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….