Japanese sweet potatoes can be dry. They are sometimes even dry when they are in soup. I discovered a good way to cook Japanese sweet potatoes so that they are always moist and soft. This way is also really easy and convenient. I used the rice cooker. You can do this with regular sweet potatoes (さつまいも), the golden flesh kintoki imo (金時芋) and the orange flesh annou imo (安納芋).
How to cook Japanese sweet potatoes in a rice cooker
Wash and trim the ends (if necessary) of the sweet potatoes. Put 1-2 cm of water in the bottom of the rice cooker. Poke the sweet potatoes with a fork a few times just to make sure they don’t explode. Cook small or medium sized potatoes in a quick cycle (早炊き or 白米急速). Larger potatoes should be done with a full cycle. That is all.
Note: You can wrap the potatoes in foil, if you prefer. The ones I cooked while wrapped still had a soft skin so I am not sure you can get a crunchy skin in the rice cooker with water.
American Thanksgiving is next week and Christmas is in a month so I thought I would repost this information from last year for my new readers.
—Edited repost begins here
For the first couple of Thanksgivings and Christmases it didn’t even occur to me to miss turkey. All of a sudden, about a week before my third Christmas here, I felt I had to roast a turkey. Since rarely went out of my way to get food that wasn’t sold in the local supermarket, I had no idea where to look. I was in Shinjuku that evening so I decided to pop into the basement of Isetan and check out the meat shop. I was lucky. They happened to have these tiny one and two kilogram turkeys for 3500 yen and 5000 yen respectively. They were imported from France. Not knowing where else to look, I bought one of the little ones and took it home. It was the best turkey I had ever had and worth the price. Thanksgiving the next year was a bit more of a challenge because while turkeys aren’t hard to find around American Thanksgiving Day in November, Canadian Thanksgiving Day is a full month earlier. Luckily Nissin had one the right size.
The next Christmas I happened upon one in the supermarket in the Meguro station the day before I was going to go off in search of one. Lucky. Eventually I learned about The Meat Guy and that solved all of my problems. You can order a couple months in advance and have it delivered the day you would have taken it out of the freezer so you don’t have to worry about freezer space.
The second easiest option is to ask at your local supermarket. They might be able to order one for you. This will likely have to be done in Japanese but at least you won’t have to travel far if you don’t want to pay for shipping.
Where to find turkeys in Tokyo
- Nissin has turkeys year round from 3-4lbs to the huge 20+lbs
- National Azabu had turkeys before it shut down. They should have them again now.
- Meat counters of large upscale department stores – only around Christmas
- Some upscale supermarkets will carry them at Christmas time – ask at the meat department.
- A friend buys her Christmas turkey from her local Hanamasa (website: Japanese language only) but I have never seen one at the ones I’ve visited so you would have to ask. Ask for ターキー(taakii) not 七面鳥 (shichimenchou) as many people associate the roasted bird with the English word and the live bird in the wild with the Japanese word.
- Costco – you can actually call and ask them before you make the trip out (they won’t tell you the price but will tell you if they have something)
How to find a turkey on the internet in Japan
Note: if you have an average (read tiny) sized microwave/oven you will probably want to go for a 1-2kg bird but be sure to measure the inside of your oven to check. I now have a 30L oven and find a 5kg is a great size.
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The last three months have been full of making lunches. I’ve had to up my game as the kiddo probably wouldn’t appreciate eating the previous night’s dinner for lunch every day. Or meal salads every day… I have a tiny freezer but I’ve been keeping as many bento fillers in there as possible. Because there are those days when all of the energy you have is to move things from the freezer to the bento box. Or those days when you want eight different things in your lunch. I am usually fine with two. Here are some things that work well from freezer to bento box. If you have access to a microwave where you are going to be eating the bento, you don’t even have to defrost. In summer you probably don’t have to defrost anything. If you don’t have microwave access at lunch, defrost your fillers when you are making your lunch.
Mini burger patties – they can be veggie, bean, beef, chicken, pork or any mixture you want but they are versatile
- top with salsa and cheese
- top with gravy
- top with bbq sauce and canned pineapple
- top with ponzu and grated daikon
- cut up over a salad
- add to a lettuce wrap
Daikon steaks – easy to make and they get soft after freezing (something I consider a good thing)
- eat as is
- mix in with simmered veggies (nimono)
- dice and mix with canned tuna and mizuna – no dressing needed
Steamed broccoli – or any veggie that freezes well
- eat as is or topped with dressing
- top with cheese
- cut up and mix in pasta
Grilled sausage – grill cocktail sausages and then freeze
- eat as is
- slice and serve over a salad
- top with bbq sauce, “sauce”, mustard or ketchup
- top with cheese
- roll in lettuce
Shumai/gyoza (dumplings) – just freeze leftovers anytime you have them
Sauces – have a little bit of leftover sauce from dinner? Freeze it in an ice-cube tray for quick bento toppings
Cheese – grated or cubed
- eat as is
- sprinkle over salad
- sprinkle over pasta
- sprinkle over Japanese curry
I think one of the first frozen foods I had in Japan was frozen onigiri. The hubby bought them one evening and I was skeptical. I don’t really like frozen food and these seemed to simple to be good. I loved them. Haven’t bought them since but they did inspire me to explore the world of yakionigiri. There have been terrible results in the past but now all is good. I haven’t perfected them but they are pretty good. I usually use the frying pan but I tried them in the riceball plates of my waffle iron and was pleased. It’s so easy. Since I need to have some food prepped in the freezer for work day breakfasts, lunches and dinners, freezing riceballs seemed to be perfect. You can just reheat with miso soup for a quick meal. They are best heated in a toaster oven so they don’t get too soggy. I use the grill setting in my microwave but keep the pan on a lower level than when actually grilling.
Basically, lightly salt the rice and make riceballs. If you need a tutorial, check out this one on Just Hungry. In a small bowl mix a bit of soy sauce and grated ginger. Lightly oil a frying pan and heat up the pan on medium. When the frying pan has heated up, place the rice balls and fry until they are just starting to turn golden. Turn over and either brush or sprinkle with a spoon the ginger soy sauce mixture on the cooked side. Just a little at a time so the riceball doesn’t fall apart. When the other side has started to change color turn over again and repeat with the sauce. Now you can fry them until they turn a deeper color. If you are freezing them, cool them completely before putting them in the freezer. Either thaw at room temperature or microwave for about 30 seconds and then put them in the toaster oven until they look nice and toasty.
So it has been a while. I decided to work out of the house again and have very little free time. Ironically I’ve been cooking more meals than usual because I have to make three meals for me and the resident toddler and two meals for the hubby every day. That’s two lunch bentos five days a week. Some people in this situation would sit down and plan meals at least a week in advance but I don’t really like planning down to the last meal. I’ve decided to map the options out and keep a well-stocked fridge. I’m more of a look in the fridge and whip something up person than a find a recipe and then buy everything for that recipe person. I usually just keep the crisper stocked with lots of fruit and vegetables and keep a bit of meat and fish in the house. I should mention that I keep a well stocked pantry (for Japanese sized kitchens).
I am a lover of mind mapping so this medium felt really natural. Everything is on one page and flows from the center. If you are unfamiliar with mind mapping go here and learn. I made this mind map on my iPad using Mindjet Maps.
Meal mind mapping
- Brainstorm a list of the types of foods you can make (i.e. pasta, soups, grilled protein, etc.)
- Brainstorm options for each list – don’t go in order just write what comes to you. If you need more ideas for your list, use the internet. If you are not a cook keep the links to the food you find for easy reference. You can further organize categories into subcategories (i.e. blended soups, miso soups, broth soups, etc.).
- Take a look at what you have brainstormed and make a general list of the dry goods you need to have in the house so your options are flexible. Buy these when you find them on sale.
- Make a second, more organized draft and put it on your fridge.
- Use it as a reference for when you are busy or don’t know what to make.
Keep adding to and revising your mind map. It is alive. Your first mind map will be a mess. The pretty ones you see in a google image search are not first drafts. As you get used to mind mapping you will start to be able to organize your information well earlier in the process. After years of mind mapping, I usually get the categories right on the first draft but keep in mind that my mind loves organizing.
- keep your fridge stocked with vegetables
- keep some protein in the fridge/freezer
- keep your dry goods stocked up