cooking again

When I moved here, I decided I was going to really commit to observing Sunday as a religious day of rest, per my religion. In New York, I wasn’t super, well, religious about this. But I know I’m a happier person when I actually make Sunday a break from the every day. Plus, I figured it would be good to have one day when I wasn’t eating out. And so, after the first week (I am realistic in my goals…I arrived on Saturday at 5 pm), I have been very committed to this. This meant I was actually going to have to cook again…at least if I was going to eat real food.

The first thing I did was figure out how to use my Japanese rice maker that has no English on it anywhere. And while we’re on the topic of rice, can we just all acknowledge that Japanese rice is better? I know most of you haven’t actually had rice in Japan, but I’m telling you, it’s amazing. So good, in fact, that I’ll be hauling a two-kilo bag home for my sister in November because she likes rice even more than I do. Moving on…

I figured out the rice and just started with something basic. I absolutely love to bake, but cooking is a whole different ball game. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, but it’s more about speed than precision and I was made just the opposite. Even when I’m making savory things, everything I’m good at is something you put together and bake (swiss cheese chicken, leg of lamb, lasagna, Thanksgiving turkey…yes, my repertoire is weird) or something that requires people to cook their own food (fondue, raclette, paninis), so actual cooking without a recipe…not my strength.

Well, apparently, basic was a good place to start because it was delicious.  It might also help that I think the Japanese have much less tolerance for mediocrity (yeah, that’s right, I’m calling most Americans mediocre) when it comes to food. They are definitely quality over quantity.

So, this was a good start. But then, a couple of weeks ago, I was at my friend Holly’s house for dinner and she had made tonkatsu (this delicious breaded pork amazingness that I’d had one at a restaurant) using chicken instead of pork and it was so good. As good as the restaurant’s, in fact (you know, if the pork had been chicken…). And Holly also informed me, by showing it to me, that you can purchase tonkatsu sauce in the grocery store. It is available in the US, as well.  
Restaurant version

Well, that inspired me to branch out a little and try a fancier stir fry. It turned out quite nicely (I used squash instead of carrot and overcooked that slightly, but otherwise, it was delicious). That’s what I struggle with the most…getting all of the components of a meal hot, cooked, and ready at the same time. Baking is soooooo much easier.

And then I was at Holly’s again, to babysit while she and her husband went out on a date (maybe their first one sans baby since moving to Japan?), and she had made another delicious meal. This time it was gyudon, this super yummy beef on rice thing (bottom right) along with no-bake cookies (and they had a DDP for me, which is not an easy thing to find in this country, a cute baby, and Hulu Plus–if you want me to babysit for you, it doesn’t require much to make me happy).

Side note – I kind of love Mindy Kaling’s new show.
I know the gyudon may not be much to look at, but let me assure you it was unbelievable. I might have considered licking the frying pan. I didn’t, although I’m sure none of you would have been surprised if I had with only a baby to witness it. In any case, this convinced me to do two things. The first? To attempt making tonkatsu (it seemed easier than gyudon). The second? To buy a Japanese cook book. 

So, on Saturday while out and about with another friend, Erika, we found a bookstore and she, being Japanese, helped me find a really good cookbook. We went to a huge store in this lovely part of town, had dessert (it has a restaurant in it), and then wandered over to the cookbook section and found a few books in English. I’m super excited to try so many of the recipes. Unfortunately, the only recipe not in the book I chose was gyudon (it might have been in another book by the same woman and I might have taken pictures of the recipe…it makes me feel better to know I found almost the same one online when I got home that night).

And on Sunday, I made tonkatsu using pork. I didn’t follow the recipe in the book (here’s one from the Food Network if you want to try it). I just did what Holly did and it was incredible. Hot and crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. The only difference between this and the restaurant in terms of the cooking was that I pan fried, while traditionally it’s deep fried. My Japanese teacher, Sawaki-sensie, also informed me that it is typically served with cabbage. Next time. That said, it was still so delicious and how delectable does it look on a bed of oh-so-delicious sticky?

The best part about this goal to not go out to eat on Sundays (or shop, etc, etc) is that this cooking thing is now spilling over into my weekday life, too. Part of it is that some night’s I’m just so exhausted that the thought of having to use my brain enough to try and order food in Japanese is too much to handle. But the other part is that I’m not so overwhelmed by it anymore. Oh, and knowing that, if I leave my dishes in the sink all week (rinsed, of course), on Friday the cleaning lady will do them. Yeah, my life is pretty awesome. Now, don’t you wish you lived here so I could invite you over for dinner?

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