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.

Not enough time, some kind of dinner, blood orange and gin

Monday night we had the dubious pleasure of completing my office shelving work… I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s actually organized, but it looks much less chaotic than it previously did. I’d actually be able to make good use of another shelf, but the next step is moving the remaining bits from my upstairs office to my storage facility. I have two spaces at ActiveSpace near the zoo, one of which is small and has a window, and the other of which is large, features high ceilings, but doesn’t get much natural light save for a partial skylight.

I’m planning to consolidate the two spaces into one, now that I really don’t see the office enough during daylight hours for a window to matter much, and don’t need quite the same amount of space as I once did.

We actually didn’t feel much like cooking after a long Monday… it was a day off from my contract project, but I never get a day off from my business. But we made something that was quite pleasant… we were hungry enough that we didn’t photograph it, though. It was tounyuu nabe, or soymilk hot pot, which I think I last had in Japan last spring, but Hiromi made it last Christmas when she visited. Basically, it’s thick, unsweetened soymilk, simmered with a bit of dried konbu, seasoned with miso and maybe a bit of salt. We used a combination of yuzu-miso (expensive, but adds a nice yuzu flavor) and komekoshi-miso. To the pot we added good, fresh tofu, some takenoko, and enoki.

Tounyuu nabe is simple food, but it is kind of special for Hiromi and me, because we ate a variation of it called toufu-dzukushi the first time we had dinner together at a fancy toufu restaurant in Kawasaki.

The last two nights, dinner was completely unremarkable, but tonight I made some yu tsai (a leafy green somewhat like nanohana) with atsuage, onions, and vegetarian “oyster sauce.” Hiromi made takenoko gohan, rice with bamboo shoots. We also had miso soup, but our itamemono wasn’t very Japanese.

Yutsai and atsuageTakenoko-gohan

After dinner I asked Hiromi if she wanted a drink, and she asked me to do something with the Moro blood oranges we got yesterday. I squeezed about four or five of them and blended the juice with a couple of shots of gin, a dash of bitters and a hint of vermouth, then shook everything up in a cocktail shaker with ice. After splitting the results into two glasses, I added an ounce or so of tonic water to each glass for a bit of effervescence.

Bloodorangeandgin

The result was quite refreshing. I’m not much an expert on mixed drinks, but I’m starting to have a bit of fun constructing them, and most of my recent endeavors have been quite passable.

Kurogoma korokke and kazoku no ryouri

I took today off from doing demos and spent some of the day cleaning house and actually reorganizing some things that have long contributed to a certain level of chaos in my home. Among other projects, I replaced an ailing, cracked lazy susan in my kitchen with two new ones to handle my stash of spices and seasonings… it turned out that these new ones had a larger diameter than fits on the floor of my cupboard, so making use of them required a bit of improvisation. I raised them off the floor using a couple of infrequently used cake pans, and this avoided the interference of edging in the back of the cupboard. It isn’t a perfect fit, but the doors now appear closed, and I have less likelihood of dropping various bottles of spices onto an expensive piece of pottery in the sink just below, as I’m hunting for something in the back of the cupboard.

Of late I’ve found my cooking skewing decidedly Japanese. But today I cooked more “stamina” than “sappari”, more oyaji than obaachan. Today’s food was more heavy and strong tasting than the Japanese food I more usually prepare. Hiromi says it is "kazoku no ryouri", something for everyone: Korokke to appeal to the kids, kimpira for the mother, and grilled tofu for the father. 

Kurogoma korokke

Kurogoma korokke

My black sesame croquettes usually have more black sesame in them, but I just ran out today, so my hand was forced… I used a lighter touch. As usual, though, I mixed in some white sesame seeds as a source of flavor, and the only thing to suffer is the visual. I really like black sesame croquettes, and I think the only croquette I like more is kabocha. Tonight, I still had some leftover kabocha from Saturday night, so we ate that as another okazu. It was actually more flavorful than on Saturday, as is usual for nimono.

Kimpira gobo

Kimpira gobo

I had some help on this one. I spent my time doing the sengiri (matchstick cut) knifework, and my roommate removed aku as I did some other prep work; I got them started cooking in sesame oil and tossed in a pinch of salt; I tossed them around in the pan a bit and my roommate watched over them and added chili, shouyu and mirin and tougarashi (dried chilies).

Yakidoufu with baby bok choy, ginger and daikon-oroshi

Yakidoufu itame ni

My roommate requested yakidoufu again, but I couldn’t bear the thought of repeating myself so soon, so I made a variation with a bit of a sauce; mirin, shouyu and some vegetable soup stock.

Daikon to negi no misoshiru

daikon to negi no misoshiru

I had originally thought I would make a tofu-based miso soup, but I made a daikon-negi one instead, which is probably exactly what went into my last misoshiru. As usual, I made a dried konbu-shiitake dashijiru. In this case, rather than akamiso or shiromiso, I used a Korean-style dark miso (doenjang). This isn’t because I was trying to be innovative or creative; I just ran out of my supply of Japanese-style miso. It works just as well, though it tends to be a bit saltier than the most common types of Japanese miso.

Atsuage no mori: fried tofu stuffed with shimeji mushrooms

After over four weeks of relative physical inactivity, I haven't been feeling particularly healthy, and I'm starting to feel like what little weight I lost on my vacation to Japan and Korea has come back. I thought it would be a good idea to eat a little less oily food for a while, so I went to buy some oborodoufu at a local tofu manufacturer. Of course I went home with that, but then I saw a beautiful block of deep-fried tofu, and couldn't help but take it home. (Is that weird? I go out and I pick up pretty... groceries. I am not a normal guy).

Of course, that might well have undermined my intention to reduce the fat in my diet this week, but big atsuage aren't all that bad... since they're fairly large, most of the oil is in the outer layer, and there's not nearly as much surface area on a large block of tofu as, say, the smaller cubes more likely for agedashi-doufu.

Contrary to popular belief, tofu doesn't really absorb flavors very much; unless it's freeze-dried or frozen, it's just not that porous, which is why it's important to get very fresh tofu. You really want the tofu to taste good on its own. However, fried tofu does have little nooks and crannies on the surface that make it easier for flavors to attach to the tofu.

Even so, Japanese cuisine is more about tasting the ingredients, not covering them up. Accordingly, this dish really highlights the tofu and the fresh ingredients it's made with.

Stuffed atsuage

This dish is pretty simple, but it looks elegant and has some nice fresh ingredients. It just requires a little attention to detail.

I slice the tofu block in half, make a hidden incision parallel to the white tofu near the bottom of the block, and cut a rectangle in the interior. It's important to have a fairly substantial border of flesh to keep the block from collapsing... probably in the 3/8-1/2 inch range (1.5cm) I gently work the inner cube out of the block.

I season some dashijiru with mirin, Japanese soy sauce, salt and sugar to nimono strength, neither very salty nor incredibly bland. I cook shimeji (a kind of mushroom) for a few minutes in the seasoned dashi, and I blanch some matchstick-cut carrots and some snow peas. Once those have been shocked with cold water, I give them a little time with the dashi, as well as the tofu itself.  The tofu can only handle a few minutes before it wants to disintegrate, so I pull it out with a slotted spoon and stuff it with the seasoned shimeji, the carrots, and some kaiware-daikon, or radish sprouts.

The snow peas are placed in the serving dish, I plate the atsuage, and I pour enough of the seasoned broth into the bowl.

It's just one of several side dishes, and like most Japanese dishes, it's assari, or just lightly seasoned. It's mostly about having very fresh tofu, very fresh vegetables, and good quality mushrooms. It can be assembled before everything else is plated, because this type of dish can be presented lukewarm.

It could be served with a little fresh ginger, but that kind of intensity isn't really necessary for this kind of dish. The kaiware provide just a hint of sharpness that balances out the relatively muted flavors of the dish. The contrast between this and other dishes in the same meal make having really big, bold flavors here unnecessary: my umeboshi, sunomono, an aemono, and a spicy nagaimo dish I served with it provide balance.

Since it looks a bit like a forest in the middle of the tofu, we could call it atsuage no mori, or tofu forest.

Asamushi, Onsen Ryokan, dinner

We stayed at an onsen ryokan (hot springs resort) called Asamushi in Aomori city.

Most Japanese ryokan, given sufficient advance warning, are reasonably accommodating of vegetarian needs, though they don't always quite understand them. Usually things work out, with occasional use of non-vegetarian soup stock or a garnish of katsuobushi. In some cases, the food ends up being a bit ascetic.

Ryokan also tend to veer toward the fairly esoteric, so some of these dishes I've never seen before.

My spread

My spread

I was mostly happy with the taste of the food at our first ryokan this trip, but the meal ended up being surprisingly devoid of protein... usually there's at least a bit of tofu or some egg dish, or sometimes some yuba. This time, though, there wasn't even a hint of that. Even my nabe dish was little more than a suimono, though I think Hiromi's had a little tofu. The actual dishes were actually quite nice, but I felt a bit low in energy after the meal, which rarely happens when I eat at ryokan.

Hiromi's spread

Hiromi's had a bit more seafood, of course.

Hiromi's spread 

A few side dishes

A few side dishes

These were some of Hiromi's side dishes. 

Youshoku?

Apparently Aomori has a fondness for youshoku, or Western food, as we discovered later in Hirosaki. I think this presentation, offered to Hiromi, was meant to be a kind of cute deconstructed pasta dish. My version had some grilled bamboo shoots with a miso sauce.

Spring nimono

One of Hiromi's dishes, this features fu (the cute cherry blossom shaped wheat gluten item), kagomi, shrimp, and takenoko (bamboo shoots).

Itadouri no ohitashi

Itadouri, Japanese rhubarb or knotweed, one of many spring sansai (mountain vegetables). While not technically rhubarb, it has a slightly acidic bite to it. When lightly dressed, it's slightly vegetal and gently bitter.

Fuki no tou

Fuki no tou, the sprouts of butterbur. This is particularly common in spring in northern Japan, but it's also found, and eaten, frequently in other parts of Japan.

Ohitashi

A simple dish of blanched greens.

Tsukemono

Or so I think...

Kagomi no aemono

Kagomi no aemono

More mountain vegetables...

Unidentified sansai

Unidentified sansai

I don't quite recognize this, but I believe this is the mountain vegetable that we spotted along the river...

Sansai Tempura

Sansai Tempura

I always seem to end up with tempura at ryokan... even if they aren't serving it to everyone else... It seems to be a typical substitution for a sashimi course. This one features some mountain vegetables, mostly kagomi.

Some more vegetables with sakura

Some more vegetables with sakura

I think this is was a mustard-flavored aemono, but my memory is failing...

Daikon to negi no suimono

Daikon to negi no suimono

A light clear soup with daikon and negi.

Living nama-shirasu

[YouTube:wgDAdsp7peQ]

As a special treat for Hiromi, the ryokan brought a small dish to our room featuring these nama-shirasu, which were still alive and kicking.

I've seen Hiromi refuse to taste something only twice. The first was bundaeggi, and she pretty much says all bugs are off limits. The second was this. I'm not sure the taste or aroma would be terribly shocking, but it seemed just a bit too disturbing for her. Actually, strangely, I think it bothers me less than it does her... and I don't eat any fish... Though I guess the point is moot.

Note the splashes of soy sauce along the side of the bowl are the work of the fish, not of sloppy plating.

Living nama-shirazu

(Video Link, in case video embedding doesn't work for you) 

After dinner, I ate some kurogoma ice cream to get at least a little hint of protein, and Hiromi ate a really nice apple sorbet.

 (See also: Breakfast at Asamushi)

Last day in Tokyo, at Wai Wai, Italian-Japanese Izakaya

May 8... I had a relatively quiet last day in Japan, and met a friend for a quick lunch while Hiromi started the first day of work after Golden Week. After lunch, I made my way to Yūrakuchō to look for some additional self-indulgent snacks and treats to bring back to Seattle. I made my way back to my usual favorite spots (Hokkaidō Dosanko Plaza, Mura-Kara-Machi-Kara-Kan) and discovered, downstairs in the same building, a shop selling Wakayama specialties and another focused on Toyama products. I ended up taking home some umeboshi, some yuzu yubeshi, and some high-powered umeshu, and a few other treasures.

I met up with Hiromi mid-afternoon, because she had a medical appointment and had to leave the office a bit early anyway. After she finished with that, we met in Ginza and went to Printemps, where we both ordered a really nice, this-month-only, Matcha Mont Blanc. We then slowly headed back home, rested for a few minutes, and made our way to a restaurant we'd been planning to try all week.

Wai Wai

Wai Wai

Wai Wai, or 和伊・和伊, is a Japanese-Italian Izakaya that cutely uses country-appropriate Kanji (Japan and Italy) as ateji for a word that usually means something like "noisy" or "noisily".

Seated

Hiromi at Wai Wai

The space looks tiny if you peek inside... There's only a U-shaped bar adjacent the kitchen, and maybe a small table or two. But it turns out that they have a half dozen or so tables upstairs, and that's where we were seated. The booths have small noren hanging to create some semblence of privacy.

Agedashi Mozzarella

Agedashi Mozzarella

This was fascinating. In fact, seeing this dish on the menuboard outside Wai Wai may have been what triggered us to try this restaurant.

They transformed a typical izakaya dish of fried tofu in a seasoned dashijiru into a clever, but not over-the-top, fusion dish. Deep-fried basil, mozzarella, and tomato make an appearance, along with the typical agedashi accompaniments of ginger, oroshi-daikon (grated daikon), and negi.

While the flavor isn't much a surprise, and any crispness quickly faded as the dish made its way to our table, the combination was quite successful. It's hard to go wrong with basil-tomato-mozzarella, and the mild broth added the same kind of complexity you'd get from parmesan or a more Italian style soup stock.

Nama-yuba

This was the most Japanese of the things we ordered. It's an elegant presentation of a simple dish: fresh yuba, made from skimming the surface of slowly simmering heavy soymilk, served with soy sauce, ginger, wasabi, and chopped scallions, which you add to the yuba to your own taste.

I ate most of this, as Hiromi ordered for herself some chicken thighs, grilled with something like sansho.

Caeser Salad and Crepe

This salad replaces the typical crouton with a sculptural crispy crepe, which you're encouraged to break up and scatter over the salad.

Tsukemono

Tsukemono/Marinated vegetables

Marinated vegetables, or short-term pickles, featuring Western vegetables, including red bell peppers.

Quattro Formaggi to Hachimitsu

Quattro formaggi to hachimitsu

Four cheese pizza drizzled with honey. Like most pizza in Japan, it has an impossibly-thin, cracker-like crust. With the honey it would have served as a great final cheese course, but we weren't quite done yet...

Yakionigiri no ochazuke with an Italian accent

Italian-style yakionigiri ochazukei with anchovies, parmesan and basil

Ochazuke is a popular way of finishing a meal at an izakaya... there are two main tracks of ochazuke, one of which is the near-literal interpretation of tea poured over rice, with some pickles and furikake as accompaniments. Another is with a soup broth, and this version clearly is in the latter school.

As accompaniments, some chopped basil, parmesan, and anchovies are provided; they've been served separately to accommodate my vegetarian habit.

Up close

Ochazuke up close

I'm wasn't quite sure which herb was used, but I think the rice has been mixed with a chiffonade of parsley along with some toasted sesame. Because the ball of rice is grilled before being incorporated into the ochazuke, the rice ball is called yaki-onigiri. Topping the yaki-onigiri is an earlobe of wasabi.

Any number of variations of ochazuke exist. I've made a yaki-onigiri ochazuke before, myself, though with a decidedly more Japanese flavor profile.

This dish was really smart. Well balanced and comforting, it avoids most of the cliches found in American "fusion" cuisine while still playing with foreign (to Japanese) flavors. I think it's successful because it's firmly grounded in one culinary tradition, while judiciously adapting ingredients found in another... So many fusion dishes in the US seem to have a poor understanding of all of the source cuisines they are borrowing from.

Cream anmitsu!

Cream anmitsu with tapioca in coconut milk

I think I haven't had a chance to have kuriimu anmitsu for quite a while. We had a small dish of anmitsu served with a quick set meal at a kissaten in Mashiko, but for some reason, Hiromi and I haven't found our way to any place featuring anmitsu for quite a while.

The ice cream version of anmitsu, called cream anmitsu, can be found at old-school kissaten around Japan, but it seems not as easy to find as it was even six or seven years ago.

Not your obaachan's anmitsu

Not your grandma's cream anmitsu

Usually anmitsu comes with fruit, anko (sweet red been paste), and wasanbon (blonde cane sugar syrup), kuromitsu (black sugar syrup) or occasionally a simple sugar syrup. Occasionally the concept is combined with kakigouri, the shaved ice dessert; a few years back I ate that in a little shop in Takayama in Gifu prefecture.

Since we were in a slightly quirkier restaurant, the dish had been altered a bit further... in place of a more common syrup, it was served with tapioca that had been simmered in sweetened coconut milk. That transformed this treat into a Japanese-by-way-of-Southeast-Asia treat, and it worked suprisingly well. Since cream anmitsu is sometimes made with green tea ice cream, perhaps Chockylit's coconut matcha tapioca topping would be equally suitable...

We meandered the few dozen meters to our weekly apartment and started halfheartedly attacking our luggage.

The next day, it was time to go home...

Souzai and kurogoma-doufu

We had a leisurely morning one day and decided to stay home for lunch. We took advantage of some food Hiromi's parents had sent us away with, all acquired at a supermarket.

The souzai (side dish) set, ready to eat, included several small portions of simple dishes that are easily prepared in bulk, but rather time consuming to do in small quantities. At home I've made some variation of almost all of these dishes, but rarely all for the same meal.

I don't usually buy a lot of convenience foods in the U.S.

Some sweet-savory beans, tamagoyaki, kabocha no nimono (simmered squash), one aemono, a little hijiki with moyashi, and two other simple nimono. One contained gobo (burdock root), daikon, carrot and ganmodoki. The other is a mildly seasoned satoimo (small taro potato) dish with scallions and a little bit of yuzu peel.

We also had some black sesame, starch-thickened, gomadoufu, which came with a little sauce packet. 

We only needed to prepare a little rice to accompany this to have a fairly decent everyday meal.

 

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Two breakfasts

We’ve been on something of a Japanese food kick of late, and this has extended into breakfast.

Yesterday, we had an instant suimono (clear soup) made from magically expanding dried fu, a puff of wheat gluten. This is from a fancy gift set that Hiromi received as a farewell present on her way here.

Ofu no suimono

This morning, I made two pancakes, which I turned into dorayaki by adding anko (sweet red bean paste) and returning the first pancake to the pan before the second one was completely cooked, creating a “sandwich”.

Dorayaki

When made on a suitable pan, or with 3–4” pancake rings, the portion size is just about right for one serving, but these were made with an 8” omelet pan and needed to be cut into wedges.

Usually dorayaki are made with lots of honey and more eggs than normal pancakes, and tend to be almost too sweet to enjoy without the aid of some accompanying tea to provide some slightly bitter notes. I made mine with some honey, but a lot less sweet than normal dorayaki, making them suitable for breakfast instead of an afternoon tea snack.

Kiri-tampo

A specialty of northern Japan, and particularly popular in Iwate and Akita prefectures, Kiri-tampo are usually made with uruchi-gome, which falls into the category of everday rice. The other two categories of rice are mochi-gome, the pearly glutinous rice, and saka-mai, which is riced used for brewing sake.

Miso-dare kiritampo

Kiritampo on a stick, with miso-mirin sauce

We stopped at a small lake-front gift shop while between cities in Aomori. We weren't in any hurry to do any actual shopping, but we started looking at the types of things offered as fancy Aomori omiyage so that we could be suitably jaded by the time we were actually ready to buy.

I was sucked in by a little storefront window where a woman was busy grilling kiritampo over hot sumi, Japanese oak charcoal.

We had to have one. Each.

Although breakfast was heavy, we hadn't really eaten a real lunch, so this was a nice light snack, and very reasonably priced. We placed our order and the obachan handling the grill suggested we head upstairs to sit down, where we could sit in relative comfort facing the lake.

Middle of nowhere, Aomori

Middle of nowhere, Aomori prefecture, Japan

Five or ten minutes later, our kiritampo arrived, dressed with a sweet-salty miso flavored tare (sauce). It was far more than we ever hoped it to be.

We found, but did not make use of, this helpful device...

Tabletop fortune-teller

For just 100-yen, you could use this old-school tabletop device to obtain an all-knowing omikuji, complete with horoscope.

 

Asamushi Onsen breakfast

So my low-protein dinner transitioned into the extreme opposite in the morning... not only did everyone have a pot of tofu, made right at the table in bunrai nabe style, but we also had this surprisingly nice egg dish.

Where's the egg, you ask?

Well, it's on the side. There's a little negi, soup stock, and miso, and we mix the egg in using waribashi... Within a couple of minutes, the flame underneath the seashell cooks up the egg.

Hiromi's version of the egg dish also featured some dried scallops.
Dekitate toufu

Fresh and creamy tofu, served with a little negi and shouyu for dipping.

Of course there's a fair assortment of tsukemono (pickled vegetables), some yamaimo, a little hijiki... a very complete, very substantial breakfast.

Our breakfast is served with a little houjicha, roasted green tea, which somehow seemed a very homey way to start the day.

Warabi no ohitashi

It's a sure sign we're in the middle of spring.

Warabi no ohitashi

I found these forest treats at the University District Farmer's Market on Sunday. The season is mercilessly brief for fiddlehead fern fronds... They'll probably be impossible to find by the time I return from my trip to Japan. So, even though I have been trying to reduce the perishable contents of my refrigerator as fast as possible, I couldn't resist picking up some fiddleheads before I go.

Warabi, as fiddleheads are called in Japanese, are typically briefly blanched in Japan to remove aku (roughly: bitterness, astringency, the "unclean" parts of food) before they are incorporated into other dishes. Often a bit of baking soda is used when blanching this type of spring mountain greens, which slightly softens them and also removes more of the traces of enzymes that, given long term heavy consumption of the plant, can lead to some health problems. This blanching technique is always used in Japan, though I think it's sometimes neglected in the US where we seem to want to immediately toss these in a pan with olive oil.

In the Pacific Northwest, my understanding is that the Chinook tribe traditionally cooked these with oil extracted from oolichan fish, which also run in the spring.

For me, I'm happiest with a simple Japanese-style preparation.

Warabi no ohitashi - close up 

I like zenmai, a similar frond common in Japan, on top of a bowl of warm soba, but for warabi I usually just make a kind of simmered ohitashi.

This is just Japanese soup stock (dashijiru), seasoned with the typical combination of mirin, Japanese soy sauce, salt, and a bit of sugar, all done to taste. Once the sauce comes to a simmer, I just add the warabi and simmer for a few more minutes. The prior blanching will also help preserve the color during the second exposure to heat.

Warabi is a little bitter, but the overall flavor is reminiscent of asparagus, if perhaps a bit more intense in flavor. Unlike most ohitashi, I serve this warm. As a result, the dish is almost like nimono, even though it's not cooked quite as long.

 

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