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Posts Tagged ‘japan’

Ah yes, horse, the other red meat. You know, I’ve never understood why horse meat was off-limits in America. I mean, it’s an animal not all that dissimilar to deer or elk and we certainly have no problems eating them. Is it because we ride horses? Would you eat a cow if you rode it? I don’t know. I do know that many other places in the world do eat horse, and Japan is one of them. While it’s not a prominent animal in the extremely large, diverse, and interesting encyclopedia of animals consumed by the Japanese, it is featured in various areas where other meats might not be as readily available. As such, in places like Tokyo, there are restaurants dedicated to serving this animal on a platter rather than saddling it up for a gallop. The other night I finally got my first opportunity to enjoy the succulence of these animals when a friend of mine asked me if he could take me out for a horse. Not only is that the first time another man had ever asked me that questions, but that was a proposition I was only too happy to jump on. So, we headed out to the Ebisu district of Tokyo and headed to a place called Uma Yakiniku Takeshi. Uma is horse in Japanese, yakiniku is the style of grilling meat at your table, and Takeshi is the name of the proprietor of this establishment, he also happens to be a well-known Japanese comedian. Before I get to the food, one thing I love about Ebisu is that there are numerous interesting little izakaya’s serving up weird and exotic cuisine that you would never find unless you stumbled upon them. We ended up walking around for about 15 minutes before finding our destination.

When we sat down we were greeted with a cold glass of draft beer and some lightly pickled cucumbers with salted kombu. I’m not a big pickle or cucumber guy by any stretch of the imagination, but honestly, this wasn’t too bad at all. I even think my younger brother, he who has even stronger negative feelings toward pickled cucumbers than me, would eat this. At least he would if he was hungry enough to eat a horse.

We started off with horse tataki. Rolled in black pepper and lightly seared on all sides, this piece of meat (what part of the animal is still up for debate, but I think it’s the tenderloin) was covered with in thinly sliced onion and chopped scallions.

After a quick dip in ponzu (the horse meat, not me) here I am about to have my first taste in equestrian delights. MMMMMMMMMMMM! Honestly, it reminded me of kosher pastrami. I could throw this on some rye bread, slather on the mustard, and wash it down with a Dr Browns and be a happy man. Very delicious and surprisingly familiar to me. I had heard that horse tasted quite a bit like beef, but I think it’s a little more like bison as the muscles don’t have as much fat as cow does.

Next up was horse sashimi. Just think of this as beef carpaccio, except that it went nay instead of moo. A bit of fresh grated ginger and garlic, a splash in some tamari, and down the hatch. A little sweeter than beef, and much more tender than I expected. I can’t recall ever eating a beef carpaccio that I enjoyed as much.

Then we got the yakiniku going. The first plate had some napa cabbage, eggplant, the green part of the scallion, and, of course, some horse meat. This part of the animal comes from the belly/rib area. Think of it as thinly sliced ribeye.

Here’s our tabletop grill in full effect. I didn’t get a pic of it, but we each had a dish with three different dipping options for the grilled meat. There as a ponzu-based sauce that was my favorite, some sea salt, and some rice vinegar.

For the next cut of horse to be grilled my friend thought he’d throw me curveball, something I’d be hesitant to shove down my throat. He was wrong as it turned out to be one of the most delicious pieces of meat I’ve ever grilled yakiniku-style…the heart! I’m telling you, this was so tender and sweet, with a bit of black pepper it was heavenly! I’d jump a fence to get me some of this.

So good, the heart was (that’s my Yoda speak), that we had to get more on our next plate. Besides the heart and horse food (vegetables) this dish also had blood pipes. I don’t know if they were arteries or veins, but they were also delicious. A little rubbery, but after a few chews the clean flavor of the animal really came through. It was almost like eating thick intestines, but clean intestines. Very good indeed.

We put the grill aside after that and got a plate of horse weiner. No, not that kind of weiner, I don’t have that big of an appetite. This was a plate of weiner-style sausages. Again, a little sweet, but a very deep, rich flavor. It was also very juicy.

Our final dish was horse fried rice. With a little scrambled egg and some scallions this was a very typical fried rice, but with horse meat.

I have to say, Americans are a weird bunch. We shun so many different food items that the rest of the world consumes. As I write this blog it becomes clear to me that the reason we’ve not been exposed to things like horse as an edible creature is solely because of politics. If the beef lobby wasn’t so powerful I think we’d be eating all sorts of other animals…guinnea pig, various insects, horse, etc. It really is a delicious animal, and one that doesn’t contribute nearly as much to Climate Change as cows do. If we open our minds as well as our mouths, there’s a lot of tasty things out there we could enjoy. Mr Ed, sorry, but you are one delicious creature!

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If memory serves me correct, there is a Chinese restaurant in Yokohama’s Chinatown that is not only the oldest Chinese restaurant in Japan, but also one of the most respected Chinese restaurants in the world. I first heard of HeiChinRou when watching Iron Chef years ago. The restaurant sent its top two deputy chef’s up against Iron Chef Chen Kenechi only to have him cut them down. Not satisfied, they finally sent their Grand Master Chef to set things straight, Xie Huaxian. Xie is considered by many to be the greatest Chinese chef of our time. He was victorious. Ever since then I told my self, “I have got to eat at that restaurant!” After 7 trips to Japan, including numerous time walking past HeiChinRou, that day had finally come. Yuki had plans with a bunch of her friends to show off Otis, so her parents took me to fulfill my belly’s destiny.

An elegant restaurant on numerous floors, there’s a peaceful bamboo garden when you walk in. They took us in an elevator up to the second floor and sat us in a very comfortable booth. Coming from Chicago I was pleasantly surprised by how absolutely clean the restaurant is. It had the look and feel of a high-end French restaurant, not the greasy Chinese stir-fry I am used to. The menu features many a la carte dishes as well as a handful of set course options. Being the first week of 2012 we opted for the “Happy New Year” course option.

Uichiro and I started off with some Shokoshu, a type of Chinese rice wine or Shaoxing. Served warm, it has a caramel color as well as taste more similar to a Brandy than a rice wine. Very smooth and very warm in the belly, its delicious on a chilly day.

The first course consisted of 5 tastes. Jellyfish, a baby squid stewed in soy sauce, a shrimp, a slice of smoked duck breast, a piece of Chinese BBQ pork, and a dollop of mustard. While they were all fantastic, I have to say that the pork may have been the best piece of swine that has ever graced my palette! If it were socially acceptable I would drape myself in it and nibble on it all day long.

The second course was Shark Fin Soup with Crab. I have eaten shark fin soup before, but always questioned the authenticity of the shark fins. I always thought I was being served cellophane noodles instead. I think I was right as this texture was nothing like the bowls I’ve previously eaten. Slightly chewy, they combined beautifully with the sweetness of the crab meat. This soup may not be humane, but it sure tasted good!

The third course was abalone with Simmered Shiitake and Bok Choy in Oyster Sauce. It’s really too bad that abalone is illegal in the States, it really is a wonderful mollusk. Dense in texture, it matched very well with the soft shiitake and bitter green.

The fourth course was Beef with Shimeji Mushrooms, Carrots, and Asparagus. Served in a soy based sauce it was simply wonderful. After eating this I don’t see how I can go back to eating Mongolian Beef in Chicago’s Chinatown.

The fifth course was Shrimp in Chili Sauce. A little bit of sweetness and just the right amount of heat to get your mouth tingling a little. The spice made you want to keep coming back for more. Fried wonton skins added some crisp texture and was Uichiro’s favorite part of the dish.

The sixth course was Sautéed Rice with Egg, Pork, Green Onion, and Lettuce. This dish is similar to fried rice except that it’s sautéed together over a lower heat. This keeps the rice a little softer and helps prevent the lettuce from wilting under the intense heat of a hot wok. I’ve seen his dish on Iron Chef and was glad to get the chance to eat such a high quality version of it.

The seventh course, dessert, was Almond Jelly with a sprig of mint. I think this was Uichiro’s favorite part of the whole meal. He’s eaten many different almond jelly’s in his life and couldn’t get over how good this one was. I’ve only eaten a few, but I agree that this one was the best I’ve ever had. Sweet with the texture of a fine silken tofu, a great way to end a great meal.

All in all, I will say that none of these dishes were out of the ordinary for Chinese food as far as creativity. However, that said, I don’t think you’ll find better preparation anywhere in the world. In each dish the ingredients were of the highest quality, they were all cooked to perfection, and the flavors were expertly balanced. Hands down the most fantastic Chinese food to ever pass through my tracts!

While Xie Huaxian is no longer cooking at HeiChinRou, his successor, Nishizaki-san, is no slouch.

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Osechi-ryori is the Japanese style of traditional foods eaten on New Years Day. It typically consists of many different small dishes that are served in stacked jubako (fine lacquer boxes similar to bento). To purchase a ready-made Osechi can set you back well into the hundreds of dollars. Or, you can spend all of that money on an airplane ticket to Japan and let your mother-in-law cook all of the food and arrange the jubako for you, Kawabata family style. Now, I’m not completely sure of all of the ingredients that were used, but I’ll sure do my best to fill you in on what filled my belly.

First and foremost was a delicious bottle of sake. My father-in-law always gets a really nice bottle when I come to visit. This is a bottle of Junmai Daiginjo from Aomori (Aomori is the farthest north area of Honshu and I once hitchhiked from central Tokyo all the way up there, but that’s a story for another time) called Denshu. It’s one of the best bottles in Japan and you won’t find it anywhere in the States. Junmai Daiginjo is sake that is made from pure rice without any added alcohol or sugar, rice that is polished at least 50%, and cold brewed at less than 5 degrees celsius. While you can find some Junmai Daiginjo in the States, you won’t find any as nice as this. It’s smooth as a baby’s ass! Even if you don’t love a baby’s ass, you’ll certainly love this bottle of sake.

In this box there was some simple steamed pea pods, shiitake simmered in shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), boiled satoimo potatoes, simmered lotus root, simmered carrots, and koya tofu (freeze-dried tofu, something I’ve never eaten before but really like the texture).

Here we have braised beef wrapped gobo (burdock root), salmon wrapped in kombu, sweet-pickled daikon and carrot, and sweet shoyu glazed yellow tail.

This level of jubako contained dried herring roe, white and pink fish cakes, ikura (salmon roe), mashed sweet potato, soy-glazed dried anchovies, Cool Breeze Amongst Pine Trees (Uichiro’s name for his famous meatloaf, don’t ask me how he came up with that name, some things are probably better unknown), and ham.

Next to the jubako was a plate with some grilled red snapper. I’m always disappointed when I order red snapper in Chicago. I’m never disappointed with I eat it here in Japan. Tamiko got the skin nice and crisp while keeping the flesh moist and juicy. Extremely fresh fish.

Then, she brought out bowls of soup. A clear broth made from kombu and katsuo-bushi (bonito flakes) filled with mitsuba greens, fish cakes with good fortune written in the middle, mochi (an absolute necesity at the Japanese new years table), shiitake, and slices of yuzu peel.

Last, but surely not least, she served up some red snapper sashimi that was cured in kombu. A touch of wasabi was all it needed.

Dessert was simply fresh strawberries and green tea. Strawberries are extremely expensive here in Japan so they’re always a treat.

To wipe our mouths we used “Year of the Dragon” napkins since 2012 is the year of the dragon. I was born in a year of the dragon as well.

Happy new years everyone!

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When walking around just about any market in Israel you’ll come across all sorts of really good food. Falafel, schawarma, and various kabobs. Another staple of the Israeli street food scene is grilled chicken. With Tamiko headed back to Japan last Thursday I wanted to make her one last delicious dinner that she couldn’t get at home. Since she really enjoyed the Middle Eastern food that she had, and loves cucumbers (even though I’m not the biggest fan), I decided to make this dinner for her.

I thought, what better soup to accompany Israeli Grilled Chicken than Israeli Couscous Tomato Soup? I used about 1/2 cup of chopped parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1/2 small onion diced, 3 garlic cloves minced, 1 carrot cut into half-moons, 14oz can of diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup of Israeli Couscous, and 1 cup of chicken stock. Oh, once I cut everything up I noticed that I had 1/2 red bell pepper in my fridge, so I diced that up as well.

I heated my soup pan up and poured in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I added the garlic and let it go for about 30 seconds and then tossed the onion in. The onion sweat down for about 6 minutes and then I added the carrot and red bell pepper. I let them sweat down for another 6 minutes and then added the can of tomatoes. Once the tomatoes started to boil I poured in the chicken stock and added the spices, along with some salt and pepper. I let it come to a boil and then added the couscous. Once it started to boil again I covered the pan, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. When the soup was done I realised that I needed a bit more liquid as the couscous absorbed a good amount, so I poured in about 1/4 cup of water and added the parsley.

While the soup was simmering I threw together an Israeli cucumber salad. I used 1/4 cup of chopped parsley, the juice of 1 lemon, 2 tomatoes diced, 1 cucumber seeded and diced, a  few leaves of lettuce chopped, and some olive oil.

I threw all of the vegetables into a glass bowl. Then I made a lemon vinaigrette. I squeezed the lemon juice into a cup and then poured twice as much olive oil in as there was lemon juice (rule of thumb, for vinaigrettes use 2 parts oil for every 1 part acid). I seasoned it with salt and pepper and then emulsified it with my whisk. I poured the vinaigrette all over the vegetables and tossed it all together.

For this chicken there was no need for a long marinade. I simply took some skin-on, bone-in thighs and squeezed some lemon juice all over them after scoring the skin. Then I sprinkled a little turmeric, cumin, and paprika all over them, along with some salt and pepper. Then it was off to the grill.

On the grill I started them off skin-side down on the lower rack with the flames at med-high. I left it there for a few minutes in order for the skin to get nice and crisp. Then I moved the chicken to the upper rack, turning it over skin-side up. I lowered the heat to medium, closed the lid, and let it cook for about 6 or 7 minutes until it was cooked through. Each grill is different, but for skin-on chicken thighs it’s best to use a direct heat first on the skin and then an indirect on the bottom. That gets the skin crisp and keeps the meat moist.

I garnished the plates with some chopped parsley. We had some white rice on the side and cold beer to wash it all down.

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The other night Tamiko wanted to make Uichiro’s famous curry rice dish. I think for a couple of reasons. First, to make him a little jealous again that we’re eating so well while he’s eating take home bento boxes (although, take home bento in Japan isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination). Second, it’s just a tasty tasty dish! He sent me the recipe a long time ago and I did make it once (before I started this blog). Mine was pretty good, mainly because I’m damn good in the kitchen, but it clearly wasn’t the same as Uichiro’s. Japan uses the metric system, so I had to eyeball my measurements with the spices and whatnot as the conversion is never as smooth as it should be, for me at least. Also, since I’ve never eaten his I made it more to my tastes, which are different believe it or not.

What I’ll do for this post is first cut-and-paste the recipe he sent me. Then, I’ll go through it a little and let you know where Tamiko made the appropriate changes. Sorry, Uichiro, but I’m going to make a little fun of you as well, all in good humor. So, without further ado, here’s his recipe as he sent it to me:

Foodstuff:

ground meat with half beef and half pig meat: 300 g

chopped onion: big size one unit

chopped ginger: one piece

chopped garlic clove: one piece

chopped parsley: quantitatively

chopped raisin: 3 x 15cc spoons

chopped walnut: 4 kernels

pickled cucumber: one

curry powder: 3 x 15cc spoons

soy sauce and Worcester sauce: quantitatively

grated cheese: 3 x 15cc spoons

cinnamon, nutmeg, clove: quantitatively

boiled egg: two

Cooking:

On a cutting board mince all foodstuffs. Sautee onion to the
brown state. Sautee ginger, garlic clove and ground meat in turn with
it. After meat color is changed, then, add raisin, walnut, pickled
cucumber, parsley, soy sauce, Worcester sauce, grated cheese, cinnamon, nutmeg,
clove.  Finally, add one cup water and boil to the sapless state. Ad mix
the half with rice. Get up the half and sliced boiled egg on it.

Alright, where to start. First, Tamiko made twice as much as the recipe calls for so that the three of us had lunch the next day as well. I love that he calls the ingredients “Foodstuff”. Not exactly sure how much 300 grams is, we got 2/3’s pound of ground beef and ground pork. Going down the list is pretty self explanatory, for the most part. We forgot to get parsley at the store, so Tamiko used the 1 tablespoon of cilantro we had left in the fridge. I’ve never heard of a walnut kernal, but only a moron doesn’t know what he means. Tamiko omitted the pickles because she knows I’m not a huge fan of them, what a sweetheart! Worcester is supposed to be Worcestershire. Grate cheese refers to parmesan. As for the boiled eggs, you can hard-boil as many as you like. Just slice them up and top each plate with one.

On to the how-to portion of today’s post. Again, most of it is pretty easy to understand. Tamiko minced up everything real well, walnuts and raisins as well. She then sautéed everything according to instructions. My favorite part is boiling the water down to a sapless state. Honestly, I have never heard that phrase before in my life and probably won’t ever hear it again. He means just boil it down till it’s almost all evaporated. It is a “Dried Curry Rice” and not a wet one. Alright, that’s all I’m going to make fun of Uichiro.

Another way Tamiko’s was different is that she did not mix any of the curry into the rice. I did when I made it, but she instead just topped the rice with the curry. Either way works really well, whatever you prefer. Then, she topped the curry with the sliced egg and sprinkled the cilantro on top. It’s really a simple dish to make. But, as Tamiko likes to say, simple is best. It is also very delicious. The play between the curry and sweet raisins is beautiful. The walnuts add a nice crunch to the whole thing.

On the side we had a simple salad of lettuce, shredded celery, daikon cut into thin matchsticks, and cherry tomatoes. I whipped up a balsamic vinaigrette. One part balsamic vinegar, two parts olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper, and whisk it up until its emulsified.

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Alright, so I don’t just cook for Uichiro when he’s here, I also cook for Tamiko. She’s a huge fan of Italian food as well as seafood. That said, I thought a nice pasta with clams would be just the trick. With Uichiro back in Japan already, this dish would also make him a little jealous since he’s probably eating a take-home bento box right now. Sorry Uichiro.

I wanted to get all of the sand and grit out of the clams so the first thing I did was purge them. To do that all I did was rinse them real well in cold water and then let them sit in cold salt water with some cornmeal for about 2 hours. What this does is trick them into thinking that the cornmeal is sand so it cycles it through spitting out any real sand in the process. Just before cooking I rinsed them again in fresh cold water. Since I was cooking for 3 I used 15 clams. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Iris Tsai (Ming’s mom) it’s that 5 is a good number for a plate of food.

One of my side dishes was a simple bruschetta. I prepared that ahead of time so that come dinner all I had to do was toast the bread and top it. I used some fresh basil chopped up, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of grated parmesan, 3 tomatoes diced, 1 garlic clove peeled, 1.5 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, a some ciabatta.

In a glass bowl I whisked together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and parmesan along with some salt and pepper until it was emulsified. Then I added the tomatoes and basil and mixed it thoroughly. I wrapped it up and put it in the fridge until dinner time. That way, all I had to do was toast the bread, rub the garlic over the toast, and then top it with the tomato-basil mix.

I also made a simple Italian bean and vegetable soup. I used one carrot cut into half moons, 14oz can of cannellini beans, 1 cup chicken stock, 1/2 onion diced, 1 garlic clove minced, and a large handful of baby spinach.

I threw everything except for the beans into a pot and brought it up to a boil. I covered the pot, turned the heat down to med-low, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Then I added the beans and let it simmer for another 3 minutes. Since the beans were canned I had no need to cook them, just heat them through. A little salt and pepper and that’s all she wrote for this one.

My final side dish was simple roast asparagus. I cleaned up 15 spears and drizzled them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and parmesan. They went into a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

Finally, the main event! For the pasta I used 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley, 1/4 cup of white wine, a pinch of red pepper flakes, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 6oz capellini (I didn’t actually use spaghetti because I already had some capellini open in my cupboard), 1 garlic clove thinly sliced, and my clams.

In a large pot of boiling salt water I cooked the pasta until about 2 minutes before al dente. I reserved a ladle of the pasta water and drained the noodles and set them aside.

While that was going on I heated up my large pan and poured in the olive oil. I added the garlic and let it sautee until it turned a light golden brown, then I added the red pepper flakes. I swirled that all around for about 15 seconds to make sure the flavors mixed into all of the oil. Then I poured in the wine, added the clams, covered the pan, and let the clams cook for about 6 minutes or so until they were all opened up. If any clams don’t open then throw them away, they’re dead. Fortunately, all 15 of these were alive and well…that is until I killed them in my spicy garlicky wine sauce!

Once the clams were open I set them aside in a bowl and poured the reserved pasta water into the pan. Once it came to a boil I added the noodles and let them cook in the wine sauce for about 2 minutes. Then I added the clams back, along with any juices that accumulated in the bottom of the bowl, as well as the parsley. I tossed it all around and then served everything up, Buon Appetito!

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Over the weekend a couple of our friends stopped by to meet Otis. They came bearing gifts. Flowers for mommy and a Rick Bayless cookbook for daddy, an autographed one nonetheless! The in-laws haven’t really experienced Mexican flavors since there really aren’t many Mexican ingredients available in Japan. While there are a few “Mexican Restaurants”, they’re really just simple mid-scale taquerias. Combine the cookbook, their lack of Mexican food experience, and the fact that Chicago hit 90 degrees yesterday and I really had no choice but to grill up some tasty tacos with all of the fixens.

Some of the dinner was right out of the Bayless cookbook (cilantro-lime dressing, jicama salad, and roasted tomatillo salsa), some was inspired by the Bayless cookbook (grilled pork and sweet potatoes where he used ancho instead of chipotle), and some is right out of my repertoire (chilled corn soup and simmered black beans).

First thing I made was the cilantro-lime dressing. I used 1/2 cup of cilantro, the zest from 1 lime and the juice from three, 1/2 jalapeno seeded and stemmed, 1/2 cup canola oil, and 1/4 cup olive oil.

I threw it all into my little blender and whipped it up! I seasoned it with a little salt and pepper, poured it into a glass jar, and let it sit in the fridge while I prepared the rest of the dinner.

Next, I made the corn soup. I cut the kernels off of 5 ears of corn, chopped up 2 garlic cloves, and diced 1/2 onion. I put it all into a pan with 1/2 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of water and brought it up to a low boil. I covered the pot and let it simmer over med-low heat for about 20 minutes. Then I let it cool down and poured it into my blender for a good puree. I seasoned it with salt and pepper and let it sit. Since I was serving it cool I didn’t need to reheat it or anything. I did pour it back into the pot so I could clean the blender for the next item.

For the roasted tomatillo salsa I husked, rinsed, and halved 4 tomatillos, pealed 2 garlic cloves, chopped the other half of the jalapeno, small diced 1/2 a small onion, and roughly chopped 1/3 cup of cilantro. I soaked the diced onion in cold water for 30 minutes to remove some of the sharpness.

In a hot, dry skillet I put the tomatillos (cut side down) and garlic in to roast, about 5-6 minutes per side.

Then I put everything except for the onions into the blender along with 1/4 cup of cold water and pureed it up. I poured it into a glass bowl and mixed in the rinsed onion. That went into the fridge until dinner time.

I opened up a 30 ounce can of black beans, rinsed them off, and placed them in a pot with 3 diced green onions, 1 minced garlic clove, and about 1/4 cup of water. I let it simmer for about 20 minutes and then seasoned with salt and pepper.

For the spice rub I used 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1/4 cup of chipotle (the chipotle I have has a little sugar mixed into the blend, otherwise I would have added a little), 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of canola oil, and 2 garlic cloves finely minced. I mixed it all together until it became a smooth paste.

I rubbed the chipotle paste all over a 1.5 pound pork loin and a large sweet potato that I had cut into 8 wedges.

I heated up the left side of my grill to med-high and the right side to med-low. I first put the pork loin over direct heat, fat-side down, for about 5 minutes to give it a nice crust. Then I moved it to the top rack, turned it over, and turned the heat down to med-low. At the same time I put the sweet potato wedges on the top rack over the right side. I closed the grill and let it go for about 15 minutes. Then I turned over the sweet potato wedges, covered the grill again, and let it go for another 10 minutes. When I took the meat off the grill I tented it with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing it up.

Look at that piece of swine! Doesn’t that just make your mouth water? I have to say, it might be the juiciest, most flavorful piece of pork I have ever grilled.

While the grill was going I put together a jicama salad. I peeled a medium jicama and then cut it into 1/4 inch width sticks. I tossed it in a large bowl with some watercress, chopped red leaf lettuce, and some of the cilantro-lime dressing.

When everything was ready I heated up some corn tortillas and laid everything out on the table. The corn soup got a drizzle of cilantro-lime dressing for garnish. We made tacos and drank beer and filled our bellies! Yuki’s parents were quite impressed with dinner. Honestly, so was I. Everything turned out fantastically! Thank you Mr. Bayless! And thank you Mr. Eirinberg!

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Uichiro, Yuki’s dad, makes a mean oyster gratin. Once a year one of Tamiko’s (Yuki’s mom) friends from her hometown of Miyagi in Japan (unfortunately not far from the recent earthquake, but fortunately everyone is alright, will be quite some time before the oyster population recovers though) sends her the famous oysters that she grew up on. A big container filled with the juiciest, most flavorful oysters you could imagine sinking your teeth into. Just so happens that I have timed a couple of my trips to Japan around oyster season. So, I’ve enjoyed Uichiro’s oyster gratin twice.

On to last night. While trying to decide what to have for dinner I remembered the oysters that I got at Whole Foods a while back that were freshly packaged. Nice big and juicy with great flavor. I asked Uichiro if he’d make his oyster gratin. He was happy to oblige but didn’t want to make the bechamel sauce. No worries, I happen to make a tasty bechamel.

At Whole Foods I noticed that they didn’t have the oysters I remembered in stock. All they had were oysters in the shell. It would’ve been a bit costly to buy the necessary amount to make gratin for 4. Improvisation is the key to cooking (life too), so we decided to get some of the beautiful shrimp behind the counter instead. Along with some chicken thigh we had the necessary fixens to make a classic gratin.

For the bechamel sauce I melted 5 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and then added 4 tablespoons of butter. I whisked it constantly for about  minutes until it became a dark golden color. Then I poured in 4 cups of hot milk and whisked that for 10 minutes giving it a nice thick consistency. Then I seasoned it with 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg. I set that aside.

Once I was done with the range Uichiro went to town on the rest of the ingredients. In some butter he lightly sautéed together about 1/2 pound of shrimp that he shelled and halved, 3 chopped skinless chicken thighs, 1/2 half large onion diced, 6-8 (not exactly sure how many) button mushrooms quartered, and some al dente macaroni (again, not exactly sure how much, but I think about 1/2 a package). He seasoned it all with salt and pepper and then mixed it in the bechamel sauce.

That all got poured into my ceramic baking dish. He topped it with some mozzarella and matzo meal. We didn’t have any panko, so again, we improvised. 35 minutes in a 400 degree oven, some parsley garnish, and it was ready to go.

Two things with this gratin. First, my bechamel, while extremely tasty, could’ve used another 3-5 minutes on the burner before letting it rest. A little bit thicker consistency would’ve been nice. Second, with oysters not used scallops would’ve been a little better than shrimp. Scallops are a lot more expensive though, so shrimp do a pretty good job, but scallops would be outstanding!

To balance out the heavy, creamy gratin Uichiro made this smoked salmon and onion dish. He thinly sliced a Vidalia onion and soaked it in cold water. He changed out the water 3 times squeezing the onions dry with each change. They were scattered all over a plate and then topped with thinly sliced smoked salmon. On to of the salmon went some thinly sliced lemon, including the rind with lends a nice bitterness to the overall flavor, not to mention a lot of nutrients the people usually waste by not eating the whole fruit. Then he scattered some chopped parsley all over the whole thing. I made a simple dressing to drizzle over the top. I whisked together 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and some black pepper until it emulsified.

Some sliced baguette and a cold beer completed the dinner. But, I still crave his oyster gratin!

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Sorry I haven’t put a post up in a while, been kind of busy the past week with my beautiful baby boy, Otis. Yeah, I know, badass name. He is a handsome little badass though, so it fits.

At any rate, Yuki’s parents came in from Japan a week ago to help us out. They’ve done all of the cooking and I absolutely love it! I do want to cook, and will in a day or two, but I am definitely enjoying their Japanese homestyle food. The other night they made this classic dish for us, Chikuzen Ni. Chikuzen is the old name for Kyushu, one of Japans main islands. Ni means simmered. It’s basically a simmered dish that comes from Kyushu. Tough to figure that one out, eh?

I don’t know exact measurements because I was busy changing diapers while they cooked. What they did was make a bonito dashi and added soy sauce, sake, mirin, and a touch of sugar. In that they simmered some chopped up skinless chicken thighs, carrots, gobo (burdock root, a root vegetable native to Japan and other countries in that region), lotus root, bamboo shoot, haricots vert, and konnyaku. It is absolutely heartwarming deliciousness!

To go with the Chikuzen Ni they made some pan-fried tofu. After pressing the water out of some silken tofu they chopped it up and fried it in my big skillet with some vegetable oil. After they took it out they poured in a mixture of bonito dashi, soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar, and potato starch. Basically, it’s the same as the broth for the Chikuzen Ni. The added starch gives it a nice gelatinous texture. On top they put a little fresh grated ginger.

White rice was on the side and a cold beer was in hand.

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In order to solidify my role as a good Japanese housewife I decided to make another classic comfort dish from the Land of the Rising Sun. I haven’t made anything with squid in a long time and came across this recipe from a Japanese cook book that I have. Since I had a piece of daikon in my fridge that I needed to use, it all just seemed too perfect. And yes, I am perfect!

The first thing I need to do was make 3.75 cups of dashi. We don’t have any bonito flakes in our fridge, but we do have dried anchovy in our freezer that are also used for various types of dashi. In a soup pot I poured in a little more than 3.75 cups of water knowing that some would evaporate and added about 1/3 cup of the dried anchovy. I brought it to a boil, covered it, lowered the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 3o minutes. Then I strained out the fish and had a really nice flavorful dashi.

The rest of my ingredients for this dish included 4 tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of sake, 2 tablespoons of mirin, some lime zest, about 2 pounds of daikon, 1 pound of squid (body and tentacles), and 1 tablespoon of sugar.

I cut the daikon into chunks about 1.25 inches thick and rounded the edges with a pairing knife. I’m not sure why they round the edges, maybe it allows the daikon to cook more evenly or maybe it’s just an aesthetics thing, but you probably don’t need to do it if you don’t want. Being the good Japanese housewife that I am, I went all out. I put the cut daikon into cold water then drained it just before cooking. That helps keep the texture firm. I sliced the squid bodies into 1/2 inch strips and cut the tentacles in half.

I put the daikon and squid into a heavy pot and poured the dashi in. I brought it to a boil and let it cook for about 5 minutes. Every 30 seconds or so I had to skim the surface to keep the dashi nice and clear. It’s amazing that 1 pound of squid seems to have more muck than a 3 pound chicken when boiling. So you really need to skim a lot.

Once the dashi cleared up I turned the heat to low and added the soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar. I covered the pan and let it simmer for about 45 minutes or so. Every few minutes I gave the pot a good shake to make sure the flavors of the dashi were well mixed.

While the squid and daikon were simmering I made some hijiki-carrot rice. After rinsing 2 cups of rice and measuring out the liquid I added a tablespoon or so of dried hijiki and 1 chopped carrot. I let it sit for a half hour and then started the rice cooker. Actually, I had this ready to go before starting the squid and daikon. But I didn’t hit the start button until the simmering started for timing purposes.

For a side dish to get more vegetables in the meal I made a simple stir-fry. I cut up 1 head of broccoli, had a couple of ounces of bean sprouts, 3 diced garlic cloves, and 1 inch of diced ginger.

I heated a skillet and added 1 tablespoon of sesame oil then added the garlic and ginger. After about 30 seconds I tossed in the broccoli and let it go for about 5 minutes before adding the bean sprouts. About 2 minutes later and it was ready to eat, just a sprinkle of salt and pepper was needed.

For serving I put some of the squid and daikon in bowls with some of the dashi. Then I grated some of the lime zest on top. Yes, as you can see in the picture I do have the hairiest arms you’ll ever see on a Japanese housewife…I hope. In Japan they’d use yuzu instead of lime, but I couldn’t find any yuzu at the store. The lime worked really well though. And the squid, oh brother the squid! It was so soft and tender it literally melted in our mouths. I haven’t had squid that good since we were in Nara, Japan over a year ago during squid season. And if you’ve never eaten daikon simmered in a soy-dashi broth you’re missing out on one of life’s finer flavors. This was the best meal I’ve cooked in a while. OIISHII!!!

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