Thursday, June 17, 2010

So You Think You Cannot Cook

My husband thought that he could not cook anything, at all, until I introduced this recipe. He does not like cooking...just eating. We used to have a long distance relationship and whenever I visited him there were towers of pizza boxes and cans of coke in the shape of pyramids on his kitchen counter. It was bachelor life gone horribly wrong. To help him out I used to cook rice and Japanese curry and then freeze it all before I left. I did not want him to eat unhealthy all the time and I thought I could make a difference in one person's life. That was then.

8 years and 1 kid later, I am not so philanthropic. Sorry honey. My daughter was a colic baby and the first 4 months were unbearable. I did not even take a shower everyday, so cooking was not a priority either. My husband often brough home pho or teriyaki from a nearby restaurant but I was getting tired of those foods and I was missing a homemade meal. It was time for me to teach my husband how to fish.

I had to ask myself, what would be the best way to motivate him to learn to cook for me? Why not teach him how to make one of his favorites that I always cook, and make sure it was easy! I now had a plan. The recipe is called Pork Bok Choy. It requires only 5 ingredients (2 out of these 5 are salt and pepper). It is so easy and so delicious that you will find yourself eating bowl after bowl of rice along with it too.

At this point you may be wondering if the old adage applies, "never try to teach your spouse anything new - it will end badly." Entire industries, such as driver's ed, rely on strict adherence to this fact. Spouses are not supposed to try to teach other anything, you have no tolerance for each other. But I was desperate, hungry, and had no where else to turn. I needed someone to cook and I needed them now.
It worked! He tolerated me and learned how to cook Pork Bok Choy. It was amazing, a little too much saunce the first 10 tries but he's starting to get used to it. Now whenever I am sick or busy, he cooks this or other meals from his repetoire, as short as it may be, for me and my daughter. I really appreciate him for attempting to cook more and help me out. This recipe is so easy my husband can cook it, and if you knew him well you'd realize just how easy it must be. Here it is.
Pork & Bok Choy with Oyster Sauce

  • 1 lb of thinly sliced pork (butt and shoulder cut) for Sukiyaki cut into about 1 inch square. Asian grocery stores will have this prepackaged.
  • 8 bok choy sliced in 1/2 inch pieces.
  • 1/4 cup of oyster sauce.
  • salt
  • pepper
  • vegetable oil
How to make:
  1. Cut the pork into 1 inch squares. Slice bok choy 1/2 inch thick and separate the white part (towards the root) and green part (leafy part).
  2. Heat a wok or large pan and 1/2 tsp of vegetable oil.
  3. Cook pork first and sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper.
  4. When the pork is cooked, add white part of bok choy and sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for 3 - 5 minutes.
  5. Add the green part of bok choy and sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for 2 - 3 minutes.
  6. Add 1/4 cups of oyster sauce.
  7. Taste and if you like more salt, pepper, or oyster sauce, add them to suit your taste.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Strawberry Rhubarb Tart

When spring finally arrives every cooking magazine is ready with a recipe for strawberries and rhubarb. I have always wanted to make something with rhubarb but never had the chance. This year I was determined to use it in something, and of course I chose strawberry rhubarb tart. It's a classic.

I was looking at the June 2010 issue of Living magazine and there was a delicious looking fig and strawberry tart inside. I decided to use this recipe as a guide for my strawberry rhubarb dessert.
A lof of fruit tarts, such as apricot, use almond in their filling. This fig and strawberry tart recipe uses hazelnuts. Because my daughter is allergic to peanuts, and by association susceptible to tree nut allergies, I cannot use either.

Until you have a family member with a severe food allergy you will never know how hard it is to keep them safe. I did not either until I found out that my daughter is severely allergic to peanuts - I learned the hard way. Having said that, I really appreciate my friends who remember about my daughter's condition and care about what kind of food they cook when they invite us over, especially for potlucks. It means a lot to me.

A lot of cereals, cookies, bread, and kid snacks have both tree nuts, peanuts, or both as an ingredient. Even when they don't have these ingredients in them, a lot of them are made in a facility that processes peanut and tree nuts.

I was afraid to feed my daughter until I learned to live with the food allergy. I was frustrated at times because it was hard for us to go out and eat spontaneously. I also felt sorry for my daughter and of course blamed myself thinking it was because I ate a lot of peanut butter or simply my fault for giving her bad genes in the first place.

After dealing with (and still dealing with) these overwhelming feelings of anger, sadness, frustration, and mother's guilt, I was determined to make sure that I would not let my daughter miss out on anything that we all take for granted and in order to do so I would need learn how to cook and to bake a little bit more.

Ok, back to the strawberry rhubarb tart. I was trying to think of a hazelnut substitute and immediately chickpeas came to mind. I know it's a little unconventional, but bear with me for a moment.

First I needed chickpeas in an easy to use form, like a flour, so I turned to Whole Foods. I found them but of course it was made in a facility that uses tree nuts so I bought dried chickpeas. I thought that I could grind them at home by myself, big mistake. They are incredibly hard when they are completely dry and ungrindable. I happend to have canned chickpeas so I decided to use them instead. I used a food processor to chop them finely. They were pretty moist so I put them on a pan and dry roasted them. I hoped they would be a good replacement for hazelnuts. Here is the end result photo.

Now, you can't tell from the photo but I burned the tart little....and in my attempt to hide it I sprinkled chopped strawberries and mint leaves from my garden all over for a nice touch of color.

Here is the recipe of my peanut and tree nut free Strawberry Rhubarb Tart adopted from Martha Stewart Living Magazine June 2010 issue, Fig and Strawberry Tart.

Strawberry Rhubarb Tart
For the crust:
  • 1 1/4 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp of sugar and salt
  • 1 stick of cold butter cut in small pieces
  • 1/4 cups (or more if you want, but I really needed only 1/4) of cold water

For the filling:

  • 3/4 cups of finely chopped (almost flour like) canned and drained chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup of packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tbs of sugar
  • 1/2 tsp of lemon zest
  • 1 stick of butter cut into small pieces
  • 2 tbs of rum
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 2 tbs ofpotato starch (corn starch is fine too)
  • 8 oz of strawberries (halved)
  • 2 stalks of rhubarb (chopped in 1/2 inch pieces - next time I will use more)
How to make:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Make the crust: In a food processor, pulse flour and sugar together, then add butter and pulse until butter becomes the size of peas. Add water and pulse until the dough starts to hold together.
  3. Take out the dough and make a disc. Refrigiate it for at least 1 hour. (I am impatient remember? I only put it in for 30 minutes and it was fine).
  4. Roll the dough to make it fit your tart pan. (usually it is 9 or 10 inches round)
  5. Poke the bottom of the tart crust and then put aluminum foil and pie weights and put them in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove weights and bake 5 more minutes or so.
  6. Let it cool. Leave the oven on.

Make the filling:

  1. Mix strawberries and rhubarb with lemon zest.
  2. Using a food processor, chop chickpeas finely and then dry roast them in a pan on the stovetop.
  3. Mix eggs, butter, sugar, brown sugar, rum, potato starch in a food processor. Then add the chickpeas.
  4. Pour the filling in the cooled crust and spread evenly. (Since my filing was too moist, I did not spread much. At this point I should have known that my filling would be too moist).
  5. Top with strawberries and rhubarb.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes and then decrease the temperature to 325. Bake about 1 more hour. I ate with unsweetened whipped cream since the tart itself was really sweet.

Making this strawberry rhubarb tart was also a good excuse to use this beautiful handpainted porcelain mold I bought from anthropologie store long time ago. It added a little extra authenticity to what was a somewhat unconventional recipe. Bon Appetit!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mick Jagger

Today I want to show you one of the most popular Japanese foods amongst Japanese people. It is called Nikujyaga.

When I made this for my dear friend Yvonne and her family she asked me what it was called and I told her it was called nikujyaga. She thought I said “Mick Jagger”. Well whatever is easier to remember, right? I am sure now you will not forget the name of this dish and if you forget, you can ask your Japanese friend, “what is the dish called sounds like Mick Jagger?” They will probably know you are talking about nikujyaga .

I love this dish because it is like a comfort food to me (I am sure to most Japanese people as well) and also recently I discovered how to make two other dishes by using this dish’s leftovers.

On Monday I prepared nikujyaga for dinner. I made a lot since I knew I would use the leftovers to make two other dishes.

Leftovers + Japanese curry cubes = Easy and quick Japanese curry rice for lunch.

For Tuesday’s lunch, I scooped out some nikujyaga and added Japanese curry paste cubes to make curry for lunch (see photo above). For my daughter and me, I needed 1 – 2 cubes. I added some water and more frozen peas. If you have broccoli (or whatever else you may want to add), you could microwave them and add it to the curry too. Unfortunately I did not have much time so I did not add any other vegetables, it already has veggies so I wasn't concerned.

And voila, a Japanese curry lunch for my daughter and I.

For Tuesday’s dinner, I made croquettes with the leftover nikujyaga. I drained all the liquid from the leftovers and ever so lightly mashed the potatos and carrots. I made a round ball and then dusted them with flour, dipped them in whipped eggs, covered them in Panko (Japanese bread crumbs), and deep fried them until brown. If your leftovers are too moist and soft even after you have drained all the liquid you can steam or microwave the potatoes and add them back to the mixture and hopefully thicken it up.

I ate them with Japanese vegetable and fruit sauce, semi sweet (you can get this at an Asian grocery store) but you can eat them as is or you can enjoy them with soy sauce too.

Leftover + Flour + Egg + Panko + Deep frying oil = Croquette

My advice for you is to make nikujyaga the night before you want to eat it. The next day is best for this dish. If you did not make this dish the night before you can make it earlier in the day and let it completely cool after it is cooked. Then reheat when you are ready to eat. The flavors are absorbed when it cools and it tastes much better.

Even though I made the dish on Monday I prefer to make it on Sunday when I have more time to cook and let it cool. I am usually tired on Monday so it is nice to have dinner already made on Sunday and I can even stretch it out through Tuesday’s lunch and dinner. Hopefully this nikujyaga recipe will help you to have a little bit more relaxing start to your week.


  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 lb of thinly sliced beef (a.k.a. beef for Sukiyaki from an Asian grocery store)
  • 4 large onions
  • 6 large golden potatos
  • 4 carrots
  • 1/2 cup of frozen green peas
  • 1/4 cups and 2 tbs sugar
  • 2 tbs of mirin
  • 1/2 cup of soy sauce
  • 3 tbs sake
  • 6-7 cups of water (prefarbly Japanese Dashi stock but if you cannot get it or make it easily, plain water is fine)

How to make:

  1. Slice onions, cut carrots 1 inch in thickness, quarter potatos or if they are too big, cut in 1/8. Cut thinly sliced meat.
  2. Heat 1 - 2 tbs of vegetable oil in a deep pot and add the meat. When the meat is cooked half way add 2 tbs sugar and 1 tbs soy sauce and continue cooking. When the meat is cooked, take it out from the pot and set it aside.
  3. Heat 2 -3 tbs of vegetable oils in a same pot (you don't need to wash the pot in between #2 and #3) and stir in onions first and cook for 3 minutes or so.
  4. Add the rest of the vegetables and cook for 3 minutes or so.
  5. Add back the meat in the pot, add 6 - 7 cups of water (or dashi), 1/4 cup of sugar, 2 tbs mirin, 3 tbs sake, 1/2 cup of soy sauce.
  6. Cook them uncovered at medium heat until potatos are cooked all the way through.
  7. When you are ready to serve, add the frozen green peas and cook for 3 additional minutes. Serve.

P.S. The curry I made from nikujyaga became leftovers too so I added udon broth (or dashi and soysauce) to the left over curry and then udon noodles to make curry udon for lunch. The nikujyaga leftover options are limited only by your imagination!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Missing significant others.....

My daughter has been loosing her shoes at an alarming rate. I now have 3 shoes that are missing their "other". I briefly thought about throwing them away but I could not and I don't know why.

Children's shoes are not cheap! I was confused because I had to keep buying the same shoes again and again. Causually over the phone my mother told me I lost shoes too. I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

What can I do with 3 odd paired shoes? Take pictures of course! I paid a lot of money to buy these shoes so at least they can be my artistic subjects, right? I want someday to show the photo to my daughter and tell her the story of the lost shoes. I hope the photo means as much to her someday as it does to me.

Missing shoes reminds me of missing socks. I don't like doing laundry and cleaning up the house but when I fold my daughter's small clothes and tidy up her tiny shoes, I smile.

My daughter is napping now. Time to do laundry and clean up the house!