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Monday, December 28, 2009

Cookbook Challenge: Week 6, Christmas

Recipe: Gourmet Rocky Road
Adapted from: The Australian Women's Weekly Food We Love

2nd recipe: Pickled and spiced cherries
From: Danks Street Depot

Well, that's Christmas ticked off for another year. We had a great one, and this year it was our 6th annual Orphans' Christmas spent with Dany and Scott. It was a super fun day with lots of food, booze and frivolity.

Since it was Christmas this week, it was also the theme for the Cookbook Challenge. I made two recipes specifically for the Challenge - rocky road and pickled and spiced cherries.

Rocky road

What's specifically Christmasy about rocky road? I'm not sure, but it was in the Christmas Fare section of the AWW Food We Love! Rather than follow the recipe exactly, I played with the quantities of the different ingredients, and I threw in dried cranberries, because cranberries are Christmasy - right?

White chocolate was used in the rocky road, and I'm not a big fan of white chocolate because it tends to be so sweet. Unfortunately the rocky road ended up super sweet - I felt like I was going to go into a sugar coma just by eating a small piece! If I tried it again, I would use dark chocolate and less marshmallow to cut down on the sickliness. I must admit that the white chocolate, Turkish delight and pistachios did look very pretty though.

Pickled and spiced cherries

My other recipe was pickled and spiced cherries. These cherries are supposed to be an accompaniment to ham, but although there was ham (made by Dany) we somehow neglected to eat it - must have been because there was so much food already! The cherries were very tart due to the vinegar, but they were also strongly spiced with the cloves, cardamon and star anise. They were quite interesting, and I wonder what they would be like with ham. Perhaps I'll have to try them again next year!

See previous Cookbook Challenge posts here.

Update: See what everyone else made this week at My Food Trail.

Rocky road

Gourmet Rocky Road

Adapted from Australian Women's Weekly Food We Love

150g marshmallows
200g turkish delight, chopped coarsely
40g roasted blanched almonds, chopped coarsely
70g roasted pistachios, chopped coarsely
50g dried cranberries
225g white chocolate, melted

Grease a 8cm x 26cm bar cake tin and line the base and sides with baking paper.

Combine the marshmallows, turkish delight, almonds, pistachios and cranberries in a large bowl. Working quickly, add the melted chocolate and stir to combine.

Spread the mixture into the prepared pan and push down firmly to flatten the top. Refrigerate until set and then cut into small pieces.

Pickled and spiced cherries

Adapted from the Danks Street Depot

Fills a 1.25 litre jar

500g cherries, left intact with the stems on
375ml red wine vinegar
250g soft brown sugar
3 cloves
3 juniper berries
2 allspice berries
1/2 star anise
the peel and juice of half a lemon, peel cut into strips
1/2 stick of cinnamon
1 green cardamom pod

Rinse the cherries, discarding any less than perfect ones.

Place all the other ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Let the mixture boil for 5 minutes and then add the cherries. Cook the cherries for a further 5 minutes before removing from the heat and allowing it to sit overnight.

Transfer everything into sterilised jars. The cherries will keep for months.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Japan: Hiroshima - Peace Memorial Museum

After lunch at Miyajima, we took the ferry and tram back to Hiroshima, where we spent several hours at the Peace Memorial Museum.

Peace flame

As I'm sure you know, on 6 August 1945, at 8:15am, the world’s first atomic bomb to be used on an inhabited city was dropped on Hiroshima. It killed an estimated 140,000 people, most of them civilians. The Peace Memorial Museum was established in 1955 to present the facts about the bombing, and to encourage the abolishment of nuclear weapons and advocate for world peace.

A-bomb dome
The A Bomb dome

Inside the museum, the exhibits started with the history of Hiroshima City before the bomb, as well as the development of the atomic bomb, and what lead up to the decision to drop it on Hiroshima. Two large models of the city sit in the middle of the first floor, one showing Hiroshima prior to the bombing, and one showing the flattened city afterwards.

There were also displays and exhibits that presented information and history of the nuclear age, as well as scientific information about the atomic bomb. Other exhibits of the museum were rather confronting, with photos and relics showing the damage that the bomb and resulting fires caused. There were rather gruesome photos of bomb victims, covered in burns. Some exhibited artefacts were heartbreaking - items such as burnt and tattered clothes or shoes, blackened watches stopped forever at 8.15, a black and rusting child’s tricycle.

The hypocentre
The location of the hypocentre. The sign reads: Carried to Hiroshima from Tinian Island by the Enola Gay, a U.S. Army B-29 bomber, the first atomic bomb used in the history of humankind exploded approximately 580 metres above this spot. The city below was hit by heat rays of approximately 3,000 to 4,000°C along with a blast wind and radiaion. Most people in the area lost their lives instantly. The time was 8:15am, August 6, 1945. (View of the devastation looking north from hypocentre, November 1945.)

One amazing relic was a section of the old Hiroshima Branch of the Sumitomo Bank wall and steps, where a human “shadow” was etched into the stone. Just before the bomb was dropped, a person was sitting on the steps of the bank. When the bomb exploded, the intense heat rays bleached the surrounding stone, leaving the spot where the person was sitting dark.

The final exhibits were photos and descriptions of the health effects suffered by survivors due to the radiation of the bomb, and at the very end were survivor stories, guest books, and photographs of world leaders who had visited the museum.

A-bomb dome

In 1949, Hiroshima was proclaimed a City of Peace by the Japanese parliament. Hiroshima has been rebuilt into a lovely city, and it uses the lessons learned from its tragic past to encourage the abolition of nuclear weapons. The museum itself was poignant and heart-rending, and a definite must see. I was very, very moved.

Sorry to be so serious – let’s talk about food again.

Here are some photos of that evening's dinner from a random izakaya in Hiroshima.

Spicy chicken wings

We ordered some fried spicy chicken wings. They were hot and juicy, although not very spicy.

Deep fried tofu

I ordered us a serve of deep fried tofu. I have had better tofu - it wasn't as soft and silky as I like it to be. It was acceptable though.

Deep fried mochi!

This is deep fried mochi. When I found out that there was deep fried mochi on the menu, I HAD to order it. But unfortunately it wasn’t that great. It was rather bland, and the chewy texture didn't appeal to me (and normally I love mochi). I preferred the tofu.

Pork skewers with miso

We had some pork skewers with miso. These were delicious - salty and slightly sweet.


And I ordered us a vegetable salad in an effort to counteract all that deep fried stuff. That's how it works right? Salad cancels out the other calories? The salad was surprisingly delicious, with a sweetish, soy sesame dressing. The little blob of white was potato salad.

I must admit it was a terribly unhealthy dinner - at least we didn't eat like that the whole time!

This will probably be my last post before Christmas (I can't believe it's in TWO DAYS, where has this year gone?!), so I hope everyone has a fantastic Christmas! I will be eating and drinking a lot, and I'm sure an afternoon nap will also feature in my day. Bliss!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cookbook Challenge: Week 5, Greek

Recipe: Greek shortbread
From: The Australian Women's Weekly - The Complete Book of Modern Entertaining

Second recipe: Lamb skewers with tzatziki
From: Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery Course

Greek shortbread

This weekend, Rilsta from My Food Trail invited me, Kat from Spatula, Spoon & Saturday, and Arale79 from Meals on Budget over to do some baking. The idea was to bring a recipe, ingredients, do the baking, and then eat our creations!

I decided to kill two birds with one stone, and do Greek Shortbread so I could tick off my Cookbook Challenge recipe.

After a delicious lunch of Rilsta's moussaka, and Arale's watermelon and feta salad, Kat and I headed into the kitchen to make some baked goods. Let me tell you, Rilsta's kitchen is the cleanest, most organised kitchen I have ever been in. Since I'm a rather messy cook/baker, I had to try my best not to get flour, butter or sugar everywhere!

Fortunately, the shortbread were easy to make, so there wasn't much of an opportunity to make a mess. However, I over softened the butter, so the shortbread dough was EXTREMELY soft, and very difficult to shape. I mostly plopped bits of dough on to the tray and poked them into rough crescent shapes!

When the biscuits were ready, they were meltingly soft and crumbly. I think that may have been because the butter was so soft. I didn't do very well coating them in icing sugar though - whoops!

We finished off the afternoon with Kat's delicious semolina and yoghurt syrup cake and some home made ice cream from Rilsta. It was a fun day, thanks gals!

Lamb skewers with tzatziki

When I got home, I managed to do another recipe for the Challenge - lamb skewers with tzatziki. I thought the lamb was tasty, but I do wish I had tasted the marinade before adding lemon juice. I thought it was a touch on the sour side. But apart from that, the lamb was nice and tender and I would try the marinade again.

See previous Cookbook Challenge posts here.

Update: Head to My Food Trail to see the round up of other people's posts this week.

Greek shortbread

Greek Shortbread
From The Australian Women's Weekly - The Complete Book of Modern Entertaining

250g unsalted butter, chopped and softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (80g) pure icing sugar, sifted
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon brandy
1/2 cup (70g) finely chopped toasted flaked almomnds
2 cups (300g) plain flour
1/2 cup (75g) self-raising flour
pure icing sugar to coat

Preheat the oven to 160°C.

Beat the butter, vanilla extract and sugar in an electric mixer until it is pale and fluffy.

Beat in the egg yolk and the brandy.

Stir in the almonds and the sifted flours.

Take a tablespoon of dough and roll it into a sausage shape, tapering slightly at the ends. Bend it into a crescent. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Place the shortbread on a lightly greased oven tray and bake for about 15 minutes or until slightly browned. Leave on the trays for 5 minutes to cool.

Dust the shortbreads heavily with sifted icing sugar and cool on a rack.

Lamb skewers with tzatziki

Lamb skewers with tzatziki

Adapted from Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery Course

Serves 8

900g lean shoulder or leg of lamb

For the marinade:
300ml natural yoghurt
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 teaspoons ground corinader
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon (I recommend tasting your marinade to see how sour it is before adding this)

Cut the lamb meat into 2.5cm cubes and season with salt and pepper.

Mix together the marinade, and put the meat into it for at least an hour (I left mine overnight).

Drain the meat and thread the pieces on to skewers.

Grill for 7-10 minutes on a barbecue until cooked, and serve with the tzatziki.


1 cucumber, peeled and diced into 3-5mm cubes
1 garlic clove, crushed
425ml greek or natural yoghurt
1 heaped tablespoon mint, freshly chopped
salt and papper

Put the diced cucumber into a sieve and sprinkle with salt. Leave it to drain for 30 minutes.

Dry the cucumber on kitchen paper and then place into a bowl with the garlic, yoghurt and mint. Stir well to combine and season with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Japan: Miyajima – kakidon

Continuing the Japan posts - our next stop after Osaka was Hiroshima. From Hiroshima, we did a day trip to Miyajima.


Miyajima, offically named Itsukushima, is a small island that is most famous for its giant torii gate which appears to float on top of the ocean at high tide. I'm sure everyone has seen photos of it - it's very recognisable.

Ticket for one, please.

Lots of wild deer roam around the island. However, the deer are very accustomed to people and, due to their tameness, have become very naughty. Their lack of fear, combined with their love of eating paper, means that they will often “attack” people for pamphlets, maps or bags.


We saw one deer eat a hole in someone's paper bag, and another deer nibbling on a women's sweater. I was quite amused to see it, but the deer smelt pretty bad and I wouldn’t have let one come that close to me!


We had a walk around the island, checking out the very famous torii gate, and Itsukushima shrine. This woman had brought her dog to the island to take pictures of it. She didn't even bother with taking one with the gate in the background!


Both the gate and Itsukushima shrine are built over water, and the shrine consists of multiple buildings that are connected with each other by boardwalks above the sea. It was nice enough, but we were a bit "shrined out" by this stage after seeing numerous shrines already.

Kaki don

But one thing that we never get bored of is food! So after checking out the shrine, we had lunch at a small restaurant on the island. I had kakidon – oyster omelette on rice. The oysters, even though they would have been frozen ones at that time of year, were sweet, plump and juicy. Delicious!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cookbook Challenge: Week 4, Beans

Recipe: Dressed cannelini beans
Cookbook: Daily Italian by Tobie Puttock

Dressed cannellini beans

Beans! I really love beans, and I would have liked to have done something more interesting than the recipe I choose, but I ran out of time this week. For some odd reason, I thought the theme this week was Greek, and I only realised it was actually beans midway through the week.

By Saturday, I still hadn't decided on a recipe, and our Saturday was spent out in the shops on a mega mammoth Xmas shopping frenzy. By the time we arrived home, I was exhausted and really not up to doing anything terribly complicated, nor wanting to go back out for ingredients.

Doing my recipe on Sunday was out because - well, today is my birthday! And we went out to the Press Club for a massive lunch, so I knew I wouldn't be eating dinner (blog post to come later, perhaps?).

Fortunately, when we arrived home on Saturday, I picked up Daily Italian, and the first recipe in the book was for dressed cannelini beans. Simple and easy, and I had all the ingredients at home. Done and no more thinking required.

I'm not generally a fan of cannellini beans, but these were alright! The original recipe suggested dried cannellini beans, but I substituted with canned ones for that quick and easy factor. Once dressed, the beans were tangy and tasted fresh and zingy from the herbs and chilli. While they probably wouldn't be the star of a meal, they worked well as a side dish.

See previous Cookbook Challenge posts here.

Update: See a round up of everyone else's posts at My Food Trail.

Dressed cannellini beans

Dressed cannelini beans

Adapted from Daily Italian by Tobie Puttock

6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 x 400g cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed well
3 sprigs sage
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon white-white vinegar
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 fresh red chillies, finely chopped
10 mint leaves
10 flat-leaf parsley leaves

In a small pot of water, simmer the garlic cloves until they are soft and cooked through.

Mash up the garlic, and add them to a large bowl with the cannellini beans, sage, oil, vinear, chillies, mint and parsley. Season well with salt and pepper and toss well to combine.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Japan: Okonomiyaki – Osaka/Kansai vs Hiroshima!

While in Japan we ate okonomiyaki twice – once in Osaka and once in Hiroshima. Did you know that there are two styles of okonomiyaki? I didn't!

The predominant style is the Osaka/Kansai version, where the okonomiyaki is prepared somewhat like a pancake, where the batter and other ingredients are mixed together and fried. The other style is the Hiroshima version, where the ingredients are layered rather than mixed together.

Naturally, both regions claim that their style is best. But which one did I think was better? Read on for the okonomiyaki showdown!

Osaka/Kansai style:

Kansai style okonomiyaki

We had the Kansai style okonomiyaki at a restaurant where they were grilled in front of us. This was NOT a cook-it-yourself joint (although I believe those places exist), and we had been warned beforehand not to touch the okonomiyaki until it was ready. Apparently that is not the done thing!

Kansai style okonomiyaki

For Kansai style oknomiyaki, a batter is made of flour, grated yam, water/dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage. Also added was tempura flakes and pickled ginger. It usually contains other ingredients such as spring onions, meat, or seafood – we had ours with seafood.

Kansai style okonomiyaki

The batter, cabbage and seafood was all mixed together. Surprisingly, most of it stayed in the bowl. Skills!

Kansai style okonomiyaki

The batter was poured on to the hot plate, and shaped into a circle. You can have cheese on it, if you so desire.

Kansai style okonomiyaki

As well as cheese, there's also the option of having yakisoba noodles. You can see some here under the mountain of bonito flakes!

Kansai style okonomiyaki

After spending some time cooking on one side, the okonomiyaki was flipped over.

Kansai style okonomiyaki

Mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce was spread over it.

Kansai style okonomiyaki

Seaweed flakes were sprinkled on top.

Kansai style okonomiyaki

And it was ready for eating! Boy, was it delicious! Cutting pieces off the okonomiyaki while it was on the hot plate meant that each bite was fresh and hot. They were quite filling but we gobbled it all down with gusto.

Hiroshima style:

Now to to Hiroshima - as mentioned before, Hiroshima okonomiyaki differs in style to the Kansai style by having the ingredients layered rather than mixed together.

For Hiroshima okonomiyaki, we went to this building that was kind of like a food court of okonomiyaki “restaurants”. The restaurants were basically kitchens surrounded by grills, with seating around the grills.

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

The okonomiyaki was cooked in front of us again, and we definitely didn't touch anything. Chef looked rather grumpy! For this style of okonomiyaki, a circle of batter was spread on to the grill, and then topped with lots and lots of cabbage, bean sprouts and spring onions.

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

Alfalfa sprouts were placed on top.

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

He placed slices of bacon on top of the cabbage and sprouts.

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

Then some more batter was squirted on top of the bacon. (I'm pretty sure it was batter since I certainly wasn't going to ask - remember me saying before that Chef looked grumpy??)

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

It all got flipped over to cook the other side.

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

We wanted oysters in ours, so the oysters were placed on the grill to start cooking.

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

Next he squashed it down into a more compact pile.

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

Cooked yakisoba noodles were placed on the grill.

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

The noodles were spread out, and a bit of oil was sprinkled on top.

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

Chef separated the noodles and shaped them into circles. The cooked oysters were placed on top.

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

Then the cabbage piles were placed on top of the noodles. It was looking good, but there was more to come.

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

Eggs were broken on to the grill and lightly fried.

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

And then the okonomiyaki was placed on top of the fried egg.

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

The okonomiyaki was flipped over again, placing the egg on top, and then a generous amount of okonomiyaki sauce was spread on.

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

And finally, some spring onions and seaweed flakes were sprinkled on to finish it off.

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

And it was finally ready for eating! Ahh, it was delicious too. And SO big and filling. But yes, we ate one each. Gluttons.

The verdict:

Both versions were delicious, and worthy challengers for the Okonomiyaki showdown.

With the Kansai style okonomiyaki, it was like a savoury pancake, with a mixture of texture from the cabbage and seafood. However, the Hiroshima style version is like a glutton's dream with the bacon, seafood, a ton of cabbage, noodles plus a fried egg. If someone wasn't full after eating it, then they would have a stomach the size of a house.

I would gladly eat either them again, but there can only be one winner - and for me the Kansai style okonomiyaki takes it out. It just edged out the Hiroshima version because each piece of the okonomiyaki was a combination of tastiness – no one ingredient in it stood out from the others. With the Hiroshima version, even though it was really good, because it was layered, everything seemed quite separate.

And there you have it! Has anyone else eaten both versions? What was your preference?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Japan: Osaka - Shabu shabu

After our visit to the aquarium, it was time for dinner. There was an opportunity for us to try fugu, but neither Alastair nor I thought it was worth it - both price wise and risk wise! So we had shabu shabu instead.

(For those interested, I'm told that fugu is a very firm, white fish that has a mild flavour. Everyone we knew who tried it survived - phew!)

Shabu shabu is cool! It’s pretty much a hot pot where paper thin slices of meat and vegetables are cooked in a broth at the table. Shabu shabu roughly means “swish swish” which refers to the sound of the meat being swished through the broth.

Shabu shabu

We received personal little cookers of broth to cook the meat and vegetables. Too bad I didn't get an action shot of the swish swish!

Shabu shabu

And here is my plate of meat and a few chopped vegetables. Look at that beef - isn't it beautiful. It was so tender after a quick cook in the liquid.

Shabu shabu

There was dipping sauce for the meat - very nutty and sesamey.

Shabu shabu

A couple of pieces of rather good sashimi, beautifully presented.

Shabu shabu

We also received some tempura. There were long beans, a prawn, and I think that item on the left was a mushroom.

Shabu shabu

Have you figured out from my posts so far that it's not a Japanese meal without chawanmushi (savoury steamed egg custard)?

Shabu shabu

Nor is a meal complete without pickles and rice.

When everything was brought out, we had a serious lack of table space! Fortunately I'm good at Tetris, so managed to shuffle things around to fit it all in. We were so full afterwards - it was another great meal.

Coming up next time: Okonomiyaki showdown. Oh yes!

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