February 2007

Frank Bruni gives the steakhouse at the Penthouse Executive Club a pretty entertaining one star review. "Hmm, where have I heard of this place before" I thought, and rummaged through my stacks of recorded food shows. Ah, celebrated don't-call-it-molecular-gastronomy chef Heston Blumenthal paid it a special visit on his TV show last year, to show his drooling mostly British viewers er, great looking meat. I mean the aged sides of beef, of course.

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book image: Everyday Japanese Cooking

I don't know how this escaped me until now, but there are actually two cookbooks available in English by one of the best teachers of traditional washoku or Japanese cooking, Tokiko Suzuki. Japanese Homestyle Cooking, published in 2000, is the more recent one, and The Essentials of Japanese Cooking is the other, published in 1995.

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Japanese people have a long standing tradition of adapting words from other languages when a Japanese word or term doesn't exist for something. The language most often borrowed from is English, but other languages are freely raided too. Often, the original meaning of the word changes quite a bit (see this post on my personal blog about the use of one such word, "mansion") which can be confusing for the non-Japanese speaker.

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Keep reading Almond Poodle →

Since there seems to be interest in Japanese cookbook reviews, I will be posting some here periodically!

The question is, where is the best place to shop for Japanese books, magazines, DVDs and such? If you have a Japanese bookstore near you, that's the best place. One tip for buying magazines: the most recent issue of any magazine has been airmailed to the store, so the price you'll be charged is for the cost of the magazine plus that airmail cost. However, if there are any issues left after a month, the stores may sell them for a discount. (Kinokuniya in New York and San Francisco both do this.) Since most food magazines are not that timely, this works out well.

If you don't have a Japanese bookstore near you, the two biggest and most user-friendly online bookstores for Japanese language material are Yes Asia and Amazon Japan. I've bought stuff from both, and in terms of customer service and so on both are pretty good.

Shopping @ Just Hungry

When you shop via the Just Hungry affiliate stores, you help to support the site while getting stuff you want! It's a win-win situation!

Recently, I haven't been reading a lot of English cookbooks - I haven't really been inspired by any new ones for some reason. Instead, I have been reading a lot of Japanese cookbooks and food magazines. I've discovered a few that are new to me, and re-discovered some old favorites.

I'm not sure if it's worthwhile to talk about them here since...well, they are Japanese. So I guess I will ask - would you like to read about cookbooks and magazines that aren't in English? If there's interest I'll talk about some of my favorites from time to time.

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This may not be well known outside of the two respective countries, but there are pretty strong historical and cultural ties between Japan and Brazil. There was a wave of emigration from Japan to Brazil in the early part of the 20th century and later on around the '50s and '60s. And in the last 30 years, many Brazilians of Japanese descent (people of Japanese descent born in another country are called nikkei-jin) have in turn emigrated to Japan to fill labor shortages. Perhaps because of this, a few years ago one of the staples of the Brazilian diet, pao de queijo, little cheese breads, became very popular. While their popularity may have descended a bit from their peaks (Japan tends to be periodically swept up by big food or fashion trends, which after a time get dropped without warning when people move onto the next thing, but that's another story), they are still made by bakers throughout Japan.

I think that pao de queijo appeals so much to the Japanese palate because they are small, round and cute, and have a distinctive gooey-sticky-glutinous kind of texture inside. This texture is called mochi mochi, after mochi, the very gooey-glutinous rice cakes.


One of the things I like to do with tofu that didn't quite come together is to turn it into a pudding. Now I do not pretend to you that this tastes like a proper pudding or mousse made with cream and such, and if anyone tries to convince you that a tofu based dish like this is 'just as good/rich as the real thing' they are either lying or have no taste buds. It's different, but still good. It's a lightly sweet, cool and creamy dish that will quiet a sudden urge for Something Sweet. Since it's quite healthy it will leave you feeling righteous, thus the name.

It's also a dish that you can whip up in no time at all. I realize that many of the recipes here take a lot of time, effort or both, and I'm going to try to rectify that. Look for recipes with the quickcook or under 10 tags.

Recently reader Joanna emailed asking why her home made tofu was, while creamy, not turning into an actual block of tofu. This happens to me sometimes too. The non-coagulated creamy tofu (which looks rather like fresh ricotta) can still be used in ganmodoki and other recipes that call for mashed up tofu, so it doesn't have to go to waste. Still, it is disappointing when, after all the trouble you've gone to to make tofu, your carefully formed block disintegrates instead of holding firm.

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February is not really a great month for local fresh produce around here, but there is one category of vegetables that is quite abundant around this time - greens. There's endive, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, chicory, and some less common greens like puntarelle. One problem with many winter or early-spring greens is that they have a bitter flavor.

There are various ways of reducing or counteracting the bitterness; the method you use depends on the kind of greens you are using and how concerned you are about retaining nutrients and such.

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