Category Archives: Japanese

Happy belated birthday to me :)

Yesterday (which was just an hour ago) was my 23rd birthday – the beginning of the age when we are expected to suddenly go from college students to being grownups. How intimidating! Things have been going quite smoothly in my work life, and in the next few weeks I will make my final decision about which medical school I will be going to this fall. Maybe the continued schooling will give me an excuse to be a "student" for another few years :)

I had a chance to celebrate my birthday early with my family this week. We had a cake freshly decorated for us from the only Chinatown bakery that was still open at 8pm on a Sunday night, so I'm quite grateful that I got a cake at all haha. The decorator made me a bull out of whipped cream on top of the cake, since I was born in the year of the Ox. It was done quite well if I do say so myself – I really liked the cute chocolate accents :) I was originally tempted to make my own cake, but you never make your own birthday cake heh. The cake had a mixed fruit filling, and the sponge cake layers were soft. I wasn't terribly fond of the whipped topping, as it was more fluffy and marshmallow-y than I would have liked, but the flavors came together pretty well. My family and I enjoyed the cake with some freshly brewed aromatic white tea that my dad brought back from China this past week, mmm.

On the actual day of my birthday, I went out with my boyfriend for some nice sushi at one of our favorite sushi joints in Boston: Shino Express. Unfortunately, we realized that in the time we had not gone, they had not only changed their name from Shino Express to Shino Newbury, but that they also dramatically raised prices. More startlingly, they changed all of their sushi from using regular white sushi rice to using some special kind of brown rice. That's right, they don't even carry white rice sushi anymore, and for this they are charging us extra. What happened to the Shino that used to be heaven for students because they had delicious sushi of high quality for a dirt cheap price in a casual setting? It seems like with this new brown rice sushi comes on the tail of Shino trying to remodel itself into a trendy spot on Newbury St. They've changed all their plates and dishes to look modern, but all I really want is the good ol' Shino sushi that was good to my tastebuds AND my wallet (or in this case, my boyfriend's wallet :). I honestly may not go back anymore, since the sushi is no longer priced competitively.

That said, the meal I had tonight was still as amazing as Shino's has always been. I didn't really notice the flavor of the brown rice. It might have been slightly more chewy, but it definitely was a subtle difference (grr, not one I'd want to pay for), which is good because I was so worried that brown rice would ruin the sushi experience. I had a regular salmon roll, a crispy eel roll (eel, avocado, cucumbers, flying fish roe, and topped with mayo and crispy tempura bits drizzled in unagi bbq sauce), and one of their specials, the Boston lobster roll (avocado cucumber roll topped with warm baked lobster mixed with chopped raw red onions in a wasabi butter sauce). The rolls were all amazing, with fresh and fatty fish that melted in my mouth. The lobster roll is one of my favorites because it has such a unique flavor – the wasabi butter sauce really brings together everything in that roll, and it really is a monster to behold with all that lobster! My boyfriend also got a shrimp tempura roll which he said was really good too. Mmm I really wish I could go back to the days when Shino's was cheaper…

After dinner we went to Cheesecake Factory for some dessert – the Godiva chocolate brownie sundae :) Deliciously rich and a perfect end to a wonderful birthday dinner. I never knew this, but apparently Edy's makes a special vanilla ice cream specifically for Cheesecake Factory to use in their desserts. I wonder what exactly is different about it…

Thanks for a nice birthday dinner Greg! Gosh, I still can't believe I'm 23 already… time just passes so fast. There are so many things I'm looking forward to this year, and I'm also sad to be leaving Boston in just a few months. It really is a wonderful city filled with an endless array of amazing places for every taste. I am certain that the years I have spent here will be fond memories I carry with me forever.

p.s. My camera is on the fritz these days… it has a lot of trouble focusing and in dim lighting, and the sensor produces these lines in my pictures a lot when it has to work hard under non-ideal lighting conditions. Sorry for the quality for some of my pictures lately, it's kind of a crapshoot :/ I can't wait to get my new camera!


Chinese style borscht and Japanese curry

There's a soup that I grew up with, which I generally recognized immediately by its bright orange color and distinctively tart aroma. In Chinese, it's called 罗宋汤 ("luo song tang"), which I just realized is the Chinese pronounciation of "Russian" soup. Apparently, after some brief research, it turns out that this Russian inspired soup actually has a name, and it's called borscht. Borscht is traditionally a deep red color because of the beetroots in the soup, but In my family's case, we make a variation of it called orange borscht, which gets its color from the use of tomato paste. Borscht is mainly a vegetable soup, made in our household with potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and onions, with some Chinese sausage as well. The Polish version of the soup usually uses Kielbasa instead, but like I said, this is Chinese style borscht :) I suppose China being so close to Russia means that there is bound to be cultural exchange within the cuisine. My mom likes to make things easy by using ketchup in this soup instead of real tomato paste, and I think the taste is great either way. It's tart but balanced out by the sweetness of the cabbage, and it's always hot and hearty, great for a cold winter's day.

Another fantastic dinner for a cold night is of course, curry. I'm most fond of Japanese curry, which is more savory-sweet than traditional Indian curry, so I make it quite often, which you'll know if you have read my Vox far enough into the past. This time was no different! For a very generous pot of curry (probably serves 5-7 people), we used 4 medium potatoes, 4 carrots, 1 large onion, and about one and a half pounds of chicken (mixture of thigh and breast meat). The curry comes in a box as soft solid cubes (roux cubes) that can simply be dissolved in boiling water to make the curry paste. The taste is indistinguishable from the Japanese curry served at restaurants, and it's so satisfying knowing that there's always more on the stove if you want seconds :) My boyfriend also made a side of garlic stir fried broccoli to go with dinner, so we definitely got our fix of veggies for the day, which is definitely an accomplishment haha.


Green tea and coconut layer cake

Having gone out of my way to obtain green tea matcha powder, I wanted to put it to use in other baking projects. It's been a while since I last attempted a layer cake, so when I found a recipe on Allrecipes.com for green tea layer cake, I wanted to give it a go, with some modifications to the recipe. In my modified recipe, this cake has 2 layers flavored with green tea and coconut, with sweet red bean paste (adzuki) and fresh whipped cream sandwiched between the cake layers, and with a delicate green tea flavored cream cheese based frosting. As far as I could tell, the original recipe was supposed to make a cake that was moist and light, though my cake turned out more dense, kind of like pound cake. It was different from what I expected, but I thought the end product came together very well, for a rather unique cake experience unlike the usual airy sponge cakes and light whipped toppings. At first I was wary of the flavor and texture, but after letting the cake set and allowing myself to overcome my initial expectations, I thought it was a really interesting way to highlight the green tea flavor in the cake and the frosting, and that the coconut and red bean paste really added another dimension to the cake. Plus I thought the texture of the cake went perfectly with the red bean paste, it reminded me a lot of my favorite cake of all time, chestnut paste Chinese cake.

Green Tea and Coconut Layer Cake

Ingredients:

For the cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 tsp baking soda (I made a big mistake and used baking powder instead lol)
1 tsp salt
6 tsp green tea matcha powder
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup oil (I used olive, but I recommend vegetable oil because olive has a pretty strong flavor)
1/2 cup applesauce (may substitute with 1/2 cup oil)
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup yogurt)
1/3 cup coconut cream (solid white, not translucent syrup)
1/3 cup flaked coconut
1/3 cup sweet red bean paste
1/2 cup heavy cream

For the frosting:
1 cup confectioner's sugar
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 tsp green tea matcha powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp milk
2 tbsp butter, softened

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9" round baking pans, line with wax paper, re-grease and flour on top.

2. Sift together flour, salt, baking soda and green tea powder. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, sugar, oil and applesauce until smooth. Stir in vanilla.

4. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk in alternating batches to the egg mixture, beating until just incorporated.

5. Beat in coconut cream, and use a spoon to mash out the lumps of coconut cream as best as you can. Stir in flaked coconut.

6. Divide batter between the two pans, and bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Remove pans from oven, and allow cakes to cool inside the pans for 2 hours before removing and cooling on a cooling rack.

7. Trim off crispy edges of cake rounds (no need to shave off the top and bottom layers of the cake rounds unless they have also gotten crispy).

To assemble the cake:

8. Place one cake round on bottom. Spread a thin layer of red bean paste on top, spreading just about to the edges, since it won't be moving much.

9. Whip up the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Spread a thick layer over the red bean paste, leaving about 3/4 of an inch of space between the edges.

10. Place second cake round on top, press gently to distribute the whipped cream towards the edges, without squeezing any out.

11. To make the frosting, sift together the sugar and the green tea powder. Using an electric mixer, combine with cream cheese, butter, vanilla and milk, beating on low speed until mixture is smooth (the frosting will be a light green). Stir in the remaining whipped cream left over from using for the cake filling. Finally, frost the cake as desired.

I melted some semi-sweet chocolate and drizzled it on top by spooning it into a small ziplock bag and cutting open a tiny hole at the tip to use for decorating. I also sprinkled some colored sugar on top of my frosting flowers just for contrast.

My mom has a vine-like plant growing in the house that has small, delicate pink flowers blooming on it from time to time. I happened to notice a bunch blooming at the top of the vine this week, and grabbed some for the finishing touch on the cake. They look absolutely stunning in my opinion, with their subtle pink petals off-setting the light green, and the bright yellow centers commanding the attention to the center of the cake. Such pretty flowers :)


Basking in the California sunshine

So the past few days I've been visiting California to interview at Stanford and to see some college friends. The weather was amazing, it felt like Boston's spring. The sunshine was warm, there were palm trees, and dusty mountains in the distance everywhere I went. Stanford itself was the most extravagant campus I have ever seen. They really spend a lot of money spoiling their kids lol (maybe me one day?). The sunny happiness of the students being in a country club-like campus and a relaxing curriculum was really infectious. They were literally all smiles, and every student I met couldn't seem to shower the school with enough praise. I have yet to see a school where the students were this much in love with their school (Rochester and Dartmouth are distant seconds).

 


After seeing Stanford, I had time grab dinner with my friend Tony near the school. We walked up and down the main street with restaurants, and finally decided to stop in at a place called University Cafe, which served American food at a moderate price. First came a bread plate with a tomato-based dipping sauce (I couldn't figure out why it was orange, but it was similar to a marinara I guess). The bread itself was too hard on the outside, and a little soggy in the middle, but it still tasted fine because we were both starving lol.

For my entree I got a chicken pot pie with tossed greens on the side. It was the type of pot pie that has a cap of puff pastry on top of the liquid pot pie, and I really like this kind of pot pie because it was the kind that Baker dining used to serve all the time. The pot pie filling itself was delicious, as it was sort of like a cream of mushroom soup, with asparagus, mushrooms, onions, peppers, corn, peas, and chicken chunks. The flavors came together really well, and even though I was starving when I came in, I was definitely satisfied afterwards. The greens on the side were tossed in a vinaigrette that contrasted nicely with the sweet creaminess of the pot pie. It was jazzed up comfort food, and it definitely hit the spot.

Tony wanted to get a 12 oz steak au poivre, but the waiter got confused and gave him a steak salad instead lol. The steak tasted like it was marinated with teriyaki sauce, which I thought was kind of interesting. It came on top of a bed of stir fried vegetables and some salad. Not quite what he wanted, but at least it wasn't a bad replacement heh. (Sorry, pic is a little blurry, I blame Tony because he took it lol).

And for dessert, we went across the street to a Japanese-European fusion bakery called Satura Cakes, where after trying some free samples of a very rich and dense chocolate cake, we decided on sharing a bread pudding together. For the life of me I can't remember right now what type of fruit was in the bread pudding, but I know the dessert itself was a great way to end the meal. It had the spiciness of a pumpkin pie, with the soft-crunchy chunks of fruit like an apple pie, combined with soft bread and a creamy mousse-like filling, all topped with whipped cream. It was light and refreshing, and although it was cold, the flavor of the spices made a warm impression on me. It was a quintessential autumnal dessert, even though autumn has already passed.

The following day for lunch, I went out with Tony and another friend, Linda, for Shanghainese cuisine at an Asian strip mall. The food was amazing, and reminded me of all the Shanghainese dishes that I've eaten growing up. We ordered "jiao bai" (water bamboo) with peppers and pork, "nian gao" (rice ovals) with napa and beef, pork liver in brown sauce, and "xiao long bao" (Shanghai meat buns). Everything was delicious, and the cooking style was light and clean, just like Shanghainese cuisine is great at when it wants to be. When I had this meal, I realized just how sick I was of the greasy, fried food of Cantonese cuisine up in Boston's Chinatown. They're not kidding when they say that Chinese food is better in California (there are so many Asians here!).

And finally, a picture of me and my friend Tony (I'm almost embarrassed to post this because I look so stupid here, but I guess what the heck, it's for the memories right?). I wish I could have stayed a little longer, and done some more "Californian" things heh, but there's always next time!


Sushi at Fugakyu

A few days ago one of my friends from undergrad came back to campus to visit. He was recruiting for his current company, and took out my boyfriend and I (the three of us were best buds in college) for some upscale sushi on his company's tab. I had heard some great things about Fugakyu from friends, and it was accessible from the T, so off we went.

I have to say that my only prior experience with store-made sushi is Shino Express Sushi on Newbury St. in Boston, which is known for having the best bang for your buck authentic sushi. It is delicious and cheap, the only drawback being that it is a hole in the wall and lacks the variety that bigger sushi restaurants have. Fugakyu on the other hand, had an incredible extensive menu that had my head spinning, and each roll cost two to three times what it would have cost at Shino's. But I did discover that at Fugakyu, you get what you pay for (which is a lot), and you pay for what you get (which is very good sushi).

We arrived at Fugakyu on a Thursday night at around 8pm, and the wait for a table was 30 minutes, which I have since learned is the norm. I eyed a sushi bar in the main room, with a kaiten sushi setup (the sushi phenomenon of having various plates of sushi move by on a conveyor belt and you can just take whatever you want), and so we asked to be seated there which was without any wait. Awesome idea! We sat down and floating past us on a little moat were boats with plates of sushi on them, pushed along by a current of water underneath. It was really quite exciting for us.

I have to apologize for not getting better pictures of such a neat looking setup, but these boats they just keep moving along so there is no way I could have gotten a picture that wasn't blurry. But you get the general idea from this picture. So the funny thing is, the three of us kept staring at the sushi, thinking about which plates we might want to pick up and eat, when we started to notice that some of them looked really plastic. But we kept arguing amongst one another about whether some of the sushi were fake placeholders or not, because other pieces looked quite real. In the end, we figured out that the entire setup was fake, because Fugakyu only serves Kaiten sushi on Mondays and Tuesday nights! Haha oops! I'm glad we didn't reach out to take any of the plates. I'd really like to go back sometime and try the Kaiten sushi though, it's only $4 a plate regardless of what's on it, so it really takes the guesswork out of choosing.

Anyway, we started to go through our menus, which were seriously huge. There must have been at least 50 types of maki rolls alone! Since we were on my friend's tab, we were free to choose the expensive rolls without hesitation, and that's really what the point of eating at such an upscale sushi joint is, right? We had quite a bit of trouble choosing, but we ended up getting all different sushi to see the most variety. While we deliberated, my friend Tony and I got a couple of beers. I'm starting to enjoy light beers nowadays, I find that if the brand is high quality and the beer is light, the flavor is more sweet and subdued. Anyway, they gave us pretty beer glasses, so I took a picture :)

We each ordered 3 kinds of sushi. I ordered a lobster maki (which had lobster, asparagus, avocado, cucumber, lettuce, tobikko, and spicy mayo), a Fugakyu maki (tuna, eel, fried sweet potato, scallion, and bonito flakes), and a negi chu-toro maki (fatty tuna with scallions). My boyfriend and Tony ordered spider maki, negi toro maki, spicy snow crab maki, toro nigiri, fried snow crab maki, and salmon roll. The sushi came all together on a huge boat, it was such a beautiful and mouth-watering sight!

Aside from the absolutely stunning presentation, the taste was just as wonderful. The fish was fresh and we were given big portions in our rolls, the rice was soft, and the creative combinations of the rolls really worked. Everyone was more or less blown away by their sushi choices. Here's a closeup of my sushi:

At the upper right is my lobster maki with its bright orange tobikko (flying fish roe). The lower right is my negi chu-toro maki. And at the left is my Fugakyu maki with the tuna and fried sweet potato most visible. They were all incredibly delicious and melted in my mouth.

The lobster roll was fresh and had a lot of crunch from the medley of vegetables. The lobster meat was cooked just right, it was tender and amazingly sweet as good seafood should taste like. Just absolutely fantastic, aside from the fact that the pieces were so big that they always fell apart after I bit into them.

The negi chu-toro maki was a luxurious roll to eat. Chu-toro is a type of fatty tuna that is on the low end of the fatty tuna spectrum. I chose it because it was cheaper than the higher grade "toro" offering, but I honestly thought it tasted incredible. It was smooth and creamy, and paired well with the scallions in the roll. I have had a negi toro roll from Shino's, but I definitely thought that the one at Fugakyu was better. It was not ground up fatty tuna but rather in one piece. So delicious.

Finally my Fugakyu maki with its tuna, eel, fried sweet potato, scallions, and bonito shavings. The fried sweet potato is an ingenious idea for a sushi filling. It had crunch, it had sweetness, and it went perfectly with the mildness of the tuna and the sweetness of the eel. My only complaint was the bonito shavings, which I wasn't that fond of. They were a little bit fishy, as they should be, which I thought did not add to the roll. Still, the flavor from the other fillings was so bright that the bonito wasn't a problem at all. There was so much stuffed into this roll that it was a flavor explosion in my mouth with eat bite. I loved it.

This shot has some of my boyfriend's rolls in it: the spider maki (fried soft-shelled crab tempura, cucumber, avocado, spicy mayo, tobikko, scallions, spicy eel sauce) which was the envy of all of us because the pieces were huge and looked absolutely delectable. He said it was the best out of all his rolls. You can also see his negi toro maki, which is the higher grade fatty tuna roll that I didn't get, though it looks pretty similar. His snow crab maki is in the previous picture at the very top left next to my lobster roll.

Tony's sushi is in the picture above, with the exception that my Fugakyu roll is in the middle. His fried snow crab roll (kani katsu maki) is at the top, with fried snow crab, cucumbers, spicy katsu sauce, and scallions. His toro nigiri (which cost $15 for 2 pieces) is at the very bottom. He said they were really good, though not as good as the even more upscale Oishii restaurant which most people agree has even fresher and better fish than Fugakyu. Still, it was pretty deluxe I imagine. His salmon roll wasn't too exciting to look at so there's no picture of that except in the first sushi boat picture.

All in all the meal cost us a total of about $150 including tax and tip. Each roll cost us about $10-$15, so it was about $40 per person. Not terribly expensive but certainly not cheap. Still, we were all wowed by the fresh delicious sushi and we are definitely planning to go back sometime, though maybe not in the near future haha. I highly recommend this place for a date or a special occasion, there's a little something for everyone and the decor is extensive. They have these cute private tatami rooms with low tables and spaces in the floor that you can put your legs in, and doors that close to give you privacy for parties and such. And of course, it's the only kaiten sushi locale in the Boston area, so it's definitely worth checking out for that. I'm planning to go there for the kaiten sometime, you'll hear back from me when I do :)


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