Okonomiyaki

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.

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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!

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Coconut Ice Cream with Roasted Pineapple

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On our not-so-recent Hawaiian vacation (I still miss the islands!) my daughter spied an ice cream shop selling Pineapple-Coconut ice cream and was instantly drooling at the thought. We bought some, and it was decadently creamy and coconut-y, but there was next to no pineapple, which made it somewhat disappointing given that “pineapple” was the first word in the name. I vowed then and there to make my own version, though as you’ll see below I didn’t technically keep that vow…

The coconut ice cream was simple– while I’ve made custard-based ice creams before, for this recipe I decided to go with an eggless base to ensure that the eggy richness of custard didn’t overpower the coconut flavor. It totally worked– the finished ice cream was creamy and coconut-y, and (unlike many homemade ice creams) scooped smoothly and easily right out of the freezer. I toasted half of the coconut to add an extra dimension of flavor and some texture, and really liked the result. All in all, an excellent ice cream.

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Cucumber-Pineapple Mosaic Sushi

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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?

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Black Bean Brownies

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I admit to being skeptical about “healthy” desserts using alternative ingredients– they never taste quite right, and you end up eating more of them anyway because you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the “healthy” moniker. So it took me a while before trying this brownie recipe, which uses black beans as a base and which is also gluten-free. But since I was trying to avoid flour this month (my usual diet is way too starchy) I thought this might be a tasty dessert option.

Reviews of similar recipes have been mixed– some people rave over them, others claim that the texture is off-putting and the bean flavor is too obvious. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. These brownies are nice and chocolate-y, with no hint of bean flavor, even as an aftertaste. However, the texture is definitely not that of a regular brownie– they’re not chewy at all, nor are they gooey enough to be considered fudge-y. They’re soft, but not cakey– they’re kind of like a dry soufflĂ©, in that they melt away easily in the mouth. And they’re not dense but I wouldn’t call them light either. In short, the texture is difficult to define, but not unpleasant.

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Pineapple-Coconut Muffins

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With the recent spate of wintry weather here at home, I decided to try to warm things up by invoking tropical flavors– pineapple and coconut! Since I make a batch of muffins roughly every two weeks and it was about time to make one, I started with my standard muffin recipe and loaded it up with crushed pineapple and coconut flakes, using the pineapple juice for good measure.

The finished muffins were light and tender, with nice bursts of flavor from the pineapple and a subtle coconut background. They’re not overly sweet, which I actually liked since coconut baked goods can often be too sugary. They also go well with tea, if you want to enjoy warm-weather flavors with a cold-weather beverage.

I will note that if I weren’t making these for my kid, I might have considered adding some rum to the batter, or making a rum/brown sugar glaze. Maybe you’d like to consider it if you try these yourself!

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Honey-Cardamom Pear Tartlets

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Recently, I was trying to figure out what dessert to bring to a Lunar New Year party. More specifically, I was trying to figure out what dessert to bring that was not red bean cream puffs, because I didn’t want to go to the trouble of making the craquelin topping and I still needed something bite-sized and tasty. I was going through my old recipes when I came across my post about honey-cornflake crunchies and it occurred to me that they might make a neat base for a different kind of dessert combining honey with some other flavor components.

I decided to flavor my filling with cardamom, since it’s often paired with honey. I’d originally planned to make a simple stabilized whipped cream filling, but concluded that it would be too light in comparison to the crunchy base and opted instead to give it a richer mouthfeel by combining two concepts– stabilized whipped cream and cooked-flour frosting. Both involve beating a thickened pudding-like mixture into the dairy– it’s just that the frosting uses butter instead of liquid cream. My experimental recipe worked beautifully, and I’ll definitely be using it in the future.

Of course, once I’d settled on cream-filled tartlets, I felt that they needed something more, for texture, and flavor. After a false start (persimmons apparently just went out of season, boo!) I settled on pears and pistachios, both classic pairings with cardamom.

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Egg Yolk Sponge Cake with Lemon Filling

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After making a double batch of white cake for my daughter’s Rainbow Galaxy birthday cake, I had eight egg yolks left over, plus a bunch of zested lemons, a block of cream cheese, and most of a can of sweetened condensed milk left from other party treats. Always loath to waste things, I decided to use the leftovers to make a dessert the following weekend. Fortuitously, the ingredients all worked out reasonably well.

The tough part was the egg yolks– ordinarily I’d consider a creme brulĂ©e, but I wanted something more portable and shareable, so I managed to find a sponge cake recipe that calls for all yolks rather than all whites. I was skeptical, but it came out okay. A little dry, I thought, though I don’t believe it was overbaked– I think a little oil or butter would’ve helped it retain more moisture. However, it had a nice flavor, a lovely golden color due to all the yolks, and it split easily after cooling to make two layers.

To use up the lemons, cream cheese, and sweetened condensed milk, it was easy to find a recipe for lemon icebox pie using those ingredients. I figured that if I made the filling and let it thicken most of the way before spreading it between my cake layers, it would work out. Oddly enough, it stayed pretty loose– more like regular pudding than like a firmer pie filling– but it tasted good. Not very lemony (likely due to the lack of lemon zest) but good. More like a cheesecake with a hint of lemon.

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