Free Event! Farmers’ Market: Shopping & Cooking Secrets for Spring Produce

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Have you been trying to eat more vegetables?

Have you been intrigued by all the bounty at the farmers’ market, yet shy away from it because you don’t know how to cook and enjoy it?
Well, this photo is from Kyoto, Japan, but when I saw these vegetables at the market, I felt the same way.  I wished someone would help me how to use these unusual vegetables — something I’ve eaten and liked at the restaurants, and want to try at home too.

So… I’m hosting a free class next weekend to help you with these spring bounty at our local Farmers’ Market!

What: “Farmers’ Market:  Shopping & Cooking Secrets for Spring Produce”

When: Saturday, April 24th 2010  1-3 pm

Where: Oakland Lakeview Branch Library
550 El Embarcadero, Oakland, CA  510-238-7344

We’ll meet at the I-580 side entrance of the Oakland Lakeview Library at 1pm, stroll through different booths at the Grand Lake Farmers’ Market, and discuss different produce and cooking options until about 1:45pm. (You can eat lunch during that time. Lots of great options!)

Then back at the library at 2pm, you will learn my secrets — how to optimize what you bought for your everyday cooking so that you can create one week’s worth of many different dishes with half the time and effort while having a lot of fun!

Of course, there will be demos and sampling! The class will end around 3pm.

Depending on your schedule, you can only join the farmer’s market part or the class part.

The space is limited (esp. the library portion). My last free class at this location filled in a few hours — so please RSVP by clicking here now while there are only few — about 25% of the spots left.

If you have any questions, please leave me a comment.

Hope you can join us!



Japan Food Report: Internet Fish Market Changed Japanese Home-Dining Scenes

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From top R: Chu-toro (pink), Paradise Prawn (blue), Kazunoko/Herring roe (yellow), Hotaru-ika/Firefly Squid (purplish brown), Tako/Squid (white with purple edge)

Every time I go back to Japan, I’m amazed by their obsessions with fresh and unique food.  It’s getting worse every year it seems.

Now with the internet, you can order practically anything from anywhere in the world. For the Japanese, probably the most prominent is that you can order the freshest seafood that used to be only available when you traveled to a specific area. It can be on your dining table the next day, without leaving your desk or home (order by 1pm today, you get it tomorrow for dinner.)

Yes, we have been able to get sashimi of many different kind of seafood for decades (or longer) at our local supermarket, but the internet really changed the way the Japanese eat seafood, direct from the port.

On our dinner table on the first two days of our visit, we had the following:

– Hotaru ika (Firefly Squid) from Toyama (on the photo above)
– Paradise Prawn from New Caledonia (ditto)
– Shiro baigai (White Ivory Shell)
– Extra Large Zuwai Gani (Snow Crab) legs (5 inches long) from Canada

All came through internet, fresh frozen except for Baigai (fresh).  My question is, why don’t we have the same service in the US?  Canada is much closer to us than in Japan.  And their ads stated these crabs are prepared and frozen at a USDA approved plant.

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Snow Crab legs

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My sister joyfully preparing these giant crab legs for the kani shabu/crab hot-pot.  She loves seafood, plus this was an excellent opportunity for her to impress my husband, the special guest at their household.

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(Besides the hot-pot, we had yakitori (bottom left), bonito sashimi (bottom middle), mounds of hotaru-ika (brownish mass on the bottom right), pickled nappa cabbage (center, cream-colored thing), and nameko mushrooms with baby anchovies (brown thing right next to it), etc.)

The Japanese doctors and nutritionists often say “eat 30 different food items per day”. This alone is close to that 30 in one meal!

It was not just the variety, but the amount was pretty generous as well. We don’t eat like this when we are in the US, so we got really full quickly. Both my mom and sister kept offering us to eat more: “We got all these for you, and we don’t want to spoil them.” I started to think, now I lost weight from eating smaller portions in the US, this is the first time I would gain weight by visiting Japan.

It seems to me that because of the economy, Japanese people are not eating this über fresh seafood at the five-star Japanese restaurants, but at home for a fraction of the price (or same price, 5 – 10 times of the amount.)  Plus preparing sashimi takes practally no time.  Once it’s thawed, all you do is place it on a plate.

We used to buy a few slices of assorted sashimi — about 1/4 – 1/3 lbs or so on a small tray for $20 or so.   Now these internet fish markets sells these by the kilo, and often have special bulk offers, such as “buy 3kg (6.6 lbs), you get shipping free”.  These internet offerings are definitely cheaper if you do the math (and they do that for you in their marketing copy).  It’s basically bulk sales, like buying at Costco. It’s a smart business model though, because people buy a larger amount, share with others, then they too get hooked with the fresh seafood.  The word of mouth spreads like a tsunami!

For example, my sister got 3kg of raw baby squid (hotaru ika) at once, because by buying two 1 kilo boxes, this company will give you another one free, plus free shipping.  Just like me, she loves variety, so as you see, she orders four kinds of seafood, anywhere between 1 – 3 kgs, totalling about 10 kgs (22 lbs!) for 3 adults in 40s and one 78 years old woman!  Way too much!  The Japanese traditionally hates wasting food, especially super fresh straight from the port kind, so she shares these seafood with other relatives.

My guess is that one of our relatives first ordered a lot, and shared with everyone else.  In any case, the circle of ordering and sharing keeps going.

Despite her effort, my husband wasn’t too excited about them.  After all, he’s a white boy from the Midwest.  He freaked out with these “big shiny eyes”.  Me?  I enjoyed them a lot.  They were so rich and sweet, I loved them…  until after about 20, and still a mound of them left.  Too bad you weren’t there with us! (My sister probably still has majority of them left in the freezer.  If you are willing to visit her in Tokyo and eat some baby squid, let me know!)  Now I’ve been away from them for a while, these photos makes me long for this seafood…  (drool….)

Maybe some of you don’t agree with this national obsession with fresh seafood, and the gluttony of Japanese ordinary (middle-class) gourmands.

And excessive fishing.  I haven’t watched the Cove yet, but I can see that the same thing could happen with other kinds of seafood.

What do you think?  Is it good that Japanese can order so many varieties of fresh seafood so easily?

How to Revive Leftover Pasta…

Leftover pasta after the liquid treatment

Before.... Leftover pasta

Do you ever eat leftover pasta?  What do you do to revive it?

I love batching something, and use it little by little to create many different dishes later in the week and I even blog and teach people how to do that, but pasta is one of very few things I don’t over-make.  Because, noodles are best when it’s cooked, right off the pot.  The older they get, the stickier they become.
As many of you read on my previous post, I hosted a cooking class party last Sunday at our kitchen, and as a host, I wanted to make sure to be prepared, and have more than enough food.

I got carried away, and served and showed how to make all these dishes:

  • Appetizers
    • 2 kinds of Mushroom bites (one with goat cheese, one without)
    • Mushroom, spinach and feta cheese gozleme (Turkish version of Quesadilla)
    • Crudite with pesto mayonnaise
  • Served during the Class
    • Made Sauteed button mushrooms and Asian mushroom mix (use these as a base)
    • Okara Quiche with chicken, leeks, asparagus, mushrooms, and gruyere cheese
  • Dinner
    • Magic Mushroom Soup
    • Tuna and Mushroom Pasta, Japanese Style
    • Kinoko Mizore Ae (Japanese Mushrooms and Grated Daikon Salad with Ponzu Sauce)
    • Cranberry and Fruit Relish with Whipped Cream

A lot of mushrooms, I know.  But this class was called “Flexipes: Mushrooms and Beyond”, and designed to teach people how to make a large batch of something (in this case, sauteed mushrooms), then turn it into many different dishes throughout the week (or later if they choose to freeze it).   Naturally, a lot of mushrooms had to show up on the menu.   The good news is, when you make them different flavors and treatments, people often don’t feel they are eating only mushrooms — and no one complained.  Phew!

Pretty much all the food was gone, except the pasta.  I forgot the fact that they ate quite a bit of appetizer and okara quiche before dinner, and made extra in case people were hungry.

Well, something I don’t like more than old pasta is throwing away perfectly good food.  Almost all Japanese have “Mottainai” as a motto. “Waste not”, it means.  So, I needed to do something with this pasta leftover.

So I decided to moisten the pasta with a little bit of liquid (I used vegetable broth I had on hand, but you can use other kind of broth, white wine, pasta water, or even water in a pinch), covered and microwaved it.

Of course, it was not quite as good as newly cooked al-dente pasta, but it was far better than leftover pasta without that treatment, or pre-made pasta from store.  And I definitely liked the fact that I was able to eat it just by heating up.  It’s hard to see on the photo, so just try it and see what you think.

In any case, it’s best to mix the pasta with the sauce as soon as you cook it.  Plain pasta without anything starts to stick right away, and will be harder to revive, especially spaghetti.  Even worse are capellini and flat pasta like linguini.

So the best pasta practice is, in my opinion:

1. Make the exact amount of pasta, and eat it right away.

2. If there’s any leftover, make it into pasta salad as soon as possible.

3. Mix the pasta with sauce or dressing right away or, if undressed,

4. As a last resort, sprinkle with a little bit of liquid on top, cover and microwave, and enjoy the time -saving!

So what do you do with your leftover pasta?

Your Friends in the Pantry: Flavor Boosters!

As I mentioned in the previous post about the well-stocked pantry. there are things that I have to have in mine, which is the basis of my Kitchen Wizard cooking.

Here’s the list of some items I always have in my pantry/fridge for quick, flavorful meals.

Canned beans: (cannellini beans, chickpeas, black beans) for quick soups, chili, salads and dips.

Uncooked sausage, bacon: I use them as condiments.  Click here for some examples with regular uncooked sausagesHere’s for Chorizo.

Tuna in olive oil: (tastes far better than tuna in water, plus you can skip the step of adding oil for cooking and making dressing.) One of my childhood favorite is to mix tuna with chopped green onion and top it on steamed rice with soy sauce.  Yum!

Anchovy paste in a tube: Even though the quality of anchovies are better when you buy them in salt or oil in jars, anchovy pastes are far more convenient, because all you have to do is squeeze out the amount you need, and they also last much longer!

Tomato paste in a tube: same reason as above.  With canned tomatoes, you have to finish within a few days. The tube version keeps much longer.

Mirin: This is Japanese sweet cooking wine. We Japanese rely on this a lot… To me. the smell of cooked soy sauce and mirin mixture reminds me of home… In addition to traditional uses, you could use a dash of mirin as a secret ingredient in many non-Japanese foods, such as ratatouille.  

Money saving tips 2: Stock your pantry smartly

I found this Money saving tips from Sandra Lee from Food Network on their website. I’ll introduce some of them from time to time, and expand with my own optimization tips. Today’s tip is to stock your pantry smartly.

Sandra’s Tip: Buy staples in bulk to save money and stock your pantry smartly.

  • Keeping a few key items on hand like seasonings, baking mix, condiments and lean protein will ensure that a tasty meal is just a mixing spoon away.

Kitchen Wizard Tips on stocking your pantry:

One of the biggest keys for optimizing your cooking efforts is to have a well-stocked pantry. Your ideal pantry really depends on your eating and cooking habits, ethnic background etc.  Since I’m Japanese, and I love to eat a variety of foods from around the world, my pantry consists of many things that many people may not even have heard of.  Yet there are things that every kitchen should have, such as eggs, milk, bread, onions, carrots and potatoes.

Here are the things that I believe should be in everyone’s pantry.  By having a well stocked pantry (and a willingness to deviate from a recipe when you need to), you should be able to eliminate unnecessary trips to grocery store – which saves you a ton of time, not just money.

You may want to tweak it based on your eating habits and add the quantity you need and print it out… Post it on your fridge, mark it when something is running out, and grab it with you when you go grocery shopping so that you won’t miss anything.


  1. Kosher salt or sea salt
  2. Black pepper, chili flakes, curry powder and bay leaves
  3. Soy sauce (especially if you cook a lot of Asian dishes)
  4. Vinegar – wine, Balsamic and/or rice vinegar (especially for Asian dishes)
  5. Oil – extra virgin olive oil, canola, sesame oil (if you cook a lot of Asian dishes)
  6. Wine – red, dry white and/or sake (for cooking.  Don’t buy “cooking wine”.)
  7. Sugar or honey
  8. Canned tomatoes
  9. Canned tuna in olive oil
  10. Canned beans (Chickpea, canellini or black beans)
  11. Rice
  12. Pasta
  13. Bread
  14. Flour
  15. Canned stock or bouillon cubes
  16. Nuts, seeds (Sesame seeds, for Asian dishes)
  17. Dried fruits (especially raisins)


  1. Eggs
  2. Butter
  3. Milk, cream, yogurt
  4. Cold cuts, meat, seafood, tofu
  5. Onions, green onions (especially if you cook a lot of Asian dishes)
  6. Carrots
  7. Celery
  8. Potatoes
  9. Lettuce
  10. Some kind of green vegetables
  11. Mushrooms
  12. Garlic
  13. Ginger (especially if you cook a lot of Asian dishes)
  14. Lemon
  15. Apples
  16. Banana
  17. Parmiggiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese, Gruyere
  18. Mustard
  19. Mayonnaise


  1. Chicken tenders or breast
  2. Individually portioned ground meat and/or uncooked sausage
  3. Seafood – shrimps, scallops, seafood mix
  4. Corn
  5. Green peas
  6. Mixed berries

With this list alone, you are equipped to whip up dozens of different variety of dishes. By adding other fresh ingredients, and tweak the recipe with what you have on hand rather than what’s it’s called for, your options are infinite.

What are your favorite pantry items you can’t live without?  What kind of ethnic item do you recommend and why? Please share with us.

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Leftover Makeover: Tom Kha Gai

So you cooked some flavorful Tom Kha Gai… and some left over…

How can we transform this recipe into something easy, different and fabulous?

There’s an obvious one and not so obvious one…

Obvious:  Tom Kha Noodle Soup

Tom Kha with Rice Stick

Tom Kha Noodle Soup

  1. Add about 1C of chicken broth (If you still have the stock from making that shredded chicken use it for this) to left over Tom Kha and cook until hot. Adjust seasoning.  In the meantime, boil rice noodles according to the package instruction.
  2. Drain the noodles and place them in a bowl. Pour hot soup over them. Serve with lime wedge and chopped cilantro. Optionally, sprinkle fried shallots if you have any. (Available at Asian markets.)

Not so obvious: Thai curry

Thai Green Curry

Thai Green Curry

  1. Fry sliced garlic, dried red chili in vegetable oil. Add Thai curry powder or paste and cook until fragrant.
  2. Add a combination of vegetables cut in bite-size pieces and cook until vegetables are crisp tender. (pepper, eggplants, green beans, bamboo shoots, If using potatoes, pumpkin, you may want to microwave first to shorten cooking time).  Add water or chicken broth (again, use the one from cooking the chicken if available) to barely cover the veggies. Cook until vegetables are cooked through.
  3. Add the Tom Kha into curried vegetables and cook until hot.  (optional add shrimp). Add a dash of sugar, and adjust the seasoning.  Serve with steamed rice.

These recipes alone may be good enough excuse to make double batch of Tom Kha…If you ate all the chicken in the soup, and only left with soup, try You can add shrimp instead of chicken.

Batch and Fridge: Cooked Shredded Chicken – Tom Kha (Thai Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken)

Thai Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken

Tom Kha Gai - Thai Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken

Besides obvious options of adding cooked, shredded chicken to pasta and salads, you can use them for practically any recipes from around the world.

So this week, I’d like to share with you some easy recipes from different countries using shredded chicken, to add different flavor in your repertoire.

One of my favorite is Tom Kha Gai…  You probably have seen or tasted it at a Thai restaurant.  If you are bored with regular chicken soup, this is a great option.  Plus it has a nice leftover makeover potential for later in the week.

Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Milk and Chicken Soup)


  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 oz ginger (sliced)
  • 2 TBS onion or shallots (chopped)
  • 2 stalks lemongrass (bruised and cut in 1”)
  • 1/2 ts ground turmeric
  • 1c cooked, shredded chicken
  • Optional: fresh sliced mushrooms or canned Straw mushroom
  • 1 c heavy cream (or milk if you want to make it lighter)
  • 2-3 TBS fish sauce
  • 1 fresh green chili (seeded and sliced)
  • lime juice to taste
  • Cilantro (chopped)


  1. Heat 1 can of coconut milk until hot. Add lemongrass, ginger, turmeric, onion or shallots, shredded chicken and mushrooms. Simmer about 10-15 min.
  2. Add cream, fish sauce, green chili and cook until heated. Adjust seasoning.
  3. Traditionally they serve lemongrass and ginger slices in the soup in Thailand (and at Thai restaurants), but you may want to take them out at this point.
  4. Serve hot with a wedge of lime and chopped cilantro.

Tips: Lemongrass can be grown very easily in your garden. you can use only bottom few inches for cooking, but cut up the rest and steep in teapot for refreshing and fragrant lemongrass tea!

You have leftover?  Great! We’ll make it over to something fabulous tomorrow… So stay tuned…

Batch and Fridge: Flavor Booster: Chorizo and Onion Mixture

One of my favorite base I keep in my fridge is Chorizo and Onion mixture.

Chorizo is packed with flavor, it’s so handy as a flavor booster for soups and vegetable dishes, especially Portuguese or Spanish inspired dishes. If you don’t like it spicy, feel free to substitute with other kinds of sausage.  They now have “Turkey Chorizo” (or was it chicken?) at Whole Foods.

Do not use this for things like Bolognese sauce or Chili, it will be too “Chorizo-ey”.

Chorizo and Onion Mixture:

  1. Sauté 1 –2 cloves of garlic, 1 large onions (sliced), and 1 uncooked chorizo out of casing in EVOO until cooked.

Usages: soup, potato dishes, braised vegetables, egg dishes, lentils, stuffing, risotto, etc…  Just like Sautéed Mirepoix Meat mixture.  Also great with seafood, especially clams.  Yum!

Unless you like it really spicy, you’d need only a little bit, so add a little less than you think you need – it’s always easier to add than subtract in kitchen math!

I will share a great “Restaurant-Inspired Recipe” using this mixture on my next post.  So stay tuned… Or better yet, subscribe to “Secrets of a Kitchen Wizard” via Email or RSS from the link above the calendar!

Happy cooking!

Recipe for a Happy Day

For a change, here’s a HAPPY DAY RECIPE.  Perfect for Monday, isn’t it?

Begin with a smile
Mix in some laughter
Add a dash of wisdom
Stir in plenty of hugs
Blend with inspiration
Combine with joy and
Top off the day with
A generous sprinkling of love!


Then start cooking… and everything will be easier and more delicious!

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Join Free “Ask Kitchen Wizard” Call – Tuesday, May 12, 12 – 1 PM PDT!

Do you have any questions around how to save more time and money with your meal preparation at home?
Or have you ever wondered “what shall I make for dinner?”
Or… Could you use some extra time outside of the kitchen?

Then don’t miss this opportunity!
I am offering a complimentary call to help you answer these questions and also save time and frustration, all from the convenience of your own home or work…

You may listen to the entire call, or come and go… AND you can call from anywhere… I’ll be at your disposal during that hour. Please feel free to invite your friends.

If you want to attend, you can find the call in number and PIN on Kitchen Wizard Facebook Page under event. (<– Click here.)

If you cannot attend, and have any question, please leave your question in the comment box.  Please be as specific as possible, so that I may be able to answer your question better during the call.
The recording of the call will be available on Facebook group later in the week.

Look forward to “seeing” you on the call!