Saturday, May 30, 2009

Japanese breakfast

Don't ever let anyone tell you kids aren't influenced by things they see "just in passing" on TV. In this case, it was a good thing - Rowan wanted breakfast like Satsuki and Mei from "My Neighbour Totoro". I didn't remember exactly what it had looked like - not that remembering would have helped, necessarily - so I looked up what constituted a traditional Japanese breakfast and found many a site, all listing essentially the same things:

- rice
- fish, usually grilled
- miso soup
- natto
- pickles and/or ume plums

I didn't feel up to the natto. I've heard nasty things about it and didn't feel that breakfast was a good time to deal with a food phobia. So I substituted toasted mochi instead. (BC-vegetarian mochi knockoff, actually, made with brown rice.) Totally not the same thing, but I'm ok with that.

I did make the miso soup from scratch, and finally, with the addition of kombu and bonito flakes (turned into dashi), it actually tasted RIGHT. Apparently few Japanese make dashi from scratch these days, and I have to wonder why, since it takes like 5 minutes - especially if you cheat and boil the kombu for 3 minutes instead of soaking it for half an hour in cold water (it tasted fine). Wierd. Anyway, I had the remains of a tub of shiro miso, fortunately, and vast stashes of seaweed, because I'm weird that way. I didn't have any tofu, unfortunately, so we just had plain wakame soup.

I also found that the Japanese often eat salmon lightly salt-cured, which I tried. I salted the small filet of spring that I'd bought pretty heavily - about twice what I'd put on just to cook it - wrapped it in the paper it came in and left it uncovered otherwise on a plate in the fridge overnight. Then to cook it, I stuck a dry small frypan under the broiler for ten minutes or so, lightly oiled the skin side of the salmon and stuck it skin-side down in the pan. I left it in the oven for maybe 5 minutes and when I took it out I put the pan on an already-hot burner to crisp the skin a little more. It was still slightly translucent in the middle, and it was sooooo good. I highly recommend this method for salmon.

I also steamed some greens (bok choy) and made a little dipping sauce for the mochi out of maple syrup, soy sauce, and miso. The mochi was definitely improved by this.

Overall it took less than an hour to put this together, and if I'd done some minimal prep the night before - put the kombu in the cold water for the soup, put the rice in the rice cooker, chopped and washed the veg - I think I could have got it down to about 30 minutes. Some of it of course is timing practice, too. But I think it's a weekend thing, not a weekday morning rush-breakfast.

Rowan looooved the miso soup and the salmon, though. These are quick and easy and may very well become breakfast staples. (Very small portions of salmon, btw - about 2 oz each.) And I suppose that even without the greens and the mochi, it's a pretty balanced breakfast since there is lots of seaweed in the miso soup. Better than, say, oatmeal. And it kept me going until lunchtime with no need for snacks, which was great. Stirling wasn't such a fan - I think I'm pushing things "denying" him breakfast cereal (which is evil) and this was too far out of his comfort zone. But Rowan and I liked it. (For the record, if Stirling wants breakfast cereal, he can buy it himself. I just won't. I did, however, make him granola yesterday too. )

Oh, and I kind of forgot the pickles. I HAD pickles - I made some quick radish pickles the other day, and they were lovely - and I put them in a bowl, and completely forgot about them on the counter. I ate a few afterwards, if that counts.

So, thumbs up for the Japanese-style breakfast. (And no, it wasn't my usual hardcore local fare, although much of the seaweed was local, the greens and the salmon were local, and the mochi and miso was *made* locally. I'm sure some kind of local adaptation for bonito could be made if I tried hard enough, but... there's a limit, y'know?)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

101 uses for arugula

Well, not really. I can think of 3 or 4, but I thought I'd post them since it is that time of year when so many people buy huge bags of arugula because it's all lovely and fresh and green and that first bite tastes so good.

Then they bring the bags home, find that their kids/husbands/wives won't eat the stuff, and it sits in the fridge, maybe decreasing by 10 leaves or so every time a salad is made, and eventually turns yellow and starts to smell iffy.

However, here's something you might not know: you don't HAVE to eat it raw. In fact, studies* have shown that children prefer most greens - including arugula - cooked. With lots of butter. Interestingly, many of the nutrients - especially vitamins - in greens are better absorbed in the presence of fats, so the butter is a good idea nutritionally, not just taste-wise.

So idea #1: quickly blanch the arugula, and toss with butter and balsamic vinegar. Delicious. (This works well for any greens, actually.)

Idea #2: pretend it's spinach.Arugula can also work very well as a spinach substitute. Any recipe that calls for cooked spinach will also work with cooked arugula. I actually prefer it to spinach, because it lacks that weird tooth-feel that spinach has.

Idea #3: add to spaghetti sauce. Just wash and toss in about 5 minutes before serving. As long as it's wilted, it's good to go.Frequently, I find that pasta sauces often go further if you add some greenery. Arugula is a good choice because it actually adds a bit of flavour, too, and it mitigates the cop-out feel of spaghetti night, since you're getting greenery into the kids and reducing the vegetable population in the fridge.

Idea #4: Risotto. Arugula lightens up a risotto nicely, making it feel more spring-like and fluffy. Just make a regular risotto with white wine and chicken stock, cook it a little dryer than normal, and add loads of coarsely chopped arugula and a few handfuls of grated asiago at the end. Serve when the arugula is fully wilted. Yummy.

*Ok, it was one study, and it was conducted at my house.