Top 12 in 2012

Oishii celebrated its 5th anniversary this year, and yet I’ve never presented my readers with a top 10 (or in this case 12 for ’12) post as a way to usher in the new year. Why? Perhaps I’m just not a jump-the-bandwagon type of  person if it appears that everyone else is doing something. But this year, I get it. I realize that it’s a way to look back on the year and remember the good times and even the bad times through the lens of food and the people you shared it with. As we get ready to bid farewell to 2012 (we plan on staying in, eating cheese fondue, and playing Scrabble), I present to you YOUR favorite recipes from this year. Cheers, readers!

12. Blueberry Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

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I made these cupcakes for Levi’s 2nd birthday last spring. I’m not sure which one was more satisfying – the brown sugar cream cheese frosting or the look on Levi’s face when he got to lick the beater after I made it :). I don’t by any means consider myself an avid baker or cake decorator, so I was thrilled when I received such positive feedback on these tasty cupcakes. They were made with love for my little boy!

11. Grilled Pita Bread

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They’re chewy, they’re hot off the grill, and their pockets can be filled with everything from scrambled eggs to falafel. Homemade pita bread was definitely one our favorite summer recipes and this recipe (originally from Fine Cooking) got lots of fan love.

10. Roasted Figs with Prosciutto & Blue Cheese

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Three main ingredients – one incredible appetizer. These would be a great addition to a New Years Eve appetizer spread.

9. Tori no Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken) with Wasabi-Potato Salad

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We nostalgically refer to Tori no Karaage as “Japanese festival chicken,” because whether the occasion was cherry blossom-viewing in the spring or a hanabi (fireworks) show in the summer, we could always count on there being a fried chicken stand, and it was one of our comfort foods while living in Japan. This post got lots of views this year thanks to Foodgawker.

8. Ultimate Sriracha Burger

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I was happy to see that the Sriracha Burger was in the top 10 in both 2011 and 2012. Let me break it down for you again: a buttery brioche bun, grilled grass-fed beef patty seasoned with Sriracha and soy sauce, bacon, caramelized onions, nutty swiss cheese, peppery arugula, tomato, and a secret sauce of tangy blue cheese dressing mixed with Sriracha. What? You haven’t made these yet? Get on it!

7. Cheesy Chicken & Rice Bake

Who knew that something Dustin threw together on a whim in response to one of my pregnancy cravings would be such a hit? This humble, comforting dish is very versatile – you can add whatever veggies and leftover cooked meat that you have on hand.

6. Grilled Shrimp Tacos with Jalapeño-Ranch Sauce

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We made these tacos for a summer recipe swap, and they were very well-received in the blogosphere. When grilling season rolls around again, you’ll love the charcoal flavor of the grilled shrimp, and the kick of Jalapeño in the zesty ranch sauce.

5. Goat Cheese, Tomato & Basil Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

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These grilled portobello mushrooms stuffed with goat cheese, tomatoes and basil were our most popular vegetarian dish of the year.  If you’re hungry for more stuffed portobellos, try Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Goat Cheese and Olive-Caper-Pepper Relish or Portobello Mushrooms with Creamy Spinach-Artichoke Filling.

4. Chorizo Mac & Cheese with Crispy Panko Topping

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We took our favorite baked mac and cheese recipe (courtesy of Alton Brown) and added chorizo to give it a little Mexican flair. Yum. Last winter we quadrupled (!!) this recipe, omitted the chorizo, and made it for 12+ extended family members who we were visiting down in southern California.

3. Camarones a la Diabla

My best friend and I made this shrimp in a spicy, smoky, chile-tomato sauce, inspired by a dish at our favorite Mexican restaurant. It was a hit this year in many of your homes as well.

2. Baked Eggs in Puff Pastry with Goat Cheese & Bacon

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Another successful recipe-swap assignment, we loved these baked eggs in puff pastry with a little goat cheese & bacon surprise in the middle. This recipe was our most-pinned recipe in 2012 and I can understand why. Try these for your next brunch, or if you happen to be craving something breakfast-y for dinner.

1. Simple Pan-Roasted Pork Loin Chops

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One of our simplest recipes made it to the #1 spot this year, which made me happy because I’m a firm believer that simple is almost always best (one of the reasons why I love Alice Waters and her whole philosophy on food). Just a quick marinade of olive oil, fresh chopped rosemary from the garden, garlic, salt, and pepper ready these pork loin chops for a sear in a hot skillet before finishing up in the oven. Hello, easy weeknight dinner!

Well, there we have it, folks – your favorite Oishii recipes in 2012. Have a festive, delicious, safe new year and we’ll see you in 2013! A year of new beginnings!

Five Years – Thank You!

It started exactly five years ago on a balmy Osaka summer evening.  Dustin and I, newlyweds living in Japan, rode our bikes home from our late afternoon English classes and threw together an Asian Chicken Salad with Crunchy Ramen Noodles in our petite Japanese kitchen. We sat down to our creation, discussed the highlights (my student told me that because of me, she likes English and is longer embarrassed to speak) and low-points (I can’t believe I bought a huge box of cornstarch instead of powdered sugar – I couldn’t read the characters!) of the day, and then decided that we wanted to start a food blog.

We were both fairly new to cooking (fresh from college life, where we lived on quesadillas, pasta with jarred sauce, and store-bought garlic bread) and wanted to document the meals that we deemed worthy of remembering, as we branched out and tried new things, using the ingredients that were available to us at our supermarket across the street. We also wanted to share some of our cultural experiences with our friends and family back at home. I’ve always loved writing, and I was in need of a hobby that could double as a creative outlet. Deciding on a blog name was a piece of cake. Oishii means “delicious” in Japanese, and it’s what you heard whenever you were in the vicinity of Japanese people enjoying their food. It quickly became one of our favorite Japanese words as well.

Those of you who have followed along from the beginning joined us in many adventures, meals, and food-related musings.

You were there … when we acquired our first pet, a street kitten who we lured with a string, brought home, and named Arius. He helped us through the hard days when we felt overwhelmed by cultural differences, or missed our families at home.

… as we became more comfortable in our little kitchen and learned how to navigate the buttons on our Japanese oven that looked like a microwave.

… as we mastered our chopstick skills out in public and enjoyed many delicious outings with our students (in this picture I was just about to eat a piece of stomach stewed in miso at a Kushi-Katsu restaurant, specializing in fried things on sticks).

… as we shared plenty of laughs, discussions, snacks and tea during our English lessons. This was my Tuesday evening class enjoying my great-great-grandma Selma’s oatmeal cookies. They wouldn’t let me move back to California without sharing the recipe.

… as we made many dear friends, who opened their homes to us, taught us how to cook Japanese dishes, cooked us many Japanese dishes, translated labels and recipes for us, remembered and celebrated our birthdays, and became our family members away from home.

As we transitioned back to living in our own country, and settled down in Santa Cruz, California, you were there when we announced the birth of our beautiful son Levi, future foodie.

And now here you are, still reading. While I don’t post quite as frequently as I did before Levi was born, I like to think that over the past 5 years, I’ve grown as a traveler, writer, cook, food photographer, mom, and overall person. Thank you for reading what I’ve had to say and cooking what we’ve shared with you. Oishii was created to share good food (or at its beginnings, our attempts at good food) as well as meaningful commentary that gives a little glimpse into our lives. I hope you’ll continue to follow along, because there is still so much to eat, and so many experiences to be had. I’ve only just begun …

Happy 5th Birthday, little blog! I like what you’ve become.

Eating our way through the holidays …

I’m pretty sure I was the cliché and ate for two over the holidays.

  • On Christmas Eve my mom made the most delectable duck confit, served on a bed of arugula with Alice Waters’ meyer lemon relish.
  • I also discovered a great new non-alcoholic beverage – sparkling jasmine tea, made by Golden Star Tea Company. The bottle claims that its complex flavors please the most discerning palate. It sure pleased mine, and pairs well with food. If you can find it, check it out for yourself!
  • Another night at my parents’ house we had a crab feed – each person ate a whole dungeness crab, accompanied by melted butter, lemon wedges, and crusty bread. A ridiculously messy meal, but one of my absolute favorites.
  • On Christmas day my uncle made a delicious prime rib, thinly sliced and served with au jus and creamy horseradish. The fact that I’m mentioning this is a big deal. It was the first red meat I’d eaten during my pregnancy. It hadn’t appealed to me until I took that first bite, and was brought back to reality; one in which red meat is good. For dessert, I ate 3 servings (wow – why did I admit that?) of the most amazing rice pudding with kumquat compote. Yum yum yum.
  • I also ate the best brussel sprouts of my life at the Cellar Door Cafe — they were fried and served with smoky chèvre and a cider reduction. Holy crap. Best brussel sprouts ever. Charlie Parker, you are a genius.
  • For my Mom’s birthday, we spent a night in San Francisco and ate at Absinthe. If you don’t know this about my family, we’re Top Chef addicts and last season we were all rooting for Jamie Lauren, who is the chef at Absinthe. Eating at this restaurant was therefore very exciting for us, and we kept hoping to catch a glimpse of Jamie, but alas, we didn’t. We hope she cooked our dinner though! Some highlights were my delicious beverage (“Absinthe Lemonade” — ginger syrup, lemon juice, ginger ale, and a splash of cranberry), the spicy fried chickpeas that began our meal, and my burger with a fried egg and house-made pickles on the side (is that a pregnant-sounding meal or what?)
  • And I can’t go without mentioning our usual New Years Eve swiss fondue with cubes of Acme bread, mushrooms, bell peppers, and apples for dipping . It doesn’t taste like the end of a year without it. Lastly, as if we hadn’t had enough cheese the night before, we went on our usual New Years Day hike and picnic, and ate a variety of delicious cheeses (all pasteurized, for my sake), crackers, and two kinds of salumi from Boccalone in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. We ended our picnic with perfect apricots enrobed in milk chocolate. I won’t tell you how many I ate.

And that, my friends, is what we’ve spent the last few weeks doing! Good thing I’m back to climbing 4 days a week and just started a weekly yoga class! And we have a delicious and healthy fish recipe coming in the next post (one of Dustin’s weeknight creations). Stay tuned …

Why Hello, New Decade …

I remember New Years Eve in 1999. I was standing in front of the town clock in downtown Santa Cruz with high school friends when we all wondered if the world was going to end at midnight. It didn’t.

In 2000 I was 16, newly licensed and driving a gold Sebring convertible. College was in the back of my mind, but mostly I was focused on playing the guitar, singing, my upcoming senior recital and recording a CD.

In 2001 I graduated high school and moved down to Santa Barbara for college. I met my husband-to-be that year at an open-mic that I played at. He says I blew him off the first time we met, but I don’t recall that 😉

In 2002 I didn’t get much sleep, and I consumed a lot of caffeine while “studying” calculus with Dustin. But thanks to calculus, we started dating.

2003. Spent the best semester “abroad” in San Francisco, living in a sweet restored victorian house, taking an urban studies class and interning at the International Rescue Committee. When I returned to Santa Barbara to finish the rest of my Junior year, I moved into my first apartment and started cooking on my own for the first time — though that mostly consisted of quesadillas to begin with! Obviously, I wasn’t ready to enter the world of food blogging!

2004. When words like “eschatology” and “Septuagint” were in my every day vocabulary. I miss my upper division religious studies classes.

2005. Graduated college, followed by 6 months of waking up at 3:55am to make coffee, steam milk, and toast bagels. Wedding planning kept me occupied, though, and Dustin and I tied the knot barefoot on the beach in Santa Cruz that fall. A 10 day trip to Santorini, Greece was definitely one of the highlights of the year!

In 2006 the crazy newlyweds moved to Osaka, Japan.

2007-2008 — the years of ESL, a general feeling of being misunderstood (and feeling very tall), the best sushi of our lives, short door frames, sight-seeing at temples, and the debut of our food blog, starting with a recipe for Asian Chicken Salad. Soon, a new hobby and passion for writing about what we eat was born.

2009 – We moved back to the U.S. at a great time — crappy job market. But things haven’t been that bad. It was a year of job searching, happy hours with new friends, an awesome trip to Sweden with my family, and general re-adjustment to our own culture.

Now it’s somehow 2010. How did THAT happen? And with a baby on the way, I know that soon things are going to change. Big time. I’m not sure what to expect, but I take comfort in one thing: Even though everything will change, we still have to eat. And when we can, we’ll catch little opportunities to reflect on whatever it is we eat. Our blog posts may slow down in 2010, and later on in the year there may be more posts about homemade baby food than gourmet dinners, but we will be here.

Cheers, readers, to a new decade! We hope the coming years are filled with many blessings, and intruiging and exquisite food accompanied by insightful commentary.

— Brianna & Dustin

Chocolate Chip & Candied Ginger Muffins

Melty chocolate chips and spicy little bursts of candied ginger are a match made in muffin heaven, unless you’re Dustin (who isn’t the biggest ginger fan). Oh well. More for me. Today’s slightly overcast weather inspired me to take on a new baking project, and I had chocolate on the brain, as well as some candied ginger to use up. Trader Joe’s sells conveniently resealable bags of crystalized candied ginger that’s coated in sugar. In my opinion it’s a little too strong to eat by itself, but when finely chopped, it worked perfectly in this recipe. Try these muffins for a quick chocolate fix in the morning (or a decadent snack), and make sure you eat them while they’re still warm so the chocolate chips are still gooey. I found the recipe on Baking Bites, and made only a couple changes (which are marked with asterisks below).

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 TBS sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger*
1 cup oats**
6 TBS butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
3/4 cup buttermilk***
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips, dark or semisweet
3/4 cup candied ginger, finely chopped

* I didn’t have any ground ginger, so I used ground nutmeg
** not in the original recipe,  but I wanted to throw some in there!
*** I also didn’t have any buttermilk, so I used plain yogurt

  • Preheat oven to 375. Line a muffin pan with paper liners (I simply buttered my silicone muffin pan).
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ground nutmeg, and oats.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, egg, yogurt, milk and vanilla extract until smooth. Pour into dry ingredients and stir just until no streaks of flour remain. Stir in chocolate chips and candied ginger.
  • Divide batter into prepared muffin pan, overfilling each muffin cup so that the batter slightly rises above the top of the pan.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until muffins are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  • Cool on a wire rack. Serve slightly warm. Makes 12 muffins.

Sweden Part 5: Örebro

Several people asked us, “Why did you go to Örebro?” It’s just a random metropolitan area in the middle of Sweden. Well, we had worked our way across to Western Sweden, and it was the perfect place to stop on our way back across to the East side. It does have a famous castle there, complete with a random hand sticking out of the water pointing at something, a peaceful river that flows through the city, and a lively nightlife (we heard drunk people yelling below our hotel window into the wee hours of the morning). It was actually sort of jolly.

There appears to be a fairly large Middle Eastern population there, and we saw lots of kebab and falafel shops that smelled so good as we walked past! There is an old town, Wadköping, (the largest open-air museum), where you can see traditional 18th and 19th century houses and craftsman shops. It also happens to be the hometown of Dustin’s favorite punk band – Millencolin. So what’s not to like? We even ate some good stuff there too!

Conveniently, there was an English pub connected to our hotel, called The Bishops Arms. It was 4th of July and we wanted to eat something more American than herring or preserved salmon, so we chose the pub (English. American. Whatever. haha) We had planned to eat outside on their patio, but as soon as it started thundering and raining, we had to be content with the inside. The lighting was low (hence a slightly blurry picture, which normally wouldn’t make the cut for this blog :)), but the food was comforting and the beer refreshing!

I ordered nachos, which came with salsa, guacamole, and a garnish of pea shoots. Dustin’s penne pasta with steak, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, fresh greens, and shaved Parmesan was pretty satisfying as well! My mom got a croque monsieur sandwich that was simple and comforting, and my dad’s hamburger was one of the most delicious we’d had in a while – the cucumber sauce that they spread on it was the perfect fresh condiment!

The rain took a brief hiatus, just in time for us to take a walk around the town after dinner. Live music reverberated from almost every corner of the city, lights from bars, restaurants, and clubs reflected in the river. People spilled out of outdoor seating areas onto the sidewalk, laughing and talking, and others lined up outside of two-story night clubs with deep pounding beats coming from the inside. Back in our room, it was interesting getting to sleep, but we did not regret our quick stop in this city!

My one complaint? Our room was one of several unfortunate ones – a giant poster/advertisement made of an almost-opaque white material was hung on the outside of the hotel building, covering over windows and blocking what could have been a castle-view. Awesome. But hey, we were thankful for a cozy bed, a satisfying dinner, and the sound of the city bustling below!