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(From the archives. If you're planning a big Fourth of July party, consider this very colorful, cool dessert, which I made for a party several years ago. There are a lot of steps involved, but you can cut corners with storebought meringue and sugar cookies if you prefer. Originally published in July 2006 (!))

I love outdoor parties in the summer, especially when it means a barbeque. July the 4th barbeque parties are the best, and I miss them sorely when I am not in the U.S. This year though, we are going to have a July the 4th party on Sunday (since the 4th is not a holiday here), complete with grilled hamburgers, wurst, and chicken. Someone else is going to do all that grilling, so I am making the dessert.

Filed under:  dessert fruit party food weekend project summer

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The weather has finally gotten warm around these parts after a very cold spring, and we're eating more summertime food now. This is one of our favorite salad-type dishes. The sesame dressing is very versatile, and you can use it for any manner of things, but here I've just used it with cucumber.

Tip: the longer you let it rest before serving, the saltier the cucumber will get, so if you want to serve it as a salad you'd want to combine the cucumber with the dressing just before serving. On the other hand, if you let it marinate in the refrigerator the cucumber becomes assertive enough to eat with plain rice as part of a Japanese meal.

Filed under:  japanese vegetarian summer vegan salad

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From the archives: We apparently had the coldest spring on record in this area. It's finally getting warm again, and today I started my first batch of mugicha this year. Here is a slightly updated article about mugicha, or toasted barley tea, my favorite non-alcoholic summer drink. This was originally published on May 10, 2007, and updated on June 10, 2008. I've added another update at the end.

When we were growing up, my mother frowned upon most sugary drinks for us kids. So things like sodas were generally not stocked in the house - an ice-filled cup of Coke was a great treat whenever we went out to eat. Things like Calpis, or when we lived in the U.S. Kool-Aid, were strictly rationed. The cool drink we always had in the refrigerator was mugicha, or barley tea. Even when we lived in White Plains, New York, there were always a couple of jugs of mugicha in the large American refrigerator.

Mugicha is traditionally made by briefly simmering roasted barley grains. It has a toasty taste, with slight bitter undertones, but much less so than tea made from tea leaves. To me, it's much more refreshing to drink than plain water.

My anti-sugar mother always made sugarless mugicha, but my younger self craved the sweetened mugicha that most of my friends' mothers seemed to make. I always begged my mother to make sweet mugicha, but she always refused. Some day, when I am the one making mugicha, I'll put all the sugar I want in it, I used to think. So, when I reached my teen years, and my mother was back working full time, I used to pour rivers of sugar into the mugicha. My little sisters loved it. I'm not sure if it made them more hyper than usual, though I have vague memories of my younger sister sitting on my head when she got bored.

Now that I am nominally an adult, I much prefer unsweetened mugicha. I'm growing more like my mother as I get older, a rather scary thought.

Filed under:  drink japanese lighter summer tea

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 6: Putting It All Together

Components of a typical Japanese meal

Welcome to the last lesson in Japanese 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku. I hope you've enjoyed the course and learned a few things along the way.

In this last lesson we'll take a look back at what we've learned, and also see how to put it all together to great an authentic traditional Japanese meal at home.

Type:  recipe Filed under:  japanese washoku japanese culture japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Fish bone crackers (hone-senbei) with shoestring potatoes

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There's no need to throw away the bits of fish that you cut off when you filet them and so forth. Fish bones and heads can be kept for making soup. Or, if the bones are tender enough they can be made into delicious fish-bone crackers.

At the sushi restaurant in New York I worked at many years ago, the chefs used to serve these as extra treats to favored customers. One of those was a lovely little girl, who used to come regularly with her father. She just loved those fish bone crackers. So, one year the chefs made a big batch of them and gave her a takeout box full for her birthday. She was so happy I thought her eyes were going to pop out of her head.

I've paired these with shoestring potatoes, which taste surprisingly sweet next to the umami-rich fish bones. The type of potato is important - choose a nice firm waxy type, not a floury type like Idaho baking potatoes. Alternatively you can use sweet potatoes.

Type:  recipe Filed under:  japanese fish washoku appetizers japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Iwashi no Tsumire-jiru (イワシのつみれ汁) - Sardine balls in clear soup

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Now that you know how to gut, bone and clean sardines, one of the nicest ways to eat the sardines is to turn them into little fish balls which can be floated in a hot pot, pan-fried, and so on - or most classically, served in a clear soup. The ginger and onion takes away any kind of 'fishy' taste. You can even serve this in cold soup for a refreshing change. (Warning: Not many fish guts below but there is a lot of raw fish!)

Type:  recipe Filed under:  japanese soup fish washoku japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 - Fish, Part 3: How to break down small fish

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We are entering the home stretch here for both Lesson 5, Fish and the whole Japanese Cooking 101 course. In this lesson we are going to get very intimate with fish.

Warning to the squeamish: If you find up-close photos of raw fish the way nature made them, with guts and stuff, please do not click through.

I've put everything 'below the fold' here, so if you want to read the rest please click through to the full article on the site.

Type:  recipe Filed under:  basics fish washoku japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 - Fish, Part 2: Fish buying tips, plus how to "open" a fish

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More fish! In this lesson: How to suss out a good fish shop, how to gauge if a fish is very fresh, plus 'opening' up a whole fish.

Type:  recipe Filed under:  fish how-to washoku knife skills

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 - Fish, Part 1: Salmon Teriyaki

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We are starting Lesson 5, Fish, with an easy bit of salmon cooking.

Type:  recipe Filed under:  japanese fish washoku japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 4, Part 2: Prepping Vegetables For Sunomono

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In Part 2 of the sunomono lesson we'll take a look at some way of prepping the vegetables.

Type:  recipe Filed under:  japanese vegetables vegetarian vegan washoku japanesecooking101

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