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.”


Posted on 7:08 PM in Hiroko's Blog, Recipes

FORAGING IN NEW YORK CITY: Gingko nuts are DELICIOUS! Here female gingko trees (there are male and female gingko trees) drop their mature fruit onto the sidewalks, streets and parks from the beginning of November through the end of the month. Every year the timing is a bit different, though. Most of the fruits which hit the ground break and expose its flesh inside. The flesh releases a very strong disagreeable smell.  But this hideous smell is not the issue here. The remarkable thing about this plant is that gingko trees have been on earth since the dinosaurs age. They have high tolerance for drought, physical abuse and air pollution and thus have been planted as decorative trees along streets in many cities. Maybe, that strong smell repels Devil, bad fortune and predators and is responsible for the survival of this ancient plant.

To foraging for gingko nuts you need one or two disposable plastic bags. If you are conscious about environment, bring a plastic or steel kitchen bowl with you. You may need a pair of thin kitchen plastic gloves (Buzz, my husband, picks them with his bare hands and he is totally OK. He washes off the stink after we return home). Now go out into your neighborhood and first look up to see if there are gingko trees. And then find the fruit-bearing female trees.  They are far fewer than the male. This is because no one want to plant a female tree that produces such stinky fruit.  Indeed, I have been told that the female trees we find in the city are the result of mistaken sexual identity by those who planted the trees many years ago.  At the same time use your nose to detect the unusual pungent smell. Once you find the ground concentrate on picking the stinky, smelly nuts. Some passersby hurrying past the stink look down at us and have confused, bewildered expression. Others totally ignore us. Be prepared for these two reactions.

After confirming that you have filled the bag or bowl, head back to your kitchen without stopping at your favorite coffee shop to get a cup of coffee. Remember that you are carrying a good number of smelly nuts and you are surround by the smell.

REMOVING THE SMELLY FLESH: At the sink in your home with a cold tap water running, remove smelly flesh with your glove-worn hands. Buzz does this with his bare hands. Make sure that all flesh is removed from the nuts. Now you have gingko nuts which are covered with hard shells.  You may wash the nuts in a lukewarm water with a little detergent. This removes complete off-flavor and any remaining smell.

DRYING: After rinsing the nuts drain them well. Spread them over a fish grill, which is placed on the sheet pan. The hard shell will completely dry in 5-7 hours, and the nuts are completely odorless after all your hard but fun work. Remember that you are going to taste super healthy and delicious nuts.

REMOVING HARD SHELL: For removing the hard shell, there is a special tool to make this process easy and effort free.  You can also use a nutcracker or part of a scissors. I have posted two ways to do this on Instagram. The important tip is that you apply gentle pressure on the device, or nuts are squashed and cut in half.


  1. Deep-fry at 350-degrees F for 2 minutes; the thin brown skin will start to be peeled off during cooking; remove the nuts from the oil and sprinkle with sea salt. They are ready to consume; slightly bitter and delicious.
  2. Cook with sea salt: add the sea salt and the nuts in a skillet and heat until the salt and nuts are heated up. Turn the heat to low and continue cooking for about 5 minutes. They are ready to consume.
  3. Cook in water barely covering the nuts in the skillet. Bring the liquid into a simmer and cook the nuts about 4 minutes; towards the end of cooking gently roll the beans with a skimmer-like tool. This helps to remove the thin brown skin of the nuts. Partially cooked gingko nuts can be frozen at this stage for later use. Or, these nuts can be used in chawanmushi (savory egg custard), gingko nut takikomi gohan (rice cooked with gingko nuts), and in stir-fried and soup dishes.

No matter in which way you are going to enjoy the gingko nuts, bear in mind the advice on the number of nuts to be consumed at one sitting. Go back to my archive articles for the details!

Love autumn; love nature; love gingko nuts. Thank you, autumn; thank you, nature; and thank you, gingko trees.

I am leaving for Japan tomorrow, November 7 to lead my tour, Kyushu with Hiroko 2018. Please follow me on Instagram. I will be posting photos and videos. You may want to join me with others for Kyushu with Hiroko 2019!

Japan Tour: Kyushu with Hiroko 2019

Posted on 2:18 PM in Hiroko's Blog

Announcement of Kyushu with Hiroko 2019:

Now it is the time to announce the Kyushu with Hiroko November 3-14, 2019. This is the second Kyushu tour to be offered and conducted by Hiroko; It is designed expressly to accommodate those who expressed interest in the 2018 tour, but because of scheduling issues could not join, and for those who have not previously been acquainted with this unique travel, educational and thoroughly enjoyable experience. The 2018 tour is fully booked with excited travelers and ready to depart this November.

Please enjoy reading the itinerary and checking out the photos of the Tour: https://hirokoskitchen.com/kyushu-with-hiroko/ The content of itinerary of 2019 tour is as the same as the one of 2018. If you want to join the tour, contact Hiroko promptly to reserve your space. Hiroko takes 9 attendees: Double occupancy and single occupancy mixed. At this early stage, there is no deposit requirement. Hotels, transportation and other venders have not set up their prices for 2019 at this time. I will offer you the price of the Kyushu with Hiroko 2019 after the New Year. For your reference I can offer you the price of this year’s Kyushu with Hiroko 2018 tour. Please write me.

O-Chazuke, A Unique Rice Dish

Posted on 1:31 PM in Hiroko's Blog

Onigiri O-chazuke

‘Cha-zuke’ (the ‘O’ is an honorific) literally means cooked rice served in brewed liquid tea. It is a rice dish in which hot water, hot brewed tea or hot flavored dashi stock (Japanese stock) is poured over cooked rice in a rice bowl. Cha-zuke was born out of necessity because in the past during hard times we did not to waste cooked rice. Also, the hot liquid helped to revive old and tired long-stored cooked rice.

You may have enjoyed a variant of this dish, onigiri Cha-zuke at a Japanese restaurant. This is a popular dish at an izakaya, the informal restaurants serving snacks, small dishes and accompanying drinks. In this dish a grilled, brown-hued onigiri rice ball is placed in a bowl and hot liquid – could be tea, could be flavored dashi stock – is poured over it. After a short while the onigiri rice ball slowly disintegrate in the hot liquid. You enjoy it as its texture changes.

In the past without rice cooker with its “keep warm” function or a refrigerator, leftover cooked rice was stored at room temperature and kept until it spoiled. Cooled, dry rice was no longer very tasty because the nature of the starch chemically changes from alpha types to beta during such storage and this results in a firm, closed mass of rice with no fragrance.

The quickest way to revitalize this cold, stored rice was to shower it with hot liquid. Hence, the birth of Cha-zuke. Cha-zuke has this very humble origin and remains this way today. The dish is usually eaten after a rich meal to refresh our mouth and to fill the last space in our stomach. To cheer it up a bit we sometime add toppings such as umeboshi (salty plums), tsukemono (pickles), salt grilled and flaked salmon, nori sea vegetable, or other taste enhancers.

Today is a snacking age and Cha-zuke might fit to this trend. If you cook rice at home regularly making Cha-zuke is a piece of cake. Put the rice (microwave it if it has been stored in the refrigerator) in a cereal bowl and add hot Japanese tea that becomes your “consume” – try matcha, hojicha roasted tea, genmaicha brown rice tea or sencha fine green tea. I never have tried it with Chinese or Indian black teas or with coffee, but you can experiment with these or other hot liquids if you wish.

Cha-zuke is a unique, delicious and innovative way to enjoy rice, especially older left-over rice that you might think cannot be revived to produce a delicious dish. It is healthy. No oil is involved. You are consuming rice together with liquid, so you are consuming fewer total calories, but making your stomach satisfyingly full.  If you ever tasted cha-zuke at Japanese restaurant, let me know of your reaction!

Summer Fancy Food Show, NYC, 2018

Posted on 11:28 AM in Hiroko's Blog

Snacks and snacks packed in fun and colorful packages, snacks on-the-go, candies, sauces for snacks….. Are we heading to a completely no-cooking wonderland?

At the 2018 Summer Fancy Show I was amazed at how much the products scene has changed. Cooking sauces or basic cooking ingredients have shrunk to 10% of total products introduced at the Show.

I enjoy cooking to nurture my body, health and soul as my 91 years old mother still does in Tokyo (well she cooks 3-4 days a week and my sister covers the rest of the week). I don’t often buy packaged goods, so this show was an eye-opening experience, even though I know full well that this has been the trend in the past years. I read about the trend in Specialty Food News.

Among few cooking ingredients that remained at the Show and stood out this year was one of my favorites. It is Miso Master Miso products, including chick pea miso, from Great Eastern Sun Company. The company has been producing the quality miso every day for more than 30 years. Their delicious miso is the base for my creation of so many delicious sauces for savory and dessert dishes.

I found another favorite product this year. It is maple syrup from Rocky Ridge Maple Farm. You already know that I use maple syrup from time to time to replace fake mirin. This delicious, quality, artisan maple syrup comes from Canandaigua, New York. The owner, Joshua, was born and raised as a dairy farm boy. He became a pharmacist but his passion for nature and quality food products pushed him to become a maple syrup producer.

Rocky Ridge Maple Farm produces three products – lighter colored, dark colored and barrel aged maple syrups. The sap that is collected in the early spring consists mainly of fructose (sucrose is converted by microbes and enzymes to fructose and glucose) that has more sweetness. So, the lighter golden color early spring maple syrup tastes very sweet. In general, Joshua’s maple syrup has sweetness of around of 67 to 68 on the Brix scale. For contrast raisins are at around 70. I tasted each of his syrups and loved them all. The darker colored one was robust both in maple flavor and character; the bourbon barrel aged maple syrup had the most rounded flavor with elegant fragrance. Their products are sold at Whole Food, I was told. So, I went to Whole Food at Union Square, NYC, but couldn’t find it. Please let me know if anyone is buying this maple syrup in the City…where?.

With these two wonderful products – miso and maple syrup – here is what I am going to make: Miso-Maple Syrup Sauce for my rice-cream made that is from koji rice. I make the rice-cream to enjoy during this hot summer time. For this sauce we need Sweet Miso and light color maple syrup. That’s it. This sauce also goes well with sandwich with hams and prosciutto. In America I think we often add too many flavors to many products. This kills the true nuances of flavor and disguises the character of ingredients. If we begin with very high-quality materials we should limit the number of flavors added to say, the sauce, in a single preparation so that these wonderful ingredients can each speak with its own voice.

Quality and simplicity go hand-in-hand. At Rocky Ridge Maple Farm 40 gallons of maple sap is processed to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. And I will lick the last drop of maple syrup in the bottle.

Smudged Delicious Wild Dandelion

Posted on 7:53 PM in Hiroko's Blog

Eating along with the season is my motto.

I purchased the first-of-the-year wild dandelion at the Union Square Market here in NYC! It is one the first local greens to show up at the farmers’market in spring. Wild dandelion has noticeable bitterness and astringency that is ubiquitous in many early spring wild, mountain and field plants and vegetables. Dandelion is rich in Vitamin A, iron, calcium, Vitamin K and potassium. My winterized body that had been fueled by many root vegetables for more than months than I expected, is finally treated to fresh dandelion greens .

I prepared dandelion in traditional Japanese goma-yogoshi preparation. Goma-yogoshi literally means ‘vegetables, smudged with ground sesame seeds’. Well, this may not sound appealing to our ears, but believe me, it is a tasty and delicious preparation that works very well with many early spring greens.

Here is how to prepare and enjoy goma-yogoshi. Toast  whole black sesame seeds in a little skillet until the seeds are all warmed up and puffed up; transfer the sesame seeds to the suribachi mortar or food processor and process until the seeds began to produce a bit of oil; by this time the toasty and fragrant aroma will permeate your kitchen especially if you are doing the grinding manually in a suribachi mortar; add small amount of good  quality shoyu and some maple syrup to the ground sesame seeds to taste, and the dressing is ready. The dressing has a rather dry appearance, but this is how it should look. Blanch the dandelion or other greens in boiling salt water for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain them; cool them in ice cold water; squeeze out the excess water and cut the vegetable into 2-inch lengths crosswise. Toss the greens with the sesame dressing.


Posted on 4:49 PM in Hiroko's Blog, Recipes

Coconut Water, Kombucha, Aloe Drink, Ann Migo, Kovita in bottles…. the new super drink list goes on and on. I have something new for you. It is amazake. And it is home-made amazake that you can easily prepare. Amazake literally means ‘sweet sake’, but it has nothing to do with sake (rice wine). Amazake does not contain alcohol. Amazake is a naturally sweet rice drink. Amazake is a power house packed with nutrients.

Have you ever had in your life experienced an intravenous liquid drip that is administered to hospital patients? This so called IV drip can keep a patient’s life going for several days without any additional nutrition. Amazake has nutritional value similar to an IV drip. Therefore, when energy and stamina were necessary during the excruciating hot and humid summer amazake became a popular beverage enjoyed by commoners in the crowded city of Edo (present-day Tokyo) in the 18th and 19th century.

Amazake is made from koji rice; rice malted with koji spores. In my previous blog – ‘Koji is Aspergillus oryzae’ – you can learn about koji. Just as are shoyu, miso and sake, the sweet-tasting rice drink, amazake, is made from koji rice.

Factory-made and bottled amazake products are available at Japanese food stores, but I urge you to make it yourself. If you make it yourself, it is the real amazake with no added chemicals. Preparation of amazake is very easy and simple, and here is the recipe for you. All you need koji rice (rice with koji spores attached) and a rice cooker or yogurt maker.

Koji rice: I use Cold Mountain Dry Koji Rice. You can purchase this product on line or use other similar dry koji rice available at Japanese and Asian food stores or on line.

Rice cooker: I use Zojirushi IH that I have owned for more than over 10 years. This is a “Tesla” of rice cookers. It cooks rice properly and deliciously every time. Making amazake in this quality rice cooker is also super easy job. But you may instead use any rice cooker or your yogurt maker. For extra nutrition, I use brown rice in my amazake preparation.


Brown Rice Amazake

1 cup (Japanese rice cooker cup) medium- or short-grain brown rice

5 cups (Japanese rice cooker cup) water

7 ounces Dry Koji Rice, rubbed between your hands for a minute or so

Cook the brown rice in the rice cooker using the “porridge” function or setting. After cooking the rice reset the rice cooker to the start position. Cool the cooked rice porridge in the rice cooker bowl to 140F. Transfer the cooked rice porridge to a juicer of food processor; add the Dry Koji Rice and quickly process until pureed. If you are using polished white rice, omit this process. Transfer the rice and koji mixture quickly back to the cleaned rice cooker bowl. Set the rice cooker to KEEP WARM function. Cover the rice cooker bowl with a clean kitchen towel and lower the rice cooker lid until it is 80 percent shut. This will keep the temperature of the inside rice mixture at around 130F. Leave it as is for 10 hours. Adjust the rice cooker lid inclination to control the inside temperature

Choose a day when you will be at home during the 10 hours that the mold spores do their magic work.   This does not mean that you must be at the rice cooker continuously. After mixing the koji rice and warm water together, and transferring it to the rice cooker, the rice cooker and koji  do almost the entire job, including keeping the temperature of the koji rice and water mixture at proper temperature. You, however, need to babysit it. Every hour or so please check the temperature of the rice koji and water mixture in the rice cooker bowl and make sure that the temperature is always at around 130F. If the temperature goes too high it could kill the mold. As time goes by you will notice more of the carbohydrate in the rice turning into sugar than at the beginning, making the mixture sweeter and more fragrant. Please also stir the rice koji and water mixture. And do not forget to taste it at each stirring time. This is the most fun part of amazake making!

After you have made amazake store it in a clean glass jar or freezable container with a tight-fitting lid. I store one quarter of each batch amazake for immediate consumption – that one is kept in the refrigerator and is good for a week. When you consume amazake you may dilute it with cold water or sparkling water in 1:2 to 1:3 ratio. Squeeze some lemon juice or ginger juice before enjoying it as a cold drink.

I freeze the rest of the just-made amazake for later consumption. Frozen amazake does not get icy hard. It stays in an easy-to-scoop texture that can be removed with a large spoon. I call the frozen amazake ‘Rice Cream’. I often puree the amazake with banana, mango or other seasonal fruit before freezing, making it ‘Fruit Rice Cream’. Enjoy. I know you will.

SHOJIN RYORI – Last Section

Posted on 6:19 PM in Hiroko's Blog

Shojin Ryori: Five Section

Thank you for completing the Shojin Ryori reading. I am writing another Japanese cookbook. The new book explains the philosophy and wisdom of Japanese cuisine, which is the backbone of Japanese preparation techniques, ingredients selection and presentation of the prepared dishes. Shojin Ryori has a profound impact on the development of Japanese cuisine. Of course, the book is full of new recipes. No matter if you are serious or non-serious cook the book nourishes your physical and mental hunger. Stay tuned!

Now I want to share with you a delightful, delicious and nourishing dessert recipe, mineoka-dofu. Mineoka dofu is derived from one of the most popular and ancient Shojin Ryori preparations called goma-dofu. Goma-dofu is prepared by cooking kelp stock and ground sesame paste along with kuzu, arrowroot starch. Monks at Zen temples spend hours grinding sesame into paste, then cooking it to make goma-dofu. During the lengthy and labor intensive preparation time monks performed additional meditation. The recipe given here is a modern piece. This recipe uses milk (but not kelp stock), so the flavor will be very appealing to us. This recipe is from my book, The Sushi Experience.

½ cup brown sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 cups whole milk

¼ cup heavy cream

½ cup white sesame paste

2 tablespoons kuzu (arrowroot starch)

2 cups mixed berries

Make the molasses syrup first with the sugars and 1 ¼ cups water. Or, use already prepared molasses instead.

Mix together in a bowl the kuzu, milk, cream and sesame paste and stir with a whisk. Strain the mixture through a sieve into a medium pot. Place the pot over medium heat and cook 2 to 3 minutes. At this point the mixture becomes sticky. Turn the heat to low and cook additional 20 minutes.

Transfer the mixture into a mold and cool. Cover the mold with a plastic wrap and refrigerate. Before serving divide the mineoka-dofu from the mold into dessert bowls. Garnish the top with the berries. Pour the molasses syrup over the mineoka-dofu.

SHOJIN RYORI – Third Section

Posted on 8:55 AM in Hiroko's Blog

Shojin Ryori: Third Section

Thank you for continuing to the third section.

Last couple or pair who occupies the last double occupancy spot in my November Kyushu tour, 2018, will experience this very special cuisine and philosophy!

When I was brought up – not at all in a monastery – these five teachings were a part of my family’s life, and the lives of everyone we knew. We had no choice as to what we were served at our table. Our mothers prepared meals using ingredients that were given to us by nature, each in its own season. We were taught to offer thanks to everyone, who brought the meals to our table, including the forces of nature, the farmers, the truck drivers, the fishermen and the workers at food stores. Our mothers utilized every part of the ingredients and instructed us not to waste food. Our foods were not necessarily cheap, but were always the highest quality that the household could afford. And the food was always safe to consume. Mothers repeated these five teachings at each meal time to make sure that we were properly satisfied and nourished. Unfortunately, today in Japan highly processed, chemically laden foods are as ubiquitous as in the US. The teachings of the monks and the food practices of my youth should be brought back again to the Japanese as well.

By introducing and practicing in our lives the spirit of Shojin Ryhori that I have described, we can change our attitude towards why we eat, how we eat, what we eat and how to prepare. Here are a few more valuable concepts to add to our practice to complete and complement the spirit of Shojin Ryori.

SHOJIN RYORI – Second Section

Posted on 7:57 AM in Hiroko's Blog

Shojin Ryori: Second Section

Thank you for coming back to the Second Section of the Shojin Ryori.

Dogen, the 13th century Buddhist monk, banned the slaughter of animals for human consumption in belief that killing is an inhumane act that interferes with the training of the monks who meditate in order to attain enlightenment. Shojin means a process of continuous meditation. For Zen Buddhist at the temple throughout the day the time for preparing and consuming meals is one of the important periods of meditation. To the monks meals are not for enjoyment or satisfying hunger, but for sustaining their health, so they can continue to meditate. At each meal monks recite five teachings. This is the essence of that recitation.

  1. We offer great thanks to nature that has brought us food to this table. We offer great thanks to the people who made our meal possible at this table, especially thanks to the monk-cooks who devoted their labor and time to prepare the dishes and to the farmers who produced this bounty.
  2. We reflect to ourselves before consuming a meal, “Do we deserve to receive this meal?”
  3. We do not bring human desires, including greed, anger or other emotions, to the table.
  4. Our meal is medicine for us. Our humble, but balanced meal nourishes both our mental and physical health.
  5. Meal time is the extension of meditation time. As we eat we continue to train ourselves in order to become a better person.


Posted on 8:59 AM in Hiroko's Blog

A Great Chance to Learn Japanese Cuisine in Six Months! Please read to the bottom. You will find the peak to 2017 program result.

Any chefs who are seriously thinking of learning Japanese cuisine in Japan can apply for a very special program. It is Cuisine and Food Culture Human Resource Development Program 2018, sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Japan. Application will be accepted from mid-April, 2018 and the program starts in June. Hurry up and do not miss this chance!

Contact Hiroko at hiroko@hirokoskitchen.com for filing application! Dead line is May 15 (Japan time).

Qualification: non-Japanese chef; over age 18 upon arrival to Japan; graduate of culinary schools and/or having experience in working in Japanese cuisine kitchen; having financial ability to support own living in Japan during the program (air fare to/from Japan and accomodations are supplied by the organization during your stay in Japan); be disciplined and respectful; be physically and mentally healthy; having plans to engage in profession that contributes to promoting Japanese cuisine, food culture and Japanese ingredients after completing the program

Program: Consists of Japanese language training, basic Japanese cuisine training and apprenticeship at restaurant at high-end Japanese restaurants in Kyoto or Tokyo

Goal: Chefs who acquired rightful knowledge and skills of Japanese cuisine in the program will promote Japanese cuisine, Japanese food culture and Japan-produced ingredients throughout the world

Financial aid: round ticket airfare; tuitions for the Japanese language school and the cooking school; accommodations; national health insurance expense during your stay in Japan

NOTE: Those who did not complete the program are asked to return all of the expenses paid to the applicant back to the organization.


?Screening and Schedule (* Timeline in Japan standard time)

1) 1st Stage; document screening

Deadline of submission of application is at 23:59 on May 15, Tuesday, 2018. Submit the application to nihonshoku@tow.co.jp

Submission items: Application form/face photo, Graduate certificate (diploma) of culinary school (if graduated from culinary school), Copy of passport, Recommendation letter from the present employer, Pledge form, Medical examination report

Applicants who passed the first document screening will be contacted by the organization by 23:59 on May 16, Wednesday, 2018.

2) 2nd Stage: Skype interview

30 minutes Skype interview.  ?Daikon Katsuramuki skill will be judged in this interview.

Final Application results— Visa procedure

The result of 2nd Stage screening will be announced by mid of May, 2018.

Those who passed the 2nd Stage screening will plan to fly in Japan on July 1, Sunday, 2018.


?Main Schedule and Training (*subject to change)

July 2, 2018: Opening Ceremony

July 4-July 20: Japanese language lessons at a Japanese language school

July 23-August 31: Study basic Japanese cooking at a cooking school

September 3-February 22, 2019 Individual practical training as a high end Japanese restaurant

February 25: Final Exam Certification of Cooking Skills for Japanese Cuisine in Foreign Countries)

Required to participate in the exam for the Certification of Cooking Skills for Japanese Cuisine in Foreign Countries.

Check out the 2017 program result! https://www.tow.co.jp/program/pdf/program_en.pdf

Best regards,