Category Archives: Food

What I’ve Learned So Far About Cooking in Japan

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted! As you can probably surmise from the title of the post, my husband and I moved from Denver, Colorado to Tokyo, Japan last summer and the transition to a new job/country/way of life has been all-consuming.

To jump back into the fray, however, I thought I would first post the many lessons I’ve learned in cooking/dining during our first six months here. The food in Tokyo is AMAZING to say the least. I have discovered so many new techniques, veggies, and creative substitutions.

  1. Dark miso is an excellent replacement for beef broth; light miso for chicken broth.
  2. Fresh artichokes are a rare and wonderful treasure. (Sigh.)
  3. A ¥30000 convection oven from Ito Yokado can change everything.
  4. When eating locally and seasonally is the norm, you can’t imagine cooking any other way. We have had some of the most flavorful vegetables and fruits here that almost explode with taste.
  5. Slightly firm tofu, the type I like to use, is called “momen tofu” or “cotton tofu.” (I had to learn to recognize these symbols in order to buy the correct type in the grocery store: 木綿豆腐). The more delicate type is called “silk.”
  6. Miso soup with tofu and a sprinkling of scallions with a cup of green tea make an excellent breakfast.
  7. Sharp cheddar cheese can be difficult to find, but in the process, I have discovered mimolette from France and it is delightful!
  8. Chopsticks are beautiful cooking utensils. Whisking grits with two chopsticks as soon as they hit the water releases the starches, resulting in creamier grits (and won’t scratch your enamel-lined pots in the process.)
  9. Speaking of which, there are NO GRITS in Japan (except perhaps at the Smokehouse…they did have BBQ and fried green tomatoes, after all.) Gourmet grits are the one thing for which I’ve asked for my birthday from my mother. (Anson Mills…thank you! And you’re welcome.)
  10. Tiny kitchens and one cook are no excuse to not be able to provide a gourmet meal to 10 people. Some of the best restaurants I’ve been to so far operated within these constraints and the results were legendary.
  11. The Japanese are really into French cuisine. My knowledge of French cooking techniques has actually improved since moving here, especially since the “kitchens” are often on the other side of the counter so you can watch & take notes.
  12. A carton decorated with silly cartoon characters can sometimes actually contain an decent sake.
  13. And on that note…my Peruvian chicken recipe was vastly improved by adding a half-cup of said cartoon sake to the usual soy sauce and lime juice.
cookbook Sean Brock’s Heritage cookbook and The Miso Book have been wonderful inspirations since moving here. My favorite quotes of Brock’s:
“The ingredients that thrive in your part of the world are the ingredients that you should seek out and make the focus of your cuisine. The rest will fall into place.” (p. 19)
“Be proud of your roots, be proud of your home, be proud of your family and its culture. That’s your inspiration.” (p. 22)
More soon…I’m still learning…

Going Plastic-Free

plasticAfter months of procrastinating, I finally decided to get serious about omitting many of the plastic items we regularly use in our kitchen. Though most of them are BPA-free, I still think we are only just beginning to understand the negative effects of plastic on our health.

Most daunting to me was replacing our plastic storage containers, which get almost daily use. I was happy to find two sets of Pyrex glass containers that just about replaced everything. Though the lids still contain plastic, they are less in contact with the food.

pyrex

 

Next, we replaced our plastic and plastic-lined coffee mugs with ceramic and stainless steel. We also bought a small stainless steel box for Sam’s lunches.

mugs

 

Though I really like this Nara Bento box from Bento & Co.

bento box

 

Finally, I’m going to have to stop purchasing my super-cheap 6-pack of sparkling water and opt instead for something that comes in glass bottles. Whole Foods had San Pellegrino on sale today for 3/$5.

waterIt’s a slow process, but we definitely made some headway this weekend! Next – replacing plastic cooking utensils with wooden, bamboo, & metal.

 

My first frittata

frittata

My first frittata: fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, & basil. It wasn’t bad, but seemed very heavy. I think I prefer a tiny slice of quiche over this.

Marg’s Taco Bistro

When a new restaurant opened up recently in Cherry Creek that wasn’t Italian, I was thrilled. As I often do, I went online to check the reviews of Marg’s Taco Bistro. Sadly, they weren’t great. I chatted with friends who had been and, again, I heard less than stellar feedback.

Yesterday, however, True Food was on a 20 minute lunch wait (wonderfully tasty health food from the same owners of North) and the weather was so gorgeous, we decided to give Marg’s a try for ourselves. I’m glad we did!

We started with the salsa sampler, having a tough time choosing three out of a list of seven. The tomatilla and chipotle sauces were our favorites. We then split a taco sampler, choosing six out of a long list of “world” tacos. The Vietnamese banh mi was my absolute favorite while my husband preferred the India-inspired chicken vindaloo.

Best of all, we sat outside in unusually warm February weather and had wonderful service. It’s a great spot for a casual lunch and I suspect we’ll be visiting their patio more this spring.

My Moveable Feast

macaroons“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” – Hemingway

Provençal Tian

I made Martha Stewart’s Provencal Tian this evening…soooo good! My “meat, cheese, & potatoes” husband even likes it. Of course, I had to first find the appropriate tian baker to use – which Crate & Barrel had for a steal at $20 for a set of 3.

The magic of family recipes

towelIt has always amazed me how a certain taste or the smell of something cooking in the kitchen can instantly bring back memories. Over the years, I have found that making my mother’s fried green tomatoes, German potato salad, and other favorite recipes are almost a way of visiting with her.

I’ll never forget the day I finally mastered Mama Chris‘ fried okra. Hers was never over-breaded or slimy. It almost had the texture of popcorn, was lightly salted, and had just a dusting of corn meal & flour. When I finally figured out her secret (cook it much longer than any recipe advises) and bit into that crunchy okra treat, I almost got a little teary. I hadn’t experienced this particular taste and texture in nearly a decade.

For my mom’s birthday this year, I decided to gather scanned photos of handwritten family recipes and have them copied onto a hand towel. Zazzle did a great job for a very reasonable price. I LOVE the finished product…such a nice reminder of countless meals and gatherings, enjoying dishes that only a loved one can make.