Archive for the ‘Cooking with Soy’ Category


August 30, 2015: European Breakfast

August 30, 2015

European BreakfastLast Christmas, Teja and Barb gave me a fantastic gift: a sturdy, white-ceramic lined 10″ fry pan. One of the most perfect cooking tools I’ve ever owned (I’ve never had a pan that so easily cleans to a spotless finish) it is too large for most meals I make for myself, and sadly, since I don’t entertain for large groups as much these days, I don’t use the pan as often as I would like.

The Trip_2010The Trip To Italy

I’m a big fan of the two “The Trip” movies. These are about two friends who travel (the first in England, the second in Italy) reviewing food in restaurants as they go. The movies are much, much, more than this simplistic overview, but the food was the first hook for me. The big English Breakfast that the boys experience in the first film caught my attention. I remember similar breakfasts at B&Bs from my trips across Ireland and I found I missed them. As I was cleaning up, early this morning, I was looking at my beautiful pan and it all came together. I had all the makings for an European Breakfast!

Normally, the European Breakfasts are big on meat. The Irish ones were very meat-heavy ones: sausage-links, bacon, and even blood-sausage were prevalent at just about every B&B I visited. Since my visits to Ireland, I have been a steady vegetarian, but I keep an eye out for the best meat substitutes. The choice ones, these days, are made by Quorn, who have even developed a good bacon substitute (or “facon” as I know it) which is something I thought I never would experience (‘tho Quorn’s is closer to “Canadian Bacon” than what we know as bacon, it still is pretty good.) Their sausage patties are the best, so in a thin layer of olive oil, they were the first to hit the pan.

Next was a combo of sauerkraut with juniper berries that had been steeping in the sauerkraut juices for an hour. I like a slightly crisp edge to the sauerkraut, so that is why I put it in early.

Next, was a little bit of butter and 1/2″ slices of fresh tomatoes that my bosses, Jim and Wendy, had given to me from their garden. A grind of pepper, sprinkle of oregano, turning ever so often. No need to tamper too much with Nature’s (and a good gardener’s) perfection.

Then, it was pinto beans mixed with a little molasses. followed quickly by a couple of tablespoons of chopped leeks. Last was an egg, topping the leeks.

Altogether, ‘tho delicious, it was a little too much breakfast for me really, these days to be honest…I’m usually only game for a bit of cereal, a small yoghurt or some such, but I enjoyed the bounty…and an attachment to a memory of bounty, where a big breakfast like this took me 40-50 miles on my bike to the next destination…an Irish town I had just barely sketched out on my map…far from home.


December 08, 2013: Sushi Class and Flamenco

December 8, 2013

Yoshio Teaches Sushi LCHCEarly this week, it was my honor and pleasure to once again don the uniform of a “Okonomy” sous-chef. “Okonomy” is Master Chef Yoshio Saito’s catering restaurant and is what this blog is named after. This week, it was to assist Chef Saito in teaching a sushi class at the Lowell Community Health Center in an effort to promote healthier options for diet. There were two classes scheduled with an expected 60 people per class, so we had our work cut out for us!

There is a saying in the East: “Give a man a fish, and he will stave off hunger for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will stave off hunger for a lifetime.” My experience with Yoshio and Okonomy, up to now, has been more of “giving of a fish” (literally and figuratively) to patrons. This time, it was a “teaching to fish” kind of affair. Okonomy was to provide all the materials ready to make temaki roll. This is sushi in a cone wrap of nori (seaweed sheets.) Yoshio would teach history, techniques and procedure to allow the health center administrators to learn the hows and whys of making sushi and then (best of all) teach them to make their own delicious combinations!

Considerable preparation was needed to buy, cut, package, and store all the separate elements of the temaki roll Yoshio was teaching. Those items were:

Nori Wraps             Toasted Sesame Seeds               Trefoil (or Beefsteak) leaves
Cucumber               Brown & White Sushi Rice         Shoyu (soy sauce)
Natto (fermented soybean)      Pickled Ginger         Daikon (Japanese Radish)
Fried Tofu Sheets          Scallions              Wasabi (Japanese Horseradish)
Imitation Crab             Avocado

Yoshios Sushi Rice

Brown Sushi Rice from Rice Cooker Photo: Y. Saito

Most troublesome to Chef Saito was the huge quantity of rice (we ended up with close to eighty pounds, between the white and brown) and most important, to keep such a huge quantity consistently warm until serving. Yoshio came up with  very clever technique of putting the rice batches in huge sealed bags and keeping them in a large thermos with hot water bottles. Yoshio flavored the rice with his special mixture of seasoning, stirring each batch under a fan to cool the rice to the proper temperature.

Chef Saito also made his home-made wasabi, which is much more hot (as well as more flavorful) than store-bought brands. [I observed more than one patron with watery eyes after applying just a tad too much!] Yoshio tempered such heat in the temaki rolls with the cool, bright, and tangy trefoil leaves, as well as the slightly sweet daikon and pickled ginger. He rounded out his temaki with the nutty toasted sesame seeds and salty shoyu.

The most delicious cucumber soup ever!

The most delicious cucumber soup ever! Photo: Y. Saito

Cooking with Yoshio is always such a positive experience in so many ways: not only is the work a lot of fun, but I learn so much every time just by being around a master and asking questions (which Yoshio is always pleased to answer.) It certainly helps to work for a master chef around break time. For dinner, he took the leavings from the cucumbers I was working on and whipped up a wonderful cucumber soup on the fly! He combined the cucumber with stock and milk and topped it of with white truffle oil, finely chopped trefoil, and crumbled feta cheese. I can honestly say it was one of the most spectacular soups I’ve ever had!

During an earlier break, Yoshio played a flamenco piece on his guitar (something I didn’t know he was training for) to perfection, but I was curious, “Why flamenco?” Actually, this style of playing from Southern Spain has more schools in Japan than Spain! It seems the flamenco style is hard on guitars and that guitar makers consider a flamenco guitar as “disposable!” After prepping was all done, Yoshio treated me to my favorite bourbon as we watched “Toast” which I was happy to find that Yoshio and his wife Dorcas liked as well as I.

Temaki by Mark; Photo: M.Raymond

Temaki by Mark; Photo: M.Raymond

As not as many people showed up as expected to both classes, Yoshio sent me home with a few leftovers. As I had lost a day at work, I thought it only fair to share the sushi fixings with those at work. The guys at work were making perfect tamaki rolls by their third go-around and we enjoyed a varied, healthy, tasty lunch, while taking pride in developing our make-it-yourself  skills!

Preparing Sushi; Photo: M.Raymond

Preparing Sushi; Photo: M.Raymond


June 06, 2013: Best “Fhicken” Sandwich

June 6, 2013

Fhicken SandwichWhen I have the pleasure of meeting someone new, one of the easiest way for me to get to know them is  the “what are your favorite foods” discussion. Somewhere in the middle of their favorite “likes” I find myself imagining making those foods for them, and soon I feel like they are a friend and guest and, presto…in my mind at least, a bond is reached.

However, this trick quickly works against me as soon if/when the other person tries to find my “likes” as it is then hard to disguise the fact that I have been a vegetarian for over 20 years now. Most people are kind enough to not say what is on their mind, but that slight shake of the head I’ve seen over and over seems to say “How could you possibly live without meat? Don’t you know what you are missing?” The thing is I do. For the first 18 years of my life I was typical omnivore like most people are. Food is a choice. I would say even a sacred choice. How many things do we choose to actually ingest? Certainly it is up to the individual.

One thing that makes being a vegetarian quite easy in recent years is the improvement of non-meat prepared foods. Granted, some are hit and miss. I have yet to taste a faux-bacon (often nick-named “faken”) that was as satisfying as genuine bacon, and for heaven’s sake don’t ever overcook “faken” unless you are into the burned-chemical taste akin to a child’s plastic toy pitched into the barbecue pit!

The faux-chicken patties, however…I don’t believe I’ve ever had a bad one. I’ve tried making my own, and they are marginally better, but for all the work, your typical store-bought “simulated chicken cutlet” are pretty good. But the naming of them needs some work. I mean, I don’t want to be reminded that my food is simulated anything! So, what to call them, then? Well, if “fake-bacon” is “faken” and the patties are “fake-cutlets” or “fake-chicken?” Mmmmm….I think the more PC route may be “Fhicken.”

So, I recently made a very scrumptious “Fhicken” Sandwich that I can pass along to you. Lightly fry a “Fhicken” in a pan over medium heat, in a few drops of veggie oil until golden brown. I toasted two slices of Asiago Cheese Bread near the end of the “Fhicken’s” cooking. At this time I also topped the “Fhicken” with a few slices of Pepper Jack cheese. As the cheese melted, I made the sauce. A few pieces of Romaine lettuce held the sauce. Slice and serve.

“Fhicken” Sandwich Sauce: 3 Tblsps.  Avocado Dressing + 1 Tblsp. Relish + 1 Tblsp. Dijon Mustard.

No, my dear, newly-found friend…with fast, simple, and healthy veggie sandwiches that taste this good….I don’t miss meat at all!


April 29, 2013: Chilled Tofu

April 29, 2013

Chilled TofuOh, dear…I’m afraid I may lose some of you with this one. [sigh] Well, who must do the hard things? Those who believe they must!

Chilled tofu is probably not your first choice of foods. In fact, drawing from a quick poll of friends and fellow-workers provided info that it was no single persons first choice of foods! But it is (often) MY first choice and I hope to tell you why. I can particularly hear my sister Mary Lou’s voice in my head “TOFU…bleeech!” Well, I will make a deal with Moo and the rest of my readers. Make it through this one, and I promise to concoct one very rich and decadent recipe at some point in the future (…and yes, I will entertain suggestions!)

Ok. So tofu….now wait….giiiiiive it chance!….tofu has a number of things going for it. Shall I list them?

Healthy: Yes, tofu is so healthy, that it has been virtually a cliché connected with health since…well…forever! As tofu has a naturally neutral flavor on its own, we are always tempted to either fry tofu or add gravy (sometimes both) all of which reduce the natural health factor. Instead, I find a light sauce, spices or just tasty veggies add flavor to tofu without adding excess calories. My litmus test for a healthy food is any one that I can eat and immediately go on my 5 mile run. Raw tofu, fresh fruit, and a chilled salad are the only meals I know that I can easily do this.

Variety of Texture: Tofu comes in a many textures to appeal to individual tastes. I prefer a very firm texture, but if you like softer textures, you can go for a silken tofu which is very much like custard in texture. Every texture between firm and silken exists.

Speed of Preparation: Preparing raw tofu is a quick two-step process: wash tofu and put under a press for about 10 minutes to remove excess water. The only added time is limited only by the time needed to prepare the food served with the tofu.

Decorative: Raw tofu adds a white base that combines well with other bold colors to make a simple, but attractive hors d’oeuvre.

Versatility of Tastes: As tofu takes on the tastes of any food it is served with, that means you have practically an infinite variety of taste combinations.

I can hardly consider the meal I made above to be a “recipe” per se, it was so simple. I cleaned and pressed tofu and cut fairly large pieces. I grated a carrot, chopped a spring onion, and grated a small piece of ginger. The sauce is half a commercial “spicy, brown, bean sauce” and half shoyu. As I mentioned, the variety of things you may add is limitless. My other favorites: toasted sesame seeds; thinly sliced nori; steamed, drained, cold spinach; grated daikon; and hot sauce.

I believe the reason many people hate tofu is because they have never had a good brand. Sadly, the stuff they sell in super markets are the worst examples. The best you will find is the home-made kind found in a Chinatown kind of market. The next best you can buy is at a health-food store.

Chilled tofu is wonderful on a hot Summer day, delicious with green tea, beer, or sake.


September 24, 2012: Mom’s Stuffed Peppers

September 24, 2012

Celts love the number three. Whether it’s trefoils, triskelions, or triads, three is that magic number that pops up all over Celtic culture and art since before recorded history. Because my Celtic side comes through my mom, I thought I would round off my trio of tributes to her cooking with my variation of the dish that she made that was my favorite.

You can find stuffed pepper recipes wherever peppers are grown, and they grow most places on earth, making stuffed peppers one of the most universal human dishes. Mom made hers with ground beef, but my store sells a soy product called “soyrizo” that I like, which is a vegetarian variation of chorizo (the Portuguese sausage.)


Mom’s Stuffed Peppers:
Wash and slice the very top of two peppers, core and discard seeds, wash inside and dry on a paper towel. Dice pepper top around stem. Dice 1/4 Vidalia onion, one small medium-hot red pepper, and 1 clove garlic and cook over low-medium heat in 3 Tblsp. corn oil for about 2  minutes in medium pot. While veggies are cooking, wash 1/2C. basamati and 1/8C.brown rice well and drain. Add 3oz. of the soyrizo to the veggies and cook for another 2 minutes. Add dashes of ground pepper, oregano, chili powder, and a small bay leaf. Add rice to pot and cook for yet another 2 minutes. Add 2C. veggie broth, bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until rice is almost dry, stirring once and while. Stuff peppers with rice/veggie/sorizo until about 7/8th full. Put in an oiled shallow pan with extra stuffing on the side. Top with grated pepper-jack and parmesan cheeses and a few flakes of red pepper. Bake at 325°F for 1 hour. Give peppers a quick shot under the broiler (low in the oven for more control) until browned. Serve.

“What are the three welcomes of a good chef? Not hard to tell…plenty, kindliness, and art”  -Celtic Triad



May 11, 2012: Asparagus with White Dressing

May 11, 2012

Oh…asparagus season is back and that makes me very happy! I would eat grilled asparagus, by itself any day, but couple it with a healthy, creamy, and nutty, white sauce and I’m in heaven!

Japanese White Dressing:

Drain 1 block of soft tofu (14oz.) on a slant board under pressure in a sink for about 15 minutes. Cut into 6 sections and put in a food processor. To the tofu add 2 Tblsps. toasted ground white sesame seeds; 1 Tblsp. white miso; 1 Tblsp. mirin; 1/2 Tsp. sal de mer; 1/4C. olive oil; and 3 Tblsp. of some combination of either: A. sake B. lemon juice C. rice vinegar [I did 2 Tblsp. lemon juice+1 Tblsp. sake] Blend dressing ingredients well in food processor and chill dressing.

Trim woody ends of a bunch of asparagus off (use woody ends for stock.) Wash asparagus, and drain. On a grill pan (OR an outside grill) coated with a thin layer of corn oil grill asparagus, turning often.

Pipe white dressing onto serving plate. Top with grilled asparagus. Give a grind of pepper and serve.

Mmmmm…I love all the asparagus dishes, but I will never tire of this one!


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.

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