Thursday 18 December 2008

Visions Of Sugar Plums

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

-Extract from The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

- Very lazy blog post by a weary Ms. Blue

Night-Before-Christmas Slice
Makes 12
Recipe from Super Food Ideas: December 2007 via

150g (1 c.) mixed dried fruit (I used raisins, currants, sultanas (I know those three are basically the same thing, but whatever), then finely chopped dried apricots & dates)
200g (half a jar) mincemeat
75g butter, chopped
40g (1/4 cup) brown sugar
1 tsp orange zest
1 tbsp orange juice
60ml (1/4 cup) brandy
1 egg, lightly beaten
70g (1/2 cup) plain flour, sifted
35g (1/8 cup) self-raising flour, sifted
60g pecans
1 tsbp apricot jam

1. Combine dried fruit, mincemeat, butter, sugar, orange rind, juice and 40ml (a couple of tbsp) brandy in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Remove to a large bowl. Allow to cool to room temperature.

2. Preheat oven to 150°C. Grease a 8" tin and line with baking paper, allowing a 2cm overhang at both long ends. Add eggs and flours to dried fruit mixture. Stir to combine.

3. Spread mixture over prepared pan. Top with nuts. Bake for 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Combine jam and remaining brandy in a heatproof, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium-high (70%) for 30 seconds or until jam melts. Brush cake top with jam, cover, and allow to cool in pan. Cut into pieces to serve.

I know it's not the night before Christmas yet, but I thought I'd give you a bit of time ^__^.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Out Of Pocket

It's been a while since I whinged about my love for all things Japanese, and since my sister's been in Japan on a trip for the past week, I thought I was due a good whine. I also thought I was due some Japanese food (it always makes me feel healthy and redeemed, and I like to think it cancels out all the butterscotch pudding).

Inari-zushi is something I'd never tried before - basically it's seasoned rice in tofu pouches, and I'd been dying to give it a go for just about forever, but I had trouble finding the, uh, tofu pouches.

You see, when I made sushi I explained about living in a village overrun solely with alcoholics and the elderly, and inari pouches weren't much of an option (you can neither drink out of them nor... whatever it is that old people do). I'd more or less given up; unless tofu pouches dropped from the heavens and into my unresisting arms, I wasn't going to go too crazy over it. I could've always bought a block of tofu and cut a hole in it, but that wouldn't have been quite the same (not to mention that even tofu is probably a bit ambitious where I come from).

And then I moved a six hour drive away, to a university town where international students are common, and people think the North is some sort of widespread swamp over the entire upper half of England. Finding inari pouches wasn't really my main problem, haha, but all of a sudden I had options I'd never imagined.

And these are they! Weird crinkly soggy little things, but ohh they were delicious. I know I'd eat more or less anything if you told me they were Japanese, but these honestly took me by surprise - not to mention that I got to model them in my bento box with a rice ball from a batch I'd made and frozen a while back (a very poorly made batch: I don't think I was firm enough with them cause whenever I've had one they've collapsed all over the place).

These look nowhere near as impressive as regular sushi, but I think I enjoyed them even more - and damn, I'm proud of myself. I've come a long way. Literally.

Japanese Cooking At Home - Hideo Dekura
Tofu (bean curd) pouches (abura-gea), available from Asian grocery stores. Prepare these by placing them in boiling water for a minute, draining and squeezing out the excess oil.
2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water and finely chopped - I used regular
1/4 small carrot, peeled & finely chopped
240ml (1 cup) stock
120ml (1/2 c.) soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp caster sugar

1. Place bean curd pouches, mushrooms and carrot in a saucepan. Add stock, soy sauce, mirin and caster sugar, making sure pouches are submerged while cooking. Bring to the boil and simmer over a low heat for about 10 mins. Remove from heat and allow to stand while liquid is cool.

2. Remove bean curds and squeeze to remove excess water. Transfer to a chopping board and cut in half to make two pouches, then set aside (mine were already in half-pieces).

3. Mix mushrooms and carrot into the sushi rice with a rice paddle. Carefully open the pouches. With wet fingers, make a ball of rice and place it in the pouch. Press sides with fingers to make a pillow shape, and tuck the ends inside. Repeat with the rest.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Getting Saucy

It's officially December now - not just a little bit of December (the first couple of days are always a bit 'might be, might not be') but properly, full-on December, and so I feel totally within my rights to start the 'IT'S ALMOST CHRISTMAS, TEE HEE HEE' business now. Bring on the cheesy music, lopsided paper chains and ridiculous hats! On with the carol-singing, Muppet movies and getting ready to go home! It's time for frantic shopping, ice-skating, and of course, roast dinners followed by hot butterscotch pudding and toffee ice-cream.

Because we're not total student stereotypes, my friends and I decided to have a roast dinner on Sunday afternoon to bring in December; I suspect we all sort of expected it to go horribly wrong, but -as I gleefully texted my mother afterwards- it was a great success (I never knew it was possible to roast so many things; chicken, carrots, parsnips, potatoes... I began writing out what we'd had but I was using the word 'roast' so many times it began to lose all meaning). I took charge of gravy, having watched my mum make it hundreds of times (her gravy is famous across the North-West), but upon stepping up to the oven I realised I'd never actually made it myself from scratch and began waving my wooden spoon in alarm, rifling through cupboards and hyperventilating into my saucepan. Miraculously it turned out well, but I'm not sure how it happened.

Something I had more confidence in was this pudding (like at home, I was elected to make dessert. Some things never change), which is the self-saucing kind with a cakey top and gooey bottom. There is pretty much no way a butterscotch pudding can go wrong.

Well, I mean, there is. You could put all the sugar in at once and then realised you were supposed to keep half of it aside to go on top, for example, which I certainly Did Not Do. But a bit of improvisation later and it doesn't really make much difference when you bring a steaming hot pudding to the table and people who were previously complaining they would never eat another bite start going, 'just a smaller piece... no, bigger than that... bigger than that... are we on rations or what?!'

Butterscotch Self-Saucing Pudding
Recipe found here.
Serves 6

100g (3/4 c.) brown sugar
200g (heaped 1 1/4c.) self-raising flour
100g butter, melted
1 egg
125ml (1/2 c.) milk
4 tbs golden syrup
1 tbs cornflour
375ml (1 1/2 cups) boiling water
Double cream or ice cream, to serve

1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 1.5 litre (6 cup) ovenproof dish. Combine 35g (1/4 cup) of the brown sugar and all of the flour in a bowl. Add the melted butter, egg, milk and 2 tbs of the golden syrup and stir until combined. Spoon into greased dish.

2. Combine the remaining brown sugar and cornflour. Sprinkle over the pudding mixture. Combine boiling water with the remaining 2 tbs of golden syrup. Pour over the top of the pudding mixture and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean (obviously this depends how deep you skewer it; the cake should be cooked but you want it to stay saucy. I wouldn't worry too much about it).

Five of us round the table; a pudding that serves six. Say hello to breakfast.