either subject. I normally write about Japanese American food!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Nakau (なか卯)

I'm definitely not fluent in Japanese, especially when it comes to the written word. Therefore I amused my relatives by exclaiming excitedly when I actually could read a sign on my trip to Japan. To put this in perspective: imagine if your crazy cousin from another country came to visit you, and every single time you drove past a Little Cesar's, they joyfully bellowed "Pizza!" like they discovered the promised land.

I'm brilliant if I do say so myself.

It doesn't help that my Japanese reading comprehension is all limited to food. I can instantly recognize the characters for donburi (丼), ramen (ラーメン), udon (うどん), curry (カレー)... and not much else without some careful thought.

So I was especially excited to try Nakau (なか卯) as their sign boasted not one, but two words I knew by heart: gyudon and udon. Nakau is a fast food restaurant in Japan famous for their cheap eats with over 400 location. Or perhaps fast casual, not fast food? It's hard to tell in Japan. Anyways, it's very popular with Japanese looking to get a cheap fast meal and I wanted to experience what the quality and price of such a typical chain was.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Pumpkin Granola Cookies

Growing up in Southern California, Autumn does not herald itself in the same way as most people associate with the season.

Here, Fall isn't about the changing colors of the leaves (palm trees don't do that, sorry), nor the cool crisp morning fog that rolls in and begs you to turn on the kettle for a cup of tea (yeah no seriously, I wear flip flops year round). Hey, at least now we kind of have football with the return of the Rams.

Fall for me, and for a lot of Southern California natives, is when the Santa Ana winds start howling. For those unfamiliar with these winds, they even have their own Wikipedia page (and accompanying page on their mention in the popular arts). Also know as "devil winds," these winds are super hot and super strong, and account for how our wildfires get so out of control.

So when the ground bakes and cracks, when the air itself crackles with electricity, and the wind seems to go after you with a personal vengeance, that's when I know that Autumn is upon us.

I'll admit that Southern Californians are a little bit twisted, positively quivering to glug down Pumpkin Spice Lattes and don some scarves when the weather is trying to kill them and it's just as hot as ever. We seem to decide when the seasons change based on what the stores are selling.

So when the first Santa Ana winds of the season started, I immediately decided it was time to start decorating for Halloween and bust out the fall recipes that I've been saving all year.

Too bad I'm just not a fan of Starbucks' PSL.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Adventures in Japan: Hiroshima and Miyajima!

The places in Hiroshima we visited weren't exactly fun, but they were important.

They really made me wonder what would have happened if Japan hadn't tried to expand their power into the mainland and fought in WWII. Would I be fluent in Japanese? Would I have known my relatives in Japan better? Would I even exist? All the fear and hatred of the Japanese here in America: would my grandmother have known a life without that constantly over her shoulder?

And I know that going to such a museum and thinking about how everything affected you and your loved ones is probably the height of arrogance, but that's how I felt. I also felt numb at how pointless it all was, the wars, the bombs--every time someone picks up a gun in the name of their country. A city devastated, thousands killed, nothing gained, and ultimately everyone loses. And we as a species do it over and over again. I think that what depressed me the most is that I couldn't think of a good way out of this spiral of hatred. It's been over 70 years and we are still killing each other.

A beautiful but sad sight: millions of paper cranes
We visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, also known as the A-bomb Dome (shown above), the only building left standing in the atomic bomb's hypocenter, and visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Inside the museum, we saw many artifacts from the blast as well as details of their survival following radiation exposure. What stuck me most was the Peace Watch, which resets itself every time a nuclear test is performed around the world. It struck me how fragile peace truly was, with so many countries not only capable of leveling an entire city with a single missile, but actively testing the technology.

After a sobering day of memorials and millions of paper cranes, we went to Miyajima island and I have to say it was probably the prettiest part of the entire trip. The cherry blossoms were at their peak and it was mind boggling. The petals really do cascade like snow falling when the wind blows, and I danced around in them without shame.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Hiroshima-Style Okonomiyaki (広島風お好み焼き)

If you walk into an okonomiyaki joint in Hiroshima and ask for Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, you might get a funny look. To them, this is simply okonomiyaki and others just have it all wrong.

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki starts with wheat flour and water, mixed to a thin batter that is cooked over a grill. Shredded cabbage is piled on top as it is halfway through cooking, along with whatever toppings you would like. Yakisoba noodles are put on top, followed by a fried egg.

This entire tower of savory goodness is topped with sauces and served piping hot.

Check out the layers!
What the difference between Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki and the rest of Japan? The more popular style of okonomiyaki mixes the cabbage and eggs directly into the batter rather than stacking them for a thicker okonomiyaki with almost a custardy inside, and most importantly it lacks the noodles.

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese dish that lots of people have tried describing it by attempting to liken it to pizza, but it's nothing like pizza! I liken it more to a Japanese savory cabbage pancake, but it's a little hard to describe even in these respects.
Okonomiyaki, in my opinion, is one of the most accessible foods to those who might be picky or apprehensive about Japanese cuisine. It's a shame that there's a huge lack of okonomiyaki shops in America because everyone who try it seems to love okonomiyaki. I myself actually dislike cabbage, but love this dish. Also in its favor is its nature of customization: okonomiyaki's name itself means "grilled as you like it," and you can add whatever you like to it: squid, seafood, bean sprouts, or anything else that strikes your fancy. For instance, Mr. Mochi loves pork belly and only wants a hint of mayo. No problem! Customization is key.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Ekiben and Japanese Train Stations

Southern California does not have the best public transportation, especially where I live in the suburbs of Orange County. When I lived with my parents, we didn't even have street lights or sidewalks, let alone a train or subway system.

Japan, on the other hand, has amazing public transportation. I can see why so many Japanese don't have cars. It's like New York City, it's almost a bother to have a car. The shinkasen, or bullet train, was possibly the coolest form of transportation I've taken in quite a while. The only train that I had ever taken prior to this trip to Japan was the train at Disneyland (no, stop laughing, I'm not joking).

The shinkasen reached top speeds of 200mph but was so smooth and quiet I fell asleep on it quite a few times. I was worried about getting motion sickness as I'm prone to it in cars and I was still a bit jet-lagged when I stepped on my first shinkasen to head to Hiroshima, but it was so butter smooth I was able to read without any headache.

We were all very excited to try ekiben (駅弁) as well. We had heard of the delicious train bentos sold at the train stations that showcased local cuisine, and I made sure to take tons of pictures.

I apparently missed the golden age of ekiben, which occurred in the 1980s. Back then, the trains were slower and plane rides were so expensive, a lot of people traveled by train. And since the trains were slower, more people relied on ekiben as a meal while traveling. Now, with the shinkasen reaching top speeds of 150-200mph, you might not get to finish that meal! Despite this, ekiben are still a thriving aspect of most train stations in Japan and I made a point to snap some pictures to share with you.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Burger Boss

Mr. Mochi loves a good burger. He loves everything from cheap fast food burgers to Umami burgers, and everything that lies in between. We have had serious debates and conversations about the various burgers we've had together, tackling tough topics like "which is better: In-N-Out or Five Guys?" Our answer: they exist on two different price points both monetarily and calorically and therefore cannot truly be compared besides personal preference, however I like In-N-Out better and he like Five Guys better.

Burgers are honestly one of his favorite foods, so when we got invited to try Burger Boss of Lake Forest's menu in advance of their grand opening, I knew we had to take a break from blogging about my travels through Japan and go check them out.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Adventures in Japan: Beppu and Yufuin!

Beppu and Yufuin are both resort towns in the Oita prefecture in Kyushu. We stopped at both along our way back from Yawatahama back to Fukuoka.

Beppu and Yufuin are both famous for their onsens, but the Eight Hells of Beppu (別府の地獄), where you can see plumes of steam rising was quite the impressive sight! Even when driving around we could see plumes of steam rising around the city. It was very eerie as it looked like the whole place was about to go up in a volcano.

Check out the steam plumes!
After leaving Yawatahama (I fell asleep on the ferry back, it was a very long day), we arrived in Beppu to spend the night at the Umine hotel in Beppu. Our relatives wanted us to try the onsen hot springs that Beppu is famous for, but worried that we would balk about getting naked in a public onsen. So instead, this hotel had a private onsen bath with an ocean view in our hotel room! The hot spring water is piped into an outdoor patio for private enjoyment without having to even leave your room.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Tenjosajiki Cafe (天井桟敷)

After leaving Beppu, we drove up and down mountains to reach Yufuin. We stopped by Yufuin on our way back to Yawatahama for a quick visit so our relatives could show us more of Kyushu.

While in Yufuin, we stopped by Kamenoi Bessou (亀の井別荘) a ryokan (inn) that included hot springs, a wonderful souvenir shop, and a restaurant space upstairs that was a cafe during the day and a bar after 7pm, called Tenjosajiki Cafe and transforming into Yamaneko (山猫) at night.

The ume pound cake
We picked up some citrus jam from the ryokan shop and ate it with toast all throughout our trip. It was less like a kitschy American souvenir shop and more like a luxury specialty shop that focused exclusively on regional and seasonal items. I loved browsing through there!

And stepping outside to take in the greenery surrounding this ryokan was magical: the mists swirled around lush greenery, cherry blossoms, and leafy trees. For a Southern California resident used to nothing but drought, it was truly like being transported to a magical forest.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Onsen Tamago (温泉卵)

In Beppu, there is a whole cuisine of cooking using the hot steam that erupts from the earth. Called jigokumushi (地獄蒸し), it literally means "hell steaming" which is perhaps my favorite name for a style of cooking, ever. Baskets of food are lowered into the surprisingly powerful steam of the hot springs and a short time later you have fresh produce, thin cuts of meat, and eggs cooked in the steam. There is even a jigokumushi pudding, where a flan is steamed in the mineral-rich steam that jets out of the earth.

I obviously couldn't share a recipe with you on jigokumushi as I don't know about you, but I don't have any hot spring jet steam handy and I think my steamer at home wouldn't be a good substitute. So I am sharing something just as traditional to both Yufuin and Beppu: Onsen Tamago (温泉卵).

Onsen Tamago literally means "hot spring eggs," and as you might have guessed, is named because the eggs are traditionally cooked in hot springs and served at ryokans (inns). Rather than the steam jets of jigokumushi, the eggs still in their shells would be lowered in baskets or nets directly into the hot springs themselves.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Adventures in Japan: Yawatahama!

Do me a favor and google some travel blogs for visits to Yawatahama. Okay, how about Shikoku in general? Not finding a plethora of pictures?

Not a lot of westerners make it to Shikoku island at all, let alone Yawatahama, but that is where we went next on our adventure through Japan. Our wonderful relatives drove us all the way from Fukuoka to Beppu, where we caught a ferry to Yawatahama to see our ancestral home and our family's grave site.

Shikoku is the smallest and least populous of the four main islands of Japan, and the JR railway express only has one rail line on the entire island that runs along the perimeter, to give you some scope of how rural it is compared to the massive Tokyo metropolis. Shikoku is famous for its Shikoku Henro, a Buddhist pilgrimage that goes along 88 shrines around the four provinces of Shikoku.

Of course, there's no pilgrimage stop in Yawatahama. Yawatahama is a port city, with the largest fish market in Shikoku with a natural harbor. The main agricultural export is the mikan, or the satsuma mandarin. This reminded me a lot of my home here in Orange County, California as I grew up playing in an orange orchard.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Yawatahama Champon (八幡浜 ちゃんぽん)

It was really hard to decide what to make for Yawatahama. I wanted to bring you something not just uniquely from Shikoku in origin, but Yawatahama itself. However, I was a bit stumped. A lot of what makes Shikoku cuisine unique is the island itself. For instance, the most famous local food of Shikoku is sanuki udon because the island has the best wheat production in Japan. However, that dish hails from Kagawa prefecture, not Ehime prefecture where Yawatahama is located.

Citrus is a huge part of Ehime's agriculture, however I don't have access to the more unique citrus that Japan has. I could do a citrus recipe, even though it's summer and citrus is at its peak in winter, and call it good. But there's not a lot of recipes for citrus that are unique to Ehime because the citrus is normally just eaten simply and the fruit is savored in its original form, and I've already blogged about that. I'd basically be slapping together a marmalade and making a flimsy connection to Yawatahama, something I didn't want to do. I could do a recipe of a nearby city, like Imabari or Uwajima, instead of Yawatahama. I found some awesome regional foods when I researched, however they still weren't strictly from Yawatahama.

I guess I stressed over this so much because I felt so connected to Yawatahama when I visited. My family is buried there. My family lived and died, and continues to live, there. Our creaky old ancestral house stands firmly on its soil. A tiny portion of my soul, my very essence, I think was left on that hilltop surrounded by graves and citrus and the smell of the ocean. A bigger portion was left in that house where I shared tea and smiles with family. It's only natural I wanted to share some of Yawatahama's soul with you.

I'm not normally this cheesy, but truly it was a special experience.

So really, the choice was made for me. If I was going to share a bit of Yawatahama's soul, I was going to have to get serious about creating a dish I've never actually eaten: Yawatahama-style Champon.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Amalfi (アマルフィ)

Before paying our respects at our family grave site and visiting the local temple in Yawatahama, my relatives in Japan took my brother, mother, and I to an Italian restaurant in the heart of Yawatahama called Amalfi. I wanted to share this experience with you as our meal showcased not only the Japanese's twist on Italian food, but also some of the local ingredients of Shikoku. Their attention to detail and ability to express a lot of flavor in small portion sizes were two things I was very impressed with.

Despite it being the lunch hour, our meal was a multi-course extravaganza. I think a lot of restaurants back in the states could learn a thing or two about portion control from places in Japan like Amalfi. This was a five course meal that managed to stay light!

We started out with an amuse-bouche of a warm potato cream soup with a thin savory crisp skewered on top with a side of a house parmesan cream cheese. The potato soup was pleasantly creamy and without any sort of graininess that sometimes happens with potato soup. I was impressed with how they managed to serve it piping hot as I've had amuse-bouches arrive lukewarm by the time they are done plating, and all of ours arrived at once. There was not a large staff by any means, so that meant they worked like lightning!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Tomato Miso Soup (丸ごとトマトの味噌汁)

I bring you a break from my Japan adventures to make sure you have a chance to make this soup while tomatoes are in season!

Before we get to the recipe, I wanted to share a funny tidbit about food blogging in general that I really think applies to this recipe. I'm no bullshit. I really don't have the time or energy to pretend life is perfect. I've written about how disastrous I am in the kitchen, and just last week shared how I can't even eat spaghetti or salad without ruining a blouse.

As I've said before, this is isn't one of the more ambitious food blogs, but I'd like to think it's one of the real ones.

I wear an apron not for the fetishized Stepford wife effect, but because I'm really just fucking messy.

So when I set about making this recipe, I was able to make it with my mother's huge bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes. The problem with most heirloom varieties is they are very photo-ready. They tend to crack, have splotchy color, and seem to never be a uniform shape. Not exactly blog-worthy visually, but definitely delicious! But food blogging is about pretty photos. Really, no one cares about what I write up here; we eat with our eyes first. There's a reason Pinterest is popular: we are visual creatures. You can't take my word for it that the ugliest tomato ever is actually delicious. It's gotta look the part.

Some of the wonderful crazy colors!
Therefore I was faced with a choice: make the recipe with grocery store Stepford wife tomatoes, or not-so-pretty heirloom tomatoes? I could even make it with the perfect umblemished grocery store ones for just the photos, then eat the ones from the garden. But that just seemed to venture too far away from my style.

Instead I hosted a casting call of all the ripe heirloom tomatoes from my mother's garden and chose the prettiest ones for my photos! Is it perfectly round? Nope, but it tasted perfect. You'll just have to take my word on it.