The Gaijin Cookbook, a review

“The Gaijin Cookbook” is a very different creature from its predecessor “Ivan Ramen,” both books by Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying.  When “Ivan Ramen” came out, it was self evident that the recipes were from the noodle restaurant of the same name, and artisan ramen is a complex process.  The Shio Ramen chapter itself is divided into making the eight components of the dish. “The Gaijin Cookbook” is practically the antagonist to the first book.  It’s about cooking Japanese food at home for a weeknight or for a party.

The layout of the book is a bit odd.  I’ve added quotes from the book about what each chapter is about.  And each chapter had some recipes that were grouped together, and sometimes recipes that only related to the chapter and not to each other.  So I’ve done my best to reflect that.

  1. The Recipes by Category
  2. Eat More Japanese – “… foundational recipes and flavors that taught [Ivan] to understand Japanese food”
    1. The Vanishing Japanese Diner
    2. Natto [Fermented Soybeans]
    3. Feeding Our Kids
  3. Open to Anything – “… fusion… recipes that have mingled… leading to new and delicious collaborations”
    1. (various recipes)
    2. Sandwiches
  4. Empathy – “nurturing through food”
    1. (various recipes, mostly rice and stews)
    2. Nabe
  5. Otaku [Geeking Out] – “more intensive recipes”
    1. (oden, dan dan noodles, gyoza)
    2. Frying
  6. Good Times – “dishes that are conducive to sharing while you sip on an adult beverage”
    1. (various recipes)
  7. New Year’s – “symbolic snacks that will ensure prosperity in the coming year”
    1. (various recipes)
    2. Jubako
  8. Pantry


If this were a novel, I’d be ok with this layout.  But as a cookbook, I find it a bit confusing if I’m looking for a recipe.  It almost feels random instead of intentional. If there’s a specific recipe you’re looking for, it’s the index you’ll need to depend on.

But the recipes themselves look good.  Here are some of the recipes I want to try:

  • Seasoned Ground Chicken (Tori Soboro) – I want to compare this version to the soboro I already make today
  • Mentaiko Spaghetti
  • Miso Mushroom Chili
  • Pork and Tofu Meatballs with Buttermilk Sauce
  • Smoked Fish Donburi
  • Okinawa-Style Soba with Pork Belly and Tatsuobushi
  • Salmon and Miso Hot Pot
  •  Sweet Dashi-Poached Prawns
  • Candied Sardines
  • Sesame Furikake
  • Katsuobushi Furikake


For my inaugural recipes, I made shimeji mushroom rice from the Empathy chapter, and the chicken meatballs (tsukune) from the Good Times chapter.  Both were straightforward to make, and ingredients were easy to come by where I live.

For me, the meatballs were decent but not necessarily a recipe I will remake as written.  It’s just a very ginger forward flavor even with the accompanying sauce. But I still like the general instructions, so I’m thinking about messing around with it, maybe using Chinese black bean paste as the flavoring agent.  It’s just a personal preference, not a critique on the recipe.

That’s when I decided to make the mushroom rice.  I wanted to see how a second recipe would work out, and I loved the results.  It’s a light flavor, and the cooking instructions are spot on. I used haiga rice (haiga is a semi-polished short grain rice where the bran is removed but not the germ, and cooks like white rice), and skipped the bonito flakes.  The recipe instructs you to soak the rice for at least 20 minutes, and up to 1 hour. I chose 30 minutes. For garnish, I just used scallions (no photo documentation, but I also used store-bought furikake as a garnish when I was eating leftovers).  Next time, I’ll use the katsuobushi and see how it changes the flavor. I can see myself making this regularly going forward as it stores in the fridge well and is great for meal prep.

Another thing that I enjoyed about this book was the photography.  The food photos are enticing. The portraits of Ivan scattered among the pages give insight to his personality.  And because I’m a romantic at heart, the photos of Ivan and Mari are endearing.

If you don’t have a cookbook on everyday Japanese cooking or don’t have one you like, give “The Gaijin Cookbook” a try.  I think it’s very home cooking friendly, and there’s a good diversity of recipes.  

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  The book is released September 24, 2019.

Reference Links:


Atsuko’s Japanese Kitchen, a cookbook review

If I had to name a cookbook that both embodied home cooking and simple elegance, it would be Atsuko’s Japanese Kitchen by Atsuko Ikeda.  It’s the reason why I was looking forward to this review.

Back when I first started to cook, I was drawn to Japanese cuisine.  Shabu shabu, Japanese curry, miso soup with a proper dashi, etc. were the things I was trying to make in my home kitchen.  Somewhere, I stopped cooking Japanese food (with the exception of the occasional nabe). I’m not sure why. Maybe because it stopped feeling new to me?

But Ms. Ikeda does an excellent job of taking those familiar Japanese dishes and adding a modern flair, taking a familiar homemade dish and giving it a breath of newness.  Some examples are:

  • Smoked mackerel and dill onigiri
  • Mushrooms with blue cheese, yuzu ponzu, and truffle
  • Molten eggs with lightly seared marinated steak (molten eggs seem to be jammy eggs)
  • Mushroom and soy milk soup


That isn’t to say that there are no traditional recipes in this book.  For a few days, I couldn’t decide whether to test out her chicken and eggs on rice (oyakodon) recipe, or her beef and potato stew (nikujaga) recipe.  (And then I chose neither for this review.)

The book is divided into fairly standard chapters:

  • My Japanese kitchen
  • Regional Dishes
  • The secrets of Japanese cuisine
  • Small dishes for sharing
  • Soups and Noodles
  • Easy one-plate meals
  • Special occasion meals
  • Sides and Dressings
  • Desserts


The recipes I’m interested in making that I haven’t named already:

Glazed lotus root and chicken meatballs – I was introduced to this recipe years ago, and I may have lost the recipe.  I love renkon (lotus root) and you don’t see this stuffed renkon recipe in English written cookbooks often.

  • Ceviche-style scallops with citrus sauce – On paper, it reminds me of a dish from Tyler Kinnett, Executive Chef at Harvest (one of my favorite restaurants in the Greater Boston area).
  • Chicken in nanban seasonings with tartar sauce – Somehow, I never heard chicken nanban until recently.  It’s apparently the Japanese version of sweet and sour chicken.
  • Fried and steamed salmon in miso garlic sauce – The photo for this recipe really appeals to me.  It’s listed in the special occasion meals chapter but the ingredient list isn’t daunting, nor are the instructions.
  • Pumpkin salad – Kabocha squash, Japanese mayo, Greek yogurt, raisins, and almonds.  It sounds intriguing.
  • Azuki bean paste pancake sandwiches – It never occurred to me to make my own dorayaki.  I love red bean desserts!


And a shout out to the photographer, Yuki Sugiura.  Every recipe is accompanied was a gorgeous photo to inspire!

For my review recipe, I ultimately picked the chicken teriyaki with lime.  (The recipe serves it over quinoa rice, but it’s been hot here in the Greater Boston area so I chose not to cook another dish.  I ate it with store bought naan, and salad. I’ll make the rice next time.) I like Japanese teriyaki but I just never make it at home, but I was really curious how the lime matched the dish.

Aside from the chicken and the lime, I had all of the ingredients in the recipe.  (Full disclosure, I swapped the leeks with onion.) It was easy to make, so I can vouch that it’s a perfect dish to make at home.  Ms. Ikeda claims “after trying this recipe, you might never purchase ready-made teriyaki sauce again.” I’m inclined to agree! I thought this was delicious!  And the touch of lime elevated the recipe from being boring and ordinary.

If you’re interested in Japanese food, or if you’re looking for some new ideas that can be used for everyday cooking, I highly recommend this book.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I wasn’t. In fact, I think I’ll make the fried ginger pork for dinner this weekend.

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Ryland and Peters for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.


Reference Links:

Anyone want to gift me a clay pot?

There are things we want, and there are things we need.  Donabe by Naoko Moore and Kyle Connaughton was definitely the former.  I won’t lie.  When I picked it up, I expected to treat it more like a coffee table book but I think I completely underestimated it.

Why did I want this book?  A handful of years ago, I read Naoko Moore’s blog regularly.  I don’t even remember how I found it.  But I did, and I’d dream about buying a donabe (particularly the rice cooker donabe) to make all sorts of Japanese inspired recipes.

You might be asking what is a donabe?  It’s the Japanese word for clay pot.

And now, you might be asking if I ever bought one?  Um, no.  To be fair, I never bought one because most of them are not recommended for an electric stove… of which  I have.  D’oh!

But still, I enjoyed Moore’s blog even though I rarely used any of the recipes she posted.

Oh.  Maybe I do know how I found her blog.  I learned to make shio koji and I think I was researching for more background information.

Moore use shio koji a lot.  She even included a recipe for it in her new cookbook.

Right, back to the cookbook.

Donabe-owner or not, I think I’m going to have to cook a lot of these recipes.  I think most of it should be ok for normal pots and pans.  The exceptions to this are the recipes meant for the rice cooker donabe and the donabe smoker.  But I imagine that the rice cooker donabe recipes can be made in an electric rice cooker.  I’ll have to experiment.  I don’t have a smoker though, so those recipes are unlikely to ever see the light of day in my kitchen.   

Thankfully, there are a lot of soup recipes (I love a good nabe) and steamed recipes.  These should all be ok to make in my kitchen.  So, things on the to do list (besides more shio koji)?

  • Kyoto-style saikyo miso hot pot
  • Chicken hot pot
  • Duck and tofu hot pot (well, minus the tofu because I’m allergic)
  • Chicken meatballs in hot sesame miso broth
  • Simmered pork shoulder
  • Salmon chowder with miso soy-milk broth (I plan on using whole milk)
  • Pork and vegetable miso soup (maybe mostly because I love watching Shinya Shokudo)
  • Steamed yellowtail shabu-shabu (looks very simple and delicious)
  • Steamed enoki mushrooms wrapped in beef
  • Green tea seam cake
  • Steamed-fried salmon and vegetables in miso sauce

Obviously, it looks I’m going to get a lot more use out of this book than I originally anticipated.

While most of the recipes are Japanese, there are also some recipes with Chinese or Western influences.

Oh, and the pictures are really lovely.  I get hungry just looking at them.  At the end of the day, I’m really quite pleased to own a copy of Donabe.  Maybe one day, I’ll get around to buying that rice cooker donabe for myself.

(Haha, but right now I really want a nice carbon steel skillet.  That might be a story for another day.)


Disclaimer – I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post.

Reference Links

A taste of izakaya fare (or why I didn’t see Wylie Dufresne tonight)

I did not go to the Wylie Dufresne lecture at Harvard tonight.


Because I was too busy attending an izakaya cooking class at Cambridge Center for Adult Education on the other side of the square. An izakaya is a Japanese bar. Not the kind of bar that you’re thinking of, but generally a small hole-in-the-wall  where you go after work to grab some beers and nibble on food. I’ve been to Japan a few times, but I’ve never stepped into an izakaya, mostly because I don’t drink. However, after watching clips of Kodoku no Gurume or episodes of Shinya Shokudo, and hearing my friends who have lived in Japan rave about izakaya foods… I started getting curious. Luckily for me, CCAE held an izakaya cooking class for the first time ever, under the title “Japanese Small Plates” and taught by Yoko Bryden.

The only bad thing about the class? The pacing is a little weird. Class started at 6:30p, but two hours were spent making sauces, marinating, soaking rice, and answering questions. I started wondering if we’d be done before class was supposed to end. But then in the last hour, cooking and eating went fairly quickly. In fact, we finished class fifteen minutes early.

As for the food that was made:
1) raw tuna with grated Japanese mountain yam
2) lotus roots stuffed with seasoned ground beef, served with ponzu sauce
3) smashed cucumber
4) rice with scallion/miso
5) fried tofu skins stuffed with scallions and katsuobushi
6) grilled chicken and scallions on skewers

Yoko also served some hiyayakko but I didn’t partake in that because I’m allergic to tofu. (Yes, this Chinese American girl is allergic to tofu. The universe laughs at me.)

Everything tasted really good. The grilled chicken was probably my favorite.  The fried tofu was probably the second favorite.  I’m not posting any pictures or any recipes out of respect for the instructor and for CCAE, so you’ll just have to sign up for the class if possible and discover everything for yourself… and then discover that you are suddenly in the mood to gorge on Japanese food but can’t because there was only-oh-so-much food made!


Reference Links:

(edit to add – Yoko’s blog is currently in Japanese only.  She is working on an English version.)