There’s nothing like a long weekend where you feel productive and truly relax.
For an introvert, this is a delicate balance that’s rarely accomplished. We like to be alone. Sometimes we prefer it. But too much time alone also makes for an unhappy introvert.
The past two weeks were sprinkled with social gatherings and work actually hasn’t felt too hectic. This all led to a pretty good weekend.
My weekend goals were simple: Go out to eat a few times, clean up the yard, cook something, see John Wick 3. Last but not least, to finish Dead To Me, a newer Netflix series starring Christina Applegate, Linda Cardellini and James Marsden.
And by favorite places, I mean the places I return to time and again. The same goes for my favorite people, including hair stylists, butchers, car shops, tax preparers, and veterinarians. I’ve had to find my new favorite places and people more often than most. Each time we’ve moved I had to start the process from scratch. Sometimes I find my favorite person or place right away and sometimes it takes a while. But when I find it, I just know.
A lot has to fall in place for a place to become my favorite place. The actual product, noise level, availability of snacks, music choices, smell, location, customer service, parking, table spacing, outlets (in the case of coffee shops), temperature, and price.
When I first started a position in downtown Minneapolis, I set a goal to try a new restaurant once per week. And I have failed miserably because I’ve found a favorite place.
I’m trying not to toss my cookies as I write this post.
Welcome back to the wild and wacky world of DIY Japanese snack and candy kits. For $5, enjoy an hour of fun and feel like an alchemist as you craft tiny foods from packets of powder and water. When I searched for video reviews of Kracie’s pizza kit, I was surprised to learn it didn’t create candy, but a savory snack (unlike the candy sushi kit I recently reviewed). This pizza kit also differs from the sushi kit because it requires you microwave some components of the meal. Somehow, seven packets + water + microwave cooking creates two miniature pizzas with toppings, potato patties, and a fizzy soda. I curiously watched video reviewer HeyBrittany added her own salt to the potato patties and observed how the pizza sauce smelled like tomatoes. This was going to be wild.
When you unpack the kit, carefully trim the edges of the wrapper. It will unfold to contain the pizza box, drink label, and illustrations onto which you can place the cheese and potato wedges.
Here’s everything that comes inside the kit. All you need to provide is water.
The instructions indicate how to cut apart the plastic mold. The little triangular scoop on the top left is especially important because you’ll use it to measure out the correct amount of water for each packet. Each component requires 1-3 scoops of water.
I had difficulties folding and taping the pizza box together. The wrapper is flimsy and, no matter how I folded the little flaps, it didn’t look right. Oh well!
My favorite part of preparing this kit was forming the smiley potato cakes. I wouldn’t have known they were potato cakes if I hadn’t watched video tutorials. In the U.S., I typically associate fast food pizza with sides like bread sticks or chicken wings instead of potatoes, although I see Pizza Hut now serves waffle fries, now. Domino’s Japanese menu lists several flavors of baked potato wedges, plus Smiley Fries (I saw these at ALDI) described as, “Fries with a smile. . . literally.”
The process of making the potatoes involved mixing the powder with water, pressing it into the smiley potato mold, microwaving it, and cutting it into four pieces. It really did smell like potatoes. I added a sprinkle of salt just like HeyBrittany recommends. Her Japanese DIY candy/snack kits are fun to watch.
Their flavor was slightly potatoey, too. Not horribly offensive, but not something I wanted to revisit.
The pizza crust packet created a soft dough. I divided it into two balls and tried to press it into the crust guide on the inside of the pizza box. Mine was lumpy. Maybe some additional water would have helped.
You actually “cook” the dough by microwaving it. Trayse was intrigued.
Before the final pizza assembly can begin, you have to prepare the pizza toppings. The cheese packet created a freakishly cheesy substance with a stretchy texture that smelled like American cheese. The sauce smelled like tomato sauce and the sausage paste smelled meaty.
Unlike the other toppings, you scoop the sausage mixture back into the foil pouch which also serves as a piping bag. You fold down the top, cut off a bottom corner, and pipe little sausage blobs onto the pizza.
Mmmm. . . I know you’re hungry already!
After topping the crust with the sauce, cheese, and sausage, you microwave the pizzas one last time. The crust further solidifies and the cheese actually melts! It’s hard to describe the smell of these made-from-powder pizzas, piping hot from the microwave. It’s making my stomach hurt as I try to describe the aroma, so I won’t. The most pronounced odor was microwaved american cheese.
I peeled one of the finished pizzas from my kitchen plate and placed it in the pizza box I had worked so hard to create. Then, I sprinkled over the mysterious crunchy corn and pea bits from the seventh packet.
After all of this hard work, I had to take a bite while it was still warm. It tasted like sweet, pizza-flavored play dough and just typing this makes me gag. Jake came home around dinner time and I presented him with the tiny pizza. “Take a bite!” I insisted. He stared at it in horror and started backing away.
“Please, just take one bite,” I encouraged him. “No! Don’t make me eat that. It looks disgusting.” he responded.
“But I need your opinion for my blog post,” I pleaded. He agreed to take one tiny bite. He made a face and described it as vile.
“Why is it so sweet?” he asked.
The best way to remove the pizza taste from your mouth is to brush your teeth. However, the second best way is to chase it with the little grape soda. The soda fizzes when the water hits the purple powder and it’s the best tasting item in the kit.
Concluding thoughts Aspositives, this kit was a lot of fun to create. For an hour’s worth of technically edible fun, it’s a relatively cheap thrill at $5. Both the pizza and sushi kits would provide a fun activity for children, or a curious adult like me. As minuses, the pizza and potatoes aren’t actually a viable snack option, unless you enjoy food-tinged play dough. I ordered my kits online at Amazon. You might also find Kracie’s DIY kits atUnited Noodles in Minneapolis, MN however, they have a cult following and sell out quickly.
He finally admitted that he is not crazy about sushi or sake, but looks forward to sipping miso soup while dining at Japanese restaurants. So much so, that he longs for a large bowl of miso soup. I like miso soup, I don’t particularly crave it, so I procrastinated on his request.
A few weeks ago, one of my favorite blogs, Chow Times, published an article about making Miso Soup at home and it was the perfect inspiration I needed to begin.
First things first. . . finding specialty Asian ingredients in Fargo. I visited the Asian & American Market on Main Street.
At the market, I easily find tofu, substituting firm for soft. I forget green onions. Bonito flakes are no where to be found, so I grab the Hondoshi brand bonito soup bouillon as seen in the Chow Times article.
Finding this ingredient feels like a minor victory and I save dashi making for another occasion. I pause at the seaweed. There are so many varieties and I don’t know what I’m looking for. The cash registers are backed up and so I grab a package that mentions “dashi.”
I find a small selection of miso paste and am immediately annoyed each package costs about 10 dollars. I resolve to use the year-old tub I bought in the Twin Cities and hope we don’t die.
The FirstSoup-Making Attempt
When I begun to make the soup at home, I realized that I bought the wrong kind of seaweed. The sheets were so tough I could hardly cut them with a knife and when I tried to soften them, their texture became like wet linen. The flavor was so salty and oceanic that I realized I’d made a mistake.
Instead of seaweed, I substituted a lot of shredded cabbage which was rendered silky and tender after simmering. I busted out my year-old tub of white miso paste. Having no green onions, I substituted thin shaves of red onion, adding a little to the soup and saving some as garnish.
My soup was simple but satisfying. The flavor was as good if not better than versions we’ve tried at restaurants (except for Obento-Ya), and the soup lacked any unappealing graininess. I’d love to try making miso soup with real bonito flakes, but the powdered stock was good enough and added a hint of their smokey flavor.
This afternoon, my Spoonriver Cookbook arrived in the mail. I smiled when I noticed the recipe for Tim’s Miso Soup which also incorporates fresh cabbage, among other vegetables. I love that miso soup can be hearty enough to be a meal.
I tried again and filled my second batch with many more vegetables.
6 cups of water
2 teaspoons of dashi flavoring
Tofu, cut into cubes (I used firm)
Your choice of vegetables: Cabbage, carrots, onions, greens, etc.
Miso paste, starting with 5-6 teaspoons (I used white)
Bring the water to a boil.
Reduce the heat to low and add the bonito soup stock. Stir.
Gently add the tofu cubes and your choice of veggies. I prefer a lot of each for a heartier soup. Do not return to a boil. Gradually dissolve in the miso paste. You can try adding some of the hot water to your miso paste and dissolving before adding to the soup pot. If it tastes to salty, add more water and if it tastes too bland, add more miso.
My understanding is that one should not boil the soup, in order to preserve the probiotic benefits of miso, as it is a fermented product.
When I hear the word “teriyaki,” I think of Larry David’s Chicken Teriyaki Boy or that goopy, cloyingly sweet sauce also known as teriyaki.
My experiences with teriyaki sauces have been limited to that awful stuff that often slimes airplane chicken meals or sad stir fries.
However, my view of teriyaki changed as I flipped through Harumi’s Japanese Home Cooking and Harumi’s Japanese Cooking, written by Harumi Kurihara. Although I borrowed these books from the library months ago, they inspired me by making Japanese cooking approachable and accessible. I drooled over Harumi’s recipe for petite beef patties that glistened with a simple teriyaki sauce made from mostly soy sauce and mirin.
Instead of incorporating bread crumbs into my ground beef, I used ground, instant oats. This resulted in meat patties that reminded me of baked, Lebanese kibbe.
I have glazed turkey burgers with reduced soy and mirin with delicious results. This was no exception. I created this recipe as I cooked so my best advice is to taste as you go, following the recipe as basic guidelines. Since I cooked with small quantities of meat, double the recipes as needed.
Ingredients: 2 chicken thighs trimmed of excess fat (I used bone-in, but boneless would be fine) 1/2 onion, sliced
1/2 pound ground beef (or turkey) Oil or butter 1/2 onion, minced 3 button mushrooms, minced Salt Pepper 1/2 teaspoon ginger, freshly grated 1 small garlic clove, grated 1 egg Wocestershire sauce, 2 dashes 1 small squirt of ketchup 1/2-3/4 cup instant oats, pulverized in a blender of food processor
Teriyaki Glaze Soy sauce Mirin Sugar Grated ginger Spritz of fresh lemon juice Optional: Cayenne or other hot peppper
Directions: To prepare the teriyaki sauce In a small saucepan, reduce equal parts of soy sauce and mirin. Add a little grated ginger. Gradually add more sugar until the sauce is not too salty. Gently reduce until the sauce is glossy and coats the back of a spoon.
If the sauce seems to salty, add more mirin, sugar, or water. If it seems to sweet, add more soy sauce. Spritz in some fresh lemon juice for brightness.
To prepare the chicken Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Preheat a skillet with oil to medium-high.
Rinse the chicken thighs and pat dry. Trim off the extra skin.
Season the skin-side of the chicken with salt and pepper and place in the preheated pan, skin-side down. Let the chicken cook until the skin renders to golden brown.
Remove the chicken from the pan and place in a lightly oiled baking dish, on top of the sliced onions, skin-side up.
Bake for about an hour or until the juices run clear and the meat is no longer pink. As the chicken cooks, baste with the teriyaki sauce and pan juices.
To prepare the beef patties In a pan over medium heat, saute the minced onion and mushrooms, seasoning with salt and pepper. As the vegetables cook, grate in ginger and stir. When the vegetables are translucent and the ginger is fragrant, remove from heat. Grate in the garlic, stir, and allow to lightly cook.
Roughly pulverize the oats in a blender or food processor.
In a bowl, incorporate the ground meat, sauteed vegetables/ginger/garlic, egg, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, salt, and pepper. Add the ground oats until the patties hold together. Test the seasoning by sauteing a small amount of the meat.
Form the mixture into patties and sear over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and baste with the teriyaki sauce as the patties cook through. Add a little water to the bottom of the pan, as needed so the teriyaki sauce does not scorch. Cover the patties with a lid for faster cooking.
I served my glazed meats alongside Thai sticky rice, sauteed mushrooms, and green peas.