Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Drama Review: Yukan Club

Sooo although I hadn’t heard much about this show, what I had heard wasn’t very good.. ^^; I have to admit, I was sort of drawn to check this out by Akanishi... (While I’m not obsessed, I am a bit of a fan XP) I still planned to watch this one casually, as it seemed like one of those shows where you could watch an episode every once in a while. I have to admit, though, that I did become more and more engrossed in the show and by the time I finished it I realized I was actually quite hooked and really enjoying it. If you’re looking for something to watch “casually” (or if you’re obsessed with Jin) this might actually be a pretty good choice.

Ok, plot… well there isn’t really much of one. This show is mostly centered around its characters, a group of six very different high school students that form the “Yukan Club.” Miroku (Akanishi Jin) is sort of your typical “cool” guy; he’s fairly passive about things, a good fighter and he loves his motorcycle. Noriko (Kashii Yu) comes from a rich and proper family and is very formal and traditional, although she can be really severe when it comes to men. Seishiro (Yokoyama Yu) is extremely intelligent, good at martial arts, and is overall quite poised; he is the planner of the group. Karen (Suzuki Emi) is the sexy, girly one who’s looking to marry into a rich family and is a bit on the prissy side. Bido (Taguchi Junnosuke) is the foreign-looking playboy who is feminine and skilled at flirting but tends to be easily frightened and wimpy. Finally is Yuri (Minami), a very tomboyish girl from a rich family who is athletic, obnoxious, and loves to eat. Somehow this motley cast forms a tight team with too much time to spare, and they go on various adventures and solve mysteries to pass that time.

I was pretty unimpressed when I first started watching this. Every episode has its own little plot, and I didn’t find the first episode’s story particularly innovative or entertaining. Parts that were supposed to be funny, such as the scenes with the Headmaster and Principal, I found irritating. I felt like almost everyone was overacting, especially the flashier characters like Bido and Yuri (although I think this was mostly due to character direction). Moreover, I found a few of the characters visually unappealing – Noriko’s haircut is terrible, and while Taguchi isn’t a bad-looking guy, I don’t think the blond hair was helping his case. Overall it just felt like the creators were trying too hard. I wasn’t really surprised by all the negative aspects, though, and I continued just watching and episode every once in a while like I had originally planned. That’s what was kind of nice about this show – you don’t really need to keep up with a continuous plot as every episode is a different little adventure you can enjoy on its own. All you had to do was remember who the characters are, which they kindly remind you of at the show’s opening (although the characters are so out there that it’s really not that difficult to remember them…) I watched other dramas more seriously and this was just a side one that I watched for the heck of it, and it worked just fine.

I have to admit though, about halfway through I started watching this a little more frequently, and ended up watching the last few episodes all in a row. I’m not really sure what got me hooked… I do think the stories get much, much better farther into the show, and I began to find things funny. Mostly, though, I was just starting to really care about the characters as a whole. While Yuri was over-the-top, eventually it became something to smile at and she became one of my favorite characters. Miroku, who was usually so “cool,” had a really soft side and moments where he got very emotional in a comedic manner, which brought some humor into his character that I appreciated. I think the winning factor, though, was the fact that, while it makes no sense that such different people could have such a close friendship, they somehow make it work. You start to see how the friendship holds and it actually becomes believable. After watching some behind-the -scenes and seeing how the actors interacted, I started to see where this chemistry comes from. The final episode has surprisingly serious moments, and the overall friendship theme was pretty endearing. I’m pretty easily entertained and I do have to recognize that I don’t think this is the highest-quality show, but I still ended up liking it a lot.

So there you have it. If you’re a Jin fan, you’ll probably like him in this. If you like very silly situations and crazy characters, you’ll probably enjoy the show. If you’re looking for a really good drama and are hesitating about this, I definitely think there are much better shows out there, but if you like friendship stories and are looking for something to watch at a casual pace, then you might want to take a look.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cooking Adventures: Croquettes (Korokke)

Croquettes are a pretty big part of my culture (as I mention in my post about Belgian foods), and it’s also one of my favorite foods ever. I loooove the way they’re made in Belgium (I always need to have fondue parmesan every time I go), but I also love the way they taste in Japan. The Japanese word for it is “korokke,” and although it’s considered a “cheaper” food there and might generally not be as refined as it is in Belgian restaurants, I love all kinds of croquettes. While I’d seen my mother make them before, I’d never made them myself, so I was a little worried about the process.

I just made these with plain potatoes in them, as that might very well be my favorite kind of croquette. The first step to making these is to make good mashed potatoes. I just peeled some potatoes, started heating them up for a bit in water so that they become just soft enough to cut them into chunks, then I boiled them in salted water (I forgot to salt them at first, and added the salt halfway through and it was still okay, but you can always add a bit of extra salt after boiling them if you need to). A good way to check if they’re soft enough is to poke it with a chopstick – if it goes through, it’s ready to go. Drain it, and start mashing~

I wish I had a potato masher, that would have made things a lot easier, but I got through it just fine with a fork. Normally, if I were making simple mashed potatoes, I would have added milk, but for croquettes, make sure to not put in any milk! Add some butter, and maybe an egg yolk if you like (make sure to save the egg white for later if you do this!) Season it to your liking with black pepper and nutmeg. Make sure the potatoes are tasty on their own accord before moving on to shaping the croquettes. If you have time, it’s nice to be able to chill the potatoes in the refrigerator for a couple of hours so that they’re easier to handle.

Now to set up the assembly line!~

As you can see, I got out some bowls and a plate with different things inside. The first big bowl has the mashed potatoes, the second one has some all-purpose flour, the next one a beaten egg (or just beaten egg whites if you decided to put the yolk into the potatoes), and then the last one has panko (or you can just use bread crumbs).

Make small patties out of the potatoes (I actually made little balls, but you can make any size or shape you want, really); then roll them in the flower, dip them in egg, and cover them in panko before setting them aside. I discovered, due to how messy your hands get, that it’s easier to roll all of your patties in the flour first and leave them there until you’re ready for the next step. Then you can dunk them into the egg one by one and put them in the panko. I would suggest not trying to roll them around after they’re wet from the egg, as it’s harder to keep the patties together. Just let the croquettes sit in the plate and gradually cover them with the panko and reinforce the shape of the patties.

By the way, at this point, if you want to make croquettes in bulk and save some for later, you can freeze them in this state. I haven't tried this myself, but I'm pretty sure you can just deep fry the frozen patties later without any problems.

Anyway, you’ll end up with this! Ready to fry~

The next part was the part I worried about. If you have a deep fryer, then you can simply use that (when I go back to my parent’s house, that’s what I would use). If you don’t, though, you can try making your own home-made deep fryer like I did. I used a very tiny pot and filled it a couple of inches up with oil. I heated up the oil to high, but had to turn down the heat down to medium afterwards – so if you want to just put it to medium from the start, it may take a little longer, but it might be easier to start with. You can put a piece of panko or a drop of water in the oil, and if it fizzles, it’s probably hot enough and you’re ready to start frying.

Due to my tiny pot, I put the croquettes in individually. You might not have to do this, but it was easier for me. Careful not to splash hot oil onto yourself – try using chopsticks to gently lower them into the oil. When I put my first one in, it got really dark, really fast...

The panko ended up slightly burnt – although otherwise it tasted fine – but after that was I turned the heat down a bit, to just above medium or so, and cooked them for longer. I was still surprised by how quickly these cooked! If you freeze them beforehand, I'm sure they'll take longer to cook, but in general just cook them until they're golden brown. Play around with the heat to figure out what works best for you – but be careful, hot oil can definitely be dangerous!

Put the croquettes on some paper towels, dab the oil off and let them cool for a little bit. You should be able to break them open with chopsticks without too much trouble, but I usually use silverware to eat them.
They'll be pretty crunchy on the outside, but not tough, and nice and soft and fluffy on the inside.

And there you have it, a super tasty side dish! I had my croquettes with a piece of salmon and hollandaise sauce (which I'll go over in a different post).

Soooo good! Hope you guys enjoy! ^o^