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[From the archives. These sesame cookies with matcha icing look and taste quite dramatic. In leaf shapes they are rather spring-like, but try simple rounds or squares for year-round appeal. Originally published in April 2007.]

Flavor wise black sesame seeds aren't that different, if at all, from white or brown sesame seeds. But there is something about their dramatic black-to-grey color that is quite exciting. At the moment I'm quite enamored with black sesame seeds, and have been using them instead of the regular brown ones in everything from sauces to salads.

These leaf shaped cookies contain toasted and ground black sesame seeds, dark brown muscovado sugar, and whole wheat flour, and are decorated with matcha (powdered tea) royal icing. The sweetness is quite restrained, both in the cookie and in the icing. You are first hit by the tea-flavored, very slightly bitter icing, followed by the nutty darkness of the cookie. It's an intriguing combination. They are a wonderful accompaniment to tea, black or green, hot or iced. If the ultimate cookie to you means something very sweet and gooey you may not like these. They are quite adult cookies.

I had to shoot the pictures in a hurry, because they were disappearing faster than almost any other cookie I've made recently.

Since I don't have a leaf shaped cookie cutter, I just made a simple paper template and cut the leaves out with a knife. You can cut them out into any shape you'd like of course, though given the coloring leaves seem appropriate. Quite spring-like, in fact.

Savings Techniques for Women Who Can't Save

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This article about my favorite Japanese personal finance book is part of Frugal Food Month. While it's not directly about food, I hope it's of interest to Just Hungry readers anyway!

Type:  feature Filed under:  books and media essays japanese favorites budgeting

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Four years ago I posted a very basic recipe for inarizushi, homely sushi that is stuffed into a fried tofu skin or aburaage. It's been one of the most popular articles here on Just Hungry ever since. That only gave instructions for stuffing pre-made (canned or vacuum packed) skins, so I thought I'd update it with instructions for making your own inarizushi skins from scratch. These instructions will be particularly useful to vegetarians and vegans, since most if not all premade skins are cooked in a fish-based traditional dashi stock. And, for all of you who have had problems making Eggs in Treasure Bags with those small, thin canned skins: You'll find that making the eggs from your own, sturdy skins is so much easier.

Japanese Basics: How to make Japanese-style plain rice and sushi rice

Update: I've updated this post substantially in these two articles, 10 years later: How to cook great Japanese style rice, and How to make sushi rice (shari). Please take a look there - you'll probably find them a lot clearer. I've learned a lot myself in 10 years! ^_^

This is the first how-to and recipe that I posted on Just Hungry. Properly cooked rice is the foundation of a traditional Japanese meal, and you absolutely cannot skimp on the steps detailed here if you are aiming for anything approaching authenticity. I've edited the text to make some things clearer. Back to basics! Originally published in November 2003.

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Rice is the staple of Japanese food, and making it just right can be rather difficult if you don't know how. If you think you will be preparing rice regularly, an electric rice cooker will make your life so much easier. You can cook non-Japanese style rice in it too, though I tend to make those in a regular pan.

Type:  recipe Filed under:  basics japanese rice sushi favorites

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Since last year, there has been a craze for something called nama kyarameru (生キャラメル, raw caramel) in Japan. The demand has been so great that people form long lines to buy it, and at least at the beginning of the fad there were frequent reports of sell-outs and long waiting lists. Raw caramel means meltingly soft caramel candies that have been made with fresh milk, fresh butter, and no additives. It's been a great marketing ploy for some dairy farmers in Hokkaido.

Given that getting nama kyarameru from Hokkaido is not that easy for me, and believing firmly in the superiority of Swiss dairy products, I set about to make my own version. After many attempts, here is my version of raw caramel. They have a very slight fermented-sourness from the crème fraîche, and the pure salt flavor from the fleur de sel. And the sugar component is made richer by using golden syrup.

I have a feeling I will never buy caramel candies again.

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Sukiyaki (すき焼き)is a Japanese word that is widely known outside of Japan, but very few people have actually had the real thing unless they've been invited to a Japanese person's home for dinner - or gone to a traditional inn or ryoutei (high end traditional Japanese restaurant) where it is cooked for you at the table. This is because, like tori nabe, this is really another nabe that is cooked at the table, at home, rather than eaten at a restaurant. You may encounter 'sukiyaki' on some restaurant menus, but if it's been cooked in advance in the kitchen, it really isn't sukiyaki. (I'm not sure why there are dedicated shabu-shabu restaurants but no sukiyaki restaurants, but I think it's because sukiyaki is so strongly associated with home cooking.)

Unlike tori nabe, sukiyaki is not inexpensive, since you need top grade steak-quality meat. If you have access to a Japanese grocery store or a butcher that is familiar with the 'sukiyaki' cut, you can buy ready-cut meat there. (In New York, I used to get sukiyaki meat from Schaller and Weber on the Upper East Side). If you can't get sukiyaki meat, get a piece of sirloin with a good amount of marbling and a thick piece of fat attached. Allow for about 100 grams / 3 1/2 ounces of meat per person. You do not need to use wagyuu or Kobe beef - that would be overkill. In Japan, sukiyaki is the quintessential gochisou (御馳走) - feast or treat, because good beef is the most expensive kind of meat. It's what you have for a special occasion, or just after payday.

Sukiyaki can be enjoyed at any time of the year, but any kind of nabe seems to be best suited to the winter, when the family can gather around the dining table helping themselves from a fragant, steaming pan of food.

There are two basic methods of making sukiyaki: Kanto, or Tokyo-area style, and Kansai, or Kyoto/Osaka area style. Since I'm from the Tokyo area I'll show you how to do the Tokyo style, with a recipe for the Kyoto method below.

img: a hot and steamy bowl of soba noodles to end the year

Revised and updated: This recipe for Toshikoshi Soba, or Year-End Soba, traditionally eaten in Japan on New Year's Eve, is one of the earliest recipes posted on Just Hungry. I've expanded the directions so that you can use various methods for making the soup. Originally posted December 30, 2003.

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This rich fusion-esque soup is something I just came up with while fiddling around with the idea of a bisque-like soup without any cream or milk in it. It is fairly frugal despite its richness.

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[From the archives. This very easy cake is especially nice at this time of year, when apples are in season. We don't actually eat this every day, but it's one of my go-to simple sweets to make. Originally published January 11, 2006.]

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This is another everyday go-to dish around here. Chicken wings are not nearly as cheap as I remember them being during my frugal student days, due to the popularity of things like Buffalo wings. They're still a pretty good deal though. While we love crispy oven-fried wings and such, these deeply flavored braised wings are a great leave-to-cook favorite, especially when the weather gets cold.

This is a dish that is very easy to throw together.

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