Friday, December 31, 2010

new favorite

The people at Cook's Country magazine come across as mad food scientists.  They make and remake and mess with and test a recipe so many times that it makes me impatient just reading about it.  The result is typically a reliable recipe, but sometimes involves ingredients I'd rather not keep on hand (anybody keep apple brandy in the cabinet??).

In the case of their "New Mexican Pork Stew", the result is a delicious and fairly simple posole.  When deciding to make this recipe, I did something I really shouldn't do.  I decided to make an ethnic dish from a recipe when I had never tasted any other version of the dish, good or bad.  I've attempted this foolishness with varied results.  Spanikopita was only so-so.  Korean bulgogi was actually pretty great.  And so was this posole.  The problem is, I don't know whether these recipes even begin to approximate the authentic dish.  If you're some kind of posole expert, please enlighten me.  I guess when it comes right down to it, I don't particularly care--this stew is that good.

Many meals in our home either start out spicy or get some kind of spice added to them later (red pepper flake, jalapenos, sambal).  This was not one of those meals, and yet we both found it immensely satisfying.  The ancho chiles, which Wikipedia tells me are a dried poblano, are not particularly spicy.  Instead, they are smoky and earthy.  Between the chiles and the intensely corny hominy, this dish reminds me of the first particularly earthy Mexican dish I ate, a tortilla soup at La Mestiza in Madison.  This is one recipe that will be going into our regular rotation.

One major benefit of Cook's Country (and they don't pay me to say this) is the mad scientist's report on the process which led to the recipe.  While mind-bogglingly involved, it does provide the justification for each step of the recipe that might seem unnecessary, like, say, browning hominy.  Steps that I might be tempted to skip, which would be very silly of me.  I will not be typing up Cook's Country's introduction to the recipe.  Just trust me and follow the directions.  As a side-note, the pork ribs from our butcher had little bones in a few of them, but they had no adverse effect.  Just pull them out when you shred the pork.  Also, my grocery store doesn't carry 15-ounce cans of hominy, so I went with two huge 28-ounce cans.  The more hominy, the better, I say.

New Mexican Pork Stew (Posole)
from Cook's Country-January 2011

3/4 oz dried ancho chiles (about 3 chiles)
8 c low-sodium chicken broth (I used homemade)
2 lbs boneless country-style pork ribs
salt & pepper
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3 (15-oz) cans white hominy, rinsed and drained well
2 onions, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp minced fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried)
1 tbsp lime juice
chopped avocado, cabbage, and radishes for serving (optional)

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Place chiles on baking sheet and bake until puffed and fragrant, about 6 minutes.  When chiles are cool enough to handle, remove seeds and stems.  Combine chiles and 1 cup broth in medium bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and microwave until bubbling, about 2 minutes.  Let stand until softened, 10 to 15 minutes.

Pat pork dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Cook pork until well browned all over, about 10 minutes.  Transfer pork to plate.  Add hominy to now-empty pot and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and hominy begins to darken 2 to 3 minutes.  Transfer hominy to medium bowl.

Heat remaining oil in now-empty pot over medium heat until shimmering.  Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Puree onion mixture with softened chile mixture in blender.  Combine remaining broth, pureed onion-chile mixture, pork, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon sald, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in now-empty pot and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until meat is tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Transfer pork to clean plate.  Add hominy to pot and simmer, covered, until tender, about 30 minutes.  Skim fat from broth.  When meat is cool enough to handle, shred into bite-sized pieces, discarding fat.  Return pork to pot and cook until heated through, about 1 minute.  Off heat, add lime juice.  Season with salt and pepper.

Posole can be refrigerated in airtight container for 3 days.  We did not really skim the fat off the soup, thus the shiny spots in the photo.  We did, however, scrape some of the congealed, bright-orange fat off the top of our leftovers before reheating.  Only some though.  Matt's turned me into an animal-fat fan.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Wow.  It's been ages since I last blogged here.  This semester I discovered that I can only maintain one blog at a time.  My grad class blog had a grade attached to it, so of course it took precedent.  I probably wouldn't bother reading it unless you too are a library grad student.  I have months of recipe photos backlogged, but the summer and fall ingredients I used in those are no longer available, so they can wait!

Dinner from last weekend is fresh on my mind, so here goes!  We like to have excuses to try pricier restaurants and my birthday's as good a reason as any.  Matt and I went to Nostrano on Saturday night, a brand new restaurant on the Capital Square.  I would call it loosely Italian, with several pasta dishes and house-made Italian-style meats.  The atmosphere is great in there, with old architectural pieces and pretty bottles giving the place a modern yet comfortable feel.

charcuterie plate: (clockwise from top) grilled focaccia, salsiccia, caponata, piparras, turkey liver mousse, pate campagnola, salame nostrano, fingerling potato salad

 We had read that their charcuterie plate was excellent, and unsure as we were about liver-based snacks, we gave it a try.  I knew I would like the salsiccia, pickled peppers, and smoked shallots.  What surprised me was how much I liked the pate with smoked pork (bottom left) and turkey liver mousse (bottom right, my favorite!).  If you are a connoisseur of fine meat platters, please don't read my amateurish exposition too carefully.  But if you are a newcomer to charcuterie (like I was) and iffy on the merits of chopped and formed liver (as was I), let me assure you that both the pate and mousse were delicious.  The mousse we've decided must be something like a turkey liverwurst and tastes like a soft, smooth, smoky summer sausage.  The pate is harder to compare, but both items were pleasantly meaty and fatty.  I am very glad we tried everything.

crispy chicken thighs & boudin blanc, bacon, pickled honeycrisp apples, arugula, fennel puree
Our entrees were just as good as the starter.  Matt had the chicken thighs, which had some of the best-cooked chicken skin I've ever tasted, on top of juicy and moist meat.  The boudin blanc was a vaguely anise-flavored house-made chicken sausage with a very fine texture.  To my husband's relief, the fennel puree did not taste like fennel.  This is a benefit to the licorice-flavor-averse, but would disappoint those looking for the fennel flavor as advertised.  The lightly-dressed arugula salad made for a well-balanced plate. 

braised beef short ribs with gnocchi, cipollini, ceylon cinnamon, swiss chard, and microgreens

I think balance is one of Nostrano's strengths.  A bite of tender short rib, pillowy gnocchi, and smoked cipollini was heavenly.  Then the swiss chard with what tasted like a bit of citrus offered a nice break from the heaviness of the meat and potatoes.  Again, one of the flavors advertised was not pronounced--the cinnamon.  I'm not sure whether it is to the chef's credit that the cinnamon was not overpowering or whether I should have expected more of a punch of flavor.  In any case, the dish was very satisfying (sorry the picture is fuzzy--it was pretty dark in there).

finanziera: brown butter cake, roasted pears, hickory nuts, maple gelato, pomegranate sauce

Dessert was interesting.  My dessert, the finanziera,  was ultimately what drew us into Nostrano, and it did not disappoint.  It's hard to go wrong for me with maple, pears, and butter.  Matt, however, did not find any dessert that really suited his preferences.  He went for the crema, which was more of an "interesting experience" than a lick-your-plate bonanza like mine was.  Matt's verdict was "not bad" but not something he'd order again. 

crema: milk chocolate cream, pumpkin sponge, olive oil gelato, px sherry, roasted pumpkin and cranberries

Matt and I agreed that for a restaurant in the first few months of its life, Nostrano is on the right track.  We've recently tried two other new restaurants on the square, Graze and Cooper's Tavern, and Nostrano is my favorite (though comparing them is really comparing apples and oranges--more about Graze later).  If they lent difficult winter ingredients such appeal, I will be happy to return to Nostrano to see what they do with bright, fresh summer ingredients.  Anniversary dinner, here we come!  

Sunday, September 26, 2010

1 chicken 4 ways: number 4

Finally I'm getting around to telling you how I finished using the beer-can chicken--after about a month of avoiding it.  Whenever I make a whole chicken, the last step is using the bones to make chicken broth.  I made a summery zucchini basil soup from the last batch of broth.  If you've got zucchini coming out of your ears, this is a great way to use quite a few up.  I happened to be overrun with pattypan squashes at that time, and they worked just as well.  I wasn't happy with any of the available recipes that I found, so I combined a couple.

Creamy Basil Summer Squash Soup
adapted from myrecipes and epicurious

This soup gets nice and creamy and tastes like summer.  We liked it topped with grated parmesan, roasted red pepper strips, and pine nuts.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 lbs zucchini or other summer squash, chopped (about 6-8 cups)
4 c reduced-sodium or homemade chicken broth
1 c loosely-packed rinsed basil leaves
2-4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add squash and cook another 2 minutes; then add chicken broth and 1 cup basil leaves. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook 20 minutes.  Purée the soup in batches in a blender. Pour the soup through a strainer into a bowl, using a ladle to push any solid bits through. Add the cayenne pepper. Season with salt to taste.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"the best tuna salad"

I'm not kidding.  I have a recipe for the tastiest, best-textured tuna salad I've ever had.  And yes, you do need a recipe for tuna salad.  Plus, making easy flavorful lunches is what I'm all about during the school year.

I've had a love/hate relationship with canned tuna over the course of my life.  When I was little, I don't think I knew that it was fish.  And once I realized that it was not some sort of canned chicken, I was done.  Since then, I've been back and forth, craving tuna salad and then taking a hiatus after gagging on the fish taste.  I recently got over my fish issues (Japan had a great deal to do with that), so I was ready to hop back on the tuna saddle.  I know that's a catfish--use your imagination.  

I have tried many different kinds of canned tuna with varied satisfaction.  At the suggestion of Cook's Country, I'm sticking with white albacore packed in water from now on.  I ate some of this on a spinach flatbread with lettuce and tomato today.  So good.

The Best Tuna Salad
from Cook's Country magazine

3 cans white albacore tuna packed in water
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 c minced onion
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp sugar
salt & pepper
1/2 c plus 2 tbsp mayo
1 celery stalk, minced (I always skip this because I don't like crunchy tuna salad)

Drain tuna and pat dry with paper towel (so the olive oil won't bead up on the water).  Microwave olive oil and minced onion for about 2 minutes, until onion begins to soften.  Mix onion mixture with tuna, lemon juice, sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Let marinate for 10 minutes.  Stir in mayonnaise.  You can add dill or roasted red peppers and capers for something different.

Oh, and by the way, this is me.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

1 chicken 4 ways: numbers 2 and 3

In the last several years, I have endeavored to make a few meals a week meatless and to make the most of our meat. Think Michael Pollan's mantra: eat meat, not too much, mostly plants. When I buy a piece or package of meat, I want it to make several meals, complementing the vegetables and starches, but not dominating the meal. It has also been important to me that the meat we do eat comes from local and humane sources. I've been heading out to a nearby butcher to get pork and whole fresh chickens. That's where I got the meat for our beer-can chicken.

A few days later, the rest of the chicken became a lunch and a dinner. Sorry about the dark photos. We've been eating really late for the last few weeks, so my natural lighting for photos has been nearly gone.

Curry Yogurt Salad
from Serious Eats

2 to 3 ounces of boneless, skinless shredded turkey or chicken or 1 shredded Quorn Naked Chik’n Cutlet
1 squeeze of lemon juice
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons of curry powder
7 ounce container of single-serve Fage 2% yogurt, or other Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons of cashews
2 tablespoons of golden raisins (sultanas)
1 pinch of nutmeg (optional)

Mix the curry powder into the Fage, add a pinch of salt or pepper to taste. Add the raisins and cashews. Add a pinch of nutmeg if desired. Squeeze lemon on the cooked, shredded Quorn or poultry. Stir into the yogurt mixture. Add more curry powder, salt, pepper, or lemon to taste. Serve on shredded lettuce or on a slice of warm cinnamon raisin bread, whole wheat bread, or Naan bread.

Minced Chicken in Lettuce Cups
from Serious Eats

I had less chicken and more mushrooms than were called for, but everything still balanced well.

2 pounds chicken, skin removed and bones removed (in my case, precooked chicken)
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1/2 cup water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
2 scallions, white part diced and green part chopped
1 cup cremini mushroom, chopped
8 leaves Boston, bibb, or iceberg lettuce
Salt and pepper

Finely dice the chicken. Pour the oil into a work or large iron skillet set over high heat. Add the ginger and scallion whites and stir-fry until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Dump in the chicken and mushrooms. Continue stirring, breaking up the chicken pieces, and cook for about a minute, or until the chicken is white and no longer raw (if using precooked chicken, just stir-fry until the chicken is warmed). Pour in the oyster sauce and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove from the heat and add the scallion greens and chopped water chestnuts. Stir until everything is combined. Season with salt if necessary. Fill each lettuce cup with a little bit of the mixture and serve.

I felt like this could have used some kind of soy-based sauce to top the lettuce cups. I liked a bit of okonomiyaki sauce and Matt used some Sichuan black bean paste. I thought something like a ponzu might be nice too. Any ideas?

Monday, August 23, 2010

1 chicken 4 ways: summer edition

At the very end of last winter I used one chicken to make three different meals, oven roasting the various parts and then making stock with the carcass. Unfortunately, just as I was getting the hang of the process, it was getting warm and I didn't want the oven on in the house. That's when we made a grilled beer-can chicken.

grilled beer-can chicken

The chicken in the picture is actually one we made back in June or July, but I forgot to get a shot of the one this week and they turned out essentially the same anyway. It doesn't look that exciting, but the skin gets nice and crispy and it has an appealing barbecued flavor. The beer (or soda, whatever you like) keeps the chicken very tender. Each time I've used a Penzey's seasoning mix, first Northwoods seasoning and then Bangkok mix. Like on an oven-roasted chicken, most of the flavor stays on the skin, so the meat does benefit from a gravy, mustard, barbecue or other sauce. There is a good set of directions for grilling a whole chicken here. The only adjustment I have made is to place a crushed garlic clove and some additional seasoning inside the can of beer.

We had a lovely dinner of about half the chicken, plus corn on the cob, grilled cherry tomatoes, and grilled brussels sprouts. Next time I'll show you the lunch, dinner, and soup I made from the rest of the chicken.

korean out and in

Since we got back from Japan, at least half of the recipes I've added to my list to try have been Asian recipes of one kind or another. Actually, more of them have been Thai or Korean than Japanese. I have tried a couple of Korean and Korean-inspired recipes and have really enjoyed them. We also made it Chicago for dinner at Dancen Korean restaurant (it is really, really dark in there).

fire chicken with cheese

seasoned rice balls

I tried making a Korean barbecue chicken earlier this year that turned out just okay. The daeji bulgogi, or barbecue pork that I made recently knocked my socks off. It's sweet, spicy, oniony, and meaty--in other words, pretty complex.

daeji bulgogi, pickled kohlrabi, kimchi, & rice

I can't say how authentic this is since I have never eaten its equivalent at a restaurant. I just know that I thought it was really great.

daeji bulgogi

Daeji Bulgogi
from Serious Eats

I let this marinade for at least 24 hours, and that seemed to be the key to the pork's tenderness.

1 lb pork tenderloin, trimmed of silver skin and excess fat
1/4 c soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp light brown sugar
2 tbsp gochujang
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp crushed ginger root
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 green onions, minced
1 small onion, thinly sliced

Place the pork in the freezer until it firms up, about 1 hour (or if frozen, thaw until it is still slightly firm). While the pork is in the freezer, combine the soy sauce, garlic, brown sugar, gochujang , mirin, sesame oil, ginger, red pepper flakes, and green onions in a small bowl.

Remove the pork from the freezer and slice into pieces 1/8 inch thick. Place the pork and sliced onion in a large Ziploc bag, pour in the marinade and seal. Toss to evenly distribute the marinade, then open and reseal the bag, removing as much air as possible. Place in the refrigerator and let marinate for at least one hour to overnight.

Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over the charcoal grate. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place the pork slices on the grill and cook over direct, high heat until the meat is seared on both sides and cooked through, about 1 minute per side. Remove from the grill and serve immediately with bibb lettuce or rice, kimchi, and quick pickles.

Chinese-style pickled kohlrabi

We're always up for a breakfast sandwich, so we jumped on the chance to have a Korean-inspired bacon muffin. I made some adjustments to the original recipe, swapping out the Canadian peameal bacon for plain old American bacon. I also added a fried egg, which you can see dripping out of the sandwich in the photo and left off the sesame-vinaigrette salad.

bacon, egg, & kimchi sandwich

Bacon, Egg, & Kimchi Breakfast Muffin
adapted from Closet Cooking
makes 2 sandwiches, can be easily multiplied for more

4 slices bacon
1/2 c kimchi (drained and chopped)
2 eggs
3 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp gochujang
2 English muffins (lightly toasted)
1/2 c shredded Cheddar cheese
shredded romaine in a korean sesame vinaigrette, optional

Cook bacon until crisp (we like a cast iron skillet), then drain on paper towels. Pour off all but a couple tablespoons of the bacon fat. Add kimchi to the skillet and saute until a bit caramelized. Carefully crack one egg at a time into skillet, cook over medium until bubbling, then flip and cook just until set, 1-2 minutes.

Mix mayonnaise and gochujang in a small bowl. Sprinkle bottom of muffin with cheese, then top with fried egg. Add bacon, kimchi, and romaine salad, if using. Slather top muffin with gochujang mayo mixture, join the halves, and enjoy!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

summer at home 2

It seems I've taken quite a break from blogging! The summer has just flown by. Now we're entering the beginning of both the school year and the best time of the year food-wise. The farmer's market has finally broken out of its strictly green phase and now features melons, squashes, and sweet red peppers. Our CSA boxes are bigger now so I'm enjoying the slight panic I experience when I see four large patty-pan squashes come out of the box. Yes, enjoying. How else would I find out that chocolate zucchini cake turns out fine with patty-pan? And if I had used up my zucchini on cake, how would I have made a deliciously creamy zucchini basil soup? Ah, conundrums I'm happy to encounter.

I'm going to unload a few of my summer recipes, lazy style, before summer produce is gone like my lazy summer.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

summer at home

herbs (from left): cilantro, oregano, thyme, basil

I'm taking a needed break from Japan posts to revel in being at home. After a very busy first half of the summer, I've greatly enjoyed the past couple of weeks--shopping at our town's farmer's market, cooking with herbs from our backyard, reading on the back steps.

our "new" table & buffet: Matt's great-grandparents' set & his grandmother's tablecloth

Summer Bean and Tomatoes Bruschetta
from Simply Organic by Jesse Ziff Cool
Makes 12 servings

I halved everything and this made a nice light dinner for two along with a kale salad. I used a very nice Italian loaf from a Milwaukee-based bakery and a box of incredibly sweet mixed cherry tomatoes from the farmer's market. This really tastes like summer.

1 c miniature or cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 c sliced fresh basil
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
2 oz small green or wax beans (I used some of each), cut diagonally into 1/2-in pieces
12 thick diagonal slices whole grain or hearty Italian bread
6 oz fresh goat cheese, such as chevre
freshly ground black pepper (addicted to Penzey's four-peppercorn blend!)

Preheat the broiler. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. (Note: If you're making this as an appetizer with a pasta dish, consider blanching the beans along with the pasta to conserve energy and water. Or if you're a real planner, blanch the veggies you'll need cooked for the week all at once and store in the fridge.)

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, basil, oil, vinegar, and salt. Toss to coat well. Let stand for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, add the beans to the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes or until tender-crisp (I preferred them pretty soft so they were easier to eat in the bruschetta topping.) Drain and rinse with cold water. Add to the tomato mixture.

Place the bread slices on a broiler pan. Broil for 2 minutes, or until lightly browned on one side. Turn the slices and brush each with some of the juices from the marinated tomatoes. Broil for 2 minutes longer, or until browned. Remove the bread and place on a large serving platter, moistened side up. Divide the cheese evenly among the bread slices and spread over each.

Scatter the tomato mixture over the cheese and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, July 19, 2010

japanese food: izakaya

One of the greatest opportunities we were given in Japan was to attend an enkai (office party) of our host's fellow teachers, unwinding on a Friday evening. Not only did we get to try many new foods, we had a blast at the noisy festivities. We met up with them in progress at an izakaya, which is basically a Japanese pub. There was already food on the table and much more to come.

We started with yakitori, a common type of Japanese bar food involving chicken or some other meat and veggies grilled on skewers, and sashimi, or raw seafood.

yakitori (clockwise from left): fish cake, chicken tendon, chicken & green onion, tiny green peppers, chicken hearts, chicken wings

sashimi: hamachi, scallop, squid, shrimp, tuna

Drinking is also a huge part of the enkai, so an overflowing glass of sake was a necessity.


The sake was followed by what seemed like an unending barrage of delicious foods.

"Have you ever tried (insert food name here)?"


"Let's get some."

korokke: breaded & fried potato pancake

nigiri sushi (from left): tuna, hamachi, salmon, squid, tamago (egg)

breaded & fried baby octopus


Shabu-shabu was a revelation. Very thinly sliced & perfectly marbled beef, cabbage, and mushrooms are quickly dipped in hot broth until gently cooked. Grab some beef, swish for 3-5 seconds, then remove and drag through ponzu (we think) for the most tender and flavorful piece of meat.
dunking the shabu-shabu

Perhaps the most surprising offering at the izakaya was horse-meat sashimi, a specialty of Yamanashi. Matt partook in the chewy raw horse-meat and was glad he tried it, though he says he would not go out of his way to eat it again. In the interest of full disclosure, I did not try it at all.
horse-meat sashimi with wasabi, ginger, & green onion

We felt fortunate to be a part of the enkai, to commiserate with other teachers, and to experience an important event in Japanese work culture. That evening left us with some lovely memories.

the aftermath

Friday, July 16, 2010

japanese food: donuts

We headed to Japan with many things that we wanted to eat. Among our culinary priorities loomed Japan's gourmet donuts. Donuts were everywhere in Tokyo; it seemed as though a Mister Donut chain was on every corner. We never did get around to eating at Mister Donut, but we were not disappointed by the smaller donut shops that we patronized.

First we searched for (and found) Hara Donuts in Shimokitazawa. Like most shops in this area, it was tiny and super cute.

We opted for three varieties: plain, tomato, and grapefruit. None of them were overly oily or too dense. Similar to a cake donut but lighter, Hara's donuts were subtly sweet and a bit chewy. The grapefruit, with its citrus-y glaze, was my favorite by far. The tomato was not as weird or as interesting as we had hoped as it was somewhat bland and also tougher than the other two.

hara donuts: grapefruit, plain, and tomato

When visiting Yamanashi Prefecture, we had hoped to visit Sendaiya Donuts, whose claim to fame is making treats out of ground natto flour. Using natto, a fermented soybean product, is apparently an attempt to make the sweets more healthy.

When our hosts took us to their friends' house, we were offered two unexpected items to sample: Sendaiya's donuts and natto.


Natto smells like a strong cheese and tastes (to our American palates) somewhat like coffee. The texture is unlike anything I'd ever had before: think baked beans suspended in phlegm. Matt was not a fan to say the least, while I thought it paired nicely with some kimchi or spicy mustard. I've also seen it served with rice, which I would definitely try.

I will not be eating natto every morning for breakfast as does one person we met, but I will certainly gobble up some natto donuts from Sendaiya at any chance I get.

sendaiya donuts: sesame, plain

These donuts were dense and moist, much like a pound cake (which we saw on many menus). Like Hara donuts, Sendaiya's are also lightly sweetened and fried compared to American donuts.

We saved the best for last...drumroll, please!

In the last few days of our trip, we headed to Yoyogi-Uehara in the rain, specifically to try Harrits Donuts.

harrit's donuts: milk tea & precious little packages

Staying with the trend of the donuts we tried, these were subtle, light, and tended toward being a healthier breakfast treat. The texture was somewhere between a cake and raised donut and even resembled a pastry somewhat.

cinnamon cranberry donut

kinako (soybean flour) donut

cream-cheese-filled donut...ichiban!

Along with the flavors we tasted in the store, we also took some home in our carry-on to share with family. Those included carrot-honey, kiwi, green tea with Azuki bean paste, and more of our favorites, kinako and cream cheese.

I would recommend any of these donut shops without reservation. If you're ever in the area, it's worth seeking them out!

If you have tried Mister Donut, I'm curious: did we miss out?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

japanese food: osaka specialties

I won't attempt to deny that there were a lot of Japanese foods that I did not expect to try. I never, ever thought that I could handle a ball of fried dough with a piece of octopus tentacle inside. I mean, the fried dough part sounds great, right? I just didn't know what I'd do once I got an octopus arm in my mouth. Turns out I'd chew it (for awhile) and love it.


Takoyaki are little lava-hot spheres (think half-cooked pancake balls) that burst open when you bite them, revealing a mildly fishy, quite chewy bit of octopus. They are topped with a barbecue-like sauce, then mayo, and typically katsuobushi (fish flake) and aonori (seaweed flake).

Takoyaki hail from Osaka, as do the gentlemen who prepared them inside this pink VW bus. Matt spotted this stand in Shimokitazawa and decided it should be the place for us to lose our takoyaki virginity. They were proud to have a couple of gaijin (foreigners) eating behind their stand.

And I do mean behind...

I think they had a great little set-up.

Possibly my very favorite food that I tried in Japan turned out to be a dish from Osaka. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake that is similar to takoyaki in that it is topped with the same sauces and sprinkles, but is much easier to eat due to the absence of molten dough. Our friends in Tokyo took us to a great little place for our first experience with okonomiyaki.

First, mix your ingredients that include egg, cabbage, meat, and veggies...

Then fry it on the griddle in the center of your table...

"Sakura-yaki": shrimp, squid, pork, white onion, green onion, and mushrooms topped with a fried egg and bacon strips

And top with okonomiyaki sauce, mayo, katsuobushi, and aonori. Share with your friends!

pork & kimuchi okonomiyaki

I was such a fan of okonomiyaki, I may get brave enough to try it at home! I'll let you know how that turns out...