Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Dinner Week #12: Bangohan, Plantation Style

Bangohan (dinner, or the evening meal in Japanese) actually started at my grandparents's house about half an hour after the Pioneer Mill Plantation smokestack whistle blew to signal pau hana. I guess I always grew up eating dinner well before the sun went down whenever I was in Lahaina. It's probably why I'm ready to eat at 4:30. It's the ancient plantation clock that still ticks away in me.

What I've always liked about the word bangohan or even hirugohan (lunch) is that it contains the word gohan, which in Japanese means rice. Rice represents Japan to me, and it represents my family. In some families, there was always poi, in ours, there was always rice. If all we had was one can of meat, there was always enough rice to fill our stomach.

Tonight's dinner is plantation style dinner - rice, tea, a little fish, a little canned corned beef and onions, lots of tsukemono (salted, pickled veggies), and furikake. My oldest son brought over a neighbor boy once and I was cooking canned corned beef and onions. He said, "what's that smell? Smells like dog food." You know, it kind of does smell like dog food, but it also smells like my mother-in-law's kitchen, and it smells like my obachan's kitchen, and my son said, "I don't care. It's GOOD!" That's always enough, don't you think?

In case you're not from red dirt plantation roads like me, in order to make canned corned beef and onions, look for the can above. It comes with a little "key" opener on the side. It was the first job I had in my mother's kitchen - to open the can of corned beef. If for some reason, the key breaks off, opening the can is a minor brain teaser!
The finished product. There's no recipe. Corned beef, onions, fried in a pan, let the onions sweat, add oyster sauce.
The dish above is from my Grandma Ah Sing's kitchen. She's the one in the kimono at the top of the blog. Grandma was a working mom - she had her own business - the Pioneer Sewing School, so dinner had to be quick. This is just fresh green beans and egg, kind of fried egg fu yong style. It's one of my mom's favorites.Ken makes a tataki style ahi, marinated in olive oil, balsamic, shoyu and some garlic. He takes the whole steak, sears it in a hot pan, then slices it thin. The inside needs to be raw. I like this because whenever we had extra sashimi, I would soak it in shoyu and ginger. The next night we'd have tea and rice and the heat of the tea would "cook" the sashimi slices, but still leave the middle raw.
Some of our favorite tea/rice sides- Amano tempura, cucumber zukke, takuan, fukujin zuke, rankyo (pickled pearl onions), and genmai cha for the tea (the one with the puffed rice balls).

Happy grinding this week, and if you have a little of this and a little of that, it's chazuke night.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday Dinner Week #11: Pono's birthday - Sushi bar

My baby is 12 tonight so he asked for sushi bar - Phew! I love when they ask for easy stuff. Sushi bar is one of the easiest because everything is basically raw except for the fried egg. For our family, the must haves are the tobiko (flying fish roe), fresh ahi and special mayo. Ken also got inspired by Ace of Cakes and Cake Boss and made a cupcake cake for Pono with a chocolate square cake with cream cheese frosting on the bottom topped by a pyramid of funfetti cupcakes with chocolate frosting.

Easy Breezy Desserts: Grown Up Creamsicles

Now that I've mastered the Jello, I'm on to other easy desserts. This one's originally from the Kraft Foods magazine with a little Hawaiian oomph.

Frosty Orange Creme Layered Dessert
prep: 15 minutes plus freezing
makes: 12 servings

2 c. orange sherbet or sorbet, softened
1 pkg. cream cheese (I used the lowfat Neufchatel one)
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk (used the non-fat one)
1/2 cup orange juice (used POG instead because it was on sale at Sack n Save)
1 tub (8 oz) Cool Whip Lite, thawed

Line two loaf pans with foil. Spread sherbet onto bottom of pan to form even layer (notice from my picture that "even" is a suggestion rather than a possibility for me). Freeze 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese in large bowl with hand mixer until creamy. Gradually add condensed milk and juice, beating until blended. Gently stir in Cool Whip. Pour over sherbet in pans.

Freeze for at least 3 hours. To unmold, invert pan onto plate; remove foil

Sunday Dinner Week #10: Braising Stew

Braising is when meat is seared, then put into a low oven with a little liquid and cooked for several hours. It's a great way to make roasts, but I wanted to try it on my grandma's pipi stew. My mom, my aunties, my dad, my grandpa -- we've all been trying to figure out how to make grandma's stew, but since she didn't write it down or even measure, I think my mom (grandma's former daughter-in-law) gets the closest. The rest of us rely on our taste memory and the aspect of the stew we like the most. For me, it's the softness of the stew meat. So far, I've tried to cut the stew meat into smaller pieces, but no matter how long I cooked it, it didn't come out right. . .until now.

Grandma's stew needs to be full of meat. Stew meat with the bone is what grandma used because I remember the sound of the bones clanging on the bottom of the pot, but I used boneless stew meat, left in their large chunks. I floured and seasoned the meat, then seared it on all sides in my guardian ware heavy duty aluminum pots. Once all the pieces were seared, I put the meat back in, leaving all the crispy, burnt nubbies on the bottom, added the potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes and onions, covered and cooked for three hours with a little red wine, beef stock and bay leaves.

After three hours, I was a little disappointed because the meat looked solid, so three hours down the drain, but dinner has to be served, so I continued on. It actually smelled like roast until I added more liquid, diced, seasoned tomatoes and tomato paste. Before serving I also made super easy Bisquick dumplings. The stew meat was all I asked for: firm in the stew, but soft and melty in my mouth. My mom told me, "grandma would be pround of you." That's the best compliment!

Mary Uilani Kaumeheiwa Sodetani - I miss eating in your kitchen, but I miss your grandma hugs and honi the best.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sunday Dinner Week #9: Ken takes over

After 8 weeks, I'm running out of ideas for Sunday dinner. Usually cooking is like writing for me. I'm constantly gathering inspiration from what's going on, I'm observing, reading, dreaming about what comes next. But this week, nothing inspired me, so this morning (Sunday), my husband decided to take over, look in the freezer, and take out the large, uncut sirloin for a prime rib type of roast. When he makes roasts, he tends to cook it less than he thinks he should, because he's always afraid that it will be over cooked, so the sirloin was PERFECT for me - medium at the ends, but bloody, soft and and juicy -- like butter! He paired it with roasted root veggies, stir fried squash and mushrooms, mini popovers and red wine au jus.

I used to work at a restaurant in Volcano when I was in high school, and besides peeling a lot of potatoes, I remember making popovers on Friday nights because Friday night was prime rib night, so for me it's a natural pairing. The best part of popovers are that they're simple (salt, milk, flour, eggs and a little bit of roast grease), and when they're in the oven, just before you take them out, they do that magical rise out of the muffin pans. They're almost hollow in the center, and a little chewy on the outside, with just the right hint of fat. The problem, though, with having a husband that cooks, is that there's another cook in the kitchen, and for us, we've always had small kitchens. It's like things are harmonious (to me) if I'm the boss in the kitchen, but if I'm the sous chef, or the dishwasher when Ken's in charge, the kitchen is so tiny, we're constantly banging into each other. We definitely have different energy when we cook, and we're almost incompatible. Ken has a frenetic energy that to me sucks up all the oxygen in the room. He's always on the brink of panic. He uses half the dishes in the cupboard just for prep. I think I'm more calm. I am a minimalist when it comes to prep, dishes and pots. If I don't have something, I do without or I substitute. On the other hand, he is more daring than I am. I tend to stick to recipes while he will venture off the beaten path. When I change something on a recipe (like my jello quests), I will only change one thing at a time. (This week I used yellow cake instead of lemon cake because, well, KTA didn't have any boxes of lemon cake).

So what did I actually do for this week's dinner? Make rice and an ugly, but tasty 7 Up jello cake. Ahi's girlfriend brought over some mini oreo/chocolate pudding cheesecakes made by her mom that were just yummy! I'll have to get the recipe for that, but it looks like a lot of work. In Japanese, that's called mendokusai, humbug - probably something Ken could do. It is a labor of love, and this is Labor Day weekend, but seriously, if I had to make a living with my desserts, we would be homeless. Want recipes? Let me know, I'll go ask the chef.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

In Pursuit of the Jello Queen Crown

Since I was a young, impressionable kid in the 70's, being raised by my grandparents in the summer and a single mom during the year, my idea of family and domesticity centers around jello. These were the days of jello molds, avocado green hard plastic molds made by Tupperware. This was back in the day when how many Tupperware you had represented how rich you were. Jello could be a salad, a dessert, and a quick snack for a kid who wanted to feel grown up.
As an only child, and a daughter of a very strong, independent woman, raised by other very strong, independent women, I really didn't appreciate that I was surrounded by matriarchs that were well-educated pioneers in their field; role models for the daughters that followed them. What I really wanted was a mom who would drop off layered jello squares to my elementary school, or make frozen pudding pops for the neighbor kids.
In my thinking, if I can be the jello queen, I can rule the world!
Jello attempt #1: Make broken glass jello. (Note to self: start with something easier, like one flavor jello) The picture I uploaded is NOT my jello. It's not even from my blog. This picture, along with the recipe belongs to the 'Ono Kine Grindz blog. This is a great local food blog, just way too high mucky muck for me, although I'm following. It's now at a new location - and they don't use the iPhone to take pictures, but use an actual Canon EOS. Still, besides the picture, at least their recipe worked for them. My jello attempt #1 came out like a runny, gloopy mess of white brain matter with gelatinous colored goop floating in it. We ate it anyway, but even the iPhone's bluriness wasn't going to hide the disturbing white runs. FAIL.

Jello attempt #2: Make layered jello. The nice photo is what it's supposed to look like. It's from justJENN recipes. This recipe is a test of my patience. FAILURE. The first layer is the jello. The recipe says to keep it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. I did that, and in 30 minutes, the middle was a little runny, so I left it in for 15 more minutes. When I checked again, just a little more runny, but 45 minutes is more than 30 minutes, so I poured the white layer. WRONG! The white layer was too heavy for the bottom jello layer, and in the center of the pan, the white layer broke through and leaked into the jello layer. I now had orange jello with a mucus cloud in the middle. My solution? Take my spatula and start stirring the mostly set jello with the milk layer and set again. Because of my initial layer failure, I decided to leave every layer in for a long time. The drawback was that by the time I was ready for the last milk layer, it had hardened and I didn't have an even layer. Do you see how my version is crooked and uneven? It's because of the bottom layer and the last milk layer. We ate it anyway, but again, FAILURE.

Jello attempt #3: Go with the big guns: Call a friend. It's the bottom of the ninth, 2 outs, 2 strikes, the game is on the line and I need to hit it out of the park. I decided to email my friend Merle for her jello recipe. It's one flavor of jello, knox gelatin and a cup of whipping cream. Everything is mixed together, and then like magic, the whipping cream layer starts to float up as the jello sets. Success! Now for jello cakes. . .