Thursday, March 18, 2010

What's for Dinner??

While sitting back and catching up on past Gintama episodes, I was suddenly reminded that our family hot-pot machine had not been put to use lately. So, with this in mind I decided that it was time to rummage through the basement, wipe the dust of the hot-pot box and come up with a delicious meal-idea for dinner that night.

In the anime, the characters were eating sukiyaki... being that I'm living off of a student's salary I decided to forgo the expensive meat and opted for something cheaper (although still tasty and still traditionally Japanese). Can you guess what it is??? Here are pictures of the ingredients I used... I'll end the post by showing you the final product, and including a recipe.

Clockwise from top-left corner: chikuwa, firm tofu, beef tendon balls, bonito flakes and sukombu.

Suey Choy, Konjak Board, more tofu and enoki mushrooms

Konjak Board cut into triangles, sukombu (soaked and knotted)

Assorted fish-cakes, fish-balls, beef-balls, tofu and imitation crab.

Kamaboko (Japanese fish-cake)

And to be somewhat healthy, some veggies: carrots, green onions, bok choy and satoimo

Kabocha Squash... mmmm


Enoki bundles

I also included some other ingredients, but didn't take photos of them because I'm sure you know what cubed potatoes, hard-boiled eggs and skewered chicken look like. So, have you kind of guessed what the meal was supposed to be from the various ingredients I listed?? Hmm... what other hints can I give? Well, it's a Japanese winter-dish that consists of the above ingredients, all simmered in a kelp-bonito flake broth for hours and sometimes even days. When served at vendor stalls or in oden restaurants, the fishcakes, veggies etc. are often served on skewers. The dish can be served with Karashi (Japanese hot-mustard) to dip.

It's ODEN!

The dish was fairly simple to make. Once the broth was prepared, all I had to do was add in the flavoring ingredients, allow the soup to simmer and then add in the "absorptive" ingredients and serve. Anyways, here's the recipe I used for my Oden Broth.

Oden Broth

- 10 cups dashi stock (see recipe below)
- 2 tbsp sake
- 3 tbsp mirin (or substitute 1.5 tbsp sugar)
- 1.5 tsp light soy sauce
- 1.5 tbsp dark soy sauce

1. In a wide and shallow pot, combine the broth ingredients and bring to a boil over high-heat. Then, adjust to maintain a low simmer.
2. Add in the flavoring ingredients (fish cakes, kelp knots, meat skewers) and the ingredients that take a fairly long time to cook (satoimo, daikon, potatoes and carrots etc.). Simmer for 20minutes or more.
3. Add in the "absorptive" ingredients (par-boiled kabocha, tofu, konjak, hard-boiled eggs etc.) Simmer for 10 minutes or more. Add more broth as necessary, and adjust to taste by adding more soy sauce or more sugar as needed.
4. Transfer the hot soup and some of the pot-ingredients to the communal hot-pot at the dinner table. Keep hot-pot machine on to maintain a constant low simmer.
5. Provide fresh vegetables on a serving plate at the table. Ensure that everyone at the table has their own serving utensils, bowls, plates and dishes of condiments (i.e. karashi mustard). Have communal cooking utensils (i.e. serving chopsticks and soup ladle) at the table.
6. Everyone helps themselves to the skewers of fish-cakes, tofu, vegetables and meat. As the pot clears, more ingredients from the cooking pot can be added to the hot-pot dish, or the fresh vegetables can be cooked in the hot-pot broth.
7. Serve the oden by itself, with steamed rice, salad, soba, onigiri... basically whatever you would like to complete your meal :)

Dashi Stock

- 10 cups water
- 12 square inches of kombu (preserved kelp)
- 1 1/2 cups (12g) bonito flakes (dried, shaved, fish flakes)

1. Soak the kombu in the water in the large-shallow pot that you will use for cooking the oden over stove-top. Soak for 10minutes, or longer depending on personal taste.
2. Bring the kombu and water to a boil, lowering heat once bubbles begin to break the surface. Use tongs to remove the kombu, and turn off the heat.
3. Add in the bonito flakes and allow to sit for 3 minutes.
4. Strain stock through a cloth-lines sieve and place the stock back into the large pot, over medium-high heat. Use this to make your oden broth.

I served the meal with onigiri. Some were plain and some were mixed with furikake... I find this an easy, tasty and no-fuss way to serve rice.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Irish Soda Bread

Well, St. Patrick's day is approaching and my dad decided that for dinner last night he'd whip up an amazingly delicious beef and vegetable stew. However, I was kind of tired of eating rice and stew so I searched the internet looking for a tasty alternative to the boring, white flecks of grain :P In my search I stumbled across Irish Soda Bread... and it peaked my interest, as I love baking and have always loved simple recipes that don't call for a lot of ingredients or a lot of prep time. I found a couple recipes out there, some that used eggs and some that used raisins and currants. I didn't want to stick raisins in the bread as I felt that it wouldn't accompany the stew very nicely, and I didn't want to use eggs because... I only had a couple left (and I kind of like my scrambled egg breakfasts... selfish me o_O). So, I modified and mashed together a couple recipes and ended up with this delightful raisin-less, egg-less version.

Irish Soda Bread
Yields 1 small loaf, 6 small scone-sized servings

- 1 cup flour
- 3/8 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1.5 tbsp butter, cold and cubed
- 1/2 cup buttermilk

1. Mix together the first 5 ingredients.
2. Crumble in the butter, as if making short-crust pastry or biscuits
3. Slowly add in the buttermilk, stirring with a spoon (to prevent your body heat from softening the butter), until the dough comes together.
4. Shape dough into a round and flatten slightly.
5. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake at 350degrees for 15minutes. Open oven and use a spray bottle to spray 4-5 squirts of water around the oven (you can spray the bread too, this creates steam and gives the bread a crusty exterior).
6. Close the oven door, increase to 375degrees and bake for another 15-20minutes, or until the inside is cooked and the outside is nice and crusty-golden.
7. Remove from baking sheet and slice into 6 wedges. Serve warm

This was a tasty accompaniment to the hearty stew, and the bread had a slightly sweet and salty flavor to it. The bread was pretty tasty on its own, and I actually ended up eating the majority of the bread on its own, only using it to swipe the last bits of stew out of my bowl. The good thing about this recipe is that it can really be varied to become a savory or a sweet biscuit. Maybe I'll use those raisins next time, or maybe I'll throw in some sharp cheddar cheese and herbs? Who knows?? Whatever I do, I'm sure it will be delicious.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Coconut Mascarpone Cookie

I wanted to whip up a quick batch of cookies for a little hang-out with my friends, but rummaging through the fridge I realized that I didn't have any BUTTER!! WHA!! I'm not a huge fan of cookies using olive oil as a butter substitute. I find that such strong oils leave a lingering taste in your mouth after you eat those cookie, and it often overpowers the flavorings you add to the cookies. After pondering about what to do, and taking another look at what I had in the fridge, I spotted 1/2 a tub of mascarpone cheese! Whew... thank goodness I had bought this stuff, otherwise I'd have to resort to using those mini-packets of butter/margarine you get from fast-food places for breakfast (yes, my Asian inclination towards non-wastage means that I have an ice cream tub in my fridge dedicated to un-used condiment packages :P). Anywho, with my mascarpone cheese in hand, I set forth in coming up with a tasty cookie recipe from scratch!

Coconut Mascarpone Cookies

Yields 35 cookies

- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2/3 cup mascarpone cheese
- 2 egg whites
- 2 tsp coconut rum, +/- enough to keep the dough from being too crumbly
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 cup desiccated coconut

1. In a large bowl, cream together the sugars, mascarpone cheese, egg whites and rum.
2. In a small bowl mix together flour, salt and baking soda
3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until combined (adding more rum if necessary to keep the dough from being too crumbly)
4. Add in coconut, stirring until just combined
5. Use a tablespoon to make portions of dough. Hand-roll the dough portions into spheres and place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Use a fork to gently press down the cookies (like you do for peanut butter cookies).
6. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes, cool on cooling rack. Enjoy!

These cookies are almost like miniature scones in texture. They're more flaky than chewy or cake-y. I really enjoyed them as they were very tender and not too greasy (like cookies that use a lot of butter). The mascarpone gave the cookies a very rich flavor, and the coconut + coconut rum gave the cookies just enough of a kick that no other flavorings were really necessary (i.e. vanilla, almond etc.) It just goes to show you how creative you can be when you have to bake something without the conventional ingredients in your kitchen... that being said, I think I'll drop by the store and buy some more butter ^-^