Tuesday, June 29, 2010

japanese food: breakfast

I got back from Japan this past weekend and am beginning to recover from the jet lag. Matt and I took hundreds of photos, many of them food-related. Needless to say, Japanese dishes will be the topic of many upcoming posts.

Let's get started with the first meal of the day!

bacon & egg sandwich
cinnamon set

Our breakfasts at our first inn in Tokyo were Western-style and plenty filling. It was so important to load up in the morning because we were never sure when or where we'd eat lunch.

The photo above shows our favorite combination to order. The sandwich featured a fried egg, cucumber, tomato, and what they called bacon (we would call it ham). The cinnamon set was basically french toast with cinnamon and powdered sugar. It was wonderful to start the day in the cozy, homey lobby at Andon Ryokan.

cold tofu, miso, rice, and pickled vegetables

We were incredibly fortunate to be able to spend a weekend in a Japanese home in the countryside near Mt. Fuji. That was when we had our first experience with a traditional Japanese breakfast. Every day we ate there was a little different, but all had plain white rice, miso soup, and pickled vegetables of some sort. Each breakfast involved large quantities of food that kept me full until lunch or even later. It seemed like quite a lot of work for our hostess each morning compared to what I might make for breakfast in the states, but she seemed to have a routine worked out.

miso, grainy rice with salmon flake, tamagoyaki, and pickled vegetables

The second day I was introduced to one of my favorite breakfast/lunch items, tamagoyaki (which means "fried egg"). Basically a lightly sweetened thin sheet of egg is rolled up and then sliced. This is also a popular item for bento lunch boxes. I intend to attempt making a version myself, but haven't tried yet. I wish I knew the actual names for some of the things I ate. I can just tell you that the rice had some small black beans, black rice, and millet mixed in and it was delicious. The miso soup had some sort of fried strips that softened in the broth like croutons.

grape compote
peach compote

One day we got to partake in grape and peach compotes homemade by our host's mother from fruit grown on their land. It was very sweet with a touch of cinnamon on the peaches. What a special treat!

sauteed eggplant, miso with tofu, rice, tamagoyaki, and aloe yogurt

I was surprised at how tasty aloe yogurt could be! The texture was quite a bit like peach yogurt.

Check back as there will be much more to come including fried foods and sweets.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

what's been cooking

Matt and I are heading to Tokyo on Saturday. That means the next several blog posts will be about Japanese food, hopefully while we're still over there. Before we go, I want to clear out my stash of recently-cooked meals, especially before all the spring/early summer ingredients are gone. The following are all recommended recipes--some have a link to a recipe and some just have the ingredients listed. Enjoy!

burger with horseradish havarti, bacon, caramelized onions, mayo, and greens on pretzel roll

mixed green salad with strawberries, grilled chicken, avocado, spring onions, and Bolthouse Farms mango vinaigrette

three-cup chicken with green beans (no photo)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

this was really good

asparagus tofu stir-fry (on my cupcake-aproned lap)

Last week we used asparagus and spring onions from our first CSA box of the season to make a tofu-based stir-fry. I took some liberties with the recipe, including leaving out the spinach, basil, and mint (I didn't have spinach or basil and Matt doesn't like mint). I used more garlic than it called for, which was not a mistake.

I also opted for Wildwood brand super-firm tofu instead of the suggested extra-firm. My philosophy when stir-frying tofu is this--the firmer the better. I've had extra-firm tofu fall apart and turn to scrambled-egg texture too many times. Maybe I'm just not gentle enough, but I am a total convert to this Wildwood stuff. It has that lovely firmness that I usually attribute to restaurant tofu.

Do take the recipe's advice to have all your ingredients prepped ahead. This dish fries up quite quickly. Do include the lime zest and juice. It added a nice bit of sweetness and tang.

Asparagus Stir-Fry
adapted from 101 Cookbooks (printable version available through link)

toasted sesame oil
8 oz super firm tofu, cut into strips the width of a pencil
4 green onions, thinly sliced
scant 1 tbsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 lb or bunch asparagus, trimmed and sliced into 1-inch chunks
a couple big pinches fine-grain sea salt
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 big handful cashews, chopped up a bit
a few handfuls of spinach or other greens, optional
zest and juice of one lime
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 small handful each slivered mint and/or basil, optional

Have all your ingredients prepped and within arms reach of the stove. Heat a splash of sesame oil in a large pan, or well-seasoned wok over medium high heat. Alternately, you can do this in a dry non-stick pan - one of the few occasions I still use non-stick. When it is hot, add the tofu, and cook until golden - a few minutes. Remove the tofu from the pan and set aside.

Add another (generous) splash of oil to the pan and, as soon as it is hot, add the onions, ginger, red pepper flakes, asparagus, and salt. Stir fry for about a minute, then add the garlic, cashews, and spinach and stir-fry for another minute, or until the spinach wilts. Return the tofu to the pan. Stir in the lime zest and juice and the hoisin sauce. Cook for another 10-20 seconds, stirring all the while.

Remove from heat and stir in the mint and basil if using. Taste and add a bit more salt if needed.