Thanksgiving Appropriate: On Potatoes

Photo source

“Soak potatoes in cold water for 20-30 minutes before cooking” – said my very Japanese aunt to me. Of course I didn’t question her, she’s the one who taught me how to cook.

I’ve been following her directions all my life, but I never understood why I was soaking the pre-cooked potatoes.
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Yasuda-san of Sushi Yasuda is Leaving

(Photo source)
Yasuda-san of Sushi Yasuda in NYC.

Sushi Yasuda is one of the most legit sushi places in the United States and when rumors surfaced he was leaving, I pretended not to see them. Eater picked up the story and wrote they called the restaurant to confirm, my heart sank. Yasuda-san is indeed leaving to open a restaurant in Tokyo. My attachment to Sushi Yasuda and Yasuda-san is more personal, but it is still highly recommended to sit in front of Yasuda-san at least once before he leaves. It’s a great way of getting a glimpse of a Tokyo sushi experience without leaving the country.

Thank you to my very good friend Dan, who introduced me to him. Dan is also one of the reasons I learned to appreciate the Japanese food culture.

Sushi Yasuda
204 E 43rd St
(between 3rd Ave & 2nd Ave)
New York, NY 10017
(212) 972-1001

What a bummer.

Underrated and Overlooked: Cheddar Cheese

(Photo source)
Oh yes I am indeed talking about cheddar cheese.

If you are wrinkling your nose in confusion: stop it. I’m telling you, cheddar cheese is delicious and sadly, in the US it is underrated and overlooked. I was in the “Huh? Cheddar? Really? REALLY??” camp until I discovered Beecher’s Handmade Cheeses in Seattle a few years back.

I’m embarrassed to admit, I thought all cheddar cheese tasted like that bright yellow square wrapped in plastic. You know, that floppy piece of rubber they call Singles? No idea where I got that image from, but I’ve lived 20+ years, thinking cheddar is gross.

When I tried my first bite of Beecher’s 3-Year Cheddar, I wasn’t ready for what was going to happen inside my mouth. It didn’t stay flakey like the way cheddar looks. It was nutty. Then creamy. And it finished off with just enough tang to leave a lasting impression long after swallowing. After polishing off the 3-Year, I tried the 5-Year which was even more impressive than the 3-Year. And then, I was hooked.

Since the visit to Beecher’s, I’ve been hooked on cheddar cheese. One of my favorites is Quickes. Don’t be afraid to ask the cheese person for a taste!

A few tips:

  • Look for cheddars that are aged in cloth
  • Don’t be hung up on the region. In the US, we commonly see English and Vermont, but good cheddar -like all cheeses – are more dependent on how it is made e.g. topography, climate, starter, what the animals were fed, which animal (cheddar is normally made with cow’s milk), quality of milk and if it’s raw or pasteurized, age, how was it aged, etc., etc. Just try several pieces before buying, the cheese mongers (that’s what cheese people are called) are usually generous with samples. Usually.
  • Have it cut to order
  • Store by wrapping in paper

Hope this helps but more so, I really hope you are a convert like me.

Cookery: Osakana Yaki-ki (お魚焼き器) Indoor Grill / Roaster

Best. Invention. Ever.

That thing up there is not the Japanese George Foreman grill but it could quite possibly be one of the best contraptions to own; especially if you grill a lot of fish. I don’t know about you, but I’ve stunk up my kitchen. And home. And the entire floor of my old apartment building. My neighbors probably hated me and too bad I moved before I added one those things to my kitchen.

That thing up there is an indoor roaster and since the smoke is pretty limited, the odor is too. But the end result is perfectly grilled fish. I also use it to grill / roast:

  • vegetables
  • poultry
  • even toast

Another giant plus? Cleaning is super easy. There’s this tray on the bottom you fill with water that catches fat/oil of the protein so there are no worries of burnt oil you’d have to scrub. There are variations but the one pictured above can be purchased as Amazon here for $71.51 (bizarre dollar amount.) This is one investment you won’t be sorry you made.

No this is not an ad…but it sure sounds like one. Seriously though, buy one. Grilling/roasting is one of the easiest and fastest way to prep meals — even if it’s just for you.

Second thought, maybe I should ask for a kickback 😉

Roasting Vegetables: Oven vs Grill

Is grilling significantly better than roasting vegetables?

(Photo source is here)

In the Japanese home kitchen, you will almost always find a convectional (toaster) oven. Newer homes have stoves with built in grills like this or this since we grill/roast a lot. I was taught to roast vegetables in a convectional oven and it never occurred to me that roasting in an oven might alter the taste of a vegetable.

Over on FB Questions while sharing our baba ghanouj recipes, someone mentioned grilling eggplants is the real secret to baba ghanouj, since roasting over a grill brings out the flavor.

Since I was taught to roast in a convectional oven, I started questioning my method and turned to my favorite resources: Harold McGee‘s “Keys to Good Cooking” and “The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual” for their insights. Both stated the same thing: The temperature and slicking the exterior with oil are the key points.

So what does this mean?
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Recipe: Baba Ghanouj

So I’ve been spending a lot of time on FB Questions and took some time to answer ‘What are the secrets to making an excellent baba ganoush?‘ Seriously, my answer is just too good to keep to myself and on FB, so I decided to share here too. So here we go!

(photo courtesy of tastyeatsathome)
Q: ‘What are the secrets to making an excellent baba ganoush?’
The same secrets to making all simple dishes standout: ingredients, time, care and attention to the little things. For this particular dish, ask yourself these questions before making.

  • Are eggplants in season?
  • Where are you purchasing the ingredients? (farmer’s market, deli, grocery store, etc., etc.)
  • How are you choosing which eggplants to purchase? (do you grab the first eggplants within reach or do you choose which ones to use in your cooking?)
  • How are you preparing the eggplant? (gas, electric, grill, oven, microwave -nuking eggplants for this recipe is not recommended- etc.)
  • What kind of salt (table salt, sea salt, etc.), olive oil or pepper (table pepper, ground pepper, fresh ground pepper, etc.) are you using?

With that in mind, here is my baba ghanouj recipe, adapted from David Lebovitz and The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual:

  • 2-3 medium sized eggplants
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • White pepper
  • 1/4 cup of tahini
  • 3 tbsps of lemon juice
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • Fresh ground black pepper

1. Pre heat oven to 450. Slick eggplant skin with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and white pepper. Put on baking sheet and bake for 45min to an hour, or until the skin is blistered. It’s ok if the skin is charred as the innards still stay edible. If you prefer a more smokey flavor, then burn the eggplant to a crisp. If less smokey, then pull out when the insides are tender and collapsing-soft.
2. Remove eggplants and cool for 5-10 minutes – I lay them on a cutting board – then pull apart the top layer of the burnt skin, just a large enough opening to stick a spoon in -think of it as a baked potato-, and scoop the creamy innards into a mixing bowl. Becareful when you pull open the skin, as the steam may hit you in the face (happened to me a few times.)
3. Add olive oil, salt and white pepper to eggplant mixture, stir well to combine and taste. Add more salt, pepper and/or oil as you see fit.
4. Add tahini, lemon and garlic. Mix until smooth (you can puree in food processor but I prefer to manually mix while the eggplant is still warm.) Taste and add more lemon, olive oil, garlic as necessary.
5. Chill for a few hours and sprinkle with black pepper before serving.

And there you have it. My very first recipe. Do you have any tips, tricks or maybe a different recipe you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it!

[Side notes].
– Tahini: you can make your own or buy in a jar. I’ve tried both and found an awesome jarred tahini, this Lebanese brand called Al Wadi.
How to shop for eggplants
– Since I don’t own a grill, I use a toaster oven instead of a regular oven when roasting vegetables; it’s a Japanese thing. Luckily, no one has noticed (yet!) Grilling vs oven roasting info here
– White pepper can be found in your grocer aisles; does not need to be freshly ground.
– Only taste twice, as too many tastings will skew taste testing barometer.

That’s What I’m Talking About!

The Atlantic Monthly has become a surprising resource, and I find myself venturing over there more than the staples (Food and Wine, Food Network, Gourmet, etc., etc.) to read about food. A recent piece by Le Bernardin’s executive pastry chef inspired me to list my version of stand-out moments in food.

  • My very first peanut butter and jelly sandwich I secretly ate at my neighbor’s when I was four; my immigrant parents didn’t allow that junk in our home
  • Ubuntu’s cauliflower in cast iron pot — made me rethink vegetarian restaurants
  • My grandmother’s oshiruko
  • Eating smoked salmon straight from the production line in Vancouver at five
  • Separate preparations for my mother and father’s dinners. Respectively
  • My first sushi-go-round experience at Isobune in Burlingame, CA in front of Sam-san (of Sushi Sam’s)
  • Cooking six variations of buta no kakuni (Japanese braised pork belly) one night because Japanese recipes are vague and I was still unfamiliar with the ingredients. I had to see what the best method was. That night. (What a disaster that was.)
  • Eating pasta with a spoon and fork in Tokyo
  • My very first onigiri (rice ball) from a convenience store and learning how to unwrap it
  • The osechi made by my aunt
  • First meal at The French Laundry with my mother and her boyfriend — I wasn’t even old enough to drive yet!
  • Making pancakes in the 6th grade in Mrs. Fujiwara’s cooking class
  • First memorable carpaccio at 13, it was at il Forniao in San Mateo
  • First taste of Michael Minna’s cooking at Aqua restaurant in SF
  • First Chez Panisse dinner when I was in the 3rd grade
  • Family kitchen constantly stocked with fresh fruit (in season.)
  • My father bringing home dirt covered produce, straight from the fields in Half Moon Bay, California
  • Depa-chika (Japanese department store food hall, think Nieman Marcus’ epicure department and multiply that by a bajillion)
  • Daily grocery shopping with my mom in the US and my family in Japan
  • Watching and learning to cook from my aunt
  • Calling my mom asking how to cook a steak at 14
  • Eating and cooking adventures with my ex Ace in Tokyo, Philippines, and in California. Ace is also a fantastic cook
  • Spending a week of my Christmas vacation baking cookies as Christmas gifts
  • Cooking for friends and family
  • My mom’s special menus

Wow this list got long, fast…and I only spent about five minutes punching all this out. To most, this probably sounds like a bunch of gibberish, so I will expand with separate posts and link as time goes by. This will definitely be an ongoing project…

What is this, my memoir??? Seriously.


“People who love to eat are always the best people.” — Julia Child

Starting blog posts with quotes is corny, but that proverb sums up what food means to me. A lot of my happiest memories are tied with food. Food -in any shape or form- is a major part of my culture and continues to be a huge part of who I am.

It’s scary how much food dictates my being. Where I live. Who I date. Friends and even work environments revolve around food. It would not surprise me if my obsession were to be clinically diagnosed as a sickness.

My friends, colleagues and just about anyone I talk to are probably sick of my food yapping so OtherBits is now my outlet. Hopefully, the thoughts, recipes, tips and tricks, restaurant recommendations, basically anything posted here will be of use to anyone who happens to stumble upon it.

Keyword here being hopefully.