Ten years ago my husband and I took a trip to Japan, and it was there that we discovered okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake made of shredded cabbage and meat in a flour-egg batter, and often contains additional ingredients for extra flavors and textures. The restaurant we went to was in a tiny little town and was listed as a “hidden gem” in our travel guide, and it definitely spoiled us for all other iterations of okonomiyaki on our trip (because of course, having had it once we were dying to have it again!). The ingredients came in separate bowls that you combined to your own taste, and there were personal grills right at the table to cook the pancakes, which were served with pickled ginger, bonito flakes, and okonomiyaki sauce for garnish.
Oddly, despite searching for similar restaurants here in the States, we never thought of trying to recreate the recipe at home. However, I was in a local Asian market recently when I spied a bottle of okonomiyaki sauce (a tangy, savory sauce that’s kind of like a mixture of ketchup and Worcestershire sauce), and was inspired to try my own version of these!
This past Easter I was in a baking mood (when am I not in a baking mood?) so decided to make– what else?– carrot cake.
I love a good carrot cake, though everyone seems to have a different idea of what to add to the basic flavor profile. Some people use raisins, some nuts, or crushed pineapple. Some people use carrot puree, others go traditional with grated carrots, and some cakes use shockingly low amounts of carrot to begin with. Last year I even made one that incorporated graham cracker crumbs in the batter. I decided this time to try a recipe from Alton Brown, who rarely lets me down when it comes to good basic recipes.
This past Easter I was pondering what to bake– trying to decide between hot cross buns and cream-filled chocolate eggs– when I realized that I had a big bag of carrots languishing in the crisper drawer, leftovers from a delicious batch of bolognese sauce. I immediately discarded all other options in favor of carrot cake– a cake that I love, but rarely make for some reason. And I knew just the recipe– another Smitten Kitchen post that I’d bookmarked a while ago but never gotten around to trying, carrot cake with graham crackers.
That’s right, there are pulverized graham crackers in the batter, taking the place of some of the flour. Honestly, though, with all of the spices in the mix I couldn’t really taste the graham flavor, so I’m not sure how successful that element was in this case. But the rest of it was a very nice cake (a little heavy on the frosting, but some people like it that way), and since the top was looking a little plain once I assembled it, I made a batch of candied carrot curls to decorate!
Now that the weather is finally warming up, I thought I’d share one of our family’s staple summer dinners– cold Asian noodle salad. It’s tangy, refreshing, a little bit spicy, and the perfect dinner for eating outside in the evenings– perhaps with a cold beer or glass of white wine. Best of all, it comes together in a snap, with ingredients straight out of the pantry. (or if they’re not in your pantry, they should be!)