Shortcut Abura Age (for Inari sushi)

Abura age are fried tofu pockets that are availalbe at Aisan/Japanese stores.  They are probably the easiest introduction to tofu because of their mild flavor and they have a great chewey texture (not at all like normal block tofu). 

On their own, they are pretty bland.  But when soaked with soy sauce or other flavor they can be quite zesty! 

You can fill the prepared pockets with sushi rice for inari sushi. Inari sushi would be a great party snack as they are universally delicious (people are sometimes scared of nori seaweed but inari are just pillows of rice and even kids like 'em).

Or you can cut these into strips and add to a soba salad.  Or fill with your own fillings, like diced veggies etc.

This is the "cheater" shortcut method.  For full "real Japanese" method, see this post.  For a super fast method, don't heat the abura age; after rinsing off the oil with boiling water, pour the seasonings in and let it soak it up.

Abura Age Preparation:
Heat 1.5-2 cups water in a teakettle. Place 5-7 abura age (fried tofu pockets) in a heat proof bowl.  Pour boiling water over the abura age and stir a little to get the oil off the tofu. 

Let it cool a little so you don't burn yourself.  Drain and press extra water out.

Cut abura age into halves. Use your fingers to separate it like a pita pocket. 

Heat a wide saucepan to medium hot.  Toast abura age in hot pan for 30-60 seconds.  Then pour in:
2 tea sake
2 tea sugar
4.5 tea soy sauce

Stir around until abura age has soaked up all the sauce.  Turn off heat.

Now you are ready to use abura age! 

Or store in the fridge for 4 days.

Sushi Rice Shortcuts

While I sometimes make sushi rice the "right" way, I more often take shortcuts. Here are my favorite sushi rice shortcuts.

Fast Sushi Rice:
What I like about this first method is you don't have to make the whole batch of rice "sushi rice"- you can portion out some plain rice once cooked before adding the dressing/vinegar liquid.  I can't really tell that it wasn't cooked in sake with kombu so this is the "real deal" sushi rice.

Put short grain rice and water to cook in rice cooker (use the rice package's ratio of cups of rice to water; generally 1.1 C water to 1 C rice).

Once the rice cooker switches to warm, open the lid, fluff the rice with a paddle or spoon and let cool a little with lid off.

Mix in a small cup until mostly dissolved:
1.5 TB komezu/unseasoned rice vinegar
0.5 TB sugar
0.5 tea salt

Pour the liquid into the rice and stir/fluff with the rice paddle or spoon. Let cool a little more, then use in sushi.

Cheater Sushi Rice using Leftover Cooked Rice: 
This is a cheat and I'll say up front it doesn't taste as amazing as fresh sushi rice.  But-- if you have leftover rice-- this can be a real boon. It's especially good when your sushi or temaki fillings are really rich, like smoked salmon and avocado hand rolls.

Moisten 1-2 C cold leftover cooked rice with up to 1 TB water. Microwave until warm. 

Mix in a small cup until mostly dissolved:
1.5 TB komezu/unseasoned rice vinegar
0.5 TB sugar
0.5 tea salt

Stir the liquid into the rice and stir to combine.


Oyakodon (Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl)

This is a favorite "homestyle" Japanese dish. There are whole restaurants devoted to making mainly oyakodon. I wish I could remember the name or location of the oyakodon restaurant my host family took me to, it was delicious!

"Don" is short for donburi which means a meal in a bowl on a bed of rice (there is "ten-don" for tempura over rice and lots of other [fill in the blank]-don).  Oya means parent and ko means child, so this is parent-and-child rice bowl. Parent and child b/c it is chicken and egg!
I had forgotten all about this dish until we saw it featured on NHK. This is very popular in Japan, especially for lunch.  I bet you could make tons of money with an oyakodon food cart here in the states. Here's a stab at recreating the recipe. 

Get rice cooking in rice cooker. Approx 1/2 to 3/4 C dry rice per person.  I like Tamaki Haiga rice, which is a short grain rice that tastes like white rice, but still has the bran on it so it is more of a whole grain.

Trim gristle from 3/4 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs.  Cut into bite sized chunks.

Crack 5 eggs and lightly beat with a fork or chopsticks. Set aside at room temperature.

In a wide saucepan, bring the following to a simmer:
1 C dashi
1/3 C soy sauce
1/3 C sake
2 teaspoon sugar (or increase to 3 or 4 teaspoons if you like it sweeter)
optional: mirin

Add 1/2 large yellow onion, diced, and stir. Let cook for 2-4 minutes until softened.

Once the rice cooker is done and on warm (or very close to it!), start with the chicken.

Add the chopped chicken to the simmering liquid. Keep the lid off (you want the sauce to reduce down a bit). Stir and let cook for 1-2 minutes until white. Then turn the pieces to cook the other side. Let cook another 2 minutes or so, then test with a knife.

When the chicken is done, pour the beaten eggs over the top of the skillet and continue cooking for 1-3 minutes on low until eggs are done to your satisfaction.

Scoop the mixture over a bowl of rice and eat hot. Garnish with daikon sprouts or other greenery.

Japanese style notes: they like eggs more runny in Japan.  NHK suggested separating the yolks and whites, then pouring just the whites into the pan initially. Once set, then pour in the beaten yolks until just half coagulated. 
 I packaged up the leftovers in a container for tomorrow's lunch. Happy bento!

Thai Tofu Veggie Curry

I guess this is a standard Thai vegetarian meal from what a cookbook said. Somehow I haven't seen curry and tofu in any local restaurants though.  It was really good!  Very comforting and still got my craving for Thai restaurant.

You can do this with yellow, green, red or other types of curry paste.

I gave up on making my own curry paste. At the asian store, I found a good brand that has no creepy ingredients-- Mae Ploy. It's packed in a container but appears to be shelf stable until you open the inner plastic pouch. This box was approx $2.50 and I think it will make 4-5 dinners.
 This is way cheaper than making it myself (at least in small quantities).

In hot pan, add 1 TB oil and 50 g curry paste, saute until fragrant (1-2 min?).

Add half a can of lite coconut milk, squish the curry paste until it is dissolved. Add the rest of the coconut milk and optional hot water as needed.

Squeeze one package extra firm tofu until no more water runs out of it (my favorite tip is to drain the package, freeze, then thaw. This makes the tofu happy to release its water. But you have to remember to freeze and thaw it first!) .  Cut tofu into cubes.

Add whatever veggies you want, stir, then simmer with cover on until soft (20 min?).  Here are some ideas- pick just a few or clean our your fridge:
baby corn or corn kernels
yellow onion, sliced
red bell pepper sliced
green beans or long green bean
yukon gold potato, cubed
kabocha or butternut squash (peeled and cubed)
sweet potato, peeled and cubed
carrot, sliced into discs

Once soft, season with 1-3 TB sugar (or palm or coconut sugar) until the taste is just right. 

Serve on steamed basmati rice.

Pear Walnut Muffins (with Kidney Beans!)

I like substituting healthy things (like beans) for flour in muffin/quick bread recipes. Tested this idea to use up overripe pears. And I had leftover kidney beans and yogurt in the house.  Based on this recipe for pumpkin quinoa kidney bean muffins.

Pulse in food processor until combined and oats are ground up:
1 C rolled oats
1 C whole wheat flour
1 tea baking powder
1/2 tea baking soda
1/2 tea salt

Add spices (or use "pumpkin pie spice"):
1/2 tea cinnamon
1/4 tea ground ginger

1/8 tea allspice or cloves

1/8 tea nutmeg

Add to food processor and pulse until beans and dates are thoroughly combined:
1.5 C cooked kidney beans
1/3 C packed pitted dates (approx 3-4 dates)
1/2 C  plain yogurt or applesauce
2 eggs

You may need to stir by hand at this point. Add:
2  chopped pears
1/2 C coarsely chopped walnuts

Pour into greased muffin pan. Sprinkle chopped walnuts and turbinado sugar on top.

Cook for 30 minutes in 375 F oven or until done in the middle.

DIY Beef Jerky

I managed to find some nice lean top round steak on special for  $4.99 a pound. Get a piece that has very little or no streaks of fat; shouldn't have white spots. 

Jerky shrinks by about 50%, so if you buy 3 lbs of meat ($15) then it will likely become 1.5 lbs of jerky (i.e. $10 a lb for the finished product).  Just double the cost per pound for the raw meat for your finished jerky cost per pound.

Method to make Jerky:

1. Cut the meat into thin strips. Throw out any chunks of fat on the meat (or use for another purpose). Try partial freezing if you have trouble cutting thin slices.  Strips need to be 1/4 inch thick or thinner.

2. Marinate meat strips for 3-6 hours. Use the Alton Brown jerky recipe for the marinade.


3. Lay out meat on dehydrator trays and dry at 140-150 F for 7-24 hours until tough and not moist at all. Ours was done at 12 hours.

4. If it is totally dry then store in a bag in the pantry.  Otherwise keep the finished jerky in the freezer.

Nori Veggie Wraps

This is a great way to eat tons of veggies, esepcially when you are tired of salads.  Lots of veggies, even winter veggies (cabbage, daikon) and good nutrients from the nori seaweed as well. Just keep in mind you have to eat this immediately- not something you can pack in a lunch box b/c the nori will get soggy.

Majority of prep time is cutting the veggies. I recommend a mandolin slicer or other Japanese slicing gadgets.  The end result is very dependent on how you cut the veggies. Cutting them into small pieces makes a big difference in how easy it is to eat.  I've had this 2 or 3 times in the last week!

Using a mandolin slicer, cut veggies into tiny pieces. See photo for ideas.
daikon radish
red or green cabbage
bell pepper
grated carrot
scallion, negi or green onion

Toast one sheet of nori over gas flame (30 seconds).

Lay lettuce over the nori. Then top with thin sliced veggies. 

Roll up and eat burrito style, dipping in high quality tamari or soy sauce as you eat.

Vegan Tapioca Breakfast Porridge

I like porridge for breakfast, like steel cut oats. Then I read about tapioca (which is norally just puddings here) and realized you can cook it like a grain/rice! Some folks even serve it in savory applications but here it's just simple with non dairy milk.

Soak 1/2 C tapioca pearls in 3.5 C water overnight.

In the morning, pour it all into a saucepan, bring up to a simmer and cook until they the tapioca tastes soft. Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove extra water.

Add nut mylk or rice milk and stir to combine. 

Top with blueberries or your favorite fruit.

Gramma's Spice Cookies (less sugar)

 A long time ago I posted my grandmother's spice cookie recipe. It is like a molassess gingerbread cookie, but for some reason we call them "Spice Cookies".  She makes them every Christmas and they are a hit. And they freeze well so you can make these in advance.

Now I've become more sensitive to sugar so I reduced it quite a bit from the original. I don't use shortening any more. And I love spices so I amped those up too.

Cream 1/2 C butter in standing mixer. Add 1/4 C sugar gradually and mix (use up to 1/2 C if you like sweeter cookies).

Add 1 egg and 1/4 C molasses and beat until smooth.

In separate bowl, sift together:
2 C whole wheat flour
2 tea baking powder
3/4 tea salt
1.5 tea cinnamon 
0.75 tea cloves
0.75 tea nutmeg
0.5 tea powdered ginger

Stir dry ingredients into wet mixture. Chill dough in refrigerator. You can do this several days ahead if you need to.

Roll out cookie dough and cut with cookie cutters.

Bake at 375 F for about 10 minutes.

Tarka Masoor Dal

This was surprisingly simple but delicious dal. Got the idea from this cookbook. It even hit my craving for mac and cheese! I bet it would be great food to eat when you are sick with a cold (instead of chicken noodle soup for example).  And the ingredients (like most vegan indian recipes) are ridiculously cheap- especially since red lentils are easier to find in bulk bins. We will be making this a lot this winter.

Bring 3 C water to a boil. Add 1 C red lentils (masoor dal), stir.  Bring up to a boil.

Then partially cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, making sure it doesn't burn.  Add more water if needed.

Near the end of cooking, melt 3 TB butter in a separate small saucepan. Add:
6-10 curry leaves
1/2 tea green chili powder
1/2 tea mustard seeds
1/2 tea turmeric
pinch asafoetida
1/2 tea salt (or more to taste)

Stir while the spices toast and become fragrant in the butter, approx 2 minutes. Pour into the cooked red lentils, stir lightly. 

Server over steamed brown rice.

Sourdough Raisin Flax Bran Muffins

This is another great way to use up unfed sourdough starter (i.e. when you are feeding the sourdough and have to throw out some!).  I was surprised how good these were, I guess bran and sourdough go together well! These were hearty dark and moist muffins- would be great for packing in lunches, taking skiing etc.


Mix with a fork in a bowl:
1 C sourdough starter (unfed worked fine, and mine was pretty sour! my sourdough is 100% hydration meaning I feed with 1 C flour and 1/2 C water, i.e. same weight of each)
1 egg
1/4 C olive oil (or other oil)
1/2 C oat bran (or wheat bran)
1/4 C flax meal
1/4 C whole wheat white flour
1/4 C brown sugar
1/4 - 1/2 C raisins
1 tea baking soda
1/4 tea salt

Season liberally with approx:
1 tea + cinnamon
1/2 tea nutmeg
1/4 tea powdered/ground ginger

Spray a muffin pan with olive oil. Pour batter into muffin pan.  Sprinkle liberally with turbinado or coarse sugar (if you skip this then add more sugar to the batter-- I find sugar on top makes it taste more sweet than sugar in the batter though). 

Bake at 400 F for 12-15 minutes.

Poached Egg on Salad

This is another way to add protein and something warm and yummy to a salad, even when I don't have meat or goat cheese or other toppings.  I almost always have eggs though!

Still getting the technique perfected for poached eggs.  So far I've learned:
  1. Get a pot of water to a boil. Then reduce to just barely a simmer (or less).  Some people add a TB of white vinegar (to prevent the egg from separating? I haven't gotten this to work yet)
  2. crack each egg into a ramekin or cup
  3. Gently pour the egg into the hot water. Cover pan, set timer to 5 or 6 minutes.  Make sure hte water doesn't boil.
  4. When done, fish the egg out with a strainer or slotted spoon.

Then put the hot poached eggs on top of salad, wiht a vinaigrette dressing.  Here I also added hot black rice and roasted mushrooms. 

Rice Cooker Turkey Jook

Found this in a rice cooker cookbook, right around thanksgiving time.  It was meant to be I think.  This made a quite delicious meal and would be great for a winter lunch after working in the yard. I think the leftovers will make a great savory breakfast porridge.

The proportions are much more watery than normal rice- this is how it should be. The rice breaks up and soaks up more liquid.

Combine in rice cooker, put on "cook" cycle (or "porridge" if your machine has it):
3/4 C basmati rice or other medium to long grain rice
4.5 - 5.5 C turkey broth 
1 carrot, diced
1/2 tea grated ginger

Let it cook in rice cooker- mine took a little bit longer than normal- probably 30-40 minutes.   Add more hot water if it looks like it is drying out.  (and yes, the diced carrots cook through just fine!)

When it is done (or looks done enough- sometimes the rice cooker doesn't realize it is ready), add in diced cooked turkey. I had some steamed broccoli lying around so I choped that up and added as well. Stir to combine.

Season with black pepper and a teaspoon of soy sauce.  Add salt if needed (my turkey broth was salty enough from brining the turkey).

Serve piping hot in bowls.  I've seen other recipes add garnishes of thin sliced lettuce or napa cabbage, a drizzle of sesame oil etc.  I think that would be good if your broth wasn't as flavorful.