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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

Appetizer Rex - Easy Japanese Cooking

Bento Love - Easy Japanese Cooking

Donburi Mania - Easy Japanese Cooking

Veggie Haven - Easy Japanese Cooking


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Cookbook Collection:
Kentaro Kobayashi

On this page:

Appetizer Rex - Easy Japanese Cooking

Bento Love - Easy Japanese Cooking

Donburi Mania - Easy Japanese Cooking

Veggie Haven - Easy Japanese Cooking


Bento Love - Easy Japanese Cooking

Cookbook review Bento Love - Easy Japanese Cooking All of my regular readers will know the name Kentaro Kobayashi. I have reviewed another book of his which had its focus on Donburi, an underrated Japanese dish. He has now turned his attention to the evocative bento box.

Most of us would only have encountered a bento box via our TV screens. They are the stylish packages that are found on Japanese railway stations. No self-respecting documentary about the land of Nippon is complete without the western presenter opening his lunch to discover a savoury and attractive array of rice and accompanying dishes. All very exotic and exciting, but on analysis we are talking food on the go, which needs to be delicious and sustaining.

Kentaro has fond memories of the lunch boxes prepared by his mum. As a growing lad he craved flavourful meat. He was sometimes lucky but whatever the contents of his bento box he was always excited by it, and well fed. He has taken the opportunity with Bento Love to indulge his dream of meat-laden lunch to present some fine recipes, but he has also included dishes that would be craved by both vegetarians and those who prefer fish.

This chef has a knack for recipe selection. He has, once again, chosen dishes that will be tempting for the Japanese reader but equally for those of us who are not so familiar with Japanese food. There is nothing here that is bizarre, no ingredient thought delectable only by the Japanese. This is an accessible and delightful twist on a packed lunch which is a million miles away from a boiled egg sandwich and a bag of salt and vinegar crisps (chips).

The first recipe is that for Deluxe Steak Bento with Simmered Shiitake Mushrooms and Sautéed Watercress. That’s no surprise considering Kentaro's love of protein. The Pork Steak Bento with Sautéed Snap Peas and Shimeji Mushrooms is served with Shiba-style Pickles. Use your favourite European mushroom if you can’t find the shimeji variety, but you will likely find all traditional ingredients in your nearest Asian supermarket or online.

Cashew Chicken Stir-fry is a Chinese classic but is included here because this is a book about contemporary Japanese cooking. It’s a dish that works well for the lunch box, as does Japanese-style Chicken and Potato Curry, and there is even Fish and Chips Bento which includes some broccoli and rice balls.

My favourite recipe is Simmered Croquette Bento. This is a dish made from leftovers but I think it’s worth the effort of cooking from scratch especially for lunch. It’s a moist and flavourful dish and real comfort food. It’s hearty and would be welcome as a substantial lunch on a grey winter’s day.

We all need to eat and we should want to eat well. The credit crunch has forced many to consider a packed lunch from home. It’s a great notion and would save you cash but if that aforementioned lunch is unappetizing then you’ll soon be back to a curly, dry sandwich or a pie and a pint at the nearest pub. Consider some Japanese-inspired bento and be the envy of your colleagues. But don’t forget that you can eat all these dishes at home. They work just as well on a plate as in a box.

Bento Love - Easy Japanese Cooking is another Kentaro Kobayashi success. Well-written recipes, stunning photography by Hideo Sawai and great value for money. This volume is to be admired but also used. Hope we have many more books from this chef.

Asian cookbook review: Bento Love - Easy Japanese Cooking
Author: Kentaro Kobayashi
Published by: Vertical, Inc.
Price $14.95US, £10.99
ISBN 978-1-934287-58-3


food and travel reviews Kentaro Kobayashi

Donburi Mania – Easy Japanese Cooking

cookbook reviews Donburi Mania - Easy Japanese Cooking I love Japanese food but seldom have I been offered anything other than tempura and sushi. Now, don’t get me wrong, I could eat both those lovely dishes every day but there is more to Japanese food than raw fish and battered vegetables. There is Donburi!

What exactly is this donburi? It’s all about rice. Doesn’t sound very interesting, does it? Top that rice with meat and/or vegetables and perhaps a few noodles and often egg, cooked or not. Those garnishes complement the rice which is held in such high esteem by the Japanese.

The author, Kentaro Kobayashi, is a young man with both talent and passion. He started his working life as an illustrator but soon displayed his flair for food. His motto has always been “easy yet delicious, stylish yet realistic”. He has featured in magazines and on television where he represented the new generation of cooks who wanted taste and texture in no time.

I am a food writer and researcher and frequent eater, and I had oft encountered recipes for Donburi but it was Toronto (no, not Tokyo) that gave me an opportunity to try these tempting dishes for the first time. I chose a chicken donburi which arrived with a sunny egg yolk nestling on top of vegetables and tender meat. I have been searching for such donburi perfection since then.

At last my menu scanning is over and I have help at hand in the guise of Donburi Mania, which houses between its covers 70 recipes for meals that are quick, delicious and healthy. You’ll have dinner ready in the time it takes to cook rice. You can use last night’s leftovers with some fresh vegetables for crunch. It couldn’t be simpler. No exotic equipment needed and more importantly...no special skills.

It’s been difficult for me to select a few recipes to represent donburi. All of Kentaro’s dishes are appealing and encompass a wide range of ingredients. There is plenty here for a vegetarian and for fish lovers but the author will not expect you to follow his ideas meticulously. Donburi is about casual and modern eating so make a few from this book and then invent your own.

Stewed Pork Donburi makes use of cheaper cuts of meat. This recipe is more time-consuming than others as the meat needs to simmer for an hour or so. You don’t have to sit and watch the pork cooking so it hardly constitutes as slaving over a hot stove. The end result of your foreplanning will be a silky and soft preparation that will become a firm favourite. It’s real comfort food that will have you finding excuses to make it.

Chicken Sukiyaki Donburi reminds me of my first encounter. You can use last night’s leftover Sukiyaki (or cook chicken in a sweet soy sauce) so you’ll have a smart meal in less than 20 minutes. The egg yolk might be alarming for the uninitiated but it forms a creamy coating which is rich and luxurious. Be brave.

Donburi Mania – Easy Japanese Cooking is the most comprehensive book around covering just this unique and flavourful dish. I’ll be eating my way through each of Kentaro Kobayashi’s tempting recipes.

Asian cookbook review: Donburi Mania – Easy Japanese Cooking
Author: Kentaro Kobayashi
Published by: Vertical Inc.
Price: £9.99, $14.95US
ISBN-13: 978-1934287491


food and travel reviews Kentaro Kobayashi

Appetizer Rex – Easy Japanese Cooking

japanese cookbook reiew appetizer rex The author, Kentaro Kobayashi, is a young man with both talent and passion. He started his working life as an illustrator but soon displayed his flair for food. (He gets that from his mum who is an award-winning cookbook author.) His motto has always been “easy yet delicious, stylish yet realistic”. He has featured in magazines and on television where he represents the new generation of cooks. His Veggie Haven has been nominated by the Paris Book Fair and Gourmand as one of 2009’s Best Cookbooks of the Year. Not too shabby!

It’s called Easy Japanese Cooking but that might give the impression that it concerns traditional Japanese fare. I prefer to think of it as Easy Contemporary Japanese Cooking. The Japanese, along with the rest of the world, are becoming more global in their food horizons and Kentaro has no prejudice when it comes to introducing Western ingredients into his larder. Appetizer Rex is a volume that shows the acceptable face of fusion cuisine, and does it in a fun way.

Just think of appetizers or hors d’oeuvres and we conjure thoughts of convivial gatherings. These little dishes are not taxing to prepare but choose the right ones to match your guests, along with their drinks, and success is assured. There are no worries about preparing a balanced meal: appetizers are not meals in themselves, they are little ‘amuse-gueules’ as the French would poetically describe them.

Kentaro offers us his usual mix of lively ingredients combined with thoughtful but simple presentation. There are a few recipes that will be somewhat familiar to Western readers – for example, Nachos, Tomato Salsa, and Tomato and Olive Bruschetta are well loved standards, but my advice would be to consider the lesser-known dishes that will be not only delicious but great conversation pieces.

Wasabi Butter Beef will be a winner with the carnivores. A simple dish to prepare but sliced beef always contrives to look luxurious. Ribs with Green Onions will also help to slake manly appetites. Sunny-side Up Beef is a good way of using up leftover Sunday roast. A striking presentation of sauced meat and an egg  yoke.

Fried Rice Balls would be an exotic alternative to crisps (chips). Serve them with some good flavourful Japanese condiments for a healthier but substantial snack. Two-Way Fritters are ideal for those who must have a fried-food fix. They are an agreeable combination of corn, ham and shrimp. They are said to stay crisp even when cooled so a good choice for a drinks party.

My absolute favourite dish will have my dear reader reeling in horror. Whelks! WHELKS? Yes, and you should try them. Kentaro has a Whelk Sauté which has few ingredients, is simple to make and economic as well. I would perhaps counsel that you slice the shellfish rather than leaving them whole. The whelks found off British coasts are large and, I must admit, unattractive. Don’t tell your guests what they are eating and they will love them.

Easy Japanese Cooking – Appetizer Rex is another winner from Kentaro Kobayashi. He continues to offer dishes that are simple but impressive. Always something unique and stunning. Don’t stop now, Kentaro, I await the next volume.

Asian cookbook review: Appetizer Rex – Easy Japanese Cooking
Author: Kentaro Kobayashi
Published by: Vertical Inc. New York
Price: $14.95 US, £10.99
ISBN 978-1-934287-63-7

food and travel reviews Kentaro Kobayashi

Veggie Haven – Easy Japanese Cooking

Cookbook review Veggie Haven - Easy Japanese Cooking All you regular readers will know how I have waxed lyrical about other books by Kentaro Kobyashi and this one will be no exception. Veggie Haven from the Easy Japanese Cooking series has all the characteristics which helped to make Donburi Mania and Noodle Comfort so appealing.

Kentaro Kobayashi is a young man with a passion for food and not just Japanese food. He started his working life as an illustrator but soon displayed his flair for the culinary arts. His mantra is “easy yet delicious, stylish yet realistic”. He has featured in magazines and has appeared on television where he showed his skill for making delicious food with little effort.

I like this man’s style. Kentaro continues to present us with delightful food with a twist. Veggie Haven has Japanese elements but it isn’t a traditional Japanese cookbook. I suspect this might be the way modern Japanese eat at home: we in the West have embraced Chinese and Indian food, and it’s certain that a Tokyo housewife might similarly enjoy, as Kentaro suggests, a hearty potato gratin or a deliciously-garnished pizza. Take the aforementioned pizza and top it with garlic and anchovies. Use a bought pizza base and you’ll have a classy lunch, light dinner or nibbles with apero in no time at all.

Some liken tofu to a tasteless bath sponge. Consider it a vehicle for robust flavours. Sweet and Spicy Fried Tofu is a simple recipe which offers a tapestry of tang that will convert even a die-hard carnivore. This is the healthy face of fast food.

The cold weather is here in the northern hemisphere so warming dishes are the order of the day. The original Chop Suey is said to have originated in America; Kentaro offers Vegetable Chop Suey. This is a tasty pot of vegetables and the addition of quail eggs helps to elevate this dish to something luxurious.

Veggie Haven is an ideal cookbook for novices who want to try something a bit out of the ordinary. The recipes are clearly written and allow the cook to arrange things in steps. There might be a collection of 3 ingredients for a sauce that can be mixed before cooking starts. Perhaps the thickener can be made in advance. For simplicity these are noted in the ingredient list rather than in the method. No need to be overwhelmed: the dishes are easy.

In the US Japanese ingredients are readily available - America has had a closer relationship with Nippon than has Europe. Here, most larger Asian supermarkets stock Japanese ingredients and there are many internet sites that will be more than happy to supply you with the goods.

Kentaro Kobyashi introduces us to his Veggie Haven. This will be a ‘must read’ not only for Japanese food lovers but for those who want to present vegetables with a difference. This might be described as fusion food but it works for me.

Asian cookbook review: Veggie Haven – Easy Japanese Cooking
Author: Kentaro Kobayashi
Published by: Vertical, Inc
Price: $14.95US, £10.99
ISBN 978-1-934287-62-0

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