lemon ricotta ‘pan-crepes’


It may sound an odd confession, coming from a lover of all things sweet at breakfast-time, but amidst all my plates of toast with jams, various incarnations of fruit and oatmeal, egg-dishes, muffins, and scones, pancakes have never been a dish of preference. Perhaps the idea of cleaning more than one bowl after eating, or having an excess of stacked flapjacks to do away with (meaning eventually eating them all myself…) were the culprits of reasoning behind my long avoidance of such breakfast fare. But the sense of celebration in the air as the entire community waited excitedly for the bloom of the cherry blossom, as well as a sense of festivity for the Easter holiday, were so pervading and the Saturday sunshine so fine (never mind that is was 43 degrees), I declared a special occasion in the kitchen and made some dazzlingly decadent lemon-ricotta pancakes.

Well, lemon-ricotta almost pancakes…More like full-bodied crepes, or a very skinny pancakes. Due to the fact that I had to clear out the entire refrigerator in preparation for the delivery of a new one (along with the new oven!!) on Saturday prompted me to do some creative thinking and cooking on my feet that day. And lemon-ricotta pancakes seemed the perfect way to use up a meager half of an already-zested lemon, as well as the last of the homemade ricotta I made earlier in the week (recipe below), as part of my no-oven baking fix. Although I intended to follow the recipe of my inspiration for all things cooking, Smitten Kitchen, I had only one of the four called-for eggs, so I halved the recipe and decided to make a thinner batter with milk instead.
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lemon curd in three variations

When life hands you lemons…
 

I have a newfound appreciation for the old adage on lemons. With the less-than-desirable circumstances I found myself in over the weekend, in my case a defunct oven and a Saturday full of rain and gloom, it seemed decidedly defeatist to take it lying down (albeit on the couch cradling a mug of tea and the delightful French Women Don’t Get Fat), so I made my own sunshine in the kitchen: tangy and sweet lemon curd! And not just the usual citrus affair, but three exceedingly delicious versions, all with a simple last-minute addition. Very much taken by Clotilde’s lemon and almond curd, from the lovely Chocolate & Zucchini, in similar form I added ground almonds to the finished curd for an even creamier spread, and also tried stirring in a handful of unsweetened coconut flakes for another variation. Obligated to taste-test the results, like any good chef, the pale yellow lemon-almond curd was by far my standout favorite among the three, truly a match made in lemon curd heaven.  

With a preliminary taste of the creamy spread on an english muffin half, I was so arrested by the tang and zest alighting on my tongue that I wondered if perhaps I’ve let winter linger a little too long in my kitchen. It was a good thing the lemons came three-to-a-bag, because now I can’t resist dashing off a fresh squeeze on everything–fried eggs, sauteed spinach, lentils, a bowl of blueberries and yogurt. In fact, my readiness to apply lemon without reserve to any and all things inspired a lighter take on eggs benedict for an easy weekend or weekday breakfast:
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raisin-studded irish soda bread + very unfortunate news in the kitchen

Although it’s nearly two week’s after the holiday, I’ve been enjoying the fruits of my belated tribute to the Irish: sweet, dense soda bread.  Sadly, with nothing to recommend St. Patrick’s Day here in the land of the rising sun, and even despite my quarter-self given to Irish heritage, March 17th quite passed my notice entirely! But when I began my research on locating a suitable soda bread recipe, it seemed the culinary world had not forgotten the happy green day as I had, and it was a pleasure to peruse the assorted loaves: some craggly, some smooth, some studded with currants or nuts or laced with sharp caraway seeds, but all engraved with a deep cross on top. Yet the more loaves I visually devoured, I was surprised to find that the rich, butter and eggs glorified scone version I thought to be the traditional soda bread seemed to be actually more of an American embellishment. The most basic recipe I found claiming authenticity was simply four ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. I was genuinely curious then to find out where, in this spectrum of soda breads, the true, authentic Irish notion lay…

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I sent an inquiring email to my good friend, a fellow JET and Irishman himself, to ask his opinion and personal taste in a food marked with such national pride. And in his experience, growing up with homemade loaves from his grandmother and mother’s kitchen, using eggs did not make it any less authentic by any means. He surmised that eggs and/or butter were traditionally not used due to poverty in the country, rather than particulars of taste. Using butter and eggs would certainly have been a luxury at that time, I imagine.

So, in the end I decided to work from a basic recipe and took only modest liberties with some add-ins: continuing with the dried-fruits-in-breads-kick, I tossed in a generous quarter-cup of raisins, mixed a tablespoon of milk with yogurt for buttermilk, and added a scant tablespoon of sugar for some added sweetness. And since there’s only one of me, I cut down the recipe’s original call for 4 cups of flour down to just over one :) And out of the oven came a beautiful, golden, raisin-full loaf of sweet soda bread, perfect for breakfast spread with a spoonful of the homemade marmalade, its citrus-punch mellowed with a few days in the fridge and cutting the sweetness of the bread delightfully.  Continue reading

homemade grapefruit marmalade

Thriftiness, I’m convinced, lends even the most mediocre fare a flavorful radiance that can only be achieved by repurposing formerly wilting produce. The satisfaction of resourcefully using otherwise neglected ingredients seems to tuck in a particular palatable delight. However, I say this only so far as my experiments in the world of sugared confections go. I have a decidedly less-stellar performance record of savory culinary adaptations in the kitchen (read: pantry stir-fries gone awry). But I was truly ecstatic over my first batch of homemade marmalade, finally making use of a bag of delicious (but seemingly bottomless) Japanese grapefruits given to me by a good friend.

Although I have never envisioned myself as a jam-maker or marmalade brewer (?), thanks to the inspiration from a favorite blogger (thank you She Who Eats) and a Saturday afternoon to while away while my laundry dried outside in the intermittent sunshine, I felt emboldened to give marmalade-making a go.  Continue reading

fruit and nut cake + travels to yokohama

Spring made a fleeting appearance last week in the early plum blossoms and briefest of warm spells, but this week winter seems to be dragging its feet and making its ill-humor known through bouts of cold rain. For a few days, however, I made a short escape of the dreariness and took a holiday to visit a dear friend in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture. On Friday I boarded the local train to Kyoto, where I spent a leisurely hour browsing the many wonderful cafes and shops in the crowded station. After an extravagant late-morning meal of darjeeling tea, matcha ice cream, and a chestnut and creme de marron muffin (a less than wholesome, but completely satisfying lunch), I set off to catch my 1:00 Shinkansen train, ascending escalator upon escalator to finally arrive at the bright platform, encased in clear glass roofs above the whole of Kyoto station. 

For five wonderful days, I had the pleasure of being a guest among my friend and her family. With a daughter nearing three in May and a ten-month old baby boy, there was never a dull moment or lack of endless entertainment at hand in the form of picture books, crafts, or make-believe with a multitude of stuffed animals. On my arrival Friday evening, we celebrated with a fabulous home-cooked Japanese meal, champagne, and beautiful, exquisite little cakes my friend’s husband picked up on his way from work. Over the next few days, with kids in tow and me the happy pack-animal to dispense sippy cups, snacks, toys, or hand wipes at any moment, we traveled to Mitaka to see the magical Studio Ghibli art museum, drove to historical Kamakura to stand beneath (and inside!) the bronze Buddha Statue, strolled along the Yokohama harbor, and even immersed ourselves in the bulky overstock haven of Costco!  Continue reading

oatmeal raisin muffins + regrets for an overly long absence

It is a failure of a blogger indeed to be dormant on one’s own site for almost three months! I offer my sincere apology for neglecting the kind readership that has encouraged me in this fledgling blogging enterprise. I admit, it wasn’t that the baking had stopped, but rather that the time between freshly baked, out-of-my-oven and wrapped, into the hands of others was cut tremendously short. Our lovely Saint Valentine’s day, for example, was a case-in-point: six dozen baked overnight and dipped in chocolate, packaged and given away the very next day!

Why six dozen cookies? Why the rush, you ask? Well, in Japan, Valentine’s day is somewhat different from the flower and box-of-chocolates tradition in America: it’s a day exclusively for girls and women to make homemade treats and truffles for friends, boyfriends, supervisors, coworkers, teachers, or in my case, all of the above. I should have taken advantage of the incredible ready-made boxes of exquisite fine chocolates–ganache, milk, dark, and white chocolates of all shapes, designs, and sizes–to dole out to my many kind fellows, but no, as a steadfast and silly stubborn goose, I refused all commercial help and made the darned things myself, all seventy-two hearty-shaped cookies. Next year, I’ll trade in my pride for a peaceful, stress-free St Valentine’s Day.  Continue reading

baseball in osaka + homemade english muffins

October has had a very auspicious, if not terribly fiscally responsible, beginning. The first day of the month opened with beautiful, 25˚ weather (yay for finally getting used to the metric system!) and a visit to Koshien Stadium near Kobe. Along with nearly fifty other Nara and Kyoto JETs, we stuck out in big Gaijin fashion with our hooting, cheering, and English blabbering. But the crowds embraced us, and when the time came for the famous Hanshin Tiger’s Balloon Rally, we all inflated our odd-shaped zeppelins and let them spin and fuzzle upward in a soaring, incredible multitude. 

Twelve stops and two train rides later, I emerged from the bustling subway thoroughfare and by dusk I was walking the neon-streets of Osaka with five other foodie friends. Before it was even 9pm, I had eaten a helping of piping-hot takoyaki (octopus-filled dumplings drizzled in a special brown sauce, mayonaise, sprinkled with seaweed and salty bonito fish flakes–don’t judge until you try one!), downed a milk-flavored bubble tea from a hole-in-the-wall stand, tried an Osaka cabbage-yaki speciality, had my first Shochu on the rocks, and finished off the evening with a healthy serving of ice cream. And that was only the food! I probably shouldn’t get in to the cosplay store or maid cafe we went to…

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banana cinnamon oatmeal

Cinnamon-anything makes me swoon with delight; it is my favorite spice and will forever keep me warm with memories of fall cider, apple pie, and the familiarity of back-to-school breakfast: oatmeal. This year marks a significant change in my school routine, however–I’m the one at the front of the classroom! Every week I visit a different local middle school, working alongside the resident Japanese Teachers of English to inspire generations of future world-achievers. Well, perhaps it isn’t quite that glamorous, but for the most part the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year middle schoolers are bright and curious students, with only the occasional overly-rambunctious class. Considering how early my day starts, the commute to each school, and the energy it takes to control 35 antsy 14 year olds at any given moment, I’ve been making the most of my breakfasts these days.

Even the lingering heat from the hot, humid summer here couldn’t dissuade me from the comforting aroma of piping hot oatmeal and a cup of tea every morning. As I confessed in a prior post, a good breakfast can be the reason I get out of bed, and if it’s been a less-than-stellar day, at least I have a reason to persist until tomorrow’s breakfast and new beginning. Somewhat stock, I know, but since I’m on my way to acting three times my actual age, I might as well embrace the conventions of the honored senior citizens of this world. At least I have all my teeth to crunch on homemade granola if I felt like it :P

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