Friday, March 20, 2009

Mini Taiyaki

Just a quickie post today, although I do want to point out that it is the first official day of spring (hurray!) and of course it is snowing (WHAT). Darn it, winter, go away already!

Frozen Mini-Taiyaki

I went home to visit the folks last week and discovered by way of my mother an awesome product--frozen mini taiyaki! Taiyaki are fish-shaped Japanese cakes, usually filled with red bean paste and baked in cast iron fish-shaped molds (taiyaki literally means baked sea bream). I love them and can't get enough of them when I manage to get over to Mitsuwa, where they have a stand that makes them fresh.


They come in a pack of 20, and you can see the approximate size of each fish; I'd say it's about 1/3 the size of a standard one that I get at Mitsuwa, which is probably good since I eat entirely too many of these. To prepare, simply microwave or toast briefly (or both). It's not quite the same as getting them hot off the grill, but it's a great option when I can't get to Edgewater. And besides, they're MINI taiyaki, and we all know mini=cute. The other thing I really like about these is that the red bean filling isn't totally smooth and has lots of whole red beans in it.

Pink & Hot Sun

And finally...since this sudden snowstorm is depressing me (after the last few days of relatively warm weather!), here is a photo of my newest office plant. I think it needs a name. Suggestions welcome!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Working Lunches

Drat! I just realized it is Pi Day, and I have forgotten again. Sigh.

You know what I hate more than almost anything else? Eating lunch at my desk. Bleagh! First of all, I am very accident prone (I once spilled the same cup of tea twice within 2 minutes) and anyone who's looked at my files has probably come across one or two that has been baptized by coffee. More importantly, it means that I don't get a real break, except for the 10 minutes or so that it takes to go out and pick up a sandwich or whatever. I really, really don't like that. I need that lunch hour to calm down (I get umm....a little worked up frequently) and to relax and complain and generally unwind.

Anyway, thanks to my workload it's been hard to get out and eat proper lunches lately. Normally this means terribly unhealthy delivery or takeout but fortunately a new(ish) Japanese grocery/deli, Dainobu opened up around the corner. (Its current location used to be a Burger King and the exterior is still recognizable as such.) It's not a bad choice for a fast, relatively healthy lunch, with a good choice of pre-packed bentos, sushi, onigiri, etc. There is also the option of made on the spot udon and curry dishes, not to mention a good selection of frozen and packaged convenience foods and basic grocery items...and desserts! Here are some lunches I've had from there recently.

Lunch from Dainobu

Chirashi sushi, with multi-grain rice. Not bad quality for around 8 bucks, even if I am not a big fan of fake crab. I'm pretty sure this is made from the scraps of fish left after the nigiri sushi is made, but eh! Beats the same old deli sandwiches! Also please to note my Yakult and the healing power of 8 billion lactobacilli. Here's a close up:

Chirashi close-up

I should check to see if they have just an ikuradon. I love the way salmon roe pops when you bite it.


Here's a much sadder lunch at my desk, also purchased at Dainobu. Shin Ramyun spicy instant ramen (my favorite!), a small portion of chicken karaage, and a tempura shrimp riceball. I think I will pass on the karaage next time; it's a bit too greasy for me.

Afternoon Snack

And the same day, for an afternoon snack, I had a steamed Japanese cheesecake (a cheese mushi pan) which was lovely and very, very light. And of course, another Yakult. I'm not sure I believe that it's actually got any health benefits, but with the way colds travel around our office, I need all the help I can get.

129 E. 47th St. between Lexington and 3rd

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Maple Kuchen


I love maple syrup. I eat it on oatmeal, yogurt, with granola, occasionally on fruit, not to mention the traditional pancakes and waffles. And I also have a (fairly rude, I admit!) bad habit of asking people who are traveling to bring me souvenirs! (Sometimes this backfires, as I have now acquired an ungodly number of mini snowglobes.) Anyway! A few weeks ago my co-worker went to Vermont and of course, I, with my usual thick skin, asked if he would bring me back some maple syrup. I didn't know this until a few years ago, but maple syrup comes in different grades. I had read that grade B was great for baking with, as it has a more intense maple flavor, so that's what I asked for, and that's what I got, and now, I have maple kuchen.


Maple Kuchen is basically a yeast-risen cake with a maple syrup and butter topping baked onto it. This recipe comes from the Baking Sheet, put out by the awesome folks at King Arthur. I've been subscribing for probably 5 years now and have made lots of the recipes. The first time I made maple kuchen was for a summer barbecue at my friend Cynthia's place (her mom makes the best ribs in the world, by the way) and despite the fact that we were all stuffed (with ribs, naturally), the entire cake disappeared in about 20 minutes. If that's not the sign of a recipe that's a keeper, I don't know what is.

This time, since I am lacking in a barbecue to attend, I halved the recipe and baked it in an 8" round cake pan. Try it warm with a little lightly sweetened whipped cream, or do what I do, and put a scoop of Greek yogurt drizzled with more maple syrup on top of it.

Maple Kuchen, from The Baking Sheet Vol. XVI, No. 2
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast

1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

The original recipe gives instructions for making this with a bread machine, which I don't have. So here is the method I used: Combine all ingredients except for the topping ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined, about 3 minutes. The dough will be very wet, sticky and batter like. Spread in a 13x9" buttered pan and leave in a warm area to rise for 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the topping ingredients in a small bowl. Mix together and pour evenly over the risen dough. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden, bubbling, and syrupy. Yields 16 servings.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Green tea ice cream


In baking, sometimes even a disaster can still have a happy ending. I was going to turn those horribly ugly cupcakes into cake crumbs for future use, but it just so happened that last week I tried a recipe for homemade green tea ice cream...and then I promptly forgot about it in the freezer. (Forgetting things is a seriously bad habit of mine.) But actually, it's good that I forgot about it, because now I can have (trimmed up) chocolate cake and green tea ice cream. Hey, all right!

This recipe is from Elizabeth Andoh's Japanese cookbook, Washoku; it's a really terrific resource for homestyle Japanese recipes. It is about as simple as you can get for ice cream (no need for an ice cream maker!) and as long as you have good quality tea, it's really delicious. It's not as creamy as the ice cream I buy, but I also suspect that it's a lot less caloric. And if you are more diligent about whipping it than I was, it'll be smoother.

Green Tea Ice Cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon mirin
2 teaspoons matcha
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup half-and-half

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Stir the mixture over low heat to melt the sugar and continue to simmer for about 5 minutes, or until syrupy. Add the mirin (which I omitted), stir, and remove the pan from the heat. In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of the warm syrup and matcha and stir until dissolved. Return this sweet tea concentrate to the saucepan and stir until completely blended. To retain optimal aroma and ensure an intense jade color, do not reheat the mixture. Stir in the milk and half-and-half and mix thoroughly.

Pour the tea and milk mixture into a flat, shallow, freezer-safe container. Tap the container gently on a countertop to force out any air bubbles. Cover and freeze for 1 1/2 hours or until nearly firm. With a handheld mixer, whip the mixture vigorously in a deep bowl. Return the mixture to the same container, re-cover, and freeze again for another 45 minutes, or until firm throughout. Repeat the whipping step one more time to achieve a silkier texture. Makes about 1 pint (unless you keep tasting it).