Sunday, August 14, 2011

Homemade red & white currant jello

My local produce market had red and white currants (and gooseberries!) the other day.

I've never had fresh currants before - have you?
They are tart - but have a distinct flavor, kind of like ume (Japanese plum).

Since they were a little too tart to eat as is, and I didn't want to adulterate it with tons of sugar or cream, I decided to make them into a simple jello.

Fresh currant jello

1 6oz pack of fresh currants
2 cups of water
3 ~4 packets of Splenda or 1/8 cup sugar (adjust to taste)
1 7g packet of unflavored Knox gelatin


Reserve 1/3 cup of the water and sprinkle gelatin little by little into it. Let stand.

Pluck the currants off of the branches and place into a measuring cup. It should yield about 1 cup of fruit.
Place the fruit and the rest of the water into a small pot, bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes or until the fruit is soft enough to mash with a spatula. Strain juice into a bowl.

Add Splenda/sugar and softened gelatin to the hot juice. Mix well.

Pour into individual cups or container. Chill in the refrigerator for 2~3 hours.

You can use the above recipe with any kind of berries or grapes.
If you have more (or less) fruit than the specified amount, just make sure that the amount of water is twice as much as the fruit, and you're using 7g of gelatin per 2 cups. (So if you have a quart of fruit, simmer in 2 quarts of water. You'll need 4 packets of gelatin to solidify it all.)

If you want to make pretty jello layers, place the cups with the first jello in an ice bath until mostly hardened. Then carefully pour in the second jello on top using a spoon. The red currant jello is a brilliant pink color, so layering it with some yogurt mousse would make a great combination too.

To make jello using cold juice, just heat half of the juice and dissolve sugar & gelatin in it. Then add the rest of the juice. Alternatively, you can melt the water + gelatin mixture in the microwave for 30 seconds, then add it to cold juice.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Recent obsession: chutney!

Ever get a huge pineapple at Costco, and then have the cut-up fruit sitting in your fridge for ages?

A couple weeks ago, this was the case.
The pineapple HAD to go. Of course, I didn't have the heart to chuck it in our 1 horsepower garbage disposal.

How to utilize all this pineapple at once..pineapple chutney!

I hadn't made chutney before, but a google search brought me to this awesome blog by Crazycupcakes.

I adapted her recipe to create a spicier chutney, but feel free to adjust to your preferences.

Pineapple Chutney 

4 tbs cider vinegar (rice or malt vinegar works too)
1/2 heaping tsp of crushed red chili (or 1/2 fresh chili minced)
8 whole cloves (or 3/4 teaspoon ground clove)
6~10 peppercorns (I use a blend of red, white, green, and black)
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup raw agave syrup or sugar*
1/2 large pineapple or one whole small pineapple
2 inch piece ginger
2 cloves garlic

* If your pineapple is very ripe and sweet, 1/2 cup of sugar/syrup should be enough. If the pineapple is tart, up the sugar to 3/4 cup.


Lay the pineapple on it's side and chop off the top and bottom. Stand it up, and cut the skin off in strips. Rotate it as you go, until all the skin is peeled. Cut into 4 pieces lengthwise, and trim off the core. Now chop the pieces of fruit into small chunks, about 1/2 by 1/4 inch.

Mince the ginger and garlic, set it aside with the pineapple.

Place all the spices, sugar and vinegar in a small pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10~15 minutes.

Add the ginger, garlic, and pineapple. Simmer for another 20~25 minutes stirring every now and then until the pineapple is translucent and most of the liquid is absorbed.

 Pour into a glass jar or air-tight container and you're done!

For some reason every time I make this, I can't get the liquid to evaporate within the 20 minute time frame. Maybe the pineapple is too juicy? It took at least 30 minutes to get the liquid down to half.
But if yours turns out liquid-y, it's no big deal.

This chutney goes great with some grilled pork chops or cheese, especially Red Hawk from Cowgirl creamery (pictured above). The pungent cheese pairs so well with the vibrant fruitiness of the chutney.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

It's finally Summer! Grilled peach frozen yogurt

Inspired by Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy and based on Simply Recipes.

3 large super-ripe yellow peaches
2 tbsp lemon juice
35g or 35 packets artificial sweetener (I used Splenda)
1.5 cups whole plain yogurt*
1/4 cup whole milk (non-dairy milk works too)**
Optional: 1 tbsp raspberry liqueur (or any liquer of your choice)

*I used The Greek Gods' Traditional Greek Yogurt because it has only 5g carbohydrates per serving as opposed to standard whole plain yogurt which has 14g. Fat-free yogurt has about 14g as well.
** Whole milk has 11g carbohydrates per serving, but since there's only 1/4 cup in the entire recipe, I went ahead and used it. The carb content of fat-free or low-fat milk is no less. You're best bet is probably soy or nut milk.

1. Grill peaches on the grill for a few minutes per side, or until you have nice grill marks and the fruit is softened throughout. (No grill? Roast the peaches at 400F for 30~40 minutes)
2. Chop up peaches into bite size pieces (or puree if you dislike chunky) and place in a bowl.
3. Add lemon juice, sweetener and mix well.
4. Add yogurt, milk, and mix until fully incorporated.
5. Chill in your ice cream maker, about 25~30min. (Optional: Add your choice of liqueur during the last 5 minutes) For a firmer texture, freeze for a couple hours in the freezer afterwards.

- To prepare your peaches: run your knife around the peach and twist. You'll be left with one halve with a pit, one without. If your peaches are ripe, the pit can easily be pried out of the former.

- If you're using regular sugar or honey, use 3/4 cup or more depending on how sweet you'd like your froyo. Keep in mind that you'll feel the sweetness less once the mixture is chilled and frozen. Also, I used Splenda packets - if you have granulated Splenda, use 3/4 cups just like regular sugar.

- Don't have an ice cream maker? Just place the mixture in a sturdy container in the freezer. Take it out every 30 minutes, and mix vigorously. After 2~3 hours of doing so, the mixture should be completely frozen.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sudden craving: Buttermilk biscuits

I've been having some weird cravings lately.
Like last night, I had the urge to fry up some bacon and eat small pieces o fit with banana slices & peanut butter. (Think the Elvis, without bread)

Today my friend Nanako is coming over to bake tarts with me.
We've been seeing each other once a week for a month now, going to each other's houses and trying out different baking projects.

Usually, the dilemma is - what to have for lunch.
Most of the time we both just eat whatever, then meet up.
But smelling the baked goods on a half-empty stomach ends up in dangerous snacking..and then a ruined appetite for dinner.

So I decided today would be a little different - I'll have freshly baked buttermilk biscuits ready for us to feast on, before we get going on the main baking event.

I know, buttermilk biscuits is not exactly a substantial nor healthy meal. But I have a cup of buttermilk leftover from making homemade butter so I need to use it somehow!

It's based on the "White Lily Light Biscuits" recipe here.
I didn't have any cake flour or self-rising flour on hand, so instead I used the standard Japanese hotcake mix.

It turned out a little sweeter than biscuits should be since there's sugar in the hotcake mix, but you're going to put honey or jam on it anyway, so whatever..right?

Buttermilk biscuits a la hotcake mix

2 cups hotcake mix (any brand is fine, just make sure it contains a rising agent)
1/4 cup butter, straight out of the fridge
about 3/4 cups buttermilk (you can use regular milk too)

Preheat oven to 500 F.

1. Put the hotcake mix in a bowl. Have the butter cut into small pieces, and cut the butter into the flour to create a course crumbly mixture.
2. Add buttermilk little by little, just until there's no loose flour at the bottom of the bowl and you can lift the entire mixture with your hands.
3. Gently knead on a lightly floured surface 2 or 3 times.
4. Shape into a mound about an inch high, cut into biscuit shapes, and place on a pan with the biscuits touching each other.
5. Bake for 8 min, or until golden brown and a toothpick will come out clean from the center.

If you made large biscuits, it may take longer than 8 minutes to cook. If your biscuits are golden brown but still gooey in the middle, just place a piece of foil over them and pop back into the oven for a few more minutes. It may be easier to make 6~8 small (1.5~2in diameter) biscuits than 4 large (3 in diameter) ones.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Quick lunch: Spicy Szechuan-style noodle soup

I couldn't decide which recipe to post today, so I'm picked one of my own (few) original.

The flavor I was aiming for is the noodle soup you can get at Maratan in Shibuya, Tokyo.
I love that place - they only have a few items on their menu, but you know what they say: stick to what you're good at.

You go in, pick whatever ingredients you want in your soup (veggies, meatballs, mochi, cheese, etc), hand it to the chef and tell them how spicy you'd like your soup to be (1~5 with 5 being the spiciest). My spice-loving hubbie ordered an 8 once (you can go over level 5, it's just 50yen extra per level) and the soup was BRIGHT red.

"Ma" (麻) means "numbing," and "ra"(辣) means "spicy." Oh, and for the record, this is Chinese food, not Japanese.

The reason they call it "numbing spicy" is because they use Szechuan peppercorns. If you try one, you'll know what I mean, because you'll feel a distinct numbing feeling on your tongue. Personally, I really like this type of spiciness, because it's not as painful as others (like bird's eye) and it also has a floral aftertaste.

But enough rambling. Here's my version of the spicy noodle soup:


1 (or more) cloves garlic
4 slices thin-sliced pork (or however many slices you like, of whatever meat)
1~2 cups chicken + pork neck-bone broth (recipe will follow - but any broth is fine)
1 packet soy/shirataki/rice/glass noodles (more on this later)
veggies of your liking (I used bok choy & nameko mushrooms)
1~2 dollops Guizhou black bean chili sauce
1 green scallion, chopped
soy sauce, to taste
salt & white pepper
szechuan peppercorns

1. Heat oil (I use olive oil, but sesame is good too) and a few grinds of salt in your wok/pot over high heat.
2. Toss the garlic (minced or pushed through a garlic press) in, and once fragrant, add your pork slices. Try to make it one layer, or lay them so that you're maximizing the surface area touching the wok. If your garlic burns at any point, remove and discard.
3. The pork will cook fast. Flip the slices as soon as they start turning white. Once there's only a little pink showing, add the broth to the pan.
4. Once the broth boils, add your noodles (if you're using rice noodles, you may need to soak them in warm water beforehand - just follow package instructions). Add veggies.
5. Taste, and add soy sauce. A second before you're done cooking, add the scallions so they lose their raw bite, but stay crunchy.
6. Add the chili sauce and a few grinds of szechuan peppercorns. Serve immediately.

Chicken & Pork neck-bone broth recipe

Bones of 1~2 small chickens
1 bag (about 1lb) Pork neck bones*
3~4 cloves garlic
1 green scallion or leek
1~2 stalks celery
1 carrot, broken in two
1 medium onion, sliced into halves (keep the skin on - this gives the broth a nice golden color)
handful peppercorns
couple pinches of salt
any bits of leftover veggie that you won't use anyway

1. Toss everything in a slow cooker and bring to a boil on high.
2. Turn heat to low and let cook overnight or 8 hours. (basically, forget about it)
3. Strain the liquid into a bowl or tupperware and chill in the fridge until a recipe calls for it.
(a layer of fat will form at the top - feel free to keep or remove)

*You can get chicken and pork neck bones at most Asian supermarkets.
If there aren't any Asian supermarkets near you, just go to the butcher section of your local supermarket and ask if they have any. You can also use leftover bones from your pork chop steaks or roasted chicken.

** If you'd like more precise directions, Barbara at Tigers & Strawberries has a great recipe here.


Shirataki noodles

Soy noodles

Like most Chinese wok cooking, it goes FAST. Cooking time for the above is probably a total of 5 min or less. So it's a good idea to have all your ingredients ready and within arms reach.

If you're not on a low carb diet, feel free to use egg, rice, or glass (bean) noodles. You may want to stay away from udon, soba, or Italian pasta in order to maintain the authentic flavor of the dish.

Shirataki or soy noodles are precooked and only need to be heated, but if you're using raw or dried noodles, make sure you pre-cook them before adding to the broth. You can also place precooked noodles directly in your bowl, and pour the hot broth over it. That way you can avoid having soggy, over-cooked noodles (yuck!).

You can get the Guizhou black bean chili sauce at any Chinese or most Asian supermarkets. If you can't find it, you can substitute using regular black bean sauce & standard chili sauce or dried peppers. Just a word of caution: Guizhou black bean chili sauce is not gluten-free. So if you're highly sensitive towards gluten, please don't try it. I've been able to find gluten-free black bean sauce though. Just make sure to check those labels!

Szechuan peppercorns can also be bought at any Chinese supermarket. What to do with all those peppercorns? I usually keep them in an airtight container, and grind however much I need at a time. They're great on any stir-fry, when you need a little kick. Don't forget to add them when making mapo tofu too :)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rolled/Stuffed Cabbage a.k.a. ロールキャベツ

Japan is all about food. And not just Japanese food.

Japanese people love every kind of cuisine - as long as it's not too spicy, that is.
Where Americanizing a certain cuisine means upping the sugar and grease, Japanizing a cuisine means making it less hot and less spicy.

But that doesn't mean is less tasty. I've had French people tell me that French food is better in Japan than it is in France.


There are several European dishes that are so popular in Japan, that you could call it a 'Japanese dish.' Or maybe 'Japanized European dishes.'

First, you have the omelette-  "omuretsu" in Japanese; hamburg steak - "hambaagu"; and then you have rolled cabbage - "rooru kyabetsu." There's plenty more, like custard pudding and such, but I'm keeping the list short for simplicity's sake.

All of these dishes have somehow been Japanized so to speak..or rather, Japanese versions of them were created. Take "omrice" for example - it's omelette but with chicken rice wrapped inside. Or Japanese-style hamburg steak, where instead of demi-glace or tomato sauce, it's topped with shredded daikon radish and ponzu. I'm not exactly sure what's so Japanese about this stuffed cabbage dish, but it's one of those family favorites :) Hope you enjoy it.

Rolled/Stuffed Cabbage, Japanese style

For the rolls:
1 head of cabbage
a little less than 1 pound of meat (beef, pork, veal, buffalo, or your choice of red meat)
1 egg
1 medium onion
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground clove (feel free to replace allspice + clove with 1 tsp ground nutmeg)
salt & pepper to taste

For the sauce:
2, 3 cups stock (water + a consomme cube is fine too)
1 tomato
1 tbsp demi-glace sauce (you can substitute with oyster sauce)
1 tbsp ketchup (I use the organic stuff from Whole foods - tomato puree works too)
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp tarragon vinegar (cider vinegar or white wine vinegar is fine as well)
2 tbsp wine (red or white either is fine, dry vermouth or sake works too)

1. Fill a small pot with water and boil. While waiting for the water to boil, mince the onion and prepare a large ice bath.
2. Carefully* pry the leaves off of the cabbage (6~8 leaves) and plop one at a time into the boiling water. Add a pinch of salt to the water to bring out the color of the cabbage. *Try to remove the leaves so that it's in one piece, and there are as few rips in it as possible.
3. Once the cabbage is translucent or pliable enough to roll, remove from the water and dunk in the ice bath. Once cool, transfer the cabbage leaf to a sieve to let any excess water drain off. Repeat.
4. While you are waiting for the cabbage leaves to boil, put the meat, egg, and spices into a medium bowl. Saute the minced onion with a bit of salt and olive oil until the onion is translucent and slightly browned.
5. Let the onion cool, then mix together with the rest of the stuffing ingredients.
6. Divide the stuffing amongst the cabbage leaves and roll each cabbage leaf into a small package by folding in the sides and rolling up. Secure the roll with a toothpick or silicone band as shown in the image.
7. Heat olive oil in a large pot (large enough to fit all the stuffed cabbage in one layer), and sear the stuffed cabbages on both sides.
8. Once the rolls are browned, add all the sauce ingredients and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to low, and let simmer for about an hour. If you have a pressure cooker, you can cook it for just 15 minutes under 15lbs of pressure instead.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

No bake low carb cheesecake

Everything needs a story.
I couldn't think of an interesting life story of mine to tell with this recipe, so I'll just give you a little background.

My mother is an amazing cook - which, naturally makes me passionate about food. And of course, cooking.
In college I baked my own baguettes, and experimented with fried ice cream, while other students had their noses buried in textbooks and computer screens..

After I graduated and started working in Japan, I met my current husband.
He is wonderful, and he has Type I diabetes.

Type I diabetes is different from Type II in that it's genetic and doesn't develop from eating habits.
Also, with Type I your body simply cannot create it's own insulin - you're basically tied to an insulin pump for life.

Hubbie's had it since he was 18. Now that he's in his late thirties, he's worried about diet and losing weight (I don't think he needs to, but go figure).

The thing that makes it cut & dry for Type I diabetics to lose weight is: the less insulin you take, the more weight you lose and the higher your testosterone. OK, it's a tiny bit more complicated than that but let's say that's about right for the sake of simplicity.

So now, he's on a low carb diet. Or no-high-density-carb diet.
As in no starches, no simple sugars (glucose), and nothing with high glycemic index.

And hubbie loves desserts :(
Thus, here I am scouring the internet for low carb desserts.
The good thing is this diet allows you to have any amount of animal fat and protein as you like.

Thinking about how much cheese we've been having lately, it hits me. Cheesecake!
Not the New York or baked cheesecake that requires flour and egg.
No, we're talking Japanese rare cheesecake (rare as in 'no bake').

I took a standard-looking rare cheesecake recipe and turned it low carb.
Don't worry though, it's low carb, not low yom.

Give it a try and tell me what you think :)
For those of you who love full-carb, just replace the sweeteners with real sugar or honey.


Adapted from:

For the base:
2 cups nuts (I used cashews, almonds, macademia nuts & walnuts, but anything on hand is fine)
2~3 tbs unsalted butter (or a knob of butter)

For the filling:
1 pack gelatin (7g)
couple tbs white wine (make sure you use something you'd drink)
400g cream cheese
300ml heavy cream
250ml plain yogurt
1/2 cup agave syrup
juice of 1/2 lemon

For the sauce:
1 24oz package blueberries (feel free to use any kind of fruit)
1/4 cup oligofructose (you can get this at any Japanese supermarket, or just use more agave syrup)
glug or two of white wine (same wine as above)

measuring cup
food processor
KitchenAid mixer or hand whisk + bowl
9 in spring-form round cake pan
small saucepan


Place nuts in a food processor and process till chunky (but not powdery) and melt the butter in the microwave (30 seconds, twice). Mix this with the nuts and press mixture into the cake pan.

Pour the wine into a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin into it. Set aside.

Next, soften the cream cheese in the microwave (in two batches, 30 sec each). Mix the agave syrup and cream cheese with a whisk/mixer until creamy and well-incorporated. Add lemon juice, heavy cream, and yogurt to the cream cheese mixmixing till smooth.  Microwave the gelatin until melted (about 10 secs) and stir into the cream cheese mixture. Pour the filling into the pan, cover, and refridgerate. 2, 3 hours should be enough but I usually let it sit overnight.

Meanwhile, put the blueberries (or a fruit of your choice), oligofructose, and wine in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and let it simmer for a few minutes, until the sauce is at a consistency of your liking. You can adjust the amount of fruit and sugars depending on what you have on hand.

The next day, surprise your loved one with a slice and dollop of sauce :)