Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Donabe test kitchen sneak-peak...Microwavable donabe steam-roaster

I have a brand-new donabe to introduce...
This donabe is scheduled to be available on toiro's website next week.
Right now, the new shipment, including this donabe, is on its way from Iga, Japan, to Los Angeles.

Whaaaat?! It's a microwavable donabe steam-roaster. Cooking in microwave? If it hadn't been from Nagatani-en, I probably wouldn't have taken it seriously. I had never used microwave for cooking. Microwave had been for re-heating leftover stuff and I often found the food heated unevenly.

To jump to the conclusion, this microwavable donabe steam-baker totally blew me away when I used it for the first time, and I've become a big fan ever since.

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This cute donabe comes with a heating grate inside. Once heated in the microwave, the black glaze of the grate heats up to about 600F degrees! So, it quickly roasts ingredient(s) inside of the donabe, while the sealed donabe gives the nice steaming-effect. Because only the grate gets so high in temperature, when cooking meat or fish, grease drippings don't burn in the bottom of the donabe. This donabe also gives a healthy cooking option, because you can cook without oil. For my very first try, I simply seasoned a steak-cut salmon with salt and shichimi pepper, then just put it in the donabe (on the grate). For the good steaming-effect, the lid (inside) was soaked in water for 1 minute and drained.

Donabe was covered and just microwaved for 6.5 minutes.

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Steam-roasted salmon steak was ready. It smelled really nice. I served it with a simple condiment of lemon wedges. The result was AMAZING!!! Salmon was not only cooked evenly, but also it came out so tender and juicy. Any excess fat was naturally drained through the grate to the bottom of the donabe.

I couldn't believe such a "real dish" with complete flavor could be made in a microwave. That's the magic of authentic Iga-yaki donabe. This microwavable donabe steam-roaster has become my new toy and I've been enjoying doing test-kitchen on different dishes past few days.

I'm very, very excited. I can't wait to officially introduce it in our online shop. It will be next week. Until then, thank you for your kind patience!

Happy donabe life.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cold tomato soups...Herloom Tomato Gazpacho & Tomato Zucchini Shio-koji Soup

In the summertime, I use tomatoes alot.

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It was already time to make this year's Hierloom Tomato Gazpacho. Mmm...I can taste the season. It's so easy to make. I like to toast a piece of whole grain sour dough bread first, before adding to the blender with other ingredients. Here's my super-simple recipe:

Rustic Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

3 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes
1/2 small to medium-size sweet onion
1/4 red bell pepper
1 small clove garlic
1 slice whole-grain sour-dogh bread, toasted
juice from 1/4 lime
small splash of hot sauce
1/4 to 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste (or, I like using my shio-koji, instead of salt, for more depth in flavor)

Cut the vegetables into large cubes.
Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend until very smooth.
Transfer the soup into Miso-shiru Nabe, and let it chill in the fridge for 2-4 hours.

The other night, I brought my gazpacho to a potluck dinner with friends. I drizzled some avocado-blood orange oil to each cup and it was such a nice combination.

For the next soup, you do need to use heat. But, it's made in less than 30 minutes (plus time to chill, if you want to serve it cold). It's Tomato & Zucchini Soup, seasoned with shio-koji (salt-koji). With the addition of just a small amount of shio-koji, it gives a extra layer of flavor to this simple soup. For the best result, I highly recommend you use soup & stew donabe, "Miso-shiru Nabe", to make it. It's simply because all the flavors come together so nicely in a short time, when it's cooked in this super-thick body donabe. Here's my recipe:

Tomato & Zucchini Soup

Ingredients (for 4 servings)
some olive oil
2 tomatoes, peeled and seeds removed, cut into large cubes
1 zucchini, cut into large cubes, plus 1/2 zucchini, cut into 1/4" cubes
1/4 onion
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 knob ginger, sliced
1 teaspoon herb de Provence
2.5 cup vegetable stock
2 teaspoon shio-koji
salt and pepper to taste
5-6 okra, cut into 1/4" thickness
chopped chives

1. In Miso-shiru nabe, saute onion, garlic, and ginger in about 1 tablespoon of olive oil until onion is soft.
2. Add herb de provence and the large cubes of zucchini. Saute for a few minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes, and stir. Add the vegetable stock and shio-koji.
4. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, saute the small cubes of zucchini and okra in about 1/2 tablespoon of live oil for a few minutes.
6. Add the sauteed vegetables to the soup and simmer for a few more minutes. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
7. Turn off the heat and cool it down. Refrigerate until the soup is chilled. Serve into individual bowls. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and chopped chives.

Happy healthy donabe life.

Monday, July 25, 2011

"SHIKOMI" Morning...Time for prepping and getting things ready

In Japanese, "Shikomi" is a word often used in the kitchen. It means "preparation". But it does not necessarily refer to just prep work. It's often about making something which requires some aging (waiting) time. So, making miso is a "shikomi" work. So as making "Ume-shu (plum liqueur). Depending on what you make, after "shikomi", it requires from just a few hours of waiting to multiple years.

One morning, I was busy doing "shikomi" on different recipes.
The first ones (top picture) were two different kinds of Chunky La-yu (chunky hot oil). One was similar to my "regular" style with dry shrimp. And the other was with fermented black beans. After infusing the ingredients in the oil, I need to let them rest for over night for the flavors to fully integrated.

Then, I made more Makkoli (Makgeoli) and more Shio-koji with more koji rice. This time, for Makkoli, I used Champagne yeast, which I ordered online. So, I'm excited to try it!

Then, I made 5-hour roasted "umami" tomatoes. To make it I simply drizzle some olive oil over the halved tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Then, the tomatoes were put in the 300F oven for 5 hours (the cooking time depends on the type of tomatoes). I can make a bunch of it and make an oil marinade and keep for a week or so. These super-slow roasted tomatoes are good in the salad, with rice, etc.

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So, the next day, I made simple brown rice in my double-lid donabe rice cooker, "Kamado-san", and tossed the rice with some edamame, and the super-slow roasted tomatoes. To serve, rice was served into individual bowls and topped with some thinly-sliced scallion and homemade chunky la-yu. Perfect dish.

Happy donabe life.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

More LA Downtown...Breakfast at Nickel Diner

I decided to write about LA Downtown 3 postings in a row:-)

Nickel Diner's breakfast is so good (they are also known for their bacon donut). We like going there before heading to Hollywood Farmers Market on Sundays. One morning, I did a omelet with spinach, roasted tomatoes, and cheddar cheese, with a side of polenta. There were more vegetables than the eggs, and the taste was really nice. I like my egg with their salsa (served in a jar at every table). I basically finished a whole jar of it that morning.

Their blueberry pancakes are one of the best I've had in the US! The pancakes have the nice texture of fluffiness with a slight chewy finish. They are served with generous amount of blueberry compote. Really nice.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fun in Downtonw: From Wine Dinner to Farmers Market to Peruvian Lunch to Wine Shop

Had a wine dinner with friends at Lazy Ox of my regular spots.

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2002 Michel Colin-Deleger & Fils, Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru, "Morgeot"...Very lively and floral. Elegant power. Minerality kept lingering on the palate.
1997 Ciacci Piccolomini D'Aragona, Brunello di Montalcino, "Vigna di Pianrosso"...From single vineyard Pianrosso. 1990 vintage is still my favorite of this wine, but 1997 is also great, and still very young!
2001 Giuseppe Cortese, Barbaresco, "Rabaja"...Cortese's signature wine. Slightly closed nose, but the floral aroma was still coming out. Subtle spice, dry flower, mild tannins, long finish.

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Among so many dishes we had, I especially liked spot prawns, razor clams, and sardine. Also, I ate their rice pudding for the first time (I normally get too full by the time dessert was offered, so I never had a chance until this time), and it was really yummy.

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Next morning, I found out that there is a farmers market at Bank of America Plaza every Friday, so I went there to check it out! Between the high-rise buildings were some rows of tents, filled with fresh produce and other stuff. I bought 3 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, 3 pounds of vine-ripe tomatoes, corn, greens, and so much more...they were so heavy.

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But, I kept walking and found a new modern Peruvian take-out place called, Chimu, right at the courtyard of Grand Central Market, across from the famous Angels Flight Railway on Hill St. I actually met one of the owners of Chimu at Lazy Ox the previous night, so I wanted to check it out! He was there and I ordered his recommendations.

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Ceviche was so plump and fresh. (I forgot which fish it was, but they use market-fresh fish of the day.) Then, I also had Estofado de Lengua (braised beef tongue). It was also excellent! The tongue was cut into small cubes and cooked to fork tender with cherry tomatoes, peas, etc., and served with creamy quinoa. The sauce tasted so deep yet not heavy. It was one of the best stewed tongue dishes I've had! Chimu's Blue Corn Tea was nicely refreshing with a hint of sweetness. It was a wonderful meal, and I want to go back there over and over.

From Chimu, I started walking again and found a new wine shop, BUZZ, at the corner of Spring and 5th. It's a very stylish place with nice eclectic selection of wine and beer. Local delivery is only $2.95 for any amount (minimum $15 order)...until 2am! That's super cool.

More LA Downtown shots are coming later.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sushi dinner at Aburiya Toranoko

My current favorite sushi place in LA is Aburiya Toranoko in Little Tokyo. They are a Japanese izakaya (pub) with a serious sushi bar section.

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The quality of the ingredients are, of course, superb. And, the sushi chefs are the real serious ones. I can taste their experienced skills in each piece of sushi. Like, the seasonal hamo fish (pike eel) was prepared with meticulously detailed work.

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Every Wednesday is 50% off wine night. Any full-size bottle from the list is 50% off. That's an amazing deal, and they have a nice smart wine list. I enjoyed both 2008 Cloudline, Pinot Gris, and 2009 Clara Marcelli, Corbu (Montepulciano base).

And, just 3 days later, we went back to Toranoko for more sushi!

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Chef Hisa-san's sushi was so artistic and delicate. I just wanted to keep eating and drinking.