Eating Ehomaki on Setsubun

I picked up a few Ehomaki (恵方巻き which translates to “lucky direction roll”) at Mitsuwa and ate them at home to celebrate a Japanese holiday called Setsubun (節分).

It’s a tradition to eat a giant hand roll sushi on February 3, facing the lucky direction.  The direction changes every year and this year was South South East (南南東) … I know, it’s SUPER strange but I’m all for a holiday that you celebrate over delicious food.

In addition to eating Ehomaki, you also do a thing called “mamemaki (豆まき)” as part of the celebration, where you throw a handful roasted soybeans outside the door while yelling “Demon out, Luck in.”  I skipped this part this year because I was out of soybeans.

I know — you can make these things up!

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Happy New Year 2015

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The New Years Eve rituals continued at the Lavender and OLiVE household, starting with assembling the Osechi boxes on the New Year’s Eve at the in-law’s house. We started earlier this year at 9:00 a.m. instead of the usual noon so we could be home in time to prepare for the NYE party with our friends at home.

I took a bunch of photos this time around so I can compile them into one photo book for memory and record. Here are the photos and a short description of each dish:

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Kaki to Daikon no Namasu (柿と大根のなます):

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Matchstick daikon radish and persimmon marinated in vinegar.  This is a new menu added to Osechi this year, thanks to abundant crop of the fruit in grandmother’s backyard.

Renkon no Umezu Zuke (レンコンの梅酢漬け): 

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Thinly sliced lotus roots marinated in plum vinegar.

Kuri Kinton (栗きんとん):

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Mashed chestnuts and yam cooked in syrup, with chestnut on top.  It’s very similar to the Italian dessert, Monte Blanc, and very lovely.

Kawasagi no Nanbanzuke (かわさぎの南蛮漬け):

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Fried wakasagi marinated in sweet vinegar.

Tataki Gobo (たたきごぼう): 

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Pounded burdock roots cooked in dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar.  Yes, as the name indicates, these poor little branch-looking burdock sticks are pounded with a rolling pin into submission, but don’t fret, they come back as delicious vegetable dish.

Kouhaku Namasu (紅白なます): 

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Shredded carrots and daikon radish marinated in sweet vinegar.  It’s very similar to the persimmon and daikon sunomono, but the vegetables are shredded much thinly than its red and white cousin.

Tazukuri (田作り): 

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Dried sardines cooked in soy sauce.

Koromame (黒豆):

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Another type of Kuromame (黒豆):

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Soy beans cooked in brown sugar.

Okara (おから):  This is my favorite dish in Osechi, and I don’t know the proper name of this dish!

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Okara mixed with marinated mackerel, radish, and carrots.  This is pure deliciousness.

Kikka (菊花):

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Chrysanths flower made out of radish.

Kouhaku Kamaboko (紅白かまぼこ):

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Red and white fish cakes.

Daikon to Samon no houshomaki (大根とサーモンの奉書巻き):

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Smoked salmon rolled in paper thin radish marinated in vinegar.

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There’s an art in packing each item in the ojyu, or Osechi box.

The top layer is called “ichi no jyu” and typically contains nerimono (fish cakes, etc.)

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The second layer, or “nino jyu,” contains seafood.

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The third layer, or “san no jyu” contains “nimono.”

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So, after we were done with Osechi packing, we headed home to prepare for the shabu shabu dinner party we were hosting. It has become a ritual for the four of us to enjoy shabu shabu on the NYE. Last year, we only make it to 10:00 p.m. before everyone passed out, but we actually make it past midnight this year!

I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2015!

“Everyday” Sesame Sticks

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Another recipe from the “Every Day book. Another big success. I can’t stop eating these sesame sticks and neither can my 21-month old toddler!

I didn’t have black sesame seeds so I replaced them with white.  It’s so nutty, subtly sweet, and the crunch is irresistible.  My daughter is begging me for another one while I type this … and I don’t blame her. The batch I just baked is almost gone now.

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Black Sesame Sticks

黒ゴマスティック(「まいにち食べたいごはんのようなクッキーとビスケットの本」から。)

80 g cake flour
20 g whole wheat flour
20 g cane sugar
20 g black sesame seeds
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons soy milk (you can substitute with water)
A pinch of salt

Here’s the detailed information on how to make these yummy sticks. It’s in Japanese but there are plenty of pictures to help you along the way!

Smile Biscuits

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It’s so ironic.  Japanese tourists would drop hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars gobbling up American goods when they’re visiting the states on a holiday, while we Japanese living in the states would spend three times as much to get Japan-made products online or at local Japanese stores!

I love Japanese book and I can spend hours browsing through Amazon Japan to check out fun cookbooks and craft books. I usually resist the urge to purchase anything since it’s more expensive to buy it here and the shipping fee is pretty ridiculous, but once in a while, especially when I’m tired and lacking the willpower, I push the “click to purchase” button, which immediately follows by a buyer’s remorse.  But most Japanese books are so well written and practical, I’m always glad to have ordered them when they arrive at my doorstep three to five business days later.

My latest purchase was this baking book titled, “Mainichi Tabetai Gohan no Youna Kukki to Bisuketto no Hon,” (まいにち食べたい“ごはんのような”クッキーとビスケットの本), which translates loosely to, “Book of cookies and biscuits you want to eat every day like a meal.” The author, Shiho Nakashima, cleverly and quite accurately titled the book as such, because all the recipes included here are so healthy (maple syrup instead of white sugar; a tiny bit of canola oil instead of butter, and no eggs, for example), one won’t experience an ounce of guilt even after eating these baked snacks every day.

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The basic, and perhaps the most popular among the cult followers (Nakashima has published several more books on this “every day” series, including everyday muffins, crackers, and chiffon cakes, which are equally impressive), is the Smile Biscuit, which you see here. It’s made out of the combination of whole wheat and cake flours, maple syrup, and canola oil. I was pretty hesitant at first (how can something with virtually nothing in it possibly taste good?) but I was surprised when I took the first bite of the super dense biscuit.  It was absolutely sensational!  It was so simple but not plain, and so gentle but not flavorless.  It reminded me of snacks I grew up eating in Japan in the early 80s, before all the artificial sweets began filling up the grocery store shelves.

You can’t really think of this as a substitute for a regular, butter and sugar cookie but think of this rather as something completely new to our taste buds. Sure, it tastes nothing like the cookies that we’re accustomed to, but it brings a wonderful, fresh flavor and texture (and so much comfort) that would sure to satisfy any adventurous and open-minded cookie lovers out there. I am absolutely in love with these cookies / biscuits and I will, in fact, bake them and eat them every day as part of my daily dining ritual.  (Confession:  I received this book a week ago and I already made four batches of it.)

Here’s the video of the author making the Smile Biscuit!

Silverlake Ramen

IMG_6895I’m not sure if my taste bud has changed but some of the ramen places I once thought were phenomenal have become a bit of a blah. I used to rank Santouka and Mottainai, both located in South Bay, to be two of my favorite ramen restaurants in Los Angeles (Daikokuya is still my undisputed champ), but my recent visits there made me think otherwise. Don’t get me wrong – their ramens are still very decent and in fact, a Japanese TV show recently ranked them in the top 10 ramen shops in LA and Orange County – but I didn’t experience the euphoric high that I once enjoyed after slurping their milky tonkotsu broth.

Though never a ramen addict, I do have an occasional craving for the super-high-in-sodium-but-totally-worth-it Japanese comfort food … and it often comes in scorching hot days, like today. Let’s call it a ramen paradox – how a hot noodle soup (in temperature, as well as flavor) tastes extra delicious in a 100-plus degree weather.

Determined to recreate the ramen love I once felt, my husband, Pon Pon and I headed to Silverlake Ramen, a small, no-frill establishment in a shopping center on an artsy and very hipster stretch of Sunset Boulevard. This place has received positive reviews on Yelp, and we conquered with the consensus.

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We ordered the tonkotsu ramen and shared a place of grilled gyoza. I really liked the flavor of the broth and how the “kotteri” (rich) soup intertwined beautifully with the slightly undercooked (just the way I like it) noodles. I think I favor this bowl of pork bone broth over my previous favorite places, but with one caveat. Although flavorful, the broth was way too heavy and thick, like the humid air outside. It was definitely more fatty and salty than I would like, so much so that my palette, as well as my stomach, got too overwhelmed and couldn’t finish the entire bowl. But yes, this place is very good and I would definitely come back here to satisfy my next craving.

IMG_6893These pork dumplings were very ordinary (and I mean this in an endearing way) but definitely brought out the lovely comfort feel to this gyoza lover here.

I’ll be sure to sport a pair of my geeky, black-frame glasses and a skinny jeans next time just so I can blend in with the other Hipsters in this trendy neighborhood.

Silverlake Ramen
2927 W Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026
★★★★☆

Azuki Mushi Pan

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During our first few weeks of parenthood, many veteran moms and dads reminded us that tough times will eventually pass, and we’ll be rewarded with better days in the near future. My husband and I trusted those words and kept our eyes on the prize … and after many stressful days and sleepless nights, I think the day has finally arrived!  biggrin

I’m not sure if it’s because Pon Pon is a lot more low maintenance now that she’s 3.5 months old, or we parents have gotten used the routine (or maybe it’s a combination of many things, like not sweating the small stuff anymore), but our days are much more manageable now. The baby sleeps through the night (she goes to sleep at 8:00 p.m. and doesn’t wake up until 6:00 a.m. on most days), she’s happy during the day, and she’s just so fun to be around. And when she smiles … oh my, those giggles make all those early struggles worth it.  I know that there will be many more sleepless nights to be had, but all in all, we’re in a really good, blissful place.

We’re so incredibly lucky.

My kitchen mojo has returned as well. It has become somewhat of a routine for me to go into the kitchen in the morning a few times a week and bake, before the baby wakes up. I’d turn on Today’s Show, say hello to Matt Lauer, and start mixing. I wouldn’t make anything too intricate or time consuming — just something that I can whip up in less than 30 minutes – but I really look forward to this quiet, tranquil “me” time in the morning.

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Today’s sweet – Azuki (red bean) mushi (steamed) pan (bun). I posted a similar recipe before, but I think it’s worth repeating!

Azuki Mushi Pan (小豆蒸しパン)
(Makes 5)

150 g flour
40 g granulated sugar
4 g baking powder
150 ml milk
2 tablespoons prepared azuki
Sprinkle of salt

Instruction:

① Measure and mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add milk and azuki and mix, just enough to incorporate all ingredients. Be careful not to over mix.

② Divide and pour the mixture into 5 cupcake linings. Steam over high heat for about 15 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

➂ Cool the buns on a baking rack for a few minutes before serving.

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Few pointers:

  • Don’t worry if you don’t have a steamer at home.  Simply use a large saucepan with a lid and put a steel colander basket that you use to wash vegetables with inside.
  • Don’t over mix the dough. It really makes a difference in the fluffiness of the buns.
  • Don’t steam the buns too long and make sure that your steamer is really hot before putting the buns in.
  • If you put too much water, the buns will become wet and sticky.

These little fluffy buns are one of my favorite Japanese snacks.  I like them so much better than cupcakes and have less calories since there are no oil or butter used here.  The combination of airy bun and sweet aduki beans are exquisite.  I’m going to try making the green tea flavor next time.

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I’m realizing every day how important it is to maintain a good balance in life.  Although the baby’s well-being is our upmost priority (and will continue to be), it’s still very crucial to put aside some quality time for myself … and that’s not being selfish.  On a contrary, that’s what’s best for the baby too.  Happy mom equals a happy baby.  smile

Update:

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A delicious variation of this confection is a green tea mushi pan. Simply add 2 tablespoons of matcha green tea powder with dry ingredients. They’re seriously good.

Empowering, One Dorayaki At a Time

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I remember when my family and I first came to the states back in the 80s, it was virtually impossible to find delicate, French-inspired confections what rivaled those available in Japan. Dense sugary cakes topped with thick buttercream (with artificial colorings) and overly sweet and brick-like brownies filled the supermarket bakery counters, and those airy sponge cakes that we were so accustomed to were nowhere to be found.

That’s when my mother learned to bake at home. I think she baked almost every day one year. I looked forward to coming home from school every day, knowing that lemon-infused madeleines (she baked them in cupcake tins because she didn’t own a shell-shaped pan) and heavenly chocolate vodka cakes (yes, vodka!) would be waiting for me upon my return.

The dessert landscape has certainly changed in recent years. It’s now possible to bring home wonderful, high-quality cakes, cookies, macarons and any other confections imaginable, from even as close as your local neighborhood grocer. But there’s something still very empowering about baking things you crave at home, in your own kitchen, whenever you want, however much you want.

My recent empowering moment – making dorayaki, one of my favorite Japanese confections, at home! When the craving strikes, but a trip to a nearest Asian supermarket is out of reach (with a little bebe sleeping in the crib), we’ve gotta do what we’ve gotta do to satisfy the urges!

Dorayaki
(Makes 12 pancakes; 6 dorayaki)
Recipe taken from Cooking With Dog; I doubled the recipe to make more

Ingredients:

4 eggs
160 g granulated sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon baking soda
100 ml water
260 g cake flour
5 tablespoons water (to adjust the thickness of the batter at the end)
18 oz (1 large can) Azuki (sweet red bean paste)

Instruction:

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① Beat eggs, sugar and honey with a whisk. Beat the mixture for about 15 minutes. I used a stand mixture with a whisk attachment.

② In a separate bowl or a cup, dissolve the baking soda with water. Add it to the egg mixture, and mix.

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③ Sift cake flour and add it to the egg mixture; mix but be careful not to over mix.

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This is the consistency of the batter.

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④ Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and set aside for about 30 minutes.

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⑤ Adjust the thickness of the batter by adding water, one teaspoon at a time, to achieve the perfect consistency.  This is the consistency that you’re looking for.  You want the batter to flow down the whisk effortlessly without being too runny.

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⑥ Heat a griddle or a non-stick pan.  Drop the batter onto the griddle or pan; it should naturally form a circle when you drop the batter gently.

I noticed that the surface will come out perfectly brown (without any inconsistent spots) if you don’t oil the pan.  Make sure to use the non-stick kind so the pancake slides right off the surface.

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⑦ Flip the pancake when the bubbles form on top.  Cook the other side for about 20 seconds.

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⑧ Get the pre-made anko (sweetened azuki beans) ready.  You can get this at most supermarkets (in Asian grocery aisle) or at Asian stores.  You can always make your own but I found the canned version to be too delicious to pass up.  I can eat the entire can by myself in one sitting!

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⑨ Scoop about 2 tablespoons of anko and layer it onto one side (the “wrong” side) of the pancake.

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⑩ Take the second pancake to sandwich the anko.  You’re all done!

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These dorayakis are amazing. The cakes (called “castella” in Japan) are perfectly bouncy (different from a regular breakfast pancake) and the combination between the sweet cake and azuki is simply divine. I might like the homemade version better than the store-bought ones!  If you store them in the refrigerator, it’s best to bring them to room temperature before you eat them by leaving them out for about 15-30 minutes (they are much softer at room temperature).

I’m glad I found a YouTube cooking show called, “Cooking with Dog,” that shows viewers how to make Japanese food and desserts.  Each show is narrated by an English speaking dog, Francis, with thick Japanese accent. It’s hilarious and informative – do check it out!