kruizing with kikukat

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Spicy Shredded Potatoes

Those of you who grew up in Hilo have likely experienced this:  you are driving along Komohana Street, somewhere between the 4-Way Stop and Komohana Gardens and you are suddenly hit by the unmistakeable aroma of what can likely be attributed to gobo kimpira (sauteed burdock root).  Sometimes I catch a whiff of it on Kinoole Street in the area between the old Food Fair and Hokama's Chevron.  Yes, I'm showing my age now.  In all my years of living here, I have not been able to pinpoint which house it is that is always cooking this, but maybe someone out there might have the answer.

 Gobo kimpira is one of those Japanese side-dishes that compels you to eat multiple bowls of rice.  I didn't know such a dish existed until I was in the 4th grade and a classmate brought some for a recess snack (yeah, I know, kinda out there as a kiddie snack).  The balance of sweet-salty-spicy was perfect in every thread.  Mmmmmm.  But this post is not about gobo!

Prior to that defining moment, my only experience with gobo was watching my grandma whittle shavings off the tip with a small paring knife.  I have no idea what she did with the gobo shavings, but I certainly don't remember kimpira.

Part of the "charisma" of kimpira is the way the gobo is shredded.  Too thick, and the maker appears clumsy and lacking knife skills.  Too short appears as thought the maker didn't take enough time to cut the gobo correctly.  While I am quick to criticize, I have never made gobo kimpira.  I'll leave that to the okazu-ya pros and Japanese grandmas out there.  But this post is not about gobo!

Somehow, I have not been able to bring myself to buy gobo.  I wouldn't know how to select pieces, and I often wonder who first ate gobo.  Those roots are mighty long and thin. Was there really nothing ABOVE ground to eat?

There are times now, when I drive on Komohana Street and get hit with the gobo kimpira smell.  Often, its inconvenient to go to an okazu-ya at that very moment to get a scoop of it.  I remembered seeing a recipe for kimpira made with potatoes instead of gobo.  I called Mom to ask her if she knew which cookbook to look in. . .I own close to 300 cookbooks so I needed some help.  Unfortunately, she said she never heard of such a thing.  I guess she really didn't take me seriously because she added, "kimpira is made with gobo, not potato!". No help there.

Since I was determined to find the recipe, I began looking through the likely suspects.  Thirteen was the lucky number . . . found it in the thirteenth book I pulled, some Japanese church cookbook.  I made a few changes to the recipe ingredients because I wanted the kimpira to have a stronger taste.  What I like is that the cooking can be controlled to keep the potato crunchy.  What I especially like is that I don't need to run down to KTA to buy gobo!

I shared some of the potato with Aunty Betty (of corned beef hash fame), and she loved it.  She did issue a caveat, and that was to not use the word "kimpira", as it sets up an expectation of taste.  She was right.  The potato was actually very similar to the shredded potato in the Bi Bim Bap served at Sato's Lunch Shop (Hilo, circa 1990s).

So here are some tips for making spicy shredded potatoes.
1.  Use the julienne disc of a food processor, if available.  An alternative to this might be a Japanese crank shredded.  This magical tool is used to make those wonderful curly potatoes for your copycat version of Pietro's raw potato salad.
2.  Do not omit the step of soaking the potato shreds in ice water.  This step removes the surface starch.  If left on, you will end up with a gluey mess instead of discrete strands.
3.  Use a salad spinner to partially dry the potato shreds before patting dry with a paper towel.  You'll save on the amount of paper towels you use.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Okazuya Food

I'm really not sure what I was doing.  I SWEAR I hit the "publish post" button, but I guess I didn't.  I must've lapsed a lot because I found several of these "drafts" just hanging in limbo.  So without further ado, here is where my head was in July 2010. . .

Lately I've been really ono for okazuya food.  On my recent trip to Honolulu, I passed by Fukuya and wondered if they still make that awesome fried hash.  Fried hash and chow funn from Fukuya were treasured parts of my weekend fare when I lived on Oahu.  Unless you've actually had fried hash from Fukuya, you might have a difficult time grasping what it is.

Fried hash is NOT a corned beef hash patty like the kind offered at most okazuyas.  In fact, I can't definitively say there is actually potato in Fukuya's fried hash.  Same goes for corned beef.  What I can say is that fried hash is your typical "patty" shape.  Its roughly a 2" diameter disc thats about 1/2" tall and pan fried just a shade past golden brown.  Its almost like a sweet potato mochi patty I had at some meeting, but I cannot say with conviction that it contains mochiko either.  Sad.  If anyone out there knows how to make Fukuya's fried hash, please let me in on the recipe.  I promise I won't open up an quasi-Fukuya here in Hilo.

So far, this blog has been filled with many doubtful thoughts, so I'm going to go the other way and tell you what I do know.  I know that my Aunty Betty makes THE BEST corned beef hash.  Aunty Betty lives in Mt. View, and on occasion, when work took me to Ka'u, I would stop at Aunty Betty's on the way home and have lunch with her.  Aunty Betty would ask me what I wanted to eat, and I would always request her corned beef hash.  No okazuya can touch her hash.

What separates Aunty Betty's hash from others is the way she prepares the potatoes.  Most people boil potatoes and mash them.  Then they add in other ingredients.  This is how Mom does her, and I will admit here that for most of my life, Mom's corned beef hash was great . . . until I had Aunty Betty's.  Aunty Betty doesn't cook her potatoes before adding in the other ingredients; she grates raw potatoes and then combines the raw potato shreds with corned beef (canned, of course), egg, parsley, salt and pepper.  Then she plops them in an oiled pan, flattens the plops and cooks them until golden brown.  Same thing with the other side.  The result is a slightly scraggly patty with potato shreds which still have body.  Mmmmmm.

Unlike my previous posts, this post doesn't have a recipe after the jump.  I've just included pictures of Aunty Betty's Hash.  Well, not exactly Aunty Betty's Hash.  I made the hash, using Aunty Betty's method.  I've been eating her hash for nearly a decade, and no matter how I try, her hash still comes out better. 

But for those of you who still do the double-cooked potato method, here is a trick Mom taught me for getting those patties really nice.  After you flatten them into patty shapes, dust them lightly with flour before frying.  The flour will hold the patties together.  Trust me, the patties look really nice, but still, when it comes to great hash, scraggly looking or not, NOBODY can touch Aunty Betty's hash.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Yesterday's post was limited (due to time) to the slideshow of Uncle John's "27th" birthday party. I was told that Korean tradition is to reverse the digits of the guest of honor when they reach a certain age. Only time will tell if I'm lucky enough to have my birthday candle digits reversed.

There was a ton of food yesterday, with Uncle Hanok, Aunty Suyogi, and Uncle Hal,  doing the majority of the cooking. I wonder what Aunty Suyogi would think of my Chap Chae. I will need to make it for her one of these days. It was apparent, even to my forgetful tastebuds, that her Chap Chae was not as sweet as mine.

My contribution to the party was a pineapple upside down cake that almost didn't exist. Knowing Koreans aren't big on dessert, I knew I needed to bring some kind of dessert. After 15 minutes of pondering, I narrowed it down to chocolate cream cheese cupcakes or madeleines. Both are good eaten the day its made (unlike most cakes), and I knew I had ingredients on hand.

I was leaning towards the chocolate cream cheese cupcakes, which some people call black bottom cupcakes. The version I make uses devils food cake mix, cream cheese and some chocolate chips. Aaaaah, thats what I didn't consider . . . I only had butterscotch chips in the pantry. The Help volunteered to get some, but I declined the offer. I actually had just made devil's food cupcakes for D1 to take to a sleepover at a friend's house less than a week ago.

Before I could get off my butt to get down the madeleine molds, I caught sight of a lone can of pineapple rings in the pantry. Thats when it hit me! Pineapple upside down cake would be the dessert I would carry to the party.  Uncle John loves pineapple upside down cake!  Well, Uncle John loves dessert.

With the exception of chiffon/sponge cakes, I seldom make any cake from scratch. My cake mix brand of choice is Duncan Hines, the only one sold in Hilo WITHOUT pudding in the cake mix. As luck would have it, I had a box of Duncan Hines Yellow Cake Mix in my pantry as well.

Things seemed to be going well, until I got further in the recipe. . .1 box of instant vanilla pudding. By this time, there was no turning back, as I had opened up the cake mix, drained the pineapples & cherries, and melted the butter. I had a choice of pistachio, chocolate, or lemon instant pudding. I chose lemon for obvious reasons (if I didn't say anything, maybe nobody would know since the cake would still look "normal".

The cake baked up as normal with a warm golden brown caramel color. There would be no snitching a piece to sample, as the only option was to take the cake whole/uncut to the party. I had to leave the cake in the oven 5 minutes longer than usual because I bought a new cake pan which is slightly shorter than 13" on the long end (its by Nordic Ware and comes with a cover . . . got it at WalMart).
Upon arrival at Uncle John's party, the cake was met with "oohs" and "aahs". UL remarked, "you're stealing your aunty's thunder", as AE is known for a light flavorless colorless pineapple upside down cake, often made with crushed pineapple and lacking cherries. To her credit, she tries to create a healthier dessert (substituting applesauce for the vegetable oil) and boldly sacrifices flavor for uhhh, yeahh.  Anyway, back to my cake story. 

After we sang Happy Birthday to Uncle John, dessert was served. Mmmmmm. Nobody noticed the off-taste with the lemon pudding. In fact, everyone kept saying it was delicious (like they would've actually told me it tasted like shit). The Help, who is likely the most honest when it comes to food, said it was as good as or better than the version made with vanilla pudding. The Reans surprised me by eating several pieces, the comment du jour being, "dis good. Not so sweet" (you gotta do your own Rean accent). Aunty Sunny even asked if I would make this cake for Denise's birthday.

In terms of consumption, the Hamano uncles don't disappoint. Uncle John ate 3 pieces of cake. I think Uncle James ate the same amount! Is Uncle John losing his touch as the dessert king? When I made Crystal Coffee Cake in May, I'm sure Uncle James ate more than Uncle John.  This is amazing, considering Uncle John's history of sugar intake.  Uncle John once put away 16 roasted marshmallows after having two servings of both dinner and dessert.

The baking time provided for the recipe is if you are using a conventional 9 x 13" pan. If you are like me and bought the heavy Nordic Ware one with the nice raised plastic cover, add 5 minutes to the upper end of the cooking time.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Its been a while since I posted something. . .been busy with work.  But Summer vacation is here so this gives me an opportunity to pay more attention to my blog.

The last full week of May was unbelievably busy.  In addition to shit hitting the fan at work, there was tons of stuff going on outside of my work.  Both D1 and D2 had end of school year activities that required them to bring something to eat/share.  I had a luncheon at work, and the kids also hosted a get-together with friends to celebrate the end of Spring Ballet season.  All that might sound like a lot of cooking, but I took the easy way out.  I made Brownies From Heaven.

Brownies From Heaven is a from-scratch brownie recipe which was featured in the Honolulu Star Advertiser a little over a year ago.  Since then, I have made it countless times.  Although it lacks the shiny top that box brownies has, its made with natural ingredients.  But the kicker for me is that its made with just a few dishes, making cleanup a snap.  It also has just a few ingredients so by the time my last event rolled around, I had the recipe memorized.

Right now, I'm pretty sick of looking at or even thinking about brownies, so I'm saving that for another post.  What I'd like to talk about this time is chocolate chip cookies.

I never really considered myself a chocolate chip cookie fan.  Don't get me wrong . . . I ate the stuff, I baked the stuff, I bought the stuff, but it was never at the top of my "crave" list.  But it appears that I'm surrounded by people who think differently from me.  Everyone in my family loves chocolate chip cookies.  When I've taken chocolate chip cookies to workshops, I've heard people have actually fought over the leftovers.  A coworker once took some home to her husband, and he single handedly polished off over 3 dozen cookies in less than 2 days.  I also stood at the refreshment table once and watched, with great fascination, as a coworker ate 5 cookies in rapid succession and admitted she couldn't get enough.

My coworker with the cookie monster husband tells me she has a Kitchenaid mixer still in the box.  Over a year after she told me initially, she re-stated that the mixer was still in the box.  What a shame . . . in the Kitchenaid mixer box is a treasure trove of recipes . . . the owner's manual.  That is where I the chocolate chip cookie recipe which has become regarded as the holy grail of cookies. . .I just tweaked it a little to suit my taste.