Tomatoes in Japan and Easy Roasted Asparagus and Tomato

There is the world and then there is Japan. California is known to have ideal climate to grow incredible produce. As a result we have seen farm-to-table (or more like garden to table, like Chez Panisse, Ubuntu RIP, TFL, etc. that employ farmers and gardeners to grow their own produce). I was raised in California and fortunate to have access to fruits and vegetables from farms, before Farmer’s Markets became a thing. My father used to drive through the farm lands of Half Moon Bay, made friends with all the local farmers and would bring home produce still covered in dirt.

Japan is on a completely different level.

This year I’ve been trolling a lot of the markets out of curiosity and blown away by the variety. Like right now, it seems like cherry tomatoes are in season. I popped by my local Mitsukoshi (a department store equivalent to a Nieman Marcus or Harrods) to check out the produce in the food section and couldn’t believe the number of cherry tomato variations there were.

And I saw something I never saw in supermarkets before…

Continue reading

How to Make Bacon (minus massive mess)

mmmmbacon

I sent my brother a birthday text, we ended up arguing over crispy vs limp bacon. He says: “I like the juicy bacon, not the crunchy hard bacon. Crispy on the edges but it should be almost fluffy.” What in the world? I don’t think we are related. Bacon should always be crispy. He says crispy bacon is bacon jerky.

Fired. He is so fired!

We spent about another reminiscing about our childhood and laughed and laughed and laughed for about an hour. Thanks to the convo with my brother, I realized my love for bacon started long before bacon became an internet meme… it was from our dad.

Our dad was an OG engineer and was borderline obsessed with bacon. My brother and I were crazy over bacon too. (My mom rarely ate bacon — she said it was too fattening. What a party pooper.) Fast forward about two decades, the internet pushed the popularity of bacon forward by uniting all bacon lovers (we are not alone!) And now, people who don’t like bacon are considered the ‘weird’ ones. Funny how things work. I also have a theory that nerds and geeks have a universal love towards bacon.

Wayne_Dixon_on_Twitter____Mona_I’m_not_big_on_bacon_at_all__I’m_not_human__I_know__

Anyway. I never made bacon at home because every time I did, the kitchen would turn into a disaster. I loathed the hours spent scrubbing the stove top from the bacon oil splatters, properly disposing the bacon grease, cleaning the pan, etc., etc.

A lot of people I know bake bacon but there is a simpler trick: microwave.

How to make bacon without a stove top grease explosion

Lay the bacon on a nest of paper towels and microwave for about 15 minutes (or however you prefer your finish to be: super crunchy or limp). Just eye the microwave as the fatty, pork goodness is cooked. Laying the bacon on a papertowel nest also absorbs a lot of the fats and oils too.

Easiest way to clean microwaves

To clean the microwave from the bacon grease splatters, fill a small to medium bowl with water. Add about 2tbsps of vinegar. Microwave for 5 minutes. Let the steam sit in the microwave and wipe down with a sponge or cloth. Voila! Like brand new. It’s MAGIC I tell you.

And there you have it fellow bacon lovers!
You’re welcome.

PS: a very happy birthday to my amazing brother. Siblings are the best. At least mine is 🙂

Ina Garten’s Amazing Vinaigrette

 

img_6890
Panzanella salad is my favorite

Let’s be real: for homecooks simple is best. And most of Ina Garten’s recipes are fool proof and absolute crowd pleasers

There is one vinaigrette dressing I’ve used for years and everyone always asks for the recipe — it really is, that tasty so I thought I would share.

Ina Garten’s Vinaigrette
Enough for a a salad that feeds 6-8 people
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good olive oil

In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, garlic, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. While whisking, slowly add the olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

Place the salad greens in a medium bowl and add enough dressing to moisten. Sprinkle with a little extra salt and pepper, if desired, and serve immediately.


My favorite variation is this lazy salad I throw together:
1 English cucumber / Japanese kyūri
Basket of grape tomatoes or 2 medium tomatoes
1 stalk of celery
1/2 medium red onion

Champagne vinegar
Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper
Good olive oil

Chop all the vegetables into rough bitesized pieces, doesn’t have to be perfect. The chunky vegetable pieces are all different colors and blend together nicely.

Peel the cucumber but leave some of the skin on, halve and scoop out the seeds. Then slice into half moon pieces or halve the half cucumber and slice into triangle like pieces. Halve the grape tomatoes. (If I only have whole tomatoes, I scoop out the seeds and cut into triangles — imagine bruschetta tomato pieces). The red onion I julienne or dice depending on my mood.

Throw all the chopped vegetables in a bowl. Pour about 4-5 tbsps of champagne vinegar (I think, sorry I don’t measure), one big pinch or small mound in the palm of salt, fresh ground pepper, 2/3 c. of olive oil over vegetables, toss and adjust taste accordingly.

It only takes about ten minutes to prepare and it’s so delicious, I can eat the entire bowl on my own. Make sure to use champagne vinegar, Kosher salt, a really good olive oil and fresh ingredients… otherwise the salad won’t be good.

*Added: Follow-up piece on why champagne vinegar is a must-have item in your pantry

Can Firefly Squid Season End Already Please?

I am bored of hotaru ika firefly squidThere. I said it. Seasonal ingredients are the best. Diners get to enjoy ingredients during their optimal eating times The downside to seasonal ingredients is how they show-up all. the. time.Sushi restaurants, traditional Japanese restaurants, French, Italian and even Lawry’s, firefly squid is everywhere. I don’t know how many times I’ve eaten firefly squid this season but I do know it’s enough times that I’m more than happy to bid it farewell until next winter.

The thing with firefly squid is they are delicious but intense and have distinct tastes and textures. If they were more like kan buri (winter amberjack) with a subtler flavor perhaps I wouldn’t be tired of them. Who knows. But spring menus started in Feb., March. Why are they still being used? Move onto more spring like ingredients, culinary world of Japan!

…thus ends a very first world problem rant in one of the best eating cities on the planet. Oops.

Perfect Poached Eggs

image-5-for-48-hours-19-11-11-gallery-445248032

Is there anything better than a creamy egg yolk that laces your mouth? I am obsessed with poached eggs and everything about poached eggs. So much so, I am constantly on the hunt for tips, tricks and techniques to achieve that gorgeous yolk finish at home.

I came across an article from The Kitchn and video from The Food Lab so I’ll just add to my ongoing list.

Julia Child’s Simple Trick for Perfectly Poached Eggs via The Kitchn

How To Make Julia Child’s Poached Eggs

1. Boil the water. Bring a pot of water to a boil.

2. Make a hole in the eggshell with the pin. Use a pin to make a small hole in the eggshell. This will release any air that’s in the egg, which could otherwise cause it to crack. And don’t worry, the hole is small enough that nothing will come out.

3. Boil the egg for 10 seconds. Place the whole egg (still in the shell) in the boiling water for exactly 10 seconds. Remove the egg from the water, and lower the heat to bring the water to a simmer. Boiling the egg helps it to retain its shape once it’s cracked and poured into simmering water later.

4. Poach the egg. Once the egg is cool enough to handle (this should take just a few seconds), poach the egg as you normally would, by cracking the egg into gently simmering water.

via The Food Lab’s video

Use a round bottom strainer, strain egg, lower egg into 180 degree water with strainer, flip with slotted spoon for 3 1/2 to 4 minutes.

…and there you have it. Hope this helps.
(Top image courtesy of here.)

America Full

FullSizeRender (1) copy

There is full. Then there is America full. Very first time at Lawry’s was in Tokyo of all places. Still trying to wrap my head around that. I mean, I’ve heard of Lawry’s since I grew up in the States but came all the way to Japan to eat there.

The prime rib was a massive slab of meat just like in the States. Cleaned the entire plate and I was stuffed. Like Homer Simpson-stuck-on-couch-I-can’t-move-whatwasithinking food coma status. The last time I felt this full was back in the U.S., most likely after shoveling Tex-Mex in the suburbs of L.A. down my pie hole. (The chips and salsa refills kill me – I have zero self control and can eat like five basket fulls by myself. #sexy)

I was curious as to the type of clientele Lawry’s attracts and since we were sitting at the bar, we had the opportunity to eavesdrop on lots of people enjoying a drink before being seated. There were:

  • American tourists (of course)
  • Chinese tourists (surprising)
  • Japanese people celebrating special occasions (heard happy birthday sung about five or six times through our meal)
  • Older Japanese salary men having business dinners — several times, I heard one man boasting knowledge to the other “Lawry’s is very very famous in America. There is one in Vegas, Chicago, Beverly Hills” …which was a bit endearing. Who knew Japanese men still feel the need to show off their America ‘smarts’.

Well, at least I can finally check ‘Eat at Lawry’s’ off my checklist…? And I’ll just leave it at that. Haha

L’AS: the secret is out

FullSizeRender (4)

Tomato compote in basil jelly with Pianogrillo olive oil.

Ahhhhh and another lovely Tokyo restaurant is uncovered to the public — I really hope booking will remain reasonable.

Our meal at L’AS kicked off with a creamy spoonful of mozzarella and just kept getting better. The signature crispy foie gras sandwich with orange and caramel cream: imagine a miniature ice cream sandwich with a silky foie gras mousse and an acidic compote that shocks the palate between a thin, firm wafer. Large zucchini cylinder whisps with crumbled freeze dried olives, anchovy powder –amazing and probably my favorite. Pig’s trotter (feet) and belly croquettes with spring napa Japanese cabbage sauerkraut. Mackerel with smoked potato, firefly squid, red wine squid reduction — intense. Roasted Fujidori chicken with two sauces, one made of onesen tamago Japanese poached egg and pepper. Tomato compote with basil jelly and a lovely croustiller chocolate, chestnut and chocolate cream kanafeh made with wheat flour.

We sat at the sister restaurant (Bar Cork) and had an amazing flight of wines with our meal — champagne, Austrian rosé, French white, Italian white, French red and one of my favorites: Barbaresco with the main dish of the roasted chicken.

What a meal.

Hurry and go before L’AS becomes impossible to book! The menu changes every three weeks, make sure to add the Degustation — the sommelier is something else.
L’AS Tokyo, Minami-Aoyama
http://www.las-minamiaoyama.com/en/index.html

More photos:

Truth Bomb

I say, you’ve got to have classes for eaters. People who never want to cook, but when they go out to restaurants, how can they choose what’s right? So you have classes for them, and you prepare a thing in a bad way, mediocre, and good. And you point out the difference, and build a palate.

— Diana Kennedy, ‘You’re Eating Fake Tortillas, and Diana Kennedy is Pissed About It.‘ via Vice Magazine

What a terrific piece. I’m not going to pretend to know anything about Mexican food. I was raised in Northern California, where we are guilty of indulging in melted cheese over corn or flour tortillas topped with shredded chicken breast or some sort of beef, covered with more cheese, a mountain of sour cream, guacamole. I think it’s what we call Tex-Mex.

The first time I had a real taco, I was confused:

real-tacos

Um. There’s only marinated meat, lime, chopped onions and cilantro on top? Where’s the rest of the… stuff? (I don’t even know if those tacos pictured above are authentic, either.) When I went home and googled, turns out everything I thought I knew about Mexican food, was wrong. These days we are fortunate to have people like Anthony Bourdain, René Redzepi share their thoughts on Mexican cuisine (google if interested, lots of great information out there!)

When I saw this Vice article pass through my Twitter feed of course I clicked and boy am I glad I did; how on-point is that quote? Definitely worth five minutes out of your days (if you are interested in or love food).

Read the Vice piece here.

Ubuntu and Jeremy Fox

Ubuntu's cauliflower in the cast iron pot.
Ubuntu’s cauliflower in the cast iron pot.

In 2008 or 09, I cannot recall the exact year, was when I ate chef Jeremy Fox’s cooking for the first time at Ubuntu in Napa Valley. Ubuntu was a vegetarian restaurant.

For the longest time I had a self diagnosed allergy to anyone / anything “vegan-vegetarian-lactose-glucose free-gluten free-[insert whatever allergy and or eating restriction]”. I mean… I’m Japanese. Eating restrictions and food allergies are non-existent in our culture, cuisine. (Technically every first world ingredient as we don’t eat pets: cats, dogs, goldfish, parakeets, etc., insects, and wild animals found in jungles…)

On one of my visits back home to the Bay Area I reluctantly went as I heard so many great things but I was skeptical. Vegetarian? Really? Well. Every dish was so delicious I contemplated turning vegetarian. Sadly since I lived in NY, I only dined at Ubuntu three times and boy did I regret not making the effort to head there more when I heard Jeremy Fox left in 2010.

Fast forward five years Ubuntu has closed. Jeremy Fox has been off the radar… until Lucky Peach did an incredible profile in their Spring of 2014, Issue No. 14: ‘Obsession’. (Lucky Peach by the way, is around $25 an issue in Japan. If you’re in the States, fork up $28 for an annual subscription). Lo and behold, the piece is online. Lucky you. It is definitely a must read for food lovers. Click this to read.


If memory serves properly, Marcona almonds and bagna càuda were two things I became obsessed with, thanks to Jeremy Fox. And on my second and third visits, I asked our server a trillion questions and notated the answers. Here are a few bits from my notes (recommended for advanced home cooks):

  • Nori vinaigrette: grind the nori in a coffee grinder, blend with Dijon, extra virgin olive oil, sherry vinegar
  • Jeremy Fox fancies Hawaiian black salt
  • 4″ piece of honeycomb is equivalent to 2tbsp of honey
  • play with mustard seeds (yellow, brown and stone-ground)
  • don’t waste pods, sprigs and stems! (don’t be afraid to roast whole beans and serve without taking the beans out the pods, boil parsley stems, mash and process for a pesto, use cilantro sprigs for a more subtle accent, experiment, experiment, experiment!)

 

 

Cos Play Colonel Sanders

IMG_2728

I walked by my neighborhood KFC today and noticed Colonel Sanders was all gussied up again!

I’ve lived in Ebisu for almost two years and have seen Colonel Sanders cos-playing in the past. Today I finally Googled why KFC Ebisu  even bothers to dress him up. Turns out, Ebisu’s KFC is one of only seven of the thousands of KFCs in Japan to dress up their Colonel Sanders.

A few of his past cos-play photos found on Instagram:

My favorite has to be Colonel Sanders as Goku from Dragon Ball (the orange outfit holding the ball). So funny. If you’re ever in Tokyo and in Ebisu, do please check out the Colonel Sanders. You might be lucky and see him in some strange outfit. It is a sight to see.

Stay weird, Japan.