Cooking in the shower – 5 Minute Miso

Miso shiru

Miso shiru

For the first time in my life, I eat breakfast every day. After years of crazy college class schedules and restaurant work until all hours of the night, I have a “normal” schedule which requires me to get up at 5:30 every day. If I don’t eat breakfast, by the time school lunch is served at 12:35 I am cranky and ravenous, so I’ve learned to allot some extra time every morning to making breakfast. For the past couple months I have been on a self-imposed diet to burn off all the tonkatsu, tempura, ramen and curry rice that is oh-so-delicious but oh-so-sad for my waistline. This meant eliminating my go-to carb breakfasts of cereal and toast, and I found myself turning to the Japanese staple breakfast, miso soup. While I worried that miso preparation would not only be time consuming but boring after a few weeks, I am proud to say that miso is still delicious, and I have found a method that only takes five minutes. Without further ado I present to you “5 Minute Miso Shiru.”

Clockwise from back: dried wakame, fresh wakame, miso paste, firm tofu, instant dashi

Clockwise from back: dried wakame, fresh wakame, miso paste, firm tofu, instant dashi

Ingredients:

1 cup water

Miso paste: I prefer the white or yellow miso, as opposed to the red paste

Instant dashi: Instead of making true dashi, which is very time consuming, many Japanese cooks turn to instant. You can find it anywhere in Japan and most likely any good Asian market in the US. Look for the label “Hondashi” in the red and white packaging from Ajinomoto

Fresh wakame

Fresh wakame

Firm tofu: In Japan, this is labeled “momen” tofu, and holds up well in soups. In the states, any firm tofu is good. Once you open the tofu and slice, it only stays fresh for a few days, so the smaller package the better

Wakame: a type of seaweed abundant in Japan, wakame is usually sold dried in flakes. If you find fresh wakame, you can use it instead

Prep: for this recipe to be truly five minutes in the morning, you will need to do a few minutes of prep the night before, but it is equally easy. First, place your wakame (dried or fresh) in some hot water to soak. While it’s soaking, take your tofu out of the packing and drain the liquid. Then place it on a plate with paper towels and cover to absorb the excess liquid. Some recipes call for placing a heavy pan or such on top of the tofu, but I find this step to be unnecessary.

While the tofu sits, drain your wakame and either squeeze the extra water out with your hands or between a few paper towels. Place on a cutting board and chop into rough flakes, not too small, between the size of a quarter and a nickel (or 100 yen to 50 yen here in Japan). Place sliced wakame in tupperware.

Remove tofu from paper towels and place on cutting board. Depending on the size of your block, make cubes about the size of dice. Anything smaller may break up in the soup. Place tofu in the same tupperware and store in the fridge.

Morning of:

Tools you will need: small pot, one-cup measuring cup, whisk or fork, spoon

Measure one cup of water (I use the same boiled water I make in the morning for coffee since it’s still hot, further speeding up the cooking process) and place in the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and add 1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon of dashi, depending on how salty you like the broth. Whisk to combine.

With the heat still on low, add your desired amount of wakame and tofu. Since it’s only one cup, this doesn’t have to be a lot. I add a little extra tofu to make it a more substantial breakfast. Your tofu and wakame will be cold from the fridge, so give it a minute to warm up in the broth. Once it has returned to a simmer, use the same measuring cup to scoop a little bit of the hot broth from the pot. You only need about a tablespoon or two, and don’t worry if some of the wakame comes with it.

Using your spoon, take a heaping spoonful of miso paste (about a tablespoon and a half) and add to the measuring cup. Whisk (using a fork is okay) until dissolved and fully incorporated. Now add this miso liquid back into the pot, being careful not to let the pot come to a boil. Boiling the miso hurts its composition and flavor. When I add the miso I actually turn the heat off altogether. Stir to combine, place in a bowl and eat with the same spoon you used on the miso to avoid extra dishes.

Clean up: if you rinse the measuring cup, whisk (or fork) and pot out with water immediately after use, you will have virtually no dishes to do after this meal. You don’t even have to apply a sponge or soap, so don’t be lazy and save yourself some clean up in the future.

Why should you eat miso for breakfast? You might be asking yourself, even if it only takes five minutes, do I really want to go through the trouble? YES, you should! Miso is a great breakfast for so many reasons:

1. It’s healthy. Miso paste is a natural pro-biotic, meaning it helps your stomach keep digestion smooth and gives your body healthy bacteria, like yogurt, to fight off infection. Also coming in at only an average of 64 calories a cup, it is a great way to stay full on less.

2. It’s easy. If all you can be bothered to do in the morning is add milk to cereal, then yes, this recipe might seem work intensive. But if you have ever cooked anything, it will seem very simple. If you don’t cook, this is a great starter meal to ease you in.

3. It’s warm. With fall upon us, we all know “Winter is coming.” Your body will be very grateful to have a hot meal that will warm your core and get you ready for the day.

4. It’s cheap. Really. Even packaged cereal and milk will set you back more than this soup. Let’s do the math:

Miso paste, usually a large tub that will last for weeks, if not months in the fridge: $3-$4

Instant dashi, a small jar that will last for months of miso soup: $4-$5

Tofu, can last for five days of miso soup: $3

Wakame, the dried flakes last forever and will provide for months of miso: $3

Even without any fancy accounting, you are looking at less than $1.25 a day. Now tell me what other delicious, healthy and substantial breakfast can compare with that? You may have seen lots of instant miso soup packets at the store, and will be asking why don’t I just use those? Wouldn’t it be even faster? Perhaps, but as I have said before, when you can help it, NO PROCESSED FOOD. The problem with any “instant” or packaged goods are the preservatives and added sodium, sugars, etc. Plus they are a one-trick pony. You can’t do anything else with instant miso other than make miso soup. However, if you have miso paste, tofu and wakame in your fridge, you can do all kinds of other things with your cooking! So please, no instant miso.

Superfood breakfast

Superfood breakfast

Final thoughts: Since this dish is low in calories and not meant to serve as a whole meal, eat your breakfast miso with a little side something to keep yourself full ’til lunch. I add a side of fruit, and maybe a piece of cheese, but if you are not on a particular diet, feel free to add some toast, a hard-boiled egg, or if you want to go full Japanese, a small bowl of rice. I love to have apple in the morning with a small drizzle of balsamic reduction. It’s tasty and keeps my mind off peanut butter!

Now you know everything you need to enjoy five minute miso! You heard right, folks! That’s five breakfasts for five dollars in only five minutes! You’re going to like the way it tastes, I guarantee it!

Itadakimasu

Cooking in the shower – Coconut Curry Beef Soba

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The name alone just sounds amazing right? That’s what I thought when I came across this recipe from Cooking Light, my go-to source for easy, delicious and healthy meals.

What you'll need

What you’ll need

So I had to try it! Not all of my magazine recipe experiments have paid off while here in Japan, but fortunately this one was exactly what I was looking for. It’s a whole meal, so no need to cook side dishes! If you’re here in Japan you might have to search to find coconut milk and curry powder, but I assure you they do exist. It’s rare to find limes, but many stores sell lime juice by the bottle. You might not find spinach leaves, but there are all sorts of leafy greens in the Japanese market that will work great. And if you are in Japan, you can disregard the recipe directions to buy a steak, freeze it and thinly slice. Just buy the shabu-shabu ready steak sliced at the market!

For those of you without markets that pre-slice your meat paper thin, take an inexpensive steak to the butcher counter and ask them to do it for you. Another note on this recipe is to disregard the call for peanut oil, any light oil will work fine. Does anyone making these recipes think we’ll taste the difference between a tablespoon of peanut oil and vegetable oil? You can make this dish with one pot, if you keep wiping it clean between uses, but I use two to expedite the process. I cook the soba and greens first in the large pot and set aside in the colander when finished. Then I saute the coconut sauce in the large pot while I fry up the beef in a smaller pan.

Cook your soba and wilt the greens first

Cook your soba and wilt the greens first

Saute the garlic and ginger and add curry powder

Saute the garlic and ginger and add curry powder

Add your coconut milk mixture to combine

Add your coconut milk mixture to combine

While the coconut sauce heats, fry the beef

While the coconut sauce heats, fry the beef

Thin sliced beef will only take a couple minutes to brown

Thin sliced beef will only take a couple minutes to brown

The coconut milk makes this dish so rich and quite un-Japanese, which is great for a rainy day when you’ve had your fill of gas station sushi (the butt of a joke in the states, but a viable dining option in Japan).  The recipe says it serves six. When I make this, I follow the directions for the sauce quantities exactly, along with the beef and soba. I definitely don’t use 8 cups of bok choy, maybe two, and this makes enough for two people. I suppose by eating the equivalent of three servings, it stops being “healthy,” so if this concerns you, make the serving size correctly and add some veggies on the side.

Cooking in the shower – U.F.S.

Unidentified Fish Sandwich

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Maybe you can tell what kind of fish this is…

I am posting this sandwich recipe at Andrew’s request, mostly because he flattered me and said it was one of his favorite sandwiches of all time. With an endorsement like this, you must be dying to know how to make this for yourselves. Luckily, it is ridiculously simple and basically foolproof. Not that you’re a fool, that’s not what I meant, I’m sorry…ugh. *face palm* Way to alienate your audience Shana.

I decided to make fish sandwiches one night, utilizing Japan’s awesome Panko breadcrumbs, and whipped up a quick homemade “remoulade” of sorts. The results were delicious, so without further ado, here’s what you’ll need:

Fish- I would tell you what I used, but I have no idea! (Cue X-files theme) Unless it’s swordfish or salmon, I generally can’t tell what I’m buying at the market here in Japan because I’m illiterate, in Japanese…obviously. If it’s white, free of bones and eyes, that’s what I buy! If you are in the states, you will have many more options. Pretty much any white fish you like will work great. According to Oceana, 33% of the fish sold in the US are mislabeled anyway, so don’t worry about it (The TRUTH is out there)! Since the fish will be breaded and slapped between some French bread, it doesn’t need to be fancy, so grab what’s cheap. Cod, snapper, tilapia, all good. Leave the halibut for a special occasion. On a side note, I never understood why people would come into the seafood restaurant and substitute the cod for halibut in fish and chips. Yeah it sounds good, but pretty much any fish beer-battered and deep-fried sounds good. Way to waste $20 on fish and chips, true story

French bread- whatever manifestation you like best. I would avoid the baguette and stick with something wider and softer. One loaf should serve two to three people. If you want to be all healthy, you could do wheat I guess…

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Panko

Panko- This crust-less breadcrumb is available everywhere, even outside of Japan. Look in the Asian foods area of your grocery, or sometimes even where the standard breadcrumbs are kept

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“Remoulade”

Sandwich fixin’s- I used a little lettuce, red onion, tomato, and a couple pickled jalapeno slices, but feel free to add or subtract as desired. I also added cheese once, yummy, something like white cheddar or pepperjack is good

Egg- one egg, beaten, used for dredging

Mayo-based spread- If you don’t feel like anything fancy, you can just slap some mayonnaise on your bread. I finely chopped a tablespoon of capers and mixed them with a couple tablespoons of mayo, a squeeze of lemon juice and fresh ground pepper. A little hot sauce might not be a bad addition either…

One sauté pan

Put your panko crumbs in a shallow dish and add a little fresh ground pepper and salt. Put the beaten egg in a bowl next to the panko. The closer these dishes are to the stove, the smaller the mess. It is always smart to throw down some paper towels too. Slice your bread and place in the toaster oven, optional to butter the slices first. If you want to use cheese, put some slice on the bread now. I chop all the sandwich fixings first and arrange on a plate. Whip up your remoulade sauce if using and place near the toaster oven.

Heat your sauté pan to med-high with a little oil. One piece at a time, take the fish filets and immerse in the egg to coat. Then place the fish in your panko dish and cover both sides with crumbs. IMG_0949Place your breaded fish directly onto the pan, cooking on both sides for a few minutes until crispy and cooked through.IMG_0952

Use these few minutes while the fish are cooking to turn on the toaster oven and wash a few dishes if possible. A great home cook will always clean as they go. Once your bread is toasted, slather some remoulade on half and arrange your fish. IMG_0954

Garnish with your favorite toppings and enjoy!

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You can serve this sandwich with pretty much anything you like. If you want to keep your cooking to one pot like me, go with a cold salad or coleslaw. This is a super-easy way to bread fish in general, so next time you want fish sticks, keep panko in mind!

Voila!

Voila!

Cooking in the shower – Lettuce Wraps

Even when I wasn’t attempting to diet here in Japan, I made these lettuce wraps for dinner. They are light, delicious, fast, and only need one pot to make! This recipe is an amalgamation of different online sources I found when I Googled “P.F. Chang lettuce wraps.” If you haven’t tried these at P.F. Chang’s, definitely do, but I think you will be pleased with the outcome if you try these at home. Plus they won’t break your budget like P.F. Chang’s will… IMG_0962

What you’ll need:

lettuce leaves: You want something big enough to hold but pliable enough to fold, if that makes sense. Stay away from super-crisp lettuce like iceberg that won’t wrap. Just stay away from iceberg in general… Butter leaf will work, or romaine, whatever is your favorite. Even cabbage is great for this, I prefer the Chinese Nappa. If it’s your main dish, have at least four large wraps per person, six if they are smaller.IMG_0963

1 pound ground chicken: or turkey, or pork. I don’t think ground beef would mix well with the rest of the ingredients. If you want to go vegetarian, use tofu or other preferred meat substitute. I sometimes add tofu to these wraps to make them a little more hearty. If you have a chicken breast that’s lying around, you can cut into small pieces and use that instead of ground meat. One pound will serve four if you have complimentary dishes, otherwise two people can make this their whole meal.

white or yellow onion finely chopped: some recipes say to go with a whole onion, I’m usually happy with half. Use however much you prefer.IMG_1291

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 ½ tbsp ginger, peeled and minced

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

hot sauce of choice: you can go with Tabasco if you like it mild, sambal oelek for an extra bit of garlic, Sriracha for heat, cayenne pepper, chili oil, whatever floats your boat. Or use real chilies (which I don’t have access to in Japan) like serranos, jalapeno, etc. How much to add is also up to you, I do at least 1 tbsp of sambal oelek.

hoisin sauce: I have come to adore this stuff, which I never used extensively before coming to Japan. It just makes light meat like chicken and pork sing! Start with a couple tablespoons and taste to see if it needs more. It really gives the meat a nice color as well when it’s all mixed in

handful of chopped green onions

sesame oil

Heat a non-stick skillet to med-high and add your chicken, breaking up the meat to cook evenly. IMG_0967When chicken begins to look opaque and cooked through, add the white onion. Saute together for a couple minutes to soften the onion. IMG_0969Add the garlic and ginger, mixing to combine. IMG_0970After thirty seconds, add the soy sauce, vinegar, hot sauce, and hoisin as necessary. Lastly, add your green onions and a drizzle of sesame oil for a little extra flavor. IMG_0971

Prep and cook time place this recipe around 15 to 20 minutes. There are also lots of ways to vary this dish if you want to try it again differently, or use up random veggies you have lying around. I add tofu, but sauted mushrooms would be good for umami as well. If you want some extra crunch, try any of these:

water chestnuts  IMG_0974

peanuts

bean sprouts

carrots

bell peppers

zucchini

daikon

jicama

IMG_0965These wraps come with dipping sauce at P.F. Chang’s, and although they taste great on their own, feel free to add any side sauce you enjoy. I usually serve alongside a bottle of sweet chili sauce, but I’m sure a savory peanut sauce, hot Asian mustard or a creamy cilantro dressing would be good too. This is another great “foundation” recipe that can be tweaked in so many delicious ways. IMG_0973

You can even ditch the “wrap” altogether and add some chopped cabbage to the pot (or kimchi if you’re like me) and serve over rice for a whole meal. This is good for larger groups, as you can pre-cook everything up until the hoisin and green onions and store in the fridge. When you’re ready, warm it up and finish it in the skillet. It would probably even be tasty as cold leftovers, I haven’t tried it yet since there are never any leftovers at my house! I don’t even have a picture of actual said lettuce wrap because I ate it too fast, so send me yours after you make this!

 

Cooking in the shower – Rockin’ peach salad

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Peaches, watermelon and cucumber are spruced up with a little fresh basil

As I’ve probably mentioned before, cooking in the summer is a drag. It’s hot and a tiny kitchen with no windows is the worst place you can choose to be, which is why my strategy for summer meals involves a lot of cold items that take minimal amounts of prep, but are still delicious. Utilizing produce that’s in season will “up” your meals on the deliciousness scale, and even with all the different nutrition data out there, whole foods are still generally your best bet.

I am attempting to do Weight Watchers here in Japan (a more in-depth post on that coming soon) and fruit counts for zero points, so every meal of my day is accompanied by some sort of fruit. By dinner time, I try to find a way to use fruit in a savory context, and it just so happens that savory fruit salad is simple to prepare and requires no cooking whatsoever. Since peaches are in season at the moment, I have been eating this delicious peach salad on a regular basis. Here’s what you’ll need:

peaches: I use one peach for two people, so up the quantity as necessary. I keep the skin on, slice around the pit like a mango and slice into strips.

watermelon: seeded and sliced into bite-sized pieces.

cucumber: one cucumber thinly sliced.

basil: I slice my basil using the classic chiffonade method. Stack leaves on top of one another, roll them up like a cigarette and slice in thin ribbons vertically. For this salad I use at least five large basil leaves, adjust to your taste. Mint will work in a pinch, but I prefer the savory quality of basil. Sweet, lime, Thai, any type of basil is fine.

vinegar: I use white wine vinegar because it is what I can find here in Japan, but champagne vinegar, riesling vinegar or any manifestation of a white vinegar will work.

honey: whatever floats your boat, organic or the stuff that comes in that cute bear-shaped bottle.

Take a couple tablespoons of your vinegar and mix with at least a teaspoon of honey. Add more for a sweeter dressing. Whisk until blended. Toss the sliced peaches, basil, cucumber in a bowl and drizzle with the vinegar dressing. If you want to prepare ahead of time, chill the salad in the refrigerator and add dressing at the time of serving. A little fresh ground pepper on top never hurt anyone.

Peach salad with avocado

Peach salad with avocado and radish

Mix and match: This salad is great because the above are the basic building blocks, and almost any fruit you can think to add will be delicious. I added avocado once, plum another time. Adding all this at once might just send your taste buds into a state of nirvana. I’m not sure, you ought to try it and let me know. Thinly sliced apples would add a nice crunch; sliced grapes would lend moisture and pineapple or mango would add sweetness. The possibilities are virtually endless, I would only suggest abstaining from banana. Keep the bananas at breakfast where they belong. For some reason after writing this, the image of a lonely banana sitting in a corner labeled “Breakfast” came to mind, and now I feel very sad…

But seriously, even if you feel bad for the bananas, leave them out. Other savory additions that could be enjoyable include red onion, radish, shallot (good luck finding this in Japan because I sure haven’t), a squeeze of lime juice, and a couple drops of chili oil. So have fun experimenting or take this to a summer potluck and have fun experimenting on others!

Cooking in the shower – Japanese Curry

Something I have discovered that I did not expect from Japanese cuisine is curry. In the states, our Japanese restaurants are limited to sushi, tempura and teriyaki. Never before have I seen a bowl of curry on a menu back home. So imagine my surprise when on my second day in country I was handed a bowl of delicious beef curry. Japanese curry is rich, aromatic, filling, easy to make and inexpensive to cook. Here’s what you will need to serve one person: IMG_0848

Package of Japanese curry base: Japanese curry is not a paste or powder, but comes in the form of blocks. Each block usually has four sections that break apart. When I cook for two I use the whole block, so you may only need to use half. You can buy these in any market or convenience store in Japan, and Asian markets in Western countries should have them too.

Beef: If you want a vegetarian curry, simply omit this. Look for a cheap cut of beef steak that is at least half an inch thick. This isn’t always easy to find in Japan, so my decision to make curry for dinner usually occurs when I see a piece of meat I can use. Andrew once bought me thinly sliced beef on accident, which wasn’t terrible, but nice hearty chunks are a better texture for curry. If you have better access to beef, use any Top Round or Sirloin cut, trimming extra fat as desired. Cut into bite sized cubes.IMG_0849

Potato: In Japan, the common potatoes I see at the market tend to be quite small, which is very frustrating when you want to peel them. If you are using small potatoes for one serving, you only need a couple. If you find the large ones, definitely one will be enough. Peel and chop into bite sized pieces.

Carrot: Japanese carrots are also a little stubby compared to those in the states, but just one will do the trick. Peel and thinly slice. I usually cut the bigger rounds in half again, but it will depend on the width of your carrot.IMG_0851

Onion: White or yellow onion will work, again these tend to be smaller in Japan. For a single serving you need less than half, more if you really like onions.

Rice: I suppose you could eat this curry sans rice, but why would you want to? Rice is what makes this a really filling meal. I use one cup of uncooked rice for two people, so halve that if you want a single serving.

If you make the rice in a rice-cooker, this recipe becomes a one-pot dish. Start the rice first and it will be ready when your curry is done. Heat a large pot on medium and add a neutral oil like vegetable or grapeseed, which I recently found at the market! Chop your onion into small pieces, but not minced. I cook the onion first so that is has a chance to get soft. Sauté for a few minutes or until the onion looks translucent. Add your bite sized beef to the pot to brown for a few minutes. IMG_0853

Once brown all over, add the potato and carrot. Let these all sauté together for a few minutes, stirring occasionally to let the carrots and potatoes soften. IMG_0854

Add water just enough to cover your meat and veggies. You want to boil them so they are soft, but you also want a thick curry, so you don’t want too much liquid. IMG_0857

Bring everything to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer for around ten minutes. I test the potatoes with a fork after ten minutes to see if they are soft. If not, continue to cook a little longer. Then add your block o’ curry. If you are cooking for one, start with half the block.IMG_0856

The liquid will darken but it will seem thin at first. Allow the mixture to continue to cook for a few minutes to thicken. IMG_0858The consistency should be like stew, thicker than soup but not as thick as gravy. If it’s still thinner than you would like, keep adding those curry blocks as needed. Put your rice in a bowl and ladle your curry on top. Itadakimasu IMG_0861

Everything but the kitchen sink

More than likely if you are new to Japan you will have to invest in some kitchen items when you get here. If you come solo chances are (hopefully) that you will score a “furnished” apartment, but since my husband and I came together, this option wasn’t available. We had to furnish our empty kitchen on our lonesome, and I learned a thing or two about Japanese appliances. If you find yourself in this situation, here’s some advice on the basic necessities to purchase for your kitchen.

I’ve lived with some pretty small and crappy kitchens in my time of apartment dwelling, but nothing can top the restrictiveness of my “kitchen” here in Japan. I hesitate to even use the word kitchen, since the area shares its space with the bathroom and the entryway. The sole “prep” area consists of a small spot next to the sink where I must also dry my dishes.

On to the list:  IMG_0825

1. A refrigerator: Depending on your budget and the space in your apartment, the bigger the better. I have a tiny fridge because it was the only one that could fit in the kitchen, and now I regret not just getting a bigger one and putting it in the living room. Bigger is better because it enables you to keep more than two days worth of meals at a time, which limits the amount of times you have to go to the grocery store. Since I have no car and a small fridge, I go to the store almost every day.  The bigger the fridge, you can also store leftovers which means you won’t have to cook new meals every day. But since I don’t have one, all the cooking tips I will be giving you will be for small dishes.

2. Microwave: I don’t have a microwave, mostly because I don’t have anywhere in my kitchen to put it. But if you are blessed with the space, I would recommend one if you intend to eat leftovers or processed food. Since I can’t store any leftovers, I don’t think I will need one. Also fresh food is always cheaper than the prepared packaged stuff.

IMG_0847  3. Stove-top burner: My Japanese kitchen was also not be equipped with a stove or an oven. Actually the only thing that does designate it as a kitchen is the sink and a few cabinets. If you want to cook anything, including hot water for tea, you will need a burner. Having a gas line and being a huge proponent for gas cooking, I opted first for a gas burner. Once hooked up, this sucker is ridiculously powerful and super hot, so be sure to keep it on low even for things you’d cook at high heat. I bought a unit with only one burner, as the double burners were much more expensive, so I spent the first few weeks only being able to cook things one at a time. If you see a reasonable two-burner range, pick it up. But make sure you check with your landlord about which type of gas your apartment uses! If you have natural gas you are in luck, because it is very inexpensive. But if your apartment hates you, like mine does, you may have liquid propane, which is terribly expensive. Not knowing anything about this, I was very discouraged to receive my first gas bill for $133. This was not all cooking-related, the gas is also what heats the hot water. Living with two people who need showers, laundry and dishes washed obviously added to this total. But geez! I was not expecting that. Which brings me to begrudgingly recommend…

4. An electric burner: While never as effecient for cooking as gas, the electric burner can be useful for most basic cooking needs. If you decide to go all electric, I would recommend a unit with two burners, as it will expand your meal options considerably. Also assuming you have the counter-top space for this. The electric burner I purchased has four settings, each a different wattage which I assume roughly translates to low, medium, medium high, and high. I find that like the gas burner, the “high” setting is ridiculously hot. The more options the better, so if you see a burner with more settings opt for that one. I think my single burner was around $30 so it shouldn’t brake your bank. I purchased this at a home goods store, but always check the used goods stores first, this goes for every appliance. They are much better qualilty than any thrift store back home and usually come with a limited warrranty.  IMG_0841

5. Rice cooker: Since we live in Japan, this is a no brainer. Sure, you can cook your rice on the stove, but since we already discussed how precious the limited stove top space is, get a rice cooker. They are great for setting and forgetting, so that you can multi-task in the kitchen. Any used goods store should have a plethora of rice cookers on sale. You will only be cooking small quanities of rice, so small is fine. Some rice cookers have extra functions for steaming food and vegetables, so if you want this and can read the labels, go for it.

IMG_5092  6. Toaster oven: Like I mentioned, Japanese apartments don’t seem to come with ovens. A small toaster oven will be very useful for many reasons. When you go about purchasing a toaster oven, be sure to examine the settings and try to find one that does more than simply toast. The day I bought my toaster oven was also my first day living in Japan, so I was a bit overwhelmed and did not look carefully at the toaster oven we bought. I assumed it was like every toaster oven in the states. Wrong. All it does is toast, with one knob for the timer. The temperature cannot be controlled and it does not have an option for just the top burner for broiling. But there are toaster ovens here that have these options, so make sure you see more than one knob with diffferent temperatures and “bake, broil, and toast” settings. This simple differential will give you heaps more options with your menu, so don’t be cheap if you want to eat anything besides toast.

Most likely  you will be blessed with a furnished kitchen, but just in case you aren’t I hope this is useful!