I Am... Tokyo Food Guide: Sushi Tokami and what it’s like to eat high end Tokyo sushi

I love sushi, but to be honest, my taste in sushi is, admittedly, pretty pedestrian. It tends to run more casual than fancy and when we're in Tokyo, we've been known to eat depachika (department store)/supermarket sushi and more relaxed sushi places like kaiten (conveyor belt) and small family run places. But, one can only eat so many discounted pieces of tuna nigiri before one starts wondering, what's it like to eat high end Tokyo sushi?

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I Am... Nikujaga: Japanese Beef Stew Recipe and a Staub giveaway

Steph has always had the slowest immune system of anyone I know, so she is still sick. To cheer her up a bit, I sent her this great explanation of why she is currently a toxic piñata. I’m also trying to help her get better through food, starting with this nikujaga - which is a super fast, super delicious Japanese beef stew recipe. Beef stew doesn’t get enough love as a get well soon food, probably because it can be hard to chew, but if you do it right - like in this nikujaga recipe - it’s just as easy and comforting as chicken noodle soup. You need energy to get well, and there is nothing like a nice hearty stew to get your energy up. It also happens one of my most favorite foods in the world, so I can't see a downside. Is this like a cliche “guy gets his wife a gift he secretly wants” kind of deal? Yes, but we both love beef stew, so it’s like a win/win present for both of us. We've also partnered up with Staub to do a giveaway on this post of a 3.5qt heritage braiser, so it’s like a present for one lucky reader too. It's super pretty, I loved using it, and you can probably ask for it in any color you want. It's the last of our three giveaways for this year, so don't forget to enter. A while back, my favorite stew was daube - a provencal beef stew with oranges and wine. I was coming back from a work trip and Steph decided to surprise me with a house smelling of daube and my favorite dinner on the table as I came home from the airport and a 10 hour flight. She’s awesome like that. We were living in a weird part of town at the time with no normal grocery stores nearby - just fancy organic stores selling $5 oranges. She couldn’t drive, so she walked to the expensive grocery store and bought a $5 orange to put in the stew. I loved it - it was the perfect welcome home. I love all beef stews though. Brown food doesn’t get much love in our Instagram world of today, but I think there’s something warming and comforting about tucking into a big bowl of stew that you won’t feel with a delicate matcha and gold-flaked unicorn bagel. Especially in winter. Even when you’re sick. My current favorite is Little Sister in LA - the downtown location if you’re being specific. It’s to die for, and no one talks about it. After Steph gets better, I might have to book a fake work trip so I can come home to her version of Little Sister’s Bo Kho. [caption id="attachment_21986" align="alignnone" width="1450"] takeout from Little Sister DTLA - bo kho, e-fu noodles, and fried rice[/caption]

Nikujaga: the best 20 minute beef stew around

One of the most common and very valid criticisms of stew is that it just takes too long to make. Although personally I don’t know who wouldn’t want their house to smell of slow cooked stew all day long, sometimes you just want to eat when you get home. Lately we’ve been on the instant pot train, but if you don’t have an instant pot, a super fast beef stew that you don’t need special gadgets for is super useful, and that’s what we have here. This stew works in 20 minutes because the beef is thinly sliced so it tenderizes in 20 minutes instead of 4 hours. I’ve made it different in the photos because I’m a terrible blogger and just used whatever we had in the fridge - which in our case was frozen wagyu stew cubes. Wagyu is soft enough that I wasn’t worried about it taking hours to get tender and left it in cube form, but it is correctly made with thinly sliced beef. [caption id="attachment_21923" align="alignnone" width="1450"] Your selection at any tiny Japanese grocery store[/caption] In Japan they sell beef precut into thin slices that works specifically for this recipe. If you’re feeling up to it, the best way to replicate this is to throw a steak in the freezer for a few minutes and then slice it to about a 1/8” thickness, but if you’re feeling lazy - and this is a 20 minute stew recipe after all - stir fry beef probably works just as well. Don’t let the 20 minute cook time fool you, nikujaga has a lot of depth and layers of flavor - first from the classic Japanese trifecta of mirin/sake/soy, then from the dashi or broth, then finally from the meat and vegetables and konnyaku. Actually, if you've ever had a beef bowl from Yoshinoya (preferably the Japanese one, not the California one), you pretty much know what this tastes like, but with veggies and more depth of flavor.

What is konnyaku?

If you’ve never heard of konnyaku before, you’re not alone. I’ve never paid attention to it until the beginning of this year, and now I’m a total convert. It’s awesome - I’ve really come to love its unique texture and subtle flavor. It also comes as a noodle and a lot of people rave about how awesome the noodles are. You should be able to find konnyaku as either a loaf or noodle at any higher end grocery store or asian market, but it’s completely optional and you can replace it with tofu as well for an added health kick. While writing this post I asked Steph what she thought of the nikujaga and (because she had lost her voice and couldn't answer) she gave it two thumbs up! I'm really convinced that beef stew is the new chicken noodle soup, and more to the point, that this 20 minute beef stew is better than any slow simmered 4 hour recipe you’ll find. It’s the perfect thing for anyone who loves stew but doesn’t love the cook time, or is looking for a new twist on beef stew. Giveaway rules: Let us know in the comments what your favorite post on iamafoodblog is and what kind of content you want to see more of in 2018: travel, easy, special diets (vegan, paleo, etc), noodles, something else? Follow us on instagram and leave your IG handle here as well for a bonus entry, and don’t miss our nikon giveaway either! Giveaway ends Dec 23rd, open to US residents. [caption id="attachment_21995" align="alignnone" width="1450"] win me! note: stew not included[/caption]
Nikujaga Japanese Beef Stew Recipe Serves 4
  • 1lb thinly sliced beef
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup sake
  • 1/4 cup soy
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 2 tablespoons sugar 
  • 4 cups dashi or beef/chicken broth
  • 1lb nugget potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4" rounds
  • 1 large carrot, sliced
  • 1 package konnyaku (noodles or cubed, optional)
In a large heavy bottomed pan or dutch oven over high heat, heat your oil and brown your beef. Remove and set aside. Reduce heat to medium, add onions and cook until transparent. Add sake and boil off until the alcohol is gone (about 1-2 minutes), then add your mirin, soy, sugar, and dashi. Reduce to a low simmer.  Add potatoes, carrots, konnyaku, and previously cooked beef to the pan and simmer until potatoes and beef are tender (about 15 minutes).

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I Am... Birthday Choux au Craquelin: Sweet and Smokey Whiskey Lapsang Cookie Cream Puff Recipe

We're in Japan and it's Mike's birthday!! Two very sweet things. Unfortunately I am sick and cannot eat a thing but Mike is being very chill about not eating 24/7 and we're still having a ton of fun. It's one of the things I love best about him. If you look up easy going in the dictionary, I'm sure you'll see a very cute illustration of his face. Mike and I are opposites in so many ways. When I'm sick, I'm essentially a big baby. I'm making a very huge effort right now not to be because we're in Tokyo and it's Mike's birthday month, so I can't really get away with it, but usually, I will lie around like a baby seal, thinking that I'm going to die, and hope for the best.

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I Am... Beginner’s guide to food photography, the best pasta recipe with only 6 ingredients, and a Nikon giveaway

Steph is out sick with the flu to end all flus so I'm picking up the slack with some posts that we've been putting off, starting with this beginner's guide to food photography. When I was first starting out shooting food, I found tons of general tips for how to take great food photos online but what I wanted most (and never found) was a guide that said: “Do you like this photo? Here’s how you make it from beginning to end” - so today that's what I'm going to be doing with this gorgeous shot from Bon Appetit's Pasta with Mushrooms and Prosciutto: [caption id="attachment_21760" align="alignnone" width="725"] Photo credit: Bon Appetit / Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott[/caption] It's important to choose a good recipe to practice with because many dishes will wilt, congeal, or otherwise look unappealing when you’re taking a long time to take photos (I’m looking at you, egg yolks). This pasta is a nice stable dish that will look as good 30 minutes later as it does right out of the pan, because it's glossy, stable, and most of all, pretty. I adapted the recipe fairly heavily to make life simpler on myself and it ended up being a pretty amazing 6 ingredient pasta dish that you definitely need to try. I dropped BA’s ingredient-heavy sauce in favor of emulsifying cream, parmigiano, pancetta fat, and pasta water into a sauce. It came out awesome, and is easily one of the most impressive dishes you could make in 15 minutes. This post is going to be pretty long, so it’s split up into 3 parts. Feel free to jump around or skip: 1. Technical Stuff: Cameras, Lenses, RAW vs JPEG, and Manual Shooting, 2. How to recreate the shot: Lighting, Angles, Food Styling 3. Giveaway: How to get two free awesome Nikon lenses (they fit most mirrorless cameras too)

Part I - technical stuff you need to know for food photography

CAMERAS They say the best camera is the one you have with you - I say the second best camera is the one you already own. There's no real reason to run out and get a new camera just to shoot food. If you did want to however, there are a lot of cameras on the market these days, from mirrorless, to superzooms, to full frame SLRs that all claim to be the best thing since sliced bread, and they’re probably not wrong if you have thousands of dollars. On the more reasonable end of the pricing bin, a good budget DSLR will outperform anything else in its price range both on image quality and professional features. Even if you have thousands of dollars, when you walk into any professional studio, you’ll always see an SLR as the main camera used, and there’s a good reason for that: an SLR is a system that allows you to upgrade your component parts as you outgrow them. [caption id="attachment_21774" align="alignnone" width="1450"] Taken with an iPhone 6[/caption] If you’re on a budget, you definitely don’t need an SLR to get good photos. All of the tips and tricks in this post work with any camera. Photography is about what you know, not your gear. But good gear certainly helps. Takeaway: A DSLR is the best type of camera for food photography. Budget pick: Nikon D3400 Splurge pick: Nikon D500 More money than sense: Nikon D850 LENSES The lens of your camera is the single most important thing on it. Most people start off using the lens that comes with their camera, then look for something with creamy bokeh or something for low light. For food photography, there is pretty much no reason to get a zoom lens. The best pick for a good food lens that won’t blow your budget is a prime normal lens. A normal lens is one that doesn’t distort the image coming in, vs a wide angle or a telephoto. If you have a crop sensor - which is to say if your SLR didn’t cost $2000 or more - this means you’re looking for a 35mm lens, and if you have a full-frame, you need a 50mm lens. [caption id="attachment_21789" align="alignnone" width="1450"] 20mm f/3.5 Nikon D810 - note how flat the rim of the plate looks and how much space there is between the food and plate[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21790" align="alignnone" width="1450"] 50mm f/3.5 Nikon D810[/caption] Generally, lenses are priced based on construction, focus motor, build quality, coatings, and stabilization. For food photography, you don’t need build quality, coatings, or stabilization, so if the lens will never leave the kitchen, there’s very little need to buy a fully weather sealed nano-coated lens with 6 axis stabilization. Takeaway: Buy a prime normal lens that doesn’t break the bank. Budget pick: 50mm 1.8D Splurge pick: 35mm 1.8G DX More money than sense: 50mm 1.4G RAW vs JPEG SLRs have the option to save your photos as RAW or JPEG. While JPEG has a smaller file size and is ready to go right out of the camera, you should really shoot in RAW when you can. RAW files contain the image information your camera sees and can be ‘developed’ in post on your computer. Your camera’s sensor actually sees a wider range of light than your eyes can see (even infrared if the filter is removed), so RAW files contain much more light information than JPEG, and that means you get a lot of headroom to play with. Photo too bright or too dark? White balance is off? You can fix that in post, but only if you shoot RAW. You’ll need something to develop the raw files in however, whether that is photoshop, lightroom, capture one, or something else. [caption id="attachment_21794" align="alignnone" width="1450"] deliberately underexposed RAW shot[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21795" align="alignnone" width="1450"] the same shot, fixed in post[/caption] Takeaway: Shoot in RAW ISO, APERTURE, & SHUTTER SPEED You should shoot in Manual mode. There are a lot of guides on the internet about how to use the manual controls on your camera, so I’m going to skip to the important bits. The exposure of a photography is controlled by 3 elements: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. The idea behind this is that you balance these three items to get a properly exposed image - more ISO, faster shutter speed / smaller aperture, slower shutter speed, that kind of thing. ISO is how sensitive your sensor is. Every sensor has a different min/max ISO, and generally speaking it’s always safe to use something between 100 and 800. The higher you go up, the grainier your photo will be, and that can definitely be an artistic choice. For food photography, I like 500. [caption id="attachment_21803" align="alignnone" width="1450"] ISO100 vs ISO12800[/caption] Shutter speed is how long the camera takes light in for. In food photography, you only need to care about two things when it comes to shutter speed: 1. is it so low your hand shake blurs the photograph? 2. Do you want to capture some falling action? The answer to 1 is to keep it above 100. If you have steady hands, you can go down to 60 or 30, but why risk it? The answer to 2 is to keep it above 1000. [caption id="attachment_21806" align="alignnone" width="1450"] f/2.5[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21807" align="alignnone" width="1450"] f/11[/caption] Aperture is how wide of an opening the lens creates, and is confusingly numbered opposite to size, so f/1.4 is a huge hole and f/16 is a tiny hole. The larger the number though, the more of the image will be in focus. Aperture’s main benefit is to determine how much of your background and foreground is in focus (bokeh) and is mostly an artistic decision, but here is a quick tip: on almost all lenses, the lowest and highest number will usually produce a less sharp image than if you use one or two stops away. For instance, on the Nikon 1.8G lenses, the sharpest image comes from F/2.8, even though the lens goes down to F/1.8. Takeaway: ISO range: 100-800, Shutter speed above 100, aperture: avoid the first and last settings.

Part II - how to take a food photo like Bon Appetit

So now that we have the technical stuff out of the way, what do you need to know to shoot this photo? Good food photos come down to lighting, angles, and food styling. LIGHTING The best lighting for beginning food photography is right next to a window outside of direct sunshine, like a north facing window (or any other direction window when the sun is not shining in directly). Get as close to the window as you can. The farther away from your light source you go, the longer your shadows, and long shadows aren’t always a good thing in food photography. You should also turn off all other sources of light in the house, because conflicting light sources will wreck your white balance, cast multiple shadows, and create odd reflections. [caption id="attachment_21811" align="alignnone" width="1450"] this is what happens when you have conflicting lighting sources[/caption] Takeaway: Turn off all the lights, use natural light from a window, not direct sunlight, get as close to the window as possible. ANGLES In food photography, unless you get really creative there are only three possible angles: overhead, perspective, or side view. Most people gravitate towards overhead because that’s both easiest and you don’t have to worry about having a nice background behind the food. I prefer a more perspective view, because that’s how we see food in real life, but most people will be more impressed with an overhead shot. If you are shooting from perspective or side, the angle your light comes from is very important. Light from in front of your food will be brightest but wash out textures. Light from the side shows texture best. Light from behind will backlight your food. Generally speaking, stick with light from the side when shooting in perspective. [caption id="attachment_21846" align="alignnone" width="1450"] light from front[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21844" align="alignnone" width="1450"] light from side[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21845" align="alignnone" width="1450"] light from behind[/caption] Takeaway: Shoot from overhead, with light from the top or side FOOD STYLING Getting your food looking the way you want it to when you shoot is probably the most difficult part to learn, and whole courses could be developed on the subject. There are no hard and fast rules on getting food to look good, but here are my hard and fast rules:
  1. Food should be glossy if it's supposed to be glossy
  2. Stick to a color palette, don't go nuts
  3. Don't go monochrome either
  4. Garnishes should be either sparing, or extremely generous
  5. Plate your food as a generous portion for one
If you are really serious, consider all elements before you shoot: background, plating, vertical height, side dishes and drinks, cutlery, and linens. All these play a crucial role towards the look and feel of the photo. Also important is how organic or sterile you want the feel to be. My secret trick (that I do just for me) is to eat half of the food before I shoot my hero. [caption id="attachment_21851" align="alignnone" width="1450"] I claim that eating half of the food creates "inspiration"[/caption] Takeaway: Consider backgrounds, plating, cutlery, linens, and color palette. Plate your food for one. WRAPPING IT UP [caption id="attachment_21760" align="alignnone" width="725"] Photo credit: Bon Appetit / Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott[/caption] SO, with all that in mind, let’s analyze the bon appetit photo again. It’s shot from directly overhead, the light seems to come from the top and to the left a little bit, everything is in focus, on marble with a stoneware plate, with fresh thyme on top. Here is my take on it, side by side: Pretty close right? Analyzing what was different is just as important as analysing what wasn't. In my version, I set my white balance a little more neutral (theirs is leaning towards blue). I have less sauce, fewer mushrooms, and more meat because I changed the recipe. Last but not least, I have no freshly ground black pepper on top, and used a yellower and thicker pasta.

Part III - the giveaway

I've been shooting Nikon since before they made DSLRs, my first camera was a Nikon F4 and I've been hooked ever since, and I've hooked Steph into it as well. So it was an obvious choice to partner with Nikon to help new food photographers find their feet. To do this, we're giving away 2 lenses - the 35mm f/1.8G and an amazing 85mm f/3.5G ED VR macro lens - worth $750 if you buy them today on Amazon. Both of these lenses are perfect for any new (or veteran) food photographer and both will fit every Nikon ever made, plus with a pretty cheap converter will fit most mirrorless cameras including Fuji, Olympus, and Sony. [caption id="attachment_21829" align="alignnone" width="1450"] in case you ever wanted to count the grains of pepper on your food[/caption] To enter the giveaway, just link your favorite food photo in the comments and tell me why you love it. Giveaway ends Dec 18th - I can't promise the lenses will make it in time for Christmas but they'll be an excellent addition if someone is getting an SLR for Christmas. Giveaway open to residents of the US. Lenses generously provided by Nikon. -Mike [caption id="attachment_21737" align="alignnone" width="725"] my first real food photo[/caption]
6 ingredient pasta with chanterelles and pancetta Very adapted from Bon Appetit Serves 1-2
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 ounces thinly sliced pancetta (about 5 slices)
  • 1/2 cup chanterelles (or mushroom of choice), torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 3.5oz pappardelle or fettuccine
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup grated parmigiano
Set a large pot of salted water to boil. Heat oil over medium heat in a large saute pan and fry the pancetta until crispy. Remove the pancetta and set aside on a paper towel lined plate. Reserve saute pan and oil. Turn the heat to high and add the mushrooms to the pan. Cook for 10 minutes or until golden brown, then remove and drain. Turn off the heat. Cook pasta for 4 minutes. Add a cup of pasta water to the saute pan and turn heat back to medium. Whisk oil and water mixture together until emulsified (about 1 minute). Using tongs, transfer pasta to saute pan, along with another cup of pasta water, cream, thyme, and parmigiano. Reserve pasta water. Cook until pasta is the desired doneness, adding pasta water as necessary. Add mushrooms and pancetta back to the pasta, season with kosher salt, black pepper, and extra thyme. Notes: You can start making the pasta about 5 minutes after the mushrooms have been started.

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I Am... 10 Holiday party appetizers your friends won’t be able to get enough of

Appy hour – it's the happiest hour around. Give me all the appetizers at holiday parties because I'd rather eat a meal full of many little bites of different dishes then lots of one dish! Here are 10 holiday party appetizers that are 100% friend approved :)

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I Am... Mini Gingerbread Houses

How cute are these tiny gingerbread houses? They totally put me in the holiday mood. There's just something magical about the smell of gingerbread baking. I love opening up all the windows and letting in the cold December air so you get that mix of warm and cold. Somehow the smell of the crisp outside makes warm gingerbread smell even more intensely like the holidays.

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I Am... Peppermint Bark Crepe Cake Recipe and a KitchenAid® Giveaway

If you're looking for a show stopping winter holiday cake, this peppermint bark crepe cake is the way to go. Layers and layers of delicate crepes sandwich lightly sweetened whipped cream with white chocolate and crunchy candy canes. It tastes just like the holidays are supposed to taste!

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I Am... What to Cook in December

December is one of the best months of the year, but let's face it, everyone is crazy busy. Between all of the holiday shopping, parties, and merry making, sometimes all I want is a good cozy, fast meal. So here's the answer to what to cook in December: 11 dishes you can make in a flash without sacrificing flavor. Fast (or mostly hands-off), warm, cozy, and delicious. What more could you want during the busy season?

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I Am... 2017 Holiday Gift Guide

It's officially holiday gift buying season! Get your 2017 gift guides right here for all the people you need to buy for in your life :)

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I Am... Addictive Appetizers: Sausage Cheese Balls Recipe

If you have a holiday party and I'm invited (I hope I'm invited!), I'll be hanging out at the appetizers, just eating away, awkwardly avoiding conversation unless it's about said appetizers. I swear I could live on appetizers (or mini food items) because I love variety. But then again, if I really like something, I can eat a lot of it and mini makes it more fun. Fun like these sausage cheese balls.

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I Am... Egyptian Kosheri Rice Recipe

When I was a kid, I was one of those weird kids that didn't like my food touching other food. It wasn't very hard to avoid because I basically lived on white rice and cereal. Never together though, that would have been my nightmare. Actually, I'm not really into cereals being mixed together – you know, the way some people make up bowls of cereal that are essentially a bunch of different cereals in one bowl? I used to hate that, when my mom mixed up all the little leftover bits of all the boxes of cereal so it could make up a full bowl. Gross! But, I think I've grown out of that particular problem because I like chex mix now. And what's more, I kind of like all different kinds of things mixed together. Things like this incredible carbs on carbs on carbs dish called kosheri.

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I Am... One Bite Mini Lasagna Roll Ups Recipe

I think lasagna might be one of my favorite ever pasta dishes. It might be a hold over from when I was little, but most likely it is just because it is so good. When I was small, my brother was obsessed with lasagna. It might have been because of his love for Garfield, but maybe he, like everyone else in the world, loves baked noodles, sauce, and cheese? I'll have to ask him. Anyway, for that reason alone lasagna really reminds me of childhood and all that is right in the world.

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