Japanese Street Food:  Grilled Ayu and Squid

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It’s almost that time of year! Festivals are starting in Japan and street food flavors are out in full force! Spring festivals kick off the season with the biggest festivals happening in the thick of summer. Japanese festivals are unique in that fireworks, music, dance and games are all enjoyed by festivalgoers who really come for the delicious varieties of street food!

One of the most loved street food dishes is anything on skewers, especially grilled ayu, or sweetfish, and ika, or squid.

Ayu are small fish in the salmon family, and when heavily salted, skewered and grilled over an open charcoal fire, they are considered a delicacy reminiscent of summertime, camping and festivals. The fish are generally available from June through September in Japan, and at street food stalls, you’ll see the small, whole fish skewered through the center and arranged in a circle around a hot fire, where they are shaped into an undulating wave and barbequed at low heat until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Ayu can be eaten whole–head, fins, tail, bones and innards–and the white-fleshed river fish tastes great served with a special sour and peppery dip called tadesu which helps bring out the delicate aroma and the flavor of the fish.

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Ikayaki

Ika, or squid, are also wonderful barbequed over an open fire. The squid are skewered through the body in a way similar to grilled ayu—sometimes whole and sometimes in choice pieces—salted and lightly brushed with soy sauce, and then grilled until juicy and flavorful. The dish, called Ikayaki, is often served simply and eaten directly off the stick.

If you can’t find grilled ayu or ikayaki at a festival, be sure to ask for it at an izakaya pub, where often these skewered delicacies are available to accompany a crisp beer!

Have you ever had grilled ayu or grilled squid? Share your stories with us below! And don’t forget to stay tuned for next month’s street food showcase!

Practical Solutions for Gluten Free Diets and How Zojirushi Products May Help With a Gluten Free Lifestyle

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Once you’ve decided to go gluten free, you’ll need to start in your kitchen. Whether it’s large or galley, stocked or empty, your new gluten-free kitchen will be your safe zone. Your gluten-free kitchen will become the place where you can always find and make yummy and safe gluten free foods. When your kitchen goes gluten-free, too, then you won’t be tempted to “cheat” by eating gluten — because there won’t be other options.

It is important to first understand why a fresh beginning is so essential to going gluten free successfully. Because gluten is just one tiny ingredient in lots of foods, it’s not something you can actually see. It can lurk in crumbs, sauces, pasta…. Which means that anything in your kitchen that has touched these things (think toasters, pans, colanders, lunch boxes, utensils, counters, dish scrubbers, tea towels, etc.) may still have gluten on it or in it. When this gluten residue touches your gluten free food, gluten contamination (or gluten cross-contact) occurs.

So start fresh with any pots or pans or appliances that may touch your food if they are scratched or difficult to fully clean, and make an effort to rid your kitchen of gluten entirely (or banish it to its own cabinet for others to use). Knowing you have a safe place to prepare and to eat food for any meal of the day will help you successfully establish your new gluten-free lifestyle.

Once your kitchen is in order, it’s time to cook! Even if you’ve never considered yourself to be a baker or a chef, you don’t have to earn a degree to learn to prepare easy home cooked meals. Beyond proteins like meat, fish and chicken – which are gluten-free unless and until they are marinated, basted, or otherwise dressed with a sauce containing gluten – you’ll want to explore new ways to incorporate gluten-free grains and breads into your family meals for a nutritious and delicious diet.

Cooking with Gluten Free Grains

Rice:

Brown and white rice are just the most recognizable rice options you may already be familiar with. Jasmine, wild*, basmati and sushi are among the over 40,000 varieties of cultivated rice in the world. Whole grain rice contains bran which houses most of the nutrition in a grain of rice – vitamins, minerals, resistant starch and energy from carbohydrates — but even white rice offers carbohydrate energy and nutrition.

Get creative with rice as a side dish, salad, substitute for pasta (even in Pad Thai and Macaroni and Cheese!), filler for crab cakes and other patties, and even as a meal in itself. With a Zojirushi Rice Cooker, making rice is as easy as a push of a button, so dinner can be served on your schedule.

Quinoa:

Quinoa is another wonderful option that is prepared in much the same was as you would rice. It is one of the most popular ancient grains to have resurfaced lately as a superfood and a gluten-free hero.

First cultivated over 5,000 years ago, quinoa is technically a “pseudo-cereal,” not actually a grain. As seeds, it may be ground into flour like a grain and also prepared as you would any rice dish. The primary difference is that it is richer than rice in B-vitamins, vitamin E, minerals, fatty acids, calcium and fiber and it is considered a complete plant-based protein source.

Pick your favorite rice dish and substitute white, red or black quinoa in its place; see how you like it. The small grains cook even faster than most rice and it offers a nutty taste that many favor over blander grains. Serve as a hot breakfast cereal option, hot or cold side salad, or even as a binder in veggie burgers or other patties.

Millet:

Another delicious gluten-free seed is millet. This tiny grain alternative has been cultivated for thousands of years. It can be found as a flour or in its whole form which can be prepared much like rice or added to muffins, salads or other recipes as a substitute for a nutty crunch.

Millet is mild in flavor, and offers an abundance of magnesium and insoluble fiber. It is delicious as breakfast porridge or as an alternative to rice or potatoes as a side dish. Prepare in much the same way as you would rice.

Soups:

Many of us think of hearty bowls of chili or thinner tomato-based broths when we think of soup, but there is no end to the creative possibilities of what you can make in a pot.

Creamy cauliflower, vegetable lentil, green pea, and even cold soups like gazpacho can be made more quickly using a Zojirushi Stainless Steel Thermal Vacuum Cooking Pot or in a standard pot on your stove. Just be sure to verify all ingredients like stock and broth are gluten-free.

Oats:

Oats are a delicious way to add healthy fiber to your diet, but for those who are living gluten free, only certain oats are safe. It is essential to purchase only certified gluten free oats, grown under the purity protocol, to ensure there has not been cross-contact with gluten-containing grains. Independently certified gluten free oats can include traditional rolled oats, instant or quick oats, oat bran and steel cut oats.

Make a large batch of oatmeal in a Zojirushi Rice Cooker on the Porridge setting, and re-heat as you need quick breakfasts, snacks or even hearty side dishes. Or use Zojirushi stainless steel food jars to make yummy steel cut oats in the container with no fuss, then take the food jar with you to work or for travel. With a little planning, a warm and hearty meal of gluten free steel cut oats and fruit is better than any fast food or snack bar.

Baking Homemade Gluten-Free Breads:

If you’ve been unsatisfied with the gluten-free options available to you in pre-made or frozen breads at the grocery store, take heart! Making your own homemade gluten-free bread is the answer!

Even if you’ve never baked a loaf of bread in your life, you can bake gluten-free bread that tastes like real, soft and delicious bread and you’ll never have to settle for store-bought or hard, frozen gluten-free loaves again.

The reason why it doesn’t take an expert bread maker to make gluten-free bread is because all of the laborious steps involved in coaxing and babying gluten breads into life are absent in the making of gluten-free yeast bread. The steps are quicker and simple, and start-to-finish you can make a gorgeous loaf of gluten-free bread in about 2 hours.

The keys to remember about baking gluten-free bread are these:

  • There is no kneading or punching down of the dough
  • There is no second rise
  • Shape the breads before rising
  • Don’t over-work the dough
  • You may use quick rise yeast for even faster rise times
  • Check the temperature of your bread before removing it from the oven or bread machine – make sure it has reached 205 – 210° F or it’s not quite done baking

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The absolute easiest way to gluten-free bread nirvana is by using a bread machine with gluten-free setting. Older machines didn’t offer the gluten-free option, and were pre-programmed for all the settings necessary to exercise gluten into holding its shape. Those same settings are actually counter-productive in baking gluten-free breads, which is why a gluten-free setting is so helpful.

However, it is possible to program some machines for your own gluten-free setting. If doing so, set your machine to a 20-minute mix cycle, a 45-minute rise cycle and a 60-minute bake cycle for a 2-pound loaf.

With any bread maker, the liquids should be at room temperature and go into the pan first, followed by all dry ingredients and lastly by the yeast, poured into a well in the center of the dry ingredients.

The Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso® Breadmaker may become your best friend in gluten-free baking. It bakes a beautiful 2-pound loaf with an easy and reliable gluten-free setting and two mixing paddles for even distribution of dough.

Anything from gluten-free green tea bread to brown rice bread to raisin bread is possible … and easy with this machine. It even makes cakes and can mix pizza dough or other shaped bread dough for you to bake in the oven.

I actually travel with my bread maker so that I can have fresh-baked gluten-free bread with me wherever I am, and I don’t have to worry about clean up or a contaminated kitchen space. I regularly bake homemade bread in my hotel rooms and enjoy soft sandwiches or breakfast bread for several days.

The most important thing to remember about going gluten free is that it’s not about deprivation – it’s about delicious new and healthier possibilities. Doing more cooking at home may seem overwhelming at first, but you’ll soon find it is a more economical, nutritious and safe way to live gluten free. Feeding your family home cooked meals is also a wonderful way to spend more time together. Remember that your kitchen is your safe haven and be sure to keep it well stocked with ingredients to favorite recipes so you are always able to bake up something yummy!

 

*Wild rice is not actually rice, but is prepared in the same fashion and is a wonderful alternative to rice in the same dishes.

Essentials of Japanese Cooking:  The Science of Umami

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The essential ingredients of Japanese cooking—sugar, salt, vinegar, soy sauce and miso—are primary ingredients, but how do they influence taste? Does ryori no sa shi su se so actually mean flavor, or are they the building blocks of the unique flavors of Japanese food?

In our post this month, we explore umami, what it’s made of and its essential role in gastronomy around the world.

Umami was first discovered in a measurable way by Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University, now the University of Tokyo, in 1908. Dr. Ikeda, a chemist, theorized that there must be a reason why kombu dashi stock, used in many Japanese dishes, imparted such a rich, savory taste to food. In his quest to understand why, Dr. Ikeda discovered that kombu, the type of seaweed used in preparing dashi stock, was high in glutamates, a type of amino acid that creates a savory taste with a full mouthfeel. Dr. Ikeda’s discovery was followed by those of Shintaro Kodama, who discovered a ribonucleotide called inosine monophosphate, and of Akira Kuninaka, who discovered the ribonucleotide called guanosine monophosphate. These three substances, when absorbed by the taste buds on the tongue, creates a biochemical signal that tells the brain that the food is savory and full of protein, an important human evolutionary adaptation that aided in determining whether a food was safe and desirable to eat.

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Tsukudani , a side dish, made with umami-packed kombu (photo by Jun Owada)

Since the discovery of salt approximately in 5,000 BCE, the tastes of foods have been categorized into seven categories: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy, astringent and umami. Different cultures have used a subset of these seven tastes as part of their gustatory culture. For example, European culture generally used the first four tastes. Indian culture uses six of the seven. And, before umami was discovered, Japanese culture only recognized four of the seven tastes. Dr. Ikeda coined the term umami, from the Japanese root words “umai” meaning delicious and “mi” meaning taste, and since its modern discovery, umami has become known as the fifth taste in Japanese cooking tradition. While some cultures might only use a subset of the seven tastes in their traditions, they actually use umami as part of their flavor profiles, because glutamates, inosine and guanosine are compounds found in a broad variety of food, everything from seaweed, fish, shellfish, beef, pork, eggs and chicken to mushrooms, tomatoes, cabbage, soybeans, yeast, milk and cheese. Food cultures across the world use these ingredients, and when combined with the other tastes, create savory flavors that are more intense than alone.

The inclusion of cured meat, tomatoes, and Parmesan cheese make this pasta dish rich in umami flavor

The inclusion of cured meat, tomatoes, and Parmesan cheese make this pasta dish rich in umami flavor

Combining umami ingredients is done in many well-known, familiar recipes… tomato sauce topped with parmesan cheese, sautéed mushrooms, broth and vegetables. Savory flavor becomes more intense when a glutamate component (such as fish or seaweed) is combined with an inosine or guanosine component (such as mushrooms) or simply with table salt. Ancient Romans created garum, a fish paste, that was used as an umami component to many early Italian dishes. In more modern times, American cooks created ketchup, also full of umami and made with tomatoes, garlic, onions and vinegar, and Australians have created Vegemite, a fermented yeast paste full of umami.

The intensity of all flavors in food is increased when an umami ingredient is introduced. And umami is one of the most important elements of Japanese food, especially in dashi. We’ll explore this in more detail next month. Stay tuned, and as always, we’d love to hear your experiences with umami!

 

Main photo by Sage Ross

Zojirushi’s Travel Mug (SM-YAE48)

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We’re all searching for a way to be stylish, save money and still enjoy our favorite foods and drinks… and one of the best ways to do that is to make your favorite coffee or tea at home and take it with you when you’re on the go. We love our Travel Mug (SM-YAE48) for just these reasons: convenience, savings and style.

This mug is a new addition to our other taller, thinner models. It rests much more securely in car cup holders, and fits better under a pod brewer. The same wonderful features you find in Zojirushi vacuum-insulated bottles can be found in this travel mug: an easy to clean electro-polished SlickSteel® interior, wide mouth opening, and superior heat/cold retention. The Travel Mug also has a solid locking mechanism that makes it leak-proof when used according to the instruction manual, and the lid is a snap to clean, thanks to its larger surface area and removable gaskets. The flip-open top is designed to be comfortable while drinking, fitting the contours of your face. Best of all, the mug has a unique vent that allows liquid to pour out smoothly, which is great if you’re on the move and don’t want a huge mouthful of liquid splashing down your chin!

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Since launching our Travel Mug last July, we’ve gotten great feedback on Amazon.com from our owners. One of our favorite 5-star reviews is from Tygr, who posted this review on March 3, 2016:

How did they improve on near perfection? They did with this new mug model!

I love it. I had one of the previous models that I loved but this one is even better. Since they’ve widened the bottle the overall height was reduced so it not only fits perfectly in my cup holder but it also fits perfectly into my coffee maker so I can now have it brew directly into the mug — something I couldn’t do with previous versions! I love the chocolate color and the fact that the lid locks in place when open so it won’t fall forward when drinking out of it. Same unbelievable super long time for keeping things hot or cold. Who would have thought that they could improve on such an awesome product? — But they DID!”

The Travel Mug (SM-YAE48) comes in four beautiful colors: Lime Green, Cherry Red, Dark Cocoa and Stainless. Check out our product video and our website. We know you’ll love it as much as we do, and as always, be sure to share your comments with us! And don’t forget to pin a photo of your travel mug with #ZoGo!

What is Rice Really?: Growing Short-Grain Rice

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Rice, rice and more rice… we continue our series about What Is Rice Really? after having explored the plant, and short-grain, medium-grain and long-grain rice. Have you tried any of the recipes we’ve suggested yet?

While you were cooking rice, have you ever wondered how it actually gets from its beginnings as a tiny seed to your kitchen?

Growing rice—especially in Japan—is an endeavor both large and small. The careful attention that rice farmers pay to each minute detail of the rice growing process leads to the crop yields that feed the Japanese people. Farmers consider two things as they grow rice:  the plant itself and the environment used to grow it.

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Tilling the rice paddy

Rice farmers care for the rice plant from dormant seed through harvested food. Rice seeds were originally gathered from wild rice plants; however, in modern times, rice seeds are carefully selected and stored from previous harvests, as well as hybridized in cultivation facilities. The type and quality of the seed is hugely important to the type and quality of the yield in any given growing season. Rice seeds are the unhulled, unprocessed grains that are selected from the rice crop during harvest. Good seeds are generally of uniform size, will germinate 80% of the time, are free of pathogens, and produce seedlings that are vigorous.

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Seeds can be sown in a rice field in one of two ways: either through transplantation or direct seeding. Transplantation uses pre-germinated seeds that are sprouted in a seedbed comprised of water, nutrients (such as compost) and soil, generally indoors to protect them from contaminants and animals. Once the seeds have sprouted and have established themselves, they are transplanted, either by hand or by using a seeding machine. On the other hand, direct seeding allows farmers to broadcast ungerminated seeds in fields, and let them establish themselves wherever they fall. In larger farms, and especially in Japan, farmers transplant seeds to better ensure a safe and predictable harvest.

Growing rice is only possible when an environment is created that will allow the plants to flourish. Rice farmers are incredibly concerned with the quality of the soil, the quantity and purity of the water, the heat of the sun and protecting the plants from diseases and pests. Managing soil is the first step in rice production. During a Japanese winter, soil lays fallow and is allowed to rest. In the beginning of spring, around the time when cherry blossoms are in full bloom, rice fields or paddies are tilled, which means the soil is dug up, churned, and aerated with straw. Farmers amend the tilled soil with fertilizers, such as compost or nitrogen and potassium, and begin smoothing the rich, loamy land in preparation for drenching with water.

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Fall rice harvesting

Water in Japan is a vital resource–from rain, to rivers, to reservoirs–and rice is grown using wet cultivation. In the spring, the smoothed, tilled land is flooded with water to a uniform depth, and then planted with seedlings. Every day, the water level is monitored to ensure that the plants grow with adequate hydration, and that water is flowing with nutrients along flat fields and terraces. The intense heat of the summer months, combined with nutrient-rich soil and plentiful water, helps the rice plants to grow tall and healthy. Along with watching the water levels, farmers look out for insects that seek to consume the plants, weeds that want to overtake the growing areas and diseases that could infect the plants every day. You may have seen images of green rice paddies, but a successful crop grows tall and becomes golden through the summer, until it is ready for harvest in the fall.

Have you ever visited a rice field? We’d love to hear your experiences… and stay tuned for next month’s post about harvesting rice in Japan. The harvest season is an important time throughout Japan, when Japanese people share rich stories, traditions and festivals!

 

Hawaii 5-O

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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

What is a Gluten Free Diet?

Blog 1 Photo - gfJules bread mix white bread loaf Zojirushi (small)

The term “Gluten Free Diet” has been thrown around a lot lately, but what does it mean to be gluten free or to follow a gluten free diet?

First we must understand what gluten is, to understand what it means to avoid it. Gluten is a food protein found in the grains wheat, barley (malt) and rye. In the western diet, these grains are pervasive, so it can be difficult to avoid them, particularly when eating out or buying processed foods.

Gluten is not something you would see with the naked eye – it’s a tiny food protein, but to those who are sensitive to it, a tiny amount is enough to cause a cascade of health problems. Gluten can lurk in crumbs, sauces, dressings, seasonings, and of course breads, pastas, pizza and grain-based alcohols like beer. That means that anything in your kitchen or in a restaurant kitchen that has touched these things (think toasters, pans, colanders, lunch boxes, utensils, counters, dish scrubbers, tea towels, etc.) may still have gluten on it or in it. When this gluten residue touches gluten free food, gluten contamination (or gluten cross-contact) occurs and it can make certain people very sick.

Who should follow a gluten free diet?

There are really three categories of people who need to follow a strict, medically-necessitated gluten free diet: those who have an allergy to wheat, barley or rye; those who have celiac disease; and those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

An allergy to one of the gluten-containing grains (usually wheat) is akin to what we are familiar with for those with a peanut allergy. A person with the allergy cannot be exposed to wheat, or their body will react by releasing histamines, producing a variety of symptoms, usually unique to the individual. Like most true allergies, these symptoms are often rapid and may be severe. Food allergy symptoms can range from a skin rash to gastrointestinal distress, swelling, migraines or even difficulty breathing and death due to such anaphylaxis. Luckily, once the allergen is removed from the body, or in many cases, if the person takes antihistamines, the body can quickly get back to normal. This rebound differs greatly when compared to the often long-term effects gluten produces in someone with celiac disease.

Celiac disease (also known as celiac sprue, coeliac disease, non-tropical sprue or gluten sensitive enteropathy) is a chronic and permanent sensitivity to the food protein gluten. Developing celiac disease requires three things: a genetic predisposition; exposure to gluten through digestion; and a trigger that starts an immune system’s injurious response. Celiac disease occurs in people of all ages. It is the most common genetic disorder in North America and Europe, and is found in populations all over the world, affecting approximately 1 in 100 people.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body attacks itself in an inappropriate immune system reaction. In most all other autoimmune diseases, the catalyst for starting the body’s inappropriate reaction is not yet known. But celiac disease is actually the only autoimmune disease for which there is a cure — to eliminate gluten from the diet entirely.

Gluten sensitivity is a very real medical condition that affects an estimated 18 million people in the United States, to some degree. It is not an allergy, nor is it an autoimmune disease like celiac disease, but it can cause severe, uncomfortable and even debilitating symptoms.

Gluten sensitivity is a condition where the body is unable to properly digest gluten. Recent studies have found that the bodies of those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity also produce an abnormally high number of proteins that activate inflammation (the immune system’s first defense) and an abnormally low number of suppressor T cells which suppress the inflammation. The inflammatory response, like that raised against the flu virus, can cause fatigue and dizziness. Symptoms can range from quite mild to very serious, but unlike a true “allergy,” anaphylaxis leading to death will not occur.

A gluten free or even a low-gluten diet may help alleviate these symptoms, but the only way to know is to try a completely gluten free diet for a period of several weeks to see if you feel better. If you do, then your body is telling you your answer. Unlike with celiac disease, a person with gluten sensitivity may be able to eat small amounts of gluten without damaging their body — the symptoms suffered will dictate whether and how much gluten they can tolerate.

A dish featuring gluten free quinoa

Quinoa is an example of a naturally gluten free food

How Gluten Free is “Gluten Free?”

Studies have shown that anything more than 1/8th teaspoon of regular flour, or 1/350th of a slice of regular bread (up to 10mg gluten) can cause intestinal inflammation and even villous atrophy in celiacs. Many people find that they experience symptoms with even less gluten exposure. Other studies attempting to find the threshold for prolonged gluten exposure formed the foundation for the FDA’s decision to restrict gluten free food labels to only those foods containing less than 20ppm gluten.

All this is to say that mere crumbs could harm someone with celiac disease; trace amounts can cause symptoms for those with gluten sensitivity. That’s why you should never simply pick the croutons off a salad, for example. And you shouldn’t risk using pots, pans, condiments, grills or appliances which may have such crumbs remaining from a non-gluten-free meal.  It also means that eating out can be tricky. It is very difficult for a restaurant which is not dedicated gluten free to prepare a meal that is truly safe. Fortunately, you can make ANYTHING you want at home, ensuring not only that your food is gluten free and free from cross-contact, but also that it is healthier, less expensive and tastes better!

How to Go Gluten Free

When people go gluten free, I always tell them to make a list of their “must haves”– the things they must be able to enjoy, even on a gluten free diet. This could include staples like soft sandwich bread, as well as sentimental favorites like deep dish pizza, your grandma’s noodle casserole, Thanksgiving stuffing, pierogi, donuts and cinnamon rolls. Whatever those essentials are, they are unique to you, and they need to be put on your list. Without finding replacements for those dishes, your transition to gluten free will be bittersweet.

However, when you learn to make these favorites again, gluten free, you will not only feel satisfied, but proud! There is no feeling quite like the accomplishment of baking fresh homemade bread to share with friends and family, whether you were an avid baker pre-gluten free or you’ve never baked a thing from scratch.

Once you identify the foods you need to have to make a successful transition, it’s time to find a way to get them or make them yourself. Because of the explosion of gluten free products in recent years, it is hard not to stumble upon many popular food items as packaged food in most grocery stores. Not all of these items are particularly healthy – many contain extra fat or sugar to mask the taste of some gluten free flours – and many are not as tasty as you would hope. It is for that reason that cooking at home is the best answer for most of the essentials and the treats you’ve put on your list.

Before you dismiss the idea of baking at home, let me assure you that baking gluten free is in many ways easier than baking with gluten. That means that even inexperienced bakers can expect to enjoy success in the kitchen.

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Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso® Breadmaker

Let me give you an example: baking with yeast is typically an hours-long process when using gluten-containing flours, involving steps like punching the dough down, kneading it for extended periods, allowing it to rise at least twice and babying the dough with time, gentle temperature and moisture. This process, while beautiful and truly an art, is daunting to many. By contrast, baking gluten free yeast breads is a relatively simple and quick process. So much so that I recommend using rapid rise or quick yeast, rather than regular yeast, in gluten free bread baking. There are no steps like punching or kneading, no second rise and less babying. In fact, if you choose to use a bread maker with a gluten free setting, like the Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso® Breadmaker, you simply add the ingredients to the pan, close the lid, press a button and walk away. Two hours later, you are treated to fresh baked, soft and savory bread!

Loads of other foods like rice, quinoa, beans, salads, fruits and vegetables are already gluten free and are easy to prepare. These whole foods plus easy soups, gluten free pasta, lean proteins and homemade breads and treats combine to make a delicious and nutritious, well-rounded meal plan that is far more economical and safer to make at home.

Controlling your budget and your health through diet alone is truly a gift. Once you embrace the gluten free diet for the healthy new lifestyle that it is, you should take pleasure in taking control, learning a new way of cooking, and enjoying more family meals at home, together. You never know what great new memories will be made in the kitchen and around your table!

~jules e. d. shepard

gfJules.com

Japanese Street Food:  Yakitori!

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Who doesn’t love grilled chicken on skewers?

Yakitori is one of the most popular and ubiquitous types of kushiyaki found in Japan and in areas where Japanese food is popular. Yakitori are bite-sized pieces of chicken, skewered and grilled. In Japan, yakitori can be found at yakitori-ya restaurants, street food festival stands and more commonly, at izakaya, or bar and grill style restaurants.

Having them at a street fair or izakaya is quite an experience!

Generally paired with beer or sake, yakitori are perfect for after-work happy hour or after-party noshing. There are quite a few varieties of yakitori. One of the most popular ones is tsukune, which are ground chicken meatballs, glazed with a thin teriyaki-style sauce and often accompanied by shichimi pepper. Negima yakitori are small pieces of chicken thigh skewered on bamboo sticks with stalks of green onion, and occasionally salted or glazed. Without the green onion, these yakitori are called momo, literally meaning “thigh”. Kawa is a traditional yakitori preparation where chicken skin is folded and grilled extra crispy. Tebasaki are grilled chicken wings. Sunagimo are chicken gizzards, rebaa are chicken livers and nankotsu are breast cartilage… marinated, glazed and grilled to perfection. You can even get chicken heart, neck and hind end!

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Grilling yakitori is an art form. Binchotan charcoal is used to heat the grill, which is smokeless and odorless, and made from hard Japanese oak. The wood is fired at extremely high temperatures in an oxygen-poor environment and quickly cooled to make it smooth and long-burning. This charcoal is the best to grill with, as it doesn’t adulterate the flavor of the food.

Eating yakitori is half the fun. Skewers are usually ordered in sets of two or as part of a combination plate called moriawase. You pick your sauce or tare, or just have your skewer sprinkled with salt. Sometimes, ordering sides of boiled eggs, potatoes or vegetables rounds out the meal, but mostly yakitori are delicious with beer and sake and good friends!

Share your izakaya or yakitori-ya story with us… from here in the US or from your trip or stay in Japan. Then stay tuned for next month’s street food showcase!

Essentials of Japanese Cooking: Sake and Mirin

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We’ve talked about the five basic elements of Japanese cooking so far in this series, showcasing salt, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce and miso in ryori no sa shi su se so. But we have yet to explore sake and mirin, both of which are essential to Japanese cooking, and are the topics of this month’s post.

Sake and mirin are alcoholic liquors that are both imbibed and used as ingredients in cooking, similar to the way wine is used in French cooking. Both sake and mirin were originally cultivated as drinks–sake as a sacred offering to the gods, and to be enjoyed in ceremony by the Japanese people— and mirin as a popular aperitif among the upper classes. Today, their culinary uses have permeated all of Japanese cooking.

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A sake brewery

Sake, or nihon-shu, is a rice wine made from rice, spring water, rice koji and shubo. The technique for making sake was originally introduced to Japan from China, around the same time that the rice plant was introduced. The entire brewing cycle is overseen by a brewmaster, or toji, who carefully orchestrates the multiple steps that go into producing this wine. Rice from the last harvest in autumn is typically used to make sake, and once it is milled, it’s washed, soaked and steamed until the texture is ready for cultivating koji. Koji is a fermentation agent made by mixing the fungus Aspergillus oryzae to the steamed rice and allowing the enzymes from the mold to convert the starches in the rice to fermentable sugars. After about 48 hours, one part koji is then mixed with three parts steamed rice and placed in a temperature controlled tank or vat. A special type of spring water is used in sake brewing, containing very little manganese and iron, and containing high quantities of potassium, magnesium and calcium. This special brewing water and shubo, or yeast, is added to the koji rice mixture, allowing the yeast to consume the sugars created by the koji, and turn them into alcohol over the course of approximately three weeks. When the toji believes the brew temperature, sugars, alcohol levels and acidity levels are just right, the mixture is poured into cloth bags that are placed neatly in a pressing tank, which compresses the mixture and drains the liquid sake out of the base of the press. The sake is aged for up to four months in refrigerated tanks, after which it is either pasteurized or kept cool and packaged for sale.

Sake is powerful stuff. It’s got up to a 20% alcohol concentration!

Mirin is sweeter, and milder. Brewed in a way similar to sake, mirin is made with glutinous rice (instead of the rice used for sake), koji, and shochu (a type of distilled spirit), then fermented up to two months. The shochu suppresses the production of alcohol in mirin, so the final product is contains less of it than does sake. Two types of mirin are generally available: hon-mirin, also known as real mirin, and mirin-fu chomiryo, also known as mirin-like condiment, which has virtually no alcohol but a similar flavor.

A bowl of mirin (photo credit: Badagnani)

A bowl of mirin (photo credit: Badagnani)

Both sake and mirin are wonderful ingredients in Japanese dishes. Sake is often used to tenderize meat, poultry and seafood, eliminates unpleasant odor and draws out the natural flavors of the foods it is cooked with. Mirin can firm up meats and seafood, and add a touch of sweetness and sheen, especially to glazes and sauces, such as teriyaki sauce.

While mirin is almost exclusively used in cooking, sake is still a beverage enjoyed from the beginning to the end of a Japanese meal. Grab a small cup and pair it with Chanko-Nabe, a one-pot stew flavored with sake and mirin, or Teriyaki Yellowtail, marinated with sake and mirin.

As always, we’d love to hear about your experiences as a beginner with Japanese cooking, so leave us a comment below.

 

Zojirushi’s Induction Heating (IH) System Rice Cooker & Warmer (NP-HCC10/18)

NP-HCC Accessories

We love our Induction Heating System Rice Cooker & Warmer (NP-HCC10/18)! It’s one of our flagship products, and we love it for its stylish looks, great technology and ability to make perfectly cooked rice, every time.

This rice cooker comes in a stylish dark stainless steel color and is available in two sizes, (up to) 5.5 or 10 cups. The induction heating technology allows this rice cooker to make super-fine temperature adjustments for precise heating, and turns the pan into an instant, all-over heat source for even and consistent cooking. The NP-HCC10/18 is great for cooking many types of rice, from short-grain to long-grain jasmine rice, and even make GABA brown rice using a special setting on the rice cooker that increases the nutritional value of the rice. Menu settings on the front panel make it easy to decide which type of rice and the texture you’d like your rice cooked to. The delay timer and keep warm settings make it easy to have your rice ready at a certain time, and kept warm so that it’s fresh when you’re ready to eat. Cleaning and maintaining this rice cooker is a snap—the exterior is easy to wipe down, and the interior lid and non-stick inner pan can be removed for washing.

NP-HCC Control Panel

We’ve gotten great feedback on Amazon.com from our owners since launching our Induction Heating System Rice Cooker & Warmer (NP-HCC10/18) in 2015.

Leslie Christopher gave the rice cooker a five-star review, saying, This product is worth every penny. Before purchasing the rice cooker, we read a review on Forbes and it stated that it was the one kitchen appliance that actually cooks something BETTER than you can by hand. We now have four or five different kinds of rice on hand – jasmine, basmati, brown, sprouted, wild, etc. I can quickly make white rice for our son and then make a batch of brown sprouted rice for the rest of the guests. I can make dried beans from scratch, and then freeze them. I have made steel cut oatmeal, too. Please purchase the rice bowl for washing the rice, and you will be pleasantly surprised. Perfect every time!”

LCBrowning also gave the rice cooker a five star review: “I started using my new rice cooker right out of the box. Best rice I’ve ever made. I watched the Zojirushi online movie of how to use and wash my rise ahead of cooking. We are never to old to learn something new…”

We’re so happy to know that they love this rice cooker, and we know you will, too. To learn more about this rice cooker, check out our product video and our website. As always, be sure to share your recipes with us!