Ko-So-A-Do

Hikari's Food/Japanophile and Other Interesting Stuff blog

Quick Update and New Weekly!

Ahh, Real life encroaches! We have a house guest coming to visit and had to clean out the storage guest room.

We also had to patch a door after trying to shove a piece of furniture through it. What did we use? Self-stick floor tile. It actually doesn’t look that bad! Maybe I’ll finish the whole door that way in a neat design.

I’ve been thinking of starting a new weekly article, talking about things I think are neat, things that are handy, or things that serve multiple purposes.

Anyway, I would like some ideas on what I should call the weekly.

Shpadoinkle!

Nifty Weekly

Please comment and let me know what you’d prefer or if you have a better idea!

Also, I finally have a Facebook page!

www.facebook.com/kosoadoblog

You can find me on Twitter, too!

www.twitter.com/hikaritennyo

Internet exposure Kitaaaaa!

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Building the American Bento (Part 3)

Click here for Part 1.

Click here for Part 2.

The second half is very picture intensive, making for a VERY long post! Apologies!

So far, we’ve looked at all sorts of ways to contain your lunch. But how do we carry it around all day until time to eat? Lunch bags come in a variety of sizes, styles and shapes for most people’s needs. From brown paper to the insulated carrier, these bags are relatively easy to find, especially with Back-to-School fever sweeping the stores. Also consider the camping/sports section of a store to look for more options.

Assorted totes for $1

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If you don’t wish to purchase a bag especially for lunch, consider one of those reusable shopping bags that most stores offer now. Any kind of tote will do.

Another option is to look to the Japanese at how they wrap their lunches. We can easily adapt their ideas to the American lunch.

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The kinchaku from Daiso

Kinchaku: This is a drawstring bag, basically. Usually carried by Japanese women, it can be as small as a coin purse or as large as a decent sized handbag. Many are sold specifically for carrying bento.

Here, you can see one I bought at Daiso (Japanese worldwide “dollar” store chain. In America, mostly in California with 2 in Seattle), as well as one I made on  my own a year ago.

Yes, that's a bandana!

My hand sewn kinchaku from 2011

Furoshiki: A traditional wrapping cloth, furoshiki are basically a square piece of cloth used to wrap things, and they can wrap almost anything. Available in different materials, styles and sizes, these cloths are currently getting a popularity boost with the eco-friendly crowd. However, Japanese furoshiki can be quite expensive. You should know by now that I have an alternative, right? Of course!

Bandanas. Yes, bandanas. They can be found in department stores, dollar stores, Walmart and Target. You can usually get them for a dollar, if you’re careful. Most are made of easy to wash cotton and they come in a variety of colors and styles (you don’t have to stick with the traditional pattern).

You can also use a square scarf or handkerchief if you like, or even custom cut your own, as long as it’s square.

But, you say, how do I tie that cloth to hold my things? The Japanese government released a list of ways to tie furoshiki to encourage their use. (Click the link for an image of general tying tips) Sometimes Japanese instructions can be a bit hard to follow. I’ll give some basic instructions at the end.

Sanrio branded oshibori with case

Oshibori: When we eat, everyone should wash their hands. Bringing your own washing method is a good idea. You can bring wet wipes  or if you would like, you can use what the Japanese call Oshibori. This is basically a wet washcloth that is used to clean your hands before/after eating. Offered at restaurants, they’re usually warmed. For use in a lunch box, they’re the ideal alternative to wet wipes.

Baby washcloths as oshibori, with container ideas.

How can you pack your own? All you need is a thin washcloth and a container. I like the baby washcloths available at the dollar store in a pack of 4. Remember Magic Towels? Those are nice and thin, usually cheap, but you’ll have to un-magic them first. The whole point is we need them to take up a small amount of space. The container can be anything that won’t leak. Travel toothbrush or soap holders are a good example. Some of those small snack containers I’ve suggested in Part 2 will work too. In a pinch, use snack-size zip-bags. Also, the washcloth should be damp, not soaking. Just moist enough to remove dirt from your fingers. When you come home, just toss it in the washer.

How to Wrap Furoshiki:

Method 1: (Otsukai Tsutsumi) This is mostly for containers with secure lids or for items that are less likely to leak. (Place fabric face down)

Lay your bandana flat. Place your container in the middle with the corners diagonal to the wrap. Fold one corner neatly over the container. Fold the opposite corner over the container and tuck under.

Grasp the free ends and bring them together over the container, tie a double knot.

Extra: Bring up the excess folded corner and cover your knot. (not necessary)

Method 2: (Yotsu Musubi) This helps hold containers with less secure lids and items that may leak. I use this to wrap potentially leaky items that go into another bag in case of spills. (Place fabric face down)

Lay your bandana flat. Place your container in the middle with the corners diagonal to the wrap. Bring up two opposite corners of your wrap and tie a single knot (or double knot).

Repeat with the remaining corners.

Extra: Pull the free ends of the first (single) knot to the outside. Holding them together with the ends of the second knot, tie a single knot.

The bundled item can either be carried by the knot or you can place it in a bag.

The Bag: (modified Katakake Fukuro) More useful with a larger piece of cloth, it can hold your items plus silverware and a drink. An extra large cloth can even make a shoulder bag or beach bag.

Fold the bandana on the diagonal with the outside facing in. Tie a knot in each of the two folded corners, about 1/3 down from the edge to the middle.

Turn the wrap inside out, tucking in the knotted corners.
Take the free ends and carefully double knot just at the end.

Extra: You can also roll the free ends to give it more of a handle look.

Also feel free to YouTube videos showing how to tie furoshiki. There are MANY.

So now you have the hardware, what’s for lunch?

*Update* Looking for more American Bento ideas? Check out Part Four Here!

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What to do with a peck of peppers: Stuffed Baby Bell Peppers, 2 ways

(“Building the American Bento” will continue later, recent experiences are better shared while fresh.)

Okay, so I don’t have a whole “peck” of peppers, but you get the point. (1 peck: approximately 2 gallons)

The recipes don’t have ingredient lists as they are simple enough with only a couple of ingredients, all eyeballed.

Today I was grocery shopping and found a 1 pound bag of baby bell peppers. You know, the red, orange and yellow sweet bells that (for me) taste so much better than the green ones. Normally I would pass by as I rarely finish a bag before they go bad, but I can’t get them individually and these were ½ price. My little bargain hunter’s heart fluttered, so I grabbed them. After I got them home, I had to decide what to do with all the little buggers.

Cored and sliced baby bells, a sunset of color.

Since I haven’t had stuffed peppers in a while, it seemed like the logical thing to do. After washing and coring, any that didn’t make the stuffing muster got sliced and frozen for later recipes. This was easy enough, just line up the slices in a baking pan, freeze for about an hour, then stuff them in a freezer bag.

What are my stuffing criteria? They must have a nice, hollow inside and not be flat. Flat ones just tend to squeeze out their fillings. Then I had to stuff them, but with what? I didn’t want to thaw out a whole pound of meat for these guys, so I dug out some meatballs. While those were thawing, I found the cream cheese hiding in the back of the fridge.

Way 1: Seasoned Cream Cheese (smaller peppers)

Stuffed with seasoned cream cheese.

Soften a couple spoonfuls of cream cheese (depending on how many and what size peppers you’re stuffing, approx 1-2 teaspoon per pepper). About 15 to 30 seconds in the microwave will do this.

Mix in some spices, I used Italian dressing mix. Other options: Ranch dressing mix, onion soup mix (w/ sour cream), fresh herbs, basil, oregano, garlic, onion, sun dried tomato, other cheeses, whatever floats your boat. Just try to avoid over-seasoning, feel free to taste it.

Mix it all together and stuff the peppers. I did both the top-stuff method as well as the slice-and-fill method work, using a spoon. If you’re going to do several in one batch, place your seasoned cheese in a plastic bag, cut off a corner and use it to pipe the cheese inside, it will make a much neater and more evenly filled product. If you want to grill these, consider going heavy with a nice, melty cheese and go light in the seasonings.

These can be served cold, at room temperature, or can be lightly grilled. They work great as a snack, appetizer or in a lunch box.

Way 2: Meaty Goodness (larger peppers)

The measuring here is heavy on the eyeballing of ingredients as I just made six of them this way.

Meaty peppers before baking

Most people stuff peppers with meat and rice. Well, I didn’t have any prepared rice and figured these were so small they didn’t need it. Also, my meatball recipe has all sorts of fillings, so they should be fine.

I used one meatball (about 1 tablespoon) per pepper and added about 1/8 cup of shredded cheese to them all as well as a drizzle of Teriyaki sauce. After mixing it all together, I stuffed these peppers the same way as the cream cheese, making sure the meat was all the way down into the peppers. The sliced peppers got an extra drizzle of teriyaki in the slice.

My toaster oven baked these at 350 for about 20 minutes until the meat was cooked through. Time may vary depending on your oven. The peppers were cooked but still a bit firm, the way I like them.  They don’t have to stand up, either. Mine came out just fine with no leakage except for the excess oil.

Meaty peppers after baking. Notice one’s missing? That was my taste-tester.

These can be served warm and if you like, with a little extra sauce. They would definitely make good appetizers or you could pack a couple for lunch.

Verdict for both off-the-cuff recipes? I think I used too much Italian dressing, maybe I should have done Ranch instead. But my meaty peppers were awesome.

Meaty pepper ready to go in my mouth-hole.

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Building the American Bento (Part 2)

Click here for Part 1.

Last time, we covered “What is a bento?” as well as food containers. Today, we’ll continue our journey starting with the smaller “snack” container.

Assorted Collection

This is a small sample of my current collection of food containers.
No making fun of my cute stuff!

Of course, there’s always the small zip-bag, but where’s the fun in that? You can use smaller storage containers, flip-top lid containers, even cute cartoon character containers. Both Cheerios and Goldfish come to mind for shaped, branded containers. I also repurpose various containers. Tomato and lemon savers become snack containers. Those little snack cups full of mini cookies? Washed and label removed, they become snack cups full of nuts, trail mix, whatever. The round, red-lidded containers above are from KFC. (They’re meant to be reusable!) Also, don’t forget to check out the baby product section. There are lots of small containers and other things that can be used.

Then, there are sauce containers. Often, I use things like BBQ & Ranch cups as well as ketchup and soy sauce packets from restaurants. However, sometimes you need a sauce holder for dip, mayo, dressings, etc. or you run out of those packets.  Here’s where it gets tricky. The Japanese love their sauce containers, but American companies aren’t as quite up to the task of offering small containers for sauces/food.

Small containers

Just some of my sauce containers.

What do I do? Repurpose. Pill containers, empty candy packs, even (empty) travel lotion jars get converted for sauce use. That carrot? It was from Easter and originally had nasty powdered candy in it. The bunny was an Easter egg.

cups

For a child’s lunch, call them “mini cups”.

Don’t need a lid? then consider plastic shot glasses (also known as mini party cups) or silicone baking cups. If your town has a restaurant supply store, look for the disposable sauce cups that come with/without lids.

Accessories: Food dividers, skewers, straws, etc. Technically, sauce cups go here.

The Japanese can sometimes get a bit zealous about their food separation. Restaurant bento boxes have compartments for strict food segregation. Homemade lunches can use food cups, foil, and separators called baran. What is baran? If you’ve ever seen those little fake grass bits in a sushi container, that’s baran. The purpose is twofold.  It is decorative and also separates flavors. (That wad of wasabi stays on one side while your sushi stays on the other.)

Dividers

From grass and leaves to cute characters, there are many different pre-cut styles available.

Sometimes food separation is necessary: pickled foods versus fresh, sauced items vs. unsauced, sweet vs. savory. Other than saving those little bits of plastic grass or ordering some dividers off the web, there are options. Like I mentioned before, foil works as a good divider. Paper and silicone cups also work. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce or cabbage can also be used. Any kind of thin, food safe plastic or silicone can be cut to be used as a food divider.

Picks

Colorful food picks and forks.

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Along with food separation comes keeping it from rolling around. Skewers/food picks are great for berries, grapes, tomatoes, anything that could roll around in your lunch box. Small grilled meat skewers are also a possibility. Toothpicks are the easy choice here, but cocktail/party picks are a fun and colorful way to skewer your food. They can even help you share. Also consider those little party flags that usually go in cupcakes.

Don’t forget a straw for your drink, salt or pepper packets (they can be made from straws), and the eating utensils.

There are neat types of forks/knives out there, but metal or disposable will do, depending on your preference.

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The boxed lunch collection is almost complete!

(The next section is longer than expected, so it gets an installment all to itself.)

Next Time: Bags, cloth wrappers and napkins/washcloth.

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Building the American Bento (Part 1)

To the Japanese who read my blog: Apologies if I mangle your culture! I am attempting to make the idea simple to understand to Westerners. Let me know in comments if I get anything wrong.

Bento

First of all, what is a bento? The answer is both simple and complex. Wikipedia’s (partial) definition: Bento (弁当 bentō) is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine.

The term can refer to the meal or the box itself. What the bento (or bentou as some spell it) has actually come to mean in recent years is different from person to person. To a Japanese wife/mother, it is a way to make sure her family members have a healthy and filling home-cooked meal while at work or school. Japanese bento meals can be found in almost every store that serves food, even train stations. Many restaurants offer a bento type meal served in a lacquered box with multiple compartments. In Japan, the meal typically consists of rice, vegetables and some form of protein (egg, meat, tofu).

Sometimes bento can refer to the box that contains the meal. From wood to metal to plastic, there is a variety of bento-type boxes on the market. Going to Amazon.com gives a random selection of what is available on the American market. (The link also includes various accessories.)

Did you have one?

So, with this basic understanding of the bento, does this mean if we want the bento experience we need to buy a Japanese bento box and invest in authentic accessories? Not necessarily. As a kid, did you ever take a bagged lunch to school? Did you have the vibrantly colored character lunchbox with thermos? As an adult, did you ever pack a lunch to take to work? If so, you have already participated in the Western “bento” culture.

Why?

Because regardless of culture, “bento” means: Boxed Lunch.

With the worldwide economy (still) declining, saving money includes cutting back on food expenses. Why pay for that deli sandwich every day when you can pack your own? Want a hot meal? As long as there is a microwave available, you can turn leftovers into lunch! With a little planning and some smart shopping, healthy, delicious and even beautiful meals can save your wallet and your waist. Yes, eating a boxed lunch can help you lose weight! I’s the ultimate in portion control when portion sizes have increased in restaurants.

Ready to start on your boxed lunch journey? Let’s start with the container. What do you want to take for lunch? Are you a salad muncher, a sandwich nibbler, a hot meal consumer? Do you want to repurpose leftovers or make lunch from scratch? Once you define what you like, go container shopping. I admit I’m a plastic user. I love the colors, the microwavability, the durability. Look at the food container section of your favorite store, browse the aisles of a kitchen store. Most of the work has already been done for you! A variety of pre-compartmentalized containers already exist.

However, if you’re feeling adventurous, creativity can help you tailor a food container system to meet your needs. I would show you my pantry and my collection of plastic containers, but… it’s scary in there! One week after reorganizing my shelf of foodware, it’s all helter-skelter again. Round, square, rectangular, all shapes and sizes are found in there. Many serve dual purpose of lunch container and leftover duty.

Let’s take a trip to the local dollar store to see what’s available for super cheap. (Sorry, most of these images are from my phone, and it’s not smart.)

Drink Bottles: I usually avoid dollar store bottles because they have a tendency to leak. But these are small bottles that can fit in a lunch pack.

Drink Bottles

Food Containers: From segmented to snap-lock lids to disposable, there is a variety of styles for a dollar.

Segmented container

This picture shows a container that features a segmented container and includes a fork and knife.

Locking lids

Click-lock lids help prevent spills.

colorful

Colorful boxes are fun and insulated jars are perfect for soups/stews/chili.

disposable

Disposable containers are also an option, such as the traditional Styrofoam take-out or an aluminum container if you’re okay with not microwaving.

Once you have your container, filling it up is all up to you.

To Be Continued.

Next Time: Small Containers, Accessories, Bags and wrappings.

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eBay and General Douche-baggery

Non-food/Japan related post, decided to add a rant section. Well, the cartoon character is Japan related, but that’s splitting hairs, since I never use the character’s name.

I have been a member of eBay since 2002 and have generally had good experiences. I’ve mostly been a buyer and have sold a few items here and there. However, it’s the few rotten experiences that make me want to rip my hair out.

I have a closet full of junk and decided to sell some of said junk at a low price to share it with whoever wanted to pay for it. It’s been a while since I’ve sold anything and the changes they’ve made to the system took some getting used to. Otherwise, it seemed to be smooth sailing.

After a couple of days, someone bid on almost all of my auctions for merchandise of a certain cartoon character. Well, I was excited I would get to do one shipment instead of multiples. But a couple of days later, I looked to see that all of that one person’s bids had disappeared from the auctions. Upon further examination, they had retracted all their bids with the claim of “Seller changed the description of the item”. Confused, I went to the community forums to research this. I found out it is a very easy process to retract a bid, all it takes is choosing one of 3 excuses:

It is ONLY OK to retract a bid if…,

  • You accidentally entered the wrong bid amount due to a typographical error. For example, you bid $99.50 instead of $9.95. If this happens, you need to reenter the correct bid amount right away. Changing your mind does not qualify as accidentally entering a wrong bid amount.
  • The item’s description changed significantly after you entered your last bid. For example, the seller updated details about the item’s features or condition.
  • You can’t reach the seller by telephone or email.

Starting on eBay as a buyer, I took the bidding process seriously and always read over the descriptions carefully before placing a bid. I knew that retractions were possible, but it used to require a LOT more digging and having an irate seller. I took this list of three reasons seriously and never imagined gaming the system.

I know I had not changed the item description, so what gives? Apparently there are people that do bid retractions frequently and this has made eBay show how many retractions the person has done in the past 12 months. However, it is found under “Feedback as a Buyer” and you have to know what you’re looking for. This person had retracted bids over 150 times in the past year. Following the suggestions of the community members, I reported the person, blocked them and updated my selling restrictions to block anyone with multiple violation reports. I had to use the community forum to locate most of these links. eBay does not make them easy to find.

I thought my slightly annoying ordeal was over and went about my merry way. The day my auctions were to end, I discovered a message from the blocked user, “thanking” me for the block and helping them avoid unnecessary expenditures. Wait, they wanted to bid again?!? Confused, I sent a reply saying that if they were to retract their bids fraudulently, then that was the consequence. Then the user went on to ask me to stop bothering them, proceeded to claim that my auctions HAD changed, and admitted to “accidentally” choosing my listings.

*SIGH*

I took the high ground and did not reply, my fingers itching to type out a scathing response that I wasn’t responsible for their inability to read an auction. But I was good, I avoided further conflict. Yay Me. ^_^

Continuing to read the community boards, I discovered an increasingly frustrated, unhappy and shrinking  seller community that has been trapped by policies that do not properly punish violators of certain rules. Understandably, eBay has a preference to favor buyers over sellers to help avoid fraud. However, the system in place to help sellers avoid fraudulent buyers is severely lacking and full of loopholes favoring the buyer. I could go more in-depth about this, but you didn’t come here to read a five-page essay, so I’ll leave the details out for now.

This has greatly helped explain some of the increasingly paranoid addendums seen on many auctions lately. Some sellers have a whole paragraph about not bidding if you’re not serious, all non-paying bidders get reported, items are marked, etc ad nauseam. It made me avoid many sellers when I saw unwelcoming language in their auctions. Now I think I understand why the Chinese sellers seem to have taken over the site.

I do have one question about Chinese sellers now. How can they offer free shipping on a $1 dollar item they then have to ship internationally? eBay’s current seller fee is 9% and Paypal’s fee is between 2 and 4% plus a flat fee depending on their international merchant status. Using the normal US rate of 2.9% plus 30 cents (International is more), this equates to the seller receiving $0.58 and then they pay to mail it? Is the Chinese mail system that inexpensive?

Ahh, I feel all ranted out now.

Anyone else been frustrated by an online buying/selling system? Please feel free to comment below.

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Dorayaki

What is Dorayaki? Basically, it is a sweet pancake sandwich. Traditionally, it is filled with sweet adzuki bean paste (anko). However, as you will soon learn, my edibles heavily turn toward fusion, using what’s on hand or whatever suits your preference.

A quick Google search reveals tons of Dorayaki recipes all over the interwebs. However, who wants to actually make castella cake for a snack? All you need is some Bisquick all-purpose baking mix, whatever the pancake recipe requires (usually eggs and milk) and a sweet filling. Pancake mix works well also, especially since many of those only require water, but it’s less flexible in its uses.

What to use for the sweet filling? I’m actually going to use anko, but there are tons of options.

  • Peanut butter & jelly, Nutella, ice cream, whipped cream, sliced bananas, if it’s sweet, try it!

Peanut butter, Anko Dorayaki

 

Preparation: On the box, there’s a recipe for pancakes: (yours can differ)

  • 2 cups mix, 1 cup milk, 2 eggs.

This makes a LOT of small pancakes. Halving the recipe makes it easier on someone doing this for the first time and makes for fewer mistakes to eat. Smaller pancakes usually benefit from a little more milk (about a tablespoon per cup).

While I’m doing plain here, there are a number of ways to make this recipe different. Powdered Matcha (green tea) adds a nice green color to the batter and gives it a wonderful flavor with anko. Cocoa powder adds flavor without sweetness, while chocolate syrup or even hot cocoa mix adds extra sweetness. Sweet spices like cinnamon can be used for PB&J and chocolate chips are great if you plan on using ice cream. Use your imagination!

Now, for the cooking part. Surely, everyone’s made a pancake at some point in his/her life? Just in case, the basics. In a mixing bowl, combine your mix, milk and eggs (unless your mix just requires water) and any other flavorings you wish to add. Ours was just some sugar and vanilla. Stir with a spoon, fork, whisk, whatever it takes to get the job done. When it seems incorporated, set it aside and heat up a pan.

I tried using my Foreman interchangeable grill with the griddle plate, but I think it’s about to die as it never got hot enough, making cooked but ghostly pale cakes. I switched over to a pan on the stove to finish.

I use medium heat (your stove/griddle may vary) and melt a small dollop of butter/margarine in your pan. How can you tell when it’s hot enough? If you drip a couple of drops of water in the pan and it sizzles, you’re ready.

Now, it’s a question of how big do you want these suckers? Silver Dollar pancakes are about 2 to 3 inches across, and I’ve seen dorayaki up to six inches across. Any bigger and you’ll have to fold it over or roll it.

Mini Pancakes

Pour some batter into the pan, keeping in mind it will continue to spread out when you stop, especially if you added extra milk. When you’re cooking these, be careful with your first couple to get the timing right so that they’re not burned or undercooked when you flip them. Usually, when the edges are dry and the top has bubbles, they’re ready. Flip and finish. The second side isn’t as important as the first, as this side usually isn’t as pretty. Just don’t burn it!

Feel free to adjust your stove temperature as necessary to get an evenly cooked product.

As your pancakes come off the pan, store them on a plate, stacking them up. You don’t have to keep them warm or covered. When you’re finished, feel free to take some time to clean up, put away any extra mix/eggs/milk/butter, soak your batter bowl, etc.

If you’re not going to fill them right away, feel free to cover the plate in plastic wrap and store it in the fridge until you are.

Filling them couldn’t be easier. Just spread your filling on one pancake then sandwich another on top.

Choose Your Toppings!

Eating: Try them with tea or coffee, as a snack, for dessert or in a lunchbox!

Make a Sammich

What do I do with all that extra anko? I make Anpan, anmitsu, various other things are good with this stuff. Hmmm, I think that will require another post.

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Kitchen Staples (necessities)

I didn’t mean to overwhelm with the sheer volume of this list, but after I got started, it just kept going and going… All the items here are of course optional, depending on your taste/dietary needs.

As I wrote my last post, I started thinking about what a kitchen needs on hand for not only day-to-day cooking, but also last-minute meal creation. A friend of mine lives in a large metropolitan area and she was telling me about how there was nothing to eat in the house. This was unfathomable to me. She then mentioned about how in the city people tend to only shop for what they need on a daily basis. As I am from more rural surroundings, my family would go shopping once a week regularly, with maybe another day mid-week to catch up. Having a pantry filled with shelf-stable items and a well-stocked fridge/freezer was the norm.

With that in mind, I meandered through my cabinets on a quest to list what my stock-up necessities were. This list may/may not be updated as I remember/discover more items, considering the current size.

It does a body good!

It does a body good!

Milk: This is something my kitchen can never be without. While I don’t drink much of it, I do use it in cooking frequently, as well as with cereal or in coffee. I find that the real thing is better for me than artificial creamer.

If you are someone who does not drink milk frequently like me, consider these options:

~Keep a quart size carton on hand. While it costs more per ounce to purchase a smaller container, you waste less when it inevitably goes bad. Also, cartons last longer and retain more vitamins than plastic jugs.

~Powdered or evaporated milk. If you’re only going to use it for recipes, the taste isn’t too different after cooking.

At the moment, I have a half-full quart carton of 2% in the fridge as well as a can of evaporated and a can of sweetened condensed in the pantry. I need to replenish my powdered supply.

Incredible, edible

Incredible, edible

Eggs: Ahh, the incredible, edible egg. Fried, scrambled, boiled, in cake, something that can be consumed with breakfast, lunch and dinner. We go through at least a dozen a week in our house. While there are many stories about how long eggs should last, I’ve kept them in my fridge for over a month with no bad effects. (Sometimes we just don’t eat any for a while.) Sure, they’re not as fresh and that does affect color and taste, but in a recipe they’re fine.

Not much of an egg user? Try a half-carton or the egg substitute stuff. I don’t use the substitute because I can’t find a supply of non-seasoned stuff. Imagine making French toast or a cake with onion and garlic. Yuck.

Fats: Butter, margarine, oils, all get lumped together. I keep a tub of “vegetable oil spread” in the fridge and a small bottle of oil in the cabinet along with a can of the spray. One of these days I’ll get one of those refillable sprayers. A refrigerated tub of spread will last (almost) forever and as long as the oil is corn/vegetable/soy, it will keep almost as long. Heck, keep it in the fridge, too! Pan cooking and toast gets the spread while baking gets the bottle. Butter comes into play during the holidays with cookies, etc. Otherwise I don’t use it much due to the fact it doesn’t last as long, is harder to spread and has a lower smoke point. I fry very little, hence less oil usage.

Even if your pan is non-stick, a dollop of spread helps keep it that way.

*Southern women usually keep lard and/or bacon grease on hand. I occasionally save bacon grease, but it’s not a regular in my fridge.

Sugar: From granulated to syrups, having sugar on hand is necessary for cooking. Growing up, we drank a LOT of Kool-Aid. As I got older, sweet tea replaced it as the drink of choice. While I now drink my tea with MUCH less sugar than I used to, it’s still there. I also keep a bottle of simple syrup in the fridge. You know those bottles of gourmet syrup? While I haven’t found a way to replace the flavored ones yet, I can save money by saving one of the glass bottles and making my own plain version. (Hmmm sounds like another post all to itself… Need to make a note somewhere.)

Don’t use much sugar? Granulated sugar doesn’t go bad as long as you keep the moisture/bugs out. Put it in a resealable jar. Use sugar packets. Heck, I even hoard those syrup and honey packets that come from [fast food restaurant with golden arches and that other one with the antenna-ball headed spokesperson].

There are various types of sugar to use, it all depends on preference.

Grains/Pasta: This is another all-encompassing title. Oatmeal, spaghetti noodles, ramen, rice, beans, all of that goes here. Nothing wrong with keeping a box of mac and cheese handy. Unless you have pest issues, then everything has to be kept in resealable containers. Remember Tupperware? Lovely stuff, even the generic kind from the dollar store. Five pound bags of rice get transferred into one container, beans another, and I love those tall containers for long noodles.

Oats are great for breakfast, cookies, even a meatloaf additive, if you wish. What goes with noodles? What doesn’t? Cheese, tomato sauce, ground meat, you’ve got homemade Hamburger Helper!

Rice, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Long grain, Calrose, Brown, pilaf, fried, onigiri, with beans, pudding, Spanish, sushi, soups… dare I continue?

*Grain-based Honorable mention: Bisquick all-purpose baking mix. Really, you can make almost anything with this stuff. I rarely keep flour on hand anymore because I just use this. Except during the holidays. Unless I’m lazy in a pinch. I must confess to using it up to a year past the best-by date. Worked fine.

*Not quite grain but Honorable mention: Potato Flakes. Yes, instant mashed potatoes. Hubby can make them taste better than hand-mashed and people really can’t tell the difference when he makes them. These get used in so much more in my house. I thicken soups with this instead of starch. I’ll line casserole dishes with it to absorb extra juices in many of my one-dish recipes. Meatloaf and balls get it, too.

Canned/frozen fruits/vegetables: Eating fruits & veggies is important. Fresh can be found in season, frozen and stored for later. I do this with Zucchini and squash, especially. Frozen produce retains most of the vitamins and minerals that are lost during the heat-intensive canning process. However, canned goods last longer and don’t get freezer burn. A quick trip in the microwave heats canned goods quickly and steams/thaws frozen effectively.

I’ve started keeping more frozen than canned, but I still keep a good selection in the pantry for emergencies.

My canned goods: Beans (kidney, baked, pinto, navy), vegetable mix/medley, corn, tomato-based (whole, diced, paste, sauce, pre-made spaghetti sauce, etc. Can you tell I like tomatoes?), green beans, mushrooms, mixed fruit, pie filling.

My frozen goods (typically used more frequently than canned): Corn, vegetable mix/medley, stir fry mixes, green beans, broccoli, various fruits (Smoothies!).

I also freeze bananas that are starting to get a bit overripe for smoothies later.

Couldn't resist putting in Meatwad!

Couldn’t resist putting in Meatwad!

Meats: Some people swear by only using fresh, but if you need to live on a budget, frozen’s the way to go. Storage bags, plastic wrap, foil, vacuum bag thingie, use whatever it takes to keep the meat from getting freezer burn so it lasts longer. Pork chops and boneless chicken breasts are bought in bulk, separated and frozen. Hamburger meat, the same way, after making meatballs with some of it. Steak, well, this is tricky. $5 per pound and higher prices usually keep this off the menu. I wait until London Broil or Chuck Roast is on sale, use a good knife to carve off slabs, freeze it for use with fajitas, beef tips, and yes, as steaks.

Why buy pre-cut meat when you can do it yourself? However, I find that if I can get my chicken on sale, it’s worth not having to cut it off the bone myself. Plus, with it already off the bone, it’s easier to chop it up later for recipes. (As of this publish date, I can get a large package of boneless chicken breast from Wal-Mart a national discount chain for just under $2 per pound.)

Anything else I’m leaving out? Oh yeah,

Spices/Seasonings: Here’s the fun part. It all depends on your background/preferences. You do not need a fully stocked spice rack. If it’s something you don’t use regularly, chances are it will go stale before you get around to using it.

For beef or chicken with rice, along with various other recipes, I keep a packet of dry gravy mix or bouillon powder for seasoning.

My current spice rack (yours can differ, this is just for example) includes: Italian (spaghetti) seasoning, seasoned salt, chicken bouillon powder, brown gravy mix, taco seasoning, curry powder, teriyaki powder, ranch & Italian dressing mixes, dashi (I prefer awase over hon), sesame seeds, pumpkin spice mix (more convenient than plain cinnamon), ginger, chai masala.

In the fridge: Ketchup, mustard, shoyu (soy sauce), teriyaki, Worcestershire sauce, BBQ sauce, mayo, salad dressing, um… wow, there’s a lot of junk in my fridge, moving along…

I know there’s other stuff I’m leaving out. Some of it, like my miso and furikake, will wait for one of my Japanophilia posts. Other details will just have to come out  later as I keep writing. This is already over 1600 words long.

And you don’t need to do it all at once either. My list is from years of finding what I like.

Buy on sale, buy small if you don’t use much, bulk buying works if it’s on sale, but you have to be able to use it. Most importantly, think of what you like to eat and how you can make it at home for less.

Please feel free to comment, what do you always keep on hand?

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Meaty Balls

Sorry there aren’t many pictures, next time I make these, I’ll take some in-process. Also, keep in mind I rarely measure my ingredients exactly, I eyeball most of this stuff!

Whenever I make my meatballs, Hubby comments about how he wants to put my balls in his mouth… umm… yeah…

…Cue Chef’s Salty Balls here…

Okay, now that’s out of my brain, today I will explain how to prepare tasty meatballs that can be stored in your freezer for months and can be used whenever you need them. By purchasing ground meat on sale, I find that I can separate large packages for use later. This is just one of the ways I stretch my food budget. The last time I purchased ground beef, it was in a 4-lb package. 2 lb went to meatballs, the rest was separated into 1 lb sections and frozen for whatever I need down the road.

What you will need: (Remember, my ingredients are flexible for your taste! You can use whatever’s available.)

  • Large mixing bowl,
  • Flat pans you can place in the freezer (No glass, please!),
  • Plastic wrap/foil (optional),
  • Spoon (for measuring the balls),
  • Ground Meat (Beef, Pork, mixed, whatever),
  • Seasoning (Your Choice, see below),
  • Eggs (or egg substitute),
  • Bread crumbs (or crushed crackers, potato flakes, etc),
  • Something in which to store your frozen balls

First, start out with about 2 pounds of ground beef (or your choice of meats). It’s your choice as to the fat content, but for me, the leaner the better. I look for meat on sale before I make my balls to get the best value possible.

Break the ground beef apart into half-fist-sized chunks in a mixing bowl large enough for the task. (You can just plop the meat into the bowl, but you risk either overmixing or uneven distribution as the other ingredients will be added on top.)

Seasoning: Here is where the ability to eyeball comes in handy. First, pick your preferred seasoning. I chose powdered brown gravy mix for mine, but here are some more options:

Italian (spaghetti) seasoning, Powdered/grated cheeses, Taco seasoning, Ramen seasoning packets, Garlic/onion powder/minced, Teriyaki, BBQ, Soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, it all depends on what you want to use it for!

*When adding your seasoning, think about how much would be a serving and how much you would want to season that serving. (1/3 to 1/4 lb makes 1 hamburger) If you are using something like a packet of taco mix, it’s typically meant to season 1 lb, (check your packet) but it’s also meant to be used in tacos. I would suggest one of those packets for 2 lb ground meat, personally. Season on the side of caution!

Next, add the dry crumbs. How much? it depends on how wet the meat is, how much wet seasoning you put in, and how much egg you use. I would guesstimate about 1/4 to 1/2 cup per pound of meat. It also depends on what kind of dry filler you choose as well. Potato flakes are great for absorbing moisture, but don’t do much for the flavor. Panko bread crumbs are excellent, but who keeps those lying around the house? I usually do 1/2 potato flake, 1/2 well-crushed cracker crumbs. Good absorption,  plus flavor.

Crack 1 or 2 eggs over the meat. This depends once again on preference. The more egg in the meat, the looser the wet mix and the texture of the cooked ball changes.

*(I’ve never used egg substitute, but I understand there’s seasoning in some of those. Adjust your seasoning accordingly if you use some.)

The purpose of crumbs and eggs: The eggs help the meat stick together, and the crumbs help absorb juices. A secondary purpose is basically filler, expanding the final volume. If you like, you don’t have to use any dry crumb or egg.

Now comes the fun stuff: Mixing! Mix with your (Clean!) hands, a large spoon, whatever, as long as all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Please don’t over-mix! The more you handle meats like beef, the denser the product becomes. (Unless you WANT very dense meatballs.)

Meat-Ballin’: Get out your pan that will fit into the freezer, put a layer of plastic wrap over it. (The plastic wrap is optional, I find it’s easier to remove the balls after they’re frozen. You can also use foil.) I use medium sized cookie pans.

Choose the size of your balls. I prefer using a 1 tablespoon measuring spoon for consistency. You can just rip off chunks, use a normal spoon, whatever.

After separating your meat-wad, roll it between your palms lightly to give it a ball shape.

Place it on the pan, continue adding balls slightly spaced apart until you fill the pan or run out of meat, whichever happens first.

Put the pan in the freezer, laying it as flat as possible. I usually have to move items around to do this, with the pan resting on bags of frozen veggies and ice cream cartons.

If you need to do a second pan, I’ve noticed that my first set of balls is mostly solid by the time the next pan’s ready, so I put a layer of plastic on top of the first, then layer the second pan. However, this usually results in slightly flattened balls in the first layer.  Otherwise, store the mix in the fridge and wait an hour or 2 until the first pan is frozen to do another set.

When the meatballs are frozen solid, (1-2 hours should do it, depending on ball size) transfer them into a freezer bag. When I make 2 lbs worth, I use either a single gallon size bag or a couple of quart size bags. My batches end up with about 4 dozen balls, usually. You can label the bags and store until they start to get freezer burn. If you have one of those vacuum bagger things, they’ll last even longer. Meatballs rarely last longer than 2 months in my house.

*If you make different flavors of meatballs, labeling is a must! Serving your taco-seasoned meatballs with spaghetti to unsuspecting guests creates unwelcome surprises.

Cookin' those Balls

Notice the ugly yellow stove.

Cooking your balls: This is the easy part. All you need is a frying pan and your meatballs. This is the part that doesn’t really need a description as everyone’s cooking methods are different. I have an old electric stove, so I place however many frozen balls I need in a non-stick pan and then I pre-heat the pan on high heat, turn it down to medium and toss the balls ’til they’re cooked through. I’ll usually sacrifice one to test for doneness by cutting it open. After they’re cooked, drain any oil and then you can either add them to whatever you like or add a sauce to the pan and let them soak on warm to low heat. You can make Swedish meatballs, have spaghetti and meatballs, serve them as appetizers, even put them in lunchboxes.

Spaghetti and meaty balls

Soaked in sauce and ready to dig in!

Enjoy!

Note: Someone suggested using cooked rice in the balls, but I never have any on hand or am too lazy to make the rice when I find my meat on sale. One of these days I’ll get around to it and share the results!

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Greetings and Welcome.

Greetings All, and welcome to my blog.

What does KoSoADo mean?

In Japanese, these are prefixes that denote location of people, places and things. For instance, Kore, Sore, Are, Dore mean: This one(close to speaker), That one (close to listener), That one (somewhere else),  and Which one (3 or more things). These prefixes can be used to define who, what, how, where, and which, depending on the suffix of this flexible demonstrative pronoun system. Hence, for me, KoSoADo envelops Everything.

This is what my blog will be about. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, but mostly food, flavored by my Japanophilia. I don’t know if I can call myself a Foodie, but I do love to eat and cook. I have no delusions of grandeur, I do not claim to be a Gourmand.  My sense of taste was developed by growing up poor, making due with cheap ingredients, often forced to eat some quite unpalatable (to me) meals. So, yes, sometimes I prefer Velveeta to real cheese. I LOVE ketchup.

I had the opportunity to visit Japan a few years ago and fell in love with the culture and food there. I think if I had the time and money, I could eat my way across Japan and never eat the same thing twice. Seriously. This has influenced the way I cook, cutting back on seasonings to bring out the pure taste of food. However, when one is not able to buy quality ingredients, one must know how to carefully use seasonings, enhancing the natural flavors to make even a cheap meal enjoyable.

I hope you enjoy what you see, please feel free to leave comments. I know I’m not the only person to create a blog that included food on the internet and I won’t be the last. But if ONE person finds any of my posts at least a little bit helpful, then I will be glad.

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Anyway, I have been surprised by the amount of people I have met who do not cook and do not really know how. Even those I know who do cook usually don’t do it from scratch. However, I have met the occasional “grow it all yourself” type, but that’s going a bit too far out of my comfort zone. I believe in the versatility of food and how a little creativity can turn something “boring” into something “delicious!”

While I am far from one of those who can easily make a cake from scratch myself (nothing I make comes out the same way twice), I do know how to prepare tasty, easy meals cheaply by planning and preparing. Almost everyone has had to cut back on food costs lately, and honestly, I don’t see any relief in sight. While I’m not one of those crazy coupon clippers with tons of things in my pantry, there are a few staples I stock up on when the price is right. I won’t go into details right now, that could fill up an entire page on its own.

I do believe in the occasional splurge, as you will surely see as you learn about me through this blog. Sometimes the only ingredient is the best ingredient for the dish.

Something you will NOT (intentionally) see here: Gluten free, low-carb, fat free, sugar free, strictly organic, etc. I understand that allergies are an issue for many, and I leave wiggle room in much of what I post for changes.

Something you WILL see here: Sugar, butter/margarine, MSG-laden items, pre-packaged foods, Lots of breads, pasta and refined grains, frozen foods, etc. I do like to use fresh food and whole grains, but it’s not always what’s available/affordable.

I believe in the power of finding things on sale and using the freezer. This will be quite evident as I start to flesh out the posts here.

Well, I think that’s all for now,

Please look forward to my next post.

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