Sunday, April 24, 2011

Eating in Okinawa

Well, I guess I jumped the gun calling Brooke on in my last post (do you remember my last post? No? That's because it was so long ago). Now she has shown me. In an attempt to prevent her from changing the name of the blog to Brooke's Blog, No Court Allowed, I decided to go back and pull out some oldie but goodie photos and try and remember what they were of. Now I'm not just cursing Brooke for forcing my hand, but also myself for leaving this so long I won't be able to include the detail this should have. Oh me - I'm the worst! The above is from our hotel (The Westin) which ended up being very swanky. We got upgraded to VIPs thanks to our frequent use of airmiles for hotel booking and got a nice little cocktail hour every night. Don't mind if I do!

Naha, the capital city, isn't huge, and it really only has one main strip that is filled with all the major shopping, We only went to the main strip one night for dinner. It was like being at a carnival with carnies trying to lure you over to their booth, only here it was to their restaurant or bar. We wanted to try one of these BBQ type places where you pick your meat and then it comes and you grill it and eat it yourself with your sides. Tricky since no one at the restaurant spoke English and none of their menus were in English. FYI, Japanese isn't one of those languages where you can just pull out your translation book and easily translate (unless you are maybe very good at seeing subtle differences between characters). We pointed at one in the category with a picture of a cow beside it, and one that was pig. The beef is shown, and really they don't over hype what fat marbling like this is like. It is amazing. We didn't even know how to cook it with the BBQ thing, but it just melted in my mouth.

Once we realized that the food in Okinawa was so different from what we were eating elsewhere, we decided to really go in a different direction one night. We were hungry, it was late, and there was a very busy tapas place just down the block from our hotel. It ended up being amazing. They had no real English menu, but one that someone had roughly translated and written out on a piece of paper. We ended up getting a chef's choice sampler plate (sadly, here is one of the gaps in my memory, I'm not sure what everything was), an octopus and pesto salad, and a four cheese pizza which was so good we went back and had one each night the rest of our stay - even when we had already eaten dinner. I think one of the cheeses was something like a haloumi or kefalatari since it held its shape even though it was cooked, and it had that great saltiness to it.

Okinawa is a strange place. With the US troops having been there for so long, and with the distance from the rest of Japan, and the proximity to south east Asia, it ends up offering an unusual mix of foods. Here is what we had at the aquarium (P.S. If you go to Okinawa, definitely hit up the aquarium, it is unreal). I had a curry dog on a naan bun, and my husband had a local specialty - taco rice.

This dude made us dinner our last night on the island. This is a special kind of place there, and the guide book had a name for it. Too bad I don't even have the guide book anymore. It is a restaurant where various pig parts are all cooked up (look to the left and you will see where the parts are all cooking). Okinawa is known for pork. This dude also ran a hotel up above, and he spoke very good English and talked to us for pretty much the whole meal.

Okay, I realize this post is not my best work. I guess I should be better at posting when I say I am going to. Hopefully you will hear from me again before another month passes!


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

In my quest to improve my Japanese reading comprehension, I've started using Cookpad to search for new recipe ideas. One poster came particularly recommended, and this is my first try at one of her recipes (with minor changes - i.e. beef instead of pork and omitting the potatoes). I was impressed by how easy this was to make, as for some reason I always imagined sweet & sour would be difficult to make at home. This is particularly vinegar-y, which I like, but if you don't you may wish to reduce the vinegar in the sauce down to 2 tbsp.

Sweet and Sour Meatballs (serves 2):
200g ground beef
1 tsp sake
1 tbsp corn starch
1 tsp sesame oil
1 section lotus root (renkon), peeled, sliced & rinsed
splash of rice wine vinegar

100ml chicken stock
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 1/5 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp corn starch
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil

Mix the beef, sake, and corn starch together and roll into small meatballs. Heat the sesame oil in a fry pan and roll the meatballs until cooked through. Meanwhile, in a pot with boiling water and a splash of vinegar, cook the lotus root slices for about 5 minutes.

Once the meatballs are cooked, use the pan to make the sauce. Before adding the cornstarch to the mixture ensure you have made a paste with the starch and a little liquid, just to ensure there are no lumps. Reduce until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add the meatballs and lotus root and stir until they are heated up, serve with brown rice.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Kabocha, Spinach & Goat Cheese Pie

Normally when I have people over for dinner I don't do the old-school Sunday dinner roast and potatoes (mostly because I am terrible at judging roasting times and I have a fear of serving overcooked meat). I finally decided to take the challenge however, and luckily Canadian Beef has a website that gave me exact cooking times by weight to acheive lovely medium-rare goodness. I wanted to change up the sides though, so I modified this pie slightly from Donna Hay's Seasons, which I received as a Christmas gift and is one of the most beautifully shot cookbooks I have ever seen.

Kabocha, Spinach & Goat Cheese Pie (serves 6):
tomato paste
1 small kabocha/butternut squash, peeled & sliced
1 small onion, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 roll PC puff pastry (1/2 package), thawed
150g goat cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten

Using President's Choice pastry over Tenderflake is practically a necessity. PC comes in 2 rolls which are very easy to use, rather than the flat blocks that take forever to roll out yourself.

Preheat oven to 200C/390F. Cook onion and squash 15-20min until tender and set aside to cool. Roll out pastry to about half it's original thickness, then cut in half and place one half on a lined cookie sheet or baking pan. Spread with tomato past then top with the remaining ingredients. Place the second half of the pastry on top and press or roll the edges to seal. Brush with the egg and bake 30 minutes until golden.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pâté de foie gras

I love, love, love all types of pâté, but j'adore foie gras. Mmmm, that extra fattiness makes all the difference, and I am fortunate to have friends that understand my love and bring some back for me on each trip to France. Somehow, it seems you can always tell the difference in quality between what I have tasted that's been produced here and the original. Also, since I seem to be one of the few people I know that enjoy it, it means I get most of the tin to myself!


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Anna Olson's Pear Almond Tart

I always seem to purchase too much fruit for one person to reasonably eat, so end up with a glut of it on the verge of going off. In my search for a way to use up some pears, I came across this gluten free tart in a recipe on the Food Network site. It doesn't really have a cake texture, more of a squidgy/meringue-y/sticky goodness texture... and if that's not enough to sell it I don't know what is.

Pear Almond Tart:
2 ripe pears
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups ground almonds
6 eggs
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/4 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 350F/180C and butter a 14"x3" pan or tart shell. Halve and core the pears, then toss with cardamom and 1 tbsp sugar. Blend together almonds, eggs, 1 3/4 cups sugar, and almond extract, then pour into your buttered pan. Press the pears into the batter, cut side up. Bake for 40-50 minutes.


Sunday, April 3, 2011


Winter is nearly over but I am still kind of in winter-mode and craving simmered dishes like stews or this one. Without the stick-to-your-bones gravy of most stews though, this is a pretty light dish that is heavy on vegetables and uses the konnyaku (almost calorie-less) to fill you up.

Chikuzen-ni (serves 4-5):
450g chicken thighs, diced in 2cm cubes
4-6 shiitake mushrooms
2 carrots, cut into rolling wedges
1 burdock root (gobo - pictured), cut into rolling wedges
1 cake konnyaku, sliced and twisted
1-2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup dashi
2 tbsp sugar
6 tbsp soy sauce
60g snow peas or green beans, parboiled

Heat the oil over high heat and add the chicken, konnyaku, mushrooms, carrot, and burdock. Cook for about 3 minutes, ensuring everything has a light coating of oil and is partially cooked. Next add the dashi and bring to a boil, then add the sugar and soy sauce. Cover with a drop lid (or a vent-lid like pictured) and simmer until reduced by about 1/3. Add in the cooked snow peas just prior to serving.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Cream Cheese + Skor = Better Than It Sounds

Don't judge me, okay. THIS DISH IS REALLY SHALLOW. After going to several book clubs and birthdays featuring this dip, I finally caved and asked a friend how it was made. Thus, my downfall. I did a quick google search to get the quantities right (the only change I made was to add a little vanilla) and had a Saturday night dessert in 5 minutes.