Most of my visits to Napa are after the dry season begins, so it was a nice change to go when everything is still green.
Most of my visits to Napa are after the dry season begins, so it was a nice change to go when everything is still green.
Sometimes a gift is worth waiting several months for.
Enter the fountain pens by Nakaya.
So why does it take so long to get a pen? That’s what you’re asking right? Even a fountain pen, many people would say “well go to one of those fancy pen and watch shops, they’ll have nice pens”.
What makes it so special, is each pen is handmade to order, and it takes about three to six months to make each pen, depending on the pen type. The craftsmen who make these pens are masters at pen crafting.
This pen is handcrafted from ebonite. Ebonite is a type of resin produced by rubber and sulfur, and is very durable. Then the pen is finished with Urushi lacquer, and gives the pen it’s beautiful color and finish.
Here are some pictures of opening the pen.
Inside the box the pen itself is stored in a pen kimono. The pen can be used with a converter, or a cartridge.
When I have to go into the office I’m usually scrambling to make it to the bus on time, so breakfast either goes to the wayside or I raid the snack drawer at work. However, when I work from home I make sure to use the time I would be commuting to eat breakfast, do some reading, and well…sleep in a little.
When I prepare breakfast, I never have a set idea in my mind. I raid my refrigerator and pantry to see what I have on hand. I think about what would be quick, but a little indulgent. This morning my choice was easy, tacos.
Breakfast tacos are incredibly quick, easy, and delicious. They allow you to use up whatever you may have on hand. In my fridge I almost always have eggs, and I always have a wide assortment of pickles, condiments, and garnishes. Any one of these items would make for a good taco, but all of them is better. These took less than ten minutes to make!
Here I made two tacos with the ingredients listed below.
2 small flour tortillas
1 green onion
Pickled red onions from Mission Chinese Food Cookbook
Cucumber pickles from Ready or Not! nom nom paleo
Pickled mustard seeds from Momofuku
Kimchi (personal recipe)
Pickled Thai chili (mince some Thai chili, then in a small container add vinegar and salt)
1. Scramble the eggs to your preference.
2. Heat the tortillas. I use an empty skillet
3. Divide the eggs between the two tortillas.
4. Top each taco with the remaining ingredients. I put the red onions and green onions in both. Then put the kimchi and Thai chili in one taco, and the cucumber and mustard seeds in the other. Finally I drizzled a little sesame oil on the taco with the kimchi.
I have had little motivation to cook this summer. When I cook, I want to prepare the simplest of meals. To tell the truth I’ve been stocking the pantry with canned tuna and crackers so I can avoid cooking.
The August issue of Kyou no Ryouri Beginners had a recipe for one of my favorite dishes, hiyashi chūka. Hiyashi chūka is a popular noodle dish in Japan consisting of ramen noodles, a cold noodle sauce, and various toppings. You can buy chūka ramen at asian markets with pre-made sauce packets. However, its pretty easy to make your own sauce.
Fresh ramen noodles are used in this dish. However you can use a wonton or egg noodle to replace. The toppings are also interchangeable. For example, I have a large container of pickled green tomatoes so I added them as one of my toppings. The following recipe is inspired by the August 2017 issue of Kyou no Ryouri Beginners.
1 bundle of ramen noodles (fresh)
3/4 teaspoon potato (or corn) starch
3/4 teaspoon water
2 slices deli ham
1/4 English cucumber
1/4 pickled green tomato
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Japanese mustard (karashi)
Shichimi togarashi (seven spice spice mix)
I don’t eat fried rice all that often. At restaurants, if fried rice is on the menu, I usually skip it and order something else. Its not that I dislike fried rice. Actually, I’m a pretty big fan. However, fried rice tends to be a little boring at most restaurants. Or too greasy.
I do love making fried rice at home. Its easy to make, and its an easy way to use up ingredients in your fridge before they turn. Most recipes will note about using leftover rice, because the texture holds up well in the frying process. I actually like using multi grain rice, because the rice is heartier and holds up even when fresh.
My fried rice recipe changes whenever I make it, but I was especially happy with this outcome.
Ssamjang is a korean paste made of korean chile paste, korean fermented bean paste, and other ingredients. You can buy pre-made, or make your own. For the ease of this recipe, I used the pre-made type.
Kimchi Fried Rice
1-2 servings (depends how hungry you are)
2 oz pork belly (you can sub with bacon), cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup kimchi, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 shallot, sliced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 thai chile, minced
1 cup wild grain mixed rice, cooked
1 teaspoon ssamjang
1 cup bean sprouts
1 stalk green onion, minced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
red chile threads
In regards to new year’s resolutions, I am not much of a resolution-type of person. However, I try to be the type to continually improve. It doesn’t always work. But sometimes I can develop a new good habit that I stick with.
Every few months I try to re-organize my pantry. When I was a kid, I lived in a household where we had a large pantry, filled with a large variety of food. So when I moved out, I picked up the same habit to always keep a well-stocked pantry. I’m also the type that when I go to a gourmet market, to pick up more products than I can use at one time. So the pantry gets even more full, and becomes more difficult to keep organized.
So for my “resolution”, I told myself that this year I would limit the amount of purchases which bulk up the pantry, except to those that I continually use. It hasn’t been perfect, and things are still disorganized. However, I have noticed that the grocery bill has been going down, any my amount of food waste has gone down. What I’ve discovered, is that its way easier to meal plan when I have a pantry containing less variety, and more consistency. To where I don’t have the random odd ingredient that is only used maybe one time a year.
When looking for recipes to cook, I’ve been looking for those that are easy to reproduce, focus more on fresh produce, and where I can use some of the random ingredients in my pantry. So when I was going through the latest issue of Kyou no Ryouri, I was excited to find a few recipes which fit my criteria above.
When I saw a recipe for yakisoba in the most recent issue of Kyou no Ryouri, I definitely had to try it. Yakisoba is one of my favorite foods. Fried noodles with vegetables, pork, and a tangy sauce; topped with aonori (finely flaked seaweed) and katsuobushi (shaved bonito flakes). My favorite way to buy yakisoba in Japan is either from a food truck or food stand. Usually served in a small plastic container, it’s the perfect snack.
Since January’s issue of KnR had a focus on substituting to make recipes healthier, the yakisoba recipe traded the wheat noodles with shirataki noodles. Shirataki noodles have been gaining exposure here in the U.S. as a gluten free health food, but has been a mainstay in Japanese cuisine. Made of konnyaku (a type of yam), shirataki noodles are also low in calories (in fact, most nutritional labels indicate they have zero calories). Plus, the pre-cooked shirataki noodles are a lot easier to use than wheat noodles. So you can have slightly less guilt if you’re trying to eat healthier, and you can spend less time cooking too!
I have altered this recipe from how it was originally printed in the magazine. However, if you do want the original recipe, you can find it in the January 2017 KnR issue or on their website. Balsamic vinegar is not typically used, but I liked the balance it gave to the sauce.
14 ounces shirataki noodles
1 cup thinly shredded cabbage
2 cups bean sprouts
½ cup onion, thinly sliced
2 ounces sliced pork belly (you can use bacon as a substitute), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
½ tablespoon sake
½ tablespoon soy sauce
½ tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
½ teaspoon grated ginger
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
Beni shoga ginger
Aonori (if you can’t find aonori, you can buy nori and crumble into fine pieces)
Dried bonito flakes
Japanese mayonnaise (optional)
When I grab my container of cabbage kimchi out of the fridge, and serve myself a little out of the container, I get excited when I take a bite of the kimchi and realize it’s a bit too sour to eat on its own. The reason I get excited, is because I’ve caught the kimchi at a point past its “eating as a side” peak, but before the kimchi becomes a soft, spoiled, mess. When kimchi reaches the sour but not spoiled point, it’s perfect for one of my favorite Korean dishes, kimchi soup.
One of the few things I learned while growing up, is that kimchi soup must, must be made from sour kimchi. Why? When the kimchi hasn’t reached the sourness it needs, kimchi soup is bland. The best way to compare, would be with an incredibly bland chicken noodle soup. We’ve all had chicken noodle soup where you are left unsatisfied. You’re not quite sure why, but there’s a disappointment in the calories you’ve just consumed (and remember kids, when you get older, those calories count!).
No matter how many ingredients you put in, unless your kimchi is sour, the ingredients are not going to make your soup much better. On the other hand, when you have a kimchi that has reached perfect sourness, the number of ingredients you need is minimal to make a satisfying soup. In fact, most of the time I just scrounge up what I have in my kitchen to make kimchi soup. My recipes are never exactly the same, nor the ingredients that I use.
How can you tell if your kimchi is just right for kimchi soup? Take a bite of kimchi. Is there still a little crisp in the kimchi, and has a sharp sourness? That’s what you’re going for. If your kimchi is soft and mushy, there’s slime or mold, don’t even taste it, just throw it out. Some grocery stores will sell “old fermented” kimchi. That will tend to work too. Cabbage kimchi is used for the kimchi soup; radish or turnip kimchi just gets mushy in the soup.
Here’s what I used for my kimchi soup I ate today; just ingredients I already had at hand in my kitchen (yes, seriously, these are ingredients I had at hand). In general, when I’m making kimchi soup, I use ingredients that are quick to cook. Also, the ingredients I have either pair well with kimchi or have neutral flavors.
I like to garnish with Korean Chile pepper threads. Serve with a side of rice.
Quick and simple kimchi soup
1 tsp vegetable oil
2 oz pork belly, cut into thin 1-inch slices
¼ cup onion (yellow, white, or red works; I used red this time), sliced
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 thai chile (red if possible), minced
1 tsp gochujang (Korean chile paste)
1 tsp gochugaru (Korean chile flakes)
2 cups of sour cabbage kimchi with its liquid
1 cup chicken stock
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp fish sauce
4 oz firm tofu, in ½ inch slices
1 cup bean sprouts
1 green onion, thinly sliced
Korean chile pepper threads
Last week, I started talking about how much I love to have a wide variety of dishes to eat, when drinking. But sometimes the amount of cooking required is cumbersome. Sometimes, I’m not looking for a full meal, but instead am wanting to have a small snack to go with whatever it may be I’m drinking.
Today I’m going to introduce another easy recipe, a spicy bean sprout salad. The fresh thai chile adds a nice heat to the bean sprouts. You can make this dish as a small salad to eat alone with a cocktail, or as a side dish to a larger meal. I personally love to pair vinegary side salad dishes with heavier, oily fried foods as a nice complement.
When you buy bean sprouts, keep in mind they are extremely perishable. However, this salad is not extremely perishable. Use the bean sprouts the day you buy them. The salad will keep in your refrigerator a few days and still taste delicious.
Spicy Bean Sprout Salad
Adapted from Kyou no Ryouri, August 2016 issue
2 small servings, or as a side to a larger meal
1/2 pound bean sprouts (mung or soy)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar (unsweetened rice vinegar)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 thai chili
Fill a pot of water and place on the stove on high heat. Bring the water to a boil. Add one tablespoon of vinegar, and the bean sprouts. Cook the bean sprouts for a couple of minutes. The bean sprouts should be slightly cooked, but still have texture in them. When they are fully cooked, drain the bean sprouts. Put the bean sprouts into a cold water bath to stop the cooking, then drain again, using a colander. Allow the bean sprouts to drain the excess water.
In a bowl, combine the other tablespoon of vinegar, sugar, and soy sauce. Mix until the sugar has dissolved.
With the thai chili, cut off the stem. Remove the seeds if you want, then cut crosswise into very thin slices. Add as much of the thai chili as you want to the mixture in the bowl. Alternatively, you can use a milder chili pepper if you do not like the heat from the thai chili.
Once the bean sprouts are drained, and you have mixed the vinegar dressing, add the bean sprouts into the bowl and toss to combine. Mound the salad into small serving bowls and serve.
I always like to have something to snack on when I drink. In fact, I’m not a big fan of going out to drink, unless there is something to snack on. The primary reasons are 1.) if I don’t have food to shove in my face, it means I have to talk more (I’m a pretty quiet person and am not good at small talk); and 2.) if I don’t have food to pace the drinking and have something in my stomach, the alcohol affects me at lightning speed. But honestly, I don’t like snacking on most of the options available at bars or happy hours; and in almost every case, I’m not able to eat the majority of items on a bar menu due to my casein food allergy.
My ideal drinking scenario involves lots of different types of drinks, and an even larger assortment of things to snack on. I love being able to pick out four, five, six, seven dishes to eat while drinking. The smaller the dish, the better. Because it means I get to eat more. But the majority of restaurants/bars which focus on “small plates” that I’ve come across in the U.S. are overpriced, overcomplicated, fail in execution, and are made to go with the wine flight the restaurant is trying to shove onto you. Thats not drinking to me.
Okay, I do sound a bit like a curmudgeon. In truth, I still have fun no matter the drinking situation I am in. Especially going out and spending time with friends. But recently on nights where its just the two of us, we’ve been spending them at home. So I’ve been exploring the world of drinking snacks at home. On a plus, we get to make whatever we want; on the minus, cooking = having to clean up. To minimize on the time spent on cooking, and the amount of cleanup, I’ve been looking for recipes to make that are simple.
August 2016 of Kyou no Ryouri (KnR) was a great resource to find some tasty looking dishes. The main feature within this issue was a focus on different summer dishes from different regions in Japan. Featuring summery ingredients, or dishes that are nice and refreshing, the feature had a mix of main and side dishes.
Out of this issue, I chose a dish called “hitomoji no guruguru”. Hitomoji is a term used in the Kumamoto prefecture on Kyushu, referring to a type of green onion. Guruguru means going around in circles; in this case, being wrapped around. So “wrapped green onions”. According to rumor, this dish was created in the late 1700s-ish at request of the 6th Hosokawa Lord of Kumamoto. He was looking for a dish a tasty dish that would go with sake, and that was cheap to make. The result, are green onions that are briefly blanched which are wrapped up. Typically eaten with a vinegary miso sauce (sumiso). This dish continues to be consumed today.
Hitomoji no Guruguru
Adapted from Kyou no Ryouri, August 2016 issue
1 bunch green onions (around 8)
1 Tb miso paste
1 Tb rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp water
With the bunch of green onions, cut off the bottom root area, and chop off the very top of the green onions to get rid of any brown and dried out green part on the top. To prevent the white stalk of green onions from bursting in the boiling water, run your knife lengthwise in the white stalk of the onion, not cutting all the way through, or to the end of the onion. This allows the green onion to expand in the water, but not burst the white part. Then, bundle the green onions together with a piece of butcher’s twine.
Fill a pot large enough to fit the green onions, and fill with water. Place on the stove and bring to a boil.
While waiting for the water to boil, you can prepare the vinegary miso sauce. In a bowl, combine the miso paste and water. This allows the miso paste to thin out, and easier to incorporate the other ingredients. Then add to the miso-water mixture the vinegar and sugar. Stir to combine. Pour into a small dish for dipping.
When the water is boiling, it’s ready to blanch the green onions. Using a pair of tongs, place the bundle, white side down into the pot. Holding with the tongs, cook the white part for about 45 seconds. Then submerge the green part of the green onion, and cook until the green part is wilted. You’ll be blanching for no more than about a minute and a half. Once the green onions are cooked, place them into a mixing bowl filled with ice water to stop the cooking. After the green onions are cold, take them out of the water and let drain, or pat dry with paper towels. Be really careful with the green onions once they are cooked, they are pretty delicate.
Now for the wrapping part! Its a little tricky, so don’t be surprised if you mess up the first few times. You might have another technique, but the photos show what worked for me.
Lay out your green onion, and bend half of the green part over the white stem, while the other half hangs out on the other side. Use the green stalk piece in the back and wrap around the white stalk and green part of the onion. Once you use the first green stalk, (see photo 3), then use the larger green part to finish wrapping around. The bottom photo is how mine ended up.
Continue with the rest of the green onions.
Place the bundles on a small serving dish, with the vinegary miso sauce.
Don’t forget something to accompany the snack!
August is really a great time of year. Not necessarily the weather; I hate hot weather! But I have to have an appreciation for the heat, as many of my favorite foods are currently in season. So many of my favorite fruits and vegetables are in their peak season right now. Tomatoes in particular are one of my favorite things to eat.
When I was a kid, my Dad and I would go to the local vegetable stand and buy giant boxes full of tomatoes. Our dinners some nights would be sliced tomatoes with salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar. My Grandmother couldn’t eat anything with vinegar due to her sensitive teeth. So instead she would cut tomatoes in thin slices and season with salt, pepper, and some sliced onion. She didn’t really eat tomatoes other ways, and she refused to eat tomatoes with mayonnaise. She told me a story about how when she was a kid, she took a giant jar of mayonnaise to her parents tomato garden and just started eating tomatoes with mayonnaise. She ended up getting so sick that it turned her off to mixing tomatoes and mayonnaise forever. When she told me that story, I remember getting a plate full of sliced tomatoes and dumping mayonnaise on them; immediately becoming hooked! Now I’m drooling just thinking about a giant mixing bowl full of tomatoes! I’m pretty tomato obsessed. Can’t you tell?
But enough about tomatoes, I want to get to talking about the latest issue of KnR Beginners. Remember how I had said that I haven’t been all that impressed this year? It seems like KnR and KnR Beginners are finally hitting their stride this year. Maybe it’s because many vegetables are going into season in Japan as well; so the focus of topics for August matches my interests. I also have fortunately been able to make more time for myself as well, so I can finally take the time to peruse in depth in the issues. My goal someday is to be able to read a whole entire issue. Maybe in another few years!
For those of you who are studying Japanese, I cannot suggest getting a subscription to a magazine enough. Its a huge learning curve, but your reading skills will shoot through the roof quickly. Also, if you find a topic you really like, then you’ll be inspired to read the material. For me, I love cooking. So not only am I learning about food/cooking, but I’m also practicing my Japanese.
For August, the main focus was on dishes featuring ginger. Even though ginger is available throughout the year, August tends to be the peak time for ginger. Some specialty asian grocery stores will have young ginger. If you’re lucky to have a grocery store with multiple varieties, purchase each variety so you can see the subtle differences in ginger. Additionally, if you can, try to find baby ginger, which is a bit more mellow in taste.
When I wanted to find something to cook, there were so many recipes that interested me in this issue. The one I chose was a bit unique, and featured a fun way to use ginger. I am not a big frittata fan, but when I saw the recipe with ginger and bitter melon, I had get the ingredients and try it.
Bitter melon (or gourd) is pretty popular in Asia. In Japan; particularly in Okinawa, bitter melon is commonly used in cooking. Its considered a health food, and supposedly contributes to the long health of people who live in Okinawa. If you ever get the opportunity to visit Okinawa, definitely seek it out and try it! But be prepared for an intense bitterness.
I first learned of bitter melon years ago, but was always afraid because of the fear of how bitter it was. I love bitter foods, the exception being IPA. I actually really hate IPA because of the bitterness. So I was definitely intimidated by what I’ve heard from others about bitter melon. I think I first tried it earlier this year by taking the plunge and buying some to put in a stir fry. I can’t lie, it is INCREDIBLY bitter. But I found myself more and more addicted to the bitter taste, especially accompanied by really salty food. Now my mouth waters when I think about bitter melon. I have strange food addictions!
My local asian market has two varieties of bitter melon. One variety somewhat resembles a really wrinkly squash. Then there is what they call Indian bitter melon. Which are 4-6 inches long and are very knobby and jagged. I believe the Indian bitter melon is similar to the Japanese variety, but a bit shorter.
if you find bitter melon, make sure you use it quickly. It begins to soften and go bad very quickly. So if possible, use within one to two days after buying. In regards to ginger, try to find ginger that does not look dried out. It should feel somewhat heavy. Ginger will last for a couple weeks, but starts drying out and becomes more fibrous.
In the recipe, it calls for “pizza cheese”. I used Daiya shredded mozzarella because I am allergic to milk products. You could probably use cheddar, or any salty melting cheese.
Ok, I did say that bitter melon is really good for you. I’m sure the cheese and eggs and whatever else probably negates the healthfulness of bitter melon, but the flavor is really what I’m going for here. I’m not a health food blog haha.
Ginger and Bitter Melon Frittata
Adapted from Kyou no Ryouri Beginners, August 2016 issue
1- 2in piece of ginger
2 bitter melons; each about 5-6 inches long
1/4 cup cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup shredded melting cheese
With the ginger, peel the skin using a spoon or knife. Everyone swears by the spoon method; I end up always hurting myself with a spoon. Okay…that sounds pretty pathetic. Anyway, once you’ve peeled the ginger, slice the piece of ginger lengthwise (with the grain), into paper thin slices.
With the bitter melon, first slice each melon into half, lengthwise. When you cut lengthwise, the first thing you’re going to see is the core and seeds. This part you’ll remove by scooping out with a spoon. Be careful, apparently in my world spoons are dangerous! Once you’ve cleaned out the insides of the bitter melon, then cut lengthwise into thin slices (little less than 1/4 inch, you want them pretty thin).
When you are done with the bitter melon and ginger, combine into a small bowl. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of salt over them and massage the with your hands for a few seconds. Why are we salting the bitter melon and ginger? Remember how I said that bitter melon is incredibly well…bitter? letting the bitter melon sit for a while with the salt will release some of the water trapped in the melon, and also reduce the bitterness. For the ginger, the salt helps soften the ginger slightly so its easier to cook. Let this mixture sit for 10 minutes, at least. When the bitter melon/ginger combo have sit for 10 min, there will be some liquid in your bowl. drain the liquid out and squeeze out excess by placing the bitter melon and ginger into a paper towel and squeezing. Pick out a few pieces of the ginger and set aside separately from the rest of the bitter melon and ginger.
While you’re waiting on the bitter melon and ginger, slice your tomatoes lengthwise and sit aside. Then in another bowl, crack the eggs into the bowl. Beat the eggs just enough to combine the yolk and white. Add a couple pinches of salt, and the cheese.
I used an 8-inch round nonstick skillet to make my frittata. You’re also going to need a plate, larger than the skillet to help flip the frittata. Place the skillet on the stove and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Heat the skillet on medium heat. Once its hot, make sure the oil has coated not only the bottom, but the sides of the pan. Add a little more olive oil if you need to.
Add the bitter melon and ginger; with exception to the few pieces you set aside earlier, into the pan, and sauté. Sauté for a few minutes, until the bitter melon has cooked through. The bitter melon will still be chewy-ish, but not crunchy. Pour in the egg mixture evenly throughout the skillet. Your cheese will probably end up in a mound in the center, so use a spoon or chopsticks to even out the cheese. Then top with the tomatoes and rest of the ginger.
When everything is in the skillet, lower the heat to medium low, and cover the pan. We don’t want the bottom to burn. While it will take 10 min or so for the eggs to cook, keep an eye out every few minutes to see how the frittata is cooking. When you see the top has almost completely cooked, its ready to flip. That’s right! Its time to use that plate I told you to get a while ago. You will also need an oven mitt to prevent burning yourself. Take the plate and flip it over, put the top of the plate over the top of the skillet. Then lift the skillet, and very quickly, flip over the skillet. The frittata will dump onto the plate. Yeah, it will be a bit runny on the plate, that’s fine. Put the skillet back on the stove and add 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. Then slide the frittata back into the skillet, with the raw-ish side down. Turn your heat up back to medium, and cook for a few more minutes, then checking to see if the other side is done by lifting using a spatula. You don’t want to overcook, so take off the heat when you can lift the frittata and there is no more runny egg.
Take out of the skillet, and serve immediately.