Archive for March, 2012


March 30, 2012: Vegetarian Rueben Sandwich

March 29, 2012

My dad had this great quality that would have made him ideal to just about 99/100th of the male population: with eight kids on his hands and a time-consuming occupation, he still made the time to take me to all those sporting events that he enjoyed watching. Trouble is…I hate to watch sports. Love to play them, hate, absolutely hate to watch them. To me, it’s like fingernails on chalkboard.

I did love my father’s company, and even then, I was honored that he wanted to spend time with me, but every sporting event we went to, I found to be a struggle with extreme boredom. Dad was pretty perceptive, so he eventually figured out that I was going through the motions, and stopped asking. And then he did a clever thing: he searched for another commonality, which was food, and we could continue quality time with him introducing foods that he liked, to me. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized what eclectic tastes dad actually had. I never was completely sold on the pig feet and raw oysters, but those aside, he was pretty informed and experienced when it came to food. One place he used to take me was this German restaurant that served the best sandwiches in the world! I was still a meat eater then, so I was able to try their whole menu. One of my last memories of hanging out with my dad was having this sandwich and a beer together at that restaurant.

A Reuben Sandwich is the king of all sandwiches. Bar none. “Beef on a wick” (rare roast beef on a kummelwick roll  [a Kaiser roll topped with salt and caraway seeds] with horseradish sauce…another sandwich dad introduced me to) is a close second, but Reubens are the best. Trouble is, I haven’t eaten meat in a long time, so I wanted to make a veggie version that came close.

So, a couple of variations you may apply to my Reuben recipe:

  • If you want a classic Reuben, substitute corned beef for my veggie faux-meat sausage.
  • I had pumpernickel bread, but marbled rye works well too and is probably more traditional.
  • For a time-saving option, use a store-bought Russian Dressing.
  • For a more healthy version, simply toast bread in a toaster and skip the pan toasting with butter.

My non-meat substitute is Lightlife “Smart Sausage.” Traditionalists will cringe that this is an “Italian-style Sausage” but you need a spicier meat substitute to match the flavor of corned beef. Slice one “sausage” into quarters and fry in a thin layer of corn oil over medium heat, turning often. Remove to a paper towel. In the same oil, fry about 1/2C. sauerkraut. [For extra flavor, I cure my sauerkraut with a few juniper berries a few days ahead of time. Don’t include the berries in the sandwich.] Remove sauerkraut and fry 1/2C. shredded red cabbage. You may have to add a little bit more oil here. Resist the urge to combine and fry the sauerkraut and cabbage together. The red cabbage will turn the sauerkraut a pink color.

Russian Dressing:

  • 1C. Mayonnaise                       •1/4C. Chili Sauce
  • 2 Tblsp. Relish                         •1 Tblsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1/2 Tsp. Hot Pepper Sauce   •1/4 Tsp. Worcester Sauce
  • Few grains salt                        •1 Tsp. Mirin
  • 1/4 Tsp. Each Ground Pepper, Chili Powder, and Paprika

Assemble Reuben: Cut pumpernickel bread to about 1/2″. On one slice of bread layer two pieces of Swiss cheese, then sausage, then sauerkraut, cabbage and top with Russian Dressing. Top with other slice of bread and butter lightly. Place this side in pan over medium heat. Lightly butter top slice of bread. Turn over when bottom in browned. Cut at a diagonal and serve with a large dill pickle, maybe some cole slaw and a good beer.

Thanks for everything, Dad…most especially for your understanding and wisdom. Your influences have made a big difference in my life (and go far beyond a simple sandwich recipe.) I’d like to think you would’ve loved my version of our favorite sandwich.


March, 27, 2012: Five-Kind Rice

March 27, 2012

This is such a classic Japanese dish, and one that I have made forever, I can’t really believe that I left this for so long before getting it into the blog. A little bit of prep work on this one: matchstick carrots to make about 1/2C. and make tamago omelette.

Tamago Omelette:  Scramble two eggs. Add I Tblsp. of mirin and 1Tsp. sake (optional.) In a thin layer of corn oil, fry 1/2 tamago mixture on a non-stick 8″pan, rolling tamago mixture to edge of pan.When slightly brown turn over. Remove to plate. Cook other half of tamago. When cool, slice into 1/2″ slices.

Wash 1+1/2C. sushi rice at least 4X in H2O. Add H2O to rice about 1+1/2″ above rice. Add 1 Tsp. sal de mer, carrots and bring to boil. Stir. Reduce heat to simmer, add about 1/2C. frozen peas. Cover. Stir occasionally. After about 20 minutes the rice will absorb the H2O. Add 1 Tblsp. mirin and 1/2C. rice vinegar. Stir. Turn heat up to medium heat until vinegar+mirin is absorbed. Remove from heat. Add tamago slices. Toast 1/2 sheet nori over high heat. Crumble  nori and add to rice. Stir.

Serve Five-Kind Rice in individual bowls. Top with furikake. Shoyu to taste.

The “five-kind” part of this recipe is open to what you have available. I’ve made many, many versions of this dish, but this is my classic “go-to” recipe. At times, I’ve also added fresh green beans, small crowns of broccoli and sliced red peppers (added with carrots.) Some (non-vegetarian) recipes add shredded crab-sticks.


March 24, 2012: Writhing About On Moors

March 24, 2012

"Jane Eyre" 2011 What's up with the Brontes and moors anyway?

For a while, I’ve been toying with writing an article on Japanese writers and directors telling classic English stories. When I found a new version of “Jane Eyre” (2011) and saw that the director with a Japanese name, yet one that I was unfamiliar with, I thought I had a score! It was only after watching the movie, that I did my research on the director, Cary Fukunaga, and found out he is actually American, raised in California, so I shelved my original idea for the time being.

I found I was stuck in another way also. Sometimes I see a film which has everything I could possible ask for and somehow it still falls flat. I often attribute this to “mood” and it’s usually not worth pursuing, but “Jane Eyre” was different. It got such solid high marks on just about every aspect, that I just couldn’t figure out why I just didn’t LOVE it!

So, all that is good: I thought Cary Fukunaga did a very good job directing. I have never read Charlotte Bronté’s original, but I admire the courage of a newish director taking on a much-loved (and often produced) classic. I’ve seen his “Sin Nombre” at the library and will snap it up the next time I’m there. I’m also looking forward to his “No Blood, No Guts, No Glory” about a spy and Union soldiers as they try to pull off a heist that will put an early end to the Civil War. His commentary on “Jane Eyre” was a tad dry as he focused on the technical (although he warned us he was going to, at the beginning.) I was more interested what drew him to this particular story. Fukunaga’s story of the stallion that had a…ahem…crush on Michael Fassbender was worth any of those parched moments. I believe this makes Fassbender the only actor I know to have his appeal cross not only genders, but species!

Next: production value was top-notch! Really good cinematography using realistic light sources (like candlelight and fire) a la “Barry Lyndon.” Excellent costumes, makeup, and locations set the mood very well. Dario Marianelli who picked up the Oscar for “Atonement” did the music. The story was well done and had a blend of genres: romance, gothic horror, action, drama, with a tiny bit a humor thrown in.

Next: acting. This movie had a pretty much dream-team for me. Michael Fassbender (300; Inglourius Basterds) plays the male lead, Edward Rochester. Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) played the female lead of Jane. Dame Judi Dench plays Mrs. Fairfax and Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) plays St. John Rivers. Fassbender as Rochester is the ultimate bad-boy. He will get no high marks on his “daddy” scores but other than that, he is the guy every girl wants to turn around. His rough good looks seems to work just fine as many female reviewers praised him as choice eye-candy. I bet he takes that rugged lopsided grin to bed each night with reviews like that (lucky SOB!) Mia Wasikowska was a bit of surprise, for me. I thought her as a choice of “Alice” in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” was…well…unique, but outside of her looking just like the original Tenniel illustrations of the vorpal warrior, I couldn’t really see her as Alice. But, she was just wonderful as Jane. Strong-willed, self-possessed, intelligent, a very strong female lead. Judi Dench…well…if there was a film called “Dame Judi Reads the Back of the Cereal Box”…I’d watch it. She adds some good background and some light humor, then graciously allows the leads to take over.

Of course, all the fans of the original story have some criticism of the film: largely that pieces of the story were left out. But, c’mon folks, film-makers have to get films down under two hours so the ones of us who don’t know the original will go in the first place! But, I had no pre-conceived notions, never having read the original, so I was still plagued: liking every single piece, I still did not like the sum total! Why?!!!

After, mulling it over, the part I liked the least was the tortured love story. Too much writhing about on the moors! It was…just so…Heathcliff-ish!!! “Oooooooh!” was my next thought. “Waitaminute…Heathcliff…moors..Oh, yeah, that’s another Bronté story, isn’t it?” A quick fact-check away confirmed “Wuthering Heights” is Emily Bronté’s story!

So, I figure the movie is fine…it’s just my personal Bronté issue that gets in my own way. Someday, maybe some kind female will explain three things that just don’t permeate through my bachelor noggin: purses, curtains, and the Bronté sisters!


March 22, 2012: Fried Kabocha & Shojin Sauce

March 22, 2012

Fried squash and a peanut style dressing. A great combination. Kabocha is a Japanese squash, but you could substitute acorn squash.

Prepare Shojin Dressing as per my recipe of February 13, 2012 and reserve what you need at room temperature.

Scrub a small squash well with H2O and a brush. Dry. Slice in half and remove seeds and pulp. Slice further to make 16 slices (keep the rind for a nice contrast of color, but inform guests to eat around the rind.) Fry slices in sesame oil until brown. Turn to cook other side of slice. Remove to paper towels. Remove squash to plate and top with Shojin Sauce and sliced white part of scallions with a sprinkling of furikake.


March 17, 2012: Green Stripes and Colcannon

March 17, 2012

St. Patrick’s Day always leaves me feeling a bit conflicted. I am a huge fan of Irish history, culture, literature, etc. but, St. Patrick’s Day, distilled down through American interpretation I find a tad….well….silly.

For me, the silliness started very early. Maybe because a lot of the nuns who ran my grade school were American-Irish themselves, they made St. Patrick’s Day a bit of a fest. Being the sugar-deprived child that I was, I would never turn down the cupcakes with green icing, but the “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” and “Erin go bragh” (Ireland Forever) buttons, along with the chintzy green bowler hats stuck me, even then, as a bit over the top. The worst it ever got was from the bar down the street. Every St. Patrick’s Day, some drunken idiot painted a green shamrock on the street, always forgetting (or not caring) that cars would roll right over all that fresh paint and make green stripes all up and down the street!

My perception of Irish culture, literature, and history changed drastically in junior college. Just about every student has that one teacher that makes a big difference in their life. My Irish Mythology teacher was that person for me. Not only was a fantastic teacher, but to this day, when I re-read his books, I am still amazed at his insight. That class lead to all the other wonderful Irish literature: Joyce, Yeats, etc. as well as an interest in Irish history…particularly ancient Irish history. In the Autumns of 1988-89 I biked across Ireland, photographing ancient burial chambers and dolmens that dot the Irish landscape. This was an adventure of a lifetime where I was completely immersed in everything truly Irish:  literature, art, artifacts, landscape, history, weather, people, and  food.

For the past couple of years now, Yoshio has invited me to talk about Irish food at the Showa Institute. Yoshio does a very unique thing in his class to Japanese students: he teaches American culture largely through American food. When I first did research for my talk, I was amazed to find how very little truly Irish food there was in modern life. What comes to mind, when you think of Irish food? Corned Beef and Cabbage? Cabbage…yes, quite Irish. Corned Beef? Nah, not so much. Beef was only for the rich in Ireland. The closest they have to this dish in Ireland is a kind of fat-back and cabbage dish. A salmon dish would be spot-on. Not only plentiful in Ireland, salmon appear in many ancient Irish stories, as “animals of wisdom.” But, in the two Irish cookbooks that I own, I couldn’t find a salmon dish without a French or English sauce! Colcannon comes pretty close to being authentically Irish. This is a mixture of kale (or cabbage) with mashed potatoes and cream, that is then baked. Absolutely delicious! The problem with this dish is that, as much as potatoes have made such an impact in Irish history, they originally came from America.

So, a few other historical reality checks on this St. Patrick’s Day: First, Phádraig (his Irish name) or Patricius (his Roman name) i.e. St. Patrick, was NOT Irish. He was most likely either Welsh or Cornish and was picked up by Irish pirates to be sold as a slave. St. Patrick had NOTHING to do with why there are no snakes in Ireland. He most likely did NOT use the shamrock to describe the Trinity. You know what the Irish do to “celebrate” St. Patrick’s Day? They climb up and down Croagh Patrick (Mount Patrick, County Mayo, 2507 ‘high) as an act of penance for their sins, some of them barefoot!

Hey, I’m not saying don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day if you want. Just make it real, not silly, and something remotely to do with Ireland. If you want to party and have some beer, please make it  one of the many excellent Irish brews out there…and please…leave the green dye…and for goodness sakes, the green PAINT at home!


March 13, 2012: “O’er the Yardarm”

March 13, 2012

I suspect that I am not the only foodblogger that uses his own blog to cement down his creations. I can’t count the times, now, that I have referred to “World of Okonomy” to remake a recipe that I have created for the blog. This is a recipe that I have made for a while, but I’m always winging it, so it always varies a bit. Making this recipe for the blog forced me to finally lock it down.

The produce department at my grocery store was practically throwing away limes (6 for $1.00) so I snapped up all I could carry. They were not “pretty” limes, but as I was turning them into limeade, I didn’t care what the outside looked like.

Limeade: Slice in half and juice 8 limes (10 oz.) Strain through a sieve. If you like the lime pulp, strain only half of the juice. To the juice, add 1/2C. sugar and a few grains of sal de mer. Add 2 Qts. H2O to the juice. Chill. Serve straight or with ice. I like my limeade a tad on the sour side, so add more sugar if you prefer.

During the summer, if it’s the weekend and the sun is “O’er the Yardarm” I’ll put a splash of gin in the limeade. We tend to use that particular colloquial phrase to mean “after 5pm”, but I wondered about the specific origins of the phrase. The “yardarm” is the crossbeam that holds up the sails of a sailing vessel. In the North Atlantic, where this phrase originated, in sailing weather, the sun would appear to cross over the yardarm, as seen from the deck, at about 11am. This signaled the crew to distribute their first portion of rum, for the day. One could imagine, that with terribly hard work of the sailor’s life, combined with isolation, battling the elements, crappy food, disease, and the lack of female companionship, that the daily portion of alcohol probably made the sailor’s life just a little bit more bearable. One source stated that the sun appears to cross over the yardarm again at 5pm. Either way, the phrase seems to mean a sanctioned time to imbibe.

Limes played a big role in the life of the sailor in the 18th-19thC. Being away from fresh food for months on end created a specific disease for sailors: scurvy. Because humans cannot synthesize vitamin C (ascorbic acid) they must get it directly through their food, specifically citrus fruits. The cause for scurvy wasn’t officially known until as late as 1932, but sailor realized that if they ate lemons or limes on the long voyages, that this would relieve the symptoms of scurvy.

Lemons have 4X the vitamin C of limes, but the British Navy could grow limes in the Caribbean, which was a British colony. British sailors were known (and still are known) as “limeys” because of their dependence on limes.


March 06, 2012: Age Dashi Dofu

March 6, 2012

This is one of my all-time favorite Japanese dishes, and it was high time I’ve put down a formal recipe for my version of Age Dashi Dofu. Restaurants make a dashi (stock) with bonito flakes and top Age Dashi Dofu with more bonito flakes. Mine is unusual that, as a vegetarian for many years, I exclude the bonito flakes entirely. I also add…well…untraditional veggies that I’ve never seen in a restaurant. I think it makes my dish more visually appealing, and less “fishy” than the traditional, but readers should be aware that my version is NOT a classic Age Dashi Dofu!

I won’t repeat my version of Vegetarian Dashi, as I have posted it a couple of times now, most recently in my “Grilled Eggplant Soup” (02.22.12) recipe. I made my “Fox Noodles” Dish (01.25.12) for Teja and the girls this weekend and Teja (who was raised in Japan) said my dashi should actually NOT be considered a real dashi, as I exclude the bonito flakes. He said that it lacked the “strength” of a classic dashi.

Fried Tofu:  Wash a block of firm tofu and press under a weight and a plate on a slanted board in the sink. The object is to remove as much H2O as you can. Cut the block into quarters. Double-roll each piece in potato or corn starch. [What I mean by “double-roll” is roll the pieces of tofu once in the starch, wait a few seconds, then roll again.] Remove rolled pieces to another plate (if you leave it in the starch, the remaining moisture in the tofu will turn you starch into glue.) Fry each piece in a pan, over medium-high heat in corn oil. Turn pieces to cook all sides. Transfer to a paper towel. Cool at room temperature.

Wash, and remove ends of four scallions. Separate white from green parts. Slice green part of scallion 1/4″. Skin and matchstick a carrot. Finely dice mild peppers. Toast 1/2 sheet nori and crumble. These are your veggie toppings.

When dashi approaches a boil, put white part of scallion in dashi for a couple of minutes. Place tofu in a bowl and cover with dashi. Top with veggies. Serve. Delicious with warm sake.

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