All About Sukiyaki

Kansai Sukiyaki (The Japanese Food Report).

Most cultures have there own version of home-cooked comfort foods.  Americans have chicken noodle soup, and the British have beef stew with dumplings, for example.  The Japanese, furthermore, have several traditional comfort foods called nabe, which is short for nabemono, meaning “yummy stuff in a pot” in Japanese.  Nabe dishes are traditionally cooked at the table during the winter months, in an intimate setting.  If the name means anything, these dishes have to be delicious.  I’ve got my mind set on trying different varieties of nabe, such as Sukiyaki, Oden, Shabu Shabu, and Chanko Nabe, because winter is approaching, and I need to keep warm.

Sukiyaki

Sukiyaki is the only dish that I had heard about before writing this post, mainly because my Japanese textbook mentions it in practice exercises all the time.  However, I still had no idea what it was — until today.  I now know that  sukiyaki is a rich, one-pot wonder filled with thinly sliced beef, veggies (shiitake and oyster mushrooms, spinach, and carrots), and konyaku noodles, all stir-fried in a sweet warishita sauce.

Sukiyaki enjoyed with family at the table (wrightangle.com).

Because many of the ingredients are foreign to me (and perhaps you, too), I took the time to learn about a few things.

First off, I had no idea what konnyaku noodles were, so, through Just Hungry, I discovered that Konnyaku is made from the konjac  (aka the konnyaku) plant, which is grown in the warm, mountainous regions of the eastern hemisphere, with the highest production in South West China (source).

The Konnyaku Plant (Cambreenotes.com)

Within this plant is glucomannan, a high fiber, zero calorie substance which can be made into noodles.  My first thought when I heard “noodle” was of flour noodles, but this Kannyaku is nothing like that.  Kannyaku is mostly water, with a geletinous, rubbery texture, according to Just Hungry.  Much like tofu, konnyaku does not have it’s own flavor, so it is used to absorb the flavors of sauces and spices (thekitchn.com).  I happen to have an interest in weird textured foods, so I would love to try konnyaku, but I have a feeling this noodle would be unappealing to certain newcomers.

Konnyaku Noodles (madehealthier.com)

Konnyaku block (thekitchn.com)

Another new term for me was warishita sauce.  I discovered what it was through The Japanese Food Report.  Turns out, this sauce is pretty simple.  It’s just 1 part sake, 1 part soy sauce, 1 part mirin, and a sprinkle of sugar.

Wait a second…what is mirin, you ask?

Japanese Mirin (asianfoodgrocer.com)

I had the same question.

I unearthed that mirin is a golden liquid made from steamed mochi-gome (glutenous rice), kome-koji (cultured rice), and shochu (a distilled alcoholic beverage).  These three components are mixed and fermented for 2 months (source).  If you don’t know about fermentation, read about it in my earlier post — it’s a rather interesting process.

Raw egg with Sukiyaki (gregwee.blogspot.com)

Now that all the ingredients are accounted for, let’s talk about cooking sukiyaki.  There are two versions of the dish; Kanto (from Tokyo), and Kansai (from Osaka).  In the Kanto variety, the beef is fried in its own fat in the pan, and then the veggies and konnyaku are added in neat batches to cook in the warishita sauce.  The Kansai variety varies only slightly in that everything is cooked in the pot at the same time (the meat is not fried first).  Finally, each bite of sukiyaki is dipped in raw egg, which adds richness.

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The Crepes of Brittany

Imagine.  You awake from your bed and walk outside to a beautiful morning.  The sun greets you, and the deep blue sea lies behind your cliff top home.  Waves are crashing below, sending up perfumes from the ocean.  From afar, fishing boats are bobbing across the horizon, each hoping to catch their share of fish for the day.

Brittany Coast (Virtualtoursit.com)

I just described a morning in Brittany, France (source).  I’ve heard so much about this beautiful place, so I had to describe it to you.  It sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

(Google Images – Brittany, France)

I would love to go there.  However, not for the beaches.  Not for the fishing.  And not for the seafood.

But for the crepes.

A French sweet crepe (courtesy of traveltosun.com)

A crepe is a delicious thin pancake made with egg, sugar, flour and milk.  There are two French varieties; sweet, and savory.

Sweet crepes are made with white flour, and filled with fruit, cream, and sweet sauces.  Most restaurants serve them for breakfast, or as a dessert.

A scrumptious galette. (oldwayspt.org)

The second variety, the galette, differs from the sweet crepe in just one aspect – the flour.  Buck wheat is used instead of white flour, giving galettes an earthy flavor.  These savory crepes are traditionally filled with foods such as ham and cheese, but the variety is endless. (Source)  Some are filled with asparagus, artichokes, mushrooms, and tomatoes.

Special tools are needed to create such thin crepes – they can’t be flipped with a spatula like American Pancakes.  First, Chefs pour the batter onto a billig; a round, cast iron griddle.  Then, a rozell (a wooden rake) is used to evenly spread the batter around the billig (source).

A rozell. (cookismo.fr)

Once cooked on one side, the crepe is delicately flipped using a long metal spatula.  After a matter of seconds, the crepe is folded in half and filled with toppings.

I figure Brittany has the best crepes simply because they invented them.  They created the label ”Crêperies Gourmandes,”  to ensure high quality creperies.  Creperies honored with this label must have a well-rounded knowledge of their food, and a welcoming spirit.  Only the best are granted this respected seal (source).

Delicious.  (I would smile too if I could make crepes like that.) Courtesy of Fabrisons.com

Although I’ve never been to France, my roommate, Kate, visited Paris this summer.   She and her family ate at Mon Amor, a famous creperie.  Kate’s ham and cheese crepe was, as she put it, “the perfect combination of sweet, salty, and gooey.”  Oh boy.  Even Andrew, Kate’s brother, fell in love with the crepe.  Previously, Andrew had refused to eat French food.  When he came upon Mon Amor’s street food, however, he could not resist.

Watch this video of Mon Amor, to see the pros work their crepe-making magic.

This video shows many varieties of crepes, both sweet and savory.

Fermentation

The Process

Fermentation is a method for preserving food which dates back thousands of years.  This process was especially useful for historical societies during the winter, when fresh vegetables and meat could not be gathered.  Scientist and foodies alike know that fermentation centers around attracting the right kind of bacteria.  There are those bacteria that will preserve food, and those that will decay it.  During this particular process, the desirable bacteria and enzymes convert the sugars and starches in food into alcohol and organic acids (Davesgarden).  It sounds unappetizing, but actually, the process adds flavor and nutritional value to foods.

Lactobacillus, bacteria that preserves food. (Davesgarden.com)

Clostridium botulinum – bacteria that spoils food (Davesgarden.com).

We encounter fermentation virtually everyday, but most of us don’t notice.   It wasn’t until I read about the origins of sushi that I realized how much this process is used to make our food.  Without it, we wouldn’t have cheese, bread, beer, or yogurt, just to name a few.  Right now, I will be zeroing in on some fermented products that I thought were most interesting around the world.

Beware, these products are stinky and old – but delicious, so I hear.

Sushi

You may be surprised to learn that Sushi originally referred to a way to preserve fish, not to eat it, according to The History of Sushi.  In the 4th century, Southeast Asians fermented salted raw fish in rice.  The lactic acid from the rice would preserve the fish, and decay the rice.  After a span of 2 months to 4 years, the fish would be ready to eat, and the rice discarded.  This process is referred to as nare-zushi (nare meaning fermented).

(From web-Japan.org/nipponia)

The above picture is of a crucian carp which was caught in Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest fresh water lake.  After being salt-pickled for one month with its row inside, the fish was preserved in rice for one full year.  Newcomers to such a dish will most likely be turned-off by its strong aroma and pungent flavor. (web-Japan.org)

Doenjang (Fermented Bean Paste)

The Koreans utilize fermentation in countless traditional dishes, such as kimchi (fermented cabbage) and zushi, but I found the process of fermenting beans to be the most interesting.  These beans are grown, stone-ground, and thrown into a pot for years to produce the salty, spoiled taste that Koreans love as a condiment.

Korean Doenjang (Mykoreandiet.com)

“Bizarre Foods” host Andrew Zimmermon has some footage of a Korean farm with rows upon rows of clay soybean fermenting pots.  Frankly, its bizarre.  You’ll also get to see him try 8-year-old fermented soybeans – whoa!

Surströmming

Lastly, I found Surstromming to be quite intriguing because, according to 18 Stinky Foods Around the World, its smell is so putrid, that it is often compared to “rotten eggs, vinegar, and rancid butter.”  Surstromming is a Swedish herring that is fermented first in barrels for a number of months, and then in tin cans for another year.  The fermentation in surstromming cans is so strong that some airlines have banned it because it is an explosive hazard.  To see a man’s attempt to eat this putrid fish, watch this video and you will die laughing.

**I should probably point out that 17 of the 18 “stinky foods” are fermented, to give you an idea of the bacteria’s odor power**

Pizza Hut: Working Against a Neapolitan Tradition

Ninety-three percent of Americans have eaten pizza last month (Pizza.com), and virtually every American has, at one point in our lives, picked up the phone to order a pizza from Pizza Hut.  And, upon arrival, we’ve opened the cardboard box to reveal a heavy circle of bread shining with a thick sprinkle of white cheese – and perhaps a few pepperonis.  Such a pizza differs greatly from Neapolitan pizza, which was the one of the first versions introduced to America.  Today, Restaurant chains such as Pizza Hut offer merely a globalized version of Italy’s signature culinary creation.  Since the first Pizza Hut opening in 1958, a shocking 34,000 more have been built, according to A History of Business.  When compared side by side, the difference between Neapolitan and American pizza can be seen immediately.

Now, let’s compare the two.

The top picture is of a Pizza Hut pie, and the bottom is of a Neapolitan.

Size

A typical Neapolitan pizza is about 12” in diameter.  It’s common to order one pizza per person, because Neapolitan pies are so light.  At Pizza Hut, however, customers have the option to purchase a 16” pizza.  Although there is the option for a 10 and 12 inch pizza, all I’ve seen people order is either the 14” or 16”.  While a Neapolitan pizza feeds a single person, and Americanized pizza can feed up to ten!

Crust

Most Americans expect a crunchy crust from a pizza.  If one ordered a Pizza Hut pie and found that it was floppy or soggy, they would probably take it back and complain.  However, Neapolitans actually prefer soft and pliable dough.  Their pizza can even be called “soupy”, because its sauce tends to pool in the middle.  Watch this video from Slice.SeriousEats.com to learn more about “soupy” pizza.

In this picture (from Serious Eats) you can see the pooling of the sauce in the center of the pizza, causing its “soupiness”.

This Pizza Hut crust is much thicker than Neapolitan varieties.

A thin slice of Margherita from Tavolo V’s. Picture by J. Pollack Photography.

Toppings

One of the greatest ways that American and Neapolitan pizzas differ is in their toppings.  To true Neapolitan “purists”, there are only two types of pizza; the marinara, and the margherita.  The marinara consists of tomato, oregano, basil, garlic and extra-virgin olive oil – no cheese.  As for the margherita, kudos to Raffaela Esposito.   He impressed the Queen Margherita of Savoy by displaying the colors of the Italian flag in the pizza: (red) tomatoes, (green) basil leaves, and (white) mozzarella (Source: Pomopizzaria).  He was also the first to use cheese on pizza.

The Margherita pizza

A classic marinara pizza from Wheelsoftitaly.com

The Pizza Hut menu, on the other hand, offers a plethora of pizza varieties.  To name a few, there is the Supreme Pizza, with their “signature blend of pepperoni, pork sausage, beef, mushrooms, red onions and green peppers”; the Meat Lover’s Pizza, “loaded with pepperoni, ham, beef, bacon and sausage”; and the Ultimate Cheese Lover’s Pizza, “covered in creamy Alfredo sauce and topped with delicious cheeses”.

Pizza Hut Ultimate Cheese Lover’s

Pizza Hut Supreme Pizza, “loaded” with toppings.

Pizza Hut Meat Lover’s Pizza, piled high with meat.

As you can deduce from the pictures, there is a minimal amount of toppings on the Neapolitan pizza, and a maximum amount on the Pizza Hut varieties.  The Neapolitans thought there should be an equal balance between the crust, sauce, and cheese, so that each aspect can be tasted equally.  However, Pizza Hut franchises share the American mentality of  “the more the merrier”.  Adjectives such as “covered, and loaded” are used to describe the extent of their toppings.  The American pies are smothered in meat, cheese, and sauces that takeover the dough.

Holding on to Traditions

As a way to combat the Americanization of pizza, Antonio Pace, of the restaurant Ciro a Santa Brigada in Naples, created the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana.  The association aims to protect the Vera Pizza Napoletana (Real Neapolitan Pizza) by publishing strict Pizza Disciplines  outlining how a “real pizza” should be made.

The Pizza Disciplines cover virtually every aspect of the pizza.  I am not going to describe the whole eleven page document (that would be ridiculous), but I will summarize it.

The dough should be “soft, elastic….and easy to fold.”  Furthermore, towards the center, it should be especially “soft to the touch and taste”.  In terms of The Marinara’s appearance, the tomato sauce should be bright red, and unite equally with the green of the basil, the white of the garlic, and the olive oil.  The Margherita pizza should have equally spaced pieces of mozzarella, as well as evenly placed basil that is a dark green, as a result of the cooking process.

Continuing, true Neapolitan pizza should be cooked solely in a wood fire oven, at 905°F.  This is essential because it creates the desirable charing of the crust, and cooks it in just 60 to 90 seconds.  The document goes even further to list the only acceptable ingredients for the pizza and how much must be used, but I will not go into that.

If you would like to see how a real Neapolitan pizza is made, watch this video (scroll to bottom of the page) from Passion-for-pizza.com.

Italian pizza lovers such as Antonio Pace believe it is their duty to protect the honesty of Neapolitan pizza.  “We are against the cultural and commercial deformation of our pizza and against its industrialization; in fact, the ready-to-eat and frozen pizzas sold in supermarkets have nothing to do with the original ones,” says Pace (Source = Passion-for-pizza).    The globalization of American pizza is taking over, with a source stating that 4,570 Pizza Huts are located outside of the U.S., as of 2011.  It is important that Italy does not lose a part of its rich culinary history because of these profit-hungry restaurants.

**All photos were taken from Google.com/images, unless stated otherwise**

Authentic Empanadas

To say the least, this past weekend was crazy, and draining.  It was the first Florida football game against the Bowling Green Falcons, so, as usual, Gainesville was packed with fans.  Although the kickoff wasn’t until 3:30 P.M., tents were strewn all throughout campus by 9 A.M., and one couldn’t walk a block without hearing a horn honk or someone shouting “Go Gators!”.

At 12 P.M, Kate (my roommate), and I were ready to join the celebration, so we hitched a ride with one of our friends to a fraternity barbecue.  The party was thrown at an off campus house with a huge backyard, which was nice, but I was surprised to see that it was being held outside, in the heat, at 12 O’ clock in the afternoon.  After about a half hour, I, along with every other partier, was drenched in sweat.  I could see that the heat was dwindling the party; less people were dancing, and more people were huddling under the tent.  I was just as affected, and quite honestly wished for some air conditioning, but was happy to stay so long as there were burgers and hot dogs being served by the gentlemen.

Finally, at about 2:45, my friend and I headed to the Swamp.  Unfortunately, we had to walk because of some car complications, but we still got there relatively on time.  By 3:45, I was sunburned, sweating, and aching from the walk, but I was ready to watch some football!  The excitement of the screaming fans was palpable as I entered the stadium.  I looked around, and all I could see was orange and blue; I don’t think one Bowling Green fan was present.

As much as I wanted to stay for the whole game, I ended up leaving at half time thanks to the scorching heat.  Needless to say, the 95 degree weather and my boiling metal seat were not doing much to cool me off.  Luckily, I got the scoop from one of my sorority sisters later that we had won the game 27 – 14.

If you were to ask me if I regret leaving early, I would probably say no.  Mainly because I had more time to plan my dinner menu.  After such a social day packed with action, all I wanted was to do was veg-out and watch a movie.  So, I decided to make something that was simple and easy to eat on the couch.  I searched a number of food blogs to get some ideas, and came upon these traditional beef empanadas from Snixy Kitchen.  This recipe was perfect because I already had ground beef in the fridge, so all I had to do was swing by Publix to pick up some mix-in ingredients and the empanada dough.

A Little Insight

Before I let you know how amazing the empanadas were, let me give you some background information as to how they came about.  According to the Restaurant El Almenecer , empanadas originated from the nation of Galicia, located in the northwest corner of Spain.  The Galicians were a busy people focused on fishing and agriculture, and so they created the empanada to be eaten on the go.

 Galicia

Empanadas are essentially thin disks of dough crimped around a filling, thus creating their defining semicircular shape.  The verb empanar, which means to wrap or coat in bread, comes from Spain.  While the Galicians first stuffed their pastries primarily with chicken and fish, today there are countless more varieties throughout Latin America.  Many are filled with cheese, ham, chicken, fish, spinach, and even fruit for a sweet treat.  They can also be fried instead of baked.

The variety that I composed comes from Argentina.  Argentinians are very serious about their empanadas.  Every year contestants enter their prized creation into the National Empanada Festival, which takes place in the empanada capital of the world, Famailla. Every entrant has hopes of their empanada being crowned “Empanada de Oro”, or “The Golden Empanada“.

This year, the festival is being held from September 7 thru the 9, and popular artists such as Los Manseros Santiagueños and Raly Barrionueveo will be performing. Unfortunately, I will be in classes, so I cannot fly down to attend.  If you are in the area, don’t miss your opportunity to try some great authentic treats.

My empanadas took a traditional route, and were filled with beef, which is a staple in Argentina.  The meat was seasoned with a wonderful trio of paprika, chili powder, and cumin, and complemented by the olives, egg, onions and potatoes.  Honestly, my friends and I agreed that this variety could do without the raisins.  They were just too sweet and didn’t mesh well with the other ingredients.   Despite that minor detail, the empanadas were delicious.  I loved the crunchy crust, and the ethnic spices were delightful.  If I made these empanadas again (which I will), I would omit the raisins and they would be perfect.

Authentic Empanadas (recipe from Snixy Kitchen)

        Ingredients

  • 20 round disks of empanada dough (I used Goya pre-made dough)
  • 1/2 cup seedless raisins
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
  • 2 small red potatoes, chopped into little cubes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup green olives, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup beef broth
  • 1 egg whisked with 2 tablespoons milk

Make homemade dough (recipe), or thaw out pre-made disks

Soak the raisins in water for 20 minutes.

Boil the eggs until cooked through and boil the potato cubes in salted water until tender.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for a minute.

Add the garlic and sauté for another minute or two.

Add the ground beef, cumin, chile powder, paprika, and salt. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up the meat, until the beef is browned.

Add the beef broth, green olives, and raisins. Simmer until the liquid is almost gone.

Stir in the hard-boiled egg and cooked potatoes.

Let cool while you roll out the empanada disks.

Place 2 tablespoons of filling on each disk. Fold in half and crimp the edges using your fingers or a fork.  Place each finished empanada on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet.

Brush each empanada with the egg wash.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Healthy Morning Glory Muffins

I came about these muffins through a great blog, Honey and Jam, about two weeks ago.  This was right before my chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi (my sorority) began its annual process of recruitment.

For those of you who don’t know, recruitment is a time consuming process.  In one week’s time, each sorority must meet every potential new member and choose the best girls for their respective houses.  The week is broken down into four rounds, each having a different theme.

Round one of recruitment was the definitely the longest.  We had to arrive at the house at 4:30 A.M. and didn’t leave until 10:30 at night!  Thank goodness most of our sorority was present, because there were 1,500 girls signed up to rush, and we had to give a house tour to every single one.

The rest of the week was very similar to the first day, except each round had a different theme.  Round two was dedicated to our philanthropy, Mr. UF, which is basically a beauty pageant for fraternity men.  All of our proceeds from the pageant go to the Arthritis Association.  The third round was centered around a tear jerking video filled with pictures of all of our sisters.  The fourth and final round is the preferential, where the potential new members choose their top three houses.  Our preferential was very somber; we all wore long black dresses and sang a beautiful a a capella piece.

The final day, known as bid day, was the most emotional of all.  We finally got to welcome all 70 new members into AOII.  Though I have yet to meet every single baby, as they’re called, the girls whom I have met are absolutely amazing and fit in perfectly.

That being said, I don’t know what I would have done without my muffins during that week.  Any time I had a moment I would snatch one from my bag and gobble it up.  My roommate Kate loved them too, along with Kayla, our psuedo-roommate who had been crashing with us that week.

I would compare these muffins to a carrot cake, but chunkier.  In every bite there’s the sweetness of the dates, the tartness of the blackberries, and the spiciness of the cinnamon.   The only difference between these muffins and carrot cake is that they’re actually quite good for you.  Because most of the sweetness comes from the carrots and apple sauce, they’ve got a fraction of the sugar as your usual morning muffin.  I’m not one to remake recipes very often, but I’ve already made these three times, so that says something.

What You’ll Need

2 cups carrots, either grated or chopped in a food processor

1 cup blackberries, or 1 grated/processed apple

1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)

1 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup quick cooking oats

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs

2/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 cup orange juice

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and line a one dozen muffin pan with baking cups.

2. Next I like to prep all of my ingredients.  Process the carrots and apple (halve the blackberries if substituting those), chop the nuts, and throw everything into a bowl.  Don’t put the dates in yet, those go in last.


3.  Stir together the flour, oats, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a big bowl.  Add the carrots, nuts, and apple/berries and carefully stir it together.

3.  Stir together the flour, oats, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a big bowl.  Add the carrots, nuts, and apple/berries and carefully stir it together.

4.  In another bowl, whisk the eggs and add the apple sauce, vanilla, and orange juice.

5.  Lastly, carefully fold the egg mixture into the flour mixture.  Fold in the dates.

Distribute the batter evenly into the muffin tins and smooth it out with the back of a spoon.

Bake at 375 for about 25 minutes.  Check on the muffins after 20 minutes to see their progress.  When firm to the touch, they are ready to cool on wire racks for at least 10 minutes (although I can’t always wait that long).

voilà!