I adore cheesecake! I try to come up with a new flavor of cheesecake once or twice a year. My latest creation is cheesecake bars flavored with Houjicha, a roasted version of Japanese green tea with marvelous fragrance and low caffeine.

Directions:

1. Simmer 200 cc (4/5 cup) of canned, unsweetened, evaporated milk with 10 grams (about 4 Tablespoons) crushed Houjicha leaves until the milk has the dark brown color, fragrance, and flavor of strong Houjicha tea. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. There is no need to strain out the tea leaves.

2. Make a plain pie crust dough using any recipe or product that you like— enough to cover just the bottom of a 9″ x 9″ square baking dish. Blind-bake the crust for 10 minutes at 200 C (400 F).

3. Put the following ingredients into a blender, and blend at high speed for 2 minutes:

pinch salt

250 grams (8 oz) of cream cheese

3 fresh eggs

3 Tablespoons flour

100 grams (2/3 cup) brown sugar

200 cc (4/5 cup) houjicha-infused evaporated milk, cooled to room temperature

4. Pour contents of blender gently over the pie crust bottom in the baking dish. (You may omit the pie crust if you prefer, in which case I suggest you lightly oil the bottom and sides of the baking dish.) Bake at 170 C (325 F) for 40 minutes, or till the cheesecake batter is dry enough that it doesn’t stick to a toothpick when you poke one through the middle.

Beware of overcooking.  I usually pour some hot water into a pan beneath the cheesecake to moisten the air in the oven, so as to protect the fragrance of the cheesecake while baking. If you do this, be careful not to scald yourself when pouring the hot water, or when opening the oven door.

After the cheesecake has cooled to room temperature, cover it with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Before serving, cut it into rectangles and garnish with whipped cream and a sprinkling of chopped candied ginger. I find that the flavor of the houjicha is strongest the second or third day after baking.

This recipe is only mildly sweet. If you prefer very sweet desserts, increase the amount of sugar in the cheesecake batter, or add sugar to the whipped cream.

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This is an example of unsophisticated home-cooking that makes up for its lack of visual pizzaz with wonderful flavor and texture. Age-bitashi is a dish in which the main ingredients have been deep-fried, then soaked in a flavorful broth. The main ingredients of this particular Age-bitashi are Jakoten (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jakoten) and Sato-imo (taro) which are plentiful at this time of year. If you can’t get hold of Jakoten, any fish paste product will probably do. though it will lack the particular texture of Jakoten.

Ingredients (for 4 servings):

Jakoten…….6 blocks (defrost if frozen), cut each block in half

Sato-imo…..1 bag of frozen, peeled sato-imo (300 grams ~450 grams)

Tsuyu (bottled soup base for Japanese-style noodles)….2/3 cup

Takanotsume (Japanese chile pepper)…..1, seeds removed

Cooking oil

Directions:

1. Bring 2/3 cup tsuyu and 2/3 cup water to boil in pot. Simmer the frozen sato-imo in this until tender, but still firm. Then take out the sato-imo and gently remove excess moisture with paper towels. Put the takanotsume (chile pepper) in the remaining broth and simmer for several minutes. Turn off heat and let sit.

2. Deep fry the jakoten halves and the sato-imo in hot oil until they are slightly brown and crispy on the outside. Then remove them to paper towels to drain off excess oil.

3.  While the jakoten and sato-imo are still hot, place them gently into the pot of broth from step 1, and let them soak up the flavors of the broth as they cool (about fifteen minutes). Arrange them on a serving dish and pour the broth over the top, garnishing with a piece of the takanotsume.


This bento (Japanese-style packed meal) is my response to the #twitterpastaparty challenge (any kind of noodles permitted). After rummaging through my stock of food staples to see what was on hand, I decided to make one item with harusame (bean threads/cellophane noodles) and another with some chlorella-enriched, greenish somen (very thin, wheat noodles which are usually white).  As wrappers, I chose rice paper for the harusame, and nori seaweed sheets for the somen.

A. Harusame Rolls

Reconstitute dried harusame according to package directions and drain well. Stir-fry any combination of very thinly sliced, preferably colorful vegetables, meat, garlic (crushed), fresh ginger (grated), or whatever suitable leftovers you have on hand. Cook for two minutes, or till veggies are tender. Add the drained harusame to the pan for the final minute of stir-frying. Season with soy sauce & sesame oil to taste. Let the mixture cool.

Reconstitute rice paper according to package directions and spread desired amount of cooled harusame mixture across it, rolling it up according to package directions. Wrap the roll in plastic wrap. When you’re ready to pack the lunch container, cut the roll (without removing the plastic wrap) into segments that just fit your container when lined up vertically. Remove the plastic wrap from each roll when you’re ready to eat it.

B. Somen Rolls

Place uncooked somen noodles and raw carrot sticks in a pot of boiling water and cook for 2-4 minutes over high heat (depends on thickness of somen). Drain the noodles and carrot sticks, running cold water over them to chill them quickly. Separate the carrots from the noodles, and remove excess moisture. Toss the noodles with just a bit of concentrated tsuyu (dipping sauce for noodles or tempura) for flavor. Powdered dashi/Japanese soup stock also works.

Spread some of the noodles over a sheet of nori seaweed, leaving an inch or so of margin at the top and bottom. Place a row or two of carrots over the noodles, along the middle. I happened to have a pack of salt-preserved red shiso leaves (such as used in making umeboshi/Japanese pickled plums), so I rinsed these well, patted them dry, and cut them into wide strips. I placed these strips next to the carrots. If you have something like this that makes a nice color-and-taste-contrast with the noodles and carrots, use that instead. Roll up the nori sheet along with its contents. Wrap the roll in plastic wrap. When you’re ready to pack the lunch container, cut the roll (without removing the plastic wrap) into segments that just fit your container when lined up vertically. Remove the plastic wrap from each roll when you’re ready to eat it.

I filled the remaining space in the container with grilled chicken pieces (which had been marinated in smoky spices) and unseasoned, steamed asparagus segments.  Somen and stir-fried harusame often feature in our family suppers. So normally I make sure I have leftovers, and then all I have to do the next morning is roll up the noodles in their wraps and pack them in the lunch boxes. No hassle at all. : )


I packed lunches for my husband and kids five days a week for over twenty years. Then the kids grew up and left home, and my husband began to eat lunch at the company cafeteria to save me trouble. The part of me that had felt both burden and joy in preparing bento (Japanese-style packed meals) went into dormancy for almost ten years. But when I began interacting with other bento-lovers on Twitter, my urge to make bentos was re-ignited.

Bento-making had undergone a huge change while I had been busy with other things. It’s so much more fashionable now than it was back then. Books about bento-making abound in both the East and the West, and cute little gadgets are marketed to do the garnishing housewives once did awkwardly by hand. Not to mention the huge variety of bento boxes sold to satisfy every conceivable taste.

Well, my bentos no longer have to satisfy any taste but my own. And my taste is based simply on my taste buds. So today’s post is all about flavor, not about appearance. If you’d like to give this bento a try, you can make it as pretty as you want to. Deal?

Recipe for Oven-baked Ume-Chicken  (Autumn version)

Ingredients:

1 lb boneless chicken thighs with skin, cut into bite-sized pieces

20 fresh shiso leaves, torn up a bit

5 large (or 8 medium) honey-marinated, soft umeboshi (Japanese picked plums), pitted

1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1 cup sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms

1 clove fresh garlic, bitter core removed, then coarsely chopped

salt, pepper, olive oil, sake

Directions:

1. Rinse the chicken with a little sake to remove any unpleasant smell. Pat dry. Brown the surface of the chicken pieces (especially the skin side) in a hot non-stick wok or skillet drizzled with a little olive oil; then drain on paper towels.

2. Place torn shiso leaves, pitted umeboshi, and chopped garlic in a blender or food processor with enough olive oil to allow it to whirl effectively. When the mixture is a lumpy paste (doesn’t have to be smooth), remove to mixing bowl.  Taste-test it, then add salt and pepper to bring the flavors into focus. The amount will depend on how salty your umeboshi are. If you can’t find honey-marinated umeboshi, try to find a low-sodium variety. And if you can’t find that, go with traditional umeboshi– perhaps using fewer than the recipe calls for.

3. Add browned chicken pieces, sliced shiitake, and chopped walnuts to the bowl and stir into the paste so they are evenly coated.

4. Turn the contents of the bowl out onto a lightly oiled baking dish. It works best if the chicken is laid out in one layer (skin-side up), rather than overlapping. Bake in a pre-heated 200 C (400 F) degree oven for 30-40 minutes.

I serve this hot for supper and reserve enough leftovers for my bento the next morning. In my opinion, it tastes even better the next day. The flavors become more pronounced when cooled and it makes a perfect match with steamed white or brown rice. PS: I sprinkled the rice in my bento with umeboshi-flavored sesame seeds.


As is often the case, what started out as a clean-out-the-fridge day resulted in one of the tastiest suppers I’ve made in a long time. I had some fresh pork, sliced very very thin. Two packs of eringhi mushrooms. And just a bit of mixed greens and a few leftover carrot sticks. I immediately thought of an old, but reliable standby: pan-fried pork-wrapped veggie bundles. But I was completely out of rice, and needed something starchy to round out the meal. Then I remembered I still had some “bricks” of brown rice mochi (glutinous rice that has been steam-cooked, pounded smooth, stretched out flat, cut into bricks, and dried).

Ingredients:

Very thinly sliced lean-ish pork

Fresh eringhi mushrooms

Dried mochi “bricks”

katakuriko (potato starch); may substitute with corn starch

concentrated soba tsuyu (the basis of soup or dipping sauce for soba noodles)

Directions:

Slice each mochi brick lengthwise into four equal segments. Slice the mushrooms in pieces that are as close in thickness and length to the mochi segments as you can. Brown the mochi segments in an oiled frying pan till the sides are crisp and the centers are soft. Remove the mochi to a plate to cool. Pan-fry the mushroom segments till they are soft, then remove them to the plate to cool.

Spread out the pork slices and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper on both sides. Then sprinkle both sides with potato starch. Place one or two mochi segments and a few mushroom segments near the widest end of a pork slice and roll it up towards the narrow end. Do that to all the remaining pork slices.

Place the pork bundles seam-side down in a heated, lightly oiled frying pan and cook over medium heat for 3~4 minutes. When the bottom sides of the bundles are cooked through and crispy, turn them over to make them crispy on the other side. If you have extra vegetables, toss them into the pan at this time and cover the pan with a lid for a few minutes. Then drizzle some soba tsuyu over the contents of the pan and roll the pork bundles around till they are coated with the tsuyu.

Place the cooked pork bundles on a bed of mixed greens and sprinkle the extra veggies over the top. The more colorful the veggies are, the prettier it will look. I call these mochi-mochi pork bundles not only because I used mochi in the recipe, but also because mochi-mochi is an adjective used to describe the glutinous quality that is part of what makes this recipe so yummy.


It’s hard for me to believe that Japan is the only country where burdock root is eaten as a vegetable, but I’ve read it and I’ve heard it time and time again, so I guess it’s true. I have a great respect for root vegetables, especially the ones commonly used in Japanese cooking, including daikon radish, Japanese sweet potato, lotus root, ginger root, mountain yam, and burdock root.

Let me quote from my trusty Dictionary of Japanese Food by Richard Hosking: It is only in Japan that burdock root is eaten as a vegetable, usually about 1 m long and 3 cm thick. In China it is used as a medicine. The root is a very good source of dietary fiber and nutrients, and should be scrubbed rather than peeled, since much of the flavor is close to the skin.

Hosking goes on to write of how burdock is cut and soaked in cold water with a bit of vinegar, but there are more ways to cut burdock than he says, and soaking it in vinegar-water is not only to reduce its bitterness, but also to leech it of whatever it is that makes everything burdock is cooked with to turn brown. But not too long, or you lose much of the nutrition as well. If the prep is done correctly, there is no reason to avoid using burdock in hot pots (nabemono) as Hosking claims.

But in the dish I’m introducing today, I’ve used dried, not fresh, burdock. And I’ve turned it into a non-traditional salad with beef tongue and mixed greens. The burdock is already prepped and sliced into thin matchsticks before drying, so it’s all ready to use.

Ingredients:

dried, pre-sliced burdock root…..50 grams
beef tongue (sliced almost paper-thin, salted lightly)….200 grams
mixed salad greens….a couple handfuls
mayonnaise, Korean hot pepper paste, dark sesame oil, sesame seeds… in varying amounts

Directions:

1. Put dried burdock in a heat-proof bowl and cover it in very hot water (water that had been brought to boiling before taking off the stove). Let the burdock soak for 5 minutes, then drain off the water and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Quickly cook the sliced beef tongue in a frying pan with a bit of oil. Remove from pan, and set aside.
3. Whisk mayonnaise, hot pepper paste and sesame oil together in a bowl. The amounts are up to you, but I use about 1/4 cup mayo, the smallest bit of hot pepper paste (like the round end of a match), and a short drizzle of sesame oil.
4. Toss the burdock and beef tongue in the mayo blend. Let it soak up the flavors for a few minutes. It tastes even better chilled, if you make it ahead of time. When you’re ready to serve it,  pile the mixture on a bed of mixed greens and sprinkle the top with black sesame seeds.

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Note: Using dried burdock is a huge time saver, and it has a long shelf life. If you live where you can’t get fresh burdock, you may be able to find the dried product at an Asian food market. Unfortunately, it isn’t as fragrant as fresh burdock. Sliced beef tongue is a popular ingredient in Japan, mostly for cooking on a grill, so it can be bought pre-sliced and often pre-seasoned with salt or miso. If you can’t get it pre-sliced and aren’t used to prepping a whole uncooked beef tongue (which can be time-consuming), use some other meat that can be sliced very thinly and cooked quickly. See my recipe for Pork Shabu Salad. For more Japanese root vegetable dishes, see my recipe for Japanese New Years Soup. I have lots more root veggie recipes–just click root vegetables in the tag cloud.


If you live in Japan, or have access to some of the more common Japanese snack foods, you have certainly seen– and probably eaten– some of the huge variety of dried squid products that are usually packaged in small quantities as a jerky-type snack to accompany alcoholic beverages. I’m a great lover of squid myself, especially since I live where it’s easy to buy for dinner squid that has been caught early that same morning. There’s nothing like fresh seafood…unless, of course, it’s dried and smoked, which is a whole ‘nuther taste experience. I am not a drinker, but I love dried squid, especially if it has been smoked. With minimal effort, it can be turned into something more substantial than snack food. I used smoked squid rings for the following main dish salad, for example. You can probably come up with more tasty ideas, so be sure to share them with me.

ingredients:

1 package smoked squid rings

1 red onion

2~4  Japanese cucumbers (thin, with minimal seeds)

olive oil, apple cider vinegar (to taste)

directions:

Peel the cucumbers, leaving some streaks of the green skin. Cut the cucumbers into thin diagonal slices. Remove the papery and tougher layers of the onion; cut the rest into thin rings or half-rings. Put cucumber slices, onion slices, and dried squid rings into a medium-sized bowl and toss with olive oil and vinegar. (The smoked squid will provide plenty of salt, so don’t add any at this stage.) Put contents of bowl in a plastic bag and marinate in the refrigerator for an hour or overnight. Serve in desired portions as is, or stir some mixed greens into it for a fuller main dish salad.

Add any other fresh veggies you like for added color, texture, and nutrition.