Saturday 27 October 2007

A Rice Ball Doesn't Belong In A Fruits Basket...

The part of a person that's remarkable is like the umeboshi on the back of a rice ball. All around the world, there are different colors, shapes, and flavors, but because it's stuck to the back, they might not be able to see their precious umeboshi. 'I'm not special,' each one would think, 'just plain ole rice.' Even though that's not true, and there is an umeboshi on the back. The reason people get jealous of one another is because they can see the umeboshi on other people's backs. Even now, someone might be feeling envious of something you don't recognize in yourself.

Before this summer I'd been dying to try onigiri, ever since I saw the Fruits Basket anime. Sometimes at home I feel a bit like a rice ball in a fruits basket, and I wanted so much to go to Japan and photograph eat all the amazing food and try out my (very basic) self-taught Japanese on real people (there's no one to practice the language with here, so I had no idea if I was speaking it properly or not).

This is where all the Asian people laugh at me a bit, I think.

Anyway, long story short, my friend has an aunt who is an international teacher in Japan so after exams I raised £812 for the flight, and we went and stayed with her in Yokohama for ten days. Best ten days of my life, no joke ^__^ And finally I got to try onigiri and buy bento boxes and discovered my spiritual home, heh.

I won't go into all of it now, but since then I've been dying to make rice balls (never satisfied X__X). I got Japanese Cooking At Home by Hideo Dekura for my birthday in August, sailed off into Manchester's China Town especially to buy short-grain rice and nori (seaweed) and finally got round to it... yesterday.

Fortunately, rice and nori have a fairly long shelf-life.

I didn't want to buy a massive sack of the stuff, so I couldn't actually get short-grain rice - the stuff I got says it's medium on the packet. Hence I was really worried that this wouldn't work out, and I'd just end up with lumps of sloppy rice all over the kitchen, but fear not! Medium grain worked just fine. If you're interested, I used Nishiki Premium Grade Rice. I also halved the amounts it said to use, in case it didn't work, hence my rice balls were baby-sized ^__^

O-nigiri (Rice Balls)
Took me about an hour? I honestly wasn't watching the clock when I made these yesterday afternoon. Also I slightly glossed over some of the 'leave for thirty minutes' parts of the instructions, so I can't be any more help.
From Japanese Cooking At Home by Hideo Dekura.

To prepare the rice:
4 cups (about 280g) short-grain rice -I used 140g
4 cups (480ml) water - I used 240ml
extra water

1. Place the rice into a bowl that holds twice the volume of rice. Pour water into the bowl until it just covers the rice, then hold it with one hand and stir it briskly for 10-15 seconds with the other hand. The water will go all milky. Tip the milky water out, covering the rice with one hand (I hope for your sake that your hands are bigger than mine).

2. Add water and repeat for a second and third time, but stirring for about 30 seconds now to get rid of the excess starch. Tip out the water then put the rice in a sieve and run cold water over it for a couple of minutes until the water runs clear. Leave it to drain in the sieve for thirty minutes. Or about 20, if you're me/impatient. I'm not condoning this or anything X__X.

3. The book says to place the rice and measured cups of water into a rice cooker pan now. Wipe the underneath of the pan with a dry towel and set it into the rice cooker, then switch it on and let it do it's crazy thang.

4. If you are British and don't have a rice cooker, or else you fail at life in any other way, I bunged the rice in a normal pan with the measured water over it and left it to cook over a low-medium heat that way. Occasionally use a wooden spatula to stop it sticking to the bottom of the pan, but don't try to over-stir it, in case that stops it sticking together. I don't know if there's a scientific basis for that, but I felt I'd better be careful with it.

5. Once the rice is cooked, leave it to steam for 20 minutes, cough cough.

Actually that works out fairly well, as you can now get groovy with your onigiri stuff-

You need:
Filling : 100g (4oz) salmon fillet - I was making this for myself and a vegetarian friend to eat, so I used left over cooked vegetables from a unofficial-ratatouille-type meal I had the other day. We had a dish of soft, cold vegetables sitting in our fridge, so I picked out all the bits of sweet potato and mashed them in a bowl with a fork, to use as filling.
The book suggests also using tuna with mayonnaise, pickles, bonito flakes with soy sauce, and, of course, umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums: see the top of the post for the cute Fruits Basket quote about this).

4 cups hot, cooked, short-grain rice. This is what you've just prepared, above. However it says four cups, and presumably if you made full quantites of rice you'd still have loads left. I can't quite work this out, but it turned out fairly convenient for me in the end as I'd made half-quantities of rice.

You may want:
Furikake - This comes in many varieties and is basically a pre-prepared mixture of seasoned condiments... according to the list in the book. I used sesame seeds and some strange black seed-like specks that I found in the cupboard, which looked suspiciously like charcoal. I hope it wasn't charcoal, but my friend ate the one with those on, so I can't be sure

Green peas, mushrooms, etc - You can use these to make your rice balls more exciting, basically. I got a small handful of frozen peas out of the freezer and left them in a dish to defrost while I did everything else, and added them to some of the rice later on.

Sheets or strips of nori (seaweed)

You also need:
A bowl of salted water (2 cups/240ml water with 1 tbsp salt). The water stops the rice sticking to your hands, and the salt helps preserve the rice balls.

1. Prepare the filling - if you're using salmon fillet, grill and flake it. Otherwise, improvise. Mash your sweet potato, if you're doing this my way, and season.

2. Use a moistened wooden paddle to place your rice in a bowl, and wet your hands in the salty water. Then take a bit of rice about the size of a baseball into the palm of your hand. I've never held a baseball, so I improvised, though I notice from the pictures in the book that Hideo Dekura has THE BIGGEST HANDS IN THE WORLD. NO JOKE. Presumably he has more balls than me. Teehee.

3. Make a hollow with your finger in the middle of the rice and place some filling into it. Then use both hands to mould the rice into a triangular or oval shape (I made three triangles and two ovals). Press the rice down just hard enough to keep the rice firmly together.

4. Set the rice balls down on a plate and sprinkle with furitake, if using, or else wrap a strip of nori around the edge or surface of the ball. If it's a triangle I like the wrap it around a corner, but on ovals it looks nice in the middle.

5. Make the rest of the rice balls in the same way, but add peas or sesame seeds or what-have-you to the mix if you want.

Like I said, I made five with the half-quantities of rice I used initially. The book does say this makes 5-7 triangular rice balls, but as his are so much bigger than mine, I think that does mean with twice the amont of rice. Honestly, men.

These tasted of Japan. ♥

The best thing about Japanese food? Knives and forks are a thing of the past! I'm going to try and pass a movement to abolish all cutlery, and these rice balls are at the fore-front of my campaign. Eat them with your fingers, with a little soy sauce! Or else, balance them on the edge of a knife and take great mouthfuls out of them, if you want to do it like my friend did last night.

I don't think she really got the idea.

Monday 22 October 2007

The Cookie Dough Cupcake Bake Off

Rather than dedicate another full-size post to cupcakes... find my latest experiment here.

Wednesday 17 October 2007

Ready For Your Chocolate Fix?

This cake is something of a legend in our family. It was my gran's, back in the day, and we've had it with every Christmas tea for the past hundred years or something (OK, so I don't know exactly how many years. But before I was born, so a lot). This cake demands respect.

Don't let the name deceive you; it's called praline cake, so it must have nuts in, oui? Non. Just chocolate, and digestive biscuits, and more chocolate, and sugar, and chocolate on top, and butter, and chocolate swirled over that. And so on and so on. It occured to me while I was making this that it's basically what we would call 'chocolate fridge cake' now.

But shh! The sacrilege! Respect the vintage recipe, back from the days when they didn't have fridges, and kept their milk in bowls of water covered in a damp cloth during the summer. I may have made that fact up, but it's none the less effective. Although if you put this cake in a bowl of water and covered it with a damp cloth you wouldn't really get far, so probably my gran had a fridge.

We usually make this cake in double quantities (far easier), eat one and freeze the other for Christmas, so it's completely unacceptable to bring it out early if you're feeling a bit hungry - as my sister learnt to her peril this summer when she was home from uni (where she lives on the Starvation Diet) and -overcome by living in a house where people actually spend money in Tesco, rather than Topshop- set about doubling her body mass in the most efficient way possible.

We all arrived home after school and work in the evening to find my Dad in a state of total outrage:

We all gasped.
Looks of horror were exchanged.
Could it be true?
The ground juddered as my grandmother turned in her grave.
You mean not giving it her undivided attention?
Not in neat, chocolatey slices?'

He turned on my sister and pointed at her dramatically with a wavering finger. 'I CAUGHT HER IN THE ACT!'

My sister remained unperturbed, obviously thinking it was worth it.

My mum was on the phone to my aunt that night, relaying the trauma in tones of shock. It took about twenty minutes before my entire extended family knew about it. ('HAS SHE TOLD RACHEL?!' -- she had, and Rachel had wept down the phone).

I exaggerate, but honestly only a little.

For a while we feared a family rift, before my mum created a new family rule. If my sister was going to eat her way through her university holidays, she would have to make her own food. No one touched our praline cake.

This is a cake to take seriously.

...Incidentally, we got home a few days later and found an empty, unwashed couple of baking tins left out by the side of the sink. We searched the tins to find the rest of the cake she had apparently baked during the day, but to no avail. Had she made and eaten a whole cake on her own, in one day? We will never know...

Praline cake
My Gran's recipe
Prep: Literally about 10 mins
Refridgerate: 48 hours
Serves about 8-10 (at a guess) if pieces are smallish, or 1 if you're my sister.
Calories: 2840 in whole cake. Serves 8 at 355 p/s.

Makes one 'small' cake (my gran was always notoriously vague). I use a round 18cm tin, but it must have a loose-bottomed base.
I've adapted quantities from the ounces my gran wrote it in, as well as I can, but included the original measurements too.

125g (4oz) butter
125g (4oz) caster sugar
125g (4oz) dark chocolate (we use Cadburys Bournville)
250g (8oz) Digestive biscuits
1 egg
1 tbsp water
125g milk choc and about 25g white choc for decorating.

1. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale. Melt the dark chocolate in a microwave (takes a couple of minutes) and add it to the butter and sugar, along with a beaten egg and the water.

2. Crush the biscuits by putting them in a plastic freezer bag, tying the end and whacking it with a rolling pin. They should be fairly well broken up into crumbs- no big lumps, but not so it's just dust. Add them to the rest of the mixture.

3. Pour it into your tin and refridgerate for 48 hours (it doesn't really need that long though. Until set). It'll look something like this at this point:


4. Remove the cake from the loose-bottomed tin before melting the milk chocolate and whooshing it all over the top. Drizzle a few rings of white chocolate over the top of that and use a skewer to swirl them together.

Excuse the fact that there's far more white chocolate than usual on the cake pictured - my little sister melted the whole bar so I used what I could and we made the rest into a sauce for icecream.

I've also made this cake into individual chocolates one time by just rolling spoonfuls of the mixture into balls in my hands and putting them on a baking tray to set in the fridge, then drizzling chocolate over them. This led my friend Sophie to call them 'chocolate bombs' - she couldn't get her head round the fact it's 'praline cake' when it's not in cake form - as she likes to give odd names to things. You should hear some of the things she calls me. In fact, I'm taking this to her house tomorrow as part of a belated birthday present; god knows what she'll try and name it this time ^__^

Bloggers who made this:
20.02.08 Maria at The Goddess's Kitchen

Thursday 11 October 2007

Cause We Can Can Can...nelloni!

It's just one of those things that, every once in a while, I consider becoming vegetarian. I couldn't do it while I still live at home, cause it'd be too difficult with my family, but there's very little reason I shouldn't when I go to uni. By choice, my diet is practically vegetarian anyway (except for chicken, which I have fairly often at home, but chicken doesn't count. No, it doesn't. Cause chicken has, like, feathers. And the definition of an animal is that it has fur. So... fish as well).

Fine, alright. I eat very little red meat then.

But other than a tendency to point out my own vocabularic mistakes (on the subject, I'm not entirely sure that 'vocabularic' is actually a word . But it sounds like it should be. Alright, it isn't in my dictionary, but that just shows the inadequacy of my dictionary. I've conceded to red meat; vocabularic stays) the main thing standing in the way of any potential commitment is just the fact that I'm sort of... hugely greedy.

I am the person who sits next to you at lunch eyeing your apple crumble covetously until eventually I abandon my self-control and demand 'are you going to eat that?' when it looks like you're about to leave. By now, most people recognise the phrase 'are you going to eat that?' as really meaning 'because I am'. We often tell my friend Boy, who is thin as a rake and eats twelve times the amount I do , that he is going to be obese when he's twenty-one (He'll just wake up one morning and be morbidly obese. I cling to this hope), but to be honest, I've a feeling it's going to be me ^__^.

Boy is vegetarian, incidentally, but I'm sure that's nothing to do with anything. Now shush.

So basically it's not that I especially want to eat meat a lot of the time. I just like to know that I can, should the mood take me.

This recipe happens to be both vegetarian and absolutely gorgeous. The problem being that it serves four, very precisely, and so should you be as greedy as I am, there are no bits left in the pan to scrape out afterwards (working on the basis that if it doesn't come off a plate, it won't make you fat. No, really, scientists have proved that. Why am I so unconvincing today?)

Mushroom & Ricotta Cannelloni
Adapted from The Aga Winter Cookbook
Serves 4
240 calories per serving (but I changed the amount of pasta used)
Says it takes far longer than it does, but I'd estimate about 40-50 mins, including cooking. I'll stay vague, and then if it takes longer or shorter I can just say, 'well you must just be slow/super-speedy', and people won't hate me. So much.

15g dried mushrooms (soak them in boiling water for 15 mins beforehand)
15g butter
225g brown-cap mushrooms, finely chopped
250g tub ricotta cheese
4 sheets fresh lasagne
2 x 300ml tubs fresh tomato sauce
50g grated Parmesan cheese
salt & pepper
It also mentioned 1 tsp anchovy essence, which I missed out.

1. Drain and finely chop your soaked dried mushrooms. Lightly grease a large, shallow roasting dish with butter. You could use bakeaglide to stop it sticking but actually the butter helps you stick the cannelloni to the dish when it comes to it, so they don't unroll ^__^

2. Heat the butter in a large frying pan, add the fresh and dried mushrooms and cook on a low-medium heat for 10-15 mins (here is where I admit I have an Aga, so that's the simmering plate to me. I don't exactly know the ordinary-oven equivilant) until they are beginning to brown and any liquid has evaporated. Leave to cool.

3. Stir the ricotta cheese into the mushroms, add the anchovy essence if you want (I don't want) and seasoning, then mix until thoroughly combined. Eat quite a bit at this point out of scientific curiousity, should you so wish. Mmm.

4. The books says your fresh lasagne sheets should be 11.5 x 16.5 cm, but mine were twice that size. It also tells you to halve them widthways. Should you be using the smaller size, you don't wanna do that. That's just too small. Instead, use your 11.4 x 16.5 cm sheets as they are, or if they're like mine, cut them in half with some kitchen scissors. Place about 3 tbsp mushroom mixture along one edge of the lasagne sheets, then roll up to enclose the filling. You might want to sort of glue the edge with a bit of spare ricotta. Arrange the filled cannelloni seam-side down in the dish. You should get eight tubes out of it.

5. Pour the tomato sauce over (yeah, you do want it all) and sprinkle with all that lovely Parmesan. Huzzah. If you have an Aga, cook it on the grid shelf at the very bottom of the Roasting Oven; that's 190C to everyone else. The book says 30-35 mins but 25 was enough for mine. Keep an eye on it, anyway.

6. Serve it with a lovely green salad and garlic bread and tell yourself that it doesn't matter if you eat four cannelloni tubes yourself instead of two, since it's mushrooms and tomato, and they're vegetables.
Except actually tomato is a fruit.

Sorry about these photos by the way; it's getting dark insanely quickly here now that autumn's drawn in and it's impossible to get good natural light for pictures. This was the best I could do. Sadface.

Monday 1 October 2007

Un-seasonal Food

Firstly, massive apology for the silence yet again - serious internet problems going on. As far as I can tell, our provider is now going to ban us from going online between 4pm and midnight. What'cha gonna do.

As a result, this is an uber-quick post. Just so you know I'm still around.

In my absence, it seems to have become autumn (or so I have deduced, from the fact that I'm wearing four layers, a scarf, and a pair of Care Bear slipper socks) so naturally I'm going to post the least autumnal recipe I have hanging round, just to spite nature. Let me put it this way; I'm not a fan of the cold. Or dark. Or rain. Basically for the next six months or so I'm going to be walking round crying on the inside... so I'm putting this up now, before I get into hotpots and steamed puddings and all that jazz. Consider it a warning ^__^

Happy October everyone, by the way!

New Potato & Smoked Haddock Crush
Taken from Good Food Magazine (May)
Serves 4 (260 calories, 12g fat). Prep: 15 mins. Cooking: 35 mins.

Recipe can be found here.