Don’t Let This Happen To You!

Because it’s ’tis the season, I recently found myself in a harried shopping frenzy running from one store to another in disparate parts of town overwhelmed because I was trying to fit too much into one day when I suddenly became aware that I was famished since I’d been at it for hours so I grabbed a quick bite from whatever was closest at the moment and got halfway through it when I abruptly realized that the worst had happened.

I had neglected to take a picture of my lunch.

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So here’s what was left of my karaage from Shokusaido in Industry City’s Japan Village, 946 3rd Ave, Brooklyn.
This one goes out to all of my fellow food freaks who obsessively photograph and post pictures of everything they put in their mouths. (Well, almost everything.)

Ring any bells, friends? (And I don’t mean the kind that jingle.) Your comments, please!

Kuromame Natto

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“Do you eat natto?” asked my friend. She had some extra and generously offered to share with me. I answered in the affirmative and the next time I saw her she handed me a little bag containing black natto from NYrture, a New York based company. (Note: this is not a sponsored post.)

For those of you who are unfamiliar with natto, it’s a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans and eaten for breakfast, a side dish or a snack, often with rice. Aside from its health benefits, its claim to fame (or perhaps infamy) is its potent aroma and flavor along with its notoriously slimy consistency. (Look up “acquired taste” in the encyclopedia and you’ll see a dish of natto.)

From NYrture’s website: “No description of natto would be complete without mentioning its uniquely sticky texture. Neba-neba is a Japanese word to describe the sticky, stringy, wispy film that coats natto beans. In Japan, the more “neba-neba”, the better the natto. In fact, standard practice is to vigorously stir natto before eating to increase neba-neba!”

Indeed. Natto has been known to give okra an inferiority complex.

But the company described this kuromame (black soybean) natto as “gateway natto” and I couldn’t have said it better. For starters, its flavor is significantly milder and slightly beany with, believe it or not, notes of chocolate. And although turbulent natto is soybean’s answer to an Instagram cheese pull, in defiance of “standard practice” I decided to forego whipping it into an unphotogenic web of sticky threads: personally, I don’t find it to be particularly appetizing and if your mission is gateway natto, you want appetizing.

In Japan, it’s served in numerous ways; I decided to go simple and put the artsy effort into the pickled ginger rose.

So I put it to you: Do you eat natto?

Goblin’ Futomaki on Halloween

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Halloween is just around the corner and I wanted to indulge in something that didn’t involve Reese’s Cups, M&M’s, or Kit Kats, so I’ll be goblin’ futomaki that’s decked out in an All Hallows’ Eve costume – I guess that makes it both a trick and a treat. (But, not gonna lie, I’m waiting for the post-holiday sales: just as leftover Thanksgiving dinner tastes better the next day, so does leftover half-price Halloween candy.)

In obeisance to the official black and orange Halloween rubric, the black monstermaki (futomaki means thick or fat roll) is wrapped in nori, its conventional costume, and its orange sidekicks are swathed in soy wrappers that come in five flavors/colors: original soy, sesame, spinach green, turmeric yellow, and paprika orange.

I filled them with kani (krab sticks), avocado, cucumber, strips of sweet kanpyō (dried gourd) and most important, eel because – in keeping with the holiday spirit 👻 – it’s only one letter away from EEK!

And in case you’re wondering – no, I’m not handing out these spookomaki on October 31; the kids are supposed to scare me, not the other way around!

Happy Halloween! 🎃 🍣

July is National Ice Cream Month! Celebrate Globally!

The story began here:

Every August, as a routinely flushed, overheated child, I would join in chorus with my perspiring cohorts, boisterously importuning, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” Little did I realize that rather than conjuring dessert, I was conjugating it and probably laying the groundwork for a lifetime of fascination with foreign languages and world food.

We lived in close proximity to one of the best dairies in town; it was known for its wide assortment of locally produced natural flavors, certainly sufficient in number and variety to satisfy any palate. Perhaps my obsession with offbeat ice cream flavors is rooted in my frustration with my father’s return home from work, invariably bearing the same kind of ice cream as the last time, Neapolitan. Neapolitan, again. My pleas to try a different flavor – just once? please? – consistently fell on deaf ears. “Neapolitan is chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. That’s three flavors right there. If you don’t want it, don’t eat it.” Some kids’ idea of rebellion involved smoking behind the garage; mine was to tuck into a bowl of Rum Raisin….

There’s lots more to the story, of course. Click here to get the full scoop! 🍨

Smorgasburg, Prospect Park

First pre-post-pandemic (because it’s not over till it’s over) foray into an open-air food market. If such events proliferated like chain stores, ten year old Smorgasburg would be the archetype; last weekend, we visited their outpost in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, currently open from 11am to 6pm on Sundays.

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“Lobster Garlic Noods” from Lobsterdamus called out to me the loudest from among the 35 vendors. Legitimate lobster, not surrogate surimi; had I noticed the “Add extra lobster meat $4” sign, I would have gone for it. Destined in the stars to be the first pick of the day, I predict you’ll like it too.

“Rooster Nuggets” from Rooster Boy; umami-rich koji marinated karaage fried chicken bites. You can choose from among six sauces, but for me the flavorful chicken didn’t need any help.


Japanese Curry

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

It’s been a minute since I posted any homemade Japanese food but since I cooked up this Japanese curry and it wasn’t bad, I thought I’d share. Actually, the word “homemade” might be something of a stretch: the sauce comes from a package, specifically the quick ‘n’ easy, rather ubiquitous S&B Golden Curry Sauce Mix, the hot variety – and for “hot”, read medium.

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Yes, Japanese curry is a thing; as a matter of fact it’s considered to be one of the country’s top two national dishes (the other being ramen) which are only then followed by sushi and miso soup. From The Japan Times: “The spice mix known as curry powder and curried dishes were most likely introduced to Japan via the Anglo-Indian officers of the royal Navy and other stalwarts of the British Empire. They were among the first Westerners the Japanese came into contact with, after Commodore Matthew Perry landed his Black Ships at Kurihama in 1853, opening the country to the world after hundreds of years of isolation. Since this new dish came from the West, as far as these Japanese travelers were concerned, it was classified as yōshoku (Western food)….”

After years of tinkering with flavor profiles and targeting them to local tastes, Japanese curry came of age, a countrywide comfort food that exhibits little similarity to the Anglo-Indian dishes that gave rise to it. Inside the box, you’ll find blocks of curry sauce mix, essentially an instant roux packed with all the typical flavorings. The instructions couldn’t be simpler: stir-fry chunks of your protein of choice (I used beef) along with some vegetables (onion, carrot, etc.) in oil for 5 minutes, add water, bring to a boil, and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Now if you do any cooking at all, you will immediately recognize that there’s no way red meat is going to tenderize during that meager interval, so put your optimism back in the pantry, take out your patience, and let the dish simmer covered for a good deal more time until the meat is actually tender. Then turn the heat off, break the curry-roux bricks into pieces, add them to the skillet, and stir until the sauce mix has dissolved completely. Simmer and stir for another 5 minutes or so.

I kicked up mine with some yuzu shichimi togarashi (seven spice mixture) that includes dried yuzu peel and red chili pepper and topped the rice with furikake. Raw scallion is a good foil for cooked beef and more important, I had some on hand, so why not?

Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Orange Kabocha Squash

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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Not merely an alternate color scheme, the orange kabocha squash is actually a red kuri/kabocha hybrid. This one was about six inches in diameter, conforming to the rubric of petite proportions I settled upon at the outset of this project. Japanese pumpkins are often described as tasting like a cross between pumpkin and sweet potato; this was no exception.

Since I simmered the other kabocha, I decided to give this one a straightforward oven roast treatment. Certainly tasty as you’d expect and falling along the dry/satiny-smooth side of the texture continuum, it did not disappoint. I suppose I should have done more with it, but my kitchen has essentially transmogrified into a culinary cucurbita laboratory of late and I wanted a baseline experiment. (Perhaps there’s a reason why chef’s whites look a little like a lab coat. 😉)

Next up, sweet dumpling squash.
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Winter Sweet Kabocha Squash

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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I know kabocha as a dark green, firm-fleshed squash often reputed to taste like a blend of pumpkin, chestnut, and sweet potato, and it’s another of my favorites (most Japanese squashes garner high marks from me). But one crate at the farmers’ market bore a sign that read “winter sweet kabocha” and another was identified as merely “winter kabocha” so I inferred that they were two different varieties. I bought one of each (see the pair side by side in this photo) and decided to pass on the standard green variety – I mean really, how many kabochas can I use? Since the pair tasted pretty much the same (I suspect it was a labeling issue), I’m pretty sure in retrospect that purchasing both winter versions had been unnecessary and it would have been wiser to compare winter sweet kabocha to the more common green one (which I didn’t do) or the orange variation (which I did do).

Since kabocha of any color holds its shape commendably when steamed or simmered…

…I couldn’t resist making Kabocha no Nimono (かぼちゃの煮物), a classic Japanese treatment that simmers chunks of kabocha in dashi (Japanese soup stock) seasoned with sake and/or mirin, soy sauce, sugar and salt; the garnish is fresh ginger sliced into matchsticks. Very satisfying.

Next up, the aforementioned orange kabocha squash.
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Tetsukabuto Squash

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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The Japanese tetsukabuto squash is a cross between kabocha and butternut squashes, which makes it a C. moschata and a C. maxima hybrid.

Its flavor reminded me of sweet pumpkin with nutty overtones; on the dry/satiny-smooth side of the texture continuum, it’s sufficiently firm to cut into cubes, for example, and it will retain its shape fairly well. Intensely flavorful, it’s another standout of the group.

I tinkered with a couple of different preparations for this one. This classic combination was an afterthought (that’s why there’s not all that much of it) but it was delicious with this squash. Essentially, there are four main ingredients: orecchiette pasta, crumbled hot Italian sausage, lacinato kale sautéed with garlic in the sausage drippings, and dollops of squash (which should have been cubes), along with a bit of minced fresh sage. A more decadent version adds a splash of chicken broth and heavy cream – another superb afterthought that didn’t make it into this photo but fortunately did make it into my mouth 😉. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. I only wish I had made more of it.

Next up, winter sweet kabocha squash.
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Red Kuri Squash

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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Red kuri squash is also known as potimarron, a French portmanteau combining potiron meaning pumpkin and marron meaning chestnut, acknowledging the squash’s characteristic flavor profile. (“Portmanteau” itself is a portmanteau combining the French words porter meaning carry and manteau meaning cloak. How meta. But I digress.) Kuri is Japanese for chestnut, same rationale.

My understanding is that in the UK, it’s called “onion squash” preferring to address its appearance rather than its flavor. (Draw your own conclusions regarding whatever that says about the culinary aptitude of the Brits. 😉)

Since this one was new to me, I just halved it and cleaned it out, roasting it with some butter in the cavity. The flavor wasn’t particularly deep, actually almost watery, in contrast to its texture which was more on the dry/satiny-smooth side of the continuum. Since I felt that it needed a boost, I added maple syrup and cinnamon to the melted butter.

Given another shot at it, I might try slicing and baking it with a glaze to concentrate its flavor and give each piece some individualized attention.

Next up, buttercup (no, not butternut) squash.
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️