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.

Kimchi, Soba, and Pesto


My recent casual but frequent abuse use of umeboshi, the sour salty pickled plums loved in Japan, set in motion a series of meals involving kimchi and fresh Korean soba noodles. Little Tess went to the Galleria to pick up some more umeboshi for me and saw that they were selling the same brand of fresh soba she loved in California. Like any good shopper who doesn’t stick to her list she fell for a container of kimchi which she’d been craving.

Wake Food

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Family gatherings naturally center around food. No matter the occasion, people must eat. Meals are social by nature, the food being savored and flavored with the jokes, stories, and music; and the pictures passed around the table anticipated as much as the bowls of salad or potatoes.
Until we began our separate lives by going away to college, we four siblings had dinner together every evening. Since then we have gathered only for weddings, and now for funerals. It is fortunate that we were all together last weekend, fortunate that my house is big enough to accommodate all of us.

Japanese Ketchup Spaghetti

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“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”++++++++—Sophia Loren

Like Ms. Loren, I love spaghetti. And Japanese wafu (Western) spaghetti is too good to deprive my husband of the experience: Spaghetti Napolitan! During the U.S. occupation of Japan, this scrumptious dish became popular in restaurants all over the country. It is comfort food—a meal you’d eat because your mom made it for you. The predominate flavor comes from ketchup, a condiment with variations all over our earth: fruity, sweet, sour, and sometimes hot.
Yes, I do know that ketchup has been denigrated by many gourmands…

Noodles and Japanese Shells

Noodles—quick convenient comfort, ease and pleas-ing, satisfaction certain, and fine when cooking for me. While Mr. Tess was working in New York during the past two weeks, my meals centered on this flour and water paste: a blank canvas each time, with a palette of possibilities. Here is a selection of options to stimulate your imagination—the small pictures link to recipes which I’ve written about in the last year or so. And finally a tuna salad with echoes of Japanese flavors.

mentaiko spaghetti

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Fish eggs on spaghetti! As a kid, I would have laughed at the idea. It was not in my mother’s repertoire.
When my brothers went fishing, it was up to them to clean and cook their catch; I always wished they fished more often.
Hard roe, soft roe, shad roe, coral—I didn’t know; caviar in the movies, yes but not in my mouth! 

Ikura, Sujiko, Masago, Tobiko! Kazunoko, Karasumi, Uni! Tarako + Mentaiko!

Almost Wafu Chawan Mushi Spaghetti

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Chawan mushi is a savory Japanese custard, smooth and as comforting as chicken noodle soup. As a noodle/pasta addict (yes I do have withdrawal symptoms when on vacation, and unable to find good pasta—but also note that medical standards do not yet accept this as a real addition), I was inspired by Shizuo Tsuji’s comment in his book Japanese Cooking: a simple art. He describes how chawan mushi can be made with ingredients beyond the most famous ginkgo nut, chicken or scallops, and shrimp version.

Mentaiko Spaghetti: wafuu supagetti

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wafu-spaghetti-8910Some time in the ’70s people began to experiment with Japanese flavors. Essentially, things that are usually eaten with white rice were mixed into or put on top of spaghetti. Until recently, wafuu pasuta or wafuu supagetti was unknown in the West, and not seen on menus of Japanese restaurants frequented by tourists. I read in many blogs that it’s popular in homes and small cafés (kissaten) and as Japanese food has become popular in the U.S. we can now enjoy some very interesting flavor combinations.