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Daily Archives: October 24, 2010


Japanese-style simmered squash and tofu

Mmmm…so warm and comforting!

If you haven’t noticed, I cook Japanese food a lot.  It’s easy, healthy, and delicious. What’s not to love?

But if cooking Japanese food sounds intimidating to you, I completely understand why. Many recipes require ingredients not found in the typical Western pantry, and even if you could find them at a local asian market, would you ever use them more than once?

Many of the typical cooking techniques used in making Japanese foods are also not typical for an American home cook, but none of them are difficult, just different.

I think one problem that many people have with cooking Japanese foods is just that they don’t really know what those foods are outside of sushi. Sushi is admittedly not a meal for a beginner to prepare, especially if you want it to look nice. But there’s just so much more out there, and I think that one good place to start is with the donburi.

A donburi is, in essence, a bowl of rice with something tasty on top of it.  Traditionally, most donburi toppings are simmered slowly in a dashi-based stock with other flavorful sauces added, and left to reduce until all the liquid is evaporated and/or absorbed by the ingredients.

Here’s one I made last night that contains a few substitutions for some more traditional items.  You need:

  • Half a butternut squash, cubed
  • One block extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed
  • Vegetable broth to cover
  • 3 tbsp. mirin
  • 3 tbsp. soy sauce
  • approx. 3 tbsp. miso paste
  • sprinkle of sugar

Just add all the liquids to a pot and turn it on to medium-high heat.  Whisk to incorporate the miso, then add the squash and tofu. It should look like this…

All you need to do is keep this pot at a steady simmer, but not boiling, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Don’t stir or you’ll break apart the squash, just let it do it’s thang.  It’ll look like this after 30 to 40 minutes…

That’s really it.  Put stuff in pot. Simmer. Eat.

As you can imagine, this technique works well with most any vegetables or cuts of meat you may have on hand.  The sauce can also be tweaked to whatever your tastes are or whatever ingredients you have in the fridge. I used butternut squash this time because I had some pre-chopped and waiting in the freezer, though I think sweet potato would have been even better. I used vegetable stock so that I wouldn’t have to add the extra step of making dashi stock. (Dashi tutorial will follow soon!)

That’s the beauty of the donburi, the addition of rice turns a bunch of random stuff into an impressive meal with minimal effort.  With all the time you’ll have left over you can concentrate on making perfectly sticky sushi rice!

Come to think of it, I should show you how to make sushi rice too.  Coming soon!


Dinners with friends

So, speaking of how differently I eat at home versus at restaurants…

Friday, Jeff and I went out with some friends to Cafe di Sol in the Poncey-Highlands area of town. It’s a cute place with a fantastic patio for people-watching, and a pretty fabulous menu as well.

We started with an app for everyone called Devils On Horseback.  It’s rum-soaked dates stuffed with pistachios, honey, and gorgonzola, wrapped in bacon.

These were pretty good, but a little too sweet. I had one and a half.

Then we got to the good stuff.  Jeff had the same sandwich he gets every time which is a turkey burger with cranberry sauce on pumpernickel bread.

And I went all out and got the Antipasti Plate…

So Good!  3 types of charcuterie, camembert, roasted peppers, a beet-pickled deviled egg, olives, marinated mushrooms, toasted pistachios and pinolis, all with crusty bread.

I should have ordered the soup and salad like I was thinking, but I have little self-control when it comes to meals like this.  Bread with cured meats and fancy cheeses is seriously one of two meals I would choose from to be my last meal.  The other is toasted sesame bagels with cream cheese and lox.  I have no intention to ever deny myself my favorite meal, but it’s a treat food now, and I probably won’t have it again for a while.

We had a great time at Cafe di Sol, we need to remember to go there more often.

Well, that was Friday. Last night we had dinner with a different set of friends at Taqueria del Sol (what’s with all the di Sol, del Sol names?) This one’s right in Decatur so we were able to walk.

We had chips and guac for the table…

And a pitcher of these to go around…

I don’t like salt on my margaritas.  I know, I’m weird.

What I did have was the fish tacos.  They come with tons of super-hot pickled jalepenos and cilantro cream. Jeff was stealing bites every time I set it down!

He always gets the enchiladas with red sauce…

They really are excellent. The sauce has a deep roasted flavor. I was surprised that he chose to get one of his enchiladas with bean-only filling instead of his usual all-beef.  I think all the vegetarian meals I’m making at home are rubbing off on him!

I’m realizing in looking at these pictures that I need to be better about capturing ourselves and our friends in them.  I just could not wait to eat and didn’t wanna fool around with the camera for very long.

Well, that was our weekend.  How was yours?