Kaiten Sushi: round and round it goes!

“Have you ever eaten moving sushi?” my students once asked me. Immediately an image came to mind of various sea creatures wiggling on top of squares of rice. “No,” I thought, “I haven’t.” What they meant was kaiten sushi, best described as “conveyor belt sushi.” It’s a fun, interactive way to eat lunch. Today we went to the local kaiten sushi place called sushi-roru (sushi roll).

Here are some basic guidelines for eating kaiten sushi:

  • Sit down at your booth. Hopefully you get seated near the start of the conveyor belt and not the end. Otherwise you have to wait a long time for your sushi to come around. When you sit down, reach up above your head and grab a green tea cup. On the table there is a little pot of green tea powder. Put two spoonfuls in your cup and fill it with hot water from your table’s own personal spicket.
  • Start grabbing whatever sushi looks promising from the conveyor belt. There are some posted rules, though. Don’t grab a plate and put it back, even if you haven’t touched it. Don’t let your children grab the plates. Don’t drop the sushi onto the conveyor belt.
  • Orange plates indicate there is a tiny bit of wasabi hidden in between the rice and the fish. White plates mean wasabi-free.
  • If you want to special order something like a bowl of udon noddles or you’re in a hurry (or impatient) and don’t want to wait for a certain kind of sushi to come around on the conveyor belt, hit the intercom button above your head and speak into the little black box. Your special order will come to you via conveyor belt on a special platform that has a unique color and kanji character on it. This color and character match the ones that are printed on your booth’s intercom box.
  • Need to take a breather? There are plenty of other things going around that you can pick up: chocolate cake, sweet potato sticks, slices of watermelon, frozen mango pieces, and boxed juices to name a few.
  • Stack your plates as you eat their contents. When you’re done, push the service button that has a picture of a bell on it (next to the intercom button) and someone will come and count your plates. They’re only 100 yen each! What a deal! For the two of us it was under 1,900 yen (about 20 bucks).
  • Worried about the freshness of the sushi that’s making it’s way around the restaurant? No need. Under each plate is a little computer chip. When the sushi’s been revolving for more than 30 minutes it’s removed from the belt and sent back to the kitchen.

Here are some especially good (and intriguing) ones to look out for!

Cooked shrimp, fresh tomato, lettuce, and mayo
Grilled unagi (eel) with sweet soysauce, popular in the summer months. Eel supposedly has “energizing” properties for hot, humid days.
Hamachi or yellowtail. A very mild fish that’s good for “beginners.”
Maguro or tuna. It doesn’t get much simpler than this.

Ebi-Avocado (cooked shrimp, avocado, onions, mayo)

Salmon & onions

Crab & mayo

Fried chicken with sweet soy sauce & mayo

Sweet potato sticks with black sesame seeds

Itadakimasu! (Let’s eat!)

Shrines, Bicycles, and Fine Japanese-Dining: A Saturday in Arashiyama

Arashiyama is the beautiful mountainous district of Kyoto. Last Saturday, along with four of my English students, we pedaled across the river on our rental bicycles over the famous Togetsu-kyo bridge, and could immediately feel the change of pace from the busy, touristy streets that you find in the more populated area of the city. Our first stop was to eat a traditional Japanese lunch in our own private room at a Japanese Inn.

We waited for a few minutes in the lobby, then followed a woman dressed in a kimono who shuffled down the hall towards our room. She slid open the paper doors, where a low table and six cushioned chairs were waiting for us. We were immediately given cups of green tea, and dishes of sashimi. Then she disappeared behind the doors for several minutes. We enjoyed the raw tuna and sea bream with shiso leaf, grated daikon, soy sauce, and freshly grated wasabi,which was much milder than I was expecting.

When she came back, she set a red 3-layer lacquer box in front of each of us, as well as a clay pot above a candle. I watched my students for cues. They started disassembling the layers, so I did the same.

I removed the lid from the top layer and was met with a fishy smell. Immediately I recognized that it was fish paste, formed into balls, one white, the other dyed pink. I enjoy almost all varieties of Japanese food, but fish paste isn’t one of them. I ate the piece of pumpkin and the two snow peas that were in the dish, but even they were contaminated by the fishy flavor. I employed the strategy of eating without breathing through my nose. This made it much easier.

Off came the lid to the next layer. This looked much more promising. A piece of teriyaki salmon, a block of sweet omelette, another block of fish-paste (*deep breath*), edamame, a ball of green-colored wheat gluten bundled and tied in a leaf, sliced bamboo flavored with katsu-boshi (dried fish shavings, also on my “no thanks” list), hijiki (a kind of black seaweed) and shredded carrot salad, and a whole boiled shrimp. The 3rd layer contained a generous portion of fluffy, white rice, accompanied by Japanese pickles.

The woman re-emerged from behind the sliding doors and went around the table, lighting the candles below our clay pots. Soon we could hear a faint bubbling sound in the room, and I was eager to open our pots. Again, I waited for the cue from my students.

Inside we found tofu, sliced leeks, and seaweed in a clear broth. “Famous nabe in Kyoto,” my students told us. Nabe simply means “pot,” and refers to any one-pot dish, such as a soup or stew. Usually nabe is a communal meal with everyone eating out of the same pot from the middle of the table, but this day we each had our own pot.

Using a slotted metal spatula we picked up the tofu and leeks and lowered them into a gingery-soy dipping sauce.

My favorite part of the lunch was the tempura. It was served piping hot out of the oil, perfectly crisp on the outside. The sweet potato was my favorite, but the prawn, pumpkin, eggplant, and white fish were also exquisite.

For dessert we had a soy-pudding with berry sauce. The texture was like cream brulee (without the brulee) but it had a yogurt-like tang to it. It wasn’t too sweet and ended our meal on a good note.

Feeling energized, we hopped back on our bicycles to visit some shrines and temples in the Arashiyama area.

We saw some really beautiful things. You can view the whole gallery here, but here are some quick highlights:

One of many Shinto shrines in the area. This one is specifically for “traffic safety.” Come here to offer up a prayer for a safe commute.

Ring the bell to “wake up” the gods before praying and tossing a coin into the box.

A Japanese kitchen from the late 1600s inside the cottage of a famous haiku poet named Kyorai. The name of the cottage is “Rakushisha” or “cottage of the fallen persimmons.”

Prayers and wishes written on wood blocks, displayed at the shrine next to paper origami cranes.

And last but not least, Oishii is 1 year old today! Happy Birthday to our blog and thanks to all our dedicated readers 🙂

A Japanese Picnic Fit for the gods

Last Sunday was one of the first hot days of summer, and despite it being the rainy season, it was a beautiful clear day. You know it’s the summer season in Japan when almost all the women start carrying parasols and wearing arm-length gloves, hats and visors to protect their skin from the sun. They must think it’s strange that a California girl like me wears short-sleaved shirts in hopes of getting a tan. Pale skin is prized more in Japan than it is in the U.S.

On the grass in front of the entrance to a Shinto shrine, we enjoyed a Japanese-style picnic that was fit for the gods. Opposed to the usual Shinto faith, which believes in many deities, this monotheistic Shinto sect, Benten, worships only the female goddess of Luck.

When you’re picnicking Japanese style, your blanket is treated as any indoor space. So we removed our shoes and left them on the edge before sitting down. Then our two students started unpacking various sizes of boxes, revealing both intriguing and familiar-looking foods:

We ate rice balls called Onigiri wrapped in two kinds of seaweed – recognizable nori used for sushi, and tororokonbu that reminded me of either algae or light green spun sugar. I couldn’t decide which. The onigiri had a small surprise in the middle: pieces of ume-boshi or picked plums that tasted like a salty version of dried apricots.

In a small foil package we had our first encounter with wheat gluten (called fu, a popular meat substitute in Japanese cooking) in two shapes — small blocks, and little green maple leaves. Because gluten turns an unappealing grey color when steamed, the Japanese often dye it different colors and form it into cute shapes that you can buy at department stores. The fu was a little chewy and had a very light taste. In the supermarket you can also find dry-baked fu that resembles large croutons or breadsticks, and is sometimes used in soups.

Next to the gluten maple leaf was a steamed bean curd cake with vegetables. And a cucumber salad with ground sesame seeds was a refreshing accompaniment.

Then something familiar: Teriyaki chicken and leeks served room temperature. It was perfect.

We washed down our feast with cold tea. Later, at a nearby sports park we ate homemade apple pies made with puff pastry, and ume (plum) juice while we watched children (and Dustin) play on a giant roller slide!

Birds, stay away from my Honey-Nut Granola Bars!

Since granola bars are difficult to find in the land of the rising sun, I decided to make them! I was really happy with how these turned out. I used the recipe on the Quaker Oatmeal website, but I added salted almonds because who doesn’t love sweet & salty together. You could also add chocolate chips, any chopped dried fruit, or coconut, or substitute maple syrup for the honey for a different flavor.

4 1/2 cups Old Fashioned Oats (or 4 cups Quick Cooking Oats)
1 1/2 cups chopped nuts (such as walnuts and/or salted almonds)
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup butter (170 g), melted
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 C)
  • Combine all ingredients in a big bowl and mix well.
  • Press firmly into a jellyroll pan (15-1/2 x 10-1/2 inch)
  • Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly* 
  • Cool completely, and cut into bars. Makes about 24 “Nature Valley-size” granola bars.

*A note on baking time: Japanese ovens don’t like to make things crispy. My granola bars were chewy, but a regular oven may produce crunchy ones. Both are good results!

You’re probably wondering what these granola bars have to do with birds. Well, yesterday we ventured out into the rain to visit Kobe Kacho-en, a bird & flower garden in Kobe. We walked around in a giant green house, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over giant lily pads that were just begging to be walked on, flowers that looked like they belonged in the Amazon, and baskets hanging above our heads cascading with colorful blossoms. Then we transitioned to the bird rooms: a duck, swan, chicken, and crane room; a penguin room; a tucan room– slightly scary because the birds swoop down over your head and you can feel the air from their wings–and lastly an owl room, featuring species from around the world, both big and small. In each room you could purchase a small paper cup of bird seed to feed them. They also sold bags of shelled walnuts and almonds in the gift shop (an anomaly in Japanese grocery stores), meant for your pet bird, but we got excited about them too!

Indoor Jungle

HUGE lily pads – aka stepping stones

“Purple ribbon flower”

New friend


Bouquets in the air



Teriyaki Chicken & Miso Soup

It’s about time we made two of the most well known Japanese dishes. The chicken teriyaki is best made with chicken thighs, but we used these skinless chicken breast strips instead. We were really happy with how the teriyaki sauce turned out. It actually tasted like the “real thing,” with just a hint of sweetness from the mirin. Serve with steamed white rice and sliced leek.

4 boneless chicken thighs with skin
2 tsp. + 1/2 cup sake
2 tsp. + 3 TBS. soy sauce
3 TBS. mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine)
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 leek stalk, sliced (optional)

  • Place chicken, 2 tsp. sake and 2 tsp. soy sauce in a medium bowl and marinate for 30 min. or overnight. Drain and pat dry on paper towels.
  • In a small bowl, combine the mirin, 3 TBS. soy sauce, and 1/2 cup sake and set aside.
  • Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Fry the chicken for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.
  • Add the reserved mirin mixture, reduce heat to low and cook for 7-8 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and sauce thickens. (If using thinner chicken breasts, remove after 5 minutes so they don’t overcook and continue thickening the sauce in the pan).
  • Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve with sliced leek. And don’t let that leftover sake go to waste!

    We used white miso in our miso soup, which had a much sweeter taste than we were expecting. We’d recommend using red miso if you can find it. It’s the preferred kind in the Osaka area anyway. There’s something really comforting about miso soup. I just love it. I think it’s one of the few Japanese foods I could actually eat every day for breakfast (everything else just isn’t as appetizing before noon). Feel free to add cubed tofu if you want too! Also, I learned it’s important not to bowl the miso or it will lose its flavor. Most of the “cooking” is done off the heat.

    4 tsp. dashi powder dissolved in 3 cups water (or 3 cups of Dashi Stock. Another alternative is bouillon).
    2 TBS. dried wakame seaweed, torn
    4 TBS. red miso paste
    150 grams (5 oz) silken tofu, cubed
    1 TBS. thinly sliced green onions, to garnish

    • Place dashi mixture or stock into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and sprinkle with the dried seaweed (soon it will turn a vibrant green!)
    • Place the miso paste in a small bowl and stir in a little of the stock liquid until the paste is of pouring consistency.
    • Gradually stir into the soup stock and add the cubed tofu.
    • Ladle into bowls and garnish with green onion.

      Raw Tuna & Leek Salad with Ginger-Soy Sauce

      A few weeks ago one of our students, an old man in his 70s, handed us a small paperback cookbook called Japanese Favorites. Finally, some guidelines for making a few of the things we’ve tasted and enjoyed while living here. What I love about Japanese cooking is that the ingredients themselves, their colors, and textures take center stage; like this light, refreshing appetizer that stars fresh raw tuna and leeks.

      2 TBS. thinly sliced leeks
      1 Japanese cucumber, washed and shredded
      1 1/2 tsp. grated ginger
      400 grams (14 oz.) fresh sashimi-quality tuna

      Black sesame seeds

      1/2 tsp. dark soysauce

      Our sweet cat chopstick-holders
      • Place the sliced leeks in a small bowl of cold water and soak for 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Shred the cucumber into long, thin strips with a vegetable peeler and set aside.
      • Transfer the leeks to a small bowl. Add half of the grated ginger and toss well to combine. Dice the tuna and add to the bowl with the leeks, along with the black sesame seeds.
      • Divide the tuna mixture into four equal portions. Place each portion on a serving dish. Garnish with the reserved shredded cucumber and serve with small bowls of soysauce and remaining grated ginger for dipping. Serves 4.

        Curried Cabbage Hotdog

        Two things.

        1. Yay!! Kokoro, our friendly little bakery across the street finally re-opened, and this is the curried cabbage hotdog I was raving about in my previous post. Yum. I’d ask how to make it, but I don’t think I’d understand the instructions in Japanese, nor do I think it’s culturally appropriate to even ask. But the important components are the fluffy white roll, and the shredded cabbage most likely cooked down with curry powder and maybe a little mustard too.

        2. Let’s play “Name what I ate for lunch”:

        I found these in the prepared foods section and was drawn to their oddity. After eating one and dissecting the second, I finally figured it out. A small piece of pork is sandwiched between a slice of Japanese eggplant and a prawn (Japanese surf & turf?), and the whole thing is dipped in tempura batter (how does it stay together!?) and fried.

        Well, it’s after 4:00. Time to teach some kids soon. I’ll play catch up this weekend and get some more posts up!

        Roll Out!

        It doesn’t get much simpler than fresh raw fish. Add crisp nori, fresh lettuce leaves, a bowl of sushi rice and a variety of sliced vegetables and you have temaki-sushi: a typical weekday do-it-yourself dinner for many Japanese families. Unlike other Japanese meals, it’s ok to use your hands. In fact, it’s encouraged!

        We had our first hand-rolled sushi experience at my student Rei’s house. There were so many slices of various things on the table that we had to take cues from Rei’s daughter, trying to inconspicuously imitate her combinations as the meal unfolded: First, isaki (sea bream), cucumber, shiso leaf (a pungent herb reminiscent of basil). Got it. Next. Hamachi (yellowtail) with slice of sweet omlette. Put a squeeze of wasabi at the side of dish. Don’t mix into soy sauce with chopsticks. Check. Lastly, salmon (pronounced sa-moh-n) and avocado on a lettuce leaf.

        We came home and tried it out a few weeks later, adding new combinations: tempura sweet potato, cucumber, avocado.

        Tempura prawn, shiso, and cucumber.

        And tuna and avocado.

        The combinations are endless, really. Each square of nori and leaf of lettuce is a blank canvas awaiting our creativity.

        Shiso leaves (photo from gourmet sleuth).

        Sushi Rice

        1 cup short grain rice
        1 cup water, plus more for rinsing
        1 tablespoon sushi vinegar (rice vinegar)
        1 tablespoons sugar

        1 tsp. salt plus more to taste

        • Place the rice in a bowl and cover with cold water. Mix the rice around in the water with your fingers and then poor out the water. Repeat until the water is clear when poured out, 2-3 times.
        • Put rinsed rice and 1 cup of water into a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, uncovered. When it begins to boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for another 10 minutes.
        • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine vinegar, sugar and salt. Heat in microwave for about 30-45 seconds.
        • When the rice is done, put it into a large wooden or glass bowl. Gradually add the vinegar mixture, folding into the rice with a rice paddle or spatula. Taste and add more salt if needed. Allow to cool before making sushi. Makes about 2 cups – perfect for 2 people.

          Hand-Rolled Sushi

          12 3×5 inch squares of nori (seaweed) and/or large romaine lettuce leaves, rinsed and dried.
          A variety of thinly-sliced sushi grade tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and sea bream
          Any of the following:
          1 large cucumber, cut into 3 inch long sticks
          1 avocado, sliced
          6 shiso leaves
          3 tempura sweet potatoes, sliced into 3 inch long sticks
          2 tempura prawns

          • Take a square of nori. Place a spoonful of rice in the middle. Top with any combination of fish and veggies.
          • Gently pick up both sides of the nori, fold together the best you can, and eat!
          • Serve with soy sauce and wasabi in small dishes, but don’t mix together 🙂

            Almond White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

            In search of something different from the usual chocolate chip, I saw this recipe on the nest and was immediately drawn to it. I have to bring something to a potluck tomorrow and the old Japanese ladies are always clamoring for “American style” cookies, so I thought I’d give these a try. As usual, we couldn’t get one of the ingredients – almond extract – so I just used vanilla instead. Even though they’re less “almondy” than they should be, they turned out great! I’ll definitely be using this recipe again.

            2 1⁄4 cups flour
            1 teaspoon baking soda
            1⁄2 teaspoon salt
            1 cup (230 grams) butter, softened
            1 1⁄2 cups sugar
            2 eggs
            1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract
            8 ounces white baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
            1 1⁄3 cups slivered almonds

            • Mix flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl; set aside.
              • Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat until well blended.
                • Gradually beat in flour mixture until well mixed. Stir in chocolate and almonds.
                • Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheet.
                  • Bake in preheated 375°F (190 C) oven for 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned (12 minutes in a Japanese oven).
                    • Cool on baking sheet 1 minute. Remove to wire racks; cool completely.

                      Have you ever seen a Japanese oven? It doesn’t look like an oven, does it. Well, this is what I have to work with. It’s actually a microwave too! I don’t really like this oven. It’s small (I can only bake 9 cookies at a time), the buttons are hard to read, and it doesn’t brown things very well. I always have to add more minutes to the cooking time!

                      Yeah, it took me a while to figure all that out. It appears to have special settings for potato croquettes, milk and tempura shrimp. How specific!

                      And here’s the teeny tiny Oishii kitchen! Can you believe that’s our stove in the far left corner!?

                      おいしい パン (Delicious Bread)

                      Today we have a random day off in the middle of the week thanks to 春分の日 (spring equinox day). So I thought I’d share some highlights from Kokoro, our mom ‘n pop bread shop down the street that means “heart” (and is represented by that character at the top). I briefly mentioned their tasty pita bread in a previous post but wanted to show what we typically pick up every Wednesday for lunch. Actually, this last Wednesday our friendly bread lady informed us that they will be closing for a month because her husband is having surgery. They were clearing everything out so unfortunately some of our usual suspects weren’t available – like the baguette rolls enveloping half a boiled potato topped with a drizzle of mayonnaise that hardens into a crispy salty topping. And our favorite – the curried cabbage hotdog, a Japanese take on sauerkraut, I guess. So alas, we’re without Kokoro for 30 days. Until then, you can ponder these pictures.

                      This one is a ham and cheese baguette. Perfectly crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy in the middle:

                      A croquette sandwich on a bed of cabbage in a fluffy white roll. Think mashed potato balls encrusted with crunchy panko breadcrumbs. The sandwich is drizzled with a tangy brown sauce that’s reminiscent of Worcestershire:

                      This is curry pan, a soft bun filled with curry paste (made from a curry roux) and topped with a sprinkling of panko:

                      We’ll call this one a curry-hotdog bear claw, because it has the same tasty toes that you instinctively want to eat first. But the best part is the crispy cheese and cracked black pepper on top:

                      There’s the hotdog baked in the “toes” along with curry paste:

                      And of course, something sweet. This is the closest I’ve come to eating a maple bar in Japan, my #1 favorite donut. It’s a sugared sweet roll swirled with maple:

                      Thanks for joining us for lunch. We’ll do it again when Kokoro reopens in May 🙂

                      Penne with Veggies & Bacon

                      This is a penne to boast about – boast, of course, meaning Bacon, Onion, Asparagus, Spinach and Tomato. This pasta dish is more than just a hodgepodge of ingredients. It’s a great way to eat your veggies, and the bacon gives it the perfect salty kick.

                      1/2 a pound of penne pasta
                      4 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
                      1/2 a white onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
                      1 clove garlic, minced
                      1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
                      1 bag of baby leaf spinach (a few good handfuls)
                      1 large fresh tomato, diced
                      1/3 cup (or more if you like) grated Parmesan cheese
                      salt & pepper to taste

                      • In a large frying pan, cook the bacon, and set aside to crumble when it cools. Then get your water going for the penne.
                      • While the penne is boiling away, sauté the asparagus in the bacon grease, for about 3 minutes over medium high heat.
                      • Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 3 minutes more or until just starting to brown.
                      • Next add the spinach and stir until it wilts.
                      • Lastly, add the crumbled bacon and fresh tomato and combine. Season with salt & pepper.
                      • When the pasta is a nice al dente, drain, then pour immediately into the frying pan with all the veggies.
                      • Add the Parmesan and stir everything together. Serve right away with some garlic bread and your favorite dry white wine.

                      Cultural Tidbit:
                      Today we went to Bampaku Park, which was built to commemorate the 1970 World Expo in Japan. We rode the world’s largest monorail to get there and see the ume (plum) blossoms, which are in season right now. I wish I could capture the smell of walking through the plum orchard in these pictures!

                      Happy Leap Day, by the way!

                      ‘Tis the Season for Gingerbread Men

                      Decorating gingerbread men is one of my favorite childhood memories. I spent 3 days last week baking these little guys for our English school Christmas party. For many of our students, it was the first time to decorate and eat a gingerbread cookie. This is the recipe I used both this year and last, and it makes a delicious cookie that’s a tad bit spicy. It originally came from a Martha Stewart Living Holiday Cookie issue from a few years ago, but I don’t make the gigantic snowflakes she suggests. The recipe makes a dense population of gingerbread men (or women); about 90.

                      6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
                      1 tsp. baking soda
                      1/2 tsp. baking powder
                      1 cup (2 sticks or 240 grams) butter (for more delicious cookies, use salted)
                      1 cup packed brown sugar
                      4 tsp. ground ginger
                      4 tsp. ground cinnamon
                      1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
                      1 tsp. finely ground pepper
                      1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
                      2 eggs
                      1 cup unsulfured molasses

                      • Sift together flour, baking soda, and baking powder into a large bowl. Set aside.
                      • Beat butter and brown sugar together with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Mix in spices and salt, then eggs and molasses.
                      • Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined.
                      • Divide dough into thirds, flatten slightly, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill for 1 hour or up to a few days.
                      • When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 C). Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to desired thickness (a 1/4 inch or less. I like pretty thin gingerbread men. You can eat more that way). Cut into shapes with cookie cutter and place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
                      • Bake for 12-13 minutes until crisp, but not dark.
                      • When cool, decorate!

                        Here are a few of my students meticulously decorating:

                        This girl appeared to favor quantity over quality:

                        “I spy with my little eye…a kitten trying to steal a gingerbread man.”

                        This is the royal icing we made for our students to decorate their cookies. Feel free to add food coloring if you’re feeling extra festive.

                        Royal Icing

                        4 grade A egg whites (or use pasteurized egg whites)
                        4 cups powdered sugar
                        1 tsp. vanilla extract

                        • Beat egg whites in large bowl with mixer at high speed until foamy.
                        • Gradually add sugar and vanilla extract.
                        • Beat at high speed until thickened.
                        • Spoon into small Ziplock bags and refrigerate until ready to use. Cut the tip off one of the corners of the bag and use to decorate your cookies.

                        Happy 24th Garlic-Porkchops, Potato Towers, Sautéed Zucchini, and a singing cake

                        My name undergoes an interesting transformation (and gains a syllable) when translated into Japanese. Bu-ri-a-na, I become. Despite the unfortunate name (which sounds like a variety of fish — buri— when Japanese people say it), I was touched when a student’s mother brought me an array of red flowers, this card (which reads, “Happy Birthday Buriana”, and a cake last Thursday. They turned my ordinary teaching day into a really memorable 24th .

                        Then Dustin cooked me a sweet dinner in between our evening-classes. He made pork chops seasoned with salt, pepper, lots of garlic, and dried chilies, and pan fried them in olive oil until they were crispy and golden brown.

                        Next on the menu? Well, have you ever played the game Jenga, where you have to pull out wooden blocks and place them on the top of the tower without knocking the whole thing over? Well, we play that game at the end of every kids’ class (an average of 8 times per week). When I saw his presentation of the hash browns, I laughed. His response: “I wanted to make them fancy.” That he did. They tasted even better piled like that. Sometimes we buy these potatoes from the prepared foods section of our supermarket and re-crisp them in a little olive oil (no, they’re not healthy, but a satisfying accompaniment for pork chops).

                        He also made a quick side dish of Zucchini and onions sautéed in butter with one of my new favorite seasonings, Northwoods Seasoning from Penzeys Spices, a yummy blend of paprika, rosemary, thyme and chipotle.

                        When we opened the cake box after dinner, it began to blare a high-pitched rendition of “happy birthday”. How festive. The cake was good, though. A white cake with a layer of buttercream and fruit on the inside. They don’t usually write on cakes in Japan. Instead, they include a little chocolate plaque with your name on it.

                        But the real icing on the cake was this sign crafted by my clever husband. You know, my birthday is supposedly a lucky day in Japan. It’s called “いいふうふの日” or “Good Couple Day.” My students tell me it means that we’re a good couple and will be happy together. I think I agree with them.

                        Pasta with a Melange of Japanese Autumn Mushrooms with Butter, Herbs & Cream

                        A tribute to the fall fungi at our grocery store that sparked our curiosity. Shitake (“tree” mushrooms), had a slippery texture and a woody flavor when cooked. Shimeji (the Medusa-esque ones above) had a more firm, meaty texture and tasted like button mushrooms. And the third variety Eringi (or King Oyster mushroom), had a really thick stem (more like a “trunk”) that resulted in a chewy texture, and a very mild “nutty” flavor.



                        A variety of mushrooms, cleaned with a damp towel, tough stems cut off, and cut into thick slices.
                        1 leak, chopped
                        2 TBS. (30g) butter
                        a generous splash of dry white wine
                        a drizzle of cream about the pan
                        salt & pepper
                        chopped fresh herbs (we used parsley and a little sage)
                        your favorite pasta, cooked until al dente

                        • Heat the butter over medium heat until it foams.
                        • Add the leak and cook until it softens.
                        • Add the mushrooms and cook for about five minutes or until they start to “wilt” slightly.
                        • Add the wine and let it reduce for 2-3 minutes.
                        • Drizzle the cream and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on top of pasta with some fresh herbs.

                        Seared Spicy Tuna with Honey-Soy Glaze

                        Once again we picked up a pristine steak of tuna from the sashimi section, but this time with no recipe in mind; just the intention to wing it. This meal had so many different flavors going on: sweet, spicy and salty. What’s not to like?

                        • Season a tuna steak on both sides with salt and pepper, and a generous amount of chili pepper flakes.

                        • In a small bowl whisk together about 1 to 1 and 1/2 TBS. soy sauce, 1/2 tsp. mirin (a sweet Japanese rice wine — looked for a variety called “honmirin” for the best quality), 3 TBS. honey, 1 tsp. sesame oil, and 1/2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds. We eyeballed the measurements, so that’s a general guideline! Taste and adjust to your liking.
                        • Preheat your broiler. Then heat a TBS. of sesame oil in a frying pan until very hot. Add the steak and sear on 1 side for about 30 seconds. Remove from frying pan and place seared-side-down on a baking sheet lined with foil. Spoon the honey-soy mixture on top of the tuna and broil for 1-2 minutes until the top looks beautifully glazed.

                        We served the tuna on a bed of homemade potato chips (thin potato slices fried in vegetable oil and seasoned with salt and garlic powder)…

                        and some sliced cucumbers and onions marinated in rice vinegar, sugar, salt, and thinly sliced chilies.

                        Lastly, we opened a bottle of sake that one of my students had given us months ago as a gift.

                        Omuraisu & what NOT to put in Sushi

                        I’m going to take a quick respite from the usual recipe-posting to talk about something really serious: Egg salad in a sushi roll. We bought it merely out of curiosity. Now, I’m a pretty tame sushi eater. I’ll eat salmon, tuna, shrimp, and veggies in my sushi, and generally stay away from things that have either legs or a sketchy texture (aka difficult to swallow, like baby squid or nato –fermented soybeans). So I thought that since egg salad is a safe, familiar food item, how bad can it be paired with vinegar rice and seaweed? Really bad. I wouldn’t recommend it. Don’t let the pictures deceive you. The salmon and the crab tasted good, though.

                        Our lunch wasn’t all disappointing, though! Dustin had one of our favorite Japanese foods called Omuraisu:

                        Can you catch the English words being scrunched together? “Omelet Rice,” an omelet filled with ketchup-flavored rice.  The dish originated in Tokyo. It’s a popular food item in Japan, but you can’t find it in any of the Japanese restaurants that I’ve been to in the States. Here it’s considered a “western dish” that has been altered to suit Japanese palates (because omelets and ketchup are “western”). Dustin usually orders it when we go out to eat, or he buys it from the prepared foods section of our grocery store. We’ve never made it at home, but I want to try it sometime so I found a recipe that looks promising (and has good pictures) here. Also take note of the decorative “grass” that can always be found in take-out food containers. Proof of Japanese authenticity.

                        2nd Anniversary Apple Raspberry Crisp

                        I surprised Dustin with one of his favorite desserts tonight. It’s the least I could do after he (secretly) planned a wonderful Anniversary trip to Universal Studios Japan last weekend! This recipe makes 1 small apple crisp, just enough for two:

                        • Preheat oven to 375 degrees (190 C). Butter a small baking dish.
                        • To make the topping, combine about 1/4 cup flour,1/4 cup brown sugar, a few dashes of cinnamon & nutmeg, a dash of salt, and 1/4 cup of oatmeal.
                        • Cut 30 grams (just over 2 TBS.) of cold butter into bits and combine with the dry ingredients with your fingers until mixture becomes crumbly. Set aside.
                        • Core and peel 1 large apple and cut into 1-inch pieces. Throw into a small bowl. Add the zest of 1 lemon and about a tsp. of lemon juice. Add the raspberries and a small handful of brown sugar. Mix together and pour into baking dish.
                        • Sprinkle topping evenly over the fruit. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until the top is golden. Let cool for at least 20 min. before serving.

                        Here are some pictures from our little trip:

                        We stayed 1 night at the Hyatt Osaka on the club floor! One of the perks was free champagne and appetizers. We especially enjoyed these giant corn nuts! When my family came to Japan for Christmas last year, we ate corn nuts like these at our hotel. One of the servers, a girl in her 20s, refilled our corn nut dish so often that every time she brought them to our table she would say, “nuts again!” We never caught the young girl’s name so she is now referred to as “nuts again girl.”

                        Here is Dustin enjoying his champagne.

                        We treated ourselves to a nice Italian Dinner at a restaurant inside the hotel called Basilico. I ate a blue crab salad with cabbage and lemony mayonnaise, followed by gnocchi with handmade pancetta and creamy fontina sauce. Dustin had king crab bisque and then bucatini with tomato sauce, onions, pancetta, and a dollop of ricotta cheese. We split a crispy margarita pizza, and then finished off our meal with creme brulee with berries!

                        On Sunday we went to Universal Studios, which was really fun and also a little humorous because all of the attractions (of course) were in Japanese! For example, before the ride “E.T.”, Steven Spielberg came up on the screen to give an introduction. Something didn’t quite fit when he opened up his mouth it was dubbed in Japanese!

                        Our favorite ride was a new roller coaster called “Hollywood dream.” We were impressed that each person can select what kind of music he or she wants to listen to while the ride is going! I went with hop hop and Dustin chose J-Pop (Japanese Pop) 🙂

                        Thank You, Dustin! 🙂

                        Parmesan Dijon Chicken, Mashed Satsumaimo & Balsamic Broccoli

                        Brianna, meet satsumaimo. Satsumaimo, meet Brianna.

                        It’s important to become acquainted with new vegetables in your produce section. I’d never cooked with a Japanese sweet potato before. Their skins are a beautiful light-purple color, and resemble a yam more than a sweet potato. When you bake them, their insides turn a beautiful light golden color, opposed to bright orange, and their taste is a little less sweet, reminiscent of a roasted chestnut. I baked them as I would a regular potato, carefully removed the skins while they were still hot, and made a side dish that tasted like fall; a little sneak preview of Thanksgiving. Then I remembered that it was a holiday in Japan — shubun no hi (more familiarly known as Fall Equinox Day). So not only did I get acquainted with a new veggie, but I turned it into something comforting and seasonal. The inspiration for this recipe came from The Food Network.

                        Mashed Sweet Potatoes

                        3 satsumaimo (or regular sweet potatoes)
                        2 TBS. butter
                        1 tsp. salt
                        2 TBS. real maple syrup
                        2 TBS. chicken broth, warmed
                        2 TBS. fresh squeezed orange juice

                        • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
                        • Rinse any dirt off the potatoes, pat dry, and roast until easily pierced with a fork (about an hour).
                        • Peel them while still hot (there was some profanity during this step. I suggest cutting one of the ends off, holding the other end with a kitchen towel and scooping out the insides with a spoon into the bowl).
                        • Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl. Mash together with whatever tool you have handy. Serve hot!

                          I was food-blog browsing, as I usually am, and came across a recipe for Parmesan Dijon chicken over at Two Novice Chefs, One Tiny Kitchen. It looked like a good comfort food recipe to go with my sweet potatoes.

                          Parmesan Dijon Chicken

                          4 chicken breast halves.
                          1/2 cup bread crumbs (we used panko, as always)
                          1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
                          3 TBS. melted butter
                          2 TBS. Dijon mustard

                          • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
                          • Mix melted butter and Dijon in a bowl. In a large Ziploc bag, combine bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese .
                          • Dip the chicken into the butter/mustard mixture, then toss into the bag and coat with breadcrumb mixture. Place chicken in an ungreased rectangular pan.
                          • Bake uncovered for 30 minutes, making sure to flip the chicken halfway through baking. Or you can pan fry it in oil, which is what we’ll probably do next time to get a crispier crust!

                            And since our meal was lacking something green, we made some balsamic broccoli; the way I ate it as a kid. Couldn’t have been easier.

                            Balsamic Broccoli

                            • Add broccoli florets to a pot of salted boiling water, and cook until it’s beautifully verdant, just about 3 minutes. Drain, return to pan and drizzle with some good quality balsamic vinegar.

                            Hummus, Baked Pita Chips, and Cherry Tomato, Cucumber & Feta Salad

                            A bell chimes as we push open the heavy glass door and enter Kokoro (which means “heart”), a bakery the size of our pantry back home. A short lady with a round, smiling face greets us, saying, Irashaimase (welcome!) We grab a green plastic tray and a pair of tongs hanging from a small rack. Then we choose from a variety of Japanese-style (white & fluffy) or European-style (more dense and crusty) breads, all within an arms reach. Among the overwhelming variety in that small little space is homemade pita bread, hiding on the bottom shelf, between the orange rolls and the azuki (red bean) scones. We grab a bag of it and rush home to make these baked pita chips.

                            Baked Pita Chips

                            pita bread, halved and cut into triangles
                            olive oil
                            garlic powder
                            paprika or chili powder

                            • Lay the pita triangles on a baking sheet. Brush one side with olive oil. Sprinkle with any seasonings you like.
                            • Bake in a 350 degree oven (180 C) for 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your pita bread, or until browned and crunchy.
                            • Serve with hummus

                              Don’t ever take your ingredients for granted. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve planned to make a recipe, and then realized that I can’t find at least 1 or 2 of the ingredients in our supermarket (or anywhere in Japan for that matter!) . Today was no exception. Hummus. We’ve been craving hummus. We found canned garbanzo beans at the import food store, no problem. But tahini was nowhere to be found (surprising, in a country that loves goma — sesame seeds). We also had to use a blender (resulting in a much creamier texture), since a food processor was apparently not among the furnishings in our “furnished apartment.” This is our tweaked hummus recipe that you can use, whether you’re in Asia or not.


                              1 can garbanzo beans, drained
                              a swig or more of olive oil
                              1 small clove of garlic (sauteed in olive oil for a few minutes, if you want a milder garlic flavor)
                              2 heaping spoonfuls of plain yogurt
                              juice from 1/2 a lemon
                              salt & pepper to taste

                              • Place the beans, garlic, yogurt, lemon juice and small swig of olive oil in a blender (or if you’re lucky, a food processor)
                              • Blend, add a little more olive oil, and blend again until the consistency is to your liking
                              • Add salt & pepper to taste, along with any other spices you have around (cumin, chili powder, etc.)
                              • Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.

                              We also made a made a quick “Greek” salad of sliced cherry tomatoes, cucumber and crumbled feta cheese, dressed with olive oil, white wine vinegar, and some oregano. Everything went really well with this wine that we found at the import store!

                              Chicken Meatball Subs

                              There’s a 1st time for everything, and this was my 1st time making meatballs. I thought that a meatball sub sounded like a comforting thing to eat after getting through the 2nd week of our new semester, and I know that Dustin misses the ones from our college days at Giovanni’s in Santa Barbara. This recipe makes about 20 meatballs, which was a little much for the 2 of us. Halve it if you don’t want an excessive amount of leftovers!

                              1 lb. ground chicken
                              1 egg
                              1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
                              1/2 cup breadcrumbs
                              1 clove of garlic, minced
                              2 tsp. oregano (fresh or dried)
                              1/2 tsp. salt
                              2 TBS. olive oil for frying
                              2 French bread rolls
                              4 slices mozzarella cheese

                              • Combine first 7 ingredients in a large bowl and mix with your hands until evenly combined.
                              • Form into 1-inch balls (I did this in the afternoon and put the balls in the fridge until dinner time)
                              • Heat olive oil in a frying pan
                              • When hot, add the meatballs (10 at a time) and fry for about 8-10 minutes or until they’re browned on all sides.
                              • Add to a pan of your favorite tomato sauce, warmed, (either store bought or homemade).
                              • Make a cut in your rolls from the top (cutting down, instead of on the side) and remove some of the bread on either side of the cut.
                              • Fill each roll with meatballs and sauce. Top with 2 slices of mozzarella cheese and place under a broiler or in a toaster oven until cheese is melted.
                              • Serve with a salad and you’ve got dinner!