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!
Have you seen those videos floating around about how to make fabulous sushi rolls that form pictures or designs when you cut them? They look amazing, though really time-consuming and extremely difficult to make. That being said, I recently saw one that looked so easy I had to try it– it’s a cucumber and pineapple roll, and since my daughter loves cucumber maki and loves pineapple it seemed like a natural next step to try this one.
Let me tell you, you’ll need two things to make sure this sushi works. A very sharp knife (dipped in water between cuts), and a sushi rolling mat. Both are essential– my knife wasn’t quite sharp enough and it made things a little difficult my first time (photos are of the second time around), and without the mat I’d never have been able to compress things tightly enough to stick together.
All in all, the sushi didn’t turn out badly. A little too much rice, I think, but that just means I need to work on pressing it very, VERY thinly over the nori before filling and rolling. (like, one grain thick and leaving a few spaces in between with no rice at all, since it gets compressed together when you roll). Also I think pineapple isn’t the best thing to put in the center, since it doesn’t compress or shift to fill in empty spots, which leaves the finished slices a little unstable. I’d try salmon, or tempura shrimp, or really anything that you can cut into strips that has some “give” to it and is maybe a tiny bit sticky. Crab stick, maybe?
For my last project for the ninja baby shower I made a cake. The mother-to-be had requested bright, punchy flavors, so I went with a lemon cake using my hot milk sponge cake as a base, filled with a fantastically easy homemade lemon curd (recipe below, and it’s the creamiest, most luscious lemon curd ever) and iced with my favorite cooked-flour frosting. Then it was time to decorate!
I knew I wanted something special to tie in to the ninja theme, but just piping little ninjas or sticking the ninja cookies to the outside of the cake seemed boring, so I went in a little more sophisticated direction. I printed out some reference images of Japanese temples, and sketched them (interspersed with trees and a bridge) onto long, skinny pieces of parchment paper. I flipped the paper over (didn’t want graphite in my cake), and carefully traced out the design with melted dark chocolate in a squeeze bottle (a little less precise than I’d have hoped, but not bad). Then came the tricky part…
It’s no secret that I adore cute food, and cute food that’s been miniaturized is automatically cuter than the original. So when I saw these cute-tastic Japanese animal donuts, I immediately tried to think of ways to make them myself, only extra-adorable. That’s where my mini-donut maker came in.
Another one of my kitchen unitaskers, the mini-donut maker churns out ridiculously precious little donuts, 6 at a time, without all that frying. No, the donuts don’t have the classic texture of a fried donut– firm to the initial bite, then giving way to pillowy softness– but they’re perfectly respectable baked donuts, and did I mention they’re cute?
I’ve made these with regular boxed cake mix before, but the soft fluffiness of the cake made the donuts one-dimensional and boring– plus, the relative thinness of the cake batter made the little donut wells more difficult to fill properly. I’ve learned that boxed pound cake mix actually works best for mini donuts– it’s thick enough that it can be easily piped into the donut wells, it rises to just the right height to make a nice rounded donut, and the pound cake flavor is pretty close to a classic old-fashioned donut, which is my favorite. Sure, I could make my own pound cake mix from scratch and use that, but these are so small and will be coated with so much sugary icing that no one is going to notice the flavor of the cake– at least not the difference between homemade and box mix.
Anyway, so I mixed up the cake mix per the box directions, piped it into the heated donut maker, cooked for 3 minutes (2:30 if you want them extra-soft), and pretty soon I had a big batch (about 6 dozen) of tiny donuts. On to the decorating!
Another break from sewing…
As I’ve said before, I love making cute lunches for my little girl, and when it comes to ideas and supplies it doesn’t get any better than Japanese bento websites. When I saw these egg molds for hard-cooked eggs, I knew I had to get one. (You can also get them on Amazon)
I admit, I like using the bunny mold much better than the bear mold– it always seems to come out better and bunnies are cuter anyway.
The basic steps are simple: cook the egg, peel it, place it in the mold while warm, dunk in ice water to set. However, my experience with these has helped me develop some tips that will help you get the perfect (and convenient) molded egg.
This isn’t so much a project as a snack item I make every now and then, but which makes a great party contribution so I thought it was worth posting about for others.
Spam musubi is an extremely popular snack in Hawaii, where Japanese and American traditions collide and meld in some really delicious ways. A friend of mine took a trip there a few years ago and brought back this mold made specially for Spam musubi. It’s such a great tool! You can get your own here for a pittance.