Kinkan Kanro-ni

kinkan3Kinkan is the Japanese word for kumquat, and they are quite common in Japan. There’s a kumquat tree in my neighbor’s yard. In the supermarket, they are available, like most citrus, in the winter. I don’t think they’re very popular in the U.S., at least, not in the northeast. They’re bitter inside, but the skin is sweet. In this recipe, they are candied, and can then be used in a variety of ways. I chopped some up and put them in Christmas cookies this year.

Ingredients
350g (12 oz) kumquats
320mL (1-1/3 cups) water
1 cup sugar

Instructions

kinkanKumquats have seeds in them, and if you want to remove them, you can cut some vertical slits in the kumquats before boiling. If you don’t remove them, though, it’s no problem – you can either eat them along with the candied fruits, or remove them while cutting or eating them later.

kinkan2Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the kumquats and boil for 3 minutes, then drain. If desired, you can repeat the boiling process. After they are cooked, soak them in cold water for 5 minutes.

Place the 320mL/1-1/3 cups water and the 1 cup sugar in a saucepan. When the sugar dissolves, add the kumquats. Bring to a low simmer and cook until the syrup is almost gone, about 45 minutes.

The candied kumquats should be stored in the fridge. You can eat them plain, use them as a topping, or mix them into cookies or bread. I added them to biscotti.

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Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies

cranberry blissThese cookies are very Christmasy! Their color of red and white is really pretty, and the sweet white chocolate goes well with the tart cranberries. A cream cheese frosting is also really nice. This recipe makes a pretty large batch, so you can definitely halve it. The original recipe is from here.

Ingredients (about 4 dozen cookies)
Cookies:
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
227g (1 cup) butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup white chocolate chips/chunks
1 cup dried cranberries

Frosting:
200g (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup white chocolate chips/chunks, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

Topping:
1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/4 cup white chocolate chips/chunks, melted

Instructions

Make the cookies: Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well. Slowly add the dry ingredients. Fold in the white chocolate and cranberries.

Chill dough for 1 hour. Place rounded tablespoons on a baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake at 180C/350F for 10 to 12 minutes, until light golden on the edges. Let cookies cool completely.

Make frosting: Beat together cream cheese and melted white chocolate. Add vanilla and powdered sugar. Beat until smooth. If it’s not thick enough, you can add additional powdered sugar.

Spread the frosting on the cool cookies. Sprinkle with the chopped cranberries and drizzle with the melted white chocolate.

Orzo Veggie Soup

orzo soup2This soup has simple ingredients, but it’s a delicious lunch. It’s a light vegetarian meal that I also enjoy when not feeling well. The original idea was from here.

Ingredients (1-2 servings)
480 mL (2 cups) vegetable stock (you can use chicken stock too, though it won’t be vegetarian)
1/2 cup (uncooked) orzo pasta, or other tiny pasta shape
1 tomato
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp olive oil
1 egg white
1 handful fresh spinach
Parmesan cheese for serving

Instructions

Bring the vegetable stock to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the pasta and cook according to the box directions until done.

Meanwhile, cut up the tomato and add the salt, crushed pepper, and olive oil. Cook briefly in the microwave or on the stovetop until done.

When the orzo is done, stir or whisk quickly while pouring in the egg white. It will cook instantly when it hits the hot broth. Finally, add the spinach and stir until wilted.

Put the tomato into 1 or 2 bowls and pour the orzo soup over. Stir, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese to serve.

Lavender Earl Grey Tea Latte

IMG_7797I’m not much of a coffee drinker, so when I go to cafes, I usually try their tea drinks. One US-based chain has a Lavender Earl Grey Tea Latte that I love, but it is outrageously expensive. I figured I could make something similar at home for much less money, and tried out different ways until I found something I liked. If you like this one, I also recommend the Pumpkin Spice Steamer I posted a while ago!

Ingredients (makes about 1 cup: 1 large or 2 small servings)
360mL (1-1/2 cups) milk
1 Earl Grey teabag (or 1 tbsp Earl Grey tea)
1/2 tsp lavender*
2-3 tsp sugar (2 tsp was enough for me, so start with that)

*Lavender is the hardest ingredient to find; you can get it at import stores or maybe also at tea stores. It’s quite inexpensive and a little goes a long way.

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat until mixture begins to simmer.

Turn heat to low and let the milk simmer very lightly for 10 minutes.

Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer, and serve immediately.

Ingredients in Japan: Butter and Fats

This post is part of a series about the differences in ingredients between Japan and the U.S. When I first arrived in Japan, I had a lot of trouble at times because I wasn’t used to these differences, so hopefully this information is helpful! For the full list of posts in this series, see this page.

When I first came to Japan, I was horrified at the price of butter. Butter is sold in blocks of 200g (almost 1/2 lb), 100g (about 1/4 lb), and also in small packs of individually wrapped “pats” of butter. The best value is always the larger blocks, but in the past 2.5 years I’ve seen the price for 200g range from about 375 to 500 yen. In U.S. dollars this works out to $8.50 to $11 a pound. Therefore, I have not done a lot of cooking with butter in Japan! I usually use margarine (more on this below), or mix butter and margarine.

A bit more on butter: it is sold in salted or unsalted types. Unsalted is always more expensive for some reason, and is not always available. Some “fancy” butters are also available. For example, I have recently been seeing something that I think is “cultured butter”, which has a more tangy yogurt-like taste. In Japan, Hokkaidou (the northernmost island) is famous for high-quality dairy, so most butter sold in my area seems to be produced there. Another important note on butter is that Japan regularly experiences “butter shortages”, and supermarkets often limit the amount of butter that each customer can buy, or run out of butter and have no supply for a day or two.

A good option for spreading on toast, etc., is “butter spread“, which is a soft product made from soy, corn, etc., with “butter flavor”. This is cheaper than dairy butter. There are many, many varieties of butter spread sold everywhere. There are even a few flavored ones, with garlic or something like that.

Cake margarine (unsalted)

Cake margarine (unsalted)

Margarine is also available in stick form. I discovered something called ケーキ用マーガリン (keeki-you maagarin) or “margarine for cakes”. This can be used in baking, and is what I have used the majority of the time. I’m used to it now, and it’s not bad at all. Of course, butter will taste better, but if you plan to do a lot of baking, it is a good choice (unless you have a large budget for groceries). One important difference is that the margarine stays softer than butter even when cold. This means that it’s easier to mix into doughs, but also that if you chill a cookie dough, it will NOT get as hard as a cookie dough made with butter. This means that roll-out cookies are going to be softer and more difficult to work with. You can add a little extra flour to help make up for it, or chill the dough in the freezer instead of fridge to get it colder.

IMG_7800Vegetable shortening is not as common in Japan as in the U.S., and more expensive as well. However, if you look around you can definitely find it (usually with the baking supplies or cake-decorating stuff). The most common brands are about the same price as butter (around $10/lb), but I found one brand that is sold at about half that price in grocery stores, and you can also buy a larger tub (about 500g, a little over a pound) at import stores at a similar price.

Oils I usually keep around: olive, sesame, canola.

Oils I usually keep around: olive, sesame, canola.

Several oils are commonly sold in stores: canola oil, vegetable oil (called サラダオイル, sarada oiru or salad oil in Japan), olive oil (both light and extra virgin), and sesame oil, or ごま油 (gomaabura). Vegetable/canola oils are sold in large jugs for pretty cheap prices, usually about 300 yen per liter (around $3 a quart). Olive oil is more expensive, of course, but not excessive – prices are similar to what I saw in the U.S., if memory serves. I’m Italian, so I always have extra virgin olive oil in the house, but when my bottle starts getting low I start looking around for a sale or a good price, and can usually find a decent deal. Sesame oil is more expensive than canola oil, but probably cheaper than in the U.S. It is often located in the Chinese food aisle.

Other oils can be found, but not in the regular grocery store. If you check out fancy grocery stores or import stores, you can find many different oils, ranging from avocado oil to walnut oil. As expected, they are small bottles for high prices, and availability varies depending on the store. My advice on these would be to plan ahead and either buy online or hunt around at different import stores to make sure you can find them – don’t plan on making a recipe using one of these oils assuming you can get it easily.

Oatmeal Cookie Bars

oatmeal chunk barsThese oatmeal bars are quick and delicious. They’re still cookies, so they’re not exactly health food, but they include oats and nuts and can be made with whole wheat flour. You can customize these with whatever you want to mix in. I have two common variations: chocolate/walnut, and white chocolate/cranberry/walnut.

Ingredients
1 cup flour (all-purpose or a mixture of AP and whole wheat)
3/8 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup oats (quick-cooking work best for me, but rolled oats are fine too)
85g (6 tbsp) butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
170g (6 oz) chocolate chips or chunks, chopped nuts, and/or dried fruit

Instructions

Cream butter and sugars. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Add all dry ingredients and mix to combine. Finally, stir in your chocolate, nuts, and/or fruit.

The batter will be rather thick. Spread it in an 8-inch (21-cm) square pan, and bake at 190C (375 F) for 18-20 minutes.

(This recipe can be doubled and made in a 13×9 inch pan.)

Gyoza (Dumplings)

cooking dumplings3
Gyoza (餃子) is the Japanese word for dumplings. They consist of a thin wrapper and a filling of meat and/or vegetables, and may be cooked by steam-frying, boiling, or deep-frying. Gyoza can come in almost infinite varieties, so feel free to adjust as you like. This is my basic recipe, but it often varies depending what’s on sale, in season, or around my kitchen.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)
125g (1/4 lb) ground pork
1 cup finely sliced cabbage or hakusai (Napa cabbage)
1/2 cup finely sliced veggies (nira/garlic chives, green onions, other greens, carrots, etc)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste
24 gyoza wrappers (or round dumpling wrappers)

Optional (for dipping sauce): Additional soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and/or chili oil

Instructions

In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients (except wrapper) well. (It can help to use your hands.) Tip: it’s a good idea to check the flavor, so you can microwave about 1 tsp of the filling until cooked and taste it. That’s what your finished dumplings will taste like, so adjust the seasoning to your taste.

Fill each dumpling with 1/2 tbsp of the filling. Dip a finger in water and draw a line halfway around the edge of the wrapper, and fold. You can find videos showing you how to fold gyoza online if you haven’t done it before, or look at the pictures below for an idea. If it’s your first try, it’s best to check out a video, or have someone show you.

gyoza2Once all the dumplings are folded, you can cook them. Gyoza can be pan-fried, boiled, or deep-fried. The first way is the most common, and what I usually do at home, so I’ll give the instructions here. Boiling and deep-frying are pretty self-explanatory. You will need a frying pan that has a lid.

Place teaspoon or two of oil in a frying pan on medium heat and set the dumplings down in it. Leave a little space between them so they don’t stick together. You want the pleated edges sticking straight up. Let them cook for a minute or two, and then pour about 1/2 cup of water into the frying pan and put the lid on. (Remember, you’re pouring water onto hot oil, so it may splatter.)

Steam the dumplings for about 8 minutes. If all the water evaporates before then, add a little more. After 8 minutes, remove the lid and let the extra water boil off. You can check for doneness by poking one open with a chopstick and making sure there’s no pink in the meat. Finally, let the dumplings cook in the hot oil until the bottom gets crispy and brown (see the picture at the top of the post).

Serve immediately.

Optional dipping sauce: mix equal amounts of soy sauce and rice vinegar. Some people like to add oil as well; you can use sesame oil or chili oil (ラー油, raayu).