Saturday, February 19, 2011

Lunch With Girl Friends

Pre Valentine’s Day celebration

DSC_0016The Friday before Valentine’s Day, I had a few Japanese friends over for lunch. Valentine’s Day was only a few days away so I looked through a few magazines and my newspaper clipping of recipes to find what I thought was perfect recipes for Valentine’s Day theme. Beet soup (pinkish red color was great start for Valentine’ Day lunch), follow by Kale Salad and Short Rib with Chocolate Sauce (Valentine’s Day without chocolate is unthinkable don’t you think?). Finishing out with chocolate ganache cake with chestnut cream. I know that it is not a good practice to try new recipes when guests are coming but I love adventure and challenge (of course there is the chance that guests became victims, but why worry). Anyway, it sounds good on paper. I shopped the day before and was somewhat surprised that quality short rib with bone on are not as cheap as I thought. I had planned to make almost everything a day before but I had oil painting class on Thursday and tons of errands afterward. I’m so exhausted by the time I got home. I fixed cold buckwheat noodle with tempura shrimp for dinner and crashed on the sofa watched ‘Wipeout’ on TV. Yeah I’m really wiped out.

My friends are very polite and kind about the short rib with chocolate sauce so I couldn’t figure out truthfulness of the dish until my husband come home and had left over. Although he didn’t say anything negative he was beaming ‘Please don’t make this again’ via his aura. Using my telepathy power, I sent him ’All right I won’t’  right after I sent him ’Come on, this is not that bad' message first. I confess this was too peculiar taste (I didn’t hate it, perhaps they didn’t hate either but…  not much care for? ) and I felt like I had wasted good beef short ribs and chocolate.


DSC_0061This recipe is from Bon Appetit magazine January 2011 issue. My husband likes kefir which taste like yogurt, he makes from kefir starter (comes in small box at Whole Foods in the dairy section).

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped fennel bulb
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 2 large beets-cut into 1/2  inch cubes
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup unflavored kefirDSC_0052
  1. Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add chopped onion, fennel and fennel seeds. Sauté until soften about 5 minutes.
  3. Add beets and stir to coat. DSC_0054
  4. Add chicken broth and bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium–low. Cook until beets are tender about 20 minutes.
  5. Puree soup in batches in blender. Return to same pan.
  6. Whisk in 1 cup kefir and season soup with salt and freshly ground black pepper .
  7. Rewarm soup.
  8. Ladle soup into bowls. Add a drop of kefir onto soup. Run the tip of a paring knife through the center of drop of kefir to crate a heart shape.


  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Warmed honey (optional)
  • Kale-washed and torn into small pieces, discard woody parts.
  • 1 apple* diced. Soak in lemon water to prevent browning. 
  • 1 red or yellow pepper diced
  • Pine nuts or slivered almond lightly toasted
  1. Mix well olive oil and lemon juice in small bowl using fork.
  2. Put kale leaves in bowl and drizzle olive oil mixture over the top of it.
  3. Add apple, pepper and nuts then mix well to coat.
  4. Salt and pepper to taste. Chill.

* There are new varieties of apple in the market here - Pacific Rose and Opal.DSC_0026DSC_0035

Both are very good but I still like Honey Crisp the best.



  • 10 beef short ribs with bones
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 8 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 stalks celery chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 750 milliliter bottled of dry red wine
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • Zest of lemon and juice of 1 small lemon
  1. Season ribs with salt and pepper.
  2. In pressure cooker (I used our electric one), brown ribs about 3 minutes then remove from pressure cooker, set aside.
  3. Add garlic, celery,onion and carrots to the pressure cooker. Stirring often, cook for about 6 minutes.
  4. Stir in the wine and broth.
  5. Return ribs to cooker, add bay leaves and thyme. Distribute chocolate over the liquid.
  6. Cover and cook on low pressure about 45 minutes.
  7. Check for tenderness, if the rib is still tough, pressure cook for another 15 minutes on low heat.
  8. Remove ribs to a platter and cover with foil tightly to keep warm.
  9. Pour remaining pan mixture through a strainer into a bowl. pressing out as much liquid as possible from vegetables, skim off fat.DSC_0085
  10. Return liquid to cooker, cover and cook on high heat for about 5 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half.
  11. Return ribs to sauce. Cook until heated through.
  12. Stir together parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice.
  13. Transfer ribs and sauce to the platter, spoon parsley mixture over rib.


DSC_0090My husband wonder why Japanese girls like chestnut cake (mont blanc) so much. I don’t know the answer to that. I like it and all my friends like it. It’s not a common cake in US and some Americans have never even heard about it which I wonder why.

Make Gateau Chocolat

I doubled this recipe to make sure there was enough.

  • 1 package of unsweetened chocolate 113g, break in small pieces.
  • 3 egg whites at room temperature
  • Super fine sugar 40g and 50g
  • 3 egg yolks at room temperature
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder 40g
  • Flour 30g
  • butter 70g at room temperature
  • Heavy cream 120cc
  • Rum flavor extract 1 teaspoon
  1. Line the bottom of a 9 inch spring form pan the with parchment paper.
  2. Sift together flour and cocoa powder, set aside.
  3. In a double broiler, melt chocolate and butter, set aside.DSC_0041
  4. In a electric mixer, beat egg white for a few minutes. Add 40g sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Put in a another bowl, set aside.
  5. In the same electric mixer (no need to wash), put egg yolk in and scramble at  low speed  for  2-3 minutes. Add  50g of sugar and beat until lighter in color and texture.DSC_0043
  6. Add melted chocolate, rum flavor and heavy cream. Mix well.
  7. Add flour mixture and fold into the egg/chocolate mixture.
  8. Add half of egg white mixture to the batter, scrape from bottom of the bowl and fold in. After egg white is well blended in, add the other half of egg white and do the same to blend all together.
  9. Pour in pan and bake for about 50 minutes at 320F DSC_0047


  • 1 bag of purchased chestnuts cut in small pieces (about 100g)*DSC_0027
  • Heavy cream 200cc or more
  • Super fine sugar 35g
  • Rum flavoring 1 tsp
  • A jar of heavy syrup chestnuts                    DSC_0002
  1. Put the bag of chestnuts in a food processer and using pulse button, make paste.
  2. Add cream and sugar and mix until creamy. Add more cream if chestnuts are too stiff.
  3. Add rum flavoring and mix well.
  4. Strain through fine mesh then put in piping bag.


  1. Cut gateau chocolat out with round biscuit cutter (2 and 1/2 inch round).DSC_0079
  2. Put small amount of chestnut cream on the cake.DSC_0081
  3. Put sliced chestnuts on top of cream.DSC_0082
  4. Using a small round hole tip, pipe out cream over.
  5. Decorate with whole chestnuts on top.
  6. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

* A friend in Utah who makes fabulous pastries gave me tip about using the inexpensive bag of chestnuts (it only costs around $1 ) instead of expensive WS jar of chestnuts (about $12).


 DSC_0098My husband put all ingredients in our bread machine and rolled it out in morning before he went to work. I appreciate him sprinkling his genuine niceness here and there for me. Although, I was so busy making other stuff that I forgot to check the oven and burned it a little bit but his rolls were welcomed by my friends very much.


One of my friends brought these beautiful roses to me.

DSC_0076 Connecting with friends over lunch is always fun and I’m thankful for their friendship. Right after they left, I started brain storming my next menu. I hope they are not tired of me experimenting with my new recipes on them.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Great side stories

My favorite meal-supporting side dishes

My husband and I love to watch movies. We usually catch matinee movies to save money. We don’t buy popcorn, soda or snack because snacking during movie is a distraction except when we go to see movies with our granddaughter. We undermine our daughter and spoil the heck out of her, because we don’t get to see her often – that’s allowed, right? Last year, we went to see ‘Tangled’ with our daughter and her children. Our then 4 month old grandson was so good throughout movie we all were able to enjoy the movie. At one point our 4 year old granddaughter said “Let’s go home. This movie is too scary for me” and had nightmares that night about the old witch though. I would be so scared if I get that old too. Anyway, our other favorite movie last year was ‘ Inception’ hands down. Interesting movie plot and great action scene and actors - especially Ken Watanabe. Since he got best supporting actor nominee from ‘ Last Samurai’ he has been in several American movies like ‘Letters from Iwojima’, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ -- he was even in a Batman movie as a villain, He has done lots of serious movies but his comic timing was great in this Japanese phone company commercial. In this commercial, Ken Watanabe is a cell phone owned by a young man who left him somewhere outside and it is raining. Realizing that he has lost the phone,a colleague dialed the number then Ken Watanabe start singing its ring tone song – “Listen to me, Listen to my say…”.  The young man apologizes for forgetting his cell phone but Watanabe/Phone goes “ Well, I kind of like rain” (it’s a waterproof phone). Cool!

I would buy Ken as a cell phone…

While I think of side dishes as compliments to main dishes there is also the argument that main dishes without them are not that exciting. Side dishes must be underwhelming, easy to make and add color.

Japanese Potato salad – serving for two

DSC_0029I am not sure why Americans don’t put cucumber in potato salad but I have never seen it happen.

  • 3 potatoes (Yikes! mine got new shoots) Peel, cut in chunks and soak in water for 10 minutes.DSC_0008
  • 1 carrot Peeled, sliced and quartered.DSC_0010
  • 1 cucumber Sliced and quartered.DSC_0019
  • Unsweetened rice vinegar 3 tablespoons
  • Cupie mayonnaiseDSC_0021
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  • 2  hard-boiled eggs
  1. Drain the soaked potatoes, put them in a medium size pan, pour enough water into the pan to cover and boil. Cook until potatoes are soft but not mushy.DSC_0023
  2. Put carrot in microwave safe small bowl, add a couple tablespoons of water and cook about 1 minute until tender crunchy.
  3. Sprinkle 2-3 teaspoons of salt on cucumber and wait 5 minutes or so then gently squeeze the juice out of the cucumber.
  4. When the potatoes are done, drain the water then put them back in the same pan. Put the pan back on the stove over medium heat and evaporate the water by shaking the pan for 1 minute.
  5. Sprinkle the vinegar over the potatoes while they are hot.
  6. Add carrots and cucumber to the potatoes and mix well.DSC_0027
  7. When potatoes are cooled, add about 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise; mix well.
  8. Add salt and white pepper to taste. Chill in refrigerator.
  9. Separate boiled eggs (white and yolk) and mash both with fork.DSC_0016DSC_0017
  10. Put boiled egg white then boiled egg yolk on top of potato salad. Sprinkle paprika and if you have some, put fried bacon or prosciutto ham on top of it.

Kimpira gobo (Burdock)

DSC_0009This well liked side dish is very homey. I don’t have exact mesurments so you need to adjust for your taste.

  • 1 gobo, skined and cut in thin match sticks. Soak in water for 10 minutes.DSC_0002
  • 1 carrot skined and cut in the same length match sticks
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • Crushed red pepper - I used 1 teaspoon but you could add moreDSC_0005
  • 3 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 teaspoons super fine sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Sesame oil
  1. Heat frying pan with oil, add red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute.
  2. Add drained gobo and  stir fry for 3 minutes.
  3. Add carrots and stir fry for another 3 minutesDSC_0006
  4. Add mirin and sugar then cook until gobo and carrots are tender but still not limp
  5. Add soy sauce and cook until almost all the liquid is evaporatedDSC_0007
  6. Add about 1 teaspoon of sesame oil.
  7. Remove from the pan and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.

Tofu with Ricotta Cheese-courtesy of Harumi Kurihara – Author of Several Japanese cook books.

DSC_0118I like the cold tofu and warm dressing combination.

  • 1 package of soft tofu
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons superfine sugar
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 1/2 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • Shiso leaves for garnish-use kitchen scissors to cut into thin strips
  • Bonito flakes for garnish
  • Sesame seeds

To make sauce

  1. Mix soy sauce, sugar and mirin in a glass measuring cup. Heat in microwave oven for 3 minutes at 50% power.
  2. Add ginger to soy sauce mixture.


Place the ricotta cheese on top of the tofu and sprinkle with sliced shiso leaves. bonito flakes and sesame seeds. Pour the warm soy sauce dressing over this. Serve immediately.

Oven baked Cauliflower

DSC_0039My daughter shared this recipe with me. I’m not a big fan of cauliflower but it’s quick to make and its interesting mild flavor does not over power other dishes.

  • 1  head of cauliflower separate in small pieces
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Parmesan cheese (optional)
  1. Put cauliflower in rimmed cooking sheet. Coat cauliflower with olive oil. I used a sandwich bag over my hand to thoroughly coat the cauliflower. Disposable plastic glove is great for this task- I should buy a box.
  2. Sprinkle salt on cauliflower
  3. Sprinkle parmesan cheese too.DSC_0034
  4. Bake in over at 375F for about 10 minutes.

Academy Award Show will be on the TV soon but most of movies that are nominated we didn’t see so it is less exciting to watch. Usually the actors and actresses that I root for don’t win. Very frustrating. Really.

This is a very neat compilation of things Ken Watanabe has done

Monday, February 7, 2011


The sweet history

IMGP2306One of the theories is that this very popular, sponge cake like sweet in Japan, was named after Castilla monarchy in Spain. Another one said that their official royal bread is kasutera but the royal bread is hard and not sweet and nothing like kasutera today. There are many other theories about introduction of kasutera also. Dutch, Spain, Portugal and China all have a claim for its origin. I don’t know why there are no accurate accounts. When Nagasaki was opened  for imports in 1571, the Japanese’s joyful acceptance of sugar grew and they developed kasutera into softer and sweeter taste.  The journey took 70 years to perfect though. At that time in Japan they didn’t have the practice to use dairy products so kasutera recipe requires no milk products and has had great staying power in Japan. As for the oven, they didn’t have one back then but they used hikigama (引き釜)with charcoal, this original Japanese equipment was very helpful. I’m glad nobody gave up making, changing and developing this into really wonderful treat. Ryoma Sakamoto (坂本竜馬)who led the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate and the founder of the first modern corporation in Japan - kaientai (海援隊), wrote the kasutera recipe in his record of this corporation.That is more interesting than our cookbooks today, I think.

I have a few kasutera recipes but I choose this one because it doesn’t use milk and I think is similar to the recipe of Fukusaya (福砂屋 since 1624)the original kasutera maker in Nagasaki. And it’s the easiest. Wait a couple days to eat it for a moister version.

  • Eggs 8 at room temperature
  • Honey 5 tablespoons
  • Mirin 5 Tablespoons
  • Sugar 200g
  • Flour 240g
  1. In a electric mixer, put all eggs and beat at low speed for 1 minute.
  2. Add sugar and mix, starting at low speed then increasing to high speed for 5 minutes or until lifting up the beater leaves a ribbon mark.DSC_0020
  3. Mix honey and mirin in a small bowl and microwave for 30 second at 60% power
  4. Add honey mixture into egg mixture then at mix at low speed until well combined  - about 1 minute.
  5. Add flour and mix at low speed. Do not over mix - about 1 minute.DSC_0024
  6. Pour into a 9x9 pan lined with parchment paper that goes 2 inches over the pan.DSC_0025
  7. Tap the pan on the counter a couple of times to remove the air bubbles. DSC_0027
  8. Stir thru the batter several times with a skewer to help remove large air bubbles.DSC_0029
  9. Bake at 340 F for 10 minutes then lower the oven heat to 285 F for 40 to 45 minutes.
  10. When it’s done, remove from oven and drop pan from about a foot high ( that will prevent shrinkage).DSC_0032
  11. Stretch plastic wrap on the counter and turn the pan over on the wrap. Remove the kasutera from the pan and carefully remove the paper. Wrap tightly with the plastic wrap.DSC_0033
  12. Wait a couple days before eating for moist kasutera. Do not refrigerate as this will make the kasutera stick to the plastic.
  13. If you are used to the Japanese way, remove the edges. When serving the cake is left upside down.

Replace 4 tablespoons of the flour with 4 tablespoons of cocoa powder to make cocoa kasutera.