October 11, 2012

To Japan…

I have a fondness for Japan which dates back to my two years at the United World College of the Atlantic (94-96) and it is high up on my list of places I would like to visit. I was fortunate to share my dorm for the two years with Asuka, from Japan, who introduced me to Japanese cuisine and seeded my interest in the food from Japan. I used to look forward to the parcels of food her mum sent over as much as she did and by the end of the 2 years I even got my own parcel from Japan containing packets of Miso Soup and snacks like Senbei and other delicious savoury bites. Asuka cooked me my first tempura and my first Japanese Curry, but as far as I can remember, we never had Sushi.

Many people believe that eating Sushi involves eating raw fish. It often does, but doesn’t have to. It essentially consists of seasoned rice, nori seaweed and neta – a variety of toppings/fillings. The Wikipedia page on Sushi is a very comprehensive account of the origins, variations, adaptations and westernisations of Sushi. It’s too much for me to write here, so hop over there to fill the gaps in your knowledge…see you in a mo!

Got it? Good…now on with my Sushi course. For Christmas last year, I asked for a Sushi course and was really pleased to finally cash in my voucher for a Master Chef Sushi Class with Your Sushi in London a couple of weeks ago. The class was run by the very charismatic Chefs Kiyoko and Klepson and had a great balance of history, information, instruction on how to cook the rice (weigh it, rinse it at least 6 times, weigh it again, add the correct amount of water, cook for 17 minutes on low heat, turn heat off and leave for 17 minutes, add sushi vinegar and gently coat it all then allow to cool before using), demonstrations on how to roll the sushi using the bamboo mat and tesco bashing – their Sushi rice is very dry apparently! Most importantly we got a chance to make loads of our own Sushi to take home from a range of different ingredients.

Here’s what I made – see if you can label the photos:

Makizushi (thin rolls with nori on the outside) – some filled with daikon, cucumber and wasabi, others with red pepper, avocado and wasabi and one French style sushi with roquefort and dried fig.

Futomaki, which are the fatter rolls with nori on the outside – these I filled with wasabi, avocado, crabstick, red pepper, cucumber and carrot (I was surprised how much could go into them).

Urimake – an inside out makizushi in effect where the rice is on the outside and the nori on the inside. Kiyoko explained that this is a western development of sushi as some westerners didn’t think the black seaweed on the outside looked very attractive so they put it on the inside! My first Urimake contained wasabi, smoked mackerel, cucumber, carrot and daikon and my second batch was made with wasabi, daikon, avocado, carrot and a chopped crabstick, mayonnaise and coriander mix.

Temaki – a cone shaped hand-rolled sushi.

Nigirizushi which is a hand shaped cylinder of rice topped with wasabi and draped with a neta – in my case raw salmon. The salmon was farmed Scottish salmon – Sushi chefs have very good relations with fishmongers as they need to know exactly how the fish they buy was processed to be sure that they are using the best available fish in their sushi. Did you know that Asda and Harrods use the same Salmon supplier, but charge totally different prices for it?

Sushi chefs are renowned for being very proud of their work…understandably so…it’s like art on a plate. Many stories were told of Sushi chefs taking offence at customers not respecting their creations by not observing Sushi eating etiquette and dunking the whole thing in soy sauce for example…you are just meant to dip the edge lightly in soy sauce before consuming or risk incurring the wrath of the Sushi chef!

I thoroughly enjoyed the course and the 3 1/2 hours went by incredibly quickly. I would recommend it to anybody that likes Sushi or just creating things with food. I’d say that getting the rice cooked correctly is probably the hardest thing to master. I have tried twice since the course to emulate the stickiness and texture of the rice we used on the course and followed Kiyoko’s instructions to the tee, but even though it’s almost there, I still haven’t got it quite right. I will persevere!


The journey continues…

October 7, 2012

So, I never made it to American Samoa…not yet anyway…I got distracted along the way and stopped off at some other destinations that tickled my fancy or sprung a surprise on me so I’ll tell you about those instead. For those of you eagerly awaiting my American Samoan trip (and I know there’s at least one of you) I will go there soon…I promise.

I decided that instead of meticulously following a list and ticking a country off in alphabetical order each week, I would just go where my taste buds fancied. I will get down to the hoof, tongue and stomach stew of Armenia one day, but only when I’m good and ready…not when a list tells me I have to do it! The disorganised nature of completing the list in this way is also far more my style.

A lot of my food-experiences-worthy-of-a-mention occur when I’m out and about and spontaneously.  By the time I get home I keep putting off the moment to write about it until the moment is gone. To combat this problem I’m going to explore how to post a photo and a short comment to my blog via my iPhone while on the hoof so to speak. I know someone who may be able to help with this…if I ask nicely.

Anyway, since my last post I have ticked China, Japan and Australia.

I’ll tell you about my Chinese adventure first.

I have never been to China and I  have yet to experience a breathtaking Chinese meal. The closest I got to an authentic Chinese meal was in China Town, NY where we were recommended a restaurant to go to try the Dim Sum. The menu was not translated and the waitress, who spoke little English, kept coming to the table with a trolley of steamed goodies and offering us the next dish. It was all delicious, but to this day I am not entirely sure what we had!  The other restaurants I have eaten at and my own attempts at cooking Chinese food have been a far cry from what I imagine the true taste of China to be. There is one dish though, that I will eat time and time again and always enjoy  – Crispy Duck Pancakes.

I watched a programme on TV the other week “Ching He Huang and Ken Hom Exploring China: A culinary adventure” and learnt that to get a truly crispy skin on the duck as it is roasting, the skin needs to be separated from the body. It was suggested by Ching He Huang that you could do this efficiently by using a bicycle pump, but the chef who she was interviewing (Chef Li Chin) who has been cooking crispy duck for generations said the only way to do it is by using your own breath and blowing hard into the bottom…you can watch the clip here:

Thankfully, I didn’t have the time to roast a whole duck. Neither could I find the correct wafer thin pancakes anywhere in France  – I didn’t think it was possible to roll them that thin, so assumed I would have to buy them. With a little internet searching, I discovered that this is a common problem in France and that you either have to import them…or make them! I found a great recipe on the bbc good food website and while the pancakes were not wafer thin, they were very easy to make if you don’t mind scalding your fingertips!

To make up for the lack of pancakes, the french do have an excellent substitue for roasting a whole duck: cuisses de canard confits. They have exactly the right melt in your mouth meat versus crispy skin ratio after 30 mins in a hot oven. Perfect.

I had sourced a tin of hoisin sauce from the local asian store,  sliced cucumbers and spring onions (from the garden), stripped the crispy cuisses de canard, prepared the steaming hot homemade pancakes…everything was ready for a feast…except it suddenly wasn’t because I decided to thin the hoisin sauce down by adding a little water as it was very thick and concentrated and in turning the tap on the pressure from the water made me drop the bowl and I lost the whole lot down the plughole…aaargh, quick, google…help…phew, this sauce tasted far better than the one I lost, required no cooking and I happened to have all the ingredients – or a variation thereof!

The whole meal was a delicious triumph and will be repeated many times once the tips of my fingers have healed!

Next time I’ll tell you all about my Sushi adventure in London.


Olympic Food Challenge #3

August 18, 2012

I am still licking my lips after tonight’s tasty dishes from Algeria. We had Dolma Khodra (stuffed and roasted vegetables), Chlada Bandjar (Beetroot Salad), Orange, Fennel and Almond Salad and a roasted pepper salad. The National Dish of Algeria is Couscous, but again, I deemed the weather too hot to spend too long in the kitchen so I opted for these delicious salads and stuffed vegetables. I figured that since Couscous is also the national dish of Morocco and Tunisia, I would get my chance to cook it at a later date!

Once again there were so many websites about Algerian cuisine to read – this is going to happen every week I’m beginning to realise. I stuck to three that I found useful/interesting/inspiring: foodbycountry.com, chefzadi.com  and globaltableadventure.com. Foodbycountry.com provides a very good summary of the history, origin and types of Algerian Cuisine. I loved globaltableadventure.com – there are a lot of websites out there where people are cooking a meal from every country and this is by far the most inspiring and thorough one I have come across.

Chef Zadi’s Dolma were very easy to make and the lamb nicely seasoned with green olives and onion. If anything, the recipe was too wet when I added the egg, so I stiffened it up with breadcrumbs, but that is the only thing I changed. I was especially pleased to stuff peppers and tomatoes grown in the garden!

The idea was for me not to spend too much time cooking this evening as the kitchen was far too hot with the evening sun beating down on that side of the house. Once the Dolma were cooked, it took me no more than 10 minutes to make the salads, allowing me to escape from the furnace-like kitchen while the oven was on.

I read on a couple of websites while researching Algerian food that Algerians love all kinds of salads and that they can be found on the table as commonly as couscous. I looked at a few recipes and then improvised and adapted according to what ingredients I had in the house.

To the Fennel, Orange and Almond Salad I added a tbsp of olive oil, salt, pepper and chives. To the thinly sliced beetroot (which was already cooked) I added chopped coriander, mint and chives (from the garden might I add) and dressed it with a tbsp of lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt, pepper and sugar. To the Roasted Pepper (from a jar – I’m a convert) I added a 1/4 of a very finely chopped small onion (ideally I would have used an echalote), a tsp of wine vinegar, a tbsp of olive oil, salt and pepper.

Here’s how I rated it:

Tastyness: 8/10

Ease of sourcing ingredients: 10/10

Length of time spent cooking: Technically none as the oven did the cooking for 1hr and 10, but I spent about 20 minutes prepping the dolma and making the salads.

Will I make it again: yes!

Number of glasses of alcohol consumed while cooking: one panaché

Random food fact about Algeria: 80% of Algeria is covered by the Sahara Desert. This in itself is not a food fact, but it might go some way to explaining why the national dish of Algeria is Coucous, a very fine pasta shaped to look just like sand!

Next week we’re off to American Samoa…see you there!


Olympic Food Challenge #2

August 10, 2012

On to Albania this evening with Qofte të Fërguara…delicious meat balls served with an Albanian tomato and cucumber salad, hummus and pitta bread.

The cuisine of Albania is very diverse and varies greatly from region to region and I took a while to decide which dish to choose. This website had 20 Albanian recipes to choose from, including the national dish of Albania,  Tavë Kosi, a lamb and yoghurt baked dish. I decided as it was hot (though probably hotter in Albania at the moment) I didn’t fancy a big oven-baked dish, so I opted for the  Qofte të Fërguara – fried meatballs. The addition of feta cheese to the meatballs was interesting and the result made for succulent, tasty little balls of meat, delicately seasoned with oregano and mint. The tomato and cucumber salad with feta and olives was crunchy and fresh – plenty of tomatoes in the garden at the moment.

Here are the ratings:

Tastyness: 9/10

Ease of sourcing ingredients: 10/10

Time spent cooking: 30 minutes

Will I make it again: certainly – really easy and tasty meal.

Glasses of alcohol consumed while cooking: lots of water – a bit dehydrated today after spending too much time in the sun!

Random food fact I learned about Albania: Like in France, bread is ever present on an Albanian table and the Albanian for “going to eat a meal” – për të ngrënë bukë – literaly translates as “going to eat bread”.


Olympic Food Challenge #1

August 6, 2012

From Afghanistan I bring you Spicy, crunchy chickpeas, Bolani with coriander chutney and Qabili Palao – Meal number one on my Olympic Challenge done…only 203 to go!

After a little internet searching, I decided upon these three dishes that appeared to be popular National dishes of Afghanistan. There were a lot of websites to choose recipes from and I could have spent hours and hours reading them all, but time is of the essence…Afghan Culture Unveiled, a blog written by a lady called Humeira made for some really interesting reading about Afghanistan, not just food-based. I chose to base my meal on some of her recipes.

As an appetizer we had Spicy Crunchy Chickpeas – I have a penchant for salty snacks so could not resist trying these. The Chickpeas in Humeira’s photo look quite big compared to the dry roasted ones I found at the Sunshine Asian Superstore in Geneva. Mine were tasty and quite moreish, but not crunchy enough…next time I will add more oil and more salt I think.

Next we had Bolani stuffed with potato from the garden, spring onion and coriander. I would describe these as a cross between a Quesadilla a Samosa and a Pasty and were my favourite dish of this meal! They were served with Coriander Chutney. I cheated with the Bolani and used ready made Chapatti bread, but it worked really well and the result was a crunchy case. Without the Coriander Chutney, the Bolani would have been quite bland, but together they were delicious. I can’t find the link to the Coriander Chutney recipe, but it is basically mashed up almonds, sugar, salt, lemon juice, chilli sauce and coriander.

For the main course, we had a dish called Qabili Palao which is rice and lamb cooked in stock and spices,  topped with fried raisins, carrots and almonds. This is the national dish of Afghanistan. I again followed the recipe from Afghan Culture Unveiled, but I got the quantities all mixed up and we ended up with too much food and I found the lamb (the recipe says chicken, but internet searching told me lamb was more commonly used in Qabili Palao) a bit chewy and I overcooked the rice. The spices (cardamom and cumin) worked really well together to made very tasty rice.

Here are my ratings for the meal:

Tastyness: 8/10

Ease of Sourcing Ingredients: 9/10 (I had to go to the Asian Superstore to get dry roasted chickpeas)

Time Spent cooking: 1 hour and a bit

Will I make it again: The crunchy chickpeas and bolani, definitely. Possibly not the Qabili Palao.

Glasses of alcohol consumed while cooking: half a bottle of beer – I was too busy going from chopping board to pan to oven to drink!

Random food fact I learnt about Afghanistan: it is well known for its grapes and Kandahar is particularly well known for its Pomegranates…


Olympic Challenge

August 5, 2012

It’s been a while since I put pen to paper (or should I say fingers to keypad?), but a few things recently have inspired me to start writing again: The Olympics and a blog called Neverseconds. Two quite unrelated things, but together they have given me an idea…

I have thoroughly enjoyed and looked forward to reading posts on the Neverseconds blog about school dinners from around the world and it reminded me how much I enjoyed writing about food and sharing new recipes, ideas, successes and mishaps in the kitchen. My interest in World food is as strong as ever – I love to discover culture through food.

While watching the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics I suddenly thought it would be really interesting and challenging to try and cook the national dish from each of the 204 participating nations. I worked out that if I cook or eat (I’m not ruling out going to restaurants for some of the meals) one dish a week from the list, I should make it in time for the next olympics in Rio 2016!

I’ve  had a quick look through the list and am concerned already by how many stews there appear to be just in the A section! I’m also sure that some ingredients are going to be hard to come by in my local superstores. I have a well stocked spice cupboard, but  there will be times when I’ll need to improvise and adapt – I’ll cross those hurdles (no pun intended) when I get to them.

I don’t intend to invent any recipes of my own, I’ll be using the internet and my recipe book shelf to help me. I will link to any website recipes I use and comment on any changes I make to the recipes.

I hope to discover interesting facts to share with you about each country as well as my experience of cooking and eating the food, but to give my posts some focus, I’ll rate each meal with the following criteria:

1. Tastyness (1-10)

2. Ease of Sourcing ingredients

3. Length of time spent cooking it

4. Would I make it again?

5. Number of glasses of wine consumed while cooking.

I hope I make it to the end and I hope you enjoy reading about my experiences. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please share them!


Carrot and Courgette Muffins

July 25, 2010

I tricked Harri in to eating vegetables yesterday with these delicious muffins. He did questions the green bits at first and did refuse the first one, but repetition of the word “cake” was too much for him to resist. Here’s the recipe for those of you who would also like to fool your vegetable dodging toddlers or even those of you who like muffins. These are really tasty. Makes about 15 muffins.

2 eggs, 200g soft brown sugar, 80ml sunflower oil, 260g plain flour, 2 tsp Baking powder, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 80 ml natural yoghurt, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (for these last 2 ingredients, I used Vanilla flavoured yohurt), 250g carrot, 120g courgette, both grated.

Preheat oven to 170°C. Beat eggs, sugar and oil in a bowl until well combined. Add flour, baking powder and cinnamon and beat again. Add yoghurt and vanilla and mix through. Add veg and stir until evenly dispersed.

Spoon mixture into muffin cases in a muffin tray (ideally) until 2/3 full. bake in the preheated oven for about 30 mins or until golden and a skewer comes out clean from the centre. Enjoy!

By the way, Harri is much better with veg now – he will eat cherry tomatoes, but not big ones and corn on the cob, but not sweetcorn!