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Hirokos Blog

Hiroko’s Kitchen made it onto CulinaryPrograms.net’s recently completed list of 100 Magnificent Sites for Chefs.

CulinaryPrograms.net says, “We built the list for the next generation of chefs who will soon be entering culinary programs and will need to stay up to date on the latest trends in cuisine, and know how to leverage the internet and other forms of media to get their work noticed. We think your site is a great example of how culinary professionals can use the web to their advantage.”

Limit to 4-5 Bulbs a Day

Posted on 8:01 AM in Hiroko's Blog, Recipes

Two powers which this bulb possesses:

  1. It is aphrodisiac. It was banned to be consumed at Buddhism temples.
  2. Consumption should be limited to 4-5 bulbs a day. Overeating causes minor, unpleasant health problems.

Have you eaten sweet pickled, extremely crunchy, little garlic like bulbs, which are served with thick, stew-like Japanese curry dish? A little bulb is neither garlic nor shallot. It is rakkyo.

Rakkyo, belongs to the Lily family, Allium. Onion, scallion and shallot also belong to this family. Like other family members rakkyo has noted, unique taste and fragrance.

At the beginning of summer when the rainy season begins hitting Japanese islands fresh rakkyo bulbs appear at food market. Some of us pickle them at home. By doing so we can enjoy their fresher and better texture and taste of the bulbs, compared to commercially available counterparts. Home pickled rakkyo is also free from unnecessary synthetic chemical additives, which are always found in the commercial products.

The rakkyo plant was introduced from China as early as 3rd century AD. At early centuries it was used as medicinal plant. Chemical Allyl compound is said to help digestion, prevent blood from clotting and assist our body to absorb vitamin B1 efficiently. Rakkyo is also rich in water-soluble dietary fiber.

The most popular pickled rakkyo is AMAZU-ZUKE (sweet vinegar pickled) variety, in which we can enjoy a balanced (not overpowering) sweet, tart and salty flavor. Here is the recipe for you.

RAKKYO NO AMAZU-ZUKE

 

7 ounces rakkyo bulbs, thoroughly rinsed and cleaned, thin paper like film removed, and the very bottom root part and the top stem part cut off

1 ounce sea salt

½ cup vinegar

3 ounces sugar

Italian chili pepper flakes

 

  1. Place the rakkyo bulbs in a medium bowl and toss with the sea salt. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 days.
  2. Briefly rinse the rakkyo bulbs under cold running water. Blanch the rakkyo bulbs in boiling water for 10 seconds. Drain, spread them in a large strainer and cool. Transfer the cooled bulbs into a sterilized glass jar.
  3. In a small pot add the vinegar, sugar and ½ cup of water. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook over low heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and add about ¼ teaspoon of the Italian chili pepper flakes.
  4. Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the cooled rakkyo bulbs in the jar. Cool and cover the jar with a fitting lid. Store it in the refrigerator. After 3 to 4 days of pickling you can enjoy the very crisp, sweet and tart pickled rakkyo. It is good for next several months. Remember to limit to the 4-5 bulbs a day!

Rained Out/Cancelled Out

Posted on 4:30 AM in Hiroko's Blog

Some day is hard to swallow. My teruteru bozu (which should have brought fine weather….) is not cooperating….

Rain and winds prevented two cruises from operating in the morning in Shiretoko and in the afternoon in Abashiri. Plan B was to walk to Fall Fureppe. Fall Fureppe is one of the three falls running down over the cliff (200 meter high) along the peninsula. The amount of water running down (ground water) is little, making very fine line of waterfalls. Hence it got a nickname as ‘women’s weep’. According to the locals less snow fall in the past couple of years are making the water line even thinner and thinner. Eventually there won’t be much weeping… After the walk & lunch we headed to our next destination Abashiri City and our hotel.

After checking in we made our way to Abashiri Prison to learn the history of Japan at the beginning of Meiji Period. We then visited the local glass store to have a hands-on glass making.

Local dinner in the town at the very popular spots, Sakanatei Kihachi, was a treasure. We fully savored Okhotsk seafood in variety of preparations: blue whelk, teriyaki style ‘Hokkaido hamo’, arctic char, chum salmon, octopus, squid, scallop, tuna, Okhotsk flounder.

Rausu & Early Fish Market Visit

Posted on 4:13 AM in Hiroko's Blog

We drove Shiretoko Crossing Highway from Utoro(Okhotsk side) to Rausu (Pacific side). From the top of the Highway we saw Kunashiri island, the nearest Europe/Russia/Disputed island. We visited early morning fish market in Rausu. Rausu is a fishing town with about 5,300 populations. Between Knashiri Island Rausu is mere 25 kilometer in distance and is one of the most richest sea. Complex floor bed formations with different depths are an ideal habitat for many varieties of fish and shellfish. Chum salmon harvested this water is ranked No. 1 in Japan. Other fish caught in the water are trout, cod, arctic char, flounder, rock fish, crab, sea urchin and octopus. We then visited to Rausu kombu storage and learned how the kelp is harvested, dried and processed. Lunch was an educational activity. Everyone removed sea urchin (live!) and scallop (live!) from the shells; cut fish into sashimi slices; presented them beautifully/properly on a sashimi platter.

After return to Utoro we joined the Shiretoko Five Lake walk in the area where there is a highest brown bear population in Hokkaido. Beautiful Shiretoko Mountain ranges reflected on calm water, creating a mirror immage. The tour continues.

Morning Canoe and Lake Mashu

Posted on 3:53 AM in Hiroko's Blog

Morning Canoe! and Lake Mashu

What was a pleasure experience again to join Gaku-san for his canoe tour in Lake Akan in the early morning! The water was very calm and he let us venture on many areas in the lake. We spotted herron, ducks, white tailed eagle,…Serenity. We witnessed Marimo in three different groups.

Gaku made a cup of coffee for us by the water. We watched him grinding coffee and completing it with zen-like calmness. His home-made chocolate scones was a perfect pair with the brew.

After checking out the hotel we headed to Shiretoko, UNESCO National Heritage site with a stop at Lake Mashu, a creation of massive volcanic eruption 32,000 years ago. Unlike other caldera lake, Lake Mashu is surrounded by steep crater walls 200 meter high. The water is very blue and has high transparency (41 meter). Lake Shikotsu, Lake Toya, Lake Akan and Lake Toya; we accomplished to visit must-see caldera lakes in Hokkaido.

Lake Akan and Ainu Culture

Posted on 3:51 AM in Hiroko's Blog

Lake Akan, which was created by repeated gigantic eruptions 31,000 years ago, today sits calm on the eastern part of Hokkaido. If you take a walk, you find out that the Mother Nature is not sleeping. There are small areas where we can see bubbling mud; volcanic gas escaping from the vent. Anyway, this is the hot spring area.

Lake Akan is famous for Marimo, algae, which build community in three different ways – sphere shape, dense community on the rocks and floating string foams. Lake Akan is very shallow compared to other caldera lakes in Hokkaido. Deepest part is only 44 meters. The eruption ejects, such as ash, pumice….over the years covered the bottom of the lake. When the wind blows algae rolls over the lake floor, entangles each other and creates a ball shaped algae. The growth rate of the ball is only 5mm/year, so it takes 60 years to form an 8-inch size ball.

Lake Akan is studded with typical Japanese hot spring hotels built next each other by the lake. A bus load of tourists arrive at around the same time – check-in time at these hotels is 3pm. Check-out time is 10am after breakfast. Crowd comes and disappears with this specific pattern.

After checked in the hotel, we walked to Ainu Theater and enjoyed the traditional Ainu dances and songs. One of the dances performed mimics red crowned crane’s dance. It is graceful and shows Ainu people’s respect and love to this beautiful bird. One of the objectives of Hokkaido with Hiroko is to learn Ainu people’s culture, tradition and suffering history. We are glad to be there.

Oh…one more; we took soba noodle making class in the heart of buckwheat growing region, Shintoku. What we made became for our lunch. Fetucchini like soba….could be possible!

Foggy Lake Toya to Furano

Posted on 3:46 AM in Hiroko's Blog

May 29 Foggy Lake Toya to Furano

I woke up in the morning with fog still covered over the lake. Then, sun gradually pushed it, revealing the magic scenery in front of me. It is still foggy, but the lake with lava dome is distinctive. It is like life. After having hardship, I can appreciate more about what I acquired.

Today we left eastern part of Hokkaido, which is an extension of northeast Japan. We drove through the collision area through Yubari to Furano. If you plant to visit Furano in any occasions (I know you have been here for ski), visit Sumio Goto Museum. Worthwhile. ‘Born in Chiba Prefecture in 1930 to a priest of the Shingon Buddhism school, a painter, Mr. Goto, studied Japanese art under Kyujin Yamamoto at the age of 16 and then under Seihyo Tanaka. In 1952, his work “Fukei” earned him first prize at the Revived Japan Art Academy Exhibition. Subsequently, he won the Taikan Prize and the Prime Minister’s Prize of the Japan Art Academy, establishing himself as a central figure among those belonging to the Japan Art Academy. After teaching young artists as a professor at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music between 1988 and 1997, he made an international contribution as a Dojin member of the Japan Art Academy and professor emeritus at Xian Institute of Art, China, as well as being engaged in creative activities in his studio established as an annex to his museum’. Furano’s expansive nature is the perfect home to Mr. Goto’s dynamic, sensitive and inspiring art works.

The highlight of the day was one of the most talented Japanese chefs, Chef Komatsu’s French dinner. Chef Komatsu was trained under Michel Bras and worked for him when Chef Bras opened his French restaurant at Windsor Hotel Toya, Hokkaido. Chef Komatsu, thank you very much for cooking for US!

Lake Toya & Mortar Boat Cruise

Posted on 3:39 AM in Hiroko's Blog

May 28

Global warming has been changing Hokkaido’s early summer weather; several locals have mentioned it to me. ‘Rain…rain…..’ We were again rained out, so the Lake Toya was in the fog! But we have achieved the below.

  • Learn the creation of beautiful Lake Toya out of violent volcano eruption 110,000 years ago
  • Visit an organic farm, Saeki Farm, and learn how they grow vegetables organically
  • Stay at the hotel which was the home to 2008 G7 Summit; QUESTION – how many can you name the head of the state back then and who remains as the head today?
  • Private mortar boat cruising in Lake Toya
  • Savor the local Kaiseki meal in the hotel

Saeki farm imports bees from Netherland. These bees were kept in the tomato hot houses to do the pollination of tomato. After two weeks of working bees die and another group after another are imported to continue the work in his hot house until November. Mr. Saeki make sure that these foreign bees never escape into outside. He has Japanese bees which specifically work for Japanese cherry trees.

Noboribetsu and Jigokudani

Posted on 3:10 AM in Hiroko's Blog

Noboribetsu and Jigokudani

Day 1 objectives which we have accomplished;

  • Learn the Japanese volcano mythology; meet with oni monster
  • Hike the geothermal crater, Jigokudani (Hell Valley)
  • Learn 9 different hot spring water sources
  • Experience foot onsen
  • Savor local, seasonal Hokkaido style formal Japanese meal
  • Soak in sulfer spring bath at the hotel to heal jet rug

Walking through 24 acre geothermal crater that formed 20,000 years ago was a highlight. Volcanic gas and hot steam seeps from the vents. Hot water in different colors is belching and bubbling. Geyser which shot up hot water every 10 minutes last year ceased its operation this year. Mother Nature never stops moving. Everyone went to bed feeling their skin smooth and tender.

Mt. Usu and Showa Shinzan

Posted on 6:23 PM in Hiroko's Blog

We happily accomplished revised Day 2 objectives in rain;

  • Learn about the active volcano Mt. Usu and Showa-Shinzan
  • Take a cableway to the top of Mt. Usu
  • Take a special permitted tour in the area which is restricted to the visitors – revised: Visit to Volcano Science Museum and Mimatsu
  • Memorial Museum
  • Learn the changing Mother Earth from the specialist
  • Savor the local Japanese meal at a local restaurant

It rained. Rain prevented us from visiting the restricted area to see the steamy crater. This was a huge disappointment. But the visit to the Volcano Science Museum educated us with a lot of information about the past repeated eruption history of the area. The visit to Mimatsu Memorial Museum taught us about the growth of Showa-Shinzan lava dome – the wheat field was raised to 400m plateau in one year and 9 months. Having a second night dinner out of the hotel was a good idea to escape from a very good, but sometimes too much food. Hot spring bath and sleep.

Hokkaido with Hiroko: May 25th-June 6, 2017

Posted on 12:24 PM in Hiroko's Blog

Hokkaido with Hiroko, 2017, is approaching. On this newly re-constructed site, I will be feeding you the daily activities which we will enjoy in Hokkaido. Follow us!

volcano crater walk, dipping in hot spring, onsen formal Japanese meal, onsen yukata, one of the most beautiful caldera lake, Lake Toya, volcano walk, soba (buckwheat) making class, horseback riding, Shiretoko-five lake tour, early morning canoeing, special cup of coffee prepared in the woods, varieties of local meals, ramen lunch,…..

The course is Chitose-Noboribetsu-Mt.Usu-Lake Toya-Furano-Shintoku-Lake Akan-Lake Mashu-Shiretoko-Abashiri-Wakkanai-Rishiri-Sapporo.

Hokkaido with Hiroko, 2017