Friday, February 27, 2015

Rickshaws and the Finger Lakes

This month's focus on Japan has made me rummage around in my photos, and cookbooks, and other materials---including running across this tidbit.

This isn't a food-related post but it is going to surprise you, I think.

Antique Rickshaw
Did you know that rickshaws weren't invented in Japan?

They were invented here in New York, in the Finger Lakes ---near Keuka Lake to be exact.  Very close to where our cottage is located.  It's detailed in a history book that we have about Keuka Lake.

I wrote in to Conde Nast Traveler --back in 1999--to share the information with them, and they actually published my letter to the magazine.  (I was surprised when they did!)

So here is their article where Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha, wrote:  "Most Westerners probably imagine that emperors and aristocrats throughout Asia have ridden around in rickshaws for as long as Europeans have ridden in horse-drawn carriages. But, in fact, they weren't invented until 1870.  Before that, wealthy and powerful Japanese were carted around in palanquins, on the shoulders of several men.  The palanquin offered the advantage of a smooth ride over any terrain, but the rickshaw was better suited to the modern age:  It went faster and cut the required labor in half.  Within a few years of its introduction, the rickshaw had spread throughout Asia, although it never gained a following in the West.  Even today, the rickshaw -- like its cousin the pedicab -- is a common sight in India, China, Singapore, and Vietnam.  In Japan, the country where it originated, the rare vehicle survives only as a nostalgic reminder of an earlier age."
And here is my letter they published with a cute drawing.  They titled it Unknown Beginnings.  And this is what I wrote:
"Did you know that the rickshaw was actually invented in the United States? I was drawn to The Way It Was [September 1999], which featured Tokyo in 1894, because the photograph was faulous and because the column was written by Arthur Golden (I am reading his novel right now).  He says that the rickshaw originated in Tokyo, which is technically true, but there is a lovely story I discovered about its invention.  It was made here -- in a little town next to our cottage on Keuka Lake -- and then assembled and sent to Japan because an American living there wanted to ease his ill wife's discomfort.  She had to be carried on a palanquin, on the shoulders of two men, which jostled her around."
A fun fact, don't you think?


Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Daifuku Mochi
Had no idea what mochi would taste like  ---

I knew that they were a dessert/confection made of rice  --- and were going to be gelatinous, i.e., be careful not to choke on one ---but not much else.

Tom brought home some from Wegman's where they are available at the sushi counter.  The package said mochi, but I think these are daifuku, which means stuffed mochi.  

From the outside they are soft to the touch, and coated with cornstarch, sort of like a marshmallow.
Up close, they appeared to have been piped out into little balls.  The rice must be ground into a flour because mochi are ultra smooth.
Inside the first one, the pink one, was a cherry-flavored paste.  I presume it was bean paste.  Tom and and I both said --- hmm, not bad!

Still the mochi texture is hard to like.  Tom thinks it is like jello.  But I say that's too firm. Squishy and stretchy come to mind.  Mochi don't cut easily.
The second one, as I predicted, was green tea.  And quite good.  
The third one was chocolate with maybe some coffee.

And the last one was delicious citrus one -- maybe tangerine or orange.

I guess I should check with Wegman's to see if I guessed the flavors correctly.

And I am sure they are better if purchased in Japan and at a real dessert shop rather than at a grocery story here in the US.

They were fun to try.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Green Tea Financiers

Green Tea (Matcha) Financiers

Since financiers were part of last month's food adventures in France, and matcha is part of this month's about Japan, I thought it would be fun to combine the two using David Lebovitz's popular recipe from his Ready for Dessert cookbook.

He is the baker blogger of Chez Panisse fame, now living in Paris.  (I wrote about him last year when I bought his My Paris Kitchen cookbook.)  He says that this recipe was influenced by the Japanese patissier, Sadaharu Aoki, who "wows Parisians" when he combines classic French desserts with Japanese ingredients like sweet red beans and black sesame seeds.

I was so happy the book arrived today so I could get in the kitchen and bake.  Baking can be very therapeutic, and I really needed the escape.  It hasn't been a good week.

Financiers are traditionally baked in rectangular molds, but this recipe uses the more commonly available mini muffin pans.

This is a very tasty tea cake! I can now see why matcha is so popular in baked goods and treats.

Super easy to make.  Next time I will remember to rap the pans on the counter to eliminate the air bubbles.
This is the key ingredient:  Matcha powder 
Look for it in the tea aisle.  It comes in a small tin.  

Green Tea Financiers
(adapted from David Lebovitz's cookbook, Ready for Dessert)

Makes 24 bite size tea cakes

2 t. sesame seeds (a mixed of black and white)
1/8 t. flaky sea salt
2/3 cup (55 g) almond meal/flour
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
1 T. toasted white sesame seeds
5 T. (45 g) all-purpose flour
2.5 t. green tea powder (matcha)
1/4 t. baking powder
big pinch of salt
grated zest of 1 lime
1/2 cup (125 ml) egg whites (about 4 large egg whites)
6 T. (3 ounces/85 g) unsalted or salted butter, melted and cooled slightly

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Generously butter a 24 cup mini muffin tin. In a small bowl, mix together the 2 t. of sesames seeds, and sea salt, and sprinkle the muffin cups with 2/3 of the mixture.
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the almond flour, the sugar, the white sesame seeds, the flour, green tea, baking powder, salt and lime zest.  Process until finely ground and mixed well.
Add the egg whites, and cooled butter, then pulse until the mixture is smooth, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed to ensure that the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, then sprinkle the tops with the remaining sesame-salt mixture.

Rap the muffin tin on the counter once or twice to release any air pockets and level the batter.  (I forgot to do this and you can see the air bubbles on the surface of my tea cakes.)
Bake just until the financiers feel firm when gently pressed with a finger, about 12 minutes.
Let cool completely, then remove the financiers.

He says that the batter can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before baking.  And says that they tasted the best on the day that they are baked, but will keep for up to a week in a tin, although the crusts will soften, if you do.
A basket full of tasty tea cakes!


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Green Beans with Sesame Dressing by Tom

Green Beans with Sesame Dressing
(Ingen no goma joyu ae)

In an earlier post I referenced that I served green beans with the boiled pork.  This is all part of our journey through Japanese food.  Again like the boiled pork recipe, I found this recipe in the cookbook "Japanese Cooking Pure & Simple" by David Scott.

This was an easy recipe to make and the taste was excellent.  Really added additional flavors to the green beans.  Plan on about 30 minutes to make this dish.  You can do it concurrently with the boiled pork dish, or any other recipes.


Green Beans with Sesame Dressing
(From "Japanese Cooking Pure & Simple" by David Scott)

Serves 4

2 cups chopped green beans (I used a small bag of Wegman's trimmed green beans that have been cleaned and cut.)

4 tablespoons white sesame seeds
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar

Cook the beans in lightly salted water for about 8 minutes until they are tender.  Drain and set aside.
In a small pan, roast the sesame seeds until they start to pop.  Be careful that you don't burn the seeds as this can happen very quickly.  (A time saving step is to purchase roasted white sesame seeds.)

With a pestle smash the sesame seeds to release their oil.  This will take some time and you will end up with a bit of a paste.  As you can see from the picture, not all of the sesame seeds will ultimately crush.

Add the soy sauce and the sugar to the mixture and stir well.

Transfer the green beans to a serving dish, and spoon the sesame dressing over the green beans.  Stir the green beans up to insure the sesame dressing gets on all of the green beans.  (I only used about half of the sesame dressing, as half seemed more than enough.  The rest I covered and refrigerated for use with another vegetable later on.)
I plated the green beans with the Japanese boiled pork and Japanese white rice.

A very good accompaniment to our Japanese dinner.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Japanese Boiled Pork Dinner by Tom

Boiled Pork (Yudebutaniku no nikomi)

Continuing on our food adventure in Japan, I volunteered to find something to make after our return from Scottsdale.  Looking in the cookbook "Japanese Cooking Pure & Simple", I found many interesting recipes that unfortunately had ingredients that I knew our local Wegman's would not carry.  So that limited my choices.

But I did find one that sounded interesting, if not sounding very appetizing initially.  I really do not think of boiled meat in water as that appealing unless it is corned beef or something like that, which admittedly has a spice packet to enliven the taste.  But plain water as a starting point did not sound that good.

Fortunately this recipe after the initial water boiling step does get a flavor infusion from soy sauce, sake, ginger and sugar.  In fact the meat really does pick up these flavors intensely, and this became a very flavorful dish.

This is an easy to make meat dish.  Just budget a good hour and a half to two hours to make it.  I started late, so we ate later than normal.  But it was worth the wait!

David Scott's cookbook that was easy to use and follow.

Boiled Pork
(from Japanese Cooking Pure and Simple by David Scott)

Serves 4

1 1/2 lb. boneless pork loin (I could not find a small pork loin, so I used a pork tenderloin.)
1 1/2"-2" piece of fresh gingerroot, pared and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sake
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 teaspoons sugar
2" piece of scallion, white part only, minced

Cut the pork in half so that it will fit in a medium sized sauce pan.  Since I used a pork tenderloin, I cut it lengthwise in half and then each half in half again.
Cover the pork with water and bring to a simmer.  Let simmer uncovered for one hour.  Most of the water will evaporate from the saucepan during this process.
Remove the meat from the saucepan and let it cool a bit.  It will be pretty grey and unappetizing looking at this point in the cooking process.  While it is cooling, rinse out the residue from the saucepan. 

Cut the pork into roughly 1" size pieces, and then return to the saucepan.  Now the flavor infusion process begins!
Add the sliced ginger, sake, half of the soy sauce and 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) sugar.  Add  enough water to barely cover.  Stir the mixture up to distribute everything evenly.   Bring to a boil, cover the saucepan, and then simmer for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes of simmering, remove the cover.  Add the remaining soy sauce and sugar, and simmer uncovered until the liquid has evaporated.  This will take another 20 minutes or so.
Remove the pork from the saucepan into a serving bowl, and serve immediately.  The color will be a nice brown and the flavor will be wonderful from the infusion of the added ingredients.  Sprinkle the minced scallion over the meat.
I served this with green beans with sesame dressing (Ingen no gama joyu ae), and white Japanese rice which will be posted later this week.

This boiled meat recipe was very good.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Roasted Winter Vegetables with Miso Dressing and Toasted Sesame Seeds

Roasted Winter Vegetables with Miso Dressing and Toasted Sesame Seeds
(Carrots, Butternut Squash, Parsnips and Broccoli)

If you didn't try this recipe when I originally posted it back in 2013, you might want to try it as part of Japan month, as we did.

I made it last week when we had a friend over for a weeknight dinner.  We served the veggies with teriyaki chicken and rice with black sesame seeds.

Here's the original post from February, 2013:

Roasted Veggies with Miso Dressing and Sesame Seeds

I saw this recipe in The Meat Free Monday Cookbook. It is becoming one of my favorite cookbooks due to recipes like this.  They also have a website called

This dressing is a keeper!  The miso in the dressing when combined with toasted sesame seeds turns everyday winter vegetables into something special.  The Japanese say miso --soybean paste-- gives the dish unami.    Took us a while to find miso paste in the grocery store.  It was in the refrigerated section of the organic section.  It is worth hunting down to make this dressing.

Roasted Veggies with Miso Dressing with Sesame Seeds
( from The Meat Free Monday Cookbook, pg.  194)

3 medium carrots, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into wedges (I bought a tub of pre-cut)
3 small-medium parsnips, peeled and halved(quartered if they are large)
2 T. olive oil
3 cups of broccoli, trimmed
2 T. honey
1 T. mixed black and white sesame seeds (I used toasted white sesame seeds)

This is what red miso looks like. 
For the Dressing:
3 T. toasted sesame oil
2 t. freshly grated ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 heaping teaspoon yellow miso paste (I used red)
1 T. rice wine vinegar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Parsnips look like white carrots.
Prepare the vegetables.  Then, rub them all over with the olive oil so that all sides are lightly coated to optimize roasting.

Arrange them in a single layer in a roasting pan.  Then roast for 25 minutes or until done.  (Ours took 10 minutes longer.)  (I stirred them up, too.)
Add the broccoli and continue to roast for 5 more minutes.  (Ours took 10 minutes.) 

Stir if needed, then drizzle with 1 T. honey and sesame seeds and roast about 5- 10 minutes more until veggies caramelize (i.e., turn brown around the edges.)

While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the dressing.  Spoon the remaining honey into a bowl, add the other dressing ingredients and whisk thoroughly.
Lightly coat the hot veggies with the dressing and serve.

We roasted small pieces of chicken at the same time, brushing them with store-bought Asian BBQ sauce 2/3 of the way through.



Thursday, February 12, 2015

Bento Boxes to Go

Typical Bento Box on a Train

A bento box is like a lunch box here in the U.S.  They are packed ahead of time and eaten at lunch or "on the go."  

There are fancy ones made of lacquerware but there are disposable ones, too.  They have compartments separating the ingredients, regardless of what they are made out of.    

When we traveled for two weeks around Japan in 2011, we took trains everywhere.  The train system is highly developed, fast, clean and efficient.  Almost all of Japan is very safe, even late at night.

Bento boxes are in the "take out" sections at most of the train stations.

One thing that Tom and I have in common is that we eat almost anything and are not shy about trying new foods.

This is a good thing when you are traveling in Japan and can't read the kongi!


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Baby Bok Choy with Sake, Sesame Oil and Soy Sauce

Baby Bok Choy (Akachan no chin gensai)  with Sake and Sesame Oil and Soy Sauce

I "invented" this vegetable dish to go with chicken teriyaki and rice.  It was so tasty that I definitely want to make it again.  Bok choy is a very healthy green, and the baby ones are so cute!

I really enjoy using my stovetop grill during the winter months.  I start the meat or veggies on the stovetop grill and then finish them off in the oven.

It is a good way to develop some extra flavor and the char marks look attractive.

Baby Bok Choy

Serves 4

About 16 baby bok choy, rinsed, cut in half, damaged leaves removed
2 t. sesame oil
2 T. sake
soy sauce

You will need a stove top grill, a roasting pan big enough for one layer of the baby bok choy, and a piece of aluminum foil big enough to cover the roasting pan.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the sesame oil and sake in the bottom of  the roasting pan.  Toss and coat the baby bok choy with the oil and sake.

Heat up a stove top grill.

Grill both sides of all of the baby bok choy in batches until all of them are blackened and wilted a little.

(Watch that the sake marinade doesn't catch on fire as you move them on to the stovetop grill.)

Return them to the roasting pan.  They should be placed in one even layer, if possible.

When they are all grilled, cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil and place it in the oven to finish cooking.

Covering them with aluminum foil creates an environment for them to be steamed.

They will be done in about 10-15 minutes.  You just want them to be cooked through but not too soft.

Drizzle with soy sauce and serve immediately.