Archive for July, 2012


July 26, 2012: Mixed Summer Salad

July 26, 2012

Here’s a simple Summer salad of mixed baby greens, toasted almond slivers, and Western Sweet Cherry halves. Top with Japanese Dressing and a grind of black pepper.

Japanese Dressing:  4 Tblsp. Olive Oil+4 Tblsp. Lemon Juice+2 Tsp. Shoyu+2 Tsp. Mirin


July 20, 2012: Miso and Peanut Dipping Sauce

July 20, 2012

This is a tasty and super easy dip that is absolutely delicious with veggies. Light and healthy enough for the hot Summer weather, yet it is also a very satisfying snack. On this day, I had the dip with sectioned carrots, summer squash and cucumber, but I’ve tried it since with celery and several kinds of lettuce. I’m betting kids would like this dipping sauce as well. Delicious warm, but best served chilled in the Summer.

Miso and Peanut Butter Dipping Sauce: 1 Tblsp. Peanut-Butter+2 Tblsp. each: White Miso; Mirin; Sesame Oil; and Rice Vinegar. Whisk well.


July 18, 2012: “The Banzai Chef” by Dave Barry

July 18, 2012

Just read this chapter from “Dave Barry Is Not Taking This Sitting Down” and I thought I would share. This is courtesy of Dave’s official website and the chapter is called “The Banzai Chef” Very funny, in Dave Barry-style humor. Yes Dave, making sushi is much harder than it looks!

I also enjoyed his book “Dave Barry Does Japan” which is Dave trying to reach across the gulf between cultures and landing in a strange place of his own, somewhere in the middle!

When I read Dave’s stuff, I always think “How cool would it be, to have Dave over at a cookout?!”

Dave, the invitation is always there, but (from one West-trying to meet-East guy to another) I ask one concession: I will serve at least one WOO recipe. Your choice, and that way there will be no “prank food,” I promise. I think there is yet hope for you and Japanese cuisine!


July 16, 2012: Summer Relief with Mugicha

July 16, 2012

Uggg! With the heat of Summer I suffer the most. In the Winter I almost always seem to manage to get reasonably comfortable by layering up, or maybe I just have a high tolerance to cold. With high heat and humidity…forget it, I’m just a mess! I still make myself run my 5 miles, but I honestly can’t say I enjoy it during these uncomfortable days. When simply walking across my house makes me break out in a sweat, my run turns me into a sopping mess and leaves me panting like a dog. I can only take the lightest of foods with the heat, so I eat a lot of salads in Summer. Water is a necessity, but honestly, water can get a bit boring. I stay away from sodas of all sorts and even juices I have in moderation, as even the best of them have some sugar in them. My usual Summer staple is iced green tea, which only has a tad of honey as a sweetener.

I had a nice spontaneous visit from Teja, Barb and Katie, yesterday. Katie was able to cool off in the lake while the adults hung out in the shade on shore. After, I made an impromptu dinner for them, typical of my Summer fare:

  • Tapenade of olive oil, chopped garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives from my home-made brine, over whole wheat pasta with parmesan cheese
  • Mixed green salad with toasted almond slivers and balsamic vinegar dressing
  • Whole chilled cherries for dessert

They surprised me with a stash of food, most welcome was mugicha, which I can now add to my arsenal of Summer libations.

Mugicha is a roasted barley tea, typically from Japan, although barley tea is consumed all across the Orient, the British Isles and even Mexico, where they call it aquas frescas. It has a light, slightly bitter taste that does not compete with food, perfect for the delicate Japanese cuisine. Mugicha is not truly a tea, per se. Being made from barley, it is officially a tisane. Mugicha has only a few calories, no fat, no caffeine, no sugar (unless you add some) and is very rich in antioxidants. Visiting many sources for this article, a phrase keeps coming up that “mugicha is much more satisfying than water.”

Mugicha has many health benefits, as it is said to reduce stress; inhibit bacterial colonization (specifically those that have to do with tooth decay); reduce cholesterol; help prevent diabetes; and is a possible cancer preventative. One health caveat: barley is grain with gluten, so anyone with a gluten intolerance might want to try my green tea recipe instead of mugicha.

There are  several ways to make and brew mugicha. For the purist, you can roast your own unhulled barley and steep in hot water (the barley then makes a good cereal.) Teja brought me the larger tea-bags of mugicha that are typical in Japan. You can cold brew mugicha by adding 1 of these bags to 1 Qt. water and chill overnight. You may make sun tea, by adding the same amount in a glass container and let it sit in the sun all day, then chilling. I made mine by brewing with boiling water for three minutes and then chilling. The heat is said to release more antioxidants.

One thing that I learned while researching is that because mugicha is a grain, over time is can turn rancid. My bags went right into the freezer, so now I’m assured of a steady supply of a cool and healthy libation to get me over the sweltering Summer days!


July 09, 2012: Mistakes my brain just won’t…

July 9, 2012

Oh yes, the memories of all the mistakes return. Often, it’s late at night, the quiet time, just before falling asleep. Sometimes it’s in the shower, or shopping, at a stop light. I’m not totally sure why my brain likes to torture me with them. It’s not like I haven’t had a plethora of happy, satisfying, and successful moments my brain could dwell on. No. My brain takes the errors, the faults, every single goof, and snuggles them in its warm crevices, nurturing them gently, like some kid coddling a water balloon, only to yank them out at any given moment to chuck in my face, and say, “Bleahhh! You are SUCH the DOPE!”

And yet, my brain is also very selective: it seems to hold on to all the psychological tortures and seems to forget all the physical ones! I remember when I was twelve, on a dare I jumped from the top of Johnny B.’s shed and I simultaneously twisted my leg, knocked the breath out of lungs, and bit my tongue. I remember being very uncomfortable to say the least, but the memory of the actual level of pain is lost. Scientists say this is a survival mechanism. If we didn’t forget pain like this, mankind would never evolve. We’d never risk another injury. We would shelter ourselves and become like our rotund ancestors portrayed in “Wall*E!” Certainly, there would never be a second child born in a family!

So the brain cherishes those embarrassing, ego-diminishing, pride-squelching mistakes. I’ve got about a million of them, and I’m sure you have one or two you wish your brain would let go of, and just get off your back, for chrissakes!!! OH! and the best (i.e. worst) of these mistakes seem to happen in front of a lot of people! It’s practically a rule…and justifies why public speaking is the most prevalent terror of the human race!

So, the classic memory my brain just loves is the time I made bouillabaisse for my friends. If you’ve never had bouillabaisse, make it, order it, somehow get it! Do NOT leave this life without tasting bouillabaisse, at least once. I promise you will not be sorry. Bouillabaisse is a fish stew, native to Marseille, France. It is a luscious mix of fish, crustaceans, leeks, broth, tomato, and spices. The French say that one cannot make a true bouillabaisse without a certain Mediterranean fish, but they are full of it, and this stance just makes them so….FRENCH! No, just make sure that the fish and herbs are fresh. There are tons of recipes out there that are just as good as mine, so I will let you explore. Just whatever you do…don’t do what I did!

The sad thing is that I had made bouillabaisse a number of times before this. In my first year out of college I lived in D.C. which had a number of very good fish markets, so I always made bouillabaisse when guests visited. When I moved to Boston and got settled I decided to make it for everyone I knew here. EV-ER-Y one (as in: every person I knew!) Dinner was: bouillabaisse, bread, salad, and wine. Because I had thirteen people coming, I needed to dig out the biggest pot I  had, which I decided, was my lobster pot. [Here, experienced cooks will cringe. That’s OK. We grow from our mistakes, and up to this point I hadn’t made this particular one.] Throwing all the delicious ingredients in, I set the bouillabaisse to boil. After 15 minutes it wasn’t boiling, so I did what came natural…I cranked up the heat. [It’s OK, I cringe here too. My brain actually insists on it!] An hour later I had yet to get a boil on the bouillabaisse, so I was like “What is the DEAL?!!!” Then I taste it. Yep, the yummy treat I had made a number of times before, tasted just like liquid cigarette ash!!!

What I did not know at that time, is that lobster pots are made to boil water and only water! They do not conduct heat well enough to cook soup. The soup had been cooking, but only at the bottom of the pot. Of course, as soon as I discover my error is when people started showing up! Despite the torture it gives me, my brain has one saving grace: a quiet resolution to fate. So, I suck it up and confess my error to my friends and we have this little back and forth:

Me: “Well, I always suspected this day might come. I’ve screwed up totally. Dinner is ruined and I think we should send out for pizza”

Friends: “Oh, you’re being ridiculous! You’ve made many meals for us and you are always far too critical. I’m sure it is just fine.”

Me: “Really, folks! This is a total disaster. This bouillabaisse just cannot be eaten!”

Friends: “Just stop! You are being silly”

So the other trait my brain has, is its mischievous side. Given no option, there was nothing to do but serve up the dinner! I confess I did actually enjoy watching my friends taste the most terrible thing possible with them trying to make-believe that it was just fine. And then we sent out for pizza!

So, all was not lost. We had a great time (mostly at my expense.) We now have friend-code we can use: “Don’t pull a bouillabaisse” has meaning. They could just as easily say “Don’t pull a Steve” but they are very kind people and understand that our creations are made better from our mistakes. I think every mistake I’ve made in cooking has contributed to my being a more successful cook. The trick is to rememb….

Hey! Waitaminute!!!…maybe these memories my brain won’t let go of have a purpose after all! Maybe now I can finally stop praying for early dementia!


July 05, 2012: Fried Eggplant-Japanese Style

July 5, 2012

Once again, my produce department had a great deal with a load of reduced veggies. This week they had a ton of eggplant. They had a few bumps on them, but they were perfectly fine for this dish that I had in mind.

Cut eggplant into strips (about 1″ X 4″) and wash in a colander. Salt generously and wait 20 minutes. Wash again and let drain a few minutes in the colander. All this will reduce the bitterness of the eggplant.

In a wok, with 2 Tblsp. corn oil+1 Tblsp. sesame oil, fry the eggplant, strips of sweet red pepper and a grind of pepper until veggies are soft but before they turn to mush. Add sesame sauce just before serving.

Sesame Sauce: Grind well 2 Tblsp. toasted sesame seeds in mortar and pestle (or a suribachi if you have one.) To the ground sesame, add 1 Tblsp. each of mirin, shoyu, white miso+I Teasp. lemon juice. Mix well with a spoon. Add to top of veggies.

Cheap, fast, healthy and so delicious. I can’t wait until the next batch of reduced eggplants!


July 02, 2012: Search Terms and Wasabi Fries

July 2, 2012

Having done the blog now for a while, and being dedicated to making it the best it can be, I daily check the search terms that steer people towards the blog. It is very important to me to see IF and HOW people are finding what they are looking for.

Sometimes the search-term combinations are just puzzling. Like today, when someone searched for “Kuribashi-Butterflies” I wasn’t quite sure what they were looking for. It doesn’t help that I am not a native Japanese speaker, in this case. Sometimes, it’s exactly clear, and I can tell that the searcher has found just what they are looking for. Like last week when someone was searching for the “difference between a New England Boiled Dinner and Corned Beef and Cabbage” and I covered that in the original article when Yoshio and I made Corned Beef for the Showa students.

Sometimes I’m pretty sure people are finding the right article, like the person who searched for “Rubber Band Around a Cockroach” and I think this is in reference to my recent article “Rock-a-Bye Lobster” where I talk about both lobsters with the rubber bands and compare them to a “cockroach of the sea.” Sometimes the search results have been gleaned from the search engines obviously scrambling various WOO articles. These are the most disappointing to me, as clearly the searcher has not found exactly what hey are looking for. Like someone who was recently looking for a “Green Tea Mocktail.” Now, WOO has several Japanese cocktails and several green tea articles, but no real green tea mocktail, unless you count my recent article “Nicole Loves Green Tea” about a green-tea latte recipe from my friend’s daughter.

Sometimes the search-terms are just amusing, like the person looking for “Squirrels Eating Yams!” Now I have a yam recipe and I think one of my articles about gardens mention my constant battle with squirrels eating my veggies. I’m pretty sure I didn’t help this person, and I wish them every success in their battle against pests, but I have to admit, their search-terms made my day!

Once in a great while, I get a search that just makes me think that WOO should have an article on that very topic. Such was the search from last week, when a viewer was looking for a particular wasabi-flavored chip made by a certain Japanese chef. Well, I never heard of the chef, but I thought a wasabi-flavored potato to be  perfect fusion dish, so here’s mine:


Scrub well, three baking potatoes and section each lengthwise into 12 pieces, keeping the skin. In a wok, over medium heat, add 2 Tblsp. corn oil to potatoes. Cook for about 1/2 hour, stirring occasionally. Try to resist turning up the heat. You want the potatoes to brown evenly and cook all the way through. Towards the end of cooking, add another Tblsp. of oil, a sprinkling or coarse sal de mer, pepper and chili powder. Fries are done when you are able to pierce the biggest piece of potato with a fork. Serve hot with Wasabi Dipping Sauce.

Wasabi Dipping Sauce: To 1/2 C Mayonnaise (I like the Kewpie Japanese brand, for this, as it is a tad more sweet than traditional mayo, and has a slight yellowish color because they only make it with egg yolks) add 1 Tsp. prepared wasabi and 1 Tsp. mirin. Whisk. Top with toasted and crumbled nori.

If serving to an authentic Japanese crowd you might want to skip the pepper and chili powder, as they might find this too spicy, but I found this dish to be a great snack or a starter to a Japanese-fusion dinner. Should be perfect match with a Japanese beer!

There’s a saying: “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever will.” I’m sorry that I couldn’t help this particular mysterious searcher, but their suggestion of a recipe was fantastic!

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