Sunday, October 25, 2009

Harumi Kurihara :: The Japanese Martha Stewart

I'm not shy about my love for Martha Stewart so when I heard about Harumi Kurihara, I couldn't wait to learn more about her. She is often referred to as Japan's Martha Stewart. She is a self-taught cook from Shimoda, and she specializes in classic Japanese homestyle cooking. She was encouraged by her TV anchorman husband to write a book, so she did, and now has numerous successful cookbooks, a magazine and a cooking and clothing line. Impressive! I got one of her English cookbooks (Everyday Harumi) for my birthday and couldn't wait to try out the recipes. I have been trying out simple Japanese dishes for the past few months so I'm not a total Japanese cooking beginner. In fact, I can probably whip up Japanese food better than I can bust out Vietnamese. FOR SHAME!!

Japanese cooking is very simple. Once you stock your kitchen with a few key ingredients (rice vinegar, soy sauce, sake, miso and mirin) you can make tons of healthy, tasty and easy dishes. There is a great website called Just Hungry that teaches awesome Japanese recipes and the stories behind them. Some of my favorites from Just Hungry have been the Soy Sauce and Butter New Potatoes (addicting!) and the Miso Pork. I have been a little frustrated trying to make recipes out of my American cookbooks because I can't find the right ingredients here in Japan but now that I am experimenting with Harumi's book, things have gotten much easier.

My first stab at her book was the Ginger Pork over a bed of Bok Choy and a side of Sesame Dressed Green Beans. The pork was as simple as mixing 4 ingredients for the marinade, dipping the sliced pork in the marinade and pan frying it for 2 minutes. You let the pork rest on the stir fried bok choy, and the juices from the pork dress the veggies. SO YUM. Everything turned out great and I have been eating leftovers for days. If you're in a cooking rut, try cooking some Japanese dishes! They're very well balanced and it's fun to try something new in the kitchen.

My Lunch :: October 21st (Birthday Edition) :: La Boutique de Joel Robuchon

Brie, cracked pepper and jambon baguette from La Boutique de Joel Robuchon. One of my favorite things to do in Tokyo is browse around Roppongi Hills after stuffing my face at La Boutiqe which is a stress free and economical way to try some of "the chef of the century's" food.

La Boutique de Joel Robuchon
Roppongi Hills

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

American Care Package

Care packages are probably the best things you can get in the mail, especially when you are abroad. Today is my birthday and I was blessed to receive a big box of goodies from home. Cheerios and Cheez-Its aren't sold in Japan, so these are welcome additions to the apartment. Thanks Mom and Dad!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hokkaido Soft Cream

After my gross lunch today, (see below), I had to get something special to wash away the sadness. My solution? Hokkaido Soft Cream. Hokkaido is Japan's 2nd largest island behind Honshu. It is the big one just north of Honshu. Hokkaido is synonymous with milk and milk related products. I guess the climate up there is good for herding cows, and cows there produce a very creamy tasty milk. People in Tokyo go crazy for Hokkaido Soft Cream. I mean, I have never seen people line up for something like that before but I can totally understand why they do it. Most soft cream in Japan is made with lard or vegetable shortening or something else gross...but not Hokkaido Soft Cream. It is super creamy and clean and in my opinion, the plain milk flavor is the best. Today I got a swirl of Melon and Milk and it was pretty good. So good that that salaryman in the background is staring at my cone.

Hokkaido is also known for their beer. The biggest city in Hokkaido is Sapporo which of course, makes a very famous beer. A few years ago, milk consumption was dropping so a company in Sapporo decided to mix their two biggest exports and create Bilk - Milk Beer. I am hesitant to write about this only because I get a little tired of the "wacky Japan" articles picked up by mainstream international media. (I'm looking at you New York Times!) Yes, there are weird things in Japan (dudes having relationships with dolls and figurines, vegetable flavored chocolate, etc) but most of the weird things only represent only a super tiny portion of the population. Yes, there is a vending machine in Tokyo that sells used ladies underwear, but that is 1 vending machine out of god knows how many in Japan! Ok, I'm just venting point is, those articles are always super entertaining but now that I've moved here, I realize that they probably do more harm than good. Although...this one is a classic.

My Lunch :: Oct 20 :: Le Bilboquet

Croque Monsieur from Le Bilboquet in Akasaka. I had such high hopes for this French staple but it was pretty gnarly. I'm pretty sure the bread was Wonderbread and there was zero butter on it whatsoever. It was mushy and very hard to eat. It will probably do the trick in fueling my run later this afternoon, but I'm going to need to have a snack to wash this taste off my tongue. Blech.

My Lunch :: Oct 19 :: M Cafe de Chaya

Another bento from M Cafe. Sorry, I know it's getting little boring but I think that this will be my last macrobiotic meal for awhile. This bento has various steamed veggies, 2 kinds of rice and soy nuggets. Though the purple rice is vibrant in color, it was pretty bland. It gets its color form azuki beans, which I prefer to have in my sweets. It was fun while it lasted M Cafe!

Friday, October 16, 2009

My Lunch :: October 16 :: Eat Cafe

I skipped out of work after two hours today and decided to take a stroll around my new favorite neighborhood, Daikanyama. Daikanyama is full of cute cafes and I had lunch at Eat Cafe today. Pumpkin soup, a croissant and an iced tea. There are a lot of things in Japan called "pumpkin" but most likely, it's not really going to be pumpkin. It is called kabocha squash and it is similar to pumpkin...but also quite different. Kabocha is yellow on the inside has a dark green edible skin. The texture is more fluffy than pumpkin. You can steam kabocha and it comes out like a steamed yam, so often times you'll get a kabocha mash as a side in your bento.

My Lunch :: Oct 15 :: M Cafe de Chaya

I am a little obsessed with M Cafe so I got another bento today. This one consists of basil rice and soy nuggets. Soy nuggets sounds really gross, but they're pretty tasty. If you have ever had Inari, it tastes like the tofu skin around the rice. I am also obsessed with eating tiny pieces of chocolate from 7-Eleven. There are some pretty wacky flavors to choose from (sweet potato, azuki bean, vegetable) but I prefer white chocolate with chocolate cookie (i.e. cookies and cream). The juice is also a new discovery - muscat juice. You can find this juice in tiny cans in K-Town and other Asian markets in The States, but the tiny cans have chunks of muscat and jelly floating around. It's not bad, but sometimes you want to just have juice. Now I found it and I'm pretty stoked.

M Cafe de Chaya, Akasaka
Akaska Biztower B1F

Akasaka Station (Chiyoda) 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Lunch :: Oct 14 :: M Cafe de Chaya

MmMmmmmmm! This bento was so good. I am a sucker for croquettes but they're not exactly healthy. I picked up a reasonably healthy version at M Cafe de Chaya in the Akasaka Biz Tower. M Cafe is an organic/macrobiotic cafe that would make Gwyneth Paltrow proud. This bento didn't come cheap at ¥1000 (i think that would be around $14.00) but it was very tasty and I was perfectly satiated and energized by it. It came with some mashed pumpkin, a tofu tomato salad, marinated broccoli, brown ume rice and a veggie croquette. Maybe I should start reading Gwyneth is onto something...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Recipe Suggestion :: Scarpetta's Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil

Serious Eats recently posted a recipe from Scott Conant of Scarpetta in NYC. Though I used to live literally right next door to it, I have never eaten at Scarpetta, but have heard good things. He pops up on Top Chef a lot, which means he's gotta be somewhat big news. He shared his recipe for Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil and it is one of the best, not to mention easiest, recipes for homemade tomato sauce I have found. I highly recommend giving it a try. The photos on Serious Eats are a lot more appetizing than mine, so maybe you should hop over there and check out what their professional photographers mustered up.

Full disclosure, the first time I made this sauce it was way too salty and not very good, but it wasn't the recipe or sauce's fault. It was me and my salt tooth. I over salted my pasta water, thus the "it's so salty My Roommate won't even have a second bowl even though he ALWAYS has at least a second bowl" first try. So, you know...don't do what I did. Despite the salt, you could tell the sauce was good! I swear! The second try proved me right and it was wonderful. I'm even tempted to make a third batch this week. It is such a simple sauce and if you don't have fresh tomatoes, don't be ashamed to use canned. That's what I did and it tasted great. Again, butter makes a secret appearance at the end, just like Martha's Wonderful Chicken Noodle Soup. People like to say that everything is better with bacon, but if I had to pick my poison, it'd be butter all the way. Team Paula Deen!

My Lunch :: Oct 13 :: Fresh Bakery Akasaka

Katsusando from Fresh Bakery in Akasaka. Katsu is deep fried pork with a special sauce. Usually, it is served over rice witha side of shredded cabbage. That is called Tonkatsu and it is a very popular Japanese dish. Put it between two slabs of soft white bread and you have a Katsu-Sando or Katsu Sandwich. Yum yum yum. It's pretty hard to get a bad katsusando since there are so few ingredients so it makes for a safe meal. 

Fresh Bakery is in the Akasaka Sacas building in front of the Chiyoda line ticket machines.

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Lunch :: Oct 12

Sasa Grill Burger Club in Daikanyama. I'm not sure if you can tell,
but this is a small size's slider size but with all the
fixins of a hamburger. It was way yum. Daikanyama is now one of my
favorite 'hoods in Tokyo. Tons of cute cafes and shops.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Japan Global Fest

We had some very nice weather this weekend in Tokyo so Roomie and I took a stroll through Hibiya Koen (Hibiya Park). One of my favorite things about Tokyo is the quantity and quality of parks in the city. However, the last time we were at a park in Tokyo, we were accosted by this man. This park outing had a much more pleasant ending, as we stumbled upon a Global Festival. Japan Global Fest 2009 to be exact. The festival was packed with tons of booths from around the world. Everyone was very friendly and overall, it was a great atmosphere. The global food didn't hurt either. We started the fest off with Banana/Chocolate Samosas with a Chai Tea and ended with Sri Lankin Curry with Fried Noodles. (That sign in the background says "Suri Ranka Kare with Furaido Nu-doru" in Katakana)

Sadly the Vietnamese food booth ran out of coffee, but they did have some funny looking Banh Mi. I decided to pass but didn't come away completely empty handed. I bought this lovely Vietnamese nose flute. I'm not sure if this instrument was totally made up by Japanese people because I have never seen this ever in my life, which really is a shame because I feel like I could have made a nice career out of it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Kirin Green Tes Panda

Look what cuteness came with my daily green tea from 7-Eleven! A
little trinket of the Kirin Green Tes panda riding a duck. Of course!
It makes no sense, but it is super "kawaiiii!!!"

Monday, October 5, 2009

Chicken Noodle Soup

If you love being in the kitchen, there are a few appliances that you just dream of having. Blame Giada for that. She makes a salt and pepper grinder look so sexy! (Even with those creepy tiny hands) Maybe it is my not so subtle hints to basically anyone I come across, but I have been blessed to accumulate a few of those blue chip items in my kitchen. To show you how serious I am about my kitchen accessories, when I moved from New York to Tokyo, the first and only thing I shipped directly to Japan was my beautiful Blue Betty Cuisinart Stand Mixer. It cost me a fortune but if I could have flown her first class, you bet I would have. I love you girl!

A few weeks ago, Betty got a new friend. Meet Ruby Red.

Ruby is my new beautiful Le Creuset Dutch Oven compliments of The Roommate. (Awww!) Since Roomie was the one to fulfill my latest kitchen fantasy (and also picked the color, fyi), he was given the honor of choosing the first of many dishes made with Ruby. His choice? Chicken Noodle Soup from scratch. Canned broth and bouillon cubes need not apply, this was a true home cooked meal. As with all my plans in Japan, nothing went smoothly and yet everything worked out just fine. Finding a whole chicken carcass was difficult. I tracked one down but it was frozen and $60. I opted to make the stock with random cuts of chicken but this was very stressful since the only bones I used were tiny wings and legs. To my surprise, the stock was very flavorful after 3 hours on the stove.

A good trick I picked up from the internets: when you make the soup, first saute the chicken meat with about 2 tablespoons of butter, then add the veggies. Julia Childs would be proud.

Though time intensive, this will be a staple in the kitchen since chicken noodle soup is hard to find in Japan. If you're interested, here are the recipes I used:

Stock :: (They used chicken broth, but I just used water)

Soup ::

Sunday Night Sundaes

You just can't beat a homemade ice cream Sunday to wash away the end
of weekend blues.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Silver Week :: I Went to a Baseball Game

I love baseball. I swear I really do. My passion has waned a bit over the years due to the A's being embarrassingly horrible, living in New York being sandwiched between pompous Yankees fans and depressed Mets fans, and the overexposure of SportsCenter at my former job. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to go to a Japanese baseball game and the season is winding down. During Silver Week, roomie and I headed to Meiji Jingu Stadium in Tokyo to watch the Yakult Swallows play the Yomiuri Giants. The Swallows are the less popular team in Tokyo, but I'm kind of a fan. The stadium is small and intimate and this being Japan, had the NICEST outfield scoreboard I have ever seen.

Some Japanese Baseball 101:
  • Baseball teams in Japan are owned by companies. Yakult makes a weird yogurt drink that is very popular in Japan. Yomiuri is a newspaper company. Unlike college bowl games (I'm looking at you Chik-Fil-A), you have to be a pretty legit company to own a baseball team.
  • The Yomiuri Giants are the Yankees of the East. They play at the Tokyo Dome and pretty much have all the good players. The Hanshin Tigers are the Red Sox of the East. They are from Osaka (nemesis of Tokyo) and it pretty much comes down to these two teams for the Japan Series.
  • Japanese baseball fans are super passionate but also respectful. Organized cheering and chanting from the bleachers NEVER stops. It is actually very impressive. More impressive is their following of an unspoken rule that only the batting team's fans chant during the inning.
  • Beer servers run like the wind, wear beer backpacks and are mostly all cute girls or pale skinny pasty guys. We were told by our beer girl that we were "best couple!!!".
The trend in The States right now is gourmet food at stadiums. I can't speak for all of the stadiums, but Meiji Jingu keeps it real. Hot dogs, beer, french fries - check, check and check. You can also get some Japanese staples like Yakisoba, Udon and Octopus Meatballs. Missing were peanuts, cracker jacks and cotton candy, but I'll let it slide. The french fries were pretty much the best I've had EVER - hyperbole intended. Salty, crispy, and oily.

It was a great night at the ballpark. The Giants won, but the home team scored a few runs. Apparently the Swallows' version of the Terrible Towel are tiny pastel umbrellas that they open and lift up and down anytime the Swallows score a run. This was quite a sight for someone that is not in the know. As was this:

My Snack :: Oct 3 :: Afternoon Tea

Toffee Banana Cake and Iced Coffee at Afternoon Tea. Just what I need right now. Shopping makes you hungry. Afternoon Tea is a really popular store and cafe in Japan. It is quite possibly, the girliest place I've ever seen and my body squeels every time I browse through their inventory. Aprons, kitchen gadgets, bath salts, house slippers - all in pastel colors or animal shapes. I once asked my roommate to pick something up for me since there is an Afternoon Tea in his work building and he didn't speak to me for about a week. The cafes usually have long lines on the weekends, but if you are lucky enough to snag a table, definitely try it out for a sweet snack.

Afternoon Tea, Marunouchi
Shin-Marunouchi Building, 5F

Tokyo Station (Marunouchi, JR)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Silver Week :: I Went to Shimoda

Japan has a lot of holidays. This is a fact. There is at least one national holiday a month and it is awesome. Also awesome? The Japanese law that states if there is a work day sandwiched between two holidays, the working day becomes a holiday too. Because of this fancy law, we got a 5-day weekend in September. It is sometimes called Silver Week. Taking advantage of the days off, roomie and I took the Shinkansen to a small beach town on the Izu Penninsula called Shimoda. Shimoda is most famous for being "discovered" by Commodore Matthew Perry, thus ending Japan's Era of Isolation. (I got that from a guide book...)

Shimoda is pretty awesome. It reminds me of a sunny and warm Santa Cruz minus the Boardwalk. Beach frolicking can really work up your appetite and we definitely took advantage of what Shimoda had to offer. We had some gooey ramen (think Shark Fin's Soup with Ramen Noodles), super fresh conveyor belt sushi, lots of candy, Mos Burger, Tsukune (chicken meatballs in a sweet sauce), chicken skin on a stick and a funny late night burrito from a night market/ska concert.

Like a good Japanese coworker, I brought back some omiyage for my coworkers. It is customary in Japan to bring back a souvenir from your trip for your coworkers to enjoy. Shimoda is in Shizuoka Prefecture which is apparently NUMBER 1 for a lot of things. Citrus and Green Tea are two things that Shizuoka is famous for, so I brought back some citrusy treats and tea for those hard working teachers. The
y loved them and now they love me. Thank you Shimoda!!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Lunch :: Oct 1 :: Kinokuniya

Bento and potato salad from Kinokuniya Entree. Eating lunch at my office desk. Feels like I'm in NY again, except without a giant Lebron poster staring down at you. Kinokuniya is one of those places that would do really well in New York because it is a quick place to get something to eat that is not a salad bar or a Subway. You can also find some good fancy groceries (cheese, exotic stuff and cured meats) and wine but it is a bit pricey. They are almost always inside/near a Tokyo Metro station which leads me to believe that there is some sort of partnership there.

Kinokuniya, Akasaka
Akasaka Biz Tower, B1F