Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gourmet Ingredients, Updated

Here's one for my gourmet ingredients list that's actually important:

Decent quality olive oil.

A while back I ran across a sale at Sapporo Seikyou for olive oil. It was amazingly cheap -- a liter for something like 700 yen. That saying "If something sounds too good to be true... it probably is" -- there ya go. The stuff was very low quality. I suspect it was "watered down" with canola or another oil, because the olive oil flavor was really weak and the color was off. And it went bad in weeks.

I was surprised because that store is generally a really good store. I think they were had. The oil was labeled as being from Turkey. I've gotten lots of Turkish imports in Japan now, and this one was the first real loser, though. The pasta is just fine. (Yes, you heard me, Turkish pasta.) Generally I get imported Italian pasta because it is, ironically, cheaper than the domestically produced stuff or is a type that you can't find domestically (like, say lasagne). Oh yeah, that reminds me, I should put up the okara lasagne recipe, just to melt brains.

More recently I picked up a liter for about 900 yen at CostCo that was very good quality.

I like to make this one dish that's a weird Japanese fusion dish and it's absolutely ESSENTIAL to use olive oil to get the sauce right. It's really simple. Cook soba (buckwheat noodles) in the normal fashion, then in a frying pan put in olive oil and heat gently, then add fresh cream to it (I use a low fat whipping cream, strangely enough -- not that spray stuff, real cream, btw). Just get the sauce hot, then add a TINY amount of salt and some salmon flakes. Pour sauce over cooled soba, add edamame for extra protein and taste, serve to four year old who gobbles it up.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Crazy Poinkins (er...pumpkins...)

For some goofy reason, I like to say "poinkin" instead of pumpkin, but in any case, it's still what it is.

After apple pie, once I moved to Asia I missed the cherished pumpkin pie. I also didn't realize for a while that I was seeing "pumpkins" at the market in China and Japan.

What I was seeing is now known as "kabocha squash" in the U.S. -- or, as even the locals translate, Japanese pumpkins.

They're squat, green things that the Japanese got from Portuguese traders via Cambodia... or, as the Cambodians say, Kamputcha, hence the name "kabocha," a mispronunciation of Cambodia (just as much as our name is also a mispronunciation).

They're VERY close cousins to the buttercup squash... which incidentally is similar in flavor to pie pumpkin and butternut squash. After I ate some fresh steamed kabocha, I realized... this is pumpkin... and maybe I can get a pie out of it.

I don't need to put a recipe up, because the best recipe I've found is here:


I tweaked the recipe a bit, cutting down the sugar because a LOT of the time, like a lot of Japanese fruits and veggies, kabocha are amazingly sweet. (The apples here, even the "crummy looking" ones that I use for pie, are amazingly sweet, and I put less than a quarter cup of sugar in each of my apple pies.)

I don't have condensed milk and powdered milk is still stupidly expensive here. (That's changing quickly, though, I periodically see it on sale for a tolerable price -- the benefit of the appearance of the bread making machine here!) So I just use 2% or better milk here. (Yes, Japanese milk has the milkfat percentages listed on it, making my life easier.)

Note this recipe does not contain mace. I am not a big fan of mace (neither the spice nor the big spiky-ball weapons). So that's fine with me.

THIS time of year, kabocha pop up in the supermarket remarkably cheap. Unlike jack-o-lantern pumpkins, with their thin shells and tons of seeds, kabocha and pie pumpkins are thick so there's plenty of "meaty" parts to eat and not many seeds. (The seeds are still tasty.) So I picked up a kabocha for a hundred yen (about $1.20, I think) at the market, about the size I thought would make one pie and maybe have some glop leftover for later.

THEN a friend GAVE me another kabocha, a BIGGER one. I went, "oh my, " and noted it's riper and will likely go bad on my shelf. (Unless I move it to my staircase, which is rapidly going to "ice cold" at this time of year, but then I forget about things I store out there. Last month I found cans of peaches I bought two YEARS ago. Fortunately not past date yet.)

So I carved the first one up and steamed or microwaved a batch for making pumpkin pie, and the rest I'm going to slice and fry.

Yes. You heard me. Fry.

Japanese LOVE to grill and fry pumpkin. It's actually pretty tasty.

A lot of recipes recommend olive oil, but as far as I can tell you can fry kabocha in canola just fine. Olive oil just is a tad tastier (and more expensive)...

The tough part, for me, is if you've got a whole or half pumpkin is slicing the blasted thing up.

Oh, and finally, my four year old son has gone berserk over this stuff. A few weeks ago, a farm donated a bunch of kabocha to his preschool and they had a big "pumpkin lunch" and he went berserk asking for okawari (more! more!). Since then, he's been asking Mommy for pumpkin! pumpkin! and when I brought home the first pumpkin he lit up and then when I was given the second one he really went nuts.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Experimental Cooking: Rice Flour

Recently I went to the farmer's market in the next town over and came home with bags of stuff and tons of veggies. This is the time of year to buy stuff, because it's the end of harvest. So I have these big bags of buckwheat and rice flour and I'm going to fiddle with them.

First off, the buckwheat crepes were weird but tasty. I think the filling I used (chicken and mushrooms in a cream sauce) was a bigger hit than the crepes proper. Weirded out my husband to no end because he's used to sweet crepes.

I'll find the recipe I used and link that site too, it was interesting. It's interesting to read the blog of another American who's moved to someplace else, too -- in this case, France.

You have to be careful with buckwheat, though, because it induces allergies. My kids' doctor told me not to give any to either kid until after they were two or so, which means the baby (who is a little over one now) can't have any yet. The older guy's shown no sign of an allergy, though. He LOVES soba.

Monday, May 21, 2012


I make lots of pies. I make apple, pumpkin, chicken, beef, and "leftovers for the heck of it" pie. I take the old-fashioned idea of pie. Pie is stuff in a crust.  In the U.S., pie is typically fruit (sometimes chicken or beef), which is where my journey began.

After my husband and I had been in China for a while, I began to crave Real Apple Pie. I grew up in a region with lots of apple farms, so things like apple butter, apple cider (American cider is not necessarily alcoholic in American speech, BTW), apple jam, and apple pies were pretty easy to come by. My mom never made pie, we just got it from time to time.

At my very first job (at a grocery store) was a head baker who aspired to do more than run a small grocery store bakery, and he (er, broke the rules and) tweaked recipes. He made the best pies and cakes, especially angel food cakes. I remember he made a special angel food cake for Christmas for my family one year -- my dad loved angel food cake. Anyway, after that I loved the idea of really good pies and cakes, and got spoiled. (My mom's awesome homemade carrot cake doesn't help... I'll get to that recipe later.)

So while in China, I began to crave pie. Pie pie pie. I wanted apple pie. Bad. Finally, I started digging around on the Internet and found several guides, and one REALLY long recipe.

I printed out this really long recipe from someone on the east coast of the U.S. I wish I remembered their name. I just have the recipe now, complete with all their detailed notes. The web page is long gone, although I have the text saved to my computer. I would give them credit if I could.

I call the recipe "Pedantic Apple Pie" because it was written in such loving detail, by someone who was frustrated with what they called "craptastic store-bought pie".

It goes into tremendous detail on how to make pie crust and what kind of apples to use. It also explained how traditional pies don't use that much sugar. This is important. Really important.

While in China, I did not trust buying apples from the local (open, stinky, old-style) market, peeling, and eating them. I trusted Mandarin oranges because their skin is thick. Apples have thin skin, are more likely to get damaged, and accordingly more likely to get you food poisoned. I once in a while bought apples from the actual supermarket and ate them... and sometimes got sick.

So cooking apples seemed like a good idea.

Apples were cheap in China, but they were almost universally Fuji apples (yes, Japanese Fuji apples, raised in China). Fuji apples are good "eatin' apples", as I like to say, because they are very sweet. In Japan proper, Fuji apples are VERY SWEET, like OMG I'm Eating Candy Sweet. (This is why I find it hilarious when Japanese comment that some or other American food is really sweet and sugary.)
Combine the ultra-sweet Asian apples with a recipe that calls for less sugar in the first place, and I end up making pie without much in the sugar department. A typical eight inch pie (yeah, kinda small) ends up taking about three or four apples and less than a quarter cup of sugar. Yes. Like three tablespoons. Maybe. Often less.

Anyway, moving on.

Traditional Pie Crust

This is the real deal as obtained from the "Pedantic Apple Pie" recipe. This stuff is a PAIN IN THE BUTT. It's also worth it. If you're where I am, it's also the only route, because good luck buying a pre-made pie shell from the store. (I have found they sometimes have tart shells, but the flavor is too buttery.)

This crust takes stupid amounts of practice. I am still not great with it. And my pies look like crap. But they taste awesome, so no one I know cares that they look like crap, least of all my three year old.

1 1/2 cups plain white flour

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) shortening* (more on this below)

1/2 teaspoon salt

3-4 tablespoons REALLY COLD WATER (sometimes more or less, see below)

This makes one 12 inch crust, which generally means it works out where I only need one batch to make a top and bottom on one of my little pies. (I have to use tart pans and a small oven, y'know.)


Plain white flour.  Not bread flour. Nothing fancy.

Shortening can be safely substituted with unsalted "cake margarine", as the Japanese call it. Note I said unsalted. Lard is not a good substitute (nor is it healthy). I have never tried butter, but you would need unsalted butter, and frankly butter is too melty and you'd have to work with the crust VERY quickly or in a pretty cold environ. (Shortening is stupidly expensive but the cake margarine is cheap at the local supermarket. It's this stuff: http://yoyomarket.jp/Meiji-Cake-Margarine-%283-x-200g%29-p966.html)

The water needs to be cold. Unless your water comes outta the tap at absolutely ice cold temps like mine does, put a cup of water in the fridge for a while. (I live next to a mountain and get ice cold tap water almost straight from a mountain stream, and can freeze my hand in the middle of August.)  The colder the water, the better, because it lengthens the time you can work with the mess. Cold water makes the crust less sticky and messy. Warm water makes a big mess.

Your goal here is to make the dough workable for as long as possible without the stuff becoming elastic. This stuff is the opposite of bread, where you want to knead it and pull it and all that. You want to do as little as possible with this stuff.

Mix the dry ingredients and then "cut in" the shortening in a big bowl. I use a thick-tined fork for this part. There are fun gadgets that do this faster and easier, but I don't have those. I'm SOL, and a thick tined fork does the job. (Thin forks bend.) You want to make the stuff look like a mess of thick cornmeal or okara (tofu lees, look 'em up).

Then carefully add the water, a tablespoon at a time, getting it all to stick together. Stir as little as possible. You may need more water. I do in winter when I'm running an oil heater and the house is super-dry. I need less in summer when it's super humid.

Once all the stuff is stuck together, you need to roll it out. I use a plastic sheet (to avoid mess) and cover it in flour, and carefully roll the stuff out to about a 1/4 inch thick. Then you roll it up into a big tube. If you've floured it enough, it'll roll up neatly without sticking to itself. Takes a lot of practice, as I said. The original recipe says to roll as little as possible (to avoid that elasticity that kills a flaky crust) and even says to throw out elasticky crusts, but of course I don't throw them out because I'm a cheapskate.

When I make apple pie, I need a top and bottom. For pot pie I also use a top and bottom. (I put leftover chicken stew in pot pie.) For pumpkin pie I only need a bottom.

I often have leftover bits of crust that I use to make what my husband calls "po'boy cookies". That is, I bake the crust in bits with cinnamon sugar on them. Family loves it.

Okay, that's enough for one post. I'll put up more in another post.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Korean Sweet Pancakes (Hoddeok)


I discovered this one a few months back via the grocery store. I live in Japan, and more and more Korean products have been showing up in the grocery store. The latest one was for these sweet pancakes.

It turns out they're called Hoddeok, sweet sugar-filled pancakes that are served as street snacks in Korea. The first time I made them, using the kit (reading directions in Japanese!) it was a mess -- but a DELICIOUS MESS. They taste like cinnamon rolls. After buying a few of the mixes on sale, I decided to hunt down a recipe and make them from scratch.

It's taken a lot of practice -- but my husband and my older son love them. (The younger one isn't old enough for most solids yet.) So I've gotten a lot of practice. Comparing to info on the 'net, mine are smaller and less filled, so they're probably a tad healthier.

The default recipe I found makes the outside with wheat flour, but the mix I'd bought used a bit of what Japanese call "mochi ko", or super-soft rice flour. So I decided to substitute a bit of rice flour, using flour from a bekomochi kit. ("Bekomochi" is Hokkaido-ben, so I don't know what you'd call it elsewhere.) The bekomochi kit's flour is a mix of uruchiko, or normal rice flour, with mochiko. For baked/fried products such as the hoddeok, I think the uruchiko would be fine. In the U.S., just look for rice flour.

The important thing with the rice flour substitution is that it makes the hoddeok a little more soft and chewy, which my husband likes.

Typically, the filling for hoddeok is brown sugar, cinnamon, and crushed nuts of some sort. Korean sweets frequently have nuts. The latter is a problem if I want to give any of this stuff to my older son's friends or some of my husband's English school students -- nut allergies are alarmingly common. (I am glad to say me and my kids only have problems with a few less common foods, like crab and akajiso.) Plus, nuts can be expensive. So often I just chuck them out of the recipe. You can also substitute kinako, or roasted soybean powder, for the nuts, to get a similar flavor -- but some people are allergic to soybeans.

Also, other recipes call for milk in the dough. I dropped this a few times because one of my son's friends is lactose intolerant. I discovered it doesn't seem to change the flavor significantly, and it lowers the calories a bit. (Plus, the idea of sitting a dough out with milk in it kind of gets my goat and makes me think I'm going to accidentally food poison myself or something. Probably just my paranoia talking.) Yeah, you miss a little calcium, but I recommend drinking milk with these anyway. They're like cinnamon rolls.

Anyway, I heavily tweaked this recipe, but it's one I found on another blog. When I get a chance, I'll repost a link to that one.

This is a leavened bread. It requires yeast. If you're not used to dry yeast, it will probably smell bad to you. Don't worry.  After a while, you'll probably be like me and think "ooh, fresh bread!" and get hungry.

Seaweed Teacher's* Hoddeok

Time Required: Minimum 45 minutes, preferably several hours if you can spare it, to let the dough rise.

(*My first name is Kim, one of my favorite foods is nori, or toasted seaweed. Koreans call this "Kim", and when I lived in China, I helped teach Korean kids, and they called me Seaweed Teacher.)


1 cup Wheat flour
1/4 cup super-soft rice flour (Mochiko)
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white sugar
1/4 teaspoon dry yeast
3 tablespoons hot water (100 F/40 C)
6 tablespoons warm (room temp) water OR milk (see my note above)

Filling (give or take, I never measure)
6 tablespoons Brown sugar
2 tablespoons crushed nuts (of any sort, but most people recommend walnut)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder

Part 1: Bread starter

Mix the hot water with the white sugar and the dry yeast in a big bowl. Put them in a warm place. This is to get the yeast started. Give it about ten minutes, and if you see a little puffy brown foam in the bowl, you're good to go. Also, make sure the water isn't much hotter than 40C/100F. You want to encourage the yeast to go, not kill it.

Part 2: Dough

Sift the flours and salt together and add to the starter. If you're in a hurry, you don't have to sift, but it makes the texture a little better and more even. Mix together. This stuff will be SUPER STICKY. I recommend one of those plastic or silicone scrapers or at least a metal spatula. Leave it in the bowl if it's got lots of sticky dough on it, that's what I do. Cover the bowl and put in a warm place -- not a super-hot place!

I have a microwave/oven/toaster that I put the bowl in after running the toaster for about 30 seconds to warm it up. The heat traps inside and it makes a perfect "dough rising" location -- if you don't need the oven for anything else. Sometimes I cover the bowl with a towel and sit it on top of a warm rice cooker.

Let rise for at least 30 minutes. I have made them straight away after mixing the dough, but they don't come out as good. The longer you can let the dough rise, the better. I have heard some people let the dough rise overnight. I figure past a couple of hours you're getting diminishing returns, though, so two hours is probably plenty. That's how long I let my other bread doughs rise.

Part 3: Making this stuff

Remember I said the dough is STICKY? It's epic sticky. It'll be a mess. So let me carefully explain this with the caveat that the first few times you make this stuff, you will make a mess, they'll be a mess, and so forth -- but it'll still be tasty.

Mix the filling stuff in a separate bowl and put a normal table spoon in it.

Get a frying pan. Pour a little bit -- a tablespoon or less -- oil into the pan. Turn the heat on to VERY LOW.

Take the bowl of dough, uncover it, and pour oil over the top of it, covering the dough completely with a fair amount of excess sitting on the top. Now, the fun part -- make sure your hands are thoroughly washed, then reach in the bowl, cover your hands in the oil in the bowl, get some dough, and put it in the palm of your hand. Smooth the dough out into an oval shape in your hand, as thin as possible, and get a spoon full (or less) of the filling, and put it into the middle of the dough. (If you've made gyouza or pierogies, this is very similar.) Close the dough up around the filling, then GENTLY flatten the dough ball in your hand until you've got a nice round pancake-thing with the filling inside. This takes PRACTICE! If you're lucky and you can get one of those big round flatteners they use for stuff like this, go for it. If you have one, just put the ball in the pan and use a flattener to flatten it.

I make, with my little frying pan, three or four little pancakes at a time and put them in the pan, then shoo off the threeyear old, who will instantly start hovering asking for "cake".

Watch them carefully -- I frequently burn my first few -- and whenever the edges of them look solid and not doughy, flip them. You want them golden with a few brown swirls on either side.

One batch makes about eight little cakes, or 4-6 medium sized ones. I prefer them smaller, especially as my son likes them and shouldn't eat too many. The filling is SUGAR-rific and you shouldn't eat more than a few at a time -- although my family, if left to, will eagerly eat a double batch in one sitting.

These make good "treat" breakfasts with a cup of milk, or a nice desert. They travel pretty well (I was surprised) and I have taken them as treats for various things, especially since with tweaking they have no eggs or milk or nuts -- thereby avoiding the worst of my son's friends' allergies.