My mom always made specially decorated cakes for my brother and me for our birthdays. That is one thing I wanted to learn and do for my kids as well. As I have gotten older, I have become less of a fan or your classic American birthday cake with either butter cream frosting or the Crisco based decorator’s frosting. They look cool, but I’m not the biggest fan of the frosting. But I have become a huge fan of Japanese cakes. They typically have less sugar and a gentler, milder taste. I first made the Japanese strawberry shortcake a few years ago for Chloe’s first birthday and have been enjoying experimenting with variations ever since.


Shyabu Shyabu

2014_12_15aI love shyabu shyabu! It’s like Japanese fondue. This was one of my first meals that Aya’s mom cooked when I visited and met her parents for the first time 12 years ago. Other than sushi two or three times and some miso soup, I had never really had much Japanese food before I visited them, and I loved everything!

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Yakitori 焼き鳥 (Grilled Skewered Chicken)


Yakitori is grilled skewered chicken. It can be any part of the chicken. I’ve had liver (not my favorite), gizzards (not my favorite), cartilage (definitely not my favorite), and the regular parts like thighs, legs, breasts, and skin (not my favorite either, but Aya loves it!). It’s one of my favorites and I always make sure we get some when we visit Aya’s folks in Japan.

One of my first solo dining experiences in Japan was with yakitori. Aya’s parents suggested a place where I could just look at pictures on a menu and order by number. That way it would be easier for me since my Japanese vocabulary is very limited. But hey, I can count to ten!

When looking at the menu I immediately recognized yakitori and decided that is what I would order. The only way I’ve had yakitori is with sauce. And that’s the only way I thought people eat it. So when the server asked me questions after I proudly ordered “hachi”(number eight), I began to panic. Why is she asking questions? I told her eight! That’s all she needed to know! Oh, and I only know how to say numbers, “yes,” and “no thank you” in Japanese.

“Do you want salt or sauce?” she asked in Japanese(and I only found this out later when I was telling the story to Aya and her parents).

But all I heard was a bunch of unfamiliar syllables that sounded like a question. After a long awkward pause, I looked blankly at her and said, “hai (yes).”

She looked puzzled and asked again in Japanese, “do you want salt or sauce?”

I straightened up and looked at her more confidently and said again, “hai (yes).” Only this time I added a ‘yes’ head nod so she would for sure know my answer.

“Salt?” she asked in Japanese.

“Hai  (yes),” I nodded again with a proud smirk.

Little did I know I was agreeing to “salt” instead of “sauce” on my chicken and was thoroughly confused when the skewered chicken arrived with no sauce. Why is it do dry? I thought. It wasn’t until Aya and her family explained this to me while they roared with laughter at my story that I understood what was being asked. Now I know. And I also know that I like it better with sauce.

So with that in mind, I used two small chicken breasts and cubed them instead of slicing them thin. I also cooked mine under the broiler in the oven. If you use this method, I think soaking the skewers in water for at least a few hours beforehand might be a good idea. Mine caught on fire (oops).

I served this with miso soup, seaweed salad, steamed broccoli with sesame dressing, enoki mushrooms sauteed in butter and soy sauce, and rice. Not a bad meal.

Oh yeah, and I made the sauce to go with it too.


Yakitori (Grilled Skewered Chicken)

Japanese Pumpkin Cake


I love all of the fall pumpkin treats. Cakes, cupcakes, pies, cookies, pancakes, donuts, and breads. But they are all mostly flavored with the blend of pumpkin pie spices (which I love). But what I like about Japanese pumpkin flavored things is that there are no spices. It’s straight up pumpkin. Actually, a Japanese pumpkin (kabocha) is similar to a buttercup squash. So you really taste the natural sweetness of the squash in this bread.

I doubled the recipe and filled two small loaf pans. I did measure all of the ingredients exactly as the recipe said. This bread is light, moist, and mildly sweet. Not the typical fall pumpkin spice flavors you might be used to, but a delicious sweet bread.


Recipe from is Elinluv’s Sweet Delights Blog at the following link:

Japanese Pumpkin Bread

Gammodoki (Tofu Patties) with Enoki Mushrooms

2013_05_24Aya’s mom sends seasoning packets to make these tofu patties. It’s really easy because you just mash up some tofu, add the seasoning mix, and fry in a pan. But after discovering the Japanese cookbook I have that’s in English, I decided to try these homemade with real ingredients.

They were fairly easy and Ellie loves them. I decided to serve them with some roasted enoki mushrooms in butter. I love enoki mushrooms! They have such a unique texture. I remember my first trip to Japan to meet Aya’s parents we ate a lot of them. They direct translation they told me when I asked what they were was “mountain sprouts.” That might be another reason I like them. But they are in my top three favorite Japanese vegetables.

I don’t repeat recipes a lot, but this has worked it’s way to be repeated recipe.




1 standard firm tofu package
2 x 1 inch piece of konbu or 1/4oz. dried hijiki (I used shredded nori seaweed)
1/2 carrot, peeled
2 dried shiitake mushrooms (I used more like 4 or 5)
8 green beans, trimmed (I used a small handful)
1 egg
salt, soy sauce, and mirin
Sesame oil (I used regular vegetable oil)

1) Drain tofu, wrap in paper towel and let sit for 30-60 minutes to drain all excess water out.

2) Meanwhile, soak konbu or hijiki in water for 30 minutes. chop roughly into 1/2in. long shreds.

3) Cut the carrot, green beans, and shiitake into 1/2in. shreds. (I put everything in a food processor and pulsed it a few times.

4) Put the tofu in large mixing bowl with egg, pinch of salt, and a dash of soy sauce and mirin. Mix thoroughly to even consistency.

5) Add vegetable shreds to tofu bowl and mix well.

6) They tell you to deep fry them in oil, which I did not. I just put a little oil in the pan and fried them that way. You can served this with some shredded daicon on top, which I have done in the past.