Sweet Potato Puree & Noodles

I might have committed a cooking sin.  Writing a cooking blog without ever referencing Mark Bittman the NYtimes food journalist who used to write The Minimalist!  But hey, the day is here and I think everyone will be pleasantly surprised by this recipe–I mean sweet potato on noodles?  Starch on starch?  Kind of gross, right?  but nooo, this mix was simple and really delicious.  Really easy to get these ingredients anywhere too.    The cool thing is I found purple sweet potatoes at the market and they look so great with the scallion.  Soba is a Japanese buckwheat noodle that’s a cheap staple.  Eaten hot or cold, I find this dish to be a great fit for the weather– in between Summer/Fall, at least in Shanghai.

sweet potato noodles

Sweet Potato Puree & Noodles

Prep time: 10 minutes                        Cooking time: 20 minutes                      Servings:  4 people

Budget for ingredients: 100RMB (if you go to the wet market)

Equipment:
Cutting board
Knife
Peeler
2 Pots

Ingredients:
2 sweet potatoes (さつまいも)
4 T peanut butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
400g soba noodles (usually when dried, each bunch should be 100 g for each serving)
3-4 stalks of scallions
Directions:
  1. Peel, cut and boil sweet potatoes until you can mash them.
  2. Drain any excess water, mash, and mix in peanut butter and garlic.
  3. Boil water and add in soba noodles.  Should be around 5-6 minutes until cooked.
  4. Put purée  on top of noodles and garnish with scallions.  Serve immediately.

Pumpkin & Carmelized Onion Quiche

As autumn approaches once more I can’t help but reach for the gorgeous pumpkins available in Shanghai at the wet market I live near.  It’s always hustling and bustling, filled with the freshest ingredients at rock bottom prices.  From supermarkets geared towards foreigners such as City Shop and City Super, you can basically find everything you could ever want (except for Queso Blanco that I’d need to re-create Cafe Habana’s corn.  Help here anyone?).  I am no longer in unknown territory, with a few language snafus, but pretty much, I am found and no longer lost as I was when I moved to Japan.  However, if there is any kind of ingredient that I think is special or needs an introduction, I will use a spot of Japanese here and there.  Prices are going to now on be reflective in RMB.

I digress.  Pumpkin, carmelized onion, sage, and gorgonzola makes an amazing mix for a mouthwatering quiche.  On top of that, I made a nice crust using canola oil–absurdity, I know!  Adapted from closet cooking.

Pumpkin and carmelized onion quiche

Pumpkin & Carmelized Onion Quiche

Prep time: 45 minutes                        Baking time: 50 minutes                      Servings:  6 people

Budget for ingredients: 100RMB (if you go to the wet market)

Equipment:
2 Bowls
Cutting board
Knife
Peeler
Frying pan
Oven
Springform pan

Ingredients:
For Crust:
1 c flour
1/3 c ice water
1/3 c oil (I used canola)
For Filling:
1 T olive oil
2 c onion, thinly sliced
1/4 c water
2 c pumpkin, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
salt and pepper to taste
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 c half and half
50 g gorgonzola or other blue cheese, crumbled
20 fresh leaves of sage, chopped

Directions:

  1. Put onion in a pan with 1T of oil over medium heat, and after 10 minutes add water and lower the heat and stir every 10 minutes until a lovely golden brown.
  2. Toss pumpkin with oil, salt and pepper and place in the oven with a tray at 180C and set timer for 30 minutes.
  3. Make the crust by adding together flour and salt.
  4. Whisk water and oil together and then add it slowly to the flour mixture.  Using a fork, the crust should clump together.  Press it into the springform pan.
  5. Mix together the half and half with the eggs, and then mix with all other filling items and pour into the springform pan.
  6. Put into the oven and turn up the temperature to 200C and bake for 35-40 minutes.

Meatball subs

I got the idea of a meatball sub into my head recently(completely smitten kitchen‘s fault) and immediately started salivating like crazy.  It had literally been years since I’ve eaten one and wowie, did this turn out DELICIOUS or WHAT.  Italian food is so nice, homey, and simple.  Basic but perfection.  Just like this blog (JK!).  Must give great thanks to my friend Richard (find him @The Paper Cup) who so graciously took this photo.

Meatball subs cheese bread italian food

MEATY!

Meatball subs

Prep time: 20 minutes                Cooking time: 40-45 minutes              Servings: 5-6

Budget for ingredients: ¥1500

Equipment:
Big bowl
Frying pan

Ingredients:

Meatballs:
2 half loaves of the french bread…so really 1 loaf
500 g ground meat (I used the 50/50 of beef and pork)
1 package of parsley (パセリ <paseri>)
1/3 c powdered Parmesan
3/4 t salt
1/4 t paprika
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 t garlic puree
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1 large egg

Putting together the sub:
Olive oil
2 cans diced tomatoes
1/2 onion
1 c shredded cheese

Directions:

  1. Cut your rolls horizontally, leaving one side together.
  2. Pull out some of the bread white to make a little resting spot to nestle your meatballs into later.
  3. Rip the whitebread into minuscule bits. Set rolls aside until later.
  4. Put the bread in a large bowl with 3/4 cup warm water mix with all the meatball ingredients with a fork.  Use a spoon or wet hands to make 2-inch meatballs.  At this point, you can even freeze your meatballs individually for around 20 minutes, and then transfer into a freezer bag.  Or continue!
  5. Brown your meatballs in a frying pan with a couple tablespoons of olive oil.  DO NOT touch them until they are actually brown, otherwise they will crumble in the pan!  Let them rest on paper towels and throw out the oil (aka soak it up with towels and discard in a trashcan).
  6. Using the same pan, heat up the tomato sauce.  Then lower to medium heat and add in the meatballs, cover and let cook for 30 minutes or so.
  7. Next, put the meatballs in the bread with sauce.  Add on some chopped onions and cheese, and pop it into the toaster oven until the cheese melts.  It took me 10 minutes at 160C.  Tada!  CHOMP.

Spinach and bacon quiche

I was searching in Fukuyama the other day with a really empty stomach for something savory (no, I was nowhere close to my own kitchen).  I went into a rather well known coffee shop where I saw something that they called quiche, but it was GROSS.  I’m sorry Japan, and I don’t mean to rail on other people, surely, some machine worked very hard on making that slice get to the glass display, but it pretty much looked like a Japanese omelette, aka NO FILLING!  The bacon was so scant and…I could go on and on, but I won’t.  Starting this blog and subsequently cooking more was like a double edged sword, the good thing is I have a better palette and my friends can eat the food I make, the bad thing is I have actually developed standards so the outside food just doesn’t cut it sometimes.  Anyways, here is some eye candy for your rumbling stomachs.

Spinach and bacon quiche

Nom nom nom

The recipe is loosely adapted from Emeril’s Quiche Lorraine but I had to subsitute for easily accessible ingredients!

Spinach and bacon quiche

Prep time: 30 minutes (not counting resting)               Cooking time: 45-50 minutes              Servings: 8-10

Budget for ingredients: ¥1000

Equipment:
Big bowl
Square pan
Rolling pin
Parchment sheets
Dried beans
Knife
Chopping board
Frying pan
Spatula
Toaster oven

Ingredients:

For crust

1 1/4 c flour
1/4 t salt
7 T butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1 -2 T ice water

For filling

6 ounces thick cut bacon, cut into narrow strips (or lardons )
20 spinach leaves
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 1/4 c half-and-half
1/4 t salt
1/4 t white pepper
1 pinch nutmeg
1 c cheese

Directions:

  1. Mix the flour and salt in the big bowl.
  2. Add the butter and with your fingers, kind of rub it in until it looks like coarse crumbs.
  3. Add the ice water and the dough should come together.  If it’s not, add more water.
  4. Put the dough inside your fridge to rest for at least an hour.  I left mine for overnight in a disc shape wrapped in plastic wrap.  Just like a person, your crust  needs to get some sleepytime!
  5. Roll out the dough between two parchment sheets and some extra flour until it can fit into the square pan.   Then allow for more resting (30min- 1 hr).
  6. Poke some holes at the bottom of the crust with a fork and then lay parchment paper over it and put dried beans in it.  This way when you prebake your crust, it won’t make a big bubble!  Bake at 180C for 10-15 minutes.  While it is baking…
  7. Cut the bacon into 1/2 slices and render out the fat.  This means heating the bacon on medium heat in the frying pan and then taking it out after 15-20 minutes or until crispy.  The remaining fat in the pan is the bacon grease which can be saved in a jar for future recipes, or you need to wipe it out with a paper towel because if poured down your sink, the fat will solidify and clog up your pipes!
  8. Cut the bacon more into 1 cm pieces.
  9. Put the bacon at the bottom of the baked crust.  Then layer with spinach.
  10. Mix together eggs and half and half together, then add the remaining ingredients.
  11. Pour over the bacon/spinach and bake at 180C for 30 minutes.

Eggs florentine

I used to stumble out of my bed in New York for brunch at restaurants—OH WAIT.  Restaurants in Japan don’t serve brunch.  EVER!  So what was I supposed to do?  No more all you can drink and sunday brunch with friends, talking about the shenanigans from the night before?  I say NO THANK YOU, I will create sunday brunch (which, by the time I actually cooked, was linner time) myself.  So tada, I have a recipe for eggs florentine!  Ooh, hollandaise sauce, お久しぶり!

I also overcame a huge fear when creating this dish–I was scurrrred to the bone by poaching because it WAS difficult even after watching hours of tutorials via youtube, but thanks to tips from friends, not an egg wasted.  It was over easy.

Three very important notes:

1. I am introducing a new tool I picked up at Daiso which allows me to steam and double boil!  I call it a steamer stand, since I kind of can’t find anything online that is comparable.  It is called a 2 way 蒸し蓋落し蓋 (mushibuta otoshibuta), meaning two way steamer and cover, although it is not what a traditional cover looks like .  In fact I am not sure it can be used as a traditional otoshibuta??  Here is what it looks like:

Steamer stand

Another useful thing from Daiso!

2. I have discovered that there are lots of things on sale in the MORNING when the supermarkets open, so I was able to get 10 eggs for 100 Yen ($1)!  I guess the early bird does catch the worm.

3.  My friend Jeffrey had mentioned before I started on the Hollandaise sauce that it was ”All in the wrist”.  BOY, was he right!
Eggs florentine

Our Linner.Photo credit: Cat

Eggs florentine

Prep time: 20 minutes                Cooking time: 25-30 minutes              Servings: 6

Budget for ingredients: ¥600

Equipment:
1 pan
1 bowl (I used my glass one)
Whisk
1 pot
Slotted spoon

Ingredients:

For Hollandaise sauce:

4 egg yolks
1 T water
2 t lemon juice
12 T cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 t salt
1/2 t cayenne pepper

For Eggs florentine:

12 eggs
1 T rice vinegar
1 bunch of spinach, cut into thirds
12 slices roasted ham (forgive me, there was no thicker cut than the sandwich slices)
6 English muffins

Directions:

1. Fill your pan with water to about 1 inch ( 2.5 cm) and get the water simmering.

2. Beat the eggs and water together in a glass bowl until it becomes fluffier and add the lemon juice.

3. Whisk until the volume doubles, and can coat the back of a spoon.

4.  Place the bowl on top of the steamer stand, (water should NOT touch the bowl) and whisk quickly because you do not want the egg yolks to cook!

5.  Drop the butter in a couple pieces at a time and continue to whisk quickly until they melt.  The sauce should double in volume!

6. Take off from the heat and add in the salt and pepper.  Onto the poached eggs!

7.  Fill a pot up with water and add the rice vinegar.  Vinegar is added because it cooks an egg faster than just water alone.  Bring to a boil.

8. Crack an egg into the water, be careful not to break the yolk, and lower the heat into a simmer for a couple minutes.  If that doesn’t work, turn the heat completely off.  Remove your eggs via slotted spoon.

9. Toast English muffins with ham in a toaster oven for 5 minutes at 140C.

10.  Saute the chopped spinach in the pan.

11.  Layer: English muffin, ham, spinach, egg, Hollandaise sauce.  Done, and hens forth, I will not lay on anymore puns.  Eggscrutionarily lame, sorry!

Banh Mi (kind of)

Daikon, or white radish, is used a lot in Japanese cooking, usually in salads, just pickled, or as a little side plate to grilled fish.   I bought one without wanting to make any of the above, but then remembered one of my favorite sandwiches in NY, the banh mi that I always used to get in Chinatown (yes, ironic).  A bahn mi is a Vietnamese sandwich which is refreshing, savory, and sour.  There are lots of different options to put it together, and yes I should have googled it, but perhaps because of slight arrogance (or 100% sheer genius) I decided to wing it from memory.  Therefore, this is not exact but totally hit the spot for me and my friend who came over for dinner that night.
banh mi

dericious

Banh Mi (kind of)

Prep time: 15 minutes               Cooking time: 10-15 minutes              Servings: 3

Budget for ingredients: ¥800

Equipment:

Peeler
Knife
Tupperware
Frying pan
Small bowl
Toaster Oven

Ingredients:

1 carrot
1/2 daikon
1/2 t sugar
1/4 t salt
1/2 c rice vinegar
300 g pork
salt and pepper to taste
1 baguette
3 T mayo
1 T garlic paste
1 cucumber
1/3 c parsley*

*Note: I used Japanese water parsley for this one, which is called SERI セリin supermarkets.  Much cheaper than looking for parsley in the little plastic containers of herbs.

Directions:

1. Peel and julienne carrot and daikon.  Julienne means to cut it into french frie shapes but like the size of matches.  You should cut the veggie in half vertically and cut it into a block formation before you attempt the little precise knifework.  It will make your life a lot easier.

2. Put the veggies in the tupperware with sugar, salt and rice vinegar.  Let it marinate in the fridge for a couple hours.

3. Cut the pork into sandwich friendly sizes.  I did mine the same size as steak fries.

4. Cook with salt and pepper in the frying pan.  Set aside to rest for at least 10 minutes.

5. Mix together mayo and garlic paste inthe small bowl and spread it onto the baguette.  Toast it at 180 C for 4 minutes.

6. Chop cucumber into slices and parsley.

7.  Add it all together and maybe make fry some fries to go with because I made so many references to them.

lasagna

After I took the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) back in December, I really wanted to celebrate the end of it by having some hearty delicious meal.  What better method than with pasta, meat, tomatoes, and LOTS of cheese? YES, LASAGNA!

But speaking of cheese, it is extremely difficult to find a variety outside of the standard Camembert, cheddar, cream cheese, waxy something, or candy (I am not kidding) cheeses that regular Japanese supermarkets have to offer.  If you can get your hands on ricotta, awesome, but be prepared to pay around  ¥2000 for a teensy tiny bit.   If you are insistent on getting ricotta, you can try the following options:

1. Make it by yourself with milk & vinegar (via About.com).  Set aside 1.5-2 hours for this.  You can freeze this afterward if you make a bunch. 

2.  Nihonhacks has a great article giving you directions on how to find/order/get cheese delivered to your door.

If you really are nonplussed about doing the above, then continue onto my style of the cheap and not necessarily authentic, but it gets the job done.  At least everyone who has tasted this recipe says so!  It is also easy to adjust this recipe (ie- make it vegetarian by nixing the meat and layering zucchini or eggplant instead) to any tastebuds.

Lasagna

Prep time: 45 minutes                Baking time: 25-30 minutes              Servings: 4

Budget for ingredients: ¥2500 (more if you use more expensive cheese)

Equipment:

1 big bowl
1 frying pan
Electric mixer
Spatula
20 x 20 x 5 cm square baking pan
Toaster oven

Ingredients:

300 g cream cheese (or whatever cheese you want to spend money on, mascarpone or kiri worked well for this too), at room temperature
1 egg
1/2 t nutmeg
2-3 sprigs Italian parsley, chopped

1 T garlic (either chopped garlic cloves or garlic paste)
1/4 onion, finely diced
200 g ground beef (or if you want cheaper, ground beef/pork)
1 can crushed tomatoes
1/2 T oregano
1/2 T basil
Salt and pepper to taste

40 spinach leaves *
8-10 lasagna noodles
1 cup mixed cheese (the shredded stuff every supermarket sells)

* Note: Spinach is called ほうれん草 <hourensou>.  It is green with red at the end! There is usually a bunch of sand in these, so make sure you wash thoroughly. 

Directions:

1. Cream together egg, cream cheese, and nutmeg and parsley.  Works best with an electric mixer to fully blend.

2. In a pan with medium heat setting, combine olive oil, garlic, onion and beef and cook until the meat is browned.  Should take around 5-10 minutes.  Remove the beef grease that forms.  You don’t want your piece of lasagna dripping with oil later!

3. Add the can of tomatoes and spices to the meat.  I usually simmer this on low for 30 minutes, but I hear the longer the better.

4. Spread cheese mixture on the bottom of the pan with spatula.  Stick two pieces of lasagna noodle next to each other.  Pour 1/4 of the meat mixture on top of this, then layer with 8 spinach leaves.  Next use the spatula again to directly apply cheese mixture to lasagna noodles.  Repeat until you are near the top of the pan!

5. Cover the lasagna with mixed cheese.  Make sure it completely covers the top because you don’t want any of the flavors to come out while baking, or for the lasagna noodles to burn!

6. Bake in a  preheated toaster oven at 180°C for 15 minutes, and then 160°C for 10-15 minutes. 

7.  After it is done baking take it out and let it rest for 15-20 minutes.  Slice, serve, and share.  Not that you really want to share it.