Sauteed Celery

Last week marked our final obon odori practice. (Read my post on obon.) As was our weekly routine for the past month: Bebe E and I attended practice with my Mom and our friends, Bebe E would enjoy a popsicle during the break, we would miss the second half because of bebe-bedtime, and then she and I would spend the night at my parents home to avoid having to drive late at night.

On the evening of obon practice, each week my Mom would prepare dinner for us. Last week, she made a very simple celery side dish that I absolutely couldn’t get enough of. Celery is one of those vegetables that is unpopular at my house so I usually sneak them into dishes such as spaghetti, stir-fry, or soup but no one really loves it the way I do. My husband eats it because I’ve cooked it in a dish, but if he had the choice, he wouldn’t eat it. The girls are the same way, although Bebe E enjoys it in her soup and will ask me what it is, nod, then happily eat more.

If, however, I prepared a side dish simply of celery, no one would eat it but me. Which is why I never make celery as a side dish.

You can imagine how happy I was when I sat down at my parents dining table last week to find a plate of sautéed celery. I fed Bebe E a few bites but she’s sensitive to black pepper and she didn’t care for the stringy texture of the celery. Oh well, maybe she’ll grow to like this one day. After all, she didn’t like her first bite of natto (fermented soy beans), but she’s loved it ever since she’s had her second bite!

This sautéed celery recipe is the kind of dish that doesn’t really need a recipe because of it’s simplicity. No added herbs, no garlic, no fancy ingredients.

My Mom’s Sauteed Celery

  • 3 – 4 stalks of celery
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Canola oil

1. Devein celery. Slice celery into 2-inch strips.

2. Heat oil, add celery and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until celery is cooked through. Serve immediately.

Thanks for dinner, Mom, and thanks for the yummy sautéed celery!

As for the Japanese obon festival, the season is slowly winding down as most of our local temples have held their obon. We visited the Orange County obon festival over the weekend but unfortunately we arrived late to discover that most of the food we wanted was sold out. The good news is that Bebe E got to dance for a little bit.

On our way home, Bebe E asked us why she didn’t get a popsicle after she danced. Laughing, we had to explain to her that the popsicle was a treat that was provided only during break at our practices, but not at this specific obon festival. I wonder if the popsicle is the reason why she wanted to go to obon practice?!?

Good times!

Cheers,

Judy

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Chinois Chicken Salad

There are a handful of signature salads that I enjoy eating when I dine out, and the Chinois chicken salad is one such salad. A few years ago, I met my BFF (best friend forever), aka, Auntie S, at Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois Cafe in South Coast Plaza. She shared with me that she really enjoys their chicken salad so I decided to give it a try. I’m a huge fan of Asian inspired chicken salad, but I am p-i-c-k-y! There are very few Asian chicken salads that I love, yet, I found myself really enjoying this. I was hooked!

The Chinois chicken salad is a mix of napa cabbage and romaine lettuce, mixed with a generous helping of cilantro and tossed with tiny crispy wonton strips, toasted sesame seeds, scallions and thinly julienned snow peas. My favorite aspect of this salad is the savory, slightly tart vinaigrette with it’s hint of mustard spice. It differs from my favorite chinese chicken salad recipe in that it appeals more to my savory palette. The chinese chicken salad recipe I often enjoy at home is sweeter, and this savory mustard vinaigrette was a refreshing change of pace.

A few months ago, Bebe E, Auntie S and I, found ourselves once again at South Coast Plaza for a girls’ day out. We quickly decided to revisit Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois Cafe and we both ordered the chicken salad. When we were almost done with our salads, I turned to Auntie S, and said what I hate saying when we’re dining out: “I bet we could make this at home.” That night, I was lucky to find this salad recipe on Wolfgang Puck’s website (thank you, Chef Puck!), and soon enough we made plans to have dinner at our house for Chinois chicken salad night.

Now, THAT was a good night. :)

We planned our chicken salad night on our regularly scheduled gym night. The BFF and I have a standing gym date where we spend 50% of our time working out and 50% of our time doing what best girlfriends do best… catch-up on our week, check-in on our families, laugh about silly stuff, complain about anything that we need to vent about, and in general make the most of our girl time. Instead of half-an-hour on the treadmill and a few weight machines, we hung out at home, ate chicken salad for dinner and Beard Papa cream puffs for dessert. It was indeed a good night.

Chinois Chicken Salad

(serves four)

for mustard vinaigrette dressing:

  • 4 teaspoons dry Chinese mustard powder
  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons sesame oil (or light sesame oil)
  • 4 tablespoons canola oil (or peanut oil)
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • Salt, to taste
for salad:
  • 4 cups shredded roast chicken
  • 1 medium head napa cabbage, 1/4 inch julienne strips
  • 2 cups romaine lettuce, 1/4 inch julienne strips
  • 20 snow peas, 1/4 inch julienne strips
  • 6 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1 scallion, finely sliced (optional)
  • Fried wonton strips (optional)

1. Make vinaigrette. In a re-sealable jar or plastic container with secure lid, combine all ingredients for the vinaigrette and shake vigorously until the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Alternatively, use a blender to mix the ingredients until smooth, adding the oil last. Add salt and pepper to adjust taste as needed.

2. Make salad. Julienne napa cabbage, romain lettuce, and raw snow peas. Combine vegetables with shredded chicken. Pour vinaigrette over salad and toss until well-coated. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds, scallions and wonton strips.

3. Optional Wonton Strips. Using 8 – 10 wonton wrappers, thinly slice them into 1/4 inch wide x 1 inch tall pieces. In hot canola oil, fry wonton strips for up to 60 seconds until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

Recipe adapted from Wolfgang Puck.

Thanks Auntie S for a great night and for the delicious Beard Papa cream puffs! We should definitely take a break from our gym night routine and have yet another dinner at home soon!

I hope everyone had a great weekend. We had quite the busy weekend and I’ll look forward to sharing more about it soon.

Cheers!

Judy

Yaki Nasu | Grilled Japanese Eggplant

Growing up, one of my favorite vegetable dishes was yaki nasu, or grilled Japanese eggplant, simply served with shoyu and garnished with katsuo bushi and fresh grated ginger. (Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha)

Most kids don’t like eggplant, and I might be deemed weird, but growing-up, I loved most all vegetables with the exception of the “forbidden three”: brussels sprouts, bell peppers and bitter melon. My favorite was eggplant, or nasubi.

Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha

Was I a weird kid? Maybe, maybe not.

It turns out Bebe E also loves all types of vegetables: green beans, peas, grilled zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus, cauliflower, spinach and more, but her favorite is broccoli. She also loves eggplant or what she refers to in Japanese as “nasubi“, but only if prepared as yaki nasu. She’ll eat eggplant in other dishes that I prepare, but it’s a chore for her to eat when the outer skin is left on. Yaki nasu, on the other hand, is a dish to which she always says, “Mmm, good!”

Mommy and Bebe E love yaki nasu!

My Mom often made my favorite yaki nasu during the summer. Actually, my Dad would throw the eggplants on the BBQ grill and my Mom would prepare it, but there’s something magical about eggplants grilled outdoors: they absorb that smokey BBQ flavor. It makes yaki nasu THAT much better.

Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha

After my Mom peeled the skin off the grilled eggplant, she would make individual appetizer plates for each of us, and then she would chill the dish. On a hot day, a cold serving of smokey-flavored yaki nasu, simply garnished with soy sauce, bonito flakes and fresh ginger, was the absolute best. It brings back great memories. We often ate yaki nasu as a side dish to grilled fish or somen noodles.

During the colder months, or when my Dad didn’t have the BBQ grill going, my Mom would simply grill the eggplants indoors on a little Japanese indoor grill, like the one you see below.

Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha

Yaki Nasu | Grilled Japanese Eggplant

makes 4 appetizers

  • 5 – 6 Japanese eggplant
  • Cooking spray
  • shoyu (soy sauce), dashi shoyu (seasoned soy sauce), or ponzu (citrus soy sauce)
  • katsuo bushi (dried bonito shavings) and | or finely sliced negi (green onions)
  • fresh grated shoga (ginger)

1. Spray grill with cooking oil. On an indoor grill pan, or outdoor grill, cook eggplant in their skin over medium high heat until the inner flesh is soft and tender and the outer skin is charred. About 6 – 7 minutes on each side.

2. Either place the eggplant (skin on) in cool water, or allow it to rest until room temperature. My Mom usually allows the eggplant to rest until room temperature.

3. Once the eggplant cools, gently remove all of the charred skin of the eggplant. Remove the stem, and chop the eggplant into thirds or fourths, creating small bite size pieces. Note: yaki nasu can be served at room temperature or chilled.

4. Plate the yaki nasu and garnish with fresh grated ginger, bonito shavings and sliced green onions. Drizzle with soy sauce. (Dashi shoyu or ponzu are alternative seasonings). While there are recipes for yaki nasu served with a dashi sauce (which can be made with home made dashi, soy sauce and mirin) we always ate ours simply served with soy sauce.

Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha

Special thanks to my brother-in-law for the beautiful yaki nasu pictures that you see in today’s post! Please take a moment to visit Hideki Ueha to see his full portfolio on Flickr.

Oh, and about them Lakers… If any of you watched Saturday night’s horrible Game 4 against Oklahoma… I am truly sorry! Thankfully, since I wasn’t feeling well, I fell asleep just before half-time and missed the entire 2nd half of the game, including what I heard was, an absolute nightmare 4th quarter. Yet, as a Lakers fan, I couldn’t help but wake-up at 2 AM, anxious and curious, reaching for my phone in the dark to find out what happened. 103 – 100, Oklahoma.

What?!? They lost?!?

To quote my buddy M-kun, “there goes our season.”

What of tonight’s Game 5 Lakers vs Oklahoma to be played in Oklahoma? I’ll be watching, cheering and hoping the Lakers will play like a team, not blame each other like little school boys and instead put their best effort forward, win or lose, with heads held high. However, if I fall asleep again, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Have a great Monday!

Judy

Yamaimo Salad | Japanese Mountain Yam & LAKERS!!!

How about them LAKERS?!?

ALL season, I haven’t blogged a peep about a single game played by my favorite L.A. Lakers – – – a complete anomaly! Right?!? (My past Lakers posts can be found under the Category section “Lakers”, if you are interested.)

I admit that I was turned off by the lockout at the beginning of this season, coupled with the fact that Phil was no longer our fearless leader (I was slightly depressed), and we didn’t become 17-time Champions to tie the Celtics record by losing to the Mavericks in the 2010-2011 season (just a bit more depressed). Just when I started to watch a few games, Fish was traded. FISH who, despite his age, still had a few good 3-pointers and Lakers heart. I was crushed. Frankly, all of these factors put me in a Lakers funk.

But there’s something about the playoffs.

First of all, the Lakers made it to the playoffs. They MADE IT! At one point I seriously felt as though we weren’t going to make it to the playoffs and I would be forced to cheer for the other L.A. team – yep, the Clippers. I never blog about ’em for a reason. The Lakers are my L.A. team. They made it to the playoffs and even better, they managed to scramble to 3rd place in the Western Conference Standings. Yessssss!!!

Sunday night’s Round 1, Game 4 of Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals was… hopeful. We celebrated an early Mother’s Day dinner with my in-laws on Sunday night, but we made it home in time to watch the last quarter of the game. All I can say is, “thank you, Lakers” for making those shots when we needed it, for playing like you were AWAKE tonight, and for playing more like a team.

Thanks for the 92 – 88 win, Lakers. And thanks for getting us ahead in this series to 3 – 1!!! I’m looking forward to Tuesday night’s game in L.A.!

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Does it seem like this post isn’t really about cooking?

This post is more about chopping-up yamaimo (Japanese Mountain Yam) and garnishing it with katsuo bushi (dried bonito shavings) and drizzling it with some shoyu (soy sauce), ponzu (citrus soy sauce), or dashi shoyu (seasoned soy sauce).

Would you consider that cooking, or a salad that requires a recipe? Probably not, huh?

Although the weather is still on the cool side, drizzly at times, grey, and dreary in So. California and it doesn’t much feel like Spring, lately I’ve been craving more fresh vegetables served raw and simply prepared. My palate is ready for Spring and warmer days.

Once in a while, when I visit the Asian supermarket, I like to treat myself by purchasing a big piece of yamaimo, or Japanese Mountain Yam (it is also known in Japanese as nagaimo). It can be slightly on the pricey side but I’ve found that our local Korean supermarket often has the best prices.

Yamaimo is a root vegetable that I grew-up with and something my Mom made regularly for us. She often served it grated, with a hint of seasoning and we ate (more like drank) this as is, or sometimes poured over hot rice. The only way to describe this stuff is that it is slimy. I know, that doesn’t sound very appetizing but it’s really quite delicious. This type of grated preparation of yamaimo is called tororo (post on tororo available here).

Because of my fondness for yamaimo and tororo, I also enjoy yamakake soba (or udon). I like the noodles served both cold, with a dipping sauce, and hot, in a broth. (Post on cold hiyashi yamamake soba available here).

The simplest way that my Mom prepares yamaimo is by making it into a small side salad. Japanese cuisine is infamous for very small, literally three to five bite, side dishes and this is one such dish. I imagine my Mom found this salad useful for the end pieces of the yamaimo that were too difficult to grate.

Yamaimo Salad | Japanese Mountain Yam Salad

  • Small piece of yamaimo (nagaimo), peeled and sliced (approximately 2 1/2 cups)
  • katsuo bushi (dried bonito flakes), for garnish
  • kaiware (sprouted daikon radish seeds), optional for garnish
  • shoyu (soy sauce), ponzu (citrus soy sauce), or dashi shoyu (seasoned soy sauce) for seasoning

1. Using a peeler, remove outer skin of the yamaimo, exposing the white inner flesh of the root.

2. Slice the yamaimo into small rectangular pieces.

3. Garnish with katsuo bushi (dried bonito flakes) and optional kaiware (daikon sprouts). When you’re ready to eat, simply drizzle a little soy sauce, ponzu, or dashi shoyu and enjoy!

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Hope everyone had a good Cinco de Mayo / Children’s Day / Boy’s Day weekend!

On Saturday, we celebrated “Kodomo No Hi” or Boy’s Day along with my Dad’s birthday and early Mother’s Day.

I’ll share more about our Japanese Children’s Day | Boy’s Day next time!

GO LAKERS!!!

Judy

Chyuka Kyuri Tsukemono | Chinese Style Pickled Cucumber

This past weekend my brother-in-law came over and did a photo shoot for my blog. I’m not the best photographer, and for me, a camera falls under the category of “technology”, and therefore is a serious challenge.

I’ve been trying to take better pictures for my blog, and I can thankfully say that my photos have improved slightly since I started my blog two years ago (some of my earlier shots were quite awful), but I’ve found that photography, for me, is still a challenge and something that I would very much like to improve upon. The photo below is one that I took, and can proudly say is an improvement over some of my more embarrassing food shots.

Fortunately, the brother of my brother’s wife, is a great photographer. He’s really my brother’s brother-in-law, but I always refer to him as my brother-in-law. I was very lucky that Hideki agreed to shoot some of my food for me. Apparently, my brother and sister-in-law didn’t invite him to yesterday’s Dodger game because they found out he was shooting food for me. Oops, sorry Hideki!

In some of my upcoming posts, you’ll see his photography featured on my blog, and you’ll recognize his photos immediately, as those will look REALLY GREAT, as opposed to some of my photos that are hopefully starting to look a little better. I’ve featured a few of his photos here and there around my blog: Oshogatsu’12, Oshogatsu ’11 and Girl’s Day ’12. You can see his full portfolio on Flickr, Hideki Ueha.

Today, I share with you a Chinese style pickled cucumber that is very easy to make and it’s so simple that you’ll definitely want to give it a try. I love the flavor of fresh cucumber slices, and chyuka kyuri no tsukemono is one of my favorite ways to enjoy cucumber.

In Japanese cuisine, there are so many variations of kyuri no tsukemono, or pickled cucumbers, it will make your head spin. I’ve eaten countless variations that my Mom has made over the years and she’ll simply make a slight ingredient change from one batch to the next, such as adding yuzu, or konbu, or shoyu, or togarashi, or even sugarthe possibilities are endless.

One of my favorites, however, is a variation of my Mom’s shoyu kyuri no tsukemono (pickled cucumbers seasoned with soy sauce) that my Auntie Sumiko made for us at a BBQ sometime last year. She added goma abura (sesame oil) which makes the Japanese pickled cucumbers, in Japanese culture, “chyuka” or Chinese – style, hence the title of today’s post, “Chinese Style Pickled Cucumbers”.

Chyuka Kyuri Tsukemono | Chinese Style Pickled Cucumbers

  • 2 Japanese cucumbers (or other thin-skinned cucumber)
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried wagiri red chili pepper (sliced in small rings), optional

1. Slice cucumbers into large bite-sized pieces. Place in a sealable (Ziplock) bag or a plastic container that can be tightly, and securely sealed.

2. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil and mix well. Add dried red chili pepper slices for some heat.

3. Pour the mixture over the cucumber pieces and shake the bag or tupperware until the cucumbers are well-coated.

4. Refrigerate for 1 – 2 hours, periodically mixing the cucumbers to ensure the pieces are evenly coated. The meat of the cucumber will begin to absorb the color of the soy sauce, at which point, they should be ready to eat.

NOTE: If you keep your chyuka kyuri no tsukemono in the marinade for 4 – 5 days in the fridge, they will begin to shrivel and they will likely become very salty. I prefer to eat mine the same day that I make them, or within a day or two of making them at the most. You also have the option to discard the marinade once your chyuka kyuri no tsukemono reaches the desired flavor that suits your palate. This will prevent the cucumbers from becoming too salty.

Happy Monday!

Judy

Fried Rice

At one time or another, all of us are probably guilty of throwing out leftovers and senselessly wasting food. I know I’m guilty, unfortunately, on more than one occasion.

I recently read a post by a foodie friend at Kimchi Mom which reminded me that I needed to renew my efforts to not waste food. I’ve been trying to change my ways for a while. For example, since Bebe E and I are typically home for lunch during the week, we usually eat leftovers (or other easy lunches that I should start posting at some point). I also try to use small portions of random produce or leftovers in the fridge, by making soup, stir-fry, casserole or fried rice.

On a bad day, we have what I refer to as, “bad buffet night”. This involves each family member eating a different dish or a miss-mash of various leftovers to help clean the fridge. This happens at least two to three times per month. Continue reading

Kansai Style Okonomiyaki (Japanese Savory Pancake)

The other night I had leftovers from an okonomiyaki dinner we had with my brother (who was a bachelor for the weekend) and my “sista-from-another-mother” (a.k.a – Aya-chan) and her boyfriend, N.

That night, I made my family’s Hiroshima – style okonomiyaki, but with the leftovers I made Kansai – style okonomiyaki. Several key ingredients had already been consumed, namely the soba noodles, moyashi (bean sprouts) and satsuma-age (fried fish cake), but the leftover cabbage and meat were perfect for my Kansai – style okonomiyaki.

The Kansai region represents six prefectures including Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo which make-up Western Kansai, and Nara, Shiga and Wakayama which make-up Eastern Kansai. Kansai – style okonomiyaki is where the okonomiyaki batter is mixed together with ingredients, and then cooked.  On the other hand, Hiroshima – style okonimiyaki is where the batter is first cooked into a thin omelette, then it is topped with layers of vegetables, meat, noodles and egg. (See my post on Hiroshima – style okonomiyaki found here.)

Having grown up eating Hiroshima – style okonomiyaki, both my brother and I prefer this style over Kansai – style okoomiyaki, however, I was quite pleased with the results and it was a wonderful and very easy way to use up our leftover ingredients – despite the fact that my yakisoba noodles were missing! Continue reading