Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sushi, Kaiseki, Tiny Fish and Nato: More Japanese Food Adventures

The desserts were not the only interesting and delicious foods we found in Japan. Everything was delicious (just about), fresh, colorful and beautiful. You could even find really good meals for under $10 in train stations and on the the streets. The best part is that all of the offerings were displayed with realistic food models in the windows of restaurants.

Osaka is known for its food, especially street food. This was the first place I have ever had octopus...and I LIKED IT!! Takoyaki and cold green tea was the first meal we had in Japan. It was about 10:30pm by the time we got settled in our hotel and ventured out to find street food and take in some of the sights of young, vibrant Osaka. I have to say, I was worried about eating street food, especially of the seafood nature. After seeing the street vendors in Osaka however, I realized there was nothing to worry about. Everything was served hot, fresh and clean. Takoyaki are little pancakes filled with tender octopus and a salty bbq-like sauce. They were delicious and the cold green tea was refreshing and provided a much needed caffeine boost after the long journey across the world.

After the Takoyaki we were led on an adventure to an upstairs restaurant serving raw foods that you cooked yourself. We chose from a wide array of foods on sticks that we then breaded with panko and DEEP FRIED at our tables. It was soooo good, not so healthy, but tasted good after that 16 hours of travel.

Another food we ate in Osaka was Okonomiyaki, which is essentially a giant pancake cooked at the table with lotsa seafood and veggies in it. Okonomiyaki are sometimes drizzled with a mayo based sauce - The Japanese LOVE mayo. This salty, doughy, fried treat is eaten communally and scooped up with flat mouth is actually watering as I talk about this treat. Okonomiyaki is sometimes hard to find in the US, but they do have it in some NY restaurants and I think Korea town in Annandale, VA has some version of it. I bet they have it on the West Coast too...mmmm.

On to Kyoto... While Osaka food is pretty much on the junk food spectrum, the food in Kyoto is fresh, light and perfectly composed. In Kyoto I was introduced the Japanese art of Kaiseki. Kaiseki is the fancy food of Japan that is served in upscale restaurants and in full service Ryokan (traditional upscale hotels). We ate Kaiseki in a Ryokan. It was served in the room, in courses, as we sat on the floor. Each dish was seasonal and had each element perfectly placed. Each combination told a story about flavors and the season. It was amazing. Fresh sushi, soups, vegetables and even a seasonal river fished cooked to look like it was still swimming!!

Another interesting food phenomenon in Japan is the breakfast. It can actually be really good. Breakfast is vastly different than the fat and carb filled glory we think of as American breakfast. The Japanese morning meal is usually composed of salmon, rice, miso soup and tea. I loved this, it actually keeps you going throughout the day without that sugar high and low from eating things like donuts and bacon first thing in the morning. I posted pics of both the "Japanese version of McDonald's" breakfast and the traditional Japanese breakfast at the Ryokan.

Speaking of traditional...there were some not so appetizing components of breakfast that were a little harder on the American palate...Nato and tiny fish. Nato is a fermented bean thing, it looks like cooked down beans in cow mucus :) Rhonda ate this the first morning, and liked it, much to Erica's disbelief. This "treat" is apparently even a tough one for Japanese natives to stomach.

The tiny fish thing is probably a gourmet seasonal delicacy (it was, after all, part of the Ryokan breakfast). BUT...seeing salmon and soup for breakfast is culture shock enough, but a spoon full of crunchy tiny fishes with eyes first thing in the morning was not as much fun. I did not try either Nato or tiny fish, but did appreciate the salmon and miso soup. My favorite staple foods from the Japanese trip was soba and tempura...but that probably deserves its own post.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Grotesquely Satisfying Desserts" (GSD's)

Grotesquely Satisfying Desserts (GSD's) was a phrase coined on a recent trip to Japan. I went with two dear friends from college to explore some of the famous cities and sites of Japan. Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo boasted many interesting people, places and foods. I wasn't too surprised by the Japanese love of cutesy sweets. I was surprised, however, by the sheer amount of lovely little places serving gigantic, over the top desserts. Because we walked many miles a day, we required such "snacks" often. I believe my friend Rhonda came up with "GSD" as an accurate description of the "more means more" scale of these treats.

My friend Erica, a first generation Japanese American was quick to note that these desserts/dessert parlors are a very feminine, girlie thing, and men are not so quick to eat sweets in this way. So, of course this idea of "girlie" sparked my curiosity even more. We also observed that there was a particular penchant for anything French in Japan, so there were even lots of creperies that served crepes with fillings such as fruit, ice cream - and naturally- fillings like whole pieces of cheesecake!
Since I am a type 1 Diabetic (the autoimmune kind), my love of baking, and preoccupation with the look and idea of wonderful desserts seems oh, so incredibly ironic. Although, we CAN eat sugar, it can be painfully complicated as to when, how much, and which desserts can be enjoyed. I was lucky to be able to partake in many GSD's because we walked a ridiculous amount and I found my average blood sugar to be about 60 during this trip!! So GSD's it was...afterall I needed them to survive..right?!

I also noticed that some of the desserts were not quite as sweet as some of the stuff you might find in, say...the American Midwest. Many Japanese treats were subtly sweet and made of unconventional ingredients, like a cold, sweet pea soup with rice balls. I loved getting giant pieces of "cake" at convenience stores that were half the sugar of many American treats. Then again, some of the Japanese desserts were pretty much a hi-test conglomeration of simple sugars. Look at the ice cream sundae under the title, yes people, that is a piece of cake ON TOP of a sundae... pure genius (and there were cornflakes at the bottom of the glass -- Rhonda's favorite).

I think my favorite, although it was hard to choose, was a treat in a fancy dessert parlour in the Ginza section of Tokyo (think Upper East Side, NY). It was made with green tea ice cream, shaved ice with green tea syrup, green tea rice balls, and sweet red beans. Those of you who know me realize that I do not miss a chance to have green tea flavored things. The awesome part of this dessert was that it came with a little drink that was made of hot water and a cherry blossom...It actually tasted like cherries. This drink was one of the most subtle and delicious things I have ever had, I really felt like royalty. I will be sure to post more on Japan.

Flowers and Bumble Bees

Consistent with my love of pretty things is my love of flowers. I never miss an opportunity to arrange and display flowers. Vintage jars and milk bottles are favorite vase choices. My husband recently brought me flowers and I decided to immortalize the occasion by taking pictures :) I hope to post a lot more of my past and present flower arrangements soon.

I also decided to make more cookies to welcome spring. Myself and my husband brought them to friends and colleagues who were delighted. This was one of my favorite batches of decorated cookies to date. It included flowers, butterflies and bumble bees. The bee hives were especially good and were iced with a honey glaze made of pure honey, powdered sugar and softened butter.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Easter Celebration

As promised, back to garlands. The garland thing came about when I was shopping in a store called the "the Paper Source" - it is one of my favorite stores. It was fall and I knew that we were hosting Thanksgiving again this year. I wanted to decorate the apartment in a festive way and so I bought some pre-cut paper fall leaves. I decided to drape the leaves across the room in a garland - thus the garland was born. At Christmas it held Christmas cards, and well, you saw the Valentine's garland. So, naturally an Easter garland should follow. The bunny and egg shapes I bought pre-cut and I just covered them with pretty paper!

Back to some of the food that was prepared on Easter, beyond the traditional roast and veggies, we had a great quiche that I made up on the spot. We were running late and had a vegetarian and kids to feed so I wanted to make a quiche that wouldn't take too long and wouldn't have complex flavoring. Broccoli Cheddar it was. It was so easy and tasty that I made another one that night for breakfast/lunch the next week (of course the whole thing was gone in 5 minutes at Easter brunch). It is even slightly lower fat than usual with the cholesterol free egg substitute. I am planning to try it with half and half or milk soon, but the cooking time will probably be longer.

Broccoli and Cheddar Brunch Quiche

1 1/2 cups good quality frozen broccoli
3/4 cup non-flavored cholesterol free egg substitute
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp dried dill
1 tsp dried thyme
a pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

1 pie shell

First heat the broccoli in the microwave until cooked through, chop into medium pieces, leaving some of the smaller florets intact, and drain as much of the liquid as possible. Let the broccoli cool. Add the egg substitute, cheese and cream to a bowl and combine. Add the herbs and spices and combine. Pour the egg mixture into a pie shell - if you don't make your own, be sure to use one without sugar. I prefer "Trader Joe's" brand because it is all natural, no sugar and it comes in a sheet, so that I can use my own pie dish. Once the egg mixture is poured into the shell disperse the cooled broccoli into the mixture. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then at 350 for about 30 minutes until set. Just tap the center and make sure it is firm, but not too hard. That's it!!

Eastertime Treats

Through the ages, Hot Cross Buns have become a traditional Good Friday food. I have never made these before, but since we had some family coming in from Holy Thursday night to Easter Sunday, I thought I would take the opportunity to prepare these. I used a recipe from one of my favorite books "Whole Grain Baking" by King Arthur Flour. These buns were made with all natural ingredients and whole wheat flour. I added a mixture of raisins, dried cherries and dried blueberries and used Grand Marnier instead of Rum to soak the fruit in. They were outstandingly delicious!! Some of us may have eaten 2-3 at a time. The texture came out quite well, especially for my first shot at a yeast roll. Can't wait to make these again.

The observance of Easter did not end there. Easter Sunday brought a variety of sweet and savory goodies including a broccoli cheddar quiche, traditional pork roast and trimmings as well as cupcakes and...cookies!! My nephews helped to make and decorate some of the cookies. The cupcakes were a big hit as well, frosted with homemade vanilla buttercream.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Irish Cows are Smiling??

Irish cows smiling and a green cow cookies may have you confused. Random, yes, well...maybe. You see, my mind sometimes connects things in a "unique" way. The genesis of the Irish cow cookie starts with a couple we are friends with who happen to have a St. Paddy's Day wedding anniversary. They also happen to have Anniversary/St. Paddy's Day parties. We also recently went on a trip with this couple to Lancaster, PA to savor the kitsch and charm of Amish farm country. So, when the St. Paddy's party came around this year --naturally-- I thought Irish cow cookies!! I mean, I love using the cow cutter, so any chance to use it is exciting...I have made traditional cows, pink and brown cows and psychedelic cows to date.

Check out some of the other cookies too. They include a wheel barrow with shamrocks inside...of course I was very excited about that one, but people didn't so much understand what it was. I think one of the comments was..."is that an Irish rocket ship?" Oh well, they can't ALL be Irish cow cookies.

Valentine's Day Fun

The past two years we have had Valentine's Day parties for our friends in the area. We really go all out- this year, I made a heart garland...(not to worry, garlands will be revisited in the Easter entry). Please excuse the cottage cheese ceiling - it is not our fault...apartment living.

Needless to say there were baked goods...scratch Devil's Food cupcakes, with homemade fresh raspberry buttercream, to be exact. Notice the 1940's tablecloth in the cupcake pic.

Another awe-inspiring accomplishment was smoked pulled pork that my husband was able to rustle up on the stove top. He will be posting a guest blog at some point about his adventures in indoor meat-smoking.

I included some pics from last year as well because the pics of the table this year did not do it justice. Pink Depression Glass, pink ramekins, pink dessert, pink flowers in vintage jars and milk bottles. Yes, there is a lot of pink in my life. God Bless my husband.

An American Classic

Hello again! It has been a while since being stuck in the apartment with all of the snow! It's a bit harder to find time to blog since the snow melted - but have no fear...I have a back log of food and fun stay tuned!

I decided that my return post would be about a vintage inspired classic. I have been thinking a lot about America lately, as many of us have and I wanted to share this mountain of 1950's Americana-deliciousness with you all.

I made this for my husband's 33rd birthday due to his many subtle "pistachio" pudding references that I logged in my brain throughout our relationship. Let's face it folks, it is instant pistachio pudding mixed with "whipped topping", poured into a pie plate lined with vanilla wafers. I think this basic recipe is on the back of pudding mixes everywhere. Food snobs beware, this humble, unnatural treat was unrivaled in crowd satisfaction! One of the greatest joys of making this was seeing the instant pudding set before my eyes!! Ohhh modern technology!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Angel Cakes in Devil's Clothing

It seems as though every city and even some small towns have cupcake shops now. Like many people, I liked cupcakes even before this craze...baking and decorating them. I wanted to make chocolate cupcakes that were less sweet than the usual standard. I used some unconventional ingredients like almond flour to make these "devil's food" cupcakes, and cut down on the sugar. They came out with a light, spongy crumb and a very chocolaty flavor. They were pleasantly sweet and reminded me of some of the cakes in Japan where I found that many "sweets" were a lot less sweet than in America. The sweet white chocolate topping is a nice contrast to the light sweetness of the cake. If a frosting like unsweetened raspberry whipped cream were used, I may add in a few more tablespoons (2-4) of sugar to the cake mix. I have also pondered ways to make these cakes gluten free, I would guess that using only buckwheat and almond flours would work. The original idea for these "healthier" devil's food cakes came from King Arthur Flour's Whole Grain Baking book -- although my adaptation is very different.

Semisweet Devil's Food Cupcakes

1/2 cup cream (or softened butter)
1 and 1/3 cup plain, low fat yogurt
3/4-1 cup brown sugar
3/4 sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup no fat/no chol egg substitute (without flavorings)
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp chocolate extract (use more vanilla if you can't find this)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup almond meal
1 cup unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder
1.5 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup water

Mix the 1/3 cup yogurt and cream or butter with the sugars until smooth and creamy (I used a stand mixer with the all purpose attachment). Add the eggs/egg product mixing between each addition. Add the extracts and blend further. Mix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl and add 1/3 at a time alternating with yogurt and mix each time. Add water and mix. Divide into 24 regular sized lined cupcake cups or 48 mini cupcake cups. Bake regular sized cupcakes for 14-16 min at 350 degrees. Bake mini cupcakes for 10-12 min at 350 degrees.

Use melted white chocolate or other frosting to decorate.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Snowed-in-Superbowl 2010

So, we were invited to a friend's apartment for the Superbowl. Even though they only live about 4 miles away, we were not sure we were going to make it because of the snow that has not been cleared from the roads and the limited metro service. Planning ahead, I bought ingredients for spinach and artichoke dip and made some cookies to bring over -- just in case. It turned out it wasn't possible to get there, so I made the super-bowl snacks anyway for myself and my husband-- we have quite a few cookies left, but all of my fabled Spinach and Artichoke dip is gone :) Below is the recipe, changed only slightly from it's original glory. Don't be afraid of the blue cheese in the mixture, it gives it "depth of flavor," as some might say :) Also pictured are some of last year's Superbowl cookies -- Go Steelers!

Phateline's Phamous Spinach and Artichoke Dip:

½ bag frozen spinach thawed and drained well (or whole bag fresh baby spinach, chopped, cooked and drained)
1 regular can artichoke hearts drained with a teaspoon of juices reserved for mixture (1/2 back frozen artichokes - thawed)
¾ cup mozzarella cheese
¼ cup soft crumbled blue cheese (go for a moist blue)
1 package of cream cheese softened (reg or lite)
1/4 cup of mayonnaise (reg or lite)
1 teaspoon of dried Italian Herb Mixture (just plain herb mixture, don't use a salt/garlic etc mix)
2 cloves of fresh roasted garlic
½ teaspoon of cayenne and/or your favorite hot sauce
½ teaspoon sea/kosher salt (don't use that throwaway Iodized !#$!)
½ teaspoon black pepper
teaspoon of fresh lime juice

handful of pine nuts (optional)
3 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese
¼ cup shredded mozzarella
(diced tomatoes or sliced green olives might make also nice toppings after baking)

Mix dip ingredients together with all purpose fitting of mixer; the garlic spinach and artichoke hearts should break up. Mix on Low for about 2-3 minutes until well blended. Mix for 30 seconds on high to further break up until smooth. I use my mixer, but you can even mix by hand, just make sure the spinach and artichokes are chopped well. Spread in a shallow ceramic baking dish (I used about a 6" by 8" by 3" deep) and top with toppings. Bake at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes (cover with foil half way). Serve with warm crusty bread, pita chips and veggies. Serves about six.

Not Your Grandma's Chicken and Noodles

We are still stuck in the apartment from the huge snowstorm. I decided to prepare an appropriately hearty treat for lunch, Chicken and Noodles. I tried to make this classic in an updated, and hopefully healthier, way. Don't get me wrong, I am a true believer in appropriately using traditional ingredients like butter and whole eggs, but "hi-test" is not always necessary (or healthy) for every meal. I used whole grains and low fat, low salt products. One may think that the lack of butter and extra salt is a sin, but this meal was delicious and flavorful without it.

"Not Your Grandma's" whole grain egg noodles:
3/4 cup whole wheat Flour
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup spelt flour (buckwheat flour is also appropriate)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup no fat/no chol egg product (without flavorings)
2 Tbs low fat milk
flour for dusting

Pour dry ingredients in a bowl and combine with a fork. Make a space in the middle of bowl and pour the egg and milk. Combine with the fork until moistened, being careful not to over mix. Dust mixture with flour until you are able to pick up the mixture and form a soft ball. It should be very sticky inside. Refrigerate for a half an hour (or more). Roll out on a floured surface to about 1/8 in thick and cut thin strips. Cook in a mixture of boiling water and low salt chicken stock for about 4 minutes. The noodles should be tender and fluffy. Free form dumplings would probably also work with this recipe. Serves 4-6 (we used about half the dough and it was more than enough for 2).

Chicken and vegetables for "Chicken and Noodles:"
1-2 sprays Olive oil cooking spray
1/4 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 Chicken cutlet (about 6-7 oz), thinly sliced - on the bias
1/2 of a small lemon
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup fresh carrots, thinly sliced (blanched in microwave for 2 min)
3/4 cup green beans (blanch if fresh)
2 tsp dried thyme (or fresh)
1/2-3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4-1/2 tsp cumin
pinch of nutmeg
black pepper to taste
1-1.5 cups low salt chicken stock (for deglazing)
1 tsp olive oil (for gravy)
1 tsp flour (for gravy)

Spray a pan with the cooking spray, heat on med-high heat until sizzling. Add onions and celery, cook until almost translucent deglazing as needed. Add mushrooms and continue to cook for about 3 minutes, saute and deglaze as needed. Add chicken and continue to saute and deglaze, cover for about 2 minutes. Add spices. Add carrots and green beans, continue to saute and deglaze for another 2 min. Squeeze lemon over the mixture. Add peas and cook through. Add enough chicken stock for there to be about a 1/4 inch on the bottom of the pan. Move the mixture to the sides of the pan, leaving a pool of liquid in the middle. Add already combined olive oil and flour to the liquid and mix vigorously until a thin gravy is formed. Sprinkle with black pepper and serve over noodles. These are vegetables we had on hand, use anything you like. Serves 2.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Baking and cooking are two of my passions. I have baked from scratch for many years and enjoy tweaking and creating interesting recipes. Baking and decorating sugar cookies always makes me happy. I love to give them away for gifts or serve them to friends and family at parties. This Christmas I was into plaid and mittens and I made a couple of batches with these themes :) Spreading plain sugar cookies with jam and dipping them in dark chocolate also produces a decadent treat and a definite crowd-pleaser.

In the recent past I have also had the opportunity to make such treats as "brain cookies," mehndi themed wedding cake cookies, superbowl cookies and St. Patrick's day wedding anniversary cookies - the list goes on. Here are pictures of just a few...