Saturday, June 29, 2013

One Dish Rice Cooker Meal

I wrote previously about how I've been baking in my rice cooker.  I tried another recipe, this time for a full meal, earlier this week.  Raku recently introduced me to farro, and I'm in love.  It's a grain, bigger than rice, with a nutty flavor and a great chewy texture.  I bought some at an Italian grocery and when I saw a rice cooker recipe for Balsamic Chicken with Mushrooms and Farro I knew I had to try it.

You just combine all the ingredients in the rice cooker (after marinating the chicken), and turn it on.

I was worried I was going to end up with some gross half-cooked chicken, or some other sort of disaster.  But when it finished there was a completely cooked meal waiting for us.

So, here's my final review.  The mushrooms and farro were great, but the chicken was overcooked.  It's possible that this is my fault because I bought really small chicken breasts that were already pounded pretty thin.  A regular one might have come out perfectly.  When I try it again I'll post an update.  Otherwise I think the chicken could do with some garlic and salt in the marinade, but overall I'd recommend it.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thinking Tropical Thoughts

The sun is finally out!  I'm not sure if it's a just a brief reprieve or if rainy season is winding down, but the sun is back, the sky is blue, and when I check my weather app there is no rain predicted for the next five days.  Heaven!  My herbs are just as happy as I am.

Cilantro, Basil, and Mint
Yesterday I found these seasonal summer pocky.  I think I was more excited about the tropical advertising than actually eating them, but who doesn't love a seasonal snack?

Mango-Pineapple and Chocolate-Coconut Pocky
The best news of all is that last night we booked a weekend trip to Okinawa.  It's not until October, but I  already can't wait!  I even painted my nails orange to match my tropical state of mind.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Earthquake Kit

Let's take a minute to talk about earthquakes.  It's been strange to adjust to living in a place where earthquakes are an inevitability.  But Japan does an amazing job preparing for and dealing with them.  Building are built on rolling foundations with specially reinforced frames to withstand earthquakes, every neighborhood has a designated evacuation zone, and everyone is advised to keep an earthquake kit.  In the Tohoku earthquake in 2011, 92.5% of people died from drowning after the tsunami, which is of course terrible, but it illustrates how well prepared Japan is for earthquakes.  And luckily Tokyo is in a protected bay that greatly reduced the chance of a tsunami.

Because of the safety of the buildings, earthquake kits are more for the chance that we might spend a considerable time without power after a major earthquake.  The government puts of recommendations of what to include, and I thought I might share ours.

Our Earthquake Kit
 These are the non-perishable foods I chose.  Mainly because they had the latest expiration date.  You don't want to have to constantly be replacing this stuff.

 LED flashlights, with lots of extra batteries.

For health purposes, alcohol wipes, bandaids, and face masks.  There could be lots of debris in the air.

Since the electricity could be out, candles, matches, and heat packs in case it's cold.

This last thing was John's idea.  Portable battery chargers for cell phone are really popular, so we got one with lots of extra batteries.  Cell towers and internet could still be out, but it seems better to have the possibility of being able to contact people rather than just having a dead phone.  And then some trash bags, just because it's a recommended item.

The final thing, which is not part of the kit exactly, but is important to have, is a good supply of water.  In an emergency, stores could be closed (or bought out quickly).  And even worse is the idea of having to carry a lot upstairs if the elevator isn't working (we live on the 18th floor).  I recommend ordering it on Amazon so you never have to carry it (even in a working elevator).

12 2-Liter Bottles

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Baking in a Rice Cooker

Will I sound crazy if I admit that sometimes I daydream about my old kitchen in America? It's true. Before coming here I was a pretty good cook, and an excellent baker.  It's the baking I miss. It's such a calming process. You start with all these raw ingredients, but when you combine them in just the right way you end up with a beautiful product. And I love to bake for people. Well, it's hard to do that without an oven.

Lately I've been focusing more on cooking, and I've learned a lot. My techniques are improving, and I''m learning a lot of delicious recipes. (Thai peanut noodles for dinner tonight with homemade raspberry sorbet for dessert) One way that my kitchen has improved though, is that I own a rice cooker now. Cooking rice has always been a pain, but now it's so simple, and the rice comes out perfectly every time.  It's amazing!

Rice Cooker Love!

A couple weeks ago I discovered that you can bake in a rice cooker. Crazy! I've got a lot more experimenting to do, but I've already had some pretty exciting results. Some rice cookers have a cake function, but mine doesn't, I've just been doing everything on the regular setting.  

The first thing I tried was a banana bread recipe specifically for rice cookers.  After the first round of baking it wasn't done, so I let it cool for a few minutes and ran it again. (It won't restart when it's too hot) And then a third time. At that point I was afraid the bottom was burning, but the top still wasn't done, so I took a deep breath and flipped it over  I cooked it once more and it came out perfectly. The bottom (now top) had browned a lot, but although it looked burned it didn't taste that way. (This has been my experience with all three baking attempts). The texture and flavor were exactly what you'd hope for with banana bread.

Look!  I baked something in my own house!

For my second attempt I got a little bolder.  I decided to make my regular corn bread recipe (The Pioneer Woman's recipe to be exact). It's a fluffier, buttery corn bread, not a super dense or super sweet recipe - sort of like a corn muffin in texture. I whipped up the batter and put it in, imagining it would take 2 or 3 "sessions" of baking, but it came out perfectly the first time.

Inside the rice cooker bowl

My third attempt was the least successful, and honestly I'm not sure what the problem was yet.  (I need to test more recipes. )  I made a lemon yogurt cake (The Barefoot Contessa's recipe), and after the corn bread expected it to be finished after the first round of cooking.  Yeah, nowhere close.  So, I ran it again.  And again.  It was still gooey on top, so I decided to flip it like the banana bread.  Well, the batter was not as solid as the banana bread, so it sort of slopped all over when I flipped it.  I was pretty sure it was going to be a total disaster.  But after that round of cooking it was done.  The middle was probably a little softer than it should have been (though that might have just been the lemon syrup), but we still ate it.

Not too ugly, huh?
I've done some more reading, and now think I might be able to roast potatoes, and even cook full meals in the rice cooker. It must seem a little crazy, but I'm actually really enjoying this new hobby. I'll update you when I've got more successes (or failures) to share.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Favorite Ramen

Last month I had no problem telling you where the best burger in Tokyo is, but there's no way I could say where the best ramen in Tokyo is.  For starters there is just too much ramen in Tokyo for me to ever try them all.  More importantly there are so many types of broth, noodle, and topping options it would be like me telling you that penne with pesto is categorically better than spaghetti with marinara sauce. But I can tell you about my favorite ramen.  (If John was writing this he might even try to tell you it's the best)

Furyu Ramen in Shibuya
We first on stumbled Furyu with Tim and Christine back in November.  I was hungry and irritable, frustrated that we hadn't been able to find the perfect souvenir for Christine's sister, and sad that they were leaving in a few hours (so probably being a terrible host) when we finally decided to eat lunch.  I ordered the spicy miso ramen and fell in love at first bite.  Honestly, the first time I wasn't sure if it was just so good because I was starving, or if it was really that amazing.  But John and I have been back several times and it is always wonderful.

So delicious and so affordable!

Furyu makes Hakata style ramen which is a wonderful rich pork broth (called tonkotsu) with thin straight white noodles (as opposed to thicker, crinkly, yellow noodles).  The regular tonkotsu is delicious, but the spicy miso paste they stir in takes it to a whole new level of deliciousness.

I'm getting hungry just from the pictures

I normally just get the regular bowl for 600 yen.  It comes with been sprouts, green onions, and some diced up pork.  I really prefer the pork diced into tiny bites that mix into the soup, rather than the larger slices of chashu that John gets.

John's ramen with chashu

Furyu has many locations all over the city, but I personally prefer the Shibuya location.  I thought their ramen was just a little bit better than in Shinjuku.  I'm not sure about the others, but in Shibuya they have an English menu.  They also offer extra noodles, so if you aren't stuffed after the first bowl just call out "Kaedama" to the chef and you can have up to two free noodle refills.

Furyu Ramen
Hours: M-S 11:00 am-3:00 am, Sun 11:00-8:00

Friday, June 14, 2013

Spicy Sausage Doritos and Laser Hair Removal

Raku and I found these at the grocery store, and they were too funny not to try.  They're not bad, though they didn't really taste like sausage.  John thought they were cool ranch - when I showed him the bag his eyes nearly popped out of his head.


Other than the funny snacks, life has been good here. It's rained for the past three days, and is supposed to keep going until Sunday, but we're having a brief (though cloudy) break from the rain.

This afternoon Raku and I have scheduled a consultation for laser hair removal. Apparently it's very common in Japan, and clinics are constantly having crazy specials to lure clients in. We found a package that costs just under $20 and covers 8 sessions (2 years worth) for underarm hair removal. How great would it be to never shave your armpits again? If all goes well I'll report on the process soon.

If you're in Tokyo and sick of shaving, but looking for something a little less permanent than laser hair removal I would recommend Elena Jade salon for waxing.  Elena is Australian, and always fun to chat with while she does her work.  She's licensed in Australia and even trains other estheticians here in Tokyo.  She imports organic products from Australia, and I've always been very pleased with her work.

Hours: Mon-Tues 11:00-9:00, Wed-Fri 10:00-9:00, Sat-Sun 10:00-7:00
Phone: 03-6438-9895
Address: 1-5-19 Azabujuban, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Good Food

I've had a lot of really great things to eat lately (including Korean food for dinner tonight), and I thought they deserved a blog post.

Since we arrived here I've been missing greek yogurt so badly.  Fage is sold in some of the import grocery stores, but the price is just completely insane.  It's like 690 yen for a single serving and 3000 for a medium size.  But, then I discovered that I had just been oblivious to the greek yogurt right in front of me all along.  It's really good and comes in plain, raspberry, and honey.

So delicious!
Moving on to Italian food, a friend taught me a few weeks ago how to make homemade pasta.  I thought it would be really complicated, but it was actually quite simple and fun.

Making Cavatelli

The final product
And finally, we had an incredible mango.  I have to admit that I was totally tricked, and would never have bought it if I knew what was going on.  But it wasn't labeled clearly, and I was in a regular grocery store, not a gift fruit store.  Yeah, I totally bought a mango that cost $20 by accident.

Worth the money?

When it rang up I was so shocked I didn't know what to do, so I just went ahead and paid.  It was definitely the best mango I've ever eaten.  It was incredibly sweet and the texture was perfect.   Not something I'd buy on a regular basis though.

Lately I've been working on some really exciting baking experiments that I'll post about soon - there's still a little more work to be done though.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Spoon Bread in Jiyugaoka

Update: It looks like Spoon Bread may have gone out of business. It was such a great place, I'm sad to see that it's gone.

Yesterday I went to Jiyugaoka with a couple of friends for lunch.  Jiyugaoka is a trendy neighborhood in western Tokyo full of shops, restaurants, and cafes.  Raku and a friend had been dying to go to a popover restaurant called Spoon Bread, and they invited me along.

It turns out Spoon Bread is in the same complex (called Sweets Forest) as Cuoca, the baking shop I visited back in December.  It's a great place to have some lunch (or dessert) and then do some shopping.

We arrived early, so I got pictures before anyone else arrived, but even during the lunch rush it wasn't crowded enough for  anyone to wait for a table.  It might be worse on the weekend though.  The place has an airy, country sort of feel.  I imagine Martha Stewart of Ina Garten could walk in here and feel right at home.

I'd never had a popover before, but was assured that I'd love them.  My two friends (popover experts) proclaimed these to be perfect.  Crunchy, fluffy, chewy, and eggy all at the same time.  This might be blasphemy, but I actually thought the soup was the standout of the meal, but everything we ate was wonderful.

They have number of lunch sets, but we all opted for the soup and salad set for 1200 yen.  There are also individual soup or salad sets that are larger, or a curry set - but we don't think that even comes with a popover.

I had the herbed chicken salad set, and it was fantastic!  The soup was a really rich tomato-y vegetable soup.  The salad was lightly dressed and the chicken was crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and perfectly seasoned.  I loved the soup so much I would almost recommend the Soup lunch, except I wouldn't want to miss out on the salad.  Decisions, decisions.

Another friend tried the avocado and tuna salad.  It came with a light fluffy tuna salad that she said was quite enjoyable topped with a generous portion of avocado.

Raku got the marinated bean salad, which comes in a small bowl, separate from the greens.  She reported that it was dressed very pleasantly in a tangy mustard dressing, and it looks like there were small chunks of avocado mixed in as well.

After lunch two of us got the popover sundae. We each got the half size, which was half of a popover filled with ice cream and whipped cream, then topped with banana slices, chocolate shavings, and chocolate syrup.  (Adzuki beans are an alternate topping to the bananas).  Delicious!  Raku just got a plain popover for dessert - can someone please explain sweets to her?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Japanese Wedding Invitation Etiquette

I recently wrote about our friend Yoshimi who got married, and going to see her wedding photo shoot.  She's having a reception in July, and we just got our invitation.  Not only is the invitation really beautiful, it was an interesting chance to learn a little about invitation and reception etiquette.


The most traditional sort of wedding reception is a large party including family and employers where guests are expected to give money as a gift in a specific gift envelop.  The bills should be new and crisp, and the typical amount is 30,000 yen (about $300).  20,000 yen is considered unlucky because it can easy be divided in half, and can symbolize the couple breaking up. 4 and 9 are also unlucky numbers because they can be pronounced the same way as the words for death and suffering, so 40,000 and 90,000 yen are never appropriate either.  Even if you can't attend you are expected to give this gift, so let's hope you don't know a lot of people getting married around the same time!  Being a student is generally the only exception that makes it alright for you to only give 10,000 yen, but if you're family you're expected to give 50,000 or more!  Yikes!  How do people afford these weddings?

Yoshimi explained that there is a new type of reception becoming more popular today.  The bride and groom will have a small formal party with their families, and then a larger party with friends that family doesn't attend.  Rather than giving cash in the envelopes the invitation will list the price of the event (per person, not per couple) which helps pay for the party.  This is known as a "1.5 party," though I didn't completely understand where the name comes from.  As you can see on our invitation the "contribution" is 12,000 yen/guest, which can be paid to a receptionist when arriving.  In some cases there will be a higher price listed for men than women because it is assumed men will drink more.  This probably feels a little abrupt  if you're a Westerner, which is unusual because the Japanese are not normally so direct.

The Invitation

An RSVP postcard is included with the invitation that is already stamped and addressed to the host/hostess.  Notice the stamp, because they're sold specifically for weddings.  Now here is where the etiquette gets interesting.  The address will say the return addressee's name in kanji and below that  行 (iki) which, in this case, basically means "To:"  This is written in very humble form because they are giving themselves no title.  As the recipient you should cross this out and write 様 (sama) which is the most formal way of writing Mr. or Mrs.

RSVP Front
On the back, circle whether you will attend or not (oops, she accidentally translated them backwards for me.)  Then fill in your name, address, and phone number.  The card is written in the most formal language, so it is polite to cross out the ご in order to be more humble.

We're planning to attend, so in July I'll write all about what it was like.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Tokyo Disneyland

Earlier this week Raku and I went to Tokyo Disneyland.  I've never been to Disney in the United States, so I can't make a comparison, but we had a great time.  It was really a novelty to live somewhere that we could just go for the day and then come home at night, rather than requiring a multiday trip to Florida (or California).

We went on a Tuesday, so it wouldn't be terribly crowded.  There will still tons of people and lots of long lines, but it wasn't unpleasant.  I can't imagine what a weekend in the summer would be like though.

Raku on the Tea Cups
Me on the tea cups

I think my favorite ride was Space Mountain, going on a roller coaster in the dark really gets the adrenaline going.  The Peter Pan ride is obviously for kids, but I thought it was really sweet.  And a ride that only exists at Tokyo Disney - Pooh's Hunny Hunt - was absolutely charming.  I'm not the biggest Winnie the Pooh fan, and I wasn't sure it would really be worth the wait, but it's completely adorable, and the ride is really creative.  Splash Mountain was one of our last rides of the day, and we thought we were lucky when we got the front seats, but then we realized how wet were going to get.

I'm such a chicken!

Do you think John's jealous?
As for the food there, we had some really great snacks, though I thought the meal offerings were just mediocre.  I'd definitely recommend just snacking through the day.  We had these adorable Mickey waffles, and the curry popcorn was also really good.


We skipped the nighttime parade and rode Space Mountain again several times in a row, and missed the fireworks by accident, but it was still a great day.  

The Castle at Night