Jean’s Cincinnati Chili

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“Next to music there is nothing that lifts the spirits and strengthens the soul more than a good bowl of chili.”
Harry James (1916-1983) band leader and trumpeter

My mum used to serve a Midwestern-style chili made with hamburger, tomatoes, oregano, garlic powder, and kidney beans on macaroni elbows. It was a way of stretching a pound of ground beef to satisfy a family of six inexpensively. I recall we even added grated Cheddar cheese to top it so very very elegantly. It wasn’t until I started this project to learn Japanese cooking, that I first heard of this delicious and somewhat exotic version of Cincinnati chili from a lovely woman called Jean on the Taunton Press Fine Cooking magazine forum. It’s become a favorite meal, and I want to let my online friends know about it.

Tofu Daisy Dumplings

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japanese wonton dumpling_6864Fanciful daisy dumplings are fun for appetizers or a light meal. They are sure to delight guests, but are easier to prepare than wontons, gyoza, or shui mai. These flower-like savories bring to mind an early summer bouquet—perfect for relieving the vision of dirty grey snow mountains and the numbing cold we are currently enduring.

Simple ingredients (tofu, chicken, wonton skins, and pantry staples) are transformed so the whole is different from its parts. This recipe is poetry—a longing for one thing to be a substitute for another. A bit of magic. An illusion…

Now is the time to dream of spring and gardens and warmth. I am considering what to to about the lovely Montauk daisies planted in my garden. They are gorgeous plants which bloom late in the year. They can be encouraged in late spring—a time I am committed to considering while life is so cold and bleak now.

Lamb and Mushroom Wontons in Dashi

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eating lamb wontonsMy first bite into a wonton, in Leo Ping’s on West Liberty in 1975 in Ann Arbor, began my attraction to the delicate noodle ruffle, surrounding a little pocket of filling. Love at first sight!

Hiroko Shimbo has published this delicious Japanese flavored recipe in her latest book as “Wonton Ravioli” using a wonton skin for the bottom and another for the top; but because I love those slippery wing-like ruffles floating in clear broth, I made wontons rather than ravioli.

The dashi stock, flavored with sake, mirin and lemon juice is perfect. It’s dashi-smokey with a bit of sweet and sour accents.

Simmered Chicken and Miso Meatballs

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japanese chicken meatballsA sunny sky in winter in Southeast Michigan means cold, and brings cravings for warmth and comfort. This Japanese nabemono meal is a satisfying chicken soup served with a bit of fun while evoking fantasies of far away places at our familiar dining room table.

The meatballs are flavored with miso, ginger, and garlic. Tossing them from hand to hand makes the surface smooth so that when they are added to the hot-pot they are soft and very attractive.

Winter Moon Noodles

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oyako udon in hot brothMoon viewing noodles are customarily eaten in Japan during Tsukimi, the festival honoring the first full moon of Autumn. This first month of 2014 had a special full moon: a “mini-moon,” which is the smallest full moon we will see this year. Astronomically, it is a full moon which is the furthest distance from Earth (apogee). The Moon was 16% smaller and 30 times dimmer than the super-moon which will occur in August.In honor of this occasion, we ate udon in hot broth topped with an egg. Tsukimi (moon-viewing) noodles include a whole raw egg in the center of the dish like a full moon surrounded by “clouds” of noodles. There are so many cautions against eating raw eggs in the U.S. (and I wanted to make this a complete meal) that we had soft boiled eggs, and chicken, with our noodles, thus making the dish “mother and child” noodles: oyako udon.

Hot Broth for Japanese Noodles

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Japanese noodles in hot broth
This is a master recipe from Hiroko Shimbo’s book Hiroko’s American Kitchen to allow a cook to be creative with how to make Japanese noodles at home. You can use udon, soba, or somen noodles. The flavor is authentically Japanese, and the recipe provides a “master sauce” so you can make a lovely dinner in a quick hurry once you’ve stocked the “super sauce” in your freezer. If you love Japanese home-cooking, and Japanese noodles, then you need to learn this technique to get a delicious dinner on the table in minutes!

Sugar Snap Peas, Shrimp, Somen

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peas-and-nasturtium_2675Spring in the garden begins with hope; planting seeds is an act of faith, anticipating a bountiful harvest to share. In May, I planted a short row of sugar snap peas in the window box outside the dining room window. The picture in my mind was of green vines shading the meals we’d share together from the hot summer sun.
I also planted some nasturtiums at the front edge of the window box because they have brilliant peppery edible flowers and leaves. I anticipated that they would provide color once the spring/early crop of peas needed to be removed.

These fruits of my labor inspired this very seasonal meal.

Lasagna Bolognese

Christmas guest from China
Lasagne is a collated noodle dish.

My perfect lasagne would be straightforward al denté noodles framed with luscious sauce, just as lightning, seen against extravagantly swirling deep blue and grey clouds, is both dramatic and simple.

This recipe is not that, but it is luscious, subtle, to remember, to repeat.

As Christmas 2012 dinner, it is especially memorable because we shared it with an unexpected and charming guest.

Chanukah Noodles

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If I didn’t post, does it mean it didn’t happen?

Having my daughter back in Michigan has been fun. She found these unusual pasta shapes for Chanukah 2012 and we ate them as a variation of mac ‘n’ cheese with fried zucchini pancakes. I’m writing this now in September 2013 and I had forgotten about these interesting noodles.

Korean Cold Noodle Soup with Radish Water Kimchi

eating Korean noodles with a fork
Eating cold noodles in winter, preferably in front of a great big fire, is a way of enjoying the best of two seasons.

We made a meal of this when Mr. Tess returned from Philly after working there for nearly two months. As a dyed-in-the-wool noodle-lover it was the best thing I could think of to welcome him home.

I don’t think he was disappointed in the menu; at any rate he was happier than the cats were.