died in the wool ______

To have no set purpose in one's life is the harlotry of the will -Stephen Mackenna-

Monday, February 27, 2006

Viron and the Fortune 500

I was dropping off a visitor at Tokyo station on Saturday a bit before lunch time. I walked over to Yurakucho via the International Forum, and rummaged through the Muji Flagship store. It's become almost daily for me, which scares me only sometimes.

Anyway, as lunch approached, I decided that I wanted to eat lunch in Marunouchi at either one of two places. Out of character, I called my roommate to come on over for lunch.

One place I had in mind was Benugo. It's a British sandwich store that has opened up a place in the Meidi-ya in Marubiru (they also have stores in Ebisu and Akasaka). It is quite good for a sandwich, and reasonable compared to london (600 yen for a sandwich)

But there was one other place in my new office building called Viron. It's supposedly uses french flour (Viron) in its products. I must admit it was all quite good. They had a vegetable sandwich (a rarity here) and they have a great crisp bread embeded with either tomatoes, olives, or gruyere cheese.

According to Fortune 500 Mitsubishi Electric is the no.8 company in Electronics, (although whether that's a category we fit under is arguable) beating out Matsushita suprisingly. Sony and Sharp are the only other Japanese companies ahead of us. Sharp is by far the largest producer of PV, and I wish I could have worked for them. But alas, they are based in Osaka, and their Kanto branch is in Chiba, and I have no desire to work in Chiba.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

bread experiments

When I bought yeast to make my calzones a few weeks ago, I had to buy a huge box of yeast. It was the only size avaliable.

I had intended to use this tasty looking red onion and olive bread recipe for my stromboli crust.

As I hate white bread, and whole wheat flour is hard to come by hear, I decided to experiment.

My roommate very frequently buys expensive health foods, uses it once, and then just lets it go to waste I could devote a whole entry to this, maybe I will later). A prime example of this is the mugi kagashi (I think it's the removed part of the flour in order to make white flour, couldn't find an english translation for it) at Natural House. This seemed like a perfect way of getting a whole wheat flour, more or less.

Unfortunately I used like flour, replacing half of the required flour with the mugi kogashi. It barely rose, and when I baked it, the ball of stuff just got hot, and didn't rise at all. It wasn't horrible, but it certainly wasn't bread.

Well to remedy that, I tried again, this time putting a lot less mugi kogashi in the dough, but still a fair amount (I ran out of flour) I decided to use up the rest of some blue cheese I had bought before. The end result wasn't bad, but you couldn't taste the blue cheese at all.

Determined to see if this recipe was good or not, I did a full flour recipe, with a tablespoon or so of mugi kogashi. My roommate's parents had sent a bunch of exotic, high quality umeboshi, and we broke them up and sprinkle them throughout the dough. I also had some left over black sesame seeds, so I ground them in our mortar and pistle, and put them in the dough

The result was quite good.I think putting the sesame seeds in the dough originally, and not after letting it rise, would have allowed to be more evenly distributed. The ume as well possibly. It's just really hard to work it into the dough after it has already begun rising. More ume next time. We only put in one, I think maybe 4 or so would be good.

In a recent carepackage of in my opinion too many from my roommate's parents, included a huge box of black zinger. It is essentially roasted brown rice that has been powderized. It is similar to coffee, but less pungent and without the caffiene. It is amazing on ice cream and in yogurt. Also avaliable at Natural House, although very expensive. I must find out if this is avaliable outside of Japan.

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Friday, February 17, 2006


One of my friends is back in Minneapolis this week. He asked me if there was anything that I wanted from home. And there were quite afew things, there was one thing I really wanted. Stromboli from broders.

I remember taking out the long strombolis to fill the display. So long, you had to cut them in fourths, and they were still huge. The vegetarian one was excellent; it had spinach, tomatoes, artichokes, and provolone in it. I probably haven't had one in over five years.

Keeping that in mind, I went about collecting the ingredients. Potatoes and spinach are cheap at 100 yen a bag here. I used a can of tomatoes, which was 88 yen. Artichokes and provolone are hard to come by here, though, but I substitued a danish blue cheese that I picked up at Yamaya .

I used half of this Stromboli dough recipe. I halved the recipe, as one stromboli is about all that would fit in my oven and didn't want extra dough sitting in the refrigerator. I think I put a whole recipe of oil in the dough, which I was worried about, but it turned out fine. The final dough was actually a little crisp, like phyllo dough almost, so I might even do it again.

For preparation, I drained the liquid from the tomatoes, reserving it to make a simple red sauce from it for the stromboli (garlic, basil, etc.). I crumbled the tomatoes and sauteed them with the spinach until it wilted. I put all of the ingredients in a colander, pressing the mixture to remove as much liquid as possible. I used the juices in the red sauce. I sliced the potatoes thin on a mandoline. After the dough had expanded, I rolled it out, placing the potatoes down first. I then crumbled the blue cheese, and then spread out the spinach tomato mixture over that, sprinkling some basil and pepper over the top. Stretched the doug over the top, pinching at the side to seal it.Rolled the closed stromboli over so the crease was on the side on the bottom, and cut three slits in the top deep enough so the ingredients could be seen. Baked it in a 190C oven for 35 minutes.

The results were quite good, and looked almost exactly like the strombolis from broders! I would like to play around with different cheeses and even different ingredients. If there was a way to get a less rising dough that would be nice; the ones at broders were never puffy but flat and rectangular. I might bake it for a few minutes less, as it was a little crispy just at the top.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

experiments in the kitchen

Last couple of weeks I've been trying a few different things in the kitchen.

A couple of winters ago, I found this great gingerbread layer cake recipe. It has a cream cheese frosting and calls for candied kumquats.

Kumquats are actaually a specialty fruit of Miyazaki, perhaps not suprisingly. Still, I thought that it would be way too sweet the first few times I made this cake and I was right.

This time however, my roommate's mother sent him, among many other things, some yuzu. They were simply going to waste so I decided to make yuzu-cha out of it. It was not being used, so I decided to use it as a substitute for the cake. I used the liquid instead of sugar in the frosting, and the rind to decorate the cake.

The liquid would have been much mores suited in the cake batter, as it gave the cream cheese frosting a more strong cream cheese-y flavor.

Somewhat unsatisfied with the cream cheese frosting I decided to try and make a buttercream frosting instead. In addition to the base gingerbread cake, I decided to try using the interesting ganache from this recipe as all of the 'exotic' ingredients were Japanese (wasabi, ginger, black sesame). Unfortunately the recipe is not very clear about when to add what, and I added the sugar to the egg whites right off the bat before I could boil it. I tried really hard to make something out the very large amount of butter/sugar/eggwhite mess that I had. I cut some of the butter into the cake to replace the oil and the sugar. but still had a really large amount. I used whip cream to cover the rest of the cake with a little bit of ginger in it, but it was way too thin to go with this.The ginger cake and the ganache were good though, although I will use baking chocolate next time as the chocolate seperated a little.

To use up the remaining mess, I found a cookie recipe that used up almost exactly all of the remaining ingredients. I added some cocoa and some flour to the mix. The baked cookies were very soft, but certainly didn't taste bad, and was way better than throwing it away.

In the savory department, I decided to make some minnestrone. Again my roommate had a bunch of left over vegetables (hakusai, carrots, gobo, red pepper), and the grocer down the hill had some mikirihin celery for cheap. I used black beans for the texture, and it really was delicious. My father used to make bread and soup on the weekends, and this very much reminded me of that.

And speaking of bread, I also made calzone. I used the olive oil residue oil from this Spanish Tortilla recipe for the dough. It still had an onion/potato flavoring in the oil which worked great in the dough. For filling I used Japanese eggplant and a mushroom called yamabushidake along with some basil, pepper, and gouda melting cheese. These were great, but need red sauce for the large amount of dough there is. I also think that putting olives in the dough would be nice too. I found it important to wrap the dough around the filling as tightly as possible so as to not have huge hunks of bland dough to eat.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

soy and transfat

I was listening to this story on All Things Considered via NPR's webcast yesterday, talking about how a lot of what we thought about low fat diets in the 90's isn't entirely correct. The important thing to do is to avoid Saturated fats, and focus more on the mono-unsaturated fats. The program breifly mentioned that we should also avoid transfats.

Somewhat unrelated, my roommate was talking about how much he liked Edensoy compared to other Japanese-made soymilks, but it's almost $4 for a box here.

This got me thinking about soymilk, and also about soybeans in general. I knew that a large part of American agriculture was devoted to soybean production, but I didn't know the exact numbers.

'Soybeans are native to southeast Asia, but 45 percent of the world's soybean area, and 55 percent of production, is in the United States of which more than one-third was exported.Soybeans are the most important cash crop in the United States and the leading agricultural export. The bulk of the soybean crop is grown for oil production, with the high-protein defatted and "toasted" soy meal used as livestock feed. A smaller percentage of soybeans are used directly for human consumption, particularly in Asia.Soybean oil makes up 80% of the edible oil consumption in the United States. Soybean oil extraction is performed on a large scale in the U.S. The soybeans are cracked, adjusted for moisture content, rolled into flakes and solvent extracted with commercial hexane. The oils are blended for their applications, and sometimes hydrogenated.'

It just seems like the U.S. wants to take something that initially had nutritional value/unique flavor, grind it, squish it, hydrogenate it, fry it, and make it totally bland and nutritionally void. The part that could be used for food, the meal leftover after extracting the soybean oil, is simply used for live stock feed.

Soybeans are a wonderful food. There are so many ways of using them in different states that it dissapoints me that the U.S. diet sees them as either oil or animal feed. There's edamame, roasted soy nuts, natto, soy milk, tofu, kinako, soy sauce, yuba, abura age, miso, tempeh, and even more than that fairly extensive list. All of these things have really unique flavors, why aren't they more prevalent in the U.S.?

Apparently George Washington Carver decided it was too exotic a crop for the poor black farmers of the South so he turned his attention to peanuts for crop rotation that would replenish the soil with nitrogen and minerals were planted for two years and then cotton on the third year.

Maybe someday, non-hydrogenated, non-oil soy products will be no longers seen as a health food, like yogurt for example, and a part of the american diet. I can only hope.

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