Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Bubble bubble

Well, I had all sorts of treats planned for Christmas but unfortunately everything went pear-shaped when M caught pnuemonia and ended up in hospital on Christmas morning. 5 days later and a lot of the fresh ingredients sitting in my fridge were no longer looking their best, and my already-stretched budget for this month couldn't cope with starting again from scratch. Ah well, at least our baby is smiling again! It does mean that the gingerbread dough ended up in the bin and so that project will have to wait until next year, and that the mushroom extravaganza I had planned was foiled by MIL sticking them in a nabe. K's lobster was also relegated to the freezer, much to his disappointment (but believe me, that was the better option as his mother had offered to cook it for him!). So over the remainer of the New Year break I plan to make a few Christmassy treats, starting with the muffins that I was supposed to have thrown together on Christmas morning (instead of sitting in a hospital waiting room). I decided to make these for breakfast this morning and was disappointed to find that I only had enought flour to make up half a batch - just as well, considering as I was the only one eating them (M crawled under the chair hoovering up any crumbs):

Cranberry and Mikan Muffins

200g plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
75g demerara sugar (I used the golden sugar available, and it really wasn't tasty enough), plus 2 teaspoons
1 mikan (mandarin orange, mine was from my FIL's tree in Ehime!)
some milk
60g unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
100g dried cranberries
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat the oven to 250c. Combine the powder ingredients in a bowl, except for the 2 teaspoons of sugar. Squeeze the mikan into a measure and top up to 150ml with milk. Add the butter and egg and mix well. Pour into the dry ingredients and loosley combine, then fold in the cranberries. Spoon into muffin cases (this makes 12), then combine the remaining sugar and cinnamon and sprinle over the topps. Put them in the oven and reduce the temperature to 200c, baking for about 20 minutes. Best served warm and spread with unsalted butter, by the plateful!

I'll probably make these again for breakfast tomorrow, to go with some freshly brewed coffee made with K's brand spanking new siphon coffee maker (a present his ever-thoughtful wife)! He fancies himself as a coffee gourmet (ha! he reuses coffee grounds!) and saw one of these being used during his beloved 'Kamen Rider' show, so will probably swan around wearing traditional jimbei in homage to Tendo Souji...

I've never seen one of these outside Japan, and so figured that it would be a great, fuctional souvenir to bring back to the UK one day. And as well as looking extremely cool, it really does make very good coffee. We had a play with it this evening, it took us about 15 minutes to make the first cup simply because K (being a man) refused to read the instructions properly. It will be much quicker tomorrow because I will make it myself.

Happy Moo Year!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Oh sugar

Lapsing already! I know, it's just like me. But actually, I've had the lurgy and then M (who's still got it - no sleep for the last 2 nights), and now it looks as though J is going down with it, too. Of course, K will have it over Christmas (I think he's already booked it)! As a result, this week's eating has been very basic, nothing much to write home about... until today when I was obliged to get baking again for a party this evening! Unfortunately, Cinders didn't get to go to the ball as she had to stay at home nursing poorly children.

I'd promised 2 sweets, so I had a good old nose through Nigella's books and plumped for her Snow-topped Spice Cake (How to be a Domestic Goddess) and the Chocolate Chestnut Cake (Feast):

You can also see here that I decorated my 3D cookie, reluctantly helped by the boys - it's hard to let them 'help' when you want it to look pretty!

Snow-topped Spice Cake

4 large eggs, separated, plus 2 extra large egg whites
125ml vegetable oil
125ml water
2 tablespoon runny honey
200g dark muscavado sugar (I used kurozato)
75g ground almonds
150g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon all-spice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (couldn't get any)
zest of 1/2 an orange
100g caster sugar

Whisk the yolks and oil together and add all the other ingredients apart from the egg whites and caster sugar. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks then gradually add the caster sugar. Fold this into the cake mixture, then pour into a tin. Nigella uses a Bundt tin, but I just used a 10 inch round. Bake at 180c for about 45 minutes until springy and shrinking from the edges. Allow to cool in the tin for 25 minutes before turning out.

The snow-topping is just royal icing (very festive), and I only iced the top minimize the cries of 'amai' (sweet!).

Chocolate Chestnut Cake

225g good dark chocolate (I used Meji 'Black')
6 egg whites
pinch of salt
125g unsalted butter, softened
435g can unsweetened chestnut puree
2 tablespoons of rum
65g caster sugar
whipping cream
marrons glaces

Melt the chocolate and leave to cool slightly. Whisk the egg whites with the salt until firm. In another bowl beat the butter and chestnut puree together, then beat in the rum. Fold in the chocolate, then the sugar. Stir in a dollop of the egg whites and beat well before gently folding in the remainder of the egg whites. Pour into a tin (again, I used the 10 inch round - Nigella used a beautiful fancy tin for hers) and bake at 180c for 40-50 minutes. Cool in the tin before turning out to decorate.

Whip the cream and pipe over the cake as you like, studding with pieces of marrons glaces.

Confession time. When I took this cake out of the oven I was feeling very smug and goddess-like, until I noticed the caster sugar still sitting on the counter! Too late to panic and start all over again, I decided that, as the chocolate wasn't particularly bitter, I could probably get away with this by sweetening the cream (which is how the japanese prefer it anyway). And it was absolutely fine, in fact it was more than fine, it was very, very gorgeous (and there's none left for tomorrow). Ah well, I could only get a huge can of chestnut puree, so I might just have to make it again... The Spice Cake was a hit, too. A great alternative to the traditional fruit cake, if you don't like the fruit (i.e. K). Would be good without the icing, or hot with a dollop of cream.

Better go and give K a hand, M's screaming again. Need sleep...

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Show offs

I was woken up at 6.15am by W laughing and playing in his bedroom, so I knew we were in for a busy day! He'd gone to bed feeling so poorly, but made a miraculous recovery in his sleep and is now completely back to normal - how do children do that? So we were out the door by 7.50am on our way to W's kindergarten for their annual show, which I have say was abslutely brilliant! It was quite a lengthy programme, and as it's only a small school all the children had big roles to play. W had done very well at keeping most of it as a surprise, and as parents weren't asked to make costumes or props, we barely had a clue as to what lay in store. The show kicked off with the 'orchestra' giving us a rendition of 'Ito maki maki' (Wind the bobbin up), complete with harmonies - most impressive.

W is playing a harmonica, a small keyboard with a hose attached that you blow into to make a sound. Next he performed a Japanese dance, which was something to do with putting out fires - what ever it was, they all looked very, very serious

until they got to the part where they had to levitate...

There was tons of singing and dancing, the teachers did skits and even parents and siblings got dragged onto the stage - great fun. My favourite part was the takoyaki power ranger scene, which was unbelieveably cute:

The staff must have worked really hard to make all the costumes and scenery, I hope they get a bonus for their eforts. And it's just as well W was better in time, as they announced at the end that they could all have the day off school on Monday - no last minute Christmas shopping for me then!

In the afternoon it was Kid's Club, and the children decorated the biscuits we'd made yesterday. What a mess! So glad that this event did not take place at our house. The boys made some beautiful stars but unfortunately, in the short time it took me to put M to bed, they ate them - before I could take a photo! But, hehe, I managed to sneak home a spare star for myself to decorate, so I'll make sure I take a photo before anyone finds it...

W has generously shared his germs with me and so I am now feeling pretty rotten. I really didn't feel like cooking, so we took the boys to McDonalds for dinner (their Happy Set of choice is Petit Pancakes with grape Fanta) and noodles for K and myself. M is now very adept at slurping up noodles japanese style - my camera died on me as I tried to capture a shot for you, but I know that she'll be only too pleased to do a repeat performance.

Until next time!

Friday, 19 December 2008

More mushrooms

Oh dear, we have a poorly boy in the house. And I don't mean K playing up a cold, it's W and he's feeling quite miserable. He got sent home from kindergarten yesterday and woke up this morning in a very sorry state. He's trying his hardest to get better, as it's his happyoukai (show) tomorrow and he's been practicing for weeks. Mind you, I gave him some ibuprofen at 6am, and by the time the doctor saw him at 9am he was doing cartwheels around the waiting room (really, he was)! Perhaps if I do the same again tomorrow, he'll get through the performance... Anyway, it's not influenza, we're told. Phew, a cold I can cope with.

Late this morning, W and M were both taking a nap and so I got on with some baking for tomorrow's Kid's Club. They're going to be decorating 3D cookies - I have a feeling that this might be slightly more stressful than fun. I've baked batches of stars, and in theory they should look great. However, they are rather delicate, and I suspect that they could fall apart at the hands of over-excited children. I've made a fair few extra, just in case, and I know that any broken cookies will not go to waste! Whilst they were in the oven I decided to try to get to the bottom the comments mystery, and I've now managed to sort it so that any of you, not just other bloggers, can let me know what you think - hurrah! Please be reasonably kind.

On to dinner. I'd decided to treat K to shabu-shabu (a kind of hot pot cooked at the table), and he went off very happily yesterday evening to buy all that was needed. He saw the price of the meat. He decided that we would have vegetarian shabu-shabu! Hahaha, I couldn't believe my ears - it's the first time in 10 years of marriage that he has suggested a meat-free meal. And he enjoyed it! Whenever I hear the name 'shabu-shabu' I'm reminded of an advert for a sauce, where huge cows huddled round a pot swishing thinly sliced meat around in the stock - it always seemed a bit odd to me that cows would be excited about eating beef... Anyway, we had extra tofu and some of those eringi mushrooms again.

Shabu-shabu - serves 4

400g beef sirloin, sliced very, very thin (I used sliced eringi mushrooms instead)
2 blocks momen (firm) tofu
2 naganegi (japanese leeks)
4 large leaves of hakusai (chinese cabbage)
udon noodles (cooked)
6 cups of dashi (stock) (I used kombu and added a splash of soy sauce and mirin)

Dipping sauce:

4 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
6 tablespoons dashi

Cut the tofu and cabbage into bite-sized pieces and thickly slice the naganegi on the diagonal. Arrange the meat, tofu and vegetables on a plate. Mix the ingredients for the dipping sauce together and pour into small bowls, one for each person. Put the dashi in a pan, place on the table burner and bring to a simmer. Drop the various prepared foods into the stock for a few minutes (the meat will only require a quick swish!) and then dip in the sauce before eating.

Yep, I forgot about the mushrooms until after I'd taken the photo!

It's getting cold now, so I'm going to go and jump in the bath to warm up whilst all is quiet. I'll let you know how we get on with the cookies tomorrow.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


I wasn't going to post today as I am really, really tired, but I sat down in front of the laptop and, well, here I am. Won't be a long one, though - my bed is calling me...

Today was 'Mama & Me', with 7 mums and their little ones attending. It was fun - we sang songs, had a story time, played pass the parcel, baked and ate! All this in spite of M kicking off even before the first guest had even arrived, and remaining inconsolable until she was sat in her highchair to munch on Frosties (much to the horror for the japanese mums - sugar, at her age?). I demonstrated a recipe I used to do in my former life as a Pampered Chef consultant, always a massive hit at this time of year and one of my favourites, the Festive Ring. It's really easy to make (once you know how) and looks impressive, but it's not the easiest of things to explain. Here goes:

Festive Ring

1 jar of mincemeat (customise this as you like with some extra chopped nuts or brandy - I used the mincemeat that I made the other day)
200g soft cheese
55g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange
1 pack of puff pastry

Combine the soft cheese, sugar, egg yolk, zest and vanilla in a bowl. Cut the pastry into long triangles (the pastry sheets I used were quite small so I just cut them in half diagonally) and arrange on a tray in the shape of a sun, with the bottom ends overlapping:

Spread the cheese mixture over the pastry in a ring shape, then top with the mincemeat. Lifting from the point, fold the pastry over the mixture and tuck underneat. Do this all the way round. Brush the pastry with egg white or milk before baking for about 25 minutes at 190c. If you're serving this cold, you can fill the middle of the ring with fruit and nuts for a fab centrepiece. It does taste at it's best when served warm, though.

I had terrible trouble with my oven while baking this, having raised the temerature to 200c and it still being uncooked after 40 minutes! By the time the pastry was cooked through, the fruit had started to catch, grrrrr. But regardless, it tasted just fantastic! The raspberries in my mix worked so well with the orange, and the creamy mixture underneath was just mmmmmmmmmmm. Without exception, all the mums took the recipe and will be making it for their familes over the holiday.

Right, I really have to sleep. M please, please, please sleep 'til the morning!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008


I had a productive morning today, merrily baking tree ornaments to give to the mums coming to 'Mama & Me' tomorrow - see, I'm starting to feel festive! I remember a few years ago seeing a recipe in a magazine for stained glass biscuits and thought, 'How hard can they be?'. I adapted Nigella's tree ornament recipe (as per usual, not all the ingredients were available) so here's my version:

Stained Glass Tree Ornaments

100g butter
100g dark muscavado sugar (I used kuro zato)
300g flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt (I replaced the salt and pepper with my Chipotle and Lemon Sea Salt)
1 teaspoon black pepper (apparently, to stop the kids from pinching them off the tree)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
2 eggs
4 tablespoons runny honey
hard boiled sweets

Divide the sweets by colour, then smash them with a pestal and mortar (be warned, it flies everywhere - if you wear glasses, use them!).Cream the butter and sugar together, and mix the eggs with the honey. Add the flour, baking powder and spices to the butter and sugar, and add as much of the egg mixture as needed Roll the dough out and cut whatever shapes you fancy. Place onto a piece of baking paper and then cut out a shape or hole in the middle of each one. Put a teaspoon of the smashed sweets in each hole. Using a chopstick, make a hole at the top of each biscuit to thread the ribbon through. Bake at 180c for about 20 minutes. When they come out of the oven, you'll need to stick the chopstick in the hole again to make it a bit bigger. Let them cool enough for the melted sweets to set, the remove to a rack. It's up to you as to whether you decorate them or not, personally I like the rustic look of them just as they are (and of course, it's less work!).

They tasted pretty good. M thought so, too. She appreciated the chilli.

Did you think I'd forgotten about the chutney? Actually, I had some for dinner with some pan-fried tofu - very, very nice! It's quite strong in flavour and probably won't suit everyone, but I am going to have to make another batch just for me!

Persimmon Chutney

6 persimmon, peeled, stoned and chopped
2 lemons, halved and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups brown sugar (I used kuro zato)
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground corriander
1 stick of cinnamon
1/4 star anise
2 cloves

Put all the ingedients into a large pan and simmer for about an hour. Done!

Actually, although it's very simple to cook, it took me ages to prepare the persimmon. And as I'm typing this up I've realised that I'd bought some sultanas to go in this to... oh well, it's good enough without! By the way, the 'green raisins' I used in the apple relish turned out not to be sultanas - I managed to find the real thing on the other side of the stand (and at a fraction of the price) in Kaldi.

Right, I've got to go and wrap a present for 'Pass the Parcel'. Tomorrow's party is going to be 'birthday style', to remind them Christmas is actually a celebration of a very special birth!

Monday, 15 December 2008

I don't eat slime!

I'm writing this whilst my persimmon chutney is simmering away on the burner - smells amazing! - but I'll tell you all about that later. First I have to tell you about tonight's disastrous dinner. I'd been looking forward to our curry night last night however realised, just as I was about to get cooking, that I'd forgotten to buy the yogurt. So it got postponed to this evening, and by the time K got in from taking J to the dentist I was already drooling. This was to be a remake of a mushroom curry I made very recently (last week?), which was soooo tasty that K had actually requested that I make it again. (He doesn't need to know that it is also very low in the calory department - shhhh!)

Last time I used shimeiji, eringi (King Trumpet) and shiitake mushrooms. We fought over the lovely eringi, so I used double the amount today. And I picked up a pack of mushrooms I've never cooked with before, kabu nametake, which look rather like small shimeiji, only golden in colour. So, as soon as K walked in through the door I set to work. Uh oh, the nametake feel a little strange... kind of tacky, sticky. I have a bad feeling about this. Not that they've gone off, but that they are going to turn into a Japanese slime horror (of the likes of yamaimo, natto, okura, etc). I throw them in the pan anyway, but within minutes I can see how it's going to end - with me not eating. I just can't stand slimey food! Even watching someone else eat something that I know to be slimey makes me feel quite queasey. K however is not fazed by slime in the least. He is pleased, nay thrilled, that he will get all of the lovely mushrooms to himself. And that he will be having the same for lunch tomorrow. I did try to eat some of the curry, actually. I tried to do the 'mind over matter' thing and tell myself that they were just delicious mushrooms. No good. Marmite on toast for me instead.

Mushroom Curry (serves 2)

2 medium onions, sliced
300g mixed mushrooms, sliced thickly or halved
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 teaspoons med. curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 tablespoons tomato puree
4 tablespoons plain yogurt

Fry the onions until soft and brown, add the rest of the ingredients and heat gently until simmering. Put the lid on and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the sauce reduces and thickens slightly. Season and serve.

To add insult to injury, this was supposed to be my main meal and a side dish for K to accompany his cumin-spiced chicken, so he really got to feast.

Cumin-spiced Chicken (serves 1)

1/2 onion, sliced
1 skinless chicken breast, cut into cubes
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 med. green pepper, de-seeded and chopped (I didn't use as K's not keen on things too spicey)
150ml chicken stock
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon yogurt

Fry the onion until soft, then add the chicken and brown all over. Add all the other ingredients, except the lemon juice and yogurt, and bring to a simmer. Put the lid on and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to cook for a few minutes, until the sauce is slightly reduced and thickened. Stir in the lemon juice and yogurt, season and serve.

Well, the chutney must be ready by now, so I'd better get bottling. It's getting late, so I'm afraid I'm going to have to leave it here and post about the chutney tomorrow. I have to say, it looks good, but now for the tasting...

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Excellent exchange rate

We're being plied with apples (which are humongous!)and kaki (persimmon/sharon fruit) at the moment. At this time of year these fruits become almost a local currency, being traded for good deeds and favours! I am of course very thankful for them, and we've been enjoying them simply peeled and sliced as well as in crumbles and muffins. I've been trying to eat one a day (especially the kaki, as they are packed with vitamin C), but also, not wanting to let any go to waste, have been looking into more interesting ways to cook with them. My solution is... chutneys! I love browsing through Nigella's pages, and a few years ago was inspired to make a whole load of bottled goodies as Christmas presents, so I thought I'd make good use of the local produce and get chopping. What a lovely way to spend an afternoon!

I started off with the apples, and went along with a recipe for Minty Apple Relish, gleaned from GHK (again). Well, that's how it started out anyway...

6 Cox's apples (or 3 'japanese' apples - I have absolutely no idea what variety they were), about 900g, peeled, cored and chopped
1 red onion (darn it, I'd seen some in Marunaka last week but they'd sold out yesterday, so I just used an ordinary onion), finely chopped
75g sultanas (I bought something that looked vaguely like them from Kaldi, Mama's Kitchen green raisins!)
200ml cider vinegar
125g light brown soft sugar (again, used the golden sugar that was available - must try and source some proper brown sugars!)
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

Put the apples, onion, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 100ml of the vinegar and 50ml of water in a pan and cook gently until the apple and onion is soft and most of the liquid has evaporated (about 15 minutes). Add sugar, spices and remaining vinegar and simmer for about 20 minutes more before stirring in the mint and spooning into sterilised jars. I managed to find some pretty jars at the 100 yen shop - what a treasure-trove!

Actually, I decided to leave the mint out in the end. It really was tasty enough, and as this will make presents for some Japanese friends, I didn't think the mint would suit their tastebuds. And I didn't have any wax discs to top them with, so I just sealed them as they were. They should keep for a month or so before opening.

When it came to making the kaki chutney, I found an extra bag of them lurking at the bottom of the fridge and so decided to pick up extra ingredients tomorrow to make a bigger batch (need more jars, too). Instead, I spent the remainder of the afternoon helping J and W design the gingerbread house we are going to attempt to make starting next weekend. They are so excited about this little project (actually, about the prospect of picking the sweets of the finished item!), especially having seen one for the first time at church today.
Ahh, it this kind of cooking that makes me feel like a 'proper' housewife - Anthea would be proud of me (as long as she doesn't bring her white glove with her).

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Let the festivities commence!

I was feeling very smug. I thought I'd managed to find proper mixed dried fruit (complete with dried peel) and bought a kilo bag, salivating at the thought of mince pies and christmas pudding. I spent two whole evenings going through my cookbooks and magazines, waiting for the 'try me! recipes to cry out to me. And the I read the ingredients - raisins, sultanas, cranberries, papaya and pineapple! Not quite what I'd hoped for, but if I tweak the recipes here and there I'm sure I'll get away with it...

I started the day off today by making some mincemeat for the 'Mama & Me' cooking class next Wednesday. I'd seen mincemeat on sale in Kaldi, but at 680 yen a jar I thought I'd be better off making my own (although I may well cave in and treat myself to a jar - it is Robinsons! - before the week is out). My GHK magazine featured a fruity, suet-free, no-cook recipe using raspberries - yum! It only took a few minutes to make, and the flavours should infuse nicely over the next few days.

150g mixed dried fruit
Grated zest of 1 orange
3 tablespoons orange juice or Cointreau
50g light soft brown muscavado sugar (couldn't get this, so used golden caster sugar)
1/2 teaspoon ground mixed spice (again couldn't get this, so used all spice and a tough of ginger)
25g flaked almonds
100g frozen raspberries, thawed
1 dessert apple, finely chopped or grated

Put the dried fruit in a bowl with the orange zest and juice and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Done!

Later in the morning we headed off to do a bit of Christmas shopping, followed by lunch at the nearby shopping centre. Bought some lights to put outside (they were such a bargain and look fab!) as well as some baubles for the tree, and then went for some noodles. Kagawa is well known for 'udon' - thick, white noodles which can be served in a wide variety of ways.

I chose hot shouyu udon, served without soup and topped with grated daikon raddish, finely sliced spring onions, and drizzled with soy sauce (105 yen/70p - I'm a cheap date). I love this and can rarely bring myself to try anything else. I add sesame and a pinch of fresh, grated ginger. I also chose a couple of pieces of tempura (kaki age, which is a mix of grated vegetables such as pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot and onion).

When we got home I was determined that we would get the tree up, otherwise we might just miss Christmas. So out came the CD of carols and, hurrah, we now have a festive corner in the house! We've been getting lots of parcels from home, so they now have a home at the foot of the tree (which is even bearing proper Cadbury's chocolate decorations, thanks to my dear friend back home in the UK!). We've had to put it up in the tatami room so that M doesn't get hold of things - at least for this year she hasn't yet worked out how to open the sliding doors... Judging from the amount of mess she is able to create when left unsupervised with a single tissue, she'd have a field day in there.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Walking off the pounds

I was so excited about starting this blog yesterday that I kept checking back to see if people were visiting, and to read the lovely comments. Not sure when (or if) the thrill will wear off, but I've already had my notebook out planning what creations I can share with you here on in.

I had a fab day today. I got to spend time with a friend and her little one over in the next town. Her youngest is sooo cute, and he and M got on all morning without a single squabble. I took the children for a walk in said friend's tandem pushchair and an elderly lady mistook me for her. When she realised that I wasn't who she thought I was, she blurted out, 'Oh yeah, the other lady is slim!'. I pointed out that she is also taller and very blonde. I guess we all look the same to Japanese baachans!

I knew today would be a busy one, so I got ahead of myself and prepared dinner last night. And I'm sure it tasted better thanks to this. Again, nothing fancy, just a pasta bake - but much, much tastier than the kind you pour out of a jar (well actually, there is a bit of a jar sneaked in here as a cheat, but next time I'll leave it out and play around with some herbs instead):

1 small onion, chopped
250g minced beef
1 green pepper (japanese peppers are small!)
1/2 tin chopped tomatoes
1 pack of mushrooms, sliced or broken into chunks (I used shimeiji, K's favourite)
250g jar of your favourite pasta sauce (I used MaMa Pasta Navi's Napolitan, the imported sauces were extortionately dear)
250g macaroni pasta
1 1/2 cups cheese, grated

Cook the pasta as per the packet instructions. Meanwhile fry the onion in a little oil, then crumble in the beef and cook until it browns. Add the pepper, tomatoes, mushrooms, and sauce then allow to simmer for a short while. Stir in the cooked pasta and a cup of the cheese before transferring to an ovenproof dish and sprinkling with the rest of the cheese. If baking straight away it'll only need about 20 minutes at 190c. If you're preparing this ahead of time to reheat later, give it an extra 10 minutes.

Even W ate this with gusto. Hurrah, he ate green pepper and mushrooms (just don't tell him)!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Back to basics

Welcome to my kitchen! As you can see, it's somewhat bijoux. But, apparently, it's huge by Japanese standards, and really it was this kitchen that made me want to live in this house (we'd looked around some dreadful holes). Have a good look - you can see the 3-ring burner with a tiny grill underneath, the enormous sink (big enough to bath a baby, if only it had a plug), the trap-door storage in the floor... I have an all-singing, all-dancing oven, which is notoriously unreliable when it comes to baking, a rice cooker, and a diddy little dishwasher (yay!). What I haven't yet got is a good set of pans, a food processor or my trusty Kenwood mixer! Not that I'd have anywhere to put them...

I brought my favourite cook books with me to Japan, however I am finding that the ingredients that have become a staple of everyday cooking in the UK are either not available over here, or are ridiculously expensive. Not to mention the weird and wonderful produce on sale in the local shops, a lot of which I am unable to identify. Therefor my cooking endeavors are likely to be largely improvised and so not always hugely successful. I'll post recipes and photos of dishes that get the thumbs-up here, as well as any amusing failures. My choices of substitutions might offend, but I've got to at least give things a try. Can't promise fancy food every night, but I hope to drop in the odd cake or two here and there...

To kick off, for dinner tonight I made Teriyaki Drumsticks. Easy peasy, no-fuss food.

1/2 cup mirin
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon caster sugar
8 chicken drumsticks

Mix the mirin, soy sauce and sugar to make a marinade and stick the drumsticks in it for an hour or so. Remove from the marinade and put on a baking tray. Pour the remaining marinade into a small pan and boil until reduced and slightly sticky. Bake the drumsticks at 190c for 25-30 minutes, brushing occasionally with the sauce.