Japanese Curry Rice (not from a box)

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If you haven’t heard of Japanese curry or it seems like an odd pairing of words, then I’m glad to introduce this wonderful comfort food. This dish is where the Venn diagram of childhood foods of my husband and I squarely intersect. While my version was served with a side of kimchi and his with some Japanese pickled ginger, it’s a nostalgic dish for both of us.

A typical home cook would make Japanese curry composed with a protein, vegetables and starch (e.g. beef, onions, carrots and potatoes). One of the most popular ways of cooking this dish is to use convenient curry cubes you can find at the Asian grocery store – S&B Golden Curry Sauce mix. As with many convenient shortcut flavoring devices when you look closely at the fine print, there’s an ingredient lurking in it that explains a lot of the sluggishness, bloating and general food coma that seems to ensue after consumption. It was through a book I’m reading called “The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks” by Kathleen Flinn that instigated my “duh” moment and noticed the huge amount of MSG and sodium in the curry mix. Hence a search for a healthier alternative began.

Lucky for me, I happen to stumble upon a Japanese Curry blend of spices at Oaktown Spice Shop. Below is their recipe for Japanese Curry Chicken which came printed on an index card to take home. I’ve made this a few times and is definitely the extra effort for its delicious results – my kids gobbled it up the same as if it were out of a box, and even my Japanese mother in law approved. Oaktown Spice Shop has an online shop, so snag it up and try this recipe!

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Lentil Soup with Mushrooms for a Blizzard

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Since moving to New York at the end of January we’ve been through two snowstorms.  I think I’ve had my fill and caught up from the snowless winters we experienced in Northern California.

The snowstorm wasn’t as bad as meteorologists had expected, in fact the NYT says the city narrowly escaped the worst of this storm. Regardless, it was a snow day which means it’s a great day for soup.

I’ve been wanting to redeem myself from a terrible lentil soup recipe I cooked from the internet – it was flavorless, one-noted and didn’t have any of the hearty goodness that seeps into your soul that soup, in my opinion is required to do. I have a great Indian-inspired lentil soup that is now my go-to, but I was looking for a more mediterranean-style without the warming spices. After comparing notes and melding together several recipes the frankenstein recipe was satisfaction and full meal in a bowl.

If I have the time, I generally like to tackle a particular dish by researching several different recipes and notice the template and variations in ingredients. When I feel the groove or essence of the recipe I use what I like or have in my kitchen to make it my own. Do you cook like this too?

Here’s the recipe for lentil and mushroom soup. I used green lentils because it’s what I had on hand. It’s chewier than red lentils which I liked for this recipe. The bite of the lentils and softness of the vegetables was a nice contrast in texture. I also used cremini mushrooms, but you can use any mushrooms you like – chanterelles were used in the Green Kitchen Stories Version.

Note: Add some lemon juice or vinegar of your choice to this soup. The acid kicks up the flavor and cuts the richness from the pancetta and mushrooms. I started with about a spoonful and continued to add to taste.

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New Year Traditions and dduk guk (Korean Rice Cake Soup)

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Happy New Year! I can’t believe it has been one year since I started this blog. I honestly didn’t think I would make it this long. It’s been fun to share recipe discoveries and archive family favorites here.

This new years day, we spent it focused on keeping culinary traditions from Korea and Japan, honoring the heritage of me and my husband. I love traditions that involve food – like Turkey every Thanksgiving – there’s comfort in knowing exactly what you’ll be eating that day every year. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate 2017 than slurping up some soba noodles and eating chewy rice cakes in dduk guk (Korean rice cake soup)!

Out of curiosity I researched background on dduk guk (Korean rice cake soup) and I found a Facebook post by the official “Korean Food Foundation” with some historical background. If you’re interested take a look here.

Here’s a solid recipe for Korean Rice Cake soup that I use all the time from my trusted source for Korean food, Maangchi. I typically use a beef broth as the recipe calls for but this time pre-made some oxtail bone broth for new years day to make it a little more special. As for the soba soup we ate along with other delicious Japanese sides, more on that in a future post!

Note: This dish is not only for new years day, it’s a common weeknight dinner and kid favorite in my house!

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Sushi at Home (with the kids)

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One of our favorite ways of entertaining before having kids was to serve “make your own” sushi or temaki sushi (hand rolls). It’s simple to prepare and feels special to have fresh sushi presented beautifully at your own table. Our guests could fill the rolls with what they want and it’s much more affordable than dining out in NYC. I won’t take any credit for this idea as it was ushered into my life by my husband who grew up with this tradition at home. The shopping, the prep, assembly and presentation is all done by him. While I like to cook I keep this sacred as “his” thing. (I don’t mind being “served” a meal either!)

During an attempt to plan a birthday gathering for my mother-in-law we realized that most sushi establishments worth going to didn’t open until dinner, and the idea to entertain sushi at home resurfaced! Not to mention, two members of the party are under five years old, and trying to enjoy dining out with those two would be a delusion.

The fun part about do-it-yourself temaki sushi is that everyone gets to choose how they want their rolls. It’s exciting for the kids too as they get to try all kinds of different fish, flavors and even vegetables. My eldest who is four years old loved the octopus. What to serve is up to you but we have our staples which I share below.

The freshest fish that we could get here near Oakland is at Tokyo Fish Market, a solid little Japanese grocery store in Berkeley. This is where the fish and most ingredients were bought and then sliced at home.

**Overall there is some prep work in slicing the fish and vegetables. The sushi rice flavored with rice vinegar and sugar will likely need the most lead time. It’s worth trying as a simple and elegant way to celebrate a special day or just entertaining friends and family at home.

Here’s a great primer with more detail on hosting your own temaki sushi party.

And here’s what we served for the birthday party. Again you can customize with whatever it is you want to serve!

  • Tuna
  • Shrimp
  • Octopus
  • Yellowtail
  • Squid
  • Salmon Roe

Ingredients for temaki sushi assembly:

  • Nori
  • Sushi rice (flavored with rice vinegar and sugar)
  • Soy sauce
  • Wasabi
  • Cucumber
  • Shiso leaf
  • Tamagoyaki
  • Daikon Sprouts
  • Kimchi on the side (as seen in picture) – customize to your liking. It’s your party!

Enjoy!

 

LEMON VERBENA TISANE

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When we first moved to the bay area, Chez Panisse was absolutely one of the restaurants on our bucket list. As the restaurant that started the ripple effects of how we are eating today – seasonal, high-quality and local ingredients I was excited to make my pilgrimage.

Booked months in advance we finally made it for our sixth wedding anniversary. Of course the entire meal was just amazing. I had the single best salad of my life there – and I really do believe it was because every salad leaf and each ingredient in that dressing was of upmost quality and the best it could be. I just can’t even put it into words. But this post isn’t really about the perfection of every course and how satisfying each portion of it was.  It’s about a small little detail after all the plates had been served.

I pleasantly discovered the tisanewhich was given to us after our meal.  A tisane is an herbal infusion, an herbal tea if you will, and the one served at Chez Panisse was made with lemon verbena. And there are many beautiful variations of infusions you can make.

The lemon verbena tisane piqued my interest with its refreshing and clean flavor that seemed to be so simple to make. I decided to try making one at home and it was so easy and a wonderful way to recall our anniversary dinner.

A simple “recipe” from the Kitchn for lemon verbena tisane below.

  • Pick 1-2 handfuls of lemon verbena or lemon balm leaves. You can include the stems, too.
  • Place them in a teapot.
  • Heat water to nearly boiling. Boiling water will oversteep and cook the delicate leaves and give a grassy taste. The water should be the same temperature as you would use for French press coffee, or for green tea.
  • Let steep for several minutes before drinking, but leave the herbs in.
  • Pour into tea cups and enjoy!

And here are some great ideas to add more complexity and play around with other flavors.

 

 

 

ROAST CHICKEN AND PRESERVED LEMONS

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Preserved lemons have been on my radar for a while and I had a feeling I would love it. I first tried it at a friend’s house who brought out a jar to accompany our Indian take out dinner. And as I suspected, I loved its salty, lemony-umami blast of flavor on the warming spicy Indian flavors.

Tonight as I was contemplating dinner, I opened my fridge and was greeted by the whole chicken and the jar of preserved lemons that I snatched up when I spotted them at Whole Foods. And lightbulb, lemons are a classic ingredient in a roast chicken so why not the preserved kind?

Roast chicken is usually a meal reserved for weekends but I was motivated and eager to try the combination. Plus, I wasn’t sure this bird was going to last another day. Surprisingly making roast chicken on a Tuesday night is really not that bad in terms of the prep work,  the important ingredient of time is what might make it a bit intimating for a week night. So, while my kids ‘Netflix and chilled’, I got started. No time to lose before the kids unleash their hanger on me.

I went to my ultimate go-to Thomas Keller’s roasted chicken over vegetable recipe from Ad Hoc at Home Have you tried it? It’s the best for crispy salty skin and juicy meat. It has never failed me. Then I looked up simple recipes using preserved lemon.

Roast chicken is something that can be personalized and the combinations are endless. So feel free to tweak this with spices and flavors that you like. I added some cumin and used vegetables that I already had on hand in the kitchen – which did not include rutabagas, fresh thyme, or leeks like the classic recipe called for! But no worry it turned out amazing!

Notes:

  • I like to make bone broth after making roast chicken. But in reality that next step of doing more work in the kitchen after cooking dinner doesn’t always happen. My new strategy to actually get it done, is to take out the slow cooker before I start cooking so that it’s ready to go. I put the carcass into the slow cooker after removing all the meat and fill with water so that its level with the carcass.  Adding some apple cider vinegar helps to draw out the good nutrients.
  • Pureed preserved lemon is a really great condiment to have around. I cut the lemons into quarters, removed the seeds and threw them (flesh and rind) into my Vitamix to make a puree. I put some puree out on the table as a condiment with the roast chicken for extra oomph.
  • I’d love to try making preserved lemon one day. Here’s some inspiration and 2 ways to go about it.

Recipe after the jump.

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HEARTY VEGETARIAN CHILI

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I’ve been looking for a good vegetarian chili recipe for a while. When I say good, I mean healthy, flavorful and filling without missing the meat. I found a few that called for interesting and non-traditional ingredients like lentils and quinoa – all darlings of healthy eating and a good source of protein! So I decided to give it a go for a Meatless Monday family meal.

I think its imperative to serve with some good bread. And by good bread, I mean the best bread you can find. Around here, Acme bread reins and I can find it at my local Safeway too.

And of course serve with a side of more veggies – it’s Meatless Monday, go all out! I made a 2 ingredients salad. Roasted Golden Beets and Kale with a simple apple cider vinaigrette.

A couple of notes.

  • I love heat, but my kids can’t take too much yet so I added half a jar more tomato sauce to tone it down. After I realized the chili was too spicy for my 4 year old’s taste, I asked the google how to reduce spiciness. So adjust the spices to your liking.
  • Sky’s the limit on variations of this. Some ideas I’d like to try spotted on the internet include: squash, zucchini, sweet potatoes, kidney beans, chick peas, etc. Just load it up with the good stuff!
  • And ditto for the toppings. I went California style and added avocados (the lemon tops in the picture above were to keep them from browning) and cilantro, chopped onions and some shredded cheddar cheese for the kiddos.
  • Chili is a mom’s best friend. Makes great leftovers and is freezable. #momwin

Here’s the recipe adapted from TasteLoveandNourish.com

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INSPIRATION & INDIAN LENTIL SOUP

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Indian Lentil Soup

I admit, there are days I need a lot of motivation to roll up my sleeves and take action in the kitchen to get dinner started. We recent got back from a weeklong trip to NYC and with our normal rhythm out of whack, I’ve been needing a little more push to do the normal dinner routine.

One way I’ve tried to snap myself back into motivation is to tap into the wonderful world of Youtube and the great content out there that seems devoted to passing on recipes as much as it is to get people motivated to cook. While there’s a lot of bad (IMO) content out there, I found a wonderful gem called Green Kitchen Stories. It’s filled with gorgeous food photography and all the recipes are vegetarian/ plant-based. My eyes and mouth were watering. I’m not a vegetarian, but I love my greens and this channel just might convert a carnivore to vegetarianism.

The videos did their job of convincing me that my experience in the kitchen will be filled with music, beutiful ceramic dishware and an ease that comes with having a long afternoon to slowly chop my vegetables. Far from the truth. I had at least 3 piles of laundry to do, which was urgent because for the first time ever, my 4 year old son ran out of clean underwear (SMH), aaand my toddler was about 2 minutes from waking up from his nap.

But something about it worked – my brain’s synapses were fired up (not sure if that’s technically correct, but I’m going with it) and ready to make dinner. I went on the blog to look around for some easy recipes and found a straightforward Indian lentil soup recipe on their blog.

The recipe was super easy with spices that I already had in my pantry (curry powder, tumeric powder, lentils!) and basic fresh produce that I always have on hand. I put it together before picking up my son from school and finished it off when we got home.  This will definitely be in my regular dinner rotation.

Because I can use more inspiration in my arsenal, what are your favorite blogs or video channels you go to for inspiration to get in the kitchen? Leave me a comment to share!

Below is the recipe.

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MA-PO TOFU

mapo-tofuIt was one of those week nights I was stumped on what to make for dinner. I could possibly describing most week nights! But I stood numbly in the kitchen and tried to come up with something before hanger crept into the house. In the fridge I saw tofu and some ground pork I bought for meatballs and then boom! ma-po tofu came to mind which is interesting because … meatballs to ma-po tofu? Plus, I’ve never made it before nor have I pinned it, which is the next best thing, right?

Ma-po tofu wasn’t a staple take out or chinese restaurant dish for my family growing up.  My husband actually introduced me to the dish during our dating years. Little did I know the sauce came from a little instant pack from the Asian grocery store where all you have to do is add the fresh ingredients. AKA bachelor food. I was actually quite impressed, because he’s great at visual presentation so it possibly made up a lot for the taste. And hey, I was in love and happy to have dinner made for me. It could have been buttered toast and yum, swoon. Ah, young love.

Well, back in the weeknight kitchen, I looked up the recipe and found one from epicurious.com whose recipes haven’t failed me yet. I saw a key ingredient was bean paste but didn’t specify what kind. As a home cook who rotates between Korean and Japanese food, fermented bean paste is a pantry staple. I had a choice between Japanese Miso and Korean Duenjang and I’m guessing Sichuan cuisine has its own version. I substituted the bean paste with the Korean duenjang because it has a much more pungent and intense flavor than Japanese miso, which I thought was a closer substitution to the flavors I’ve experienced in ma-po tofu. And it turned out lovely! I also happened to have some Sichuan peppercorn that I’ve never used. I toasted and crushed them to garnish I had an impression that it would be overly spicy so didn’t mix it in for the kids, but it’s actually mild and has a licorice-like flavor. Amazing. So next time, I’ll be including it in the entire dish for the kids as well.

Served with a side of veggies and mixed grain rice, I would also file this under healthy and kid friendly, and easy!

After the jump is the recipe from Epicurious.com that I adapted. Enjoy!

Note: After looking up several recipes, it seems this dish is traditionally spicy and fiery, this version with the Korean fermented bean paste was not. It just has the lovely fermented pungent umami flavors that my kids love.  I’ll probably try one of the spicier versions with its just me and the hubby.

Image credit: splendidtable.org

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NOT YOUR EVERYDAY OATMEAL

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As an avid reader of food blogs I’ve seen a trend over the last year or so. Overnight oats recipes frequently popped up on my radar and what endless possibilities! The top 5 overnight oats with bananas, the top overnight oats for a protein boost, overnight oats for flawless skin! You know what I’m talking about. At first, I didn’t get it. I didn’t get the overnight part. I mean oatmeal can take all of 10 minutes to make. It was a head scratcher for me but for some reason I couldn’t stop pinning those darn recipes!

Intrigued and exacerbated from pinning gorgeous pictures of oatmeal, I went for it and made a peanut butter banana version. The next morning, I quickly got the hype. It’s fast, and delicious and breakfast is waiting for you and your family in the morning. And everything tastes more delicious in mason jars.

But this isn’t another recipe for overnight oats, because my family eats hot oatmeal every single morning. It’s part of our family routine that keeps us balanced and sane. It’s just expected, like how the sun rises in the morning and therefore oatmeal is made. That’s just how it works around here.

This past weekend when I was on breakfast duty I decided to dress up our normal oatmeal routine. Inspired by overnight oats recipes, I simply added a dollop of peanut butter, honey, cinnamon and toasted walnuts to steel cut oats. These simple additions elevated our normal breakfast into something special. Needless to say, my three year old was smitten at peanut butter and gobbled it up.

Here’s a lovely recipe with some additional spices to make it a deliciously warm and comforting morning meal. Enjoy!

Photo Credit: Unsplash, Jennifer Pallion