Monday, 27 April 2009

Say Cheese - Daring Bakers Challenge April 2009

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

I was soooo pleased when I saw this month's challenge - I just love, love cheesecake! Were were given free reign on the flavour, as long as we stayed with the basic recipe and method, and I knew I wanted to do something with a Japanese twist...

My first thought was matcha with azuki beans, but I'm not that keen on matcha anything and I definitely wanted to enjoy a piece myself. Then I toyed with the idea of incorporating sakura (cherry blossom) into the recipe, but how? But then... my friend Minori brought some delicious omiyage from Tokyo and so I knew exactly what I wanted to do!

This is a Tokyo Goma Tamago:

It's a manju filled with yummy goma (black sesame) anko and coated with white chocolate. I have developed a real taste for black sesame (it makes a wonderful ice-cream), so there we have it - decision made! Here is my version, Goma Cheesecake:

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake:

180 g graham cracker crumbs (I used Harvest, delicious thin, white sesame seed biscuits)
120g butter, melted (actually, this seemed a bit much, I'll reduce the amount next time)
24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

600g cream cheese
210 g sugar
3 large eggs
100ml heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake (I used mirin)
My addition to this recipe is 4 tablespoons black sesame seeds, crushed with a pestal and mortar and 200g melted white chocolate as a topping.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

I have to confess, it was looking good... until I came to finish it off. I was tired and in a rush, not a good combination. I melted the chocolate in the microwave but didn't watch it properly and it seized :( I smeared it over the top anyway, wished I hadn't (so much for the smooth finish), but in fact it tasted it tasted great in spite of not looking how I'd hoped. The cheesecake itself was absolutely fab and I will definitely be making this again. Next time I'll use the thick, black goma paste you can get to see if I can get a more dramatic colour. But for this time, I'm thankful that I had so many people to share this with as I would no doubt have been raiding the fridge for slice after slice!

Friday, 24 April 2009

What's cooking?

It just occurred to me that I haven't posted any recipes here lately! Rest assured, I am still cooking. Tonight's dinner, for example:

Japanese style tofu burger

1/2 pack tofu
200g minced chicken
1/2 leek
small piece fresh ginger
1/2 tablespoon sake
1 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 pack shimeiji mushrooms
100ml stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons mirin
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
100g kabocha (japanese pumpkin), sliced
2 shiso leaves

Drain the tofu and press between a kitchen towel to remove excess water. Crumble the tofu into a bowl and mix in the chicken, sake and soy sauce. Finely chop the leek and ginger and add to the mixture. Form into four burger shapes.
Fry the kabocha, season and then arrange on serving plates. In the same frying pan, add a little extra oil and cook the burgers. Plate up with the kabocha. Add a little butter to the pan, break up the shimeiji mushrooms and fry for a few minutes. Mix together the stock, soy sauce, mirin and cornstarch, then pour over the mushrooms and stirfry for a minute or two. Spoon over the burgers, then garnish with the chopped shiso leaves.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Knock out

We've had a busy weekend. Actually, the boys have been busy and K and I have done a lot of watching! After 3 hours of football practice in the afternoon, Saturday evening was karate grading for J, his first since arriving in Japan. W was asked to come along as they needed an extra body for sparring. J did well (although he didn't win in his sparring match, ego was severely bruised!), and he'll find out if he passed next week. W knocked his sparring partner to the floor within seconds of the round starting - yikes! Neither of them had done contact sparring before (apart from fighting each other!), and I'm pretty sure that it's not something I want them to pursue... but with all this armour on they are unlikely to get hurt:

The weather has been glorious, so as soon as this morning's service was over the 3 boys off to the beach (K wanted to go digging for razor fish).Apparently, as the tide is going out you sprinkle salt on the surface and out they pop. But apparel is very important, as evidenced by the buckets:

The bucket on the left-hand side is Baachan's, she a seasoned pro:

The bucket on the right is K, J and W's:

Well, the sun was shining, the sea was... there, and the boys are half British after all! K is, of course, expecting to find razor fish in his miso soup tomorrow morning. Um, only if he makes it himself...

Friday, 10 April 2009

Ta daaaa!

Ooooh, the hot cross buns are indeed gooood! And the house still smells amazing...

I've been pinching tips from various recipes and here's the version I came up with. I decided to cut the crosses into the top rather than pipe a paste, as last year they just got picked off. They don't look quite as good this way, but it's less fiddling around.

Hot Cross Buns

450g strong flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp all spice
1 sachet dried yeast
75g raisins
75g glace cherries, roughly chopped
zest of 1 orange, lemon and lime
110g caster sugar
50g unsalted butter
250ml milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg

2 tbs brown sugar
3 tbs milk
1 tbs marmalade

Sift the flour, spices and salt into a bowl and stir in the yeast, fruit, zest and sugar. Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the milk and vanilla and warm until tepid. Whisk in the egg, then add to the flour bowl and mix to a loose dough. Knead for 10 minutes (add extra flour as necessary) until the dough is springy. Divide into 12 pieces, shape into balls and arrange on a baking tray. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for 90 minutes, until double in size. With a sharp knife, cut a cross in the top of each bun. Bake at 180c for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 150c and bake for a further 15 minutes. Whilst they are in the oven, mix together the brown sugar, milk and marmalade to make the glaze. As soon as the buns come out of the oven, brush them with the glaze then leave to cool enough so that you don't burn your tongue as you wolf then down, smothered with butter!

I'll make some more for Sunday, but K doesn't like raisins so I'm going to try NQN's cinnamon chocolate version:

Enjoyed a second brisk walk to school this afternoon. I wonder if I'll still be this enthusiastic by the end of next week? Got to make the most of this weather (and the fact that the mozzies aren't biting yet). Here's some of the en-route scenery:


It's quiet. M is asleep and the boys are both at school - time for a break! Started the day at 6.00am in order to get everyone fed, dressed and out the door by 7.10 They have to be in their classrooms by 7.50). Up until now I have been driving J the 2.5km to school, however at the entrance ceremony we were 'treated' to speeches from various dignitaries, all of which made a HUGE deal about how they should all walk to school and not come by car (barely a mention of 'Let's work/play hard!')... I don't think any of these old guys have ever walked the route that the children have to take. As well as being a long way (and in a month's time the temperatures will be soaring), they have to walk along a busy main road which has no proper path as well as cross a dual carriageway. So, I've decided to walk the school run with them - that's an extra 10km a day for me, so the weight had better fall off! It's fine weather for walking, sunny but not too hot. And the sakura hasn't all fallen yet, so it's very pretty:

J doesn't finish until 4.00pm today, seem long to me... he's only 8...

Here they are in all their finery. W has a yellow cover on his backpack to show that he is in first grade. Pika pika!

I've had a very productive morning, getting 3 loads of washing done, making a batch of hot cross buns (should be ready to go in the oven very soon - just in time for lunch!), and dying eggs for the boys to decorate when they get home from school. Feeling very smug and domesticated!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Very quickly...

... as it's been a long day. Too tired to write much, but I've just got to post something to get rid of the photo I posted yesterday - that beast is there greeting me each time I log on!

W had his entrance ceremony for elementary school today:

And this time I made sure I was sufficiantly covered!

Off to bed... xx

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

I remembered...

...why I didn't get much gardening done last summer. It was nothing to do with the 40c heat, or the humidity. It was fear. Fear of the CREEPY CRAWLIES that reside here. Winter has definitely passed now and I've spent a fair bit of time over the last couple of months weeding and tidying, we've even dug a vegetable patch. But my memory chose to block out any recollections of nasty bugs (which, by the way, are huge and ferocious-looking), and they've all been hiding and waiting for the warm sun to come out. HA! I will sleep easy no more. Yesterday I saw a small (maybe 7cm) mukade (poisonous centipede - google mukade and feel your toes curl as you read). Well, I didn't see any of them in our garden last year, but they are definitely there this year. And although it was small, I've been warned that the small ones have a worse bite than the massive (30cm) ones. Dreading the appearance of the spiders - there were some true monsters last year and I'm pretty sure it would take more than a cold winter to kill them off... Allow me to introduce you to today's specimen:

I have no idea what it is - if anyone out there knows, please do share! -
Need to get thicker gloves. And some thigh-length wellies. Maybe I could get a bee-keeper's outfit! H's suggestion of chain mail gardening wear is not such a bad idea.