Monday, May 24, 2010

Cooking up a storm

I had the day off last Monday since I was "working" on the Sunday (May 16). I use the term "working" lightly here since helping out at the Sports Festival is so fun it didn't really feel like work. (Although I admit getting up early to make it to school by 7:45am was a bit of work for me...)

Anyway, since I had the time, I decided to cook a real dinner that night (with the help of my many recipe magazines/books).

Clockwise from top left: chicken cheese "sandwich" saute; tofu "lasagna;" microwave steamed broccoli; potato & bacon saute; (store bought) garlic bread.

Unlike many of the other recipes I've attempted since I made a conscious decision to try to learn how to cook more things, the beauty of these recipes was their simplicity. They required very minimal (and inexpensive) ingredients and had very few steps to follow. It still took me a fair bit of time since I'm inefficient in my food preparation/cooking, but overall the cooking process felt a lot smoother this time around (as compared to my previous cooking experiences).

The tofu "lasagna" was awesome!! It's my new favourite recipe--simple, easy, fast and delicious!! I got the recipe from 母に習えばウマウマごはん by 小栗左多里 ("Mom's a Great Cook" by OGURI Saori, the author of the popular ダーリンは外国人 ("My Darling is a Foreigner") series). This recipe alone was totally worth the price of the book. (I haven't had a chance to try any of the other recipes yet, but after the success of this one, I definitely intend to!)

Here's the recipe to try at home (if you can read Japanese at all, I recommend buying/borrowing a copy of the book to read for yourself):

豆腐のラサ二ア(2人分)Tofu Lasagna (serves 2)

材料 Ingredients
木綿豆腐…一丁 "Momen" tofu (made with cotton cloth) - 1 package (~300g)
なす……2個 Eggplant - 2 (the ones I used were fairly small (~15cm?) and long rather than round)
トマト……1個 Tomato - 1 (*a small one will suffice)
ミートソース缶…1缶(295g) Canned "Meat Sauce" (aka spaghetti sauce w/ meat) - 1 can (295g)
とろけるチーズ…50g Shredded Cheese - 50g
サラダ油……大さじ2 "Salad" oil - 2 tablespoons (30ml) (I used extra virgin olive oil in place of regular vegetable oil)
塩・こしょう……各少々 Salt & Pepper - a little of each

1. Wrap tofu in paper towel and microwave for 2 min* and then cut into 8 slices (*at 500w = ~1.5min at 600w and ~2.5min at 400w )
2. Cut the eggplant into 1cm rounds and the tomato into 5mm rounds, discarding the stems (of course)
3. Heat oil in a pan and lightly fry* both sides of the tofu and eggplant; sprinkle lightly with salt & pepper (*on med-high heat)
4. Lightly grease a gratin (i.e. ceramic & oven-safe) dish* with oil; spoon 1/3 of the meat sauce into the bottom of the dish; place a layer of tofu on top; cover with another 1/3 of the meat sauce; arrange remaining tofu and eggplant on top; cover with remaining meat sauce (*I used two small, individual-size oval dishes measuring approx. 16cm x 11cm x 4.5 cm)
5. Put cheese and tomato on top and bake* until cheese is melted and slightly browned (*again, the recipe was made for a 500w microwave oven w/ baking capacity, but I set my (toaster) oven to 175°C and baked it for about 25-35 minutes)
I really like many of the "Orange Page Books"cooking magazines. They have a lot of pictures and simple/easy but tasty recipes. Also I like that the recipes are designed to serve 2 (and not 4) so I only have to eat leftovers for a couple of days rather than an entire week. =P The other recipes from Monday's "feast" were all from Orange Page magazines. The chicken was only so-so, but both the broccoli and the potato & bacon dishes worked out pretty well.

This recipe was from the 15分でごはん!―パパッと作れてウマッ! ("15min meals! Quick & tasty!") magazine:

ブロッコリーのレンジ蒸し(2人分) Microwave Steamed Broccoli (serves 2)

材料 Ingredients
ブロッコリー…小1株 Broccoli - 1 small head
粉チーズ……大さじ1 Grated (parmesan) cheese - 1 tablespoon
塩・こしょう…各少々 Salt & Pepper - a little of each
オリーブ油…大さじ1 Olive oil - 1 tablespoon

1. Cut broccoli into florets; cut large pieces into half
2. Mix broccoli, olive oil and salt & pepper in a microwave-safe bowl; sprinkle with cheese; cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 2min* (*at 500w = ~1.5min at 600w and ~2.5min at 400w )

This recipe was from the 手間なし、きっぱり「即」ごはん ("No effort, instant meals") magazine.

ポテトとベーコンのソテー(2人分)Potato & Bacon Saute (serves 2)

材料 Ingredients
じゃがいも…大1個(200-230g) Potato - 1 large one (~200-230g)
ベーコン……3枚 Bacon - 3 slices
サラダ油……大さじ1/2 "Salad" oil - 1/2 tablespoon
塩・(粗びき黒)こしょう…各少々 Salt & (if available, coarsely ground black) pepper - a little of each

1. Peel potato and cut into 5mm x 5mm sticks; soak in water for 5min; drain & wipe dry; cut bacon into 5-6mm strips (width-wise)

2. Heat oil in a fry pan on medium-low heat; add bacon; when browned, turn to medium heat and add the potato; when all ingredients are lightly coated in oil, reduce to (medium-)low heat, cover & cook for ~3min; once potatoes are tender, mix in salt & pepper

Next on my list of things to learn how to cook are some basic items of Japanese home cooking:
1. (甘い)卵焼き ("(amai) tamagoyaki" = (sweet) Japanese omelette)
2. きんぴらごぼう ("kinpira gobou" = chopped burdock root cooked in soy sauce and sugar)
3. オムライス ("omurice" = omelette rice)

I've had my eye on a "3min bento" magazine, which has the recipes, so once I've bought that--as well as the tamagoyaki pan, I'm going to start practicing! My goal for the tamagoyaki in particular is to be able to make it reasonably well by June 19-20th, i.e. the Kamikita District Grand Sports Tournament weekend a.k.a. chuutairen (中体連). I'll need to bring a bento for both days, so this year (unlike the previous two) I'd like to actually have something resembling a "proper" bento--i.e. more than just rice balls and raw veggies (mini tomatoes, carrot & cucumber sticks).

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