Pile of Pretz

I have a lot of photos of snack food on my camera.

One of the things I love about Pretz is that every few months they throw a few new flavors at us. I’m a sucker, and I buy them every time. Salty Butter Pretz? I wonder if that tastes different from Savory Butter Pretz? I must buy them NOW. Of course they taste the same, they always taste the same – like a crispy little cracker stick covered in fake umami flavoring. And I love it.  Behold, some new flavors:

Butter and soy sauce? Tastes like salt. Onion gratin soup? Tastes like salt.

Chirimenjako, or salty little fish. Tasted like salty fish.

 

Okonomiyaki? Tastes surprising like okonomiyaki, like the green seaweed stuff you sprinkle on top of your savory sauce-covered pancake. Adzuki toast? Disgusting! So gross! I spit them out and made a big display of how utterly horrible they were. Then promptly insisted Dan try them. He wouldn’t. I had high hopes for this one, I really did. I thought a salty sweet snack would be right up my alley, but this is more like a salty nasty snack. *Shudder*

There were two others which I opened and devoured before I could take a photo. I kept thinking I’d see them in the supermarket again, but as is the nature of Pretz, they are gone forever. You’ll have to believe me that they existed – wasabi and yuzu. Both were salty. And good.

I need a glass of water.

Christmas Pie

I know Christmas was over 2 weeks ago. It has taken me that long to recover.

Dan and I spent 3 glorious weeks in the US for the holidays. We saw friends and family. We raced Hot Wheels with our nephew. We drank homemade eggnog and red wine that wasn’t chilled (why, Japan? why?!). And we ate. I gained 2 pounds in the first week, then stopped counting. I knew what I was up against when I witnessed my mother-in-law buy 8 pounds of butter.

I was responsible for at least a pound of that edible gold. For Christmas eve dinner I made two of my favorite pie recipes — deep-dish winter fruit and bourbon pecan.

I haven’t talked about my pie obsession in a while, probably because I am still grieving the loss of a real oven. So for a full afternoon my dad and I barricaded ourselves in the kitchen, drank brandy, and rolled out two beauties. It’s just not Christmas until the kitchen smells like cinnamon. Or there is day drinking. My Christmases involve a lot of that, too.

Try them for yourself!

Deep-Dish Winter Fruit Pie with Walnut Crumb Topping

From Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More

Pie Crust

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Walnut Crumb Topping

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup raw walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Fruit Filling

  • 1 cup dried figs
  • 4 small apples, peeled and sliced
  • 4 pears, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen (In a pinch, I use craisins. This year I used brandied cranberries.)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch (I usually skip this.)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.

Crust: Combine flour, sugar, and salt in food processor. Add the butter and mix just until the mixture becomes coarse and crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. Stir the water and lemon juice together, then pour over the dry ingredients and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened. (The key is to keep the water cold so it doesn’t melt your butter. Keep your butter chunky, this helps create a flaky crust.) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prep the rest of your pie. When ready, roll the chilled dough into a 14-inch disk, then line a 9 or 10 by 3-inch springform pan with the rolled-out dough.

Topping: Mix flour, brown sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, and salt together in a bowl. Stir in the butter, then work it in with your hands until the texture of crumbs.

Filling: Remove the stem from each fig, then boil the figs in 1 cup of water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle. Slice each fig into 4 to 5 pieces, put them in a large bowl, and add the apples, pears, and cranberries. Gently toss the fruit with sugar until evenly coated.

Transfer the filling to the pie shell and top with the walnut crumb. Bake in the lower third of the oven for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the crumb is golden, the fruit juices are bubbling thickly around the edges, and the fruit is tender. If the crumb is getting too dark, cover it with foil while baking.

Bourbon Pecan Pie
Adapted from Bon Appétit, November 2006

Pie Crust

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons ice water

Filling

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup agave syrup
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 2 cups pecan halves, very coarsely chopped

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F.

Crust: Combine flour and salt in food processor. Add the butter and mix just until the mixture becomes coarse and crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. Pour the water over the dry ingredients and pulse just until the dry ingredients are moistened. (The key is to keep the water cold so it doesn’t melt your butter. Keep your butter chunky, this helps create a flaky crust.) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prep the rest of your pie. When ready, roll the chilled dough into a 10-inch disk, then line a 9 or 10-inch pie plate with the rolled-out dough. Fold the extra dough under and crimp to make a decorative edge.

Filling: Whisk eggs in large bowl. Whisk in both sugars, then next 5 ingredients. Stir in pecans. Pour into crust.

Bake until filling is puffed and just set in center (filling may begin to crack), about 55 minutes.

Enjoy!

Kyoto is for Eaters, Again

As Dan reported, our recent trip to Kyoto was livelier than expected. While wriggling fish haunt his dreams, all I can think about is this:

Parfait perfection.

Maybe we need to look at that again…

This was lunch. I’m not ashamed. I also wasn’t alone — this is what my father-in-law ordered:

We’re like two peas in a pod sweet beans in a parfait.

But let’s back up. After we arrived at Kyoto station, Dan and I used our keen instincts — we found the only restaurant with a line and stood in it — to track down some seasonal soba.

Clockwise from the top left — pickles, tempura mushrooms and green peppers, warabi (a soybean-powder-covered mochi dessert), soba noodle soup with mushrooms, tempura dipping sauce, yuba (tofu skin, a Kyoto specialty), mushroom rice (kinoko takikomi gohan), and more pickles (another Kyoto specialty).

Nishin soba, another Kyoto specialty.

After lunch we went for a hike. At the peak there was a restaurant serving beer and ice cream, of course. What do you think this shop owner’s commute is like?

When you climb a mountain and meet a guy wanting to sell you ice cream, you can’t refuse. This one was kinako.

Our weekend wasn’t all about food, I swear. We did some sightsighing, and a little more sightseeing. And then after an especially rainy afternoon, we found a charming little omurice restaurant. Maybe not the haute Kyoto cuisine my in-laws were expecting, but it was perfectly placed comfort food for a chilly evening.

And, to round out the weekend (and our waistlines), we ended with a trip to Kyoto Ramen Street.

With a belly full of noodles and a cold beer in-hand, we hopped on the shinkansen for a sleepy trip back to Tokyo. Ah, how I love Japan in the fall.

One Fish, Two Fish, Oh No, Blue Fish

You know how you go out to a restaurant, order a meal, and then it comes out cooked and all around ready to eat? Funny story.

Ordering off a menu in Japan where we have a tenuous grip on the language  is always a mumble gamble. I see the kanji for chicken…but then what are all those characters after it?

“I’ll have the [murmermurmer] chicken.”

“You mean the chicken [somethingsomething]?

“Yep, that’s the one.”

And then we wait, and then it’s chickenmurmersomethingorother, and it’s delicious. Or, it’s chicken womb.

A great meal swings on the hinge of chance?

In Kyoto last weekend, my finger got stuck in the hinge, and then when I tried to pull it out, my pants ripped, but then it turned out that I was already naked. You know how the old Abraham Lincoln saying goes.

Ang and I were snacking at a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant. One of those classy ones, where there’s no reason for the conveyor belt because everyone is ordering their meals off iPad menus.

There was a giant fish tank behind the sushi chef. The tank had a strong current, and the fish were swimming with purpose, swiftly. It was a nice touch. In Japanese, you’d say the place was moody.

But then a panel opened behind the tank, a net went in, a fish came out, and a chef in the back kitchen was waving a horse mackerel at us (Angie).

Our chef told us, “Oh, you have to try the [mumblescrumble] aji. It’s our specialty.”

“Oh it’s [somethingmumble] aji? Sure, good.”

“Really? Wow. Ok. Grrreat,” the chef said, now slipping into his only English.

Net in, fish out, horse mackerel waved at us (Angie).

The chef in the back disappeared.

“This is where he goes and kills the fish,” I said expertly, stupidly, feeling a little bad that we had sentenced a fish to its death.

The expertly carved sashimi came out with the fish carcass presented on the plate, a macabre garnish we’re used to at this point.

We went in with our chopsticks, and the fish carcass wriggled. Then the fish carcass tried to breath. Then the still-very-much-alive fish didn’t really do much of anything, because it’s pretty hard to move when someone carves off most of you.

Ang let out a little whoop of a nervous giggle, like if Annie Oakley saw someone slip on a banana peel.

I let out a “whooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaarbfl.”

No, I didn’t keep my cool, because I was uncomfortable keeping an animal alive just so it can watch itself being eaten. Yes, I continued to eat the fish, because rule number one of dining etiquette is to not let your meal see itself go to waste.

We ate slowly, just hoping the mackerel would stop moving, but also dreading the moment when it would stop moving.

A waitress came by and said they would fry the skeleton for us when we were done eating. We decided the best we could do by the fish was to put him down quickly. We shoved the sashimi in our mouths and let the waitress take the fish to his deep-fried grave.

Feel free to discuss the ethics of this in the comments. I’m going to watch a video of a chimp washing a cat for the next 30 minutes.

Kyoto is for Eaters

Kyoto is so beautiful it almost makes me mad.

But since we’re being totally honest with each other, I’ll admit I was the most excited by this sight:

Black sesame and honey ice cream. With a gingersnap spoon. I shoved it into everyone’s face, insisting they must try the Most Delicious Ice Cream Combo, until I realized that meant less for me. So I sneaked away to lick my cone clean in the dark shadows of a shrine.

We opted for the kaiseki meal in our ryokan, which meant dinner while wearing our pajamas and yukata (cotton robes). While our server delicately described the seasonal components and zen balance of each dish, I was busy taking photos and so I had no idea what I was eating. Vegetable or fish? Who cares! It’s boiled!

It was great, but it made my mouth tired.

Our ryokan also served us breakfast, with amazing little pillow-like cubes of tofu.

I love Japanese breakfasts. I’ll take some rice and grilled fish over an omelet any day.

On our way out of town we stopped for lunch at Katsukura, a tonkatsu (fried pork) restaurant in Kyoto Station.

The sorta-trendy restaurant serves you sesame seeds with a small mortar and pestle, to grind and add sauce to for dipping. I did it wrong. Who knew you could be so uncouth at a fried meat restaurant?

In case anyone is curious we stayed at the lovely, not-too-fancy Ryokan Motonago. The tonkatsu restaurant is located in the JR Kyoto Station, The Cube, 11F (above Isetan).

Truth in Advertising: Super Butter

At first, these felt wrong. The first taste reminded me of the butter in a squeeze bottle that was sometimes offered for our grilled sweet corn when I was a kid. The kind of squeeze butter that, upon closer inspection, says “butter flavor” on the bottle, causing a gut punch of betrayal.

But 5 seconds later, I got over my butter supremacy issues and ate the entire box. These should be called Super Duper Lick-your-Fingers-Clean Butter.

Snack Crack

I’m in love with Pretz — crispy little breadsticks covered in salt and umami.  In Nagoya we did a riverside taste test: clockwise from the top left, we tried salad サラダ, gyoza 餃子, black pepper chicken wings 手羽先, and citrus すだち. The black pepper wings were the obvious winner.

A quick Google search of Pretz cemented my love — check out the YouTube cache here. Warning, it may cause seizures. Please take note that Pretz is pronounced like the classy Pennsylvania gas establishment Sheetz (Ah Sheetz! I dropped my Pretz!), not like the Pennsylvania snack food, the pretzel. The recommended method for eating Pretz is to snap them in half. I prefer to inhale them, teeth continuously chomping like the wood chipper in Fargo. “Where is Pancakes House?” Who cares, I have Pretz.

Snack food companies in Japan are good at throwing new, crazy flavors at you so you’ll continue to buy their products, as if the addict needs another excuse. A recent find, just butter ジャガバタ:

And there are many, many more. Sorry crafts, it looks like I have a new hobby.

A Weekend in Pictures

Hello! I’m back, at least physically if not-quite mentally. We spent the weekend with friends in Aichi prefecture, and it was fantastic.  Here’s a look at our weekend and some of the reasons I love summer in Japan.

We started the weekend with a proper lunch, prepared in Nagoya’s hitsumabushi 櫃まぶし style.

The evening found us in yukata 浴衣 at the Nagoya Castle summer night festival.

Mmm, cream puff.

Sunday meant a trip to Gifu for a river swim.

Then a post-swim hike.

Back in Kisogawa, as we waited for the hanabi 花火, the sunset almost outdid the fireworks show.

After some of the best fireworks I`ve seen (according to our friend, the display was 1/6th as big as others), it was off to an onsen. It rained a bit as we sat in an outdoor pool, cooling our faces. That night, curled up on the tatami mat, I never slept so well.

Soba School

While in Nagano Prefecture a few weeks ago, we learned how to make soba noodles from scratch. I’m not going to provide commentary, so you’ll have the same semi-clueless, watch-and-mimic experience as me:

Got it? Now time to eat!  They cooked up our noodles while we headed downstairs to the restaurant.

A satisfying feast.

Have a look at some meat.

I just learned the word for a restaurant under the train tracks is ガード下 (gadoshita).

I love the ambiance of these places. The rattle of the train overhead has the added benefit of masking the (more than) occasional earthquake.

Gadoshita are also known for having cheap food, usually grilled meats. We ordered chicken skewers, fried tofu, kimchi, and ホルモン煮込み horumon nikomi — stewed innards.

Learning new vocabulary isn’t always fun and games. From the translated menu:

I realize this outs me as a person who takes photos of the word “vagina.” I consider myself an adventurous eater, but I draw the line at womb. Though, meat of the head? Yum! Make mine a double.