Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's Day: East Meets South!

Happy New Year!!  Hope you all enjoyed a fun New Year's Eve and New Year's Day 2013!  Remember I mentioned that we always have Japanese food on New Year's Day?  This year was no exception, but true to tradition (at least in my family!), we enjoyed a variety of regional Amercian AND Asian dishes to celebrate!  
The "must" for a Japanese New Year are the sweet rice cakes called "mochi".  Let's just say that unless you grew up with it, mochi can be an acquired taste :)  It's made with a special rice "flour", steamed, then formed around a sweetened red bean mixture.  The little cakes taste mildly sweet, smooth and chewy.  The filling tastes like what it is:  sweet beans!  I make these every year and the joke around our house is that I'm pretty much the only one that eats them!  Still, since Marie was little, we've made these cakes every New Year's Day.  I figured it was a good way for her to remember a part of her family heritage, plus it was something fun to do together.
Another thing we like to have is tempura, which you've probably had in Asian restaurants.  It's usually a variety of seafood and vegetables, coated in a super light batter and fried.  It's not the healthiest way to enjoy your vegetables, but it's a tasty way!  Relax, it's New Year's Day!  This year, we had shrimp for our New Year's Eve dinner, and I didn't want to do that again the next day.  I used a chicken breast instead-- Japanese fried chicken! :)
So that was the "East" part, but what about the "South"?  I had some crab around, so I made crab cakes, and, the "must do" for a Southerner's New Year-- black-eyed peas!  Put altogether on one plate, it was a very tasty, festive way to celebrate the New Year!  East meets South 2013!
Note:  Most Japanese dishes are produced on two levels-- the "official" ones that are made in restaurants by chefs trained for years and years, and the home-style ones that are made by moms and homemakers.  You can guess which ones I make, but I make things even easier on myself with some very good convenience products.  I'm including photos of some of them.  Now days they are available in large grocery stores or Asian markets.

1.5 cups mochiko (kind of like Japanese "Bis-quick", see picture above)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 can sweet bean paste ("An"-- made from azuki beans, see picture above)
pastry cloth or clean tea towel
paper cupcake liners
Line a steamer basket with cheesecloth and place in a pot with a lid (be sure to put water below the steamer).  In a large bowl, stir all the ingredients together with a whisk until smooth.  Pour the mixture into the lined steamer basket.  Put the lid on and steam for 25-30 minutes.
Now, plop the mochi into a medium-sized bowl and use a wooden spoon to mush it up until it is smooth, glossy, and super sticky.

Use a rubber spatula to scrape the mochi onto a tea towel or pastry cloth that has been sprinkled with cornstarch.  Push the mochi around a bit and roll into a long log.  It will still be kind of hot, so be careful.
Cut the mochi with a knife into 12 pieces.  Use your fingers to shape a piece into a round circle, edges thinner than the middle.  Put about two teaspoons of the sweet bean mixture on the mochi.  Draw the edges up around the filling and pinch together.  Place seamed side down into a cupcake liner.

Repeat with all the pieces.  
Enjoy with a cup of green tea!
1 box tempura mix (Kikkoman or Hime brands are good)
variety of vegetables, sliced into 1/4 inch slices, cut into sticks, or left whole, depending on their size and texture
(examples:  whole green beans, sliced sweet potato and/or white potato, julienne carrots, green onions cut in half crosswise)
shrimp, butterflied, OR chicken cut into strips or small chunks OR any other type of seafood
vegetable oil
tempura dipping sauce

Note:  Don't go overboard in the amount of veggies and protein you prepare.  One dinner plate full of sliced vegetables, 1 chicken breast, or a small amount (like 1/2lb) of seafood is plenty for 4 people.

Make the batter according to the package directions.  Put about 1-inch of vegetable oil in an electric skillet, or a deeper amount in a large, heavy pot.  Allow the oil to heat to 350F.  LOCK YOUR CHILDREN OUT OF THE KITCHEN, AND ASK SOMEONE ELSE TO WATCH THEM.
Start with the proteins and dip and fry them until golden brown and crispy.  Remove to paper towel lined baking sheets and place in a low oven (180F) to keep warm.  Now dip and fry the veggies the same way.  For carrots, put all the sticks into the batter bowl, then grab a clump of them and put into the hot oil-- kind of like fritters.  Cook any watery veggies last (like green peppers, mushrooms, zucchini).
Serve with a dipping sauce made with 1/4 cup dipping sauce concentrate mixed with 1 cup hot water.
Crab Cakes
This isn't really a "recipe". Crab cakes are all about the crab, so the main thing to remember is don't add too many ingredients!  I just mixed 8 oz. cooked crabmeat with 2 chopped green onions, lemon juice from 1/2 lemon, 2 Tbl. minced fresh parsley, 1 egg,  2 dashes of Tabasco sauce, and about 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs.  Add about 1/2 tsp. salt.  Form into cakes and fry in vegetable oil until brown and crusty on each side.

Black-eyed Peas
Again, not really a recipe, but I used 1 lb. fresh black-eyed peas (frozen is fine!).  Fry two strips of bacon in the bottom of a small pot.  Add 1 rib of chopped celery and 1 crushed garlic clove.  Add the black-eyed peas, a few dashes of Tabasco sauce, and enough water to cover the peas by about 1 inch.  Bring to a boil, then simmer with a lid on for at least an hour.  Taste the peas and add salt.  
If the peas seem too watery, boil awhile with the lid off.  These taste really yummy over the crab cakes!

One more Southern touch!  Bread pudding with Brandy Sauce  leftover from New Year's Eve!  We're on recipe overload for now though-- I'll post that next time!

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