Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sangria (white or red) recipe

In an effort to cut down on wine spending, we've been sticking to buying wines that are $20ish or under, but over $11 (because that seems to be the critical point).  Thankfully there are plenty of really good wines out there at that price point.

But whenever we try a new wine, there are always misses, more so it seems when it comes to white wines. I usually turn these wines into sangria (or hot mulled wine when it's cold out).

My ratio for making sangria:

1 bottle of wine
1/4~1/2 cup higher-proof liquor (brandy, for instance)
1/4 cup syrup of your choice
A couple of fruits, chopped
A couple of citrus, sliced

All of this is of course customizable, depending on your taste or what fruits you happen to have on hand. For more acidic wines you'll want to have sweeter fruits, like apples, peaches, or strawberries. Some people like to add 1/4~1/2 cup of juice too.

My most recent recipe consisted of:

1 bottle of white wine (sauvignon blanc)
1/4 cup lillet rose
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup homemade honey basil syrup*
2 tangelos, a meyer lemon, and a lime sliced
A splash of pinot noir

*for honey basil syrup: Heat up equal parts honey and water in a pan until the honey is dissolved. Turn off the heat, add a handful of basil leaves, put a lid on it, and let it steep until the syrup cools down. Store in a mason jar. Tastes amazing in bourbon or gin cocktails.

Stir all this together in a pitcher and let it mariage in the fridge for at least half a day if you can't wait, or a full day if you can. Add ice and a splash of sparkling water when serving, or not :)


Friday, April 15, 2016

Overnight sweet and sour pickles

Unlike a lot of pickle recipes here Japanese pickles are usually made raw, without boiling the brine. This helps the veggies retain their fresh, crunchy texture.

This particular recipe is so easy and fast, I have a constant batch of it sitting in the fridge. If you're feeling lazy, just serve these pickles along with your main. They make great bar snacks too ;)

Veggies of your choice (I've tried bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots & daikon radish)
1~2 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
a handful of whole peppercorns
dried chili pepper or chili flakes, to taste

200ml rice vinegar*
300ml water
8 tablespoons sugar*
1.5 teaspoons salt

Slice up your veggies into sticks or bite-sized pieces. Squash them tight into a glass jar, top with the garlic, bay leaf, peppercorns, and chili. Stir the brine ingredients (vinegar, water, sugar, salt) together until the sugar and salt dissolve. Pour into the jar with your veggies, seal tight, and let it sit in the fridge preferably overnight. If you make this in the morning though, they should be ready to eat by dinnertime.

*Note: About the vinegar—I tried making this with apple cider vinegar, which you can totally do, but it will taste more acidic. As for the sugar—I avoid using white sugar in my cooking whenever possible, but using sucanat or agave nectar doesn't work as well for this recipe.

This is also a great way to use up those huge mounds of Costco veggies that you have no idea what to do with. Tbh it's why I made these pickles in the first place :P

A note about umami

As a Japanese person I find it pretty hilarious that "umami" is a trendy word in English now. So many chefs are lauding Japanese cooking techniques like it's a new thing. But guys, I have to tell ya, it's been around for centuries. You just took that long to catch up.

There are a bunch of "tricks" us Japanese have up our sleeves that totally amp the umami-level of a dish. They are super easy, super fast, with great results. In fact I feel like they are the best-kept secrets amongst the Japanese community.

Secret #1 - butter and soy sauce
Wondering what sauce to top your steak with tonight? Need an extra something for your veggies? Add butter and soy sauce!

Secret #2 - miso and mayonnaise (or any dairy)
Miso alone is powerful enough. When in doubt, add miso to your sauces/dressings/marinades. It adds depth, transforming an OK sauce to finger-licking good. The combination of miso and mayo is absolutely failsafe. Worried about making your chicken dry? Stir fry it real quick with some miso and mayo. Afraid of sawdust pork chops? Marinate it in some miso before pan-frying. Your friends will be begging for the recipe. Miso and butter work just as well.

Secret #3 - kombu (or kombu dashi)
If you don't really know what kombu is, you'll probably just say "wtf it's just a piece of seaweed." No, it is not just a piece of seaweed. It's the basis of the word umami itself. Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is a man-made substance created to mimic the savory taste produced by kombu. As in yes, that piece of seaweed? It packs a punch of flavor.

Secret #4 - dried shiitake mushrooms (and the liquid from reconstituting it)
If you're vegan, all you need to make flavorful stock/broth with is kombu and dried shiitake. To reconstitute the shiitake mushrooms, stick them in a small pot with enough water to cover, bring it to a boil, then let it sit until the mushrooms have rehydrated. Add both the mushrooms and the liquid to your recipe.

This is definitely not the whole list. If I missed an obvious one, let me know in the comments!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Whipped shea butter and olive oil skin cream

Lately I've been making my own skincare products because:

a) it's better for me (no unnecessary preservatives and stabilizers)
b) it's much cheaper
and c) it's completely customizable.

My kids have eczema and I have contact dermatitis (read: super itchy, dry, splitting skin) on my hands and I found shea butter and olive oil-based creams to be very helpful. So helpful in fact, that the eczema patches on baby have mostly disappeared. Which gave me the idea to combine the two.

200g shea butter
50g coconut oil
50~75g extra virgin olive oil
several drops of essential oil (grapefruit this time)

Put everything in a clean bowl and whip it up with a hand mixer. Pack into cute little mason jars and you're done!

Since I used grapefruit oil this batch smells like lemon olive oil cake. Yum!
You can use less coconut or olive oil if you live in a warmer climate.

My next project is to make my own rosewater, for facial toner. Will definitely add a few tablespoons of it to my next batch of skin cream.