Thursday, October 30, 2014

Soba noodles recipe

Kayleigh here. After our trip to Komatuan in Tokyo, we realized that smothering flavorless gluten free noodles would never be as easy to do again. The buckwheat soba we had there was so wonderfully supple, chewy, and fulfilling that we knew we would have to try making a batch of our own when we got back home. After all, what are the chances that we would find an authentic, 100% buckwheat flour soba restaurant back in Washington (by the way, if you do actually know of one, PLEASE let us know in the comments!)

Before I launch into a recipe, let me say that I am by no means an expert. Soba chefs go through decades of learning just the right consistency for the perfect noodle, the right amount of kneading, resting, and just how thick to cut the noodles to achieve the exact desired tenderness. Creating something so simple that can be appreciated by itself is not something that you can really perfect after 4-5 batches, so take that to heart. We don't claim to be perfect, but we at least were able to make an edible dinner in about an hour's time by the end of our trials!

For our soba, we tried to keep things as faithful as we could, which meant using only buckwheat flour and water to form the dough, and no salt or oil in the pasta water. Serving it immediately, cold, with a small bowl of soy sauce for dipping and slurping is ideal, but serving it hot in a soup or cooked into Yakisoba would also work with this base noodle. We found that keeping them in the fridge for a few days made them quite stiff and dry, so heating them up was the only option for leftovers. They really are best served fresh, but they at least do not seem to stick to each other after being left to sit.

One last note- we used Bouchard Family Farms Buckwheat Flour to form our noodles. After receiving a bag of it from my parents last year, we have been ordering it online straight from the source. It is the finest flour that we have found by far, actually matching the consistency of the standard all-purpose wheat flour. Having said that, using other brands of flour will likely change the ratio of flour to water that you need to use to get the proper consistency. Climate and elevation can affect the dough too, so experiment around a bit and let us know what worked for you!

Soba Noodles Recipe (serves 2)


160 grams Buckwheat Flour
90-95 grams lukewarm Water


1) Using a food scale, measure out the flour and water into a bowl. Stir with a fork (or your hands) until combined. Don't worry if it seems too crumbly at first- just keep working at it.
2) Check the consistency- it should feel soft and pliable, not sticky or wet but not easily crumbled either. You should be able to handle it and shape it without it leaving much residue on your hands. If it is too dry, add water one teaspoon at a time. If it is too wet, add a teaspoon of flour.
3) Once the dough seems good, put it back in the bowl and let it rest for a bit. Take the chance to make a side dish, like roasted vegetables or grilled shrimp. At the very least, let it rest for 15-30 minutes.

4) Take a moment to prep your cooking area. Flour a large cutting board and a rolling pin, and get out whatever kind of knife you feel comfortable cutting long strips with. Then, check the consistency of the rested dough and add flour/water as needed.
5) Put the dough down onto the cutting board, flour both sides liberally, then roll it out very thin with the rolling pin- about the thickness of lasagna noodles. If the dough is floured enough, you should be able to cut it in half and stack it. Then, cut the sheets into 1/8 inch strips- getting them as thin as you can is important.

6) When you are almost finished cutting, put a pot of water on to boil. Also fill a large bowl with cold water and several ice cubes and set aside.
7) Once the water is boiling steadily and the noodles are cut, dump them in and cook for one minute. Pull it off heat immediately afterwards, strain them, then dump the noodles in ice water. Once they have cooled off, enjoy them fresh!

Jason here. I was really excited to try our homemade soba noodles, after experiencing them in Japan. It sounds like a simple process, as there is only two ingredients water and buckwheat flour. I can honestly say, it was difficult to work with. Finding the right consistency is more an art than a science, so I really appreciate the mastery that Japanese Soba chefs have taken their craft. Even after all of our batches, we still didn’t quite get our noodles as thin as we would have liked. 

The taste however, was practically spot on. The noodles have a similar accent taste to buckwheat pancakes. While the pancakes are almost sweet and dessert like, the buckwheat noodle are more pure in nature. I find myself eating about half the bowl completely plain because they taste that good. The other half, I dip just slightly in tamari or gluten free soy sauce. 

Buckwheat noodles are a heavy meal to be sure. A small bowl will easily fill you up, so be careful not to give yourself to large of a helping. Cold noodles is not something I really grew up with, so it’s really a whole new experience for me. It makes me wonder if I would like other noodle dishes cold.

Now if I can only find a way to slurp the noodles without flinging gluten free soy sauce all over our table.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ishoni Yakiniku Review

Jason here. Finally another Bellevue restaurant review. While our family was up visiting we wanted to take them to experience a Yakiniku restaurant. We just so happen to have Ishoni here in Bellevue. It can be hard to spot from the road, but they do have parking available.

If you are interested in Yakiniku restaurants in general, go check out our Yakiniku reviews from Japan.

Ishoni has approximately 6 large tables for guests, which seat six guests comfortably. We definitely recommend you go with a group of 4 or more, so you can make reservations a couple days in advance and get a table for your group. The way ordering works is this: you receive a large menu which lists all of the various items to order. While you could order something just for yourself, it’s much better to have everyone order 1 or 2 items at a time and then split it up amongst the group. This will help you try out the largest variety of the delicious and fresh dishes Ishoni offers.

If you feel like you need soy sauce, I would bring a small packet of gluten free Tamari or Soy sauce with you. Due to the freshly prepared nature of the food, and that you cook it on the grill in front of yourself, most of the items are gluten free. In general though you will have to make sure you order the salt & pepper versions, or make sure to ask your waiter to be sure the sauce versions are gluten free.

Our meal was delicious. We ordered a large variety of items including beef tongue, duck, chicken with butter, mackerel, cuttlefish, and a vegetable combo. My favorite of course was the beef tongue, but cuttlefish came in a surprising second. I had not had cuttlefish before, and found it to taste very similar to other shellfish. The duck was very succulent, so I recommend it as well. In fact, every item we received was fresh, and clearly higher grade. The beef was extremely marbled, the chicken juicy, the vegetables fresh, and on and on.

Not only was our food delicious, but the price was excellent. Considering the quality of the food here, what you pay is a steal. Kayleigh and I hope to make Ishoni a regular spot for us now.

Kayleigh here. We were just ecstatic to find out that there was a Yakiniku restaurant this close to home, after making some lovely memories at ones during out honeymoon. While we really took a risk going here, we found that almost none of the dishes came with any sort of sauce or marinade beyond a simple oils, salt, and pepper. We still made sure to ask about everything we ordered (and found that the starter miso soup was not safe), and were lucky enough to have the entire table willing to stick with gluten free choices. If you end up going with a group that wants to order something unsafe, make sure to designate a gluten free grill and tongs at the table, to avoid cross contamination. I am willing to bet that you can ask for an additional pair of tongs to just use on gluten items, too.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Safe Travels in Japan - Ura no Niwa

Ura no Niwa

Jason here. On our second night out of eating, we spent some time trying to find a particular sushi restaurant. As it turned out, the place must have closed some time before, or we had the wrong address as it was nowhere to be seen. Luckily for us there were a few restaurants nearby. We decided to go for a fancier looking place named, Ura no Niwa in the Ebisu South Bld.

The atmosphere was lovely. We were sat a booth that was shaped like a cylinder with s small section of side cut out. This meant that it felt really secluded, like we were the only ones there on a private date. The lights dim, and the smell of delicious food really set a great honey moon atmosphere.

Our waiter spoke English really well, but be aware that he was the only one there that could.

For my meal, I ordered a hotpot with cabbage, potatoes, carrots, daikon, shrimp, mussels, and a white fish. It usually came with some sauces, but they were not gluten free. Instead they substituted them for a little dish of salt.
The meal was well prepared, but definitely not for me. I was happy for the private booth, as I am sure I looked ridiculous trying to eat giant pieces of cabbage. Cabbage is usually a neutral food for me, but there was quite a lot of it in the meal, that it was a bit bland by the end. I’m sure the sauces would have added the flavor it was missing. The mussels were my favorite part, but again were a bit difficult to get at with just chopsticks.

What really stood out to me was the shrimp. I had never had a raw shrimp before, and as it turns out I am definitely not a fan. I removed the shells still, which I am honestly not certain if you were supposed to or not. It was mushy, and tasted like old fish paste.

You might be surprised to hear, but I was actually really happy we ate here. Trying out a unique dish is what traveling is all about, and this was certainly unique. Most of all I love learning new things about myself, and that day I learned I definitely do not like raw shrimp.

Kayleigh here. Personally, I could find joy in eating a giant bowl of steamed cabbage, so I think I enjoyed the dish more than Jason- yes, it was more than large enough for the two of us to share. And it was our first experience with the 'cook it yourself' mentality, as they brought the pot out over a small burner and we picked from it while it was still hot and freshly cooked. We got to enjoy a very intimate meal in an intimate booth, really making us feel like we were having a fancy dinner just the two of us.