THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Ho ho ho, the mistletoe

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALGrowing up in the 50th, the Tatsumoto ohana (family) didn’t really get into the holiday season. For starters, to get into the spirit, it needs to be cold. Like, Seattle winds blowin’ through your jeans, duckin’ into every Eddie Bauer store to find the right size thermal underwear that you can wear right now, cold! Somehow temperatures that simply drop into the low ‘80s just doesn’t cut it. And I never really believed in Santa Claus, as everyone knew he entered the house through the chimney. Not many houses in Hawai‘i come with fireplaces, so Mom explained that Santa simply came through the kitchen door. Nope. Dad always checked the doors to make sure they were locked once it got dark. And even as a child, I could always distinguish the “Santa” with the black hair at Windward City Shopping Center from the “Santa” with the brown hair at the Kailua Times Supermarket and the Asian “Santa” in front of Payless Drugstore. And the Tatsumoto ohana never hosted the annual family Christmas dinner, which was the domain of the Uchimura clan. The Tatsumotos hosted the annual Thanksgiving dinner.

For starters, I grew up in an era where cooking and cooking philosophy was vastly different than our current world. Pork had to be cooked until it was brown and well done, lest you chance a bout of trichinosis. Turkey was only cooked one way, oven roasted whole to present that perfect Norman Rockwell bird to your guests. No farm to table, no farmer’s markets, and produce usually canned with non-traditional side dishes not seen stateside, like macaroni salad, kim chee and somen (thin wheat noodles) salad. Along with packaged powdered gravy.

And every family member had their usual holiday dish, whether it was for the Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s feast: Auntie Itamura’s fried noodles and homemade kimchi, Auntie Corinne’s mochiko chicken and macaroni salad (with a special container made just for me without celery as I detested celery as a youngster), cousin Donna’s candied yams with browned marshmallow topping, Obaachan’s hot crab and potato salad and the list goes on. Those were holidays of the past when the elders simply consisted of the six Murai siblings, their offspring and the third generation. As time marched on, our families grew too large to host family dinners at a single residence, along with the increasing family holiday commitments with newer generations of relatives. But we can still get a taste of the past.

The Old
Grandma always made her hot crab and potato salad for the family holiday dinners, so until I was in graduate school, I assumed it was something she created. Back in the day, she would watch family and friends making their mealtime plates, always making sure they took a portion of her hot crab and potato salad. When someone complimented her on the salad, she would say she knew it was good, “Because I made.” Not one bit shy to pat herself on the back. I guess that’s where I get “that” from … But it was a shock when I finally realized that it wasn’t Obaachan’s recipe at all, but from the Honpa Hongwanji Cookbook series. But it’s still very good eatin’.

Hot Crab and Potato Salad
4 cups boiled salad potatoes, peeled and cubed
About 1 cup of frozen Bay shrimp
2 cans (about 6 oz each) crab meat, drained
2 cups mayonnaise
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon Ajinomoto (Monosodium glutamate)
2 cups diced celery
2 cups diced sweet round onion
Chopped parsley

Mix all ingredients and place in a 13” x 9” baking pan and bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then place under a broiler for a few minutes to brown the top if desired. The Ajinomoto can be omitted. The salad can also be baked at 350 degrees for 20 minutes if you desire “softer” celery and onions.

The Traditional
Because the Tatsumoto family wasn’t exactly a “Norman Rockwell” family, our holiday dinner table didn’t look like a Rockwell painting. Yes, there was a whole roasted bird on the table, but the mashed potatoes were replaced with rice. The green bean casserole replaced with somen salad. There was no stuffing, Brussels sprouts or tureen of soup. But there was cranberry sauce that was served simply as is, straight from the can, complete with the can ring markings on the side. And because this was the only cranberry sauce I knew as a child, I consumed my fair share, until I sampled freshly prepared cranberry sauce. That canned variety has never made an appearance on our table since then.  This recipe is from Sunset magazine that we discovered in 2002 and is the only cranberry sauce we now make. It’s the perfect balance of tart berries, sweet honey and pears balanced with the sweet and savory flavors of cinnamon and star anise.

Anise Pear-Cranberry Sauce
2 Bosc pears (about 1 lb total)
1 orange (about 8 oz)
3/4 cup sugar
1 star anise or 3/4 teaspoon anise seeds
1 cinnamon stick (3 in long)
1/2 cup honey
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (12 oz)

Rinse, peel, and core pears; cut into about 1/2-inch cubes. Grate enough peel (orange part only) from orange to make 1 and 1/2 teaspoons. Ream juice from orange; measure, and add enough water to make 1/2 cup.

In a 3- to 4-quart pan over high heat, stir orange juice mixture, grated peel, sugar, star anise, and cinnamon stick until sugar is dissolved, one to two minutes. Stir in honey and pears and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and stir occasionally until edges of pears are barely tender to bite, about three minutes.

Stir in cranberries. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cranberries begin to pop and pears are tender when pierced, six to eight minutes. Let cool. Pour into a bowl. Serve cool or cold.

The New
As I mentioned, rice was the usual starch during the holiday feast. Unless the somen salad is also counted as a starch. But there were no mashed potatoes or stuffing to accompany the roasted bird. After I finished graduate school, I attempted to serve stuffing complete with chestnuts, fresh rosemary and sage that never really passed the taste test of the Murai sisters. “What’s this?”, “Is this herb in here?” and “Me no likey,” were among their comments. It’s probably because bread wasn’t the favored starch for the first generation relatives and strongly flavored herbs like rosemary and sage was a new but not-very-welcome flavor sensation for the old-timers. But I bet this rice based dressing will work with your older relatives this season.

AN ASIAN AMERICAN TAKE ON DRESSING ­— The Gochiso Gourmet’s Sweet Rice Dressing calls for lup cheong, shiitake mushrooms and other ingredients. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

AN ASIAN AMERICAN TAKE ON DRESSING ­— The Gochiso Gourmet’s Sweet Rice Dressing calls for lup cheong, shiitake mushrooms and other ingredients. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Sweet Rice Dressing
One package (12 oz) of lup cheong (Chinese sausage), halved lengthwise then sliced to ¼-inch sections
One can bamboo shoots, drained then cubed approximately the same size as the lup cheong
One can water chestnuts, drained and cubed as above
10 pieces dry shiitake, soaked overnight then cut as above
Roughly one cup of peeled chestnuts cut as above
5 cups of sweet rice (rice cooker cups, not the actual measuring cup)
1 bunch of fresh cilantro roughly chopped
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
2 tablespoons shoyu

Wash the sweet rice then place in a rice cooker with the appropriate amount of water and set aside. Cook the lup cheong over medium heat until it just starts to brown. You can either add the drippings or drain it on a paper towel if you desire less fat. Add the lup cheong, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, shiitake and chestnuts to the rice cooker along with the Chinese five spice powder and shoyu (soy sauce). Cook according to your rice cooker’s instructions. After the rice mixture is done cooking and steaming, place it in a large mixing bowl and toss with the fresh chopped cilantro.
The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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