Saturday, April 30, 2005

Kyoto Week: the culinary center of Japan

This week's theme is Kyoto. Kyoto is one of Japanese treasures with a rich history and sophisticated cultural finess. It was Japan's ancient capital, where emperors and nobles of the past left an irreplacable sense of history.

Kyoto was our sighseeing destination from this trip for two reasons. The last time we were in Japan on a sightseeing trip with five of our friends, the Mogs missed partically all of the Kyoto experience, since he was stuck in the US embassy in nearby Osaka with me renewing my student visa. Since Kyoto is a must-see destination with much historical importance, we decided that we needed to do Kyoto for sure this time around. The other reason was the food.

Kyoto cuisine has been appreciated all over the world and respected for its unique vegetables, delicate seasoning, and tender treatment of ingredients. Kyo-kaiseki is revered as one of the most sophisticated dining experiences in Japan. Kaiseki, a style evolved from tea ceremony, is a carefully orchestrated course meal which emphasizes attentive warmth from the host for the guests. This attentiveness is based on the spirit of ichigo ichie (一期一会), in which each meal is prepared with perfection, as if it were the last chance the host is given to please the guest.

I enjoyed two full kaiseki meals in Kyoto, and I am dedicating this coming week to my experiences with Kyoto cuisine. I also brought back some amazing ingredients from Kyoto, and this week will culminate with a feast I make for my friends, recreating some of the spirit of Kyoto cuisine in my own kitchen.

NOTE: The picture of the very famous Zen garden at Ryoanji temple that you see here is compliments of the Mogs. You can find other pictures by him on his flickr page. He has a ton more nice looking pictures from Japan, so maybe if we all harass him via flickr, he will put them up there for us!

Friday, April 29, 2005

Oh-my Oumi beef

Beware, vegetarians, today, this site contains images that could be offensive to you...

With that warning, I have some truly mouth-watering pictures to share with you meat-eaters...

Japanese beef has gotten quite a bit of attention from the gourmet folks in the US in recent years. Kobe beef, in particular, seems to have done the marketing trick just right to be synonymous with Japanese beef and considered by many here in the US to be THE beef to try from Japan.

I beg to differ.

There are many, many other varieties of wonderful Japanese beef (wagyu). Wagyu is cattle born and raised in Japan to be eaten, and only 1/6 of the total beef consumed in Japan can be considered true 'wagyu', cattle raised for eatin'. The remainder is made up by Holstein beef from cattle originally raised to be milking cows (1/3 of the total) and Australian beef (1/2 of the total). These stats are taken from the Wagyu Registry Association.

Of this small percentage, there are four subspecies of cattle: Kuroge (black hair), Akage (red hair), Mukaku (no horn), and Tankaku (short horn). Kuroge seems to be the most common, while the other subspecies are raised in localized prefectures in Japan. I'll have to make a trip one of these days to taste the different subspecies, since I've pretty much dined exclusively on Kuroge beef so far.

Amazingly, each wagyu cattle has name and a birth certificate with a traceable lineage up to its grand, grandparents. Instead of fingerprints, bimon or 'nose prints' are used to identify which cattle is who.

During my last trip back, my Mama, the Mogs, and I traveled to a lakeside resort by Japan's biggest lake, the Biwako. The town of Nagahama is right nearby, and we feasted on the regional Oumi beef there at a beef eatry called Morishima. Morishima is run by the grand-grand son of the famous Takenaka brothers who popularized the Oumi beef and the 'gyu-nabe', the beef dish assumed to be the origins of sukiyaki, in the then-Edo Tokyo in the late 1800s.

Oumi beef is known for its juicy meat with more texture. By texture, I almost want to say 'muscled', but that brings up a stringy image in English, which is not at all what I mean. It's just got a little bit more firmness than say the Matsuzaka beef (another kuroge), which is so tender that one can tear apart using chopsticks. The strength of the Oumi beef is the depth of flavor in the meat without the overwhelming presence of fat.

We tried Oumi beef two ways, and the first of the two was sukiyaki. This was one of the Mogs' favorite meal in Japan. Sukiyaki is one of those dishes that is prepared in a million different ways, depending on where you are from or how you like it. I grew up with sukiyaki where the sauce, consisting of sugar, soy sauce, and dashi broth, was pre-mixed. The Mogs was particularly smitten in a previous trip with a method that seared the beef first, then seasoned it later with sugar dumped directly onto the meat, followed by a dash of soy sauce and dashi on a sizzling girdle. This time, our sukiyaki was prepared with the sugar on the bottom, followed by the meat, then the dashi, and finished with the soy sauce. The vegetables were added later.

As with all sukiyaki recipes, the beef is dipped in egg for added richness right before eatin'. Japanese eggs & chicken are routinely tested for salmonella, so we can safely consume raw eggs. A raw egg has that wonderful luscious richness to it that is hard to replace, and I periodically find myself missing it in the US. Anyone who appreciates a real carbonara sauce will probably know what I mean...

Morishima's sukiyaki was top-notch. The beef was beyond tender while maintaining a lovely beef aroma, and the salty sweetness of the sugar-broth combination was perfect with the eggscellent beef. (I think I ripped that off of Molly... I can't help it, she's a lot funnier than I am...) The vegetables didn't leave much of an impression, but the beef, oh my Oumi yummy.

We then moved on to Beef course #2. We got a plate of steak-thick beef, seasoned with salt and pepper, along with a burning hot plate of lava on a portable gas stove. This is a common method used at wagyu restaurants, and the diners cook the steak as they dine along. The lava is supposed to absorb extra fat, while maintaining the prefect temperature to ensure rare/medium-rare quality for any dummy cooking the steaks.

I saw direct evidence that my Mama has no patience, since she was constantly flipping her steaks. The Mogs had to stop her and tell her to leave her poor beef alone so it can brown a bit.

We seared all sides of the beef, and jeez, it smelled SO good. I'm actually not that big of a meat eater, but all the dazzling sizzling had me drooling. It made me realize that I am on top of the food chain for sure - the scent of cooking meat inducing hunger is definite evidence of my top tier food chain position...

We were told that this was beef good enough to eat raw, and we enjoyed the steaks rare-sided medium-rare. I like my center just heated enough to let the juices come to life with the fat melting into a delicious flow. This steak did exactly just that. The ratio of fat to muscle was absolutely perfect for me. With enough texture to provide a pleasurable bite and plenty of juices dripping as I took my bite, this was epicurean debauchery at its best.

One of these days, I'd love to do a wagyu-taste off with Kobe, Matsuzaka, Oumi, and other regional beefs of red fur, hornless, and short horn varieties. Wouldn't that be quite luxurious? Anyone interested in hosting it?!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Bar Fly in Japan: Yaegaki - Part II

More tempura debauchery today!!!

I'll focus my post today more on the tempura and why I think Yaegaki's tempura is so uniquely wonderful. It's the batter. Of course the fact that everything served at Yaegaki is carefully selected by Kunio-san to reflect seasonality and freshness is a key factor, but what sets the tempura here apart from every other tempura I've ever had is the fried batter. I've been so disappointed by tempura in the US, even at the restaurants that serve very good food otherwise, and what disappoints me about US tempura is the amount and damp-ness of the batter.

You see what I mean? The fish you see here is lightly dressed by the batter. It is not smothered by a thick layer of damp, tasteless lump of flour. And bites of tempura at Yaegaki are crunchy without being heavy, because of this wonderful batter-to-innard ratio. And these tempuras are best eaten with salt as accompaniment to prevent dampening the crunchy batter, although the standard tempura dipping sauce is also available.

In case you are wondering, there is plenty of vegetarian options at Yaegaki too. On the left here is the myoga, discussed in an earlier post, and sweet potato slices on the right. The bitterness of the myoga and the sweetness of the potato slices were a pleasurable contrast to eat side-by-side. Vegetables at Yaegaki usually come in pairs, each paired with its opposite, a la the yin and yang of tempura art.

One of my all time favorites is the unique texture of lotus roots. Fresh lotus root has a sort of okra-like stickiness to it while being crunchy. It is so deliciously strange that I love it. And as tempura, the stickiness is highlighted while maintaining its crunch. Oh, I'm salivating just thinking about it! Here, the crunch of the lotus loot was presented with shiitake, which has a totally opposite texture of soft, squishiness. Yet again, the contrast in the two items makes for such interesting dining!

Sansai (literally translated as Mountain Greens, but known as 'edible wild plants' in the US) is presented as a trio here. From the furthest to the closest, they are kogomi, taranome, and fukinotou; sansai is a seasonal treat in Japan, available as Spring treat around April and May. We enjoyed the Spring, one bite at a time.

Kunio-san was very happy to share what these looked like before he fried them up too.


This curly thing is kogomi, with its distinct green fragrance and aroma.


This fluffy guy is taranome. There is a soft, sweet core hidden inside the bitter casing; this is the meatiest sansai of the trio.

Here, we have fukinotou. This vibrant light green is the color of new growth. Perhaps the bitterest of the three without any of the green fragrance kogomi has, fukinotou provides an strong addictive flavor that is so very tasty. I've always liked fukinotou the best.

This next 'dish' I am going to share with you is a 'secret menu'. It's not on the menu, and I'm not sure how we managed to start getting this. It is my uncle's favorite finale, and he always finishes the visit at Yaegaki with this routine.

As with any fancy Japanese restaurant, the rice and miso soup come at the end of the meal at Yaegaki. He orders a kakiage to go with the rice, with a new tempura dipping sauce and grated daikon.

Then he plops the kakiage over the rice, pours the daikon over the kakiage, then adds the tempura dipping sauce over it to blend the rice together with the tempura.

Voila! You have a wonderful tempura-donburi (ten-don)!!

If you happen to go to Yaegaki, you might want to mention that you want the kakiage table-side ten-don style (and mention "the Japanese girl's blog" so he knows what you are referring to!), because this is not a standard menu item! Kunio-san told me that he makes these ten-don style kakiage differently than the kakiage I described to you yesterday. The kakiage from yesterday was served to be eaten as is with less air than the one that goes over rice.

For those of you who won't be traveling to Nagoya anytime soon, I hope you got at least a sneak peak of what tempura is really like, especially if you don't like tempura - it's so very different from the batter balls you see here in the US, please don't give up on it unless you've tried it at a tempura bar in Japan!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Bar Fly in Japan: Yaegaki - Part I

I almost thought I'd have to miss this blogging event, since at first, I couldn't think of any good bar-side dining experiences I've had recently. But then I read Sarah's post more carefully and noticed that 'bar' could be very loosely interpreted. If dinner at a sushi bar counts, I have a 'bar' in Japan that I want to share with everyone!

Yaegaki (八重垣) is my favorite bar-side dining locale. And no, this is not going to be yet ANOTHER sushi post. This is a whole new kind of bar-side dining, one that I have not seen anywhere in the US yet... Yaegaki is a TEMPURA bar!

Customer sit around Chef Kunio-san and enjoy his tempura across the bar from him. He fries each item himself and the lucky diners are served pieces of tempura one or two items at a time. The concept and style are very similar to a sushi bar. Kunio-san runs the place with his friendly wife, seating only about 15 people at a time.

The oil is a secret blend of various frying oils. Kunio-san inherited the recipe from his father-in-law, who ran a very prestigious tempura store, the original Yaegaki, in Nagoya. In fact, it was so prestigious that rumor had it that getting a reservation there required a recommendation from another regular. Kunio-san inherited both the name and the secret oil recipe when his father-in-law retired, but he did not inherit any of the reservation rituals. Kunio-san has built an entirely new Yaegaki under his direction, and it is a warm and welcoming restaurant.

The tempura at Yaegaki is seasonal, as seen by the baby ayu river fish above, and the offerings change depending on what he finds at the market. A typical meal consists of his top recommendations (omakase course), and those of us with heartier appetites supplement the omakase course with a la carte items.

These two items here are my two favorites: shrimp wrapped in shiso leaf and anago (ocean eel). Anago is similar to the more commonly known fresh water eel, unagi, but it is meatier and less greasy. I prefer anago over unagi, but I've been told that anago is more difficult to prepare and is less abundant due to its not being farmed (unagi is farmed). The crispy batter is a perfect accompaniment to both the tender anago and the textured shiso-shrimp.

The batter compliments everything Kunio-san has selected, and the harmony of the crunch with the different textures inside is pure pleasure. The sweetness of the onion was brought to life by the tempura method of cooking.

This is a kakiage, which could very well become a nightmare of a fried dough ball, but at Yaegaki, it is a delicious mesh of batter, shrimp, and greens.

Kakiage is not something I would recommend anyone to get unless the tempura oil is pristine and the chef skilled. But a good kakiage is a true treat, full of crunchy, soft, and chewy components all coming together for a pleasurable exchange in your mouth.

The squid tempura came with a nori belt, and the scent of the nori was highlighted by the tempura method. The squid was meaty and strong, a perfect partner for the fragrant nori.

One of the best things about bar-side dining is the interaction one gets with those behind the bar, and in the spirit of bar-side dining, Kunio-san was an active participant during my photo-shooting dinner. He carefully arranged my plate and made suggestions on what was most photographic of his tempura offerings. These were some of his suggestions: the shirauo ('white fish'; tiny 5 cm fish) and the hotate scallop. The nori plays an important part in both tempura creations, acting as a belt for the shirauo, the symbol of the Spring in Japan, and as a casing for the scallop.


The casing allows for Kunio-san to fry the scallop to that perfect temperature where the inside is juicy and tenderly soft. The nori also adds a wonderful fragrance to the scallop tempura.

We're only about half way through my meal at Yaegaki, but I think I'll split this into two posts. There's so much more to share, but I want to write a few words about bar-side dining and to contribute my two cents to the Bary Fly theme.

The interaction between those behind and infront of the bar is what makes bar-side dining so enjoyable for me. I've always preferred sitting at the bar over sitting at the tables in any situation. The bar is where the action is at: you get the best views of what the Chef/bartender is doing, you can ask questions about the meal/drink as you go along, and you can establish a relationship with the Chef/bartender by sitting close to him. This interaction is something I often feel like I am missing at fancy Euro-American restaurants, where the Chef is put on some strange pedestal, unavailable for questions from the common folks. Best of all, bar-side interactions between the Chef and diner at Japanese restaurants often create a communal feeling, and other diners join in on the fun and conversation. New friendships are built around the bar- right, Molly?- and the meal becomes an joyful experience shared by all. I eat to be happy, and bar-side dining is a happy kind of dining - whether we are eating sushi, tempura, kaiseki-style, or even plain-ol' American sports bar offerings!

And that's really what bar-side dining is about for me.

Thanks for a great theme, Sarah!

And don't forget to come back tomorrow for more Yaegaki offerings, including a yummy table-side Tempura Donburi (Ten-don; not 'tendon', ha!)!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Ja"pain", oh-so-good

I've been obsessively reading this comic series called, "Yakitate, Japain" (Freshly baked, Ja-pain). Japain is a play on words, combining Japan and the French word 'pain', which is also the Japanese word for bread. The storyline is about a 16 yr old boy who goes about bread-battling, making wonderful Japains in the process.

When I lived in Japan, I took Japanese bread for granted and didn't appreciate it much. Either that or the increased attention on bread in recent years (most likely due to Yakitate Japain's immense popularity) has elevated the quality of bread in Japan, but during this trip, one of the things that wow'ed me the most was how good the bread was at all the bakeries we stopped and tried. Seriously, I'd say the croissant I had at Vie de France, a chain bakery in Japan, was better than the croissants I had in Paris!

But the best Japains are those that you can't find anywhere else - those breads that are now truly Japanese with Japanese sentiments and Japanese flavors. Anpan, or anko (red bean paste)-filled bread, is a good example of these Japains that you won't find in any European bakeries. What started out as a simple bean-filled bread has grown so much that I found a store in Nagoya dedicated to different varieties of anpan. With creativity and a keen sense of seasonality, this store offered over 15 different kinds of anpan.

This one was made out of cream puff pastry...
...and filled with chunky bean paste (tsubu-an).

Since we were en route to Kyoto when I bought these anpans, they got a little bit squished during our travels...
But they were yummy regardless. The bread was moist and flavorful while maintaining wonderful texture to provide a backbone against the soft anko filling.

The green tea dough was filled with regular anko, while the regular bread dough was filled with either purple potato or sakura (cherry blossom) anko. The sakura anko had some saltiness to it, likely from the chopped sakura leaves, reminiscent of sakura mochi. The purple potato anko had a distinct potato smell to it with a subtle sweetness that didn't overpower the potato aroma or scent. Although anpans have been around for a long time, these new flavors were totally novel to me and I really enjoyed the advances in Japains.

My favorite Japain during this visit were recent additions that I had never had before. Perhaps Cedichou, my French reader, or Sam's Fred can correct my French, since I only know what the Japanese call them, but these breads are called "Kuini Aman" in Japanese, and supposedly, it means "Butter Pastry" in French. Unfortunately, my English-French dictionary does not support this translation (buerre patisserie????).
This 'kuini aman' may have won the Best Discovery from Japan Trip 2005 Award. The outside crust was sweet, buttery, and flaky, almost like a croissant, but this was bread and not a croissant. The inside dough was moist and soft, the way you would expect a bread to be. The contrast of the flaky outside and the moist inside was heavenly. The innards were minced apples that added fruity sweetness to the bread without soaking the bread with juices. This bread was so good, I'd travel back to Japan again just to have another one of these.

The Japanese are serious Francophiles, and they are constantly importing French food into Japan. There seems to have been a new flood of French food in Japan, since there were French-influenced pastries that I didn't remember seeing several years ago in Japan. The Japanese knew exactly what the mystery pastry I had in Paris was, and they were selling canneles everywhere.

I even saw Paul, the ubiquitous French bread shop I saw in Paris.
You can tell this Paul is really in Japan if you look closely at the signs you can see through the window. I didn't eat here, since I was too busy eating my way through Vie de France... I've had my fair share of croissants in the Bay Area, but nothing I've had here comes close to the croissant heaven I was sent to by Vie de France. Goodness, the croissants at Vie de France were oh-so-very good. So good, so good...

Preview of what's to come

I'm back from Japan!! Despite my coming down with a cold, it was a great trip, and my best friend, the Mogurin (aka Mogu Mogu, the Mogs) and I had a wonderful time. I'll be posting pictures and anecdotes from my trip over the next few days, but here's a quick preview of what I did:

Fighting rooster (bantam) dinner
Two full kaiseki meals, one of which was at a 350 yr old restaurant in Kyoto
Oumi Beef (Japanese beef, better than Kobe) dinner
Eel 'hitsumabushi' meal at a 130 yr old restaurant
Tempura bar dinner
Sakura mochi at Arashiyama, where it was first invented
and much, much more!!

One of the sightseeing trips I enjoyed the most was a stop at Kyoto's Nishiki grocery market, where the pros shop and the Kyoto gourmets come to gather groceries. I went a little bit shopping crazy here...

There were konbu seaweed (for making dashi broth) and a seaweed friend. I so wanted to kidnap this seaweed friend, but I showed control...

And there were specialty rice sold in bulk...
Bamboo shoots dug up that morning from nearby mountains...
Bulk beans of various colors and textures...

I brought back the best white miso Kyoto has to offer - the same kind that the 350 yr old Hyotei uses. This will be the greatest challenge for me to cook with, and I'm really excited to have these super-high quality ingredients here. I also brought back aged soy sauce, which is near impossible to get here, along with aged mirin, which is NOTHING like the mirin I can get at places like Mitsuwa. My kitchen is going to be churning out some tasty, tasty Japanese food!!!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

IMBB: The triple O - Orange Oyako Over-rice

I'm writing this from Japan! I have a high speed internet connection while I am in Nagoya tonight, but who knows what my status will be once I travel onward tomorrow night to Kyoto and beyond...

I was so excited when I read that the IMBB theme this month was anything orange. I immediately knew what orange ingredient I was going to use: IKURA!!! My favorite sushi topping and an inspirational model for my food photography! I knew right away that my dish would be ikura-based.

I've always liked ikura, and for a long time when I was a child, I thought ikura was an adult-form sea creature. I envisioned them floating along the ocean current, glorious and gem-like. It was a little bit traumatizing to find out that they were actually fish eggs and that each little ikura could've been a big healthy salmon. Oh well. Good thing I didn't see Finding Nemo when I was an impressionable little girl.

Anyway, once I decided that I was going to use ikura, I had to think very hard about how I was going to do something different and unique with it. I'd already done sushi for the last Paper Chef event, so that was out. Since ikura looks so good against a white background, I thought some kind of lasagna with ikura would be good. But ikura cooks into an unedible lump, so I scratched that idea out. But I still liked the layering concept, since I thought the color contrast between orange and white would likely be gorgeous. After much mucking around, I settled on doing a rice lasagna, using rice instead of pasta to build the layers.

Once I knew what the general theme was going to be, I enlisted salmon to the ingredient list, because a dish with ikura alone could cost me quite a bit and potentially too single-flavored/textured. I had in mind a sort of seafood oyako-don and decided to collect the ingredients first before finalizing the preparation. Oyako-don translates literally to 'parent-child over-rice', and it is a common dish in Japan where chicken is stewed with eggs and veggies, then served over rice - the chicken and the egg comprises the 'oyako'.

I picked up some Tsar Nicolais smoked salmon at Andronico's, assuming that this is the same Tsar Nicolais as the UC Davis partner in caviar farming to start constructing the Orange Oyako. But before the Orange Oyako could be united in my fridge, I ended up getting ikura a bride, Miss Tobiko. I definitely wouldn't have brought the tobiko into the arrangement had the ikura been the stellar variety that could face Mama Salmon alone and carry the dish single-handedly, but the ikura at Mitsuwa was lackluster and frankly, kinda sad looking. I much prefer Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley or Suruki in San Mateo, but I had a busy weekend and couldn't make it either fish sellers. I took the newly weds home to meet Mama Salmon, hoping that the ikura would be able to stand up againts the Mama with a bit of help from his bride.

As good as the Orange Oyako may be, it needed something else. I saw some fabulous basil and asparagus at the farmer's market, so I added those to freshen up the fishy line-up... Once I had all the ingredients at home, inspiration hit me and this is what I made:

The Triple O (Orange Oyako Over-rice)


The combination of basil and the Orange Oyako was excellent. The basil, along with the light vinegar in the rice, really freshened up the dish and made it so very addictively delicious. The fresh chopped basil in the rice to counter act the potent Orange Oyako was inspired by the Vietnamese combination of basil with their also potent shrimp sauce, mắm nêm. This worked out perfectly. This dish was, in typical Alice fashion, quick, easy, colorful, and satisfyingly tasty.


The layers of white, green, and orange looked really nice. Very appetizing.


I found out that the Papa Bear had mad knife skills when he meandered over and made me fine asparagus shavings out of the blue. He was watching cautiously for a while, but then assembled one of his own creations:

1. Blanch asparagus
2. Chop basil

1. To 2 cups of rice, add one handful of chopped basil and the usual amount of water and cook.

2. To cooked rice, add:
1/8 cup rice vinegar
1/2 tsp soy sauce
2 handfuls chopped basil
Mix in a 'cutting motion'.

1. Put saran wrap into ramekin or other small bowl
2. Add whatever you want to show up on top into the bottom. You will be flipping this over, so you are going to reverse assemble.
3. Add rice layer and squish down to lightly compact rice
4. Keep layering rice, asparagus, salmon, and fish roe to your heart's content. Remember to make sure the sides of the ramekin get colorful representation. These are going to be what makes the dish orange!
5. Flip ramekin over serving plate and slide saran wrap out. Gently peel saran wrap.
6. Add topping to apex of the rice mountain, such as extra ikura, tobiko, salmon flower, or slivered asparagus.
7. Enjoy outside with sparkling water on a sunny Sunday afternoon!

Friday, April 22, 2005

SHF: Baked Molasses Sesame Donuts

This is going to be a SHORT post, since I've got a plane to catch & my bags aren't packed yet!!!

Here's my SHF Molasses recipe. I probably wouldn't have done this one if the theme wasn't molasses! Molasses is one of those sad ingredients that have long been misunderstood. It was originally a by-product of sugar refining, so it gets a bad rep. Molasses these days can be found as reduced sugar cane syrup and these unsulphured pure cane syrup is a true treat.

With Grandma's Molasses Original, I made molasses sesame donuts with a pomegranate molasses glaze. Since this was my first time making baked donuts (all the molasses donut recipes I could find were fried & I didn't want to deep fry this morning) and I winged this recipe, it didn't rise as well as I thought. I was also dealing with the same baking powder/soda issue as last time's IMBB cupcake, so I just took two flat halves and joined them together with the glaze in the middle. Hey, what's a girl to do when things don't turn out just right? You pick yourself up and fix it!


1/2 cup almond powder
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup black sesame (toasted)
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sea salt

2 eggs
1 1/4 cup non-fat plain yogurt
1 cup pure cane molasses
1/3 cup peanut oil

Beat eggs well, add yogurt, molasses, and peanut oil. In a separate container, whisk together all dry ingredients. Mix dries with wets. Empty into zip lock bag or pastry bag and squeeze out in donut shapes onto aluminum foil on cookie sheet. Bake 375 - 400F for 15-20 min, until donuts spring back when you lightly press them.

1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup or less pomegranate molasses
I eye balled this. Sorry. You just want to add enough molasses so that it tastes like pomegranate without making the glaze runny.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

My Eating Habits

Lucky me, I managed to find a highspeed connection here in Nagoya, my hometown and first destination. I'd quickly put together tomorrow's Sugar High Friday post before I left, but I may be able to find time tomorrow AM to proof-read it... But then again, I might not... I definitely won't get around to it tonight, since I am SOOOO very tired... All I've got energy to do is to paste this post I wrote during my 10 hr flight today... Good night, everyone!

My relationship with food has changed quite drastically over the past year. I never really thought I'd have an unhealthy relationship with food, but it appears that I needed a reassessment of the situation before heading into true middle-age. As I became closer to 30 than to 20, my waistline didn't have the same elasticity I once expected and my skirts from college felt too tight for comfort. In response, I've been experimenting with my eating habits and taking notes on how I felt about food and eating for the last four months. This blog is actually a part of the story, since I first began writing about food by jotting down what I was eating as part of a food diary of some sort. Unlike traditional diet-inspired food diaries, mine focused more on how things tasted over what I ate. I found that paying careful attention to the food slowed my pace down, helped me enjoy each bite more, and generally added more pleasure to my dining experience.

Along the way, I've learned a few things about pleasurable dining without the constant fear of weight-gain buzzing in my ear. At least I think I've acquired some tools to help me deal with the fear and terror of a creeping scale. I've lost 8 lbs in four months at a steady 2 lbs per month rate, so I hope I am doing something right. This isn't really diet tips, but more like Alice's in-flight ramblings on eating habits on my way to Japan, but here are the things I've learned for what it's worth:

1. Meals are meant to be enjoyed.
The 200-300 calorie meals 4-6 times a day business that is often suggested in diet manuals and exercise magazines does not work for me. I tried the small meal thing for a day and decided it wasn't for me. I'm the kind of girl who brings three to four 'courses' to work for lunch and eat for almost an hour - I suppose I could've spread my courses throughout the day, eating each one of my 'courses' on the hour or so, but what fun is that? I like my traditional meals that go on the lunch duration. I feel deprived and frustrated with the small meal option. Even though I may never be hungry, it really makes me feel like I am on a diet. This then leads me to 'rebel' against myself subconsciously, resulting in my unusual craving and consumption of ice cream. Besides, I immensely enjoy sitting at the dinner table at the end of the day, sharing stories with friends. What would I do on Friday nights if I couldn't have Anne over for dinner after our gym date?

I also don't think that the small meal thing is not a lifestyle that can be maintained. I mean, really, if I have a work-related meal, am I supposed to tell them, "feel free to eat while I sit here and watch you"?

2. Equations to live by #1: Pleasure + Calories = Net Worth.
This is the formula I live by. Is that mediocre factory-made cookie in the vending machine able to provide me enough pleasure to counter balance the calories for a positive net worth? Probably not. Will Luka's fries with that yummy smoky paprika catsup provide me with enough pleasure for a positive net worth? Sometimes, especially on days when old bosses send mean emails over the weekend. But on other days, it might not. I constantly reassess the situation, asking myself whether the pleasure I would get out of the food is worth the calories it packs. This also applies to desserts - some days, the pleasure makes it worth the calories, other days it's not. I never eat out of habit. A life of deprivation is not for me, but I must keep my debaucherizing in check too. A life of extremes will only cause trouble...

3. Equations to live by #2: Aging = fat or less food, Aging + Exercise = good food
The only way to eat the same amount of the same things as we age is to exercise. It's a fact of life - our metabolisms slow down as we get older. It is unavoidable. So, if I want to eat the same amount of the same foods, I better increase the burn! I also stop before I order/eat and do a quick assessment - is this dish worth my workout? Am I willing to trade the hard work I put in to stay in shape (exercise credits) for the pleasure this food can give me? You see, the difference between what I ask myself and what conventional diet manuals tell you is that mine is not a compensatory mentality. I don't force myself to exercise more just because I've had a plate of fries, but I question whether the plate of fries I am eating was good enough to be a reward for my commitment to exercise. My commitment to exercise is serious, and only very good food is worthy of being a reward. I won't eat high calorie junk because it's not worthy enough to be my reward. If I felt like I had to increase my exercise quota every time I ate dessert, I'd feel really stressed out. I exercise enough, and I will eat to reward myself instead of driving myself into a guilt-ridden gym workout, since that takes the pleasure out of my exercise experience too. I enjoy my exercise routine with my many workout buddies, and I don't want that to be polluted by guilt in any way.

4. It's OK to not finish what's on my plate.
I'm actually still struggling with this one. I wish American restaurant portions weren't so damn big. The pleasure points of most foods decrease exponentially, and it is really only the first few bites that a really high calorie treat is worth its calories. And it's OK to say "No, I've had enough" once the net worth goes down to a point where it's no longer worth the exercise credits. With that said, I grew up with a solid foundation to not waste food, and I struggle constantly with myself on this one. No matter how many times I tell myself it's OK, I get hit with a strong case of guilt if I don't finish what's on my plate, so much so that I often force my dining mates to finish it for me.

Well, there we have it - the four principles of weight-control that work for me. It's all about pleasure, really. After all, if I had to live a life of deprivation, what would I call this blog?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Papa Bear's Yogurt

A few months ago, the Papa Bear was exposed to the concept of home-made yogurt by Shan. Shan was telling us about her silky smooth yogurt, and her stories brought a twinkle in the Papa Bear's eyes. I was not surprised in the least bit when a box arrived from Amazon a few days later; as expected, it was the Papa Bear's new yogurt maker. And the Papa Bear has made yogurt for us every other day since the arrival of the yogurt maker.

The yogurt maker is actually just an incubator. It keeps the container at a temperature for optimal bacterial growth (likely 37 degrees Celsius). The Papa Bear started with the recipe recommended to him by the manual, where he was adding non-fat dried milk to regular milk to obtain that thick, creamy consistency. Surprisingly, the Papa Bear did not know that yogurt was not naturally sweet like one gets at Costco, and you should've seen his face when he ate a bite of his first batch of plain yogurt. His face wrinkled up in pain and discomfort, since the Papa Bear is particularly adverse to sourness! He also refused to believe me when I told him that yogurt should be stirred before consumption to blend the liquid with the solid if it separated. The Papa Bear kept throwing out the most 'nutritious' part of yogurt with the highest concentration of bacteria until Anne also pointed it out to him that the liquid on top was normal and that all he had to do was mix it.

Now, the Papa Bear has moved on to using gelatin to create a creamy, luscious yogurt, cutting the calories per serving by nearly a half. We eat an enormous amount of yogurt, practically finishing a gallon worth of yogurt in a week. We eat it practically every night. Yogurt is extremely versatile as it embraces all kinds of flavors, taking on a completely different taste depending on what we add into it. Some of our favorites are pumpkin butter, Loulou's rhubarb grapefruit jam, maple syrup, honey, and pictured here, blackberry fruit preserve.

Do you see the 'dog' that the Papa Bear pointed out?

One of my favorite spots to be is under my red umbrella, overlooking the trees from my front patio, and having a serving of the Papa Bear's yogurt at my favorite spot is a true treat. My senses relax and my taste buds come alive from the tart freshness. The peaceful moment when I sit outside by myself enjoying my yogurt is one of my breakfast rituals that help me get up in the morning. I start my day off with yogurt and end my day with yogurt for dessert. Maybe that's why we've been going through a gallon of yogurt a week!

I will miss the Papa Bear's yogurt very much while I am in Japan for the next five days. I've got enough of a back-log to update this blog at the usual pace, but I am relinquishing the daily publishing control to the Papa Bear. He may even guest write one post, so stay tuned!!!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Molecular Gastronomy

Isn't it interesting when you find out something you've always been doing actually has a name and a group of people who also practice the same methods? I wonder if this is the same feeling that people get when they join cults - "I always felt that way, and look, there's a whole group of people who feel the same way as I do!"

Today, I learned about a new movement in culinary arts. Molecular gastronomy. Actually, molecular gastronomy sits somewhere between culinary arts and scientific persuasion. From my brief surfing of the Wonderful WWW, I've digested that the basis of molecular gastronomy is to use molecules to guide what the human mind perceives as being delicious. The term was coined by a French scientist, Dr. Hevre This, and is being actively practiced by Chef Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck in the UK. If anyone is interested, you can get a copy of the original manuscript on Molecular Gastronomy here.

Although I didn't realize it was a scientific discipline, I have been practicing the principles of molecular gastronomy for a while now. I know a bit about science and chemistry, and I actually use my scientific knowledge and training in my daily kitchen activities. It's surely no rocket science, and many Japanese cooks routine use this same concept to keep their dishes full of 'umami', the essence of flavor. Basically, there are three major chemicals that the tongue detects as being flavorful: inosine monophosphate (IMP), guanine monophosphate (GMP), and glutamate.

Glutamate is an amino acid, which is the building blocks of all protein. Amino acids are linked together into a chain in protein, and we free individual amino acids during the process of digestion. There are 20 common amino acids and a few wacky ones, but glutamate is the King of Flavorful Amino Acids. It is why Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) was created. As a child in Japan, I remember using MSG freely in soups at shabu shabu joints, calling it "Oishii moto" (the Source of Deliciousness). I no longer depend on artificial sources of glutamate, but I am acutely aware of its presence and use it to balance my broths routinely. Glutamate is found abundantly in cheese, tomato, chicken broth, and the Japanese broth-stand-by, Kombu.

IMP and GMP are components that eventually lead to nucleotides. Nucleotides are the building blocks for DNA. I find it interesting that what we detect as flavorful are what builds our core being as protein and DNA. IMP leaks out of beef, pork, and dried fish, such as the other Japanese broth-stand-by, bonito flakes. Finally, GMP comes from mostly fungal species, such as the last of the Japanese broth-stand-by, dried shiitake.


I call the balancing of the grand trinity of flavorful chemicals as having 'depth in flavor'... ...or simply, 'yummy'.

Molecular Gastronomy. This could be my retirement plan.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Sam's Jam

One of the best things about food blogging is all the foodie friends I get to meet. The new friends I've made through this blog is a major reason behind my decision to not pull the plug during my identity crisis. Molly, Fatemeh, Sam, all the other bloggers with whom I interact without having met them in person yet, and although not a blogger herself, Melissa, enrich my life in CA so much that to lose the blog connection would really be a tragedy.

Sam, whom I met in person just recently, is the author of the blog that inspired me to start my own blog. I could tell she was having a lot of fun writing, shooting, and experiencing the food, and her food photography and her writing style made me want to do it myself. In person, she is just as lovely as her blog would indicate. She recently went back to the UK and has been sharing her epicurean adventure on her blog. She also brought us lucky bloggers back in the US a few treats...

As soon as I saw "apple & sage" on the jar, I immediately thought PORK! I love pork. It's my favorite every day protein, and I prefer it over chicken, fish, shrimp, or tofu. I enjoy Niman Ranch's pork from Trader Joe's so very much, that I likely eat at least a whole pig during the course of the year by myself. Wilbur would not be spared if it were up to me.

This jam is thick and full of sage-y goodness. It's sweet, tart, and herby spicy (as opposed to peppery spicy). The after taste leaves a clear impression of an apple with all its freshness. I can almost feel the crunch of an apple as I let the jam linger in my mouth.

I decided to apply what I learned from Molly and wrap the jam in the middle of thinly sliced pork. I sliced the Niman Ranch boneless pork chops into three thinner slices and slathered the jam on, tied the pork rolls like scrolls, and threw it into the pan. I seared the sides, added some sea salt and my stand-by sake, closed the lid to 'steam' the meat, and made my side dishes of spinach-pea quinoa and steamed broccoli. Once the quinoa and the broccoli were ready, Wilbur was ready too.

Anne, my wonderful sous chef, always thinks it's so funny how I add sake to everything I make, whether it is an Asian dish or a Euro/American dish. The aroma of the sage really came alive and filled the air during the sake steaming, and the remaining sauce after reduction had a lusciously sweet viscosity from the apple. The jam complimented the natural sweetness of the pork and the texture from the rolling was nicely fitting for the mixture of flavors. During the meal, all three of us - the Papa Bear, Anne, and me - said in unison, "Thank you, Sam!"

We'll definitely be having this again soon, since this dish was quick and easy but had the depth of flavors to be dinner-party-quality. That's my kinda dish!

Sam is also our headmistress at my food blog school.