Archive for October, 2008

Oyster rice

Oyster rice

Oyster rice

This was a more adventuresome dinner than anticipated. Yusuke saw a grocery store ad for oysters and had the idea to make mixed rice with oysters. So I bought some. However, when we took the oysters out of the fridge to start cooking, we realized that we didn’t know how to open them. The halves of the shells were solid with no discernible gaps. Hmm. After a few feeble attempts with butter knives, we did what any red-blooded librarian would do. We googled “how to open oysters,” in English and Japanese respectively. The internets offered a clear answer: use an oyster knife. Oh. But we were hungry and not particularly inclined to go on an oyster knife shopping trip.

So Yusuke tried something else. He smashed the end of the shell with a hammer to create an opening in which to put a knife to pry the shell open. While effective, this method resulted in a fair bit of shell shards and ocean grit on the sink, counter top, and floor. Anyway, when the dust cleared, we had a truly pathetic amount of oyster meat in the pan. In my naiveté, I had only bought ten oysters, when two dozen probably would’ve been more appropriate. But no matter. Yusuke made a yummy dinner anyway.

He boiled bamboo shoots and the oysters in a broth of soy sauce, mirin, sake, and salt, and then added it all to the rice cooker to cook the rice. The rice was fabulous, and the oysters were delicately oceany. We opted for simplicity with the soup: miso with spinach and eggs.

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Banana pancakes

Real maple syrup

Real maple syrup

Poor Yusuke didn’t want me to post this meal, but sorry, honey, I did anyway. He was disappointed that the pancakes didn’t quite come out how he hoped. They tasted fine (very banana-y), but the texture was a bit on the spongy side. I think it was just a matter of having the proper ratio of ingredients. But it really didn’t matter, since we had some of the #1 grade light maple syrup that we bought last spring at a cabane à sucre (sugar shack) near Montreal: La Sucrerie de la Montagne. It was totally touristy, but also lots of fun to visit. They still collect the sap with traditional methods, and we even met the guy with the crazy beard whose picture is on the syrup bottle.

Maple syrup, despite what some might think, is not a vegetable, so we had a tasty vegetable soup on the side: potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and white onions in a chicken broth.

A pancake meal

A pancake meal

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Lemon juice veggie stir fry

This colourful stir fry was a little different than Yusuke’s usual mix. Believe it or not, no soy sauce was involved! He used olive oil, garlic, salt, chicken broth, and lemon juice to season the carrots, zucchini, and green pepper. The vegetables were very fresh, so their natural flavour was really enhanced.

We also had miso soup with green onions, wakame, and yakifu. Now yakifu is a very interesting substance. It’s dried wheat gluten that, in the form known as komachibu, comes in little circles that look like baguette chips or croutons. When it’s added to soup, it becomes soft and expands. It’s sort of like a squishy bread, but it doesn’t fall apart or feel mushy. It’s very high in protein and is often used as a meat substitute.

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Portobello sandwiches and quinoa soup

Portobello sandwich

Portobello sandwich

In the interest of equitable division of labour, I try to cook on the weekends, and this was one of the meals that I prepared recently. The sandwich looks a bit, erm, funky in the picture, but it tasted good. I marinated the portobello mushrooms for several hours in soy sauce and red wine vinegar (equal parts of each) and some olive oil. I also added a bit of salt, black pepper, and generic Italian seasoning. Then I grilled them on our George Foreman grill. The sandwich rolls were freshly baked from Wawel, the Polish pâtisserie just up the street from our apartment. (The sign in the window says: “Meilleur beigne au monde”—”Best donut in the world”.) I put some baby spinach on my sandwich, and I usually add raw white onions, too, although I forgot this time. Yusuke put mayonnaise (ugh) on his.

I absolutely, positively adore quinoa. What a fabulous miracle food. Unfortunately, Yusuke isn’t so chuffed about it. He doesn’t dislike it, but he prefers rice. So I decided to use quinoa in a soup rather than in a stir fry or salad. It has vegetable broth with fresh green pepper, carrots, white onions, and tomatoes, seasoned with salt, pepper, parsley, and white wine. It came out well, although I could have cooked the quinoa separately and added it to the soup when it was served to keep the texture a bit firmer. But it still had its fluffy, bubbly goodness.

Quinoa soup

Quinoa soup

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Chez Yusuke shopping list

By popular demand, here are some of the staple items in Yusuke’s cooking arsenal.

Absolutely essential:

  • Rice
    It seems that with authentic Japanese rice, you get what you pay for. We are currently buying hikari rice from our neighbourhood Korean grocery store, which falls into the mid-range quality scale. In the absence of proper Japanese rice, any medium grain white rice will suffice. Specially packaged “sushi rice” in grocery stores is overpriced and not necessarily good.
  • Miso paste
    I can’t pretend to be a miso expert, but it comes in many different varieties. We generally buy white miso (shiromiso). We primarily use miso for soup (almost every day), but it can also be used in stir fries and other dishes.
  • Soy sauce
    Kikkoman is fine, but we usually buy other Japanese brands. I don’t really know how to distinguish decent brands, but “reduced sodium” or any other modifications don’t quite taste right. If the salt is reduced, you just end up adding more!
  • Silken tofu
    Soft, smooth tofu (絹漉し豆腐). For some reason, we have a terrible time finding silken tofu in Montreal. Halifax grocery stores had a much better selection! We generally shop at a small, rather sketchy local grocery store and a slightly odd fruit market, but we have to make special trips to get tofu. The Korean stores don’t even have that great of a selection. We usually go to Provigo, which is the same as Loblaws, which is the same as Atlantic Superstore, and get as many packages of President’s Choice silken tofu as we can. Denver Tofu is also incredibly yummy, for those that live in that part of the world.

Veggies always kept on hand:

  • Baby carrots
  • Green onions
  • White onions
  • Potatoes
  • Bean sprouts
  • Baby spinach, although I just discovered mâche a.k.a. corn salad, and I think I might convert

Other favourite veggies (roughly in order of frequency of use):

  • Leafy veggies: bok choy, cabbage, napa
  • Mushrooms! Button, crimini, shitake, enoki, portobello…
  • Green pepper
  • Italian eggplants (the small ones)
  • Zucchini
  • Avocado
  • Bamboo shoots (canned)
  • Tomatoes: fresh and canned
  • Okra
  • Broccoli (usually frozen)
  • Corn (usually frozen)
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet potato

Special Japanese cooking products:

These are items that we buy at Japanese or Korean grocery stores. Google them to find out more!

  • Dashi—Powdered cooking stock that is essential for miso soup (and other stuff). You can buy miso with dashi already included.
  • Garlic—minced in a jar. We can sometimes find this at other grocery stores
  • Ginger—minced in a jar. Yusuke tries to avoid products from China, but it’s hard to find ginger from other countries
  • Bonito flakes—shaved fish flakes
  • Cooking sake (rice liquor)
  • Mirin—another type of rice wine
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Sesame oil
  • Oyster sauce—for stir fries
  • Ajinomoto MSG seasoning
  • Tobanjan—spicy chili sauce
  • Tenmenjan—sweet bean paste
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Potato starch called Katakuriko (different from standard Western potato starch)
  • Wakame—dried pieces of seaweed for soup
  • Nori—dried seaweed sheets
  • Abura-age—deep-fried tofu sheets
  • Yakifu—a dried wheat protein thingy for soup
  • Instant curry cubes
  • Natto—the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted. Many Japanese dislike it, too. But Yusuke likes it.

Miscellaneous items that we use often:

  • Eggs
  • Firm tofu
  • Shrimp (frozen)
  • Pork
  • Canned tuna
  • White kidney beans
  • Quinoa
  • Lentils
  • Fish: salmon, tuna, trout


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Napa and shrimp

Nappa and shrimp

Napa and shrimp

Once again, an unfortunate picture spoils my attempt to demonstrate yumminess. Sigh.

The main dish was grâce à a new recipe that Yusuke found on the Japanese version of the Kikkoman website. There’s an English version of the site, too, but apparently it’s not nearly as good vis-à-vis recipes as well as goofy animation. Personally, I think it would be much easier to compile Japanese recipes that don’t use soy sauce, but that’s beside the point. So the dish consists of napa (a type of leafy Chinese cabbage) boiled in white wine, shrimp, and naturally, soy sauce. And that’s pretty much it. The cabbage had a nice sweetness that was brought out by the wine, and you can’t go wrong with shrimp. The miso soup has tofu and wakame.

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Spicy tofu

Spicy tofu and soup

Spicy tofu and soup

Spicy tofu—or more properly, mabo dofu (or mapo doufu or mala tofu or 麻婆豆腐 or any combination therein)—is a Szechuanese dish that is extremely popular in Japan. I think Yusuke’s Japanese version isn’t as extreme vis-à-vis spiciness, but it rates favourably on my spicy meter. I could eat mabo dofu and rice every day.

Our soup for this meal was chicken broth with bean sprouts, green onions, and napa. The picture above makes the mabo dofu look strangely orange, but it usually looks more like the picture below, the blurriness of which is due to its being taken on a cell phone.

I happened to have Yusuke’s mabo dofu recipe already typed up, so here it is. Note that the authentic version of the dish is supposed to have ground pork or beef, but Yusuke is very sweet and leaves out the meat for me.

Yusuke’s mabo dofu recipe

Ingredients (measurements are approximate):

  • 1/4 tsp minced ginger
  • 1/4 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp chili bean sauce (a.k.a. tobanjan)
  • Chicken broth: 1 tbsp chicken bouillon (powder) and 1 cup of water
  • 1 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp thickening powder/potato starch**
  • Green onions, thinly sliced or chopped
  • 1 package of tofu (Yusuke uses silken tofu rather than firm), cut into cubes
  • ground pork (optional)

Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the ginger and garlic

Add the green onion, chili sauce, and pork (if desired). Let it cook for a few minutes (if using pork, make sure the meat is cooked through!)

Add the broth, sugar, soy sauce and oyster sauce and stir

Add the tofu and let simmer for about 5 minutes

Reduce the heat

In a separate bowl, mix the starch with 2 tbsp water. Gradually drizzle the starch into the tofu and sauce. Add only one spoonful at a time while stirring constantly. This will thicken the sauce avoiding clumps.

**For this and other stir fries, Yusuke uses a starch powder that we can buy at a Japanese or Korean grocery store. He’s not sure how to translate the name, but it is a fine white powder made from potatoes. He bought some standard North American potato starch, but it did not work as well, so apparently there is something different about the Japanese brands.

Blurry mabo dofu

Blurry mabo dofu

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