Thursday, November 29, 2012

Yakisoba (with a few variations)

It's been ages since my last post simply due to my consistently forgetting to take pictures. But, yesterday, a lovely friend (Rosie dearie I mean you!) reminded me and I actually took pictures. Enough picture, in fact, for a step by step recipe post.

Yesterday, I needed a quick recipe to make because I was running out of time to make supper. So I went flipping through my trusty recipe book "Let's Cook Japanese Food!" and landed on the recipe for Yakisoba and I remembered that we have some napa cabbage that was in dire need of being used.

I gathered everything for the meal, which isn't much: only half a head of cabbage, 1/2 a large carrot (or a whole small one), and 1/2 a yellow onion.

I chopped it all up as I thawed the pork chops. Technically the recipe in the book calls for 6 pieces of thick cut bacon, but as my family likes more meat in our dishes (and we normally don't have bacon on hand) I thaw a pork chop or two and slice them into thin pieces instead. Hey, bacon is pork after all, so it tastes the same.

So once the veggies were ready, I sliced the pork chops. I ended up only using 1 1/2 because one of them was gigantic. It was shoved back into the freezer for another day. Once sliced, I tossed the meat in a large frying pan (the key word here is large because this dish will overflow the pan if you don't use one that is big enough) with a tablespoon or two of oil.

While the pan started heating up, I pulled out two bundles (3.5 oz each dry) of soba noodles. This is only about half the noodles that the recipe calls for, but I know from cooking this before that 1) we don't need all those noodles and 2) they typically make the pan overflow. I used normal soba noodles, but yakisoba noodles are best.If you have neither, spaghetti noodles work great. But, soba noodles of some form are the best. So, I boiled the noodles until al dente and quickly drained them. You do NOT want soggy noodles. Trust me.

By the time the noodles are cooked, the pork was fairly well done so I tossed in the veggies. The recipe said to stir fry them for only around 2 minutes but I typically do it longer until I can see that the veggies are starting to soften (and that the pork is finally done).

The noodles came next and I stirred them well into the mixture. Then, I poured in the 1/4 cup water and covered it for the minute in the recipe and then stirred until the water boiled off.

The final step is the fun one where you season it to taste. I've never managed to find Yakisoba sauce which is ideal (if you have it, use 1-2 tablespoons). I typically substitute 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce and then 1-2 additional tablespoons of soy sauce to taste. I stirred all that in, and then added a sprinkle of pepper and salt (again, do it to taste).

One final thorough stir and it was done. Doesn't it look good? The noodles were a bit soggy because I let them sit too long, but other than that it was great.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My First Korean Experiment: Chuncheon Dak Galbi

And now I've hopped across the Sea of Japan to the Korean Peninsula. The dish for today was Chuncheon Dak Galbi. I guess it can be described as a type of spicy chicken and vegetable stir-fry.

I decided on this recipe while browsing for Korean recipes which could be made with ingredients I had in the house. I stumbled upon this site and poked around until I found an interesting picture. And, it was the Chuncheon Dak Galbi recipe which caught my eye. 

The only changes I made to the recipe were to substitute lettuce instead of cabbage (because I didn't have any cabbage) and to reduce the amount of red pepper powder by 3/4. It was still quite spicy though I would have reduced it less if I hadn't had my little sister, who doesn't favor spicy foods, to consider. 

Even as spicy as it was, she cleaned her bowl and I think she'll do the same tomorrow when we have the leftovers.

I did have to make one other modification. I don't have any of the basic Korean sauces in the house so I had to make my own gochujang following this recipe I found online. It seemed to work fine, but I think I'll try to plan my next Korean meal in advance so that I have time to buy the sauce instead of having to make it.

I think the meal was a success, don't you? This recipe definitely will go into my to-make-again folder.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Potstickers! (aka Dumplings or Gyoza)

I mentioned having them in my last post, and last friday I finally got around to making them again. This time with a small variation - homemade wonton wrappers. They turned out really well, albeit a ton of work with the rolling pin. I followed this recipe for the wrappers. (Of course, I only needed a small amount of wrappers so I made a 1/4 recipe.)

As for the potsticker filling, I kinda make it up as I go along. This batch was made with leftovers from the last time I mixed up a batch. Usually the recipe is somewhere along the lines of:

1 lb ground pork
~1/4-1/3 head of cabbage chopped
a Tb or 2 of minced ginger (I always put in extra!)
~6 green onions minced (if I have them on hand)
Sometimes I also add in soy sauce and sake.

Then, the fun part: Mix it all up with your hands! It usually yields enough filling for around 70 potstickers. (Which is why I always have some leftover. Wonton wrappers come in packs of 50.)

And here's the result. Yummy, ne? Then you dip 'em in a mixture of soy sauce and sesame seed oil and eat until you're full.

Now, traditional japanese potstickers (gyoza) are fried in a pan until one side is crispy, but I keep forgetting to try this method of cooking. Usually I just steam them.

On a different note, I'm going to try to post once a week about asian cuisine (since that's the new direction I'm taking this blog). I should be able to keep this up since I'm already cooking it for my family once a week. Now, to remember to take pictures. I didn't remember to take any of the Omuraisu or Miso soup (w/ kale) I made tonight.

Until next time!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Sweet Rewards of Exploration

Since I haven't been quite as active in the area of Japanese language learning I thought I would expand this blog to include my pursuits in other areas of Japanese culture. I will feature food mainly. (These posts are double posted from my other blog on writing.)

I have a new area to explore. This hobby, though, has tasty rewards. I'm talking about the wide world and art of Japanese cuisine. Art?, you might say, but it is an art. And recently I've been experimenting in not just creating Japanese dishes but creating food art as well.
With Borders going out of business I just had to head over there myself. After scouring the picked clean shelves I found two books of interest, both in the cooking aisle and both on Japanese food. The Decorative Art of Japanese Food Carving by Hiroshi Nagashima details basic but elegant food carving. Let's Cook Japanese Food! by Amy Kaneko is beginning cookbook of Japanese recipes found on the average Japanese dining table but with a Western twist. I wish to focus on the former book for this post though. I shall leave the latter for another time.
For several years now I have been interested in Japanese culture. It began with anime and manga but certainly has not ended there. My recent novel/short story series starts off in Japan which has required much research, but even before that I had developed a taste for Japanese cuisine.
I believe it all started the first time I tasted true home cooked Japanese food. Several friends and I hung out together to watch an entire anime. We started around noon and ended at midnight when the guys were kicked out of the dorm lobby. But we decided to make supper - Japanese style. One friend had the tools to make sushi. Another pitched in miso soup and another make gyoza dumplings (potstickers). I fell in love at first taste. Though, I have come to
the conclusion that sushi is ok once in a while but I dislike how bland it is. This led me to hunt down the ingredients and the recipe for both miso soup and dumplings as well as the soup stock (dashi) recipe. Since then I've been acquiring recipes and trying them out on my poor family.
Back to the food art though. My recent urges have been to duplicate the cute food art so prominently featured in animes, namely octopus wieners and bunny apples. Along the way, I found out about another apple cutting method that makes a leaf. Based on memory and some research, I experimented with these three cutting methods. The results were fun and tasty.

Bunny Apples

Leaf Apples

I think food art is amazing and I hope that I can create more intricate designs with practice. That is one reason I bought The Decorative Art of Japanese Food Carving. I haven't tried any of the carvings yet, but I intend to as soon as I can plan a meal with sufficient time to take garnishes into account.

Until next time!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Typing in Japanese

While progressing along my Japanese language studies, I came to the realization that being able to type in Japanese (hiragana, katakana and kanji) would be very useful, especially if I was wanting to print flashcard fronts instead of handwriting the kana. Thus I started searching for a way to type in Japanese on my computer. A little searching led me to this site, “Waterford School Japanese” and it has this handy word document download that explains how to activate the Japanese language typing function on a Windows computer. It does require some knowledge of kanji to correctly type because it automatically generates the kanji based on the hiragana typed. As several words in Japanese have the same pronunciation but different kanji, the computer could insert the wrong kanji quite easily. So do be careful.

γ˜γ‚ƒγΎγŸ (Jamata/See you later)!

About Me and This Blog

Greetings and Salutations mina-san (everyone)! As the title of the blog suggests, this blog is a place to document my Japanese language studies. This blog, though, is more for my use, though, as a place to keep all my links, resources and discoveries in one, easy to find place online. Of course, I can’t exactly do more than list titles for print books I use, but as most of my resources are online, this blog will do just fine.

You may ask, what is my motivation for embarking on the process of learning the difficult but beautiful language of Japanese? Simple. Last year I became interested in the manga and anime of Japan and I have, in my exploration, discovered many a manga that has never been translated into English. I have latched onto a particular, long-running (16 years long!) manga of which less than 30% has been translated. As the manga is far more detailed than the anime, I wish to read the manga, but, due to the spotty translation, I have only been able to read the first 16 chapters. The manga? Major. It is one of those off the beaten track mangas, and it’s about…baseball! Yes, I know, I’m weird. I know it’s going to take me months if not years to read every one of the 700+ chapters, but my one salvation is this—it is shonen (action manga meant for boys) and it employs furigana! What is furigana, you may ask? It is a pronunciation guide whereby the hiragana alphabet is used alongside the kanji to indicate how one should pronounce the kanji characters. It is the equivalent of an easy reader in English. (For a more detailed discussion the various Japanese writing systems, see here.)

I began my Japanese language studies by attempting to translate chapter 17 of Major without any previous study of the writings systems or grammar involved. I believe I’m still stuck on the 3rd page. So I have changed my strategy. Yes, I will continue to attempt to translate the manga but it will be alongside a study of the writing systems (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) and grammar (especially verb tenses) of Japanese. Hopefully this will help me overcome the one main obstacle I faced during translation. That is, where in the world are you supposed to cut the characters? In other words, the lack of spaces between words is quite the hindrance. I can only imagine the trouble scholars have deciphering old English texts that have no punctuation or spaces. Japanese it kind of like that, except with punctuation (commas, periods, and loads of exclamation points) and “spaces” in the forms of line breaks. Japanese doesn’t have anything like hyphens to allow the continuation of words onto the next line…thank goodness!

So my current progress in the language…due to a full-time summer job and college taking up most of the rest of the year, I have not gotten far. I have completed two major tasks though, and that is the tasks of making flashcards for the entire hiragana and katakana alphabets, which, let me tell you, is quite a task. Hiragana is composed of 48 basic characters. Then, on top of that, you have combined characters to make sounds like kya, kyi, kyo, etc.. Then, on top of that, you have diacritical marks (dakuten and handakuten) which, when added to the basic and combined characters, change the beginning consonant sound to something else (ka to ga, etc). And that’s only the hiragana writing system. The katakana writing system has all that and then another whole list of combined characters to simulate sounds not found naturally in the Japanese language because katakana has been delegated the task of representing foreign words. In all, I made over 150 flashcards for katakana alone! Yes, that took quite a while as my flashcards are index cards cut in half with the kana on the front and the English pronunciation on the back, both handwritten by me. Now that I’ve written the flashcards, the task is now to drill myself with them to learn the kana and their pronunciation. First comes hiragana as it is the first writing system taught to children. Hiragana is the key to all the rest (and it is the system used for furigana which would mean I don’t have to have extensive knowledge of kanji to read the manga Major!). The resources I’ve been using for my studies on the hiragana and katakana alphabets (especially for how to write the kana) are two Wikipedia pages: Hiragana and Katakana. Just click on the individual kana for more information on the kana and how to write it. The charts are arranged in the order of the standard alphabet (of course, the actual Japanese version would have the writing going top to bottom instead of left to right).

If you have been paying attention to this post you’ll notice that I haven’t discussed kanji yet. That is because I haven’t started into any serious study of the approximately 2,000 kanji found on the official “common use” list. I have found one site which I’ll use to guide my studying though once I begin. The site is called “The Kanji SITE”. It lists the kanji by level (4-2 on the site, he hasn’t added 1 yet) and groups them nicely. However, I still am searching for an online resource that would guide me through the writing of kanji on a kanji by kanji basis. I have found a book in the library “Let's Learn Kanji” but it only details how to write 250 or 1/8 of the kanji on the list. And, being a book, it isn’t easily searchable.

However, first things first. I need to master hiragana before I do anything else, and right now I’m still stuck on drilling the basic hiragana kana.

And that’s all for now. Except for one small disclaimer: I am conducting a self-study of the Japanese language which will take place when, and only when, I have time. As I don’t have that much time to begin with due to working and school, don’t expect regular updates or even another extended post like this one. I will post as I progress and I progress slowly. To spice things up I will, far down the road, hopefully post my translations of Major along with a link to the raw so we can share the fun (I know I’m not the only Major fan out there).

Jamata (See you later)!

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