Rice cooker cooking

Did you know that you can make 焼きいも (yaki-imo)—roasted sweet potato—in a rice cooker? I put in a couple of centimeters of water and used the quick (30 minute) rice setting. It came out with a perfect texture.

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Nice cream

This has nothing to do with Japan in particular, except in relation to the super-humid weather. But anyway, I finally tried making “nice cream”, that is, an ice cream-like substance made from just bananas.

I followed the basic instructions from Oh My Veggies. Essentially, you blend frozen bananas until they get creamy. I used a regular blender, which took awhile; I reckon a food processor might be easier, at least to get it started. I added just a bit of unsweetened cocoa powder and cinnamon. It came out very lovely, although maybe a bit too sweet. Next time, I plan to try adding a bit of 飲むおから (nomu okara) or smooth okara for cooking / drinking. Okara is a powdery by-product of tofu-making, and it’s delicious. I’m hoping it will make the nice cream a bit creamier and less sweet. We’ll see!

 

New Year’s food

The last three days have pretty much been filled with eating. Because, New Year’s food.

正月 (Oshogatsu) — the Japanese New Year — is the biggest holiday of the year, and of course there are rituals, traditions, and special food.  The holiday generally runs from December 31st to January 3rd, with most people spending time with family and often visiting shrines/temples.

On New Year’s Eve, it’s traditional to eat toshikoshi (New Year’s) soba (buckwheat noodles) for health and long life. We had ours with tsuyu (dashi stock), nagaimo (grated sticky yam/potato), and green onions.

Red/orange/yellow/gold foods are central to New Year’s cuisine, as shown in the photos below, all for good luck! Osechi refers to traditional New Year’s food served in stacked boxes. The style of food dates back more than 1000 years, with the idea being to preserve food to avoid cooking over the turn of the year (which I fully support). We’ve been in Japan for New Year’s before and have eaten many of the traditional dishes, but this was the first time we ordered osechi. I really enjoyed many of the items, but by design, much of it is pretty sweet or salty, so it’s definitely possible to stray into excess. We rather regretted having so much despite sharing it with family, so we’ll have to find some more people to share with next year, plus plan to eat more salad alongside.

For more descriptions of the specific food and their meanings, see Savvy Tokyo or Wikipedia.

Mochi, or sticky rice pounded into little cakes, is also central to New Year’s cuisine. There are several mochi items in the osechi boxes seen above. We also went to a mochi-tsuki, or mochi-making, in Yokohama. It was fun to see the rice being steamed and then pounded with huge mallets. Kids also got to line up and have a go with the mallet. And of course, eating it was the best!

Cooking the rice
Cooking the rice
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Mochi with kinako (soy bean powder) and anko (sweet red bean paste) respectively

(With the sounds of the kids’ mochi-making in the background)

Random grocery store pics

So yeah, sometimes I like taking photos at the grocery store. Here are a few.

Chrysanthemums

Did you know you could eat chrysanthemums (kiku-no-hana)? They have a very light taste, reminiscent of baby spinach.

Here’s how we ate them:

Buy from the store.

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Take out of the package.

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Pluck the petals and rinse.

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Boil briefly (like a minute) and dress with soy sauce or some other kind of stock. Accompanied here with spinach and shimeji mushrooms.

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Yum!

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Mushrooms

One of the best things about autumn in Japan: MUSHROOMS. Here’s what they look like in their glory, displayed in the grocery store.

They all have different qualities. Enoki are thin, like eating noodles, good for a hotpot (nabe) or soup. Shiitake are versatile, but gorgeous when they’re just grilled and eaten with a bit of soy sauce. Maitake are my favourite currently, also good for a hotpot, thin but still firm. Shimeji are excellent in a stir fry, as are eringi. So many options…

Kabu

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Kabu, or Japanese turnips, are a lovely cold weather food. The greens are very tasty (spinach like), and the white turnip bulbs are soft and juicy when cooked. I often put them in miso soup or saute them with sesame oil (shown here with fried tofu sheets added as well).

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Persimmons

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I don’t recall ever eating persimmon before coming to Japan, but it is high on my list of favourite autumn foods. They are currently cheap and abundant in the grocery stores: yay.

There are different varieties of persimmon, but I like the kind that are not too juicy but still as soft as a mango.

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Persimmons are also an interesting case for language learners, as homonyms (and near homonyms) abound in Japanese. A persimmon is 柿 and an oyster is 牡蠣. Both are pronounced kaki, but when you’re saying oyster, the first syllable has a higher pitch / more stress. Persimmon is the opposite, as pronounced below. (I always get it wrong.)