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Archive for the ‘Japanese Food’ Category

The biggest problem with green tea ice cream, at least for someone trapped in Arizona, is finding decent green tea powder.  Green tea powder, more appropriately called matcha, is the end product of carefully grinding down green tea leaves. As you can tell from the Wikipedia article, it is an involved process. Good matcha has a strong green tea taste without being overly bitter.

It was a trial to scour the “ethnic” markets of Arizona until I found a suitable source at a reasonable price. Our standby, Lee Lee, did not have green tea powder on any of the occasions we visited.  Mekong faired no better but I will admit that I do not know my way around its narrow aisles. There could have been an entire section devoted to green tea powders and I simply did not recognize it as such.

Undaunted, our expedition pushed deeper into desperation. For only  desperation could have led us too: Whole Foods. This is where I learned that matcha is apparently the most expensive substance on Earth because they tried to push a $50, 1 oz container of matcha on me. Unwilling to leave empty-handed I decided to spring for this stuff.

Do not make the same mistake. This is not matcha, this is matcha flavored powdered sugar. It is actually fairly tasty but it lacks the strength that real matcha possess. You can see the difference below:

The “sweet matcha” is the lighter outer ring, the real matcha is dark green stuff in the center. Using “science” I would suggest that real matcha is 2-3 times more potent then the colorful but ultimately weak sweet matcha. To get real matcha we had to drive out to Fujiya. They only had one brand but it turned out to be pretty good:

It might not have cute packaging but it had the kick I needed for this recipe.

The take home lesson here is that you should give serious thought to just ordering matcha online.

I used a hybrid recipe for my green tea and made a few modifications to the protocol. For the basic ratio I went with SteamyKitchen.com’s “Matcha White Chocolate Ice Cream” recipe but I omitted the chocolate and roughly doubled the amount of matcha. I combined Hair’s recipe with this one that I found online. Unlike most the ice cream I make, this is a custard base which means it is a bit more involved then adding cream to eggs and sugar.

Matcha Ice Cream Recipe:

Adapted from Jaden Hair and nameless Teavana corporate writer #366

Ingredients:
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 ½ cups milk
1/8 teaspoon fine salt
4 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons matcha powder, sifted
1/2 cup granulated sugar

1. Mix the cream, milk  and salt in a double boiler. Bring to a low simmer, stirring constantly. Reduce heat. I used a heavy saucepan but it would have been less stressful in a double boiler.

2. Whisk the yolks, matcha and sugar until mixed. Pour a thin stream of about 1/2 cup hot cream mixture into the yolk/sugar, mixing constantly. Pour the now tempered yolk mixture into the main cream mixture, stirring constantly.

3. Stir constantly on low heat until an instant read thermometer registers 180°F, it should be noticeably thicker at this point and will easily coat the back of a spoon. Do not let the mixture boil! Strain through a fine mesh and refrigerate.

4. Put it in the ice cream machine as per manufacturer instructions.

Additional Notes: I think most custards are not supposed to be heated past 170°F. In my experience this yields an ice cream that is not noticeably different than what you would get if you skip the heating step altogether. 180°F yields a ridiculously thick and smooth custard that justifies the additional effort.

Enjoy!

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Taiyaki!


Easily one of the best things about living in Japan, even for a non-Japanese speaking yonsei like myself, is going to any of the seasonal celebrations (I am a fan of the cherry blossom festival) and gorging on all the delicious festival foods. Of those, taiyaki is probably my favorite. Taiyaki are basically slightly crunchy, filled pancakes. They traditionally come in the shape of a fish, although simpler hockey puck (imagawayaki) ones are also popular. Pretty much all of the taiyaki I had in Japan were filled with azuki bean paste but there are ones filled with various sorts of cremes as well. My fiancée loves taiyaki as well and she has been pestering me to learn how to make them.

Challenge accepted.

I have seen taiyaki molds at several Asian stores but your best bet is to look for one at a Japanese specialty market. We got ours from a Marukai during a recent visit to Los Angeles and it looks identical to basically every other taiyaki mold we have seen. We looked over a handful of recipes and settled on Mamaloli.com’s recipe because it did not require too many specialty ingredients.

Our taiyaki mold, greased up and ready to make delicious.

Enough preamble, let’s cook some taiyaki.

As much as I like azuki bean paste, I know from experience that it is a process to make properly. Further, my fiancée loves the creme filled taiyaki. After some debating we settled on this Hawaiian style coconut pudding recipe. Sugar, coconut milk and a pinch of salt go into a pot on medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Shredded coconut is added and warmed until it softens up. In the future, we will probably give the shredded coconut a light toasting prior to adding it to fluid. In another bowl, whisk together equal parts water and cornstarch. Once the cornstarch is properly emulsified, pour it into the coconut milk mixture and continue to stir. The cornstarch should thicken the mixture instantly but we had to cook it for another couple minutes to get the yogurt consistency indicated by the recipe. When it has thickened to your liking, set the mixture aside to cool. Ideally, you want to have it chilled before you start shoveling it into your taiyaki.

Yogurt like consistency achieved.

Next up, the batter. The batter is very simple and resembles pancake batter. The same principles apply to the taiyaki batter; whisk the dry ingredients together and then pour the wet into the dry. Whisk thoroughly and you are ready to pour. The taiyaki mold should be heated over a low-medium temperature, on both sides.

Our best guess is that you want to use about 1/2 cup of batter per taiyaki. That is definitely not a hard and fast rule though so play around with it.  Do not worry too much about making sure the filling gets into every nook and cranny. If the pan is hot enough, the batter should rise and spread as it hits the pan. It takes some time to get used to this process so do not feel bad if your first few taiyaki come out shaped funny.  Our experience showed that you want to add batter until it is about equal with the edges of the mold.

Next, add the chilled filling. We found that 1-2 tablespoons appeared to be the proper amount. Too much filling will punch holes in your taiyaki and too little will make the taiyaki into a very ornate dry pancake.  In the picture above, you can see that we put some filling in the dorsal fin. This will made the final fish look odd but otherwise did not prove to be much of a problem.

A final layer of batter is poured over the filling. Aim to cover as much of the filling as possible but if some filling is still visible do not sweat it.

We found that it was best to cook it over a medium-low temp and rotate it every minute or so. If your pan was hot enough and you oiled it up right, you should be able to pry the taiyaki off the mold and check both sides for doneness. The picture above shows what the taiyaki looks like just prior to being trimmed.

Where Things Go Wrong: Troubleshooting your taiyaki
From our own trial and error we identified four areas where taiyakis go awry.

1. Overfilling.
2. Overcooking.

If you overfill, as I did in the picture above. Your taiyaki will burn onto the mold and then it becomes a pain to get it out of the mold, either to check if it is done or to get them out of the molds at the end. Also pictured above, is what happens if you cook your taiyaki to death. The filling will begin to boil out of weak spots in the taiyaki. They still taste fine but they just do not look as cool with bits of white fluid leaking out of them.

3. Under filling.
4. Cooking too slowly.

If you under fill your taiyaki, as I have done in this picture, you will end up with sad finless fish that may or may not have filling oozing. Again, still completely edible, just not very cool looking. Your fish will also fail to rise if the pan is not hot enough when you pour the batter. More importantly, the pan must stay hot after you add the batter. We had a couple batches of taiyaki that lacked fins and I concluded that this was because the batter never expanded to fill the periphery. If you rotate the closed mold immediately after pouring it will fill in the edges better.

Those are the four basic problems we ran into while making taiyaki. As you can see from the picture below, you can totally use your two good taiyakis to hide their misshapen brethren.


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Change of pace this week. I originally planned to make chicken karaage (aka: glorious deep fried joy) but I ended up changing my mind while I was shopping. This cabbage casserole recipe has been sitting on my “to-cook” pile for weeks and I figured I should get to it before the Phoenix summer makes eating anything besides ice water a chore. There was a fair amount of prep work for this dish but in the end it boiled down to placing alternating layers of stuffing and blanched cabbage into a pot. The hardest part for me was finding a plate heavy enough to anchor the casserole but small enough to fit inside my pot. I settled on a pot lid with a water filled Pyrex container on top for weight.

The unintentional still life above is the end product of careful cabbage leafing. The cabbage was fantastic and I am glad I picked it up at the Phoenix Public Market earlier in the week.  I do not go in for the whole “organic is instantly better because the package says organic” but I do approve of local sourcing when I can.
Recipe from the always awesome JustHungry.com. It is fairly difficult to remove the cabbage leafs without shredding them. I found the easiest thing to do is use a sharp knife to slowly cut through the base of the cabbage as you pull the individual leafs off. 

If you have ever made hamburger patties, you have made this filling. Ground meat, some fragrant vegetables, rice for bulk, tofu for lightness, and an egg to bind it all together. I went with the authors suggestion of 50/50 ground pork/beef but next time I will likely try to make it with just turkey. I chopped all the vegetables but you could definitely use a food processor to speed this step up.
Next time I make this dish I will add more vegetables. A couple cloves of garlic would be fantastic, as well as some red peppers and celery.

The sauce is a straightforward combination of chicken broth, tomato paste, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper. I would suggest that this is also a prime candidate for a few cloves of garlic.

I did not get any pictures of the actual assembly process because it took about five minutes to complete. Try to think of it as putting the cabbage back together with meat between all the layers. Prior to assembly, the cabbage is blanched until just pliable. I used a strainer to hold the small bits together and a pair of tongs for the larger pieces. To line the pot I started with the small heart pieces first. You are aiming for a roughly dome shape and I found that it is prettiest to place each leaf of cabbage with the stem portion facing down. This helped contribute to the dome shape as well as stabilize the whole mess against the walls of the pot. Once you lay the last layer of cabbage, pour the sauce over the top and make sure it covers the cabbage. I had to add another cup of chicken broth to cover mine.

Here is what the casserole should look like after a couple hours of cooking. Save the broth! It makes for a good soup, either to serve the casserole in or on its own. The casserole was actually very firm when completely cooked (I let it stew on a low simmer for several hours). Extracting the casserole loaf from the pot was a bit of an adventure though. After some intense planning  my fiancé and I decided to completely drain all the fluid, invert the pot, and use the lid of the pot to catch the loaf as it slid down. It worked surprisingly well and we were able to catch the loaf, sandwich the serving plate on top, and then flip it back over into its original orientation.
A bread knife works wonders for cutting into the casserole without tearing any of the delicate outer layers.

The finished product was delicious. We were well into our second slice of cabbage pie before we remembered to take pictures. It is supposed to be served in the broth but we found it was delicious with ketchup and sriracha. If you have any questions, I would love to answer them in the comments section!

Other Thoughts:

I would consider making a personal sized version of this recipe in ramekins. I would start by cutting sheets of cabbage to fit the ramekin and then make several layers. Probably more trouble than it is worth but it would certainly look cool.

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