Hawaii 5-O

poke

I was feeling a little nostalgic today, so I thought I’d write about my home state in terms of 5 Hawaiian “Local Grindz”. Being on the mainland, eating like a local is the closest I can get to being there! Hawaii is such a mixed bag of cultures, the choices that I could come up with seem infinite, but in my opinion there are a handful of favorites that never change, no matter how many generations have passed. I also qualified my 5 based on them being distinctly native to Hawaii; although I refuse to verify whether they actually originated there. Close enough, I say.

1. Poke
Regardless of what Polynesian fisherman first started cutting up his leftover ahi catch into little pieces so he could eat it as a snack, Hawaii gets the credit for this dish which has become a mainland sensation. Since most Americans are more used to raw fish now since the widespread popularity of sushi, poke (pronounced po-keh) has found it easier to gradually work its way into the mainstream.

Poke has been around for a long time in Hawaii, available in containers at almost every supermarket in the Islands; kind of like how salsa is sold in the refrigerated section here. Usually seasoned with soy sauce, sea salt and sesame oil, the raw ahi tuna is mixed with green onions, Maui onions and limu, an edible algae that has long been part of the ancient Hawaiian diet. Sprinkled with sesame seeds, a bowl of fresh poke is like eating the catch of the day, right on the beach.

teri-beef2. Beef Teriyaki
Teriyaki is an interesting study in origins. In Japan, where the taste of tangy-sweet soy sauce and sugary flavor was undoubtedly first made, the term teriyaki is mainly used to describe a cooking method. The “teri” part refers to the glaze of the teriyaki sauce, and “yaki” means to grill. With all the Japanese immigration to Hawaii in the late 1800s, the taste was brought over, but it can be said that the sauce itself, as the marinade that we know today, was a Japanese-American invention.

It took an influence of Western culture to apply teriyaki to beef, I’m sure. If I think back to my early days of basic plate lunches, “teri-beef” was always a staple. It makes sense–what can possibly go together better as a combination than beef teriyaki, macaroni salad and rice? Add some chopped cabbage and you’ve successfully fended off your guilty conscience of not eating your vegetables. I can smell it on the grill even now…

spamshelf23. Spam Musubi
There is no way that this isn’t a Hawaiian original. Who the heck else glorifies Spam like this? Think about it, locals consume more Spam there than anyplace else in the U.S.; it’s available as breakfast meat at McDonald’s and Burger King. Another Japanese influence, Spam Musubi is like the perfect portable snack food. And they even stack up like bricks because they’re shaped that way!

It is the ubiquitous picnic favorite, bake sale staple and pot luck standard of local cuisine. Even though every family has their own way of making Spam Musubi, in the end it’s still rice and spam and shaped the same way. Even though the high sodium content is probably not that great for you, I love it anyway. If you’ve never heard of Spam Musubi, read my post here on how to make it.

saimin4. Saimin
My Dad would always complain about not being able to find good saimin when he was living in California. He was right. It’s tough to find–in many ways this Hawaiian classic has been supplanted by the ramen juggernaut that is taking over the world, even in Hawaii. But to me, there will always be a place for saimin, and I predict it will make a strong comeback one day.

The noodles are practically the same between the two dishes, but the saimin broth is much lighter than ramen, both in taste and color. Typical toppings would be some scrambled egg slivers, green onion, Chinese cabbage, char-siu (a Chinese style BBQ pork) and kamaboko, the pink and white Japanese fish cake that you see everywhere with the swirl in it. How much more Hawaiian can it get, with all those cultural roots. Plus, a common substitute for the char-siu that you’ll often see is Spam!

By the way, there are McDonald’s locations in Hawaii that serve their own brand of saimin, which isn’t bad–I’ve tried it.

shaveicesyrup5. Shave Ice
“Shaved” Ice, or kakigori, as it’s known in Japan, was no doubt the influence that became the Hawaiian “shave” ice as we know it today. But the Hawaiian version has earned its place as an American original. The ice is much finer than Japanese kakigori; and the flavors are distinctly tropical, like guava, pineapple, coconut, passion fruit, lychee, and mango. Some of them taste so much like the real thing it’s uncanny–they remind me of how they get those flavors into the tiny little jelly beans.

There’s no doubt every country in the world has its own version of finely shaved ice dessert, but this one that evolved from kakigori has its unique toppings and fillings at the bottom. Ice cream and/or adzuki beans inside, for example; or flavored with sweet condensed milk along with the colored syrup, often called “Japanese style” or “snow cap” among the locals. Read more about some ice desserts here.

If you go to Hawaii, you must make a pit stop at Matsumoto’s Shave Ice stand on the way to the North Shore of Oahu–everyone else does, including busloads of Japanese tourists everyday, since 1951!

Images: Poke by IronChefMom, Teri-beef plate by Chad YamamotoAisle of Spam by SassySSSShave Ice syrup by Lilly Zay, Saimin by Aloha-Hawaii.com

Straight Coffee Talk

coffeemain

So at the expense of revealing how ancient I really am, I want to make it clear that Japan had their own coffee houses long before there was a Starbucks, which as everyone knows, is a big part of what makes Seattle famous–and where tourists come by the thousands just to stand in line to get into the “original” one.

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The original Starbucks in Seattle, WA

Of course, Japan probably borrowed the idea from the European cafés anyway, but the Japanese have a unique way of taking something and refining it somehow. In the 70’s, when coffee shops called kissaten really took off, there were thousands of mostly Mom and Pop places all over country. They would serve gourmet coffee, brewed carefully and individually, from beans imported from all over the world. Sound familiar? Just for some perspective, the first Starbucks store didn’t open until 1971, and they weren’t on every street corner back then.

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A kissaten today (a nostalgic hangout) — The original Cafe Almond (first opened in 1964!)

The market was so competitive, if you were a coffee drinker, you had a vast amount of choices in exotic beans and style of brewing. You could pay for the privilege of an expensive cup of Blue Mountain coffee from the hills of Jamaica, brewed by pour-over with filtered water heated to a precise temperature. It might not seem like a big deal today, but it was this artisanal touch that made you want to go there to experience the ambiance. It’s just not the same when a giant stainless steel machine can do it with a few quick lever pulls and button pushes. *Sigh*

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Load beans, grind, open drawer to get coffee!

For my money, the Pour-Over (pictured above) is still the best way to brew a great cup of coffee. Perfect for a single cup, it makes me wish I still had my wooden mill that I used to have, when I would grind my own beans every morning. Nah, who am I fooling? It’s too easy to have it ground for me at my local Starbucks!

I also had my own personal Siphon coffee maker too, which came with a little alcohol burner to heat the water. I remember first seeing this method at one of the fashionable coffee shops in Tokyo (yes, back in the Seventies) where the barista would tend to 6 or so glass pots, each boiling over a Bunsen burner. After watching the water boil and rise to the upper chamber, each pot of coffee was on a timer, set to go off at the ideal brewing time before being allowed to be taken off the heat and drop down to the bottom chamber for that perfect cup. It’s hard to fully understand the process until you’ve seen it, but it’s one of the most fun ways to brew coffee, and the brew is delicious!

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Hario siphon brewer — Bialetti French press

Then there’s the French Press, which has its fans, but I am not one of them. The idea is to brew the coffee in the glass with the grounds and the hot water, with the plunger all the way up. When your coffee is done, you simply push the plunger down and a built-in filter pushes the grounds down to bottom, leaving your coffee ready to pour. Many people like the fact that there is no paper filter to throw away, but I dislike cloudy coffee; and sediment always remains with the French Press. Purists will argue that the flavorful oils of the coffee beans are protected better with this method.

In 1972 after Mr. Coffee® introduced America to automatic brewing for the home, there have been hundreds of automatic coffee brewing systems that heat and drip the water into a cone or basket filter, which then drips into a carafe. The machine is basically a home version of the machines that have been used in diners for decades, and is ideal for when you want more than one cup of coffee. Some of the good ones like this one from Zojirushi have thermal insulated carafes that can keep your coffee hot for hours, without having to keep it on a heating element.

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Zojirushi Fresh Brew Plus — Keurig pod coffee

And I can’t discuss coffee brewing systems without mentioning the ubiquitous pod coffee makers made popular by Keurig®. It doesn’t beat the drip style coffee in my opinion, but it does make a pretty good cup. The company has taken some heat though, for impacting the environment with waste caused by their used pods. As modern convenience goes, it’s not surprising that you see these everywhere. Unlike a drip system, there’s not much to wash and nothing messy to dispose, other than that little pod.

The last method I wanted to bring up was the Drip Sachet, a beautifully engineered drip coffee bag, made to hang on a mug or coffee cup for a single serving. This ingenious marvel of paper die-cutting folds completely flat while it seals the correct portion of fine ground. Carefully unfold it to expose the coffee, prop it securely over your cup, and just pour the hot water–a complete drip system in miniature! From a per serving price point, it’s a little expensive, but so convenient! To me, it’s the best tasting “individual serving” method other than the Pour-Over.

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The coffee sachet folds out into a complete brewing system.

I’m also old enough to remember the Percolator (Google it if you’re interested); my parents had this high tech electric one when I was a kid. Coffee has come a long way indeed.

photos by: Bert Tanimoto, Ann-Marie, Japan Today, Humanosphere
products courtesy of Hario®, Bialetti®, Keurig®, Zojirushi®

 

A Day In The Life

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Well, maybe it’s more than a day, but I’ve always wanted to use that title. I just thought I’d share some of my cell phone shots, which show what I’ve been doing lately. Think of it as my Instagram feed, except in blog form. I haven’t been very good about posting these days, so this is my way of catching up.

superba4On weekends we go out to eat a lot–it’s become our activity to explore places we’ve never been, to see if those Yelp or Serious Eats reviewers know what they’re talking about. SUPERBA was one of those places. I got the beet marinated salmon on artisanal bread, dressed in herbal goat cheese and topped with capers. Pretty tasty, except it shocked me at first because I couldn’t figure out where the salmon was. Then I realized–oh yeah, marinated in beets!

I think this was the day we ended up with something less frou-frou and more to my liking for dinner–Croquette Curry at COCO ICHIBANYA, my favorite Japanese style curry place. I’m a bit of a wimp. I can’t go past Spicy #2 without setting my hair on fire.

Some Saturday mornings we’ll fight the laziness and make it to the beach (we live about a mile away) and take a morning walk. The seagulls and surfers are usually already out there by the time we get there, but at least we make the effort, right? Did I tell you we drive there even though we’re only a mile away?

My weekday mornings are much earlier. Since my work commute is pretty far (70 miles), I leave when it’s still dark and I come back when it’s already dark, during the winter months when the days are short. But it’s peaceful when there’s no cars yet in the city. You can see the sun just rising as the moon above is just setting. In no time though, I’m on the freeway and hitting morning traffic. I pass my time listening to audio books on CDs and MP3 players like the one you see here. I’ve “read” so many great books now, more than I’ve ever read in my entire life. How did I ever get through college as an English major?


Guisados3Recently on another “family activity day”, we drove up to downtown Los Angeles to have lunch at GUISADOS, a Mexican place we found on Yelp, where they’re known for their soft tacos. They have this sampler dish on the menu with 6 different tacos; I’ve never bothered to remember what I’m eating, I just know they’re all muy bueno. (My daughter goes there for the horchata.)

That day since we were in the area, we decided to extend the field trip by stopping in Hollywood, where we never go–and now we know why; bad traffic, bad parking, too many tourists. But I couldn’t resist taking a picture of David Bowie’s star on the Walk of Fame–I’m a classic rock fan, remember? RIP Ziggy, you were way too young to leave us on earth.

Sometimes dinner is simple. We’ll go to In-N-Out and just bring it home. I took a shot of thein_out employees hard at work, making the best hamburgers in the West, right from the car at the drive-thru window. My son, who is going to school in Boston right now, told us that people on the East Coast think In-N-Out is the holy grail of hamburgers. Lucky we live L.A., eh? But it’s all relative…a lot of people here think Shake Shack from New York is the best. I’ve had both, they’re both good and different so it’s tough to compare, but In-N-Out is the better value for sure.

honeyOur trending dessert for us right now is an ice cream place called HONEYMEE. It’s actually a rich and creamy kind of soft-serve, with a cube of real raw honey, still in its honeycomb, sitting on top. What it reminds me of is the old days when I would stop at a gas station to get a soft-serve from those machines. Of course, this is much better–the milk is real and flavorful, without being too sweet. I can do without the honeycomb, which is basically like chewing wax.

This was fun to write…thanks for reading!

All photos by Bert Tanimoto

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

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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!😄

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Fresh POKE (Hawaiian style marinated sashimi tuna)

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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