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every dish has a story

Matcha and Chocolate Mochi Bundt CakeMar 10, 2012

If there's any world culture that knows how to translate the flavors of Spring into food, it has to be the Japanese. A few years ago, my family traveled to Japan to see the cherry blossom bloom and follow it from Kyoto on the southern end of Honshu island up to Tokyo farther North. In Japan, they not only recognize the changing of seasons, they celebrate it: we were lucky enough to be in Kyoto during the Spring festival, when the evenings are a-glow with paper lanterns, and Japanese nationals in traditional kimono show up in droves to write their prayers on little scrolls at the Buddhist temples. And everywhere you turn, they revel in the beautiful pink blossoms that shower the streets with food and pastries honoring the season that signals new beginnings.

We scarfed (yes, scarfed . . . because we're Japanese Americans without a clue about the social graces of those born in Japan) down delicate pink mochi treats and sweet rice wrapped in salt water-soaked cherry blossom leaves. Chirashi came sprinkled with fluffy pink denbu (sweetened cod flakes). Little flower-shaped senbei crackers were tinged green with matcha powder and strewn with shaved toasted nori. And despite it being a 40ºF and rainy March, we intensely felt the turning of a seasonal page and tasted it with nearly every meal.

We haven't quite hit the Spring Equinox, but thanks to some unseasonably warm weather here in San Francisco, my mind is already focused on starting anew. I rediscovered the bundt pan I inherited from my grandmother, and with some mochi flour and matcha powder, I set about recreating those flavors and feelings from our travels.

Ready to celebrate a new season? Check out the recipe at YumSugar.

Hwae Dup Bap (Korean Sashimi Salad)Mar 04, 2012

By the time I entered college, I thought of myself as a rather experienced eater. Born and raised in a multicultural family in the San Francisco Bay Area, I had been exposed to all sorts of foods from the get-go and was rarely fazed by anything "weird" (Chicken feet? Sure. Alligator tail? No problem. Crab innards? Give it to me over rice.) And my young adult self was certain that there was no cuisine I had yet to conquer.

Then I met the guy who is now my husband, and he proceeded to rock my world with the marvels of Korean food. Yeah, I had experienced plenty of barbecue and jjigaes (stews) by then, but one night he took me to a Korean-owned sushi joint tucked away in a tiny Oakland strip mall, and he ordered us two heaping bowls of hwae dup bap that seriously changed my life.

According to my loose understanding of the Korean language, hwae dup bap translates to raw fish over rice, and while it lacks the orchestrated beauty of Japanese chirashi, you can think of it as chirashi's untamed cousin. Everyone has their own version of this dish (my husband remembers his mom making a simple version with just sashimi and rice for church picnics), but the general equation is as follows (from the bottom up): sushi rice, greens, chopped raw fish, fish roe, and a quail egg, drizzled with sesame oil and a vinegary gochujang sauce. It's refreshing, light, but incredibly filling, and it will change the way you think about sashimi. The Japanese girl in me still enjoy a slice of toro delicately dabbed in shoyu and fresh wasabi, but my newfound Korean side absolutely melts for hwae dup bap.

I based this recipe on our spot in the East Bay which included seaweed salad to round out its from-the-sea flavor. If you have access to good quality sashimi and an Asian grocery store, then you'll have all the ingredients you need for this explosive dish. For the recipe, read on.

Linguine With Sea Urchin and CaviarFeb 07, 2012

What's so gross about sea urchin? Even some of the most adventurous eaters I know will make the most horrific faces when the topic comes up.

I asked my husband who generally recoils when I suggest that we share a pair of nigiri at the sushi bar, and he offered that it's a textural thing. Some people say it resembles phlegm (or worse), and I heard one person characterize the briny bits as "little orange tongues" (although, let's face it: the truth of what uni is may actually be harder to stomach!). But a lot of these same people will tell me that the flavor doesn't bother them; in fact, they find it quite pleasant.

So when my BFF told me about a sea urchin pasta she makes for dinner parties, I found a way to sneak uni back into the palettes of the unsuspecting (just a word of caution to anyone who's invited to my house for dinner). This recipe is based upon Eric Ripert's On the Line which means that it is insanely decadent, topping a first course-size portion of sea urchin linguine with Iranian osetra caviar. My girlfriend uses ikura (salmon roe) which also provides a nice, salty punch to the velvety sauce at a much more reasonable price (my nearby Japanese market sells it for $2 per ounce versus $200 for the osetra). I managed to find an ounce of domestic Hackleback caviar for $50, and it was plenty for four servings. And my uni-shy husband? He licked his bowl clean. Read on for the recipe.

Edible Gifting: Seasoned Greetings Spice RubsJan 10, 2012

I know, I know . . . it's now January, and the last thing you want to relive is holiday-themed anything. I'll try not to drag this one out too long, but let me make just a couple of points:

First, spice rubs make a great hostess gift, no matter the time of year. They are especially great for people who like to grill as well as for male hosts (at least, those who aren't the delicately scented soap types).

If you don't have party plans in the near future, you can whip up a batch of each to keep in the freezer, ready for future grilling or seasoning projects.

Finally, don't you just love the name? Seasoned Greetings — get it? Yuk, yuk.

For the recipe, read on.

Turkey Pot PieJan 08, 2012

This holiday season came and went like the whirlwind it always is, and I sit here in the aftermath realizing that I have plenty of recipes to catch up on. So let's take a mini jaunt down memory lane to Thanksgiving, shall we?

Being the lucky recipient of my family's turkey carcass, I ended up with about 6 quarts of homemade stock, most of which sits in the freezer waiting for a chilly night when turkey noodle soup is a quick solution to the question "What's for dinner?" Unfortunately for the stock but quite happily for the rest of us San Franciscans, warm weather has taken up temporary residence in these parts, so soup has been on the back burner, so to speak. But back in late November when temps were still brisk in the low 50s (here, my East Coast friends may shout whatever expletives come to mind), comfort foods were definitely on the brain.

Purists will say that a pot pie must be just that: a pie complete with buttery, flaky crust on the top and the bottom. I get it (admission: I love Marie Calendar's frozen chicken pot pies dumped on a pile of hot white rice), but (1) who has time to whip up pie dough on a weeknight?, and (2) it's hardly a light meal. So I substituted store-bought puff pastry for the crust and focused on a rich, hearty filling for my turkey pot pie. For the recipe, read on.

Momofuku-Style Cherry Tomato Salad With Soft Tofu and ShisoDec 09, 2011

My apologies for the blurry, dark photo. It was late, and I was hungry.

When I was about two years old, my best friend in the whole world was Jon. He was six months younger but a whole head taller than me, and while I was very quiet and shy, he could wail loud enough for the both of us (or so my mom says). Where I would scamper, he would lumber. One of the only things we seemed to agree upon was that pigeons were meant for chasing (we're city kids), but despite our differences, we were practically inseparable: JonJon and SaSa. Then his family moved down the Peninsula, and our paths wouldn't again cross until much later.

In college, my Jon was my buddy Kevin. Again, he was the outgoing one, and quiet little me always seemed to be tagging along to his parties. His social sphere was only slightly smaller than the campus population, whereas I tended to stick to a very small circle of friends. So it was a strange twist of fate when I found out that Kevin and Jon were close friends, having met through the university's crew team.

Fast forward about 15 years to last weekend when we hosted Jon, Kevin, and their awesome wives for a little dinner party conceived through my Momofuku cookbook. We enjoyed an upscale ssam dinner (Korean barbecue served as make-your-own lettuce wraps) with kalbi-style New York strip and grilled pork belly and an insalata caprese-inspired cherry tomato salad that I was dying to try. Rather than nesting the tomatoes on soft discs of mozzarella, Chang substitutes silken tofu and replaces zesty strips of basil with equally pungent Japanese shiso.

The resulting dish was fantastic, even heading into Winter (I can only imagine what it's like when the tomatoes are at their peak of flavor in late Summer). And in one of my pensive moments (because — if you haven't already noticed — I am a quiet person) I realized it's a terrific metaphor for these friendships: seemingly mismatched ingredients intersecting in a harmonious medley. For the recipe, read on.

Wheat-Free Pumpkin Dog BiscuitsNov 23, 2011

Disclaimer: Before we go any further, please take note that these are dog biscuits, not people biscuits. No harm will befall you if ingested, but I guarantee that your dog will enjoy them more that you will.

I'm a terrible parent. In fact, it makes me wonder sometimes what will happen when we have human children running around the house rather than the four-legged variety. So here it is: I forgot my dog's birthday. The real date is October 25th, and Lily reached a regal 13 years of age this year on that late Tuesday in October. But here we are one month later, and I have provided no gifts, no birthday cake, only a belated couple of pats on the head and maybe a few more toy tosses.

Of course, the truth is, she hasn't noticed. And she has no idea (nor sympathy) for the guilt that I feel. She's just worried about where her next meal is coming from, which is exactly the sentiment that helped me land on her birthday present.

This Thanksgiving, we're off to my parents' house which now goes by the code name "Disneyland" because the term "Grandma and Grandpa's house" now makes Lily so excited, she leaves puddles on the floor. And since we will be partaking of our own pumpkin-flavored treats, I thought it only fitting that the dog have her own. So I tracked down this wonderful recipe (and cute post) at Simmer Till Done for wheat-free pumpkin dog biscuits that are easy to make and also easy on an aging canine's tummy. This should serve to assuage my guilt, at least until I forget next year. For the recipe, read on.

Salsa VerdeOct 10, 2011

Salsa verde is the other salsa. Sure, it's pretty and stands out against the array of its generally red-hued cousins. But throughout my life, its sourness kept it from making the cut at salsa bars until about 10 years ago, when I came to my senses. At a Mission District taqueria, I once ordered chile verde on a whim, wooed by its comfort food properties, and I was struck by how that tart tomatillo flavor accentuated the sweetness of the pork. Now that I have revealed my love affair with this meat, it's easy to see why salsa verde is now a staple for our carnitas nights. If raw tomatillos are too sour for your palate, try roasting them before blending to get a mellower, more robust sauce. For the recipe, read on.

CarnitasOct 10, 2011

Ah, pork. Be it crispy golden tonkatsu, softly simmered chile verde, or even a perfectly pan-fried chop, I can't get enough of the other white meat. At the forefront of my porcine passion: carnitas: that tender, flavorful pork crisped at the edges by a hot bath in its own fat. Surprisingly, recipes are bountiful for such a simple dish. I've seen preparations involving braising, roasting, and deep-frying in a backyard turkey fryer, and an exponential number of seasonings, from a healthy dash of salt to a myriad of unconventional ingredients. In the end, it depends on personal preference, and I like my carnitas about as simple as can be with a little Mexican oregano and orange notes to highlight the sweetness of the meat. As for condiments, the more the merrier, but I tend to enjoy pork the most with "green" flavors (tomatillo salsa verde and guacamole), pickled red onions, and salty cotija cheese with homemade corn tortillas, fresh radishes, black beans, and rice on the side. For my recipe, read on.

Swedish Meatball SandwichOct 09, 2011

One thing I've noticed about photographing food: you can't do it when you're hungry. Whereas blogging lends itself nicely to a grumbling belly (I tend to write my best work when I'm fantasizing about my next meal), it's incredibly difficult to conjure up the willpower to pause for a few shots before sitting down to a hot meal. Take last night, for example: I spent several hours preparing a dinner of jangjorim (beef and hard-boiled eggs simmered in garlicky soy sauce), and even took the time to plate several types of banchan, but then the world goes black, and the next thing I remember is sitting back in my chair with an incredibly full tummy and a grip of empty dishes. Today I whipped up some Swedish meatball sandwiches (based on memories of The Sentinel's glorious version circa Winter 2010) with rolls, Parmesan, mushrooms, and meatballs and sauce acquired during the latest trip to IKEA (for more on that, check out Yoo Can Do It in a few weeks) and was halfway through before marketman reminded me that I haven't posted here since July. Whew. Good save, marketman.

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