Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cooking Like Mom

I've been on a bit of a roll cooking American food recently. Not really sure whats gotten into me, but they seem like things that I ought to know how to make. Yuki had been having a rough spell at work, so last weekend I decided to cook her some comfort food and turned to a couple of my mom's staples.

Her baked mac & cheese will put you in one of the warmest fuzziest food comas of your life, it's that good. Unfortunately, I don't have access to her secret ingredient in Japan (don't worry mom, I won't tell them what it is!) and needed Yuki's sorry little oven/microwave (they often combine the two here in Japan. CRAZY!) for baking dessert anyway, so I went with a recipe from one of my favorite blogs that makes it in a pan and calls for minimal butter to boot. I toasted some panko and sprinkled it on top to add a little texture. It turned out pretty well, though it didn't have the awesome crusty bits you get when you bake it, which everyone knows is the best part. Still good stuff for a cold winter night.

My mom also makes a mean apple crisp that people always devour. I'm not sure if there have ever been leftovers when she makes it... I will admit, for a long time I steered clear of cooked fruit. I looooove cold crispy juicy refreshing fruit, so I never really saw the point in taking all that away by baking them. But I've been more open to new foods recently and every now and then there will be a dish that forces me to give credit to the cooked stuff too. The only problem I had was that I ignored my mom's recommendation to use tart apples, opting instead for red ones that were on sale. Red apples are, in general, juicier than green ones and as a result it took way longer for all the liquid to evaporate and for the apples to start breaking down than it should have. After about twice as much time in the oven as the recipe called for, it was finally at an acceptable point, though to be completely honest it would have been better with even more time. That being said, I made had made a ton and expected at least half of it to be leftover, but we served it up with some vanilla ice cream and ended up killing the whole freaking thing. We have a problem with making too much of something and eating til it's gone. We're getting better about it, but leftovers are quite rare.
It was all a bit indulgent, but it hit the spot and left us feeling full and content.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

House Cleaning

I've been really bad about updating this blog, with nothing really food related in December and just one post in all of January. My last post was almost exactly a month ago. It's not that I haven't been cooking, I've whipped up some really good stuff in that time, but I haven't set aside the time to organize any of it into a post. The more dishes I put off writing about, the more difficult the task becomes. I have a hard time bringing myself to let past recipes remain unwritten, but at the same time it's tough to be excited enough about something I made several weeks ago to feel motivated to write about it here. It's a vicious circle really.

So in order to break the cycle I've decided to do a little house cleaning. With this post, I'm going to clear out the backlog and start fresh. Just a picture or two and a few words about some of the best stuff I've made recently. Some of these really do deserve a post of their own, but I'm just going to have to move on. Without further adieu, some of my favorites from recent months:

I only cooked once during the entire week and I half I was home. When your mom is as good a cook as mine is, you're probably best of leaving it up to her anyways. The one time I did cook, my sister and I made tempura. A lot of it. Probably too much of it. We had shrimp, eggplant, zucchini, carrots, sweet potatoes, and onions. I'll be the first to admit that it probably wasn't the best tempura I've ever had, but it was pretty solid and eating it with the family compensated for a lot.

Not long after coming back, I made Chili Shrimp, one of the more prominent examples of Japanese bastardization of a Chinese recipe. Almost every recipe for it in Japanese cookbooks calls for ketchup in the sauce, an ingredient I'm pretty sure has never figured very heavily in authentic Chinese cooking. My theory is that the red color came entirely from chili-derived ingredients but, being complete wusses about anything even kind of spicy, was swapped out for ketchup by the Japanese. I'm not cool with that so I just kinda made it up as I went and used more chili sauce. Unfortunately Yuki isn't as down with the hot and spicy stuff as I am, so I had to compromise and give it a pretty good dose of sugar too. It was still way better than any I've tried here in Tokyo. +10 points.

My last post was about cooking like an American. A key part of the American diet is big chunks of meat and I was on a bit of a roll, so the week after cooking that chicken, I decided to have a go at roast beef (or Roast Beast, as it's affectionately know as in my family). There's a grocery store in my neighborhood that is aimed towards restaurants, so I went there and picked up a nice 2 lb slab of cow. Back at Yuki's place, it got a generous coat of oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder before being stabbed full of garlic cloves. After a good spell in the oven it came out looking pretty damn good, but it turned out that it was a bit over done and not nearly as tender as it should have been. Still, it was good enough that the two of us ate the whole thing (a little embarrassing), depriving us of leftovers to make awesome sandwiches. Oh well, there's always next time.

The best meal from January was a Coq au Vin recipe that really turned out so well that it really and, in all honesty, probably deserves it's own post. The sauce was loaded up with diced bacon, onions, celery, and carrots and probably got reduced a bit too much, but it was so loaded with delicious goodness that I don't even care. Yet another meal made with the expectation of leftovers that proved to be too good not to finish off. This probably ranks up there among the best dishes I've ever cooked.

This past Thursday was a national holiday in Japan, so I showed Yuki around Kameari, the neighborhood where I live. Despite being a rather random out-of-the-way sort of place, there really is a very good selection of places to buy groceries. One of my favorites is a little fishmonger right buy the train station that has fresh fish and reasonable prices. We decided to pick up a pair of small rockfish to steam up for dinner. The fishmonger had scaled the fish and removed it's guts for us, so there really wasn't much left to do. It steamed for about 8 min (probably a little too long) and I used a sweet soy sauce, scallions, and ginger to finish it off. I've been meaning to include more fish in my diet for a while and this was a good reminder of how easy it can be.

So there you have it, the culinary highlights December and January cleared out and off my shoulders. I'm hoping this will free me up to do better about writing here regularly. Last night's dinner is already in the pipeline, so lets see if I can't pump that one out within the next week or so!