Staying Hydrated with Our New SM-YAE48 Travel Mug

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Whether you’re en route to work or hanging out by the pool, we know it’s important to you to stay hydrated in style.  That’s why we’ve developed the SM-YAE48, a travel mug designed with your lifestyle in mind.  Enjoy up to 16oz. of your favorite hot or cold beverage in a new and improved style that maximizes capacity while minimizing space.

Treat yourself to a comfortable drinking experience with a wide spout mouth and tapered lid cover that won’t block your line of sight when you’re on the go.  With a stain-resistant smyae03SlickSteel® interior, easy-to-fill wide opening, and partially disassemblable lid, this mug is also a breeze to clean.  And, no matter how bumpy the roads you travel, or jumbled your backpack or purse, its leak-proof lid and safety lock guarantee your drink gets wherever you’re going spill-free.

It gets even better!  The SM-YAE48 is available in four stylish colors: Stainless, Dark Cocoa, Cherry Red, and Lime Green! So, what are you waiting for? Fill this mug up with today’s piping hot black coffee or iced fruit tea, and savor your drink at one of your favorite places. We’ve got ya covered!

Your Sushi Party Awaits: Working with Makisu!

 If you do one thing this summer, it should be throwing a sushi party! No, seriously–it’s a great way to get together with friends, get creative, and enjoy some good food while you’re at it. In addition to the usual essential ingredients (fresh fish, wasabi, soy sauce, nori seaweed and lots of sushi rice), you’re going to need a makisu mat.

A makisu is that tan-colored mat made of woven bamboo sticks and cotton thread that you often see at the sushi bar. Sushi chefs use the makisu to shape sushi rolls, and sometimes egg omelets. They aren’t very expensive, and are simple to clean and store. Just be sure to completely scrub off any food bits, and dry completely after washing to avoid bacteria growth.

It may seem easy, but it’s actually a bit tricky to roll sushi using makisu. Have you had those floppy rolls that fall apart when you try to pick up with chop sticks? That’s a bad example right there. A properly rolled sushi should hold its shape when you pick them up. But don’t worry, we can show you how to roll sushi! Check out our maki sushi recipe here to learn how.

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Full disclosure: Creating a sushi roll is not as easy as it might look, but that’s part of the fun! Throw yourself into it, and don’t be afraid to make a mess. Sushi parties can get a little messy, but we guarantee it will be well worth it!

Go to your local Japanese market to get all the ingredients you might need. Be adventurous and fill your rolls with your favorite ingredients—how about tuna, sriracha, Japanese mayonnaise, crab, octopus, cucumber and salmon? Don’t forget pickled ginger and sesame seeds for garnish, and plenty of nori (seaweed) or soy paper to wrap! We’ll do what we can to help you get that sushi rice just right, and the rest is up to you and your friends. We promise, it will be a party to remember. Enjoy!

Doyo-no Ushi No Hi, A Day for Eating Eel!

One of our favorite summer holidays is called Doyo-no Ushi No Hi. It falls late in the month of July when the weather is hot and humid, and it is all about eating eel to beat the heat! Sound crazy? It has been a tradition in Japan for hundreds of years.

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Japanese summers are hot and humid, and it can become quite exhausting when you are slogging through those sticky humid days! We call this “summer fatigue” natsubate, and in Japan we believe that eating vitamin and mineral rich eel will help us get through the heat. If you ever find yourself in a Japanese supermarket this time of year, you will see eel being sold quite often.

sansho02 (photo by Didier Descouens)

Sansho Pepper plant (photo by Didier Descouens)

One detail to note is that Japanese eel or unagi is always served with a topping of sansho pepper, which is similar to Sichuan pepper, but with a citrus note.
Sansho
has a number of uses in Japanese cuisine, but the most famous is definitely with eel. This spice has an effervescent cooling sensation when you eat it, as well as a slightly lemony and earthy quality, which complements the rich eel very well. In fact, most store-bought eels come with the sansho prepared in a small packet on the side.

Sansho pepper is a perfect pair with eel, but throughout the year it can be enjoyed with a number of other items such as chicken, tofu, and fish dishes. It is also one of the ingredients for the popular seven spice blend called shichimi togarashi, which goes great with yakitori (grilled chicken on skewers), soups, and noodles. Sansho pepper by itself may be a little bit overwhelming, but you will probably appreciate it in shichimi togarashi. Give it a shot!

Have you ever tried to cook with sansho pepper? We’d love to hear your recipes and uses for this amazing spice!

Shave Ice Summer

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Growing up in Hawaii, I was raised on “shave ice” since small kid time. And do me a favor, don’t call it “shaved ice” to a local kama’aina–you’ll show your malihini (newbie) colors. I am, of course, partial to Hawaiian style shave ice, but I’m aware that there are other kinds these days. Long gone are the days when the only good shave ice was on the Islands and everyone else had to settle for sno-cones.

A style that is very popular now is a “snow ice” type of hybrid between ice and ice cream, originally from Taiwan. Whereas shave ice is ice that’s drizzled with fruit flavored syrups, snow ice has been infused with milky flavor prior to freezing. It is then shaved off into sheets of ice–the effect is a creamy, ice dessert that melts in your mouth. Truly the only kind of shaved ice that competes with shave ice in my humble opinion. I tend to like my snow ice simple, with a minimum of toppings–maybe the little mochi bits or raspberries or kiwi. But if you like yours with more imagination, you can get a mountain of ingredients that will make yours look like a gaudy psychedelic iceberg. Above pic is taro flavored snow ice with strawberries, blueberries and mochi bits.

In Japan, their traditional version of this dessert is known as kakigori, which literally means shaved ice. Theirs is a coarser, more crystalline consistency topped with syrup, often ujikintokistrawberry or green tea flavored.  Sweet condensed milk is also added sometimes, and one of my favorites is super charged with matcha ice cream, azuki (red beans) and mochi–the classic Ujikintoki. Hawaiian shave ice fans might find the ice texture too coarse for their taste, but I think it has a character all its own.

If you’re in Japan, you can find the coffee shops that serve kakigori by looking out for the universal sign for “ice”, a banner that they display outside their storefronts.
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I recently had a Korean version that was an ice parfait in a cup–mango juice, pineapple, korean icevanilla yogurt, coconut flakes, granola and honey. That’s the one on the left; the other one has condensed milk, yogurt, coconut flakes, granola and honey. These were both surprisingly good. They’re obviously going for the texture with all those crunchy ingredients, and hoping to blend it with the cold, sweet ice. It works!

Nothing though, beats my childhood Hawaiian shave ice. Let’s face it, for the shave ice purist, there’s nothing like the Rainbow one with the classic flat wooden spoon sticking out of it. Whenever I get a chance to go back, I make sure to make a stop at the world famous Matsumoto Shave Ice. They’ve been there for as long as I can remember, and on any given day you’ll see a busload of tourists stopped outside the store. If you go to visit on your way to the North Shore, be sure to follow the instructions on how to order your shave ice; it’ll make the line go faster!

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The Real Thing

Thanks to timeout.jp for Ujikintoki, sneakers-actus.fr for Kakigori, and ahappyhowto.blogspot for Shave Ice. Other photography by Shelley Opunui, visit her Instagram here: ironchefmom

Fake Food!?

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Food replicas are a part of the dining out experience in Japan. Almost any restaurant will have a glass showcase out in front, with several of their most popular dishes on the menu lined up on display. With the price of the dish clearly marked on tent cards, the food models are an easy 3-D menu that allows diners to make up their minds before they even step inside.showcase

I love these things–invented in Japan and unique to their culture. When they’re well-made, it’s very difficult to tell them apart from the real food. In fact, I can tell you from personal experience of the time I got queasy from staring at a tempting plate of lasagna at an Italian restaurant in Tokyo.

Let me explain. We had gone out to see a movie and decided to have dinner afterward. Big mistake. The movie was Alien–remember the “chest bursting” scene? It was a pretty intense film with highly stylized and realistic action parts where the alien creature causes a lot of mayhem and human destruction, if you know what I mean. The restaurant was a popular high end place near the theater; and the food on display looked really good until we kept staring at all that tomato sauce and melted cheese and ground beef and…well, we lost our appetite for Italian food and ended up having sandwiches at a coffee shop. LOL! True story!
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Food replicas have been around in Japan for over 90 years, when a department store restaurant first started making the fake food to lure customers inside. When Americans and Europeans traveled to Japan to help with rebuilding efforts after WWII, no one could read Japanese menus, so the replicas clearly helped the foreigners decide what they might want to eat. At first the models were made of paraffin wax, but the colors would fade over time, so plastic vinyl chloride is used today–a material that is virtually permanent.
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The material may be high tech, but the process is still handmade. Molds of real food are used, and when that’s not possible the molds are hand sculpted. Painting and airbrushing is what lends the food its realism and detail, as well as the multiple parts that need to be assembled together to make a  single sushi roll. Sometimes actual food prep techniques are mimicked to get the realism required, like chopping plastic vegetables with a chefs knife, or deep frying plastic shrimp in hot oil.

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One of these is REAL! Which one??

Today there are a few large food replica companies in Japan, but for the most part many of them are mom and pop artisans who have raised the level of craftsmanship to an art form. Techniques and trade secrets are closely guarded in an industry that generates billions of yen per year. If a single restaurant ordered replicas to be made for most of its menu, it may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars–the replica is always custom made to be exactly like the restaurant’s dish.

Replicas courtesy of Bentoss, Trends in Japan (web-Japan.org), Japan Online. Photos by Bert Tanimoto and Shelley Opunui.

Soak in Summer with Zojirushi

summer02Warm days that seem to never end. Enjoying outdoor activities with your family and friends. The best fresh produce your local growers provide… these are just a few of the reasons we love this time of year!

With so many things going on, you probably wonder how many meals you have time to make at home each week. We believe that it’s both lack of time and inconvenience that keep us from the simple homemade fare we crave. We’re here to help! Our rice cookers, stainless food jars, bread makers, and various other gourmet products lend themselves to quick and easy meals at home. Our appliances are designed to help you create a delicious meal easily and save you time when cleaning up. So spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying your summer!

Shiso, a Complex Flavor in the Kitchen

It’s shiso season shiso01and we couldn’t be happier. Shiso is just one of those unique ingredients. For those who aren’t familiar with it, shiso is an herb with a texture similar to mint. It has bright, slightly bitter, earthy flavor that brightens up your favorite summer dishes. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s used in a way similar to parsley or cilantro.

Of the five tastes, shiso definitely falls under bitter. So if you’re looking to ‘grow up’ or try something new on the plate, why not play with shiso–after all, what’s the worst thing that could happen?

shiso03The cool thing about shiso is that you can use it in endless ways. Throw it in a fresh veggie salad, serve it with fresh fruit, float it in soup, or garnish a cocktail.  It’s so versatile! It’s not expensive, and even a small amount will leave you with plenty to play with. We suggest chopping it fine to sprinkle over vegetables or using it as a garnish for meat dishes. You can even puree shiso into a pesto, or wrap it around fish.

Go ahead and be adventurous, and have fun with this versatile herb. If nothing else, it will make an interesting conversation starter. We are pretty confident that you will enjoy its unique flavor profile!

The Only Knife You’ll Ever Need

In Japanese, santoku literally means the “three virtues.” In this case we mean chopping, cutting and dicing, of course! The santoku knife is world famous for its fabulous capabilities in the kitchen.

This rather large knife might be compared to a ‘chef’s knife’ in the states. They range from a 5” to 7” blade size with a sharp point. These indispensable tools are designed for a firm grip while allowing for full blade use. They are known for their sharp edges and their “dimpled” blade, which helps to release food slices stuck on the blade. This knife is a perfect multi-functional tool.santoku

You can find santoku knives across a wide range of prices and materials. You can even find ceramic varieties in stores and online these days. If you take good care of yours, store it correctly and have it professionally sharpened, it should last, well, forever. Keep in mind that a sharp knife is a safe knife, and as they dull they become more dangerous, since you have to use more pressure.

If you are looking to add to your collection, or looking for the perfect all-around chef’s knife, a santoku is a must-have item. You will be amazed by their function and versatility.  Please be kind to all of your knives, treat them with respect and above all else, keep them out of the dishwasher!

Rise and Shine!

Waking up in the morning can be a bummer! Kids, summer day camps, breakfast, work- it can sometimes feel like an endless list of tasks. Some days, don’t you just want to stay in bed with a newspaper and a cup of coffee? Maybe some homemade coffee cake?

ecysc01We’re sorry that we can’t remove all the weight and worry of everyday life, but we can try to make it a little bit sweeter. That’s why we’ve spent the last year perfecting the Fresh Brew Plus Thermal Carafe Coffee Maker (EC-YSC100). We thought the smell of a perfectly brewed cup might be just the thing to get you going and on your way…

Now, this is not your regular drip and go machine. The carafe is constructed with Zojirushi’s advanced vacuum insulation technology that helps keep coffee as fresh and great tasting as when it was first brewed. By utilizing a thermal carafe instead of a burner, coffee can remain hot for hours without burning. The Fresh Brew Plus brews coffee at 200 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the optimal temperature for the best tasting coffee. It also features a 24-hour programmable timer so you can have a delicious cup of coffee ready in the morning.

The Fresh Brew Plus Thermal Carafe Coffee Maker is also remarkably easy to clean! The removable water tank is fully washable and the swing and filter baskets lift out easily for thorough cleaning. In addition, this unit has a “clean light” indicator that illuminates when cleaning is recommended. So, rise and shine- your coffee is ready!

Wedding Season cross Cultures

Is it us or does wedding season feel longer and longer each year? March through October seems to be filled with weddings, both in our lives, and on social media. During the spring and summer months we are inundated with images of string lights, mason jars and rustic floral arrangements. Beautiful brides glide through outdoor venues decorated with dessert tables and photo booths. What has social media done to the modern American wedding?

wedding01A similar shift is happening across the Pacific Ocean. The traditional Japanese style wedding is becoming less and less of the norm, and couples are opting for ‘western’-style affairs complete with white gowns, tiered cakes and the toss of a bouquet! Some couples even have ceremonies where both wedding traditions are combined. In this situation the bride and groom will perform one part of their wedding in a western style dress and tuxedo. Then, they will have a change of wardrobe and wear traditional Japanese wedding kimonos for the reception. That would make for one elaborate wedding!

But what is a traditional Japanese-style wedding, you ask? Well, that’s a longer story…Japanese weddings are typically all-day affairs beginning early in the morning and stretching out through the night. Both bride and groom don classic wedding kimonos as wedding03they make their way to a shrine. The bride’s kimono will be white with a large white headdress called tsunokakushi. The headdress is meant to be a symbol of both submission and protection from jealousy. Sound familiar? Tsunokakushi is not unlike a western-style wedding veil!

Japanese wedding ceremonies are performed by a Shinto priest in a shrine. Instead of opting for the long walk down the aisle in front of a large crowd, these ceremonies are often intimate with only the couple’s parents in attendance. Drinking sake is an important part of the ritual and symbolizes getting through the many challenges that will arise within the marriage.

Then at last, the reception will commence. Japanese style wedding receptions are held in tatami rooms where husband and wife sit on a stage to see their guests. At this point, the bride might change into a more colorful kimono, or in more recent years, a western-style gown. Food and drink will be served, and people will eat and drink to their hearts’ content. People dance and sing, and give speeches to the new couple. Money is the gift to give at a Japanese wedding. The standard amount is about $300.00, wrapped nicely in an envelope.

As we look at both eastern and western-style wedding traditions, we can’t help but see many similarities. Both versions begin with a ceremony and end in a reception, both require lots of food and drink, and there is some sort of gift giving in each situation. Couples celebrate with close family, friends and colleagues, and it is not uncommon for the couple to take a honeymoon when it’s all said and done.

So perhaps we aren’t that different after all. Have you ever been to a Japanese-style wedding? If so, we would love to hear your reactions and thoughts on the matter! Happy wedding season!

May Brings Long Spring Days

bbq02Welcome to May! The days are stretching longer, weather is warmer, and we are seeing celery, shallots, apricots and pluots at the market. This time of year is always filled with
excitement. Vacation is just around the corner, and summer barbecues are so close that you can almost taste them!

This month, we celebrate a number of spectacular eating holidays, from Cinco de Mayo, to Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day. There is always an excuse for dinner, brunch, or a backyard BBQ. We have been planning ahead for this month, and have set aside a few recipes that you just might find useful.

We are excited to share our fabulous new rice cooker with you this month, and introduce you to a few of our amazing recipes. We would also love to know what you have been cooking in your kitchen. If you have any kitchen miracles you would like to share, please send them our way.

 

Children’s Day

On May 5th we celebrate Kodomo no Hi, known as Children’s Day, in Japan. It is a day when older family members and friends recognize and honor their little ones, and wish for their well-being and happiness.kodomonohi02

This is a visually festive holiday. Japanese households and schools (mostly kodomonohiyoroielementary schools) display carp streamers, also known as Koinobori, during this time of the year wishing for good luck and promising fortune for the children. In Japanese culture, the carp has long been associated with strength and determination. It serves as a metaphor for children to strive hard to reach their goals and to overcome obstacles encountered in their personal pursuits. Inside homes, people display samurai helmets and armor as a symbol of strength and prosperity.

During this season, it is also customary to make Kashiwamochi, a special rice cake dessert wrapped with an oak leaf. It is filled with some kashiwamochisweet Adzuki bean paste, and the fresh scent from the oak leaves transfers to the rice cake, adding a subtle, yet pleasant herbal taste to the dessert. Children all over the country look forward to receiving this special treat on Kodomo no Hi.

In the United States we celebrate holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Grandparents Day to pay respect and love to our elders, but there isn’t a special day to celebrate and embrace the young generation. What do you think about implementing something that resembles Children’s Day in the western world? Wouldn’t it be a nice way to connect the young with the old?

Wasabi – An Insight into This Amazing Condiment

 As mawasabi03ny of you know, wasabi is one of the most recognized of all the Japanese condiments, and is in the same horticulture family as horseradish. The history of wasabi has noble beginnings dating back over a century ago, when people first started utilizing it as a medicinal ingredient to kill harmful bacteria. It was about 400 years ago when people began to enjoy wasabi as a condiment, and around the same time that the cultivation of the plant also began.

 

Today, the number of Japanese wasabi farmers has decreased to only a handful, as growing it is a very time consuming and labor intensive process. As a result, it has become very difficult to purchase genuine wasabi, and the majority of it we find in the general markets and restaurants is just a mixture of Western horseradish and green food coloring.

Don’t be disappointed though, because there are a few wasabi farmers in the U.S. They are mostly in the state of Oregon, where they have the cool climate and the clean water necessary for growing it. So if you really want to try some real wasabi, you can visit those farms in Oregon!

wasabi04For an authentic Japanese meal, try adding genuine wasabi paste to our traditional Nigiri Sushi recipe: https://www.zojirushi.com/app/recipe/-i-nigiri-sushi-i-. Real wasabi can hold its flavor for
up to 15 minutes only, and it must be graded immediately before serving. Compared to the imitation one, the real wasabi is a bit less spicy, but its fresh aroma is just beyond description! Try it, and let us know if you can tell the difference!

Otoshibuta, Your New Best Friend

 If you don’t have an experience cooking in a Japanese kitchen, you have probably never seen otoshibuta before. Literally meaning, drop lid, these round cooking lids are slightly smaller than the diameter of the pot, and sit directly on top of the cooking ingredients.  Otoshibuta helps the cooking liquid move towards the lid, and coats the top of the food creating a more concentrated flavor. It also reduces the likelihood of the cooking liquid boiling over on the stove, and allows food to cook quickly and evenly.otoshibuta

Otoshibuta are typically wooden and soaked in water just before use. This will prevent the tool from soaking up the cooking liquid, or worse, cracking. You can also find plastic, silicon or metal varieties, but a bit of tin foil or even paper towel will serve as a makeshift otoshibuta in a pinch. In fact, tin foil ones serve better than the wooden ones when you are cooking delicate ingredients because the lid will not crush the ingredients while simmering.

This tool is great for simmering hardy root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and pumpkins, as well as fish. Perhaps you can find an online tutorial or a recipe, then experiment for yourself. Just when you thought you knew it all, right? There’s always more to learn!

Product of the Month: Induction Heating System Rice Cooker & Warmer NP-HCC10/18

NPHCCWe are over the moon to be sharing our newest rice cooker with you! The NP-HCC is one of the most advanced and innovative so far! We have continued to perfect and enhance our cutting-edge induction heating technology to bring you perfectly cooked rice every single time.

This rice cooker is equipped with a variety of settings including GABA brown, porridge, sushi and now, Jasmine rice! We cater to the rice you choose, while you simply enjoy! Did you know that our GABA brown function actually cooks brown rice low & slow to activate and increase the nutritional value of the rice? We are always thinking about you and how best to serve…

The best feature of this product just might NPHCC03be the easy to read orange back lit LCD control panel. We have changed it from the green to be easier on the eyes. It’s always fun to switch up the colors!

We’ve kept your busy schedule in mind with a delay timer & automatic keep warm. The rice will be made around your schedule and can be kept warm for up to 12 hours. Yes, that’s about 3 meals folks!

With a sleek stainless steel interior and a thick non-stick inner pan, this product is easy to clean both inside and out. We thought a detachable inner lid would help with those tough to reach corners.

From delay cooking to keeping warm, cooking to cleaning up, the NP-HCC has got it all going on. We sincerely hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Name That Sandwich!

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The sandwich above is famously called the Number 19 at a famous deli here in Los Angeles called Langer’s®. It’s a very simple sandwich–pastrami, swiss cheese and cole slaw on rye bread with Russian dressing. I can assure you that it tastes every bit as amazingly good as it looks.

As a professional writer though, I was wondering why they couldn’t think of a better name for it. Don’t get me wrong, this sandwich has become so famous that it’s their signature, and now everybody knows “the famous #19″. But when Langer’s® first opened, didn’t they want to name their sandwiches? I happen to think adding personality to food is what gives a menu or a restaurant its character.

If it were me, I’d give my sandwiches names. Some restaurants do this, but few do it well. I say that you and I can do better, and no easy tricks like naming yours after a celebrity, like “The Will Ferrel” or “The Beyonce Burger”, OK? The trick is to get creative with the ingredients, or project what it tastes like into your name. I’ll get us started with these classic sandwiches. I’ve given each a name and a menu description to make them sound spectacular.

French Dip by cupcakediariesblog

French Dip by cupcakediariesblog

French Dip Sandwich or Beef Dip in a Broth Bath–say that 3 times fast as you plunge our tender rib eye into a warm au jus. Crusty French bread and rare roast beef, soaked in its natural juices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Egg Salad by blogchef

Egg Salad by blogchef

Egg Salad Sandwich or Eggstreme Makeover–the classic egg salad as you like it, but we’ve spiced it up a little with curry–finished with cilantro, scallions and cucumber.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ham&Cheese by pixgood

Ham&Cheese by pixgood

Grilled Ham & Cheese Sandwich or Hammy Cheesy Sammy–our premium ham, thinly sliced and nestled between slices of genuine American cheese. The bread is toasted to a perfect brown on our griddle with the right amount of butter on each side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuna by diminishinglucy

Tuna by diminishinglucy

Tuna Salad Sandwich or Singa Tuna Fish–our flaky fresh tuna lightly tossed with crunchy chopped celery, a balance of onion and finely diced dill. Homemade mayo on the side so you can build to your taste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meatball by themedinners.blogspot

Meatball by themedinners.blogspot

Meatball Sub or Polpetta Delizioso–tangy rich marinara sauce smothered on our signature Italian meatballs, served up open-faced on our artisan white bread. This sandwich classic is topped with grated cheddar cheese.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so on and so on. See how a little bit of creative writing can make anything sound like a heavenly gastronomical masterpiece? You can do it too–create a sandwich and use your imagination to name it. One of my favorites is a popular breakfast sandwich at Denny’s® called “Moons Over My Hammy®”. It’s a “classic ham and scrambled egg sandwich with Swiss and American cheeses on grilled sourdough”. This one is so good, Denny’s® trademarked the name!

Many sandwiches do have names that have stood the test of time. No need to change anything at all, but it does prove that when a nickname is good, it sticks and identifies it forever. Everyone knows what a Reuben is, or a BLT, or a Hero, PB&J, or Club.

So how about Langer’s® number 19? The Prince of Pastrami? Deli Delight? Right Between the Ryes? Maybe we should leave that one alone–it seems to be doing fine on its own without our help.

Additional photography by Shelley Opunui

A Time for New Beginnings

springtimeDid you know that in Japan the school year begins in April? It’s an unusual concept to those of us accustomed to a September ‘back to school’ season. Seasonally speaking, April is the perfect time to begin something new. The dead months of winter are long gone, new life is all around, and the opportunities for new beginnings are just about endless.

In true Japanese style, the practice of heading back to school would not be complete without some kind of ceremony or ritual. After all, it is a very special moment for children, and can be quite scary! Don’t you remember?

Nyuugakushiki or school entrance ceremonies are held across the country in the beginning of April.  It is a time for upperclassmen to welcome incoming students and for all to think about what kind of year they’d like to lead. Older students and parents will take their seats in the school gym as new students march in to be welcomed by a round of applause. It is a wonderful way to join students together indeed.school

During this ceremony, the school principal might talk about what’s ahead and introduce the teachers. An older student or two will typically say a few words to help ease the nerves of younger children. The ceremony would not be complete without singing the school song to bring all children together!

While most of our ‘back to school’ days have long passed, we can still take time to think about what’s to come in the approaching spring and summer months-and what a fantastic time to ponder! A new project, a family vacation, or a blow out party just might be the inspiration for new beginnings! Whatever it is you decide for the next few months, we are sure it will be filled with food, friends, and happy memories. Welcome to spring!

Randoseru: Not your Mamma’s Jansport

Japanese school children have the coolest backpacks! In fact, they’re not even called backpacks; they’re called randoseru. See, they even sound cooler! If you have ever been to Japan, read manga, or seen an episode of Pokemon, then surely you have seen the stiff leather bags strapped to the backs of kids in Japan.

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The name randoseru actually comes from the Dutch word ransel, which means backpack. These sturdy leather varieties were brought to Japan in the 19th Century and became a must-have item in the later half of the 20th. Kids receive their first randoseru at age 6 and are expected to keep the same one until 6th grade! It’s not exactly the same disposable mentality over there, eh?

That longevity does come with a price however. Randoseru cost anywhere from $350-randoseru02$600! They are mostly expensive because of the high quality leather. If you are looking to save you can find synthetic varieties at lower prices. They are becoming quite popular these days! Kids love to add accessories, covers, and charms to their backpacks, and you can find endless bits and bobbles in shops around Japan.

If you are intrigued by these long-lasting backpacks, we have good news for you. They can actually be found easily online these days. How is that for a fashion statement?

Myouga, a Delicate Early Summer Herb

It looks like a baby onion, tastes like a mild ginger, and will add extra zing to any dish! We are talking about Myouga or Myoga ginger. These delicate little guys are best enjoyed when they are soft and young. Cultivated year round, we recommend enjoying in the myougamonths of June to September. That’s when their flavor is best!

If you haven’t noticed these guys around, it’s probably because you didn’t know to look. Myoga ginger is widely available at most Japanese markets and online. That’s good news because Myoga ginger goes with just about everything.

Our favorite way to enjoy this punchy ingredient is raw and thinly shaved over noodles, tofu and salad. We also recommend it finely chopped in salad dressings and marinades, or finished with pan sauces. You can even dry them in an oven at low heat for crispy ginger chips or pickle them in vinegar for a sour snack. Happy cooking!

Must-Have Item of the Month: Ohitsu & Shamoji

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This month, our must-have items are just about as old as rice! They are the kind of tools you didn’t know you couldn’t live without. Once you start using ohitsu & shamoji, you will use them every single day. Now, what are they?

Ohitsu means rice tub. They are the old school covered rice bowls that come in a variety of materials from the classic wood to plastic, and even ceramic. You can keep your rice in ohitsu for serving at table. This will keep rice warm, moist, and fluffy just how you like it!

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The largest shamoji in the world, located in Miyajima.

And you won’t have any luck serving your rice without shamoji or rice paddle. This paddle can be used for serving, cooking, and mixing. The wooden varieties even work for stir fries and scrambled eggs! (That’s our little secret!) We advise mixing rice, immediately after it completes cooking, with a shamoji. Mixing rice will allow excess moisture to escape, and keep the consistency throughout the bowl of rice.

Don’t believe us? Treat yourself to a starter kit online and see how you like it. Don’t forget to report back to us with your kitchen stories!

 

YAKITORI, The Japanese Ka-bob

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I have recently renewed my love for Yakitori. Not that I wasn’t always a fan of these skewered delicacies, but I just hadn’t had any outstanding ones–until my recent trip to New York, where I found the most amazing yakitori this side of the Pacific Ocean. The word yakitori literally means “grilled chicken”, but also refers to this style of dish–bite sized morsels of chicken and vegetables skewered on bamboo sticks and grilled over an open flame. There are many variations of yakitori, usually cooked to order and served a few skewers at a time.

Typical Yakitori menu:
Negima: classic yakitori, made with alternating pieces of chicken thigh and short spears of scallion, brushed with a teriyaki style sauce as it grills.
Tsukune: meatballs make of minced chicken, vegetables and spices, usually skewered 3 to a stick.
Kawa: only the skin of the chicken, grilled to be crispy on the outside–not as fatty as you might think, if done right.
Tebasaki: chicken wings, splayed and skewered with bone in, usually 2 to a stick and eaten with a dusting of salt.
Reba: chicken liver, loved for their firm texture as you bite into it, as well as the taste.
Nankotsu: mostly cartilage taken from the breast bone, again prized for its crunchy texture.
Sunagimo: chicken gizzards, popular for its grainy taste and healthy benefits.
Sasami: chicken breast; soft and tender, this part is less fatty and regarded for its high quality–often served with wasabi.

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You can see how almost every part of the chicken is used, and there are more organs that I haven’t listed here. I’m a fan of yakitori, but not a fanatic enough to eat weirdness. Any yakitori restaurant will also serve a variety of non-chicken skewers like pork, vegetables like shiitake mushrooms and asparagus, and their own creations like bacon wrapped whatever on skewers–you can’t go wrong with bacon!

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Binchotan charcoal

There’s some background that you might appreciate about yakitori. Any decent yakitori restaurant will use a particular type of charcoal called Binchotan, an extremely hard, slow burning white charcoal that doesn’t release smoke or any unpleasant odors like common black charcoal, making it a favorite of discriminating chefs. Its hardness even makes it ring with a metallic sound when struck. Binchotan originated from Japan and dates back to the Edo Period of the 1600’s.

The types of seasoning or sauce used to flavor each kind of yakitori also varies with the type of meat or chicken part or vegetable being used. You are usually given a choice of condiment at the table, including the house sauce, ground red chili pepper called shichimi, or plain salt. Other seasonings like miso paste or ponzu or wasabi are usually applied before it reaches your table.

One restaurant I went to many years ago in Tokyo always had a reservation list at least 2 weeks in advance. And it was because there were only about 12 seats in front of the counter, where a very picky chef prepared and grilled every skewer by himself, one by one in front of every customer. He would then place a pinch of the specific condiment that he wanted you to use next to it on the dish. This was his way of urging everyone to eat his yakitori exactly the way he thought it best, because he wanted you to have it taste the way he intended, not overly seasoned or altered. I don’t think anyone objected.

If you’ve never had yakitori, I would suggest you try it–Zojirushi has a recipe for a miso based chicken one that you can easily make at home with a roaster. Find the recipe here.

Yakitori images courtesy of Shelley Opunui and Restaurant Totto, NYC.
Binchotan courtesy bigelowchemists.com

Celebrating March and the Spring Equinox

Happy March! Ah, where does the time go? It seems like only yesterday we were celebrating Christmas and New Years! Suddenly, spring is upon us, and we are already looking ahead to summer.  Time sure does fly when you’re having fun! There are several exciting things happening at Zojirushi right now. We’ve got new recipes, new announcements, and some fantastic new products to share with you this season!

This is a magnificent time of year to be in the kitchen, and we are overwhelmed with the variety of fruits and vegetables coming through our doors. We are still seeing beautiful winter produce from tart and crunchy granny smith apples to spicy winter lettuces. At the same time, Spring produce is just starting to bud with items like fresh artichoke, baby asparagus and the labor-intensive fava bean! Our kitchens are overflowing with inspiration, and we hope yours are too!

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As we straddle the timeline between winter and spring, we can’t help but look forward and back simultaneously. The Spring Equinox is the best time to let go of whatever it is you’re still holding on to from winter, and give life to dreams and goals for Spring. If there is anything you are still hoping to change or achieve this year, now is the time to set that intention. The Equinox will fall on March 20th. You might want to take time that week to sit in silence and quiet mediation. We are planning on it!

Please read on for fun tips, recipe inspiration and product information. We hope that your Spring is filled with happy memories and delicious cooking. Here’s to you!

Hinamatsuri, a Treasured Japanese Holiday Celebration

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAEvery year on March 3rd, we display beautifully crafted dolls in celebration of Hinamatsuri or Doll’s Day. The dolls are meant to represent the emperor, empress, attendants and musicians of the Heian Court. While the dolls do a wonderful job showing off the style of the period, they represent much more than just ancient royalty. The dolls are a powerful tool used to ward off evil and bad spirits.hinamatsuri3

Back in the Heian period (794-1185), people actually believed dolls had the power to hold evil or negative spirits. They would gather the dolls up, and send them out to sea on small wooden boats, hoping that the dolls would carry their troubles with them, and clear them of worry and anxiety. How does that sound for catharsis?

The funny thing is that, eventually, the dolls would become caught in the nets of local fishermen. This became such a huge problem, the ritual had to be changed! These days, people still send the dolls to sea, but pull them out after some time. Finally, the dolls are burned– destroying evil spirits once and for all. At least for that particular year! It is believed to be bad luck to leave one’s dolls on display past March 4th!

Like all great Japanese holidays, Hinamatsuri would not be complete without a very particular kind of food. On this special day we drink a fermented rice wine with sweet notes called shirozake. In addition to this unfiltered sake, we enjoy bite sized rice crackers called hina-arare, hishimochi, a diamond shaped tri-colored rice cake, and our personal favorite, chirashizushi.

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Chirashizushi is a mixed “sushi cake”, if you can picture it. It is a celebratory treat, and fun because you can really make it your own! We wanted to share our special recipe for “Gomoku-sushi”, which is a type of Chirashizushi – just in case you wanted to try! Enjoy!

Fukinoto, a Spring Delicacy

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Fukinoto, or Fuki, is one of the things we miss most about Japan! This unique plant can actually be found growing wild throughout the country. Sadly it is difficult and almost impossible to find and grow here in the states. Often foraged from the wild and always enjoyed once prepared, the stems of this vegetable taste kind of like celery. They are prepared in the same traditional way throughout Japan– the shoots are cooked in miso soup, while the buds are fried in a tempura batter.

The sight of Fukinoto throughout Japan is a sure sign of spring’s start! We like to think that the bitter taste helps cleanse the body of winter’s heavy fare – preparing us for the lighter fare of the season. If you have ever heard Fukinoto we would love to hear where and how. It is an unusual item and wonderful conversation starter! Happy foraging!

Saibashi, Not your Grandmother’s Tongs

Saibashi is not a subway stop in Tokyo! For those of you “un-initiated” into the cooking tools of Japan, prepare to be impressed! Seemingly simple and unassuming, Saibashi can be described simply as, ‘really long chopsticks’. They are much, much more than that.

Saibashi are widely considered one of the most important tools in the Japanese kitchen. Saibashi are so incredibly useful that most Japanese chefs can’t live without them.

saibashi

Although they resemble chopsticks in shape they are much longer and serve a different purpose. From sautéing hot dishes to plating small ones, there are countless ways to use these beloved tools. Because of their length chefs are able to reach the bottom of a pot as well as using saibashi to stir stews and soups. The best part is, you can buy them online for about a dollar a pop! So go ahead, and prepare to be impressed. Grab yourself a pair of really long chopsticks and see how they enrich your kitchen life! Enjoy!

PRODUCT OF THE MONTH: HOME BAKERY MINI BREADMAKER (BB-HAC10)

This month we are celebrating one of our favorite and cutest products in the catalog! The Home Bakery Mini Breadmaker is perfect for singles, small families and those of you looking to “lean in” to making bread at home. This no fuss product makes tasty 1 lb loaves of bread in less than 2 hours. It also makes dough for cookies, & pasta, as well as homemade jam and even bakes a cake. Now you can say goodbye to chemical additives and artificial preservatives, and enjoy fresh bread at home! Here’s to you!

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Good Luck With Your Food

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With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, I got to thinking about all the good luck superstitions that everyone follows around the world. Surprisingly, a lot of them involve food and start with the new year, when all of us have the highest hopes. The Irish have never been known for their cuisine, but no one argues about the “luck of the Irish”. One smart cereal company came up with a classic breakfast that kids still love today, after all. St. Patrick’s Day just seems like a fun day to be green and we all hope that some of that luck rubs off on us.

On the other hand, we just had the beginning of Chinese New Year too, and they have oodles of lucky foods, including their noodles. It symbolizes long life in many Asian countries, so the longer the noodles the better–you must keep them in one piece until you get it all in your mouth though, for the full effect.

Pomelo, with grapefruit and lemon

Pomelo, grapefruit and lemon

Certain citrus fruits are also lucky in Chinese culture, simply because the Chinese language phonetically makes them sound lucky. The word for oranges sounds similar to the word for gold, for example; and the word for tangerine sounds like the word for luck. And the grand Pomelo, the largest fruit in the citrus family, is also a symbol of good luck because the Cantonese word for pomelo sounds like the words for prosperity and status. These fruits are often displayed and eaten during the Lunar New Year for their ability to draw money into the household.

Ehomaki

Ehomaki

In Japan, during Setsubun, which falls on February3rd, a popular sushi roll called ehomaki is eaten to celebrate the arrival of spring and for good luck. The ehomaki is a whole roll, filled with 7 ingredients representing the 7 gods of good fortune. The roll is literally eaten uncut, so as to not “cut off” the good luck. You simply chomp on the roll like a big nori wrapped burrito.

In Spain, they have a ritual on New Year’s Eve where everyone will eat 12 grapes in a row, one for each stroke of the clock at midnight, to “capture” 12 happy months for the year. Some even believe that the sweetness or sour taste of each grape will foreshadow the fortunes of each corresponding month–if the fifth grape is sour, then you’d better be careful during the month of May.

Black eyed peas

Black eyed peas

Here in the States, southerners like to eat black eyed peas, whose eyes bring a sense of looking into the future to bring good luck. There’s also collard greens (the color of money and prosperity) and cornbread (the color of gold).

Here’s my favorite: in Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands they eat donuts for good luck. Circular shapes are symbols of good luck because they also resemble coins and prosperity. I say you can’t go wrong with donuts–ever!

 

photos: ehomaki by matome naver, peas by texascooppower, pomelo by shelley opunui

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