Totoro Cookies

>>  Wednesday, November 30, 2011

This post is part of a larger series: An Asian Twist on a Traditional Holiday Meal. Other posts in this series include Chinese Oven Roasted Duck, and Keroppi Cookies.

I've always been a sucker for matcha (green tea) cookies.

Until now, I never even considered trying to make them myself. Instead, I would purchase them at specialty bakeries, usually Japanese or Taiwanese.

However, when Foodbuzz's Tastemaker Program called for bloggers to participate in the GLAD Cookies for Kids Cancer cookie exchange, I decided it was time to challenge myself and try my hand at baking these cookies myself.

Of course, I couldn't just make any ordinary cookies.

Not if I'm going to give them away.

Alas, Totoro Matcha cookies were born.

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Keroppi Cookies

This post is part of a larger series: An Asian Twist on a Traditional Holiday Meal. Other posts in this series include Chinese Oven Roasted Duck, and Totoro Cookies.

I was obsessed with Keroppi when I was in school.

I loved going to Sanrio stores to see what cool new Keroppi stuff I could buy. My sister and I owned dozens of plush green Keroppis, along with T-shirts, totes, pens, notebooks, etc.

When Bryan first met me in college, he even told me I looked like Keroppi because of the huge glasses that I wore at the time. Hmm . . . looking back, was that really a compliment?

Sadly, Keroppi seems to have fallen out of favor these days. Hello Kitty, who is actually older than Keroppi, is still going strong as ever.  Keroppi, on the other hand, can hardly be found. These days I'm thrilled if I even see one or two Keroppi items in the Sanrio stores.

As a nod to those characters we loved as kids, I decided to bake Keroppi cookies for the GLAD Cookies for Kids Cancer cookie exchange, offered by Foodbuzz's Tastemakers Program.

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Chinese Oven Roasted Duck

>>  Tuesday, November 29, 2011

This post is an extension of the larger post: An Asian Twist on a Traditional Holiday Meal.

My family never ate turkey for Thanksgiving.

We didn't even come close. Instead, without fail, every year we huddled around a warm, boiling pot of broth and enjoyed a traditional Chinese hot pot. It wasn't until I went to college and spent Thanksgiving at a friend's house that I had traditional turkey for the first time.

Bryan, on the other hand, ate turkey every year growing up. They did all the fixings - mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes . . . His Chinese mother learned the tricks of the trade from an American host family back when they first moved to the U.S. three decades ago.

Just two years ago, I saw another "version" of Thanksgiving when we visited his aunt for the holiday. It was an interesting hybrid of our two cultures: the traditional turkey and bread-based stuffing turned into an oven roasted duck and sticky rice filling.

Inspired by that meal, I decided to try make my own Asian inspired oven-roasted duck for Thanksgiving this year.

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Foodbuzz 24, 24: An Asian Twist on a Traditional Holiday Meal

>>  Monday, November 28, 2011

I love this time of year.

There's something about spending time with family, visiting friends, and listening to (and singing!) Christmas songs that fills me with so much joy. I love the holiday lights that begin to appear; I love the spirit of generosity that everyone has; and I love the countless opportunities to meet up with those we love - often over food!

 I love it all.

Typically, we travel during the holidays, either to Bryan's hometown in California or my hometown in Ohio. This Thanksgiving, however, was a little different.

We didn't hop on a plane the moment we got out of work. We didn't rush from place to place, having no chance to settle. We didn't feel a single ounce of travel-related stress.

Instead, we stayed home. Our new home(!).

We slept in!

I can't remember the last time we had a chance to sleep in and really, really catch up on sleep.
It's been great having the four day weekend to just relax at home. I was able to unpack some more (yes, we're still not done!). I picked up some projects I hadn't had time to finish.

And I cooked.

A lot.

For the first time in my life, we "hosted" a Thanksgiving meal in our new home! I invited my sister's family over, and we enjoyed a fantastic dinner on Saturday.

In a nod to our families and cultural heritage, I took a traditional American holiday meal and added all sorts of Asian twists to it. It's probably not too different from the meals that many Asian families are having in America during the holidays!  

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Tempura Kondo

>>  Wednesday, November 23, 2011

This is part 3 of my latest travel series: Post Quake Japan. Other posts in this series: Kago, Daisan Harumi

For real? 2-star Michelin tempura place?

Bryan couldn’t believe it when I told him there were dedicated tempura restaurants in Japan that had garnered two Michelin stars. Tempura is essentially anything that’s been battered and fried in a particular Japanese manner. It’s typically associated with casual, inexpensive dining (think Korean fried chicken or KFC). It’s not something you would necessarily immediately associate with fine dining.

I made a reservation at Tempura Kondo because I was curious too.

“I can’t imagine what 2-star Michelin tempura would be like. Maybe they fry up ordinary things with caviar or truffles or something . . . “ surmised Bryan.

Guess what?

There was not a truffle in sight nor any caviar. Instead, we ate an assortment of fresh, organic vegetables from Hokkaido. We had insanely fresh fried anago, uni, and shrimp. We sampled slightly more unusual Asian vegetables, like lotus root and kabocha squash.

The ingredients were mind-blowingly simple, yet the meal was incredible.

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Why Boston Rescue Mission?

>>  Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Boston Rescue Mission
This is part 1 of the Post Project Food Blog - What's Next? Series. It's based off of the speech I gave at the Foodbuzz Festival in November (2011) when I explained what I was doing with my Project Food Blog winnings.

I feel really, really blessed.
Winning Project Food Blog was an incredible experience, something I will never forget.
For a number of reasons, as the weeks of Project Food Blog went by and I continued to advance, I became more and more convinced that if I won the entire contest, I wanted to give the money away to those in need.

Here's a peek inside my brain during that year leading up to the Project Food Blog win: how I came to this decision to donate and why Boston Rescue Mission.

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Daisan Harumi

>>  Friday, November 18, 2011

This is part 2 of my latest travel series: Post Quake Japan. Other posts in this series: Kago

Wasabi lured Bryan into liking Japanese cuisine.

Bryan was never a natural fan of Japanese food. Unlike me, who ate it voraciously growing up, Bryan was put off by many traditional Japanese flavors (think bonito, seaweed) and only grudgingly ate it.

Until he discovered wasabi.

Bryan has always loved anything spicy - everything from habaneros to horseradish. When he first started eating sushi, he consistently overwhelmed his tiny soy sauce tray with huge dollops of wasabi, mixing in bare minimum drops of soy sauce to form a super thick paste. I seriously doubt he could even tell what fish he was eating (though he totally claims he could). But hey, I was happy we could finally go out to eat Japanese.

More recently on a trip to Japan, we learned the intricacies about eating sushi and the role wasabi plays. Sushi chefs are quite particular about when to use wasabi, when not to use it, and how much to use. Our palates have gradually become more refined as we've learned the art of appreciating sushi in Japan.
Daisan Harumi
With these newly acquired lessons in our heads, our first stop after landing in Japan was (of course) sushi. We made reservations at this tiny 8-seater restaurant in Shimbashi (not too far from the chicken sashimi place!) called Daisan Harumi. Daisan Harumi is super popular on Japanese forums and review sites because of its high quality of sushi and reasonable prices (at least when compared to high end sushi).

Better yet? They make some fine wasabi. According to the chef (mind you this is in Japanese so I can only hope I understood everything correctly), Hashido-san (one of the chefs) recently won 1st place in a prestigious wasabi contest.

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Paccheri (pasta) with Salmon, Tomatoes, and Yuzu

>>  Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I'm trying things a bit differently. In the past when I've started a series, I've completed it before starting another series (or even another post). I'm current going through two series right now (Post Quake Japan and the Post Project Food Blog - What's Next? ). As a result, I've decided to vary up the posts and alternate between the series as well as throw in cooking and restaurant posts in between. Feel free to give feedback if you like it one way vs. the other!

If you have high quality ingredients, you've overcome 90% of the battle.

I'm slowly learning that good ingredients alone go a really, really long way. If you have good ingredients, you really don't have to be a great cook to make pretty tasty dishes.

We were stuck in a bind the other night. The weather was outside was a bit frightful (ummm, hello freak October snowstorm!), and Bryan was in the thick of battling his awful cold. We really didn't feel like going out, yet we had absolutely no groceries at home (having just returned from Japan not too long ago).

Now, I'm usually a "cook-from-scratch" kind of gal. In fact, I hardly keep any boxed or canned foods around the house. Serendipitously, (and thankfully!), it just so happened that I had recently attended a Muir Glen cooking class with Will Gilson in which they sent us home with a few cans of Reserve tomatoes. I had also just received my last shipment of Copper River Salmon goods as a part of my partnership with the Copper River Organization in Alaska this past summer.

When I combined these two excellent ingredients with just a few more simple things I already had at home, I came up with a fantastic pasta that only took 20 minutes to make.

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Kago (Kagoshima Cuisine)

>>  Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This is part 1 of my latest travel series: Post Quake Japan.

You know you've found a really authentic, local, "hidden" find when the restaurant you're visiting is virtually invisible on English language websites. There are no tourist arounds, and the owners speak little, if any, English.

We had the privilege of visiting this incredible little "izakaya" of sorts in Shimbashi, a busy area of Tokyo right next to the glitzy Ginza area. We came here through an introduction: Bryan's co-worker's fiance is Japanese, and her best friend's family owns this restaurant.

Even cooler? The patriarch of the family was a professional baseball player in Japan. Hiroshi Kamizuru played as a pitcher for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows from 1976 - 1982. The bar is lined with photos of him during his baseball heyday.

After retiring from baseball, Kamizuru decided he wanted to open a restaurant that showcased the food of his hometown, Kagoshima. Sometimes called the "Naples of the Eastern World," Kagoshima sits on the warm, southernmost tip of Japan and is rich full of interesting local dishes.

The restaurant named Kago is the brainchild of this inspiration, and it's an incredible find. The regional cuisine is fascinating, delicious, and really fun to try. We sampled all sorts of unique local specialties - everything from their famous kurobuta (black pork - also known as Berkshire pork) to the scary (even to Japanese people), chicken sashimi!

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Foodbuzz Festival Part 2: Tasting Pavillion

>>  Thursday, November 10, 2011

This is part II of an extended post about Foodbuzz Festival 2011.

I've been going to the Foodbuzz Festival since its inception in 2009. The Tasting Pavilion has always been the focus of Saturday afternoon and is a super fun part of the festival. You basically walk around this huge room at the top of the Metreon and sample all sorts of delicious food from an wide assortment of vendors.
Tasting Pavillion
This year, for the first time, they allowed us to bring a guest! I was so excited to finally be able to bring one of my best friends from college, who has graciously hosted me the last several years whenever I visit San Francisco.

There's no way I could describe every single thing I tried or saw in those three (!) hours of sampling. However, here are some that stood out to me.

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Foodbuzz Festival Part I

What a whirlwind weekend it's been!

 Have you ever taken a weekend trip across the country before?

Man, let me tell you, it feels way too short. Due to all the other trips I've taken this year, I was basically out of vacation days by the time the Foodbuzz Festival rolled around. Alas, my trip to San Francisco ended up being me spending 2 days in airplanes and airports, and 1 1/2 precious days in gorgeous San Francisco.

Nevertheless, I had a fantastic time meeting old friends, making old ones, and meeting bloggers I felt like I knew but had never met in person.

I also had a chance to give a short speech to the Foodbuzz community about what I've been up to since winning Project Food Blog. I met some amazing people who share my passion for community service and reaching out to the poor. I was so encouraged, inspired, and excited to meet so many of you.

Obviously it's impossible to sum up such a rich weekend in a post or two, but I'll try my best!

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Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

>>  Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Broccoli rabe sausage pasta
It's been a crazy busy weekend! I flew to San Francisco for the Foodbuzz Festival this past weekend. I'm still working up photos from that weekend, along with photos from my Japan series and experiences at the Boston Rescue Mission. Until then, please enjoy this super easy recipe that I've been making and eating a lot lately!

I was in the North End last weekend, dining at one of our favorite neighborhood Italian favorites.

Although I had so many different types of mouthwatering pasta dishes from which to choose, I found myself gravitating towards an ingredient combination that I've ordered countless times: broccoli rabe + sausage.

There's something about broccoli rabe that I love. The slight bitterness, the complex flavor, and the nutrient density draw me over and over to dishes incorporating this superfood.

When I found a recipe online from one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Vegas, I couldn't wait to try making this at home.

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Post Project Food Blog - What's next?

>>  Saturday, November 05, 2011

I can’t believe it’s already been a year since that period in my life where a particular contest consumed me, took over my thoughts, and essentially guided my weekends for 3 months. (!) What could I be talking about? Of course, none other than Foodbuzz’s first Project Food Blog competition.

How have things changed?

I find it funny that I’ve been asked more than once, “so, what does it feel like to be famous?” I  always chuckle because, to be honest, life hasn’t changed that much. I’m still excitedly taking pictures every time I cook or eat out. I still spend way too many hours processing pictures in my little study. I still seek out new restaurantscool new ingredients, and interesting eating opportunities. I still travel when I can, and I don’t hesitate to share with you those unique eating experiences.

I would hardly say I’m famous. I certainly don’t feel famous.

I mean, sure, maybe a few more people recognize the name of my blog (compared to before), especially if they were following the contest. Once in a blue moon someone (locally) might recognize me and come up to me to congratulate me. Other than that, however, life is pretty much the same.
*   *   *
Well, perhaps there has been one thing on my mind lately.
Boston Rescue Mission
I had shared during my previous post-Project Food Blog post that I was planning on giving away the prize winnings to charity.

This is something that’s been constantly churning in my mind the last 10 months. I’ve pondered over how to use the money; I’ve also tried to think hard about how to incorporate the donation into the blog.

After much thought, I have decided to partner with the Boston Rescue Mission this holiday season. I plan on donating $10,000, and hope I can raise an additional $10,000. (!)Boston Rescue Mission
Here’s just a tiny background on the Boston Rescue Mission.

The Boston Rescue Mission (located right in Downtown Crossing in Boston) provides emergency shelter, food, and detox programs for those struggling with addiction problems. Their ultimate goal? - to overcome the root causes of homelessness. They’ve been around since 1899. Boston Rescue Mission Christmas
I got to know the Boston Rescue Mission through my many interactions with them. Some of you may remember from my last Project Food Blog post that I sing a cappella. My a cappella group sings at the Boston Rescue Mission Friday evening service every couple months.
Boston Rescue Mission
More recently, I started volunteering at the Boston Rescue Mission's "Sunday Community Dinner." Together with a few people from my church, we design a menu, execute it, and cook for 100-150 people! (More on that in a later post!).
Billy O
It's been an incredible experience getting to know the people we serve. I can't wait to share some of that with you in the coming posts.

I have many, many exciting Giveaways planned in the next 2 months as I kick off this fundraising event. I’ve got loads of wonderful prizes that many businesses have graciously donated in support for this fundraiser.

Stay tuned!

We'll keep a running total of all the donations from Tiny Urban Kitchen supporters. If you'd like to contribute to this cause and donate, I would be thrilled. I will be over the moon if we reach our $10,000 goal.

To donate, please click here and click on the 2011 Tiny Urban Kitchen fundraiser box.

Boston Rescue Mission

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Post Quake Japan

>>  Thursday, November 03, 2011

It has been just shy of eight months since the devastating 8.9 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami hit Japan this past spring.

It was a trying time for all those living in Japan. Many had to bury loved ones, while others are still seeking closure for those that went missing. For millions, the fear of radiation dominated their daily thoughts.

The world responded with an immense outpouring of love, donating funds, time, and energy.

However, no one is visiting Japan any longer. Tourism numbers fell drastically after the earthquake. People, scared of the radiation, are afraid to go. It's gotten so bad in fact, the Japan Tourism Agency recently requested one billion yen in funding from the Japanese government to pay for 10,000 free tickets to encourage foreigners to come visit Japan. Nothing's set in stone yet, but there just might be that opportunity come April.

Bryan visited Tokyo about 2 months after the earthquake. He noticed that the nights in Tokyo were eerily dim as everyone made a conscious effort to conserve electricity.  Recently, Bryan and I returned to Japan. The lights seem to be back, and the city seems to bustle just like before.


Well, there is one difference.

When speaking to one of the most famous sushi chefs in the world, I commented on how surprised I was that I was able to get a last-minute reservation at his tiny 8-seater restaurant (usually notoriously booked out 2-3 months in advance).

He sighed, looked at me, and said, "the foreigners stopped coming after the quake."

For some reason that made me so sad.

Japan is an amazing place, and now is the best time to visit. November is when they enjoy their gorgeous fall foliage. Additionally, if you're a food fanatic, it is surprisingly easy to land typically difficult reservations in Tokyo right now. I called a bunch of these difficult-to-reserve places one week before my arrival date expecting to land maybe 1/3 of them. To my surprise, every single reservation was available.

This next series will focus on my recent trip to this resilient nation, including some phenomenal restaurants that I never thought I could visit.

Here's a sneak preview . . .

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"Creamy" Kabocha Soup (with a kick!)

>>  Tuesday, November 01, 2011

I have a new toy and I'm in love.

Actually, I've had it for awhile, but I've been so busy with the move to our new place, it has sort of sat neglected on the counter for weeks.

Now, finally, as we're slowly settling in, I'm starting to really use my kitchen again (finally!).

Right before we moved, Bryan ordered me a new blender. I had dropped and destroyed old blender about 6 months ago, but was just too lazy to get a new one. I'd been getting by quite alright, making blended soups using my hand blender, which I also love.

Despite the convenience of the hand blender, I found that I could never really recreate the beautiful creamy soups that I enjoyed at restaurants. My soups always had just a bit of texture that separated them from what the pros made.

My new toy has totally solved that problem. After tons of research, Bryan decided to buy me a Blendtec blender. And boy, has that changed my life.

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