August 2007

This news item is probably of no interest to anyone who doesn't live in Switzerland, but French supermarket giant Carrefour has apparently given up on the Swiss market and sold their stores to Coop (news in German).

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Periodically I like to step back a bit and take a look at why this site exists, and what it's about. The current masthead says it's about Japanese cooking (especially for people who do not live in Japan or a region with easy access to Japanese ingredients), expat food issues in general, and healthy cooking.

But what I'm really about when it comes to food is real food, and that's what this site is about. I don't claim to be a purist who never lets an artificial food pass my lips - I do live in the real world. But in general, fake food just does not taste right to me.

I like real fruits and vegetables. I like meat from animals or birds who lived a happy life when they were alive, and eggs that come from contented hens. I like cheese that has been produced in time tested, traditional ways rather than the kind that differs little from the plastic that's wrapped around them. I prefer fish that swam around freely.

Not just because they are 'good for me' or 'good for the environment' or 'better for trade' or whatever, though these can be - and often are - side benefits. I like real food because it tastes better. I'm selfish that way.

Now I realize that 'real food' does not taste better to everyone. Our tastebuds are conditioned by habits and environment, and a lot of people eat tons of fake food all the time. I used to do that too, especially in my teens and 20s . As I've gotten older though, I've grown away from that. Given a choice between a fresh, ripe peach and peach flavored candy, I'll take the real peach every time.

Real food takes a commitment in terms of priorities. Time is one thing you have to allocate in many cases. Money is too, unfortunately. To me and to my family, these commitments are worthwhile.

Welcome to Just Hungry, where we prefer real food.

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The lemon verbena plant that I planted last year and almost lost to a summer storm, is now firmly established and positively thriving. Whenever I pass it I can't resist rubbing a leaf, because it smells so wonderful.

Transferring that wonderful lemony scent to taste is quite easy - simply steeping it in some boiling water for about 10 to 15 minutes does the trick. This granita is infused with the aroma of lemon verbena, soured with a little lemon juice, and sweetened with a delicate acacia honey. Any light colored honey will work here instead. It makes a wonderful light dessert or palate cleanser, or cooling summer snack.

I was recently sent a book about Japanese cooking for review. I wasn't too impressed by the book for a variety of reasons, but one thing that really bothered me was that it used dashi stock powder for practically every recipe. (What made it worse is that the book's title proclaimed the recipes therein to be "Healthy".)

Dashi stock powder is akin to soup stock cubes in Western cooking. Like soup stock cubes, they are a very convenient way to add a concentrated dose of umami to a dish. I do have a box of the stuff in my kitchen which I use on occasion.

But keep in mind that dashi stock powder contains quite a lot of MSG. The good or bad of MSG may be a debatable subject, but when it comes to food additives I always like to be on the cautious side. Besides, with the right ingredients making dashi stock from real ingredients, even a vegan version, doesn't take that much time - and tastes a whole lot better too. This is different from the time and effort, not to mention the mess, needed to make a good chicken stock, for example. On my list of Japanese pantry essentials, I have put MSG or Ajinomoto as something that's optional, and I regard dashi powder in the same light.

In Japan, more and more households are turning away from dashi stock powder for health reasons, especially in families with small children. I don't see any reason for people new to Japanese cooking to start out on the wrong leg by relying on an iffy convenience product.

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I rarely get political on this blog, because...well this is a blog about food, and I hate all the strife that surrounds political discussions. However, this article about the new head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP link) made me pause - especially since this is the organization for which the Menu For Hope III event raised money.

I'm not saying that the WFP won't continue to do good work under this new head - but, her background makes me want to pound my head on my desk. Hard.

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After reading my instructions for tomato water yesterday, a reader in the UK told me that Jamie Oliver had also made tomato water on his new show, Jamie At Home. (We can see BBC and ITV here in Switzerland, but not Channel 4.) Through nefarious means I was able to get hold of a copy of the show - it was dedicated to tomato recipes, which all looked delicious. I guess they didn't film it this year though, because this hasn't been a good year for tomato growing at all, with lots of rain and cold temperatures. (Unless they cheated and took their 'home grown tomatoes' from a greenhouse...) In any case, Jamie made his tomato water by straining the tomato pulp with cheesecloth, which would work as well as my method of using a sieve and paper towels. He iced his water down by adding ice cubes (I don't think I'd do that since it would dilute the intense flavor) and sprinkled it with basil, celery and extra virgin olive oil, and spiked it with vodka. I hope you do try making tomato water at least once this tomato season - it's really something worth doing! Serve it to your friends without telling them what it is and watch their faces!

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Periodically I get emails and comments asking me to post a recipe for one thing or another, usually something Japanese. I try to do so (eventually) with most things, though it may take a while between request and actual writeup since I try to make sure that if I do write it up, it will actually work. One of the things I've been asked about a lot is ramen, probably because it's so ubiquitous in Japan, and so tasty. Since it's usually served as a sort of fast food, and because the instant and cup-noodle varieties are well, so instant, people may assume that it's not hard to make.

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Have you ever made tomato water? It's the clear liquid strained gently from a ripe tomato, and one of the best treats of summer. When made from juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes, it has a sweet yet green-tomatoey taste that is so intense that a little goes a very long way.

Making tomato water is very simple. All it requires is a blender or food processor, a fine mesh sieve, paper towels, and patience. What you do with the resulting water is up to your imagination. Here I have added a little gelatin to make it into a tomato gelée (or, to be non-fancy, jelly). Served on top is a tomato coulis made from the pulp that is left over after the water is strained. The only heat-adding cooking involved is in melting the gelatin. It fits in well with my minimal-cooking mood this summer.

This would make a very interesting first course for a summer meal, or an amuse-bouche if served in tiny portions. It would be a great in-between courses palate cleanser too, if you are having an elaborate meal.

This seems to be the week of appearing on other great food blogs! I was asked, amongst other more illustrious food bloggers, what my last meal would be by <a href=">Chew On That. Check out the great answers!

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Liz Crain of Culinate interviewed me recently, and the result is now up on their site. I always feel funny reading interviews of me, but nevertheless Liz did a great job. (I didn't realize I average 15 posts a month... is that too little or too much?) You get to find out about my dad's infamous restaurant business card collection! Food obsession must be inherited.

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