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July 31, 2004

dangerous reasons behind the sweet success

Saturday, July 31

It has been a lot of fun for me to go to local stores or markets and see things I had never seen in Japan, and occasionally try them and see what they are like. Some of them totally new to me, some very similar to something we have back home, some look exactly the same as they do in Japan and taste quite different, etc. When it comes to vegetable, they have quite a different variety over here, while there are lots of things familiar to me. Aubergine - or should I call them eggplant? - for example are a staple in Japan, and so does it look like in here, but somehow it almost seems to me they are totally different kinds of vegetable, albeit looking pretty similar. One of the common types of eggplant here is that big, round one with shiny dark purple skin; we have a kind that look very much the same in Japan, too, but they are different. When I first bought and tried one of those big ones, I was very disappointed - or almost shocked - how its skin was so rough and hard. After hours of cooking, while the flesh had gone all too soggy and textureless, the skin stayed pretty hard and chewy. It was so unpleasant I never bothered to buy another, and stuck to skinnier and paler-looking Thai eggplant instead.

For a combination of different factors, I for once bought some round eggplants the other day. The biggest reason was, well, they were marked down (they are organic and still looking pretty fresh) and another was I had something in my mind; eggplant parmesan (or eggplant parmigiana?).
I think this is one typical dish that I didn't see so often in Italian restaurants in Japan but is so common over here; a layer of sliced eggplant, tomato sauce, and mozzarella and and parmigiano reggiano cheeses baked in the oven, just like lasagna with eggplant instead of pasta. And they use those round eggplants in this dish. I don't particularly like this dish, but it somehow popped up into my mind when I saw the bag of eggplants on sale, I thought it was about time to give it a revenge.

I browsed several different recipes for eggplant parmesan, and sort of put them together. The point I stuck to was pre-cooking of eggplants; some recipes called for deep-frying while others said oven-frying, and I naturally followed the latter. I sliced one huge eggplant into round slices, tossed them with a generous amount of good olive oil, and seasoned with salt and thyme, as seen in here. Meanwhile I slices up some mozzarella cheese, and vigorously grated good parmigiano reggiano and - in fact, pecorino romano as well, just because I had the block along with the parmigiano.
Then, instead of placing the eggplant slices to make a huge dish-full layer of eggplant and cheese, I assembled a few tall, individual stacks of the eggplant, sauce, and cheese, just like mille-feuilles, or so-called Napoleon.


Believe it or not, they looked pretty before they set out for a 15-minute stay in the oven. But when they came back from the journey, they -to my great grief - miserably collapsed and made a big mess. I must have messed up in building up the components; the eggplant slices might have been too thick, the tomato sauce might have been too runny, and there might have been to much sauce and cheese to hold the stack upright. Anyways, even though it was a complete mess, they still tasted wonderful; the oven-frying process made the eggplant slices absolutely delicious - tender but not soggy, and the edge being crispy without a slightest toughness of thick, annoying skin. Think about now delicious eggplant combined with good (well, at least decent store-bought) sauce and quality parmigiano reggiano (and pecorino romano)cheese I brought from Italy - you can't fail. It was the best eggplant parmesan I have ever had, if you allow me to blow my own trumpet and ignore the fact that I haven't actually had this dish so many times.



But there is, naturally, an inevitable price you pay for dangerously rich dish like this; what made the eggplant taste so good was the generous amount of olive oil which was all the way absorbed into the vegetable, and the finishing blow of an almost insane amount of cheese. A LOT OF FAT. It was admittedly rich and filling. Every why has a wherefore.

a glorious defeat



Friday, July 30

There was something that I had meant to make ever since I came to Hawaii, or at least one of them. It was pina colada muffins - muffins with pineapple and coconut milk, as you might have guessed. I have had the recipe for over ten years now, and used to make them now and then, but like many other recipes I used to make, this one had been long forgotten. Now being in Hawaii where I see locally grown pineapples sold everywhere, I thought of the muffin; what if I use some fresh, local pineapple instead of those canned ones? How lovely would that be?

There were some challenges to my plan; first of all, they are not necessarily less expensive here than in Japan, even at the farmers' market; second, I don't consume much pineapple and he, close to none. Since most often pineapples are sold in whole, I had always looked at those spiky guys from a distance. Until today.

There must have been those from before, but I somehow noticed them today for the first time - pineapple sold in half cut. That's perfect! How come I didn't even try to look for them?? I grabbed one of them and headed home, exhilarated.

I started with peeling, coring, and cutting up the pineapple. Although the recipe (for whatever reason I don't see) didn't call for rum, I did use dark rum just to give my muffins a real pina-colada taste. Also, the muffins were supposed to be topped with icing and grated coconut, but I skipped the icing part and instead drizzled the coconut over the muffin before putting them in the oven.

I remembered those muffins more solid when I made them back in the day, but my muffins today came out quite fragile - fluffy and crumbly. They had the same recognizable pina colada-ish taste, nice and mellow. I'm afraid I had to admit my defeat this time, though; fresh pineapple was a little too weak in these muffins. They have very delicate, mild sweetness when eaten fresh, and it got overpowered by other ingredients in the midst of the batter. I nevertheless like this muffin very much, and am glad that I tried this, but next time, I will go straight to a can of quality pineapple in syrup.

July 30, 2004

sorbet with monkey



Thursday, July 29

I am not counting how many times I have written this here by now, but it was another hot, sweaty day. The hot and sweaty weather defininately made me want something nice and cold, refreshing, and easy to make, when it is a busy day for me like this.
It meant that this is time to try that one - the one I had found quite some time ago and went back over and over again - this one; sorbet in a sack!

For the procedure, I recommend you definately rather check out the original recipe site linked above because it is very cute and funny, so I am not going further in detail. And what I did was, instead of following the direction, I threw my ziploc bag of fruit juice into the freezer! Ehhhhhh, I know it was a whole lot of deal-breaking, but that was what I did, and it still worked and the sorbet was tasty.

In place of mango juice used in the recipe, I mixed some mango nectarines (yes, I still had some left) with hand-squeezed orange juice. You'd probably like it dosed with sugar, but I preferred not this time. My sorbet thus wasn't sweet like the ones we usually eat, yet very very fruity and was like real fruit - well, it was!

a byproduct that was as good as the main product



Wednesday, July 28

I know their time's over now, but I bought a pack of bing cherries a while ago and it's been sitting in the fridge unused. No, they haven't been forgotten, ever, but I had a plan to use them for a dessert for which I haven't had time.
In the meantime the cherries ripened and ripened and ripened to the point on which they might be a bit too mature to be used fresh. Well, they weren't bad or anything yet, so I decided to use them in cake.

Since I didn't have much time to cook today, I sought for something easy and quick, and got to this recipe (in Japanese). It seemed an easy one and I happened to have everything called for in the recipe in my fridge, this one was today's winner.

Although it wasn't required, I wanted to marinate my cherries with liquor before they dive into cake. First thing popped into my head was kirschwasser, German-born dry cherry brandy, but I didn't have one at home, unfortunately. I did have some white wine that I have been using for cooking, so I thought this was going to be the one. I cut cherries in half and pitted them, put them in a glass cup, added a bit of sugar and poured a generous doze of white wine, which immediately became pinky with the juice from the cherries. Since white wine wouldn't give as much flavor as the cherry brandy would, I wanted to add something to boost my cherry/wine mixture; some spice, maybe... cinnamon? no, not cinnamon, then... there came a few whole cloves, thrown into the cup of cherries and wine. It already smelled good.



A couple of hours later I started making the batter. Using sour cream, it was a bit like coffee cake batter. I added some slivered almonds just because I had them, and again I used some ground clove here. The recipe was intended for a loaf of cake, but I casually make them in cupcake cups. I divided the batter into cups, and arranged drunken cherry halves on top of each, and transferred them into the oven.

The cakes might not look very pretty with all those wrinkled baked cherries, but tasted lovely. I had been tempted to add the flavored wine to the batter, but I was glad I hadn't; it would have made the cakes soggy. My cakes had a nice, cookie-like texture which that went good with still juicy and aromatic cherries, with a hint of sweet spiciness of clove.



And what happened to the wine left alone once the cherries had gone? They made a nice, small glass of desert wine. When I was pouring wine over the cherries, I had already had this idea in my mind, so I used a plenty of wine rather than just a bit. The once white wine had turned into beautiful burgundy red, and had a taste that reminded of that of port wine. As we shared the small glass of the byproduct, he didn't figure that had been white wine. He doesn't care for fresh cherry much, and so he didn't seem to like the cakes much either, unfortunately, but liked the wine at least. As for myself, well, I like cherry and I liked the cake and I enjoyed my dessert wine very much, as well.... My (alternative) plan to use up cherries brought about two delights to me, that is "killing two birds with one stone", perhaps?

July 27, 2004

don't be fooled, they're American!



Monday, July 26

Over the past year I must have eaten more pizza than I had in my whole lifetime before I came here. There have risen progressively more opportunities for me to eat pizza lately, and today I had some "desesrt pizza" - it was my first time trying sweet pizza! The slices we had were called something like lemon pizza (I forgot); on a thin, crispy crust there was generously spread lemon jelly, over which were what seemed like cinnamon-y crumbles scattered, and finished off with icing. I picked up one slice.



It was pretty good. Tart lemon jelly and crumbly crumbles went very well together, I thought. It was like lemon tart, but with a pizza crust instead of a pastry crust. I thought I really liked it, until my third or fourth bite - then I realized it was, alas, too sweet, to me at least. Even though the pizza was so thin and the slice was fairly small, I should not have underestimated its nature being an American sweet, which can be associated with such qualities as generous, rich, hearty, big, and of course, sweet.

Speaking of pizza, there is one pizza place that I like near our house. It isn't a chain and very small deli-style pizza shop, but their pizza is delicious - the thin and crispy crust, fresh sauce, somewhat overdosed cheese, and a variety of toppings - they are a favorite of both of us, one of whom is an all-time pizza lover (him) while the other is a least fervent advocate of pizza in general (me).


By far my favorite topping is a combo of basil pesto, sun-dried tomato, and onion. So far this is the only pizza that I would have a craving for in town.

But wait, that lemon pizza wasn't bad, really... maybe I need to try them again just to see if they really were bad.

July 26, 2004

naming chaos



Sunday, July 25

It is one of great joys of early summer to admire the abundant fresh fruits piled up and filling up a large corner of the produce section of the store. Several weeks back, there were huge piles of baskets of berries and cherries, which are now taken over by a variety of peaches, nectarine, and plums. I love them all, and I wish I could buy the whole fresh fruit section for myself to flatter the senses with their colorful beauty, sweet fragrance, and of course, juicy flesh.

When I went to one of supermarkets in my neighborhood last week, something attracted my attention; it was a huge pile of yellow peachy-looking fruits. I granced at the tag and it read mango peach. I had never seen them or heard of such a thing, but they sure had the color of bright yellow mango. As I was in a hurry that time, I didn't buy any of those.

And back in the same store a couple of days ago, I realized that I had gotten it all wrong; they were mango nectarine, NOT peach.
(Now I feel bad if someone have stumbled across this site and browsed the first couple of paragraphs without bothering to read all the way down to here, and got the same wrong "mango peach" idea like I had done...)
Either way, I like nectarine too, and I had never seen or heard of mango nectarine anyways, this time I got a few of them, along with a couple kinds of peaches.

Mango nectarines were relatively small compared to regular nectarine, and had flesh as bright yellow as their tender skin. Although reminding a bit of apricot, they tasted basically the same as regular nectarine. (*Place the mouse pointer over the pic to see the image of the fruit cut in the halves!)



Another first-time experience for me this time was doughnut peach. Yes, they were peaches, NOT nectarine. Apparently, they must have been named after how they look like... doughnuts, which I don't disagree. It was in a Boulder, CO shop where I first saw there funky peaches about a month ago, and it was a funny view of those small, fat wheels tightly lying around at a corner of the store.
But the other day when I was in yet another supermarket, a pile of the same chunky peaches were sold under the name of "Saturn peach". Saturn? They mean, Saturn's ring?? Hummm... If you try really hard, it might not be impossible to associate them with Saturn...
And then this time at the same store where I got the nectarines, the tag said "Saturn peach" but the stickers on individual peaches read "Jupiter peach". Jupiter... ring? Like Saturn? Hey, what's going on with the name of this peach??
I imagine that this peach might be a relatively new comer in the US market and it hasn't had its name established yet, thus causing a chaos in the peach-naming industry. Or what?


Names aside, the doughnut peaches (I prefer to call them this way) were ripe and juice-dripping delicious. They were basically the same as regular white peach, which is my favorite; as a fresh fruit the white peaches are definitely more common and popular than yellow kinds in Japan, although things look quite different here in the US. In Japan, yellow peach is more commonly seen canned in sugar syrup and available all year around, and I had never seen fresh yellow peach sold in the store up until quite recently. In that sense, it is a really precious experience to me to be able to find fresh yellow peach everywhere here... I have a couple of plan to work on those fresh peaches while they are still here!

pretty in pink



Saturday, July 24

I wonder if I have ever mentioned this, but I love ginger. I love ginger so much I made some cakes using ginger again. It was a recipe of muffins again (which I turn into loaves again), and from Williams-Sonoma again. Never mind.

The recipe was for ginger-rhubarb muffins. As rhubarb is supposedly early summer vegetable, I should try and make those cakes before it disappear from the stores, I thought.
Late at last night I started making the cake by chopping two large stalks of rhubarb; I knew it would be a little too much but I wanted to use up what I had, so just chopped'em up. It was followed by chopping crystallized ginger (a lot, again), and the rest was very easy; mix the wet ingredients and dry ingredients, and combine them together. Off they went into the preheated oven. Quick.

When they were done and brought out of the oven, they looked pretty with pink rhubarb in somewhat pale cake. I didn't grab a bite of the cakes right away, but instead let them sit overnight till this morning, when I finally had a couple of slices for breakfast.


The combination of rhubarb and ginger was brilliant, I admit, but the cakes were nothing better than ordinary, bland-tasting hunks. They weren't bad, but I liked the rhubarb crumble way better. Unlike the case with the ginger-lemon cakes, the rhubarb cakes didn't quite grow mature over time, unfortunately. They weren't a total waste, though, and it was even a satisfying experience to fulfill my curious desire to make something new.

*********

It was another dull hot day, but it got nice and breezy late in the afternoon. We went shopping in downtown and when we got out of the store, the sky and ocean in front of me was painted in pink. Here on the east side of the island, you don't get to see sun sinking directly into the sea horizon, but you do have those pretty sky and cloud (and ocean) if you are lucky...

July 23, 2004

saturday's the day for beef?

Wednesday, July 21

Today was Doyo-no ushi-no hi this year. For those of you who are not familiar with this particular Japanese traditional event and wonder what the hell Doyo-no ushi-no hi is, it is basically supposed to be one of the hottest days of the summer ("dog days") and on this particular day, folks traditionally eat broiled eel in Japan, or so they say. I never did. Anyways, the bottom line is that today is a day for eating eels. (In case you wish to have further information about this event please refer to this).

As I just said, I don't think I ever actually ate eel on this day before, probably because I don't really care for eel on any given day of the year. Being away from my country, however, somehow made me more sensitive or nostalgic about such a traditional event back home. Well, it still didn't make me want to eat eel, though. And then early in this morning I came across this article (in Japanese); it was about making "mock broiled eel" for those poor Japanese who live overseas and are not able to readily get eel. Despite the fact that I live in Hawaii where Japanese food may be more widely available than most other places in the world (except for Japan, obviously) and can find eel easily, and that I don't like eel much anyways, I was tempted to try to make the mock broiled eel, in pure curiosity. The recipe calls for pork and prawn, minced and mixed with potato starch, spread on a nori (sheet of dried laver seaweed), deep-fried, and then brushed with soy sauce-based sweet sauce. Very interesting.

In the evening I ran to a nearby supermarket and got the ingredients for this dish. I vigorously minced pork and prawns, added in corn starch in place of potato starch, carefully spread it over small sheets of nori, and fried them (I don't like deep-frying, so I just used a decent amount of oil). Meanwhile, I prepared sauce by heating a mixture of soy sauce, sugar and white wine. Sadly, my pieces of unagi or eel looked nowhere close to the real one, but once they were done and brushed with the sauce and sprinkled with sansho or Japanese pepper, it at least smelled very much like a real broiled eel dish.


Do they resemble real stuff at all?

Luckily, while I was shopping and cooking, he wasn't with me - otherwise he would have showed me his deepest disgust (he hates fish/seafood and doesn't like pork very much, either). He did seem to be suspicious about what I was making, but I just hinted that it was something he doesn't like, and I used pork (I wasn't lying, was I?). Expecting that he wouldn't eat them, I made another dish quick, too.

At first bite, my unagi didn't taste like real unagi at all, I thought. But when I tried to remember how the real stuff would taste like, I couldn't quite get it; I had not eaten eel for so long and almost forgotten their taste. Once I had realized that, my unagi started tasting almost like really unagi... (how reliable my taste bud is??) At least I liked it better than the real eel; it was even good just as a dish.
Surprisingly, he didn't figure that there was prawn in them. I definitely tasted prawn, but it could have been because I knew that there were prawns... or, I don't know. Anyways, he even loved them and actually ate almost all of what we had. I wasn't sure if I should tell him the truth, but decided to withhold; maybe sometime, maybe not.

Note: In Japanese, doyo generally refers to Saturday and ushi to ox/cow, hence Doyo-no ushi-no hi could sound like meaning Saturday is the day to eat beef....

July 21, 2004

wait until tomorrow...



Tuesday, July 20

This morning, as has been often the case, I baked some cakes for breakfast/brunch. It was this recipe that I used this time; fresh ginger muffins!

I love ginger, or I can almost say that I am addicted to it - both in cooking and baking (and even in fragrance). Japanese and Chinese dishes employ ginger a lot, and I usually like them very much; as for sweets, I like ginger snap cookies, ginger cake, pain d'epices, ginger shortbread (has anyone tried Duchy Originals' ginger biscuits?), ginger ice cream, Chai, just to name a few.
I still recall the very first time when I encountered "sweetened ginger" in a cookbook. I must have been 9 or 10 years old and I was absorbed in a new cookbook that my mom had just bought (which is now in my possession). In that cookbook, there was a recipe for crystallized ginger, and my first reaction was: ugh, ginger in sugar? no way....
Years later, I came to know about a lot more ginger sweets, and like them all. To be specific, I prefer fresh ginger to ginger powder, and crystallized ginger falls into somewhere in the middle.

So, ginger muffins. Since I have an already long list of things that I want to make, just another ordinary ginger cake wouldn't come up to be a priority. But this one was using fresh ginger instead of dried powder, and it is a lot! Even better, it uses lemon zest as well... ginger and lemon, both are among my most favorite ingredients.

The recipe was a kind of complicated - or so I thought, at least so for a muffin recipe. It might probably have been because I grated a whole ginger instead of using a food processor (I don't have one). Making the batter wasn't a big deal, but since I made it in full rather than reducing everything in half like I would usually do, I ended up having a LOT of batter in a bowl.
As I might have mentioned before, I don't have a muffin pan at hand, I used small cake pans instead of paper cups. So mine weren't really muffins any more - so I should call them ginger cakes.



The cakes taken out of oven looked good. I let them cool for a while and cut a slice for myself. As I sunk my teeth into it, the strong ginger flavor... didn't come out. Nor I tasted lemon much, either. What? C'mon, look how much ginger and lemon I used, I asked myself... but the cake didn't have much taste of ginger, unfortunately. They tasted fairly good, but not as gingery as I had anticipated. Too bad, those were good but I won't probably make this again, I thought.

Well, that wasn't the end of the story. Later in the afternoon I had another slice and noticed that it tasted better; it often happens that certain kinds of cakes taste better after let stand overnight or so - and this cake might be one of them, I suspected.
The following day, the cakes showed their real ability; the flavor of ginger was now ever so strong and the cake was rightly moist... the difference was eminent. I don't know if they were at their best overnight, though; they were all gone before they are given a chance to prove that they might actually taste better in two days!

freeze it!



Monday, July 19

Phew, It has been reeeeally hot these past few days. It's a matter of fact that it's always hot in Hawaii, you might think; well, it is true, but here in my town it rains a whole time and rain would usually cool down the heat a lot, and specially in the evening it gets quite cool, or even (almost) cold sometimes.
But for the past few days, it has been so hot and humid I can't even get out of the house. Well my work schedule wouldn't let me go out of here anyways (it sucks).

When it is this hot, it is time to have something icy cold and refreshing - like sorbet. Too bad I didn't have any at hand, but I did have a cup of white peach jelly from Japan. Each cup has one whole peach in it - two halves, more precisely. I like it as is, of course, but I have always liked frozen jelly, too.



I threw it into the freezer to leave it overnight, and here you go; now I had a nice cup of "sorbet" for an afternoon treat on such a sweaty hot day.


July 19, 2004

breakfast in (a bowl of) Los Angeles



Sunday, July 18

Last time it was cookies. This time, it's granola!

When I posted and said that I had had cookies from La Brea Bakery in LA for breakfast, Santos tipped me off that their granola is also very good. Although I am a devout supporter of muesli when it comes to the preferences in breakfast cereals (sorry, I just lied; I eat other kinds of cereals, too), I couldn't help but think about it - La Brea's granola? It's got to be good! Since some of their bread, albeit limited selection, have become available even in my local stores, I was putting hopes in them, which has not been very hopeful as of yet.

Then the other day, my dear friend Joyce who had sent me those cookies just a couple of weeks ago just sent me another package in which she graciously included a bag of granola from La Brea! The granola in the bag looked absolutely handsome; shiny dark brown oats and rye covered with maple syrup and honey, accompanied by other goodies such as whole almonds and pumpkin seeds, and dried berries.




The granola was as good as I had expected (and in this case, my expectation had been very high, you know). Chewy oats, crispy bran and wheat flakes, and crunchy nuts and seeds together made a pleasant contrast of different textures, and generous amount of dried berries added a sweet and tart touch. In fact, dried cranberries in the granola were the best of this kind I had ever had - plump and chewy and definitely fruity, those ruby gems held the clear line against other mediocre dry, rumpled things called cranberries.
And it was flavored with not just orverused cinnamon but with nutmeg and clove as well; those spices did not make the granola noticeably spicy, but rather added fine nuances.

It reads on the back of the bag that the granola would make a "real treat" with yogurt and fresh fruits; although it really was good with yogurt, I found it better with just milk - to me, at least (I love yogurt, but somehow I like cereals better with milk).




Only problems is, there is not much granola left in the bag already... I sometimes wonder if I am the only one who sees "serving sizes" of breakfast cereals are often way too small to make a meal; I mean, this 16oz bag of granola supposedly has eight servings, but it clearly wouldn't make me eight breakfasts!

July 18, 2004

trying out season's favorites



Saturday, July 17

For these past several weeks, I have been busy trying not to miss fruits in season; strawberry, raspberry, peach... and today, it was apricot that I had. To tell you the truth, I don't particularly fancy apricots among out of all kinds of fruits... I like them fresh, but as fresh apricots would be in store for just a week or so and tend to be very expensive in Tokyo, I have had limited experience with them.
And there was a post about apricot coffee cake and its recipe in Clotilde's blog a few days ago, and the cake in the picture looked scrumptious. Now that apricots are in store, and that I have found an interesting recipe using them, it must be about time - to eat apricots!

Plump apricots neatly piled up in a small corner of the shelf were so appealing that I had a compulsion to grab them all, but those bright yellowish orange jewels were in fact pretty much as expensive as those in Tokyo (too bad). I just got a small bagfull of them for the cake.



Since I don't have a large (or small, in fact) round cake pan at hand, I just used small cupcake cups and make mini-cakes. As the batter seemed to be very simple in the recipe, I decided to add some little extras; first, I thought of almond meal, but figured that I didn't have almonds at home except for a small amount of slivered ones. This wouldn't make too much of almond flavor, I thought, and then decided to add crystallized ginger bits in the batter, while slivered almonds would top the cake along with apricot wedges.



The cakes turned out pretty good - slightly tangy and pleasantly sweet ripe, juicy apricots made an attractive contrast with somehow cookie-y cake, and the spicy ginger gave them unique and delicious snap, both in flavor and texture. I wish I had put more apricots on top, though - I thought too much of them might make mess when baked - it would have been even more fruity.

***

In the afternoon we went to beach. I have never been a beach-bum, ever, and I would rather even avoid staying for too long there. But recently I have been stuck in the house and spending too much time sitting in front of the computer because of work, I thought it would make a nice little change... and just watching waves and surfers, and lying down and read, it certainly did make a nice change.





July 16, 2004

RECIPE: a thought into cheater's cake

Thursday, July 15  
I have been playing around with the microwave cake recipe that I found a few months back. Changing ingredients and quantities, I must have tried almost ten different variations - some of them turned out pretty disappointing, while some of them proved really good, not just for a cake made using the microwave, but as a cake in general. A few of them were so good that I thought I could even share their recipes with those who are interested.

The original recipe (in Japanese) was for a chocolate cake. I am not translating the exact recipe into English here, chiefly because of intellectual property issues, but at least I can tell you that the recipe itself is pretty simple - using common ingredients such as butter, eggs, sugar, flour, and unsweetened cocoa powder. And what I did was converting metrics into US standard measurement, adjusting the quantities of ingredients to make measuring simpler, and replace some ingredients with something else. I substituted butter with oil, tried soy milk instead of eggs, omitted cocoa powder and added green tea powder, made completely oil- and dairy-free version, etc. After several trials, I came to a conclusion: I can reduce the amount of oil/fat content without ruining the taste of resulting cake, but entire oil-free ones weren't as good; soy milk actually works better than eggs; and ones using cocoa powder tend to taste better than those without.

The best part of making those microwave cakes, obviously, is that it usually takes only ten minutes or so to make; measuring the ingredients, preparing the batter and cooking, all inclusive, unless I put something involving extra preparation (e.g. roasting and chopping nuts). Another good thing I think is that I don't need too many utensils or bakeware; I typically use only three stuff: a tablespoon, a whisk, and a microwave-proof storage container (I prefer to use a Ziploc 4-cup square container).



Ironically, the best-tasting version was that very close to the original; plain chocolate cake. This one also happens to be the easiest to prepare, so I shall use this version to present my "basic" microwave recipe.

******************

Cheater's dark chocolate cake



Ingredients:
Approximately
2 Tbs. butter or vegetable oil
3 Tbs. sugar
3 Tbs. plain soy milk (or 1 egg, alternatively)
2 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder

Directions:
Melt the butter in a 4-cup (approx. 4") square container using the a microwave. If using vegetable oil, just measure the oil into the container (do not heat).

Add the sugar and stir well.

Add the soy milk and stir well.

Add the cocoa powder and stir well.

Add the flour and baking powder, and stir well.

Put the lid on the container; do not "snap & seal" - just put it one the container so that an excess steam can be released out of the container while cooking. Put the container in the microwave, and heat for 2-2.5 minutes. Take the container out of the oven immediately when the cooking is done, take the lid off, and let cool for at least a few minutes. Cut into four squares. Serve.

Note:
Unlike regular baking, I usually don't measure the ingredients beforehand when making this cake; I measure the stuff as I need over the process of making the batter, i.e. scoop sugar with a tablespoon out of the bag into the container, measure soy milk using the same tablespoon and pour in the batter, wash or wipe clean the spoon, and measure cocoa powder, and so on.

The quantities of ingredients are approximate. Sometime I use 1 or 3 instead of 2 Tbs. of butter/oil, while reducing the amount of soy milk from 3 to 2 Tbs.
I often use brown sugar, but it can be substituted with any kind of sugar.
Soy milk should be pure, plain one, i.e. ones made of soybeans and water only; no added sugar, flavorings, or preservatives and alike.
I don't sift dry ingredients (cocoa powder, flour and baking powder), although it is of course up to you.
Also, I usually measure baking powder by eye, so I don't have to use a 1/8 teaspoon!

Often when making a cake batter, I would try not to overmix once I add flour. For this cake however, I somehow feel comfortable in stirring the batter vigorously so all the ingredients are mixed into one smooth batter.

As is the case with any other microwave cooking, the cooking time substantially varies by oven. My microwave is 950 kw, and the cooking time is based on this - so adjust to your own microwave. Also like any other microwaved stuff, the cake tends to dry very quick. I wouldn't really recommend to keep the cake even overnight.

The cake is usually good just as is, but it can be served with sprinckled powdered sugar on top, or with whipped cream or ice cream on top.

******************

I made this plain chocolate cake this afternoon. As I stirred in the ingredients, I found out that I was running out of cocoa powder; I only had one tablespoonfull of it, so I used melted dark chocolate in addition to cocoa powder - probably about one tablespoonful or so (I didn't measure). Served with Haagen Dazs' macadamia nut brittle ice cream, the cake was very rich and delicious.


Starting with this version, I tried a bunch of other stuff in place of, or in addition to, the cocoa powder, including the following (please note: I didn't take note every time I made this cake, so the quantities are approximate):

- black sesame, using:

1 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 Tbs. black sesame paste
2 Tbs. sugar
3 Tbs. soy milk
2 Tbs. ground black sesame
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder

This turned out to be really sesame-y, but might have been a bit too dry.
verdict: decent

- matcha (green tea),

by substituting 2 Tbs. of green tea powder for the cocoa powder in the recipe for plain chocolate cake.
It tasted fine, but the 2 tablespoonful of green tea powder was too much - I should have used 1 spoonful instead.
I served a slice with matcha ice cream, making it really green-tea-y!
verdict: intention was good

- creme de marron (sweetened chestnut paste), using: 


1 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 Tbs. creme de marron (sweetened)
1 Tbs. sugar
3 Tbs. soy milk
2 Tbs. cocoa powder
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder

Probably because of the addition of the thick chestnut paste, it took a bit longer to cook the cake - it was about 3 minutes total. For the same reason, the cake was kind of heavy which I didn't really like. Nevertheless, served with marron cream (mixture of creme fraiche and creme de marron), the cake looked fancy and tasted pretty good.
verdict: not bad

- orange and thyme, using:

2 Tbs. vegetable oil
3 Tbs. sugar
1 egg
1 Tbs. orange juice
3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. grated orange zest
1 tsp. finely chopped leaves of fresh thyme

As I said in a post several days ago, this one turned out decent, but didn't taste as exciting as I had hoped. I used an egg this time, but suspect soy milk would have been better. I wonder if it would be better if I add cocoa powder....
verdict: needs refinement

- peanut butter and jelly, using:

1 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. sugar
2 or 3 Tbs. unsweetened peanut butter
3 Tbs. soy milk
3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1-2 Tbs. of red currant jelly for topping - place small portion of jelly on top of the finished batter and lightly mix with a knife to obtain a marbled effect. Substitute with any other jelly, such as raspberry or grape.

This one turned out amazingly good; probably as good as the plain chocolate cake, or even better (well, I love peanut butter). I confessed that my recent attempt to bake peanut butter & jelly squares using my old good recipe only resulted in creating a horrible batch of fatty mixture of peanut butter and flour, but this microwaved cake turned out to be almost the same as the other, except this one was a lot more crumbly and fragile.
verdict: excellent

Other versions I tried but would not really worth sharing the recipes of include:
- Creme de marron, without cocoa powder. It was too sweet and tasted bland.
- Cream cheese. It wasn't bad, but not particularly good, either.
- Chocolate cake with orange zest and slivered almond. Again, itt wasn't bad, but I would rather keep it simple.
- Chocolate cake with rum/grand marnier. Mmmmm... maybe I just put too much liquor.

I like making microwave cake because it is so easy and quick to make, and the recipe is versatile and allows a range of variations. And on top of - or maybe because of - these reasons, I find it particularly useful for experimenting with a new flavor or combination for a cake. Like I tried the pairing of orange and thyme, I can casually try a new things in a very small batch of cake and see how it turns out. If it is good, I can try it in other regular cakes, and if it doesn't quite work - well, I don't have much to waste!

I hope you will find these cake very easy to make, and even enjoy the process of trial and error as much as I do!

July 13, 2004

discreet attempts

Tuesday, July 13

One of the things that came up my mind when I thought about what I would want to do while he is away was: eat fish.

Since he hates fish and seafood of any kind - their taste, look, smell, or everything - I hardly ever cook or eat fish at home nowadays. One time I had an urgent desire for fish and cooked a couple of fillets of salmon for lunch, which put him in a bad mood for a while. So I just gave it up. It's a bit shame considering we are in a place that is supposed to have good/decent fish... but well, that's too bad, all I can do is to eat as much fish/seafood as I can when I'm back in Japan.
Anyways, I thought, I should better take this opportunity when I could. And I didn't really need to wonder which fish to have; mackerel. Mackerel used to be one of fish that I least favored when I was a kid, but when I had a fillet of broiled semi-dried mackerel, it permanently changed my perception of mackerel products. Even though I still don't care for this fish cooked in other ways, this is definitely something that I have a craving for from time to time.

So I had made up my mind. Yesterday I went to a store nearby, searching for semi-dried mackerel. I remembered that I had seen packaged fillets of mackerel in that store before, and it didn't take me so long to find them - but they were raw mackerel. Hmmm... I don't like them raw much, I thought, and went to look at the frozen food section, and there you go, I found... frozen raw mackerel. After another seconds of hmmmmm..., I spotted vacuum-packed smoked mackerel. Smoked? I had never had them smoked before, but since I knew that I didn't like broiled raw (I mean, not dried one) mackerel, I chose to try the smoked ones.
I dropped by the grains aisle and picked up a small bag of sushi rice; I'd usually buy Tama-nishiki, a California-grown, short-grain premium Japanese rice brand, but this time I bought something else, primarily because the brand of my favorite wasn't on sale. Anyways, I was all set. 
 
This morning after I got up, I cooked a cup of rice in my shiny blue Le Creuset Cocotte Ronde, while grilling all three fillets of mackerel; I wouldn't have a chance to cook fish once he's back, so better cook them all and freeze the leftover, I thought.  Meanwhile, I also made quick cucumber "pickles" (just rub sliced cucumber with salt).  Freshly cooked rice, broiled fish, and pickles... this is going to be like a "traditional" Japanese breakfast... I was very excited.
 
When the rice was done, fish had been ready, too - in fact, the fillets might have been cooked for a little too long - and the cucumber, of course, was also ready.  I took the lid off from the pan, and found that the rice was looking rather, eh, disappointing.  It wasn't shiny as good cooked rice is supposed to be.  Well, it wasn't good rice, anyways....
My plan of making my "traditional Japanese-style" breakfast as authentic as possible confronted another big challenge; I don't have any Japanese tableware, not even a pair of chopsticks.  None.  So the only option in this case was put the food on a ordinary, cheap dish that we have here and eat it with a folk. 



Finally my time had came - eat the fish.  Smoked mackerel smelled and tasted like smoked fish, and I found it pretty good.  Cucumber wasn't as good as I hoped - well, the cucumbers that I had bought at the local farmers' market the other day were labeled as "Japanese cucumbers", they weren't exactly like the ones back home (nor is any brand of Japanese rice, really, but I think it was okay).  This particular brand of rice that I had chosen, though, turned out to be highly disappointing to me, unfortunately.   
 
Honestly, I wouldn't complain about anything if I could occasionally have such breakfast, even if it is just once in quite a while.  I wouldn't expect to eat everything exactly like I used to do in Japan, and I truly enjoy new food and dishes that I find here, but there are things you miss sometimes and just can't help trying to have them (or something like them), if you know what I mean....
 
p.s. I made another batch of microwave cake and was going to write about it, but I think I need to go to bed now... tomorrow should do.
 


July 12, 2004


cheater's orange & thyme cake

oven economy

Monday, July 12

He has been off the island and I am currently alone in the house with his dog and a stuffed animal rabbit. Weather's been decent, but I am stuck in the house to work. No going-outs.

I had one orange left in the fridge for quite some time and have meant to make something with it. The day has come - I decided to turn that orange into orange muffins or something. Incidentally, I also had some thyme in the fridge, too, and I somehow came up with an idea to pair those lonely leftovers in my fridge. Orange and thyme, like lemon and rosemary, that didn't sound so bad.

Originally I was to bake muffins, but let's face it; now there is only one person (me) to consume the final products (one batch of muffins) in this house (doggy and bunny don't count), and do I want to - or should I - eat that many muffins all by myself? Absolutely not - just because I could, that doesn't mean I should.

With such a mature and sound reasoning, I changed my plan and decided to make a small cake. Again, think about it - I always think it very inefficient to use the huge oven just to bake a very small amount of food, and I didn't want to bake big stuff just to achieve economies of scale.

My solution for this afternoon was the microwaved cake; I might already have mentioned it, but I found a recipe for chocolate cake using a microwave oven a few months ago, and the following week or so I kept trying out a variety of cakes using the recipe (in Japanese). It would usually make one 4" or 5" square cake, which is just right size for one or two.
Today I put grated and shredded zest of the orange along with some juice of it, and finely chopped leaves of thyme in the batter. The most complicated and time-consuming part of making this cake was, eh, grating the zest of orange and chopping the thyme. Preparation time (including the grating and chopping) was about 10 minutes, and before I even finished cleaning up the utensils (which were, basically, a zester, a whisk, a cutting board and a knife - not too many items, you know), the cake was cooked - cooking time was approximately two minutes.

The cake tasted decent - or pretty good, actually, given it was made by microwaving, although the chocolate version was better. Orange and thyme worked fairly good together, although, again, I liked rosemary better than thyme. Like I said, cakes like this would be just good when you just feel like a few bites of sweets quick, and that was exactly what I wanted today.


Note on yesterday's pics:
Tofu marinated in olive oil with rosemary and thyme, salt and pepper, topped with a dash of cayenne pepper.
Hershey's caramel filled kisses

July 11, 2004


spicy & herby tofu

caramel kisses

mock doughnuts

forget about that greasy deep-frying

Friday, July 9

I love doughnuts. Or should I say, I used to love them. Truth is, I still love them a lot, but don't eat them much any more. Sometimes I even suspect that I had eaten a whole lifetime's worth of doughnuts by the age of 17. Maybe not, as I still eat them occasionally. Yes, only occasionally; even though I like deep-fried stuff in general - or maybe because of that - I try not to buy and/or eat deep-fried things so much (they tend to be addictive, don't they?). And I never do deep-frying myself in my kitchen, because it involves too much trouble and mess.

Back to doughnuts; almost a year ago, I found a post talking about muffins. They aren't just ordinary muffins, they are doughnut muffins! More precisely, they are muffins that taste like doughnuts. As is quoted in the post, the recipe for those muffins was for people "who like doughnuts, but don't like deep frying". That exactly sounded like me!

Unfortunately, the recipe itself wasn't included there, and over time I came to forget about the muffins, up until a few month ago when I by chance found this recipe. The image of muffins seemed pretty much the same as that in the post I've mentioned above, so did the description of ingredients (i.e. sugar coating, buttermilk, nutmeg, etc.), and the page even read that the "cakelike muffins are made from a batter similar to that used for preparing doughnuts, but they are baked instead of fried". This must be it, this has to be... I got so stoked.

For some reasons it wasn't until this day that I finally baked my own doughnut muffins. As is often the case, I made them in the morning for breakfast/brunch. Nothing complicated was involved in the process of making the batter, and within one hour or so the muffins were ready - brushed with melted butter and generously coated with sugar and cinnamon mixture, which I suspect could be what makes those muffins taste like doughnuts.

It might have been a bit of mistake that I used unrefined whole cane sugar in the batter, which made my muffin look rather too golden brown inside and out (they should have been paler) and left the distinctive flavor of raw sugar that somehow overpowered the delicacy of spice and buttermilk mixture. Also, my muffin didn't look as pretty as the ones seen elsewhere, primarily because I didn't use a muffin pan (I don't have any at hand) and instead baked the batter in paper muffin cups; this resulted in my muffins expanding horizontally rather than vertically. Despite those rather esthetic issues, my muffins were delicious and doughnut-y enough - I mean, what more could you ask for when you can have something quite like doughnuts fresh out of your oven, without doing messy deep-frying?

July 9, 2004


ssssssspicy larb gai & ginger ice cream (it's hidin'!)

new favorites

Thursday, July 8

He had been talking about going out for Thai food ever since we came back in town. Whether his desire had reached its threshold or he just got an unexpected income or whatever, he insisted that we should better do it today. So we did.

There are surprisingly many Thai restaurants in our town, considering its small population - there are at least five or six of them, as far as I am aware. Yet I am not completely satisfied with the general standard of Thai food - or at least Thai curries - in this country, let alone this small town. Among them, however, there is one pretty good Thai restaurant here, which we found ourselves keep going back. There we'd go straight to curries - red, green, yellow, or Musaman - their curries are fabulous; not too coconut milk-y, which could ruin the whole thing, and properly spicy (they even do "Thai hot" on top of the usual choice of mild/medium/hot). We have tried some other dishes, and most of them were pretty good, but whenever we think of going to that restaurant, we have a craving for their curries.

But not today. At least I wasn't really feeling like eating curries since I was a bit sick. So I tried to think of something else that I could have there, and suddenly an idea popped up; salad. When we went to a Thai restaurant in Boulder, CO, his brother's wife had a salad dish and I really liked it. It was basically a mixture of cooked ground chicken with some vegetable such as onion and cucumber, dressed with lime juice and other sauces, spiced up with herbs and chili pepper. It was really hot but truly refreshing, and I even liked her salad better than my own bowl of curry. The problem was, I didn't know the name of the dish (how dare!). But as far as I can tell, there are a lot of dishes commonly served at a lot of Thai restaurants over here, and I was also sure that I had seen something like that salad previously. So I was pretty sure that they'd have the (similar) salad at our favorite local Thai place... I browsed the menu... not papaya salad, not shrimp salad either... okay, maybe this; then I ordered a dish called "Larb Salad".

When my salad came, I was so pleased to find that my guess was right (I learned later when I was back home, larb refers to ground-meat salad in Thai, thus chicken larb would be called larb gai). Even more delightfully, their ground-chicken salad tasted better than the one I had before; it had a lot more vegetable of other kinds and was soaked in a similar lime-y, minty, and refreshing dressing. And very HOT (I ordered medium hot today - well salads are usually hotter than other dishes in Thai cuisine, in my understanding). I would have liked it even more if there had not been coriander leaves in there (did I ever mention that I hate coriander leaves?), but it was still okay.

I was so full but did not forget about the dessert. There was a choice of several flavors of ice cream, but my heart was taken by "ginger". The menu read that ice cream is served with tapioca pudding and fresh strawberries, and it was true - except, or to me at least, it was actually tapioca pearls in sweet coconut milk that was in my glass (I didn't know they call those tapioca "pudding" here). My ice cream came in a tall glass, covered with the coconut milk and tapioca which was almost fladding out of the glass, and sliced strawberries prettily arranged on top. With the first spoonful of tapioca in the milk, I already tasted ginger there... although our all-time favorite dessert at a Thai restaurant would be coconut milk ice cream, the ginger ice cream in coconut milk came very close to that perfection, I have to tell you. Next time we come back here (which shouldn't be in the distant future, I believe), we will confront a new challenge; curry or salad, or both.

sunset at the waterfront

crispy salad of the day

tanabata

Wednesday, July 7

Today's Tanabata (what's that? check this). You can make a wish on the stars in this occasion, although I didn't do particularly anything this year. Shame.

What I did was whipping up a bowl of salad. The other day I was so excited when I found bags of mizuna leaves sold at a local farmers' market and eagerly bought one. Then I fixed salad pairing them with bacon and fresh celery; sautee the bacon strips, add sliced celery, olive oil and lemon juice, pour the bacon and celery in the oil over rinsed and cut mizuna, salt and pepper to taste. Well done.
I remembered I still had some mizuna left in the fridge and wanted to use them up. Any kind of salad leaves works fine for this salad, but I think its bit tangy and spicy flavor goes particularly well with the mild, flavorful bacon. By the way, I used Niman Ranch's good cured bacon in my salad, and that did an excellent job, too!

In the evening we went shopping, and on our way back from the store at bayfront we saw the sky changing its color. We stopped to take a little walk in the nearby park, enjoyed the last bit of pinky clouds that quickly dissolved into the dark blue sky.

July 7, 2004


rosemary & flax seed scone

breakfast vs teatime

Tuesday, July 6

Scones have long been one of my favorite teatime treats. By scones I mean English scones, or those round-shaped, subtly sweet raisin/currunt scones that are typically served with generous portions of fruit spread and cream (clotted cream is the best). For the past ten years I have been using a recipe from famous The Savoy Hotel kitchen, which has never failed to create a batch of classic, great scones (you can find a basically same recipe here, although I've used another source).

Then Starbucks came to town with a lineup of "American" scones. More often than not sweeter than their English counterparts, they come in a different shape such as triangle, and have certainly taken a different position in my dietary habit: breakfast. It may have been because they are sold alongside of coffee that I would stop to buy as a wake-up treat.

Anyways, this is how I have come to personally distinguish "scones for brakfast" from "scones for teatime". And as of late I have been making the breakfast scones a lot. My most recent favorite is rosemary scones; just adding of chopped fresh rosemary leaves to the dough gives a dramatically refreshing difference to the resulting scones (I have been making rosemary shortbread and rosemary cakes so far, both of which are equally tempting and lovely).

By now you might want me to get to the point - okay, here are today's words: I made rosemary scones for breakfast. So far I like to use this recipe for breakfast scones, althoguh I make several changes (first of all, this is not a recipe for rosemary scones, and I don't use scone pans, etc.). And today I also tried and added Flaxseed meal in the dough, that gave out a bit of malty flavor and grainy texture. Apart from eating them, the best part of making rosemary scones is smelling the aroma of the herb while the scones are baking in the oven... mmm.

July 5, 2004


fireworks, island, bridge, and... tree?

happy independence day!

Sunday, July 4

This evening we went to watch fireworks in our town to celebrate the 4th of July. Fireworks are one of the few things I would enjoy in the lousy hot summer in Tokyo, and even though the show was nothing to compare with those spectaculars taken place in Japan, it was nevertheless very fun to watch and good enough to make me miss the ones back home...

Note about food: although we didn't do BBQ at home (he went to join his friends somewhere), I did have a hotdog, just because it was Independence Day. Hotdogs aren't my favorite kinds of food, but it's nice to have something "typical" or "classic" on a special occasion I think. Another good such occasion to eat a hotdog would be at a stadium while watching a baseball or basketball game, but I will have to wait till next year since I currently don't have any plan to go watch a game....

...with the exception of dessert (lemon squares)

same old lineup...

Saturday, July 3

We had our neighbors over dinner this evening. They are a nice family who live next door to us and who would usually look after his dog while we are away. Since it was his plan to invite them for dinner to thank them, it was him who should cook. Deal.

In deciding what to cook, we asked them about their preferences in food, and they said they'd eat anything but garlic, and one of them is allergic to seafood. This ruled out dishes containing garlic and seafood (well, he does not eat fish or seafood, anyways). Also, the kids are pretty young so I didn't think we should use too much alcohol (even if alchohol itself would evaporate as it cooks and would not be left in the finished product, it often leaves a distinctive aroma of wine or beer whatsoever). No garlic, no seafood, and no (much) alcohols left us the same menu as the last such occasion; pumpkin salad, orange chicken, and oven-roasted vegetable (I wish I could say that we had something else rather than we made almost exactly the same stuff that we cooked for his families and relatives the other day, but we weren't cooking for the same crowd, so that's fine). This time he did most of the preparation part, and meanwhile I made dessert.
As this was our second time making the same menu of dishes, we were pretty quick and efficient, so that the food was almost ready by the time the neighbors came at our door. While the host was entertaining our guests, I finished the dishes in the kitchen and this time we didn't have to keep our guests waiting hungry.

I thought we had cooked a lot of food, but the pan and plates were quick empty and some of them (particularly young ones) still seemed they weren't quite full, which I felt bad about. At least we had a dessert to offer - this time it was a pan of lemon squares (not a cheesecake). It was from another one of such recipes that used to be my staples years ago when I was baking whole time, and this one didn't fail like the PB&J squares had done a few days ago (whew!). With a liberal amount of fresh lemon juice in the filling on top of the short crust that also had some grated zest of a lemon, the squares were very lemony just as any good lemon squares are supposed to be.

big four