Okuizome

To celebrate my little man’s 100 days on earth, I prepared a feast for his “first eating” or okuizome as per the traditions of my ancestors. The okuizome is a Japanese weaning ceremony held 100 days after birth to celebrate the tiny person and wish him an abundance of good food throughout his life. Since eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures, I wanted to make sure my little man would have an abundance of deliciousness throughout his life. Of course, little man does not have any teeth yet, nor is he eating a dungeness crab, so we just pretended to feed him. Yes, I pretend fed a toothless baby a celebratory crab carcass. Then I took photos as per another proud Japanese tradition of enthusiastic photo-documentation.

Though traditions vary with region, according to my mom and the interwebs, a typical okuizome meal includes red bean rice (osekihan), a whole red snapper with head and tail intact (tai) to symbolize a strong neck, other auspicious foodstuffs such as octopus, lotus root, beans, or pickled plum (umeboshi), and a smooth round pebble to symbolize strong teeth.

In Japan, babies are dressed in fancy kimonos and have okuizome dining sets with tiny dishes for the occasion. For example, check out my cousin Anna’s little man’s okuizome portrait with his whole fish!

Here in Davis, I had to improvise a bit. My local supermarket did not sell a red snapper or any whole fish with the head and tail intact except for a limp looking rainbow trout. Clearly, you cannot have a proper celebration without a proper carcass. So I went with a dungeness crab instead. I figured it’s reddish in color, a proud celebratory carcass, a nice nod to the region and season, and I got to eat it afterwards. I asked the guy at the fish counter for one baby octopus which I boiled. I included a slice of melon on the tray because Japanese people love melon (don’t really know why) and placed a smooth rock that I found on a beach in Hawaii in the dish. Oh and I actually made osekihan from scratch!

Osekihan is eaten during special occasions in Japan and made with mochi rice and azuki beans which give the rice a pinkish color. It is the Japanese version of beans and rice. In general, I am not a big bean fan and I had never made beans and rice in my life. I also always thought osekihan was made by pouring some prepackaged “osekihan” powder into cooked rice which turned it pink. But for my little man, I actually soaked the azuki beans overnight and prepared osekihan for him. Here it is sprinkled with black sesame seeds and salt (gomashio) and served in little man’s special rabbit bowl.

Little man’s okuizome may have been a wee unconventional, but it had some California flair and it’s really the effort and spirit that counts.  And even though I know this is a food blog, I had to include one picture of my little man.

Christmas Duck!

For the 4th year, in what is becoming a holiday tradition, we celebrated Christmas with Yuan and duck.  As usual, for Christmas Eve, we had Norwegian meatballs, mashed potatoes and lefse.  Bjorn’s parents were also in town this year and our meatballs were made by his mom, a person of actual Norwegian descent.  You know, as opposed to me and Yuan who try to put soy sauce in the gravy.  They were delicious!  We were also gifted with a lefse stick, a fancy stick with Scandinavian designs painted onto the side of it used to flip the Norwegian potato crepe.  Even though Bjorn made lefse last year with a spatula, rolling pin and pancake griddle, according to any proud Norwegian American, making lefse requires special equipment.  Now all we need is the lefse rolling pin and lefse griddle.

For Christmas day dinner, Yuan, a.k.a. Chinese Santa, brought up two ducks to smoke.  I love Chinese Santa.  He brings the best presents and stuffs my stocking with Asian gummies.  That’s not supposed to sound dirty.

Bjorn’s parents and some Davis friends rounded out our Christmas day dinner. In addition to the duck, we made fried scallops, mustard greens, roasted root vegetables, shrimp fried rice, and cranberry eggnog tart. Perhaps a bit of an eclectic Christmas menu but when Yuan and I are in charge of holiday menu planning, you always get shrimp fried rice.

Fried scallops and Mustard Greens

Thanksgiving Newbies

In addition to our staples, we always try out new recipes for Thanksgiving.  This year, Little Miss made a bacon cheddar sweet potato casserole recipe from her mom and Bjorn made a butternut squash bisque from a recipe published in the New York Times.

Bacon Cheddar Sweet Potato Casserole
From Little Miss:

  • 6 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 6 slices of bacon
  • salt and pepper

Even though the amounts above are from the original recipe, Little Miss’s mom says, “I just go by the HMDYL method.  How much bacon? How much do you like?  How much cheese? How much do you like? etc.”

Cook and mash sweet potatoes (however many you want).  I like to bake them, then peel after they’ve cooled slightly, but you can also peel and cube them first and either boil or steam them.  While those are cooking, cut bacon into 1/2″ pieces and saute until crispy.  How much?  However much you think you want, plus two.

Mix copious amounts of butter and grated cheddar cheese into the mashed potatoes – I like sharp cheddar, but it works with any kind.  Mix in bacon. Salt and pepper to taste – remember, they’re potatoes, and can handle lots of seasoning.  Butter an appropriately-sized baking dish, then plop in the bacony cheesy potato mix.  Top with a little extra grated cheese if you want.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or so, or until cheese is melty and the top is starting to get brown.  While they are baking, get a prescription for Lipitor, because you will probably eat more than you should.

Butternut Squash Bisque
(Modified from recipe published in the New York Times by Sam Sifton on October 26, 2011 and adapted from Daniel Humm, Eleven Madison Park, New York)

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium-size butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1⁄2-inch cubes
  • 1⁄2 cup thinly sliced fennel
  • 1 teaspoon thinly sliced ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1⁄4 cup dry vermouth
  • 2 tablespoons cognac
  • 2/3 cup tomato juice
  • 6 cups lobster stock, shrimp stock, clam stock or fish stock
  • 1 pod star anise (we skipped this)
  • 6 pods green cardamom (we also skipped this)
  • 1⁄2 cup tarragon leaves
  • 1 tablespoon crème fraîche
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 1/8 tablespoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

In a large saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter until it foams. Add the squash, fennel, ginger and garlic and cook slowly until soft, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and stir, then cook for 5 or 6 minutes to incorporate.

Add the vermouth and cognac to deglaze the first pan, and reduce the liquids until the pan is almost dry. Add the tomato juice and reduce it by half, approximately 3 minutes. Add the stock, anise and cardamom (we did not have anise or cardamom so we skipped it) and simmer until reduced by roughly half, about 30 minutes.

When the bisque has reduced, remove from heat and stir in the tarragon. Cover and steep for 5 minutes. Whisk in the crème fraîche, then strain bisque through a fine-meshed sieve or chinois. Season with salt, lime juice and cayenne. Serve immediately with a crisp bacon bits or in our case, homemade croutons.

Serves 4-6

Thanksgiving 2011!

Here at three squabbling asians, we have a rule that we cannot start talking about our Thanksgiving menu until October. This year however, due to my extreme gestational state, Little Miss and Yuan were left in limbo while I fretted about how I may have to spend my favorite holiday of the year eating hospital food turkey. As my early November due date came and went with no indication that someone had any intention of leaving the womb, I called Little Miss and Yuan to tell them that I would have have to skip Thanksgiving unless I evicted a tiny person in the next 24 hours. Thankfully, occupy my belly ended less than 24 hours later.  Just in time for me to go home and have my fellow squabbling asians come up to Davis to cook me a Thanksgiving feast!

Little Miss was highly organized as usual and whipped up our usual Thanksgiving menu items.  Because of the last minute planning, Thanksgiving was a cozy family affair this year and we pared down our menu a bit and added some flair to our usual items.  I was still incapacitated but my mom filled in for me and I contributed by sitting on the couch and eating.

To celebrate my ability to eat whatever I wanted for the first time in almost a year, Yuan brought up sweetwater and Kumamoto Hog Island oysters.  Oh how I missed that briny, succulent, raw oyster!  They were absolutely delicious.

This year, Mr. Turkey was a 15 lb pre-brined bird that Yuan rubbed with herbs and truffle butter and roasted.  He did not flip the bird this time during the cooking process, but Mr. Turkey came out very tender and juicy. Here he is in all his glory…and Little Miss picking at him.

My mom made our usual stuffing with sausage, shitake mushrooms, celery, onion, rosemary bread, water chestnuts, and the magical powder that makes everything taste like Thanksgiving, otherwise known as Bell’s Poultry Seasoning. I know turkey snobs insist that cooking the stuffing in the turkey dries it out, but the stuffing does not taste the same unless it is cooked in the turkey with all the juices! We stuffed half of the stuffing in Mr. Turkey, then scooped it out into baking dishes when Mr. Turkey was done and finished the stuffing in the oven. By cooking the stuffing again after it comes out of the turkey, we ensure that both the turkey and stuffing are cooked just right.  Here we are, inspecting Mr. Turkey for hidden stuffing bits.

We also had Molly’s cranberry relish and green bean casserole and Yuan made a classic gravy.  For sweet potatoes, Little Miss made her mom’s recipe with bacon and cheddar cheese which sounded strange and mid-Western (much like Little Miss) but was a great sweet savory combination.  Bjorn made a butternut squash bisque with homemade croutons which was also really delicious.  For dessert, we resisted the urge to have half a pie per person and limited it to pumpkin and apple staples. Little Miss made pumpkin cheesecake which she modified this year by making a half portion of the filling and making it in a shallower pie dish.  We found that it was easier to bake properly and resulted in a better crust to filling proportion.  She also made a yummy apple cheese torte.

My mom’s Thanksgiving day plate.

Many thanks to Little Miss and Yuan who came up and prepared a feast for me, Bjorn, my mom, and my new little man.  Next year little man, you too can enjoy some Thanksgiving grub.