31 August 2010

Wilted Arugula



As summer settles to a close I am holding on tight. I can't help feeling we have missed something here in the Pacific Northwest. There have been few hot days and far fewer warm evenings. My zucchini plants have yielded only a few small zucchini and even my cherry tomatos aren't ripening.

Still, there is a good share of fresh produce at the market and the flavors of summer are easy enough to come by. Berries and peaches are plentiful, cherries have been delightful and fresh tender salad greens are available.

I love the simplicity of summer produce, the sun kissed freshness and vibrant flavor that needs little added to make it ready to eat. It is true of the fruit and the vegetables, even the fresh greens. I enjoy the spicy note arugula adds to a salad or sandwich, even a strata, but a simple preparation of arugula on its own is also quite appealing. That's why I marked this recipe from Martha Stewart for a prime summer side dish.



Wilted Arugula
from Martha Stewart Living

1 Tablespoon good olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or thinly sliced
8 ounces baby arugula, rinsed and well drained
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.

Add the garlic, stirring constantly and cook until fragrant but not brown; a minute or two.

Add arugula, stirring constantly, until the leaves begin to wilt; a minute or two.

Add the vinegar and continue stirring unto most of it evaporates: about one minute.

Add salt and fresh pepper to taste.

Serve and enjoy!

27 August 2010

Homemade Ice Cream - Through the Generations


Homemade Ice Cream - Past and Present

Nothing pulls a thread through summers past and present quite like homemade ice cream. I have fond memories of taking turns providing the muscle for my aunt’s hand-cranked ice cream freezer when I was a child. The homemade ice cream it made was cool and soothing on a sweltering summer evening. It was a seasonal indulgence we always looked forward to.

Years later when my children were young I bought an ice cream freezer of my own. It was smaller than the one I remembered from my childhood and it had an electric motor on top that turned the canister. No more hand cranking was needed. We just put the ingredients in the canister, filled the tub with layers of ice and salt, plugged it in….. and waited.

The ice cream it made tasted as delicious as the homemade ice cream I remembered. Even though it lacked the same sense of shared accomplishment it did invite fond recollections of family gatherings.  It also produced that same memorable homemade taste and texture that was still particularly welcome after a casual summer supper.

Another decade or so down the road and ice cream makers have changed again. Gone is the need for ice and salt. The latest models are relatively small and a breeze to clean up. With our new ice cream maker I simply place the canister in the freezer where it stays ready and waiting to be employed. When we want to make ice cream we put the frozen canister on the base, drop the plastic dasher inside and cover the base with a lid. Then, flip one switch, add the ice cream mixture….and wait for about 30 minutes until the ice cream is ready.

Plain Old Vanilla

My family’s favorite flavor for homemade ice cream is still vanilla. I have made a very simple version several times this summer:

3 cups whole milk (or a combination of milk and cream)
½ to ¾ cup sugar (often brown sugar)
1 Tablespoon (or so) vanilla

I stir together the ingredients, pour them into the ice cream maker and let it do its thing.



I love the soft texture of this ice cream when it is scooped straight from the canister into my bowl. It is almost like a milkshake, melting quickly, and when eaten at once it strikes a perfect balance between solid and liquid refreshment.  Scooped straight from the canister this soft frozen homemade ice cream melts the years away, if just for a moment, taking me back to those summers of my childhood.

Adding a Simple Stabilizer and an Asian Twist

The only drawback, if you would call it that, is the need to eat the whole canister at one sitting. Leftovers tend to get icy and the texture is not as enjoyable the second time around. That’s why a recipe for Tea Ice Milk, that I stumbled over at Culinate, grabbed my attention. I love the relatively low fat content, few ingredients and ease of preparation in making Homemade Ice Cream or Ice Milk but I had no idea how to stabalize this homemade treat so that the texture would remain appealing after being stored in the freezer for a time. This recipe includes a relatively simple solution.

In this recipe the milk mixture is first scalded, so that it is warm enough to steep the tea leaves as well as fully dissolve the sugar. While the mixture is warm a spoonful of softened gelatin is stirred into the mixture. The gelatin acts as a stabilizer and allows the ice milk to freeze extra firm in the ice cream maker and then to maintain a creamier texture after spending time in the kitchen freezer.

I adapted the recipe slightly, reducing the sweetness and boosting the tea flavor a little. The result was a very mild green tea taste that works beautifully as a finale to a light summer stir fry or other Asian inspired meal. I can’t wait to try this recipe with other varieties of tea for an English or Chai Tea twist. I am also looking forward to using the gelatin in my simple Vanilla Ice Cream recipe, at least for those occasions when we don’t plan to eat the whole canister at one sitting.


Green Tea Ice Milk
adapted from a recipe at Culinate.com

3 cups whole milk
½ cup sugar
2 Tablespoons loose green tea
1 teaspoon powdered gelatin
1 Tablespoon cold water

In a small saucepan, heat the milk and sugar to scalding, stirring occasionally.

Remove mixture from the heat and stir in the loose tea leaves. Cover and allow the tea leaves to steep for 3-5 minutes. Strain the mixture into a bowl and discard the tea leaves.

In a small dish stir together the gelatin and cold water. Allow the gelatin to bloom, about 5 minutes.

Stir the gelatin into the warm tea mixture until fully dissolved. Place the mixture in the refrigerator until cold.

Pour the mixture into the canister of an ice cream freezer and follow the manufacturers directions.

Enjoy!

22 August 2010

Japanese Train Food - Bento and Company


Fresh Off the Plane

We arrive at Narita airport around 4:30pm. Once we pass through immigration and customs we head straight for the JR Travel Service Center to trade our Exchange Orders for official Japan Rail Passes. I have done this several times and the process is always seamless. It doesn’t take long and it is a window into Japanese culture.

After submitting our Exchange Orders to the clerk a great deal of rubber stamping and marking takes place as the rail pass cards are prepared. Then with a single simple request reservations are secured on the Narita Express to Shinagawa Station and on the Shinkansen from Shinagawa to Kyoto Station where we will change to a local, hopefully rapid, train to Nara. We should arrive at our destination between 11pm and midnight. Then it is a short walk of a few blocks to our hotel.


Boarding the Narita Express

That accomplished we have a little time before our train will arrive one flight down the escalator. I look around the kiosks for Cold Green Tea and Orange Juice. My husband looks for Lemon Water and Pocari Sweat. Not sure if we are hungry, as it is around 1am on our body’s clock, we decide we will buy snacks from the cart once we are on the train.

Upon boarding the Narita Express we quickly find our seats. The train is not crowded and there is plenty of space to stow our bags on the rack above us. There are hooks to hang our coat and sweater on beside the window and so we get comfortable and bask in the excitement of being in a strange world at a strange time. Soon we can see buildings, billboards and other signage outside the window. It is exciting and bizarre.


Cultural Blur

Most of it is indecipherable to me. I know few Japanese characters and I feel like a child again, evaluating the pleasing qualities of the lines, the pictures they draw rather than understanding what they mean. Interjected is the occasional English word, sometimes meaningful and sometimes without context.

I see some familiar signs. One in English for a Curves salon, one in blue Japanese writing that I recognize as a sign for Toyoko Inn. Soon the lights come on and neon blurs on the buildings close to the tracks as our train speeds past.


"We Are In Japan"

The sun is setting though it isn't yet 7pm. The sky turns from a hazy blue to shades of crimson and gold. It is beautiful! I struggle for a photo trying to time my snap to a window between the buildings going past. Finally I capture one that reflects the speed and distance as well as the gorgeous colors of the sunset framing the skyline on the horizon.

I settle back into my comfortable seat. When the food cart comes by we buy snacks. We choose a small can of Pringles and a box of Pret crackers for a transition from American to Japanese culture. I take pictures. The snacks are tasty and fun. I am still riding the giddy joy of having been released from the confinement of the airplane and the knowledge that we are a half a world away from where we began our journey as little as 12 hours earlier though we have lost a day somewhere in the process. Though my husband has been to Japan no less than fifty times now, he still looks at me from time to time and says, “You know what? We are in Japan. “ to which I raise my bottle of Japanese Tea and drink deeply, knowing I seldom find an unsweetened beverage in a bottle at home, at least not one that I actually like to drink.


Traveling In the Fast Lane

At Shinagawa station we congratulate ourselves for not taking the route that changes at Tokyo station. At Shinagawa the transfer from Narita Express to Shinkansen is simple, a very short walk and then a tranquil wait for the train to arrive.

When the train gets underway I look out the window as darkness falls. The lights between the tracks and the ocean reveal life all around us, brimming to the coast, abruptly slipping into velvety darkness at the edge of the sea. At intervals, tall building stretch lights into the vertical plane. I see a Ferris wheel in the distance, lit up against the night sky, turning. It is approaching 8:30pm.

Though we are traveling at speeds averaging about 210 kilometers per hour the ride is smooth and comfortable, almost too comfortable. We buy a bento box and a black coffee from the train cart. My husband still has his orange juice. The attendant smiles broadly speaking in a pleasing voice and bows. She tells us plainly how much and carefully counts back our change.

Our purchases are more about staying awake than they are about satisfying a desire to eat dinner. I have had a bento box from a train station kiosk before so I wasn’t counting on it satisfying my hunger anyway. The last box was filled with sushi that was wrapped beautifully and looked interesting. Unfortunately I didn’t like it's taste or texture very much. Of course there are many choices of different bento boxes and few contain sushi rolls. The selection on the train is limited so the contents of this one are a matter of luck. Our luck turns out to be good this time, in fact we are on a roll.


Beautiful Bento

We share the contents tasting each individual piece carefully. Most of the items I cannot name with confidence. Some look quite unusual. We both taste them all except for one particularly squishy looking item that I let my husband have all for his own. He has tasted many Japanese delicacies at business dinners and doesn’t mind my generosity. He will try almost anything.

There are some interesting flavors. The rice is tasty and satisfying. Everything is pretty. On the whole I am delighted. Our selection is successful but I am tired. I try to amuse myself taking pictures but the ones I capture are scarcely salvageable. I pull out my iPod, listen to music and try to read a little, watching from time to time to track the stations we pass on the scrolling sign above our cabin door.

At Kyoto Station we change trains again. This time we are boarding a local train. We have a wait of about 20 minutes so we are able to board the train early. Though it is late the train fills up with passengers quickly.


Slowing Down to Rapid

From Kyoto to Nara is only about 30 miles but we have left speed behind us on the Shinkansen. This is designated a Rapid train but takes almost an hour to reach Nara at the end of the line. The scenery here is less interesting in the darkness and I soon realize that this is the challenging part of the plan, staying awake until we reach our destination.

We do it though. By midnight we are safely tucked in our bed, eyes closed. Though the following day has no demanding departure time we know that we will be wide awake at 3am anyway. It is simply the reality of jet lag if not convincingly enough of middle age. Still a few hours of sleep is better than none.


Retracing Our Steps

The journey back to Narita airport four days later is a different story. While on paper it is simply our initial train journey in reverse this time it is accomplished in daylight with no particular drive or hurry. We have entered a mental space of comfort and rest, of watchfulness and satisfaction.


We do have to leave early. We buy breakfast at the conbini in Nara station before 7 am. Between the two of us we chose a chocolate filled croissant and two salmon filled onigiri. That, plus two cans of hot coffee, starts our day.

We arrive in Kyoto with time to browse the Shinkansen shopping arcade before boarding our train. After an unsuccessful foray into vending on the train platform, we carefully select an interesting looking bento box for the next leg of our journey. I find the perfect box in one of the store cases. It is two tiered with a pretty design on the lid. I'm not sure what it holds but the box is so appealing I know it is the one.


Back Toward Tokyo

Our purchases made, we are ready to continue toward home. Up the escalator from the shopping arcade we wait for our train on the platform. It soon arrives and we board, settling in for a comfortable journey to Shinagawa station.


Outside we watch the landscape speed by. We pass from citiscapes crowding toward the train tracks to rural fields. We pass factories, rice fields and amusement parks. Each stop is announced with a bell tone and is carefully articulated in British accented English following the Japanese announcement. Upcoming stops also scroll on signboards over the doorway at the end of each train car. Comfortable that we will not miss our stop we relax for the duration of the train ride.

More Bento

When I satisfy my curiousity about what is outside the train I turn my attention to our bento box. Opening the box I am delighted. It is another nice surprise. Everything inside looks appealing and most of it seems at least somewhat familiar.


I taste green beans with sesame seeds that are delicious, a small brightly colored ball that may be mochi, a variety of vegetable bites including a flower shaped carrot slice, a mushroom cap, a small stick of celery and a slice of lotus root. The box includes a few pieces of tempura, a pepper and a slice of squash.


There is also a square of tamago, a few bites of pork and a taste of tofu. The entire bottom sections is filled with seasoned rice and finished with a small section of pickled ginger. I am so pleased to find almost every piece in the box agreeable that I find myself smiling for several hundred miles.


A Faint Whisper from Mt. Fuji

Another difference in our Shinkansen ride back to Tokyo is a dreamy surprise appearance of Fuji-san outside our window. I'm not even sure about the location of this elusive icon of Japan. I know that it is sometimes visible from the Shinkansen but no one mentions it today. No one crowds the west side of the train and no announcement is made, at least none that I understand, as we approach the mountain. Today I simply look up and notice, there it is, not fully visible but faintly floating in the distance, it’s snow etched summit a whisper on the horizon. Quickly we grab for our cameras and manage to capture a hint of that famous summit, another moment of serendipity on this fleeting journey, before the train races past toward our destination.

20 August 2010

Honey Lavender Roasted Figs


Figs are at the market again. This week I saw not only fresh Mission figs but Turkey and Kadota figs as well. They make a pretty display. I love their hues of limey green to soft brown or eggplant purple. I like their homey teardrop shape, the way they sometimes ooze with sticky beads of rich juice when they are ripe. They are a curious blend of innocent sweetness and jaded softness.

I like most summer fruit best when it is served with a sprinkling of sugar to draw out the juice and deepen the flavor and a dollop of whipped cream. Figs, however, are a different story. Quiet, unassuming and self-contained, they carry a full rich sweetness of their own but also blend beautifully with a variety of flavors. Their flesh has the delicate grainy crunch of a sugar cube drenched in nectar and it sweetens the tart flavor of the skin to perfection when ripe.


I am drawn to figs and enjoy them plain but if I choose wisely and am able to savor a single luscious perfectly ripe fig I am satisfied. Then I am left wondering what to do with the rest of the box.

The problem is a welcome one. The trick is to let go of my preconceptions about summer fruit. Figs are comfortable whether paired with savory ingredients or sweet. They make a delicious tart but also add an exotic counterpoint to the sharp flavors of cheese, onion and red pepper. One of my favorite treats the past few summers has been a flatbread from Truly Scrumptious topped with just those ingredients, and punctuated with figs. The combination is unexpected, pretty and delicious.

This summer I searched out a few other ideas as well. I paired the remains of my last box of figs with some amazing Blackberry Honey from Nature's Wild Harvest at the Camas Farmer's Market in a variation on a couple of simple recipes I found at Apartment Therapy and Yum Sugar. Keeping in mind a hint I recently read at More Than Burnt Toast about substituting lavender for rosemary in almost any dish, I came up with a wonderfully delicious way to enjoy this summer’s bounty of figs.


Honey Lavender Roasted Figs

8 ripe figs
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Several sprigs of culinary lavender (I used Hidcote lavender)
salt and freshly ground pepper

Gaot Cheese
Crackers

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove stem end of figs and cut them in half.

Place fig halves, skin side down, on a baking dish. sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and drizzle with honey. Nestle lavender sprigs among the fig halves and/or scatter over top.


Sprinkle all with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Roast figs at 400 degrees for 10 - 15 minutes.

Arrange fig halves on serving tray. Drizzle with any juice from the pan and sprinkle with the cooked lavender bits.

Serve wiith goat cheese and crackers. First smear the cracker with cheese then place a fig half on top.

Enjoy!!

15 August 2010

Ninth Street House Zucchini Bread


Zucchini Season

It’s August and gardens across the country are no doubt filled with an abundance of zucchini and summer squash. I wish I could say the same of my garden. Though we planted early enough, during a bright and promising week in early June, I have only a few small zucchini on my plant and they are taking their own sweet time in maturing to the picking stage.

Though my garden is not yet producing ripe zucchini I still crave Zucchini Bread at this time of year. I remember the summers when my oldest son would make Zucchini Bread several times a week. He and his friends would eat whole loaves of it. Sometimes the friends would help with the grating or mixing. Sometimes the boys took over the kitchen and made it themselves. Sometimes we would forget an ingredient. Sometimes chocolate chips or extra sugar would get scattered on top. For the most part, though, our Zucchini Bread recipe has stayed the same for the past twenty five years or so. It is a recipe from a source that I treasure and has a story of its own...


Where it All Began

When I was first engaged to my husband, and visiting his hometown of Paducah, Ky, he took me out to dinner one evening. The restaurant he chose was a family favorite. It was located in a beautiful Victorian home near what is now the Lowertown Arts District. The house was built in 1886 for the great nephew of William Clark, the explorer who gave his name to the Lewis and Clark Expedition we hear so much about in the part of the country where we now live. The restaurant was called the Ninth Street House.

The Ninth Street House was the epitome of Kentucky style southern hospitality. In the evenings its windows threw veils of warm light out onto the lawn and sidewalks. Piano music could be heard drifting onto the patio. Just inside the front door, at the base of the stairway, Judy, the organist from my husband’s church, played jazz standards, classics and other familiar tunes on a baby grand piano. Occasionally guests would sing along.


Kentucky Style Hospitality

In the dining room the tables were dressed in casual southern style. Cane backed chairs were pulled up to cloth draped tables. Soft lights and candles cast a warm glow on place settings of bright china. Wine was generously poured in large casual stemware. Guests were put at ease and made to feel at home.

The menu at the Ninth Street House varied. There were several choices of entrées each evening. The menu changed according to what Curtis Grace, owner and chef, found available and created with it. Curtis would chat with you if you stopped by the kitchen and if not he would stop at your table after your meal and ask what you thought of it. He was a master at creating a sense of delicious home cooking executed with imagination and style.

Over the years we found our way back to the Ninth Street House whenever we could. When we were in Paducah we tried to make a date at the Ninth Street House if possible. We also attended a number of family celebrations there. The last was for my sister-in-law’s rehearsal dinner in 1994. That evening, as we walked to our car after dinner, we saw Paducah’s horse drawn carriage pull around the corner and on impulse took a tour of the handsome river town by moonlight. It was a memorable evening.


Recipes from Curtis Grace

What does this have to do with Zucchini Bread? Well, one thing I clearly remember about dinner at the Ninth Street House was the bread basket that was brought to the table once guests were seated. Wrapped in a napkin were small slices of breads, both sweet and savory. A favorite was a sweet nut studded bread that everyone seemed to enjoy. As a first taste it set expectations for a satisfying meal while smoothing the edge off of an afternoon’s hunger.

The Ninth Street House has been closed for years now. The house itself still stands at the edge of the Lowertown Arts District in Paducah. It appears to be well maintained but is now a private residence. What remains of the restaurant are many fond memories and two wonderful cookbooks my mother-in-law gave me. These books are filled with recipes for southern style home cooking with the slightest upscale twist from Curtis Grace and his Ninth Street House restaurant.

Without even looking I can tell you that around page 75 of "Cooking With Curtis Grace" is a recipe fpr Zucchini Bread that produces a delightfully moist and nutty quick bread. It is the best and possibly the only Zucchini Bread recipe I have ever used. It will suffer variation with little complaint but has never needed much adapting. It makes two big loaves and uses a good quantity of zucchini for those whose harvest basket is overflowing with the stuff. For my part I will still need to make a trip to the market for my zucchini this season but it will be worth it.


Ninth Street House Zucchini Bread
From “Cooking with Curtis Grace”

3 eggs
1 cup oil
2 cups granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
2 cups zucchini, grated
½ cup pecans (or walnuts), chopped

In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla together.

In a large bowl stir together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon.

Add the egg mixture and beat well. Fold in the zucchini and nuts.

Divide the batter between two greased loaf pans. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour or until the loaves begin to brown and the top springs back when pressed lightly near the center. (I usually bake my loaves a little longer than 1 hour, maybe 1 hour and 10 minutes.)

Notes: I sometimes add another ½ cup of zucchini and often cut the amount of sugar used to 1½ cups.
I also sometimes sprinkle a handful of dark chocolate chips across the top of the batter before baking.

"Cooking with Curtis Grace" suggests that zucchini can be grated and frozen while it is plentiful in late summer. If you freeze it in packages of two cups each it can easily be thawed later to use when baking Zucchini Bread. Or go ahead and bake the bread while the zucchini is plentiful. The bread freezes well too and makes a great treat that can be enjoyed year round.

The cookbook also suggests that this is a delicious bread to serve for breakfast, snacks or to accompany a meal and is especially good spread with cream cheese.

~~~~~

While I have a certain emotional attachment to my Zucchini Bread recipe I know other cooks often feel the same way about their own recipe. A few others I have bookmarked are:

  • At Kitchen Parade, in an article featuring my daughter Kerrin, Alanna shares her favorite Carrot & Zucchini Bread recipe loaded with whole wheat goodness, colorful flecks of carrot and a smart dose of candied ginger.
  • Wives With Knives has a twist on the usual zucchini bread loaves with a recipe for Cheddar Zucchini Scones. These savory scones would be great with a summer dinner salad.

Enjoy!

12 August 2010

Onigiri - Comfort Food To Go


Shopping at a Conbini

Across the street from the train station in Nara, Japan is a Sunkus conbini, or Japanese convenience store. I stopped by most every day on my last visit to Nara. I think I found something new and interesting every time.

One of my favorite stops whenever I travel is a local food store. I love to see what kind of food can be picked up for a quick meal at home or on the go. The Japanese conbini (also spelled combini or konbini depending on where you look) offers an interesting collection of both, not to mention a fascinating assortment of beverages and other items. There are a number of different conbini chains in Japan offering a similar variety of merchandise and so it seems a conbini is almost always nearby, at least in the areas of Japan I have visited.


Optimal Packaging

My favorite quick bite from a Japanese conbini is Onigiri. It is really an amazing creation. Onigiri is a traditional Japanese comfort food that consists of a small piece of fish, fish salad or even a pickled plum at the center of a rice ball wrapped in nori. What makes the onigiri from a conbini particularly appetizing is the unique packaging that keeps the outer wrapper of nori from touching the rice until the package is opened, thus preserving its fresh taste and crispy texture.

My favorite flavor is a simple Salmon Onigiri from a Sunkus conbini. I like it best because I can easily identify the flavor I prefer by the shade of orange (or salmon) on the label, a real help since I cannot read the Japanese writing on the package. Some of the fillings are a bit exotic for my tastes and make for an unhappy surprise when I am guessing which Onigiri to buy at other conbini marts.


Comfort Food Confidence

The obvious flavor of salmon in the center of sticky rice and crispy nori is a perfect midday combination. I seek out these Onigiri whenever I am not sure where I will find my next meal. They take the edge off any odd-hour hunger as my body adjusts to a new time zone and can keep travel grumpiness at bay on a long afternoon.

Picking up an Onigiri or two along with a can of hot coffee or a bottle of unsweetened green tea makes a great meal on the run. Packed in my bag it gives me confidence that I will not go hungry for lingering over great photo stops, interesting exhibits or an unexpected opportunity in the course of my sightseeing itinerary or business agenda for the day.

While the secret to this delicious Onigiri is in the packaging, the trick is that the same packaging can be a little confusing to open, especially for a tourist traveling in an unfamiliar land. There are instructions:


Though, thankfully, they are illustrated they can still be a little difficult to make out especially when plagued by the haziness of jet-lag. Once mastered, however, these delicious snacks can be a quick and easy life saver on a busy day abroad.

Unwrapping Essentials

To successfully open your Onigiri, first locate the top of the triangle. In the case of my favorite onigiri this point is clearly labeled with the number 1.


Grasp this tab and pull it down toward the bottom bisecting the triangle. You aren't done yet.


Now keep pulling until the tab has run all the way up the back of the triangle.


After pulling the tab to its end hold the onigiri triangle by one side of the cellophane wrapper. With thumb and forefinger of your free hand, grasp the edge of the other half of the cello wrapper at the lower point of the triangle.


Gently pull until the cellophane slips away from the outside and inside of the nori wrapper.


Repeat with the other side of the cellophane until the packaging is fully removed.


Now wrap the nori snugly around the rice


And eat it like a sandwich.

An Interesting View

While you are at the conbini be sure to look over the array of other interesting items you may find there: unusual flavors of Kit Kat bars, unique candy and gum like Black Black, chocolate filled cracker bears or mushrooms, saké, ice cream bars, and souvenirs. Even bottled water can be interesting when viewed through new eyes.


It offers a fascinating peak into the modern culture of convenience and its manifestations even a half a world away.

10 August 2010

Sushi Rice Nests with Furikake


When I first brought quail eggs home from the Camas Farmers' Market I was fascinated by their appearance and spent some time just photographing them. At one point I posed them in a small decorative nest I bought in Ashland earlier this season. As I arranged the eggs for a picture I began to wonder if I could create an edible nest for serving cooked quail eggs.

The recipes I had linked to on market day suggested a really delicious looking nest of smashed potatoes. I had also seen a nest of spaghetti somewhere. Both sounded good but I wanted to build on the ideas. Since I had also seen several posts about including quail eggs in bento boxes I thought of Japanese food and decided to make nests of rice, dressed with Japanese furikake.


After working out how to cook quail eggs I turned to creating the nests I would set them in. I tried using both dressed Sushi Rice and long grain white rice cooked in broth and mixed with sesame seeds. The Sushi Rice held together better but both worked well.


Once the nests were shaped I sprinkled them with furikake I purchased at Uwajimaya. Furikake is a a Japanese condiment that is often used to add texture and interest to plain rice. These colorful combinations of seeds, nori and other seasonings come in a variety of flavors. A dusting of these interesting mixtures neatly dressed my rice nests for a pretty display while adding spice and flavor that blended well with plain boiled or Tea Crazed Quail Eggs. Together they made a pleasing presentation.


Sushi Rice
adapted from Beyond Salmon

2 cups sushi (short grain) rice, carefully rinsed and cooked according to package directions

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon mirin
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt

When rice is finished cooking allow it to rest, covered, for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile place vinegar, mirin, sugar and salt in a small saucepan and heat while stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Do not allow the mixture to boil.

Transfer cooked rice to a wooden, glass or other nonreactive bowl. Sprinkle the vinegar mixture evenly over the top and fold it into the rice with a wooden spoon or spatula using a lifting or tossing motion.

Once the rice is mixed cover it with a damp paper towel or tea towel and allow it to rest another 20 minutes before shaping.


Rice Nests

To make the rice nests you will need:

2 cups Sushi Rice or plain rice cooked in broth
1 - 2 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, if desired
Nonstick cooking spray
Furikake sprinkles
Hard Boiled, Soft Boiled or Tea Crazed Quail Eggs
a small round dipping dish approximately 2.5" in diameter

In a medium sized bowl mix together the rice and sesame seeds, if desired.

Line a baking sheet or a rectangular storage container that has a flat bottom with a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper.

Spray the small round dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Place approximately 2 Tablespoons of the rice/sesame seed mixture in the small round dish (or enough rice to fill the dish loosely plus just a little more). Even out the rice, then invert it onto the waxed paper and press it down firmly, molding the rice.

Remove the dish and gently press your thumb into the center of the rice forming a depression while pressing your fingers around the outside of the circle to help maintain the nest shape.

Repeat the process. The dish will need to be resprayed every two or three nests.

Just before serving arrange nests on a serving tray or individual serving dishes. Sprinkle with furikake flakes. Then place a quail egg in the nest.

Serve and enjoy!

05 August 2010

Tea Crazed Quail Eggs


How should I use a dozen beautiful quail eggs in a way that takes optimum advantage of their unique attributes? That question has been on my mind ever since I first saw these delightful little eggs at the Camas Farmer’s Market several weeks ago.

The small size of quail eggs lends them the quality of being both precious and cute. Their beautiful coloring, creamy backgrounds leaning toward tan or blue, speckled and splotched with bronzy browns, makes their shells appealing. Inside, the shell softly suggests a shade of robin’s egg blue. The yolk is surprisingly large, taking up more comparative volume than the yolk of a chicken egg. This lends a rich flavor to the egg, a flavor very similar to a chicken egg but slightly more so.


At the booth where I purchased the quail eggs it was suggested that they would make a terrific omelette. Because they were so fresh (gathered just that morning) I was told they would be particularly fluffy. The suggestion was tempting but, while a fluffy omelette is never a bad way to go, I wanted to try some other things first. I wanted to cook the quail eggs in a way that would show off their cute size and maybe leave some of the shell intact. Hard boiling was the obvious choice. The trick was working out how much time was required.

After a bit of experimentation I came up with a method that worked well for hard boiling the eggs. Then to carry it one step farther I decided to try a recipe for Tea Eggs. Tea Eggs give a wonderful marbled appearance to a hard boiled egg while infusing it with a slightly sweet spiciness. I found the result quite intriguing. It gave me just what I was looking for, a unique presentation of the unique little eggs I had found. Of course that was just the beginning…


Hard Boiled Quail Eggs

Place the eggs, cold from the refrigerator, in a small saucepan. Cover them with cold tap water.

Bring the water to a boil over medium heat. Just when it begins to boil, reduce the heat to low.

Continued to boil for 1½ minutes.

Remove pan from heat. Immediately rinse eggs in cold water and allow to rest in the cold water until completely cool.

Note: Times will vary slightly based on the size of the eggs. By this method my eggs were cooked through but the yolks were not crumbly. They retained a creamy texture and deep color at the very center.



Soft Cooked Quail Eggs

Fill a small saucepan with about 2 inches of water. Bring the water to a boil.

Carefully drop in the quail eggs. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the eggs to sit in the water for 3 - 3½ minutes. Drain and rinse the eggs in cold water. Allow them to sit in cold water (to stop the cooking) until completely cool or ready to serve.

Again, cooking times will vary based on the size of the egg and the degree of firmness desired.


Tea Crazed Quail Eggs
based on a recipe from Cooking Cute

6-8 quail eggs, hard boiled

2 cups water
1 teabag of black tea (I used Lady Grey)
1 star anise
½ stick of cinnamon (2 inches)
2 teaspoons tamari sauce
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar

Take the quail eggs and gently roll them on the counter top or hit them with the back of spoon so that the shell is gently cracked all over. Try not to break through the membrane just under the shell. Set aside.

Place the water and the next seven ingredients in a small (2 quart) saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil.

Gently place the quail eggs in the mixture and reduce to a low boil.

Continue boiling gently for 1 to 2 hours, checking and adding more water occasionally so that the quail eggs are fully immersed at all times.

After an hour or so remove the mixture from the heat and allow to cool slightly. When cool enough transfer the mixture to a glass container and refrigerate overnight (or up to several days.)

When ready to serve remove the egg from the mixture and rinse. Carefully peel away the shell and serve with salt. pepper and/or five spice powder.


Enjoy!