Food & Cooking · Tried · Uncategorized

What can you celebrate today?

 Years ago when I studied abroad, I remember coming back to my dorm from class to a special surprise: two of my friends were waiting for me in the dining area with cakes to share! What was the occasion, you wonder? There wasn’t one! I remember thinking that was so fun–enjoying pretty cakes just for the sake of it, because every day is worth celebrating with a little cake. I love all the gorgeous cakes and pastries available in Japan, and to this day every time I buy a cake here I think of that memory.    

   
    
 I picked up these lovelies yesterday to celebrate that Chad is done with his last official term of school before we go back to the states, and also to celebrate each other and our sweet baby girl (she’s six weeks old today!). What are some things you’re celebrating today?

Food & Cooking

Tomorrow is National Croissant Day!

national-croissant-day-january-30_editedI’ve mentioned time and time again that ever since visiting Paris a few years ago I have been obsessed with croissants. I can still be quite picky about them–if they don’t have the right buttery layers and flakiness, just forget it. (Unless you add Nutella. You can add Nutella and things will work out. I may have just done so to a supermarket croissant and consumed it happily with coffee a few minutes ago.)

Despite my ongoing obsession with croissants, I actually never thought a lot about the origin of the delightful pastry. Of course France is generally famous for croissants, but did you know that the origin is a little more complex than that? In preparation for National Croissant Day tomorrow, here is a little Smithsonian article: Is the Croissant Really French? After reading the article, why not treat yourself to a croissant to celebrate your new-found knowledge?

In a pinch back home, I would settle for Starbucks’ warmed croissants, but I really had trouble finding good ones in my area of Michigan. Fortunately Japan has loads of nice bakeries with decent croissants, and right around the corner of our apartment is a tiny bakery where a sweet little old lady sells a few delicious croissants every morning (always sold out quickly). I’ll probably indulge in one of those tomorrow if I don’t go into labor.

YES YOU READ THAT RIGHT AND NO BABY STILL HASN’T COME YET AND YES SHE WAS DUE MONDAY.

Phew. But that’s okay. She’ll come when she’s ready. Or not, and the doctors will induce labor. Either way, I have sort of been putting off blogging because 1) we haven’t gone far all month in case baby decides to come suddenly (so there has been a lot of hanging around home getting ready), 2) most of the crafty projects I’ve been working on are gifts for people who haven’t received them yet so I haven’t posted about them, and 3) any baby-related posts I have planned are ones I want to post after she arrives.
Photo 1-29-16, 4 15 01 PMANYWAY, that’s why I haven’t been posting as much as I would like, but I’ve been thinking of you! Eat an extra croissant (or at the very least, a heaping spoon of Nutella) for me, and keep us in your thoughts as baby’s eventual birthday approaches!

Happy National Croissant Day (a day early!)!
xx Caitlyn

Food & Cooking · Reviews · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Tsuta Ramen: the first ever ramen shop to receive a Michelin Star

Ever since we heard the news about Tsuta Ramen shop receiving a Michelin Star, we knew we had to give it a try. Our first attempt was one Friday after work, when we learned that the shop closes at 4:00 PM. Yeah, what? Chad called to confirm the shop was really already closed for the night to learn that not only are the hours incredibly limited (11:00 AM-4:00 PM), but that you have to get a placeholder ticket by 10:30 or 11:00 in the morning in order to get a bowl as well.
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Last Monday, Chad decided to take off the upcoming Wednesday from work to surprise me and go with me to Tsuta during the limited open hours. Much to our dismay, after getting the day-off request approved, he discovered Tsuta is closed on Wednesdays! Strike two!
IMG_3995Fortunately for us, now Chad is on vacation, so yesterday (Tuesday) we were able to scurry down toward Sugamo Station to get a ticket from Tsuta. We got there around 10:15, and were able to get tickets to reserve a spot for eating around 3:00. Unfortunately, all that was on offer for the day was Tsuta’s miso ramen, which I was especially bummed about because I tend to go for shoyu (soy based) or shio (salt based) ramen. Of course, that didn’t change our minds about giving the shop a try!
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Approaching the shop, you are greeted with several signs explaining the placeholder tickets. The tickets are color-coded, and the time you arrive to get a ticket determines the time you can come back to eat.
IMG_3999If you’re on a Tsuta ramen mission, don’t go sit in line to get your placeholder ticket! Open the door to talk to someone–if there is a line of people outside, they are already waiting for their dining time slot!
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You are advised to arrive a half an hour or so before your time slot, and if you miss your time or lose your ticket, you forfeit the 1000 yen deposit you give for your placeholder ticket.
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Once we got our placeholder tickets, we had to decide how to spend the next several hours. We came up with a few really nice ideas, which I’ll share in a future post. For now, the important thing to know is that if you’re in town to try Tsuta ramen, you really have to plan a day around it. We recommend going to the shop for a placeholder ticket around 7:30 or 8:00 AM to ensure you can have a bigger selection of ramen dishes, and so that you can get a more convenient time than we did.       IMG_4053Around 2:15 or so we came back to Tsuta Ramen and joined a line of several other customers. We slowly moved forward in the queue until we were welcomed inside and given our deposits back so we could chose our ramen. We had three choices: normal miso ramen, miso ramen with egg, and miso ramen with extra chicken. We chose the latter two options (which came to exactly 2000 yen total), and then continued to wait in the indoor line for seats to open up. IMG_4054We were pretty excited when our ramen was served. We were ready for new flavors–we’d never had chickpeas, sliced onions or chicken in our ramen before. IMG_4055 IMG_4056A good egg is usually a huge indication of my overall rating when it comes to ramen: it shouldn’t be completely hard boiled, but the yolk should be slightly cooked. My egg was spot-on. I liked the noodles, too, but sometimes the texture was a little grainy for me. I couldn’t tell whether that sensation was from the soba noodles themselves, or from the noodles being coated in miso broth. The ramen didn’t disappoint, but I would personally like to go back and try a bowl of the shoyu ramen. IMG_4057
Tsuta’s miso ramen is not my favorite ramen in Japan, but that could just be due to my lack of enthusiasm for miso based-ramen. Chad was quite impressed, so we’ll have to do some future investigation next time we can plan around Tsuta’s rather inconvenient hours. Either way, I’m glad we got a chance to try it! For information on hours and days in which Tsuta is open, click here.

Take care!
xx Caitlyn

Around Town · Food & Cooking

Around Town: Gotoo Restaurant in Otsuka

Yesterday, as you may have seen on instagram, we decided to hike Mt. Takao. After a long but fun day out of the city, we were very ready to eat when we got back to Tokyo. We decided to revisit a restaurant we tried for the first time a couple of weeks ago called Gotoo.
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Gotoo is about a two minute walk from Otsuka station, has a review of 4 out of 5 stars on yelp, and always has a line when we walk by. Despite the small size of the restaurant, the wait usually isn’t much longer than 15 minutes, and the friendly staff take your order while you’re waiting so that your meal is ready close to the time you sit down.Photo 11-7-15, 7 01 33 PMYesterday we were seated at the bar, where you can see two to three chefs working away, usually smiling while they’re doing it! Photo 11-7-15, 7 01 38 PM
I ordered the same meal I got the last time I went because it was fantastic: the Combination B Set of ebi (shrimp) fries, kani cream korrokke (crab cream croquette), cabbage, noodle salad, rice and miso soup.
Photo 11-7-15, 7 04 57 PMChad chose a Japanese-style hamburger set, which he said wasn’t as good as the ginger pork he got the last time. He still liked it well enough to eat every last bit, though!Photo 11-7-15, 7 01 43 PM(1)Tired boy after our hike…! Photo 11-7-15, 7 04 26 PM Anyway, let’s get back to my meal, which was amazing, in case you forgot already. Look at that bite out of my first ebi fry–see how big and beautiful the shrimp is? And despite being fried, the ebi fries at Gotoo taste light with a very nice crunch. Something that really adds to the flavor is the tartar sauce. Unlike tartar sauces I am used to with pickles and mayonnaise, this tartar sauce has no pickles at all. Instead, it includes ingredients like cabbage and green onion. The tartar sauce is seriously delicious, and I am on the lookout for a recipe for a similar sauce.Photo 11-7-15, 7 07 44 PM The next important part of the meal is the crab cream croquette. It is so easy for crab cream croquettes to be too fishy tasting, or too mayonnaise-filled, but this crab cream croquette is the best I’ve ever had. The balance is perfect, and I could eat ten of them. Right now. And this isn’t pregnancy talking. (I think?)

If you’re in the Tokyo area and you’re looking for a new restaurant to try, I would recommend giving Gotoo a try. It can be a little pricey (my meal was 1200 yen), but if you are into ebi fries and croquettes, the money is totally worth it. If you’re NOT in the Tokyo area, consider checking out some recipes for croquettes! I never had them before living in Japan and they are one of my favorite foods (on the less healthy spectrum 😉 ).

Have a great start to your week!
xxCaitlyn

Food & Cooking · Learning · Seen/Heard/Tried

Wasanbon Workshop

Photo 10-25-15, 1 11 10 PMLast weekend I had the chance to attend a workshop making a special type of wagashi, or Japanese confectionary, called wasanbon. This particular type of wagashi is sadly becoming a disappearing art. One reason is because the primary ingredient is a special sugar (also called wasanbon) that is harvested in a cooler climate than other sugars, and takes a lot of work to refine. This high-grade sugar is quite light, and has buttery, honey notes that can’t be found in other sugars. Because of the special care in harvesting the sugar, it is quite expensive.
Photo 10-25-15, 12 02 39 PMLike the sugar itself, wasanbon molds are quite pricey. According to the workshop teacher, there is only one craftsman left in Japan making the wasanbon molds, and just the circular one pictured above on the far left costs over 30,000 yen (so just under $300 USD). On the bright side, you can find similar molds for about 3000 yen (or around $30 USD) at places like Kappabashi Dori, but the material and degree of craftsmanship will most likely be different.
Photo 10-25-15, 12 20 33 PMBefore we began trying to make our own wasanbon, our teacher and other workshop leaders taught us how to make little origami boxes to put our finished confectioneries in.  (If you’re interested, you can find instructions for the style box we made here.)
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Next, our teacher began to mix the ingredients, which were super simple: wasanbon sugar, a teeny bit of water, and a teeny bit of liquid sugar. The liquid sugar, our teacher explained, makes the shaping process easier for beginners but isn’t absolutely necessary. She added a very small amount of pink dye as well, noting that if the end color is not subtle, wasanbon can quickly end up looking cheap. Once the mixture reached a texture similar to the beginning stages of a crumbly flour, we sifted it–first by tapping the edges of the sifter and then by pressing the remaining mixture through with our hands.
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Next we pressed the mixture into a mold as tightly as possible. We scraped off the top so everything was even, and then tapped at the top layer of the mold to release half of each sweet. Lastly, we carefully flipped the mold and tapped as necessary to get pretty little roses to drop out.
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Flipping the mold was a little stressful, but on the bright side, the mold can always be repacked to try again (whereas if you add too much liquid to your wasanbon in the mixing stages, you can easily ruin everything–an expensive mistake!).
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We also tried using a bird mold, which I totally thought was some sort of fish at first (don’t tell). Photo 10-25-15, 1 07 55 PM
Finally, we got to try our creations. Our teacher instructed us to place a wasanbon on our tongue and just let it melt. The wasanbon initially felt light on the tongue, yet thick like frosting. The complexity continued as it melted, giving a distinct sweet flavor that vanished too quickly to hold on to. Photo 10-25-15, 1 09 43 PM
I really learned a lot from the wasanbon workshop, and hope I get a chance to attend workshops teaching other wagashi styles before we leave Japan again!

Have you tried making anything new lately?
xx Caitlyn

Food & Cooking · Seen/Heard/Tried · Summer Bucket List · Tried

French Restaurant Chez Olivier

On my Summer Bucket List (and bucket lists past, for that matter), when I wrote “fancy night around town,” I generally meant that I wanted to dress up for no reason at all and do ordinary things–just for fun. But as I was researching dinners for our anniversary weekend, I came across a perfect reason for dressing up and NOT doing an ordinary thing: Michelin Star-Rated restaurant Chez Olivier.

After perusing the bilingual website and reading about Chef Olivier’s history and approach to his restaurant, I was especially intrigued by the presentation of the meals in the pictures, and at how the menu is always changing with the season based on what is available. Ever since watching The Hundred Foot Journey (a great movie, if you haven’t seen it!),  I’ve been curious about restaurants with the coveted Michelin Star, so I have to admit that was part of my reasoning for wanting to go, too. Since we went to Hakone on our anniversary weekend, this weekend was our chance to visit Chez Olivier with a Saturday night reservation for 6:30.IMG_2324Weeeee! I was so excited! IMG_2325Here is our table set for two before the meal began. This was the stage at which we learned our first lesson: be sure to specify you want TAP water if all you want to drink is water. The waitress (who was truly quite friendly) opened a bottle of Evian with a charge of 1100 yen and I think our hearts broke a bit with each pour. IMG_2326We chose a dinner course with a starter, main and dessert. Before the starter there was a little complimentary appetizer of bread with bits of bacon and other flavors, a drop of soup, and a mussel with hazelnut and herb butter on salt. The waitress recommended we start with the soup (which was on the spoon in the middle), and it ended up being a delightful surprise. We wondered how it could be soup when it looked like a little mound of cheese or something, but upon putting it in our mouths, it burst open and filled our palette with really smooth flavor. So sorry I can’t remember more about the description of each item on this plate as she just told us briefly as it was served. The mussel was my favorite little bite. IMG_2327Next came our appetizers. I chose the Gazpacho jelly with mozzarella, tomatoes, shrimp, and avocado, and it was just fabulous. The little swirls of green were the avocado, which really smoothed out the tanginess of the soup. We were also served complimentary bread (warmed) with fresh-made Hokkaido butter. We may have eaten nearly all of that butter by the end of the meal because it was so creamy yet light, and I have no shame about the matter at all. IMG_2328Sorry this picture is blurry, but this was Chad’s appetizer: Pressed chicken meat, rhubarb, acidulated red onions, and cooking juice. He gave me a bite, and his was also quite nice. IMG_2330Next up was our main course, and both of us chose the roasted duckling fillet with cherry sauce and a creamy polenta. (Chad paired his with a nice red wine.) The duckling was imported from France and was just divine with the cherry sauce. And the polenta! It just melted in our mouths. Absolutely delicious. IMG_2331At this point, depending on how you look at it, we learned our second lesson of the night. We were brought a cheese platter and asked if we’d like some cheese. Chad chose a really nice blue cheese, and I chose Gorgonzola. Our slices were served with a bit of dried fig and a couple drops of balsamic vinegar. The lesson? Each serving added 800 yen each to our bill! On the bright side, we definitely enjoyed the cheese. IMG_2332Next up was a complimentary pre-dessert of assorted cheesecakes. There was rare cheesecake, some cheesecake ice cream with a small bit of lime zest, a raspberry cheesecake, passion fruit sauce, and a couple other little logs of cheesecake. Each bite was soooooo delightful. If only I could just send you a bite or two! IMG_2333Next was our dessert. Both of us chose the Creamy Chocolate ”Caramelia,” mascarpone and maple syrup espuma (a gourmet foam or whip), crispy praline,  and milk ice-cream dessert. IMG_2334The dessert was layered, and I enjoyed trying each layer individually, and then altogether.  IMG_2335See the layers? Don’t you just want to dive in and disappear into chocolate caramel heaven? IMG_2336Before our meal was complete, we were given two cannelés to share, a small sweet which actually originated in Olivier’s hometown of Bordeaux. The outside was crisp and honeyed, and the inside was soft and spongey with egg and rum-flavored crumb.

Overall, our experience at Chez Olivier was delightful. The courses themselves were 4800 yen each, but with the added expenses of the Evian water, Chad’s glass of wine, the cheese and a 10% service charge, we felt a sad little pang when receiving the bill. BUT! Here’s what we thought as we left: we learned a bit about dining fancy, we had an amazing time (we were there for about 2 1/2 hours talking and dining), and the food was just awesome. The staff was pretty friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere was nice. We definitely enjoyed our time, and will be trying more fancy places once in a while in the future.

Have you eaten anything amazing lately?

xx Caitlyn

Food & Cooking

Taco meat leftovers, transform!

What? You ALSO had a taco party over the weekend? And you, too, had quite a bit of leftover meat? Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with leftovers, especially if you don’t want to repeat the exact same meal over and over again. But do I have the solution for you! We made amazing brunch on Saturday with leftovers, and then a pretty tasty dinner the following evening as well. First up? The brunch.     IMG_1817 Start off by scrambling eggs up with leftover taco meat. Meanwhile, toast an English muffin. Once the eggs and the English muffin have cooked/toasted to your liking, layer the following on the English muffin: the scrambled egg mixture, cheese, salsa, sour cream and green onions. Top with the remaining half of the English muffin, and enjoy the daylights out of it.
IMG_1818We also made the brunch sandwich on Sunday, but our supermarket was out of English muffins so we had to improvise with pitas. The English muffins were awesome, but the pitas did the job fair enough.

Next up: the dinner! Start off by preparing rice (I chose short-grain sushi-style rice cooked in my rice cooker). When the rice is nearly finished, whisk several eggs together and fry in a pan without scrambling.
IMG_1801Then, in a separate bowl, microwave the taco meat and add two tablespoons of raayu (amazing Chinese red chile oil that you must try if you haven’t already). I used raayu that also had garlic.
IMG_1802Layer rice, then the egg, and then the taco meat on a plate. Lastly, fry up some diced tomatoes in the same pan in which you cooked the egg, and make it the final layer of the dish!
IMG_1803This recipe was inspired by a Thai dish we ate on a night train the last time we were in Thailand, and though it was a different flavor (the Thai version was much spicier, for example), it was still super yummy.
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I really enjoyed trying non-conventional approaches to using up our taco meat leftovers. I hope these recipes have inspired you as well!

xx Caitlyn