カレーライス (Japanese Curry)

Anyone who knows us – and probably you’ve all guessed from this blog as well – knows that we love Japanese food. It’s simple, yet tasty, and usually not overly heavy or extremely time-consuming (not like Cassoulet or Boeuf Bourguignon). As with pretty much any national cuisine, I feel like the rustic, country dishes are often some of the best. With Japanese cuisine, nabe (hot pot) and Japanese curry are two of our very favorites.

Japanese curry is kind of a twist on Indian curry – it uses many of the same spices, but it also has a sweetness that Indian curry doesn’t have, and it is made with a roux (mixture of flour and fat of some sort), so it is thicker and a bit more like a stew than Indian curry.

Typically when we have made Japanese curry, we have used the little blocks of solid roux that you can get in a box at the store, and just melt into your hot water to cook everything in. However, we don’t usually like to have to depend on a pre-made thing, because you don’t know if you’ll always be able to find it, and you may have to go out of your way to get it, when you could just make it from normal ingredients that you have already, or are easier to find.

So, we wanted to try making the curry from scratch. We found this recipe at No Recipes, and decided to give it a try. We made a few modifications from the recipe. I used 1 lb ground beef, and 1 lb ground pork, as we kind of like ground meat in our Japanese curry. I used 2 apples, as we really like the sweet apple flavor. I used 2 cups water, and 2 cups homemade chicken stock. We used half garam masala, and half curry powder. I also used Okonomi sauce instead of Tonkatsu sauce, because we had one and not the other :) We have also made this both with butter, and with coconut oil, and both ways were very good. We have also used ground turkey instead of beef and pork, and that was very good. We’ve substituted rice flour for the wheat flour to make it gluten free, and we’ve made it with just veggies and mushrooms (and coconut oil as above) to make it vegan. Mix it up and find your favorite way to do it.

Here is what we did:

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp butter or coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp (or slightly less) cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp ketchup
  • 1 tbsp okonomi sauce
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 lb ground beef, lean
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 2 carrots sliced diagonally
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 large yukon gold potatoes, cut in small chunks
  • 2 apples, peeled and pureed (we use a microplane grater for this)
  • Salt

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat, then plop in the sliced onions. Cook until they are nice and brown and caramelized.
  2. Turn up the heat to high, and add the beef and pork. Cook until browned.
  3. Add the carrots, cook briefly, then add the water and chicken stock.
  4. Bring liquid to a boil, then lower the heat, and add the potatoes, apple puree, some salt, and 1 tsp of garam masala.
  5. Simmer until you can easily poke a fork through the carrots and potatoes.
  6. In a small saucepan, melt the 3 tbsp of butter or coconut oil.
  7. Add the 1/4 cup flour, 1 tbsp curry powder and 1 tbsp garam masala, mix until you have a thick paste.
  8. Add the cayenne pepper, and some fresh-ground black pepper, and mix it into the paste.
  9. Add ketchup and okonomi sauce, and again, mix together. Cook until the paste starts to crumble a bit.
  10. Remove the saucepan from heat, and set aside.
  11. Once the vegetables in the pot are tender, ladle about 2 cups of the liquid into the saucepan with the paste you made, whisking to make sure you make a smooth sauce with no lumps.
  12. Pour this thick sauce back into the pot, and mix it around well.
  13. Simmer for a few more minutes to allow the whole curry to thicken.
  14. Serve over a bed of rice, with a little bit of pickled ginger (kizami shoga).
Kale Raisu. From scratch!

How We Make Tea: Oolong

While the world of green teas, including matcha, is rich and varied – it is nothing compared to the world of oolongs. The processing that makes an oolong an oolong makes room for so many styles and variations, it can be dizzying.

Oolong is a traditionally Chinese style of tea (though now also heavily produced in Taiwan as well), and is produced by combinations of drying, oxidizing, and rolling or twisting the tea leaves. Some of the teas are even oxidized by allowing a small insect to bite the leaves, and enzymes secreted by the insect start the oxidation process.

Because of this varied processing, as well as differences in growing region, elevation, and weather, the characteristics of oolongs can be exceptionally varied. Good quality oolongs can also be steeped multiple times, and the characteristics can change with each steeping. Some are very floral, sweet, and light-flavored. Some are nutty, rich and warm-flavored. Some are very toasty, even almost char-flavored. Some are nearly green, and taste very vegetal. The one in the photos here is an aged oolong, and begins with very deep fruity tones like prune, gets more smoky after 3-4 steepings, and then ends by becoming more sweet and floral after 6-8 steepings.

Oolong tea is often brewed in the Gongfu style, in which the unglazed clay pot and cups are first warmed with hot water. The tea is then added to the pot, and hot water is poured on the tea from a pot held well above the tea pot. This water is immediately poured into a pitcher – this is just in order to rinse the tea. The tea pot is then filled back up with fresh hot water, and the water used to rinse the tea is poured over the outside of the tea pot. The tea is steeped for around thirty seconds to a minute. Sometimes it is poured evenly into the drinking cups after steeping, and sometimes into a pitcher. Sometimes a sniffer cup which holds the same volume as the drinking cup is used, and filled first with the tea, which is then transferred to the drinking cup, and the aroma of the tea can be smelled in the sniffer cup.

In terms of typical home preparation, a small clay pot unglazed on at least the inside, or else a gaiwan are typically used. The water is heated to just a few degrees below boiling, and a relatively large amount of tea is used for the size of the pot. Many oolongs can be steeped 3-8 times with steepings of 30-60 seconds. We still usually rinse the tea as in the Gongfu style by pouring hot water onto the dry tea and then immediately pouring it off, though we usually just discard this water. If you are drinking it by yourself, either use a large drinking cup and pour off all the tea into the cup, or pour the tea into a pitcher first, and then refill your drinking cup from that. In any case, don’t leave water sitting on the tea, or it will over-steep. After each steeping, tilt the lid of the pot or gaiwan so that the tea can breathe and doesn’t steam itself inside the pot.

Most of all, drink consciously and enjoy what you’re tasting!

Brewing Oolong Brewing Oolong Brewing Oolong Brewing Oolong Brewing Oolong

How We Make Tea: Matcha

There is quite a lot to the world of tea. It’s one of those areas where, until you really dig in and explore it, you can kind of feel like black tea is black tea, green tea is green tea, and that’s about all there is to it. However, the breadth and diversity even between, for instance, a Japanese and Chinese green tea, can be astounding, not to mention all the variations between different categories of tea, and the individual characteristics of each plucking and production batch.

One very specific type of tea is a primarily ceremonial tea used in Japan, called matcha. The production of this tea is special in and of itself. It is a green tea, but some time before the harvest of the tea leaves, the tea plants are covered. Removing them from direct sunlight stops growth and forces chlorophyll into the leaves, producing a dark green color. The best leaves are then picked, laid out flat, dried, de-veined and de-stemmed. They are then very slowly ground (so as to prevent heating the tea leaves at all) into a fine powder.

The preparation of the tea involves at least three things: a tea bowl, a bamboo scoop, and a bamboo whisk. Firstly, the tea is sifted through a sieve to break up any clumps that may have formed. A small amount of hot water is poured into the tea bowl to warm the bowl, and the whisk is lightly swished around in it to warm and soften the whisk. The tea bowl is dried out, and the dry tea is scooped into the bowl. Hot water (slightly below boiling) is poured over the tea. The whisk is then used first to gently mix the water and the tea together, and then to vigorously whisk the tea until foamy. The tea is then drunk from the bowl.

This differs from most tea, in that you are not just drinking an infusion from the tea leaves, but you are actually ingesting the entire leaf (ground into a fine powder), which you are whisking into a suspension in the hot water. Because of this, matcha has quite a strong flavor, and also a high caffeine content. It also has higher content of the nutrients of tea, such as anti-oxidants.

Matcha is delicious, is very cozy to prepare and drink, smells wonderful, and the beautiful bright green color, along with a beautiful, hand-made tea bowl is visually pleasing, and feels wonderful to hold in your hands. It really is a very immersive way to enjoy tea.

Matcha Matcha Matcha Matcha Matcha

Šaltibarščiai (Cold Borscht)

When we went to make this for dinner the other night, I was flabbergasted that we hadn’t posted it here yet. This is one of our very favorite summer meals, a Lithuanian cold beet soup, usually served with boiled potatoes and/or pickled herring. It’s a pretty simple recipe, and very tasty, though the color is a bit shocking to people who aren’t used to it :) This recipe probably serves about 4-6 people.

Ingredients

  • 1 32oz bottle plain kefir (you can use buttermilk if necessary, but kefir is much better)
  • Beets (you can use raw or canned, this recipe uses raw)
  • Green Onion
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 large cucumber
  • Dill (fresh if possible, but dried is fine, too)
  • Salt

Directions

  1. If you’re using canned beets, skip the steps about cooking them and just chop them up in either a dice or a julienne – otherwise, continue as written :)
  2. Peel the beets, and chop them into small-ish pieces. Boil them in water until soft all the way through.
  3. While beets are boiling, hard-boil your eggs.
  4. Chop your green onion, cucumber and dill and set aside.
  5. Once beets are soft, drain them, but keep the cooking liquid as you will add some of it to the soup later. Let beets cool.
  6. Once the beets have cooled, cut them up. You can either dice them or julienne them.
  7. Add the beets to a large mixing bowl (over 32 oz).
  8. Add cucumber, dill and green onion to bowl.
  9. Peel and chop your eggs, and add to the bowl.
  10. Pour in full bottle of kefir.
  11. Pour some of the cooking liquid from the beets into the kefir bottle and shake it around to make sure you get all the kefir out, then pour into soup.
  12. Mix everything together well, and add more cooking liquid from the beets to taste.
  13. Salt to taste.
  14. Serve with boiled potatoes sprinkled with dill, or pickled herring and onions (or both).

Šaltibarščiai Šaltibarščiai Šaltibarščiai Šaltibarščiai Šaltibarščiai Šaltibarščiai Šaltibarščiai Šaltibarščiai Šaltibarščiai Šaltibarščiai Šaltibarščiai Šaltibarščiai Šaltibarščiai Šaltibarščiai

Simplicity

22

 

We love our breakfasts on weekends, since we don’t get to sit down and eat together on weekday mornings except in exceptional circumstances, so we try to make a point of it on the weekends. It doesn’t have to be anything extremely elaborate, sometimes the simplest things are best.

 

This last weekend, it was eggs, scrambled and cooked in butter, a few strips of bacon, a few slices of avocado, some blood orange, and some toast.

 

Pair it with some coffee, some juice, and good company, and what more could you ask for?

 

24

 

Happy Breakfast!

 

Black Bread

Living in Lithuania, we ate a lot of dark rye bread, as it was extremely common. You’d have it for breakfast with cheese and salami, you’d have it as a beer snack, cut in sticks and fried, with fresh garlic and salt rubbed on it, you’d put butter on it and make sandwiches. It was dense and heavy and smelled of caraway and molasses.

You can find this kind of bread here in Portland sometimes, but not anywhere we typically go for groceries, and so when a friend of ours who happens to have a Russian husband posted that she tried this recipe from Smitten Kitchen and it turned out brilliantly, I had to give it a go.

As with any bread, it’s a time-consuming process, but well worth it if you like a good dark rye bread. It turned out wonderfully, the best bread I’ve made so far. This recipe makes 2 loaves.

Ingredients

  • 2 packages (1 1/2 tablespoons) active dry yeast
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F, 40 to 45 C)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 ounce (about 29 grams) unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 3 cups medium rye flour
  • 3 cups unbleached, all-purpose or bread flour
  • 1 cup bran
  • 2 tablespoons caraway seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine yeast and sugar with warm water. Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. Heat two cups water, molasses, vinegar, butter and chocolate until the butter and chocolate are melted. Set aside.
  3. Combine whole-wheat, rye and white flours in a large bowl. Set aside.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine two cups mixed flours, bran, 2 tablespoons caraway seeds, fennel seeds, salt, espresso and shallots. Add yeast and chocolate mixtures in small amounts while mixing with a wooden spoon or bread hook. Mix until smooth and beat for three minutes. (If you don’t like whole seeds in your bread, grinding them in a spice grinder, coffee grinder or mortar and pestle allows their flavor to come through without the texture. I left them whole)
  5. Add half cup of remaining mixed flours at a time, mixing until dough becomes cohesive and starts to pull away from the sides of bowl. It will be very sticky but firm.
  6. Scrape dough off spoon or bread hook, flour counter well, and knead to make a springy yet dense dough. You might not use all of the flour mixture.
  7. Form into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Turn once to grease top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm area until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  8. Gently deflate dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into two portions and form into two rounds. Place rounds seam down on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle loaves with cornmeal mixture, if using. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled and puffy, about 45 minutes to one hour. Slash an X into the top of a round before baking it with knife or razor blade.
  9. Bake in a preheated 350°F (177 C) oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until loaves are well-browned, or register an internal temperature of 200 to 210°F on an instant-read thermometer. Baking time in your oven may vary — check in on the bread when it is 2/3 to 3/4 of the way through the baking time to make sure it has not super-speedily baked. Remove from baking sheet to cool completely on a rack.
Baking Mess Black Bread Black Bread Black Bread Black Bread Black Bread Black Bread Black Bread

Chocolate Lava Cake

Last night being Halloween, we decided some sweets were in order, but seeing as nobody comes to our door anyway, we’re more interested in making them for ourselves, so we decided to make this recipe from Lulu at BikeyFace. It’s a very simple recipe, it turned out deliciously, and it’s perfect for two people (or one, if you *really* like chocolate).  

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. Bittersweet or Semi-sweet baking chocolate
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 full egg, plus one yolk
  • 3 tbsp flour

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 F (218 C).
  2. Butter two 7-8 oz. ramekins, and set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan over low to medium heat, or in a bowl in the microwave, melt the butter and chocolate, whisking until it is smooth with no lumps.
  4. Mix chocolate/butter mixture together with powdered sugar, and whisk until well-blended.
  5. In a small bowl, beat the egg + yolk, then mix it into the sugar/chocolate/butter mixture. Whisk until well-blended.
  6. Add flour to the mixture, and again, whisk until batter is smooth.
  7. Divide the batter between the two ramekins, and place in the oven for about 13-14 minutes, until the outside is solid, but the inside is still very liquidy – look for the center to be slightly depressed, and looking like it has just formed a thin crust over it. Exact times will vary based on a gazillion factors, so just watch it and remove when you feel it’s done (in our oven, it was perfect after 13 minutes on the middle rack).
  8. Let sit for a minute or two, and then dig in (carefully, as the middle will still be piping hot – and gooey and delicious!). Goes perfectly with ice-cream, or just a cold glass of milk.

Chocolate Lava Cake

Chocolate Lava Cake

Curry Paste

We love making Thai food, and we just happened to grow a green Thai chili plant this summer, which produced prolifically, so we decided to try making some curry paste from scratch with the chili peppers. We generally followed the green curry recipe from AsiaRecipe.com, except that we didn’t have quite enough chili peppers. It turned out very well, and was quite easy, so I think we will probably do it more often, as we can find the necessary ingredients easily at markets in town, and making the paste is a great experience, smelling all of the things that go into it as you make it – not to mention while you’re cooking it.

We ended up having leftovers of the ginger and lemongrass, so we decided to kind of improvise a yellow curry paste as well based on a number of other recipes, so while the images and instructions are for the green curry paste, the yellow follows the same basic procedure, and just uses the ingredients listed under yellow curry paste.

Green Curry Paste

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of prik ki nu (green birdseye chilis) (we had slightly less)
  • 5 tablespoons lemon grass, finely sliced
  • 10 tablespoons of shallots, chopped
  • 10 tablespoons of garlic, minced
  • 5 tablespoons of galangal (kha) grated (we used regular ginger)
  • 5 tablespoons of coriander/cilantro root, chopped (we couldn’t get root, so used leaves)
  • 2 tablespoons of coriander seed
  • 1 tablespoon of cumin seed
  • 1 tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of shredded bai makroot (lime leaves)
  • 4 tablespoons of kapi (fermented shrimp paste)
  • 1 tablespoon of palm sugar (we used brown sugar)

Directions

The great thing about making curry paste is that the directions are very simple. 
Basically you just want to smash all of the ingredients together into a paste. This can best be achieved with either a mortar and pestle, or a food processor. 
Essentially, just put as many of the ingredients in at a time as you can, and blend/smash them up. Scoop it out and add more if you need to, and then mix it all together well at the end. Put in jars, and refrigerate or freeze for future use.

Yellow Curry Paste

Ingredients

  • 12 cloves garlic, minced
  • 11-12 spicy dried red chilis, with seeds
  • 6 small shallots
  • 1 1/2 tbsp coriander seed
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 tbsp fermented shrimp paste
  • 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1 small stalk of lemongrass, chopped finely
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp peanut oil
Green Curry Paste

Green Curry Paste

Green Curry Paste

Green Curry Paste

Green Curry Paste

Green Curry Paste

Green Curry Paste

Green Curry Paste

How We Do Coffee

Coffee

As it gets toward Autumn and Winter, our coffee consumption definitely kicks up a notch, and to that end, we just got a really nice hand-crank burr grinder from Zassenhaus. So, I thought I’d do a quick post on how we make coffee. As we just got the grinder, I ended up grinding the coffee a bit too coarsely, but it is fully adjustable from extremely coarse to powder-fine, so it’s just a matter of finding the sweet spot. Anyway, we brew coffee using a Chemex pot, so all you need is hot water, and you’re good to go.

First, grind the coffee. You definitely want to buy whole beans if you can, and just grind them right before you use them, as the coffee will taste much fresher this way – similarly to buying whole spices, and just grinding them up before you cook with them.

Coffee

Get the filter into the Chemex pot, and then douse it with hot water, to remove any of the paper flavor. Then dump the water out of the pot.

Coffee

Dump the coffee grounds into the filter. Heat up water until it is just under boiling.

Coffee

Pour water carefully, just enough to wet the grounds, but not to float them in water, make sure you get them all. Let the water drain out of the filter.

Coffee

After this, pour water in so that all the grounds get wet, and then fill up the Chemex to about an inch below the top edge. Let most of the water drain through the filter, and then repeat until you have as much coffee as you want.

Coffee

Remove the filter with the grounds and dispose of it. You can keep the spent grounds to use as fertilizer or compost if you like.

Coffee

Pour into your favorite cup.

Coffee

Add cream skimmed off the top of your fresh milk :)

Coffee

Coffee

Enjoy!

Enjoyment of Food

One of the biggest reasons that we cook is for enjoyment. Not only enjoyment of eating the end result, but enjoyment of the process, the smells, the interaction with each other, and the anticipation. One of the best ways to enjoy food is as a social event, and we had a chance to remind ourselves of that last night, making Kimuchi Nabe with our friend Rosalind. We just got this beautiful clay donabe this week, for making Japanese Hot Pot (or nabe), Shabu Shabu and Sukiyaki.

Donabe

In honor of the event, we also got a little gas burner, and decided to have Rosalind over, as we knew she was a big fan of hot pot. We’ve made this basic recipe a number of times in our large Le Creuset cast iron pot, but this was our first time trying it in the donabe. We prepared all the food in the kitchen, grouped it all on plates, and then headed out to the table with it.

Kimuchi Nabe Kimuchi Nabe

We used fried tofu, oyster, enoki and shiitake mushrooms, green onion, our homemade kimchi, and thin sliced pork. The broth was 4 cups of dashi stock, 1 cup sake, 2 tablespoons shiro miso paste, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon sesame oil.

The hot pot turned out deliciously cooked in the donabe, probably the best one we’ve made yet. But the real best part about doing it this way was the process. Prepare to just relax and enjoy.

First, just put the broth in the pot, and let it get nice and hot, so it is just barely simmering, not really bubbling. Sit and chat, drink some beer, and notice the broth becoming fragrant.

Kimuchi Nabe

Toss in the green onion and the kimchi, let it sit for a few minutes, and then taste it to make sure there is the right amount of spice.

Kimuchi Nabe

We ended up adding probably 1/2 lb or so of our own kimchi. Results will vary depending on how spicy the kimchi you have is, and how spicy you like things.

Kimuchi Nabe

Let that simmer for a little bit, drink some more beer, and note how the smell changes. By the time you are done with this dish, your whole house will smell like delicious food. Next, stick some of the thinly sliced pork into the hot broth – if it is thin enough, it will cook almost immediately. Pile tofu and mushrooms on top, and then put the lid on and let it steam for a while.

Kimuchi Nabe Kimuchi Nabe

Once the mushrooms are soft, everyone dishes up into their bowl – mostly the solid items, leaving most of the broth in the pot.

Kimuchi Nabe

Add the rest of the pork, mushrooms and tofu on top of the pot, put the lid on, and again let it simmer while you’re eating what you just removed from the pot.

Kimuchi Nabe 

You will notice the smells continue to change, and we noticed that the second batch of things we pulled out of the pot tasted notably different than the first – the flavors continue to develop, to deepen, and to even get better than they were the first time.

Finally, finish the broth with some delicious noodles, or dried, baked mochi squares, which puff up and get crunchy in the oven. All that delicious, rich broth gives so much flavor to the noodles or mochi, and it’s the perfect way to finish off the meal.

Japanese Hot Pot

So, give it a try. Make your meals a chance to spend time with people you enjoy. Cook with them, chat with them, and enjoy the entire process. Share the whole experience of preparing, cooking, and eating something really delicious. I can hardly imagine that you will regret it.