Tuesday, April 27, 2010

had to get creative

I didn't have too many vegetables in my fridge today and did a poor job of planning out my meals for the week, so I had to get creative with dinner tonight.  I made a sort of spaghetti alla carbonara without the bacon and used asparagus instead.  I don't really know what to call it, but it was good!  And a nice change from the heavy (but delicious) carbonara.  I think this might make it into our usual rotation.

Spring pasta alla carbonara, minus the bacon (how's that for a name?)
enough for 1 lb of pasta
1 lb long pasta such as spaghetti or linguine
1/2 lb asparagus spears (the thicker the better)
3 cloves garlic
1 C (approximately) finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese (depending on your tastes and what's available)
3 eggs
juice of 1/2 lemon
coarse salt
fresh ground black pepper
3 T extra virgin olive oil
  1. Heat the oven to 200°F and place a large oven safe serving bowl in the oven.
  2. Cook the pasta to al dente, reserving about 1/2~3/4 C of pasta water.
  3. Prepare the asparagus by snapping off the tough end of one or two spears then trimming the rest to the same length.  Peel the last inch or the skin off to eliminate stringy ends.  Line up the asparagus and cut into 2 inch pieces.
  4. Slice 2 of the garlic cloves very thin.  In a large skillet, pour 1 T olive oil and bring to medium high heat.  Place the asparagus in the skillet, sprinkle with salt, and saute until the skin starts to wrinkle a little and brown in some spots.  Add the garlic slices, and bring the heat to medium.  Continue to let cook, tossing occasionally, until garlic is very frangrant and the asparagus is tender.  Add the remaining olive oil and set aside.
  5. Grate the remaining clove of garlic.  Then in a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, cheese, grated garlic, and lemon juice.  Add as much or as little fresh cracked black pepper as you'd like.  (I like a lot for that rich carbonara taste)
  6. Quickly pull out the bowl from the oven, put all of the hot pasta in the bowl, pour all of the asparagus and garlic and oil on top, then toss with tongs.  While tossing, slowly pour in the egg mixture.  Add some reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce if needed.  Make sure to keep tossing and get all of the egg mixture encorporated until smooth and creamy.  Serve warm.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

cake make over

I love a good citrus cake.  I grew up eating them in French style bakeries in Japan, where they don't use a ton of sugar in order to enhance the delicate citrus flavor.  And somehow they're really light but moist.  I discovered several recipes for a classic French yogurt cake, and needed to give it a go.  I made it according to the recipe yesterday and ... sadly ate a few too many pieces.  And then today I wanted to tweak the recipe a bit to make it healthier--for a cake.  And for some reason it turned out more moist and tender.  I absolutely love this cake!  I used blood oranges today instead of lemons or limes and I love the milder flavor (but I might prefer the brighter tang of the tarter fruit).  The batter was even a rosy pink, but sadly it baked up yellow like any other cake.  I used extra virgin olive oil as an experiment, and I loved the result.  And I just feel good knowing it's olive oil in there:)

So if you're in the mood for a tasty but less guilt-ridden cake, you should try this out.  Just don't fool yourself into thinking you can have a lot;)  It's still a cake, after all.

Blood Orange, Yogurt, and Olive Oil Afternoon Cake
1 C plain yogurt (I actually used fat free and it turned out so well! But use any kind of plain yogurt you want)
2/3 C sugar, plus more for dusting the pan
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
zest of 2 blood oranges
1/4 C fresh blood orange juice
2 eggs
1 2/3 C all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/8 t salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease the sides and bottom of a 9 inch cake pan.  Line the bottom with parchment paper and grease again.  Sprinkle about 1 1/2 T of sugar to coat the bottom and sides of the pan.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, oil, sugar, zest and juice of the blood orange until combined.  Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking in completely with each addition.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk or sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add to the liquid mixture, and stir until just combined.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 35~40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then release from the pan and let cool completely.  Serve with a dusting of confectioner's sugar or some citrus whipped cream and some fresh fruit on the side.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

one ingredient ice cream

You heard me.  One ingredient.  And surprisingly yummy.  I heard about this a few months ago and tried it right away, and I don't think I wrote about it here.  It's a really nice refreshing dessert for those creamy-sweet cravings, without all of the guilt.  This one ingredient is sweet and creamy and really pretty good for you.  Bananas.  It sounds crazy and potentially not tasty, but it really is impressively smooth and creamy and perfect.  All you do is freeze your ripe bananas (make sure they're ripe or it'll turn out bitter), and once they're frozen, throw them in your food processor.  You might have to add a teaspoon or two of milk (or soy milk, almond milk, whatever) but nothing else.  Turns out like soft serve and you can eat *almost* as much as you want without feeling guilty at all.  Yay for amazing healthy treats!

pizza pizza

I know, I know, I said I was going to eat Japanese food this week.  And I have, actually.  I've eaten at least 1 Japanese meal a day, sometimes 2 or 3, and I am feeling great!  Tonight had to be something simple and quick, though, and since I had dough in the fridge, I decided on healthy pizza.  We eat a lot of homemade pizza.  So tonight had to be a little different, so I tried my artisan bread dough for the pizza dough (fantastic idea and couldn't be simpler), and the toppings were fancy but very low maintenance.  And of course, delicious.  My kind of dinner.
For toppings I used sliced, sauteed cremini mushrooms, tiny pieces of eggplant, leeks, and the usual sauce and cheeses.  The crust was perfectly crisp.  It was really good.  What kind of pizza topping combinations do you like to try?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

needing the veggies

I've been feeling sluggish.  The annoying part is that I've been running and watching what I eat, so I didn't know what to do!  Then I started thinking about when I feel the best.  It's when I eat what I think my body is meant to eat.  Japanese food.

I was watching the Martha show and got really hungry when she was making this recipe.  I'm generally a purist when it comes to Japanese food, but this one seemed too good to pass up.  And then I picked up one of my favorite books, "Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat", and was inspired to get back to my roots.  And though this recipe isn't really Japanese, I wanted it.  I made some adjustments to make it more my style, of course.  And I was in heaven.  Then we had yoplait's new Greek yogurt, honey, and fresh strawberries for dessert.  They aren't kidding in those commercials when they say that one healthy decision leads to another.

Soba salad
Coarse salt
8 ounces snow peas (or sugar snap peas), trimmed, strings removed
12 ounces soba noodles
2 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sesame oil, plus extra to brush on tofu slices
2 medium carrots, about 1/2 pound, peeled and shaved into thin strips using a vegetable peeler
3 inch piece of daikon (Japanese white radish), peeled and shaved into thin strips using a vegetable peeler
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
4 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 t fresh lemon (or if you can find it, yuzu) juice
4 large perilla leaves, cut into a chiffonade
1 block firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch thick rectangles, then into triangles
  1. Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling water until cooked through, but still slightly firm to the bite.  Drain, set aside to cool.
  2. In a small pot, blanch the snow peas.  Drain, set aside.
  3. Place the tofu slices on a baking sheet, brush with a little sesame oil, and place under the broiler until slightly crispy on top, about 7 minutes.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the salt (to taste), 2 T and 1 t sesame oil, ginger, soy sauce, and lemon juice.
  5. In a large bowl, toss together the noodles, carrots, daikon, sugar snap peas, perilla, scallions, and tofu.  Pour over the sauce and toss to coat.  Serve at room temperature or cold.

Friday, April 9, 2010


My cute husband came home early from work today, so we got to have lunch together.  I taught a class at church last night on artisan bread, and we made some varieties.  One was herb bread.  I'm not always a fan of herb bread.  It's usually so overpowering that I think it distracts from the meal instead of complimenting it.  So I made it really subtle.  But today for lunch, I decided to try using the leftovers for some good ol' grilled cheese sandwiches.  And oh my goodness, I wish I had a sound clip to share with you of the moment we bit into our sandwiches.  Unreal crunch!

So if you're needing some variety in your grilled cheese (not that you need to, it's such a classic!), try it with some flavored artisan bread.  And use olive oil instead of butter.  You'll get the most beautiful golden exterior with a perfect, perfect crunch.  And that subtle herby aroma is a really nice change without being too distracting.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


I had this for dinner.  You have to try it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

my old favorite

I've mentioned before that my sister was my inspiration to start this blog.  And along with my mom, the reason I love to cook.  She always impressed me so much with her perfect meals.  It seemed like she never failed.  She could perfectly frost a cake, make an array beautiful Japanese dishes, and put together a casserole.  Now, casserole can seem quite quaint, not really gourmet, but hers were a different story.  Not your usual bland thrown in a baking dish and bake kinda thing.  And that's where tonight's dinner comes in.  When I was in high school I visited my sister and she made this fairly simple chicken, zucchini, and pasta with white sauce casserole.  But it was so ... Japanese, actually.  Not like soy sauce and miso kinda Japanese, but like the simple palate and skill that a typical Japanese mom possesses.  And I asked her to teach me how to make it.  And being the overachiever that she is, she made me a cookbook instead.  And this recipe was in it.  Along with the chocolate cream cheese frosting and vegetable curry that are still my go-to recipes.  I've never found an improvement on some her old classics.  Like I said, she's my foodie hero.

And tonight, after my big run, I wanted something hefty but not heavy.  If that makes sense.  And I remembered my favorite old classic that my sister used to make.  But I used broccoli instead, mainly because with broccoli you don't have to saute it ahead of time (unless you use big pieces, which I like), and because that's what I had in my fridge.  It makes a big 9x13 inch pan size, so we have leftovers, which is always nice, too.  And it was exactly what my body was craving.

Lisa's casserole
serves 6~8
1 lb penne or other short pasta (I used mini penne here)

1/2 red onion (any onion will do, I just used what I had on hand, and isn't it so pretty?), roughly chopped
3 C milk
3 T butter
3 T flour
pinch freshly grated nutmeg

2 chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into 1/2~1 inch cubes
neutral tasting oil
2 heads broccoli, stems removed and cut into bite sized pieces

crispy topping:
1/4 C panko or fresh bread crumbs
1/4 C finely grated parmesan cheese
1~3 T (depends on what you like) minced fresh flat leaf parsely

salt and pepper to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, cook pasta to al dente.  Drain and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, season chicken with salt and pepper.  Heat a large skillet with 1 T oil over medium-high heat.  Once the oil is shimmering, add chicken pieces.  Spread to a single layer and let brown.  (don't move it around until browned on each side)  Brown on all sides, remove and set aside.  If your broccoli pieces are large, briefly saute just to brighten the color and soften the stems slightly.
  3. In a large sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add onions.  Cook until onions soften.  Add flour and stir, cook until flour slightly browns and loses the raw flour taste.  Add milk slowly while whisking quickly.  Continue whisking gently while the sauce thickens.  Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
  4. In a large bowl, stir the pasta, chicken, broccoli, and bechamel together.  Place in a 9x13 baking dish.
  5. In a small bowl, combine the panko, cheese, and parsley.  Sprinkle evenly over the top of the pasta mixture.  Place under the broiler until golden brown and slightly bubbling.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

a challenge

Since my cute cousin Eliza decided to challenge me to make some naan, I thought I'd better follow through.  And since I had leftovers from a huge pot of curry I made, there was no better time than today to try.

Naan is a special item for me.  When we were kids, my parents took us to this incredible Indian restaurant in Tokyo called Moti.  And I may have mentioned earlier on this blog that the owner's son went to the same school as my brother, so his mom taught my mom how to make their signature butter chicken curry.  And it became a family staple.  But one thing we never recreated was the naan.  It was this special Moti treat for me, and I seriously think I would eat several pieces whenever we went.  Indian curry is just better with naan.  Somehow chewy and crispy at the same time, smothered in ghee.  Love the stuff.  I know the method they're made is so unique to naan that I just never thought you could make it at home.  Not the way it should taste, anyway.  But boy, thanks to this book that I can't stop talking about, I made naan.  And not that store bought, dry, dense stuff.  No, no.  It was chewy and puffy in some parts and charred and crispy in others.  Perfectly how naan is supposed to be.  I even made some clarified butter, which was a little labor-intensive, but it made it perfect.  And the whole thing was so easy!  I don't think I can go back to naan-less Indian curry again.
you can find the recipe here.

if you can call them leftovers ...

When I made my cinnamon swirl brioche, I made 2 loaves so that we could have some french toast with the second loaf.  And I know, I keep saying I'm trying to lose weight and eating brioche is probably the stupidest thing I could be doing to reach that goal ... But it was a special weekend and I'll run it off this week.  Hopefully;)

If you're making French toast with a delicate sweet bread like brioche or challah, I recommend the America's Test Kitchen method, which is to toast the bread first.  I just put the slices on a cookie sheet, stuck them in a 250° F oven for a while until they got dried out and just barely crispy.  Flip them over, and do the same on the second side.  This worked out well because last time I tried to make French toast with brioche, the slices had a hard time holding up in the custard.  But these guys did awesome!  And they soaked in the custard perfectly and it was delightful.  I was a good girl, though, I only had one slice.

As for the custard, I think everyone has their own family/individual recipe.  I'd never made french toast until I was married (because it's my husband's absolute favorite) so I had to figure out a recipe I liked.  And I LOVE it.  What do you like to put into your custard?  Cinnamon?  Vanilla?  Nutmeg?  What's your egg:milk ratio?  Do you sweeten it?  Tell me, tell me!  I'd love to know how other people do it.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

new curry

I've been pretty into curry lately.  And today, I wanted to go all out.  So I bought some turmeric and garam masala, 2 spices I haven't owned in a long time.  And my curry tasted amazing!  And I even made turmeric rice, and I felt super cool and authentic, even if I was just fooling myself since I didn't use jasmine or basmati rice ... I used my staple Japanese short grain.  I know, I know, I should be ashamed of myself.  But I'm Japanese.  And in my mind rice should stick together;)

So I accidentally used way too much spice (because I tend to just throw things in and not follow a recipe ...) so I ended up making a massive pot of curry.  So unless you're serving a huge crowd, you'll want to half this recipe for sure.

If you don't like shrimp, use some other meat.  If you don't like mushrooms, use whatever vegetable you think works well.  That's the beauty of curry.  There's so much you can do with it.  Just have fun and explore.

My dinner tonight: Shrimp & Mushroom Curry
serves 10?
3 T garam masala (or your regular old curry powder.  It'll be a different result, but it's still fantastic!)
1 t cumin
2 t paprika
3 t turmeric
1/4 t saffron threads (optional)
1/4 t crushed red pepper flakes
3~4 cloves garlic, minced or grated fine
1 T grated fresh ginger
1 large red onion, sliced (pole to pole)
1 lb mushrooms, sliced (any variety you want to use.  As usual, I used white buttons just because they're the most affordable)
1/2 lb shrimp, tails removed and deveined
olive oil
salt to taste
2 cans petite diced tomatoes
2 cans coconut milk (like I said, I made a HUGE pot)

to serve:
turmeric rice*
fresh cilantro
toasted sliced almonds
golden raisins
  1. In a large heavy bottom pot, heat 2 T butter and about an equal amount of olive oil over medium-high heat until butter is melted.  Season the shrimp with salt and cook until opaque on the surface and some browning occurs, but not cooked through.  Set aside.
  2. Add the garlic, ginger and onions to the pot and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to soften.  Add the mushrooms, and cook until browned.  Add the rest of the spices and stir to coat.  If it seems dry, add a little water to prevent burning.
  3. Add the tomatoes.  Let simmer until tomatoes reduce slightly and get pulpy.  Add the coconut milk and let simmer briefly to slightly thicken.  Serve over hot rice or with naan.
*To make turmeric rice, all you need is a teaspoon or two of turmeric in your rice water and cook as you normally do.  (I also added some saffron threads because I'm lucky enough to have a friend who went to Spain a few months ago and bought me some!  I know, right?  I have cool friends who know me well)  For me that meant pushing the "start" button on my rice cooker ...  Add a handful of peas at the end if you like.  And I think using some butter on the rice is typical, but I kept is simple.  I figured there was enough butter in the curry.

weekend breakfast

This weekend is a special weekend for my family.  Of course it's Easter, which is such an important day to celebrate the Atonement and Resurrection of our Savior.  Definitely one of my favorite holidays.  And as if that wasn't cool enough, our church is holding it's Semi-Annual General Conference.

It's a really important occasion for me, so I like to make it enjoyable for my family.  Especially for my kids who are still a little too young to appreciate it fully.  So I've planned a bunch of fun activities for my toddler, and of course I made a fantastic breakfast to start off our day.  I made my usual brioche recipe from my favorite bread book, but found this idea from their blog and decided to give it a go.  Mine didn't turn out looking quite as cool as hers (but she is, afterall, a CIA graduate, and a pastry chef, no less), but it did turn out beautifully.  And it was delicious!  I usually make cinnamon rolls, but this was a nice variation.  And this way, I can have my favorite savory breakfast foods like creamy eggs and perfect hash browns, while my cute husband gets his fill of sweet food.  Can't wait to make French toast with the leftovers tomorrow.