About Bert Tanimoto

Oldish father of two youngish kids. Zojirushi enthusiast and professional writer. California resident with roots in Hawaii and Japan. Classic rock, popcorn movies, audio books, spam, sushi and cone filtered coffee. Guilty pleasures include donuts and pop bands like ABBA and Wham!.

Seaweed the Superfood

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Seaweed has got to be the most traditional and most futuristic food in the world, at the same time. It’s so interwoven into our culture and diet that we Japanese probably take it for granted, but as we sit here and wrap our onigiri (riceballs) in our nori (laver seaweed), there are real organizations out there that are researching seaweed as the answer to world hunger.

By the year 2050, the world population is projected to reach 9 billion. The big question is, how are we going to feed all those people without severely affecting our environment? Agriculture employs more than 28% of the world, whether it’s directly or indirectly, so we need agriculture for our global economic health. But agriculture also accounts for a major percentage of greenhouse gases, deforestation of our jungles and uses the majority of all the freshwater we take from our rivers and lakes. I don’t expect to be around in 2050, but my kids and their kids certainly will be; so this is serious business.

And being taken very seriously as a sustainable food source is the humble seaweed, familiar to many Asian countries for centuries. Today seaweed has been elevated to superfood status because of its nutritional benefits and the fact that it may save the world from starvation. And farming it requires no maintenance like weeding, fertilizingseafarm2 or watering; it leaves the environment cleaner by removing harmful excess nutrients from the water, and it doesn’t consume much in resources. Talk about the perfect crop!

Seaweed farming began in Japan as early as 1670, so as an edible food, you might say the rest of the world is just catching up. The West has only just begun to realize its importance beyond being a wrapping for sushi. Don’t forget that seaweed is a potent source of umami as well, and world class chefs are well aware of how kombu is used to make soup stock.

kombu2There are basically 6 types of commonly used seaweed varieties in Japanese cuisine.
Kombu, which I just mentioned, is probably used everyday by homemakers in Japan. A kelp loaded with umami, kombu is an important ingredient in making dashi, or soup stock, especially for miso soup. The best kombu is gathered from the shallow waters off of Hokkaido; like most seaweed, it is high in calcium, iron and iodine, which the body needs.

 

wakame2Wakame, which is more like a vegetable, is used in salads, in soups, marinated in vinegar, or simmered with other vegetables. Even though it’s bland and pretty much tasteless on its own, wakame becomes an excellent companion ingredient because of its semi-crunchy texture and its delightful, faint aroma of the sea. Wakame is probably the most popular type of seaweed in Japan.

 

 

nori2Nori, the seaweed that almost all Westerners know now as being edible and synonymous with sushi, is farmed and dried and cut into sheets like papermaking. You’ve also seen nori wrapped around riceballs, floating in bowls of ramen, and cut into little strips on top of cold soba (buckwheat) noodles. Some types are flavored with a little soy sauce and sweet mirin (rice wine), called Ajitsuke Nori, and can be eaten alone with plain white rice. You’ll see this in a classic Japanese breakfast sometimes.

 

aonori2Aonori is another kind that you may not have noticed, used to sprinkle over yakisoba (pan-fried noodles) or okonomiyaki (savory pancakes). This green, fine-flaked nori gives these dishes an added seasoning and makes an attractive presentation.

 

 

 

hijiki2Hijiki, a dark, almost blackish sea vegetable that can be found dried in stores, has been a part of the Japanese diet for centuries. Its nutritional properties and the macrobiotic movement of the seventies made it popular and more readily available in the West, where hijiki is now recognized for its culinary uses. In Japanese cuisine, hijiki can be found as a seasoned side dish, as flavoring in mixed rice, or as an added ingredient in stir frys and simmered vegetables.

 

kanten2Kanten, also known as agar-agar, is a popular diet food because it contains no calories, yet its fiber content helps the body as an intestinal regulator–it’s been taken seriously in obesity studies. Basically a vegetable gelatin with no flavor on its own, kanten is popular in Japan for its versatility and used in sweet desserts like puddings, custards and cakes, or eaten like Jello.

 

 

mozuku2Mozuku, produced mainly in Okinawa and popular all over Japan, may be the most foreign to Westerners. It has a stringy, slimy quality that might need some getting used to, but the refreshing taste, especially when marinated with a sweet vinegar, can be habit forming. You might say it most resembles a seaweed that you fished right out of the ocean, but it is surprisingly mild and not as briny as you might think. Take a leap of faith and try this one.

 

So if seaweed has the potential to save mankind from future starvation, why hasn’t it advanced beyond “ethnic food” status? Like any kind of food you haven’t grown up with, it takes time to acquire the taste. But researchers and chefs are working together these days, who really believe in the future of seaweed. After all, we’re eating vegetables that grow in dirt aren’t we? Seaweed just happens to grow in the oceans.

Credits: World Resources Report
Seaweed Farm by Adam Broadbent for Scubazoo
Seaweed salad by Steven Depolo
Kombu & Wakame by Robin
Ramen nori by Michael T.
Aonori by Alpha
Hijiki by TokyoViews
Kanten dessert by Alex
Mozuku by Pablo

Welcome to 2016

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Happy New Year, everybody! Here’s a snapshot of what’s coming in 2016 that I’ll be watching.

January: The month for resolutions, right? If December is the month where  everyone seems to be genuinely nice to each other, then January must be the most optimistic. I just saw the new Star Wars movie–and I’m a Star Wars geek. So my resolution comes from Master Yoda, who said, yoda
“Try not.
Do, or do not.
There is no try.”
That’s so Yoda, it makes me want to cry.

February: 2016 is a Leap Year, so this coming February will have 29 days. Scientifically, we need to adjust for the fact that earth takes a quarter-day more than 365 to circle the sun. Without leap years our seasons would shift gradually until we’d be off by as much 25 days within 100 years. Culturally, some countries believe leap years are bad luck and marriages shouldn’t take place. But in the UK, Feb. 29th is the one day that women are encouraged to propose to men. Whatever; Rome burned, Custer met his fate at Little Big Horn and The Titanic sank during Leap Years. On the other hand, also during leap years, Ben Franklin discovered electricity, gold was discovered in California and the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

March: My daughter’s birthday is this month. She’ll turn 15 on the 15th, which is going to be a great day for her, but it was a bad day for Julius Caesar, who was betrayed and killed by his Roman senators on the Ides of March.

April: On April 22nd we will observe another Earth Day, which has been going on since 1970. Go outside this day and plant a tree! A couple of years ago, NASA called on everyone to post a “Global Selfie” to observe Earth Day. They made a mosaic illustration out of over 32,000 pictures that they got over social media. How cool is that?GlobalSelfieMosiac_high

May: My son’s birthday is this month. He’ll turn 19, which thankfully to me, means he still can’t legally drink or gamble. He’s supposed to be studying.

June: I really don’t know when this project is supposed to start, but in 2016 China will start on the longest underwater tunnel in the world, to connect two cities on their East Coast. It’s going to be over 75 miles long, more than double the length of the longest underwater one now, the Seikan Tunnel connecting the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido in Japan. The longest and deepest tunnel of any kind will open in June 2016 in Switzerland through the Alps, just beating out Japan’s tunnel by less than 2 miles. Too bad they’ll only hold the length record for more than a few years though, until China finishes theirs.

July: I love science fiction, I follow NASA on Instagram, and when I was a kid I would tell everybody I wanted to become an astronomer when I grew up. Turns out being a scientist is harder than I thought, ha! But I can look forward to the spacecraft JUNO reaching the juno200904-640 planet Jupiter on July 4th, 2016 after a 5-year mission. The goal? To study how Jupiter might have been formed, and in turn learn about our own earth’s formation.

August: Summer Olympics scheduled to begin in Rio de Janeiro, olympicsBrazil. Since my big TV sport is pro basketball, I usually don’t have much to watch during the summer. But the Olympics are great entertainment and fun to watch. I always root for U.S., Japan and the underdog.

September: Rumor has it that the next iPhone 7 will be released this month. What’s the gossip? •No home button, only on-screen •Wireless charging •Waterproof •3gigs RAM •Thinner •Improved camera with zoom

For fanboys like me, this is an annual event that I look forward to. There are 2 visionaries that I greatly respect in the world of technology–one was of course Steve Jobs; the other was Akio Morita of Sony.

October: I think if I had an extra $75,000 to spare, I might take a balloon trip to the edge of the atmosphere. World View Enterprises is expected to start their voyages this year, but they haven’t set a date, I don’t think. It’s not exactly outer space, but for the price it seems you get reasonably high enough up that you can see the curvature of the earth and it’ll be pretty blacked out. It’s supposed to take 1.5 hours to reach altitude, then you get 2 hours of observation time before you head back down by parasail.457889-world-view-balloon-and-parafoil-credit-world-view

PresidentialSealNovember: It’s an election year–get ready to vote for your favorite horse in the race on November 8th. This will mark the 58th time we’ve elected a president and vice-president for our country. Our first president, George Washington, was voted in on our first election in 1789.

December: Having started this post with Star Wars, I have to end it with same. Hopefully December will bring the release of the next movie in this new series. All I know is that it’s going to be called “Rogue One”, but anything else I say would be just rumors so I’m not getting into it here. I’m not that much of a geek. If you haven’t seen the recent “The Force Awakens”, it’s worth seeing. Even my daughter, who has no real interest in all the previous Star Wars films, said she liked it and she’s looking forward to the next one.

That’s my preview of 2016. May the force be with you!

Credits: Yoda statue in front of LucasFilms shot by Jamie McCaffrey
Others: Juno courtesy of NASA, Global Selfie courtesy of NASA, World View Enterprises, New Year’s banner by Shayari Wallpapers

Twas the Night For Zojirushi

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holly-berries-icon-psd copy copyTwas the night before Holidays, when all through the house–
Nothing was stirring, not even a mouse.
And just when even a mouse wouldn’t squeak,
The Zojirushi products decided to speak!

rice copyThe Rice Cooker said, “They can’t live without me.
Rice is a staple, their dinners need me.
Whatever the side dish, whatever the soup,
You need fluffy rice, to complete the group.”

bread“I beg to differ,” the Breadmaker said.
“What staple is there, other than bread?
I can bake it fresh, and it smells so good,
The mornings are mine, that’s understood.”

waterboiler3“Hold on! Wait for it! Here comes the spoiler!
That’s not how it ends!” chimed the Water Boiler.
“It all starts with water and I heat it with ease.
Tea drinkers love me, everyone agrees.”

travelmug2 copy“Ah, but here’s one thing that’s wrong with you all.
You slaves are stuck, you’re plugged to the wall!
We’re cool, we hydrate, we stay with the runners.”
The Travel Mugs bragged, as they flashed their colors.

foodjar4The Lunch Jars and Food Jars, they heard the discussion.
They said, “We agree, we concur, we second that motion!”

 

gourmet2And that Gourmet guy, you know the one–
that Tabletop Skillet who has all the fun.
The life of the party, always looking so chic;
breathed out a sigh and rose up to speak.

holly-berries-icon-psd copy copy“Hold it, listen you all. You’re missing the point!
It’s not who’s great, or who rocks this joint.
We all serve a purpose; we follow a plan.
We make life easier whenever we can.

holly-berries-icon-psd copy copyWe all love to cook, and that’s the truth.
We satisfy cravings, or any sweet tooth.
So let’s enjoy what we do–we are truly blessed.
It’s not about skill, or who is the best!”

holly-berries-icon-psd copy copyA sudden silence then came over the kitchen.
The arguing stopped and they started to listen.
The Zojirushi spirit is alive and well.
“He’s right, good point! They started to yell.”

holly-berries-icon-psd copy copyAnd so it was on that Holiday night,
with the fire in embers and the stars out of sight,
a commotion was settled, the rebellion rejected.
Peace came again, with the kitchen protected.

holly-berries-icon-psd copy copyThose products decided to give up the strife,
and take Inspiration From Everyday Life.

 

–with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore

Happy Holidays everyone!

Instagram Is The New Food Channel

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Have you noticed all those people taking pictures of their food at restaurants? Chances are iphoneit’s going up on Instagram before they even take their first bite. When our family eats out, we’re not allowed to dig in until all the shots have been taken. We’ve even been known to use our cell phones to add extra lighting when it’s too dim to get a decent shot!😜 Sorry, so obnoxious…😓 Of course, we always make sure it’s OK with the restaurant; these days they all seem to be used to it. Besides, there are plenty of food bloggers around who do reviews, too. 👍

advicepicIn the Instagram world, the “food shot” is probably the most popular image posted, along with pics of kids, pics of pets, quotes that give out life advice, and those self-promoting selfies.😒 Wait, did I just apologize for being obnoxious with our food shots? I take it back–there are worse offenses.

Instagram is a legitimate force in social media today with well over 300 million users worldwide; probably why Facebook bought the company back in 2012 for $1billion. Make no mistake, Facebook is still the king with over 1.3 billion users!😲 I happen to have accounts in both Facebook and Instagram, even though friends my age are usually in Facebook. Instagram is mostly populated by the Millenials and the age 35 & under demographic, but my day job is to manage social media for our kitchenware company, so I’ve been the one to post images to our Instagram account, @goodcookcom

minidoc

My mechanic diagnosing my engine!

I find it more fun than Facebook; it’s very easy to use, I don’t have to write a whole story behind the picture, and for a graphics geek like me, playing around with the image filters, photo cropping and collage framing is kind of satisfying. On my personal Instagram account, I find myself posting events or images that are quirky or interesting to me, but I don’t think my kids find them particularly “Instagram-worthy”. Apparently we don’t think alike. Who knew!😞

I leave the food pics to my wife, who has become very skillful with her cell phone. She cooks a lot, so between her creations at home and our tours out on the town to find foodie places that she scouts on YELP, there’s a lot of content to share. Ironically, the dishes I get to eat at home are every bit as delicious as they look, but by the time I get home for dinner, the beautiful plate that made it to Instagram does not look like what I’m eating!😠 Oh well, it tastes the same though, so I can’t complain!😄

pokepic

Fresh POKE (Hawaiian style marinated sashimi tuna)

recordstorepic

Basement record store in Boston

The above shots come from 2 separate Instagram accounts: my wife’s and mine. Is it obvious which one is hers and which one is mine?

 

Rice Snacks We Love

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Rice is the staple food for over half of the world’s population. It’s probably the most important grain in terms of the nutrition it provides the human race. But it also makes a darn good snack, and that’s important too! Here are some of my favorites.

Senbei
There are so many varieties, so many flavors, shapes, and textures. The round disk kind are the classic senbei and gives me the kind of crunch I like the best. Sometimes you have to have good teeth though, because these guys can get pretty hard. It’s my addiction to soy sauce that gets satisfied when I bite into one of these.
Senbei is basically grilled, baked or fried rice cakes that have been flavored with soy sauce or any number of ingredients. The nori wrapped ones are also popular; I love how the nori gives it an added dimension and a “leave behind” texture as you chew the sheet of seaweed.

The smaller bits are known as arare, which comes from the Japanese word for hailstones. These make pretty good beer chasers, although I don’t think they’ll ever replace peanuts. Hawaiian locals discovered how to mix them with popcorn and call it “Hurricane Popcorn”. I like the ones called Kaki no Tane, which means persimmon seeds because of the resemblance. They’re usually spicy and mixed with peanuts.

The lightly colored ones are made from a different (glutinous) kind of rice, which gives it a softer crunch; not a crack! but more of a scrunch! I love these for variety–they’re usually salted vs. coated with soy sauce.

mochi Mochi
From hard and crispy and savory to soft and sticky and sweet! Japanese mochi is so good, you can fill it with anything from adzuki red bean paste (traditional) to ice cream. They come in all kinds of shapes, and the fancy ones can get pretty pricey. Despite all the modern styles though, mochi is still one of the traditional Japanese desserts that has been been around for centuries. It’s still one of the best Korean mochicompanions to green tea ever, IMHO.

 

Koreans also like their mochi, but theirs (called duk) is a bit firmer and less sweet. You can buy the kind filled with a brown sugar syrup at the Korean markets, often coated with a sesame oil to keep them from sticking together. Japanese dust theirs with flour to serve the same purpose.

 

 

PakTongKohChinese Rice Cake
Also known as Pak Tong Koh, this is my go-to dessert when I’m having Dim Sum. Usually diamond-shaped or triangular, the light sweetness is perfect after several rounds of steamy dim sum. It reminds me of mochi, but not quite. It’s more gelatinous and translucent, as if I’m eating rice pudding in solid form. I usually eat one piece at the restaurant and bring the rest home.

 

rice crispiesCrispy Rice Snacks
We can’t talk about rice snacks without mentioning this all-time, All-American snack, can we? These simple marshmallow infused, crisped rice treats will never grow old. Why? Because adults don’t want to grow old, and when we see our kids scarfing these treats, we want to feel like them! Rumor has it that when working on the original recipe, molasses was used; but it was soon discovered that marshmallows were less messy. Brilliant move!

buttermochiButter Mochi
For all you malahinis out there, if you don’t know what Butter Mochi is, it’s exactly what it sounds like. The base is mochiko, sweet rice flour, and with the addition of butter and sugar, you’re basically making baked custard. It’s a bit dense, because it is mochi after all, but the semi-chewy texture and richness of flavor is so ono! Zojirushi has their own version that you can find here.

 

gelatoRice Gelato
Gelato di riso, or Rice Gelato. The perfect blend of a not too sweet rice pudding that’s icy cold! This is good stuff indeed; this dessert still gives you the creaminess of ice cream, but adds that extra dimension of texture with the bits of rice. Go Italy! go Gelato! Delizioso! I found a nice recipe on the Zojirushi site here.

 

 

horchataHorchata
The Mexican version of this dessert drink is made with sweetened rice and cinnamon. In various Latin American countries, they use ground seeds or nuts instead, and there are alcoholic versions as well, made with fermented corn flour. My daughter loves the horchata that we can get at the local Mexican restaurants near where we live. And it’s a great alternative for the lactose intolerant too!

 

So after compiling all these rice snacks that I’m personally fond of, I got to thinking that I just traveled around the world just on rice! I went to Japan, Korea, China, Hawaii, Italy and Mexico! No wonder rice feeds over half the world’s population!

Picture credits: simply mochi, Jennifer Zhang, Shelley Opunui, meals.com, Zojirushi and Bert Tanimoto

Very Japanese Cooking Tools

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Have you ever been to a Japanese supermarket and gone to the kitchenware section? Maybe you were looking for chopsticks or a good knife or a bamboo mat to roll your own sushi? I’ll bet you came across some strange looking paraphernalia that caught your eye, and you wondered, “what the heck is that for?” If you think some American kitchen gadgets are pretty strange, take a look at some of these inventions that were made specifically to do a task needed for Japanese cuisine. If you get serious about going Japanese, you gotta get one of these!

Rice Washer There’s no way you would know that the device above is for washing rice if you saw this tool all by itself. The plastic helix-shaped whisk even unfolds so it can be washed thoroughly from the inside-out. Not only does it save chapped hands, it’ll save your nails too, when faced with this almost daily chore in a typical Japanese household.

gyozapressThe Gyoza Press Homemade potstickers anyone? This clamp crimps the dough to make perfect little potstickers. Just lay the wafer-like dough on the press, fill with filling, and fold over. Beats making a lopsided one by hand, right?

 

 

 

 

 

eggmoldEgg Molds Create animal shaped eggs for your kids’ bento lunches! Boil an egg, place in mold when still hot, then close. Leave in cold water for a few minutes while your egg cools, and out pops a hard boiled egg bunny!

 

 

 

 

 

fishroasterFish Roaster This handheld grill is made to roast fish on your stove top, which many Japanese families do, instead of over a charcoal grill. It does a remarkably nice job–just keep your vent fan on high!

 

 

 

 

 

donabeDonabe This earthenware pot is usually used to cook hot pot dinners on a hot plate at the dining table. These pots can be fairly expensive and very exquisite, especially the authentic Japanese ones handcrafted by artisans. They’re as much a tabletop centerpiece as they are a cooking vessel. Here’s a Chanko-nabe recipe from the Zojirushi site.

 

 

 

omeletOmelet Pan This rectangular pan is used specifically to cook omelets in this shape. They are then rolled and sliced into the egg toppings for sushi.

 

 

 

 

 

takoyakipanTakoyaki Maker No, this does not cook eggs, even though it looks like it. Each cavity in this unique pan makes a ball of batter flavored with chunks of octopus, known as takoyaki, or octopus balls. The doughy snack is a favorite of Osaka.

 

 

 

 

onigiriOnigiri Mold In the old days, homemakers used to be adept at shaping rice balls into triangular shapes without the aid of a mold. My Mom used to make them this way, and the one advantage was that she would dust her hands with salt so she could flavor our onigiri. But you can’t beat modern conveniences, can you?

 

 

 

 

scalerFish Scaler You may never find one of these in an American kitchen, but many home cooks scale and clean their own fish in Japan, where it is often bought whole and fresh at the market.

 

 

 

 

 

okonomiyakiOkonomiyaki Spatulas These odd looking spatulas were created specifically for flipping okonomiyaki, sometimes known as Japanese style pancakes. Usually used in pairs so you can get underneath both sides of the pancake, you deftly flip the whole thing when one side is done cooking. Also used to slice it up into smaller pieces. You can find a Zojirushi recipe for okonomiyaki here.

 

 

 

tsukemonoPickling Press Japanese pickles, known as tsukemono, used to be made in large ceramic pots. The vegetables, whether cucumbers or cabbage or eggplant or other, was placed in a pot with fermenting ingredients and pressed down by the weight of a heavy stone to get the excess liquid out. These modern presses are much easier and don’t require heavy lifting.

 

 

 

sukiyakiSukiyaki Pot Another tabletop favorite at Japanese households, especially when celebrating special occasions, is sukiyaki. This cast iron pot keeps the broth bubbling as it continuously cooks over the hot plate at the dining table. Try Zojirushi’s sukiyaki recipe.

 

 

 

 

bentoBento Accessories You may think, “why do I need plastic grass?” but if you want to make authentic Japanese bento, you need plastic grass to separate the food inside your bento box. It’s used to keep the flavors from mingling and as a decoration. The tiny disposable vials are for soy sauce. Look, little fishies!

 

 

 

 

katsuobushiKatsuobushi Shaver A carpentry tool in the kitchen? No, but close to it. Cooks who take their umami seriously might insist on shaving their own dried bonito, otherwise known as katsuobushi, a prime ingredient of soup stock and source of the savory 5th taste known as umami. Smoked and dried bonito can be bought in chunks, which is then shaved into flakes with this wooden planing tool; or you can simply buy it by the bag at a grocery store. Katsuobushi is an important ingredient in Japanese cooking; see how to make your own soup stock here.

 

 

Guess what? Almost all of these tools can be found at your local Asian supermarkets if you have one, and if you don’t, I’ve seen them online too. Part of what makes cooking fun is getting to use all these gadgets, right?

Photos courtesy of: Kunjiadaren, Kotobuki, Andrew YangMiya Company, Japanese-Kitchen, TasteWithTheEyes, Okutsu, YouFoundKeke, Ikenaga, & Ninben

Pancakes: An American Breakfast

We Americans love pancakes. Me, I don’t necessarily love them but I have to admit they’re one of my guilty pleasures and I like them enough where I crave them once in a while. If you think about it, they’re the perfect breakfast–they’re cake-like enough to be a breakfast pastry, so they go really well with breakfast meats like bacon or sausage. Lots of people like them on the sweet side, with whipped cream, maple syrup, fresh fruits, chocolate chips, whatever. I prefer a balance, so I take a bite of pancake, then a bite of sausage, then a bite of pancake, take a sip of coffee, more pancake, then another bite of sausage, then a bite of…well, you get the idea.

pigsblanket

Pigs in a blanket

Pancakes go by different names depending on how they’re prepared:
Short stack: a small order of pancakes, usually only 3 high
Pigs in a blanket: sausages wrapped in pancakes (totally solves how I eat my pancakes)
Silver dollars: small, mini-pancakes usually served 5 to 10 at a time; named for when there were such things as silver dollar coins

dutch

Dutch Baby

There are regional and cultural off-shoots of pancake-like pastries too:
Johnnycakes: a cornmeal flatbread popular in New England, associated with the state of Rhode Island
Dutch Baby pancakes: an oven baked style that rises high above the edges of the pan–the result is a light puffy crust and an eggy middle; sprinkled with cinnamon and lemon juice
Sourdough pancakes: from the prospecting days when sourdough could be used in place of yeast to make pancakes and bread–a favorite in Alaska

crepes

French crepe

okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki

And there are international versions of pancakes:
Crepes: probably the most famous–wafer thin and folded, filled with anything from strawberries and cream to ham and cheese
Blintzes: from Eastern Europe, blintzes are thicker than crepes and filled with similar ingredients, then folded into rectangles to be refried again
Flapjacks: even though Americans use the name interchangeably with pancakes, in the UK flapjacks are more like pastry bars made with oats, golden syrup and butter–sometimes filled with raisins

Asian countries have their own savory version of pancakes:
Cong Yu Bing: Chinese scallion pancakes made from dough instead of batter, served with a dipping soy sauce/vinegar combination or chili sauce
Okonomiyaki: Often called Japanese pancakes or Japanese pizza, it might be both because of all the different ingredients that go into them; a couple of great recipes can be found here and here on the Zojirushi website
Jeon: Korean style pancakes that are filled with anything from seafood to kimchi, this dish is also served with a dipping sauce; try the seafood recipe here from Zojirushi

I like to play with my pancakes. The ones at the top of this post were made with a squeeze bottle and a couple of pancake molds that you can get anywhere. Just let the design part cook a little bit longer than the rest by drawing it first. Then fill the background in and finish the rest of the pancake. The design part browns darker than the rest so you get a pancake outline. Woot! Pancake art!Image-1

This was pretty easy to do–if you have an electric griddle like the Zojirushi Gourmet Sizzler it would be better because the temperature would stay constant and you could do it at the table with the kids. My daughter helped me with these. Here are some more by people far more talented than me:

Yoda_gforms
Bryce_Mikey_gforms

And here’s a few links to some pancake recipes on the Zojirushi site: Blueberry Whole Wheat & Gluten Free. And a Spring Crepe one too. ENJOY!

Photos courtesy of The Original Pancake House, Cafe Fujiyama, Chocolat & Caetera, Bryce Butcher of GoodCook

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.
kakigori
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!

shave ice

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!?

fakefood
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!
sushi
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.
steak
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.

collage1

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.

Name That Sandwich!

sandwichmain

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