Hikari's Food/Japanophile and Other Interesting Stuff blog

About frosting and dubstep violin…

Okay, this week started crazy with little relief in sight, and next week won’t be much better.

BUT, I found something interesting to share, and as long as I only spend a couple minutes writing about it, I can’t get into too much trouble, right?

Anyway, I’m not sure if other countries have this, but the cake/frosting company Duncan Hines has a new frosting. It’s called “Frosting Creations” and consists of a tub of plain stuff and you pick a packet of flavored powder to add to it. I wasn’t about to spend the  money on the starter tub, but I picked up a packet of the flavor with which I plan to experiment later in other recipes.

I’ve read some reviews claiming it’s the most vile stuff on earth and others claiming it’s not so bad. I imagine if you make your own frosting from scratch this would be terrible, but for those of us that normally buy a tub now and then, maybe it’s less horrid. When I finally get around to testing the flavor powder in its own, I’ll let you know my thoughts.

What caught my attention was who is supposed to be the new spokesperson for the product line. There’s a violinist named Lindsey Stirling who has managed to make the violin much more modern and hip than I could ever imagine. She dances and adds some modern beats to her original music as well as a few covers of famous songs. Who knew dubstep and violin could get along?

The video below is the first one I saw, but other favorites include “Crystallize” and her new Halloween themed video, “Moon Trance”.

Hubby introduced me to her music this summer, but she has been busy for over a year writing music, making videos and touring. After finding out she would be the new frosting spokesperson, I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to talk about her in my blog, which lately has been mostly about food…

But hey, this was originally supposed to be a blog about whatever, food just kinda took it over…

If you like violin or just like music that’s a little different, give a look-see! Maybe when she’s famous you can be all hipster and say, “I liked her videos before she got famous”.

Lindsey Stirling’s home site: http://lindseystirlingviolin.com/

Her YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/lindseystomp

Hope you enjoy!

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*sigh* another posting delay…

Let’s see… 3 tests in 1 week, 4 papers due within 10 days…

What a world!

But I just have to make it ’til December!

Anyway, I’m not leaving you high and dry, I’m just a bit distracted. I had high hopes for my most recent posts, too!

Anyway, here’s a bento for ya.

Lovely autumn themed bento

This features my nice purple rice made by mixing in just a little black/forbidden/Emperor’s… whatever it’s called rice, umeboshi and nori leaves. I found a paperpunch on sale, and yes, I know, that can be dangerous. But I’ve used it twice, and only for my lunches. If I’m the only one who gets sick, then it’s my fault.

The other side features steamed veggies with leaf-shaped baked tofu, another recipe that needs to be added to this blog…, but time is short.

I also made some easy pickles with sliced cucumber & carrot sticks with Italian dressing mix, hold the vinegar, add salt, nice and tangy!

Pear slices round it out with sweetness.

Enjoy your week, everyone!

I’m going to try to survive mine!

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Shpadoinkle! Weekly… Mameshiba!

Hello, All! Welcome to Shpadoinkle! Weekly, where I talk about something that makes me say… Shpadoinkle!

Today, I want to talk about Mameshiba.

Cuteness Overload Warning!

For those who know, yes, they’ve been out for a while, but they’re just so darn CUTE! Especially the babies!

For those of you asking: What’s a Mameshiba?

Mameshiba is one of the many cute things that the Japanese use to distract us from our everyday lives. Mame means “bean” and shiba is a dog breed. This breed of dog called Shiba is indigenous to Japan, as well as a smaller shiba actually called the “mameshiba”. Anyway, the marketed concept is a cute, talking “bean-dog”. There are usually a lot of puns involved. Each bean has his/her own personality.

Anyway, they were first introduced with a set of videos there they pop out while someone is eating and offer a bit of crazy trivia after saying “Nee, Shitteru?” (Hey, Do you know?) The bit of trivia usually leaves the unsuspecting witness quite disturbed.

For the videos, you can see them on the Official Website Here or see them on YouTube here.

Then there are the Babies that got released last year, SO CUTE! Here’s a link to the Japanese site showcasing the babies, and a YouTube playlist with some of the BabyShiba videos. If you’re not in Japan, you can’t see the videos from the official source, at least not until the babies are released worldwide. We were watching an anime and discovered the translator had left in this commercial due to extreme CUTE!

BEWARE: if you’re not careful, the song WILL get stuck in your head!

So anyway, during my spare time this summer, I made a new pencil bag. It started out simple using a skirt zipper and leftover fabric that was used to make a kitchen curtain. (I cheated and used tablecloth fabric to avoid having to hem it, plus it was on sale SUPER CHEAP!

Here’s the inside-out view, showing the zipper and stitches.

And the right-side-out view, pre-embellishment.

Embellishment was desired. I wanted to add a Mameshiba onto it. First, I decided on the Edamame Shiba, found the style I wanted to make and printed it at the right size to test.

Yeah, my printer is crap, but I needed a template, anyway.

Next, I went out and got as many different colors of green felt as I could get my hands on, luckily they were on sale.

It took a while to find this many different shades of green!

After my excursion and matching colors as best I could, there was a frenzy of crafting that had Hubby hiding in his room. Scissors, markers, craft glue and sewing, Oh My! (We found felt in the oddest places for the next few days.)

The result?

Cute-ification, complete!

And Look! He even comes out, thanks to a ribbon! I also made a larger buddy to hang off of my school bag or purse.

The bigger, solitary bean can hang off of anything the ribbon can clip to.

*sigh* now the BabyShiba song is stuck in my head again… “Baby, baby, baby Shiba!”


Kabocha: The Japanese pumpkin you DON’T turn into a Jack-o-Lantern!

As an American, when I think pumpkin, I think of the pie-making, Halloween carveable lump of orange squash.

Typical American Pumpkins

Maybe you’ve seen kabocha in the grocery store, mixed in with the other winter squashes. It looks like a little green pumpkin.

I was never one for cooking hard winter squash. My attempts at doing anything with acorn, spaghetti, butternut, etc. weren’t my best moments. I have to make my punkin pie from a can.

But when I first experimented with kabocha, I was amazed at how well it turned out! Now, my efforts since then have had varying results. Sometimes it’s too soggy, or salty, or… whatever.

I’ve had a 2-pound (approx. 1 kg) kabocha sitting on my kitchen counter for at least 2 weeks. It was time to cook it. Different people choose to cook it different ways. I prepared mine for simmering.

There are many variations for the simmering broth, I adapt mine for how I’m feeling, more salty? More sweet? Today’s came out more on the sweet side, but I will start with the basic as I’ve adapted it.

First of all, you’ll need a good size pan that can hold a single layer of cubed squash. I have a 12 inch saute pan with a glass lid that I use. If you can’t fit the whole thing, you can do it in batches or do something else with the extra like I did: roasted. This will be shown later.

Next, prepare the squash. First, wash that sucker. You don’t want to eat any dirt.

I cut it into quarters before I remembered to take pictures, Sorry!

Then, cut it in half and scrape out the seeds and stringy bits. Take care when cutting, it’s quite tough!

Once again, sorry no seeds picture, I forgot until I got to this stage.

Does anyone know if the seeds can be roasted like American pumpkin?

When doing this next part, everyone has their own way. Some leave the skin intact, some cut the skin. I learned from a Japanese person to cut off bits of skin to help it cook. It’s how I like it, so it’s what I do.

Cut off any weird bits you don’t want to eat.

I cut the kabocha again to make  eight triangular pieces and take a small paring knife, cutting off the bloom end and the stem as well as any weird lumpy bits or scars. When I finish, then I just scrape off bits of the skin like in the picture.

You can cut stripes or a random pattern, whatever you feel like.

You can skip this step if you like, but the skin is too firm for my taste. I always end up with a soggy product waiting for the skin to soften any other way.

I like all my chunks to have bits of skin missing.

This punkin was thin, so the chunks stayed small. Depending on the thickness of the flesh, you’ll want to cut it up into chunks between 1 to 2 inches wide, and try to make them all about the same size so they’ll cook evenly.

When you cook your kabocha, you’ll want to place the chunks skin-side-down, like so.

The skin side down helps prevent sogginess before the skin is cooked.

But before you do, we need to talk about simmering broth. As I said before, there are many different varieties. Basically, the recipe calls for dashi, mirin, shoyu and sugar.

Mirin is just flavored rice wine, so this can be left out if necessary. Have some umeshu? Sake or white wine? Maybe some vodka on hand? Use it instead! Just avoid red wines and other hard liquors, unless you want to try making brandied kabocha… hmmm. If I only liked brandy, I might try that… but anyway…

Dashi should be used, I’m not sure about using anything else as an adaptation. If you use the granules, just follow the directions to make however much liquid you need. I have to eyeball mine because I can’t read kanji very well and my box of dashi granules is directly from Japan, no translations.

Soy sauce and sugar are simple, anyone who likes asian food should have soy sauce.

For the sugar, feel free to use brown sugar, honey, agave syrup, or whatever floats your boat. You can try splenda as a sugar substitute, but nothing with aspartame. That’s just nasty.

I’m going to give a basic mix, but I usually end up adding more of something as the squash cooks, depending on the flavor of the broth as it cooks down. The amounts are approximate.

1 cup water/dashi per pound kabocha,

1 to 2 tablespoons of the following per cup water/dashi:

soy sauce, mirin, sugar.

Mix it all together and pour it over the kabocha in the pan, almost covering but not enough for the pieces to swim. You don’t want to drown it.

It’s okay if they stick out, but don’t make ’em swim!

~This time, I did something different. I put my pieces in a bag and added some chai spice and pumpkin pie spice. Just enough to add some color. I also added more sugar to sweeten my kabocha.

Heat the pan on medium high heat until it’s boiling, then reduce heat to medium/low and simmer.

I like to cover my pan during simmering but some people leave off the lid and let the sauce thicken. It’s up to you.

Cooking takes about 20 minutes, or until the squash is tender, but not soggy. Feel free to taste a piece after about 15 minutes and adjust the flavor if you like, just be careful with the shoyu. Over-salty kabocha isn’t so great.

The triangles are my taste-tester bites.

After it’s done, turn off the heat and let it sit for another 10 minutes at least before serving. When refrigerating, keep it in the sauce and the flavor will intensify.

To pack into a lunch, just let the chunks drain on a paper towel to remove excess liquid.

Other ways to cook kabocha:

Before baking

I had some extra pieces that wouldn’t fit in the pan so I roasted them. I simply placed them on a pan after tossing them in some extra sugar and some sesame seeds, popped them on a 350 degree toaster oven for about 20 minutes, and there they were! I should have tossed them in a little oil first, though. they were a bit dry. But I ate a few before taking the picture, they were so good!

After baking and extensive sampling.

How do you like your kabocha?


Shpadoinkle! Weekly: Yet another bento box…

Yes, I know, it’s a day late. Meh. I’ll go back later this week and change the publish date.

But it’s here, so that counts for something, right?

Anyway, I’d been staring at a little bento box all summer, trying to convince myself it was worth the expense. Spend more than $12 for a box that’s just big enough for snacks? Nope.

But, peer pressure sets in. Keith over at OH! Bento got the green version of what I’ve been staring at all summer. So what do I do? I find it for sale cheaper.  $9 dollars later, I found mine. In pink. Yes, pink. Only because blue wasn’t available. I waited for about a week for its arrival… and miss my Shpadoinkle post. But that’s okay, real life’s been getting in the way, anyway.

You can see the size difference with a couple other onigiri boxes.

And then it arrives and all is well. It’s much larger than I expected. And non-microwavable from what I can tell… but it’s 3 whole layers of snacky goodness! To celebrate, I packed a lunch just to prove it could be done.

deconstructed sammich, veggies(with the lid on), cheese and onigiri.

And that’s the last time I attack ham with a cookie cutter. Next time I’ll use bologna. I also will never again pack anything in it that might leak all over my lunch bag… Seriously, the veggies leaked on me! That little white divider doesn’t do much but cover and can easily get pushed in too far.

The evil veggies in question.

I have yet to see an onigiri mould that can make rice balls big enough to properly fit this thing. See that tiny little onigiri? That’s the size of my regular onigiri. My handmade come out even smaller… Plus the shape makes packing most foods a Tetris challenge.

For a short day, this plus my snack mix helped me get through.

The bottom is a bit small at 150 ml, but the middle makes up for it at 200 ml. Using the lid helps increase the containment. I like that I can use it as a 2-stack (by leaving off the black part) or 3-stack (with the black part).

No rating, it would be a bit unfair, as I combine the price of the item in with the usefulness for the rating. Was it really worth it? As long as I pack small lunches that won’t leak or don’t need to be reheated, maybe. It was a mixed blessing.

Coming soon… What do I do with apples the size of a baby’s head?

Seriously, they’re HUGE mutant things!



Comfort Food: Baked Ziti

Today, for me, was the first official day of Autumn. We got our first good frost, but luckily by the time I left the house half of it had melted in the sun. Cold days equal comfort food, “Time to fatten up for the long, cold winter!” says my genetic programming!  So today I whipped up a not so quick but simple family favorite.

Baked ziti has so many variations I’m gonna try to leave the ingredients kinda vague, with only a few suggestions.

*This dish takes about an hour of baking time, plus noodle boiling and prep. Plan accordingly and set a timer!

What you’ll need ( modifications acceptable, of course!):

It’s time to use Mr. 9×13 inch baking dish again! remember him from my Potato Ham and Cheese bake?

A pound of your favorite ziti-like noodle:

File:Pasta 2006 2.jpg

I noticed there’s actually not a ziti listed… but any of the penne types should work.

I actually argued with Hubby about using what our grocery store calls ziti because most of the prepackaged brands use a textured noodle. The box labeled Ziti has a smooth noodle. Anyway, I like the little ridges on Penne Rigate when I make it.

One can/jar of your favorite tomato spaghetti sauce (approx. 15-24 ounces) we use the whole thing!

Cheese! Sauce, shred, grated, whatever floats your boat, Baby! (Amounts can vary depending on cheese-lover level.) We use both sauce and shred.

Meat! (yes, I know some of you are vegetarian, so either leave it off or use tofu or something…) Today’s meat is Tyson chicken patties, the frozen kind made for sammiches (I used six of them). I have actually made chicken tenders and used those as well, or you can flatten and bread some breasts. I wanted quick and easy, darn it! We haven’t tried beef, this dish seems best suited for the chickies.

Boil your noodles a little longer than if you were going to eat them straight out of the pot/strainer. “Al Dente” translates into “hard and leathery” after it’s been through the oven. Just don’t boil them ’til they’re soggy.

Drain your noodles and get ready to put all your stuff together.

Here is another bit of recipe variation that Hubby and I argue about: mix the sauce with the noodles, or pour it on top? Honestly, you can do either, but Hubby insisted on mixing this time, so we did.

Half the noodles, sauce, and cheese go in the dish, in this order. I like cheese sauce as well, so we’ll mix the tomato and cheese sauces together into a dark orange amalgam before pouring. If you want it to look pretty, save some plain sauce on the side to top it all.

*If you’re pre-mixing the sauce and noodles, stop to add the middle cheese layer, it helps avoid drying out.

I think this is actually the second layer, but you get the point.

Another layer of  noodles, sauce and (LIGHT) cheese, go ahead and finish off the noodles. Try to get plenty of sauce around the edges unless you like leathery, crunchy noodles. I like a few crunchies, but I really love tomato sauce. If I get a leathery tomato sauce flavored noodle, BONUS!

Time for the chicken. If you’re using PRE-COOKED frozen patties, there are two options: use frozen or thaw to refrigerator temperature. Frozen takes longer to finish cooking, but if you like those crunchy edges, keep ’em solid. Do not heat your patties during thawing, or they’ll dry out while waiting for the cheese to melt.

*I do not suggest using raw chicken. Even when I’ve made my own tenders, I cooked them first, just because our oven is a little wonky and I can never tell if something is evenly cooked through.

Everything but the final layer, with Hubby’s saucy patties.

Hubby likes to soak the chicken in tomato sauce while building the bottom layers. This is optional. But it’s what we do. So… yeah…

Ready for the oven!

Cheese the whole dish and place it in a preheated 350F degree oven for about 1/2 hour to 1 hour, depending on your oven and if you thawed your patties. Thawed patties cook faster, obviously. You want melted cheese and hot chicken.

Mmmm, hot, melty goodness.

After it’s done cooking, let it sit and cool for at least 5 minutes or the roof of your mouth will burn off, as well as your tongue. Trust me, this makes the dining experience much less enjoyable. When using the patties, a serving is patty-sized, just take a spatula, use it to cut out portion sizes and serve.

Omnomnom, Get In Mah Belly!

This goes well with salad & breadsticks and leaves us all quite satisfied.

Leftovers are FANTASTIC for lunch! Plus, this dish usually makes everyone else jealous when they see what you’re eating!


Real life is keeping me from my blog!

Well, as some of you may have noticed, no Shpadoinkle! blog this week.
What I was supposed to review hadn’t arrived yet.
There will be a new recipe this week, so stay tuned for that!
In other news, a biology lab that involves fishing is pretty darn cool!
(Too bad we weren’t allowed to keep any of the fish.) Next time I’ll try to get some pictures.
See you all soon!

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