Fresh Fig Walnut Cake

My parents have a fig tree in front of their house. This is the time of year when the branches start to get heavy with figs, and we pull out the fig recipes or try to give them away to people who love them. This cake was a great way to use some of them up. It’s a good dessert, and an even better breakfast. It could also be baked as a quick bread in a loaf pan. Adapted from Beth Hensperger’s recipe for Fresh fig walnut quick bread.

1 and 1/2 cups chopped ripe figs
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup olive oil
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 and 2/3 cups flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt

  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Soak figs in sherry for 15 minutes.
  • Combine oil and sugar in a bowl. Beat until light-colored. Add eggs and beat again until thick and creamy.
  • In another bowl, combine flour, walnuts, baking soda, spices, and salt. Mix into egg mixture. Then gently fold in figs.
  • Scrape batter into greased and floured pie dish or cake pan. Sprinkle some cinnamon-sugar over the top.

    • Bake in center of oven until top is firm to touch, and cake tester comes out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes (if using loaf pan, bake for 75 minutes).
    • Cool 15 minutes, turn out, cool completely and enjoy! Or you can wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill overnight or up to 4 days before serving, or freeze up to 1 month.

      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



      Penne with Spinach, Feta, & Toasty Pine Nuts

      In American supermarkets, it’s the packaging that persuades us to buy things; catchy slogans, bright colors, and promises of nutritional value catch our eye and convince us to make (sometimes) unnecessary purchases. In Japan they set up little stereos around the store that blast catchy tunes about vegetables, fish, fried foods, or the monotone voice of a woman talking about the 3 varieties of pork chops that are on sale. We always leave the store still humming one of the songs and it usually continues for the next hour or so. It’s slightly annoying, but apparently a good marketing tool. Today we bypassed all the noise and went to a quiet aisle that contains a meager amount of import food items. There we discovered pine nuts packaged in clear little bags in between the coconut milk and the sweet chili sauce. There were only two left. Delighted, we added them to our basket and allowed them to guide the direction of our meal. Spinach (oh no, back to the vegetable song!) and feta immediately came to mind, so this was the result (inspired by a recipe on Recipezaar).

      1/2 lb. penne pasta
      2 TBS. olive oil
      1 clove garlic, minced
      4 oz. (or more to taste) crumbled feta cheese
      1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
      A few large handfuls of baby spinach
      1/4 cup pine nuts

      • Cook the penne according to package directions. Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium-low heat, until fragrant and golden, stirring frequently. Set aside.
      • Drain the penne. Heat the olive oil in the skillet. Sauté the garlic for about 30 seconds. Then stir in cooked penne.
      • Add the crumbled feta and Parmesan and stir until it just begins to melt. Turn off the heat.
      • Add the baby spinach and stir until barely wilted. Stir in the toasted pine nuts and serve!

      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!?

                Cardamom Spiced Cashews – New Year Nuts!

                Cashews are transformed when they’re sautéed in a skillet with yummy spices. These were a part of our New Years Eve spread, along with cheese fondue with bread, veggies, and apples (a Genco-family tradition), and spinach-artichoke dip (my contribution this year).

                Thanks to my Mom for passing on this simple recipe:

                • Sauté the cashews in a little butter and olive oil.
                • Jazz them up with some cumin, cardamom, coarse salt, and cayenne pepper, and stir until they are golden and fragrant.

                Happy 2008, everyone!

                Full of Thanks

                Things I’m thankful for (in no particular order):

                1. My kitten
                2. German Shepherds
                3. My family
                4. My husband
                5. Forgiveness
                6. Good wine

                The hardest time to live abroad is over the holidays, especially a year when your birthday and Thanksgiving finally fall on the same day. This was our second Thanksgiving without family or turkeys (the latter are about as common in Japan as English speakers. Ok, not really. Even rarer). But regardless, we’re still very thankful for each other and our small Thanksgiving feast sans the bird. Actually, we had part of a bird. We roasted some chicken breasts with lemon slices, garlic, and thyme under the skin. They turned out really moist and delicious, but there are no pictures to do them justice because our silly Japanese-style oven/microwave thing didn’t crisp up the skin to our liking! So sorry! Anyway, these are some of the highlights from our Thanksgiving sides and dessert:

                Mixed Greens, Apples & Candied Pecans with Red Wine Vinaigrette:

                I made a mistake and included celery in this recipe (I had a leftover stalk from the stuffing), and it turns out Dustin doesn’t like raw celery. Only in soup. Oops. So he had to pick his out. We’ve only been married 2 years. Give me a break.

                1 Fuji apple peeled and sliced
                1 stalk of celery, sliced
                2 big handfuls of mixed greens
                candied pecans (or nut of your choice)
                1/2 shallot, chopped
                olive oil & red wine vinegar
                salt & pepper

                • Combine the olive oil and vinegar to taste in a small bowl (I like my salad’s fairly vinegary). Season with salt & pepper.
                • Stir in the shallot, celery and apple slices. Toss with greens, and throw in a handful of broken glazed pecans before serving.

                Creamed Onions with Thyme & Sage:

                We saw this in Food & Wine and wanted to try it. My mom always uses pearl onions in this dish, but the regular onions tasted great and were easier to find in Japan. The recipe serves 12, so we quartered the recipe below (Although he did the math. Fractions have never been my friends).

                2 tablespoons unsalted butter
                4 large onions (about 2 pounds), cut into 1-inch dice
                1 1/2 teaspoons chopped thyme
                1 1/2 teaspoons chopped sage
                1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
                1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (we used black)
                1 1/2 cups heavy cream

                • In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the onions and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 30 minutes.
                • Add the thyme, sage, nutmeg and white pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
                • Add the cream and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes.
                • Season with salt, transfer to a bowl and serve. (The onions can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat gently).

                Pumpkin Sheet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting:

                (From Ashley of Delish. You can find the original mouth-watering recipe here)

                For the Cake:

                4 eggs
                1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
                1/4 cup vegetable oil
                1/2 cup applesauce
                2 cups pumpkin
                2 cups all-purpose flour
                2 teaspoons baking powder
                2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
                1 teaspoon salt
                1 teaspoon baking soda

                For the Icing:

                8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
                1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
                1 tsp vanilla extract

                • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
                • Using an electric mixer at medium speed, combine the eggs, sugar, oil, apple sauce and pumpkin until light and fluffy.
                • In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda.
                • Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth. Spread the batter into a greased 13×10″ baking pan.
                • Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting.
                • To make the icing: Using an electric mixer in a medium bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and mix at low speed until combined. Stir in the vanilla and mix again. Spread on cooled cake.

                This cake was the perfect ending to a day of cooking and eating. Since September I’d been saving one lone can of pumpkin that I found at the import store, and was waiting for just the perfect recipe inspiration to come along. A few days ahead of time, I made my own apple sauce for the cake. This was a great recipe from that made lots of leftovers.

                Apple Sauce:

                4 apples – peeled, cored and chopped
                3/4 cup water
                1/4 cup white sugar
                1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

                • In a saucepan, combine apples, water, sugar, and cinnamon. Cover, and cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until apples are soft. Allow to cool, then mash with a fork or potato masher.

                Asian Chicken Salad with Crunchy Ramen Noodles and Honey-Sesame Cashews

                Today was one of the first hot days of summer in Osaka. We rushed home from our evening kids’ ESL classes and felt like something that was fast and refreshing. After looking over a few recipes for Chinese Chicken Salad on this is what we came up with. The addition of the instant ramen noodles was inspired by a whitewater rafting trip my family and I took a few years ago in Oregon. The cute, young river-guides prepared a salad reminiscent of this one, while the rest of us waded in the water of the Rouge River. Oh, and we made the cashews because I love something sweet and spicy to eat alongside the salad. They compliment the Asian flavors well!

                What we drank: 2004 Luna Bianco, Italy

                For the Dressing:

                2 teaspoons brown sugar
                3/4 teaspoon soy sauce

                1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
                1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
                1 1/2 tablespoons rice (or sushi) vinegar

                For the Salad:

                A little less than half of a head of lettuce, chopped
                3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, boiled and shredded
                2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
                1 green onion, chopped
                1 small can of mandarin oranges
                1 package of instant ramen noodles (discarding the seasoning packet)

                For the Cashews:

                a few handfuls of salted cashews
                sesame seeds
                chili powder

                • Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing. Taste and adjust to your liking and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
                • In a large bowl place the lettuce, green onion, sesame seeds and chicken. Toss with your fingers. Place in fridge to cool for 10 minutes.
                • While the salad is chilling, spread the cashews onto a cookie sheet. Drizzle with honey. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and chili powder to taste. Mix with your fingers, coating all the cashews. Bake for 10 minutes. Stir. Bake for 3-5 min. more or until just barely golden. Remove while hot to a non-stick surface and allow to cool.
                • Take the salad out of the fridge and add the ramen noodles. Dress, toss, arrange mandarin oranges, and serve with cashews on the side (or feel free to sprinkle on top if you desire)!