Sweet Potato Rolls with Dried Cherries and Cardamom

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sweet potato rollsThis is a treasured recipe for dinner rolls, especially during this long fall and winter holiday season in the U.S. when sharing food means memories and love.

It was lost, though the Thanksgivings we ate it are remembered fondly. It is now found So I’m happy to share the recipe.

Do give it a try! The cardamom is a flavor from childhood so means my mummu, mum, and daughter are there sharing with me. Friends loved the rolls, and so will you!

Jean’s Cincinnati Chili

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jeans cincinnati chili_7046

“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.

Mabo / Mapo Tofu

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mabo tofu mapo tofu Japanese style
Winter is chili season: hot, spicy, and comforting food makes spirits warm in spite of the bleak weather! Mapo tofu is a Chinese dish well loved in Japan, both in Chinese restaurants and at home. It’s easy to prepare with common ingredients: tofu, pork, toban jiang, and green onions.

Mapo tofu is a dish from China adapted by the Japanese to their own tastes.

It is the texture of this dish which is interesting in the mouth: the tofu is soft and the pork is chewy. It’s an odd combination that: pork and tofu, neither vegetarian nor meat centered.

In this variation of the recipe I experimented with making the meat soft and the tofu chewy.

Avocado and Bacon Rice Bowl

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avocado, red pepper, peach, mango, and bacon donburiThe salty crispiness of bacon, the fresh crunch of lettuce, and the sweet juiciness of tomatoes, make BLT sandwiches a favorite lunch. Bacon, avocados, and tomatoes are a lesser known trio which provides a similar delight to the tongue, especially in summer when garden tomatoes are at their most flavorful.This winter has been unusually harsh: very cold and snowy here in the Midwest of the U.S. For me one escape is to eat what I want the weather to be, instead of what the climate is! This recipe from Hiroko Shimbo satisfies cravings for such a meal.

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.

Corn Cream with Crab Soup

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corn cream soup w crab_6152The winter sun-light, reflected by new white snow, makes harsh shadows on our grey and brown landscape. This amplification of the brightness is false. It’s neither warmer nor cheerier, a vision without substance.

I want the pleasant consolation of color! This pale yellow Japanese soup, with bright red and green accents and the tang of a summer sea, is a perfect recipe for this season.

Chorizo and Shrimp Rice

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Japanese Shrimp and Sausage Rice
This one-dish recipe with shrimp, sausage, peas, saffron, and ginger provides a hearty meal with remarkable complexity of flavor and fragrance. The result is like a cross between Paella and a delicate Stir Fry. The flavors permeate the rice, but because the pot has not been stirred, there are gradations of taste and fragrance from top to bottom. Does it taste Japanese? Well, I think the Japanese should claim it before someone else does!

Japanese Style Brisket

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Japanese style braised brisketKosher Japanese spare ribs? Well, perhaps something like that for Seudat Mafseket, the pre-fast meal before the Yom Kippur fast. While it is not traditional to eat such a heavy meal before beginning a fast, Mr. Tess wanted some beef. And I’ve been craving these pork spareribs from Hiroko Shimbo’s The Japanese Kitchen. So I thought, “Why not cook a beef brisket (which is usually fatty-rich like ribs) with the same seasonings!” Some of the Korean beef recipes I’ve posted about previously make my train of thought not so illogical…beef braised with spices and soy sauce.

Lamb Shanks, Japanese Style

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japanese-lamb-shanks_3759Lamb shanks so tender you can eat them with a spoon make a noteworthy meal without requiring a lot of attention, only a block time for a slow braise. Because they can be prepared a day ahead, lamb shanks can be part of a dinner for guests even the hostess can enjoy. While lamb is not widely eaten in Japan, this recipe illustrates how well basic Japanese ingredients (sake, mirin, shoyu, miso), and Japanese cooking techniques can make this dinner unique but familiar enough to be comforting.

New Honey Cake Recipe!

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honey-cake_3626I always bake honey cakes for Rosh Hashanah from Joan Nathan’s book, The Jewish Holiday Kitchen. The first honey cake, I added cardamom. Mr. Tess noted it was not like his grandmother’s.
This year I tried a new recipe: lovely, light, not cloyingly sweet, and the spices shine, especially the cardamom which is reminiscent of my grandmother’s Finnish pulla bread. So that brings us full circle, one grandmother to another, most appropriate for the cycle of generations, seasons, and years celebrated during this holiday.

Rosh Hashanah 2013 / 5774

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rosh-hashan-chicken_3569L’Shanah Tova!
A Good and Sweet Year!

My kitchen was redolent with the sweet spice fragrances of cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom combined with the scent of caramelizing honey as the honey cakes baked while I prepared a Jewish New Year’s meal with a Japanese accent.

Rosh Hashanah is early this year, and because the weather is so summer warm and sunny, with only a hint of low slanting autumn light, I decided to make a chicken salad with a sumiso dressing.