Snowman Ice Cream

In Japan, Baskin Robbins is called “31 Ice cream.”   Even though the name has changed, the ice cream is just as delicious and the people of Japan can’t get enough of this American original.  In fact, Japan now has over 1,000 stores all over the country, over 20 of which have been remodeled in 2012, which make a combined 735,000,000 yen per year ($9,423,076 USD).  That’s a whole lotta ice cream!

During summer, 31 Ice Cream always runs a Yuki Daruma (Snowman) Ice Cream campaign.  You can choose one jumbo scoop and one kid’s scoop of ice cream which forms the shape of Japan’s two tiered snowmen. 

When Khoa and I saw the posters for yuki daruma ice cream, we had to give it a try.  Sure, the flavor of the ice cream isn’t changed at all, but there’s something about snowman ice cream that beckoned us to buy it…it’s so dang cute!  So we waited in line and perused the katakana laden menu for the perfect ice cream combination.  Green tea, blood orange passion sorbet, cream soda, chocolate oreo…how could we choose? After much debate and awkward deciphering of English words written in Japanese, we decided on the layers of our snowmen. 

I ordered a choko minto kukki chamu (chocolate mint cookie chum [basically, mint chocolate chip ice cream with cookie dough!!!]) and kyarameru ribon (caramel ribbon).  Khoa was ready to give ordering his ice cream a try, but gave it a second thought after hearing me struggle through that mess of vowels.  He asked me to order him a remon kuranberi chi-zu ke-ki (lemon cranberry cheesecake) and banana ando sutoroberi (banana and strawberry).  Here’s the results:

Michelle’s Snowman Ice Cream

 

Khoa’s Snowman Ice Cream

I have to tell you, both of my ice cream choices were delicious!  Mint chocolate chip with cookie dough?  Brilliant!!!  And the only thing that could have improved my caramel ribbon ice cream with its still gooey layers of caramel would be the addition of pralines.  Khoa enjoyed his lemon cranberry cheesecake ice cream with real bits of cheesecake and his favorite flavor combo, strawberry and banana.      

 

After consuming a jumbo and kid’s size scoop of ice cream plus the cone, we were on sugar overload and regretted being so overzealous in our ice cream choice.  But c’mon, it’s an ice cream cone shaped like a snowman…how can you pass that up?  At the time, I told myself I’d never get another yuki daruma ice cream, but I know I’m going to instantly forget that promise the next time I see the adorable posters advertising this overly sweet treat.

I got my sandwich!!! (and I didn’t have to pay $50)

Remember when I devoted an entire post to ranting about food cravings while living abroad?  Also, when I wrote in a different post saying, “Oh my god, I would pay 50 bucks for a California Fresh right now?”

Well folks, I have finally been able to satisfy  my craving for a California Fresh sandwich and I didn’t even have to find a magic lamp or travel 5500 miles to get it.

I just had to have the best husband in the world.

There he is, holding a huuuge block of cheese.
Mmm, cheese….I mean, Mmm, Khoa…uh…

Khoa, being the ever intuitive husband he is, scoured the foreign food websites in Japan for the ingredients to make me THE BEST SANDWICH IN THE WORLD!

Not only did he order the big block o’ cheese, he also bought a whole turkey breast and roasted it in our oven/microwave/toaster/grill doohickey (don’t worry, he used the oven setting).

Roasted Turkey. So juicy. So good.

He also was able to get a pack of Costco Japan crossaints delivered to our island.

Crossaints

He also prepared all of the fixin’s for one great sandwich.

Sandwich in the making
Red onions from our garden and lettuce from our neighbor’s garden

Put that together and what do you get?

The best sandwich in the world!!!!

 

…and the best husband in the world.

PIZZA!!!

Last weekend was filled with homemade pizza!  Khoa, clueing in to my cheese cravings, decided to surprise me by making homemade pizza dough and pizza sauce while I was working on Saturday (yes, I had to work for a few hours last Saturday 😦  ). But, I would work every Saturday if I got to come home to homemade pizza every time 🙂

Making pizza is actually a lot easier than you think (or…it looks easy…I didn’t make it). 

To make a quick pizza sauce, Khoa sautéed some garlic and olive oil in a pan and added a can of whole tomatoes, fresh basil, crushed red peppers, salt, and pepper.  It’s amazing how well tomatoes, garlic, and basil go together.  You’re guaranteed to have a delicious creation using those three ingredients; trust me, I know how to mess up a dish.  As for the pizza dough, Khoa did a little online browsing and found a recipe over at The Daily Meal.  It worked out great!

 

For Saturday’s pizza, we added yellow bell peppers, shitake mushrooms, red onions, sliced mini tomatoes, and minced garlic.  For the cheese, we used some plain white shredded cheese that we picked up at the general store (the package doesn’t even say what kind of cheese it is…just “shredded cheese”).  We also added some smoked gouda, horseradish gouda, and a little cheddar cheese.  These cheeses are left over from when we went home to America for a visit.  Khoa and I managed to carry three blocks of frozen cheese through airport security.  We went through three different airports, had the cheese X-rayed and tested for bomb residue twice, and Khoa managed to not break his back carrying the heavy load during our 24-hour journey.  It was totally worth it.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been deprived of pizza for a long time, but Khoa’s pizza was amazing!  Definitely better than anything I’ve had here in Japan.     

 

Pizza before baking

 

 

Baked Pizza

 

We had some leftover dough, so Sunday was devoted to making our own mini pizza pockets (Khoa corrected me and said they’re actually “calzones,” but I like “pizza pockets” better 😛 ).  Here they are before baking:

 

We added some olive oil and minced garlic to the top of our mini pizza pockets.  The garlic became roasted after baking in the oven and it gave the crust a nice garlic flavor.  We didn’t do an egg wash on top, but the pizza pockets would have looked nice and golden brown had we done it.  Also, don’t forget to cut a small hole in the top of the pizza pocket/calzone so air can escape!

baked pizza pockets (calzones, if you will)
Yum!

 

Khoa and I had so much fun making our own pizza.  Once we start a family, it’s something that we want to do every week with our kids.  But for now, we’ll be making pizzas together, just the two of us, on our tiny island in the Sea of Japan.

My kingdom for some bread

I was looking through some old posts from a blog that I wrote while I was studying abroad in Japan and I came across this post:

I’m sorry, America, your staple has been out done by the Japanese.

When I first went grocery shopping in Japan, I was disappointed with the lack of wheat bread. I sadly bought a loaf of fluffy white bread instead or my usual favorite, the orowheat bread in the green package. The bread sat on my microwave for a few days, staring at me, reminding me that I don’t really like white bread. I finally decided to eat a slice as a snack, and wow, it was glorious!…

Japanese white bread is great for 6 months, but when you’ve been living away from croissants, baguettes, and wheat bread for two years, your attitude towards that fluffy white stuff will change.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy Japan’s white bread, I really do.  It makes a wonderful BLT.  But when buttery, bleached-flour bread is your only option, you get tired of it. Right now my ultimate craving is for a California Fresh sandwich (turkey breast, avocado, jack cheese, red onion, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, dijon) on a dutch crunch roll from Le Boulanger, a bread and sandwich shop I used to go to at home (I couldn’t find a picture of it on the internet, but if you go to the Le Boulanger homepage, it’s the sandwich that shows up on the front page photo reel).  I usually don’t like to eat dutch crunch bread.  It always cuts up the roof of my mouth and makes my sandwich eating experience less enjoyable.  But the dutch crunch rolls at Le Boulanger are a different story.  They have just the right amount of crunchiness to warrant the “crunch” in their name, but are soft enough to keep you coming back for more bites.  During my visit home to America in February, my last lunch was a California Fresh.  Sitting here typing about my favorite sandwich makes me want it even more.  Oh my god, I would pay 50 bucks for a California Fresh right now!

Woo, calm down, it’s going to be alright.

Anyways….err…in conclusion, Japanese white bread is awesome, but not when it’s your only bread option for two whole years. 

 

…now off to coax Khoa into trying to make me a mock-up of a California Fresh sandwich.  Bye!

Popeye

There’s nothing better than waking up in the morning to the smell of breakfast cooking.

I have been feeling like I’ve had a slight cold for the past week now, so I was glad to finally have a chance to sleep in on Sunday morning.  Because of the sunlight, Khoa can’t sleep in and was up at around 7:45 this morning.  When I finally stirred from my slumber at around 9, Khoa was making me a popeye.  I’m not sure if this is a normal dish, but my dad used to make it for me when I was a kid.  Khoa had never heard of a popeye until I ventured into the kitchen to show him how to make one.  It’s really easy to make…I think if I just show you a picture of one, you’ll get the idea:

A popeye cooking in the skillet

You take a piece of bread and make a hole in the middle using the edges of a cup (the part you drink from).  Once you have cut the circle out of the center, DO NOT THROW AWAY THE ROUND PIECE OF BREAD!!!  That’s the best part 😛  You then butter both sides of the bread and place it in  a skillet.  Crack an egg in the center hole and flip it once the egg is about half way cooked.  Be sure to butter and grill the little round part too.  It’ll become all nice and buttery and toasty. So good!

cooked popeye

Have any of you every had or made a popeye?  Is it just something my dad made up?

Either way, it’s a really simple and comforting breakfast to have on a lazy Sunday morning.

Try it out, you might like it!

It’s the little things in life

Living in a foreign country makes you appreciate the things you took for granted in your home country.

For example, we used to expect all houses to have central heating and insulation and most to have central air conditioning. Now a warm house on a cold day has turned into a fond memory as we sit in our freezing apartment in the winter months of Japan.

We used to stand in a hot shower for as long as we wanted to, but now the fear of running out of kerosene to heat the water and having to walk 30 minutes to the port and carry 10 liters of kerosene all the way back cuts our shower times to a minimum.

We used to freely lounge around in our house at night, never checking all corners for giant bugs before entering a room, but now the fear of a poisonous centipede walking on our face at night has us huddled in a mesh tent after dark. ***three people we know have had a centipede crawl across their face at night***

We used to eat huge, thick, juicy pieces of steak whenever we wanted to, just pop on down to the store and a whole mess of meats were there for the buying. Now we savor even the thinnest, saddest looking piece of beef.

We used to be able to find almost any vegetable we needed at the grocery store. Now we cultivate our own squash, zucchini, artichokes, red onions, sugar snap peas, and bell peppers because we can’t buy them easily/at all.

We used to have hundreds of restaurants to choose from, thousands if we were willing to drive far away. Now we take trips to the mainland with nothing planned except eating at restaurants.

We found some Planter’s Honey Roasted Peanuts and Dad’s Root Beer at the foreign foods store during our trip to Matsue.

When we lived in the US, we could go down to the store at any time we wanted to (24 hour supermarkets galore) and buy these two items. Now that any brand of honey roasted peanut and root beer is hard to get, it makes them all the more delicious. Not having the things you’re used to at home can be tough, but it makes you appreciate those things you used to take for granted.

Living in Japan has afforded us very unique opportunities and experiences that we couldn’t have had anywhere else in the world. It has also made us a lot more humble and a lot more appreciative of the things we had in America. Hopefully this experience will cause us to not take even the smallest things for granted once we return to our home country.

Yo quiero TACOS!!!

The number 1 craving most foreigners in Japan have is for Mexican food.  Greasy, cheesy, spicy, Mexican food.  Unless you live in a big city like Osaka or Tokyo and know where to look, you’re most likely not going to find good Mexican food anywhere in Japan.  So what’s a couple to do 6,000 miles away from California?

Make their own, of course!

Khoa and I have been hosting monthly international events in Chibu.  This month’s event was a cooking class where Khoa taught everyone how to make tacos.  It was really fun, and other than the seasoning for the meat and vegetables, we were able to buy everyone we needed in Chibu.

Deconstructed Guacamole

Here’s Khoa’s recipe for guacamole:

 

2 avocados

1 teaspoon lime or lemon juice

6 g salt

1/2 onion

2 tomatoes

 2 cloves of garlic

1.      Dice the garlic into small pieces and place in a bowl.

2.      Cut the avocados in half, take out the pit, and scoop out the inside using a spoon.  Place in the bowl.

3.      Smash the avocado with a fork.

4.      Small dice the tomatoes and onions and put them in the bowl.

5.      Add the teaspoon of lemon juice, salt and pepper into the bowl and mix.


Guacamole

Before coming to Japan, we would always buy tortillas in the store.  It was just so easy and so readily available; it seemed like any grocery store you walked in to sold prepackaged tortillas.  Heck, even convenience stores sometimes sold tortillas.  Imagine our disappointment as we took that first stroll through the two aisles of food in our local general store.  Well, the bright side of being without tortillas is now we know how to make them ourselves.  And it’s actually quite simple.  Here’s how:

Makes about 12 large tortillas

250 g flour

3 g salt

5 g baking powder

15 g butter

180 ml water

 

1.      Mix flour, salt, and baking powder together in a bowl.

2.      Add the butter and mix with your fingers until it resembles cornmeal.

3.      Add water and continue to mix with your fingers.

4.      In the same bowl, knead the dough for about one minute.

Tortilla Dough.
Kneading, kneading, kneading.

If the dough sticks to your fingers and looks like this, it’s a little too wet. Try adding some more flour to get rid of the extra moisture.

5.      Split the dough into pieces and roll into balls.

6.      Use a rolling pin and roll the dough into a thin circle.  The tortillas will puff up a little after you cook them, so err on the side of too thin.

Rolling out the tortillas

7.      Cook the dough in a preheated pan on medium heat until charred marks appear (see picture below).

8.      Flip and cook on the other side.

Cook your tortilla in a pan until you get some burned spots.

If you like hard taco shells, fill a fry pan with about a 1/2 cm of oil and heat on medium heat.  Lightly fold the already cooked soft tortilla so it resembles a taco shell.  Be sure to not score the crease of the fold, you want the tortilla’s fold to be rounded.  Place the folded tortilla into the hot oil and fry until golden brown.  Carefully flip the tortilla and fry the other side.  Be sure not to fry it for too long or it will simply break when you try to fill the taco shell.  This method doesn’t produce completely hard taco shells, but gives your tacos just enough crunch.

We brought back a huge container of taco seasoning from our last trip back to the US, but if don’t have access to taco seasoning, try using this recipe:

Taco Seasoning Recipe

Makes about 9 Tablespoons

4 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon oregano

2 teaspoon paprika

2 tablespoon cumin

4 teaspoon salt

1  teaspoon pepper

Feel free to play around with the ratios, and add or substitute spices based on what’s available to you.  We can’t get any of these spices in Chibu (other than salt and pepper), maybe your area is better stocked.

 

We added this seasoning to some sautéed onions and red and yellow bell peppers.  We also added it to the ground beef. 

 

TACOS!!!
This one is actually a fish taco.

This recipe is really mild and all of the cooking class participants loved the taste.  If you love spicy foods, try adding some peppers (jalapeno if you have them). 

Although there are a lot of steps to preparing your own homemade tacos, each individual step is really quite simple.  You can even prepare the dough and cut all of the vegetables the day before. 

 

If you’re one of the many foreigners in Japan, craving Mexican food, give this recipe a try.  You can do it!

You should be making this at least once a week

ROASTED GARLIC!!!

 

Does it get any better than a dish flavored with the buttery warmth of roasted garlic? It’s so simple to make and elevates food to a whole other level.

Want to impress your friends with your cooking skills? Give them something with roasted garlic in it.

Want to spice up your same old boring dinners? Add roasted garlic to it.

Hungry and don’t know what to eat? Have some roasted garlic….ok, maybe that’s going too far. But seriously, roasted garlic is the bomb!

Khoa cooks pretty much every day, but when I venture into the kitchen for some simple, sloppy, scientific experiment-like food making, I can never go wrong with roasted garlic.


Here’s how Khoa makes it in our oven/microwave/toaster/grill:

  1. Cut off the top of an entire head of garlic.
  2. Place the garlic in the center of a big piece of tin foil (large enough to wrap around the entire head of garlic plus extra room at the top)
  3. Pour some olive oil on top of the garlic (around 1.5 tablespoons)
  4. Season the garlic with salt and pepper.
  5. Gather the tin foil at the top and twist it shut (it should resemble a Hershey’s Kiss).
  6. Bake the garlic in the oven at 220 degrees celsius (430 degrees fahrenheit) for 45 minutes to an hour.
  7. Unwrap the foil and pop each clove of roasted garlic from its papery casing.
  8. Enjoy!

One minute of prep and 45 minutes in the oven is all it takes.

Try adding roasted garlic to pasta, steak, sandwiches, or spread it on toast. You can even mix it with butter and rosemary and keep it in the refrigerator to have on hand to make a quick garlic bread anytime.

The flavor combinations are endless!

I made my kids eat raw oatmeal

…and by my kids I mean junior high students.  All 12 of them.  And not all 12 in one class, all 12 in the entire school, the only one on the island.  Did I mention Chibu is small?
I eat oatmeal every day for breakfast.  Partly because we bought two huge bags of it off of The Flying Pig and I have to eat it every day to get rid of it, and partly because I actually like oatmeal.  My relationship with the mushy brown stuff has always been a rocky one.  There were times in my childhood when I couldn’t get more than a few bites down and there were times when I couldn’t get enough of it (particularly the Quaker Oats apple cinnamon flavor).
It’s oh so good!
 So when my kids asked me what I eat for breakfast every day, I was hard pressed to describe exactly what oatmeal is.  After many failed attempts in Japanese and in English (and plenty of faces that read “ewww, that sounds disgusting”), I decided to bring in a picture of prepared oatmeal and show them the dry oats used to make it in an effort to explain the joy that is waking up to a hot bowl of oatmeal.
…that plan backfired.  Not only did they grimace at the picture of my morning breakfast, they also didn’t know what to make of the whole oats that I put in a plastic baggie to show them.  They were so skeptical about the oats that without thinking, I opened up the bag and ate a few, trying to reassure them and saying “see, it’s good, you can eat it!”  I then proceeded to pour some of the dry Quaker oats into my hand and go around the room, offering each kid a few to try.
…they all ate raw oatmeal.  Sorry JET Programme.  We’re supposed to be giving these kids a good impression of foreigners, and here’s the only one (two counting Khoa) on the entire island making them eat nasty, dry oats.
So my kids’ first introduction to oatmeal was a grainy photo (get it, grainy :P) of my morning meal, hastily taken before going off to work, and not so appealing, unflavored, uncooked oats. One of these days I’m going to bring in all the fixin’s (you know, milk, cinnamon, sugar, raisins) and serve them some proper oatmeal.  But for now, my kids are left with the impression that their crazy gaijin sensei eats a weird, unappetizing breakfast every morning.

We made a cake! …well, Khoa made a cake.

Khoa made a cake!

Last week was Golden Week, a glorious week in Japan where there are four national holidays within 7 days.  With substitute days from working at school on the weekend (for the annual track competition or the entrance ceremony held in April), it usually works out that we don’t have to go to school during the days that aren’t national holidays.  However, this year, Tuesday and Wednesday were not holidays and we had only worked one extra day on the weekend during the school year.  As a result, all of the teachers and students had to come to school on Tuesday for a single day of classes during the week.  We hadn’t planned on traveling anywhere, so it wasn’t such a big deal, but I felt bad for the other teachers who may have wanted to travel somewhere but couldn’t. 

To kick off our six day weekend, Khoa and I invited the English teacher who I assistant teach with and his two elementary aged children over to our house.  It was their mom’s birthday, so Khoa made a chocolate cake the night before and prepared frosting for the kids to decorate the cake with. 

We added colors to the frosting. The kids chose orange and blue and it was a good review of how to say the colors in English. We only had liquid food coloring and the colors separated a little bit, but they still had fun decorating.

When trying to decide what to write on the cake, instead of writing “tanjyoubi omedetou” (happy birthday in Japanese), the kids opted to write “Happy birthday” in katakana (the Japanese writing system for foreign words).  Instead of “Happy birthday mama” or “okaasan” (mother), they wrote “Chihumi sama” or “honorable Chihumi,” the first name of their mom! Khoa and I were laughing so hard as the kids spelled out their mother’s name and added the suffix, “sama,” which is reserved for formal letters or people of honor.  What a funny family!  We had a great time decorating the cake with the kids.  We also made peanut butter chocolate cookies.  This recipe is so decadent and a wonderful comfort food when you’re living in the land of no Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

“Happy Birthday Chihumi-sama” complete with a portrait of the birthday girl and dot decorations.

 

PS –

That chocolate cake was the best cake I have ever tasted…and I hate cake. Usually, I prefer any other dessert over cake. Pies, tarts, ice cream sundaes, truffles, even ice cream cake is better than boring old cake.  But this one that Khoa made was sooooo good.  It was so moist and chocolaty; I wanted to eat the leftovers for breakfast the next morning. If you’re feeling like baking something, might I suggest trying out this recipe?