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.

Chi goo, meet fava. Brown butter, meet soy sauce.

April 10, 2007, 7:57 PM


Chi goo is a slightly crunchy potato-like vegetable. It's called a "river potato" in some translations, and seems to share some textural qualities with lotus root. Apparently the name means "belly button mushrooms" in Cantonese, but it's clearly a root vegetable, sometimes called arrowhead.

I couldn't really decide what to do with these, and I lost one or two of them due to neglect.

When I finally got around to preparing them, I thought they might respond well to some leftover brown butter I had from making financiers. First boiled like potatoes, then quartered lengthwise, the chigoo are added to a pan with sizzling brown butter. After they've cooked for a minute or so, I add a serious dose of sake and moderate splash of soy sauce. When the liquid reduces substantially, I toss in some fresh blanched fava beans (soramame in Japanese) and heat them just long enough to to warm up.

Slightly salty, a little nutty, and imbued of the aroma of sake, the slightly crisp chigoo featured a hint of artichoke flavor. The dish is very simple, but serves as a nice sake accompaniment.


Kurogoma financiers with black sugar syrup

April 9, 2007, 7:49 PM

Black sesame financiers

Until a little trip to Licorous last fall, I had never thought much of financiers. I don't know why... maybe I never had a good one. I don't have much love for madeleines either.

But Licorous' financiers were just too hard to resist...  Served warm with an espresso caramel dipping sauce and another dipping option, perhaps a bit of warm maple syrup, the crisp-yet-tender brown-buttery goodness continues to occupy a place in my dreams.

At home, I rarely make financiers... as much as I love butter, there's only so much I can handle. But I've been tempted to reinterpret the financier with a wafuu approach, and so I have occasionally been trying my hand at them recently.

For my first attempt at making Japanese-styled financiers, I replaced all of the standard ground almonds with ground white sesame seeds. It turns out that the almonds add some flavor foundation that a pure sesame seed version doesn't supply, so I've since tweaked my recipe.

This version is based on Dana's financier recipe on Tasting Menu. When I first saw this recipe, I thought the amount of sugar was incredibly high and that this would be unbearably sweet, but it somehow works out to be just about right, and is much less sweet than I expected. Perhaps the bitterness of the nuts helps balance out the sugar.


  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 4 tbsp. almonds
  • 2 tbsp. white sesame seeds
  • 2 tbsp. black sesame seeds, whole
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5 tbsp. all-purpose flour (or cake flour)


  1. Brown the butter in a small on medium heat. You want it to become the color of hazelnuts, but not carbon. This time I used some very nice Cremerie Classique butter from the Pike Place Market, which seems to have fewer milk solids than the average butter, so it took a bit longer to brown. Be careful that it doesn't cook so long that it scorches; once it's bubbling, watch very carefully.
  2. Strain and reserve the hot browned butter. Discard any particles of solids that are left behind.
  3. Grind the almonds and white sesame seeds in a food processor, spice grinder, or clean rotary coffee grinder.
  4. Sift the confectioner's sugar into a bowl and add the ground nuts.
  5. With a mixer or whisk, stir in the egg whites until a paste forms. Pour in the warm, but not fiercely hot brown butter, and continue mixing until consistent. Add the flour, salt, and black sesame seeds, and gently mix until everything is incorporated.
  6. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  7. Pour into baking forms. I used some nifty individual 1 inch silicone muffin cups on a baking sheet. They take about 17 minutes. Mini-muffin pans would work well I've also used some small rectangular loaf pans filled to a depth of about 3/4 inch, which takes about 20 minutes.

After baking, rest on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes. If you used a larger form, use a bread knife to cut the financiers into smaller cubes, but you may want to cut them a bit sooner so that they don't steam themselves soft.

Kurogoma financiers with kuromitsu and coffee

These are perfect dipped into a little kuromitsu, a bittersweet Japanese black sugar syrup. Failing that, consider blending some molasses, treacle, or sorghum syrup with honey to taste; try blending about 80% sweet molasses and 20% honey. I dusted a little kinako (toasted soy flour) seasoned with sugar and salt onto the plate, which also adds a nice flavor and makes the dish even more wafuu.

I served mine with a little espresso... A sturdy tea would work as well.


Easter brunch

April 8, 2007, 1:20 PM

This year Easter is solo... and, while I don't practice any particular religion, I'm willing to adopt a pagan custom or two in service of good food.

I'm too lazy to dye eggs, and probably will remain so as long as I have no children to entertain, but I'm sure willing to crack a couple of eggs.

The other thing about dying eggs is that the presentation contributes nothing to the taste of hard boiled eggs. I'm all for pretty presentations, but I'm much more motivated to create functional presentations. Whatever I decorate with should make the dish taste better. Otherwise, I'm content to just let the plate decorate the food.

Spring frittata

Spring frittata with ramps, early morels and blanched rapini

Sosio's was selling fresh wild ramps yesterday, which are a wild onion family member, sometimes called wild leeks. They're generally skinnier than the skinniest scallions, and the greens are almost leaf-like. The flavor is sharp, complex, and slightly earthy; they're more aromatic than scallions, distinct from but reminiscent of shallots, and have a sort of leek-like base notes. They're also very fragile and tend to have an incredibly short shelf-life.

They were also offering some "early morels", which are actually members of the verpa family. When sliced lengthwise an inner fleshy stem is revealed, distinguishing them from true morchella, which have a stem that doesn't come apart from the rest of the body. Apparently some people have allergies to the verpa, and there are some varieties, not common in the Pacific Northwest, which are slightly toxic when eaten raw. Cooked, they're quite nice, and they greedily absorb all the aromatics they're cooked with.

I still had a small bit of blanched rapini left in the freezer, so I had a nice trio of ingredients for a spring frittata. Gently sautéed in some nice olive oil with a pinch or two of salt, the trio of spring treats contribute a lot of flavor to a simple egg dish.

For the eggs, I just whisked a couple of room temperature eggs together and added a bit of seasoned soup broth, mixed them together and added them to my nice nonstick pan right over the vegetables. I stir the eggs with saibashi (long chopsticks for cooking) to help create nice curds and to keep the eggs from browning prematurely. Before the eggs are set, I briefly place them under a broiler, and the eggs puff up dramatically.

In my experience, when the eggs are browned in the broiler, the eggs become unpleasantly hard—almost tough—so now I just let them puff up a bit and flip them over onto the serving plate, revealing the golden-brown bottom while retaining an almost-fluffy texture.

Topped with some citrusy ash-covered Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog cheese and chopped ramp greens, this simple frittata features wild, citrusy, creamy, earthy, bitter, and gently sweet flavors all at once, somehow without any one of those flavors conflicting with the others. It's just the right thing for a lazy Sunday.


Pirikara no kimpira renkon

April 7, 2007, 1:36 PM

Kimpira (alternately kinpira) is a small category of side dishes in Japan typically involving finely sliced or shaved root vegetables. I don't think there's a strict definition, but you sort of know it when you see it. It typically involves sesame seeds or sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar or mirin, and often but not always includes some kinds of chilies. The technique is similar to braising. It might be compared to chorim in Korean cuisine, though the foods typically used for this technique differ between Korea and Japan.

Kimpira renkon

Kimpira renkon (金平れんこん) 

Kimpira gobou, made with burdock root (gobo) and carrot, has made an appearance here. It's the most typical preparation of burdock root in Japan.

For this kimpira, I heated up a bit of sesame oil in a nonstick pan and added sliced renkon. Renkon, known as lotus root in English, is crispy and juicy when cooked briefly. Typically, for kimpira, it would be a good idea to blanch the renkon for a minute or two and then ice shock it. This time, I just used some packaged renkon, which has been boiled in the packing process.

The sesame oil adds a lot of flavor, but it would burn at high temperatures... While I usually prefer to sauté things at high temperatures, that doesn't really work for sesame oil; however, it actually quite matches the goal for kimpira, where the oil is being used more for flavoring than to aid cooking. The oil certainly sizzles and bubbles, but it's not a true "sauté". I'm just kind of heating the renkon and tossing it around occasionally to help it cook evenly.

I season the kimpira with Korean dried chili flakes, because they're handy; other chilies work too. It's not meant to be incredibly spicy, but a little capricious heat is a good thing. Mirin, sugar, soy sauce and occasionally some vinegar are added to taste, and many people would put additional sesame seeds into the dish. It's very forgiving... I can't remember making the dish exactly the same way twice.

The sesame flavor, the nice little crunch, and moderate heat all work together to add a little "stamina" to meals that might primarily feature mild flavors. In small quantities, it will help balance out the rest of the flavors in your meal.


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Nasu no miso ni

April 5, 2007, 10:52 PM

It's totally out of season right now, but even during inappropriate times of year I can't resist nasu-no miso-ni.

Unseasonble Nasu-no miso-ni

There are as many ways to make it as there are mothers in Japan. Northern Japanese versions tend to be salty, western Japanese ones tend to be almost sweet.

I'm somewhere in the middle, though I'd say my I was pleasantly suprised by one that a friend's mother made in Ube, Yamaguchi prefecture many years ago, and it made me realize that the variation I had been making was heavily influenced by the recipe author's Akita heritage.

Ever since that Yamaguchi experience, I've added a tiny bit more sugar, a bit more mirin, and a little less miso to my version of this dish.

This time I made the dish with tiny Indian eggplants that remind me of the eggplant of Kyoto, or Kyo-nasu. They're only two or three inches (5-8cm) long.

I gently rub the lengthwise-quartered eggplants with a little salt, let them rest a few minutes, then briefly soak in water to remove any aku. I then add the eggplants to a hot pan with a little vegetable oil, trying to partially sear the flesh. I then add miso, sugar, mirin, and a little soup stock, and braise until the eggplant is thoroughly coated. You can adjust proportions to taste; I like both salty and sweet-savory variations.

Some variations of nasu-no miso-ni actually involve deep frying the salted eggplant, which is great, but unnecessary if the eggplant is slightly seared. It's a little trickier to get the timing right if you use a saute pan, but probably uses a bit less oil.

Frequently you'd top this dish with a few sprinkles of sesame seeds (either black or white will do), but when I ate this I had at least two other sesame flavored dishes, so I skipped it. You can eat it all right away, like the more general category of nimono it actually improves a bit with a day or two in the refrigerator.

In Japan, people consider the best time for eggplant to be early fall... Of course, it's usually primarily a summer vegetable in Europe, the US and most of China. I often try to find my way to Japan in September just so I can eat aki-nasu, or fall eggplant.

(OK, maybe that's a little bit of an exaggeration... but no, it's truly worth it).


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Broccoli rabe standing in for Nanohana

April 1, 2007, 10:13 PM

Occasionally I've suggested that yu tsai or yu choi can stand in for nanohana, the greens of the rapeseed plant that are widely available in Japan during the springtime.

In fact, though, rapini, also called broccoli rabe, is far more like nanohana than yu choi is, at least in terms of flavor and appearance. Both rapini and nanohana are generally fairly bitter, and both respond well to blanching.

Although the standard rapini treatment in the US seems to involve sauteeing with garlic and olive oil, the bitterness of rapini mellows out considerably after being blanched for about a minute in acidulated, salted walter, then shocked in ice water. So much, in fact, that such rapini actually seems quite mild in comparison to similarly prepared nanohana.

Tonight I decided to take advantage of rapini for two dishes... one is a simple suimono, or clear soup, and the other is aemono, a simply dressed side dish.

Rapini to Shimeji no suimono

For the soup, I prepared my usual konbu-porcini stock and seasoned it with salt, light-color soy sauce (usuguchi shouyu), a bit of sake, and a bit of sugar. This time, I added a tiny bit of katakuriko to give the soup a little body. After tasting the stock, I added some shimeji mushrooms and let them simmer a bit; just a minute or so before serving, I added the blanched rapini to warm it up before serving.

Rapini to shimeji no suimono

Rapini no Goma-ae

For a cold side dish, I toasted white sesame seeds in a dry pan before grinding them up. I combined the ground sesame with a bit of sugar and salt, added some water and a tiny bit of soy sauce, and briefly boiled the paste to thicken it slightly. Though it's certainly not the standard choice, I added a bit of a syrupy-thick aged balsamic vinegar at the tail end, which adds a hint of complexity that ordinary rice vinegar wouldn't provide. Since the blanching water was slightly acidic from rice vinegar, I also didn't need much vinegar in the gomadare (sesame sauce).

The sauce is simply tossed with the blanched rapini and served in a small bowl.

Rapini no goma-ae

In the US, outside of aromatics like onions and garlic, we often seem to try to avoid serving the same vegetable in two different dishes at the same meal. However, in Japan, I found it was fairly common to do so, especially when something was particularly plentiful and in season.

For American and European cooking, we often serve such large portions that it would become tedious to eat too much of the same ingredient. However, the smaller portions in Japanese cooking make it worth considering, especially if you can think of an interesting textural or flavor contrast for a particular item. In this case, one dish is served hot, and the other cold. One is soupy and mild, and one is slighly salty and has a strong flavor from the sesame sauce.

Both bring out something different in the rapini.

I remember a small Kyoto restaurant run by an interesting obaachan I visited almost 4 years ago... Unprompted, she served a hot variaton of a vegetable side dish my friend and I had previously ordered cold, just to demonstrate that greens can be completely transformed with a slight adjustment in preparation.

Whenever I'm faced with a surplus of a particular ingredient, recalling that moment helps me realize that only a small touch of creative energy can make something familiar and boring into something new and compelling all over again...


Matchstick cut nagaimo with wasabi-nori

March 26, 2007, 9:48 PM

Yamaimo to wasabi-nori

Raw nagaimo, or "long potato," is a starchy tuber similar to African yams, and is appreciated in Japan for its neba-neba qualities. There's no fair translation for this onomatopoeia, but it refers to a magical kind of slippery stickiness... if there were a nice-sounding word for slimy, it would be neba-neba.

In the US, such foods are often treated with suspicion, but it wouldn't be fair to dismiss this texture outright; Japanese cuisine is more about experiencing contrasting textural experiences than, say, complex seasoning or elaborate technique.

Other neba-neba foods include cooked okra and nattō, and, to a lesser extent, the sea vegetable mozuku. I will never be as big a fan of nattō as Hiromi is, but that's thanks more to the aroma than the texture. I love okra, especially cooked with onions and tomatoes. And mozuku is a favorite treat of mine, served as a simple side dish with a chilled, almost soupy, lightly acidic dressing.

Nagaimo is a kind of mountain potato, or yamaimo. If you grate it with a daikon-oroshi grater, you'll get a madly viscous mass called tororo-imo which can be mixed with a raw quail egg, simply seasoned with soy sauce and chopped scallions, and poured over rice at breakfast. Tororo-imo is also indispensible for making good okonomiyaki.

Fresh nagaimo also makes a nice side dish when cut into matchstick slivers (sengiri), as seen above. This brings out the neba-neba qualities while retaining a pleasantly crisp texture. I now typically use a mandoline to make this task easier; however, in a pinch, a good chef's knife will do. Just expect the cutting board—and your hands—to get slippery. You can avoid that by wearing latex gloves while preparing the dish. You may want to wear gloves while peeling the skin anyway, since some people suffer from a mild itchiness on skin contact with yamaimo skin... I'm lucky enough not to have that problem.

Once cut, place the nagaimo in small serving bowls and splash on a little soy sauce. For the flavor garnish, sometimes I add some chopped umeboshi and kizami-nori, or thin strips of nori. This time I used chopped scallions and a wasabi-seasoned nori, cut into strips with kitchen shears. The goal is to have a little saltiness, a little crunchiness, and some clean but sharp contrasting flavor. This version would be called sengiri nagaimo to wasabi-nori.

For an even more sticky experience, the nagaimo could be mixed with mekabu (wakame sprouts)... but that would be a lot of neba-neba for one night...

Shishito and Shiitake Kushiyaki

March 25, 2007, 10:19 PM


Kushiyaki is the Japanese equivalent of kebabs. Most anything that's grilled on a stick can be called kushiyaki, though items that are served already in their sauce tend to have other, more specific names (yakitori, for example).

Ideally, I'd break out my shichirin on a warm night and keep eating various nibbles of grilled goodness until the coals burn out... but since I was dining alone tonight, that seemed like overkill. The All-Clad grill pan came to my rescue. I really only needed one stick, as I had a few other things to eat as well. I started cooking dinner with a persistent headache, so I wasn't in the mood for anything that required a lot of commitment.

Tonight's kushiyaki featured some oversized shishitou, which are generally small, wrinkly chilies with just a slight hint of heat, and some fat shiitake mushrooms.

Shishitou are actually probably best dipped in nothing more than a bit of salt, but I prepared some ginger and soy sauce as a dip for the grilled shiitake.

Thanks to some ibuprofen and the comfort of warm rice and daikon-shungiku miso soup, my headache gradually dulled and mostly disappeared by the time I finished eating dinner. A little imo-jochu might have helped even more...

Yes, it's asparagus season...

March 24, 2007, 10:22 PM

Two asparagus dishes in a row?

Yes, but it's that time of year. I suppose there will be at least one or two more. 

Actually, I haven't eaten asparagus all that often lately, and local asparagus hasn't quite kicked in. But most weeknights I've been too lazy to take any photos of dinner, and on weekends... well, I guess I've been lazy on weekends too. In fact, Friday night I was so lazy that, straight off the bus on the way home, I went straight to Paseo, the Cuban-ish shop in my neighborhood, and grabbed dinner to go. I almost never grab dinner to go.

Today I made a brief stop at Thanh Son Tofu, followed by some vegetable shopping at Uwajimaya. I originally had planned to make some Japanese foods, but I was really feeling weary once home... all I really wanted was a gin and tonic.

I kicked off the rice cooker, but I didn't do anything at all that would result in a Japanese dinner appearing on the table... A few minutes before the rice finished, I chopped some asparagus, scallions and garlic, sliced some shiitake, and halved some fried tofu. I prepared a very hurried porcini-konbu soup stock. A quick saute, a splash of soup stock, a little piqin chili oil, a drizzling of vegetarian oyster sauce, a few grindings of black pepper, and suddenly dinner was on the table. Not fancy, but flavorful and satisfying...

Asparagus with kumquat butter

March 13, 2007, 11:03 PM

Asparagus with kumquat butter

Sometimes you have to take a few risks.

Sometimes, in order to make a bit of progress at something, you almost have to invite disaster. Tonight I invited disaster home, into my kitchen. To be fair, I did it responsibly. I did minimize the number of potential victims... In spite of popular opinion to the contrary, for a passionate cook there is more than one reason to cook for oneself... taking risks is one.

Many people think me more adventurous or inventive in cuisine than I see myself. I'm perhaps obsessive, but I work within a certain vocabulary. The spectrum of flavors and techniques I work with is perhaps broader than average, especially in an age of convenience, but generally I'm quite content to work from well-understood, classic techniques and flavor combinations. Basil and tomato never gets old for me. I feel the same about ume and shiso.

I'm quite content playing with my food within familiar parameters... Although I push the boundaries often enough, usually simplicity wins out over novelty.

Sometimes I do simplicity with a little novelty.

That's all this was... I was at the supermarket tonight, and I saw kumquats for a reasonable price... I thought, "Hey! kumquats! Suddenly, I feel like cooking with kumquats."

My usual non-dessert impulse would probably be to put them into a salad or something. Then I remembered I bought asparagus a few days ago, and I really ought to use it up.

I wondered, "hmm... what can I do with kumquats and asparagus?"

Well... citrus... butter... it works for artichokes, why not asparagus? Lemon, kumquat, close enough, right? Hollandaise sauce can be made with lemon juice, and asparagus likes hollandaise... Ah, that settles it.

So I sort of simmered the kumquats in way too much butter for several minutes to mellow them out, and added a bit of salt. I tossed in a few slices of shiitake because they were handy, and I had nothing better to sacrifice them to. Later, I added the asparagus, tossed them around in the pan a bit, and covered them for a few minutes. I added some nira (sometimes called garlic chives). After adjusting seasoning a bit, I pronounced the dish done.

It worked. It turned out to be a good combination. The shiitake proved to be more a distraction than anything else, but I'll definitely be repeating the kumquat butter combination, and since asparagus season is just kicking off, I have a feeling the trio will be back in my life soon.

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