Friday, 29 May 2009

The vegetable patch

It's not just me who's afraid of the bugs biting (bear in mind that this photo was taken on a hot 28c day):

K doesn't do much in the garden. He does, when the weeds get to be knee height, wave the strimmer around, but that's about it. To his credit, when he decided that he wanted a vegetable patch he did dig over the area ready to plant. And look, as if by magic, a whole array of produce has appeared!

We'll be eating water melon, potatoes, beetroot, carrots, pickled onions, courgettes and sweetcorn before long (the rhubarb is going to take a little longer). That's if the weeds don't gain control first. Over this last week the mozzies have started biting and the spiders are getting bigger, so I'm somewhat less inclined to get out there and tackle them. I have noticed an awful lot of lizards (and I'm not scared of them, surprisingly), so hopefully they'll help to keep the creepy crawlies at bay. Oh yeah, and frogs too - don't see so many of them, but if there's so much as a drop of rain they start making a right racket, so I know they're there!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge May 2009 - Strudel Moodle

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

You cannot rush a strudel. It is not something to do last minute, completely unprepared, and short of time. Doing so can result in a minor diva paddy, followed by complaints at the dinner table.

I only realised on Monday that time was running out (what happened to May? Where did it go?) and that I only had 24 hours left. I'd been looking forward to this challenge, too. Would have loved to make a sweet one, but as I'm trying to watch what I eat (I have little self control when it comes to sweet things, and I'd end up eating most of it) I decided on a savoury strudel we could all share for dinner. Shiitake and shimeiji mushrooms with garlic and herb infused cream cheese. I could hardly wait!

The dough turned out really well, but then the trouble started... I cut up an old (clean!) sheet to use for the cloth. It was all I had, but not ideal as was slightly pilled (actually,I think it was flannel cotton). Used plenty of flour, rubbed it into the cloth as instructed. Rolled the dough out no problem, beautiful and thin, picture perfect... however it STUCK to the sheet! Did my best and put the filling on ready to roll, the strudel was having none of it. Bit of shouting and stamping of feet, picked the whole lot ready to dump in the bin, but decided to scrape what I could onto the tray and make do. Now had I left myself ample time to tackle this challenge, I would probably had just thrown together another batch of dough and started again (with a better cloth), but after yesterdays episode if I am ever to make another strudel again it will be made with bought filo pastry! Am I going to show you what it looked like? Er, no. Here's a shot of the good end, just to show that I did at least have a go:

In spite of how it turned out, the filling was in fact delicious. From memory, here's what I put in:

1 pack shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 large pack shimeiji mushrooms, separated
1 onion, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
a bunch of spinach, chopped
150g cream cheese
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 tablespoon black sesame seeds

Fry the onion and pepper, then add the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes. Stir in the spinach and season. Mix the cream cheese, garlic and thyme together. Spread the mushroom mixture over one end of the strudel pastry and top with the cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds after rolling.

Preparation time
Total: 2 hours 15 minutes – 3 hours 30 minutes

15-20 min to make dough
30-90 min to let dough rest/to prepare the filling
20-30 min to roll out and stretch dough
10 min to fill and roll dough
30 min to bake
30 min to cool

Strudel dough
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Holidaying at home

Been ages since my last post. Been a bit busy, but had so, so, so much fun! We've had visitors, my dear friend Ronna and her husband from our home church back in England! So the week before they arrived I had a ton of cleaning and tidying to get done (including our 'spare' room, aka the dumping room), then while they were here we were zipping here there and everywhere. Their visit was perfectly timed (of course!), we had fab weather for sightseeing and the mozzies weren't biting just then (although they certainly are now), so I took them to some of my favourite places.

Of course we just had to go to Ritsurin Kouen, a beautiful Japanese garden in Takamatsu. It was all very green on this visit with not many flowers in bloom, although there were some gorgeous irises:

We went into the tea house for tea ceremony, which I really enjoy, but was a little disappointed that they only served the tea rather than performing the tea ceremony in front of us.

I took them for lunch at my favourite kind of restaurant - okonomiyaki!

One day we visited Kotahira, where the men climbed 800 steps up to a shrine (Konpira-san) whilst we ladies enjoyed a pedicure by fish (hahaha, more of that another day, waiting for the photo!) followed by a soy sauce ice-cream (very nice actually, very subtle flavour).

Another trip was a ferry ride out to Naoshima, an island in the Seto inland sea which has been turned into an art project. I'd been dying to go, but K really isn't interested in art, and the boys would be quite bored I think. So hurrah, for visitors! We started off the visit at the Benesse House Museum, and was surprised to find works by Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and David Hockney, very unexpected. I think my favourite piece was the Banzai Corner by Yukinori Yanagi - hundreds of Ultraman dolls with their hands in the air, forming the Japanese flag! The World Flag Ant Farm (by the same artist) also caught my interest. Wish I could have taken photos, but of course that wasn't allowed. We wandered around the old village, peering in through gates to view the gardens, but didn't have time to visit the house project (artists were invited to come to the island and make houses into works of art), so I'm just going to have to go back there agin sometime (shame).

This was M's favourite piece, the Red Pumpkin (don't know who it's by) - she spent ages sticking her head through the holes and saying 'BOO'!

As I write this, Ronna and Ian are on a plane winging their way back home :( Their visit flew by, I was so sad to see them leave. But how wonderful to see good friends again, their visit was certainly the next best thing to an actual trip back home! I feel so blessed!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009


I've been procrastinating. So many things I could have posted about, but by the time the children are in bed asleep K has downloaded the most recent episode of Hell's Kitchen ('Yes Marco!') and I can't seem to drag myself away from the sofa. But, if I don't get back into the swing of things this blog could well end up simply clogging up cyberland, so...

Today is Kodomo no Hi (Children's Day, but more for boys than girls, and a national holiday), and the countryside is spiked with koinobori, proudly swimming in the breeze:

It also happens to be Golden Week, and the nation is going quite mad (really) in their desperation to do something 'special' over the break. Like this:

This was taken at 10am this morning, it's a drive-by shot and I can assure you that the queue went waaay back. Oooh, such excitement in our sleepy little town, go on, have a guess... Here's a clue:

And the answer is... noodles! Udon, to be precise. This grubby little shop (yes, the grey building at the back is a restaurant) was featured on TV about 10 years ago for having the best Sanuki udon in the country. Will have to check it out for myself after the crowds have subsided, I didn't believe it before as I'd previously driven past and seen the owner flat on his back asleep on a table... at lunchtime!

We were treated to a fabulous lunch over in Niihama with extended family - SIL's DH's father is so generous and decided to splurge his government handout money on a slap-up meal for us all! We went to a Japanese-style restaurant, the food was simply stunning. Lots of small dishes so was a little shy to snap each one as they came, but just to give you an idea here's the Okosama set (kid's meal):

W was slightly freaked out by the enormous prawn being served complete with it's head, but M (being only 19 months old) was none the wiser and happily munched her way through it. K also helped out by eating the ikura (some kind of roe, maybe salmon) that was sprinkled over the rice balls. The boys both ate nearly everything. Was very happy that neither of them kicked up a scene with cries of 'I don't like it' - they've come a long way!

And this was my favourite dish, simmered aubergine sandwiched together with light tofu:

The thinly sliced and fried renkon (lotus root) was wonderful, must make some at home!