Archive for November, 2008

Anpan interlude

Anpan from Yuki's

Anpan from Yuki's

Anpan, a soft, chewy bun filled with sweet bean paste, is one of the most wonderful Japanese foods to which I have been exposed. To quote Yusuke, his mouth full of the tasty pastry: “It’s so sad that Canadians don’t know about anpan.” My picture doesn’t really show it well, but an image search yields more examples. For those interested in etymology, the an refers to anko, which is the red bean paste, and pan is borrowed from the Romance language root for bread (e.g., French pain). I can’t really compare it to anything that’s common in North America; you’ll just have to taste it for yourself. As Yusuke says, “it’s sooooooo good.” Especially when it’s fresh out of the oven from Yuki’s Bakery.

Yuki’s is a fabulous boulangerie/pâtisserie in our neighbourhood owned by a Japanese ex-pat and her husband. They have exquisite European-style truffles, tarts, and cookies—often with a Japanese twist, all types of bread and pastries, and a few deli items like cheeses, sandwiches, and quiche. And most importantly, anpan. They only make it on Saturday mornings, so I often stop in to buy a treat for Yusuke, but I have to get there early before it’s all gone. The owner always knows that I’m there for anpan! Yuki’s also sells their wares at the local Japanese festivals, and at the August matsuri we sampled their green tea cheese cake and of course, anpan.

Anpan is so popular in Japan that there is a very famous (think Bugs Bunny) kids’ cartoon character called Anpanman. Anpanman is a super-hero whose head, naturally, is Anpan. One of his special powers is an an-punch. He has a huge cast of food-themed friends, including Onigiri-man (rice-ball man), Currypan-man (curry bread man), and his dog Cheese. I love the pictures of all the characters on this Japanese site (click on the image of Cheese the dog). Anpanman’s nemesis is Baikinman (Germ Man). Scary!

We took the opportunity to pose with a cardboard Anpanman at the festival in August.

Anpanman and me!

Anpanman and me!

Anpanman and Yusuke

Anpanman and Yusuke

Baikinman

Baikinman

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Broccoli with tofu sauce

Broccoli with tofu sauce

Broccoli with tofu sauce

This was one of my culinary experiments. Which rarely turn out well. Sigh. This was actually supposed to be a quiche-like dish with tofu instead of eggs. I used a blender to mix silken tofu, soy milk, parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, and black pepper. I poured the mixture over boiled broccoli, baby spinach, and green onions, and then I baked it in the oven for 45 minutes.

Alas, it never quite thickened properly, thus becoming tofu sauce rather than tofu pie. I think next time I’ll add cornstarch or something. The “sauce” though, turned out to be rather more tasty than I expected, similar to a cream sauce without being oily.

We had plain rice on the side, along with spicy tomato-peanut butter soup. Which, being very easy, I make from time to time. First, I sauté white onions in the soup pot with lots of minced ginger and some garlic. Then I add the rest of the ingredients: vegetable broth, 1 tbsp of tomato paste, 1 cup of peanut butter, salt, sugar, and most importantly, red pepper flakes and either tobanjan or Thai Sriracha sauce. I like to make it pretty spicy, because the final touch is to add raw bean sprouts when serving the soup. The cold, crunchy sprouts nicely balance the spiciness.

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Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki and soup

Okonomiyaki and soup

garnished

Okonomiyaki: garnished

Ah, the famous Okonomiyaki. Yusuke calls it Japanese fast food, or perhaps more properly, festival food. I first had it at the Montreal matsuri (festival) last year, and Yusuke has made it many times since then.

Basically, okonomiyaki is a pancake or crêpe with lots of stuff mixed into it. There are two main styles of okonomiyaki: Osaka (Kansai region) and Hiroshima. Yusuke makes the former, and his preferred ingredients are cabbage (chopped), shrimp, and green onions.

He uses a sort of assembly-line procedure whereby he separates the vegetables/shrimp for each okonomiyaki in a separate bowl, then breaks an egg on top of each, then adds the batter of flour and water. Then he mixes everything within each bowl before pouring it into the frying pan. (I’m the lucky one who gets to wash all the bowls and clean up the spilled flour…) I must say, this is a very effective way to ensure an equitable distribution of ingredients.

Yusuke found a lovely step-by-step illustration of how to make okonomiyaki. Click “Preparation” at the bottom of the page to get to it.

Okonomiyaki is eaten with okonomi sauce, which is thick and rather sweet-ish. You can even buy it on Amazon! Okonomiyaki is also garnished with dried bonito flakes, powdered nori, and mayonnaise (which I skip).

The soup with this meal was miso with mushrooms and bean sprouts.

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Asparagus and zucchini stir fry

Asparagus and zucchini stir fry

Asparagus and zucchini stir fry

This is a stir-fry that I whipped up based on a recipe in my beloved Starving Student’s Vegetarian Cookbook. First, I blanched the asparagus, then sauteed it with zucchini and pine nuts. I added a bit of garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes to the recipe. I like to start a stir fry with a splash of vegetable (or chicken) broth instead of oil, and it worked well here. The flavouring is just soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and black pepper. The pine nuts made it particularly tasty, especially with the crunchiness of the asparagus. The accompanying miso soup had abura-age and green onions. I think I put rather too much age; it looks like it’s about the explode out of the bowl.

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