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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Sunday, January 29, 2006

IMBB: Sake steak and soba noodles

Served cold, because it's stupidly hot and humid here in Melbourne. Humid?? Melbourne never used to do humid! Apparently now we do. Hate it. Hate it!
This IMBB has the theme of noodles, which I thought I may not enter because I'm not eating noodles at the moment, but then I remembered Japanese soba noodles, made from buckwheat flour. Having just returned from Japan, I fell for these nutty, slightly grainy-textured noodles and chose them over udon noodles in all my soups. Don't like udon so much. Remind me of witchetty grubs. :-)
Since returning I've also been taken with the idea of using sake in my cooking (keep an eye out for some "boozy potatoes" I plan to make soon), and I recalled this Nigella recipe, from Feast. She uses basmati rice, but I reckoned it'd be just as good with soba noodles. Better suited to the weather too.
You marinate your meat (and apparently this recipe works equally well with steak, chicken, duck etc.) and then make up a sauce which uses sake as the base. I planned to marinate my meat for about 2 hours, but through a series of events, got around to cooking it 3 days later. So well and truly marinated it was. You can use either hot English mustard or wasabi in this, and I went the wasabi route in the marinade. By the time I got around to making the sauce, 3 days later, I decided to try a bit of both and see how that turned out. Well, I say. So, I reckon either would do.

Tastewise, this is excellent. There's certainly a reason why Nigella says she "cooks this more often than I cook anything else, bar the roast chicken, in my repertoire" and she says she always has a couple of bags marinating meat on the go in her fridge. The coriander on top and fish sauce in the dressing turn this into a more pan-Asian dish, and well-suited for eating cold. I felt the marinade was a little too heavy on the Worcestershire sauce, of which I'm not a fan, so I might cut down on this next time. But it's easy, it's tasty, it's meaty, it's saucy - what more can you ask?
Read on for the recipe:

Sake Steak and Soba Noodles
Adaped from Feast, Nigella Lawson.
Serves 2

2 x 150g fillet steaks
1 packet Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles
1-2 tablespoon of fresh coriander, to serve

For the marinade:
1 teaspoon hot English mustard, or wasabi paste
1-2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (to taste)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoons chilli oil

For the sauce:
60 ml sake
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoons fish sauce (nam pla) or brown rice vinegar
few drops Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot English mustard or wasabi paste

-In a freezer bag, combine the marinade ingredients and add the steaks. Leave to marinate for a few hours or in the fridge up to 2 days.

-Let the steaks come to room temperature before cooking, and put on the soba noodles (follow instructions on the packet). The noodles only take a few minutes to cook.

-Heat a ridged griddle and give the steaks, out of their marinade, 2 minutes a side or so, and remove the steaks, double-wrapping them in foil parcels. Let them rest for 10 minutes on a wooden board or pile of newspapers.

-Bring the sake to boil in a tiny little saucepan to let the alcohol taste evaporate. Take the pan off the heat and add the other sauce ingredients. Unwrap the steaks, removing them to a wooden boards for carving and pour the red juices gathered in the foil parcels into the pan of sauce.

-Arrange the soba noodles on plates and slice the steaks into thin diagonal slices. Lay the carved steak on top of the noodles and spoon over the sauce. Scatter coriander on top.

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Kit Kat Wine

See others in the funny Japanese Kit Kat series here: Strawberry, Caffe Latte, Noir, Blackcurrant, Maple Syrup.

Quote: "This would have been better if it actually tasted like wine". Instead of, well, nothing much. This is another from the Kit Kat Chocolater series, allegedly created by Takagi-san, Patissiere to the stars (and the Nestle factory). I was very excited when I saw this flavour. Wow - wine flavoured Kit Kats, how totally bizarre is that?

I assume the pink coloured white chocolate is to suggest the red wine relationship. Everybody who has tried these has been underwhelmed: "Doesn't taste anything like wine!" "Tastes like strawberry" (??), "Tastes like nothing!"
I tend to agree, but I can discern an alcoholic flavour, especially in the aftertaste. A kind of mouth-filling sensation. Doesn't actually taste of anything, but there's an alcoholic feeling about it. Would be an interesting alternative to an After Dinner Mint, I guess. Although a pretty p*ss poor alternative, in my eyes, I have to say!
However, this morning I woke up and decided to enjoy the waking-up experience by waking up to a wine-flavoured Kit Kat. These are tiny little things, so don't get in a flap about my breakfast habits (although I did eat a slice of cold pizza for breakfast this week. In the car. Running late. On the way to work. Tasted great!). So, tasting these as your first food flavour of the day? Really winey! Really alcoholic. Not in a gross, waking-up-to-a-glass-of-bourbon experience, but fairly strong. If you're going to wake up to a Kit Kat, there are gentler ways to do it.
So, I have about 40 of these things, and have no real inclination to eat them. Guess I'll be throwing them from the top of the library to the 1st year enrolling students.....

My score: 5 out of 10
Friends score: 5 out of 10

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Friday, January 27, 2006

SHF: Honey & pinenut semifreddo

Wow, three recipes from Forever Summer in as many days. I guess it's the right season for it. This one came about because I had seen the theme for this month's Sugar High Friday, which is "Sugar Low Friday". In consideration of the excesses of the recent holiday season, the challenge is to make a sweet recipe but to be a bit more frugal with the fat and the sugar. In fact, try not to use any processed sugar at all, but look to natural unprocessed products like fruits and syrups, or experiment with sugar substitutes.

In fact, Sam asked for feedback on what it's like to cook with these sugar-low products like Splenda, and I can provide that because when I was on a serious low-carb diet a few years back I tried making many of the substitute recipes you find on those crazy zealot-dieter websites, including one for some peanut cookies made with Splenda. They weren't actually too bad, you know, but they had strange, somewhat crumbly texture and an rather unnatural aftertaste, which is difficult to describe. I'm sitting here playing with words and I still can't come up with anything more than "unnatural" and, perhaps, "chemical". They smelled funny too. Hmmmm. Also, I don't know about anywhere else, but in Australia Splenda is pretty expensive, and pouring out a cup or so felt like a pretty frivolous thing to do. At a pinch I ate them and enjoyed the experience, but they were just not a patch on cookies made with real sugar.

I didn't think I'd have a chance to make anything for this SHF installment, but when geting my chocolate pavlova recipe I noticed this honey semifreddo in the icecream chapter - a chapter I'd always pretty much ignored cos I don't have an icecream maker - but this recipe doesn't require one. It also doesn't require any sugar. Double bonus! It uses honey as its sweetener, and very effective it is too. However, whilst this recipe may be low in processed sugar, low in fat it certainly aint. This baby contains 5 eggs and a whole pot of cream. Sorry.... :-( But, hey, no sugar...... :-)
It's an absolute doddle to make - just whip cream, and mix honey and eggs together, and throw it in the freezer. The taste is extremely rich, and I (yes, even I) recommend small portions, which is very unlike me. It's also a showcase for good honey, and I had the perfect stuff for the occasion, in my unrefined stuff I get from the uni market. The pinenuts on top add a real interest, and I think they're an essential component to the dish. The intensity of the honey flavour needs something to break it up, and the pinenuts do that really well. A dead easy dessert that tastes like something that took hours to make.
Read on for the recipe:

Honey Semifreddo
from Forever Summer, Nigella Lawson.


1 egg
4 egg yolks
100g best-quality honey, plus 3 tablespoons or so for serving
300ml double cream
25g pine nuts, toasted

-Line a 900g/1 litre load tin with clingfilm or greased aluminium foil

-Beat the egg and egg yolks with the honey in a bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water (or just use a very heavy saucepan like a Le Creuset) until mixture is pale and thick. You can use a balloon whisk if you want a workout, but using an electric beater will be much easier.

-Whip the double cream until thick, and then gently fold in the egg and honey mixture. Pour into the prepared loaf tin, and cover with clingfilm before putting it in the freezer for about 2-3 hours.

-When it is ready to serve, turn out the semifreddo and drizzle with honey and sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts before slicing. It thaws quickly as it stands, so be careful.

Serves 6-8

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Kit Kat Maple Syrup

See others in the funny Japanese Kit Kat series here: Strawberry, Caffe Latte, Noir, Blackcurrant.

You might be mistaken for overlooking this one. Kit Kat White, it says. But no! Look up in the top right. Can you see what looks like some golden coloured syrup being poured and a small red Maple leaf? Well, maybe not, cos the box opening goes right through it, but it's there. Yes, this one is maple syrup flavour! Mmmmmm....

My gripe with all these exciting Kit Kat flavours is that they too often use a white chocolate base to carry the flavours. Now, I can understand it in the case of Maple Syrup, but some of the others could have been distinctly improved by using "real" chocolate instead of the nasty white stuff (no, I'm not a fan.)
So, my first taste of this was underwhelming. It tasted like white chocolate. Bleah. But then an aftertaste takes over, of quite delicious, natural-tasting maple syrup. This was the "subtle flavour" my friend preferred when he didn't like the caffe latte flavour so much. He really liked this one. I quite liked it. It's certainly one of the more interesting flavours I found. A good souvenir.
My score: 6.5 out 10
His score: 8 out of 10

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova

It's Australia Day here, and you just can't celebrate Australia Day without a pavlova. Ok, so Aussie pavs usually go for the white meringue covered in passionfruit, strawberries and kiwifruit - and very good they are too. But this is a bit of a high-falutin', gourmet version. Sam Kekovich wouldn't be impressed! But I have been throwing nice, juicy lamb chops on the barbie all week, and I did it specially last year, so I hope that makes up for it. Anyway, it's too hot today for lamb (38 degrees....)

I first saw this chocolate pav on an episode of Nigella's Forever Summer with my mum and nonna. All three of us were glued to the screen and I decided I had to make it. It's now become a bit of a staple for me. I bring it along every year for our Easter Sunday brunch, and various other events throughout summer and autumn. Every person should have this recipe up their sleeve; it's dead easy to make but looks very impressive and professional. The chocolate meringue base isn't overly sweet because of the cocoa and dark chocolate it contains, and mixed with the whipped cream and tart raspberries, it really is perfection from few ingredients.

I had never made a meringue before trying this for the first time, and was pretty intimidated. I remember mum saying that she had never been able to do meringue, so I assumed I'd stuff it up. But I just followed the instructions, and it was just fine. Some times have been better than others, when I've ended up with a flat, chewy frisbie, but every time still tastes good. I turn off the fan in our oven when making this, and I don't know if that helps things along or not. But I did it once, so I do it every time now. This time it turned out perfectly, and I was thrilled. I let it cool in the oven overnight and transferred it the next day to a cake stand. And what do you know? The bloody thing cracked! Sheesh! But the good thing about a pav is that it doesn't matter it if all caves in cos you just cover up any disasters with mounds of whipped cream. Hehehe.
Usually I use frozen raspberries, because the fresh ones are so ludicrously expensive, but this time I had a punnet of the fresh sort - it being high summer, of course. Taste-wise I don't find any difference, so don't feel bad going for the frozen.

Do feel bad going for any other fruit, though. This recipe just will not work with anything but raspberries. I'm sorry. I know there are people who don't agree with this, but the tart sourness of raspberries are the perfect foil to the intense, sweet chocolate meringue and fat cream. Chocolate and raspberry are a classic combination anyway. Chocolate and kiwi fruit are not. Strawberries don't quite work cos they don't have the right flavour or texture, but I guess could be used in a pinch. I guess.....
I didn't have enough fresh raspberries for this, but it didin't matter. It didn't look quite so voluptuously generous as in Nigella's photo, plus I forgot to shave dark chocolate curls over the top, but I still think it looks pretty damn tempting!

And the taste is incredible. You bite through the raspberry flavour bombs, to the cloud of whipped cream and onto the crispy meringue shell, to find the gorgeous chocolate gunge waiting for you underneath. So good. And so damn easy to make.
Read on for the recipe:

Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova

From Forever Summer, Nigella Lawson.
Find US measurements

You just cannot beat a pav in summer, and in particular this dark beauty. The crisp and chewy chocolate meringue base, rich in cocoa and beaded nuggets of chopped plain chocolate, provides a sombre, almost purple-brown layer beneath the fat whiteness of the cream and matt, glowering crimson raspberries on top: It is a killer combination.

for the chocolate meringue base:

6 egg whites
300g caster sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder, sieved
1 teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
50g dark chocolate, finely chopped

for the topping:

500ml double cream
500g raspberries
2-3 tablespoons coarsely grated dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4 and line a baking tray with baking parchment.

Beat the egg whites until satiny peaks form, and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over the cocoa and vinegar, and the chopped chocolate. Then gently fold everything until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in. Mound on to a baking sheet in a fat circle approximately 23cm in diameter, smoothing the sides and top. Place in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 150?C/gas mark 2 and cook for about one to one and a quarter hours. When it's ready it should look crisp around the edges and on the sides and be dry on top, but when you prod the centre you should feel the promise of squidginess beneath your fingers. Turn off the oven and open the door slightly, and let the chocolate meringue disc cool completely.

When you're ready to serve, invert on to a big, flat-bottomed plate. Whisk the cream till thick but still soft and pile it on top of the meringue, then scatter over the raspberries. Coarsely grate the chocolate so that you get curls rather than rubble, as you don't want the raspberries' luscious colour and form to be obscured, and sprinkle haphazardly over the top, letting some fall, as it will, on the plate's rim.

Serves 8-10.

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Kit Kat Blackcurrant

See others in the Funny Japanese Kit Kat Series here: Strawberry, Caffe Latte, Noir.

Well, from the sublime to the ridiculous. From gourmet petite dark chocolate to something that just should not exist. This is a blackcurrant Kit Kat. Yes, it even sounds wrong, doesn't it? I mean, blackcurrant equals Ribena, right? Ribena should not be mixed with chocolate. No, no, no.

Apologies for the slightly melted example above, but they had survived a trip to and from Ballarat in my boot, to be sampled by some very excitied friends, whose reactions went something like this:
"Oh wow! Cool, funny flavoured Kit Kat from Japan! Yeah, I'll try one"
"Oh yuck. This smells like a toilet!"
"Yeah, toilet flavoured Kit Kats!"
"Ummmm...These are revolting."

Yes, I have to agree. These are not great. They taste just like the smell of that cheap-arse bright pink bubble gum that comes in a 20metre coil. When I gave my friend his sample last week, I didn't tell him before hand what he'd be trying. He would close his eyes and smell each one to try and guess the flavour before tasting it. His immediate reaction was:
"This smells like something that shouldn't be mixed with chocolate"

Of course, that hasn't really stopped me snacking on them. This was the only flavour that came sold in a big fat sack, so I had about 20 of the things to get through. But when you're desperate.......
My score: 2 out of 10 (2 for the sheer fact that I evidently thought them not so awful to only eat one...)
His score: 1 out of 10 (probably more accurate)

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Pomegranate salmon kebabs

It's high summer here, and set to continue for a few more months yet. Even though it's 9.30pm the temperature is still about 30 degrees and I have perspiration rolling down my back. Tomorrow is a public holiday for Australia Day, and set to be another scorcher. A day by the pool - yay! For me this is a perfect recipe for a summer dinner.

In a fit of organisation last night I decided to make a pavlova for tomorrow. Cos you know it's just not Australia Day without a pav! Or a few juicy lamb chops thrown on the barbie. Flicking through Nigella's Forever Summer for her chocolate raspberry pav recipe (post soon) I stumbled on this little recipe: Salmon Kebabs with Pomegranate Molasses and Honey - both things I had just transferred from the pantry to the fridge to avoid the ant plague that has started an invasion of the house. If you haven't heard of pomegranate molasses, you're missing out! Have a look at this post.
I've making a point to eat more salmon this year, so I had some in the freezer and I whipped up the marinade and chucked the salmon before going to bed. Tonight I came home from work and had dinner just about ready.
Nigella's recipe has skewers loaded just with salmon chunks, but I decided to bulk it out a bit more, adding some cubes of eggplant and slices of sweet red onion. Alongside I plated up some steamed bok choy, cos I don't really do noodles or rice; but they'd be good additions as well.
The marinade is very tasty - I was even dipping the pecans I'd been snacking on into the sauce. Great combo, although I thought it may have been just a tad too sweet and strong for the salmon. Maybe it needed a little more soy in the marinade? But I've never been such a fan of sweet flavours in my savoury foods.
Unfortunately I overcooked the skewers a little. 5 minutes under a hot grill was about 1.5 minutes too much. Occasionally I bit down on a chunk that was gorgeously tender, juicy and soft and I had an inkling of how good it could have been if I'd been less paranoid about getting the eggplant and onion cooked. My favourite part was the skin which had turned wonderfully oily and crispy - the fish version of pork crackling!
Read on for the recipe:

Salmon Kebabs with Pomegranate Molasses and Honey
Adapted from Forever Summer, Nigella Lawson.

80ml pomegranate molasses
80ml honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
500g salmon fillet, cubed (approx 4cm square)
Cubed eggplant
Sliced red onion
Fresh coriander, to serve

Whisk together the pomegranate molasses, honey and soy, and pour into a freezer bag. Add the salmon pieces, and tie the bag, after getting rid of any excess air. Marinate for at least an hour, or overnight.
Soak some wooden skewers in water to prevent them burning and thread as much salmon, eggplant and onion as you'd like on each skewer.
BBQ or grill the skewers for ~4 minutes.
Makes ~12 skewers.

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Kit Kat Noir

See others in the funny Japanese Kit Kat flavour series here:
Strawberry, Caffe Latte.

Kit Kat Noir. A name that didn't grab me at first. In my search for crazy green tea type flavours, a plain dark chocolate Kit Kat wasn't so exciting. But of course in the pursuit of research I bought a packet.
This is from the Kit Kat "Chocolatier" range, which I think is a type of boutique or gourmet range. They come in a fancy box and, most obviously, are about 1/8 the size of a normal Kit Kat. These are like the After Dinner Mint of Kit Kats. One tiny mouthful, one tiny taste to tickle your tastebuds.
You might be able to see in the shot below a photo of a man in a chef's hat on the back of the box. Made by Patissierie Takagi. Cos yeah, I'm so sure that Mr Takagi personally oversaw these little mass-produced Kit Kats. I even doubt that he created them. I mean, really!
So, the rating. Well, I have to say that I think these are my favourite of all I tried. This is proper bittersweet dark chocolate, dusted with real cocoa powder on the top. These are Kit Kats for the chocolate conoisseur. Not sweet, good quality chocolate flavour. Excellent!

My score: 9 out of 10
Friend's score:
9 out of 10
Today we're in agreement. :-)

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Kit Kat Caffe Latte

See the first in the Japanese Kit Kat series here: Strawberry

So, here's the second in the Japanese weird flavoured Kit Kat series. Caffe Latte flavour. Mmmmm.....caffe latte. I thought this was really exciting, but I've since been told that we have a Cappucino flavour here in Australia, so I was a bit deflated. I haven't tried it and don't know if it tastes the same though.
This also has a white chocolate coating with a pleasant milky coffee colour, but it's quite a different kettle of fish from the strawberry white chocolate of yesterday. When we were in Japan my friend and I fell in love with the hot cans of caffe latte sold in streetside vending machines. They were the perfect thing to have on a cold, cold day when walking around doing the tourist thing. Plus they made your hands nice and warm! They were pretty sweet, and reminded us of those big, milky, extra-sweet mugs of instant coffee from our teenage years. This Kit Kat smelled just like one of those cans of vending machine coffee. This is a good thing!

The aroma is definitely strong, as is the taste. It has quite a strong coffee flavour, which I loved, but it put off my friend who thought it was a bit too much in a chocolate bar. He preferred the more subtle flavours of some of the other varieties we sampled. I thought he was mad. This stuff is gooood, and if we can get it here in Oz as cappucino flavour, I would recommend it. I'd have to try it first though....
My score: 8 out of 10
Mad friend's score: 6 out of 10

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Kit Kat Strawberry

One of the most exciting things about Japan is their really interesting confectionery. Crunky bars, Chocopies, Almond Walking Bars, E-ma lollies, Dars, Petit Bit.......fabulous!
It's always been one of my favourite pastimes to check out the sweet aisles of local supermarkets in foreign countries, and Japan is a ripper country for this. I had often heard about the amazing Kit Kat flavours the get over there, and for weeks before I left I would tell everyone that I'd bring them back a green tea Kit Kat. Australia doesn't really have exciting Kit Kat flavours; we've had an orange one, there's a peanut butter one out now, and apparently there's a cappucino flavour about, but a country where exciting Kit Kats are the norm is an exciting place to be! It became a bit of a passion of mine to track down the green tea flavour, and I don't wonder that the trip didn't become known as Niki's Amazing Search for Kit Kats. I made us stop at practically every convenience store we went past, and considering there's one about every 100 metres, I may have tested everyone's patience.

In the end I found myself 7 different Kit Kat flavours, but sadly, no green tea flavour. Perhaps it's a summer thing? It was actually pretty difficult to find any unusually favoured Kit Kats; many stores only stocked the regular one, or the regular plus one variety. I got really excited one day on a train platform when I saw the little stand selling 2 special flavours! So, it really did take me all of 2 weeks to amass the little collection I have.

I plan to reveal a different flavour to you each day, for seven days. The flavours range from the sublime to the ridiculous, but today we start with something fairly inocuous: Strawberry flavour.
This was the easiest flavour to find along with the regular version. It appeared in nearly every kombeni, from Lawson Station to Sankus (so called because the founder apparently thought it sounded like the word "thanks"!). Lucas thought it was everywhere because pink is a New Year colour, and this might have been a commemorative flavour. I didn't think it was particularly exciting, so I ignored it for most of the trip until the last day when I decide to grab it to complete my full collection. You can see the price on this one: 120 Yen, which was about $1.50AUD.

So, a white chocolate coating made pink, and with speckles. Do you remember those Strawberry Shortcake dolls from your childhood? Well, this smells just like those. In other words, totally fake. Chemical strawberry. And well, that's ok, because I'm hardly expecting 100% organic strawberry puree. It's a Kit Kat. It's for the masses! But I think the masses who would enjoy this would be teenage girls, who could accesorise it with their shiny pink mobile phones.
Taste: Kind of like white chocolate, with the fake strawberry smell. Not terrible, but not wonderful either. Just a bit meh. Nothing special.
Each flavour has also been tested by someone else, who battled through 7 flavours on Saturday night, when it was still about 35 degrees at midnight. I had stuck them in the fridge beforehand, so at least they weren't complete mush, but chocolate on a night like that was really for the die-hard fans.
So. My score for this one was 4 out of 10.
This feeling was confirmed by my friend who emailed me his scores. Also a 4 out of 10.

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The results of a 42 degree scorcher

Look what happens when the temperature hits a scorching 42 degrees. The native wildlife escape from the trees and into your swimming pool! Ok, so it's not quite a kangaroo jumping down the street, but still... ! This past weekend was just incredible; temperatures over 40 degrees (105 F) on both days, and hot nights where sleep was impossible.
This baby possum suddenly appeared by the pool as my family were swimming - in fact, right behind my uncle's back. It was evidently distressed and heat-affected, and had found itself at the nearest source of water, which unfortunately was a chemically treated swimming pool. Apparently it was shaking, so my uncles approached and tried to splash a little water over it, but that made it fall over into the pool! So they fished it out and gave it a bowl of fresh water.

I wasn't around to see any of this, having escaped to the (relative) cool of a cinema, but I was told that the possum just sat quietly, drinking the water for ages. They were amazed at how tame it was as it stared quietly at them with its big baby possum eyes. Although, it probably couldn't see a thing, possums being pretty blind during the day.
My mum ran off to find some fruit for it, but by the time she came back it had decided to make its way home again and crept off around the pool, climbing the vertical bars of the gate, onto the fence and up into its leafy tree.
When I first saw the photos, I nearly had a fit 'cos this wet little possum look not unlike a big, nasty rat, and rats are definitely not something I would like to see crawling around our swimming pool, but this possum...wish I'd been there to see it!

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

DIY Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is sort of like a Japanese pancake. The place in Kyoto where we tried this one described it as a Japanese pizza. I think that's going too far, but pancake is not such a bad comparison. It's a sort of thick vegetable, pancake cross, doused in thick sauce, mayonnaise and bonito flakes. Just imagine a hot doorstopper battercake chock full of tasty fillings. Lucas made one a few months ago, but didn't include the recipe. Pretty photo though. :-)

Apparently Osaka is *the* place for Okonomiyaki, but Lucas knew of 2 places in Kyoto that made excellent versions. The place we ended up, on a bitterly cold, windy winter's afternoon had BBQ plates built into everyone's table. As you can imagine, we spent the first 10 minutes warming our chilled fingers over the burning hot plate. I think that's the best way to get chilblains, although to be honest, I'm not entirely sure what chilblains are. They were always something that appeared in the Enid Blyton books I read.

Okonomiyaki basically means "as you like it" "whatever you like", or words to that effect. It's a collection of ingredients bound with some egg and flour and fried on a hot plate. Today it would be very difficult to find an okonomiyaki that wasn't filled mainly with cabbage to provide the bulk. That's ok; I like cabbage, but man, I was creating some smells on the train trip home! It's often sold on the streets in Osaka as a hot snack food, ready to go with no choice of fillings, but our restaurant allowed us to choose what we wanted in it.

The basic ingredients are cabbage, flour and eggs, and the rest depends on your okonomi, i.e. "your taste." We chose 2 versions; one with pork and beef and one with prawns and an extra egg cracked on top, along with a side order of yakisoba (fried buckwheat noodles).
It was a cold day and we were having a late lunch, so I was famished. Therefore I was a little concerned at the size of the two okonomiyaki. We had already demolished our steaming yakisoba (below) in about 10 seconds and we hungrily eyeing off the pancakes.

Yaskisoba - a tasty snack for cold, hungry people

The only problem with going out for okonomiyake, as opposed to grabbing one from a street vendor is the fact that they take so damn long to cook. You should have seen our eyes boring into the things willing them to hurry up. They're very thick, so it takes a good 10 minutes before your personal okonomiyaki flipper comes over to check it they're right to turn over. Even after they've flipped them and let them cook another 10 minutes, the still need another flipping and then the application of the mayonnaise, thick sweet/salty sauce and bonito (fish) flakes. I tell you, when we were finally allowed to dig in, we were like cavemen.
Although the two we ordered weren't too big, and still had me worried they wouldn't be enough (I reckoned at that stage I could have eaten 2 on my own) they are deceptively filling. 2 of them plus a serving of yakisoba was definitely enough for 3 hungry people.
Apparently there's a place in Melbourne that does lunchtime okonomiyakis, so I'm looking forward to a report from my other travelling companion who works in the CBD and has developed quite a yearning for these tasty things.

Okonomiyaki topped with sauces, a few seconds before we attacked it. I think I had to forcibly fight off everyone's chopsticks to get this shot!

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Friday, January 13, 2006

The lure of the Choco Pie

So, I have returned from the land of the cantaloupe-flavoured Kit Kat (yes, really!), and I had a blast. Anyone who may be dissuaded from visiting Japan during the New Years Festivities and/or in mid-winter should be convinced otherwise. It's an excellent time to visit a wonderful country. Yes, a little chilly, but nothing 7 layers and your brother's borrowed snow-boarding jacket can't fix... :-) There's nothing like a bright red jacket on a tall, red-headed westerner to stand out on the Osaka streets! I felt like a member of a touring Ice Hockey team...
More Japan-related posts to come, but after only returning a few days ago I'm taking off this afternoon for a weekend in the country. Ok, so a holiday to Ballarat doesn't feel quite as exciting as 2 weeks in the Land of the Vending Machine Hot-Caffe Latte-In-A-Can (mmmmm!) but it will still be fun. We're performing in a festival there this weekend and staying in the same beautiful Victorian house as last year.

But in the meantime, I give you the what I believe to be one of the Great Wonders of Japanese food. Yes, you have your sushi and sashimi and sukiyaki and shabu-shabu...yes, yes, they're all good. But they pale into insignificance when compared with.....the Choco Pie.
Oooh, these are so good. For weeks before we left I spoke about them with a gleam in my eye. I discovered these at a convenience store in Tokyo a few years ago and have missed them ever since. If I could have fit more than 1 box in my luggage I would have brought back 100, but I'll just have to ration myself.
Made by the Lotte confectionary company, who are also responsible for the brilliantly named "Crunky" chocolate bar, these are deceptively simple little cakes. Description-wise, they are nothing special: a "chocolate-coated vanilla cream sandwich". Yeah, hmmm. Meh. But a Choco Pie is a text-book example of the whole being greater than its parts. The chocolate coating is a perfect balance between crisp shell and melty-to-the-finger goodness, the cake part is light and slightly crumbly, which acts as the perfect foil for the thick vanilla "cream". To bite through that crispy chocolate shell and get a mouthful of cake, cream and chocolate was a life-defining moment. Ok, so not really, but they are pretty damn good and I know I converted at least one of my friends.

This photo was taken at Lucas's house. There was a spare Choco-pie on the table and I decided to take a photo for you all...and of course I couldn't just take a photo of the wrapper, so I had to open it, and of course I needed to show you readers the filling, so of course I had to take a bite. And then suddenly it was all gone and the only evidence was the crumbs on my top lip. Mmmmmm....

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year's Eve Crab FEAST

Do check out today's entry on Cooking in Japan of the traditional New Years Day breakfast Lucas prepared for us this morning.
Photos from our New Year's eve dinner at the Yakitori lady's bar. Text to come soon, but check out all that crab. I reckon we had enough crab for 10 people, and I laugh to think how much all that would have cost back in Melbourne!

Fresh grilled crab legs. Nothing but a hot charcoal fire to bring out the taste of the sweet crab meat. Incredibly good. And that pile just kept growing. For about 40 minutes she just kept piling more and more crab legs on that little plate! We had a little pointy poking-out tool to get at our crab meat, but I found it easier to just chomp down on a leg, suck and see what happened. Sucking down all the crab juice that way was a bonus too.

Above and below: Crab Nabe; a soup made with seafood stock (which I could drink by the jugful), more crab legs (incredible to say, but we were seriously crabbed out by the end of this meal), silken tofu, wombok (Asian cabbage), onions and enoki mushrooms - which are really cheap here compared to Australia.

Below: Toshi Koshi soba - Okinawan style. This is traditionally what you eat just before going to visit the temple on New Year's Eve. Check out that slab 'o' pork on the top. It just fell apart at the touch of our chopsticks - fantastic! Interestingly, the noodles had the exact taste and texture of my Italian nonna's homemade tagliatelle. Marco Polo's legacy brought to life! That scary looking pink swirly stuff is fish cake and Lucas assures me that the pink colour is all natural! I have some scepticism.

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