Friday, February 10, 2017

So Cal-Style Taco Rice

Taco rice, also know as takoraisu (タコライス), is a bit of a strange dish. You can trace it back to the 1980s, where outside the American military base in Okinawa, restaurants created their own twist on Tex-Mex. Rather than using a tortilla, rice forms the base of this dish. The easiest way for me to describe it: taco rice is like a taco salad without the giant tortilla bowl. I can imagine cutting out the tortillas made it easier and cheap for the restaurants to make something filling for servicemen.

This dish is so popular in Okinawa, you can even find it at chains like KFC and Yoshinoya periodically as a special item! This is probably the most famous Okinawan food outside of Japan.

I love it because it makes a great dish for bentos and one-dish donburi. It also tickles me how many cultures this food passed through on its journey to invention. Tacos predate the Spanish, a truly indigenous dish of Mexico. The delicious and humble taco then jumped the border to America, who adapted it to the American palate and mass produced it with a hard shell, ground meat, and iceberg lettuce. Then it was brought to Okinawa, where the hard shell was discarded in favor of short grained rice. Mexican-American-Okinawan fusion? Nah, it's just good food, no labels needed.

How do I put my spin on it? By introducing some Southern California style! I couldn't resist adding some fresh guacamole, something you wouldn't see in an Okinawan diner due to the cost of avocados, but here in Orange County, avocados are practically on every dish.

Next, some heat! Taco rice typically is very mild, with no hot sauce at all. I couldn't help tweaking it to fit my palate, and I wanted something that made this dish quintessentially Orange County besides avocados. I grabbed a bottle of Gringo Bandito original hot sauce for the honor. It's made here in Orange County, and was created by the lead singer of the Offspring, Dexter Holland, an Orange County native.

It doesn't get more So Cal-stylish than that! But more than hailing from my home stomping grounds, the Gringo Bandito also brought the dish a nice heat and flavor I needed, without being too salty or vinegary. It's quickly become my go-to sauce for taco night!

My challenge to you: how will you make this dish your own?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Peppermint Sugar Cookies

What's your favorite holiday song?

I think I must belong to an elite super group of people who have listened to obscene amounts of holiday music until they have unwittingly become armchair experts. 

Name your favorite holiday song and I can either name at least two of the artists who have recorded it without referencing the internet, sing the chorus, or both. I tested this by asking my Facebook friends for their favorite holiday song, and I am currently 8/8 nailing it in both categories.

That's pretty impressive for someone who has never willingly played a holiday song. This has all been absorbed passively from my exposure to my mother's insane holiday song collection. She estimates she has at least 200 versions of  just the song "Silent Night" to give you some perspective on how much holiday music she has.

My favorite is "The Wassail Song." I have no clue why really, I just love the refrain. Maybe it's because I can really belt it out* and the quality of singing is less important than the enthusiasm at which it is sung.  I also really love "Auld Lang Syne" but no one in their right mind would be comfortable with me singing that one.

Holiday songs are imperative to making these cookies. When I go over to my mother's house to bake cookies, they never stop playing.

*I can also belt out Frosty the Snowman both in English and Spanish. This is the only thing I know to say in Spanish, which goes to show you they teach you nearly nothing useful in mandatory language classes like "Help! I think I need a doctor!" but hey, I know a Christmas carol!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Mulled Wine Stuffing with Sausage and Chestnuts

Here's another special holiday family recipe from my mother that I had to make sure I learned how to make. This stuffing is possibly my favorite culinary aspect of the holiday season!

I love how the wine gives this stuffing acidity and a little bit of bitterness to cut through the richness of butter, sausage and bread. Most stuffings can be be a little stodgy and bland, and the use of the mulled wine brightens it up.

I've written about this stuffing on my slow cooker mulled wine recipe, as that is the ingredient that really makes this stuffing.You can add in dried fruit or nuts, or remove the meat entirely. It will still be acceptable to me. However, if you omit the mulled wine, it just won't taste right in my book. This is the only stuffing for me!

Now, the big trend for food photography for stuffing is giant pieces of bread that toast up nicely in the oven and make for a glorious picture, however I don't think that tastes as nice because everything doesn't have a chance to incorporate. If you prefer a drier stuffing, reduce the liquid to 1 cup each of broth and mulled wine. I like mine nice and mushy and don't really care if that's not as attractive to photograph. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Curried Persimmon Ham

My mom is a mad scientist when it comes to cooking. She is constantly opening up her cupboards and fridge, giving them all a good look, pulling out a motley crew of items, and slapping together something that may never be replicated. Her Turkey and Hominy Soup that I've written about is a great example, because it is really never the same batch twice. She throws in so many different things and in different quantities, it's hard to keep up, let alone write the recipe down.

She also has a gift for making mass quantities of food. If the recipe serves more than 1-2, it's a fair bet it was originally my mother's recipe. I don't have much occasion to cook for a small army, but around the holidays is the best time to cook for a crowd because you never know what sort of get-together you'll host or be invited to! My mother brings this ham to potlucks, and even gives it away as holiday gifts, that's how popular it is!

I don't think even she could come up for a thought process for this recipe, besides noting she had a lot of persimmons, and a stray block of Japanese curry roux rattling around her pantry. She moves on instinct, a trait that I did not inherit. I spend a lot of my time thinking, not just about food.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Kamaboko Dip

It's officially the holidays! Parties, potlucks, girlfriend get-togethers: I've got all that and more planned for the coming weeks, so you'll see a bit of a shift in the recipes I feature here.

There's a distinct lack of baking projects, recipes for parties, or appetizers for a crowd. I like small dishes, and this blog started as a way to feature what I cook on weeknights for myself and Mr. Mochi, and I don't deviate too often unless it is to make sure I write down one of my mother's recipe.

But with the holidays upon us, please look forward to some party dishes! First up: Kamaboko Dip!

I've made several dishes on this blog that feature kamaboko, but all of them have been pretty traditional Japanese recipes. So I wanted to showcase how we utilize it differently it as hapas and Japanese Americans here in the states. Of course I am sure you can think of plenty examples of where imitation crab (kanikama) is substituted for real crab. But here's an entirely new presentation for kamaboko.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Kamaboko (蒲鉾) and Other Surimi Products

Kamaboko (蒲鉾) is a Japanese ingredient made from white fish that have been pureed, mixed with flavorings, and then steamed to form a steamed fish cake.

Traditionally, kamaboko was formed on a wooden board for steaming which produces the hallmark half-moon shape you see it in.

Nowadays you can find kamaboko without the wood, but most varieties will still be steamed on wood.
Imitation crab sticks work great for cheap sushi

Does this sound totally weird? I wish I could have described it more appetizingly. However, the pureed white fish, called surimi, is the same process that is used to make imitation crab (called kanikama, which is short for kani-kamaboko). So if you've enjoyed a california roll, you've had surimi. The biggest difference between imitation crab and kamaboko is just the texture as kamaboko is chewier and firmer.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Turkey Mole Stacked Enchiladas

I love Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday. I can't really pinpoint why it has always been my favorite holiday, even as a kid. It has always been more relaxing than other holidays, even now that help prepare a lot of the meal.

I guess now that I'm grown, I can say I love the fact that it's not religious and therefore very inclusive, not overly commercialized like Christmas or Valentine's Day, and finally I just love to cook.

And possible more than cooking, I love leftovers. It's serious business in my family. My mom hosts Thanksgiving just to get her hands on leftovers.

Sometimes however, you need a little variety in your leftovers. You need a little spice. Most of all, you need something quick and easy because you just did a marathon of cooking and you need a quick meal.

Enter in these leftover turkey mole stacked enchiladas. The flavor of these enchiladas is radically different from most traditional Thanksgiving fare, so it helps break the monotony of leftovers. You could make the mole sauce from scratch, but you just cooked a giant meal for your friends and family, so I think you deserve a tasty and easy meal by buying premade sauce.