Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bits of Basel

I thought life would quieten down slightly when moving to Basel but it seems to be the opposite! Whilst trying to settle into a new flat, the project at work has taken full flight and the Christmas deadline is approaching (far to) rapidly. Apart from that there are trips to Ikea, second hand shops and more to get the flat sorted and work left over from Dundee as the comments for my paper have come back (luckily they were fairly positive but I do need to go back to Dundee briefly for more work).

However, I thought I’d share some more impressions and food with you. Last weekend we had a celebratory dinner in our new flat to christen the kitchen. Along with a batch of appeljam, chilli ginger and lemongrass jam and quince jelly I also produced two lovely dishes that I’ve wanted to make. I saw the scallop with chanterelle risotto and pumpkin recipe recently and it seemed very suitable as there are lots of these mushrooms around at the moment. The fig rosemary tarts with lemon mascarpone I noticed ages ago and have been keeping the recipe for a special occasion which this definitely was. Both were surprisingly easy to assemble as lot could be done beforehand and it really turned into a feast. I will definitely be making these again

Then yesterday the Basel hebst messe has started. On several spots in the city there are fairgrounds, food stalls and markets. The one closest to us on the Peterplatz is mainly filled with stalls. I had to keep myself from buying lots of jummy food, pottery and wool but got lots of things I’ve got an eye on and will be returning often in the next few weeks to purchase them. They are also a great place for picking up Christmas presents at there are only 8 weeks left (yikes!).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Goodbye Dundee and hello Basel!

About 5 weeks ago I got a phone call from my new boss telling me that he finally had funding for me to work for him in Basel. I was taken totally by surprise but accepted quickly as I’ve wanted to work for him for the last two years. So after weeks of frantic packing, cleaning and saying goodbyes I’ve left Dundee after 5 great years here! I just want to thank the many people who have made my stay there so amazing and showed me the country, mountains, pubs, sessions, took me climbing, walking and sailing, knitting and weaving and are such good friend! We’ll meet again soon!

And now I’m in Basel where I’ve been thrown in at the deep end, being put straight to work but that’s ok, cause I like working that way. I’ve been very lucky to be able to stay with a colleague who is very nice and we’ve discovered a common love for cooking and mountains. Barry and I have also found a flat (!), which we will move into this weekend, and I’ve bought myself a bicycle with a pannier for all my food shopping.

I’ve already had some lovely food in the 1.5 week that I’ve been here including a real Swiss fondue (thanks to Simone and Raphaela), the most simple but delicious fettucini with Chantrelle and Steinpilz and finally Vermicelles. This is seasonal dessert made of a mountain of slightly sweetened chestnut puree, shaped like spaghetti, served with wiped cream topped with a piece of marron glace and in our case with a hidden light meringue inside. I’d had a variation of this dessert in Japan last year where it is known as Mont Blanc. The Swiss version appears less sweet, which I like, although the portions are a lot bigger, which is not so good as it’s heavy stuff. Last Saturday we enjoyed a very nice one in Schliesser, a gorgeous old patisserie with tearoom upstairs. I can foresee spending many a rainy day in there (if I’m not to busy cooking in my nice new kitchen with pull-out, floor to ceiling, pharmacy-like cupboard!! only slightly excited about this).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Malaysian moon cake and more

Another post long overdue…Stephanie organized Blogging By Mail recently and I’ve still not posted about this. Friday the 15th I came back from an exhausting conference to find a package on my desk. At first I didn’t twig but then realized that it was my BBM package, and so early! So I managed to keep myself from opening it right there and then and after posting my own package on the way home I opened it when I came home.

I was sooo lucky that I was assigned Viviene! She sent me the most amazing package full of Malaysian goodies. I’ve never had the chance to go to Malaysia, but did stop over in Singapore once for 14 hours and spent a month travelling in Thailand so I’ve had some of the food and absolutely loved it! this package was a lovely reminders of the flavours I’d tasted before and it contained:

Lobster snacks beautiful little snacks which I expected to be fishy but tasted of peanuts and kept me going during the weekend I spent packing my belongings for the removal people

Peanut brittle one of my favourites! It didn’t last very long I’m afraid to say as it was just too delicious!

Durian sweet I’d seen and smelt the durian fruit when I was in Thailand and it was pretty foul but when you taste it, its really nice. So these sweets were a real treat.

Moon cake a beautiful round cake filled with real lotus paste in honour of the moon festival, which was eaten with my parents whilst cleaning the flat on my last weekend here (they were stars!). I’ve had these types of pastries filled with bean paste but never lotus paste which was very yummie, she also sent me some information about the history and legend behind the Chinese Moon Festival.

Curry paste and sticky rib sauce both looked lovely, but haven’t had time to make them so they are in a box travelling to Basel at the moment as I decided to share them with Barry as he loves sticky ribs.

Ginger honey coffee I’m normally not a big fan of flavoured coffee but these were really nice! Not to sweet and overpowering and kept me going on my late evenings cleaning up the office and finishing all the work I had to do.

Finally last but not least, a letter explaining the contents and a cookbook on Malaysian desserts, which I’m sure will be very well used as soon as we’ve found a kitchen (and flat to go with it).

So all in all, a wonderful package that has made the last whirlwind weeks a lot easier to deal with….thank you very much Viviene!

PS apologies for the bad quality of the pictures but I had to make due with the camera on my laptop as my digital camera was off getting fixed by Sony. Not impressed with them at all as first my camera broke within 6 months and then they made me pay for it even though it was still under warranty. They claimed there was nothing wrong with it but the guy on the phone explained to me (kindly) that sometimes opening and closing them solves the problem when something is jammed (like the lens in this case) yet then they still made me fork out £30!! Unbelievable.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Tagged by Pamela

Sitting at Heathrow airport waiting for my flight to Basel, I am finally sorting out my backlog of things to blog about. Pamela tagged me for this meme but with all the packing and leaving parties in the last week I’ve not had a chance to get around to it so here it goes…

I am thinking about: my new job starting on Monday

I said: Achter de wolken schijnt de zon (the sun is shining behind the clouds)

I want to: never move again!

I wish: my papers are accepted and I get a grant to stay in this job longer

I regret: not spending enough time with my parents and brother .

I hear: Blackbirds and Thrushes by Niamh Parsons.

I am: going to weave lots on my new loom when it arrives (thank you for a fabulous present guys!)

I dance: not nearly enough.

I sing: all the time and still not enough.

I cry: not very often.

I am not: looking forward to running again

I am: going to enjoy my first weekend in Basel and buy myself some new trousers (three pairs is just not enough)

I write: to much science and not enough about my cooking

I confuse: my French, German, Spanish and Japanese when I speak another language than English or Dutch.

I need: to sleep lots this weekend.

I tag: Sheryll, Corri_chan and Viviene for this meme

On another note, long live BA for letting me take on 10 kg excess luggage at no charge!! How is it every time you move you have more stuff then you think?!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Favourite kitchen gadget

Darn it....I'm late! I've spent the whole weekend at a weaving workshop (I can recommend it!!!) so now my post is late....hopefully it'll still be ok.Pamela was hosting the favourite kitchen gadget event. As I’ve been packing to move I’ve seem all my kitchen paraphernalia coming past in the last few days and decided that I don’t have one, but three favourites and all for different reasons.

The first one is my most practical favourite, my tried and trusted multipurpose mixer. I love the versatility of it! Whether you are making a cake, dip, curry, soup or something else with only a few attachments you can make it all. And there is no need for lots of bulky kitchen appliances. This mixer was a present from my mum the first year I went to university. For the last 9 years it’s been happily blending, mixing, grinding and kneading away and I hope it will continue to do so for a long time.

The second one is my cutest favourite. This lovely little princess grater was given to me by a friend of mine back home when I moved to the UK. We had shared many lovely meals during our studies and seeing it reminds me of that. Plus someone is always smiling at you when you walk into the kitchen which I the best way to start the day ☺.

Finally, my odd favourite….another present….Barry gave me this for our first Sinterklaas together, so for a start it reminds me of the effort he made trying to mimic Dutch custom and the thoughtful present he got me. For those of you who are wondering, it’s an egg clacker, meant to open your eggs with in a neat way. You lift the ball to the end of the stick, let go and it should leave you with a perfect cut to remove the lid of your egg…perfect for soldiers. Living in Scotland, I then to fry my eggs here but it reminds me of the game my brother and I used to play when we were younger where you would make as small a hole as possible in your egg. Then you would eat it very neatly, turn the shell upside down and give it to my dad. Without fail, he would always pretend as if he was really surprised it wasn’t a “real” egg. In addition, I love how geeky it is (I am a science nerd after all) and wish I would use it more. I’ve recently seen some very cool pictures of little custards made in eggs so perhaps, it’ll a get a few more uses in the future?!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Sudden move!!

I'm so excited!! as you might have figured out from the blog, I've been planning to move to Basel for a while. Barry left last week and started his new job on Monday and I had resigned myself to living in Dundee until Christmas. But then I got a call from my future boss yesterday saying he finally got money organized but I need to start on the 1st October! So I'm moving on the 28th of September....I'm sooooo excited that's it's finally happening (it's been about two years in the planning) and daunted by packing up all my kitchenstuff! somehow it'll all fit, but it might be a bit quite on the blog in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Saying goodbyes...

It’s 6.30 in the morning and I’m just back from the train station to drop Barry off for his move to Basel. We’ve been planning to move there for quite a while now but it’s finally happened. So this morning he left to start his new job on the 1st September. I’ll stay in Dundee a bit longer to finish another paper on my work but once that published I can leave as well and hopefully that should be before the end of the year.

But to “celebrate” our last weekend in Scotland we’ve eaten pretty well in the last few days. On Friday night we had 9 friends over for dinner and had a lovely meal (if I do say so myself). Then on Sunday, Barry had planned me a surprise lunch so we set of in the car to a “secret” destination….as I was trying to guess as we drove along, we arrived in a place called Inverkeilor where we went to a restaurant called Gordon’s. He had read a review of this restaurant in The Times a while ago and decided we should try it out (don’t you just love surprises like that!).

They had a set menu with two options for each course (they have more options for dinner) and I could have eaten all of them, they sounded so good. Whilst we were having a drink an making out choices, they served us a lovely sesame and cheese biscuit and some very good olives. In the end, we decided to split and taste each others but each had our preferred choice.

For starters I had smoked haddock with Isle of Mull rarebit with a piperade and basil dressing. This was a lovely dish and a combination I hadn’t thought off. The sweet spiciness of the piperade combined well with the smoky taste of the fish and all of this was softened down by the lovely melted cheese on top. Barry had roasted red pepper and plum tomato soup with a pesto yogurt, which was very nice as well, but I’m just not a soup person in restaurants.

My main course was the supreme of guinea fowl with a calvados mousse, vanilla parsnip puree and pan juices and Barry went for the Venison. I really really liked this dish, the guinea fowl was perfectly cooked and the mousse was a nice surprise under the crispy skin but I loved the parsnip puree! It was smooth as velvet, creamy yet still light and the vanilla added a lovely accent…it was almost like eating a savory custard.

Then we shared the cheese platter and the dessert as we both wanted both. The hostess suggested to eat the cheeses in order or “ripeness” starting from Pont l’eveque to Gorgonzola, Isle of Mull, Dunsyre blue and finally Epoisse. They were all lovely but my favorites were the last two, I guess I prefer the smellier ones, whereas Barry preferred the Isle of Mull and the Dunsyre blue.

Finally dessert, a coconut and Malibu soufflĂ© glace with caramelized pineapple and sorbet. It was definitely a feast to the eyes I but I was a bit skeptical at first as I don’t really like Malibu and often find it quite sickly. However, I’m glad to say I was wrong because it wasn’t anything like that. It was fresh, creamy, light and lovely. We finished the meal off with coffee and homemade vanilla tablet and honey chocolates. At £25 pp (£38 for dinner) for the food, I think this is a great find and I thought the portion size was perfect where I was very satisfied but didn’t feel stuffed at all. They also had a very impressive wine list, but as we were driving, I only had a glass of the house wine. We then went to the nearby beach of Lunan Bay for a walk to digest. All in all, a great day and a perfect way to say celebrate leaving at another one of Scotland’s hidden treasures! If anyone is in the area, I would definitely recommend you make a detour to this restaurant.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A very fancy jam sandwich

I was very excited to hear the theme for Sugar High Friday was jam! One of the big farming industries around Dundee is berries, and a big proportion of British strawberries and raspberries are grown around here. In the summer months there are lots of fresh local berries for sale in the shops and there are many farms where you can go and pick your own. This is a great afternoon out and often on a Saturday we would pack up a picnic and head over to our favourite farm with friends. After a great meal in the sun, we’d set off into the fields to pick some berries and eat some as you go along (“one for the basket and one for me”, is the general motto). This give you a great supply for the week to pick at and whatever you can’t eat goes into the freezer or gets turned into jam.

I love making jam, it’s so easy, plus, your house smells great!! I was always fascinated by the whole process as a kid, in the summer my mum would buy trays of fruit at the market and cook them in her big copper pan on our camping stove outside (gas was better then electric and it was just to hot inside; the joys of living in France). To make this I used my friend Allyson’s recipe (she is a jam queen!) and just heated the sugar in the oven (about 100C, equal weight to the berries). I added this to the berries with the juice of a half a lemon (I think I had 500g berries, which made 2 jars) and did the frozen saucer test. For sterilizing, I use my mum’s technique of washing the jars, fill them with boiling water, leave 5 min, then air-dry on a clean towel. I find when you add the jam to the jars when its still hot, this will create a natural vacuum and I’ve not had any problems with mould.

Most of the jars have gone as presents as we are moving to Basel soon (Barry leaves on Tuesday!) but I’d kept one back for a special occasion, and this was it. I decided to cook this recipe, which looked incredibly appealing (seemed fitting as they are hosting this SHF) and as I was going to a last minute dinner party with a milk intolerant child present it was perfect. It took under 30 minutes to make from start to finish and tasted fabulous. Unfortunately, my baking tray wasn’t big enough so the sponge turned out quite thick, which made it hard to role up. Therefore, it ended up looking more like a jam sandwich than a roll but this didn’t affect the taste, and it went down a treat with everyone….definitely a keeper!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Lucky stars

Apologies, but it’s gonna be a long one….I’m just back from a two week break in Japan with a colleague (and a subsequent week in bed with an evil Japanese cold!). The trip was part work as we were attending a conference and as the flight was already paid for we stuck on some holiday. We didn’t get off to a good start as our bags were left behind in transfer in Istanbul and as the next flight was 5 days later we spent the whole conference in the same clothes (three cheers for free t-shirts and hotel slippers!). This was a bit nerve-racking, especially as we had to present our work in a seminar. But of course everything went fine, we met lots of new people, caught up with old friends, ate lots of wonderful food and finished with a lovely leaving dinner complete with Japanese dancing (and they made us all participate! Lots of embarrassing pictures for the next meeting I think).

Friday, when the conference was over, we travelled to Fukuoka with two friends (Yumie and Manami) I met working here last year and there were our bags (I’ve never been so excited at the sight of clean clothes!). Bags and all, we piled in Yumie’s family car along with her mother and after a great Tempura lunch, drove off to the mountains where we had the most amazing three days. We stayed in an apartment annexed to the Rikuro Okamoto museum, which Yumie’s father designed as they are good friends. They treated us to a lovely home-cooked meal of raw katsuo marinated with soy and ginger, somen noodles with orka, cucumber and dipping sauce, tomatoes with sesame dressing and boiled taros you dipped into soy and ginger. It was so fresh, delicious (o-ish-ii!!) and beautifully presented (didn’t take many pictures as I wasn’t sure they’d appreciate my fascination with photographing my food) and after a lovely dessert of uirou (traditional Nagoya sweet) we went outside to look at the stars.

After a traditional Japanese breakfast of rice, miso soup and several dishes (not too keen on the pickled fisheggs but the rest was tasty) we set off to visit the ruined Oka castle. We climbed up and enjoyed stunning views of the surroundings, followed by a lovely lunch at Tajimaya in Takeda city. Lunch was perfectly presented in a two tiered lacquered bowl where lifting the top layer revealed a lovely collection of chicken and vegetables simmered in soy broths, along with fresh fu (wheat gluten), kuzu kiri (transparent arrowroot noodles) with a miso, yuzu vinegar and pickles. Lifting this layer showed the accompanying sticky rice with chestnuts and there was also some clear broth to go with it. We then visited the associated sweets shop where they had beautiful sweets made from sweet bean paste and big displays of Obon sweets (this is the festival where dead relatives are remembered and these sweets are displayed at the house altar). The rest of the afternoon was spend driving around visiting scenic bridges, waterfalls, a winery and Guernsey (in Japan!?) farm where we had the hugest, creamiest ice cream straight (almost) from the cow.

One Sunday we had another great day visiting one of the tops of mount Aso, a volcano that is still active. The crater was amazing, so barren yet beautiful in this lush green landscape of rice paddies. We then descended and had our own little volcanic lunch of a Dengaku set. We got a mountain of glowing coals in the centre of our table and 6 skewers each with a variety of vegetables, tofu, fish and a mini-crab to grill to perfection. Once done, the waitress came to smother the skewers with a Dengaku glaze (Miso-fermented bean paste, stock, Mirrin-sweet cooking sake, sugar and in this case Yuzu-citrus fruit) and you then ate this along with pickles, rice and soup. This was a real treat as I am a self-proclaimed Miso-monster. I love the stuff and would have it every day if I had the chance. Stuffed (keko desu!) we continued to Yumie’s uncles sake brewery were he gave us a guided tour of the place. I never realized it was actually made like wine from a mix of steamed rice with water (his saying was good water = good sake = good times) and even though some of the details were “lost in translation” we got the general idea. We then purchased some bottles and went back home for another feast that included horse sashimi (a local delicacy), a variety of sweets for dessert and some sake tasting which was really really nice! I was pleasantly surprised as the stuff I’ve had before was always quite strong and harsh whereas this just melted in your mouth. I was kicking myself I didn’t buy any more and the 300 ml taster bottle disappeared quickly. We then retreated outside again and as the sky was sooooo clear saw about 10 shooting stars in 30 min and had a stunning view of the Milky Way.

The next morning we were woken up (slightly in shock) at 5.30 by Yumie’s mum as outside a truly rare sight was to be seen around the volcano. They call in Unkai when the old crater around the current tops fills up with a sea of clouds and we were lucky enough to witness it! So off we drove in our pyjamas to the nearest viewpoint and it was truly stunning, the world was just so peaceful and pretty. We then went back to bed and after a lazy breakfast said goodbye to Manami and went to the nearby onsen town of Kurokawa. Onsens are Japanese mineral hot-spring baths and this town contains many, they are all beautifully designed. So we spent a while soaking in the turquoise water surrounded by the smell of cedar (the building material of the onsen) enjoying the view outside and then retreated to the associated restaurant for a delicious lunch where we shared a portion cold soba noodles and then had Yamaimo rice with many accompaniments. Yamaimo is a strange vegetable as it looks like a potato but once grated it turns into this white slimy slush. You mix this into your rice and slurp it with delight…however, I didn’t really go for the sliminess but our Japanese hosts gladly took care of leftovers. But the rest of the dishes were delicious as always and the black sesame ice cream we had for dessert was lovely. After that we packed up and headed for Fukuoka, which was a bit of a shock after the peaceful mountains but it seemed very vibrant and alive. We caught up with Yumie’s father and all went to a yatai (food stall) to have ramen, the trademark food of Fukuoka and it did taste very good although it was a bit hot in the weather (38 degrees Celcius and 80% humidity).

On our final day in Fukuoka, Yumie’s mum taught us how to make matcha (powdered Japanese green tea) according to the rules of tea ceremony, which was a real treat. For dinner, Yumie’s father taught us how to make his family recipe of cold miso soup, a quick summer dish with lots of fresh vegetables and fish to keep the farmers going. The luck didn’t stop there as it turned out there was a hanabi festival where they shoot off lots of fireworks. Unfortunatly, on the way there my camera died ☹ so no pictures of the stunning 90 minutes display. It was beautiful, especially as we were surrounded by lost of ladies and girls all dressed up in pretty yukatas (summer kimonos). Also no pictures from our subsequent 4-day stay in Kyoto I’m afraid. But then, I didn’t get to make the most of it as my colleague was short of cash and just not very interested in Japanese food so I had to contend myself with a shopping trip to Nishiki market and didn’t get to eat any of the beautiful Kaiseki food Kyoto is famous for. However, I did manage to buy this stunning looking book so will hopefully be able to recreate some of those lovely dishes at home with all my edible souvenirs! And I thank my lucky stars that I have such wonderful friends over there that have given me an insight into their culture, home and kitchen....hopefully we'll meet again soon.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Five times meme

Anna kindly passed her meme of fives onto me, so here are my answers:

Five Things in my Freezer

With a freezer and a half, it’s amazing how much stuff you accumulate (unfortunately no Edamame in my freezer though)
1. A jar of Lemonchello as its nicest cold
2. The best pizzadough every according to Heidi and Barry (as a true pizza fanatic) agrees with her
3. An emergency loaf of Irish bread
4. Lots of left over herbs
5. A tub of rhubarb ginger granita I made for this but never got the chance to post about

Five Things in my Closet

1. My ever growing collection of silly shoes (can a girl ever have enough?!)
2. Some nice bottles of wine, hidden for a party and now waiting for the perfect meal.
3. Lots and lots of belts and scarf
4. A growing collection of artsy skirts (my new project)
5. The rest of my clothes

Five Things in my Car

1.WD40, a savior when it comes to Dolly, our 15 year old Polo that has lots and lots of rusty bits
2. Change (mainly small) for crossing the bridge to Fife for summer berry picking and knitting trips
3. Decent plastic bags (not the flimsy supermarket ones!) and a cardboard box to not create more plastic waste when shopping
4. A miniature black camper van inherited from the previous owner
5. Lots of dust and mud as I’m very lazy at cleaning the car out and with walking trips it accumulates quickly

Five Things in my Purse

I have the loveliest green felted purse my friend gave me for my birthday. Unfortunately, there are not many compartments to put interesting stuff in

1. To many plastic cards
2. Lots of coppers that will eventually make it into the car for the bridge change
3. A small tub of Vaseline
4. Lots of receipts
5. Ibuprofen for my most recent ceilidh injury (don’t ask).

With that I’m off to Japan for the next two weeks (both conference and holiday)!! I can’t wait for all the wonderful food an will blog about it once I get back.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sunday lunch with Sinatra

Every Sunday, during the summer months, various brass bands play at the bandstand on the green at the end of our road. We’ve been away many weekend so have missed it so far but last weekend we were finally here so I made a Japanese themed lunch in my lovely “new” lunchbox.

I bought it just before Christmas when we went to a local shop where everyone else bought decorations for on and presents for under their tree. However, I saw this lunchbox and fell absolutely in love with it. It reminded me of the bento’s they have in Japan. There, everyone eats their lunch from compartmentalized boxed that contain great goodies. At new year, the hearth is traditionally extinguished for tree days so before this happens, the women of the house prepare an elaborate meal that is kept in a big bento and eaten over three days. I was full of good intentions to prepare this but with all the holiday madness it never happened and afterwards it seemed a bit silly to do it at the inappropriate time.

So last Sunday it was finally christened with a variety of Japanese dishes. In the top layer, I put soba noodles I’d come across made according to a Nigella recipe accompanied by Takuan pickles (or the Korean variant, from the Chinese supermarket) and soy simmered mushrooms. This is a recipe I learned in my first Japanese cooking class and have been addicted to ever since. In the second layer, I made various shapes of sushi with the same sake-toro filling, which is easily made by mincing some fresh salmon, spring onions and a dollop of Wasabi finely with a big knife. In the final layer, there was some salmon sashimi with soy and leeks in a Miso-vinegar dressing. It all looked great, but threatening clouds were appearing so I quickly went into the garden, which was a good idea as minutes later, rain came pouring out of the skies so we decided to have our picnic at home instead. But once we had finished all the tasty bits, it had cleared up again so we decided to go down after all. There were a lot of people there and most were elderly. But as it started to rain it was the young ones that disappeared first while the older generation dried of the seats with their hankies and pulled out their umbrellas. The most remarkable was an old man, dressed top to bottom in waterproofs that wondered down the hill holding on to his zimaframe, to the chairs where he sat happily tapping his feet in the rain. I really hope that when I reach that age, I will still brave the heavy rain to come and listen to some Sinatra.

Soy-simmered Dried Black Mushrooms (Shiitake no Umani)
Makes about 1/3 cup
3-4 dried shiitake
pinch of sugar
3/4 cup basic seastock
1/2 cup liquid left after softening the mushrooms
1 tbsp sake
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp shoyu

*Remove the stems from the mushrooms (they are very chewy but can be used to make a vegetarian stock). Soakthe caps for at least 30 min and up to several hours (or even days if you want to make this in advance) in warm water to cover. Adding a pinch of sugar hastens the softening process. You can weigh down the mushrooms with an otoshi-buta (dropped lid) but I generally use a small plate or glass to make sure the mushrooms are completely submerged.
*When the mushrooms have softened, strain to remove the gritty bits and resoak the capes in the stained liquid for 5-10 min (the caps should be fully reconstituted before cooking; I often skip this step as I'm not to fussy about little bits). Strain again and save the liquid.
*Combine 1/4 cup of the mushroom liquid (save the rest for soups) with half the dashi. Season with sake and bring to a simmer in a small saucepan.
*Add the softened shiitake caps and cook for 10 min maintaining a steady but gentle bubble, again trying to keep the mushrooms submerged. Skim away froth before adding the sugar.
*Add the sugar and cook 3-4 min stirring occasionaly, then add the shoyu and cook 4-5 min until the shiitake become glazed. Allow the caps to cook in the cooking pot and transfer them into a clean glass jar. They can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days

Note: Dried mushrooms are not interchangable with fresh ones as they have very different flavours. The left over liquids can be used to make miso or noodle soup. The mushrooms are lovely on their own or cut into slices in salads.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Gourmet sailing

We’ve just had a mini holiday last week where for five days, we sailed on the North Sea with good friends as their boat needed to be transported from Shetland to Dundee. We missed the first few days of the expedition but took the ferry to the Orkneys and joined the expedition there. Orkney is full of Neolithic monuments and when we came off the boat we went to spend midnight at the ring of Brodgar, a huge stone circle that originally consisted of 60 stones. This is a truly magical place and as we’re still close to midsummer there was a constant sunset in the sky. It is really baffling how these people quarried and moved these huge slabs of stone with wooden and stone tools only.

Back to the boat for a few hours of sleep but before bed, we had a wee nip of Caol Ila (a lovely whisky and also the name of the boat) accompanied by a slice of citrus polenta cake. I had made this cake beforehand as I had lots of polenta to use up and was inspired after Keiko’s post on kumquats. The cake was very easy to assemble although I went slightly wrong caramelizing the fruit for the bottom layer as the pan wasn’t hot enough. But once I got past that, I ended up with this lovely moist batter (even though I added too much polenta). It travelled remarkably well and was very tasty but would have benefited from the vodka mascarpone in the original recipe (we solved this problem with custard in the following days).The next morning we explored the island, which included a guided tour of another beautiful Neolithic structure, Maeshowe and a few visits to the local fishmongers. We decided to have a seafood feast for Barry’s birthday and went all out with spoots (razor shellfish), scallops and lobsters. Then we set sail for about 4 hours to move a bit further south to a bay just off the Scapa flow. This was a magical spot where we anchored right next to one of the Churchill barriers, which was the perfect location for our dinner. We went for a plain salad and traditional scones to go with the meal as we didn’t want to detract from the great flavours of the seafood. We just boiled the lobsters and fried the scallops in garlic butter. The spoots needed a bit more effort as they needed to be left in water for about 15 min to get rid of all the sand. Then you pour boiling water over them to get the shells (I think this would have been the point to remove the stomachs, but we didn’t realize we had to do that and ended up with some added sand) to open and finally they were quickly fried with garlic butter as well. Everything tasted so lovely and fresh and we were all well stuffed towards the end of the meal. Finally we had another nightcap (this time Dutch bitter, which is what we used to have back on the boat in Holland) with Banoffi pie that was lovely and rich. The next morning we set off early for a 16 hour leg to Fraserburgh, but due to the lack of/southerly wind we had to motor all the way. The main distraction was watching puffins and guillemots trying to take off (but failing and just nose diving into the waves), swinging off the haliet and eating lots of nice food.

In Fraserburgh we lost half our crew due to other commitments and to much seasickness :-( , which was a shame as the next day we finally got to sail properly and saw a big whale playing in the waves!! I looked over and noticed this huge white and black shape clearing the water, at first I wasn’t sure if I’d seen it right but then there were a few spouts of water and the whale jumped up two more times. It was truly amazing and we were just soooo excited for a long time after. So to celebrate that evening we decided to go for a scrumptious 8 course meal consisting of crayfish tails in a sweet chilli sauce, parcels of pepperoni, sun dried tomatoes and rum soaked cashew nuts (a variation on Johanna’s wonderful skewers), battered and fried squids, rolls of pastrami filled with grated carrot and spring onion dressed with soy, Portobello mushrooms stuffed with parsley, cashews and blue cheese, Emma’s excellent broccoli with ginger soy and marmalade (!), a perfect fillet steak and finally, crepe suzette (although not lit as that would be a bit risky.) This was all accompanied by some G&Ts, Chablis, pink and red sparkling wine and a great singsong.

Needless to say, the next morning was a bit of a struggle but we had to get up early to make it to Arbroath in time. We didn’t get quite so far and moored in Montrose where Barry came to pick us up. Utterly exhausted and pretty land sick (everything was moving sooo much) we had a final farewell dinner with everyone in Dundee and then went off to bed to get rid of all the moving motion in my head. But it was a really wonderful experience and hopefully we’ll do it all again very soon….

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Pottery, Pies and Picnics

Work is a bit hectic at the moment and I’m afraid the blog has been suffering from it the most. After a long day of writing papers and grants, the last think I feel like is sitting down behind the computer again. But last weekend, we managed to escape to the far north of Scotland to celebrate the Summer Solstice (which is actually today). This was a real trip down memory lane for me as we went to Achmelvich, which is the first place I visited outside of Dundee when I moved here the first time in 2000 as an undergraduate student. I came here for 7 months to work in one of the labs, fell in love with Scotland, came back the next year to do a PhD and haven’t left since (although the end is in sight)….this is one of my fabourite parts of Scotland and I love coming here. This time, Barry came with me as he had never been and I wanted to show him this area before we move....but I digress.

So last Friday we drove up with friends and pitched the tent next to the sea. Saturday morning we woke up to the sound of rain so stayed in the tents for a while, had breakfast and around 11, when it dried up wondered over to Lochinver, a village about 4 miles away. We visited the Highland pottery shop, which has stunning pottery but quite pricey. So I was sooooo chuffed when I found a seconds serving platter, which was perfect on top but had an ugly mark on the bottom (nobody will ever know!) half price (pics will follow soon). We then went to this amazing shop I’d been told about a long time ago but never had a chance to visit (even though I’ve been in the area five time already). It’s the Lochinver Larder and they sell lots of wonderful pies. There were so many different varieties that it took us a long time to make up our minds but in the end we shared a venison and cranberry pie, a wild boar, port and prune pie and rounded it off with a strawberry/rhubarb pie for dessert.
The pies were heated for us but we took them outside where they made a perfect picnic whilst looking out towards the see. The pies were really moist and full of flavour, the fruit was perfectly balanced with the meat and the pie crust had a nice bite to it. After this, we wondered back and the rest of the weekend was spent walking beaches, swimming (for some...way too cold for me!), playing rugby on the beach, building dams in sand, having barbeques and roasting marshmallows and wondering along the cost. I can really recommend this area if you’re ever this far north. It’s a beautiful rugged part of the country with lots of sheep and little people but everyone is really friendly and the food is great. There are a lot of wonderful seafood restaurants and at this time of year the light is really fabulous, it’s so far north that it doesn’t even get completely dark and we sat up with a bonfire till the early hours.
Now back in Dundee with the piles of papers, I find myself staring at the mountain scenery on my new plate and contemplate ordering some pies by post soon, unless I find the time to make one….

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

When you can't make ice cream... you don't have an ice cream maker and you can't go out and buy one as you will be moving by the end of the year and you have to move your vast quantity of kitchen paraphernalia make granita! I've been restraining myself from buying an ice cream maker but with the warm weather there is nothing like some frozen comfort but I have found the solution to my problem....granita's! They're somewhere in between a sorbet and a slush puppy but so much better then the horrible synthetic tasting ones we get here (I mean turquoise for raspberry flavour!). They are very easy to make (and quick, which is a big bonus at the moment as work is hectic) as you just boil a sugar syrup and can then add anything you fancy to thin the liquid out, preferably with some alcohol. The liquid is then frozen in a shallow tray and scooped out as a crystallite mixture. Lovely on its own, with fruits or cakes, the possibilities are endless.

I've previously made a mulled wine granita and this time went for a lemon one with the lemons we got from our organic citrus box. I took the rind off the lemons and boiled this with the sugar syrup. The syrup was strained and water and alcohol (in this case Corenwyn; a Dutch version of gin) was added. This was then frozen and had been sitting in my freezer for ages until we ate it last night. I had baked some lemon and poppy seed cookies to go with it from the parcel Marie-Laure sent me for EBBP4. The cookies were great and their crunchiness contrasted nicely with the fresh, tart and slighlly boozy taste of the granita...the perfect summer dessert!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Some random food...

...that we've been eating over the last week or so. I'm very busy at work at the moment so don't have that much time to write posts but I thought I'd share these pictures with you as I like them. First up, a summer salad of mixed leaves with Beluga lentil and goats cheese crostinis which we enjoyed in our garden on a Sunday afternoon (the weather has been absolutely fab here the last week).

Followed by some daikon and roast beef rolls from the Japanese feature in this month's Delicious. These were very easy to make, just grate some daikon, squeeze out the juice, add some chopped spring onions and roll them up in a slice of roast beef. The dipping sauce was made off soy (4 tbsp), sesame oil (1 tbsp) and some finely sliced garlic. The whole thing took about 5 min to assemble and was very tasty....great finger food for entertaining.

Finally, we had some pork burgers (mince, onion and garlic mixed with ground coriander, cumin, tumeric and chilipowder) with some steamed runner beans and these lovely ceci with garlic and sage. They are a bit of an effort to make but very much worth it, crunchy and with a bit of a kick they make a lovely snack or part of a full meal. So hopefully I'll have more time to write a proper post soon but first we're off for a weekend of walking on the westcoast...fingers crossed we'll keep the nice weather!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Something old and something new

One of the souvenirs I brought back from my recent skiing trip in the Savoie (France) was a bag of Crozets. This pasta was introduced in the Savoie in the 17th century. The pasta is made from a mix of plain and wholewheat flour or buckwheat flour that is cut into little squares and is a good example of hearty mountain food. I bought a bag of buckwheat crozet as I like their nutty flavour. Traditionally, they are prepared in a Croziflette (a tartiflette made with crozets in stead of potatoes) in which they are paired with bacon and Reblochon. This is a tasty and filling dish, just what is needed after a day on the piste or perhaps whilst having lunch on the piste.

A few months I already made the traditional version, but with spring finally here and summer fast approaching; it was time to use them in a new combination. So I decided to use the crozets in a fresh summer salad. After boiling them, I paired them with some lovely organic mixed leaves we got from our organic veggie bag delivery. I also added some slices of roasted kabotcha pumpkin, a few bits of gorgonzola and some slices of Parma ham. This combination was great, lots of strong flavours that combine well. The crozets stay pretty al dente so have a nice bite to them and as the mixed salad contained mizuna, shungiku, tai sai, cress, rocket, raddicio and little gems it was crisp and spicy. The sweetness of the roasted kabocha pumpkin combined nice with the Gorgonzola, which started to melt slightly with the pumpkin and the Parma ham finished all this off beautifully. A very pleasant lunch indeed and I think this new combination is at least as good as the old one!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Three uses for Katsuo-bushi

A few weeks ago I got a very nice surprise as I received a parcel from Anna at Baking for Britain. Anna was my allocated person for EBBP4 and I some of the ingredients I sent her were for making Japanese food including dashi (seastock). However, my ingredients were incomplete and contained no bonito flakes as just can’t get everything in Dundee. These flakes are made from the dried flesh of the bonito (skipjack tuna) which has been repeatedly smoked. This is then shaved into flakes and mainly used for adding a smoky, fishy flavour to stock or as garnish for a variety of dishes. Anna very kindly found some in for me in London and this was the parcel that arrived, 5 precious little bags of bonito flakes (or katsuo bushi as Anna discovered from the Japanese shop owners).

So I wanted to make something a bit more special then just stock and decided to make okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is what they sometimes call Japanese pizza, as you can vary the topping but it’s more like an overly filled omelette. The first time I had one was years ago when one of my Japanese colleagues in Dundee organized a pot-luck dinner party, Her contribution was an okonomiyaki and I remember being amazed at the topping. The omelette is garnished with katsuo-bushi and as the flakes are so thin, they seem to “dance” on top of the omelette as they sway in the hot air.

Then whiles living in Japan, we would sometimes go to restaurants specialized in okonomiyaki. These are very fun places as all the tables have a hot plate built in and you order the premixed ingredients but get to cook the whole thing at your own table. However, after dinner there, you are definitely in need of a shower as you stink of frying but it’s well worth it.

So I got the recipe from the book Untangling my Chopsticks, a book I absolutely love and recommend if you are interested in Japanese food and the culture involved. The recipe is very simple, you just chop and grate all the veg and meat (or you can of course make it vegetarian, mix everything and then start frying them. You only use one egg, which doesn’t look like much, but it gets it’s lovely creamy golden texture from the grated taros (also known as Japanese mountain yams or satoimo). To eat, you garnish with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, katsuo-bushi and nori (seaweed) flakes and pickled ginger. Okonomiyaki sauce is actually based on Worcestershire sauce so you can use this as a replacement. Worcestershire sauce came to Japan in the second half of the 19th century but the flavour has been made milder to suit the Japanese palate. I couldn’t find the right pickled ginger so used gari (that you use for sushi) instead which doesn’t really matter flavour wise, although the other one does taste a bit stronger. I’d also run out of mayonnaise. As I had to make dashi for this recipe, I used one of the bags for that and then “recycled” the used bonito flakes by dry frying them with some soy…this makes a great sprinkle over rice. The rest of the dashi I used for making miso soup the following day. When frying the omelettes, the smells made me all nostalgic about Japan. Once again, the fish flakes danced on top and the taste was perfect.
Okonomiyaki (makes 2, serves 4)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp (0.5) tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1 1/2cup dashi
1 large egg
1 cup grated taro’s
2 cups coarsely chopped green cabbage
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded
1 bunch scallions(±6) trimmed and thinly sliced
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 ounce boneless, skinless chicken breast, thinly sliced into small pieces
10 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and sliced lengthwise in half

for garnish
okonomiyaki sauce (can substitute with Worcestershire sauce)
shredded red pickled ginger
dried bonito flakes (katsuo-bushi)
shredded nori

Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together dashi and egg, then add the grated taro’s. Add this wet mixture to the dry, whisk until the batter is smooth and add all the vegetables. Heat a non-stick skillet on medium-high, brush a tablespoon of oil on the surface and, when hot, put half the mixture in the pan. Spread this out till about 8 inch wide, scatter half of the chicken and shrimp on top and press them into the surface. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the pancake for about 4 minutes until the top edges appear cooked and the bottom has stiffened. Turn the pancake and cook for 3-4 more minutes until the other side is golden. Repeat this process with the remaining oil, batter, chicken and shrimp.

Cut the pancake into wedges and let people garnish their individual wedges. First spread creamy mayonnaise on top, followed by okonomiyaki sauce. Next, scatter some ginger shreds, bonito flakes and finally add a generous pinch of nori on top.

Monday, April 24, 2006

What’s For Pud?...Summer!!

What a wonderful day we’ve had yesterday! We’ve gone straight from winter into summer up here in Scotland so the only fitting English dessert to make for What’s For Pud was Summer pudding. This was my first attempt at any kind of bread pudding as I have a great dislike of soggy and I was pleasantly surprised. It was very easy to assemble just boiling the fruit, sugar and water, lining the mould with bread and putting the fruit mixture in there, then leaving it in the fridge over night. The taste was really good, the juices sweetened the bread and even though the bread was slightly wet, it wasn’t soggy and the fruit inside was still intact. We had our first barbeque of the year and had the pudding for dessert. Thanks to Becks&Posh and Jamfaced for organizing this, it made me discover a great dessert and I’ll definitely make this more often, specially once it gets to picking season and you can pick your own berries at the farms around.


Friday, April 21, 2006

Liquor used at long last

This Sugar high Friday is hosted by Chandra at Lick The Spoon and she picked a drunken dessert, preferably not rum….so I had the perfect recipe for this that I’ve been meaning to use since I bought my very first silicon mould (sigh). It was a cold November Sunday, I’d spent the weekend in Edinburgh and was on my way home. The last few months I’d been reading more and more blogs and had been reading about this new baking product called a silicon mould. Everybody seemed over the moon with these moulds and they did sound good but I’d never spotted one in the Dundee shops.

So little unexpected me was wondering in and out shops on the way to the train station and suddenly found myself in the Jenners (it’s a bit like the Scottish Harrods, but not quite so grand and without the foodsection) cooking department where I was greeted by a table full of lovely baby-pink Fauchon silicon!! So I ages to decide but finally settled on a mould with nine small rectangles (very practical) as I figured buying the pink mini heart-shaped moulds would give him a hart attack.

When I finally sat down on the train, I unwrapped my lovely new mould (there’s nothing quite like getting something just for you wrapped as a present anyway) and found another bonus: there were two recipe cards included with the mould. One was for vegetable mini cakes and the other for miniature pear cakes. Both sounded appealing but I’m definitely sweets person so I started plotting this recipe. I wouldn’t be able to get pear liquor in Dundee I would have to make some and I had just the bottle for it.

My parents have this habit of giving us presents and then not remembering so giving them again. This way we’ve steadily been building up a collection of Corenwyn (only in Dutch I’m afraid). This is almost like a Dutch combination of vodka and whiskey, distilled from grains but matured in oak casts for three years it has a high alcohol percentage and a sharp taste and I’m not a big fan of it as a drink. But as the taste isn’t very pronounced it can easily be used for cooking.

So when I got off the train, I bought some pears, made the liquor using equal quantities of sugar, fruit and alcohol and left it in the cupboard to rest……for about 6 months! For all my initial excitement, I never actually got around to making the cakes until now so this was a great motivator. The batter was very straightforward to prepare although I could really have done with braising the pears earlier but I left everything till the last minute, so they weren’t quite cold when they got mixed into the batter (and still had quite a lot of juice with them). Another thing that worried me was that there was no use of rising agent but the dense consistency worked quite well once the cakes were soaked. Once cooled, the cakes were really nice and moist, the flavour of the alcohol wasn’t to overpowering but gave this subtle hint that there was a little more than just pears in there. It was great for dessert as it was still all warm but even better the next day when all the flavours mixed.

Miniature pear cakes (makes nine)
165g caster sugar
3 eggs
165g butter
2cl pear liquor/brandy
165g flour
165g diced pears
17g butter
33g honey
Pear punch:
40g sugar
6cl water
3cl pear liquor/brandy

Braise the diced pears in the honey and butter; cool and set aside in the fridge. In a bowl beat the eggs and sugar until the mixture forms soft peaks. Blend one third of the mix with the melted butter and brandy, add the flour to the other two thirds of the mixture. Then mix these two together. Fill each miniature cake tin with the mix and the diced pears. Bake at 160C for 35 min. Mix the sugar, water and pear liquor to make a pear punch and heat it for a few minutes. Leave the miniature cakes to cool for 3-4 min; then soak them in the hot pear punch for 30 sec.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter extravaganza

I am writing slouched on the couch as we’ve just had soooo much food this afternoon, I could not possibly sit up. But it was wonderful, we had lovely company, the weather was beautiful and allowed us to go out and sit in the sun, and after two days in the kitchen we had a true Easter feast. As this was the first time in about one and a half years since I’d had a big dinner party I went a bit overboard. So a big thanks to Barry for helping me out with everything and calming my panic attacks (we’re not gonna have enough food!!). Anyway, this is what we had but unfortunately I forgot to take pics of lots of the dishes so I’ll leave it up to your imagination.

We had spiced chickpeas to nibble on, then Nigella’s
ham in cola, which is always a great success. For the vegetarians there was an asparagus quiche, chickpea fritters with a tikka sauce and Jerusalem artichoke salad, both from the Crank’s cookbook I got for my birthday and hadn’t had a chance to cook from yet. Then our guests brought lovely salads, potato cakes and chocolates and we had lots of different homemade breads with rosemary, sun-blushed tomatoes and a butter lamb as well (the mould was another present).

For dessert we had chouquettes, a slightly adapted version of Gateau de Mamy with more almonds, less flour and pieces of dark chocolate, Pate brisee with Dulce de Leche instead of ganache, hot cross buns, as I’d never had any before and finally a Pavlova with a mascarpone lime cream topped with raspberries and strawberries from the Avoca cookbook.

So now…we just need to digest (which will take a while I think) and then have it all over again as we made way too much food! There was no need to panic after all….

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Chocolate balls turn into eggs

The first time I had these chocolate balls was over a year ago in Jaiselmer, India. We’d just come back from a two day camel trek in the dessert and were tired, sandy, smelly and incredibly sore. But after a shower we felt a bit more human and staggered into town (John Wayne style). We had a lovely sand-free italian dinner after 6 weeks of curry) in one of the hostels and as they had no tiramisu on the menu, we settled for chocolate balls. Not expecting very much, they were amazing...perhaps it was the 2 days in the desert, the motion of the camels or the lack of sleep but these balls were fabulous. After much persuasion, they let us come back the next day at lunchtime and showed us how to make them. What they claimed was a carefully guarded family secret turned out to be incredibly simple and easy!

The second time I tasted them was a few months later when I met up with one of the girls I travelled with and she had made some for old times sake. So we took a London bus tour and enjoyed our “balls” in the fresh air and sunshine whilst reminiscing of the camels and driving past Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge and more.

So this is the third time I’ve had them and the first time I’ve made them myself but they were just as easy and tasted as good as I remembered...and instead of balls, I turned them into Easter eggs as it’s almost that time. They looked lovely next to my new decorations of eggs I blew out and wrapped in left-over bits of ribbon and I’m sure they’ll look great on the table, next to my newly knitted sheep egg warmers. I hope you all have a lovely Easter with lots of nice food and of course lots and lots of chocolate!

Indian chocolate balls
8 bourbon biscuits
2 heaped tsp of dissolving chocolate or cocoa
½ tsp of desiccated coconut (optional)
1 tsp butter
3 tbsp sweet and condensed milk

Crush the bourbons in a blender and when fine, add the rest of the ingredients. Mix till you get a mouldable paste and roll these into balls (or in this case, eggs). Sprinkle with coconut powder to serve.

I’m sure these would taste great with some crushed nuts, dried fruits or anything that takes your fancy instead of the coconut. And perhaps adding some rum, grand Marnier or other liqueur would be nice many options!