Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sweet Cucumber Pickles

It's pickle time!

In the list of favorite foods that resides in my head, pickles certainly take one of the top five spots (there are probably about 10 different foods fighting for the top 5 spots, which I guess could be a little troublesome). This weekend I realized that I am running low on pickles, so its time re-stock the pickle jar.

I like this recipe for sweet cucumber pickles, they are refreshing, lightly sweet and have a small kick of heat at the end.

Sweet Cucumber Pickles


5 Japanese cucumbers
1 2/3 Tbsp of salt
1 1/2 cups of rice vinegar
1/2 cup of water
1/4 cup of sugar
2 pods of dried chilli pepper
1 bay leaf
1 small cinnamon stick
6-7 peppercorns
1 pickling press
1 glass jar


First, wash the cucumbers and trim off the edges (otherwise they will taste bitter). Once they are clean, cut them lengthwise in half. Mine will look a little smaller because my pickling jar is small, so I cut them into smaller pieces.

Lay the cucumbers in the pickling press and add salt, rub the cucumbers to make sure that the salt is evenly distributed. Then, pour over 1/3 of salted water to make sure the salt is soaked into the cucumbers evenly

Put on the lid of the pickle press and screw down to place weight on the cucumbers. this will allow the water to drain out of the cucumbers and the pickling process to begin. Store them away from the sun from 12-24 hours.

Take the pickles out of the press and rinse them to remove excess water. Put the pickles in the shade and let their surface dry.

In the meantime, heat up the marinade for the pickles using the remaining ingredients. Make sure the marinade never touches any metallic objects (that includes measuring cups, spoons or the pot). Rice vinegar reacts to metallic objects and develops an unpleasant, metallic taste. Some people have enamel covered pots that work quite well. I don't have one, so I use a Latin technique called "Bano de Maria", I heat up a ceramic bowl within a pot of boiling water and place the marinade inside the bowl. Bring the marinade to a boil , then turn off the heat and let it cool.

Finally, pack cucumbers in a pickling jar, and pour over the marinade. Let them soak in the flavors of the marinade for one day. These pickles will be good for a couple of months!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hanami in Washington, D.C.

* The Washington Monument hiding behind the sakura*
No "kanpai" in Washington, D.C.
In 1912, the city of Tokyo presented the people of Washington, D.C. with a gift of 3,000 cherry trees. Most were planted around the Tidal Basing in the National Mall. Washington is at its most beautiful during the few days in which the cherry trees are in bloom, so Brendan and I decided to go for a little Hanami (flower viewing) in the Nation's Capital.

As we were walking and admiring the sakura and the monuments, I remembered something my friend Yoshiko told me when we visited Japan. That in Japan is very common to drink during hanami. The majority of cities in the U.S. prohibit alcohol consumption in public areas, so our hanami in Washington, D.C. was pretty dry.

* The Jefferson Memorial*

It would have been great to enjoy a little bit of sake while walking the Tidal Basin, which brings me to the following observation from our visit to Japan. On our first day in Tokyo, Brendan and I were happily surprised when wen found little "juice" boxes containing sake at most convenient stores. We loved the idea of having single-serving, accessible, transportable alcohol containers (I loved that most of them came with their own little straw! So cute.). We made a point to try as many as we could during our trip.

I will be the first to admit that none of them were the best-tasting sake I ever had, but I am not going to complain (considering that during college I drank some of the most cheap, horrid beers the United States has ever produced). The one that became our staple drink during the trip was "One Cup Ozeki". The big one was for Brendan, the small one was for me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dinner: Miso Black Cod

The best part of this dinner is that I have leftovers

Tonight I had a little extra time, so dinner included miso black cod, rice with veggies, soy eggs and pickles.

Miso-marinated black cod is famous in NY thanks to Nobu Matsushita. It is an expensive dish at restaurants, so for years I considered it to be an indulgence. That is, until I got a hold of the modified recipe from Rasa Malaysia and realized that it is very easy to do. Enjoy!

Recipe: Black Cod with Miso (Miso-marinated Black Cod)
Adapted from Nobu: The Cookbook


2-3 black cod fillets (about 1 lb)

For the marinade:

1/4 cup sake
1/4 cup mirin
4 tablespoons of white miso paste
3 tablespoons of sugar


  1. Mix the marinate ingredients thoroughly in a plastic container (with lid) and set aside. Save some for plating purposes.
  2. Pat the fish fillets dry with paper towels and put them into the plastic container with the marinate. Cover the lid and leave to steep in the refrigerator overnight or for 24 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degree F.
  4. Preheat an indoor grill at the same time.
  5. Lightly wipe off (with fingers) any excess miso marinate clinging to the fish fillets but don’t rinse it off. Place the fish on the grill and lightly grill on both sides until the surface turns brown.
  6. Transfer the fish fillets to the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes.
  7. Add a few extra drops of the marinate on the plate and serve hot.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Onigiri in Manhattan: Café Zaiya

The devil is in the details

Many Japanese subsidiaries have set their headquarters in Midtown East (for example, my company is in the same building as the giant Itochu Corporation). Consequently, several Japanese restaurants have established businesses around the area, catering to the many Japanese working around here. When it comes to picking quick, fresh and inexpensive lunch around work, Café Zaiya is my favorite place in midtown Manhattan

Café Zaiya deserves a post on its own. But lets focus on onigiri for now. Zaiya's onigiri are particularly delicious for a couple of reasons:
  1. The onigiri is freshly made every day, so if you go there at lunch time, the onigiri has just come out of the kitchen and its warm! I have been completely spoiled by Zaiya's warm onigiri. In fact, the first time I tried onigiri from the combini store in Japan and bit into cold rice, it made me a little sad
  2. The onigiri comes with plastic packaging that separates the nori from the rice, so the nori retains its crunchy texture until its ready to be eaten
  3. The onigiri costs approximately $2 dollars each, so they are both budget and palate friendly

* Plastic wrap = crunchy seaweed*

Wajima Onsen

On serene, quiet days, Wajima often comes to my mind

Our trip to Japan could not be complete without experiencing the hospitality and hotsprings of a ryokan, so Brendan and I decided to go to one near Wajima, a sea-facing city in the northern part of the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture. Wajima is pretty far from the typical western tourist route. Even though there is a train station in Wajima, the train does not run there anymore, so our Japan rail pass took us as far as Wakuraonsen station, and then we hopped on a local bus to Wajima.

In a way I am happy that the train does not run to Wajima anymore, because the bus ride was absolutely gorgeous! With views of tranquil, rural Japan on one side of the road, and the dark Eastern Sea on the other.

I don't think anything I have seen before prepared us for our stay at the Notonosho ryokan*. We could see the sea through our window while we enjoyed the constant sound of water from our private pine bath.

After the bath, we put on our comfortable yukatas (cotton kimono) and went to have dinner at the restaurant in the ryokan. In retrospect, I remember the yukata was very comfortable for me, since I am 5' 1". However, it was probably not that comfortable for Brendan, who is 6’ feet tall and not really the standard size for a male in Japan. Still, he was a total trooper.

Dinner at our ryokan has been one of the most memorable Japanese culinary experiences I have had. All produce was locally sourced, and presented in the most delicate lacquer ware (Wajima is known throughout Japan for producing beautiful lacquer ware). I will describe some of the dishes we ate as best as my limited Japanese allowed me to understand that night.

* Grilled baby squid with locally sourced seaweed *

* Notogyu (beef from the Noto Peninsula) grilled with shiitake mushrooms*

* Grilled, ponzu-marinated squid*

After dinner, we went to some of the onsen pools in the ryokan. By the time we got back to our room, our comfortable futons had been laid out for us. After such a beautiful, relaxing day, we got to rest, enjoy our beautiful room and be a little silly with each other.

* Note: If you are are planning a trip to Japan and want to stay at a Ryokan or Minshuku, I recommend making reservations through JapaneseGuestHouses, a free reservation website service. Not only do they have information on hundreds of Ryokan all over Japan, but also help you make reservations, as many Ryokans do not have english-speaking staff.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lazy, delicious dinner

Rice with gim = nom nom nom

Many nights when I come to home from the gym I am too lazy to cook, so I try to get away with fast, easy dinners. Tonight I am eating leftover brown rice, myeongran jeot with gim and cucumbers I pickled a couple of days ago.

Gim is korean seaweed salted and roasted in sesame oil. Myeongran jeot is korean pickled pollock roe. It's similar to mentaiko, the japanese version of marinated pollock roe. Every time I go eat at Koreatown I make a point to go to the grocery store afterwards and purchase some myeongran jeot.

There are several ways to eat myeongran jeot, its can be used in stews or mixed with noodles. Tonight I am eating in its simplest form, adding it to rice wrapped in gim.

Pretty Octopi

These octopi are so beautiful, they look like flowers.

Last May, my fiancée and I went on our first trip to Japan together. Since the jetlag had us both up and running by 4 A.M., we followed the suggestions of many tour-guides and ventured into central Tokyo to visit the famous Tsukiji fish market, the greatest seafood market in the world.

The amount of seafood we saw was mesmerizing. It was also saddening, because everything looked amazing and we could not purchase any of it. This is my favorite picture from that day.