summer, shirtlessness, and smoked meats.

it gets hot in japan.  and when i say hot, i don’t mean pleasant, dry, “hydrate and wear sunscreen and you will be ok” hot.  i mean the sticky and brutally humid kind of hot.  actually, when summer gets into full swing, it is a lot like my home-state of missouri.  which, as most people from missouri can tell you, is terrible.

but thankfully, it isn’t that hot yet.  monsoon season still has the spotlight.  but after three soid days of rain and dreary grey skies, the heaveans finally saw fit to give izu two beautiful days of happy (see: not brutal) sunshine, very few clouds, and comfortable 24°c heat.

so in an effort not to waste such excellent weather, i spent most of my waking hours this weekend outdoors.  on saturday morning, i went out to the bamboo forest and spend the whole day making plum jam and jambalaya.  in between beers, i probably split enough bamboo to build a small house.  and while i was at it, i even took a little bit of time to even out my heinously unbalanced tan.

i got home around six, took a shower, and then ran out the door to meet up with my buddies brian and marc for ramen.  when we finished, we got some supplies together and made our way down to izunagaoka (where marc lives).

then we drank beer, grilled chicken and avocadoes, and chatted it up outside until we were too tired to keep drinking.

on sunday morning, we woke up nice and early, had some coffee and conversation, and picked up some supplies.  at around ten o’clock, we cracked open some beers, prepared about 5 kilograms of meat and fish with a variety of seasonings, and filled the smoker to the gills.  once we got the fire going and the door sealed tight, all we had to do was wait.

we drank, worked out, and napped until around five o’clock.  and when we finally opened the smoker, we partook in one of the most epic bounties i have yet to eat so far this summer.


fried chicken with a side of fried chicken.

you know those meals that make you feel like you could smash a cinder block with your forehead, or ramp a jet ski over a wrought-iron fence into a pool, or do some other heinously dangerous and extremely manly activity?  even if you answered no, just pretend like you answered yes for a few minutes.  humor me.

in my world, those meals that make you feel like a reckless man more often than not begin with fried chicken.  and most of the time, they end with fried chicken, too.  sometimes, in the middle i eat something other than fried chicken, but those occasions are rare.

in the usa, fried chicken and arnold schwartzenegger’s commando is about the manliest night i can think of.  so last night, when i decided to watch toshiro mifune in yojimbo, i thought that because my action movie had taken a decidedly japanese turn, i would be remiss if my fried chicken did not follow suit.  and so i made an immense batch of kara-age.

put on your fried food pants and get some napkins ready, because we are about to get messy.


japanese fried chicken.  this ain’t no kfc, let’s just put it that way.  the skin is crunchy and the meat is juicy, piping hot, and jam-packed with flavor.  why, you say?  well, because you marinate it, silly.

you’ll need:

  • 2 chicken thighs (or breasts) skin on
  • ginger
  • garlic
  • black pepper
  • soy sauce
  • sesame oil
  • seven-spice (or chinese hot pepper)
  • a little bit of mayo
  • japanese sake
  • oil for frying (vegetable is probably best)
  • katakuriko (potato starch)
  1. rinse your chicken and pat it dry with some paper towels.  use a really super sharp knife to cut it into non-bitesized pieces.  the goal is to have pieces big enough that they require two or more bites.  chomping into a giant nugget of super crispy delicious chicken and being able to see the delicious succulent white meat you are about to dig into on bite number two is nothing short of bliss.
  2. go to town with a fork.  puncture a bunch of holes all over the chicken.  tenderizing will make your bits of chicken soak up the flavors of the marinade a lot better.
  3. peel the garlic and the ginger.  you are going to want to use about 3 or 4 cloves of garlic and about a thumb of ginger.  grind them on an oroshi board, a microplane, or a very fine grater.  put them into a large non-reactant mixing bowl.
  4. add seven-spice, black pepper, a dash of sesame oil, and soy sauce and sake in a 2:1 ratio.  add a touch of mayo to firm up the marinate just a little.  remember, if you firm it up too much the chicken won’t suck up the flavor like you wanted to, and all that tenderizing will go to waste.  stir to combine all the ingredients.
  5. add the chicken, and stir with your hands to coat.  cover with some saran wrap and set it in the fridge to marinate for about an hour.
  6. once the chicken is about finished marinating, add enough oil to deep fry to a frying pan and bump the heat.  you want to oil to be hot enough to fry the chicken, but not hot enough to smoke or burn.  test the oil with a little piece of chicken if you aren’t sure of the temperature.  on my stove, which has temperature markings that read “off, 1, 2, 3, high,” i got the oil to the temperature i wanted using the “3” setting, and kept it from getting too hot by reducing to “2” once i started frying.
  7. pour some of the potato starch onto a plate.  one thin layer at a time is best (as opposed to emptying the whole bag at once).  dredge each piece of chicken in the starch and pop it into the oil.  the marinade on the outside of the chicken should make the breading stick super well.  try to keep from adding so much starch to the chicken that it becomes crumbly.  you really only want to add enough to coat each piece, and no more.  too much starch will make a dusty, starchy layer between the fried outside and the juicy chicken meat, effectively ruining the texture and flavor of all your hard work.
  8. the oil should bubble, but not spit.  you will probably want to turn each piece one or twice in the course of frying.  once the chicken is golden brown and done all the way through, take it out and put it on a few sheets of paper towels to soak up the extra oil.
  9. dig in and eat until you can feel the flow of your blood slowing from cholesterol intake.  or, if you are generous, share with your friends, and watch them become lethargic under the weight of the epic cholesterol.  your choice.

wizards, ben franklin, and raw food week.

it’s imagination time.

let’s say a guy with a beard and a sweet hat shows up on your doorstep and politely informs you that he is a wizard.  as skeptical as you are of his claims, you probably do something nice somewhere in the story (like give him an ice-cold glass of lemonade or massage his feet or something) and he tells you that in return he will magically place you into any socioeconomic class you like.  i think most people, including myself, would swallow their guilt and go with “filthy stinking rich.”  and poof, just like that, happily ever after.  foie gras, black truffles, the finest aged cheeses, filet mignon, and black caviar every day until you happily die of gout.

and now, back to the real world.

do you have a socioeconomic wizard on your doorstep?  yeah, i didn’t think so.  it’s okay, i don’t either.  and while disney’s alladin, the tale of king midas, and many other non-fictional stories verified by hard, factual evidence lead us to believe that magic is the fastest road to riches, some trail-blazing individuals believe saving money is a far more effective solution.  at least that is what benjamin franklin thought.  and he was kind of like a wizard, only in real life.

so in the spirit of super long esoteric introductions (and saving money), i have decided this week to abstain from using my stove.

while the cheapest option would be to not eat food at all, dying of malnutrition is not in the best interest of my blog.  so instead, i will do all my cooking this week without the use of heat.

no stove, no toaster oven, no hot water.  in other words, raw foods or no foods.  will i be severely limited in my ability to prepare delicious food?  you bet your bottom dollar i will.  will i be hard-pressed to find any way at all to eat meat?  you know it.  will i give up and have a steak in less than 24 hours?  there is a distinct possibility.  but you know what, challenges make us stronger.

raw food mode: engage.

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perfect 10: ingredients to live by (part ii)


there is a reason they called it stock, and that is because you should always have an inexhaustible supply of it.  i don’t know if that is actually why it is called stock, but if it isn’t, it should be.

stock comes in all different kinds, and that is why it is just so darn indispensable for a well-prepared cook.  chicken stock, beef stock, pork stock, fish-based stock (such as japanese dashi), and the myriad vegetable stocks that exist all have very different flavor profiles.  each can help you accomplish a particular goal in the kitchen.  try them out and see which one does best with your particular style of cooking.  if you can’t decide, it never hurts to have all of them on hand.

stock keeps remarkably well.  in the case of chicken, beef, and pork stock, it is regularly frozen in bags or cubes and stored.  it can then be used directly from the freezer.  in the case of fish stock, like dashi, or vegetable stocks, such as seaweed-based broths, they are often condensed into dry granules that can then be reconstituted when mixed with hot water.

there is no possible way that i can list all of the uses of stock without typing until my fingers bleed.  stock can be used as a flavorful alternative when boiling pasta, an aromatic base when steaming or broiling meat, the backbone of any good soup, a base flavor for sauce, or palette cleanser between the courses of a meal.  which is just to name of few of the more popular implementations.

it comes in a can pretty often in the states, but if you go to your local butcher shop often times you can find it frozen in a bag.  the stuff the butcher shop has is generally going to be a little fresher and a more pure, but for the difference in cost it might not matter to you.  remember, buy the stock you want for your recipe, and don’t be enticed by claims of “less fat” and “half the sodium.”  sometimes, your stock needs those things to function in the way you want it to, and to exclude the “fat” and “salt” from your broth can often be a recipe for bland food.

like any charcuterie will tell you, fat is your friend.

without stock, you would never be able to make things like bacon leek and potato chowder, real miso soup, any kind of gravy, white bean chicken chili, french onion soup, or beef stew.  i don’t even want to imagine a world without beef stew.  what a terrible, terrible place that would be.


don’t call me a fatty or judge me or anything yet.  butter is amazing, and yet on the whole completely misunderstood.  as much as i like to make fun of france, they understand a single tried and true fact more than most other countries.

very rarely is there such a thing as too much butter.  and while you may disagree with me based on your experiences, you are wrong.  don’t worry, i will tell you why.

salted butter is the bane of butter lovers everywhere.  if you had told me twenty five seconds ago that there is such as a thing as too much salted butter, i would have nodded in agreement and maybe given you a fist bump or something equally corny.  salted butter has extremely limited uses (e.g. for sauces, basting meats when grilling, and frying eggs).  even in situations for which it is well-suited, it can often ruin food when used in too great a quantity and might better be replaced with unsalted butter anyway.  i invite you now to throw salted butter aside.

those of you who have yet to get up from your chair to throw your salted butter in the garbage can are more likely than not bakers, whether professional or amateur.  baking, especially the creation of wonders like puff pastry and pie crust, involves the use of copious (see: appropriate, glorious) amounts of butter.  it is butter that provides these baked goods with their flakiness, their fluffiness, and the airy light texture we all know and love.

sure, you can spread it on things.  yeah, you can put it in a frying pan instead of vegetable oil.  ok, go ahead and put it on top of your baked potato.  but don’t sell butter short.  it is so much more than you ever could have imagined, and the mild creaminess of unsalted butter is an invitation to try to use it in whatever you can.  it won’t kill you, i promise.

we have butter to thank for mashed sweet potatoes, crepes, croissants, phyllo dough, baklava, the greatest grilled pork tenderloin recipes of all time, and most indian cuisine involving lentils (such as daal, which is fan-freaking-tastic).  the list goes on.


people who don’t like cucumbers need to learn to relax.  yeah, they are watery.  sure, the skin can tend to be a little bitter and the seeds can be a pain in the butt.  but don’t concentrate on the negatives.  concentrate on the crispness.  the bountiful, bountiful crispness.  the cucumber is a wonder because, despite the almost violent crunchy goodness, it has a flavor so mild and friendly that it seems to say “go fraternize with other vegetables, but know that when you come back, i’ll be waiting for you.”  and once you learn to effectively utilize the cucumber, you might never leave home again.

like spinach, cucumbers are absolutely delicious when raw.  unlike spinach, it is generally ill-advised to use cucumbers in any kind of cooking that involves heat.  yes, i can feel your incredulity through the internet.  trust me, i’ll explain.

why in the name of all that is holy would a vegetable that should never be cooked end up on a list of ingredients which is supposed to be comprised of the most essential groceries for cooking?

if you remember when i first described the concept of the perfect 10, the purpose of the list was not to provide a series of ingredients, each with a unique and complex flavor profile which could make or break your cuisine.  if that were the case, the perfect 10 would be rife with black truffles and iberian bacon and smoked gruyere cheese and the like.  but instead, the point of the perfect 10 is to provide cheap, versatile, long-lasting, and easily prepared foods to aid the common person in filling their belly and feeding their soul.

it is the “easy” portion of that description which most aptly fits cucumbers.  it is totally valid to criticize cucumbers for their inability to be cooked.  but such criticism cuts both ways.  cooking food with heat requires time and effort and preparations before the cooking part even begins.  preparing food without heat requires nothing but technique and a little bit of imagination.  start cooking potroast, and i’ll start making a salad.  we’ll see who ends up eating first.

or we could not do that, because i think you already know who will win.

cucumbers could easily be one of the fastest foods to prepare.  from the refrigerator to the serving dish, a beautiful, complex, and delicious cucumber salad can be prepared in under ten minutes with just a little bit of know-how.

and if you have a little more time, cucumbers can become something truly spectacular.  homemade pickles (or japanese sunomono) and tsatziki sauce are just two examples of excellent foods that can be prepared with a very few ingredients and almost no effort to speak of.  just remember to bring along cucumber’s three best friends: salt, garlic, and anything creamy.


yogurt is pretty good for you.  i think.  i honestly don’t know, because that doesn’t matter to me and it isn’t even close to the reason why i put it in the perfect 10.  so it must be on the list because it goes so well with fruit, right?  yeah, well, i don’t really ever eat fruit, so i’m not too sure about that one.  oh, so it must be on the list because it tastes like heaven when you pour honey on it.  so does everything else in the world, so we can throw that reason out with the rest of them.

i’m not trying to write you off.  yogurt with fruit at the bottom is really tasty, and using yogurt as the main ingredient in smoothies is a great idea.  and you aren’t wrong, yogurt with honey is great.  but yogurt was meant for so much more than being a creamy fruit/honey delivery system.

the bacterial cultures present in yogurt give it a chemically dynamic nature that milk and butter can’t even begin to hold a candle to.  granted, the living nature of yogurt can cause it to spoil quickly, burn, fall victim to over-mixing, or become a seemingly unending font of water.  but the good far outweighs the bad.

yogurt is a beautifully engineered, chemically complex powerhouse of possibilities.  to make yogurt from milk is a waste of time (for the average person), mainly because it would most likely be faster and cheaper to just go out and buy yogurt.  but to use yogurt as basic building block for the creation of much more expensive, harder-to-come-by foods is not only easy, but smart and cost-effective.  for instance, all you need to make a healthier version of sour cream is a drip coffee filter, a cup, a tub of plain yogurt, and time.  i know, i do it all the time.  and from this pseudo-sour cream to cheese (such as lebaneh), all you need is a little more time and lemon juice (or any other citrus-based acid).  starting to understand why yogurt is on this list?

i won’t lie to you, yogurt can take some practice to use effectively.  but once you start to embrace the practical chemistry of its uses, you will find yourself becoming a more self-sufficient person and a more practical cook.

canned tomatoes

“well, if you are such a good cook, why don’t you use real tomatoes, huh?”  i do.  pretty regularly.  but there are a few questions about real tomatoes that can get in the way of a good cooking session.  for instance:

how do you know if a tomato is ripe?  what do you do with the seeds?  what do you do with the skin?  why is the tomato green on the inside?  why is the tomato grainy and not very good?  where the heck is all this water coming from?  what is the difference between all these types of tomatoes?

and with canned tomatoes, all these questions can go away in the blink of an eye.  can you make all the same recipes as you would have been able to with fresh tomatoes?  simple answer, no.  bruschetta with canned tomatoes is terrible.  pico de gallo with canned tomatoes is terrible.  margarita pizza with canned tomatoes is terrible.  i think you get the idea.

but instead of these recipes (most of which aren’t exactly price or time-friendly), you can make some simpler, more suitable meals for a fraction of the price.  canned tomatoes, when utilized appropriately, can cut down on preparatory time, cost, amount of seasoning required, and even cleanup.  but there is one advantage to canned tomatoes that often goes overlooked.

reliability.  canned tomatoes are pretty darn consistent.  when you pop that can lid, very rarely are you going to be surprised by what comes out.  the tomatoes will be soft, they will be contained in their own juice, and there may be a little bit of salt added for the sake of preservation.  fresh tomatoes, however, could be one of the most unreliable fruits around.  even an expert occasionally picks out and pays for a tomato that just isn’t good.  i would estimate that for every three fresh tomatoes i have purchased in the grocery store, at least one was mealy, not ripe yet, too soft, bruised, or severely lacking in usable flesh.  there are just so many things that can go wrong with fresh tomatoes, and while 3:1 is a pretty good success ratio, it isn’t nearly good enough for somebody who is living on a budget.  25% of your food going to waste just isn’t cost effective.

and so instead of the bruschettas and pico de gallos and margarita pizzas, i invite you to make foods that are a little more conservative.  homemade tomato sauce, tomato-based curry, dark chocolate mole, chili, beef stew, and minestrone are all rib-sticking, delicious meals in and of themselves, and the quantities in which they can be produced can save you from having to cook every day.  just something to keep in mind.

are canned tomatoes a shortcut to good food?  you bet your butt they are, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

perfect 10: ingredients to live by (part i)

some people out there are living all alone.  some are living on a budget.  some people are doing both.  and this week, pmk is all about you guys.

close your eyes, and do a quick tally.  how many times in the past week or so have you thought something along the lines of, “i’m tired and cranky, and i think i am in desperate need of some food within the next thirty minutes,” only to go to your kitchen and discover that all you have is saltines and ketchup.  you don’t need to be exact, just ball park it.  one time?  two?  five?

let’s say you answered five or more.  i won’t allow that.  ok, let’s say you answered two.  that is not acceptable.  even if you answered one, i just won’t have it.

and so pmk’s theme this week is what i have dubbed “perfect 10.”  with a no small amount of help, i did my best to develop a list of ingredients which are ideal for any person living on a budget.  low in cost, high in versatility, and easy to use within their expiration dates, all ten of these ingredients are kitchen staples.

here are the first five, in no particular order:


first thing is first.  it doesn’t go bad, and all you need to cook it is a pot and hot water.  that being said, pasta epitomizes versatility.  pasta and a homemade sauce can feed a single person for a week, and if you add in a basic meat dish and an easy appetizer, you can go to bed every night with a fat wallet, a smile on your face, and an uncomfortably full stomach.

the key to pasta lies in its myriad forms.  spaghetti, especially angel hair, is easy to handle, easy to plate, and cooks quickly and evenly with correct technique.  orzo can be used as a substitute for rice in dishes like doria or risotto.  pastas similar to penne and rigatoni retain sauce better than most other shapes.  lasagna can be layered, making it ideal for baking once boiled.  the list goes on.

pasta carbonara, penne with pesto sauce, spaghetti bolognese, chicken doria, and minestrone are just a few recipes that come to mind as extraordinarily delicious, mind-numbingly easy to make, and poverty friendly.


let’s get the negatives out of the way first.  it wilts.  it wilts if the refrigerator is too cold, it wilts if you don’t put it in the refrigerator, it wilts if you cook it, and (let’s be honest) sometimes it just wilts if you look at it askance.  and if you buy the stuff that isn’t baby leaf spinach (i.e. real spinach that has stems and comes from a field instead of a hydroponic lab somewhere), you have to wash it vigorously on account of it being chock-full of sandy soil.

but it is delicious, soft, and crazy nutritious when fresh.  and cheap.   a nice big bag of a few bundles can go for trifles in the grocery store.  if you can find a good farmers market, they practically give the stuff in away in quantities that a normal human being who lives alone could never use.

but why spinach as opposed to the other myriad leafy greens?  it is ubiquitous, but more than that is a staple both raw and cooked.  spinach obviously makes excellent salads, but it makes great soups, an excellent compliment to sauces, a beautiful appetizer when appropriately seasoned, and a colorful garnish.

as roughage on sandwiches, a stuffing component for baked or grilled meats, or a quick snack when running out the door, spinach is the obvious choice.

chicken breasts

“but they are dry and they have no flavor.”  yeah, well, that is because you don’t cook them right.  a well prepared chicken breast can knock the socks off of even the most tenacious food scrooge.

remember, the cost is directly proportionate to the amount of work you want to put in.  a whole chicken is going to have a cheaper price per 100 grams of meat, but is going to be a pain to break down into the requisite cuts you want to use.  conversely, a deboned, skinned, tendon-free chicken breast cut into tenders is going to be more expensive because (unless you have some confidence issues) literally all you have to do is put it in a pan with some oil and not burn it.

chicken breasts are on this list because the unboned chicken breast with the skin still intact is the meat when it comes to a balance of price and prep work required.  the succulent texture (when cooked correctly) and basic taste allow chicken breasts to take on all kinds of flavor profiles that pork, beef, and more exotic (and expensive) meats cannot.

sliced teriyaki chicken, pulled chicken breast sandwiches, japanese-style chicken, chicken breast battered and deep fried…  i can keep going if you want.

french bread / baguettes

bread is a surprisingly deceptive item to add to any grocery list, mainly because of how hopelessly vague it is.  sliced white bread is the death of flavor and texture, and yet (for most people) it tends to be the single most common bread that comes to mind when picking out groceries.  i am of the (well-informed and entirely experience-based) opinion that if a bread isn’t good enough to eat by itself, you probably shouldn’t be buying it.

that being said, i’ll be the first to admit evaluating bread can be tricky.  there are many breads out there that taste perfectly fine, but have no identifiable texture.  conversely, there are all kinds of breads that boast a fantastic texture, but taste like air.  and i know that each and every person has run across that loaf of bread which looks like it probably tastes like god himself, and then sulked away with their head hung in sadness once they laid eyes on the price tag.  and so, in much the same vein as chicken breasts, a clever middle ground is the key to this ingredient’s inclusion in the perfect 10.

french bread has an interior that is soft, beautifully porous, and an absolute delight when toasted.  but honestly, so does italian bread, sourdough, kaiser, and almost any whole grain or wheat bread.  it is the crust of the french loaf which sets it apart from its competitors.  the crust, which exists somewhere between the hard shell of sourdough and the soft squishiness of the kaiser roll, is probably the key factor in the versatility and overall appeal of french bread.  the crust provides a contrast of texture that prevents the bread from becoming uninteresting over the course of the meal, and the tough crunchiness make it ideal for toasting and dipping in sauces.

and just in case you weren’t convinced yet, i am now going to spoon-feed you my opinions as heavy-handedly as i can.

this is between you and the bread.  there is no need to involve some fancy serrated bread knife in the affair.  people in the dark ages had the right idea.  just tear off a chunk and dig in.  french bread is one of the only breads which might actually be better unsliced. toast the whole loaf as is if you can.  if not, rip it apart with your bare hands and then throw it in the toaster oven. when it comes to this style of eating, i think the only type of bread that can hold a candle to a baguette is russian black bread (and that is saying quite a lot seeing as black bread might be the single most rustic, hearty, and soul-nurturing flavor known to mankind).

italian butter with toast, tuna melt grinders, bruscetta crackers, and cheese fondue are only the first few things i could think of which seem to be engineered specifically for french bread.


a friend once asked me, “if all the animals we eat for meat were going to die tomorrow, and you could only save one, what would it be?”  i thought about it long and hard.  the obvious decision for me was to say i would save our good friend the pig because of the deliciousness and variety of his many cuts of meat.  but i responded that i would save the chicken.

i admit, i love chicken breasts and chicken legs and chicken thighs, but it is the eggs of the chicken in which i place my undying faith and adoration.  each egg is a perfectly contained, naturally produced 80 calorie meal.  in their unaltered form, eggs can be boiled, poached, fried, used as a thickener in sauces, and implemented as a source of richness and smooth texture in otherwise dry dishes.  when altered, the possibilities become nearly endless.

eggs are an obvious inclusion in the perfect 10 because they are cheap, keep for a reasonably long time, easy to cook, and incredibly versatile.  but the real reason i included them is because they are, without a doubt, one of the most amazing and nutritiously beneficial adaptations in the history of the living world.  as verbose as i am, i am well aware that any attempt i could make at doing the egg justice in this post would fall short.  the egg deserves a post of its own, and perhaps someday in the future when i have time to research, collate, and cook for a few days straight, it’ll get its day in the sun.

until then, i hope i am forgiven.