Color of Saffron: STAUB 22cm

Color of Saffron: STAUB 22cm

I don’t like shopping really.  No, let me rephrase that.  I do not like shopping except for books, grocery and kitchen tools.

Yesterday, this little but heavy box arrived at my cube at work.  I tried so hard not to show my excitement.  But it was really hard, Oh My God.  It was my Staub pot!  When I decided I was going to get rid of all tools, pots and pans that I was not in love with last year, I especially started to invest in pots and pans.  I contemplated for a LONG time, like 8 months.  Which one was better for me to get, Staub or Le Creuset (I am a thinker, what can I say)?  Finally I decided to get Staub and my first pot was Grenadine Round Cocotte 28cm.  It was a significant decision and I enjoy cooking even more because of Staub.  It is cast iron pot and it is heavy but what I love about this pot is the lid.  The lid closes very tightly and steams inside really well with small amount of water.  Let’s say you are cooking winter vegetables, it usually takes a long time to cook them because they tend to be dense.  Because of the tight lid closure, it cooks with small amount of water, which means that it cooks with water that vegetables contain, therefore it has a stronger flavor.  Also these dimples in the lid.  Whoever thought about these is genius.  My hat’s off to that genius.  Here is why. Those dimples circulates water inside of pot and has a basting effect.

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I do have an emotional connection to this series.  This my 3rd Staub and this is just gorgeous. There are so many things I want to cook.  This a damn good problem to have.

Transformation of Two Beloved Birds: Road to Pho Ga from Free-Range Farm

Transformation of Two Beloved Birds:  Road to Pho Ga from Free-Range Farm

So, there were two chickens, running around a field.  Being outside, eating healthy food and getting exercise builds nice muscles, especially on their thighs.  Also, with them running around freely, it makes them stress-free.  Well, maybe not completely “free” from stress but they have way less stress than caged ones.

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Those 2 birds ended up at my house and my dear friends and I enjoyed tasting them so much.  I oven-roasted them with winter vegetables (blogged on 1/17) and also consumed 4.5 bottles of red wine as well.  Next morning, as you can guess, we were not as happy as the night before due to dehydration and headache.  What does Asian mother say when you have hangover?  “Eat your noodle soup!” or “Eat your miso soup!” or “What an idiot!” I decided to follow my mom’s voice.  Noodle soup!

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Let’s use those birds then.  Carcasses into pot and shimmer for an hour, then add Royal Boat brand fish sauce and fresh squeezed lime juice.  There soup is ready.  Then cook rice noodle and add to the soup. Garnish with cilantro and grated yuzu (glorious Japanese citrus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuzu) on top.  After this, my hangover is magically gone because of togetherness of umami from chicken, tanginess of lime, saltiness of fish sauce, freshness of cilantro, then with delightful, sweet and tender aroma of yuzu.  Flat rice noodle is well coated with this simple yet magnificent soup.  Nothing was left in my bowl, not even a drop of the soup.

Thank you, healthy chickens.  Because of you, I am getting right amount of protein, ready to build nice muscles and I feel “cage-free” from the crappy headache.

… (no words needed)

… (no words needed)

I love taking a nap.  Naps are magical.  After taking a nap, all of my body parts and soul were revitalized.  It is 3 pm and OK, I have 2 and half hours until two friends are coming to our place for dinner.

These pretty birds, 2 of them, have been taking a nap for quite a while.  Not a typical nap, they have been bathing as well …with salt and lemon.  It is time to wake them up.  They are rested well and their body should be rejuvenated, and their soul, should be, uh well, good(?).  Salt and lemon make their skin look gorgeous.  Now, I even make them look prettier with quartered lemons, garlic and fresh thyme inside of their bellies.  Then I coat their bodies with melted butter.  Lots of butter.

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Following this, they go to an even warmer place, the oven, with winter vegetables such as fingering potatoes, rutabaga, renkon (lotus root), parsnips, carrots, brussel sprouts, leeks and onions that Washington state small farmers grew with TLC. They get to enjoy the heat for about an hour and half.

Naps are magical, I said.  Naps make (almost) everything better.  I have proof here because these chickens tasted just delightful as the 4 of us got quiet for a while when we started eating them.  Sometimes no words are needed to express how delicious the food is.

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Art of Eating Ramen: Properly

Art of Eating Ramen: Properly

No, you are not offending anyone or being improper.  It’s OK, you have a permission.

BIG slurp!  There you go.

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It’s winter and cold outside, and it’s perfect timing to tackle a bowl of ramen.  Properly.  Eating a bowl of ramen is art, y’all.  If you are like me (rebellious), this is a perfect food because you get to do something your mother taught  you NOT to do.  You get to make some noise while eating.

First, you need to know exactly what you want to have.  Shoyu (soy sauce), Miso, Shio (salt), Tonkotsu (thick pork broth).  Then thick or thin noodle?  Heavy stock or lighter stock?  Extra pork meat, bean sprouts, corn or bamboo shoots?  Know exactly what you want, otherwise wait staff won’t wait forever for you to decide.  I actually recommend to practice on what to order outside of the shop for a couple of times.

Then, you go in.  Usually ramen shop is relatively small.  Most of ramen shops I like in Japan only have counter seats so pick your seat and sit down, quickly.  Ramen guy behind the counter or wait staffs are not really talkative since the shop is running 186 miles per an hour.  This is why it would be helpful if you know what you want.  Anyway, you tell them what you want to eat.  Omit “how are you” and “I heard your ramen is delicious!” because they know they make awesome ramen and they cannot waste time being social.  Ramen is serious business, everyone.

I also recommend to go to ramen shop alone or with someone whom you don’t need to worry about carrying on a conversation with because ramen must be eaten at the moment it’s served.  You need to eat your bowl quickly.  If you are from South, you may have a hard time but this is not proper time to eat it daintily.  Why?  The longer noodles sit, they start to suck up the soup into the noodles because the noodles are made of flour. They are like a sponge and they get all mushy (yikes).  Not only that the ramen does not taste as it should after noodles suck up all the soup, also that might upset ramen shop owner.  You don’t want that at all. That said, I would not recommend you to go to the ramen shop on your first date.  If she or he is delighted to go to your favorite ramen noodle place with minimal conversation, congratulations, you just found your soul mate.

So now, how do you eat it fast with correct manner?  Big slurp with noise!  Making some noise is a huge part of eating ramen bowl artistically and properly because it has a cooling effect.  Who knew, right?  We Japanese do.  Our slurping training starts in the mother’s womb.

Oh, don’t forget…Hashi (chopsticks) in one hand and renge (ceramic spoon) in the other hand and embrace them both.  That will help you immensely to taste a perfect marriage of noodle and carefully and deliciously prepared soup.  If you want to look like you are a pro, pick up your bowl and take last drops soup from the bowl at the end.  Ramen shop guy would be impressed, I promise.

Think of it as riding a bicycle for the first time, practice, practice and practice.

OK, ready?  Slurp!  Make some noise.  Proudly.

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One Japanese word to remember: Oishii!

One Japanese word to remember: Oishii!

Asian mothers…they are so mother.  They are always worrying about your well-being, especially if you are well fed.  I grew up in that kind of household in Japan.  What still echoes in my ear is these words, “have you eaten?”  My mom’s signature line.

Now I do that even though I am not a mother.  I am constantly asking like “are you hungry?” or “do you want to eat more?” Last night, I made seared ahi (nice reddish pink in the middle…perfect) and arugula, cilantro and kale salad with ponzu sauce. That fills my tummy and soul.  Pure deliciousness.

If you travel to Japan and happen to meet my mother, she probably would ask you “have you eaten?” and if you haven’t, she would cook for you.  Her dishes are all tasty, I guarantee you.

So, here is one word you need to memorize just in case you meet her there.  “Oishii!!” = Pure Deliciousness.

My kind of meditation: Nurturing my root

My kind of meditation:  Nurturing my root

Food takes time to prepare in general.  Any kind of food really but I have to say Japanese food is one of those foods that takes lots of time to prep.  If you want something quick and easy, you might want to be reconsider about becoming a Japanese cook.  However, Japanese food is the one if you enjoy process, experience and of course, eating Japanese food.

I heard that most people are born with 4 taste palettes, sweetness, saltiness, bitterness and sourness.  Asian people are usually born with one more, umami.  What is umami anyway?

“Umami is an appetitive taste and is described as a savory or meaty taste. It can be tasted in cheese and soy sauce, and while also found in many other fermented and aged foods, this taste is also present in tomatoes, grains, and beans.  A loanword from Japanese meaning “good flavor” or “good taste”,[46] umami (旨味?) is considered fundamental to many Eastern cuisines and was first described in 1908, although it was only recently recognized in the West as a basic taste. Some umami taste buds respond specifically to glutamate in the same way that “sweet” ones respond to sugar. Glutamate binds to a variant of G protein coupled glutamate receptors. (source-Wikipedia)”

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This is “sumashi-jiru” (clear soup).  Today, I made this soup with snow peas, lotus roots and scallops.  This looks quite simple but this requires time, dedication, and love.  This soup is packed with umami.  I did not have to add gobs of condiments, I only added tiny bit of salt and just a splash of shoyu (soy sauce).  It took about 90 minutes total to prepare this soup.

First, you simmer 3′ x 3′ kelp piece for 1 hour, then add handful shaved dried bonito (you can buy shaved bonito flakes at grocery stores, but I shave them myself) and bring to boil, leave it about 1 minute.  Then you filter the stock to make it super clear, golden color tasty dashi.  Then you put separately prepared snow peas and lotus root in to a bowl and pour this deliciousness over them.  THIS soup is my main course for lunch today.  Shaving bonito takes time, cooking dashi takes time but these “times” are my weekend rituals. Makes me feel proud and I am thankful that my mom taught me Japanese traditional way of cooking.

I look forward to every weekend because of this.  This is my way of meditating through preparing meals, appreciating meals and being gracious for my Japanese roots.  Sunday is always a great day.

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Flan and Simple Minds: perfect rainy day in Seattle

Flan and Simple Minds: perfect rainy day in Seattle

I remember the smell of burnt sugar spreading throughout the whole house.  For some reason, that always happened on rainy days in Tokyo.  My mom made this simple, classic and non-flashy kind of flan when I was a little kid.  It was not always consistent. Sometimes it was dense and sometimes it was kind of runny.  It was not perfect, that is why I adore her flan even today.

It is raining in Seattle today (or 182 days of the year) and it is Saturday.  Pandora is playing Simple Minds and rain keeps falling down, down and down so it is perfect day for making some imperfect flans.

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I will tell you all about it: Uni Ikura Donburi

I will tell you all about it:  Uni Ikura Donburi

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How does this look like to you?  Gross? Weird?  To me, this looks just gorgeous.

If you let Japanese mom or grandma cook, you’d be surprised how much they do NOT waste ingredients.  For example, let’s talk about chicken.  They cook thigh, breast, wings, inner-fillet, liver, heart, tale, gizzard, feet, (we eat some parts raw…I know.  But they are delicious!), and bones and neck for soup stock.  Fish, same thing.  They will use everything even fish roes.

So, in this photo, red pearl-ish looking thing is Ikura, salmon roes.  Yellow slimy looking thing is Uni, sea urchin.  You put these 2 things on a bed of rice, Donburi, then add little amount of Shoyu (good quality soy sauce, I recommend Ohsawa Brand.  You can buy it natural food stores or online http://shop.goldminenaturalfoods.com/Nama-Shoyu/products/58/), you would feel like you are in heaven.

I don’t believe many sushi restaurants have this dish on the menu in the U.S. but if you order by saying “hey, I’d like to order Uni Ikura Donburi” in Japanese, you would impress the hell out of sushi chef.  I guarantee it.

Japanese (mom’s) curry? Yeah, I think so.

Japanese (mom’s) curry?  Yeah, I think so.

What is Japanese curry (kare-raisu: curry and rice) anyways?  It is a little bit thicker, more like stew-ish texture than Indian curry.  I heard that curry and rice was introduced to Japan in late 1800’s for the first time from England.  But does it matter?  Not really.  Most importantly, I know this thing is delicious and that’s actually all that matters.  It is one of Japanese soul foods if you ask me “what the hell is Japanese curry?”  Today I used sweet onion, carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, mushrooms, tomato sauce, cumin, curry power, cinnamon, Theo chocolate (85% dark) and super finely ground Starbucks Kenya coffee beans.  I think chocolate and coffee add rich body to the curry.

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Every time I make Japanese style curry and rice, vivid memory of my mom cooking curry flashes back in my head.  Cold and windy day in Tokyo, I come home from school, and as soon as I open the door, this warm, spicy and familiar smell drifts out from the kitchen.  I love any kind of curry, Indian, Thai, Malaysian, Pakistani, Java, Indonesian…but my mom’s curry is simply the best.

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Tomato…so cheerful

I am hungry.  Actually I am starving.  After spending 10 hours or so at work, I want to eat fast.  My choices are 1) to suck it up and cook 2) to go straight to the couch.  OK, I choose 1) tonight but it needs to quick and delicious.  It cannot be one those ready-made crap.  No.  It MUST have my love in it and be yummy in my tummy.  On cold and gloomy night in Seattle, I thought tomato red would cheer my heart up and my stomach up.  One big can of San Marzano and dried spaghetti box in my pantry.  Ok.  One Walla Walla sweet onion and brown mushroom in my veggie bin.  Cool, I don’t have to go to store.  In my Staub, I start cooking chopped onion with Lorenzo No.1 olive oil then add some mushroom, then whole can of tomato and Eden sea Salt.  Shimmer while I take shower.

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Then above becomes this with accompaniment.

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Baby, it’s cold outside.  Let’s eat spaghetti with simple tomato sauce so this will take us to under Italian sun and cold night blues are done immediately.