Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

Little filo shreds and cannelini soup with kurogoma

I’m fond of kadaif or kataifi, which is essentially shredded filo dough, as the base for little hors d’ouevres similar to canapes. Apparently, the most typical application for kataifi is in canola-like cream filled desserts, but I tend to use the pastry for more savory purposes.

A while back I made channa gobi masala nests, and I tend to make similar dishes with other fillings when I need a dramatic take-along dish for a party. Last weekend I brought such a dish to a party filled with asparagus and morels… but I didn’t use up all of my kataifi dough.

We took advantage of that excess a couple of nights ago, and made a variation with a filling of asparagus, garlic, tomato, and a couple of cheeses.

Asparagus tomato kataifi

We wanted a little soup, too, so I boiled some canellini beans with garlic and bay leaf, then pureed the beans with some sauteed onions and celery, and adjusted the seasoning to make a simple soup. I snuck a few drops of toasted sesame oil, and heated up some kurogoma in a dry pan to add some contrast and flavor to the soup.

Canellini-soup-kurogoma

Famous for 15 minutes again

I’ve had a few brushes with fleeting, mostly inconsequential fame.

My very first letter to the editor was published when I was about 14 years old in Knoxville, Tennessee. Something that was ostensibly my own writing, heavily edited, was first “published” in a computer magazine when I was about 15 years old, for which I received about $50. During college I was quoted in the West Coast edition of USA Today because I said some silly but, well, quotable thing about the 1992 Vice Presidential debates in the Media Fellows lounge at my university, which happened to be Dan Quayle’s Alma Mater. I had a few decent articles and some not so great ones published in my college newspaper and in a Seattle Asian American newspaper. Once I was even featured in a Japanese newspaper in Japan for dressing up as Santa Claus at a friend’s family’s nursery school. And, of course, when I started my business, a few local papers published an article or two about my project.Jason in "otoko no ryouri"

Photo source: Soy Source, shot by Hiro Yamada. I’m on the right side.

But I’ve never been featured in a newspaper just for doing the most ordinary of things… making a nice lunch.

This week Hiromi and I were in a local Japanese newspaper called Soy Source, which was doing a feature called “Otoko no ryouri,” or Men’s Cuisine, featuring four different Seattle-area men who cook, and who presumably have some sort of connection to Japan. Teruyo Koshimaya, an editor at the paper, and Hiro Yamada, a photographer and member of my Japanese speaking social group, dropped by for lunch about a week and a half ago, and I made a few dishes while we chatted about food, travel, ceramics, work and other things.

I served a potato-based focaccia topped with mizuna pesto (later used in this fettucini and morel dish), a simple blanched broccolini topped with hot browned shallots, garlic, and good balsamic vinegar, a marinated mushroom dish, and a cannelini-cheddar soup topped with fried gobo (burdock root). Nothing turned into a disaster, which is always the thing I worry about when I have unusual amounts of attention paid to my food…

Two recipes, which are probably approximations of what I made because I almost never work from exact recipes and I had to estimate quantities, were included here (in Japanese) as a sidebar to the article. I did try to measure things out somewhat carefully, so they shouldn’t be too far off.

It was a lot of fun. I look forward to someday being semi-famous again.

Last reminders of summer

My absence of late is thanks primarily to excessive exhaustion… My new old commute has been draining. In fact, the traffic between Redmond and Seattle seems decidedly more painful than it was a couple years back…

But 2004 was a painful year in the digital economy, and I know some substantial hiring has gone on in the Eastside since then.

At the end of the day, I have rarely had much energy to take photos of dinner or write about the growth of YuzuMura.com. I have a few photos that were stashed on my camera’s memory card, but they’re all reminders of the peak of summer.

Tomato

These were some heirloom tomatoes we bought from Sosio’s in the Pike Place Market… one day we got an incredible deal on seconds, and I made 4 quarts (a shy 4 liters) of really dangerously sweet and flavorful tomato sauce with minimal handling… just basil, garlic, a little wine, olive oil…

But we also made some insalata caprese…

Insalata caprese

And a spread particularly suited for a potato rosemary focaccia, made with cannelini beans, garlic, and olive oil, topped with some tiny heirloom tomatoes.

Cannelini-mini-heirloom-tomato

Hiromi’s parents actually came to visit for a couple of weeks recently. Her father professes a distaste for tomatoes, but I suspect this is due to the flavorlessness of Japanese supermarket tomatoes (which pretty much match the flavorlessness of US supermarket tomatoes); he reliably took several helpings of almost any tomato dish I served.

We only have another week or two left to get decent tomatoes in Seattle, but we’re lucky, as the season is pretty much over in the rest of the country…

Godoufu with irigoma sauce and shouga no nerimiso

Godoufu with irigoma sauce and ginger-miso sauce

Godoufu, the soymilk-based mochi-like "tofu" from Saga prefecture, has been featured here before, shortly after I reminisced about my first time tasting it when I was ceramics-hunting in Arita many years ago.

This weekend I got the urge to make it again. It's a bit time-consuming to prepare, so I don't really make it all that often, but I made it twice this weekend. Yesterday I went to a potluck, where my quadruple batch was consumed or otherwise claimed by others. I decided I wanted a bit more for myself today, and I really had more than enough soy milk this time... I made a huge batch of soymilk on Saturday morning.

The basics are simple, but a bit time-consuming. Start with a truly rich unsweetened soymilk. Milk substitute monstrosities such as the popular Silk brand are completely unsuitable, and even most unsweetened soy milks sold at health food stores will not have enough protein or flavor. If you have a local Asian soymilk producer, they probably sell the thicker type of soymilk that will be suitable for the task. Otherwise, you can certainly make your own... That's what I did this weekend, and it's why I ended up with about 9 liters of thick soymilk and a frightening amount of okara.

Godoufu

  • 5 cups thick Asian-style unsweetened soymilk (roughly 1200 ml)
  • 2 tablespoons kuzu-ko or arrowroot starch (about 55 grams)
  • 1/2 cup plus one tablespoon katakuriko, similar to potato starch, about 120 grams

Kuzu-ko tends to be clumpy, so it's best to use a spice grinder, a mortar and pestle, or even the back of a spoon to crush the kuzuko into a fine powder. For best results, whisk the cold soymilk with the starches until the solids are completely dissolved; otherwise, small translucent balls similar to gravy lumps tend to form during cooking.

Bring the solution to a boil, then immediately take off the heat and start stirring furiously with a sturdy spoon. Reduce heat to medium-low, and keep stirring like mad, making sure nothing sticks to the pan. Keep this up for about 30 minutes.

In many pans it's a bit tricky to keep things from sticking and browning at the bottom, but regularly pulling the pan off heat can help regulate the bottom of the temperature. In a pinch, if the bottom of the pan starts to brown, I've been known to pour out the mixture into another pan and continue the process; it's really hard to rescue the godoufu if things start sticking, so I do my best to prevent disaster.

Turn out the mixture into an airtight storage container. Some Japanese sites recommend placing a layer of clingfilm wrap on the surface of the godoufu to prevent a skin from forming.

Next, if at all possible, put the sealed container in an ice water bath for about 5 minutes. Refrigerate a few hours until set. (In a pinch, you can eat after about an hour, but it will hold its shape better if it's refrigerated longer).

In my experience, godoufu keeps reasonably well for about a week, but it must be kept in an absolutely airtight container.

 

Two typical sauces often used to top the godoufu include:

Irigoma sauce (Black sesame sauce)

  • 3 tbsp. ground black sesame seeds
  • 1.5 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tbsp. soy sauce

Bring ingredients to a boil. Simmer for a minute or so. Allow to cool.

Shouga no nerimiso (Ginger miso sauce)

  • 2 tbsp. miso (akamiso or shiromiso)
  • 2 tbsp. mirin
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated ginger

On medium heat, bring ingredients to a simmer, stirring regularly. Cook for about 5 minutes after the mixture comes to a boil, until it thickens.

This one is nice with a little finely chopped scallion.

 

Last night I also tried the godoufu with kinako and kuromitsu, which was very similar to a sweet called "tounyuu no warabi-mochi" the Hiromi and I ate in Kyoto a couple years ago. It should also be nice in zenzai (sweet red bean soup) in place of shiratama or mochi.

After the demos, satsumaimo

I guess I didn’t get enough sleep the last few nights… I got up later than I should have, but I needed the sleep.

Today I was a little bit touchy, but managed to have enough charm to sell a moderate amount of matcha latte blend and a bit of dragon beard candy. I think I did better yesterday.

I had lofty ambitions for dinner today, but once I got home, I lost most of my energy, and settled for baked satsumaimo with butter, black and white sesame seeds, salt, and a bit of sliced mellow cheese from Bella Cosa in Wallingford. I think I’ll be sleeping a little early tonight.

Tomatoes in January

Not usually a good idea, you say… and yes, you’re correct. I don’t normally consume tomatoes in the winter, as they tend to be rather tough and flavorless. I’m not deluded into the idea that aroma-free “roma” tomatoes or the B.C. Hothouse winter collection is suitable for anything remotely tomato-like. I am a sucker for tomatoes in Seattle starting around August, but especially when our local tomatoes are fantastic in September and October, a huge percentage of my daily budget is sacrificed to the tomato gods.

Most of the winter, I avoid tomatoes entirely. But I occasionally dig in to some adequate canned tomatoes.

Earlier this week, one of our weeknight dinners was a simple spaghetti with tomato sauce, made with fresh basil, onions, garlic. I made it with a little bit of feta and some olives.

Spaghetti with tomatoes, feta, and olives

Feta olive spaghetti with tomato sauce

I don’t ever really stop thinking about food. One morning Hiromi and I were just finishing up breakfast and she asked me what we should do for dinner, and I reflected on my schedule for the day and immediately started making a simple yeast dough, suitable for either pizza or calzone. She picked up some vegetables and cheeses on her way home, including some asparagus, mozzarella and parmesan.

When I got home that night, I started sauteeing some onions, and soaked a few dried porcini in water; I used the soaking liquid and the porcini with a bit of wine to caramelize the onions. I rolled out my dough and layered in onions, asparagus, olives, basil, mozzarella, garlic, and parmesan. I used some decent canned tomatoes, but decided not to make a separate sauce because I figured in the 20–30 minutes in the oven, it would make its own… I usually make a sauce ahead of time, but actually the self-saucing approach worked out quite nicely.

Asparagus porcini calzone

Asparagus calzone

You can’t see the insides because we hungrily devoured the end result without cutting and posing the cross section, but you can see that, even with ventilation ducts, we had a minor eruption or two…

FoodEx Day 3 and on to Hoteres

I had a pretty interesting conversation with a Sri Lankan tea company director… They have a pretty decent upscale tea that they mostly sell in England, and they aren’t very happy with their U.S. distributor, which has started to focus on its own branded tea. They sell single-estate teas

Anyway, he’s interested in doing a line of “healthy” teas and could source organic single-estate products, and says he could contribute some kind of marketing effort for this line; some kind of high-profile tasting event, for example, which they have done in London. They’re also creating a sort of prefab tea bar concept, which is a British-style presentation, but kind of interesting. I could actually start with relatively small shipments with them, which may be compelling; they also have a reasonably interesting story (163 year old company, bought back from the English by a Sri Lankan family, and their tea line is all single-estate, they’ve got a standing deal with the Queen of England, etc.) It’s not necessarily in the “pacific lifestyles” category, but with an organic product line I think I could be happy.

Beyond that, I noticed a couple of gems that I had previously overlooked in the Japanese food sections. I was kind of frustrated that I hadn’t seen many products from Japan that I thought were must-haves… I still don’t know that I’ve found a must-have item, but I did discover a nice natural aromatic vinegar line and some interesting grain-based tea beverage products, including an azuki bean tea similar to mugicha.

In the afternoon I went to another trade show at Tokyo Big Site in Odaiba, the big artificial island in Tokyo Bay. That show was mostly food equipment and furnishings for hotel, hospital, and restaurant businesses. I think I don’t really understand food equipment well enough to operate as an importer for that kind of thing, but I did see some cool stuff… there was a product that takes a small block of ice and turns it into large spherical, soccer-ball-shaped, or other novelty shaped large ice “cubes”. Another product in the same vein makes ice bowls for serving food, and produces the sort of ice you’d expect to serve oysters atop. Beyond that, I spent a while talking to a guy whose company produces a product for making fresh oborodoufu (custard-texture) tofu at the dinner table, for home or restaurant use. The device could be used for other recipes as well, but they have a companion product which is soy milk mixed with nigari and some other ingredients, and has a fairly long room-temperature shelf-life. I think it could sell to certain Japanese restaurants and maybe to Asian shops in the west coast; the tofu it produces is actually pretty decent.

The other cool thing was an ozone-generating hand dryer that operates with the mythical (by which I mean often overstated… another story) Japanese efficiency… very high powered air. Unfortunately, none of the companies producing these devices have a 110 Volt product yet, but if they did, it would be really cool as an alternative to the paper-towel heavy solution that health departments in the US seem to prefer. One of the companies producing them has one that’s been marketed mostly to medical institutions and outperforms alcohol-based hand sterilization using a combination of heat, high air pressure, and ozone. I got a non-specific invitation to go out for drinks with a representative from one of the companies making these before I leave Japan.

For dinner, I went out with Hiromi to Okonomiyaki at a family-restaurant style chain in a Shinjuku department store. The okonomiyaki was average, as would be expected; I’ve been there before, but we were at a loss for interesting okonomiyaki restaurants in Shinjuku, which is dominated by expensive corporate concepts and chains.

The main selling point of this okonomiyaki restaurant is the cheap drinks… a grapefruit and cassis drink went for 280 yen, and another drink made with lychee liqueur and a self-squeezed grapefruit half went for 380 yen. By way of contrast, afterward, I ordered a small pot of tea at a popular cake shop, Comme Ca, for 600 yen, with a couple of slices of impressive-looking cakes for 700-800 yen each. 90% of those attending the cake shop were women, and maybe more than 95% of the male customers are there with dates.

I haven’t decided what to do tomorrow… I’ve seen nearly everything possible except some seminars at FoodEx, and I’m not sure that the rest of the Hoteres show will be that valuable for my current business direction, though I’ve only walked through half of the exhibition area.

Farro with purple carrots, hoja santa cheese

Simplicity is magical.

Farro is a robust grain... flavorful and filling, the grains gently explode in your mouth when you bite down on them.

It doesn't take much to make farro appealing... I only needed to spend a few minutes preparing and finishing the dish, but it's somehow very comforting and pleasing in spite of very little effort.

I use the rice cooker to prepare it, but after it's done, I like to bring a bit of cream to a simmer in a saucepan and mix in the farro, season with a bit of salt, and let the cream coat the grains of farro, adding a bit of richness. On previous occasions, I've added diced celery, onions and carrots to the rice cooker, but today I left all that out and found the farro equally compelling.

On the plate, I've added halved purple carrots with shallots, and a little bit of hoja santa cheese, a soft goat cheese wrapped in a sassafras leaf. This cheese is velvety and herbal and slightly tart, and just a little is enough to add a pleasant contrast to the nutty farro. It's nice with a little soup and some greens.

One pint lighter, bank hunting, bad pottery day, exit interview

On the night of my last day at Microsoft, April 15, I didn't really start working until I got home. I had to finish up a business proposal to one of the companies I want to work with, and there was a lot more work left than I remembered. I was up until about 3 AM focusing on that.

Saturday and Sunday I jogged in incredibly good weather around Greenlake... I also made some plates at pottery lab on Sunday.

Today I went to the North Seattle branch of Puget Sound Blood Center for the first time. I've usually donated at the Bellevue location, which was across the street from my old apartment, or at the mobile donation bus that came to Microsoft every couple of months.

I also had to go bank hunting. I have been operating from my personal account, and that's very confusing and also not good to do since I'm organized as an LLC. I wish I had this figured out 6 weeks ago... talking to banks and trying to make sense of their fee structures, especially when my stuff will involve international wire transfers and so on, is not the most entertaining part of this job.

Actually, I did start developing a lead for one or two products I want to sell when I stopped to get some tea. It would be small volume but potentially a good thing.

In the late afternoon I went back to Redmond to do my exit interview with an HR person. I played nicely... and turned in my cardkey, parking pass, corporate card and all of that stuff.

Somehow I had a series of disasters at pottery class tonight... I guess my hands weren't steady enough or something... I kept on ruining simple cylinders. At least I was able to finish up some pots that I had started last week.

Hiromi's eggs florentine with rapini

Well, ok, I may have done a fair amount of work on this one. But I tried to use a guiding hand rather than take over.

Hiromi got hooked on Eggs Benedict after we made a stop at Fremont’s 35th St. Bistro for brunch early in the year. I’ve made Eggs Florentine or other vegetarian variants at home, and when we’ve found ourselves at brunch at a place which offers Eggs Benedict, there’s a fairly good chance Hiromi will order it. Her favorite so far was made with a sort of truffled hollandaise with mushrooms at Volterra in Ballard.

Hiromi wanted to learn to make hollandaise sauce before leaving, so I walked her through one of the effective “cheating” methods that involves melting the butter with the warmed egg yolk and lemon-water mixture. I’ve done the traditional method, the blender method (particularly effective when a rescue effort is required), and  this approach, and I think it’s the most fool-proof.

Eggs-florentine-rapini

I had blanched some rapini for ohitashi the night before, but we had a bit leftover. The slight bitterness of the rapini is a good way of balancing the luxurious richness of the hollandaise and poached egg.

We also had some crispy fried potatoes, which I oil-blanched and fried like frites.

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