Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I Did It!

Thank you all so much for your comments on the cakey vs. chewy cookies! I took your (and my) advice and made chewy oatmeal cookies for the first time in years! I am so so happy. Jun is too!

I searched the web for Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. As I read through the comments on the recipe I chose, many people commented that it was the same recipe that is on the Quaker Oatmeal Box top. I checked the box top recipe I have used unsuccessfully, and, yes...it is the same recipe, though the name of the recipe on my box is Vanishing Oatmeal Raising Cookies.

Well, as the copied recipe said they were supposed to be chewy, I took heart and did the following:

  1. Made 1/2 batch. (Abigail - I grew up in a household where cookie recipes were always doubled. Here in Japan, I always halve mine. Not because I can't get rid of them, but...the oven size. I can get 9 cookies in mine at a time, but...who wants to bake cookies all day.? I have refrigerated or frozen extra dough, though.) On to the cookies!

  2. Actually measured the margarine instead of guesstimating it.

  3. Packed the brown sugar in the cup instead of lightly sprinkling it in.

  4. Packed the wet white sugar in the cup too.

  5. Mixed the sugars and margarine by hand - well, the whole thing by hand, actually!

  6. Was shocked that the pack of 6 eggs that Ryu bought are advertised as "various sizes", and chose a smallish/medium egg. Nearly 1/4 cup of egg.

  7. Used regular Japanese flour. Hmm, I should take a pic of the bag.

  8. Used US Arm and Hammer baking soda

  9. Carefully measured the other ingredients and mixed well.

  10. Preheated my oven for 170 instead of 180 (Keiko-san, I hope you are preheating your oven when you bake cookies!)

  11. Kept peeking at them to see when they got barely brown. (Thanks for the advice, Sue.)

  12. Remembered that they will cook for a bit on the pan when they get out, so let them sit for about 2 minutes before removing them to the rack. (I always hit 'start' on my oven while I am doing this, so the oven doesn't cool off between batches.) They came off the pan much better/cleaner than at other times.

  13. And, they are CHEWY!!!!!

Here's the recipe. My cookies are flatter and...look chewier.

Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cookie Theory: Cakey vs Chewy

Keiko, who sent me the wonderful homemade soap, sent me an e-mail asking about cookies. She has tried to make cookies using American recipes and Japanese ingredients, and those that should have been chewy were cakey. Keiko-san, I have had the same problem, as I know other bakers here in Japan have had (Illahee!!!)

So, here are some questions for Keiko and other bakers. PLEASE leave a comment with your answers. Maybe we can figure out the problem together.

  1. Keiko asked if it was the difference in flour. I originally thought this too. However, Illahee's mom brought her a bag of flour from the States, and chewy was still cakey! So, let's leave the flour out of it for now.
  2. Sugar - American recipes call for granulated sugar. Do you use it when you make cookies? I don't! If you use the "wet" white sugar (like I do), when you measure, do you pack it into the cup, or just kind of shake it in lightly? I shake it in lightly. And...do you reduce the amount of sugar the recipe calls for - adapting to Japanese friends and family members' taste buds? I do.
  3. Eggs - An egg in an American recipe should be 2oz. volume - 1/4 cup. Eggs come in all sizes here. I made a cake recently that called for 3 eggs. Ryu had bought XXL. I should have used 2 instead of 3. What size of eggs do you use? I think Medium would be 1/4 cup.
  4. Leavening - Baking powder, baking soda. Do you use Japanese products, or American brands? I use US Soda, and Japanese baking powder. I'm not sure if there are differences in their 'power' or not.
  5. Fat - butter, margarine, shortening, oil. All are different, according to the websites I looked at, and produce a different shape of cookie. Bottom line, butter seemed to be the ingredient of choice on the web. What do you use? I used to use butter, but have switched to margarine recently. Shortening is tough to find, and recipes using oil are few and far between.
  6. Salt - this won't affect the cakey/chewy-ness of your cookie, but I thought I'd ask. I find Japanese table salt - the non-wet kind - to be nearly twice as salty as expected. I often reduce the salt by 1/2 for a normal taste, ie - NOT FOR HEALTH! How about you?
  7. Mixing - do you use a mixer (hand or stand), or mix by hand? I mix by hand. Besides the fact that I don't own a mixer (I make cake with a fork or whisk!), a friend used to use her stand mixer to make chocolate chip cookies, and I thought they were too cakey! Too much air got mixed into the dough before baking. So, I mix by hand. What do you do?
  8. Oven - well, size is really not an issue, in that most of us have the tiny, microwave sized ovens. But, have you ever used an oven thermometer to check the temperature in your oven? I haven't. I always guess at the right temperature. I guess 170C. for 350F. I am NOT precise in checking this. Also, my oven does temperatures in 10 degree increments, so I am a bit limited in terms of exactness, were I to become more careful. How about you?
  9. Time - Chewy cookies need to be nearly underbaked. The web says that if they are browning, they are over done. Once you take them out of the oven and off the pan, they continue to cook till their internal temperature lowers to the temperature of the room. So, how do you tell when to take your cookies out?
  10. One "trick" I read on the net was to drop the pan of cookies (top side up) on the floor when you get them right out of the oven. This knocks the excess air out of them, and they are chewy. I'm not sure the older woman who lives in the apartment under us would appreciate this, however.

The cookie I have not been able to make chewy vs. cakey, is an oatmeal raisin cookie. Have you ever eaten the ones at Freshness Burger? They import them from the States. I WANT to make and EAT lots of those kinds of chewy oatmeal raisin cookies.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Imo Kenpi

Knowing the danger of Japanese snacks on the waistline - and other parts of the body - I am pretty picky about the snacks I choose. Not that they need to be healthy. Just so delicious that it is reasonable to blow caution to the wind.

There are various versions of this snack. You can use real sweet potatoes and make a sauce to pour over them, or you can pay a buck, have them deep fried and crunchy with sweet stuff on them and...they are OHHHH so delicious. This particular brand's is the perfect balance of sweet and salty. I can, and have, eaten the whole bag. You know, before Jun wakes up from her nap, because they aren't all that good for her. The things a Mama must do for the kiddo!

So, if you live in Japan, TRY THEM! I bet you'll like them too! (Yep, you can get them at 7-11 or Itoyokado.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Potato Salad

My friend, Megu, asked for an American Potato Salad recipe. Not like Japanese potato salad, with fruit in it (which my mother absolutely loves, by the way), but one with pickles and eggs in it - like I happen to make! I hope it reminds you of your university days in the States, Megu! The day she asked for a recipe, I had been pondering how to use the last three potatoes and the egg in the fridge! Great inspiration, Megu!

Potato Salad

3 potatoes (in Japan I always use the Mekuin? ones because they are so easy to peel and don't dissolve in the water.)
1-2 hard boiled eggs
2 Tbsp. yogurt or mayo (we never seem to have mayo, but my Mom uses it!)
1 Tbsp. yellow mustard straight out of the bottle
2 heaping Tbsp. relish (you could cut up sweet pickles, or you could buy relish, or you could make my homemade relish. Mmmmmm.)
2 Tbsp. pickle/relish juice.

Peel and cut the potatoes up into large chunks (6 pieces or so per potato). Boil them in salted water. This is also a "point". Potatoes and eggs need a lot of salt, but not too much. A recipe book I consulted recommended 1/2 tsp. salt per cup of water. I tried it, and it turned out perfect. At the same time, boil your eggs. Now comes a major difference between American families' potato salad, I'm told. Some people cut their boiled potatoes into big chunks. Others mash them. I use a potato masher, but only crush each piece of potato and boiled egg once with them. So, they are in small chunks.

Mix the dressing ingredients together and toss the salad gently. Refrigerate before serving.

When Ryu tasted my Mom's potato salad, he said, "Yours tastes just like it!" So, I guess it is an authentic American recipe! HAHAHAHA!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chocolate Crinkles

This was a childhood favorite. From that Betty Crocker Cooky Book that Jun loves to read, also! I love the way they look in the picture. Dark chocolate with white splotches. They are fun and yummy to make. And, they don't take shortening, which is harder to come by here in Japan! However, they do take powdered sugar which, at your local supermarket, is usually sold by the Tablespoon. So... I happen to have some powdered sugar left over...from a long long time ago, that I want to use up. I used some last week when I made cinnamon butter, and it seemed alright. So, I will make these for Ryu for Valentine's Day!

Check out the picture! Yummy!

Chocolate Crinkles

Feb. 17 Update! I made these cookies for the first time in forever. I should have read the recipe. The dough needs to be refrigerated before baking. But, I started the cookies at nap time on Valentine's Day. Finished them up after dinner. And, we were a little disappointed. So, I put them in some plastic storage boxes and Ryu took a box to church the next morning - and they were WONDERFUL! I just had two more for Mama's snack time, and they just keep on getting better and better. I guess as a kid, they never lasted this long. But, they get moister, and chocolatier and yummier with time! Some people put chocolate chips or walnuts in them. Ohhhhh! Sounds so so good!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mabo Dofu

An expat mom here in Japan was asking for ideas to expand her cooking repertoire. She has four children and, I'm sure the easier, the better. I have one child, and that is ALWAYS my motto! PP (Pre-parenthood), Ryu and I liked to try different foods out and then try to create them at home. His Dad is a Chinese food fan, and we enjoyed trying some of his favorites. I found a Chinese cookbook at the 100 yen store, and we have tried MANY of the recipes and adapted them to our tastes and made them EASY to cook.

This is a hot (according to the amount of spice you put into it) dish using ground meat and tofu. We serve it over/beside rice. A nice winter dish! You can also substitute egg plant for the tofu, and have a nice summer dish!

Mabo Dofu

200 gm (1/2 pound or so) of ground meat. I use chicken.
1/2 tsp. garlic finely chopped (or out of the tube! I love Japanese spice tubes!)
1-3 tsp. tobanjan This is where the heat comes in. It comes in a small jar and is red. Helpful? Please start with a little and work your way up. I probably only use 1/4 tsp. I'm not as into hot as Ryu is. And, with Jun eating from the same pot, I leave it out now and Ryu adds rayu to his serving.
2 cups bouillon soup I use two cubes and 2 cups of water
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. sake
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
300 gm block (again - 1/2 pound or so) of the harder kind of tofu (momen)

Fry up your meat with the garlic and tobanjan. Add the soup and other flavorings and bring to a boil. Cut the tofu up into large dice sized pieces. Add to the pot, and wait for it to return to a boil. At this stage, I sometimes turn it off and continue with other things - like folding laundry or taking care of Jun - who is into puzzles and dancing in her kimono, lately. My theory is that this "down time" gives the flavorings time to soak into the tofu. But, do as you like. It is only a theory. However, if you use eggplant, I think this extra time is very necessary for the eggplant to get nice and soft and soak up the soup!

Then combine 2 tsp. cornstarch/katakuriko (potato starch) with 2 Tbsp. cold water. When it is mixed well, pour slowly into the hot tofu soup, and stir till thickened.

Garnish with a little chopped green onion and a quick sprinkle of sesame oil.

I have also been known to add boiled and squeezed spinach to this dish, green peas, frozen corn, grated carrot, etc. Also, Jun likes it before it is thickened, as a soup.

Serve over rice. Nice and yummy on a cold day!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The World's Worst Muffins!

I had exactly 2 1/2 bananas in the kitchen and thought I'd make banana muffins for breakfast the next day. I remembered the chocolate banana cake/bread I used to make, and so I replaced 1/2 cup of the flour with cocoa. Treasured cocoa. Cocoa I brought back from the States. COCOA! Cinnamon goes well with chocolate and bananas, so I added 1/2 tsp. or so of that. Then, the big bag of raisins was calling my name, so I put in a handful of those. Raisins go with chocolate and bananas. RIGHT?!? All the time I was blogging in my head about the wonderful muffins I had made.

I added the liquid and eggs and stirred. It was more of a dough than a batter. Stir till moistened was a lot of work and then I chipped the dough out of the bowl into the muffin tins that Jun had so kindly fit paper liners into. I popped the pan into the oven and looked at the recipe again. Yes, I had reduced the milk like they said to do when adding bananas. Yes, I had done it all right....EXCEPT FOR THE OIL. Which I had forgotten.

The muffins had been in the oven for less than a minute, so I grabbed them out and scraped the already warm dough out of each of the paper covers. Then I added the oil. It took FOREVER to mix the oil into the dough, and even then it really wasn't a batter.

As I was re-filling the newly lined muffin tins, I noticed the top 1/4 of the narrow rubber spatula I was using was missing. Oh, NO! "Help me find it before it gets in a muffin," I prayed. Just as I popped the muffins BACK into the re-preheated oven, I found the tip of the spatula. "I'll just give Jun a quick taste of the batter," I thought. One taste was all Jun needed. This should have been a sign. A neon sign. But, no, I just kept on baking muffins. Well, twelve or so in all, anyway. In my tiny oven, that is a two pan job.

And waited with anticipation for breakfast the next morning. Oh, my goodness! They were so terrible! Not only was the texture an embarrassment to the word "muffin," the flavor! YUCK! Apparently 1/2 cup of precious-brought-from-America-and-horded cocoa needs more than 1/3 cup of sugar to make it yummy. Much more, my husband and I decided!

These muffins had, as we say in Japanese, "an adult flavor", meaning a kid wouldn't touch it with a 10 foot pole. And, no one in my family really likes "adult flavors".

So, knowing there were leftovers, Ryu got up early the last two mornings and made his toast/salami sandwich before I got up to serve the muffins. I brought them to church today and fed them to my students. No one asked for the recipe. YUCK! (However, Jun did eat a whole one. Shows how hungry she was, huh!?!?)