gyoza

We love gyoza.  Crispy on the outside, wonderful on inside; there’s something irresistable about those little bundles of flavor.  The best part is, they aren’t too difficult to make.  All you need is some filling, a few gyoza wrappers, a tiny bowl of water, and steady fingers.  They’re even fun to make (and that’s saying something coming from me, the one who can’t/won’t/doesn’t like to/is forbidden to cook).
Last night we made two kinds: Kabocha-cheese and ginger-beef.
Khoa found a recipe online for the kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) gyoza over at eating okinawa, a great food blog based in Okinawa, Japan.  We omitted some of the spices and substituted shredded cheese for cream cheese, but the results were still delicious!
kabocha gyoza
He also created his own filling using ground beef, finely chopped shiitake mushrooms, ginger, garlic, red onions and a little salt and pepper (Unlike the traditional way, Khoa sauteed the meat and the rest of the ingredients before making the gyoza).
Ginger beef gyoza
 Once you’ve pinched together the gyoza, all that’s left to do is put some oil in a hot pan, and cook the bottoms for a few minutes until they are crispy.  You then add a very small amount of water (1mm deep) to the pan, cover, and steam for another 2 or 3 minutes.  That’s it!
But be careful, we don’t call them “pot stickers” in America for nothing.  These little suckers have a tendency to get stuck to the bottom of the pan, so be sure to use enough oil.
The thing we like most about gyoza is that it’s up to you what you put in it (or what you put it in).
Have you ever made gyoza at home?  What filling did you use?

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!

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!

What you like, grilled

Okonomiyaki.
It doesn’t get much better than a dish called “what you like, grilled.”  How can you lose with a name like that? Okonomiyaki is sometimes translated as “Japanese pizza,” but there’s nothing pizza-y about it.  To me, okonomiyaki is more like a big savory pancake of awesome with mayonnaise on top, but even that description doesn’t do the dish justice.  Okonomiyaki is something that really needs to be tasted to fully understand.  What can be said about it is that it is made of a batter with vegetables and meat.  Osaka and Hiroshima are the most well known areas in Japan for Okonomiyaki, both claiming fame to a unique style of the dish.  However, you can find okonomiyaki at many restaurants throughout Japan.
As the name implies, there really is no limit to what you can throw in this Japanese dish and it’s actually quite simple to make.  Here’s what you need:
1 – bag of okonomiyaki mix (if you don’t live in Japan and don’t have access to a Japanese food store, check out Kanako’s Kitchen.  She has a wonderful recipe for okonomiyaki, made from scratch…it sounds much tastier than ours).
1 – egg
1 – 75ml cup of water
1 – splash of beer (around 25ml)
1 – cabbage
1 – what you like
Combine 100 grams of okonomiyaki mix, 1 egg, beer, and water.  Mix well.  If you’re wondering about the beer, Khoa’s mom used to put beer in her banh xeo (vietnamese savory crepe) batter, so he does the same with his okonomiyaki batter.  Next, add about a quarter of a cabbage (sliced thin) to the batter.
For the “what you like” part, Khoa likes to add about a cup and a half of frozen mixed veggies (thawed) to the prepared batter.  He then sautes onions in a pan with a bit of olive oil.  Once the onions start to barely turn translucent, he pours the batter (cabbage and mixed veggies included) into the pan.  Now it’s just a matter of waiting for the batter to cook, flip, and wait a bit longer.  Khoa also sometimes puts fried onions into the batter for an extra crunchy surprise.
Okonomiyaki in the pan, waiting to be flipped.
To finish off your “Japanese pizza,” drizzle on some mayonnaise and okonomi sauce (a thicker, sweeter version of worcestershire sauce).  Most okonomiyaki’s have some kind of meat in them, usually pork, squid, or shrimp.  Even though we love our meat, Khoa’s version of okonomiyaki, sans meaty goodness, is really delicious, not to mention very easy to throw together.  It’s also much cheaper without meat which we can buy 200g of at the general store for 400 yen.  Yikes!
Finished Okonomiyaki.
Complete with a Kirin beer 🙂
Embracing the “what you like, grilled” name, Khoa’s version is far from anything we’ve seen in any Japanese restaurant.  We may even be angering a few of the die-hard okonomiyaki chefs in Osaka or Hiroshima.  But to me, okonomiyaki is simply a dish meant to be made up of “what you like,” regardless of what “should” be in it.
Try it at home!  Let us know what you think.

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!

Grow baby, grow!

We love green onions. It seems like we use them every other day.

However, sometimes we think we’re going to use a lot of green onions, but land up only using a few. The rest is left to die a slow, painful death in the depths of our refrigerator. It makes me sad to see my favorite garnish waste into a sloppy brown mess after only a few days.

NO MORE!

We now put our green onions in water and leave them in the kitchen window. Not only do they keep longer, they actually grow. We cut off as much as we want to use for cooking, being careful to leave the white part and the roots, and the rest grows back. We’ve used these same green onions around 5 times now and they continue to regrow.

*****Be sure to change the water every day and rinse off the roots.

This little trick saves us money and reduces waste. Try it out at home!

great if you’re hungry and want two thousand of something

No matter where I am in the world, be it Japan, the US, or wherever Khoa and I happen to roam, I always want to eat rice.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my bread, but there’s something about rice that is so wonderful.  In the words of the late-comedian Mitch Hedberg, “Rice is great if you’re hungry and want two thousand of something.”  But there’s something more to eating rice than the fact that you’re managing to cram fifty things in your mouth at one time.  I remember when I was a kid, no matter what meal we were having, we always ate rice with it, or at least had it on the table as an option.  Meatloaf, rice.  Spaghetti, rice.  Chicken pot pie, rice.  We never even had asian or asian-style dishes when I was growing up, but nonetheless, rice, the asian staple, was ever-present.  It might have been my picky uncle’s incessant whining about wanting rice at every meal, but those memories of the fluffy white stuff have shaped my palate.  What’s more, as a child, white rice was always accompanied by either butter or ketchup.  I know what you’re thinking, ewww…but don’t knock it until you try it.  I’ve also recently discovered the joy of rice and shredded cheese.  Give it a try!

Now that we’re in Japan, Khoa and I eat rice pretty much every day.  Khoa has been enjoying the traditional Japanese breakfast, rice and miso soup, for a few months now.  Dinner is usually rice and stir-fried vegetables or some other variation.  Our go-to dinner (and by our, I mean Khoa’s since he does the cooking :P) is Cha-han, or fried rice.
Here’s Khoa’s recipe for a really delicious and easy fried rice:
First, prepare the sauce and set aside:
  • 1 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs. ponzu sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. mirin (Japanese rice wine)
  • 2 Tbs. water
  • Sriracha (hot chili sauce) to taste
Saute the following in a big saute pan with a few tablespoons of oil:
  • Onions (medium diced)
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots (medium-sized chunks)
  • Mushrooms (Shiitake if you have them)
  • Asparagus (thinly sliced)
  • One small tomato (diced)
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1.5 cm block of ginger (finely diced)
  • Half of the sauce
Put the sauteed vegetables into a separate bowl and put 2 cups of cooked rice into the pan you used for the veggies (Khoa likes to use a mixture of half brown and half white rice.  You really can’t taste the difference once the cha-han is completed and it’s healthier). Add the other half of the sauce to the rice and mix (make sure to be gentle while mixing the rice.  If you stir it too vigorously, you’ll have a mushy mess on your hands).  Crack two eggs over the rice and gently stir them together in the pan.  After the eggs are cooked, return the sauteed vegetables to the pan.  Mix together and serve.  
You might be thinking that tomato and fried rice doesn’t go together, but since you’re only adding one, it’s just enough to add a bit of freshness and brighten up the dish.
Khoa sometimes adds in some chicken or tofu, depending on his mood.  This cha-han is a spicy, tangy bowl of awesome.  Instead of finely chopping and dicing the vegetables, Khoa likes to leave them in medium-size chunks and add more veggies than you normally would.  It’s a heartier, healthier version of the Japanese food staple.
Do any of you make fried rice?  What do you add to yours?  Let us know in the comment section below.   

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?

Why we paid over $20 for popcorn

When you’re a foreigner in Japan, it’s sometimes hard to find the foods you crave from back home. When you live on a tiny island, a 2 and a half hour boat ride away from the mainland and 5 hour bus ride to the nearest big city, it’s impossible.    Tortillas?  Forget about it.  Cheddar cheese?  Yeah, right.  Bagels? Non-frozen meat? Macaroni and cheese? Cereal? Non-fat milk? Sour cream? More than two brands of yogurt to choose from?  Only in our dreams.  Hungry at 8pm and want to go buy a snack?  Sorry, you have to wait until 7:30 in the morning when the two general stores on the island open back up.  Don’t get us wrong, there are plenty of great things about living here, but buying food is not one of them.

As a result of our extremely limited options, sometimes we get a little bit desperate.  That’s where The Flying Pig steps in.  For those of you who don’t live in Japan, The Flying Pig is a website that will ship you foreign foods from Costco Japan.  It’s one of the few places we can buy foreign foods.  It’s also suuuper expensive.  But hey, when you’re craving something comforting from home, you’ll pay almost anything.  Even over $20USD (1680 yen) for popcorn.

Here’s our massive tub o’ popcorn:

Pop, pop, pop!

When we first arrived in Japan, we thought microwave popcorn would be a great thing to have in our pantry (a.k.a space on the floor next to the fridge).  Wrong.  It turns out that our microwave/oven/toaster/grill combo only likes to burn popcorn kernels, not cook said kernels into fluffy, buttery goodness.  As a result of our microwave misadventure, we have started cooking our popcorn on the stove. Here’s how we do it:

  1. In a medium-size pot with a lid that fits well, heat about 2 or 3 tablespoons of cooking oil (we use something  we can buy at the stores here called salad oil [soy bean oil]).  Add three or four kernels to the oil and let it heat up on medium heat.
  2. Once the kernels have popped, add 1/3 to 1/2 cup of kernels to the heated oil and take it off the heat.  Let the kernels and oil sit for 30 seconds, allowing all of the kernels to reach the same temperature.
  3. Return the pot to the stove on medium heat.  The kernels should begin popping after another 30 seconds.
  4. At first, many kernels will be popping at the same time.  When the popping slows to one pop at a time, take the popcorn off of the heat and transfer it to a big bowl.  If you wait any longer, the popcorn on the bottom will be burnt…we know from experience.
  5. Add your favorite seasoning.  Simple sea salt and cracked pepper is delicious.  You can also add curry powder for an interesting flavor.  Cayenne pepper is also good.  Parmesan cheese, for those of you who have it, adds a cheesy surprise 🙂
  6. Eat and enjoy!
Yum!

Before moving to Japan, we had never made stove-top popcorn.  However, since we’re able to add our own ingredients and make as much or as little as we want, we’ll most likely continue to make popcorn sans microwave even in the US.

Let us know how you make popcorn in the comments section below.  What other seasonings do you add to it?

Gyoza Sushi

As many of you know, we live on an island. 
An island that is 13 km (5 miles) squared. 
An island that is 13 km squared, with less than 640 inhabitants. 
An island that is 13 km squared, with less than 640 inhabitants, with not a single restaurant. 
“WHAT?!?!  Are you kidding?” you say. 
To which I reply, “No.  I am not.”  
Without easy access to sushi restaurants, or any restaurants for that matter, we sometimes have to get creative…  
Presenting to the world: gyoza sushi.  
While rolling our own sushi at home, Khoa came up with the brilliant idea of adding gyoza to the mix.  Here is the result:


Quite a tasty treat if you ask us.  Think of it as a California Roll with an extra surprise…an extra “meaty, fried bundle of awesome” surprise.  Here is the “recipe”:

  • Nori
  • Sushi rice (There is an actual correct way to make sushi rice, but we don’t really follow that…and instead prepare it in a way that many Japanese would cringe at.  We simply take rice that we’ve made in the rice cooker, add some rice wine vinegar to it and mix it around a bit.  No special bowl, no fan, simple.  Sushi chefs, please don’t hurt us!)
  • cucumbers (medium, long strips)
  • Imitation crab (or real crab)
  • Mayonnaise
  • Sriracha Sauce
  • Gyoza (Japanese potstickers/pan-fried dumplings)
Roll the ingredients together as you would any normal sushi, and voila!  you have yourself a delicious, albeit completely inauthentic, sushi roll.  

 

For those of you brave enough to make this, let us know what you think in the comments section below!