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

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!

bigelowchemists

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

Good Luck With Your Food

luckycharms

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

Where am I?
Knowledge is power. Silence is golden.

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Winter is Ramen Time

ramenmain

The more I think about the ramen culture, the more I think there’s more to it than meets the eye. On the one hand, ramen has become so trendy in America that it’s gone mainstream. Ramen restaurants seem to be springing up everywhere–from your neighborhood strip mall to urban boroughs. Yes, your styrofoam cup of noodles from your college days has grown up to become a deep, complex broth of sophisticated flavors. And the noodles? Al dente and hand made, of course.

The amazing dish in the photo above is from my recent trip to New York–IPPUDO restaurant in Manhattan, which specializes in the Hakata style tonkotsu, the broth made from boiling pork bones for as much as 15 hours. As you might expect, the salty soup is rich, deep and hearty enough to be a complete meal. Here you see it with toppings of sweetish BBQ pulled pork and takana, a Japanese mustard green.
$22 for a bowl of this ramen, thank you–and I waited outside for 45 minutes to get in.

But there’s a dark side to ramen, especially in our country where we’re quick to criticize and raise the alarm on the dangers of unhealthy and yucky instant ramen. Too much sodium, too much processing, too much MSG. Wait a minute–instant anything is fast hotwaterfood, and not meant to be eaten 3 times a day anyway! A recent 2-year long study conducted by the Journal of Nutrition found that South Korean women had a greater increase of heart disease, diabetes and even stroke, as a result of eating two or more servings of instant ramen a week.

The study caused an outrage in South Korea, where national pride was at stake for a food as popular as kimchee. Easily the highest per capita consumers of instant ramen, or ramyeon as it is known there, in the world, the study triggered some deep emotions of stubborn resistance, some mild guilt and a lot of indignation. It didn’t seem like the South Koreans were about to give up their beloved instant noodles anytime soon. And to be fair, the study couldn’t prove that other factors in the test subjects’ diets didn’t also influence the outcome. The Koreans pooh-poohed the study, saying it came from the land of cheeseburgers.

Other critics point to how instant noodles have become a dangerous go-to solution for feeding the hungry in the impoverished parts of the world. The dried food stores well, ships chineseboyeasily, and it is above all cheap. Advocates of healthier, “real food” warn us of the dangers of super-processed food, and how the answer to world hunger lies in agriculture. But this is easier said than done; many people have no choice when faced with eating to survive.

Instant ramen can be eaten healthier with the addition of vegetables and other ingredients, and maybe less of the soup base which contains all the sodium. So if you can’t beat the trend, why not try to make it just a little better for you? Especially the packaged kind, which is so tweakable to suit anyone’s taste and food culture, no wonder it’s conquered the planet.

It’s funny to me how a food that is helping to feed the world can be the bad guy too. Bet Momofuku Ando never thought his invention would cause such a stir (Google him if you’re interested).

I’ll never give up my ramen, instant or otherwise.

Chinese boy on train, photo courtesy of The Noodle Narratives, University of California Press

Where Am I?
Can you guess where I took my Zojirushi bottle? Let me know! I was there for 5 hours…

whereJan2015

 

I’ll Shoyu!

shoyufinal2

OK, old joke, I know…sorry, but I always get a kick out of puns that cross international language barriers. Shoyu is the Japanese word for soy sauce, the most awesome condiment in the history of Asian cuisine. And since I could totally sustain myself on Japanese cooking exclusively, I just love shoyu.

I pretty much drizzle it on anything if I’m having a dish with white rice–but I do not dump it on the rice! First of all, that would be way too much sodium for me, but it’s just the purist in me that wants to eat white rice the way it was meant to be eaten–as an accompaniment to your entreé, not as a side dish. I still wince when I see people do this, but hey, I get it–rice has no flavor on its own. But the flavor comes from the foods you eat with the rice. Here’s a hint if you travel to Japan: refrain from doing it because it’s just bad form–let’s keep the white rice white, people!

Having said that, I am guilty of overusing shoyu and probably season my food when it

Hiyayakko--cold tofu

Hiyayakko–cold tofu

doesn’t really need it. But my argument is that good quality shoyu enhances the flavor of grilled fish, pan-fried steak, boiled vegetables, even fried eggs. And it absolutely belongs on cold tofu and boiled spinach.

So where does soy sauce come from, and who discovered it? All soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans, but there are many variations, ranging from the thicker, inky black sauces to the more transparent, reddish ones. Taste, color and texture is controlled by intricate differences in the brewing and fermentation process, and by the aging process as well, much like the way fine wine is made. I won’t get into too much technical detail here, but when purchasing soy sauce, just avoid the ones made by chemical processes. The best ones are naturally brewed.

Ohitashi--boiled spinach

Ohitashi–boiled spinach

The Chinese, of course, discovered soy sauce more than 2500 years ago, which makes it one of man’s oldest condiments. But the Japanese didn’t start their version until about 500 AD., when a Zen priest is said to have brought it back from China and started modifying its ingredients and brewing technique. The Kikkoman® company first introduced their soy sauce to America back in the 1800s, and they have been producing shoyu locally from Walworth, Wisconsin since 1972.

Soy sauce is widely used today by both professional chefs and home cooks. I’ve heard of shoyu being the secret ingredient in curry dishes and tomato based beef stews, so it’s obviously not being used just to bring the salt flavor out. Much of it has to do with the inherent umami in soy sauce, too. The Kikkoman® company even recommends sprinkling it on ice cream because it “draws out the flavor and gives it a delicious caramel-like aroma.” Whaaa? I haven’t tried this one yet–I think I’ll keep my Haagen-Dazs® the way it is.

Credits: Hiyayakko by pixelatedcrumb, Ohitashi by otakufood

Where Am I?
Can you guess where I took my Zojirushi bottle? Let me know! I go here almost every other week…

moviesfinal

Flu Season Comfort

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Ever wonder what everybody else eats when they’re down with a cold? Having been brought up on okayu, or rice porridge, whenever I came down with the flu as a kid, I started wondering what other cultures do when the sniffles take over. Of course, the great American cure is chicken soup–apparently it’s even good for the soul; and there have been scientific studies done on its actual physical benefits too, like the steam from hot soup being good for congestion, or the inhibitive effects on inflammation which is the cause of sore throats.

matzo

matzo ball soup

Most comfort foods during times of illness are easy to digest and kind of on the bland side because, let’s face it, we don’t have much of an appetite when we’re sick anyway. Hot broth like chicken soup does make us feel better, doesn’t it? It’s also the recommended food in Germany too, and the Jewish variation is Matzo ball soup, often called the “Jewish Penicillin”.

bianco

bianco

In Italy it is of course pasta, but it is strictly dieta in bianco, meaning a white diet. Nothing more than boiled pasta with a little bit of butter or olive oil and parmigiano, the water used to boil the pasta can be a beef broth, but it has to clear, strained, and fat-free. Other cheeses are too strong, so parmesan is used as the only flavoring, and small pasta is used so it can be chewed easily.

Australians love their Vegemite on toast when they’re sick, even though it hasn’t beenvege described in flattering terms by others. President Obama once said “It’s horrible” and called it a “quasi-vegetable by-product paste that you smear on your toast for breakfast.” Vegemite is actually leftover brewer’s yeast extract mixed with vegetable and spice additives. It’s been described as salty, slightly bitter and malty, but it is rich in umami, similar to beef bouillon.

khichri

khichri

In India, a simple porridge of beans, vegetables and rice called khichri (pronounced kich-ah-ree) is their comfort food–used to nourish babies, the elderly and the sick. To many Indians it even has spiritual meaning as a detoxing and cleansing health food. Many versions use spices like curry powder or tumeric, and the white rice (basmati) and lentils are usually cooked to a porridge texture when introduced to babies as their first “adult” food.

congee

congee

And speaking of rice porridge, the Chinese version of okayu, known as congee, and the Korean jook, are both also popular foods for the sick because it is easily digested. Compared to okayu their rice gruel is more soupy. There are similar dishes in other Asian countries as well, under different names of course. In Burma it is hsan byok, in India it is kanji, and in Indonesia it is known as bubur. If you would like to try Japanese okayu, you really don’t have to wait until you’re sick. You don’t even need a rice cooker if you have a thermal food jar like the one in this recipe from Zojirushi. Many rice cookers also have porridge settings, but be sure to read the instructions carefully before cooking this special type of rice dish.

Depending on where you grew up in the world, I’m sure there were comfort foods that you still remember to this day, and I’ll bet if you have kids, you’ve passed it on to them. Being sick wasn’t all that bad, now was it? What did you have when you were sick?

Credits: Matzo Ball Soup by sassygirlz, Bianco Pasta by rinaz, Khichri by inner-gourmet, Congee by shavedicesundays

 

Where Am I?
Can you guess where I took my Zojirushi bottle? Let me know!
Hint: I was only here for about 5 minutes!
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Everyday is a Holiday

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November 17th is Homemade Bread Day

You’ve heard of those wacky holidays that you read about sometimes, that nobody seems to take seriously? Like Houseplant Appreciation Day (Jan. 10th), Lumpy Rug Day (May 3rd), or Be Late For Something Day (Sept. 5th)? I like that last one better than the one that follows it on Sept. 6th, Fight Procrastination Day–honestly, make up your mind–are we supposed to be lazy, or not?

A lot of these days are legit though, and have websites and events that support them every year. Did you know there is a National Rice Ball Day (April 19th) and that September is National Rice Month? It may not surprise you that it’s sponsored by the USA Rice riceballFederation, which promotes rice awareness by helping thousands of grocery stores across the country set up special displays during the month. Retailers typically see an average increase in their rice sales of 50% to 400% during these campaigns, so you know why they’re marketed.

So here are some of my favorite holidays. One special day from each month. Not all have official origins, but I’m sure that someone is remembering these special days somewhere.

January 23rd is National Handwriting Day. Remember that pen and paper is still cool and way more personal than email. Created by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association (duh!) back in 1977 to remind us not to forget this basic skill. They chose January 23 because it’s John Hancock’s birthday, who provided us with the most important signature in U.S. history.
hancocksignatureFebruary 27th is No Brainer Day. We can all use a day like this–don’t do anything that requires more than a minimal amount of thinking. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it quickly! This day was actually created by someone that’s been documented, but I didn’t want to research it because that would be against the spirit of this day.

March 10th is Middle Name Pride Day. I like this one–some of us hate our middle name; some of us use it regularly. But someone in your family gave it to you for a reason, so honor them by remembering it once a year.

4th Thursday of April is Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Surprisingly, this day wasn’t initiated until 1993; I would have guessed its origins to be much earlier in our history. Not surprisingly, it was founded by the Ms. Foundation For Women as a way to give girls more insight into work opportunities and future careers.

May 9th is Lost Sock Memorial Day. Perfect! I have at least 12 of them in my sock drawer, waiting sadly for their mates to come home. Alas, they wait in vain…but their owner never gives up hope.

1st Friday of June is National Doughnut Day. Contrary to what you might think, this day was not a marketing ploy by Krispy Kreme® or Winchell’s® or Dunkin’ Donuts®. During WWI, the Salvation Army sent hundreds of brave women volunteers to the front lines in Europe to lend moral support to our fighting soldiers. They made home cooked meals and fried doughnuts, often in hot oil inside metal helmets. The day was established in 1938 by the Chicago Salvation Army to honor these volunteers.

hotdogs2July 23rd is National Hot Dog Day. You’ve gotta love the American hot dog, consumed by the millions on the 4th of July. Like that other “mystery meat”, SPAM®, no one is quite sure of what’s in a hot dog, and no one really wants to know.

August 13th is National Left Handers Day. Are you a southpaw? I mean, I feel your pain, but I’m sorry–you’re only 10% of the population.

September 13th is Fortune Cookie Day. These are real fortunes found in actual cookies (which is an American invention by the way):
•You will receive a fortune. (cookie)
•You will be hungry again in one hour.
•You are not illiterate.
•Life will be happy. Until the end when you’ll pee yourself a lot.
•The fortune you seek is in another cookie.
•Hearty laughter is a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoors.

October 2nd is National Custodial Workers Day. I love this one. It’s only right that we recognize the thousands of janitors who work tirelessly behind the scenes at our schools, churches, offices, etc., to keep the place clean and in good working order. At schools, they are often long time employees who love their work and genuinely love the kids.

November 17th is Homemade Bread Day. No explanation necessary–just start baking; it’sbread so easy these days. If you want to bake the mouth watering Blueberry Bread at the top of this post, take out your breadmaker and go here.

December 10th is Human Rights Day. On a serious note, the United Nations created this day to promote the awareness of human rights around the world. It’s something we take for granted in America, but don’t forget that freedom is not a given in many parts of the world.

So do you feel like you want to create your own holiday? Unfortunately, it takes an act of Congress to get a holiday passed, but anyone can declare a holiday–it’s free. Once you declare your own special day, it’s up to you to publicize it. If it’s interesting enough, you might get some support and people may start to remember it and even celebrate it with you. Good luck!

Where Am I?
turkeyleg2Can you guess where I took my Zojirushi bottle? Let me know! Hint: This is a very famous place. BTW, have a great Thanksgiving!

 

Hawaiian Kine Rice

finishedI was raised in Hawaii “during hanabata days, when Chunky’s was da bes’ plate lunch in Moilili fo’ ono grindz.” Although I just dated myself tremendously with that statement, I’m guessing that most of our readers don’t even know what I just said, so I’m not too worried. The point is, as important as rice is to the culture of Japan, it is equally as important to our tiny state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Probably the most famous Hawaiian variant of a Japanese rice dish is the classic Spam Musubi, the Hawaiian rice ball (more like a brick) made with SPAM®, rice and a sheet of nori (seaweed). There are 2 basic styles–with the slice of SPAM® on top of the rice and a strip of nori wrapped around its waist like a belt, or with the SPAM® slice buried in between two layers of rice and completely wrapped with a sheet of nori, leaving the ends exposed.

fryspam loadrice loadspam

SPAM® is the canned mystery meat that everyone loves in Hawaii. Introduced by the Hormel company in the 1930s, SPAM® became a popular wartime food for the military because it could be shipped easily without spoiling. Even after the war, the large military presence on the Islands made it a local favorite, and the Japanese-Americans there created the Spam Musubi, their own version of the traditional onigiri (rice ball).

Today, you can make Spam Musubi with a rectangular rice press, designed to form perfectly shaped little bricks of rice. The SPAM® is sliced, pan fried and seasoned according to family recipes that add anything from teriyaki sauce to flavored rice sprinkles to pickled vegetables for extra zest.

2ndlayerrice press rollnori

Earlier I mentioned the “plate lunch”, a unique meal most certainly native to Hawaii. With most plate lunches, there is an entree, macaroni salad as a side dish, and rice. What is distinctly Hawaiian, however, is that the rice is always served with an ice cream scoop, forming one or two balls of rice on your plate. “One or two scoops” of rice on a plate lunch essentially makes the difference between a small or large plate lunch. I believe the aesthetics of eating rice that’s been mashed into a perfectly round ball may not be to everyone’s liking, but hey, it works in Hawaii!

Another local favorite is Fried Rice, which you may say, is just fried rice. But if you think about the thousands of different ways this simple dish is prepared all over the rice eating world, you’ll understand why “Hawaiian style” is unique to the 50th state. It almost always has bacon in it, if not Portuguese sausage or SPAM®, or all three if they happen to be around. This would truly be a deluxe version. If you added bits of the pink and white kamaboko (Japanese fish cake), you’d really be stylin’. On the other hand, if you’re a student on a budget or just out of ingredients around the house, you can make the “junk kine fried rice dat only get peas and carrots inside.” Rest assured, it will still taste great and be quite filling if you do it right.

Rice is awesome, isn’t it? Even the haoles eat rice in Hawaii!

Where Am I?
gym copyStarting this month, I’d like to share my shot of my Zojirushi Vacuum Bottle, out in its natural environment in the great outdoors and not stuck in my kitchen cupboard. Can you guess where I took it? Let me know!

The Secret Life of Rice

Rice 1

Shhh! When your favorite grain isn’t being served steaming hot in a bowl or wrapped snugly in a sheet of nori, this modest staple can be found in places you might not expect, secretly turning water into wine!

beerSake is no secret, but did you know about Rice Beer? More than 15% of all the rice produced locally in the U.S. is used to brew beer. When first generation German-American immigrants like Adolphus Busch, Adolph Coors and Frederick Miller built the American beer industry in the late 19th century, they were searching for ways to adjust their beers to the American palate. We were not ready for the heavy, full-flavored malt taste that was the trademark of the European beer; we preferred a lighter, crisper brew, and ingredients like rice and corn were perfect for the recipe.

Today, even the aficionados at the craft breweries are embracing the use of rice as a way to achieve that delicate balance of lightening the body and cutting down some of the maltiness of lager. Rice is widely recognized as the key to producing complex, full-flavored beers that can have a subtle fruitiness and a bright finish.

Still more on rice drinks–with all the alternatives to cow’s milk available today, ricemilkingredients copythe one that I like is made from rice. Rice Milk is advantageous for what it doesn’t contain; no cholesterol and saturated fats, no lactose for the lactose intolerant. Allergies to rice are rare, making this milk one of the safest alternatives to animal milk. It is not a great source of protein and does have more calories per cup than almond or soy milk (about 113), but it is formulated to contain adequate levels of calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D. It is a milk that is very palatable and easy to drink, making it unnecessary to  mask it with sweeteners, although these are also available.

If you like sweet milk, there’s nothing better than Horchata, a traditional Latin American beverage that originated from Spain, made with rice. It’s really not a milk at all–it just horchata2 copyresembles one because of the milky color which comes from the ground rice, nuts and seeds, sweetened with sugar and flavored with lime and cinnamon. As exotic as that sounds, Horchata can be found sold by street vendors in Mexico, and you can sample it at most Mexican restaurants.

How about Rice Bread? Even though it sounds like 2 staples that don’t belong together, a lot of breads, cakes, pastas and even tortillas that are traditionally made from wheat are being made from rice flour these days. And since rice does not contain glutens, it’s a Gluten Free Breadfantastic alternative for those with gluten allergies. Rice flour also has the advantage of being lower in calories than wheat, and is nutritionally better for you, especially if it’s made with brown rice. Breads made from rice flour tend to have a soft, springy texture that brings out the natural sweetness of  the rice when you chew it. This texture and shape seem to hold up better when frozen or defrosted in a microwave, where wheat flour breads can become tough and shapeless when subjected to temperature changes.

And jam for that bread? Yep, you guessed it–Rice Jam takes advantage of the distinct sweet flavor of the rice that occurs with a fermentation process, without the addition of any extra sugar. If you’ve tasted a Japanese sake called amazake, the flavor is very similar. Korea has also developed a Rice Jam, which is a lot healthier than regular jam because of the lower sugar content, resulting in a better taste for the real fruit in the jam.

Who knew rice had so many secret identities? Long regarded as a “super food”, rice is more powerful than we know!

Chopsticks!

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Chances are you’ve split a pair of wooden chopsticks at a Japanese restaurant before enjoying that scrumptious morsel of sushi. Have you also noticed that those big plastic ones at the Chinese restaurant require superhuman skills to pick up that Dim Sum? Or have you had Korean food and used the thin metal chopsticks to eat rice out of metal bowls?

photoChopsticks were invented in China over 5000 years ago, and are made in different styles and of various materials today, depending on where you are. Chinese chopsticks are longer, rectangular with flat sides and have blunt tips; usually made of bamboo or plastic. The more exotic ones are made of ivory. Japanese chopsticks are shorter, tapered and shaped like rounded dowels with pointed tips. The most common ones are disposable wood but they can also be elaborately lacquered and handmade. photo[1]Korean chopsticks are made of metal like stainless steel or silver, short like the Japanese ones, and are ornamentally engraved. The durability of metal goes well with the heat of Korean BBQ cuisine.

The common disposable wooden ones you see actually have a great deal of processing that goes into them. They start as logs of spruce, are cut down to size, and “shaved” to the thickness required for chopsticks. Stamping machines do the rest, cutting the individual sticks out into pre-split, tapered pairs. In the past, wooden chopsticks tended to be rough edged, necessitating the ritual of scraping them against each other or rubbing them together to rid them of splinters. Modern wooden chopsticks are fairly smooth and even beveled on the edges for comfort, thus making this scraping action unnecessary.

spruce log spruce roll assembly line

With anything that happens to be over 5000 years old, there is always folklore and superstition. Chopsticks are no exception. You are not supposed to stick them upright in your bowl of rice because they resemble incense at a person’s funeral–a bad omen. The same goes with passing food from chopsticks to chopsticks, which too closely mimics another ritual that takes place only at cremation ceremonies. When you split a pair of wooden chopsticks and they break unevenly, it is a sign of unrequited love. Still others say it means you’re going to have ugly babies–ha-ha!

Do you know any chopsticks superstitions? Which kind of chopsticks do you like best? Share your thoughts with us! And by the way, we Americans have our own style of chopsticks, too. They’re called tongs!

Video screen caps courtesy of The Making, a Japanese TV documentary