Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gyoza soup

Winter hasn`t officially come yet, but I`ve been starting making soups these days. One of them is this gyoza (Japanese dumpling) soup and this was my first time making it because I usually pan-fry them. Ever heard this?
"Who doesn`t love dumplings?"

For the soup, I prepared a very simple dashi (Japanese stock) using dried shiitake mushroom and dried kombu (sea kelp). Unlike the shiitake mushrooms, kombu can be used readily during the boiling, so it will appear later in the process.

According to the instruction, the mushrooms have to be rehydrated for at least 3 hours (overnight in the fridge works best) to help release the umami and soften the mushrooms. What I usually do is I immerse 4 or 5 dried mushrooms in 2-3 cups of water, place a mug or this Rilakkuma tea cup atop to keep them under the water level and let it sit while I prepare the other ingredients or go out for shopping. Or check out your new posts. Or sleep. 
Now let`s work on the filling. When I prepare pan-fried gyoza, I want the filling to be flavorful so I used more ingredients in it. But, since this one comes with soup, I liked the filling to be simpler and lighter in taste and let the soup enrich them.

Chopping time, everyone. Chop up this maitake mushrooms....

...cabbage (in the bowl-forgot to take the picture)...and this garlic chives (nira in Japanese). If you asked me like 7 years ago what that was in my hand, I would super confidently answer, "Grass.". Lesson for me: Sometimes it`s good to look back and see how much we`ve learned all these years.

Back to the filling where we need one more thing, konnyaku noodles. Usually konnyaku needs to be blanched in hot water for a few minutes, but I just go with hot water from my tap. You don`t have to be like me, you know that. 

And to make life easier, use a kitchen scissors and snip the noodles up.

Combine all those ingredients in a bowl and lightly season the mixture with salt and pepper, if you want to.

The wrapping is my least favorite part, but I know it`s worth the effort. For the wrapping steps, please see here.

This time I didn`t bother pleating the edge. Next time I will...I think.
Alright, the wrapped gyoza is done and let`s move on to the soup.

Heat a bit of oil over medium heat and saute garlic and chili until they are fragrant.

Pour in the mushroom stock, chop up the mushrooms, and throw them in the soup.

Add dried kombu to the soup, red chili flakes (if you want it to be red and spicy), chopped carrot to enhance the aroma (no picture here, sorry), and season with salt and pepper. Let it simmer for a while. 
My soup was so frothy I almost thought I added soap too! But I believe I didn`t (I didn`t!), so I just used my skimmer to make the soup clearer.
By the way, this stage is where you should be done with the seasoning and stirring, because after this....

...we need to add the dumpling and stirring the soup with the dumplings in is not a very good idea, unless you are fine with having a bowl of soup with your dumplings torn apart. Also, you can not keep leftover because the dumplings will absorb the soup while getting mushier and mushier. I learned these lessons in a hard way.

But, I had nothing to complain about because I was too busy slurping and chewing all the goodness in this bowl. The gyoza were so soft that it kept slipped away from my chopsticks and obviously I should have used a spoon instead. But even so, I finished this soup in my bowl within seconds! And just for an idea, I think adding the pan-fried gyoza in the soup will work fantastic too!
Makes 2-3 cup soup

#For soup
5 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 dried kombu (sea kelp)
2-3 cups water
1 tbs olive oil 
4 cloves garlic
2-3 dried chili (remove seeds for milder heat)
1 tbs red chili flake
1 carrot
Salt and pepper to taste

#For gyoza
Gyoza wrappers
Maitake mushrooms
Garlic chives
Konnyaku noodles
Salt and pepper (optional)

1. Rehydrate 4 or 5 dried mushrooms in 2-3 cups of water and let it sit for several hours while preparing the other ingredients.
2. For the filling, mix chopped cabbage, garlic chives, and konnyaku noodles in a bowl. Lightly season with salt and pepper if necessary.
3. Place 1-2 tsp of the filling on a gyoza wrapper, wrap into half-moon shape, and seal the edges with water.
4. Heat a bit of oil over medium heat and saute garlic and chili until they are fragrant. 
5. Pour in the mushroom stock, chop up the mushrooms, and throw them in the soup.
6. Add dried kombu to the soup, red chili flakes, chopped carrot, and season with salt and pepper. Let it simmer for a while.
7. Carefully add the gyoza to the soup and let it cook until the skin has turned translucent and soft.
8. Ready to serve.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Our first ever (small) Thanksgiving dinner!

Happy belated Thanksgiving, everyone! I know it`s late and you probably are still full of the good food from the big dinners, but I hope me sharing our tiny turkeyless Thanksgiving dinner experience with you won`t give you headache.
Both my husband and I did not grow up celebrating Thanksgiving tradition and people in Japan don`t celebrate it either, but I`m really keen on the idea of devoting a day in a year to remember what we should be thankful for. Our togetherness and healthiness, me still having a job(s), him passing tests and getting the scholarship, and us enjoying and living our lives are only a handful of countless good things we are actually blessed with. And with the earthquake we`ve experienced before, I just couldn`t feel grateful enough with what we have now. This is, of course, not to say that I don`t feel thankful in my each day because I surely do, but I think sitting together with your loved ones to have a special dinner to celebrate it is a very heart-warming gesture.
At first I was worried if he would be reluctant to the idea of us having the Thanksgiving dinner, but when I asked him about it, he quickly replied, "Nice! Chicken!". I should have known that with meat, I could easily make him do anything. So, last night we finally had our first ever, belated Thanksgiving dinner (we couldn`t make it on Thursday) with a very simple but super delightful menu! No step-by-step pictures this time, but I hope this will still bring out the festive moments we had.

We had vegetables salad dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, black peppers, and salt and garnished with chunks of boiled eggs I easily made with this method.

So here comes the bird. Chicken, not turkey. The star of the night: Mediterranean grilled chicken! I got the fabulous recipe from Katerina of Culinary Flavors and the first time I tried it, I fainted with joy. Thank you, Katerina! 
I wasn`t familiar with the use of yoghurt and mint in roasting/grilling chicken, but I`ve learned that trying new things can bring more deliciousness in my life. And you bet I was right! The chicken was moist and succulent and the flavors coming out were just incredible. I love leaving the mint leaves on the chicken as I think it gives a lovely hint for the flavor. Another great thing with the chicken is it`s very easy to make! Please visit the link I provided above to get the recipe and give it a try.

And for the carb, I cooked a simple potato dish by shallow-frying boiled potato with olive oil, rosemary, and garlic. Rosemary and garlic. Beautiful. I fainted twice last night. I have no idea why I didn`t use rosemary more often in my cooking rituals, because I clearly should! If you want to see the step-by-step preparation, I`ve made a similar dish a while ago, although with different ingredients.
For desserts, we had store-bought ice creams, although I have prepared another batch of chocolate mint cake too and this time with almond flour and no icing. I`m so addicted to this cake. 

I guess we both smiled when we went to bed and I was very glad that we had that lovely dinner!

I know people, and maybe you too, are already planning for Christmas and New Year`s celebrations, so enjoy preparing the next feasts and big dinners!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chocolate mint cake with nutty icing

One thing I realized about my cooking habit is I tend to bake cakes, especially those with icing, in late fall or winter. I seem to crave something sweet, creamy, and rich when the air gets crisp and chill, but doesn`t it happen to everyone? The cake I`m showing you here is actually for my husband`s belated birthday celebration, which we were supposed to have 3 months ago because his birthday was in August. This was our second time celebrating birthdays together and his last year`s birthday cake didn`t come out on time either. My New Year`s resolution should be: make a birthday cake on the birthday.
Anyway, one or two months ago, I stumbled upon a blog of an Irish ice cream maker/company and found their gluten-, dairy-, and butter- free brownies recipe. Unlike other recipes I`ve known and tried, the recipe calls for almond flour, olive oil, and egg whites. As an ice cream maker, they seem to have many egg whites leftovers and this brownies recipe is one of the alternatives to use them. I feel really bad for not keeping the link for the original recipe. I`ve been trying to find the blog again, but still no luck so far. So, if you happen to know this Irish ice cream maker`s blog, please let me know so I can share the link here.
Back to the recipe, I`m more than happy to use the olive oil because honestly, for me it is far easier working with the oil than butter in addition to the health reason. However, as I wasn`t into keeping the leftover yolks, I used whole eggs instead of the whites only. There was one thing in the recipe that brought out my curiosity the most, which was the use of almond flour. During my first trial, I kept worrying if the cake would even turn into a cake, but the result was just fantastic! It surprised me already that the cake rose just like the regular cakes, but I was even more surprised with the texture because it was definitely the moistest yet lightest brownies I`ve ever had. It almost reminded me of sponge cake due to the lightness, which is why I`m calling it chocolate cake, but  its deep chocolatey  flavor brought my mind back to brownies.
This time, however, despite my intention to recreate that joy, I ran out both my almond flour and whole almond stock, so I had to use the regular flour. The cake turned out denser than the almond version, but overall it was still good. So, if you are not allergic to almond and happen to have the almond flour in your pantry, look away from your regular flour and use the almond flour. Also, if you have leftover egg whites or if you`re curious (I am still curious), you can try the original recipe where egg whites are used instead of whole eggs.
Alright, kitchen now?

Mix sugar and cocoa with a whisk in a mixing bowl and crush any lumps in the mixture. Having sugar lumps in the cake are fine maybe, but cocoa lumps? Na-ah.

This is not from the original recipe, but chocolate and mint combo is my weakness, so I added dried mint leaves. Your weakness too? If so, get 1 tbs of dried mint leaves- more, if you want the cake to be super minty- and chop up.

Whisk in the chopped mint leaves.
Ideally, I wanted the mint leaves to be much finer, but this was what I could do the best. I`m never ambitious in my kitchen.
 Beat in whole eggs and the dry mixture will turn into a gooey mass.

Pour in olive oil and stir well.

Fold in almond flour (very recommended) or sifted flour.

Pour the batter into a greased cake pan and bake in preheated oven at 170 C for 40 min.

Here is the cake after 35 min baking. The top was firm with a crack in the middle, although it didn`t crack when I used almond flour.
Cool it in the pan for 30 min or more depending on your room`s temperature and then unmould it onto a cooling rack.

Confession: I cooled the cake on a plate instead of a rack.
Remove any uneven surfaces, half the cake into 2 discs, and invert the cake to set the flattest surface-the bottom side should be the flattest one-facing up on top.

Now, for the icing, chop up mixed nuts and reserve some whole nuts for decoration. Set the nuts aside.
By the way, I only have salted nuts, so that`s what I used. But have you tried try sweet-salty icing on your cake?
Whisk up 150 ml of heavy cream and add 2 tsp of sugar.

When the cream has stiffened enough, fold in 2/3 of the chopped nuts. 
The icing is ready!

Get you cake plate and cover the rim with aluminium foil. This will keep your plate clean when you do the icing.

Place the first disc on the plate and spread the cream generously.

Set the other disc on top to make the second layer and ice the top.

Spread the remaining cream to ice the whole cake.
I know, even a 10-year old kid can do better at this than me.

Sprinkle over the remaining chopped nuts and whole nuts.

And carefully remove the aluminium foil. Ta-da! Super clean icing-free rim!

Add more whole nuts on the side and the cake is done!

Happy birthday, honey! Here`s for more and more sweetness and cakes in the coming years!

This cake might not be the best looking cake in my life-and let`s be honest, it`s not-, but we finished half of the cake the day I made it. That`s how much we loved it. The crunchy nuts gave a really nice contrast to the icing and the minty-chocolatey cake. And can I say it again? It`s chocolatey, it`s minty, and it`s heavenly.
Want a slice?
For the cake (cake pan size: 15 cm in diameter and 5 cm in height)
125 g sugar
40 g cocoa
1 tbs chopped dried mint leaves
3 whole eggs
30 g flour (substitute for 30 g almond flour for lighter consistency)
30 ml olive oil
Vanila oil

For the icing
150 ml heavy cream
1 tsp sugar (add more if using sugarless instant coffee)
100-150 g chopped/minced mixed nuts
Whole nuts for decoration

1. Mix sugar and cocoa in a mixing bowl.
2. Beat in whole eggs.
3. Beat in olive oil and vanila oil.
4. Fold in flour or almond flour.
5. Pour the batter into a greased cake pan and bake in preheated oven at 170 C for 35 min
6. After the cake is ready, cool it in the pan for 30 min and unmould onto a rack.
7. Half the cake into two discs and remove uneven surface with knife if necessary.

To ice
1. Whisk heavy cream and sugar at low speed and gradually increase the speed when the cream has started to get thicker.
2. Keep whisking until the cream has stiffened.
3. Fold in 2/3 of the chopped nuts and stir to combine.
4. Cover the rim of a plate with aluminium foil leaving the plate completely covered when the cake is placed on it.
5. Place one disc of the cake on the plate and spread the icing generously on its surface.
6. Stack the iced layer with the other disc and repeat the icing process.
7. Ice the side of the cake with the remaining cream.
8. Sprinkle over remaining chopped nuts and whole nuts on top and decorate the side with the whole nuts.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Oefs en Cocotte (the simple and lazy version)

This Oefs en Cocotte , or eggs cooked in ramekins, is another dish that I made based on Julia Child`s recipe for our Saturday`s brunch. I call my version as the simple and lazy version because I don`t use butter and heavy cream that are called for in her recipe (this makes for the "simple") and I just steamed the eggs instead of baking them (and this makes for the "lazy"). These last couple months, I usually eat only plants-based diets to start my day and save the animal protein for my lunch or dinner, but I`ve been wanting to give a try on Julia`s eggs recipe as serving eggs in individual ramekins without the fuss of peeling the shells off sounds totally wonderful to me. So I finally had these lovely eggs for our brunch with the lighter ingredients, aka. no butter and cream.

Start with simmering water in a shallow frying pan or an oven-proof baking dish. 
I don`t have any baking dishes that can be used on my IH stove, so I figured that I need to do the whole cooking process on the stove. So, again, if you want the the simple way, just go with your frying pan.

While waiting the water to get simmered, crack an egg  in an individual ramekin. You can grease the ramekins first with butter or oil before placing the eggs. I skipped this part as I was going to prepare another oily dish. 
By the way, I feel like I was preparing this for kids. Just look at these Lego colors.

Now carefully place the ramekins in the pan. 
Don`t drop them, please. You don`t want poached eggs all over your pan with the ramekins in it, especially on your beautiful Saturday morning. 
You can see that the water level is no more than half the ramekin`s height. I did it to prevent the water from getting into the ramekins. Also, this way I could place the ramekins with my hands easily without getting my fingers cooked.

Put the lid on and you can go back to sleep

 Here`s how they look under the lid after 5 mins on low heat.
After 5 mins, remove from heat. 

Now, the next step would depend on your preference. If you want hard-boiled egg consistency,  let the ramekins sit inside the pan at room temperature with the lid still on for like 5-10 mins. This will extend the cooking process. I did it this way, although with no intention of making them into hard-boiled eggs. But, if you want the yolks to be soft or runny, you probably should lessen the cooking time or open the lid and serve the eggs right away. 

In Julia`s recipe, after the buttered ramekins containing eggs and whipping cream are steamed on a stove, the ramekins and the baking dish are transferred to the oven and baked at 375 F (190 C) for 7-10 mins. I have no idea how the eggs would turn out in her recipe, but I clearly overcooked my eggs.

This is another reason why I let the lid on for 10 mins. I was busy sauteeing these string beans with crushed garlic and black pepper while forgetting about the eggs still getting cooked inside the pan.

Well, at least this time we had a more proper brunch compared with our usual lazy Saturdays before.

Steamed eggs, sauteed string beans, and yaki-imo (baked sweet potato). I love yaki-imo, especially for breakfast.

Here is the hard-steamed yolk. It`s different in so many ways with the runny yolk, but the convenience it offers during the cooking and eating is definitely a big plus of this steamed egg. I`ve never cooked and had any boiled eggs this neat before. Ever.

Enjoy your weekend`s feast!
OEFS EN COCOTTE (shallow pan-steamed version)
Ingredients and equipments:
Individual ramekins (optional: greased with oil/butter)
A shallow frying pan containing simmering water with a lid
Salt and pepper
Sesame seeds

1. Simmer water in a shallow frying pan with the water level is half of the ramekin`s height
2. Crack an egg  in the individual ramekin
3. Carefully place the ramekins in the pan and put the lid on
4. Cook for 5 mins on low heat
5. Remove from heat
6. For hard-boiled egg consistency, let the ramekins sit inside the pan at room temperature with the lid on for another 5-10 mins before serving. For soft-boiled egg consistency, serve right away.
7. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and sesame seeds when serving. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Miso risotto

Hi there! How was your Halloween party? Did you have heavily sugared celebrations? For us here, we don`t celebrate it. It just happens that there is no Halloween tradition where I grew up and live now, and to top it up, I suck at horrory stuffs. But I really enjoyed finding Halloween-themed cookies and candies out there, though!

Anyway, from my kitchen, I wasn`t sure if I should share my oddly named dish with you and you`re about to know why. When it comes to step-by-step pictures, I know people get tempted to quickly scroll down the mouse to see the final result. And if you do, I`m afraid to say that given my lacks of effort and talent in food styling (meet me, Ms. Excuses), the appearance of dish might kill your appetite. But I hope you won`t leave from there, because I think you need to know what`s exactly in it and also, I want you to try it.
It all started on one lazy Saturday noon when I found our rice cooker`s lid widely opened for God knows how long. Well, it actually only took me seconds to figure out how long it was and who did it because my husband, who everyday has his breakfast around 7AM after coming home from his newspaper delivering routine (yes, I`m shamelessly still asleep), was the last one who opened the rice cooker and of course, forgot to close it. With the heating in the open air for hours, the rice was almost all browned and dried when I saw it. I almost cried too!! 
It just so happened that I was planning on cooking fried rice, for our lunch that day, but with this dehydrated rice, I knew it wasn`t a good choice. That`s where I came up with the risotto idea. I just stick on to my thought that risotto has a texture somewhere between porridge and regular cooked rice. To be honest, although I occasionally enjoy risotto at Italian eateries, this was my first time making one, which I`m sure not in a proper or traditional way too.

For a starter, I used cooked rice instead of uncooked ones. And as you might guess from the title, I used: miso, Japanese fermented soy paste.

Start with preparing the miso seasoning.  This is just a rough measurement. For 2 plates of rice, I used 2 heaping tbs of miso paste and diluted it in 3/4 cup of water. I also added soy sauce and pepper to the sauce for more flavors. No salt here since miso and soy sauce made me happy already.

Slice spring onion and cook it on medium heat until it smells good and gets wilted

Toss in your favorite mushroom. I used eringi here. I know, I use it awfully a lot in my kitchen.

Now here comes the fish. If you can find this kind of fish at your place, by all means use it because the tiny fishes go wonderfully with miso. They are called shirasu in Japanese. In English, some people call it baby sardines and others call it baby anchovies. I actually have a post using shirasu for fried rice here. Anyway, toss in the shirasu or whatever you feel like having with your risotto.

Then, chopped tomato. Since I made miso soup with tomato, I keep using the combo as I love how the tomato gives a light touch of sweet tanginess to the salty miso.

After giving some good stir, dump in the rice and stir again. Oh...poor rice....

Get the miso sauce you prepared earlier and pour it in to the rice. This looks like a big mess that is far from appetizing, but please, bear with me.
Stir it well and if you think the rice still hasn`t reached the consistency of risotto, add more water. I did add an extra cup of water since the rice seemed too dry to me. By the way, although I haven`t tried it, I think you can try adding cream or milk instead of water to make the risotto creamier, like a real risotto. I just wanted something lighter when I made this, so I went with water.

When your risotto seems done, adjust the seasoning and stir in sliced green paprika to give the crunchy edge to the whole mushiness. it is, our miso risotto. My risotto wasn`t watery enough compared to risotto I`ve had before, but I didn`t think of this at all once I spooned it in my mouth. Uuummppphhh.....yum! That`s all I can say. And if you love miso soup served with rice, there is a pretty good chance you`ll enjoy this one too.
By the way, can I call it "misotto" now?

Makes about 2 plates

1 spring onion
100 g mushrooms
100 g shirasu
1 medium-sized tomato
5 small green paprika
2 plates cooked/steamed rice
2 tbs miso
3/4 cup water to dissolve the miso*
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 cup water to soften the rice during cooking*
Salt (only if necessary)
*Substitute water for heavy cream or milk to get a creamy consistency

1. Prepare the miso sauce by dissolving 2 tbs miso paste with 3/4 cup of water
2. Add soy sauce and a pinch of pepper to the miso sauce and set aside.
3. Cook sliced spring onions with a bit of oil in a pan over medium heat until fragrant and soft.
4. Toss in sliced mushroom, shirasu, and chopped tomato to the pan and stir well.
5. Throw in cooked rice and stir until the rice is evenly coated.
6. Pour in the miso sauce, stir, and adjust the consistency by adding more water to thin out. 
7. Adjust the seasoning and throw in sliced green paprika.
8. Ready to serve.