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.