Archive for June, 2012

Kelp Noodles

Kelp noodles are great! These may look strange, maybe like they made out of plastic, but these sure are edible and healthy. They are like rice-based glass or cellophane noodles but are made out of sea vegetables (kelp and sodium alginate from brown seaweed) and water and can be used just like any other type of pasta noodle. Kelp noodles are a raw, vegan and gluten-free alternative to pastas made out of rice, buckwheat, wheat, and other grains. Think of these noodles like other raw vegetable “noodles” made with “spiralized” zucchinis or cucumbers (this is the slicer I use, and here are some delicious looking recipes) or like cooked spaghetti squash. Since kelp noodles are made out of seaweed, they are rather nutritious, containing your daily value of 15 percent calcium, 4 percent iron and 4 percent fiber, only 6 calories, and no carbohydrates. That’s pretty amazing for a food is that is clear!

Kelp noodles have an extremely mild seaweed flavor and are very easy to season with herbs, spices and dressings. It’s usually a good idea to use some sort of acid in your sauce to marinate the noodles and soften them, unless you like your noodles a bit crunchy. Although the noodles are healthier for you raw, you can cook them with stir-frying or boiling. Kelp noodles are good in soup, salad and pasta dishes. Your possibilities are really endless, since these noodles are so versatile. Sea Tangle Noodle Company makes plain and green tea flavored kelp noodles, and Gold Mine Natural Foods also makes plain flavored kelp noodles, too. There are all sorts of recipes I want to try making with kelp noodles. I’m going to post some more recipes that I want to try out and got a few from the back of the Sea Tangle Noodle Company kelp noodle package.

Kelp Noodle Salad
I adapted this recipe from one that was printed on the back of the kelp noodle package so that we have actual quantities and not just a list of ingredients.
Serves 6

1 pkg Kelp Noodles, rinsed, cut into desired length
3 – 6 T Honey Mustard Salad Dressing
3 Cucumbers, trimmed, seeded, thinly sliced or spiral cut to desired length
6 Carrots, trimmed, sliced thinly
Salt, to taste

Combine the ingredients in a large glass mixing bowl with a wooden or plastic spoon. Set the sauced noodles aside for 20 to 30 minutes to soften them. Stir in salt to your preference. Serve.

Pasta with Lamb Sausage & Mixed Vegetables

Pasta, Lamb, Green Beans & Peas
After a long day of visiting with downtown Petaluma with my mom when she was visiting, I threw this together. To be honest, I had to adjust the flavors a lot, since I didn’t quite get the flavors right the first time. I was so tired, I forgot to taste the dish as I was adding in ingredients and cooking them; I was kind of just throwing things in the pan. I’m glad I was able to fix the flavors pretty easily though.

I used the locally made lamb sausage from Own Family Farm that I bought at the Sebastopol Farmer’s Market. Thankfully this farm used to also sell their meats at the Santa Rosa Farmer’s Market twice a month when the market was still located at the Veterans’ Memorial Building parking lot, but that was before I moved to Petaluma.

Since then, the market has relocated to the Santa Rosa Wells Fargo Center, which is practically in Windsor. The Redwood Empire Farmer’s Market has moved into the Veterans’ Memorial Building lot (with lots of contention and controversy). I have not had a chance to go back yet. Does anyone gone back to the Veterans’ Memorial Building farmers market since Redwood Empire moved in? The “Original Santa Rosa Farmers Market” is having their grand opening at the Wells Fargo Center on June 30th. I’m interested in checking it out, but it’s located rather far away from me know. Thankfully, Petaluma, Cotati and Rohnert Park have summer farmers markets, which are all much much closer; here is a current list of all of the Sonoma County farmers markets.

Rice Pasta Shells with Lamb Sausage, Green Beans & Peas
Serves 8 to 10

Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Grape Seed Oil Cooking Spray
1 – 1 1/2 lb Moroccan-Spiced Lamb Sausage, sliced or casings removed
5 – 6 T Chopped or Minced Garlic
1/2 Medium White or Yellow Onion, finely chopped
1/4 – 1/2 tsp Mixed Peppercorns, fresh ground
1/4 tsp Ground Sweet or Smoked Spanish Paprika
2 tsp Cumin Seeds, toasted ground
Filtered Water
Pinch Sea Salt
4 Celery Stalks, trimmed, chopped
2 C Fresh or Frozen Green Peas
2 C Fresh or Frozen Green Beans, cut into bite size pieces
1/4 tsp Poultry Seasoning
OR 1/4 tsp Italian Seasoning
OR 1/4 tsp Moroccan Seasoning
1 T Dried Parsley
1 pkg Small Rice Pasta Shells
3 Scallions, trimmed, sliced
1/2 – 2/3 C Raw Almonds, soaked, dehydrated
Daiya Mozzarella Cheese Shreds, optional garnish

Cook the pasta according to the package directions until they are al dente. Drain and rise. Set aside.

Brown the sausage over medium heat in a lightly oiled pan over medium-low heat. Saute with the garlic, onion, pepper and paprika until the onions are translucent. Pour in the water and vegetables for three minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix in the herbs. Cook the mixture until the vegetables are tender-crisp. Stir in the noodles, cooking until the noodles are soft. Remove the pan from the heat.

Transfer the mixture to a cool serving bowl. Stir in the almonds and scallions with a large wooden spoon. Season with pepper and salt to your preference. Sprinkle on the cheese. Serve with a green side salad.

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Brownies

I’ve been craving chocolate, and I think I might have low iron right now, which means it’s time to make a double batch of black bean chocolate brownies. I re-adapted the recipe Adriann used for the brownies she made earlier this year, since I felt like making a peanut butter chocolate version. My brownies are not only gluten-free but vegan, as well, since I used dairy-free chocolate and peanut butter morsels and used “chia” eggs.

Black Bean Brownies with Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chips
Adapted from Fudgy Black Bean Brownies
Serves 20 two-inch brownie bars

3 C Cooked Black Beans, drained, rinsed*
6 T Chia Seeds, fresh ground
1 1/2 C Filtered Water
6 T Smooth Applesauce
1/2 – 1 C Unsweetened Crunchy or Smooth Peanut Butter
1 C Sucanat
1 1/2 – 2 C Unsweetened Cacao Powder
3 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 tsp Baking Powder**
1 Big Pinch Sea Salt
1 1/2 C Vegan Dark or Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, divided
1 1/2 C Vegan Peanut Butter Chunks, chopped, divided

*Make sure to properly prepare your beans by sorting and soaking them to make them tasty and easier to digest (removing the phytic acid and indigestible sugars and softening the fiber).

**The brownies were supposed to rise more, but I forgot to add the baking powder.

Mix the seeds and water with a fork in a medium sized bowl to form the “eggs”. Set this mixture aside for 15 minutes. You want a thick egg-like consistency, so adjust your water to seed ratios accordingly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil two glass 8 inch square baking pans or dishes. Dust the pans with cacao powder to prevent the brownies from sticking to the sides of the pans and make them easier to serve. Set the pans aside.

In a food processor or high speed blender, puree the beans with the apple sauce, peanut butter and “eggs” until they are smooth and creamy. Add in the sucanat, vanilla extract, baking powder and salt and mix until the batter is smooth. Since there is so much batter, I split mine into three batches to mix it all in my food processor, emptying each third to a large mixing bowl once the mix was smooth. (I should have used my Vitamix instead.) I mixed these all together with the cacao powder in the bowl with a large wooden spoon. Fold in half of the chocolate and peanut butter chips.

Pour the batter into the pans. Evenly distribute the batter with the back of a spoon or rubber spatula. Sprinkle the remaining chips across the top of the batter.

Bake the batter for 35 minutes or until the brownie edges shrink away from the sides of the pan; the top chocolate chips and peanut butter chunks should be shiny, soft and slightly melted. Bake each pan of brownies separately. Remove the brownies from the oven, and cool them in the pans for at least 15 to 30 minutes on a wire rack before cutting them into 2-inch squares and serving them. If your brownies still have a squishy bread pudding-like consistency after cooling completely, chill them in the refrigerator for a few hours to solidify the brownie bars.

Vegan Nut Butter, Chocolate & Carob Chunks

I love sweet little chip morsels, but most of them contain soy, dairy or unnecessary additives. When I read Leanne Vogel’s entry on Almond Buckwheat Goji Raw Bars over at Healthful Pursuit, I noticed that she also included instructions for making your own chocolate and carob chunks, which is great if you want to make sweet tasty treats from scratch. I thought, why not make nut butter chips using this recipe as a guide. This would be great for making cashew, almond or peanut butter chunks to put into cookies.

Peanut Butter Chunks
Yields 1 cup of peanut butter chunks.

1/2 C Peanut or Other Nut Butter
1/2 C Coconut Oil, melted in bowl of hot water
1 – 4 tsp Agave Nectar*

Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper. In a bowl mix all of the ingredients together. Pour the mixture into the pan. Chill flat in the freezer for 30 minutes or until it solidifies. Chop up the mixture into chunks. Store the chunks in a sealed plastic bag or container in the freezer until you are ready to use them. When you are ready to use them, you may have chop or break up the chunks again. Work fast, or they will melt.

Carob or Chocolate Chunks
Yields 1 cup of carob or chocolate chunks.

1/2 C Raw or Toasted Carob or Cacao Powder
1/2 C Coconut Oil, melted in bowl of hot water
1 – 4 tsp Agave Nectar*

Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper. In a bowl mix all of the ingredients together. Pour the mixture into the pan. Chill flat in the freezer for 30 minutes or until it solidifies. Chop up the mixture into chunks. Store the chunks in a sealed plastic bag or container in the freezer until you are ready to use them.

*If you don’t mind vegetarian morsels instead of vegan ones, you can substitute the agave nectar with honey.

Thai Lime Chili Cashews with Cilantro and Lemongrass

I really like Trader Joe’s Thai Lime & Chili Cashews, but they are kind of on the expensive side, especially if I bought them as often as I’d like to. I decided to make them for Father’s Day, since my dad really enjoyed eating them last Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any recipes online that include all of the ingredients listed on the package, only some of them, so I’ve looked at several to try to figure out the amounts. Regardless, this recipe creation required repeated taste testing as I mixed ingredients in and adjusted the proportions. The ingredient list is as follows: cashew nuts, Thai lime leaves, chile, lemongrass, lime powder, chili powder, sugar, salt, canola oil, rice bran oil. I often have raw cashews in my pantry, since I frequently buy them at Oliver’s, Community Market or Whole Foods to add extra protein into my diet. It kind of figures that I finally found Thai lime leaves (also commonly known as kaffir lime but kaffir is derogatory) and Thai chilis at the Thai Lao Market after visiting a few other Asian markets in Cotati and Santa Rosa, who really didn’t carry many (if any) Thai food items in stock. I also bought some pandan for making some other exotic dessert recipes later. I bought all of my other dry spices and herbs at Savory Spice Shop, including the lemongrass and California sweet paprika (which I’m using instead of chili powder), which I also use to make herbal tea. I’m going to use lime juice in lieu of lime powder, and I’m not going to worry about the rice bran oil but will substitute it with extra virgin olive oil.

Sometimes in life even though we are warned about potentially harmful or painful things by numerous people, we do not approach those dangers with sufficient caution. I chalk this up to stubbornness and inexperience. Well, this is what happened to me and the chilis. Although they are small, cute and colorful, do not let them fool you! They contain oils in their flesh and seeds that are very irritating to non-calloused skin, like lips and under fingernails, and mucus membranes, such as those in your eyes, mouth and nose. These oils cause burning sensations, itching and tingling, which are no fun. Trust me. I have already rather sensitive skin, and I had an eye itch. Ouch! I was really careful not to touch anything at all while I was cutting up the chilis, too, and also washed my hands at least five times with anti-bacterial soap. Those precautions were not enough! The oils stayed on my fingers, especially under and around my nails.

Before even thinking about handling Thai chili peppers, buy yourself a pair of non-porous gloves made out of latex or silicone or a finger nail brush and some really, really good oil-dissolving or oil-stripping dish soap. If you do touch anything, consider it contaminated with the irritating oils. I touched hand towels with each hand washing, so I’m sure that didn’t help either. Once I realized that the soap I used was not working as much as I needed it to, I set them aside to be washed alone (as if I had touched them after getting poison oak or poison ivy, which both contain common allergens). I tried our cheap dish soap, and dried my hands with a paper towel; that didn’t work. I switched to Castile soap and scrubbed my hands thoroughly with my nail brush, rinsing with hot water. This worked only a little bit with each repeated washing, but at least it worked to get the oils off eventually. Don’t just be careful with the chilis, be overly prepared and overly cautious, otherwise you may find yourself in an uncomfortable situation unable eat finger foods without utensils, scratch your nose, rub your eyes, etc. I think you get the idea.

Anyway, just to be on the safe side, I tried to be conservative with the spices. I only added one chili at a time to the mixture before adding in the nuts. Once you have too much any ingredient, you can’t go back and remove it; you can only start over from step one. I even gradually added the garlic, too, which I usually add more of whenever a recipe includes it.  Be careful of the citrus-related ingredients, too. You don’t want to only taste lime and hardly anything else. My dad has to closely monitor his sugar and salt intakes due to health reasons, so I eased up on those amounts, too, and used raw blue agave nectar instead of refined sugar.

Thai Chili Lime Cashews with Cilantro and Lemongrass
Adapted from Roasted Chili Lime Chickpeas, Chili-Lime Cashews and Thai Pesto Sauce
Serving Size 15 to 20 Nuts

1 T Chia Seeds
1 tsp Dried Lemongrass Leaves
OR 1 T Fresh Lemongrass Leaves, minced
1/2 – 1 tsp California Sweet Paprika, ground
5 T Filtered Water
2 T Minced Garlic
1/2 tsp Fine Ground Sea Salt, more as needed
1 C Fresh Cilantro, stemmed
3 – 4 Fresh Thai Lime (Double) Leaves, midrib removed
5 – 6 Thai Chili Peppers, stemmed, seeded, chopped*
1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 T + 1 tsp Lime Juice
2 T Filtered Water
1 – 2 tsp Raw Organic Agave Syrup
3 C Raw Whole Cashews, Soaked & Dehydrated
Fresh Ground Mixed Peppercorns, as needed

*You can grind and add in some some of the excluded chili seeds for extra spiciness but do so with caution and gradually, tasting often. Once the sauce is too spicy, there’s no way to fix it without much difficulty.

In a spice grinder, mix together the chia, lemongrass** and paprika in about 4 5-second intervals or until they are mostly powdered. Empty the contents into a small mixing bowl. Gradually stir in 5 tablespoons of water with a fork. Set aside for 5 minutes. Stir again;set aside. Repeat.

Separately in a food processor, puree the garlic, salt, cilantro, lime leaves and 1 to 2 chili peppers with the oil, lime juice, water and 1 teaspoon of agave. Combine the puree with the chia mixture. Cover the bowl. Chill the sauce for six hours to let the flavors meld together. Adjust the flavors to your preference.
With a large spoon in a large glass bowl, thoroughly coat the cashews with the sauce. Cover the bowl. Chill over night to let the flavors sink in. Adjust the flavors again if necessary.

Transfer the nuts onto parchment paper-lined dehydrator trays. Spread out the nuts on the paper to prevent clumping; this also helps promote faster drying. Set the dehydrator to 105 degrees F. Dehydrate the nuts for about 48 to 60 hours. Yes, I know this is a long time to wait, but it’s worth it. You might want to check on the drying progress as time elapses by feeling how crunchy they are when you taste one. This is also a way to judge spiciness and flavor intensity.

If you decide after dehydrating your cashews that they are still not spicy or salty enough, you can add ground sea salt and ground mixed pepper as needed when the nuts are still hot. Mix the spices in with a large spoon until they are incorporated; don’t worry if some granules will still fall off. When the cashews are completely cool, store them in an airtight container, like a lidded glass mason jar.

**If you use fresh lemongrass leaves, puree them with the other fresh sauce herbs and spices.

Raw Nut Preparation: Soaking & Dehydrating

Whenever I purchase seeds and nuts from the local organic stores, like Whole Foods, Community Market or Oliver’s Market, I try to always buy pounds at a time from the bulk bin section to save money. I also like to reuse the bags I pour them into in order to reduce waste; if you decide to reuse yours, make sure you clean them really well first to avoid contamination. Some stores even give you a discounts for reusing bags. One cashier even gave me a discount for each reused bag I put my produce and nuts into, too, in addition to the discounts for bring in my own fabric shopping bags. I saved a lot of money that trip! At Community Market for each fabric shopping bag you use to take your purchases home in, you receive a token to donate towards a charity of your choice; each token represents a either a dime or nickle (I can’t remember which) that the store will donate on your behalf; Whole Foods has a similar program for donating to a charity of your choice in exchange for bringing in your own fabric shopping bags (or you can choose to keep your nickle). Either way, many many people bring in their bags to shop, that’s a significant amount of money donations. Giving back always makes me feel warm and fuzzy. 🙂

Anyway, back to the nuts. (I will talk about seed sprouting in a future post.) Before I start, I always turn to my books by Ani Phyo and Sarma Melngailis, who have fantastic healthy recipes, present readers with nutrition facts and are both very inspiring wome. It is very important to soak your nuts before you eat them if you want them raw, which is healthier for you than eating them straight or cooked due to all of the great amino acids and vitamins within the raw nut “meat”. Some vitamins are also fragile and break down when exposed to high heat that they are therefore no longer available to you after they are cooked. Soaking the nuts is like soaking beans; it helps get rid of bad stuff, including dust, residues and acids. In this case, you want to use salted water to speed up the process of leaching out the tannic and phytic acids, which in turn improves flavor and allows more efficient nutrient absorption and digestion.

Make sure that you shell your nuts or buy pre-shelled nuts before soaking. Always use a covered airtight (to prevent bacterial contamination) glass bowl and other non-reactive tools (plastic or stainless steel fine mesh strainer and wooden or plastic spoon to prevent oxidation) when preparing raw food. You also want to use at least twice as much water than nuts, since they will double in size. Keep an eye on your water level, and add more water to the bowl if necessary.

The amount of time required to soak the nuts is directly related to their hardness. Harder nuts take longer, some 8 to 12 hours, whereas the softer ones, only need 20 minutes to 4 hours. Visit Raw Food Living for a helpful soaking and sprouting chart. The range in soaking times depends on the ambient room temperature, so if you are using a warmer kitchen, your soaking times is lessened. Be careful though; your nuts should not get above about 72 degrees F. I always soak mine at room temperature, but some other people soak theirs in the refrigerator. If you are unsure of your nut’s leaching progress, just rinse one off and taste it. If it’s still acidic, put it back in the water. Any time after the midway point, you can change out the cloudy water for fresh water; just make sure to only use filtered water and more salt. (Filtered is best, but water that has sat out about for 20 to 30 minutes to release chlorine, other gases or even sediment is better than straight from the tap.) If you soak your nuts past the maximum time limit, they can ferment and turn sour. Trust me. If that’s not your intent, fermented nuts are a waste of time, money and food. I probably could have made nut cheese or something, but I didn’t know about that option at the time and threw all of my brand new nuts away, which was very sad and frustrating.

The nuts I eat the most often are cashews, almonds and sunflower seeds. Unfortunately due to several salmonella contamination incidents in 2001 and 2004 at non-organic almond farms, all almonds grown in the US and sold in American stores are either pasteurized with steam (which cooks the nuts) or propylene oxide (a former insecticide and racing fuel and a probable carcinogen) according to federal law since 2007. Hurray. 😦 I was recently very confused and shocked to see Oliver’s “raw” organic almonds now relabeled as steam-pasteurized. Bummer. I’m glad the shoppers are now better informed though. I still soak mine anyway to get rid of the acids to prevent heartburn and to aid digestion; I’m in trouble if I don’t. Thankfully, many farmers who sell almonds at US farmers markets are not required to pasteurize with either method, which may explain why they are always more expensive. Almond growers in Europe are also not required to pasteurize their almonds.

Let’s look at soaking cashews.

Cashews for Snacking (& Adding to Other Recipes)

2 lbs Whole Cashew Nuts, shelled
Filtered Water
1 T Sea Salt, ground

Sort your cashews, discarding any that are discolored. Try to remove bits of remaining skin from the nuts, otherwise they will cause dark discolorations. Sprinkle the salt into your soaking container. Pour in the nuts. Add twice as much water than nuts to the bowl. Stir them together to dissolve the salt. Cover your bowl with an airtight lid. Soak your cashews for two to four hours. Drain your nuts into a fine mesh colander, so you don’t loose any bits. Rise the cashews with cold water until it turns clear.

Place your flexible sheets or parchment paper onto the dehydrator trays. Transfer your nuts onto the trays.* Set your dehydrator temperature to either 105 or 115 degrees F. Dehydrate your nuts for at least 6 hours or longer, depending on ambient humidity. The nut meat is sufficiently dry when it makes a slight snapping sound as you break a piece in half and the color of the flesh of the nuts is a consistent shade of beige all the way through along the broken edge.

*On sunny days, you can use a solar oven or food dehydrator with a built-in fan and thermometer. You don’t want your food to get too hot. Here is a neat website that shows you how to build your own dehydrator, and this site has even more great design options. As another option for those of you who live in a climate region with dry summers, like my parents do, you can leave your nuts out in a baking sheet or jelly roll pan covered with a few paper towels in a warm place in the kitchen to dry for 8 to 12 hours or overnight. If I tried this where I live the nut’s would ferment or start to mold. Yuck. 😦

Brown Rice Mochi

A while back I bought two kinds of Grainaissance’s organic brown rice mochi at Community Market; Whole Foods also sells them. These mochi cakes are naturally gluten and dairy-free, which made me doubly intrigued, and since they are whole grain brown rice flour-based, the cakes have many more nutrients than most mochi manju, which are made with white glutenous rice flour (does not actually contain gluten). In each package comes a single rectangular block of hardened mochi dough with the flavorings already mixed in. The block may look small for the eight servings listed on the back, but the dough expands up to two times it’s original size while it cooks! Grainaissance makes eight tasty looking cook-and-slice kinds of organic brown rice mochi in sweet and savory flavors, including original, which contains only rice and water. There are so may great options to choose from, but I’m eager to try out the sesame-garlic when I go buy more.

chocolate mochi puffs

First, I tried the Chocolate Brownie Mochi, apparently their most popular flavor. It was a nice rich dark brown color and a really nice dark chocolate aroma. I cheated and tasted the dough as I was cutting it; it tasted really good even then. Just keep in mind that brown rice has a rich flavor all its own, so the flavor actually turned out rather subtle. Although sugar (evaporated cane crystals) is listed in the ingredients, the mochi dough in not as sweet or chocolaty as I exected. The package suggests possibly drizzling a sauce on top, which would add more flavor, sweetness and moisture. For umph, you can also brush some sauce on top of the squares with a pastry brush.

The directions say to cut the brownies into one to two-inch squares before baking them. I am so glad I chose to cut them into a one square-inch size in order to make 16 servings instead; the mochi cake expanded so much, two inches would have been way to big. I recommend scarfing on the brownies as soon as they are cool enough to handle. The mochi pieces are best when they are warm. Unfortunately, I should have only cooked half. I ended up only eating one or two squares at a time and took my time eating them.  I ended leaving a bunch out to snack on, so I’d have more time to savor them. This wasn’t the best idea, as I found out that they get rather dry as they cool. Thank goodness it was still kind of soft on the inside and still edible.

To help them retain some moisture, I stored the rest of the batch in an airtight glass jar when they were still a bit warm. Well, the evaporated water formed into condensation on the inside of the glass and was reabsorbed by the brownies over time, maybe within a couple of hours. When I reopened the jar to have some pieces on the next day, the mochi was extremely chewy and kind of tough, so they felt stale but still tasted fine. I recommend definitely making these in batches, only cooking as much as you are willing to eat in one sitting. This way they have a better texture, are easier to eat and are still nice and warm.

Maybe reducing the temperature from the direction’s 450 degrees F and increasing the cooking time a bit would help retain some moisture; Becky at Snackrobiotic cooked them at 400 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes instead. I’ll have to try that with my next batch. I’m sure you can cook the mochi another way instead, but I’m not sure how the batch will turn out. Mochi that is cooked dry or with oil (grilled, baked or broiled) has a completely different texture, soft inside but slightly crispy outside, holding less moisture like mine turned out. I have also read suggestions for putting mochi cakes in sweet or savory soups, which I’ll have to try. Have you tried any of these soups before? At Nijiya Market in Japantown, I saw packages of white mochi cakes and wondered what they were for…. This is the type of kirimochi or kakumochi those websites were talking about. I love learning new cooking techniques and dishes!

The second batch to cook is Super Seed Mochi, which means I have more flavor options to make sweet or savory snacks. I think I’ll make a sauce to ladle over the top or make a dip to dunk the pieces into. Oh! Here’s an idea! Mochi waffles! (They are also known as moffles.)  Cut the mochi cake up into one-inch pieces, and cooked them in a waffle iron. The squares will pool together as they cook, creating a perfect food shape to spread nut butter, fruit puree or sauce onto. Any of the Grainaissance mochi flavors would be great to make waffles with. You can make sweet or savory ones; you can eat them as a flat-ish round with a knife and fork  or roll them up to make crepe or sandwich wrap-like dishes. You can also make mochi waffles with white rice mochi dough, too, but it’s not as flavorful or nutritious as brown brown rice mochi. I have also seen the moffle sandwiches, mochi waffles made into large enclosed sandwich-type waffle tarts. You can also cook soft mochi dough into moffles, too, in a waffle maker. Moffles have become so popular in Japan, that a couple companies actually make moffle makers; see the video below. They are kind of ridiculous.

The Grainaissance website states that the mochi can be stuffed with your favorite filling, which I hadn’t considered before. You have to slice and stuff them as soon as they are still warm but cool enough to handle. You don’t have to make little sandwiches, like in the picture to the right; you can stuff them with chopped nuts, vegetables or fruit, cashew cream, preserves, cheese, or whatever you like. Grainaissance also posted recipes, flavor combinations and techniques for preparing filled mochi. If you want, you can also e-mail the company with your address, and they will send you a recipe booklet.

There are other companies that make mochi cakes like this, too, like Eden and Mitoku. There are several other Japanese companies that make kirimochi that you can also use; just cut it up and prepare it like the brown rice mochi cakes. Although called other names, there are similar versions of the Japanese rice cakes that are made in China and Korea, so there may be some Asian markets that sell pre-made mochi-like cakes or dumplings that are made by Chinese and Korean companies, too. Here is Ahisma’s recipe over at “Like Mama Said” to make your own sugar-free mochi cake! It suggests that you divide the steamed rice in half in order to make two different dough flavors.  I will definitely have to try this. The mochi recipe is rather simple and very adjustable, so that you can make your own flavors.

Have fun making and enjoying your mochi creations. Which ingredients do you like use to make mochi? Which types of mochi have you tried? Which flavors do you like best?

Visit to Japantown with My Brother, Part 2

Super Mira grocery store is devoted to Japanese and organic foods. Their assortment of local organics and gluten-free items was very impressive. I was totally amazed that they have the S&B gluten-free Curry Prince roux mixes, which I previously talked about here*. I’m so glad they carry so many local products instead of importing everything from overseas; I was pleasantly pleased to see so many packages of organic foods that I have seen at Whole Foods, Oliver’s and Community Market up here in Sonoma County. This means the foods are fresher, which hopefully also makes the prices much more reasonable (actually rather decent) for the store and their customers. They had bakery counter and fresh made-to-order sushi, too. The service people were very friendly, and the store is really neat and clean. The store has a blog, where they post current sales, recommendations and other information, which is written half in Japanese, but they do have a good number of helpful pictures.

Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop is a bakery located inside the market and has been in business for 38 years! That’s a really long time, considering the relatively quick lifespans of so many businesses in Japantown, especially so close to the malls. Unfortunately, we visited Japantown on a Sunday, so the bakery counter (along with several other shops in the area) was closed and bakery cases empty. Although I definitely cannot eat any of their creamy glutinous baked delights, there are several enticing pictures and reviews from Yasukochi’s happy customers over at Yelp, absolutely raving about how great they are.

In Super Mira’s sauce and curry section, I found the S & B “Curry no Ohji-Sama” sweet curry roux mixes that I previously posted about in this entry, to which I recently made a correction regarding the gluten content. When I looked at the list of ingredients on the red and blue boxes, I found that both of them are gluten-free. I bought one of each to try them out (I will try to post the cooking and taste test results later). The directions on the back of both boxes say to add lean beef or chicken, onions, carrot and potato, but I’m sure you can add other meats and/or vegetables if you prefer. The red box holds a vegetable curry, which is vegan as far as I can tell (There are pictures of vegetables on the front, and the English language sticker says “no meat contained”). The roux bar provides six servings, each 70 calories, without any significant nutritional value other than 590mg (24% of your daily needed) sodium. The blue box doesn’t not have a picture on the front that suggests a particular flavor, so your guess is as good as mine unless you can read Japanese. The ingredients the blue box does list non-calcinated shell calcium (perhaps to boost the otherwise rather insignificant amount of vitamins and minerals), which therefore makes the sauce non-vegan. This boxed mix also serves six, each serving has 60 calories and 560mg sodium (23% of your daily value). Although multiple locations carry the red boxed mix, I’m under the impression that the blue one is pretty popular, too; I bought the last one in the store. Remember, you can always create more serving, add nutrients and dilute the sodium by adding more vegetables, liquid, meat, nuts, seeds, grains, noddles or what-have-you than the directions call for. Let me know what you come up with.

Nijiya Market never ceases to amaze me. It has a huge selection, which now features lots of local and organic products (not just imports). I was pleasantly pleased to find taiyaki (grilled sea bream fish-shaped waffles or “cakes” filled with nut butter, fruit, sweet bean paste, pudding or ice cream) in the freezer section. I kind of want a taiyaki maker for myself to make my own ice cream sandwich fish; they are very popular treat in Japan and taste scrumptious. Imagine eating ice cream on a regular waffle cone, except the light crispy waffle completely surrounds the semi-soft ice cream center instead of the cone just serving as the ice cream holder that your hands from cold and stickiness. It’s so good! Some types of taiyaki have various fillings (sometimes one or two fillings per fish-shaped cake) or batters, like brown sugar, green tea, chocolate, strawberry or vanilla. I found some gluten-free recipes! One recipe includes red bean filling, and the other uses blueberry filling. Here’s a video that shows how to make the non-ice cream ones. You can use it as a guideline and substitute one of the bean-based fillings for ice cream if you want to; just refreeze the taiyaki once they are done cooking.

Anyway, there was a whole section of furikake (rice seasonings); the three I bought now brings my collection up to five varieties (shrimp, bonito fish, seaweed, mixed vegetable and beefsteak plant; the salmon one is also very good) in my cupboard . I’m not sure if it’s because they are the most profitable sections in the store, but there are multiple aisles devoted just to confections and snacks, more than I anticipated. After the company’s focus on and attention to organic foods, I found the shear quantity kind of shocking. Is it due to all the visiting tourist customers wanting a quick snack that there’s so much junk food? I don’t think the people living and working in the Japantown neighborhood actually buy that much unhealthy food to warrant the huge amount in the store, but maybe I’m just being presumptuous.

One of the newest food features is the market’s huge refrigerated section of freshly-made, ready-to-go bento-style boxed lunches and noodle soups that they make onsite. I was very impressed with the variety of dishes available, all garnished in rainbow of color. I don’t know why I didn’t noticed them before, but Nijiya Market is actually a chain of stores that specializes in organic produce and products and publishes their own free Japanese foods magazine, called Gochiso, that started back in 2005. The seasonal and annual issues are printed in Japanese, Chinese and English language versions with lots of full-color Nijiya Market Ricephotographs, articles on health, certain ingredients and certain types of dishes, like onigiri or maki. Nijiya also has an online store, where they sell their own lines of organic rice and flours. Who knew there are that many organic varieties commercially available? I couldn’t help staring at them in awe and wonder when my brother and I were in the store. I wonder what the customary uses are and what the flavors and textures are like for all of the rice types…, but I know I can eat them all! Nijiya Markets also has its own food blog with recipe entries in English and Japanese, which is really cool, as they post a new one about every two weeks.

Kissako Tea is a cute little booth or kiosk that sells a nice variety of dumpling-style wagashi (bite-size Japanese desserts); here’s a fantastic blog that is almost entirely devoted to Japanese dessert recipes. I love mochi! Traditionally, the dough was made out of rice that was steamed and then beaten smooth, but now finely ground rice flour is mixed with water to make dough and then steamed. Either way, since mochi manju (“beaten rice dumpling”) dough is naturally gluten-free, I can eat it! Fresh mochi is soft and kind of stretchy if it is made with steamed rice. The dough is really sticky, so it’s dusted with starch made from corn, arrowroot or potatoes. Steamed mochi dough is usually dyed with naturally tinted ingredients, like cacao, fruit juice, green tea powder or ground mugwort to create muted or pastel colors and sweetened with sugar or honey. Manju is either solid rolled dough with mixed-in flavor (reminds me of squishy marshmallows) or filled with something sweet, like ice cream, bean paste, chocolate, gelatin, nut butter, etc. To me, filled mochi are seem like a cross between jelly-filled gummy candy and fruit-filled marzipan. Make sure you keep your soft mochi tightly wrapped and refrigerated if you aren’t going to eat them right away, otherwise they will harden as the dough dries.

Kissako makes two different kinds of kushi dango (skewered dumpling clutster), which consist of three or four round steamed mochi manju threaded onto a bamboo skewer, like a kebab. There are lots of different kinds of dango in Japanese cuisine. Mitarashi kushi dango is made with four small solid white mochi manju covered with mitarashi sauce, which is a simple gluten-free soy sauce drizzle with mirin. Botchan (or bocchan) kushi dango is made with three medium dark red bean paste balls that are covered in sugar-sweetened pink, white or yellow, and green  glutenous rice doughs that are mixed respectively with sweet red bean paste, nothing (for white) or egg yolk, and green tea or mugwort powder (these powdered yield different shades of green) for color (if you make your own at home, you can adjust the amounts of add-ins to adjust the color intensities) and usually dusted with starch or flour. The kushi dango that I ordered were absolutely perfect. I was extremely impressed. Although Kissako makes all of their mochi in San Jose (from what I remember), the dumplings were soft and moist with stretchy dough and very smooth bean paste filling. I liked the dango so much, I couldn’t help buying a second one to enjoy later in the night.

For those of you who are gluten-free, watch out! Not all manju are gluten-free; only mochi manju is made with rice. There are several recipes that look like mochi that actually contain wheat. These are also steamed or baked dessert dumplings filled with sweet pastes or creams.The only way I can tell the difference is by looking at them. Mochi is generally dusted and has a semi-transparent texture if the dough is steamed, whereas baked mochi is very shiny on top. Wheat-based manju has a flatter or more matte texture when you look at it. (I’m not sure if this hold true all of the time, but from what I have seen, wheat dough manipulated into decoratively shaped manju seem hold their intended structure better. The sames might instead denote the artisan’s skill level or the use of certain kitchen tools…, but I’m not sure. Does anyone know?) If the manju is coated in sauce or drizzled with something sugary, there’s really no way to tell what you’re looking at. In this case, do not be afraid to just ask the sales clerk directly. There are lots and lots of mochi, manju, and other wagashi confections out there. Personally I am unacquainted with most of them, except for a scant few that I only recognize by sight, not by name.

Kaissako Tea makes their teriyaki chicken, salmon, picked plum, seaweed, and beef onigiri (rice balls with fillings) in fresh at their booth all day long, which is a relief, since all of their flavors are so popular. If they run out of a certain kind, just ask them to make more for you. My brother got a teriyaki chicken rice ball to snack on, and I got a seaweed one. Both flavors tasted really good (he let me try a bite) and satisfying. They were all pretty big, which was a surprise, as they were really cheaply priced at only $1.75. They way the Kissako Tea folks made them was different to me, since they used a mold to sandwich a layer of seasoned vegetables or meat between two layers of steamed rice (and to save time). I’m used to making them by shaping a bowl-shaped pocket out of rice with my hands, filling the pocket with stuff and packing more rice on top and shaping the onigiri into pyramids or spheres. I have also seen onigiri with the seasoned fillings just mixed in with the rice that is then shaped. Either way, after shaping them, the slightly sticky rice balls are wrapped in small nori seaweed sheets, like a taco, so that they are easier to eat without getting your hands all sticky. Kissako’s onigiri, as well as all of their other treats, would pair very well with many of their green tea selections. I wish we had had time to sit, chat and munch on our treats while sipping hot tea, but it was getting rather late. Instead, we chatted and snacked on our way back to the car, so that we could arrive at my house at a reasonable hour.

*The previous article I read about the Prince Curry mixes was incorrect. The red and blue boxes are both gluten-free, containing sorghum instead, only varying in flavor.

Visit to Japantown with My Brother, Part 1

After a couple of weeks visiting my folks, my brother and I had a perfect opportunity to hang out for few days without Mom and Dad (they went on vacation in Yosemite National Park near the end of my visit to celebrate Mom’s official retirement). My brother and I spoke about Japanese food quite a lot during my stay,  and we had even tried to track down some authentic ingredients for the beef and shrimp donabe and beef curry dishes we made, but the only Asian market was clear on the other side of town, which is kind of strange with a significant number of the Chinese, Japanese, Loatian and Vietnamese restaurants in town….

Anyway, we decided to make a stop at Japantown in San Francisco on the way back to my house instead, since it was actually more convenient, believe it or not. We had a great time, which is funny to say, since we basically went grocery shopping. We also did not get along when we were younger, I am feel very fortunate that he and I have become more mature. Not only can we tolerate each other, we actually want spend time together. What a relief!

Daiso is a big discount store in Japantown that sells most of their merchandise for $1.50 (online their items are sold only in bulk). They have all sorts of stuff, from dishes and figurines to fedoras and beauty products, including some items I thought were a bit odd, like disposable underwear; on the other hand, the store also had a ton of cute and useful things, too. I was totally surprised the store had so many sushi-making tools  and bento box lunch making tools (like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). I bought a table-side purse hook, bamboo crochet hook, LED flashlight, knee-high and toe socks, skinny metal chopsticks, calligraphy brushes, and fruit chew and herbal hard candies. It’s a great little department store with a wide variety of items that periodically changes by the season. If you are in Japantown, stop by and visit; you should really take the time to look through all of the aisles. Who knows what amazing deals and treasures you’ll find tucked away.

Ichiban Kan is also a discount department store, but sadly they have raised their prices dramatically since my last visit and are now more of a general store. Like Daiso, they have a wide assortment of items, which is impressive, since they are less than half the size. They do carry some nice, useful and cute items though. I bought my favorite three-tiered bunny bento box, blue ceramic sushi dishes and adorable large kitty throw pillow there. By brother found a big package of S & B medium-hot Japanese curry roux, the same kind we used in our beef curry dinner, but it was twice as big for the same price.

Sanko Cooking Supplies is a great store. When we went, most everything (at least in the front half) was on sale, plus another 10% off. The prices were rather amazing! I’ve been thinking of getting a sushi oko (the round wooden rice cooling tub for making sushi rice), but when I saw the the kit, I realized I don’t really need one or have the space for such a big thing that I’d probably barely use. It was nice to see so many donabe there in various sizes. They had quite a selection of fine quality stainless steel food preparation knives; I was looking for a ceramic chef’s knife or cleaver though. Ceramic blades are better for cutting fruit and vegetables, like this one, since they discourage oxidation, unlike metal knives and utensils. Their whole back room is absolutely lovely and filled with gorgeous tableware, tea cups and pots, furniture, clothing, figurines, and amazingly realistic resin-cast food sets (I think they are placed at ancestral shrines).

Kippu is a brand new wonderful restaurant with great prices, friendly service, delicious food, and an inviting family atmosphere. My brother and I received so many complimentary side dishes that I’m surprised we didn’t have any leftovers; to be fair, we had a rather late lunch while we were there, which means we were two very hungry people. The waiters gave us extra salad with a tasty dressing, colorful mild chili in-the-pod edamame  (I’ve never seen them served that way before), soothing jasmine green tea and comforting miso soup, and those free foods were in addition to the dishes we already requested! I ordered futomaki (a vegetarian sushi roll with sweet scrambled eggs, Japanese pickles and fresh vegetables) and a three-item bento box lunch of seaweed salad (I thought about ordering a two-item bento….), vegetable tempura and avocado maki, which came with a dressed green salad (so that was two of green salads in reality), white rice and miso soup. My brother ordered beef soba soup (so two soups for him and a dressed salad on the house). The diners at the table next to ours ordered the Flaming Dragon specialty sushi rolls, which contained tempura shrimp, crab, spicy tuna, salmon, yellow tail, tuna and tobiko (flying fish roe) “with fire”. It certainly was exciting! The sushi roll was a wrapped in foil, set on a plate over a highly combustible alcohol set alight. Everything we had tasted amazing! We were both very impressed and stuffed full of delicious foods. I’m surprised they didn’t have to roll us out the door! It’s a good thing we didn’t have any “wafer-thin mints.” 😉 I will definitely go back the next time I’m in Japantown; I highly recommend this restaurant!

Hang in there for more of our Japantown adventure! I’ll post the second half very soon. Enjoy!

Vegetable Pesto Pizza

With my plans to make cornbread, I knew I would have a bunch of the gluten-free baking mix left. I also had a bunch of vegetables left over from a ham and vegetable medley my brother and I made. I had been talking to him about making pizza for dinner one night, which is a rare treat for me. It was difficult to choose a pesto sauce. I have so many good recipes, but I chose a vegan Italian pesto sauce. Although the original plan was to also put Italian chicken sausage on the top, we forgot about prepping it sprinkle on top, so we just had some sausages on the side, saving the rest of them for making the tamale pie later.

I have never worked with a pizza stone before but have seen one of my friends use one before. I had heard they are really great to have and rather convenient, as well. The flat stone helps cook the crust evenly by distributing heat.

Vegetable Pizza with Pesto Sauce Adapted from Flaky GF Pie Crust, Rose’s GF Curry Pizza and Garlic Herb Pizza Crust
Serves 12

Crust Ingredients
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 C Gluten-Free Biscuit Mix
8 T Filtered Water
OR Unsweetened Almond Milk
2 – 3 Large Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
1/4 tsp Crushed Dried Thyme
1/4 tsp Crushed Dried Basil
1/3 C Earth Balance Spread with Olive Oil
Cornstarch or Rice Flour

Lightly oil the pizza stone. Dab off the excess with a paper towel. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the biscuit mix and spread with a fork or pastry cutter. Gradually mix the water, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, until the dough sticks together. Work in the dried herbs and garlic. Form the dough into a ball.

Cover your flat work surface with cling wrap. Flour the plastic wrap and a rolling pin with either cornstarch or rice flour. Roll out the dough from the center into roughly a 12-inch circle with a uniform to 1/4 to 1/2-inch thickness. Add more starch to the top of the dough and rolling pin as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking to the pin and tearing the dough. If your dough tears, reconnect the torn edges and smooth them together with your fingers. Place the baking stone, oiled side down, on top of the dough. Invert them together, making sure the dough doesn’t slip off, so the dough now rests on top of the stone. Reshape the dough if necessary so the dough does not hang over the edge of the stone.

Topping Ingredients*
1 – 2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 tsp Cumin Seeds, fresh ground
2 tsp Garlic Sea Salt
1/4 – 1/3 C Vegan Italian Pesto Sauce
1/2 Large Red or Orange Bell Pepper, cored, seeded, sliced
1/2 Large Bunch Kale, stemmed, torn into bite-size pieces
3 Scallions, trimmed, sliced
1/2 – 1 C Golden Cherry Tomatoes, sliced
3.8 oz Can Lindsay Naturals Sliced Black Olives
1/2 – 1 C Mushrooms, stemmed, sliced or chopped
1/2 – 1 C Broccoli Florets, chopped
2 – 4 oz Daiya Mozzarella Cheese

*The amount of veggies you want to use as pizza toppings is really up to you. It all depends on how messy you want your pizza to be.

Place the oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Oil the top of the dough evenly with the flat of your hand until the dough feels smooth and does not not crumb apart. Spread on the sauce. Sprinkle on the cumin and garlic salt across the surface. Layer on your vegetable toppings. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake your pizza for 25 minutes or until the crust cooks through and the edges turn brown and crispy. Let the pizza rest 5 to 10 minutes. Cut the pizza into 12 pieces with a sharp-edged pie cutter, pizza cutter or large chopping knife. Serve with a side vegetable or green salad. Enjoy!