If Popeye were Japanese

My kids are not particularly excited about spinach, except when I make this dish. Then, there's never enough and they fight for the last bits. So easy to prepare -- it is my go-to dish when I want to add some green to our meals.

1 bunch of spinach
1 T soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
1 T sugar (or less)
1 T ground white sesame seeds

Mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl and set aside. Blanch spinach in boiling water for 20-30 seconds until just wilted. Drain. Rinse in cold water until cool. Slice into 1-2 inch long strips. Squeeze out excess water. Mix with the sauce. Serve. Good even when cold.  

Ironmom Bar

I love fruit and nut bars like Raw Bite and Nakd but only get them when they're half-priced. Then I learned how ridiculously easy they are to make. These three-ingredient bars are chewier and more pliable than the commercial bars and I found that I actually like them better that way. You can make your own variations by adding coconut chips, or cocoa, or adding different dried fruits and nuts. We take these on road trips as they keep well. I'll be seeing a lot of these in the next two years as I train for the Ironmom.  

13-15 pieces medjool dates, pitted (deglet dates work fine but I find medjool more moist)

1 cup dried fruit (I love the tartness of dried cherries and cranberries)
1 cup nuts (my go-to nuts are pecans)

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until everything is broken down fairly well and the ingredients form a ball, pulling off from the sides of the container. Transfer it to an 8x8" pan or glass dish lined with baking paper and press it flat with a spoon. It helps to use a small piece of baking paper to press the bar flat as it can be really sticky. Refrigerate. Slice into bars. 

Chicken Salpicao

Chicken breast is the cheapest cut of meat in Japan so I do collect recipes that manage to bring out the best in chicken breasts (i.e. keep them juicy). I grew up associating salpicao with cubes of beef and it is usually an appetizer or pica-pica (finger food to go with beer). For us, this is a main dish that goes with plain rice. 

500 grams chicken breast cut into bite-size pieces

3 cloves garlic for marinating + 3 more for sauteeing
3 T worcestershire sauce
3 T Bragg's Liquid Aminos 
1 T ground black pepper
2 T butter
Button mushrooms sliced (dish is still great without mushrooms)

Marinate chicken in garlic, pepper, worcestershire sauce and Bragg's Liquid Aminos for at least an hour. Heat butter in pan. Saute garlic and mushrooms. Toss in chicken but do not put in all the sauce. The dish might end up too salty. Cook until chicken is done and serve hot. 

Punjab Eggplant

Summer's here and a neighbor gives me a HUGE bag of organic eggplant she proudly harvested from her garden. I do not like eggplant. In fact when I was younger, it's the one vegetable I avoided in Pinakbet (a popular Filipino mixed vegetable dish my Dad loved). I was determined though to make good use of vegetables given to me. At the organic center where I work, we sell Tasty Bite's Punjab Eggplant. I looked at the ingredients and kind of worked out how it was made and added my own twists. Now, I find myself buying eggplant just to make this dish. It's that good!

 2 eggplants
oil for brushing on the eggplants
butter for sauteing
1 t grated ginger
1 small onion chopped
1-2 cloves garlic crushed
½ t turmeric
1 t cumin
½ t coriander
½ cup crushed tomatoes (I use half a box of Italian tomatoes)
salt and pepper to taste
chili or cayenne pepper (optional)
chopped fresh cilantro for topping (cilantro is not usually available in Japan so I usually make this dish without but it's wonderful if you have access to cilantro!)

Brush eggplants with oil. Roast for 30 minutes in the oven (roast or broil setting). Cool and peel off skin and discard. Chop up eggplants. Heat pan/pot, melt butter. Fry up onions, garlic and ginger in butter. Add the spices. Add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer. If you have a Thermos Shuttle Chef, leave the pot inside until ready to serve. 

Goodbye Nantucket Cookies (Pecan Chocolate)

Every time I pass Costco's snack aisles (a dangerous place!), I feel Pepperidge Farm's Nantucket Cookies call my name. They look so scrumptious. I love Pepperidge Farm's Milanos so I know these would be just as addicting. But I refuse to spend ¥1,500++ on cookies. Fortunately, I can make cookies so good I don't feel Nantucket beckon me anymore. I know a lot of cookie recipes say the nuts are optional but in this recipe, they are absolutely essential.

½ cup butter
¾ cup sugar
1 egg
½ T vanilla
1 cup flour
½ t baking soda
½ t baking powder
½ cup oats
¾ cup chopped pecan nuts
¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda and baking powder. Fold in oats, pecan nuts and chocolate chips. Put balls of dough on a pan and freeze (After they have frozen, you can put the dough balls into a freezer bag for later use). To bake, put dough balls in a cookie tray spacing them properly. Bake in 350°F for about 12 minutes or until done. 

Vietnamese Wrap and Roll

I recently visited Ho Chi Minh with my colleagues at the organic center that I work at. Vietnam is home to these wonderful pork and shrimp salad rolls. I can eat these everyday. They are healthy and do not leave you feeling heavy.  Since I couldn't bring my family to Vietnam, I brought Vietnam to our dinner table for my family. Put some lemongrass oil in a diffuser and enjoy a gastronomic trip with these rolls.

1-2 small packs glass noodles or harusame or vermicelli noodles
200 g thinly sliced pork
5-6 T The Best Grilled Meat Marinade (for cooking the pork)
1 carrot, sliced into long thin strips
200 g shrimp
a couple slices of ginger (for cooking the shrimp)
lettuce leaves (1 leaf per roll needed)
Vietnamese roll rice paper sheets
fresh cilantro (I didn't have these and they're usually quite expensive in the supermarket so I substituted with nira or garlic chives and it worked wonderfully -- but if you have access to cilantro, these are the cat's meow!)
cucumber, sliced into long thin strips (optional)

Pan fry pork in The Best Grilled Meat Marinade until done. Set aside.

Boil ginger slices in salted water. Toss in peeled and deveined shrimps. Cook until done. Slice in half lengthwise. Set aside.

Soak glass noodles in water for at least 20 minutes. Blanch in boiling water. Cool in running cold water. Drain. Set aside.

Dip two sheets of rice paper in water until completely damp on both sides and they have become soft and pliable. Lay on a plate one on top of the other. Put a piece of lettuce on the bottom half of the paper. Layer with carrots, coriander or garlic chives, cucumber (if using), pork pieces, and a clump of noodles. Fold bottom portion of the paper over the filling and fold in the left and the right sides. Place 2 shrimp halves over the top of the roll. Roll wrapper tightly until the edges seal shut. Serve with the dipping sauces below. 

Nut based dipping sauce

2 T soy sauce
1 T nut butter (I've successfully used peanut butter and almond butter, smooth and crunchy both okay)
1 T honey
1 T lemon or lime
1 T vinegar
1 T sesame oil
dash of pepper
1 clove garlic minced
chili powder (I eliminated this to make it kid-friendly)

Combine all ingredients and blend well. 

Fish sauce based dipping sauce
You may not be a fan of fish sauce but do give this sauce a try. The final sauce does not taste too strong or too fishy and is in fact a really delightful blend of sweet, salty and sour. 

2 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
1½ T sugar or honey
2 T lemon or lime
1 t vinegar
2 T fish sauce
¼ cup water
chili paste or sliced fresh chili (I eliminated this to make it kid-friendly)

Combine all ingredients and mix well. 

The Best Grilled Meat Marinade

Every Saturday between 11 a.m. to 12 noon, the supermarket we go to sets up several tasting stations. There would usually be a station near the meats featuring a yakiniku (grilled meat) sauce. The ingredient list does not match the price (Really? This much for mostly soy sauce?) and often includes MSG. Then I chanced upon a priceless recipe on Cookpad which yields a really lovely sauce. That recipe included MSG. I don't know why the author felt the need for it -- the sauce was perfect without it. I keep a bottle of this in the fridge and just add a new batch with the strained old sauce.

300 ml soy sauce

100 ml sake
100 ml mirin
5 T sugar
2 T honey
¼ apple or pear, sliced in half lengthwise
8 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 knobs of ginger, sliced

Put everything in a clean jar and mix well. Screw the lid on loosely. Leave in room temperature for about 10 days to age. Mix with a spoon from time to time. After 10 days, refrigerate. The sauce tastes better with time. You can mix a new batch of sauce with strained old sauce.