Turning Japanese – Global Wanderings in My Kitchen

I visited Japan a few times years ago, and really loved how they did Sukiyaki, Teppanyaki & Yakitori. I’d travelled there several times with my husband, David, and once on business. I persuaded our Japanese minder for the business trip to drop the fancy hotel restaurants and instead suggested that we head out on a crawl of Kyoto’s Yakitori & Sushi bars. My Australian travelling mates loved it.

Although I love cooking, Japanese is not my specialty at home – David & our daughter, Kat, do most of the Japanese. In fact Sukiyaki became one of David’s signature dishes, along with Gado Gado & Saganaki. He’s relying mostly on memory of Sukiyaki restaurant dishes from his two visits to Japan with a bit of help from the Complete Asian Cookbook.

We loved going to the Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant in Surfer’s Paradise on Queensland’s Gold Coast. And of course in Wollongong, there’s the Fuji Yama Tepan Restaurant, the ever popular Roppongi (bookings essential) and more recently Moon’s in the northern suburb of Woonona.

Kat, has been studying Japanese for about 6 years & acquired a taste for Japanese food, especially Sushi & Sushi Train restaurants. She’s often helped out at the Japanese food stall at her school’s annual Great Fete. 

When not nibbling on Pocky, Kat often snacks on Nori (dried seaweed sheets) and suddenly we find there’s none left for the Sushi

Fortunately David is also a Sushi-maker, with a Sushi mat & all the ingredients – now available from all our local supermarkets – so he teams up with Kat for Sushi-making, for those “bring a plate” functions.

Last year Kat spent a few weeks in Japan on a school excursion, which included a Japanese cooking lesson where they learnt how to make Okonomiyaki – Japanese Pancakes. We are also expecting to host a Japanese exchange student in March 2010 – so we may learn more about Japanese foods.

Recently @mqtodd tweeted about a great blog post on Japanese food : 10 Cool Japanese Foods. My favourite Japanese Food Blog would have to be Shiuoka Gourmet – the cycling gourmet – here’s my fav post – and I really love his Bento Box postings too.

But of course there are now others blogging about Japanese food in the English language : 

I actually only have one Japanese cookery book – plus my copy of the Complete Asian Cookbook does have a reasonable Japanese section. Fortunately I have collected many cuttings from magazines, all now carefully filed in the Japanese section of my Asian folders :

  • Chicken Yakitori
  • Curries – Japan style
  • Donburi
  • Gyoza
  • Hotpot – Japan style
  • Miso Soup
  • Okonomiyaki – Japanese Pancakes
  • Ponzu Chicken
  • Rice based dishes with chicken or vegetarian
  • Salads – Japan style
  • Sukiyaki
  • Sushi & Temaki
  • Soba & Udon Noodles
  • Tempura
  • Teppanyaki
  • Teriyaki Beef, Chicken, Fish, Pork, Prawns  etc etc
  • Tonkatsu

And of course Taste, my fav Australian foodie site, features an extensive Japanese collection

A Tess Mallos Slow Food Easter Weekend – Garithes and Pastitio

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For our family Easter Sunday 2011 Night Dinner I had planned Prosciutto, Basil & Boconncini Bites as starters – to be followed by Tuscan Bean Soup with Crusty Cob Bread from one of our local Thirroul Vietnamese Bakeries.

As mains I settled on Pastitio from Tess Mallos’s Greek Cookbook – which is quite similar to the Rick Stein version used by Almost Bourdain in her recent blog post. This is one of my favourite foodie blogs & I like her foodie pics – a blogger’s beautiful pics. It’s nevertheless probably a little more stylish than the home foodie blogs over at Jamie Oliver’s web page – which have an honesty about them. In fact I think that’s great when you consider Jamie’s Ministry of Food campaign to get folks back to home cooking.

On Sunday nights I usually do Mains & Nan brings along a dessert – this Sunday she also brought along one of our nephews – who was at a loose end with the rest of his family interstate or overseas.

I quickly discovered that the Prosciutto, Basil & Boconncini Bites (from Australian Gourmet Traveller – Feb 2001) were going to be Greek Style with Haloumi when Saffron’s, our local Deli in Thirroul, had already run out of baby Bocconcini. Fortunately I had Haloumi in the fridge. These Bites are so easy – take a strip of prosciutto and place a small piece of Baby Boconcini or Haloumi on it – follow with a basil leaf (our’s are fresh from our garden) – then a quarter of artichoke heart. Roll up and secure with toothpick. I did about a dozen and let them sit in the fridge until later (Pic 3). They can be grilled – but I was going to bake them (on a baking tray lined with baking paper) along with the Pastitio – checking every 3 to 4 minutes and turning a couple of times. They need to be warmed through – but I don’t like them crispy.

Having done the Bites I moved onto the Tuscan Bean Soup – from the Oz Family Circle Magazine – a few years back. Such a shame that one of the older Oz foodie mags, FC,  is no longer available as a monthly mag – but sometimes there are still special winter & Christmas editions.

So I started chopping 2 onions, 1 carrot, 2 celery sticks & 2 zucchini. Heating 2 tablespoons of Olive Oil ( I used less than the 3 specified) and sauteing all the veges, except the zucchini, along with 2 bay leaves from the small bay tree in a pot outside our backdoor, as well as some shakes of dried sage- for about 5 to 10 minutes. Finally throwing in the chopped zucchinis as well as a 400g can of diced Tomatoes along with a drained & rinsed can each of Borlotti Beans & Cannellini Beans (400g each) (Pic 1). Then simmering for about 20-30 minutes. (Pics 2 & 3). Should be served with shaved parmesan.

I then started on the Pastitio from the Tess Mallos legendary Greek Cookbook. I had cheated & done a huge batch of meat sauce a couple of days earlier – reserving some for tonight’s Pastitio. Likewise with the macaroni. So it was fairly easy to assemble the pasta & meat sauce layers – although I had to separate the individual pieces of cooked macaroni that always seem to clump together when you store them in the fridge. Pastitio is similar to Lasagne – however the Bechamel Sauce is a lot lighter – as it doesn’t have the cheese like in Lasagne. With the Bechamel almost done I discovered that I should have added 1/2 cup to the meat sauce before I had topped it with the second of the pasta layers – oops – too late. So I just poured the Bechamel over the pasta – hoping for the best (Pic 2). 

At this point I decided that we really needed a tossed salad – so sweetly asked David would he mind throwing one together – his are usually better than mine anyway. I handed him a couple of fresh basil leaves from our vegie garden. The salad smelled so good (Pic 4), and included black olives from the tree in our front garden which we had home pickled.

We gobbled up the Prosciutto Basil & Haloumi Bites & loved the Tuscan Bean Soup – always a favourite – although as usual it really tasted better the next day – note to self – do this a day or two in advance next time.

Then a longish break before the Pastitio was ready (Pic 5) – you have to leave it for 5-10 minutes before cutting & serving – the same as you do with Quiche & Lasagne. I served it at the table with the tossed salad as my tiny kitchen had filled up with the dishwasher already running – and so I was running out of space to plate up. The Red Wine ? Tatler’s Archie’s Paddock Shiraz (Pic 6) that I had picked up on a recent trip to the Hunter with the nephew’s parents – it really complemented the Pastitio. Seconds of Pastitio were served up & the tossed salad demolished.

Another long break.

Nan had brought along Passionfruit Slice – similar to the version in www.Taste.com.au – but without passionfruit in the top layer. Nan had nearly given up on finding her recipe so we nearly had passionfruit iced cupcakes. Anyway the Passionfruit Slice was so yum – I have never seen it disappear so quickly (Pic 7 – half demolished !) Then a phone call from London from another of Nan’s grandchildren – a wonderful way to finish the evening.

hmm – and everyone just too full to eat the mini Turkish Delight Easter Eggs I had put aside for later on !

Knowledge Capture in the Kitchen Clouds

 

Are you one of those foodies who collects recipes from everywhere ? Magazines ? Family members ? Friends ? Foodie web sites & blogs ?

That’s me. I pile them and then periodically file them, plus cull a few.

In particular I’ve made the effort to collect family favourites for my daughter, Kat, from my Mother (Nan) & my Mother-in-law (Nanna). I gave them each one of those dinky A5 “My Favourite Recipe” folders, which came with preprinted cards to be filled in. Nanna busily typed away on the supplied cards using her trusty older manual typewriter. Luckily so, as Nanna has become very frail, hard of hearing and now lives in another state.  How easy it is to lose family favourites in such circumstances. We also nearly lost Nan before her family favourites were collected – in the end I hand wrote many of them myself, while Nan spent months recovering in hospital from lifesaving cardiovascular surgery.

And my sister-in-law, the Apprentice Chef’s Mother, was stunned to find out that I had some of the treasured family favourites “captured” from Nanna, in a little A5 “My Favourite Recipe” folder. So I was able to photocopy & pass them on. I’ve even put a couple on Facebook to share with the widely scattered family.

Over the years the Apprentice’s Chef’s Mother & I learned that Nanna’s tablespoon equals 2 metric 20ml sized tablespoons & her dessert spoon equals 1 metric 20mil sized tablespoon. So, along the way, we both experienced a few very runny disasters with Nanna’s usually superb Mango Cream Tart due to our adding insufficient gelatine. But we followed the recipe – we wailed. That was before we did some knowledge sharing & jointly figured out how to convert Nanna’s quantities to standard Australian metric’s. Disasters ceased.

With so many foodie web sites and blogs, we are now very blessed with the technology to do knowledge sharing in the kitchen, compared with the old days of laboriously handwriting onto scraps of paper or in exercise books. My daughter, Kat, keeps muttering that my own collection of older handwritten items in their foolscap sized exercise book are at risk of fading away. Dropping hints that the contents need to be transferred to one of our pc’s & maybe even online – perhaps on one of those nice foodie Cloud apps – so helpful. OK – I’ve made a start at Taste.com where you can your create own online recipe book – but I’ve usually been too busy to make much progress. Like Mother like Daughter perhaps ? 

However there is also the nagging question – you could invest a lot of time setting up online repositories of family favourites & other saved for future culinary experiments – but how can you be sure that they won’t disappear without warning – poof ? Especially as Taste.com does seem to have set up a regular recipe deletions initiative – find out more here

Like when my carefully saved SAI Global favourites list, with associated “what’s changed” email updates, underwent a massive bi-section. They changed their business model – after 6 years previously with no changes. Another victim of the Global Financial Crisis in fact. Now my list of favourites was too long for their new model – so they arbitrarily chopped it in two for me – before I could choose which sublists should sit where. Much muttering and hours rearranging online…..

Interestingly a recent New Scientist article, provocatively headlined “Digital Doomsday“,  questioned the limited longevity of electronic media and basically pointed back to keeping paper records as being more likely to resist the vagaries of ageing. Huh ? Heresy ?  “A century or so after a major catastrophe, little of the digital age will remain beyond what’s written on paper…. “Even the worst kind of paper can last more than 100 years,” says Season Tse, who works on paper conservation at the Canadian Conservation Institute. The oldest surviving “book” printed on paper dates from AD 868, he says. It was found in a cave in north-west China in 1907.

Hence you keep hard copies as backups – and the kitchen library grows and grows.