One could easily visit Japan, do nothing but eat, and still have an amazing trip. During our stay we managed to not only see some incredible places, but also experience some of the most unique and flavorful cuisine that we have ever had. Trying out all of the food, both familiar and new, was truly an adventure in itself.
The first thing any visitor will notice when searching for food options in Japan is the consistent use of realistic plastic food samples at just about every establishment. We had heard of the concept before, but did not realize how universal it was until we were there. It was not only fascinating to see the attention to detail in each plate, but also very helpful when it came time to order food, since we could point to our exact desired dish when making selections.
Perhaps our favorite meal of the trip was at Manzaratei Pontochoten, where we enjoyed a traditional Kyōto style meal at a small restaurant with prime seating at the counter. From our seats we could see the chefs putting together lovely little dishes, often ladling in broths and sauces from the various large bowls resting on the counter in front of us. Already one of his favorite foods in general, James proclaimed this was the best unagi he has ever had after his very first bite.
We had several bentō boxes while on the trip. They were pretty and convenient to grab while on the go, and also fun to explore what each one had inside.
Rāmen in Tōkyō is of course an absolute must, and we tried out a few different ones while on the trip. Ichiran was our favorite one of all, since not only do they have fantastic rāmen, but the experience of dining at one of the their restaurants was completely new to us. The first step is buying a ticket at a machine at the entrance. Then, each patron is seated in their own individual booth and given a sheet to fill out denoting their preferences on things like noodle firmness, spice level, aromatics, and richness. A small curtain separates the booths from the kitchen, and only the hands of the servers are visible as they place your order in front of you once it’s ready.
Naturally, we were very much looking forward to eating plenty of raw seafood on the trip, and a simple conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Kyōto Station was one of the most satisfying experiences. For around one hundred yen per plate, guests simply pick up what they’d like from the belt, and stack up their dishes for a tally at the end. The fish was incredibly fresh, and we tried a few that we had never eaten before.
Another must for the trip was trying out all of the street food. For this we headed to Nishiki Market in Kyōto – a long strip of vendors selling goods such as fresh seafood, pickled vegetables, and just about any ingredients that a local resident may need for cooking. Among the produce shops there are also several vendors selling hot food ready for eating on the spot. We walked through the entire market starting at one end, and made sure to get a wide variety as we made our way through. The tako tamago (candied baby octopus stuffed with quail egg) was James’ favorite, while the cup of fried chicken was some of the best I’ve ever had.
One of our most memorable meals was at what is locally referred to as Piss Alley in Shinjuku. Contrary to what the name suggests, Piss Alley is a fun narrow street where you can sit in a tiny restaurant and enjoy delicious yakitori under the glow of hanging lanterns. After cramming into one of the restaurants, we ordered a great variety of meats and vegetables that were all lightly seasoned before being grilled to perfection over binchotan (Japanese white coals) right in front of us. We had friends who had just arrived in Japan, and we met up with them to share the experience.
Tonkatsu is a traditional Japanese comfort food. Panko crusted pork cutlets and cabbage salad are served with a small bowl of sesame seeds on the side. We ground up the sesame seeds ourselves, and added our choice of sauce from little pots placed in front of us. The experience was fun and unique, and I brought home a little grinding bowl and sauce pot from a local market to recreate the meal someday.
The variety of snacks found all throughout our trip was insanely impressive. From cat shaped chocolate popsicles, to obscure flavors of Pocky, and the best gummy candies I’ve ever had – there was no shortage of opportunity to try new things.
Overall it’s safe to say that the cuisine in Japan is an adventurous experience. Almost every time we saw something interesting to try, we went for it, and were never disappointed. We were consistently intrigued with how most of the foods used the same types of ingredients that we are accustomed to eating in North America, but used in ways that transformed their flavor profiles.
Along with rice, beans, and tortillas – tamales are one of the staple foods I grew up with. The types of tamales have varied widely, from meaty to spicy to sweet, and each one is as delicious as the next. One of the most commonly known is the Mexican style tamale, traditionally made with masa, meat stuffing, and sauce. They’re also fairly simple to make, especially when you have a lazy weekend day to spare.
For these tamales I decided on chicken with a salsa verde, which compliment each other perfectly.
Ingredients (makes 40 tamales): 1 whole chicken, 3 lbs tamale masa, salsa verde (recipe to follow), 40 corn husks, salt to taste.
Before making the chicken and sauce, soak corn husks in warm water and let sit for several minutes.
Then place chicken cut into eight pieces in a large pot with enough water to just cover the chicken and boil with 3 tablespoons of salt. Cook the chicken thoroughly, then remove from water and let cool – reserving water.
For the salsa verde: 20 tomatillos, 6 serrano chiles, 1/2 large onion, 4 garlic cloves, 2 green bell peppers, 1 large bunch cilantro, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 2 all spice, salt and pepper to taste.
Place all of the ingredients in a pot with no more than 1/2 cup of water and simmer until tomatillos are cooked through and soft. Put everything in a blender and puree until smooth.
Shred the cooled chicken, and put in a bowl. Spoon salsa verde over chicken, and mix to coat thoroughly.
Pour masa into bowl of a stand mixer, and gradually add the reserved chicken water with the mixer on medium speed. Mix until any lumps are dissolved, and mixture is smooth.
Cut aluminum foil sheets into roughly 10″ x 10″ squares. To assemble tamales place a husk on a sheet of foil, followed by a thin layer of masa. Use the back of a spoon to spread the masa onto the corn husk, as if you were thickly spreading cream cheese onto a bagel. Then spoon chicken down the middle.
Roll the corn husk to enclose the filling, then wrap the foil tightly around the raw tamale. Place them all in a pot, with about 2 cups of water on the bottom – the steam will do the cooking. Bring to a simmer and let cook or about 50 minutes, covered.
Serve with extra salsa verde and cheese on the side. Tamales also freeze very well, making for easy meals throughout the week.
Bread is one of those foods that I love to eat, but had never made myself at home. Though it’s such a staple item eaten all around the world, I always found it a little intimidating. Those three simple ingredients (flour, water, and salt) needed to create a delicious loaf are in most households, but the process of converting those ingredients felt like nothing short of alchemy. Recently, I finally decided to just go for it and make my all time favorite bread: sourdough.
The most important component of sourdough is the starter dough, which will give the bread that essential tangy flavor, and provide the yeast necessary for the dough to rise. To make the starter dough mix 4oz water with 4oz of all-purpose flour in a bowl. Cover and let sit at room temperature.
The next day, ‘feed’ the dough by removing all but 4oz of starter and feeding it 4oz of flour and 4oz of water, mixing thoroughly. Repeat this process every 12 hours for a few days. The amount of time for the starter can vary, but it helps to keep it at a consistent temperature away from the cold. You will know it’s ready when it is very bubbly and even a little foamy on top.
Place any extra starter dough in the refrigerator, and feed once a week to maintain. When it came time to discard and feed the ready starter, I poured some into jars instead of discarding, and gifted to some friends.
To make the bread: add 30 grams of active starter to 75 grams of all-purpose flour, and 75 grams of water. Mix thoroughly, cover, and let sit overnight or for about 12 hours. Once the leaven is bubbly you know it’s ready. To double check that it is ready, drop a small dollop of the leaven into a bowl of water – if it floats, you’re good to go.
Mix all of the leaven in a large bowl with 475 grams of room temperature water. Mix it in with your hands until the leaven has dissolved into the water. Add 350 grams of all-purpose flour, and 350 grams of whole wheat flour to the bowl with leaven and water. You can also do 700 grams of all-purpose if you don’t want whole wheat, but I think it gives it a richer flavor. Mix until you no longer see any dry flour. Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours. Once the dough has rested, dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt into 50 grams of water and add to dough. Mix with your hands to combine.
Fold the dough, in the bowl, by grabbing one end and folding the dough in half. Then, move the bowl a quarter turn and fold again. Repeat until you have folded it over four times. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes, then repeat the folding process. Do this process a total of 4 times, every 30 minutes. After you have folded it for the 4th time, let the dough rest for about 45 minutes, until it looks a little puffed.
Sprinkle flour on your countertop, and turn the dough over onto the flour. Cut the dough in half to pre-shape the loaves. Shape into rounds by running a pastry scraper or blunt knife around the bottom edge. This will start to make the top of the dough taut, and give you a more even shape. Let dough rest for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare two proofing baskets or bowls by lining with a kitchen towel and dusting them with flour. It helped me to lightly spray the towels with water first before adding the flour. Rub the flour into the towel to create a layer of flour on the towel.
Give the loaves their final shape by dusting the tops with flour, then turning them over so the flour side is down. Gently take the top lip of the loaf, and fold it into the center, then repeat with the other three sides. The idea here is to make the top more taut. Cup your hands around the edges of the loaf to give it its final shape. Sprinkle with flour, then transfer to the towel lined baskets or bowls, smooth side down. Cover with plastic, and let sit at room temperature for 4 hours, or place in refrigerator and let sit overnight.
When ready to bake – place a dutch oven or heavy pot with lid in the oven and pre-heat to 500F. Remove the hot dutch oven from oven, and place one of the loaves inside, smooth side up. Score the top with a sharp knife. You can do three diagonal lines like I did, or do an x in the middle.
With the lid on, bake at 500F for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 475F for 15 minutes. After the first 30 minutes of baking, remove lid and continue to bake for another 20 minutes – or until the crust has a deep golden brown color.
Remove from oven and place the loaf on a cooling sheet for at least 10 minutes before slicing. You will see the quintessential holes filling each delicious loaf. Enjoy it fresh and warm with toppings of choice.
The holiday season is in full swing, so I have been baking to my heart’s content. Gingerbread is a classic holiday baked treat, and this recipe is for the true gingerbread lover. The flavor is ultra rich with a perfect amount of holiday spice, which pairs wonderfully with unsweetened coffee and tea. Making the gingerbread as individual sized mini bundt cakes not only makes hosting easier, it also helps for saving them for later – and these mini bundt gingerbread cakes get even better a few days after making.
Ingredients: 1 cup oatmeal stout, 1 cup molasses, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 2 Tbsp ground ginger, 1 Tbsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground gloves, 1/4 tsp cardamom, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup white sugar, 3 eggs, 3/4 cup vegetable oil
Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 350F. Butter and lightly flour bundt cake pan, shaking out excess flour. Place in the refrigerator. Add oatmeal stout and molasses to a saucepan and bring to a boil, then add baking soda. Let stout/molasses mixture sit and cool.
Beat together eggs, sugars, and oil, then add molasses and stout mixture. Add flour, baking powder, and spices and continue to mix until fully incorporated. Pour batter into bundt cake pan, filling to nearly the top.
Bake at 350F for about 45 minutes (until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into cakes). Remove from pan by flipping it upside down onto a cooling rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.
After our apple picking adventure, we came home with five pounds of apples just waiting to be enjoyed in various ways. Naturally, one such way had to be warm and sweet, so I decided to bake up a simple apple dutch baby – perfect for autumn mornings.
Ingredients: 3 small apples, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, pinch of nutmeg, 4 Tbsp butter, 3 eggs, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup milk, 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 350F. Peel and slice apples into thin pieces, then add to a bowl with cinnamon, brown sugar, and nutmeg. Stir to combine. In a cast iron skillet melt 2 Tbsp butter and add apples. Cook until apples are becoming tender (about 3 minutes).
Remove apples from skillet, and wipe clean. Place skillet in hot oven, and let it heat. While skillet is heating in oven whisk eggs, flour, milk and sugar in a bowl. Add remaining 2Tbsp butter to hot skillet and melt. Once the butter has melted add cooked apples to center of skillet, then add batter. Cook at 350F for 10-12 minutes, until the batter rises and edges start to crisp.
Serve immediately with syrup, and fresh apple slices. Best enjoyed with a cup of hot coffee for an even more comforting breakfast meal.
Flan might be the dessert I had the most when growing up. My mother makes it in many flavors such as coconut, orange, and raspberry, but my favorite may be this simple flan with a hint of lemon. The amber colors remind me autumn, and adding a caramel candy garnish gives this humble dessert a touch of elegance and fun.
This recipe isn’t too eggy, and I used a shallow pie dish, resulting in a thin flan that is rich, creamy, and has a perfect balance of flavors. I recently served this at a small dinner party, and even a friend who doesn’t like sweets went for seconds.
Ingredients: 1 14oz can condensed milk, 1 12oz can evaporated milk, 5 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1 cup sugar
Instructions: Place a large baking dish with a 1″ lip in oven, and pre-heat oven to 350F. The dish should be large enough to fit a second round 9″ baking dish inside.
Place sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and let it melt, stirring occasionally, until it has completely melted and become an amber colored sauce.
While the sugar is melting, add the condensed milk, evaporated milk, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest to a large bowl. Whisk until all ingredients are completely incorporated.
Optional: Once the sugar is ready, make a candy garnish for the flan by drizzling some of the caramel sauce over a metal ladle. Let cool for a couple of minutes, then gently remove pieces from ladle.
Pour caramel into a round 9″ baking dish, and swivel around to completely coat the bottom.
Pour batter over caramel sauce, and place this smaller dish in the center of the baking dish in the oven. Add water to the large baking dish, until it comes about half-way up the sides of the flan dish. This water bath will help the flan cook evenly. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes.
Remove flan from oven, and let cool completely. Once cool, loosen the edges of the flan with a butter knife, then place serving platter over the flan dish and quickly flip over. The flan should come out cleanly, with caramel oozing from the top.
Garnish with caramel candy, then let chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.
Growing up with peach trees in my backyard, I have always thought of stone fruits as the quintessential summer produce. As summer slowly comes to an end, I’m taking full advantage of the season’s produce while I still can, and adding them to a variety of dishes. For days when you want something light and summery, but still a bit hearty and filling, this stone fruit panzanella fits all of the above.
Ingredients: 1 small loaf of bread, 3 nectarines, 3 plums, 2 large heirloom tomatoes, 1/2 cup burrata, 3 cups arugula, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 350F. Cut the loaf of bread into slices, then rip apart using your hands to make small pieces. Toss the bread with olive oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl, then place on a baking sheet. Bake in oven for about 8 minutes. You want the bread to be a little toasted, but not so much that they turn into crunchy croutons.
Slice nectarines, plums, and tomatoes into wedges and add to a large bowl. Add arugula, bread, and burrata in small dollops.
For the dressing: 1 shallot, 1 cup packed basil, 1 garlic clove, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
Add all dressing ingredients to a blender, and blend on high until all ingredients are completely liquified.
Drizzle dressing and fresh ground pepper over salad before serving.
Summer at the farmers market means an abundance of produce options. We’ve started to go somewhat regularly to stock up on produce for the week, enjoy a meal from one of the hot food stands, and browse around to discover unique items. On our most recent trip, I purchased a box of squash blossoms. I couldn’t wait to fill them with a creamy cheese mixture, serve with a flavorful tomato sauce, and share them with friends.
Ingredients (for blossoms): 30 squash blossoms, 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, 1/3 cup shredded manchego cheese, 1/3 cup goat cheese, 1 egg, 1/2 Tbsp ground cayenne pepper, 1 tsp black pepper, 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 cup cold water
Instructions: bring a large pot of water to a boil and add all blossoms at once. Boil for about 30 seconds, then immediately remove the blossoms and add them to a bowl of ice water. After blossoms have sat in ice water for about a minute, dump them into a colander, then place them on paper towels to drain.
While blossoms are drying a bit, prepare the filling. Combine cheeses, egg, cayenne, and pepper in a bowl and mix until smooth, then scoop filling into a piping bag. To fill each blossom, gently open them to have access to the center. Place piping bag tip toward bottom and fill until filling reaches the opening of the petals. Cover the exposed filling by folding the petals over the top of blossom. Place all blossoms on a plate, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes so that the cheese will set.
To make the batter, combine 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, and a dash of salt in a bowl. Slowly add cold water to bowl while whisking with a fork until batter is thick but still creamy.
Add 1/2 inch of oil to a heavy skillet and heat to 375F. Take blossoms out of refrigerator, and lightly dust with flour. Dip blossoms one by one into batter and place in hot oil. Cook for about 2 minutes, then flip and cook the other side. You’ll see the batter crisping and setting on the bottom as your cue to flip. Set each blossom on a plate with paper towels as they cook.
Ingredients (for sauce): 1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes, 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 large sliced garlic clove, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
To make the sauce, add tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, paprika, salt, and pepper to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Let tomatoes simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Serve blossoms over warm tomato sauce as an appetizer or as a snack.
We recently acquired a few recipe cards from James’ late grandmother’s collection, and it has inspired me to get better about writing out recipes on cards myself. To continue expanding my small collection, I decided to design my own, rather than purchase existing cards.
The cards we received from family contained some variety, so when deciding on my own pattern, I knew I wanted to make something unique with a floral motif for my own recipes.
The cards were first created digitally, incorporating an antique wallpaper pattern, and then printed. I then embossed a teapot and teacups using a set of stamps, and used a gold ink with clear embossing powder, following the same process as when we made our wedding invitations.
Once the design was printed and cut, it took just a few minutes to stamp and emboss a whole set of cards. I love the finished product, and am very excited to collect all of my recipes in one place.