Popsicle Report

gin and tonic popsicle made with Zoku Round Pop mold.
gin and tonic popsicle made with Zoku Round Pop mold.

Each summer I promise myself I’m going to do something icy to beat the heat and humidity that is a Japanese summer. This year, I finally got around to doing something. I saw on facebook something about a gin and tonic popsicle. Having just discovered the beat-the-heat property of gin and tonic last summer I was keen to try.

But popsicles have always been frustrating failures. Usually they get stuck in the mold or never freeze and I end up with a collection of plastic that mocks me everytime i open my kitchen cupboards This year, I decided, would be different. Undaunted, I took to the internet to take the guesswork out of which popsicle mold to buy. I found this great post by Sweethome.  They kindly tested a bunch of molds and based on their recommendation I bought the Zoku Round Pop molds. The silicone molds are supposed to be easy to remove. Definitely check out their website. Their post is a good read.

Zoku Round Pop mold
Zoku Round Pop mold

The Verdict:
They WORK! Happy Snoopy dance of icy popsicle joy! The molds really are easy to remove. The round shape means that the base is narrower than the widest part but I still found it fairly easy to take it off. It doesn’t slide off but it wasn’t too bad. The fact that the silicone mold is removable from the tray means that you can remove one at a time quite easily.

If you look closely you can see some of the soda bubbles caught in the ice
If you look closely you can see some of the soda bubbles caught in the ice

The Recipe:
I didn’t bother to research the recipe I found on Facebook. I took some Schweps Tonic Water, squeezed half a lime (which was stingy with the juice) and added a shot of Bombay Sapphire. I split the liquid between the four popsicle molds. I didn’t want it to be too gin-y because alcohol doesn’t freeze well. I ended up being a bit short of liquid because I wanted the liquid to meet the base of the popsicle stick. I just added water figuring that would help with the freezing. Seemed to have worked. it did take a long time to freeze. It took over 6 hours and was better the next day.

gin and tonic popsicle

The Taste and Texture:

It was quite refreshing but didn’t taste really strong. I think I’d like to get a juicier lime next time to kick up the flavor a notch. The texture was more like granitas on a stick. It probably would have worked just as well to leave out the stick and serve it in a bowl. it was easy to bite chunks off so would work with a spoon and bowl.

So next up in the popsicle recipe testing:
*coconut milk with tapioca pearls and pineapple
*espresso or latte

Making up with Mochi. Gateway Foods in Foreign Lands.

My gateway mochi dish: Shiratama and shiruko at the Onishi Matsuri.
My gateway mochi dish: Shiratama and shiruko at the Onishi Matsuri.

If you live someplace long enough, you eventually develop craving foods you thought you once vowed never to eat. There’s one moment and one dish that becomes the gateway for appreciating that food in all its forms. This is true for me and mochi. This is sort of a tale about my journey to mochi appreciation. Plus a recipe!

Mochi is one of the foundation ingredients for countless Japanese desserts. It’s made from a different kind of rice than used at a meal. Mochi rice is more glutinous. You can pound the cooked rice into a sticky dough or mix up a special mochi rice flour and make a different type of sticky dough.

Sticky. Sticky is a key word when it comes to mochi. Sticky is the reason I was used to be scared to eat mochi. When I first moved to Japan, people delighted in telling me the number of people who died from choking on sticky mochi balls. Mostly the victims were elderly Japanese and kids. The cautionary tales of mochi tragedy are a kind of rite of passage for newbies to Japan but they really hit me hard.

I’m scared of choking on stuff because of two childhood events. The first was a Reader’s Digest story about a young man dying from a mysterious illness that turned out to be a fishbone lodged in his throat.** In my teens my sister choked on a huge gob of cheese from her French onion soup. She survived the incident  and endures the jokes that come up with every subsequent mention of mozerella and onion soup with pretty good humor.  So yeah. I had some issues.

Mochi’s pretty much flavorless. So why do people like it? Because of the texture. Just make sure you chew it carefully. Mochi also acts like an umami base to balance the sweeter parts of Japanese deserts like anko (a paste made from the sweet red bean, adzuki) or kuromitsu (a syrup made from Okinawan unrefined, dark sugar). If eaten with something a bit more bitter, like green tea or matcha, then you can taste the slight grain sweetness. You find mochi in variations of dango (usually mochi with adzuki bean paste centre), kagamai mochi at New Year’s  and sometimes in soups. You can even bake it in toaster.

I’m fascinated by Japanese desserts, mostly by how they look. I never craved mochi. I’ve ocassionally eaten dango, usually because someone gave it to me, but never really wanted to eat it until I recently discovered shiratama. Now I’m even making for myself at home. It’s that easy to make and pretty hard to get wrong.

Shiratama are exactly what the name says, balls of white dango. I learned how to make shiratama dango (literally white balls of dango) while helping out at the Matcha Café in the Kinuya Building ofo Shiro Oni Studio in Onishi., Gunma. Matcha Café is only open during the weekend of the Onishi Matsuri (festival). Fuyuko Kobori is a Sado (tea ceremony) practitioner and was runs the café.

During a break from the busy cafe, Fuyuko made me a cup of iced matcha and a bowl of the shiratama we made with chilled shiruko. I sat on a bench in front of the cafe and enjoyed my cool snack as the matsuri parade passed by. The sun was hot and many people stopped at the cafe after catching sight of my icy cold matcha. Others were interested in slightly salty shiruko blended well with the deep rice taste of the shiratama. The matcha was the perfect complement of bitter and slight sweet matcha aftertaste. And they were easy to eat. Not at all difficult to chew.

It wasn’t just the taste that hooked me. It was the experience. The sun, the matsuri, the camaraderie of working in the cafe and learning to make shiratama. It was something I wanted to continue by making at home. My husband loves this kind of dessert and I realized that I could share this by making it for him. Mochi is becoming something I tolerate, but something I enjoy making at home.

What food do you love now but it used to ick you out? What was your gateway food or moment?

Recipe Time! If you try this please post a picture and let me know how it turned out.

How to make Shiratama
Ingredients:
Powder
Water

happymochi-loriono
Increase the happy value by adding faces to shiratama before you boil it. My first attempt at shiratama on my home.

Instructions:
1. Mix one package with about 90 mL of water (double check the instructions on your package as it may be a different size).
2. Add the water bit by bit. The dough shouldn’t be crumbly and it shouldn’t be too wet. If it’s not just right you, breaks down when you boil it. Fuyuko gave this great analogy for the perfect dough texture: it should be about the same firmness as your earlobe.
4. Make balls about 2.5 cm in diameter and pinch them slightly. This allows the middle to cook. Smaller, flatter dango also reduce choking hazards!
5. Add the mochi balls to the boiling water.
6. Boil until they float on the surface.
7. Drain them and run under cold water.

Store unused shiratama in water otherwise it will stick together. Keeps for about 2 days in the fridge. It’s actually safe to eat it for a bit longer, but shiratama dissolves a bit when stored in water and after two days, the texture isn’t as nice to eat.

Some Suggestions on How to Serve Shiratama


Summer Style
Serve on top of green tea ice cream with anko.
Serve with cold shiruko (red bean soup) and green tea ice cream and a nice cup of matcha.
Serve with cold fruit, anko paste and an mitsu (agar jelly cubes)
Winter Style
Heat the shiruko and eat shiratama like a warm sweet soup.

**There is another rite of passage I had as a newbie to Japan, where I was directly confronted with this fear of fishbones.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Minimalist

Minimalism of a Blueberry
20141108-184244-67364496.jpg

I’m a big fan of blueberries. I’ve tried to take lots of blueberry photos in different compositions. This one is my favorite as I think it expresses the simplicity I associate with a blueberry.

Get Your BLZ Bread Here.

Blueberry Lemon Zucchini LoafBLZ… Any guesses to what that might stand for?

If you guessed bacon, lettuce and…zucchini, close, but no. Instead of savory, think sweet. Think blueberry, lemon and zucchini. I recently came across some recipes for lemon breads. One was blueberry-lemon loaf and the other was zucchini-lemon loaf.

I already had blueberries, lemons and zucchini in the fridge and it seemed like the perfect time for a recipe mashup. But the recipes called for a 1/2 cup of oil? That seems like a lot. Plus I only had whole wheat flour. So I wasn’t just going to mashup some recipes, I was going to try a whole lotta substitutions. I went to the store to get some regular flour and icing sugar then I began my cooking experiment..

Here are my adaptations:
1. Blend flours so that 1/2 is whole wheat and the other regular flour
2. Dry the grated zucchini on a paper towel
3. Replace the oil with greek yogurt 1:1 basis as recommended at this site. I tried using the Livestrong site but I didn’t get their suggestion for oil. The other replacement suggestions were clearer to me.
4. Add a bit more flour
5. Add blueberries (rolled in flour so they didn’t just sink)
6. Cooked in a shallow pan instead of a 5×9 loaf pan because my oven is tiny and has uneven heating and leftover batter in muffin tins.
7. Never added milk to the glaze. It’s hot out and adding milk to seems icky. Maybe the sugar keeps it safe but… No. Just icing sugar and lemon juice.
 


Results:
1. It cooked through and fairly evenly. This is a major victory considering the oven I have. My microwave/oven is like a very short step up from an Easy Bake oven. Works great as a microwave. Is a bit dodgy as a regular oven. This odd combo is common in Japan.
2. It seemed a bit chewy or just shy of rubbery. This might be due to the yogurt or the type of flour. It tasted good, but not like I’d get when baking in Canada.

For Next Time:
Add more backing powder to make it more fluffy or less chewy.
Go to the baking specialty store to get better flour.

Do you have any recipe adaptions that you like? What kind of changes to you make when using yogurt instead of oil or butter?

A Flour Free White Sugar-Free Experiment: PB Chocolate Chip Cookies

Last week I found a recipe on my Facebook feed for flour-free white sugar-free Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies. Today I had some free time so I thought I’d try it out. The thing that fascinates me about this recipe is that you use chickpeas instead of flour, eggs or butter. You get a significant amount of oil from the peanut butter and you use honey instead of white sugar.

I think the original recipe comes from Texan Erin’s website and you can check it out here. Her website has a lot of good recipes and good photos, too. I really recommend checking out her recipe. I’d rather see her get the link love so if you are curious, please give her a click. I don’t want to infringe on her hard work.

So my review of the recipe:

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie: sugar free, gluten free and a cup of tea
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie: sugar free, gluten free

 

Making It Up:

I had about 20 extra chickpeas than the recipe called for. I have no use for 20 solitary chickpeas so I increased the recipe a bit. I know one can put chickpeas in salad but I don’t like that.

The chickpeas were a bit hard to get completely smooth. If I make this again, I will blend the chickpeas and honey first instead of adding all the ingredients at first. I have a Braun immersion blender and I can get perfectly smooth hummus but this recipe is a bit “dryer” so it was harder on my machine.

Baking:

I hate my little oven. It is one of those smallish microwave/regular oven deals and it has very uneven heat. The corner cookies were not cooked. Not a problem with the recipe, just something to think about. My oven also doesn’t have 175C so I improvised. It turns out that a solid bake of 180 C for 10-11 minutes works better. It might be better to bake for longer.

The cookies end up being very doughy. The chocolate was nicely baked so that was good. I didn’t end up feeling like it never cooked at all.

TIP: I think it is important to press the middle down so the cookie centre cooks. This might not be important if you have a decent oven, but if you dont, mush it.

Yield: The recipe said about 14, but I got 17. Thank you extra chickpeas.

Taste:

Does it taste chickpea-y? Not so much. I suspect this recipe would not make a decent plain chocolate chip cookie. The peanut butter camouflages the chickpea taste pretty effectively. Unlike a lot of gluten free I’ve tried (not a lot, granted) it wasn’t dry as a bone, but quite moist.

I prefer a bit dryer cookie, but they were still warm when I ate a couple.

Final:

I think it is a good recipe. For a “healthy” cookie and one that is gluten free, I rate it quite highly. The ingredients are easy to buy, the recipe isn’t too hard to make and it tastes pretty good.

I Just Invented a Salad Dressing

Daikon salad was on the menu tonight. I’m not keen on the shoyu-based Japanese salad dressing from the store but it goes really well with daikon. I like it better if I add wasabi which is a trick I learned from the izakaya chain, Tengu. But I didn’t want to shop so I decided to make do with what was in my fridge and the tips learned from my friend Chieko. The result was much better than anything I could have bought premade.

Because I love my friends I am going to share the recipe with you. If you are familiar with Japanese cooking this probably won’t be ground shaking for you, but if you are looking for a new taste sensation give this a go.

Flavor target: amazuppai (sweet and sour) with a strong umami base.

Ingredients:
Miso koji 2 Tbsp
Kurozu (black rice vinegar) 2 Tbsp
Lemon juice squeeze from one quarter wedge
Olive oil 1 tsp
Sashimi shoyu 2 Tbsp
Sugar 1.5 tsp
White onion minced 2 Tbsp
Green onion 1 Tbsp

Explaining the Ingredients

Miso koji is a fermentation starter for miso. It seems to be quite popular this year. It tastes just like miso but is less processed. This is a great site if you want to read more about it. Variation: if you can’t find miso koji use regular miso.I don’t recommend red or aka miso but if you prefer that taste, go for it.

Kurozu is rice vinegar made from genmai (brown rice) and is less filtered. It has a more pungent taste. This ingredient has also been experiencing a popularity boom for its reputed health benefits. Variation: regular rice vinegar will work fine. Cider vinegar might do in a pinch. If you try the cider vinegar let me know.

Sashimi shoyu just tastes better than regular shoyu. Maybe it’s more refined or fermented but it has a lighter taste to it that is almost wine-like. It’s a smaller bottle and more expensive but worth it. Not to be used if you are doing teriyaki or niku jaga. Variation: reduced salt kikkoman brand is kind of close.

Sugar is self explanatory but traditionally it would be mirin instead of sugar. Mirin generally sits unused in my fridge so I stopped buying it. I can’t taste any real difference between mirin and sugar and I feel like I have to add heaps of mirin before I notice any effect.

Onion gives it some flavor and some body to the dressing. It also seems to keep it attached to the daikon. Variation: red onion would probably taste better but none was at hand tonight. Green onion is completely optional.

Olive oil could be replaced by any salad oil.

My friend Chieko’s know how has been a basis for trying different recipes in the kitchen. According to her, shoyu, vinegar and mirin are the main basis for a lot of Japanese dressings with miso not to far behind. Yuzu (citrus type), yuzu kosho (spice made of yuzu), wasabi and sesame are all common things to add to the base to get different favors. Experiment with amounts and spices to come up with something you like.

More Variations:
The amounts can be varied in order to suit your taste. I prefer a strong vinegar taste so I add more vinegar. The lemon juice adds some zip if you want more liquid without adding more vinegar or oil. Adding more shoyu is also an option but it gets quite salty and the miso koji is already salty.

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