About Bert Tanimoto

Oldish father of two youngish kids. Zojirushi enthusiast and professional writer. California resident with roots in Hawaii and Japan. Classic rock, popcorn movies, audio books, spam, sushi and cone filtered coffee. Guilty pleasures include donuts and pop bands like ABBA and Wham!.

Tell a Story Day

April 27th is National Tell a Story Day. Libraries around the country actually participate in National Tell a Story Day by holding special storytelling times for children. Storytelling is the ancient practice of handing down knowledge from one generation to the next—over thousands of years. It encourages creativity, communication and the lost art of listening. So in honor of National Tell a Story Day, our new Zojirushi drink mug (seen above) is going to flip its top, spout off, and tell the tale of How Rice Saved The Great Wall of China. 😂

Thousands of years ago, around 220 BC, in the great kingdom of China, the Emperor Qin Shi Huang decided to start building a wall to keep the Mongol barbarians of the north from invading his country. In order to accomplish this monumental task, he captured and enlisted over 300,000 soldiers and forced them to labor. The Emperor would never live to see his creation become reality, but the massive project was kept alive for almost 2000 years, as governments came and went over the ages. During the Ming Dynasty, when the wall construction was at its peak, there lived the brothers Huang, who were a family of commoners indentured in servitude to build the Great Wall of China.

The eldest brother, Shang, was a hard drinker who always wanted to forget his troubles with several cups of wine even before he made it all the way home. He had lost so many friends to mudslides and the freezing storms, as they carried heavy boulders up the mountain, day and night. Indeed, many men lost their lives building the wall and were simply laid to rest near it, being too poor to have a proper burial at their hometowns. It is said the Great Wall is also the world’s longest cemetery.

The middle brother, Zhou, was a kind and gentle man who loved his parents and tried to help them with their rice farm whenever he could, working in the rice paddies when he wasn’t at the wall. The problem was that there were so many rice farmers, the Emperor’s traders didn’t really have to buy from the smaller farms. Zhou’s parents struggled to compete with the larger rice brokers. But Zhou worked tirelessly to keep the farm alive, and Shang respected and loved his younger brother for his dedication, even against seemingly hopeless odds.

The youngest brother, Meng, was the most practical and the smartest of the three. He too, had to slave at the wall, but he was always trying to figure out a way to become free of this burden and to make a better life for himself. He looked up to his older brothers, but he never could understand the point of trying to keep the family rice farm going, “Why do you work so hard when you know Mother and Father are going to lose this farm?” he always asked Zhou. And he worried about Shang, who was always drinking too much.

Then during one particularly terrible monsoon season, after it had rained for what seemed like weeks straight, a huge mudslide came crashing down on one section of the wall, burying hundreds of laborers alive under the mud. Zhou was right in the middle of it. He would surely have been killed, if Shang had not kept his brother’s head above the mud and saved him from drowning, The heavy rocks, however, crushed his legs and he had to be sent back home, never to be able to work at the wall or his rice fields ever again.

Shang was furious that day and nearly attacked the guard who was keeping watch on the workers. “Why hasn’t the Emperor done anything to make it safer for us?” he screamed. “Doesn’t he see what is happening here?” Luckily, Meng was right there to hold his brother back from swinging his shovel at the guard. But he couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if Zhou had been killed.

Meng took over for Zhou at the rice farm after that. He didn’t want to see him get more depressed as he sat helplessly in his chair while his parents gradually lost their farm. After a year of working the fields though, Meng started to understand why Zhou loved farming so much. He came to appreciate the feel of the cool water of the paddies and why Zhou lovingly picked each stalk of rice during harvest time. Each grain of rice became precious to Meng as he gratefully ate his one bowl of rice a day. Meng never wasted his rice. Even old rice was put to good use, to make rice milk, rice bread, rice wine, and RICE GLUE. Meng had discovered that the sticky rice made a wonderful paste that he could use to mend all kinds of things around the house. And that was when he got his amazing inspiration.

Meng made a huge batch of sticky rice glue and brought it to his brother Shang at the wall. Together they started packing the rice in between the stones as they built their section of the wall, to see if it held together better when the next big rains came. Luckily, they had several days of dry weather ahead for the rice to completely bond the rocks, and when the summer storm came, the wall was ready. It worked perfectly. Other sections of the wall started to crumble from the rain, but their section stayed firm. Excited, Meng and Shang brought their discovery to the guard, who had become Meng’s friend after the day he had stopped Shang from doing something reckless. He agreed to tell the Emperor about the rice glue that held the wall together.

Thanks to the Huang brothers, and a lot of sticky rice, building the Great Wall of China became safer for everyone, and this also pleased the Emperor. He rewarded the Huangs by giving them a lifetime contract to produce as much rice as their little farm could handle, so they would never have to worry about losing their farm again.

The End 😊

Images: Great Wall illustration William Alexander rice field by muffinn rice plant by U. Leone

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Kitchen Tool Quiz

What is this? I’ll give you a hint: they’re used in pairs, usually; and they’re used to cook these, affectionately known as “Japanese pancakes.” A friend of mine used to give me a tutorial on how to handle these, and he was able to flip his massive creations in one quick, skillful motion. After mixing the batter and all the ingredients, we would pour it on the teppan, or steel griddle, then wait patiently for it to cook. Armed with one of these tools in each hand, he would slide it under the pancake on each side and deftly flip the whole thing on the first try, to cook the other side. Did you guess we were cooking Okonomiyaki? If you want to try cooking your own, you can see the Zojirushi recipe. Then go to your Asian supermarket to find the right tools for the fun of flipping them over! (This is called a “kote” in the Kansai (western) area of Japan, where okonomiyaki was born)

How about this? A piece of string? Sticks? Why are they tied together? You’ve seen these before and probably used them at home or in a restaurant, but yours were probably much shorter. In Japan, these are used for cooking when you don’t want to get too close to the hot stove or hot oil, like when deep frying. It takes a bit of skill to handle these, so if you’re not that confident, I would recommend tongs instead—no embarrassment in that. So why are they tied together? Just to keep from losing one, I think. But it’s also handy for hanging them from a hook. If you want to learn more about chopsticks, you can read more about how they’re made.

This one is easy—just paper, right? But how is it used in cooking? Since the Japanese do a lot of deep fry cooking, this paper is used to blot the excess oil that comes off of just-fried tempura or ebi fry (fried prawn). Americans deep fry a lot too, but we seem less concerned with making our fried chicken look good on the table—we’d probably just lay it on paper towels. It serves the same purpose, but these papers make tempura look so much better. Learn how Zojirushi does it.

This device can be found in American kitchens as well, but this happens to be a very small personal one that can be placed right along side your sushi, grilled fish or maybe tofu. Think about it—what condiment is normally served with sushi? The answer is wasabi—and if you’re a fan, you haven’t had great wasabi until you’ve had the fresh version that doesn’t come in a tube. How about grilled fish? Many people love fish (myself included), but the oiliness can sometimes get to be too much, so you’ll often see it served with a small mound of white daikon radish, which not only enhances the flavor of the fish but also aids in digestion. And tofu? Small blocks of tofu served chilled (hiyayakko) or hot (yudofu) are sometimes dressed with a bit of ginger paste to give it additional spice. What do all these condiments have in common? If you figured out that they all need to be grated, you win the prize. If you want to make yudofu at home, here’s a simple recipe from Zojirushi.

Obviously this is what you probably think it is. But why is it so flat and shallow? In Japanese cooking, many recipes call for hot pots or nabe dishes. As the ingredients cook, scum or foam rises to the surface of the water from the protein produced by the soup stock. Skimming this off keeps the stock nice and clear, and not cloudy. This handy gadget is more indispensable than you think, when you’re making a traditional Mizutaki hot pot.

What th-? It’s so groovy, man. Did you know that Japan is a huge consumer of the sesame seed, importing almost 160,000 tons every year from Latin America? There are 3 different kinds of sesame used in various ways in Japanese cuisine. White Sesame is the most common and the most popular because it has the lightest taste and can be used in salad dressings or to garnish salads. Black Sesame is more distinctive, with a nutty taste, so it’s often used for marinades or crushed to a paste to enhance salads and desserts. Golden Sesame is found in what we might call “rice sprinkles”, or furikake, a very popular seasoning for white rice and onigiri (rice balls). You can buy crushed sesame seeds in packages, but it’s always more fragrant and tastes better if you use this simple tool and do it yourself.

For more crazy and exotic kitchen gadgets found only in Japanese cooking, check this out.

 

 

 

photo credits: Bert Tanimoto

@ironchefmom

This month I’m going to introduce y’all to my favorite Instagrammer. @ironchefmom cooks and plates the meals herself, takes her own shots and posts them just for fun. Her teenage kids made her open the IG account and stuck her with the name, back when the Japanese Iron Chef cooking show was so popular. I can honestly say all the food she’s posted, tastes as delicious as they look—mainly because @ironchefmom is my wife and I get to eat like this at home!

Our family eats all kinds of food at home; and our weekend activity is usually finding new places to eat around Los Angeles, so our menu is pretty varied. Of course, my favorite is Japanese, so there’s always a lot of rice involved. She is Korean-American, so there’s a lot of kimchee involved too. And our kids are pretty Americanized, like my daughter who’s very partial to pasta (like the tarako spaghetti above ).

Yes, we own a Zojirushi Rice Cooker (NP-HCC10); not their top of the line, but a very advanced one with a lot of menu settings. Since we often eat plain white rice with our dishes, it’s important to buy quality grain and have it cooked perfectly. Good quality rice does have a flavor—contrary to what most people might think. And what most people may not realize is how rice is so verstile, it complements almost any kind of food, beyond just Japanese. I’ll eat it with anything—steak, eggs for breakfast, chili, marinara meat sauce, Swedish meat balls, hot dogs. It really does substitute for pasta or bread, more than the other way around.

We had Mexican Chicken Chile Verde once, which we ate with white rice. @ironchefmom prepared it in our new pressure cooker—man, was that meat tender!

This Creole Gumbo was done in our slow cooker…as soon as I can get my hands on the new Zojirushi Multi-Cooker, I’ll ask her to make it again! So good with white rice…

Some nights we eat out of cans. I love this dish—Miso Marinated Sardines on steaming hot rice. Simple and nutritious even from canned foods.

This is Korean style oxtail stew called Kalbi Jjim. Sometimes it’s so spicy it makes my eyes water, but it’s a hearty dish that I can eat with the rice even after all the meat is gone, and all that’s left are vegetables.

Speaking of vegetables, last year we decided to go on a vegetarian diet to see if we could get healthier. I think we did pretty good. It lasted for 40 days without cheating! Not bad, huh? Even when we went out to restaurants we stuck with it, but boy was it hard (and a little boring IMO). It was actually tastier at home, where we had meals like Vegan Cantonese Lettuce Wraps with Japanese Kabocha Soup:

And Vegetable Curry…

And Vegetable Sukiyaki…

If you ever try to do this, my advice is to just get started and stay focused. You can do it too!

So have I made you hungry yet? @ironchefmom loves to cook and posts strictly for fun, and we obviously get the benefits; but of course there’s a downside. I don’t always get to eat the beautiful dishes you see here because I get home late. My daughter is the lucky one, and I usually have to assemble a look-a-like version. I’m not complaining though—it still tastes the same! And when we’re out at restaurants, we’ve grown accustomed to waiting until she gets all her IG shots done before we can dig in. She’s gotten faster at taking the pictures, and we’ve gotten more patient, LOL.

Today is @ironchefmom’s birthday. Happy Birthday! Help us celebrate by giving her page a LIKE, okay? And if you leave a comment, she’ll more than likely respond. I’m going to leave you guys with a couple more of my favorites. When it was my birthday, I got a week’s worth of personal requests! Best present ever, I gotta tell ya!

Hamburg Steak with Demi-glace sauce:

Buta no Kakuni (Braised Pork Belly):

photo credits: all by @ironchefmom

Zojirushi Year in Review

Looking back on last year, 2018 was absolutely monumental for our favorite kitchenware company. Let’s take a quick look at some of the highlights from the historical year that was—

2018 marked the 100th birthday of Zojirushi, a landmark achievement for any company, period. Not many businesses can reach this milestone, especially in the competitive environment of home electronics. Zojirushi started in 1918 as a manufacturer of hand blown glass liners, which would eventually evolve into the thermal insulation technology for which it is famous today. To celebrate their 100th anniversary, Zojirushi in Japan produced a delightful anime called Share the Warmth, a story about a little girl who learns that sharing with others, is the most rewarding gift of all. It’s done in stop-motion style, one of my favorite animation forms. Check it out, you’re going to love it!

The company also went to the International Housewares Association show, as they do every year, where they unveiled their new products to the industry. Their booth was festively decorated to celebrate their 100th Anniversary, while a party was thrown for VIP guests. All the appetizers and food, including the sushi, was cooked and prepared using Zojirushi appliances. I covered the Housewares Show in one of my blog posts here.

Those new products, and more, were introduced throughout the year to us consumers. Among them were a new coffee maker called the Fresh Brew Plus, the “plus” part being a stainless mesh, permanent coffee filter that comes with it. For iced coffee, you use the special water fill markings for stronger coffee, to compensate for the ice. Neat, huh? No more guesswork!

Their new Water Boiler came out in June, with a stainless steel interior. This was an important innovation that answered the wishes of consumers who aren’t keen on nonstick coatings.

An upgraded Virtuoso Plus Breadmaker was introduced, which simplified and increased menu selection by displaying the full menu imprinted on the lid. The user only needs to reference the type of bread they want, and enter the corresponding number into the program. Oh, and congratulations Zojirushi, for being chosen as a finalist in the annual HomeWorld Design Awards for 2019—good luck in the contest!

The latest addition to Zojirushi’s Stainless Mugs was introduced as well, with a new and improved flip-open lid. The reason I love the Zojirushi brand of bottles is the way they completely disassemble for easy cleaning. It’s not like you have to do this all the time, but I feel it’s a good idea, to keep everything sanitary. The cool thing about these bottles is that you can purchase a low profile screw-off lid separately, as an alternative to the flip top. If you get a lid that’s a different color, you instantly get a two-tone colored bottle!

And finally, Zojirushi’s very first Toaster Oven was introduced this month. Compact and versatile, it’s the perfect size for singles and small families. The main feature is a mesh grill rack that prevents melting food from dripping onto the oven’s bottom tray or onto the heating elements. I gotta get me one of these!

Well, I hope everyone had a good one this year. I think we can safely say that Zojirushi certainly did. As for me, my oldest son is getting ready to graduate from college in 2019, and my daughter is getting ready to graduate high school. Being 4 years apart, they’ll be hitting major milestones at the very same time. And we as parents get to experience the whole college thing again, for the next 4 years. Fun, fun, fun!

Happy New Year, y’all!

It’s Baking Season

In the food industry, where I work, the 4th quarter of every year is the busiest time because of baking season. It is when most home bakers are actively baking their favorites to give as gifts or just to treat their families to fresh baked goods. A quick look at some of the special holidays this month reveals just how important baking gets during the month of December.

National Fritters Day is Dec. 2nd

Apple Fritters are my wife’s favorite thing when we go to a donut shop. She’s very picky about her fritters—they must be crispy and properly bumpy with crevices on the outside, moist with enough apple bits inside. Not too sweet, with a cinnamony taste overall. Fritter fanatics regard this classic as the shining star of the pink donut box.

National Brownie Day is Dec. 3rd

America claims that Brownies are home grown and was invented in Boston during the early 20th Century. Most stories point to a cookbook author named Fannie Farmer who adapted her chocolate cake recipe into a chocolate bar cookie baked in an oblong pan, back in 1905. The Brownie is classified as more a cookie than a cake because it’s a finger food, eaten with your fingers like cookies, instead of with a fork, like cake.

National Pastry Day is Dec. 9th

Like we need a Pastry Day on top of all these other baking days? LOL. Apparently there is a classic definition of what a pastry is, versus what is cake. For me, when I see a display of baked goods in a showcase at a bakery, they’re all pastry to me, but I would be wrong. Pastry is defined as “dough or paste consisting mainly of flour, water and shortening that is baked and often used as a crust for foods like pies and tarts”. Whereas cakes are basically baked desserts and are simply a modified bread.

I have learned one thing from Zojirushi though—making pastry dough is easy with a bread machine, but a hassle enough for most people that they buy ready made pie crusts from the store. Most bread machines have dough settings that knead the dough for you, so you can bake homemade pastries in no time. If you have a machine, check out Zojirushi’s croissant recipe here.

National Oatmeal Muffin Day is Dec 19th

I have to admit, my favorite muffin is blueberry, but like everyone else, I know oatmeal is healthier for me—others must agree, because otherwise why would there be a whole holiday devoted to them? And speaking of muffins, remember that episode on Seinfeld® where Elaine talks about the “best part of a muffin” being only the muffin tops? Did you know that McDonalds® is going to be offering muffin tops as part of their revamped breakfast menu? According to Moneywatch, the fast food giant is trying to revive their weakening breakfast sales by offering new and unique items. It’s always fun when real life copies fiction!

National Pumpkin Pie Day is Dec. 25th

I guess pumpkin pie is as much a traditional Christmas food as anything else, but pies in general are very popular during the holiday season, according to (who else?) Marie Callendar’s. While pumpkin pie is a staple of Thanksgiving dinners, it isn’t the only American pie favorite. Pecan pies are a southern thing that dates back to the 1920s, and the company says they sell more than a million pecan pies during the November & December season. And if you account for all the dessert pies, Americans bought more than 38 million frozen pies for the holidays. How about you, are you a pie person or a cake person?

National Fruitcake Day is Dec. 27th

I wonder how many people even know what a fruitcake is? I believe you have to be of a certain generation to be familiar with this traditional dessert that probably only your grandmother knows. These days I think it’s been replaced by Panettone sweet bread, the kind you see pop up during the holidays at supermarkets. But back in the day, this dessert was one of the most ridiculed dishes ever, because even though people joked in good fun, you’d have to be a real fan to actually like it. The fruitcake is a dense bread made with candied or dried fruit, nuts and spices, and sometimes soaked in rum or spirits.

It’s so heavy that in Manitou Springs, Colorado, a competition is held to see who can throw it the farthest. In Independence, California, fans gather to participate in a Fruitcake Festival bake-off, still going strong in its 14th year. Admission to the event is said to be “fruitcake or egg nog”. The fruitcake is also known to be able to last a notoriously long time. Since most of the ingredients are already preserved foods like dried nuts and candied fruit, the microorganisms have no moisture to reproduce. It’s also soaked in booze, which acts as a preservative and stops mold and yeast from developing on the surface. Diehard fans like their fruitcake old, like fine aged wine, they say. No wonder everyone makes fun of fruitcake!

Enjoy the baking season—I hope you plan on doing some baking this year!

 

photos: Brownies by kae71463, Fritter by L.A. Foodie, Pastries by Allison Meier, Chocolate Pastries by Marco Verch, Muffins by Marco Verch, Fruitcake by Bryan Ochalla
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