Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sakura Sencha

Whenever I talk to someone about tea, there's a good chance I'll say how I only drink "real" tea and how there's a difference between tea and tisanes ("herbal tea" that contains no camellia sinensis). And even though Jasmine green tea was the stepping stone into my current tea obsession, I can't remember the last time I actually drank a flavored/infused tea. This week at Wegman's though I saw that they had some Sakura Sencha in their loose leaf section and I can't recall ever seeing it there before. And since I just ran out of my green tea stock, I thought it a good idea to give this a try.

Monday, August 20, 2012

My first Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is often referred to as a "Japanese pancake" and for the most part that's an accurate description. It's comprised mainly of a thick batter and cooked like a pancake but there are many variations which include anything from cheese to ramen noodles as well. There are two main types though: Osaka-style and Hiroshima-style. The main difference being that Osaka-style involves mixing all the ingredients together before cooking, where as Hiroshima-style employs a layered cooking technique. For most people though, Osaka is considered the birthplace of the dish, making that variety the more popular/prevalent style.

It's one of my all-time favorite dishes, however I've never been compelled to make it myself for fear of creating an abomination accompanied by a huge mess. I also view myself as a spectator of Japanese cuisine and since I didn't grow up around these foods it makes me less confident to make them myself. On two occasions I found myself trying to make sushi at home, was severely disappointed with the results and vowed never to do it again.

However, after committing years of interest into Japanese culture/cuisine I figured it was time to stop being a pussy and get knuckles-deep in some okonomiyaki batter. It also helped that I found myself in Mitsuwa where they carry okonomiyaki flour/mix which would make the process a lot easier.

Clockwise from the left: katusobushi (bonito flakes), panko, spring onion, cabbage, eggs, bacon and okonomiyaki flour (not pictured: mayonnaise and okonomi sauce)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I just wanted to make a post to call attention to the fact that I have not been updating this blog as much as I would like. Hopefully pinning this reminder will act as a Scarlet Letter ("L" for laziness) and I will get back on schedule with new content.

However, I do have an excuse! Between traveling to Japan in April and then Canada in May, I decided to pretty much "take off" the month of June, due to the idea that I needed a break... you know, going on two vacations can really take a lot out of you. After a month of doing nothing, I've spent most of July preparing for two large projects/events. Speaking of which, I am currently rushing to finish preparations for the 2nd of these events, which is a presentation on Japanese Tea at Otakon (the US's 2nd largest Asian culture convention). I've hosted this panel for the past two years, however this year I will find myself in a room that can seat 1700 people, so I've been slightly freaking out about that.

Why should you care about any of this? I'm hoping to videotape the panel this year and it might find it's way into an interesting post on here. If it doesn't though, at least I have publicly delivered my excuse for not updating.

Stay tuned, true believers!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Twelve Days of Japan: Oishii desu!

[/Japanese voice]

I've really fallen behind on these posts, but now I finally come back to you with a detailed account of my trip to Japan this April!

Get ready because you're in for a lot of reading....

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dinner Recipe # 097: Curry Vegetable Tofu

It's not often that I will actually cook a meal for myself (ie. non-microwaveable), but when I do it tends to me extremely simple. Today I'd like to share one of my secret recipes with the rest of the Internet, so prepare yourself to be underwhelmed with the amount of effort involved!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Spicy Family Secret

I love vinegar. I love intense spice. Therefore, I love a good pickle. I'm not saying that I don't like sweet pickled items, like oshinko, but when it comes to cukes they've gotta have bite.

The culinary visionary in my family, if there ever was one, was my late Aunt Ellen. Until she passed away, her house was where every family holiday took place and she usually made 80-100% of the food I remember her making pigs in a blanket for appetizers and making sure that I ate some right out of the oven because that's when they were the best. Even on non-holidays when we went there to swim in their pool, I looked forward to investigating the snack drawer to repeatedly find an un-ending supply of Goldfish crackers. And she always had Total cereal in the cupboard; I was always amazed at how one bowl gave you 100% of every mineral and vitamin. Basically, I associated her house with food, and I really love eating.

In my opinion though, her crowning achievement were her home-made garlic pickles. They are probably what's responsible for my love of vinegar and spice in general. Also, they make the Vlasic stork shit his pants and run away in tears.

This actually happened.
It's not just me that likes them, the whole family does, particularly my mother. Over the years, other members of the family have made them as well however my Uncle Jack is probably the only true successor to the production process. Besides the pickles he also makes great pies and coconut cake from scratch, you know... like hand-shaving coconuts and everything. So this past 4th of July when the family gathered at his house for the annual crab feast, I got him to fork over the pickle recipe. I figured it was about time that I do the family a favor and carry on the tradition. Of course, I never got around to making them this summer. I kept saying to myself that I had to go to the farmer's market and buy "special cucumbers" for it, which basically translates into "I'm lazy".

Saturday, December 10, 2011

What happens when a campfire and black tea have sex

There's a little cafe near Johns Hopkins University called Chocolatea that I discovered a year or so ago. As you can probably surmise from the name, they specialize in gourmet chocolates and tea, the latter of which being the only thing I'm really interested in. In addition to their cafe selection of tea, they have a decent retail section that includes bulk bags of loose-leaf tea, tea-ware and there is always some kind of Ito En tea available in the cooler.

Despite their focus on chocolate and tea, it seems like everyone that goes there just treats it like any other cafe and just orders normal fare, which is a shame. I mean, a lot of people do order specialty drinks that you wouldn't normally be able to find a Starbucks, but they're always like a latte version or something. I've also never even seen someone so much as LOOK at the chocolate display case either. I'm surprised they haven't cut their losses and gotten rid of it already.

Anyway, I like to go here on the weekend sometime to get breakfast and a cup of something I haven't tried before. Today I thought I should "go bold" with a cup of black tea, which it seems like I haven't drank for 1-2 years. I decided to go with the China Lapsang Souchong.

I was pretty sure that I had Lapsang somewhere before and thought it was a pretty basic variety. When the aroma wafted past my nose though, I realized that I don't remember ever drinking a cup of liquid smoke. The first thing that came to mind was chipotle peppers and then I tried to articulate it more specifically and came up with this message I jotted down on my phone:

"Smells like a smokey campfire with remnants of rendered animal fat; no tea aroma"

And that's pretty much what it tasted like, too, minus the part about animal fat. The after taste vaguely made me think that I had just eaten a Slim Jim or like I had been smoking a cigar made out of hickory chips. That being said, it wasn't bad, just very strong and not tea-like.

The only thing I don't like about Chocolatea is that they always use boiling water (straight from that little spout on an industrial coffee maker) to make EVERY kind of tea. Since it's supposed to be a "tea lounge", I really wish they would prepare it the correct way.* 

* This is when you're probably going to think to yourself, "You're such a tea snob". Guess what? Different teas require different brewing techniques, otherwise you can end up with something that tastes nothing like it's supposed to. In the case of black tea, near boiling water is actually fine, but then it becomes an issue of having to wait 5-10 minutes before you can actually start drinking it. I think the best rule of thumb is to serve tea at drinking temperature to begin with, sub 200ยบ F if you want to get technical.

But in general it's a great place, and the food is always pretty good. I thought the Lapsang was a decent companion for the egg/sausage/cheese sandwich I got today.

Next time I go I think I'm going to try and ask them where they get their tea from though, just for my own curiosity.