Yugawara Sekitei

We headed out of Kyoto to Yugawara, which is a smallish spa town in Kanagawa between Kyoto and Tokyo. A hot springs stay is a bit of an indulgence but well worth it after so many days of slogging around. Traveling can be such exhausting business! I was looking forward to a long soak and just sitting around doing nothing for a while. I think the problem with traveling is that you always feel like you have to be doing something. It’s too much pressure!

For our hot springs inn, my dad picked Sekitei, which has a few branches in various spa towns. This one was their Yugawara inn. My brother kept whining about how the inn we stayed at in Hakone a few years back was far superior, but whatever. I think every time he goes back to Japan, he just wants to revisit all the same places he loved over and over.

I will say that the food was less to my palate this time, but I’m not sure if it was just the selection of the ingredients or the culinary skill. Everything was gorgeous, at least. The package included a one night stay in their Japanese style tatami suite, 24-hour access to their hot springs (indoor and outdoor), one kaiseki style dinner and breakfast. Pictured above is the first course from the dinner. You’ll have to forgive my lack of commentary on the food, since I don’t remember a lot of the specifics! (^__^);;

The rest:
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Thanksgiving 2011

Okay, so totally belated, but I really wanted to post these pics from Thanksgiving because it was an amazing time with lots of great food, and it would be a shame to let these linger away on my hard drive.

Hosted by my favorite foodie pair N & I, Turkey Day 2011 was bound to be a dazzling affair and it did not disappoint. Pictured above is the turkey that was purchased from an (Amish?) farm somewhere, and shipped fresh and express. I thought it came out really well, succulent and perfect. (Sorry it’s at a weird angle…it was hard to get it all in one shot!)

The rest of the feast after the jump:

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25 Sep 2011, 3:46pm
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Ravioli Party

A few weeks ago, I was invited to a ravioli dinner party. I actually didn’t think I’d be blogging the event, as I didn’t even bring my camera. I kind of regretted not bringing it after seeing how beautiful everything was! Happily, one of the dinner guests (Dan) did bring a camera, so all the pictures herein are credited to him. Thanks, Dan!

The party itself was really lovely. We must’ve opened half a dozen wine bottles while chatting about everything from international travels to hypothetical animal life-companions (don’t ask) all the while Cibo Matto played ambient music in the background. (I don’t remember if their “Shut up and eat!” song was in rotation). At one point in the evening, we witnessed something quite amazing: an enormous flock of birds circling the building next door in a surreal ritual of sorts. After circling around for about an hour, they dived into a chimney, one after the other. It was the most bizarre thing I’d ever seen.

I digress. Aside from the wonderful company and appropriate dinner room conversation, the highlight was definitely the fabulous food. Our hostess went all out with everything! Pictured above is the crustini, with grilled veggies and crumbly cheese. (^__^)/

The rest after the jump:

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28 Aug 2011, 11:25pm
dessert dinner:
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Kaz Sushi Bistro

Hey everyone! Hope you all survived Hurricane Irene this weekend! I lost power for about three hours early this morning, but other than that, things are pretty much back to normal. I’m quite shocked that the outage didn’t last longer. Pepco is either stepping up at last, or things weren’t as bad as expected around here. I’m accustomed to being out of power for days in such situations, though “accustomed” doesn’t mean it’s any less annoying…

In any case, hello again! I figured it would be quite remiss of me to end August without having blogged once during this month, so here I am. (^__^)/

Today I’m posting about Kaz Sushi Bistro, a place that I actually went to a few years ago and just had a so-so impression of at the time. I’m not sure why that was. Maybe it had something to do with high expectations. I went there shortly after a presentation I’d seen at the Smithsonian on Japanese cuisine, where Chef Kazuhiro Okochi and the illustrious Chef Masaharu Morimoto both did presentations. (This included an awe-inspiring demo of Morimoto breaking down a large fish with masterful knifing skills. It’s not the same watching him on TV vs live-action. I was in the presence of greatness). I am a huge fan of Morimoto, so when I heard that he’d sat down with Kaz at his restaurant and talked shop with him, my expectations just skyrocketed. Perhaps this was somewhat unfair. Regardless, I just never had a chance to try Kaz’s for a second go, so I went back again about a month ago, with optimism.

It probably helped that I was with an equally enthusiastic food-lover (the “Digital Nomad” Drew). I find that when you dine with other food aficionados, the meal just ends up tasting better. Such was the case this time.

Pictured above is the sushi we ordered a la carte. They were all quite fabulous, though my particular favorites were the sweet shrimp and the Walu (Hawaiian white toro). Everything was fresh and tasty. The rolls could have been a little more tightly bound, as some were falling open at the seam, but the flavors were spot on, at least.

The rest after the jump:

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Easter

Happy May Day everybody! I’m veering off my slowly trickling Hawaii posts to write about last week’s tour de force of culinary mastery known as the Easter Pot-luck Dinner of Epicness. Hosted by my friends who also brought you their Christmas Dinner (where, if you recall, we couldn’t congratulate ourselves enough for a job well done), the event was filled to the brim with so much food and fabulosity that the guests hardly knew what to do with it all. And to make matters even more intense, we had a rowdy game of Taboo afterward that I don’t think I’ve recovered from yet. (Ever notice that when you’re playing this game, your voice keeps rising and rising until you realize you’re screaming at the top of your lungs? I think somehow this contributes to the effectiveness of your strategy, because everyone gets so crazed that they shout back anything, everything that comes to mind, and ONE of those things has to be the right answer!!)

Pictured above is the ham, which our lovely hostess made using Alton Brown’s City Ham recipe. Alton is always a good bet, and it certainly was the case here. The ham actually came out quite late in the evening, but I still scarfed down a few succulent slices despite the fact that I’d already eaten enough food for 3 people. The crust was wondrous and crispy, and the meat perfectly cooked.

The rest:

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31 Dec 2010, 4:41pm
dinner holiday
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Christmas Dinner

Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone! I still have quite the backlog of posts to get to (*glances uneasily at the folder filled with pic files from months ago*), but those will have to wait until next year. XD I’m going to make it my new year’s resolution to try and get posts done in a more timely manner, but in the meantime, I wanted to share pics from my Christmas dinner! My friends cooked up a festive meal – to which I contributed one dish – and it was absolutely fabulous. In fact, we spent most of the night congratulating ourselves on our culinary masterpieces, and declared the dinner to be a smashing success that deserved all the praise we lavished upon it.

Pictured above is the roasted chicken (one of 2), which was accompanied by a nice mustard seed gravy. The chicken was perfectly cooked and juicy. o(^___^)o

The rest –

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2 Aug 2010, 7:00am
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Chirashi zushi

Chirashi zushi is a whole bowl of sushi-fabulosity that’s relatively easy to make at home. Pictured here is my mom’s chirashi, and I gotta tell ya, no one makes it like my mama. XD I suppose I’m just accustomed to this palate, but she’s got a subtle hand that coaxes out the best balance of vinegar, sugar, and salt in the rice. She also makes the best Japanese omelet, which is almost always my favorite topping in her chirashi. ♥

Toppings can be chef’s choice, though obviously raw fish is usually key. This chirashi is topped with tuna, omelet, marinated eel, fake crab meat, and squid. Radish sprouts, shredded seaweed, and shiso leaves to garnish.

A few more pics:

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6 Dec 2009, 12:17pm
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Shabu Shabu

shabu shabu

First post in December! Can’t believe we’re already at the end of the year, but here we are. I’m not done with my San Francisco posts yet, but before I plow into the big dinner post, I’m taking a quick detour to post about homemade shabu shabu. Now, I’ve never actually been to a shabu shabu restaurant stateside, so I’m not really sure what’s done in those establishments. Personally, I think that unless you’re looking for particularly high grade places that have the sort of high end ingredients you would be unable to find at your local grocer, a homemade shabu shabu is the way to go! It’s easy to throw together, and it’s just the thing on a cold winter’s day. (Wouldn’t you want to stay inside on such a day?)

Basically, it’s a do-it-yourself meal, where you cook your food as you eat in a bubbling pot (a nabe). The water is usually lightly seasoned with kombu seaweed and maybe some hondashi – a bonito soup stock. It’s totally up to you which ingredients you want to cook. A shabu shabu usually involves some kind of meat – I usually like very thinly sliced beef. Non-meat versions usually center around tofu, and you’d call that a “yudofu.”

Aside from the beef, this particular shabu shabu (which I had a few days ago…yum!) also included sliced green onions, tofu, fresh shitake mushrooms, radish sprouts and lettuce. The lettuce is kind of an interesting addition…you usually wouldn’t think that boiled lettuce is very good, but it adds a nice flavor and does retain a little crunch. I usually like adding noodles to mine, like udon or harusame, but we didn’t have any on hand.

One more under the cut…

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Thanksgiving!

thanks turkey

Hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving!! I’m a little backed up in posts, and I haven’t even gotten to my San Francisco material yet. However, I’m skipping ahead to do my Thanksgiving post now, before it gets so pushed back that you’re reading about it at Christmas. XD;;

So this year, I was invited again to my dear friends’ I & N’s place. (You know, I’m never quite sure if I ought to use real names here…if I blog about you, let me know if you mind?) It was as fabulous a spread as it was the year before, both food and company wise! The first thing that caught my eye when I entered the dining room at a quarter to four was of course, this gorgeous turkey pictured above, brined and cooked via a great recipe by Alton Brown. Several side dishes already lined the table, while numerous others were finishing in the oven. There were so many dishes it was hard to keep up!

I tried to take at least a bite of everything, but there’s sadly only a finite amount of food I can throw back in one sitting. There’s much to get through, so without further ado:

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7 Sep 2009, 12:00pm
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Cottage Pie

cottage pie done

Shepherd’s Pie (or cottage pie) is my ultimate comfort food. It’s got so many of my favorite things piled one on top of the other, and best of all – it’s so easy even *I* can make it. \(^O^)/ And I make a damn good cottage pie, if I can say so myself. Actually, all of it is thanks to Alton Brown and his fabulously simple but delicious recipe for shepherd’s pie. I just substitute ground beef for ground lamb to convert it into cottage pie. Though someday, I would like to make a true shepherd’s pie with lamb.

My friend Jen is my big enabler. She has cottage pie once a week, much to my extreme jealousy. Every time she mentions having cottage pie for dinner, it makes me crave the stuff. Unfortunately for me, oven usage is kind of a big deal in my household, since Japanese people just don’t bake. My oven is used as a storage device, not a cooking mechanism.

Last week, after hearing my friend mention cottage pie yet again, I was determined to make this stuff, oven or no! I decided to utilize my toaster oven to make a couple ‘mini’ pies stuffed into small meat loaf pans. I was apprehensive about putting the tiny oven to work like this, but I had to give it a try. And what do you know? SUCCESS!

See below the cut for the making-of. X)

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25 Aug 2009, 9:33pm
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Okonomiyaki

okonomiyaki

Wiki describes “okonomiyaki” as Japanese style savory pancake, and that’s pretty much what it is. Literally meaning “fry it as you like it,” it’s one of the signature dishes from the city of Osaka, my honorary hometown. They have something similar in Hiroshima, but it’s piled high with noodles, which scared me a little.

The ‘pancake’ batter is pretty simple. A standard okonomiyaki has a base of cabbage (thinly shredded), flour, egg, water. Some people season the batter with salt and aji no moto (MSG, the source of all ‘umami’). Where you take it from there is “as you like it!”

This variant pictured above is made with squid, so it’s an ‘ikadama’ (ika=squid; tama=egg). Squid is the best kind, in my opinion, though pork works just as well! The key to making a good okonomiyaki is to be gentle with the batter. You don’t want to push it around too much. And once it’s on the grill, don’t press down on it, or you’ll flatten out all the texture.

There’s a special sauce that goes with it (called – surprise surprise, okonomiyaki sauce) that you can get at the Asian grocer, though you can mix up your own sauces if you like. Sprinkle on some ao-nori (dried seaweed seasoning) and katsuo (shaved bonito flakes) just before serving.

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21 Jul 2009, 5:58am
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Unagi Don

unagi don

It is midsummer, which can only mean one thing: Eel Eating Day!! \(^O^)/ Also known as “doyo no ushi hi,” it’s a day set aside for the consumption of eel. Apparently eel gives you the energy to withstand the heat of summer. To me though, it’s just GOOD EATS.

Eel is surprisingly easy to prepare, because…you barely have to prepare anything at all! Just pick up an eel at your Asian market (freezer section), as it comes pre-marinated and pre-cooked. Throw the thing in the microwave to warm up. Slice and serve, done!

Or you can make a donburi by throwing it over rice and tossing in a few other ingredients, such as: tare (sauce), kaiware daikon (Japanese radish sprouts), a dash of sansho pepper.

Side of chu-toro sashimi optional, but most desirable. XD

 
 
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