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.
Now considered kind of quaint and old-fashioned, an donatsu or sweet azuki paste stuffed donuts were once a staple of Japanese-style bakeries. Increasingly, mushy, cloyingly sweet, preservative-laden versions sold at convenience stores have displaced the fresher incarnations of this sweet, but it’s worth indulging in when you find the real thing.
I can’t think of anywhere in Seattle to buy a decent an donut. But I can make a fairly decent interpretation myself...
Sunday morning, after realizing I had no more yeast left, I abandoned the idea of making anpan, the baked bread stuffed with the same kind of red bean paste. I did, however, have eggs, baking powder, and milk, so I put together a cake-like dough, incorporating a bit of melted butter and sugar. The dough was slightly sticky, but solid enough to allow for wrapping the dough around the filling.
The day before I had prepared some ogura-an, sweetened, coarsely mashed cooked azuki beans. I broke the usual convention of using about 50% sugar in the bean paste, preferring to use just enough sugar to taste the sweetness. I probably used no more than 25% sugar.
The main challenge is to make the outer layer thin enough that the dough can cook through, and almost all of them turned out just fine. After frying, I tossed the balls with some granulated sugar to add some textural contrast and an initial hit of sweetness.
We made a couple of lattes and indulged in a late breakfast.
Fresh from the fryer, our homemade an donuts were a totally different experience than I’ve even been able to have in Japan, since those are almost always sold after they have cooled down to room temperature. A tiny hint of crispness as we bit into each piece yielded to a soft cake texture, followed by the warm, sweet bean center.
We kept ourselves busy the last few weeks, even though last weekend, for example, was a more leisurely kind of busy. I haven't scheduled any product demos since just before the Christmas season. This was our first weekend back in the routine, and we took it relatively easy, with just a four hour Sunday demo in the cards.
Yesterday we handled a fair number of internet orders, and took care of some necessary evils related to either home or office. In the process, we encountered this little made-in-China, post-holiday-clearance pillow creature:
He found a new home. This doesn’t happen often. Several years ago, after a missed opportunity and a subsequent couple of trips of half-serious searching, I bought a (huge) stuffed dog from The Dog Club on a trip to Japan, which went on to become a huge licensed product with a worldwide presence. In spite of me being ahead of the trend curve on this one, this odd fisheye-perspective dog, along with the collection of teddy bears primarily inherited from my great-grandmother, nevertheless continues to inspire snickers and innuendo from non-Asian visitors. “Momo”, the litte round cow pictured above, was, however, Hiromi’s pick. My masculinity in this case cannot be questioned, although I can’t say that’s ever been a terribly important consideration for me.
Subsequent to accomplishing this very important mission, at a hardware store in South Seattle, we found some suitable shelving to help bring sanity to my office. I like the shelves that I got, so I’m likely to expand that set to complete this office sanity effort.
Alas, this pilgrimage to South Seattle did not go as planned. We tried to drop a couple of items at a post office on the way to some other errands. Not only were we foiled by some awful stadium traffic starting at the downtown exit of Highway 99; I also discovered that this particular post office offers no Saturday collection, which meant that my decision to shorten my path worked out to be both fruitless and inefficient.
Somehow we lost all motivation to prepare food after our mission to South Downtown, and the traffic distracted us from our original goal of obtaining some very fresh tofu from Thanh Son’s factory shop. So we made our way to Maekawa, which, if you order from the relevant three pages of the menu, serves izakaya-style food.
Although we’ve been eating a fair amount of Japanese food lately, it’s all been homemade. This was Hiromi’s first-ever meal in a Japanese restaurant in Seattle, and it’s probably one of very few places that I would take anybody who is actuavlly Japanese. This isn’t because it’s spectacular food; it’s decent, but not pushing any boundaries. The thing that I dislike about most Seattle Japanese restaurants is the distortion of portion sizes and the bizarrely non-Japanese combinations and seasoning approaches. But this place is so familiar and ordinary, that it wouldn’t be terribly shocking to find similar food in a little neighborhood spot in Japan. Except for the strange “teishoku” section on the menu, which is out of place on an izakaya menu, it’s all standard izakaya fare, with a few interesting house specials and so on.
It was, of course, Hiromi’s chance to eat some non-vegetarian Japanese dishes she hasn’t been able to indulge in when I’m cooking. She was simultaneously curious about the place and skeptical, but pleasantly surprised by the comfortable familiarity of it all.
Tonight, on the other hand, we had a bit more initiative. We had some soup and rice, but most importantly, we made a few different kinds of spring rolls.
I make a few unconventional spring rolls, but tonight we went over-the-top and made about five or six variations. We put some away in the freezer for later indulgence, but we alternated between heavy and light flavors.
One was nattou, camembert, negi (actual Japanese-style leeks in this case) and shiso, and an alternate version with nattou, negi, takenoko (bamboo shoots), and nori. We also made a simple one with takenoko, carrots, and rice noodles, as well as a version with cabbage standing in for the takenoko. We also made one with camembert, walnuts, umeboshi, and shiso, which is the only one that required no dipping sauce. For the others, especially the nattou spring rolls, we used some Japanese mustard (karashi) mixed with Japanese soy sauce.
I made these matcha muffins this morning, and we used up some recently made shira-tama and leftover ogura-an by placing them in the muffin batter. I think I first tried matcha muffins about 6 or 7 years ago at Kimura-ya in Ginza.
They actually looked substantially more matcha green before being hyper-illuminated, so I might reshoot these at some point when I get around to making some more, and try not to overexpose them so much.
Jason’s Matcha-An Muffins
1–1/2 cups flour 2/3 cup sugar 2 eggs 1 stick butter, melted 1/2 tsp baking powder 2 tsp Matcha for Cooking 1/4 tsp salt
Ogura-an or your preferred type of anko (sweetened azuki bean puree), about 1/2 cup
Mix with a fork to a lumpy consistency, taking care not to develop strands of gluten. I filled a 24–piece mini-muffin pan with this amount of batter, using about a tablespoon of batter per pan. Using two spoons, press a bout a teaspoon of anko into the batter. We also snuck a few homemade shiratama into some of the muffins; when baked they taste kind of like yakimochi.
Bake at 375F (180c) for 22–25 minutes, until edges are browned. You can test one muffin with a toothpick.
Breakfast also included some leftover black raspberry pie, some very orange jidori no tamago medama-yaki (sunny side up orange eggs from very well-fed hens) with a little Ritrovo truffle salt, and watermelon.
Hiromi and I spent the afternoon kayaking yesterday with Jennifer… we made our way from Portage Bay to the arboretum, then up to Madison Park and back. Surprisingly, three hours in the sun didn’t roast anybody. It was Hiromi’s first time on a kayak, so Jennifer gave a basic lesson to Hiromi while I was waiting in line to rent a 3rd kayak at Agua Verde.
Afterward I made a late dinner to take advantage of some decent but early heirloom tomatoes… insalata caprese, a salad with grilled figs, tomatoes and butter leaf lettuce, some bruised tomato garlic bruschetta, various leftover cheeses, and some tomato cream pasta with basil, just to complete the tomato-heavy theme. The day before we also had some tomatoes, but on ciabatta… also an egg white fritatta with morels and some earthy smoky cheese, and a salad with a crushed raspberry vinaigrette and lavender fennel cheese.
We also had a nice dinner at La Carta de Oaxaca on Friday night… preceded by cocktails at Fu Kun Wu. That seems to be a theme every time I end up at La Carta… the waiting list demands stopping somewhere else for a drink. But we got a table in 30 minutes… an impressive feat for a group of 7 on a Saturday night.
About 4 or 5 years ago I bought a Cuisinart ice cream maker, and not much longer thereafter I found myself making green tea ice creams on a regular basis. This used to be an expensive endeavor: 30 grams of matcha bought in the U.S. usually costs $7.50–$15.00 for average quality matcha, which is roughly two tablespoons. In Japan I can usually get ordinary matcha for $6–8, and sometimes I could get bigger sizes for not much more money. But happily, since I now work with company focused on matcha products, I have access to Matcha meant primarily for cooking applications, and this makes green tea ice cream a far lesser extravagance.
I think two tablespoons of the cooking matcha works out to about $1.88 for 1.5 quarts if you buy it by the pound. Including the cost of organic milk, heavy cream, and organically produced sugar, I think I spent about $5–5.50 for this at retail prices. That’s still substantially less expensive than buying 3 pints of average-quality green tea ice cream at about $3–4/pint, and with a much more substantial green tea flavor, much more fresh, and far fewer additives.
For a 1.2–1.5 quart batch, I once typically used about 1–1.5 tablespoons of the tea ceremony matcha that I used to use prior to having access to culinary matcha. Now I am using an indulgent 2 tablespoons, which provides an excellent balance of the bitterness and sweetness. If you’re really looking for a heavier matcha flavor, you might use a bit more, but be judicious. You shouldn’t try to replicate the bitterness of straight matcha; you’re just trying to use the matcha as an accent.
I never previously thought blending matcha and vanilla should be controversial, but my roommate seems to be sensitive to heavy vanilla use in green tea flavored things, so I’ve since reduced the amount I use in my own matcha recipes.
Jason’s Matcha Ice Cream
2 cups heavy cream 2 cups whole milk 1 cup unprocessed cane sugar (blond) 2 heaping tbsp. Matcha for cooking, Grade A 1/8 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Whisk the matcha for cooking with the milk and sugar, making sure the matcha dissolves. Stir in the cream and vanilla. If using a frozen-canister based ice cream, maker, chill the ice cream in the refrigerator for another hour to make sure it is sufficiently cold for processing, or hold in the freezer about 15 minutes.
Process in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions. This produces about 1.25–1.5 quarts of ice cream, depending on expansion. Make sure this is appropriate for your ice cream maker and adjust proportionally to your capacity.
If you’d like a more custardy ice cream, you might use an egg yolk or two in your recipe, perhaps reducing the cream a bit to compensate for the extra fat.
If you are using Ippuku Matcha Latte mix, you will use about 1/2 cup matcha latte mix and reduce the sugar content to a scant 2/3 cup.
Continuing my Matcha theme, I made these cookies with cooking matcha, white chocolate and pine nuts.
Jason's Matcha-Matsu-White Choko Cookies
½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter ¼ tsp salt ½ cup unprocessed cane sugar (blond) (roughly 80g) 1 egg ½ tsp. pure vanilla essence (some may want to reduce this to avoid competition with green tea flavor) 1 tsp. Matcha for Cooking by Three Tree Tea 1 tsp. baking powder 1 cup flour (roughly 150 g) 3.5 oz. (100g) white chocolate, chopped 2 tbsp. raw pine nuts (matsu-no-mi in Japanese)
Cream butter with salt and sugar. Add matcha, egg and vanilla and mix until consistent. Stir in baking powder and flour. Stir in pine nuts and white chocolate.
Drop in 1 tbsp. portions on a baking sheet with room for 3" diameters. Bake at 375F (190C) 12-15 minutes until edges are lightly browned. Rest before removing from sheet. Yields 16-20 cookies.
Because of the potential for oxidation of the matcha I don't recommend storing a supply of the dough, but you may consider freezing in an airtight container. I have made similar cookies without the white chocolate before, but with a touch more sugar.
If it’s more convenient, you can use Three Tree Tea’s Matcha Latte mix instead of the cooking matcha. Use 4 teaspoons of the matcha latte mix and only use 3 level tablespoons sugar. In the pictured version, I used Grade A or “gold” Three Tree Tea cooking matcha, but with something crispy and low-moisture like a cookie, you should get good results from the Grade B.