It's funny, two of my favorite Japanese dishes actually find their roots in Chinese cuisine. Perhaps this is related to the phenomenon whereby many people mistake me and my best friend (who is Chinese) for sisters. Or the fact that I can pronounce "har gow" with a native speaker's precision (I assure you, that is the only word I can annunciate...the others sound hacked and tortured). Both ramen and gyoza are known to most Americans as Japanese fast food, but in fact, both were brought back to Japan by soldiers stationed throughout China during WWII. Gyoza is the Japanese name for the pan-fried version of jiaozi, which is basically the Chinese term for a meat-and-vegetable-stuffed dumpling. Regardless of where they come from, I eat them with gusto!
So alongside my New Year's-inspired shrimp dumpling experiment, some celebratory jiaozi seemed in order. The fantastic thing about making dumplings from scratch is that you can never make too many. Cook only as many as you can eat the day of assembly, and any uncooked dumplings can be frozen (first lay out on a cookie sheet in the freezer, and when frozen through, toss into a freezer-safe Ziplock) to be cooked later. So go bonkers. Make three recipes-worth. On those nights when you have nothing in the fridge and are too lazy to call for take-out, you'll thank me for it. For the recipe, read on.
Since the start of the Year of the Rabbit, my mind has turned to dumplings. I always have a bag of gyoza in the freezer for nights when Dave is out of town and I don't have to handcraft meals from scratch (ok, I suppose I never have to, but since he's the only member of the household currently earning an income, I have rationalized that he deserves a real home-cooked meal when he gets home), but the other day I was craving har gow, siu mai, and anything with nari (Chinese flat chives). Looking up recipes for har gow, I deemed the wrapper a bit too intense for my first stab at dumpling-making, so I settled on shrimp won ton instead. And yes, I copped out and bought a package of dumpling wrappers instead of making them from scratch, though my friend claims it's quite easy to do the latter (so I have included the recipe if you are in an authentic dumpling-making state of mind).
Speaking of shrimp dumplings, I will never forget the time that we went out for dim sum, and -- thanks to my pronunciation of "har gow" being surprisingly spot-on that day -- I fooled one of the cart ladies into thinking I spoke Cantonese. For the next two hours, my shoulder-shrugging, head-nodding and -shaking seemed to reassure her that her assessment of me was correct, but my inability to verbally communicate also proved to her that I was mentally deficient. Thankfully, the har gow were delicious, and they saved what would otherwise be a completely awkward meal. For the recipe, read on.
Here's an oldie but goodie...I was reminded of it this week as I was eating the leftovers from my weekend batch. Kimchi fried rice is great when you have lots of leftover rice and kimchi that is teetering on the brink of over-ripeness, and it's fine with any meat you have in the fridge -- chicken, pork, beef -- but it's stellar with Spam. Yes, Spam. I buy it in bulk at Costco. It makes for an easy Hawaiian breakfast with eggs and rice, and generally substitutes for meat when the fresh variety isn't easily accessible. My dad grew up eating meat out of a can -- granted, he was born at the outset of World War II when rationing was mandated -- and he will agree that sometimes you can't beat an evenly-formed loaf of salty pork parts.
Kimchi bokkeumbap is also fantastic hangover food, not that I've actually put it to the test in recent years given my teetotaling ways. But as it's the perfect blend of eggy, spicy, starchy, salty, and a little greasy, it reminds me of those Sunday mornings back in the late nineties when I'd get myself back on track with a Denny's Grand Slam and a bottle of Tabasco. For the recipe, read on.
Japan is a country of extremes -- nothing is sufficient until it is perfected to the nth degree. It is the home of geisha, bonsai trees, tea ceremonies, ninja, eating contest champions, harajuku girls, and -- of course -- sumo wrestling. You'd think that being as large as they are, rikishi (literally "strong man," as the wrestlers are collectively known) would maintain a diet similar to six-time hot dog eating champion Takeru Kobayashi, but remarkably, the sumo diet is remarkably healthy and low in fat. In fact, despite being what medical professionals would call morbidly obese, rikishi have a very low occurrence of obesity-related illness such as heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol due to the placement of their fat. Thanks to a disciplined regimen of intense exercise paired with high-volume consumption of high-protein foods, most of their fat is subcutaneous, lying just under the skin. Compare that to visceral fat which is located inside the abdomen and often infiltrates the internal organs. This is the same phenomenon that causes even your fittest of friends to have cellulite deposits and some outwardly skinny people to suffer from hypertension or high cholesterol.
So what do these big boys eat? Since they live together in heya (literally "stables," or training establishments), chanko nabe is an efficient means to provide a healthy, high-protein meal in immense volumes. A stew made with a protein and plenty of vegetables, chanko nabe is prepared in a communal hot-pot style, with a base broth simmering in the center of the table and ingredients added as they are needed. Generally, the protein used is pork, chicken, or fish, although some heya believe it's bad luck to use four-legged animals (symbolizing being down on all fours) or fish (no hands or feet), so chicken is the only allowable meat.
Seeing as how we had no upcoming sumo matches planned, we tried chanko nabe miso-aji (miso-based) using thinly sliced pork belly and an assortment of vegetables. For a true hot pot experience, serve it with hot rice and individual bowls of ponzu for dipping the meat and veggies. For the recipe read on.
OkazuJan 20, 2011
In Japanese, okazu means a side dish intended to accompany rice...which could really represent anything you eat in Japan because rice is such a staple. But in my grandmother's day, okazu and rice was a full meal. My great-grandmother passed away from tuberculosis when my grandma was just 8 years old, and that left her, the sole daughter, to cook for her father and six brothers. Okazu was filling, could be made from any vegetable and/or meat that happed to be available, and was all that they could afford being indentured farmers in the Sacramento Valley.
Grandma's okazu is one of my earliest flavor memories -- the broth was virtually the same, regardless of the main ingredients -- and it's a tradition my mom continued throughout my childhood for fast, easy dinners, especially on cold nights. Generally, we eat okazu with pork sirloin and vegetables ranging from nappa cabbage to Chinese long beans to cauliflower. Tonight, we had pork and nappa okazu to accompany a New York strip steak...normally, I attribute such a large meal to my bottomless pit-of-a-husband (as my hairdresser says: "I wish I had his metabolism"), but I have to say that with such a nostalgic meal, I was the glutton tonight! For the recipe, read on.
Nicole and her husband Chris treated a bunch of us to a wonderful Puerto Rican meal at their awesome new house on Saturday, and since I'm terrible at selecting housewarming gifts ("Here's a Jonathan Adler vase for your...er...clearly French Rococo-style home!"), I decided to put my free time to good use and bake up a selection of mini cupcakes inspired by various Puerto Rican desserts. I tried to create a balance of tastes, picking out a few tropical fruits as well as caramel, chocolate, cinnamon, and coffee flavors. So after shutting myself in the kitchen for several hours, the final list came down to (clockwise, from left):
Guava with Cream Cheese Frosting
Spiced Dark Chocolate with Coffee-Cinnamon Buttercream Frosting
Dulce de Leche (brown sugar cupcakes with dulce de leche buttercream frosting)
Piña Colada (pineapple cupcakes with coconut cream cheese frosting and toasted coconut)
Though they hail from Puerto Rico, piña coladas actually make me think of Mexico. A few years ago, we were lucky enough to tag along on a big group vacation with friends to a villa in Sayulita, Mexico. It still goes down in the books as our best vacation ever: just steps from the beach, we spent our days lounging by the pool, playing in the waves, snacking our way through the town of Sayulita, and enjoying amazing meals prepared by the villa's private chef, Sergio. Sergio had a sidekick named Oscar who made a mean margarita, and by request one evening, he concocted these piña coladas that were so fresh and juicy that were it not for its liquid consistency, you'd swear you were biting into fruit. For these cupcakes, I made sure to find a recipe that included chunks of pineapple for a similar sensation. For the recipe, read on.
Next to chocolate, dulce de leche is perhaps the world's most decadent -- and versatile -- dessert. Not only is it magnificent warmly slipping down the sides of a leche flan, it's luscious drizzled over vanilla ice cream, smeared in between layers of cookie in alfajores, or even paired with cheese. So the leap to cupcakes is not a big one. Some recipes called for incorporating dulce de leche in both cake and frosting, but I was afraid that the richness of the caramel would be too heavy handed. So I found a dulce de leche frosting recipe which seemed to pair well with a brown sugar cupcake recipe from my new favorite site, and guess what? Perfection! For the recipe, read on.
I looooooove Mexican chocolate. And Mexican chocolate in a cupcake? Divine! Mission Minis does a great Aztec Chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream (and their Cinnamon Horchata is to die for!), but when I think of a staple flavor of the tropics that melds well with chocolate and cinnamon, I think of coffee, so a coffee-infused frosting was a must. They key to both is making that cinnamon flavor really stand out, so I put it in both the cupcake and the frosting so it wouldn't get lost in the shuffle. These cupcakes came out a little dry and the frosting a little too soft for my liking, so I have adjusted a few ingredients accordingly. For the recipe, read on.
Several months ago, I was watching an episode of Rick Bayless's Mexico: One Plate at a Time in which he made ice cream from ate (a fruit paste) and cream cheese. I think I drooled. I had heard my Hawaiian friends talk about the wonders of guava and cheese, so were it not for my lactose intolerance, this ice cream sounded fantabulous! So it got me thinking about cupcakes (a little easier on the stomach...and yes, I can eat small amounts of cream cheese), and it turns out that it's not a brand new idea. There were several recipes I came across in my search that used guava juice, paste, and syrup for the cake and basic cream cheese frosting to adorn them. Not having easy access to guava paste and syrup -- which I figured would create a more robust fruit flavor than juice -- I pulled a jar of 100% guava fruit jam out of the cupboard and repurposed a Martha Stewart orange marmalade recipe. The only change I would make next time is to fill the cupcakes with some guava jam...I think it would give a little more of a guava punch to the cupcake and nicely balance the cream cheese frosting. For the recipe, read on.