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.

Mushrooms en croute

One of the oddball recipes I internalized when living in Germany was the idea of “stuffed bread” filled with mushrooms in a bechamel sauce.

I don’t remember where I first saw it… it may have been in one of the cheap, slim cookbooks I used to see in front of bookstores as a student there, where I would often spend a few minutes doing tachi-yomi (reading while standing, in Japanese) between classes or whatever. I just recall the concept, which usually involved taking a square loaf of unsliced “toast” bread from the bakery, chopping it in half, hollowing out the center, and oven-toasting the bread with a liberal application of butter on the hollowed-out walls, then stuffing it with a savory filling.

Unsliced breads in the US don’t usually stand up on end, as the good quality bread in the US is almost always hyper-rustic. So on the rare occasions when I feel like making such things, I choose something like this medium-sized dinner roll.

Kinoko cream cup

As in the recipe I stole the concept from, I hollow out the roll, but I use a less extravagant application of butter around the inside.

I sauteed the mushrooms a bit with some onions or shallots, added some garlic and maybe some fresh dill. I made a bechamel sauce… actually a browned butter sauce, not a true bechamel, to add a bit more of a hazelnut color than the mushrooms alone would provide… I combined the sauce and mushrooms, and filled the bread again, warming for just a few minutes in the oven while I prepared some quickly cooked brussels sprouts.

This was one of the last dinners at home when Hiromi was still here…

Tōkyō ni tsuita : Arrived in Tokyo

I arrived in Tokyo last night... There's still a lot to write about from my Korea trip, but I just wanted to post a quick update... Off I go to cause trouble with Hiromi.

My timing was fortuitous., or insane, depending on your perspective... right outside the Marunouchi exit of Tōkyō station, a brand new building opened up, the Shin-Marunouchi Building. Just as you might expect, it was crowded and bustling with activity... When something new and big comes to Tokyo, everyone wants to be there.

Shin-Marunouchi Building Opening Day Congratulatory Flowers

Hanawa

These flowers mark the opening of a new building or business.

Lining up

Shin-Marunouchi Building Opening Day

Every restaurant or cafe had a long queue.

A new restaurant menu

Dashichazuke

Dashi-chazuke. Rice with various toppings and Japanese soup stock instead of the typical tea.

Gateau Fraise

Gateaux Fraise

I just managed a glimpse of the goods at this fancy cake shop.

Coffee from my hood

Caffe Appasionato Tokyo, Shin-Marunouchi Building

Seattle's Iranian-American family-owned Caffe Appassionato gussies up their look for the Japanese market.

Fancy little gourmet shop

Salad dressings in Shin-Marunouchi

Too many salad dressings.

An upscale outpost of an ordinary supermarket

Seijo Ishii

Somewhere to buy the essentials, and everyday splurges.

 

Almost severe fatigue meets me head-on

Playing the role of a manufacturer representative for a food product that relatively few people in the gift industry have ever heard of is kind of a surreal experience, especially for someone like me with no particular background or innate talent for sales. My goal during the show was basically to leave people with a positive impression of the product, regardless of whether it fit into their retail store or not.

For the most part I think I succeeded, but it would have been a bigger ego boost if there had been a few more orders. There were a couple of good surprises, like an order from Nampa, Idaho, a town which I probably wouldn't have visited for the purpose of making a sales call otherwise. There were a few leads which have some potential of working out in the future. If my broker has the skills and relationships to get this product into a bigger range of stores, I'll be happy.

Meeting the other manufacturer representatives also taught me a bit. I think my head was spinning with names that were being tossed about, so I'm not sure how much of that will stick with me, but it was good to hear the war stories of people who have been selling fancy foods for a while. The product line that I was most impressed by in the showroom were from a company called Hand To Mouth, which has a nicely sappari artichoke spread and a pleasantly fresh-tasting roasted red pepper tapenade, as well as a subtly anise-seasoned olive tapenade they call “Greek caviar.”

I did some sampling at Uwajimaya on Saturday, and I'm starting to feel better about the conversion ratio. It's still not really a comfortable ratio, but it seems to be an improvement over the last couple of events. Yesterday I got a report of how many units have been sold at the Seattle store and I can now say that the sampling is pretty much paying for itself. If I could just start paying for the advertising I'm doing, I'd be a little more comfortable. I'll have to check out how sales have been doing at Bellevue and Beaverton... I expect the volume is a little lower in those locations, even though the visibility is better.

On Sunday I simply walked around the temporary exhibits at the Convention Center in downtown Seattle. It was surprisingly exhausting, but I think that came from being on my feet most of the last three or four days. I met a couple of companies that may be useful in one way or another, and I actually made a sale of one box of candy to a woman who works at a local Chinese antique dealer and had trouble finding the candy in our retail outlets. She wanted to give it to her sister.

I'm getting close to needing to reorder from Hong Kong, but I hesitate to do that unless I have a good idea what sales volume will be like in September...

My objective today is to do as little work as possible. I had a little inspiration to work on my web project today, but it hasn't been a sustained motivation. I'll hack around a little bit and then I'll try to relax for the rest of the day. Tomorrow I have some outstanding errands, but I might take it kind of slow tomorrow also. I'm just really beat after a few weeks of almost nonstop movement.

Morels with homemade fettuccini

We self-indulgently bought a pasta roller last summer. It’s a single-purpose device, and I don’t have many items like that, at least not when they take up as much room as that, but pasta is a staple food for us and I wanted to have a tool that made it easier to produce pasta of a consistent thickness and texture.

I’m still not quite at the level where I’m going to beat anyone’s Italian nonna if we undertook some sort of pasta death match, but it’s surprising how little practice is required to develop perfectly respectable results.

First morels of the year, homemade fettucini, and mizuna pesto

One of the guys at Sosio’s happens to go to the same gym I do, and he’s there nearly every day. He noticed me fighting the dumbbells little over a week ago and told me I needed to come in and get some morels, which seem to have come in a bit early this year. So I went in on the weekend and grabbed some.

I thought it was a good excuse to break out the pasta maker. It’s really not too time-consuming to make a small amount of pasta, at least in the amount required to serve 2-4 people, so it’s even manageable on a weeknight. The only difficult thing is allowing the prepared dough to rest 30-60 minutes before attempting to roll it out. If you don’t do that, it fights with you, and you get these crazy holes inexplicable places. But once it’s reasonably well rested, the gluten in the semolina relaxes and the dough cooperates nicely. It just requires a little patience, and, when possible, another pair of helpful hands.

We had plenty of pesto I prepared for a lunch meeting on Sunday afternoon. The particular pesto I made was not prepared from the usual Genovese ingredient of basil, however. I turned to mizuna, a Japanese green with a flavor similar to, but slightly brighter than arugula. This is one of my favorite versions of pesto, and turns out to be ever so slightly cheaper than the basil version, since it comes in roughly one-pound bundles for $2.80 at Uwajimaya; I usually have to pay at least $4/pound for basil when I buy it in bulk, if not more, and it’s crazy expensive when purchased on those obnoxious $3 one-ounce plastic containers at the supermarket. So it not only makes a refreshing change of pace; it’s also surprisingly frugal.

I suppose that’s kind of moot after paying for morels, but they were surprisingly inexpensive for ones sold so early in the season. I’ve paid more in the peak of the harvest in past years, so we must have a particularly prolific crop in store.

Under the more relaxed conditions of weekend pasta-making, I like to let the rolled and cut pasta dry out a touch, maybe an hour or so, before I try to boil it, but for fettucini, it’s not really necessary. We once tried the spaghetti cutter on a weeknight and tried to serve that with a tomato sauce before letting it dry at all after cutting, and we produced something very similar to ramen-shop ramen instead of spaghetti. I might be wrong, but my limited experience seems to tell me that, when under time constraints, wider noodles like fettuccini or tagliatelle work better.

The morels were just cooked with a generous knob of butter and salt as the pasta cooked. I drained the pasta after cooking it for 2-3 minutes in salted water, leaving just a touch of water in the pan, and tossed the pasta, morels and mizuna pesto together until combined.

It’s best served hot, and pesto cools quickly, so get it right out there on the table and eat!

We had it with a nice serving of lentil soup, which was part of dinner a couple of times last week, and maybe a little salad.

There’s not much of a recipe, as it was really about having everything around when I needed it and adjusting seasoning as required, but the mizuna pesto goes a little something like this:

Mizuna pesto

Ingredients

  • 2/3 of a bundle of mizuna, about 300g (2/3 lb)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons raw pine nuts
  • Good extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (about 50g)

Technique

  1. Toast pine nuts gently about 5-6 minutes on low heat in a pan. Set aside to cool.
  2. Wash mizuna. Remove sprout from garlic, if present, to avoid unwanted bitterness. Add mizuna to a blender with garlic, pine nuts, and a little olive oil. Pulse the blender with the "chop" mode (medium speed). Add additional olive oil through the lid opening until an emulsion forms. You should still see small pieces of mizuna, but all the leaves should be broken.
  3. Grate parmesan and stir into the pesto.

Pajeon and ssamdubu: Pancakes and lettuce tofu wraps

Thanks to my excessive shopping habits, I always end up with a couple of special treats to take home when I travel.

During my recent trip to Korea, I grabbed a trio of artisanal sauces in fairly small jars... gochujang, the fermented chili sauce, dwaenjang, which is Korean miso, and ssamjang, a combination of the two with additional seasonings, including a touch of sugar, usually used for lettuce wraps such as ssambap.

I tasted the dwaenjang and gochujang at the department store in Korea, but I added the ssamjang mostly for completeness, without having a sample first. So when it came time to break the seal on these essential sauces, the ssamjang was first on my priority list.

Ssamdubu

Ssamdubu

To make use of ssamjang, I usually make ssambap, which involves wrapping lettuce, herbs like gaennip, or kelp around rice and other ingredients. The ssamjang is used to add flavor. Koreans regularly construct baseball-sized lettuce wraps and eat them in one bite. My jaw, however, doesn't quite have the capacity required for such a challenge.

Since I went tofu shopping at Thanh Son this weekend, I thought it would be nice to have these with tofu instead of rice. I also sautéed some sad-looking enoki mushrooms in butter and soy sauce.

Not wanting to accumulate three or four plates for such a simple dish, I went ahead and assembled the wraps ahead of time. To serve them, I used another treasure from my recent trip: An Aomori-style urushi plate in the shape of ichō, or gingko leaf.

Simple Pajeon

Simple pajeon with sauce

I so jealously guard the crispness of my pajeon (Korean-style scallion pancakes) that I generally don't sacrifice valuable seconds to shoot a photograph, lest the ephemeral textural ideal be lost before I have a chance to take the first bite.

This time I made a smaller one than usual... somehow I figured, with some rice, kimchi and the tofu dish, I would have enough. It was just right... maybe even a little too much.

As I sometimes do, I followed the technique recommended by a Korean friend, who rather unconventionally replaces water in her pajeon with milk. It makes for a fluffier, more flavorful variation.

Simple pajeon

A little kimchi

Dinner wouldn't be complete without a little kimchi and rice... I cheated and used a passable imported gimchi bought at Uwajimaya, though I usually try to get kimchi made at one of a number of Seattle-area Korean markets. No time for that this time... and this did the trick, anyway...

Satsumaimo soufflé

So I’ve had this dangerous affinity for meringues in the last year or so. I like them on cakes and pies, I like them on savory dishes, and I sometimes like them all by themselves.

This occasionally results in something approaching culinary genius, but more often than not, something goes slightly wrong. The most common problem is usually my piping effort. My technical mastery of piping can, more often than not, be fairly compared to the artistry of a six year old. Occasionally I just over-bake them by a few minutes and they come out far too dark.

Sweet potato souffle in situ

This one decided to explode.

You may not see it here, because I tried to find the best possible angle, but my meringue mostly deflated before it ever finished baking. It spread out more than it puffed up.

In fact, it’s technically more of a soufflé than a meringue. What I did was roast a Japanese sweet potato, slice it in half lengthwise, and scoop out a good amount of flesh, which I mashed. Then I mixed the mashed flesh with egg yolk while the flesh was still warm. Separately, I beat egg whites into a meringue, adding a small amount of sugar and a heavy pinch of salt. Then I gently folded the sweet potatoes back into the meringue, and filled the scooped out part of the potato with the mixture. To finish it off, I piped a bit more of the mixture on top with a star tip, and sprinkled black sesame seeds on top. I then baked the dish at about 375F until it was nicely browned.

I think I used a bit too much egg white. But the result, even if a bit ugly and quite technically flawed, tasted pretty nice. I added enough salt to the mixture to make this a savory side dish rather than a dessert, but you could certainly adjust the preparation to make it work either way.

Done right, it could look quite elegant, but I’m almost happy with my admittedly rustic results. It’s a little wafuu without being something you’d typically find in most Japanese mothers’ repertoires, and compatible with both Japanese and American taste sensibilities.

Next time, I want to make some adjustments to improve the stability of the foam. But it’ll go on one of my menus again.

Lacking spectacular moments, I forge on

My silence the last few days is merely a reflection of a rough schedule, combined with relatively uninteresting eating.

I did my usual supermarket demos on Friday and Saturday, one of which was a long stretch away in Beaverton. I think I’ll be doing one more Portland area demo this holiday season, then maybe one in January. It’s still painful to go down there because of high gas prices, but someow I got decent mileage on the last trip.

My dragon beard candy has been selling at a fairly decent clip, presumably due to holiday demand. I restocked the Seattle Uwajimaya faster than I expected. I hope that keeps up. But for cost reasons, I’m not doing anything dramatic this year; last year, I brought the candymakers to Seattle, Portland and the Bay Area to run some promotional events. I can’t quite cost justify that this year, because my available resources are too tight, and unless I do something larger in scale, maybe in New York or very dense urban outlet, this kind of promotion only just barely pays for itself.

Last night I had a decent dinner, but I just haven’t been eating well lately. Today I had no time for lunch. I don’t like to eat “out” right now because it doesn’t save much time and even at the low end of the cost scale, is more expensive than making the equivalent food myself, but I’ve caved in and grabbed a burrito, slice of pizza or similar pretty much daily recently.

I wanted to make nabe-yaki udon for dinner last night, and I realized I had no udon, or even soba. So I settled for some thin “glass noodles”, turning my essentially rustic Japanese dinner into an accidental pan-Asian fusion dish. It was comforting and fairly healthy, consisting mostly of vegetables, shiitake, and tofu. I hope it made up for my slice pizza, eggnog latte and cookie lunch, which was quite the opposite.

Nonstopweek

Thursday I visited the Seattle Gift Center and met with one of the space leasing coordinators. The Seattle Gift Center is basically a wholesale market where a lot of regional buyers for retail shops come in search of the latest and greatest gift items. The leasing guy suggested I meet with one of the vendors who focuses on food products, but, since Monday and Tuesday are the normal days for showrooms to be open, nobody was there to talk to. I did run into a couple of other interesting people while I was there, but anyway, Monday or Tuesday I should go back and try to meet with one of the sales people there. I might be able to find someone to represent my candy there or I might learn something else useful.

I've been struggling with my work taking over my living space, so I've started to spend more time thinking about leasing some commercial space. Also I really think it would be helpful to show off my products in a space that shows them off to the best advantage. My revenue situation doesn't entirely suit doing this and it was something that I was planning to do in the more distant future, but I barely feel like I live at home right now and it's increasingly uncomfortable. Anyway, I took a look at various retail spaces, including two in the International District, one in the Convention Center downtown, and a few in the Wallingford and Fremont areas.

Part of the week I spent talking with some other small retailers, though these often weren't so much sales calls as harmless discussions and occasional market research. I learned about a few other places I should talk to, and I'll be exploiting some of that information this week. I spent a little time meeting with another Japanese newspaper and I think I'll be stepping up my publicity efforts a bit this week.

I spent some time most days, when I wasn't otherwise out and about, working on my web code, and I'm finally down to the last few work items to make it functional. I think I can nail it down in a couple of days and then I'll get ready to walk the Seattle Gift Show.

Saturday I woke up early in the morning and drove to Beaverton, Oregon, to do sampling at the Uwajimaya there. I think the audience there was a little less adventurous about even tasting the candy, but the sales conversion ratio seemed to be ok... pretty much in line with our Bellevue experience, maybe slightly better. My last sale was actually to a woman who was just fascinated by the video; I had already put away my samples, so she bought a single tube “just to try it.“ I wonder if there's something to be said for not giving samples away and focusing just on telling the product story...

Afterward, I chatted with some Hawaiian folks peddling kaki-gouri (shaved ice) out in front of Uwajimaya and relieved my dehydration with a guava shaved ice that had a little ice cream and coarse anko (sweet azuki bean paste) on the bottom. 

I drove around looking fruitlessly for parking in Portland's Chinatown in the early evening... some downtown events, including the Bite of Portland and some outdoor concerts in Chinatown made parking downtown pretty much out of the question, and I didn't have a specific enough agenda to justify paying for parking. I finally drove across the bridge to have dinner at a decent Mexican restaurant I tried to eat at a couple of trips ago, but had worse luck with seating at that time due to a recent favorable review. I had a nice tamale dish with a nice simple side vegetable dish.

Saturday was kind of an all-day work effort, so I barely moved this morning except to do a little housework. I made pancakes for breakfast and made a makeshift dorayaki intended for an afternoon snack... In the afternoon I made okonomiyaki for the second or third time this week, this time with kimchi and cheese. I ducked out to work on some of the web project at Vivace's in the afternoon, which I've done more than once this week... today I made a small dent, but the work on this step required more thought on UI than I expected so the progress was slower than I had hoped. I haven't done much exercise this week, so after a few hours away I came back to go jogging around Greenlake. I made a simple pasta dish with fresh green beans in a tomato cream sauce and chopped basil, adorned with good parmesan acquired from a new Wallingford specialty food shop started by an Amazon.com refugee.

I'm not sure how productive I was this week, but I rarely had a moment when I was able to slow down and relax... I was running all over...

Creamed spinach with bread, and weekend muffins

Another weeknight meal last week took advantage of some onion-studded rye bread from Essential Bakery. I thought I had a bit more spinach handy, but I guess we used a fair amount of what we had started with at breakfast… anyway, I made a cream-enriched bechamel sauce with some garlic and added some spinach and parmesan. Normally, I’d be inclined to use onions for this dish, but I didn’t realize we were out until I had already set my mind on this dish.

Creamed spinach

Yesterday morning, before we headed off to my office to grab some things for my aborted Chinese New Year demo, I made some chocolate muffins embedded with a bit of raspberry jam.

Chocolate raspberry muffin

I guess they are reminiscent of thumbprint cookies, but they were softer and just lightly sweet.

Chocolate raspberry muffin detail

Drinking food

Rabokgi

Rabokgi: ddeokbokgi with ramen

Rabokgi is the derelict pot-smoking cousin of ddeokbokgi, the ubiquitous Korean stewed glutinous rice cake dish. Ramyun (instant ramen), glutinous rice cakes, and spicy gochujang are the essential components in rabokgi; in this case, ours were served with a hard-boiled egg and some variety of fried hanpen, or fish cake, which is called odeng in Korean. I left the odeng for Hiromi.

Normally this is food that accompanies a late night round of drinking, but Hiromi and I didn't have any opportunity to do that before her Sunday morning departure to Tokyo. She had been craving it the entire trip, but we were so full from our three substantial meals on Saturday that even our shared hoddeok was pushing the limits of our stomach capacity.

It turns out, though, that a small restaurant in a building adjacent Gangnam express bus station not only offered rabokgi, but was open at 8am. So not all hope was lost...

We then had a small challenge getting the attention of the waitstaff (I was too polite), but service was quick, and we had this unlikely breakfast. If, however, we had been up all night drinking, like some ajeossi (middle-aged men) at the 24-hour kamja-tang restaurant who we spotted drinking soju with their stew at 7 am Saturday, it might have just been par for the course.

We did, however, observe a small part of the ritual after dinner at Pulhyanggi.

A little makgeolli

Four with a little makgeolli, in band photo formation

We met with a friend of ours who had studied in Seattle and his sister for a little makgeolli.

Makgeolli, sometimes rendered makkori, is sort of what beer would be if it were made from rice instead of barley or wheat, and devoid of hops. It's creamy white, and served with a ladle.

We were completely stuffed from our previous dining excesses, but this nice vegetable jeon was available for those needing a snack. I managed only a bite or two, but I wish I could have managed more. I'm a sucker for good jeon. (I'll try to remember what the highlighted vegetable was at some point and post a trivial update later).

A big jeon

Jeon, but I forget which kind

 

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