The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen can inspire a lover of TV dinners to cook.

The combination of Japanese and Western ingredients makes every dish an adventure. Tired of Betty Crocker’s meatloaf? Try author Eric Gower’s spicy pot roast with orange and soy.

For readers in Japan, Gower’s book provides fresh ideas for cooking with Japanese classics such as tofu, udon and even umeboshi — pickled, salty plums that can turn a tongue sour.

The book is also fun to thumb through: The still photography is so detailed that you can see the steam rising from a bowl of Curried Apple Pilaf.

Forty-five recipes are divided into eight categories: seafood, salads, tofu, pasta and udon, meat, poultry, potatoes and rice, and vegetable side dishes.

Especially helpful is a section at the end that explains Japanese ingredients and other unusual flavorings. Another bonus: For most entrées, Gower suggests a complementing wine.

A blender is a must for this cookbook. Many of the recipes call for sauces concocted in a mixer, such as Asparagus Pasta with Lemon and Shiso, and Mint-Cilantro Udon. Fresh ingredients, including herbs and fruits, are essential. Gower, for instance, uses only freshly ground black pepper: “Never buy pre-ground pepper,” he says in the book, “it will ruin whatever it touches.”

Published by Kodansha International in Tokyo, the hardback edition is already in Tokyo-area bookstores — in the English section. The publishers said it should also be available on military bases in Japan. The cookbook can be pre-ordered at for $18.90, but delivery is not until October. In Japan, the book sells for 2,900 yen (about $24). For more information, go to: or

Our tasters picked three recipes to prepare and sample:

This is a very colorful dish with the bright green edamame (soybeans) and purple radicchio. With three novice chefs chopping and slicing, it took about 30 to 40 minutes to prepare. The most time-consuming tasks were skinning and mincing the ginger and slicing the vegetables. Most ingredients were available on base, except for the edamame, which are plentiful and easy to spot in Japanese grocery stores. Our four tasters loved this dish. Two heaped their bowls with seconds. The dish was light with a slight hint of mustard and vinegar. We opted for lots of Parmesan cheese. One of the “chefs” was unsure of how much a “splash of soy sauce” was and would have preferred an exact measurement.


3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

3 cups fresh white mushrooms, roughly chopped

1 cup fresh large shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped

Sea salt and fresh coarsely ground black pepper

3 tablespoons garlic, minced

3 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced

1 cup edamame, cooked and shelled

4 cups shredded radicchio

½ pound (225 gr) farfalle (bow-tie pasta)

1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard

Splash of soy sauce

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a large wok or other pot, heat the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter and sauté all the mushrooms, liberally salting and peppering them as they cook, until golden brown. In a small sauté pan, heat up the remaining tablespoon of the butter, sauté the garlic and ginger in it for two minutes, and add to the mushroom mixture. Add the edamame and radicchio and cook for another minute or two.

Set a large pot of water to boil for the farfalle. Cook the pasta until al dente, then drain it and stir it into the mushroom mixture. Toss the mixture and remove the wok from the heat. In a large bowl, whisk together the mustard, soy sauce and vinegar, and dress the pasta with it. Adjust the salt, shave on some Parmesan, and serve in warm bowls.

Serves four hungry people.

This recipe was quick and easy to prepare. We found all the ingredients on base. Two tasters gave the dish thumbs up. One remarked that the chicken had a strong hickory taste. We think it would go well with a green-leaf salad and rice. We opted for skinless chicken breasts, which were still good, but it was more difficult to eye when the chicken was done broiling. The recipe calls for unsalted butter as an option; we substituted with salted butter, which may have made the dish too salty. Stick with the unsalted variety.


4 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 tablespoon maple syrup

2 boneless chicken breasts, skins on, about 1 pound (450 grams)

Fresh coarsely ground black pepper

3 tablespoons shallots, minced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup rice vinegar

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, optional

Turn the broiler on high. Combine 3 tablespoons of the soy sauce and the maple syrup in a bowl and mix. Marinate the breasts in it for a few minutes and pepper them. Broil them, skin side up, in the broiler under maximum heat until they turn deeply golden brown. Turn and broil the other side until nicely browned. Both sides should be crisp and well done, and the middle should be barely cooked through and very juicy.

While they’re broiling, sauté the shallots with the thyme in the warmed olive oil for two or three minutes. If you can collect any of the juices from the breasts that accumulate in the bottom of the broiler pan, pour those into the skillet. Add the vinegar and the remaining tablespoon of soy sauce, raise the heat, and quickly bring to a boil. Simmer about five minutes, until the liquid is reduced by about half — it will be sharp and powerful on the tongue. Adding the butter at this stage will give the sauce a silky, rich texture.

On a cutting board, cut the breasts into bite-sized strips, and arrange them neatly on a warm plate. Spoon the liquid over, taste for salt and give them a final flick of pepper.

Makes two servings.

This dish was a bit time-consuming with slicing and seeding the squash and removing its hard, smooth skin. The rest was easy, though. Our three tasters reported mixed results: one said he liked the seasonings but not the squash taste; another, trying squash for the first time, wasn’t sure whether she liked the squash, either; while the third, who often eats squash, said it was great. The bottom line: if you like the taste of butternut squash, you’ll probably love this dish. But, the seasonings, especially the rice vinegar and juice (we used a mandarin orange) made the squash taste more palatable. We found all ingredients on base, except sea salt. The squash was a bit pricey — about $6 for a medium-sized one.


1 medium butternut squash, about 2 pounds (900 grams)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons shallots, minced

5 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped

Sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

Juice of 1 clementine (a mandarin orange or tangerine can be substituted)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (220 degrees Celsius). Remove the seeds and fibers of the squash, slice off the tough skin, and cut it into bite-sized pieces of various shapes. Put them in a large ceramic oven-safe bowl, add the olive oil, shallots and tarragon, and mix thoroughly. Liberally salt and pepper and mix in the soy sauce. Bake for about 35 minutes or until tender. Remove, gently mix in the vinegar and juice, and taste for salt.

Makes four to five servings.

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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