Thursday, 18 June 2009

A kick in the cooking butt

I love to cook. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to leave the dorm and get back into an apartment of my own, one with some semblance of a kitchen (I may have gotten used to many aspects of life in Japan but I still have serious issues with calling a couple of elements and a sink in the hallway an actual "kitchen"). I really enjoy cooking for my dad when I visit for the holidays, and have started occasionally cooking for friends here in Japan. But I find myself more likely to pick up a quick bento or throw together a basic bowl of pasta or a sandwich than to actually cook myself a full meal. "What's the point? It's only me eating after all!" I think to myself, and throw together whatever is in the fridge.

I read blogs like La Fuji Mama and Blue Lotus and think "Mmm, that looks good! I should try that next time I'm in Canada." But hold on... I have a kitchen right? I may not have copious amounts of free time to make elaborate ten course meals every night (and I definitely can't make it all look as delicious or as easy as La Fuji Mama does), but if I make up big batches of freezeable dishes (as I sometimes do with home-made vegetable soups, various types of curry/stew, and veggie stirfry), then I can enjoy good, homemade food for a number of meals with only minimal effort and time needed any given night. I won't be "wasting time cooking just for me," instead I can enjoy the actual cooking process and get yummy food out of it.

My kick in the pants for all of this was La Fuji Mama's recent call to join her in cooking up recipes from the incredible Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen by Elizabeth Andoh. I read LFM's post and before I knew it I had ordered a copy of the book on It arrived yesterday afternoon and I'm thrilled!

I love Japanese food, and I eat it regularly, but I don't cook more than a few set dishes (okonomiyaki, ozoni, etc). As I found myself explaining to my dad, I blame this on my tendency to cook without a recipe. This works fine for dishes that I grew up watching my mother or stepmother make, but doesn't work so well for the cuisine of my adopted home. I'm going to try to remedy that situation - one recipe/one month at a time. We'll see how far I get (my thesis is beginning to really loom over my head) but I'm excited. And I know my mother, who inspired in me a love of cooking from a very young age, would be proud.


  1. And I am proud of you too! Looking forward to hearing more about your Japanese creations. I also found it really hard to motivate myself when I was alone, and even now, I still sometimes need a 'kick in the cooking butt'! What a great memorable phrase!
    love and hugs,

  2. I desperately need your recipe for what in Japan is called Mapo Tofu. I've found it is my comfort dish - when I get stressed it is the first thing I want to eat! There used to be a decent (and very cheap) mapo tofu joint right around the corner from school, but it has been replaced by a sushi shop so I'm going to have to learn how to make the dish so I can get my fix that way!

  3. Here it is! Tofu is definitely one of my comfort foods too! Enjoy! love and hugs, C

    Mapo tofu

    2 or more blocks of firm tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
    2 Tbsps oil
    75 g ground lean pork (or 2-3 Tbsps, not very much)
    1 Tbsp minced green onion (white part, reserve green part for garnish)
    1 tsp minced garlic (I usually put more, 3 tsps)
    1 tsp minced ginger
    1 Tbsp hot bean paste*
    1 cup water or stock (chicken or vegetable buillon cube stock is fine)
    1 Tbsp soy sauce
    1 Tbsp rice cooking wine (Chinese Shao Hsing red label)
    1/2 tsp salt (or less)
    1-2 tsps cornstarch dissolved in 1-2 Tbsps cold water

    ½ tsp sesame oil
    ¼ tsp Szechuan or white pepper powder (optional)
    Dash of minced green onion tips

    Heat 2 Tbsps oil in wok, stir fry pork until pink and remove the pork. Stir fry minced green onion, garlic and ginger with remaining oil until fragrant. Add in hot bean paste, mix well, then add water, soy sauce, cooking wine and salt. Add tofu and pork. Bring to boil and simmer over low heat for 3-5 minutes. Add cornstarch/water mixture. Cook a few minutes until the sauce bubbles and thickens. Transfer to serving bowl, and sprinkle with minced green onion, pepper and sesame oil.

    *Note on hot bean paste
    I now use the brand, ‘Lao Gan Ma,’ in bottle with black and white photo of old Chinese lady; or you can use any other popular brand of mapo tofu hot bean sauce. With each brand you will have to test for flavour, adding more or less according to your desired level of spiciness.

  4. Mmmmm! Thank you! I'm looking forward to making up a batch of this soon.

  5. Good luck and enjoy! Maybe we can also find a good Chinese restaurant in Berlin so we can enjoy some together...
    love and hugs, C