At Christmas time, Japanese people get busy preparing to see the old year out and the new year in.
The year-end party, called “Bou-nen Kai“, is the one, which means to forget the bad things that happened during the year. The parties are generally held among various groups, such as friends, colleagues at work or neighbors. So people with many social connection have a lot of parties sometimes almost everyday during this season.
I am not a very socially active person but had a party with members of my study group at a restaurant of sumo-wrestler’s hot pots, called “Chanko-nabe“. “Chanko” means any kind of dish eaten by sumo wrestlers and “nabe” means hot pot meal.
The soup broth was made by boiling different kinds of seafood water flavored with soy sauce. Fish balls, chicken tofu carrots leaks and Chinese cabbage, etc. were boiled in the soup. After all the ingredients were eaten, rice or noodles were put into the soup, which filled us up.
The owner of the restaurant was an amateur sumo-wrestler during his college years and now is a vice-president of the Japanese Olympic Committee. He happened to come into the restaurant while we were there. Because one of our members knew him well, he gave us a bottle of alcohol and calendars printed by the Japanese Sumo Association (Nihon Sumo Kyokai). It was nice party to wash away the troubles of the year.
While on vacation, my wife and I have been stepping away from modern conveniences in our life and trying a slower paced life in a small rural town. This being the case, I had the idea to cook rice in an old-fashioned way for dinner. An electric rice-cooker is available here too but I prefer to go with an earthen pot today, even though it takes more time. Boiling rice in earthen pots makes each grain puffed up, soft and shiny.
As the dinner of the day, I picked wild vegetable mixed rice. This simple meal should be a good way to enjoy the fresh taste of local ingredients. The wild vegetables used were leaf bud, lotus, bracken, mushrooms, carrots, potherb mustard, etc.
As side dishes we had fried mackerel and pickled mustard greens that is a specialty product of Karuizawa called “Nozawana”. The texture of the fried mackerel was crispy outside but plump and soft inside. These were all prepared, except the rice, and sold by a local but modern grocery store near our cottage. How convenient the store is!
OOPS!!! I had cut corners again, while I forgot that we had been avoiding all modern conveniences in our life!
I will post the recipe for how to cook rice the old-fashioned way. The steps below should be followed very carefully:
- Rinse the rice a couple of times and let the water drain then let the rice sit for 30 minutes
- Put the rice into the pot
- Use 1.2 times more water than rice
- Turn the stove on high until the water starts boiling
- Turn the heat down to medium low and continue boiling for 5 minutes
- Reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 4 minutes
- Turn up the heat to maximum for 3~5 seconds
- Turn off the heat and let the rice sit for 10 minutes for steaming
*** Never open the pot all the way of cooking, even if you are curious about the inside***
I ordered two servings of sushi for my wife’s birthday. Sushi is one of our favorite meals but it was not the only reason why I chose it. The take-out sushi doesn’t need any cooking and looks sumptuous. So sushi is the best meal for cutting corners!
When you think of sushi, you might image a sushi roll wrapped with a seaweed sheet such as a California roll. However, when we Japanese talk about just “sushi”, it generally means hand-formed sushi with a topping of seafood shown in the pictures here.
Well, I will tell you how to use soy sauce for sushi. Sometimes I see visitors from overseas dipping sushi deeply into soy sauce from the bottom which is the rice part. Absorbing the sauce, the formed sushi rice starts to crumble, which then becomes difficult to keep holding the rice together and this makes it taste so salty.
The second photograph is showing one of the right ways to put soy sauce on sushi. Sushi must be turned upside down, and then dipped from the seafood part for just a second. Although chopsticks were used in this photograph, you may use your fingers instead, which is also a more traditional way of eating sushi.
I made herbed pork and apples. Three kinds of herbs, which were thyme, rosemary and marjoram, were used for this meal. Marjoram is less common than other herbs, since it was sold only at one grocery store out of four near my house.
According to the recipe two pounds of pork loin is required, but I thought it was too much for just my wife and me. So I decided to make half of that amount. Cooking with foreign recipes is so complicated! The quantity of each ingredient is indicated in different units such as lb. Even the measuring utensils are different too.
Finally, I managed to make it. The meat looked almost the same as Japanese style roasted pork which is served on ramen noodles. The herbs stimulated my appetite and got rid of the gamey smell. The tartness of the apples reduced the sweetness of the brown sugar and maple syrup. This was a new taste for me, because usually we don’t cook fruits. Because I ate this with rice, it might have tasted sweeter, so I will make it less sweet next time. It was delicious!
P.S. I forgot to add a very important herb in this meal. It is SAGE.
Check the recipe at http://www.gottobenc.com/promotions/recipes-nutrition/cooking/Herbed%20Pork%20and%20Apples