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Photo shoot with Jimi Filo Photography

I mentioned the other day that I was approached recently by a local photographer to collaborate on a photo shoot. Pretty cool, right?

Jimi Filo has been into photography for most of his life and definitely knows his way around a camera, but has only ventured to make a career out of it in the last few years. He’s finding himself increasingly drawn to food as a subject and has been working to expand his portfolio to include more food photography. He asked if I’d be interested in allowing him to photograph me as I go through my typical process for recipe testing and creation. Of course I was thrilled to have someone take an interest in my creative process, I couldn’t accept the offer fast enough!

A few weekends ago he showed up at my doorstep with all his gear in tow, his wife/assistant Jen at his side to help with lighting. They got set up in the dining room as I got to work on the first of two recipes I’d be testing that day: Matcha bars with strawberry jam filling.

JF mixing matcha bars

The bars were based on a similar recipe that I’ve made countless times, so I knew they’d turn out. The only thing I was really trying to figure out with this test was how much matcha to use and how long to bake them.

I love a strong grassy green tea flavor, but matcha is often expensive so I’m always mindful to not use too much of it in a recipe for fear that people just won’t make it! There’s a recipe in my book that I probably used around $6 worth of matcha in, but I made sure to proclaim that this was a luxury dessert and not something you would just whip up for the fun of it.

JF turning on mixer

As I worked, we chatted about how I got into Japanese food. Here’s the basic story…

Growing up, my mom was always a great home cook. While we certainly weren’t eating anything super exotic for dinner, we were definitely eating more adventurous foods than the standard Southern classics that most of my friends grew up on. I totally took having delicious meals every night for granted, because I never sought to learn how to cook anything before moving out of the house just after high school graduation.

JF scooping out crumbs

Learning how to feed myself for the first time as a young adult was an immediate challenge. I could barely even make a decent sandwich or work a toaster properly. I relied heavily on ramen noodles, and honestly I screwed those up pretty often too. (I’m recalling an incident where I tried to boil them in a Pyrex measuring cup and the thing exploded glass and noodles all over my kitchen. o_O)

As you can imagine, I got tired of eating ramen noodles 4 nights a week pretty fast. I started trying to jazz them up a bit by adding frozen vegetables. When I got tired of that I tried adding sauteed mushrooms (I learned to saute!) and eventually even sauteed frozen shrimp. After months and months of these experiments I got confident enough to try making my own broth too and finally threw out that gross seasoning packet.

JF spreading jam on matcha bars

It just sort of took off from there. I had a refrigerator full of asian condiments from my ramen experiments, so I figured I might as well learn how to use them for other recipes too. After years and years of experimenting in the kitchen, with my many fails and explosions along the way, I became a more knowledgable and confident cook armed with my arsenal of familiar Japanese and asian flavors. I cook plenty of other types of food now, but I always tend to gravitate back toward those flavors that I know and love the most.

As the matcha bars baked, I got to work cleaning up for the next recipe: Duck soba. Jimi used this time to snap a few photos of ingredients and some knick knacks I had hanging around.

JF shiitakes and scallions

JF tetsubin

He then turned his focus to the prep work I was doing for the soba. I trimmed up some duck thighs and sliced a basket-load of shiitakes.

JF trimming duck

JF slicing shiitakes

The duck thighs were seared in my donabe, or clay pot, one of my very favorite kitchen toys. After they came out, I made the broth in the same vessel making sure to scrape all the tasty brown duck bits off the bottom. The shiitakes went in too, along with the scallions, and the broth simmered away as I shredded up the duck to add back later. (BTW, this method for cooking the duck totally did not work and I ended up retesting this recipe later. I’ll tell you what method I settled on next week when I share the recipes from this shoot.)

JF searing duck

JF adding shiitakes to broth

JF simmering shiitakes

So how did it all turn out? The matcha bars were a hit even though I feel that I overbaked them by a few minutes. I retested the recipe a few days later omitting an ingredient but didn’t like them as much. I think the original recipe minus 5 minutes cooking time will be the final version of these yummy treats.

JF matcha bars

The soba was delicious as well. One more retest and I think I’ll be ready to post it on the blog. We all got to sit down and enjoy it for lunch while gabbing about our past careers and how both Jimi and I have sort of stumbled back into careers that revolve around a creative process, he with photography and me with cooking and writing.

JF duck soba lunch

JF soba in chopsticks

All in all this was a really fun and interesting opportunity. I’m glad that Jimi got some new content for his portfolio, which he intends to write up as a photo essay in the future (I’ll share the link when it’s up.) And I appreciate that I got to use his shots for my blog. It’s kinda neat to see everything from the angle of an outside observer.

Check out his site for more of his photography (I’m particularly fond of the pet photos, so expressive!) and if you’re in the Atlanta area and need a photographer, hit him up! Recipes for the duck soba and the matcha bars with strawberry jam should appear on the blog next week!

All photos featured in this post are property of Jimi Filo Photography and were used with his express permission. 

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Giveaway time! Win a signed copy of The Japanese Pantry!

Bout time I gave one of these suckers away, right?

The Japanese Pantry

So here’s the deal. If you’d like to win a copy of the book plus some bonus yummy goodies, you can enter using any or all of these methods:

  1. “Like” Thyme Bombe Blog on Facebook, then leave a comment below to tell me you did or already follow me.
  2. Follow Thyme Bombe on Twitter, and leave a comment below.
  3. Follow Thyme Bombe on Pinterest, and leave a comment below.
  4. Tweet this giveaway with a link back to this post, and leave a comment below saying you did.
  5. Mention this giveaway on your blog, or on Facebook if you don’t have one. Leave a comment to tell me you did.
  6. Leave a comment telling me your favorite Japanese food or ingredient. (Easy one!)

Please leave a comment below for each entry. Giveaway closes at 9am EST this Thursday (3/21), winner announced later that day.

Thank you all again for the support you’ve shown me as I struggled to complete this book. And thank you to everyone who purchased a copy, I truly appreciate it and it feels good to know I’ve made something that people care about.

(Edit: This giveaway is now closed.)

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Baked shiitake wontons

What are your top 5 favorite foods?

It’s so hard to choose. I know avocado would be on that list, but filling in those other 4 spots gets fuzzy. Eggs? Yogurt? Strawberries? I like all of those things and eat them frequently, but I don’t know if they count as favorites just because I eat so much of them.

close up wonton

I think I could pretty confidently put mushrooms on that list though. My love for mushrooms is deep and passionate. I love the way they smell, the way they feel, the rubbery sound they make when you slice into them, and of course I love the flavor. I simply swoon over dark, earthy, smoky flavors. A hot cup of pu-erh tea. An oily glass of scotch. B-grade maple syrup. Crisp bacon. Miso…

baked shiitake wontons

I have tried so many mushrooms in search of my favorite, and among many fine contenders, that title deservedly goes to the shiitake. It’s just perfect. No trace of muddiness, a little sweet, and with a strong earthy perfume that can knock you over if you inhale too eagerly.

Bag of shiitakes

I’m always looking for new ways to use shiitakes so that I can savor them in endless ways. This is a recipe that’s been on my mind for a while but that I’ve only just now gotten around to testing out. I decided to bake these shiitake wontons because I hate deep frying. It’s such a process and then there’s the whole ordeal of figuring out how to store the leftover oil when you’re done. Not to mention, it’s not the healthiest cooking method.

I think people get similarly intimidated by making dumplings (filled wontons totally count as dumplings.) It’s just so not a big deal once you try it. Just make a filling, put a dollop of it onto the wrapper, wet one edge and fold it over, press firmly and you have a dumpling. Repeat that a few more times and you have a meal. I used to make pork potstickers for dinner all the time and it was one of my quickest to put together meals. Once you get over the fear of it, you see that it’s really very simple.

Shiitake mousse on wonton

Folded shiitake wonton


If you’ve never tried making dumplings before, this recipe is a good place to start. The filling comes together quickly and the oven does all the work of crisping these little babies up. And the smell in the kitchen! If you love the smell of mushrooms as much as I do, you’ll be positively enamored with the aroma that’ll be wafting through the house as these bake. It’s warm and woody and damp and dark.


Baked shiitake wontons

Crispy wontons are baked rather than fried and filled with an earthy mixture of shiitake mushrooms and tofu.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes


  • a half block (8oz.) firm tofu
  • 6oz. shiitake mushroom caps (remove stems)
  • 2 large scallions (chopped)
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. mirin
  • 1 package frozen wonton wrappers
  • spray canola oil or other flavorless spray oil
  • salt to taste

Cooking Directions

  1. Allow wonton wrappers to thaw on the counter for about an hour to become pliable before use.
  2. Break apart tofu into a tea towel and wring as much of the liquid out as you possibly can.
  3. Add the tofu, along with the shiitake mushroom caps, the scallions, and the garlic to a food processor and pulse to combine.
  4. Add soy sauce and mirin and process until a mousse-like texture is achieved.
  5. Apply a small teaspoon-sized amount of the mixture to the center of a wonton wrapper, dab a small amount of water onto 2 adjoining edges, fold over into a triangle, and press around the edges to seal.
  6. Arrange wontons on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and spray liberally with a canola oil spray or other flavorless oil spray.
  7. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 12 minutes on the first side, flip wontons over and spray again with oil, then bake for an additional 8 minutes.
  8. Sprinkle wontons with salt as soon as they come out of the oven, while still hot.


Protip: Don’t eat shiitake stems! They’re edible but really twiggy and unpleasant. The measurement for the shiitakes in the recipe above is for the weight of the caps alone, remove stems before measuring! And if you don’t have a kitchen scale to weigh out the correct amount, just shoot for around 20 or so medium sized caps. A little more or less is totally fine.

Shiitake wonton bite

I am extremely fortunate to be able to buy shiitakes for a very low price at a local market – I can get a whole bag full of them for around $3. This allows me to load up on the little gems every week and feast on them to my heart’s delight. I’ve seen them listed very expensively at most places though, so if shiitakes are prohibitively expensive in your neck of the woods, just substitute half of them with criminis. Not white button mushrooms though. Button mushrooms have their place, that place is on pizzas, sliced on salads, and occasionally as filler in a creamy mushroom sauce alongside a better mushroom – like the crimini. Not to mention button mushrooms are always so filthy! The leathery texture of shiitake caps seems to naturally repel dirt, so there’s another point in their favor.

Hope you love these as much as I did. Reheat them in a toaster oven to bring back that crispiness, if there even are any leftovers!

Are you a mushroom lover? What are some of your top 5 favorite foods?