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Monday, February 14, 2011

Helen Roberts & the Kikkoman Test Kitchen

Helen Roberts
Chef Helen Roberts is the manager of culinary development and public relations at Kikkoman. She works on consumer recipes using the whole range of Kikkoman products from soy sauce to panko bread crumbs to soy milk and beyond. She used to work in product development and was hired because of her amazing ability to taste subtle differences in 16 different soy sauces! At the time she was hired, she had never even tried Japanese food.

Kikkoman kitchen
I recently got to visit Helen and her test kitchen in downtown San Francisco. What a treat! Helen is friendly, enthusiastic and has a great sense of humor, and so it was no surprise to see that her recently renovated test kitchen in San Francisco is cheerful and lively as can be. The kitchen has a big island, two stoves and a large refrigerator. It also has a big flat screen television with cooking shows on all the time and the radio set to "old school." By the way, is there anything better than cooking with Prince playing in the background?

Kikkoman recipes
I had a great time cooking with Helen, whipping up some recipes for Valentine's Day. She was working on a version of a recipe she swears convinced her husband to propose to her. She fills puff pastry shells with a cajun spiced cream sauce (made with soy milk) and shrimp sauteed in butter. Helen made us a snack to nibble on while we cooked and shared tips with me such as use a splash of soy sauce in the water when you blanch vegetables instead of salt.

I made one of Helen's recipes for crab stuffed mushrooms which came out beautifully which is a testament to her skills, because I was so distracted chatting that I did not follow the directions as well as I should have.

Kikkoman office mates
The other recipe I made was from 1984, and it was not created by Helen. It shows how much tastes change. The original recipe for Artichokes with Zesty Blue Cheese Dip called for only one tablespoon of blue cheese! Needless to say, it needed a little more. Ok, a lot more. I've adapted it here if you'd like to try it. Helen's office mates liked it a lot. I think it's a great choice for Valentine's Day, after all, it has plenty of heart.

Note: since this recipe calls for boiling rather than steaming, and I found the artichokes I used cooked very quickly. If you prefer, you can cook the artichokes any way you like.

Artichokes with Zesty Blue Cheese Dip(adapted from the Kikkoman Kitchen)
4 servings


4 medium (about 8 oz. each) artichokes 

1/2 cup mayonnaise 

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mushrooms 

2 Tablespoons minced green onions
6 Tablespoons crumbled blue cheese 

2 teaspoons Kikkoman Less Sodium Soy Sauce 

Grated peel and juice of 1/2 fresh lemon


To prepare artichokes, slice 1 inch off tops; discard. Cut off stems even with base; remove small outer leaves. Trim off sharp leaf tips (about 1/2 inch) with kitchen shears or paring knife or scissors. Rinse artichokes under cold water. (To prevent darkening, rub lemon half on cut edges of artichokes.) Arrange artichokes upright in saucepan. Add water to depth of 2 inches. Bring water to boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, 20 minutes, or until leaves pull out easily.

Meanwhile, combine mayonnaise, mushrooms, green onions, blue cheese, less sodium soy sauce, lemon juice and peel.

Drain artichokes; cool enough to handle. To serve, spoon the blue cheese mixture into a bowl, and serve with the artichokes.