Friday, April 16, 2010

Rainy Day Oyakodon

Although it's a very dreary day, the cold weather inspires me to make a warm cozy dish for lunch. With my last class of the day canceled, my weekend begins early with this wonderful, homey, Japanese dish. Last summer I traveled to Japan with a jazz band and choir and stayed in two different Japanese homes where I lived in their shoes for a few days, eating the food, sleeping on cots, spending afternoons trying to communicate to each other about our lives. It was an experience of a lifetime, one-of-a-kind state of being. You learn that it doesn't matter what language you speak or what background you have, there is always something to talk about, and always something to eat.

When you think of Japanese food here in America, usually the food that comes to most people's minds is sushi and teriyaki. However, Japan is rich in delicious food: different flavored broths with of ramen-noodles filled with shitake mushrooms and deliciously cooked meats, cooked root vegetables from the mountains full of nutrients, wonderfully soft breads filled with melon flavored cream, cold soba (buckwheat noodles) for a hot day with fresh green onions in soba sauce, large cabbage pancakes with bacon and shrimp topped with a special sauce and one-of-a-kind Japanese mayonnaise, panko-breaded pork and pickled ginger, cute bento boxes filled with various treats like potato salads, and rice balls filled and wrapped in nori (a kind of dried seaweed). And of course with everything (including breakfast) is the most decadent white rice most likely grown in the backyard and a steaming bowl of miso soup. Oh, and the sushi in Japan is amazing.

Although I had an endless list of delicious food in Japan, I didn't actually try today's recipe until a Japanese friend from school cooked it up for lunch one day. Cooked in a savory-sweet broth with onions, chicken, and egg and served over hot rice, this is sure to lift your spirits and leave you completely full and satisfied.

A Note about chicken in college: Since it's not always easy to plan ahead when buying food, especially in school when all you're thinking about is the next class, I buy big bags of pre-frozen chicken. This can sound pretty sketchy, but I buy mine from Trader Joe's, a store a trust completely to do things the healthy, right way. They claim that they freeze it right away as to make sure it's good to eat when you throw it in your oven. It saves me a ton of money and brain power. So I can have chicken when I want without worrying about buying chicken and using it when it's fresh. It's not the ultimate, of course, but it is a real helper.

Also, if you don't like to buy chicken broth in a can/box and worry about it going bad, Trader Joe's carries a chicken broth flavor concentrate which comes in a box of small packets. 1 packet=1 cup hot water. Again, not ideal, but it does the job and is a load off my mind.

As far as the other ingredients in this recipe, they are basic, use-over-time ingredients which I use in many recipes and love to have around including yellow onions (you can buy in big bags from TJ's) and soy sauce.

This recipe serves about 2-3 people.


Oyakodon
(adapted from from About.com)
  
You will need:
-1 cup of white rice and 2 cups of water (rice cooker/stove top)
-2 chicken breasts (either frozen or raw or left-over)
-1 yellow onion
-1 2/3 cups of chicken broth
-7 Tablespoon of soy sauce
-3 Tablespoon of sugar
-4 eggs


1. Cook your rice with the water either in a rice-cooker or on the stove, covered in a saucepan. (Bring to a boil and then reduce to low heat and continue cooking for 10-15 min.)

2. If your chicken breasts are frozen... Bake in the oven at 400 degrees from 20 min. until almost thoroughly cooked.
If your chicken breasts are raw... Bake in oven for 350 degrees for 30 min. or until almost thoroughly cooked.
If your chicken breasts are left over: go to next step.

3. Cut your chicken into bite size pieces, set aside. Slice onion in half and then into thin strips, set aside. Crack your eggs into a bowl and mix them slightly, until yolks are broken and partially mixed in (do not whisk thoroughly), set aside.

4. Add chicken broth, soy sauce, and sugar in a medium sized frying pan or small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer. Add the chicken and continue to simmer for a few minutes. Add onion and cook for a few more minutes.

5. Now, bring to a boil. Pour your eggs over the chicken and onion, cover with a lid, reduce to a medium-low heat and cook until your desired egg consistency. (I like mine almost completely cooked through, but you can have some yolk running in there-cook to your liking!)

6. Serve over hot rice in bowls and perhaps with some yummy bok choy and miso soup! Enjoy!!!


I hope you love this very easy and delicious dish! It'll make you feel like everything is right in the world. :D

Good Luck and Happy Cooking!

-Kristin

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mushroom Comfort


There is just something about the smell of cooking mushrooms, so pungent and rich. Mushrooms are so earthy and have the ability to naturally make you feel like you're eating close to the earth. And one of my favorite mushroom dishes is cream of mushroom soup. Ever since I experienced the most decedent cream of mushroom at the Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley, California, this simple soup has held lovely connotations for me.

What's so wonderful about soups like this, is that they create minimal dish aftermath. One pot, a blender, and maybe a small chopping board will do the trick. Perfect for my small kitchen. With very little effort, you can cook up a more than ordinary dish with the simplest ingredients. Especially when you are craving something a little out of the norm. And with the addition of a half a grilled cheese sandwich, it makes quite a homey little dish.

I made this dish for me and my boyfriend and both of us have moderate sized stomachs. So I would definitely suggest increasing the measurements to fit your needs. This recipe makes about 2 cups of soup.




Cream of Mushroom Soup  

-1 cups of sliced white mushrooms
-1 cup thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms
-1/2 onion, chopped
-1/2 cup chicken broth
-1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
-1 Tablespoon butter
-1 Tablespoon flour
-1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme
-1/3 cup half-n-half
-salt and pepper to taste


1.  Heat chicken broth in a medium size saucepan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onion, and nutmeg and cook until mushrooms are tender (about 10-12 min.)

2. Pour into a blender and blend on a low setting, allowing some larger pieces of mushroom and onion to remain. (I like the texture and flavor the chunks of mushroom add to the soup)

3. Melt butter in the same saucepan. Add flour and mix together until thick and bubbly. Add the thyme.

4. Add the mushroom soup puree back into the saucepan, mixing thoroughly. Add half-n-half to the mix. Make sure not to re-boil the soup as it will cause the cream to curdle. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Note: DO NOT SKIMP ON THE SALT. In a soup like this, the salt will make the difference between and okay soup and an outstanding soup. The salt helps to bring out the earthy flavor of the mushroom and the slight flavor of the nutmeg as well. Optional: Garnish with chopped chives or thyme.

5. Enjoy! I served this with a grilled cheese made with country bread and 2 slices of cheddar cheese, fried in butter in a small pan at medium heat for about 5 min. on each side.

Hope you try and enjoy this simple, lovely soup. Happy cooking!

-Kristin

Introduction

Being a college student, I had the choice to pay to eat at the cafeteria 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, 16 weeks a semester. And while the idea of not having to do dishes sounds wonderful, I couldn't bring myself to have to eat pizza or pasta or bagels 3 times a day, every week. Not to mention, the food at my college is not exactly front of the line fresh or in any way tasty.

So, I decided to opt out of the cafeteria line, and have chosen to explore the kitchen instead. I've always loved cooking, especially baking, and have found huge joy in expanding my foodie repertoire. I've also found I have an obsession with pleasing other people with my cooking. Maybe it sounds self-absorbed, but I love to hear that someone loves my blackberry pie or baked chicken dish I have concocted that night. Or maybe it's that I love making people happy and full. Any opportunity that I have to cook for someone-I absolutely love it!

However, I am in a little bit of a dilemma. For while I love cooking, it's quite a challenge to eat right and to get everything on my to-do list done. When I tell most people that I'm going to Berklee College of Music-they don't get it. Music sounds like fun and games right? But it's so demanding to have to work that creative energy in your head all the time and there are so many projects in multiple classes, not to mention all practicing you have to do. Music, a lot of the time, is physical memory which can't be learned an hour before your class.

Anyway, I'm not trying to complain-I love it. But the reality is, I'm super busy and so my cooking time to create yummy dishes is limited. I don't have room in my brain during the school week to think hours ahead of time to prepare marinated meat, and I'm in and out of the apartment too often to leave something for long in the oven.

The other problem is that being in college is the first time many students are living on their own and having to make money decisions including to buy groceries and to not buy that delicious milkshake right around the corner every other day. Especially in this economy, it's even harder to stay under budget and to buy fresh food.

I feel that I've been fairly successful in this endeavor and so I've created this blog for every college student who is sick of the caf.-- as we call it. I'm here to share my success story in the form of recipes and tips to try. It is possible to eat healthy and to eat GOOD food without cutting into your studying time or wallet. I have learned to eat between the lines, and you can too.