Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Daring Bakers Challenge January 2010 - Nanaimo Bars

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

There was no way I was going to sit out this month's challenge, not after I saw a picture of a Nanaimo bar... drool... and I knew exactly who I wanted to make them for. I wasn't familiar with them at all, in fact to me the name suggested that they might be made out of some kind of potato (imo is Japanese for potato) but read that,

"Nanaimo Bars are a classic Canadian dessert created in none other than Nanaimo, British Colombia. In case you were wondering, it’s pronounced Nah-nye-Moh. These bars have 3 layers: a base containing graham crackers, cocoa, coconut and nuts, a middle custard layer, and a topping of chocolate. They are extremely rich and available almost everywhere across the country."

My friend Kyna was with her family in Canada when the challenge was announced, but came back to Japan last week with the news that she and her family are to return to Canada in the Spring. I'm so selfish, I really don't want them to leave! But they recognise that this is where the Lord is leading them and are putting their trust in Him, and so who am I to try and talk them out of going? They will be terribly missed here... but they haven't gone yet and so we must make the most of the remaining weeks!

This month's challenge was in two parts. Firstly, we were to make our own Graham Wafers (preferably gluten-free), and then to use those Graham Wafers to make the Nanaimo Bars. As I've sat out a couple of challenges over the past year, I decided not to take the 'easy' option (for a change) and to go with the gluten-free version.

The only problem I came up against was working out what flour to use, as I wasn't able to get hold of tapioca starch or sorghum flour. In the end I found a packet of roasted corn flour and it all turned out fine. In fact, the Graham Wafers were far, far tastier than I expected them to be! I've never even seen one before, and just assumed that they were like digestive biscuits (which is what I usually use when Graham Wafers are called for). Maybe they are supposed to be like digestive biscuits, however mine weren't. They tasted more like those little biscuits you are sometimes served with coffee... can't remember what they are called. Mine turned out quite dark (that was due to me having used koku sato) and very crunchy, but utterly delicious!

When making the Nanaimo Bars, I added the zest of a mikan (mandarin orange, the fruit of the moment around here) along with a squeeze of juice to the middle layer, as well as adding a little mikan juice to the top layer of chocolate.

Now, I need to give these away as soon as I possibly can, or else the scales may never forgive me!

Gluten-Free Graham Wafers

1 cup (138 g) (4.9 ounces) Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)
3/4 cup (100 g) (3.5 ounces) Tapioca Starch/Flour
1/2 cup (65 g) (2.3 ounces) Sorghum Flour
1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL ) Kosher Salt
7 tablespoons (100 g) (3 ½ ounces) Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover.
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal. If making by hand, combine aforementioned dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in butter until you have a coarse meal. No chunks of butter should be visible.
2. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.
3. Turn the dough onto a surface well-floured with sweet rice flour and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.
4. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of sweet rice flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be quite sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into 4 by 4 inch squares. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place wafers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.
5. Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).
6. Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more sweet rice flour and roll out the dough to get a couple more wafers.
7. Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.
8. Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Might take less, and the starting location of each sheet may determine its required time. The ones that started on the bottom browned faster.

Nanaimo Bars

For Nanaimo Bars — Bottom Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) Granulated Sugar
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces) Gluten Free Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)
1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)
1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

For Nanaimo Bars — Middle Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla Custard Powder (Such as Bird’s. Vanilla pudding mix may be substituted.)
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing Sugar

For Nanaimo Bars — Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter

1. For bottom Layer: Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan.
2. For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.
3. For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Lightly poached

Evening all! Apologies if this post is full of typos, but I can barely keep my eyes open... the after-effects of a long and busy weekend. The boys had school on Sunday (happyokai (performance) in the morning, followed by lessons until the usual time) with a day off in lieu yesterday. K decided to have the afternoon off work so that we could take the children swimming. There's a funky pool (complete with an onsen) not too far away, and K was very keen to try out their climbing wall (yeah, it's meant for kids, but there ain't a bigger kid that K):

I chose to soak in the various baths instead, the first time for me to venture into one of these since... certainly before having the children... I was very thankful to have my friend Laura with me, I would never have gone in on my own! We chatted away for ages, poaching in the hot jacuzzi, and I came out feeling the warmest I've felt in months. Now why didn't I do this sooner?! Can't wait to check out the radon hot spring in our town next :-D And we rounded off the day by stopping off for sushi on the way home, 'twas bargain day at only 88 yen a plate!

On the food front, made some tofu burgers the other day that got wolfed down in seconds by all three kids (including M, and she's turning into the picky one of late)! None of them even noticed that there were veggies hidden in them.

Tofu burgers

1 pack tofu, very well drained*
300g minced beef/pork
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 green peppers (Japanese peppers are very small, so just use one if they are large where you are), finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 egg
2/3 cup bread crumbs
3 tablespoons milk or water

* The easiest and quickest way to drain tofu is to cut it into quarters, place it a couple of layers of kitchen towel on a plate, then microwave it at 500 watts for about 2 and a half minutes


4 teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons cooking sake
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons mirin

Mix together the sauce ingredients, turn off the heat and pour straight over the cooked burgers.

I served these Rocomoco-style, over rice, shredded salad and cherry tomatoes, and topped with a drizzle of Kewpie mayonnaise, a sprinkling of sesame, and a fried egg.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

For your own good

I may well be preaching to the converted here (where I live is hardly a metropolis, it takes a while for anything interesting to find it's way from the city to our littlish island), but there is something I am just bursting to tell you about! On Sunday we spent the afternoon with friends, and they arrived with two large boxes of the most delicious pastries you could ever imagine - Beard Papa's cream puffs! Now I'm not usually a fan of this type of thing, I've never really gone in for fresh cream or custard... until I was introduced to these heavenly treats:

After our visitors left, there was one pastry remaining - a strawberry cream puff. Not strawberry flavour (yuck), but fresh, strawberry puree whipped into fresh cream. It is no more. Words fail me, you have to try one! There are branches of Beard Papa's globally now (, so if you find yourself in the vicinity of one just walk in through those doors and indulge!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Feet futons

OK, I have to stop complaining about how cold I am - I've just read about the Arctic temperatures over at Heather's place ( and she wins! And actually yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day, even though we've once again woken up to a very heavy frost (and solidified olive oil). The weather here is so fickle, but I really appreciated the reminder that Spring will soon be on it's way, especially after such a cold spell.

I took Heather's advice and invested in some warmer footwear for inside the house:

They are effectively feather futons (duvets) for feet (modelled here by M - I should have bought them in any other colour than pink!). They are doing the trick, warm toes = happy mummy. And these, teamed up with the huge, cosy fleece house coat sent to me by a very sweet friend up in Hokkaido (I owe you, Vicky!), are making me far more pleasant to live with.

Something else that made me happy this week was being asked to sample some prototype food products which have been developed with a view to becoming new '名物' (meibutsu, local speciality) for Kotahira. It's very much a Japanese thing, the desire to have a unique product which might become synonymous with the place of it's origin. If they can come up with just the right kind of product, they could rake in millions as the tourists come in their hoards to buy their omiyage (souvenir goodies). The powers that be of Kotohira have decided that they want their town to become famous for... garlic! I was given a bottle of garlic infused soy sauce, and a jar of garlicky miso to experiment with:

They are branding it 'Garlic Zamurai' and I rather like the package design. The soy sauce has a very pungent garlic smell, so I used it in recipes that called for garlic but without adding any, any they turned out great! The miso is far more interesting, not your average miso at all. It's chunky and spicy (I thought that the slivers of green were negi (spring onion) but they turned out to be sliced green peppers!), delicious actually, although I could probably use more of it if it didn't have quite so much kick to it. I tried it out on K the other night, making a sauce to spoon over some pan-fried tofu:

I can't quite remember what went into it, but it went something like this:

2 tablespoons miso
60ml dashi (stock, I used kombu)
1 tablespoon sugar
a splash of soy sauce
a splash of cooking sake

Mix the ingredients together in a small pan and simmer gently until reduced.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Warm thoughts

Today must have been one of the coldest days of this winter yet. I really, really don't like to be cold. I am miserable if I get cold toes. So before I dive back under the kotatsu, I just wanted to show you something I picked up in the shops today.

Obviously I am not alone in yearning for the spring to arrive - it would appear that new tactics are being employed to will this cold snap away. There I was, looking for some comfort snacks to munch on whilst warming my extremities, when I came across a display of the usual fare... but it was all pink! The packages all featured a huge cherry blossom tree, and the flavours were all... cherry blossom! OK, so the cherry blossom Kit Kat released last year was good, but how would this work with prawn cracker snacks (Ebi Sen) and the like? In spite of my diet, I just had to find out:

What we have here is a bag of Saya Endo, a salty rice based snack made with peas (and yes, they are shaped like pea pods). I am rather partial to a bag of these every now and then on the basis that they contain a vegetable and must therefor be good for me ;-) This particular bag is 'salty cherry blossom' flavour, and according to the label really does contain powders made from both the blossoms and leaves of the cherry tree. Reading a bit closer, I understand that this is part of a range of products designed to encourage students sitting entrance examinations, and that there is a supposedly sacred tree in Hokkaido to which one can ask for special help (some people will believe anything - personally, I feel that their time would be better spent doing a bit of extra revision).

Anyway, I ate them and indeed they did have a slightly floral taste to them. Not bad, but I'll stick with the regular flavour next time. At least as they disappeared to a warmer place, I was visualising the arrival of the warm sun as it wakes the flora around. Ahh, the power of the mind...

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Getting back on the horse

I've been sulking. A few months back, I took a few knocks that really put me off blogging here. I was upset and quite cross! Anyhow, I've decided that I do want to write here, and those who don't want to read it don't have to - there, you have my permission! I have decided to do this for me, and I'm pretty sure that the children will also like looking back on this sporadic documenting of our life in years to come.

So, time to get back in the saddle.

I'm easing in here with a recipe for you. The weather has turned cccccold, and we spend a great deal of time snuggled under the kotatsu ( We need food to warm us to the core, and so lately I have been making lots of nabe ( For a start there's very little preparation needed so I don't have to stand in my chill kitchen for very long, and then we all get to sit around the steaming hot pot :-). There's really no rules for this dish, just throw in whatever you fancy/whatever is in the bottom of your fridge, but I'll include yesterdays ingredients here just so you can get an idea of things. I apologise for there not being a photo of this dish, it was pillaged before I had chance to join the ravenous clan at the table. And besides, I have now idea how the restaurants manage to present their nabe to beautifully with everything in it's place, with mine the ingredients all get mixed up as soon as they get added to the pot! Anyone got any tips?

Chicken Meatball Nabe


1200ml dashi (stock)
50ml cooking sake
30ml soy sauce
30ml mirin

Chicken Meatballs

480g minced chicken
1 onion, chopped
1 egg
20ml cooking sake
10ml soy sauce
1 rounded tablespoon cornstarch
some fresh, grated ginger

1 pack enoki mushrooms, roots cut off
1 1/2 packs tofu, cut into large cubes and very well drained
400g Chinese cabbage, thickly sliced
240g daikon (mooli radish), peeled, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into half-moons
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
1 leek, sliced diagonally into large chunks

ponzu, for dipping/drizzling, add a little chili powder if you like

Bring the soup to a simmer in a large pot or pan. Mix the meatball ingredients together, and drop spoonfuls into the soup (I used a small scoop, made things very easy) followed by the rest of the ingredients. Continue to simmer until the meatballs aren't going to give anyone salmonella poisoning, then bring it to the table and let everyone help themselves!