Saturday, 28 February 2009

Daring Bakers February 2009 Challenge

Remember this picture?

Before you tell me off, no I haven't been eating chocolate already! At least, not since the start of Lent. All of this chocolate, all eight bars of it, was for one cake. This is K's favourite, but had I been making this for myself (which I probably will at some point, maybe Easter Sunday!) I would have gone for a dark chocolate, preferably Green & Black's Maya Gold...

The gauntlet was thrown down at the start of the month, and well it was just the perfect pud for Valentine's Day. And I can assure you it was soooo delicious that it didn't hang around for long after then.

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.
We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

Actually, we were given freedom on the ice-cream to use whatever recipe or flavour we wanted. I chose to play around with Gary Rhodes' Tangerine Curd Ice-cream recipe, using mikan (mandarine oranges) grown by my father-in-law in Ehime, home to the best mikan in Japan. I also made a mikan syrup to drizzle over the top. Very nice it was too. Obviously, the ice-cream could be made in advance, and the syrup the day before, so it really wasn't any trouble to co-ordinate the final dessert:

Starting off with the curd:

Mikan Curd

zest and juice of 8 mikan
150g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter, chopped into small cubes
4 egg yolks

The recipe I saw suggested making the curd using a bain marie, however I've frequently make a successful lemon curd using the microwave so I went with my own method. Whisk all the ingredients together in a microwaveable bowl and zap for 2 minutes on 600 watts. Whisk again and zap for another 30 seconds. Continue whisking and zapping until it starts to thicken. Allow to cool.

On to the ice-cream:

Mikan Ice-cream

1 quantity of mikan curd
150ml sour cream
150ml natural yogurt
2-3 tablespoons Grand Marnier (I didn't use this as I was making this for my little Valentine's, too)

Whisk the ingredients together, pour into a container and freeze, stirring every 20 minutes to break up any crystals (or churn in an ice-cream maker, if you have one).

And the syrup:

zest and juice of 6 mikan
100g caster sugar
2-3 tablespoons Grand Marnier (again, I skipped this)
1/2 teaspoon cornflour
1 teaspoon water

Put the juice, zest and sugar in a pan, heat and reduce by one third before adding the Grand Marnier (if using). Mix the cornflour and water, then add into the pan. Cook for a further 2 minutes, then allow to cool.

Finally, the cake!

Chocolate Valentino

454 grams of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped (here we were told to use our absloute favourite chocolate, as the cake would taste exactly like it)
146 grams total of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter.
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Truely indulged

I'm on a roll - twice in one day! Well, there's been a lot of food today...

The first day of Lent is not a good day to have a birthday when you have given up chocolate! I was greeted by my brood first thing, each presenting me with a box of choccies - will have to get K to hide them very well and NOT tell me where they are. Then this morning it was my mum's group and one of the mums made me a beautiful cake, so unexpected it made me cry:

We decided to save the cake so that I could show the family at dinner time, and so we dined on lemon cheesecake. In the afternoon, a lady from our church called round with some sekihan she had made for me. Sekihan is a special rice dish, eaten at times of celebration. It's made with mochi rice (glutinous) and adzuki beans, and sometimes golden chestnuts:

We ate the sekihan with our Yoshikei dinner, which today consisted of Beef Stroganoff served with an egg salad and vegetable soup:

Again, the men of the family enjoyed every last bit (M is on a bit of a hunger strike at the moment, little madam) leaving just enough room to polish of the entire cake - yum!

Back on the diet tomorrow...


Hehehe, this was my lunch:

Not entirely true, I actually had 2 slices...

Lemon Cheesecake

180g biscuits (should be digestives, but I used coconut sable), smashed into crumbs
50g butter, melted
400g soft cream cheese
200ml double cream
zest and juice of 1 1/2 lemons
100g icing sugar, sieved

Mix the biscuit crumbs and butter together and press into the bottom of an 8 inch loose-bottomed tin. Cream the cheese and icing sugar together, then beat in the cream and lemon zest/juice. Pour over the base and leave in the fridge overnight.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Meals on wheels

We recently had a leaflet through our door about a meal delivery service, Yoshikei. Not quite like ordering a take-away, the company offers a selection of 5 different menus on a daily basis, and delivers the ingredients at lunchtime in time for you to prepare the evening meal! Actually, my SIL has been using it for years and I was very interested, so with a trial offer too good to refuse K wanted to give it a go.

I received the first box yesterday. K had chosen pork stir-fried with garlic and miso, served with simmered dish of hijiki (a kind of seaweed) and daikon and a fusili pasta salad:

The box contained pretty much everything I needed (fresh meat and vegetables in just the right amounts!), and I was provided with the recipes to follow. Aha, this could involve a bit of trial and error - I'm not sure of all the kanji, but I can guess most of it. It was simple enough to throw together, the portions were very generous (we ordered enough for 2, which was enough for K and the boys, veggie dishes for me and some left over for breakfast the next day), there was no wasteage, and I hadn't had to go shopping - fantastic!

Today's meal was grilled fish (don't ask me what kind, but it was red!) served with a chicken and chinese cabbage stirfry and boiled and marinaded gobo (burdock root) tossed in ground sesame:

I'm very impressed with the whole set-up. You can pick and choose from the various menus, order as little or as often as you like, and they even provide a lockable coolbox to leave outside so that they can deliver without bothering you! And it's not that expensive, either - on average, for the option we chose, the cost is around 1,000 yen (about £6.50), although we are enjoying a special rate of 700 yen a day for this week. Although I wouldn't want to use this service every day, I think that this might be a good way for me to learn to cook with some of the local ingredients I tend to avoid as I have no idea what to do with them!

Monday, 23 February 2009

No cuddles : (

Once again, after a rather noisey weekend, peace has descended and so I have a little time to write.

Yesterday we went to meet the lastest addition to the F clan for the very first time! He arrived on Monday and both he and Mum are very well although, this being Japan, they are still in the hospital. We arrived to find S in her (very, very nice) private room, but where was the baby? In the baby room, naturally. She took us for a viewing through the sound-proof window (visitors are not allowed to hold the babies until they are released from hospital):

He looked so tiny and adorable, snoozing away but squirming all the while. There were only two babies in the room, the other was a teeny weeny premie who was crying his little heart out. A nurse sat at a desk in the same room, but she never went to check on him or give him a cuddle. Actually, I was quite shocked by the set-up. There is no rooming-in. The babies are on a 4 hour schedule and the mums are summoned to feed them at fixed times. In between feed times, the babies stay in their bassinets in the baby room, while the mums rest or do their own thing. If the babies cry, they are just left to scream it out. Seems very harsh for little newborns. I don't get why the mums don't seem to want to be with their babies. When we asked how S was feeling, she sighed and said that she wasn't getting much sleep as the nurses come and wake her up for feeds round the clock - my heart bleeds!!

On the food front, Saturday was nice and easy as K had picked up some bargain sushi for his dinner:

All this for just 380 yen (just over £2)! For the children and myself, I made a simple bake with gnocchi, which was sooo nice I could have eaten the whole lot on my own, given half the chance:

Gnocchi bake with spinach and mozzerella

250g gnocchi
175ml pasta sauce (I used tomato and garlic)
1 ball of mozzerella, cut into chunks
50g fresh spinach

Cook the gnocchi and heat the pasta sauce, stirring in the spinach. Combine all the ingredients in a dish and bake at 190c for about 15 minutes. Mmmmmmmmm.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Fat/calorie-free cake

This is primarily for my 'slim' friends who have been party to the discussion on toad-in-the-hole, so that they can see for themselves what bizarre delicacy we Brits crave at this time of the year! I managed to find some large, fat sausages (rather than the puny 'wiener' favoured by the Japanese - absolutely no good for this dish), so there was no stopping me. Actually, I don't know much about the sausages other than the fact that they were big. Certainly, they weren't beef. They looked like pork, with a few herbs in the mix. They were sold loose, no packaging to check, but whatever they were they looked the part! I'd read a few recipes recommending the addition of English mustard powder to the batter, but I went with the wholegrain mustard I had sitting in the fridge, as well as a bit of thyme. I'm going to have to double this recipe next time I make it, there was squabbling over the 'hole'!


100g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 egg
300ml milk
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
3/4 teaspoon thyme
some sausages (how many depends on how big they are - I used 4 very big ones)

Put the flour and salt in a bowl, make a well in the middle and crack the egg into it. Add a splash of milk and mix, gradually adding the rest of the milk. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and creamy, then leave to stand.

Put a tablespoon of oil in a roasting dish. Add the sausages and them in the oil before roasting them for about 15 minutes at 220c. Remove the dish from the oven and pour the batter over the sausages (make sure they remain spaced apart so that the batter can rise between them) and then put it back in the oven for a further 40 minutes.

While it was cooking, I made some onion gravy to spoon over the top:

Onion Gravy

2 onions, sliced
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon flour
500ml beef stock

Fry the onions in the oil for 15 minutes, add the sugar and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring continuously, befor adding the stock. Simmer until it thickens slightly.

Now on to the cake... yes, it really is completely fat/calorie-free...

On Monday I became an auntie again, so I wanted to make something special for mother and baby:

In case you are still confused, it is a nappy cake. The recipe is simple enough:

lots of nappies
various goodies for mother and baby
some ribbon
a bit of imagination

Can't wait to have a cuddle of the new arrival on Saturday!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Heads down

It is COLD!! Sorry, I needed to say that. It is so hard to warm this room up. Even if I set the heater to switch on an hour before I get up in the morning, it's still only 8c... I know, in a few months time I will be moaning that it's too hot (at least in the winter we don't have the humidity or mosquitoes to contend with - hey, I feel better about the cold already)!

We've been trying to keep warm by doing a bit of gymnastics, or should I say the boys have. I taught them how to do headstands this afternoon. For some reason, I have very happy memories of standing on my head when I was little. I almost regretted showing them what to do, as they're not exactly careful about how they do it... - oooh, their precious necks!! It was very funny though. Naturally, anything J can do

W can do, too

and M will try her best!

I hesitate to share this with you but, hehehe, I had to give it a try, too. And, surprisingly, I made it (but made sure that no-one had access to the camera at the time)!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


The washing is on the line. The house is clean. M is asleep. I've got dinner in the bag. What's the catch? I'm never this organised, and it's only Tuesday! I'm sitting here in the freezing cold living room (although the sun is shining outside), having just watched huge flakes of snow fall thickly from the sky. Two days ago, spring was here! Am I actually awake?

Anyway, the Valentine's dinner was a massive hit. M polished off the wagyu burger, mmmmming throughout, and K was massively impressed. Mine looked nothing like NQN's creation, but as there was not even a smudge left on any of the plates, I think is is safe to say that they tasted better than the usual fare:

Very, very cute friend Hiroko called round with some delish choccies she'd made, which rounded off the dinner nicely. I was reminded of a scene from Monty Python's 'The Meaning of Life', when Mr Creosote dines in a restaurant - 'But Sir, it is only wafer thin!'. Fortunately, no-one exploded.

Consumed copious amounts of chocolate over the weekend. There's still a lot left in the house, which as we know is fatal when dieting, but it's time to try and get back to healthy eating!

This meal consists of my usual marinaded tofu, with stir-fried shimeiji mushrooms, spinach and kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) simmered in milk and topped with some grated cheese. See, I am trying!

Saturday, 14 February 2009

A day off the diet

I know, it's been a while... I've been really, really tired this week. So tired that I can hardly function - time to take some vitamins, me thinks!

It's actually been a great week. Wednesday was a holiday, and we were invited over to spend the afternoon with some friends from church. We haven't seen much of each other of late due to illness (my goodness, it's been a long haul for dear K and her little one!), but praise the Lord that all were well for our get-together! We had such a good time, the children played together wonderfully (there was a real hug-fest going on!), and we enjoyed each others' company well into the evening. Our hostess roasted a chicken (it was huge!) and a yummy pinenut loaf for me, we had roast potatoes, salad, and pavlova for dessert... mmmmmm...

Today is Valentine's Day. The boys are sooo excited, having been told by K that they will be inundated with chocolate (in Japan, on Valentine's Day girls give chocolate to boys, and then on White Day (14th March) the boys give cookies to the girls who gave them chocolate)! In fact, a girl from kindergarten had some choccies for W, and this morning we had a delivery for J, so they are feeling pretty pleased with themselves. K isn't naturally romantic, but he is working on that - he did give me some chocolate this morning, albeit a family-size bag of Hi-Chocolat presented in a plastic carrier bag. It's a good start - he'll get there, eventually. I've decided to make the day special by making a fuss of all my Valentines:

The children were served these pancakes as their mid-morning snack (filled with sliced banana and chocolate), and this afternoon they will help to transform the dining area into a romantic restaurant setting for our special dinner. I've made some posh burgers that I spied on NQN's blog earlier this month, and I would write about this myself but just wouldn't be able to do NQN justice, so please do have a look at her version:

(Sorry, can't seem to get the link to work, but believe me you will thank me for pointing you in her direction)

I confess, I didn't make the brioche (I was all up for doing so, but then I read what it entails and don't own a mixer!), and actually was unable to buy any either, so they will have to make do with some toasted english muffins. Dessert is under wraps, but will tell you all about it in due time. Suffice to say that it contains chocolate, loads in fact:

Oink, oink!

Right, off to caramelize my onions...

Monday, 9 February 2009

Scraping the bottom

We had a great afternoon on Saturday. We took the children to Mannou Koen (Park) for the 'Ice Festival'. Mannou Koen is a beautiful place set on the side of a mountain. It's huge, with nature and play areas, and the most amazing views... There's a big, wide open space with mounds just like Telly Tubby Land and enormous inflatable balls to play with, and a gigantic white 'cloud' to bounce on! Unfortunately I realised as we were half way there that I'd left the camera on the dining table, but K took some snaps using his phone and it could take a while for him to work out how to transfer them to the computer. We're going back there in April anyway, so there'll be more photo opportunities then.

The Ice Festival wasn't up to much. It was a lovely sunny day, the park was all bright and green, very Spring-like in fact... but there was a slide made of ice for the kid to toboggan down, with the obligatory festival food stall next to it selling takoyaki and chips. That was it! The boys enjoyed it, though, and once they'd been down the ice-slide we headed for the main play area. This is where I did myself an injury. The boys persuaded me to join them on the slides (which were huge, 65m long winding down a hill) and we had great fun trying to work out how to go faster. I should explain that slides here aren't like the slides back home, they are made up of hundreds of rollers. And I did wonder why the adults were nearly all descending in a squatting position (on their feet), but I assumed it was just to go faster. I found out, when I climbed into the bath in the evening, that it is actually to protect their derrieres! At the time I was unaware that my coccyx was taking such a bashing, but now I can barely sit! I got friction burns!! Nice of someone to warn me... Trying to keep upbeat about it all, at least this is perhaps an indication that there is less padding in that area than there was a few months ago!

On the way home we stopped at an okonomiyaki shop for dinner. I LOVE okonomiyaki (a kind of thick pancake made with chopped cabbage and other bits and bobs), but as I didn't have my camera with me, I'll just have to go there again. J reluctantly agreed to try what was on offer and hasn't stopped talking about it since! Instead, I'll tell you about the dinner we had the night before - avocado donburi served with edamame and miso soup.

The donburi is simply rice topped with diced avocado and drizzled with soy sauce and a bit of wasabi. I used to make this for K quite often in the UK, as it's supposed to taste very similar to raw tuna, which we weren't able to get easily. The avocado were really cheap - 2 for 100 yen (about 70p)! I prepared a big bowl of edamame (soya beans boiled, in their pods, in salty water) for all three boys to fight over, they can't get enough of them!

Friday, 6 February 2009


M's not been too good again this week. She had a bit of a cold, which developed into croup, but she's already bounced back to health after a couple of days on meds. I can hear her coughing away in bed as I sit here typing, but that's probably down to her having inhaled half a tin of baby powder. Silly K left the tin in the middle of the rug in the living room, and then while he was sitting no more than 3 meters away didn't notice M remove the lid and shake it all over the room. Grrrr. I wouldn't mind so much, but I only scrubbed the floor and cleaned the rug yesterday (after M decided to get artistic a la Jackson Pollock with a cup of milk):

I can't take my eye off her for a minute, she's waaay more mischievious than either of the boys were. I left her run around the playground at W's kindergarten this afternoon while W played with his friends, spent most of my time there stopping her from eating stones and rabbit droppings (you'd think she'd learn from her mistakes, wouldn't you)...

OK, on to dinner! Made some really good miso soup, and served it alongside some sashimi (hamachi, I think that's brill?) and a carrot and tuna salad. Lots of veggies today!

Miso Soup with Aubergine (from Harumi's Japanese Home Cooking, by Harumi Kurihara)

140g aubergine
140g komatsuna (don't know what this is called in English!) or spinach, cut into 3cm lengths
800ml dashi or fish stock (I used kombu dashi)
4 tablespoons miso paste

Cut the aubergine into bite-size pieces and soak in cold water for about 5 minute before boiling to remove any bitterness. When it has just softened, drain and soak in cold water until cool, then drain again. Heat the dashi in a pan, add the miso and stir until dissolved, then add the aubergine and komatsuna and simmer briefly. Serve sprinkled with shichimi (or a bit of chilli powder).

Carrot and Tuna Salad (from Harumi's Japanese Cooking, again by Harumi Kurihara)

200g carrots, peeled
90g tinned tuna
50g onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlis, crushed
1 tablespoon sunflower oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
soy sauce - to taste

Cut the carrots into 5cm thin juliennes and put in a microwaveable bowl with the onion, garlic and oil. Mix together, cover and zap for 11/2 minutes. Once lightly cooked, add the tuna then the dressing and mix well. Season and serve hot or cold.

This salad had a real kick to it, didn't think the boys would get past the first mouthful - J hid his under his rice, but W ate the lot!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Great balls of fire!

I was a bit short on time yesterday, but had dessert to make for a church dinner. With a couple of egg whites sitting in the fridge, I decided to make some meringues that could be topped with some whipped double cream and fresh fruit. Remembered that I'd got a recipe for microwave meringues clipped from BBC Good Food waiting to be tried! Apparently, so, so, so easy and unbelievably quick to make. I have never had any reason to doubt their recipes, so I doubled the recipe and went for it.

I put the first few balls in and set them off on high for 11/2 minutes. As promised, within seconds they were puffing up magnificently. The next time I looked, at only 50 seconds, they were ON FIRE!!! Blimey. Maybe my oven is too powerful... I reduced the setting to 600 watts and tried again. Burnt again, although I stopped the oven before there were any flames, and as soon as the door opened they fell as flat as pancakes. One last try on 500 watts, and although they didn't burn neither did they stay puffed up. Binned the rest of the mixture and decided to make a fruit salad.

If anyone else is brave enough to give these a try, please let me know how you get on!

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Butter 'em up

I'm never going to win any awards for feeding my children the healthiest of diets. I do my best, and now that we've managed to wean W off just rice with sprinkles and on to pretty much anything I put in front of him (yes it's true - here's the proof!:

spinach is officially his favourite vegetable!) life has certainly got a lot easier. But every now and then I find that the fridge isn't as stocked as I'd thought, and so rather than face shopping with all 3 children in tow, that's the time to reach right into the back of the fridge to see what needs using up. Yesterday was one of those days. I discovered some double cream, egg yolks, bread and some sultanas. Hee hee, bread and butter pudding for lunch!

Bread and Butter Pudding

4 slices of white bread, buttered and crusts removed
250ml cream
250ml milk
3 eggs (I added a couple of extra egg yolks just because they were going to end up being thrown away otherwise)
50g caster sugar
75g sultanas (or a mixture of sultanas and raisins)
vanilla extract

Slowly boil the milk and cream together with the vanilla, then remove from the heat. Cut each slice of bread into 4 triangles and arrange in a buttered dish with the sultanas between the slices. Whisk the egg with the sugar, then gradually mix in the milk and cream. Pour over the bread, then bake at 160c for 45-50 minutes.

I'd never made this for the boys before and, my goodness, it went down well! I've just tried to upload the photo and realised that the memory card wasn't in the camera when I took it - can't work out how to transfer the photo from the built in memory, so apologies but I can tell you it looked very tasty!

Very happy boys this evening. A colleague of K gave them each desks that had belonged to his now grown up children, and they were delivered this afternoon. J and W spent an hour or so cleaning and polishing, before adding the finishing touch of... Pokemon stickers! K and I were also very pleased as it saved us a packet - it costs a small fortune when they enter elementary school here.

Ahh, now if I can only get them to have all of their 'creative moments' upstairs...