Happy New Year!

After a long hiatus and reestablishing ourselves in Sydney Australia (yes, my hubby got a fabulous job opportunity here to launch a special project, so we sold our house, car and moved here in August),  I’m starting to blog again…

To celebrate the beginning of the new year, and support you in your new year’s resolution, I am making my Kitchen Wizard Flexipes e-book for F-R-E-E on Amazon for a couple of days soon.  So keep your eyes out!

It’s an e-version of my paperback book ($19.95), normally sold for $4.97. It’s beautifully formatted for your computer, tablet, smart phone, any device for that matter, including Kindle.  Now you can bring my Kitchen Wizard Flexipes, literally at your finger tips, anywhere you want to be. It’s the very strategy I used to save $9000/year from food/dining cost, and brought my weight back to ideal level.  It’ll be the best investment you’ll ever make.

If you don’t want to miss this opportunity, Like Kitchen Wizard Facebook page, right away.  The schedule will be posted there.  Feel free to share with your friends too.

Here’s to your happy and healthy 2013!



Okonomiyaki (Japanese Stuffed Pancake) お好み焼き

Okonomiyaki in the skillet

Okonomiyaki in the skillet

One of the Japanese favorites, which is also loved by many non-Japanese is Okonomiyaki. It’s often called Japanese pizza, but in reality, it’s more of a pancake with a lot of stuff in it. So, I think it should be called Japenese stuffed pancake.

There are a few Japanese restaurants that serve only okonomiyaki in New York etc,  but most in the U.S. serve it alongside other dishes. In Japan, okonomiyaki is pretty much only served at a specialized okonomiyaki house. These restaurants normally have a hotplate in the middle of the table or the bar. You pick your ingredients in the combo you like, and the restaurant will give you everything in a bowl. (Okonomiyaki batter, shredded cabbage, and other ingredients such as veggies, seafood and/or meat.)  And you are the cook.  Put oil on the plate, wait till it’s hot, and pour in the mix.  Flip when one side is nicely browned, and wait till it’s cooked on both sides. Put the toppings you like,  slice it up and eat it HOT! That’s it.  I think okonomiyaki place is the most profitable kind of restaurant, because the customers pretty much does most of the work!  Plus, ingredients are inexpensive and readily available.

As you can imagine, you can easily make this at home. It’s really fun and easy to make, great for lunch, a snack or party, especially if you have a large hot plate. In fact, when I was about 4 or 5, I demanded that my mother cook me Okonomiyaki for my 3 o’clock snack every day. You can change the ingredients and use whatever (pretty much — thus named “Okonomi” means as you like, “Yaki” fried or grilled) you have in your fridge.

Some people like to add grated yamaimo (glutinous yam) or nagaimo (chinese yam) into the batter. If you can find them, try it — it will make the pancake even fluffier. There are people who add a little bit of cornstarch, baking powder etc. as well. You can probably use your own special pancake recipe without sugar and milk (replace it with cold water, although I’ve heard of people who makes Okonomiyaki with milk) and use it for the okonomiyaki base.  If you like green onions, you can skip or reduce cabbage, and add a whole bunch of green onions, and make “Negi-yaki” (green onion pancake).  Korean people have similar dish using grated potatoes.  I tried it with grated lotus root and steamed and mashed Japanese taro…  They had different texture, but I really liked it. 

Yes, the variation is limitless….  So try with something you have on hand, and let me know how it turned out!

Okonomiyaki (Japanese stuffed pancake) お好み焼き

Ingredients (1 large or 2 medium size okonomiyaki)

  • flour 2/3 c
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • cold water, 1/2 c (125cc) Depending on your preference, add or reduce water.
  • cabbage: thinly sliced and loosely packed 1c
  • Ingredients you like or have at hand.  You only need a little bit of these, especially if you plan to use many of them (1-2 oz):
    • Thinly sliced beef or pork (scrap are OK), cut in bite size pieces
    • shellfish (shrimps, calamari, bay scallops) cut in bite size pieces
    • sliced green onions, corn, shredded cheese,  etc.
    • Optional items available at Japanese or Asian markets
      • red picked ginger, smoked squid shreds (called kiri-ika)
      • fried flour batter crumbs (called age-tama or ten-kasu)
    • Toppings: Traditionally, mayo, Okonomiyaki-sauce, bonito flakes, green nori flakes (ao-nori).  See photo below.   If you don’t have Okonomiyaki-sauce, try A1, Lea Perrins, Ketchup, Mustard, BBQ sauce, Sriracha Chili sauce, etc.  It’s best to put mayo first and and something saucey on top.


Piping hot Okonomiyaki with traditional toppings

Piping hot Okonomiyaki with traditional toppings

  1. Mix flour, cold water and beaten eggs well in a medium sized bowl. Make sure there’s no lumps. If there are any, pass it through a fine strainer or sifter. The texture should be thick and like batter.
  2. Add thinly sliced cabbage and green onions, other vegetables and seafood. Mix well. 
  3. If adding meat, cook first with a little bit of salad oil. Make sure it somewhat cooked before adding the batter.
  4. Heat the oil on hotplate or non-stick skillet until hot, then pour the mixture in. If using a hotplate, spread it to about 5-6inches diameter and 1/3 inch thick. If using skillet, spread it to the size of the skillet, and thickness should be about 1/2 inch. Cook till both sides are golden brown.
  5. Remove it to a plate, and garnish with your favorite toppings. Since the batter doesn’t have any seasonings, they should cover the entire surface (just like spreading mayo on sandwich bread.)

では、いただきまーす!(Bon Appetit!)

What do you need to cook Japanese food at home?

Many people ask me what they need to cook Japanese food successfully at home.

Here’s the secret. If you want to cook Japanese food, you should invest in a few key Japanese seasonings. Don’t worry, they are not that expensive – and you can use them for other kinds of food, and they last for a while. Most large supermarkets in major cosmopolitan areas should have these things. If not, try an Asian market near your house. They are most likely to have them for a cheaper price and often more variety.

  • Soy Sauce: Japanese kind is preferred. Kikkoman is readily available in most supermarkets.
  • Mirin: Sweet cooking wine. There are fake types as well. Either is fine, but the real one is better of course!
  • Sake: Japanese rice wine. Yes, similar to the one you have at Sushi place, but for cooking, the left over and/or cheap variety which you may not want to drink is fine.
  • Sesame oil: dark kind is preferred.
  • Rice vinegar: Japanese kind is preferred. Mizkan is readily available. Those from Philippine etc. taste significantly different.
  • Dashi: Japanese fish stock. There are powdered kinds and liquid kinds (see photo). Or you can buy bonito flakes and make it on your own. If you are vegetarian/vegan, you can use kombu (sea kelp) stock.
  • Sesame seeds: There are white and black kind, roasted whole, ground kind etc. Start with the roasted, white one.
  • Miso Paste: not as important, but if you love miso soup, it’s a must! (And you can eat it every day!!!)
  • Wasabi: I like the tube kind better than the powder. If you don’t like that kind of spiciness, skip it.
  • Fresh ginger: I really prefer fresh kind to powdered. Totally different flavors.
  • Extra: Men-tsuyu: Japanese noodle soup base. You can make a lot tastier version of this with soy sauce, mirin, sugar and dashi. However, men-tsuyu is convienient if you don’t have time. Many Japanese in Japan use it not just for noodles, but in many dishes like Japanese style omlettes, soups and stews like oden, nimono, as well as salads, and even Japanese savory egg custard which all Americans seem to love. I think this is busy cooks’ (and non-purists’) friend.

As a start that should do it!  As you increase your repertoire of Japanese cuisine, you can begin to add more to your pantry.

L to R: Dashi & Mentsuyu; Rice Vinegar; Miso Paste; Sesame Oil, Mirin

Welcome to Mari’s East West kitchen!!

Hello — Konnichiwa!

Welcome to Mari’s East West Kitchen!

I’m a native Japanese food enthusiast and world traveller. Food is my passion, both eating and cooking (in that order — I love cooking because it’s creative, and I can eat my delicious creations.) One of favorite pastimes is reading cookbooks… I bring these to bed and dream about them into the wee hours of the night. (My husband says when I do that, I look so happy in my dreams, and I’m often drooling… )  One of my first memories is standing on the chair in my grandma’s kitchen at about 3 years old, very curious, asking a million questions, and begging to help her here and there. We were probably making piroshki. (My grandma isn’t Russian, we are supposedly 100% Japanese, yet my grandparents moved to Manchuria in 1920s, and she learned various Russian recipes from Belarussian ladies in the neighborhood. When Japan lost the war, they lost everything, but she was able to bring the recipes back to Japan in her head – a smart woman!  Likewise, when I came from Japan in 1988, naturally I brought a lot of Japanese recipes and stories with me, and as I go back every year, I bring back more and more.

In Japan pretty much everyone is a foodie. Yes, a lot more than in the US, where I live now. I ended up in the San Francisco Bay Area, probably the top foodie city in the entire US.  Everybody here is interested in healthy and easy gourmet meals, especially Japanese food. Whenever we have a party or potluck, people always ask me how to make the Japanese dishes I bring.  So, I thought – what if I create a blog to share what I eat and prepare for friends and family? Wouldn’t that be fun??? Very often I throw things together and create something unique from what I have on hand, and I am passionate about teaching others to do the same. And l love connecting with people around the world, so this could be a great way to make new friends!

One disclaimer — I’m just a food enthusiast, and not necessarily a purist. So depending on my mood, I cut corners or do creative things, which may horrify purists. Yet my attitude is that if it’s delicious, healthy and fun, it’s all good.  Food is all about LOVE and nourishment – there shouldn’t be any stress around it.

So what can you expect in this blog?  I’m planning to introduce Japanese food and food culture to you.  Some recipes you can make easily at home of course, and also what you need, what you can substitute (including for vegetarians), and how you can use these ingredients in other ways (then you too can create “fusion” dishes.)  Some funny travel and food stories.  And yes, favorites and bizzare foods.  Not the really bizzare kind like Andrew Zimmern on Food Network, but Japanese staples that may sound a bit weird to non-Japanese.  From time to time, I may write about food from other cultures.  One reason is that Japanese cuisine has adopted many foreign foods as if it’s their everyday food, so I it’s been in my blood since birth (like these piroshkis)!   I also love travelling and learning about local culture and of course food, so when I come back from my travels, I recreate some of these local dishes in my kitchen to savor the good memories long after we return home. 

Oh, and I’m planning to bring some reports from Japan some when I go back, but also regularly from my good friend Kogure-san (Ko-grei-san), a professional chef.  I think it would be great fun for my readers –  just like travelling there for a while for free!

I would be thrilled if you experiement with some of my recipes, and let me know how you liked them.  I learned how to cook dishes from other countries that way – and you can do it too!  Also if you have any questions or requests, please let me know.  I’ll try to do my best to answer, or have Chef Kogure help you.

So welcome to my blog — I’m so happy to have you to visit my kitchen to share some good food and friendship, and talk about many different kinds of food all day long!

Happy cooking — and eating!!