Pork Belly Onigiri

Boyed up by not having messed up dinner over the long weekend, I decided to try a recipe that has been on my to-do list ever since I saw it on Tasty Japan: Pork Belly Onigiri (English translation in the video comments). The simplest onigiri is just a palm-sized ball of sticky rice, shaped by hand or pressed in a mould, and served cold. Often, they have a filling (such as canned salmon or barbecue eel), and they are served with a sheet of nori (the same seaweed that wraps some kinds of sushi), which makes them easier to grasp. They’re one of the most ubiquitous snacks you can find in Japan. You can buy them at nice restaurants, but they’re also in the cooler of every corner store and even in vending machines.

These pork belly onigiri definitely take it up a notch when it comes to complexity. First of all, there’s a whole soft-boiled egg in the middle, which means that the rice balls are going to be a lot bigger than the standard kind. Also, they’re wrapped in pork belly (the same cut of meat as bacon, but not cured), fried, and then a sauce is added.

My pork belly onigiri were very tasty, even though I couldn’t find any shiso leaves at a store in my area, and hence had to omit that ingredient. However, all but one of my onigiri fell apart in the final stages of cooking. I think it was because the pork belly I had at home had been thick-sliced at the butcher shop. Really, what you want is something as thinly-sliced as cheap bacon, not the thick cuts that are better in tonkotsu ramen. It’s totally possible that I just might not have squeezed the balls firmly enough before frying them.

In addition, despite cooking the soft-boiled eggs for exactly the amount of time recommended, they ended up being hard-boiled instead of soft. Should I try this recipe again, I think I will deliberately undercook the eggs a bit so that when they cook a bit during the frying stage, they’ll end up perfect in the middle.

Each one of these onigiri was a meal in and of itself; my kids couldn’t finish theirs, and my husband and I were very full after eating ours. I think they might make a nice appetizer if they were made using quail eggs instead of chicken. Quail eggs being a pain in the butt to peel, let alone getting the timing right for soft-boiled, I don’t think I’ll be trying that myself any time soon. Overall, this was a fun meal to make and it was very tasty, even if my end result was far from perfect. I would definitely recommend giving it a go.

Chicken Pot Pie Noodles

Last night I wanted to try something new for dinner, but I didn’t want something that would take forever and a day to prepare. The perfect compromise was the Chicken Pot Pie Noodles recipe from Delish that came across my Facebook feed the other day.

It was as easy as promised, although it did take me a bit longer because I had to cook the chicken beforehand — but that was just a matter of throwing some chicken legs and thighs on a roasting pan, seasoning them, and putting them on a roasting pan at 350°F (175°C) for about 45 minutes. This recipe would be much faster if I had precooked chicken, and I think it would be a great way to use up leftovers. I had to make my version dairy-free, so I substituted margarine for butter and coconut milk for heavy cream. I’ve found in the past that these are good replacements, and they worked just as well as expected. There was a slight flavour of coconut to the sauce, which isn’t strongly spiced, but that didn’t bother me. Also, I used macaroni instead of egg noodles, just because that’s what I had in the pantry, and it worked just fine.

Would I make this recipe again? Most definitely! I think it’s a great addition to my weeknight repertoire.

Bacon-Wrapped Prime Rib

So Einfach Tasty (the German version of Tasty) got my attention again with their video for how to make Bacon-Wrapped Prime Rib (English version here), which looked so delicious that I just had to try it. Generally, I suck at roasts; they’re either completely tasteless, or dry, or both, no matter how many techniques I try to fix it. But I figured that with a combination of butter, spices, and bacon rubbed all over the outside of the roast, I shouldn’t have too many problems with this recipe. Also, I bought a meat thermometer. So that helped too.

I only made two changes to the recipe. The first was that I used the circular bacon that I had left over in the freezer, so I couldn’t exactly weave it. I ended up draping it over the roast instead, which worked just fine. The top piece curled up when cooking and singed a bit because it was nearer to the heating element, but I just removed it before serving.

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The second was that I used an inferior cut of meat, and you can see this especially in the lines of gristle through the center of the slice. So long as I ate around these unpalatable pieces, it was just fine, though!

I really did like how this roast turned out. It was probably the best one I've made yet (although there really isn't much competition for that title). I served it with boiled baby potatoes and steamed carrots. The kids ate their servings and asked for seconds, but I'm pretty sure they would have been happier if I'd only served them bacon without the beef. I wish I'd had a chance to try the gravy, but unfortunately all of my drippings burned solid to the bottom of the pan, so I didn't get to use them. Ah, well.

Spectacularly Ugly Gnocchi

I’ve been getting a lot of my kitchen inspiration from Tasty lately, probably because they’re constantly showing up on my Facebook dash. In an effort to widen my online cooking exposure, I subscribed to a few other feeds today; if anybody has any in particular that they’d recommend, do drop me a line!

Anyway, the one that I tried over the weekend was Easy Homemade Gnocci. I have to say, this dish was anything but easy. It was disaster after disaster, really. I don’t know how much of that was the fault of the recipe and how much of it was my own, but nothing seemed to go right.

First of all, I prepared the potatoes exactly the same way as the video showed, but my mashed potatoes ended up being a gluey mess. They were either too moist to start or I should have prepared them differently; they definitely weren’t overcooked, since the center of the larger ones were still a little raw (I discarded those pieces). After perusing the video comments, I learned that some people bake their potatoes instead of boiling them to prevent excess moisture. Also, many people recommend a potato ricer instead of a masher, as it keeps the potatoes from turning gluey. As a bonus, if you cut the unpeeled potato in half and press it through the ricer, you don’t even have to peel anything — it kind of works like a giant garlic press or a modified of food mill.


My homemade gnocci served with baked herbed chicken thighs and corn.

I’m pretty sure that the potatoes were too moist, but I think they were also too large. The recipe calls for 3 to 4 small or medium russet potatoes, but that’s very subjective. Since vegetables can come in all different sizes, I much prefer a measurement by weight or at least by volume, as I’ve talked about before. Due to the moisture, I had to use twice as much flour as the recipe calls for just to get the dough even close to firm enough — and I think I really could have used more. I’d read online that too much flour can make the gnocci heavy and stodgy, and I was trying to avoid that… I don’t think I succeeded. The gnocci that I made did not hold their shape for long after forming and were much too floppy for the fork method to work at all. I made the mistake of letting the noodles touch before boiling them and they just congealed back into a large mass of dough, so I had to form them again. The dough was so stretchy that they didn’t keep their shape in the water.

In the end, I liked the flavour of the gnocci fried up in butter and sage, even if the pasta was misshapen and stodgy. I think I’d like to try this recipe again with modifications until I get it right. For that reason, I don’t think that this recipe is an easy beginner dish — I think that the original article misrepresented it as such. But it could eventually be quite nice, with practice. Perhaps I can find an Italian nonna who is willing to teach me the finer points of this dish, if only to keep me from massacring a tradition so badly next time.

New Year’s Noodles

Over the weekend I tried my hand at Toshikoshi Soba, which according to the Internet means “year-crossing noodle“, or “end the old year and enter the new year soba noodles“. Basically, it’s a dish that is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve while waiting to ring in the new year. I didn’t actually find out about this dish until after the holiday, which turned out all right in the end because I wasn’t well enough to cook anything that night. At any rate, it’s not something that can only be eaten that day of the year. The recipe that I made was Tempura Toshikoshi Soba from Tasty Japan (also available on YouTube). If you’re like me and don’t read enough Japanese to get through a recipe, you can find the English translation in the second comment on their Facebook video. Or you can run it through Google Translate, which yields very undependable results, like directing you to “make tempura clothes”.

I added a bit more shrimp and soft-boiled eggs to each bowl that the recipe calls for, just because my family is absolutely smitten with tempura. I also used narutomaki (fish cake with the swirl in the middle) instead of kamaboko (the fish cake with the pink edge used in the Tasty Japan video), not only because I like the look of it, but also because it was literally the only kind of fish cake that was left at T&T. The fridge that usually holds it was completely empty except for two stray packages of narutomaki, so I went with that.

I was really proud of myself when this dish turned out so well, mostly because it was the first time that I’d made tempura. Actually, it was the first time I’ve ever deep-fried anything! Apparently I still have to master the art of cutting tempura-coated soft-boiled eggs in half without destroying them, but they still tasted just fine. It really wasn’t as difficult to prepare toshikoshi soba as I’d feared, even though I think I dirtied every large pot in my kitchen by the end of cooking. My whole family devoured their soup. I loved the flavour of it all together. I am definitely making this again soon — and I won’t be waiting for next New Year’s Eve. Although I may serve it then too.

Ginger Shakin’ Beef

A NTD Taste Life video for Ginger Shakin’ Beef came across my Facebook feed recently, and the recipe looked both simple and delicious. A bit of digging for the actual recipe (which wasn’t posted with the video) made me realize that the original source was Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food (2017). The recipe itself is available on Jamie Oliver‘s website. I’ve been meaning to pick up a copy of this book, but it’s a recent addition to my list of cookbooks I’d like, and anyway, it’s not a great idea to buy things for yourself before Christmas.

My plating sadly never looks as good as that found in Jamie Oliver’s books, but the taste of the dish was lovely. My kids had their meat over rice instead of bok choy since they’re not a huge fan of this veggie (although I did make them have a bit on the side). I loved the combination of the miso and the honey to make a simple sauce. It was delicious! However, I wasn’t too sold on the ginger and beef fat. I found that the fat, despite frying until crispy, really didn’t have much flavour and didn’t add much to the dish. The ginger, while it looked pretty, was very strong — my kids just picked all of theirs out. I think it would have been better mixed in with the main meat and sauce, maybe lessened in quantity a bit and chopped fine to mix throughout the dish. All that being said, I will definitely make this dinner again in the future (albeit with some slight variations to adjust for my family’s palate). It was both easy and tasty, and it is great for school nights when time is at a premium, so that’s a win in my book.

Simmered Boiled Meat Sauce Pasta

I follow Tasty Japan on Facebook, and this video popped up yesterday:

I thought it looked like a good weeknight meal, so long as I started it as soon as the kids got home (it requires simmering on low heat for two hours). I ran it through Google Translate and used the recipe for, as it called it, “simmered boiled meat pasta”. I had to laugh at how bad bad Internet translations can be — among other things, this one instructed me to “add red wine to strengthen the fire, fry for 2-3 minutes and fly alcohol”. Granted, the whole reason I used the program is because my paltry Japanese skills aren’t up to translating a recipe, so who am I to judge? I managed to make a really delicious dinner anyway.

If you don’t have the patience Google Translate, check out the original recipe for Ragu Bolognese over on the English version of Tasty, which was posted back in May. Of course I found that version only after I’d made my dinner, but somehow I didn’t manage to mess it up. It has been pointed out online that this recipe is almost identical to Gennaro Contaldo’s Classic Italian Ragu Bolognese, and after watching both videos I have to agree. Although now that I’ve Googled “how to make a bolognese ragu”, all of the recipes are very similar, which stands to reason. I think it’s just because it’s a very classic, well-known dish.

As usual, I had to make a few changes/adjustments to make it work with what I had on hand. My carrot ended up being about 225g, so I used that much celery as well, since some of my homegrown celery stalks were a bit spindly. I also used equal weights of bacon instead of pancetta, since I had bacon on hand and they are very similar anyway. I also used fettuccine instead of tagliatelle, since the grocery store I was shopping at didn’t have tagliatelle. All that being said, I do think that I will be making this recipe again in the future!