Nov 3

Memory is a powerful tool, especially when it comes to food.  I recently got a cookbook called Cooking from the Heart, a book put together by the organization Share Our Strength.  The book features recipes from one hundred of the country's well-known chefs.  The book is wonderful.

Usually I love cookbooks with lots of pictures–I like to be able to see the food before I make it.  This book however doesn't have any pictures, yet it is filled with images–images that are created by the chefs' memories.  Each recipe is accompanied by the story of what the recipe means to that particular chef.  The Introduction of the book, Michael Rosen explains, "recipes are simply a kind of memory: an attempt to re-create the taste of some familiar dish . . . a way of passing along a particular method for preparing pie dough or gravy . . . an experiment in recapturing some experience remembered from travels or childhood.  A recipe is a memory made indelible." As I flipped through the book and read some of the stories, I could see Ming Tsai with his family stuffing potstickers around the ping-pong table in his house at Christmas time and I could see Gale Gand when she was a young girl baking pies with her mother, adding her initials in the bottom of the crust with a rope of dough.  Reading these stories I wanted to crawl into the pages of the book and experience them for myself.  This book perfectly captures why I love being a food blogger: being able to create, capture, and share these types of memories. As Rosen wrote, "Each chef's table–whether oceans, generations, or cultures away–will link with yours as though we were all sitting down to eat at one universal table assembled from each of our individual leaves."

The first recipe I made out of the book was Chef Hiro Sone's  recipe for niku-jaga.  I was immediately drawn to it, because it is finally starting to cool down here in Southern California, and niku-jaga, which is a wonderful comforting and filling stew made of meat, potatoes, and mushrooms, is one of my favorite Japanese comfort foods.

The recipe calls for shiitake mushrooms, which I love.  My local grocery store was out of fresh shiitake, so I used dried shiitake.  This requires a bit of advance preparation, but it's easy!

How to rehydrate shiitake mushrooms

With a pair of sharp kitchen shears, snip off the stems of the dried shiitake mushrooms.


Don't throw them away though!  The stems are great to add to stock for added flavor.  I save mine in an airtight container and pull them out when I need them.


Put the mushroom caps in a container and cover with warm water.


Place a small, flat plate (or an otoshi-buta if you have one) on top of the mushrooms to submerge them completely in the water.  I used two plastic containers that fit together.  Soak the caps for at least 30 minutes and up to several hours.  When the caps have softened, strain the liquid to get out any bits of grit, and then rinse the caps in clean water and resoak them in the strained liquid for 5 to 10 minutes.



Look how pretty they are after they have softened up!

The mushroom caps can be stored for several days in the refrigerator in their strained soaking liquid.
Whether you use fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms, make up a delicious comforting pot of niku-jaga and start making your own memories!

Recipe adapted from Chef Hiro Sone's recipe in Cooking from the Heart: 100 Great American Chefs Share Recipes They Cherish
Makes 4 servings

2 medium onions, cut into quarters
3 pounds beef short ribs, bones removed, sliced against the grain into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup mirin
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/ 1/2-inch cubes
8 large shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
1/4 cup chopped scallions, use both white and light green parts
Shichimi (Japanese spice mix)
Steamed Japanese rice, as an accompaniment

1. Place the onion and beef in a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover everything.  Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat.  Skim off any foam or impurities that rise to the surface.  Add the soy sauce, mirin, and sugar.  Bring the liquid back to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, until the meat is tender, about 30 to 35 minutes.

2. Add the potatoes and simmer until the potaotes are tender, about 20 minutes.

3. Add the mushrooms and simmer for another 5 minutes.

4. To serve, spoon the beef and vegetables into individual bowls, sprinkle with scallions, and add a bit of shichimi to taste.  Ladle the broth over everything and serve with a side of steamed rice.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

WizzyTheStick November 3, 2009 at 6:18 pm

Japanese food is a cuisine that I am theleast familiar with so I always welcome simple recipes that I can try at home. This looks so good. Great pictures.


Business Cards Printing November 3, 2009 at 6:26 pm

The beef, mushroom, and soup made me crave for it. Really enticing! Thanks for the recipe.


Marianne Guymon November 3, 2009 at 6:56 pm

Mmmmm that looks like the PERFECT fall night dinner…and fairly simple to follow as well! I have no idea where I can get those kind of mushrooms here, but I'll have to keep an eye out when we go back to the city for Thanksgiving. I want to try this one!


Rasa Malaysia November 3, 2009 at 7:48 pm

Rachael, wow, this looks really great and straight out from your Japanese food mag! I had something like that in Japan. Love the wooden background I need that to shoot for my book!


Julia @Mélanger November 4, 2009 at 6:06 am

I love the sound of this cookbook. I usually love big glossy photographs, too, but sometimes that detailed story is better!


Amanda November 4, 2009 at 6:27 am

That sounds like such a cool cookbook! Oh, and I'm a fan on facebook now :)


Jo November 4, 2009 at 6:51 am

If this recipe is from the book, it must be a great cook book. This looks so delicious and agree that it is comfort food, especially for a cool evening's supper.


Peggy Bourjaily November 4, 2009 at 11:09 am

Very cool and I love the idea of this stew…


Jessica November 4, 2009 at 11:17 am

Just discovered your blog. I love the east meets west concept of your blog! I feel like my culinary POV is similar, so I'll definitely be looking for inspiration on your blog! And I also agree about cookbooks with pictures.


Mary November 4, 2009 at 11:43 am

I'll have to get my hands on a copy of the book. What you described to us sounds like a perfect fall meal and I love the instruction for soaking the shitakes. I strain and freeze the soaking water for soups ans stews.


Biggie @ Lunch in a Box November 4, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Looking forward to meeting you at the Foodbuzz festival this weekend, Fuji Mama!


Nutmeg Nanny November 4, 2009 at 8:05 pm

The mushrooms look so meaty after you soaked them…yum!


Wendy November 4, 2009 at 11:58 pm

I made this for dinner this evening… SO GOOD!!! Thanks so much for sharing it :)


Damaris November 5, 2009 at 11:00 am

so when will you be in SF? lets meet up o.k. e-mail me.


Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction November 5, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Ooh! I recently got that cookbook, as well. Love this dish.. and your pictures look phenomenal!


Helene November 5, 2009 at 7:29 pm

I have this cookbook and never cooked from it. You inspired me to do so. Pictures are great.


Joshua Zimmerman November 9, 2009 at 6:29 am

Wow! Those mushrooms look wonderful!


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