Tag Archives: shiso

Snowed out lunch

24 Jan

Japanese school was cancelled due to the snowfall, but I had put together a bento the night before – so I simply served it to the girls (the little one had one too) after their afternoon making snow angels in the yard.

They had:

Blanched snow peas

Steamed multi-grain topped with Japanese tsukemono or pickles – these are a bit salty, but I had bought them on a whim one day (a moment of homesickness) at the Japanese store, I thought it best to eat them, bit by bit.  The green pickles are minced cucumbers mixed with shiso buds, and the orange, gobo, or burdock pickles.  I really should take the plunge and make them myself, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet… The pickles are conventional, and I also suspect have a little color enhancer.

Roasted yellow beet stars

Grape tomatoes

Baked chicken wing, with soy sauce, lemon juice, and black pepper

Today is actually, Pizza Day, due to a modified schedule – so no bento!


Stuffed pepper and savory omelette bento

22 Sep

We were spared from any power outages during Hurricane Irene – and the only damage we suffered were my pole beans being toppled over.  I leaned them against the trellis since the poles were too heavy for me to try to make them upright again.

The tomatoes (planned and rogue), shiso, kale, and peppers managed to survive unscathed, and we are enjoying them as the summer winds down.

Today’s lunch is:

Stuffed pepper – essentially, I took the ground turkey-carrot-celery-onion-ginger-garlic-oatmeal mixture from the meatballs, and stuffed them in pepper halves from our garden.  I baked them in a 350 oven for about 30 minutes – I added a topping of 1:1 ketchup and HP Sauce (with a drizzle of Worcestershire) in the last 5 minutes.  Shelled edamame made the face, and I called it a “teddy bear.”  My older daughter was convinced.

Savory omelette – Two beaten eggs, seasoned with 1 tbs mirin, 1 tsp soy sauce.  I poured the mixture into a preheated, lightly greased cast iron pan, and stirred occasionally while the egg set.  I used two chopsticks, pulling the cooked edges of egg into the center, allowing more surface area to cook for the raw egg, and adding air into the egg making it fluffier.  When the edges cooked, I added cooked watercress (liquid squeezed out, cut into 1/2 inch pieces) and 1 heaping tbs of the turkey soboro.  I folded half of the omelette over the filling, and continued cooking until all the egg was cooked.  I continually flipped the omelette – I find this to help create a more rectangular shape so it’s easier to manage and to cut.  Normally, if we are eating an omelette at home, I will allow the omelette to be a bit more moist; however, I didn’t want any excess liquid in the bento box, so I cooked this omelette well.  Once done, I removed it from heat, and cut them into bite sized pieces.  I packed two slices for my daughter’s bento – and the rest the girls ate for breakfast.  (one slice was cut into at an angle)

Onigiri with mentaiko filling – this might be a strike-out, since mentaiko, or marinated pollack row is salty, and also may be a bit spicy.  We’ll see if this is the case – but I had wanted to provide some variety with the fillings this week….

Red Grapes

Tomorrow is pizza lunch day!

A lazy day dinner – Summer 2011 version

14 Sep

I found this little snippet of summer saved in my draft file, and thought it best to share before winter descended with snowflakes whirling and dancing across the frosty window.

I share with you a favorite summer dinner option.  A favorite for Mama because it requires minimal cooking (as long as the rice is ready), and a favorite for the girls, because it includes natto,  okra, and mekabu, all very uniquely mucilaginous, and beloved in Japanese cuisine.

For this particular meal, it was:

Bowl of steamed multi-grain rice topped with natto (fermented soy beans)-chopped scallion-julienned shisookramekabu topping (well mixed) with a side of thinly sliced and sautéed eringi mushrooms in a little olive oil/butter and soy sauce, accompanied by miso soup (this one had thinly cut onions). 

A side of ika sashimi, or squid sashimi, served with a little soy sauce for dipping.

I point out, the topping for the rice contains ingredients that are known individually for their rather slimy, gooey nature.  Iw!! May be your initial reaction, dear reader.  GROSS!!! You might add.

All I can say, is that I was on a mission to ensure my girls would be able to adjust to the unique Japanese tolerance of various unique foods, including their textures!

And I must say, based on my daughters’ meal preferences, I may have succeeded.

The preparation of the natto-okura-mekabu topping is quite easy.  Natto comes in little pre-portioned packets at the Japanese store.  Okra, I purchase at the local farm during the season, and blanch in boiling water until they go from either a dull green/purple to a cheery green.  I then quickly shock them in ice water (to keep the crunch) and cut into 1/4 inch pieces.  Mekabu comes reconstituted in a convenient package, also from the Japanese store.

I chop up one bunch of scallions, a handful of shiso leaves from the garden, and start assembling.

I put everything into a bowl, and using chopsticks, mix the whole gooey concoction together, incorporating all the components together, and seasoning with soy sauce.  Once everything is mixed well (until the little thin, filament like natto threads are well incorporated into a uniformly sticky mixture), pour over your rice.  I omit the mustard that is included in the natto packet, as I once added an entire packet to the girls’ natto, and I almost frightened them – they almost revolted! – away from EVER trying natto again… (Too spicy).  Here are two very good blogs written about natto one by Maki of “Just Hungry“, and another referred from her site called “Welcome to Natto Land.” 

The girls silently scarf down the rice with natto mixture, and often ask for more.  The little one manages best with a spoon – otherwise she picks up one item at a time with her training chopsticks, which is excruciatingly time-consuming and almost painful to watch, especially after an hour and a half of her picking up natto bean + okra seed + mekabu strand and carefully placing each sticky morsel in her mouth.

Miso soup starts with adding 2 tbs ground shiitake powder in boiling water – about 4 cups, and adding thinly sliced onions in the water until they become a little translucent.  I then remove the pot from the heat, and add about 4 tbs of miso paste.  I dissolve the miso into the stock, well.  The key is to NEVER BOIL miso, as the delicate flavor will be ruined.

When I have enough time, I will make a proper dashi with katsuobushi shavings, but on the rushed evenings, I take a short cut and make-do with the ground shiitake powder which I have come to depend on greatly.

You can include a variety of items in miso soup – such as cubed kinugoshi tofu, thin slices of aburaage or other vegetables, such as napa cabbage, julienned potatoes or mushrooms. 

Jiji and Baba will laugh when they read today’s blog – they will recognize the porcelain dishes as they are the same ones from my childhood.

Where does the time go? Tuesday bento, second week

13 Sep

The new school year means a new routine for the fall.  Due to drop-off issues, my work hours are currently 10 – 6, which means a very long day for my girls.

By the time they are eating dinner, it is close to 8:00 pm, and by then, the winds of crankiness and irrationality are starting to whirl around the kitchen. 

After an hour of coaxing them to eat, with patience running ragged, tempers starting to get stretched thin, and the exhaustion starting to set in with mother and daughters, tension mounts in the kitchen sometimes.  My intentions of preparing the next day’s bento items seem to disappear, and I have a vague recollection of cleaning up the kitchen after preparing dinner.

My intentions of cooking meatballs/mini-burgers/soboro/mabo-dofu went out the window last night.

For today, my daughter will just have to eat “her usual” for lunch:

Roasted drumstick

Roasted beets (regular and Chioggi) cut into hearts

Blanched edamame

Onigiri, seasoned with yukari, which is seasoned red shiso powder, seasoned with salt, wrapped with nori

.  I mix it into the multi-grain rice, and form into onigiri.  Today’s center is chopped Japanese pickle (cucumber and eggplant, seasoned with salt and red shiso), or shibazukeMaki from “Just Hungry” has an excellent article on pickles here.


Tofu, soba, shiso, with a Lenzu-mame closer

22 Aug

Some days I’m completely uninspired to cook at home.  I scurry through the house around dinner time, assembling healthy, but quick meals for the girls.  Summer-time dinners are easy and fun, and often do not require much preparation.

With the garden producing green beans, long beans and shiso in abundance, I am able to offer lightning fast meals.

In the past week, the girls had a variety of classic summer Japanese dishes such as:

Zarusoba, or chilled, drained, soba noodles, served with a dipping dashi based sauce, topped with chopped scallions, julienned shiso and grated ginger.

Hiyayakko, or chilled and drained medium-firm tofu cubes, served with a dipping sauce of soy sauce, garnished with chopped scallions, thinly sliced shiso, grated ginger, katsuobushi and sesame seeds

Blanched okra, cut into 1/4 inch slices, with ponzu sauce

Blanched string beans, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, served with soy sauce and katsuobushi

Tamago dofu, or literally “egg tofu” – conventional, and store-bought – but one of my all-time favorites as a child.  It’s essentially, savory egg custard, served cold, with a dashi “soup”

Fresh tomatoes with a bit of salt (or none)

Yet, after a few continuous days of light, summer eating, I started craving a hearty, belly-warming soup.

Lentil soup fit the bill.

Into a large pot, I brought 6 cups of water, and 2 cups of chicken stock to boil. 

Into the pot (in order) went the following:

2 cups dry lentils – picked over, rinsed, and drained

2 onions, quartered, and cut into bite sized pieces

3 medium potatoes, peeled, rinsed, and cut into bite-sized pieces

3 carrots, peeled, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 tbs of powdered shiitake

Two large handfuls of string beans – these are from the garden, so I’m not sure how much they weigh.  I cleaned them, and cut them into inch-long pieces, de-stringing some of the larger beans.  I have a mixture of home-grown long-beans and regular string beans in this soup.

I simmered this over medium heat until the lentils plumped up, and became tender (about 30 – 40 minutes).  I seasoned with a little sea salt, pepper, as well as a tablespoon of soy sauce.  Sometimes I season with a drizzle of olive oil and salt, or even, a good amount of sriracha sauce. 


I often serve poached eggs with whole wheat toast for the girls’ breakfast, and the girls love their “dip-dip” eggs.  For this week, I served the poached egg over the lentil soup, and allowed them to sprinkle just a little sea-salt (on their own) over the egg.  They then carefully broke open the yolks, and mixed it into their soup, and enjoyed their “dip-dip” egg soup.

“Jiji, Baba, we had LENZU-MAME (lens-shaped, Japanese name for lentils) soup today!”  they announced on skype. 

“Mame-mame!” the little one happily added.



A hen-of-the-woods-sardine-capers extravaganza

19 Aug

My children’s daycare provider is a retired nurse, who also happens to be an Italian grandmother. 

Often, as I drop off the girls in the morning, I am greeted by the unmistakable, scrumptious fragrances of their lunches.  My stomach grumbles, and I start salivating as my girls bounce into the house, and I’m sent off to work with:

“We’re having turkey meatball soup with pastina, kale and beans!”

“We’re having whole wheat pasta with sautéed zucchini, onions, eggplant in homemade gravy!”

“We’re having freshly made waffles with fresh blueberries!”

This past week, I was a bit flustered every night as I raced against bedtime(s) to prepare dinner for the girls.  We had gone away over the weekend, so I did not have my usual opportunity to pre-cook in advance. 

I needed something quick to prepare, that was healthy, but hearty.

Upon a quick search, I was happy to find ingredients for a quick meal.  The pantry produced some sardines, capers, a jar of tomato sauce, and whole wheat linguine.  The garden had some fresh onions and tomatoes.  The refrigerator had garlic and a package of maitake.   I was ready to cook.

Dinner was going to be linguine with a sardine, maitake and caper sauce.  My kids cheered when I said “We’re going to have men-men (their nickname for long noodles) and osakana (translation:  fish).”

MEN MEN!” both girls jumped up and down, and clapped.

They then, ran into the living room to prepare their own version of dinner at their play-kitchen.

Here’s how I made this dish:

2 cans sardines in water, drained (conventional)

1 package fresh maitake – I use Hokuto brand maitake, which I carefully rinse, and then roughly chop into 1 inch pieces

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 red onions, minced

2 tbs capers, drained

Handful cherry tomatoes, or a medium tomato cut into bite-size chunks can also work

2/3 jar Trader Joe’s Basil and Tomato Marinara sauce (adjust the amount depending on your preference for more or less liquid)

1 tbs olive oil

Whole wheat linguine – enough for 2 adults.  The amounts above made enough sauce for 2 adult meals – this was enough for the girls and myself.  Papa was working late – and he’s not a sardine fan… he doesn’ t know what he’s missing!

Heat up the oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion, and stir well until fragrant.  Add the drained sardines (I pick out the intestines, but don’t remove skin or bones) and break the pieces up with a wooden spoon.  Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, and capers, and mix everything together.  Lower the heat and allow to simmer.

In the interim, bring a large pot of water to boil.  I add two large pinches of salt.  Once the water’s boiling, add the linguine, and cook until al dente.

Once the pasta’s done, I drain the pasta, reserving a ladleful of the pasta water, and stir into the sauce.  Plate the pasta, and ladle the sauce.  Add some freshly ground pepper or cheese if you prefer.

The girls enjoyed picking out the capers, and swirling their forks through the linguine.  My mother, who watched them devour their dinners, suggested adding freshly julienned shiso to the sauce as seasoning.  I’ve had a bumper crop of the fragrant herb so this certainly is a good idea!

Taking a deep breath – it’s August already… Brandywines, San Marzanos and more

5 Aug

“You know, you haven’t been as diligent with your blog these days…”

An honest comment from my father last night as we skyped – the girls eating dinner, while my parents (Jiji and Baba) took turns talking to them.  I certainly need to get back into my routine of blogging – but it’s difficult these days,  trying to soak in the long, summer days without the restrictions of school schedules, wake-ups and the dreaded daylight’s savings…  No, not a mikka bouzu, but… simply summer laziness?

Last night’s dinner included:

Freshly picked edamame – boiled for 4 minutes until they turn brilliant green, then sprinkled with sea salt.

Seared flank steak (TJ’s conventional, but I believe non-antibiotic), marinated with a minced garlic-(conventional) ginger-soy sauce-rice vinegar-Trader Joe’s 21 spice rub, and seared on the grill.

Freshly picked green beans – string beans and yardlong beans, blanched, and cut into inch long pieces, seasoned with katsuobushi  and soy sauce.

Handful of freshly picked yellow grape tomatoes

The garden is yielding an amazing amount of vegetables, starting with tomatoes ranging from the yellow grape tomatoes, San Marzano Roma tomatoes, gorgeous blush-hued Brandywine tomatoes, and Beefsteak tomatoes.  This is the first year I was successful with the Brandywines, and I was struck by how beautiful they are.  The tomatoes are ridged – some almost look knotted – but they all seem to glow a breath-taking rose as they ripen on the vine.  I thought my eyes were failing on me the first time I picked one that was ripe – I actually rubbed my eyes, thinking something was wrong.  How could a tomato be pink?  Oh, my dear reader – they can be pink, and they delicately and deliciously transition from the light, sea green to a bashful pink.  And the taste!  They are juicy and bursting with flavor, and I couldn’t help but eat a whole tomato (the size of my hand!), cut into wedges with salt in one sitting – barely breathing between the pieces because I felt I’d miss something by pausing, and hastily wiping away the juice running down my chin.  It tasted of summer sunshine in each bite.

The beans are also growing quickly – there are several types – Kentucky Blue (your typical string beans), flat green beans (we received a bean packet from a local fair that we planted), two types of yard-long beans (one is red, the other green), and of course, edamame

The cucumbers seemed to have failed this year due to the glitch with my sprinkler system – I’ve got rogue summer yellow squash, butternut squash and spaghetti squash that regenerated out of the compost pile – and have monopolized any area outside of the raised beds, virtually dominating the sprinkler head directed at the cucumber trellis.  We did get a good harvest early on – but not certain I’ll have any more this summer.

Shiso is growing under the poles, shaded by bean vines reaching upwards.  The artichoke is also growing, I cut one artichoke last night – I just need to steam it for the girls to “dip-dip” in a soy sauce vinaigrette. 

Potatoes are also growing – another compost re-generator, and I’m curious to see what they look like when we dig them up.

In the evenings, when I can manage to squeeze into the garden with the girls, I watch them go from the garden to the garden hose to rinse them before eating their pickings – the little one declaring she wants edamame – although I suspect every green bean she picks is considered an edamame in her book.  The older one carefully picks tomatoes, yellow ones, orange ones, red ones, and runs to the garden hose, rinsing them off, these summer jewels, and popping them in her mouth.

Summer appears to be picking up momentum as we lazily float down these wonderfully carefree times – but school is right around the corner, and my bento battle (at least for Saturdays) will start in two weeks.

As for photos of my garden – apologies for the lack of them – I was too busy picking, eating and chasing Kiki, my chocolate lab, out of the garden before I realized I left my camera inside…


PS.  Today’s NY Times has a wonderful article by Mark Bittman – one of my favorite columnists regarding “The Proper Way to treat Heirlooms.”  A timely article!