Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Masu no sushi, a specialty of Toyama

I don`t usually write about store-bought food, but this one is an exception. A huge one. Because I am truly in love with this sushi and I knew it from the very first bite. Last summer, I vividly remember how I was amazed by a pack of sushi my labmate brought from her grandma`s town, Toyama prefecture. It was "masu no sushi" or "masu sushi" and although I`ve honestly thought the fish was salmon, my friend who brought it told me it was trout. 
Having lived in Japan for 6.5 years now, you probably can imagine how my life here is surrounded with so many varieties of sushi. But eating sushi brought as a souvenir? Obviously last summer was my first time. And since the masu sushi has impressively wowed me with its presentation and delicacy, this year, I specifically (and politely, of course) asked her if she could bring me that sushi again from her hometown. And she said, no problem. She even asked me which grade I wanted. I didn`t even know they have grades! But I simply asked for the affordable one.

Anyway, she was finally back to the lab, with this delightful box. I was so ecstatic I felt like I had to hug her!
Have you ever seen sushi in a box like this? At a glance, I wouldn`t know it was sushi inside. 

Inside the box, there is a round flat-bottomed wooden container with a lid tightly pressed over it. It`s like a miniature of hangiri, a wooden rice bowl used for preparing sushi rice.

And inside the box there comes the next wrapper, bamboo leaves. Oh, so exciting!

And beneath the leaves, there is a beautiful peachy orange color filling up the whole space. 

The package comes with a set of plastic cutter, chopsticks, and soy sauce. Perfect.
Look at this. A cake. Last year, I seriously thought it was a cake. Covered with fish.

So, a slice for me with wasabi on top. I mean, the first slice. Trust me, you won`t stop with one slice.
Unlike regular sushi where the rice is considerably fluffy, the rice in this masu sushi is really dense and sticky with stronger sweetness, hence the thought of cake, or probably sticky sweet rice cake. You might think that sweet rice with fish won`t do well, but believe me, this one works just wonderful.

And the second slice to come soon.

If you are a sushi lover and in Japan,  I beg you to try this masu sushi. You just have to. But if you are outside Japan, err...what can I say..enjoy the pictures? I`m sorry. Please don`t hate me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pan-fried senbei (Japanese rice crackers)

This is another post from me since the banana muffins about using up leftovers at home, and this time I`ve got rice. Since my husband and I are genetically gastronomically designed to be rice eaters, we constantly have leftover rice  at home, which we usually place on top of the freshly cooked batch in the rice cooker, wait for a while to heat it up, and eat it up altogether. The cycle repeats all the time, except for one day when I remembered watching a TV program about making senbei, or Japanese rice crackers, at home with a frying pan. During my first year in Japan, I got the impression that senbei is the national snack of Japan, if there`s such a thing. In fact, I think of senbei as  sort of Japanese potato chips due to its dominance in the non-Western snack corners in the stores.
Regular senbei sold at the stores are usually crunchy, hence the name "crackers" regardless the shapes or tastes. But these pan-fried version give a different texture of senbei with a crispy exterior and mochi-like glutinous interior. I personally don`t see it as cracker. Fried mashed rice, maybe? Oh, let`s just call it senbei, then.

Anyway, this is very easy to make. With simple ingredients too!
You just need cooked rice and grind it until you can`t see the individual grains and it turned into a very, very sticky dough. I`ve tried using steaming hot rice and cold one. Not fridge cold, though, just not hot. Both turned alright for making these senbei.
By the way, I only had like 3 (heaping) tbs of cooked rice when I made these senbei and that gave me 6  pieces of palm-sized senbei.

Before I continue, here is my verdict about the grinding/mashing. Although you can see in the pictures that I ground the rice using mortar and pestle, I recommend you to use a zip-lock storage bag instead. I don`t know if I did it wrong, but the ground rice stuck (like glued stuck!) to the pestle and the mortar and this really made the grinding harder. When I placed the rice in a bag, and mashed it with a pestle from outside the bag, my life turned so much easier. I wish I took the pictures when I did it with a plastic bag, but I`m sure you get the idea just fine.

Alright, after the mashed rice is done, now throw in your favorite ingredients (cheese? meat? sugar?). and mix well. I used seaweed flakes and sesame seeds. My must-have pantry items.

Wet both of your palms with water (I tried oil too, but I love water better) to prevent the dough from sticking, place a portion of the dough on your palm, and shape it into a thin disc. Now this is optional, top the senbei discs with dried shrimps for extra flavor.
Frying time! Put the senbei directly on a heated frying pan with a bit of oil. 

When the bottom browned, flip it over, and brush the browned surface with soy sauce and sesame oil. When the other side got browned too, flip it over again, brush with the sauce too, and you`re done!

If you want, sprinkle some more seaweed flakes on top.
Not bad for leftovers, huh. Other than nibbling on them right away, I also put these senbei in a bowl of hot kimchi nabe. Oh, loved it! Like crazily loved it! And if I have to add rice to any soup, it has to be these senbei, not the regular steamed rice.

Oh, there`s one thing you should know, especially if you`ve never had senbei before. This senbei will tend to stick on your teeth and the wise thing to do is to brush your teeth afterward. But, regardless how often I had senbei stuck in my teeth, I always ended up making them again. That`s how much addictive these guys are.

Steamed/cooked rice
Sesame seeds (better if toasted first)
Seaweed flakes
Dried shrimps
Soy sauce
Sesame oil

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Polvorones (almond cookies)

I had been meaning to make these cookies since months ago after I came across Pioneer Woman`s post on  Mexican wedding cookies called Polvorones. The cookies and the ingredients just reminded me of a widely known cookie in Indonesia called Putri Salju or Snow White. Yes, that princess. I guess the icing sugar sort of represents the snow flakes, but I`m clueless on how the princess idea came in. Anyway, I was 97% sure that the Snow White cookies were somehow an adaptation of Polvorones and I was really excited to try it out.  I finally made them today, although I ended up slightly modifying a recipe from Seasaltwithfood.

Let`s start with the preparation.
Soften unsalted butter at room temperature. 

If you have almond flour or ground almond, lucky you because you can skip this step. But if you don`t, toast raw almond in oven at 150 C for 15 mins, stir occasionally during toasting, let it cool, and grind it.

Same like almonds, toast flour at 150 C for 20 mins, stir occasionally during toasting, and let it cool. 

Almonds and flour are done, so we can start cooking now.
Cream the softened butter and sugar.

Whisk in ground almond.

Slowly fold in the toasted flour until it turns into dough. 

Like this. 

All recipes I found describing the dough to have a very crumbly consistency. At the beginning, my dough was actually rather moist than crumbly making me thinking that I might need to add some flour. But I kept continuing the work and after a few minutes, the dough did turn drier and very crumbly. It was indeed so crumbly that it was quite tricky to roll out the dough. But I know you`ll manage it, because I did.
Place a portion of the dough on the counter or working board, press it tightly with your hands, and  roll it out very gently with a rolling pin to make a 1-cm thick dough. Just a little push with the rolling pin will easily crack open the dough. So, go easy with the rolling. If, though, the dough cracks open, pull it back together with your hand and reroll it. 

Bake them in preheated oven at 150 C for 20 minutes.

Welcome to my wedding, sweeties!

But I think a light dusting with icing sugar will make them look even more gorgeous. 
Note: The cookies are already sweet themselves, but the addition of the icing sugar really makes a difference here. If you don`t mind with the extra calories, go for it, but I hope you do it in moderation.

And I have to hide these away from my Winnie the Pooh because he loves to grab the cookie jar late at night. 

So, what about the Polvorones and the Snow White stuff? I honestly think that they`re the same cookies. The buttery  texture with the good crunch and nuttiness of the almond are just heavenly. And the sugar dusting makes it a perfect sweet marriage indeed.

Happy Sunday!

P.S. My waist line!!

Adapted from Seasaltwithfood
Makes about 35 cookies (5-cm in diameter, 1-cm thick)
200 g unsalted butter
100 g sugar
130 g ground almond
220 g flour
1 tsp vanilla oil
Icing sugar for dusting

Bake at 150 C for 20 mins

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Stir-fried shiitake mushroom and octopus

Newsflash: I fell asleep during my pilates exercise today. Fell asleep. Right on my mat.
I started to do exercises a lot recently and they mostly involve aerobics. Other than riding bicycle everyday to my lab, which is only 10 minutes away, I didn`t do any sport. For years. And since my body started to scream out through my waist line and those annoying jiggly parts (and not to mention all those unwearable pants!), I decided to do some regular exercises at home. So I bought some DVDs and one of them is for pilates. I`m doing relatively fine with the aerobics, but the pilates is a lot of work!! I usually spend my energy and time more on laying down, sighing, and practically just watching during the whole pilates program. The instructor`s body must be made of rubber as she looks so, so flexible. And strong too! So, today, like the day before, and before that too, I gave up after only 5 minutes trying to do the sit-ups with both of my legs pulled up. And I just watched and listened to her instructions. Then, next thing I knew, I was awake. Because apparently I fell asleep. He said, "You do know that you should follow what she is doing, don`t you?". Then I knew I was awaken by that noise. Yeah, like he knows how to do that torturing sit-ups.

So that was my humiliating story that I know I shouldn`t have told you all yet I still did. And now is time to share what I cook the most in our kitchen, which has nothing to do with the pilates.
Stir-fried mushroom. With one stove in my kitchen, stir-frying is the simplest cooking method I know that give a dish looks like a real prepared dish. It usually requires a lot of chopping and slicing, but once everything are prepared, the dish is ready almost in no time. And I cook mushrooms a lot. Like almost in every dish. Shiitake is my numero uno of choice because of its nutty note during sauteing and  its meatiness, but I also use maitake, shimeji, and eringgi a lot in my repertoires. 

So, shall we?
Now let`s start with the octopus first. I used boiled octopus, but you can use other fresh  (or boiled) seafood you like. Or meat.

The octopus head has a very stretchy skin, so I just pulled it off and cut it up with my scissors.

Cube the skinless octopus.

Dust the cubes with flour.

And shallow-dry them for a few minutes until they look crisped up and golden. Be careful with the oil splatter. It`s nasty, but I know I just have to go through it.

The fried octopus. Set them aside. We`ll need them later.

I usually stir-fry the boiled octopus without frying it first, but this time I want some texture other than chewiness. And frying gave what I wanted.

Next is to prepare, aka. chopping and slicing, other ingredients before starting the stir-frying.
Onion, some cloves of garlic, and chili. Checked. Sorry, no picture for this one.
Shiitake mushrooms. Trim off the hard tip of the stem, but do use the stem.

Slice up everything into thin strips. Checked.

And shishitou. Japanese green chili. Slice it up. Checked.

Alright, we`re ready now.
Heat a bit of oil on a pan and saute garlic, onion, and chili. Can you smell that?

In the mushroom goes. It might look like a lot at the beginning, but after cooking for a while, the strips will lose their structure and shrink a lot. And when they do, season with soy sauce, oyster sauce, vinegar, salt, and pepper. You can add sugar if you want it to be sweet. 

Throw in the green chili.

And quickly stir in the fried octopus. I love the chili to be slightly crunchy so I don`t want to cook it too long.

Once everything combined, the dish is ready.
Just a little more preparation here. I sometimes sprinkle sesame seeds over the hot steamed rice. Sesame seeds smell best after toasting. But I`m happy enough with the untoasted ones.

Place the stir-fried mushroom over the rice and it`s ready!
I call this a plate of happiness for our Saturday`s dinner.

Enjoy your weekend!

Boiled octopus
Flour (only to lightly coat the octopus)
Shiitake mushrooms
Shishitou (Japanese green chili)
Soy sauce
Oyster sauce

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Watermelon drink

Since I made my cucumber agua fresca that day, I just can`t stop making fruit drinks in my kitchen. And when I got myself a book for smoothie recipes, I stepped up to add some vegetables in. I realized how rare I ate raw vegetables for my daily meals and I know that`s just not good. Not good for my skin! So I blend up carrot, cabbage, bell pepper, tomato, apple, blueberries, oranges, lemon, etc etc, you name it. The good thing is, I get to borrow the natural sweetness from the fruits and make the less sweet or rather bland vegetables more drinkable. I don`t usually eat raw vegetables due to their blandness at the first place. Anyway, I drink it everyday, usually twice at morning and night. Repeat: Everyday. To my surprise, not only I started to get used to the natural sweetness (although sometimes when it tastes too bland or weird, I add a bit of honey), I found the taste of the fruit and veg mix isn`t that bad for me.
Now this post is for what I`ve made last month, where I haven`t thought of mixing it with veggies. But still this drink is one of my favorites, next to eating the watermelon as it is. Watermelon is one of my biggest love affairs with food. I see it as a beautiful crunchy yet moist sponge full of refreshing sweetness. It`s just perfect. Even with the seeds in. If the seeds bother you, though, you might be better choose the seedless watermelon for this drink.

Chop up and put them in a blender

Aah..the cooling mint leaves. I never get enough of them.

Whiz up. Oh, lovely.
By the way, I didn`t need to add sugar or honey at all as this was sweet enough for me. 

And as always, I forgot something. Oranges.
Use a squeezer to get the juice (and pulp too if you want), pour it in to the blender and puree it again.

And since I didn`t take the picture after I added the orange juice, please pretend that you see a jar of watermelon puree with light orangeness. Thank you.
By the way, you can add water (or not) to your preference of thickness. Although the more water you add, the less sweet it would be, and the more sugar (or honey) you would likely add.

Say hello to this freshness. Happy slurping!

Watermelon (seedless one, if necessary)
Orange juice
Mint leaves
Water (optional)
Sugar or honey (optional)