Sunday, April 30, 2006

Miso Soup

I just came back from watching the flair bartending contest, since my brother's friend from was competing. That's where bartenders throw bottles and glasses around as they make drinks. I've seen some bartenders at places like TGI Friday show their moves, but I've never been to an actual competition. Each bartenders had 6 to 7 minutes to showcase their moves. It was cool, but at the same time, 6 to 7 minutes was a really long time. My wife agreed, "it's kind of cool to watch, but if I was waiting for a drink and they were taking this long to make me a drink, I'd be pissed." She then mentioned that I might be good at this since I can do nunchaku (two wooden sticks tied together by chains). But then, I can't juggle worth crap, so who knows.

Tonight, I'd like to introduce miso soup. When we lived in Japan, and went clubbing every weekend at Roppongi and Shibuya, we usually stopped by Yoshinoya for miso soup. Nowadays here in the US, I probably eat miso soup two to three times a week. It's one of those things that I make on the side as I make a main dish. It's easy to make, and very good after night of hard drinking.

IN JAPANESE: Misoshiru
SERVES: 2 people

1 heaping TBsp of miso (white or red)
1/2 tsp of bonito soup stock powder [hondashi] or kelp powder [konbu dashi] (about 2 shakes)
1 TBsp of dried seaweed [wakame]
1 Green onion finely chopped
1/8 pack of tofu diced (see TIP: Storing tofu)

Using the bowl you will use to serve, fill with water about 3/4 of the bowl (amount you would actually serve). Place that water in a pan, repeat for two servings.

Turn the heat to high and put in your choice of bonito powder or kelp powder as well as the dried seaweed in the pan. As the water is heating up, dice the tofu, chop up the green onion and scoop a spoonful of miso.

When the water starts to boil, turn off the heat and place the pan on an empty burner (or set it aside where it's not hot), and put your spoonful of miso into a ladle and gently mix the miso with hot water so it dissolves into the water without leaving a big chunk. After all the miso is nicely dissolved, place the pan back on the heat and the turn it low.

Put the tofu and green onion in the pan and let it heat for a couple more minutes, and serve. If you don't like seaweed or tofu or green onion, you can replace with other things like daikon or fried tofu or a squash. Experiment and have fun with it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

TIP: Where to get mentaiko

Fresh mentaiko can be quite expensive. From what I've seen at Japanese grocery stores in the US, it's about $7-9 for a pack of two sacks. But there is a cheaper alternative.

I get mine at Korean markets in the frozen food section. They are usually in boxes. There are wide varieties of them, and a lot of the ones I've seen doesn't have any Japanese on it, so sometimes, I'm not sure if it really is mentaiko or not. But in English, it's usually titled, Salted Pollock Roe. If it says "Spicy" on the box, then it's probably mentaiko. If it doesn't say so, and the picture looks like there's no red spices around it, then it's probably just a regular [tarako], which if you have some [shichimi] powder at home, you could wing it.

But what's great about getting frozen mentaiko by a box in the frozen section, is that there are usually about a dozen of mentaiko in there, and the price is only between $7 to $25. I usually get the cheaper end of the line. The main thing with the cheap end is that chili pepper is usually not spread around evenly so some parts are more red than the other. But if you are going to mix it in the end for mentaiko pasta or mentaiko riceballs or for some salad, you won't notice the uneven spiciness in the end. So basically, instead of getting two sacks for $7, I get twelve sacks for $7, which is a great deal.

I usually take the bag out of the box, and put it in the freezer ziplock bag, and take out a sack or two at a time when I think I need it. They defrost in the fridge easily overnight. A dozen of mentaiko usually lasts me half a year or so in the freezer.

Mentaiko Pasta

Last night, my wife was craving steak, so we picked up fine sirloin steak at the grocery store. Since I eat healthy Japanese food often, I would like to say that I'm in a great shape, but years of drinking beer has finally caught up to me, and recently I've been trying to watch my tummy. My wife has been suggesting that I cut down on the carbs, since I eat rice, noodles and bread all the time. I grew up eating those, so if I just have meat and vegetable, my stomach doesn't feel full. So we had 8-oz steak and fresh corn for dinner (and nicely chilled cold beer), but I still felt hungry all night. I know I ate plenty, but my stomach was not satisfied without any carb in there. I still managed to survive without eating any more for the night.

This morning, I was hungry, so I ended up eating a big pastrami sandwich. I thought that should hold me off for a while, but by 11am, I was hungry again. To make up for not having that carb last night, I decided to make some pasta... really quick. Mentaiko pasta is definitely easy and quick to make. Now days, you can easily get the instant kind where you just boil the pasta and add the instant mixture, but the thought of fish egg sitting on store shelves for months kind of scare me. Plus, this is cheap and tastes better!

IN JAPANESE: Mentaiko Pasta
CATEGORY: Noodle/Rice
SERVES: 1 person

1 sack of mentaiko (also called Salted Pollock Roe. See TIP: Where to get mentaiko)
1 serving of long spaghetti (2 oz or so)
1 TBsp mayonnaise
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sake
some butter
Pinch or two of shredded dried seaweed [nori] (optional)

Boil enough pasta for yourself for however long the instruction on the package says (usually 6-10 min).

While that's boiling, put mentaiko in a mixing bowl, and using back of a spoon, take the eggs out of the sack (it's ok if some sack gets mixed in), and throw away the sack. Add soy sauce, sake and mayo and stir until creamy.

When the pasta finishes boiling, scoop it into the mixing bowl, and add some butter on top so it can melt easier. Then stir until pasta is covered in the sauce. And that's it! Sprinkle some dried nori on top if you like. If you have fresh lemon, I hear that's also good to splash on top, but I've never tried that before.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

TIP: Storing tofu

When you buy a pack of tofu, and only use a quarter or half of it, you want to store the tofu back into the fridge in the best condition possible. Then you will be able to use it later in the week without wasting it.

All you need is a tupperware that's big enough or at least 3/4 of a regular pack of tofu. If you don't have it, I highly suggest you invest in one if you think you will be using tofu fairly often.

After cutting off the portion of tofu you are using for today's cooking, take the rest of the block and place it in the tupperware.

Then pour water into the tupperware until the block of tofu is covered entirely by water, similar to how it came in the original package. If you live in an area that has bad smelling tap water, use filtered water instead.

Put the tupperware cover on, and place it back in the fridge.

I usually keep it like this in the fridge for a week or so, and it still tastes fresh. Just make sure you use it before the original expiration date. If you think you might forget when that is, write it on the post it note, and stick it on top of the tupperware.

Japanese Cold Tofu Salad

Summer is almost here! Well at least in Seattle, it felt really warm yesterday. Finally I was able to wear my Hawaiian shirt (I have about a dozen of them... yeah, I know) without freezing my ass off. Since it felt like summer, I thought I would make one of the most popular summer side dish (it goes very well with beer, especially in the hot humid Japanese summer). It's really simple to make, it's healthy, and best of all, it tastes really good!

IN JAPANESE: Hiyayakko
CATEGORY: Side dish, Salad, Vegetarian
DIFFICULTY: 1 (out of 3)
SERVES: 2 people

1/4 pack (3 oz / 90g) of tofu (silk, firm, soft, it's up to you, just don't get the sweet one. See TIP: Storing tofu for how you can store the leftover tofu in the fridge)
1 half inch piece of ginger (see TIP: Ginger)
1 green onion
1 tbsp fish flakes [katsuobushi] (omit for vegetarian)
Pinch or two of shredded dried seaweed [nori] (optional)
1 shiso leaf cut in thin slices (optional)
Soy sauce or ponzu (recommneded) for dressing

Open a pack of tofu, smell it and make sure it doesn't have a strong weird smell (once in a while you get a stinker, so return those to the store, but very rarely does this happen nowadays).

Cut it in bite size on a cutting board.

Put them on individual salad plate/bowl.

Shred the piece of ginger (if you are using the frozen kind, shred while it's still frozen) on top of the tofu.

Cut a green onion into thin tiny pieces.

Sprinkle the tiny green onion pieces, some seaweed, fish flakes, shiso (if you have it) on top of the tofu as well.

Pour some ponzu dressing (if you don't have it, you can use soy sauce instead) and you are done!

Monday, April 24, 2006

TIP: Ginger

Fresh ginger is definitely one of the most essential ingredients when I cook Japanese food. You can buy it fresh for about a dollar per stick at most grocery stores nowadays. I use it often in my cooking, but I don't use a lot at a time, so there is usually quite a bit of left over, and unlike garlic, it doesn't last very long. So today, I'm gonna teach you this tip my Mom taught me.

First, rinse the ginger really well. Then chop them up in about half an inch size, and peel off the skin (it's easier to peel off the skin as you chop them into pieces).

Then put all the pieces into a ziplock bag and put it in the freezer. Whenever you need a piece of ginger, you just have to take it out of the freezer, and it will be ready to use! And they last in the freezer for a long time. I usually only buy fresh ginger about two or three times a year, so you could probably store it for 4 to 6 months.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Hi! I'm JW. I'm a Japanese guy that lives in the US with my American wife. Recently a lot of my friends have been asking me how to make easy Japanese food, so I decided this would be a good place to start.

I would start posting bunch, except I thought it would help to have some photos of the dish, so give me some time, and whenever I cook (my wife and I switch every other night or so) a Japanese dish, I will take a picture and post the recipe on here!