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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Layered Jello

For Thanksgiving this year, I was in charge of a few things. My mother took advantage of my close proximity to borrow my oven for dishes. Everyone know that the turkey takes up a ton of room in the oven, so having access to another oven freed her cooking schedule up quite a bit. I was in charge of heating up the three stuffings, brie en croute, and the seville marmalade glazed sweet potatoes.

However, as detailed in my bacon gravy and biscuits post, my oven is one foot in the grave. I solved the problem of not heating up and I've had good luck recently baking cakes, but apparently shoving in an entire oven full of dishes straight from the fridge was too much for it. The oven temperature plummeted and slowly limped back up to the proper temperature, which means that my dishes took forever to heat up!

I was so frazzled I nearly forgot my jello in the race to the celebration, with around 9 dishes in tow, some very very hot (wrapped in foil, then beach towels to keep warm), as well as a boyfriend and a dog way too interested in this whole festivity. I thought her eyes were going to pop out of her head the entire time, she was begging so hard.

This jello recipe definitely takes some time to make, but it is pretty hands off, as most of the time is spent chilling the layers.  This is always requested by my mother, and I knew that her flower arrangements were in fall colors, so I chose red, orange, and yellow to complement them.

Friday, November 23, 2012


In elementary school, the way we learned about Thanksgiving was that people in loincloths and feathers sat down with people with funny buckle shoes and dowdy hats, and had this awesome feast. They were so buddy-buddy, you wanted to be at that first Thanksgiving table! We all made hats out of construction paper in class and sat down as "Indians" and "Pilgrims."

They didn't teach you until later about the genocide of the American Indians. No teacher told us about the idea of Manifest Destiny causing the death of so many that Holocaust expert David Cesarani stated that more were killed during the white settling of this country than the Holocaust. The Trail of Tears led the Choctaw, Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, and Chickasaw on a death march in the middle of freezing cold and famine.

Nothing was mentioned in elementary school that the first Pilgrims would have not survived their first year here if it weren't for the Wampanoag tribe, and that the Pilgrims later fell to cannibalism to survive. That the graves of the Wampanoag were robbed by the pilgrims, their crops were stolen, and the Wampanoag themselves were sold into slavery wouldn't have made for a good national holiday. Thanksgiving would be an untainted holiday if the schools had left American Indian/Pilgrim "friendship" out altogether. Why it became such a part of the curriculum of public schools still makes no sense to me, and miffs me a bit how sugarcoated history can be.

I love my grandma
I'm part Choctaw. What do I do with this holiday, that glosses over most of the nasty parts of our history yet presents it to little kids as such? Do I shun it, like many American Indians? Do I embrace it, like some do? I'm not Christian nor does my family celebrate this as a religious holiday, so I am certainly not thanking a god with this holiday.

I guess I am truly an adult now, when this sort of soul searching occurs.

I do, and will continue to, celebrate Thanksgiving. You will never find any caricatures of smiley feather-wearing natives decorating our table.  I view it simply as a day of thanks and giving gratitude back for family, friends, and health, which is one holiday that makes sense in every culture. No lavish gifts, no rampant spending and commercialization, just comfort food and the comfort of family.

I was especially thankful that almost everyone was able to make it this year. I wish I could freeze time to when I was a kid and everyone was healthy and younger, but my family and loved ones are getting older and older.

And don't worry, recipes will follow. Right now, it's time to reflect and digest.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Oahu Shave Ice & Ice Cream

Hawaiian shave ice is one of my favorite treats. I was lucky enough to visit Hawaii several times during my youth, and it is still one of my favorite places I've been to. Probably because I loved being able to go to the beach and get a musubi right there on the shore, unlike the uninspired fries and chips here on Southern California beaches. Walk into Costco, and you can pick up Japanese snacks you'd need to hunt down in a specialty store here on the mainland.

Shave ice is not uniquely Hawaiian. It can be traced back to Japan, where it is called kakigori (かき氷). Unlike a snow cone, the ice is not crushed but shaved into fluffy clouds of snow that absorb flavoring rather than being coated in it. Originally it was cut with Japanese swords brought over to Hawaiian plantations, but today it is cut with a machine. It melts in your mouth, instead of being crunchy.

Topped with condensed milk, azuki beans, or even mochi, it often has a scoop of ice cream or anko at the bottom both in Japan and Hawaii. My mother, who loves ice cream and shave ice, would often take us to the local shave ice parlor just down the street from us. Unfortunately, the shave ice place closed when I was still in grade school, and the last time I was able to enjoy shave ice was then.

Then my mother recently tipped me off to the new shave ice in town: Oahu Shave Ice! Of course, being the icy treat obsessed lady that she is, it already had her stamp of approval. I had to check it out.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Renkon Chips

Renkon (蓮根), also called lotus root, is the rhizome of the lotus plant. It is eaten boiled, steamed, deep fried, stir fried, and even raw if it's young. Lotus root is very popular in a lot of Asian cuisines for its crunchy texture and and aesthetic appearance. The lacy holes in lotus root make it a showstopper in many dishes, giving visual appeal with no extra work besides slicing the root. Traditionally it is peeled before cooking, but for this recipe you can leave the skin on. The skin is kind of tannic, but the frying largely eliminates that, but I peeled mine just in case.

And while it's a starchy root, lotus root has a lot less carbohydrates and calories than potatoes, while being a good source of dietary fiber, thiamin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese, as well as a great source of vitamin C.
Lotus root and cross-section

It also makes a pretty damn good chip for snacking.

While looking at izakaya food while writing my introduction to my review of Izakaya Honda-ya I fell upon pictures of lotus root that had been sliced thin and fried to a crisp like potato chips.

Hello? Why does my local izakaya not have these?

Since Mr. Mochi bought me a deep fryer for my birthday, I figured I'd make my own. (Why he bought me a deep fryer is beyond me... not a lot of room in this apartment. I think he wants katsu kare that isn't from KFC)

Don't worry if you don't have a deep fryer, an inch or so of oil in the bottom of a saucepan will work fine.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kaki Kohaku Namasu (柿 紅白なます)

Kohaku Namasu (紅白なます) is a traditional celebration food in Japanese culture, most prominent around the New Years festivities. Usually it is made with julienned carrots and daikon radish that is soaked in a rice vinegar mixture. Red and white (kohaku) are considered lucky colors together, and even though this dish is actually orange and white, it's close enough.

And while New Year's is still a couple months away, I can't help but get wrapped up in the excitement before Thanksgiving. This is both a party dish and a quintessential fall dish, thanks to the persimmon, so I could see it at our table this Thanksgiving.

I decided to make this version because I still have quite the haul of fuyu kaki leftover despite my bundt cake. The persimmon takes place of the carrot, and substitutes well since both have a nice sweetness that plays off the bitter daikon and salty vinegar dressing. Some recipes include citrus juice, to play up the acidity.

Some people like to serve kohaku namasu immediately, other suggest letting it settle in the fridge for several hours or overnight to let the daikon and vinegar mellow.

Took forever, still huge pieces!
Every recipe also varies on the ratio of white to orange, so feel free to have more or less than I suggest based on your fancy. I kept eating the fresh persimmon and the freshly salted daikon before they ever made it into the vinegar mix!

When making this, I realized I am terrible at cutting things. Julienning the daikon and persimmon took forever, and I wasted a lot of the persimmon just because I didn't know how to properly make a squat round shape into matchsticks. Even then, the julienne pieces ended up being like 1/4" big. Oh well, maybe it's time to invest in a mandoline.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Mexican Candy: Chile Mango Candies

Growing up in southern California, I was fortunate enough to be able to experience a myriad of different cultures. Not to mention the best thing about being a self proclaimed mutt is that growing up with so many tastes and textures means that rarely was I squeamish about a new food or cuisine.

So when the ice cream truck rolled down my grandmother's street, my brother and I were just as likely to pick a Mexican sweet as a popsicle. In fact, I was pretty obsessed with the Lucas Acidito Chili Powder, a salty tangy slightly hot powder that came in a little shaker with a duck on it. (Unfortunately, it was tested high for lead content in the late 2000s and subsequently pulled from the U.S. market. Lucas powders have been reformulated, and I bought some for my birthday in September and I can vouch that they are still delicious.)

My inspiration (pic credit Village Voice)
My tastebuds got a flashback when my coworker brought some Mexicandy back from her recent trip to Mexico. She plopped down a big ziplock of Vero Mango chili lollipops, tamarind pulp candy, and mazapan, and I was in heaven. The first lick of the lollipop brought me back to sitting on the curb outside Grandma's house. It's funny how food can do that to you.

So after my most recent foray into Mexicandy appreciation, I decided I had to make my own version. As tasty as those lollipops are, I happen to be lollipop challenged. I either somehow stab myself in the mouth or drool on myself while trying to do something two-handed with a sucker in my mouth. Therefore I wanted to make them without the stupid paper stick.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Japanese Curry Turnovers

When talking about my blog, my mother wanted to know if my blog followers were aware I was "The white girl version of a Japanese person," and I assured her that anyone who clicks on the About page would know I am very Caucasian in appearance, jokingly telling her, "Don't worry, they know I'm Jet Puffed Japanese!"

I think she was worried people would be deluded into thinking I'm some sort of wannabe Harumi Kurihara of the States. (Harumi Kurihara is like the Japanese Martha Stewart, and her cookbooks are awesome by the way). Just because I resemble my nickname (white, squishy, and sweet describes both me and mochi) doesn't mean I don't love sharing my hapa Japanese dishes with you all.

Even in high school, kids would look at me and tell me I don't look Asian enough to call myself part Japanese. Funnily enough, with his dark hair and more olive complexion, my brother would pass their test.

The best thing about being white-as-a-marshmallow yet also Japanese American, is that I am free to mix my cultures as you see fit. Especially since my mother and grandmother were bit of rebels when it comes to cooking, we all blur the lines a lot. Tuna sandwich with a side of ramen? Check. Tsukemono and deviled eggs at Thanksgiving? Every year!

So when I decided to bust out the puff pastry dough to make some meat pies (I love pasties) and instead ended up with a Japanese American version, I don't think either of those cooks would be surprised.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fuyu Kaki Bundt

It's kaki season again! Kaki (柿) is the Japanese word for persimmon. According to the Tokyo Foundation, kaki are one of the few fruits native to Japan, however more sources state that China is where it originated from. Either way, kaki have been cultivated in Japan since at least the 7th century. Before modern sugar, honey and kaki were the main sources of sweets in Japan, and kaki are omnipresent in Japanese art and ancient culture. The dried persimmon, hoshigaki, is a very rare treat from Japan that was presented to the Edo shogunate, as well as later foreign visitors such as Herman Hesse. Even to this day, hoshigaki are a rare treat only available in small quantities in the fall, due to the labor-intensive production.

Three fuyu and one hachiya
There are two basic types of kakis: the squat Fuyu that can be eaten crisp like an apple or the heart-shaped Hachiya type that is ripened until jelly-like inside. The Hachiya cannot be eaten hard because it is very astringent unless fully ripe.

My family is fortunate enough to have access to home grown persimmons. My great uncle John has a fuyu kaki tree, and around this time giant bags make their way from my grandmother filled with persimmons. As a kid, my mom would cut one up to accompany oatmeal for breakfast. Their natural spicy sweet flavor combined with their juicy crispness will always remind me of fall.

Once, my mom gave us an unripe persimmon. I will tell you right now, it is a life-scarring experience. They are inedible, with the astringency pulling every drop of moisture from your mouth. The closest experience that I can think of is getting the wind knocked out of you. Just like that, you are left gasping and gaping like a fish out of water.

I wanted to make something with my share of kaki this year, besides just eating them sliced like apples.  Despite not being a very seasoned baker, the Food Librarian's bundt recipe just spoke to me. I HAD to make this bundt, despite having to raid my mother's pantry for all her baking spices and going out to buy a bundt pan. Adapted from a 70's recipe from Sunset Magazine, I hope you will love this spice bread with the nuggets of kaki melted into it and walnuts providing a nice contrast.