recipe

Desem, Day 5

This is the continuation of my accounts of making desem bread, which is made with just flour, water, salt and nothing else. It's somewhere between regular baking and a science project.

The desem isn't as active today, but it's certainly moving and growing. This is how the incubator-pot looks when I opened it up: continue reading...

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Desem, Day 4

This is the continuation of my accounts of making desem bread, which is made with just flour, water, salt and nothing else. It's somewhere between regular baking and a science project.

Yesterday I was a bit worried because the desem hadn't grown or changed at all. So I made two adjustments: I increased the amount of water in the dough a bit to make it softer, and I switched the location of the incubator/pot to a warmer location. continue reading...

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Desem, Day 3

This is the continuation of my accounts of making desem bread, which is made with just flour, water, salt and nothing else. It's somewhere between regular baking and a science project.

The desem has been incubating for 2 days since it was born. I take the pot up from the washing machine room and open the lid. continue reading...

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Desem, Day 1

This is the continuation of my accounts of making desem bread, which is made with just flour, water, salt and nothing else. It's somewhere between regular baking and a science project.

Time to start the desem now. The ingredients for today: continue reading...

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Desem, Day 0

I've decided to start a desem again.

What the heck is desem? Well, it is supposed to be a Belgian whole wheat bread, though my only Belgian friend d__ doesn't know about it. In any case, it appears in the best whole-grain bread baking book I've ever read, The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book : A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking. My Amazon review is quoted here: continue reading...

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Baking bread (or thinking about it)

I love to bake bread.

It's a very relaxing thing to do. It's messy enough to remind you of when you were little and played with mudpies and Play-Doh. It's a mindless thing, or at least the kneading part is. It can even help to get out some frustration, by banging the dough about (a good way of developing the gluten). continue reading...

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Onigiri (rice balls)

onigiri.jpg

[Update:] Be sure to check out my easier, neater way to make onigiri!

Onigiri are rice balls, usually with a tasty filling. They are very portable, and therefore are very popular for carry-along lunches. Part of their appeal lies in the fact that if you're Japanese, you just love the taste of rice. It's genetic. [Edit: another word for onigiri is omusubi. I guess it just depends on what word you grew up with. In our house it was always onigiri.]

Onigiri can stand on their own, or be part of a bento or boxed lunch. (For some reason it's never just called "nigiri", though bento is also called obento, which is the honorific term.) Onigiri are also a great make-ahead snack for a crowd, since with the appropriate fillings they keep rather well. I remember my aunt making 12-cups of rice worth of onigiri at a time for the large family gatherings at New Year's or Obon (August festival to pay respect to our ancestors). Her hands would be bright red from the heat of the rice. She favored salted salmon (shio zake) as the filling usually - very salty salmon in fact.

Onigiri is also one of my top comfort foods. It reminds me of the ones my mother used to make for me for school outings (ensoku) as well as countless school lunches. When we stayed at my grandmother's and my cousines and I would take trips to the Chichibu mountain area, my aunt would make huge rice balls to assuage our appetites. There's a comforting feeling of continuity with history too, because Japanese travelers have sustained themselves on those salty rice balls for hundreds of years.

Like obento boxed lunches, onigiri can be elaborate creations, but the simple versions the are best in my opinion. We often bring some onigiri with us on long train trips: it's a lot better than buying the overpriced sandwich buns from the vending carts. Yes, sometimes people look at us curiously as we bite into those soccer-ball colored balls. We don't care one bit.

While I was working on writing up this entry, I came across this post by Mimi Ito . Japanese people have a lot of emotional attachment to obento, and to onigiri too. continue reading...

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Lentil-chestnut soup

Let's face it, any woman (or man) who works, presuming s\he's the one in charge of the cooking duties in the house, appreciates a one-pot meal. A one-pot meal not only has to fit in one pot, but the contents of said pot should be nourishing and satisfying enough so that you do not find the people you are trying to feed looking forlornly in the refrigerator one hour after dinner.

A soup that falls into the hearty category like this one, fulfils that requirement admirably. When the weather turns cold, there is nothing like soup with legumes in it to warm your tummy as well as filling it.

Lentils are the handiest legume ever, since you don't need to soak them beforehand. You can just throw them into a pot and say, 20-30 minutes later, they are nicely cooked. Esau's potage (see Old Testament) is supposed to have been made of lentils. Lentils also have a slightly peppery flavor which perks up the flavor of the soup. For this soup I prefer to use red lentils, but the grey ones work fine too.

The other main ingredient is chestnuts. This is a bit tricky, actually. If you have time and patience, you can buy raw chestnuts and either boil them or roast them (on your open fireplace, if you have one, in a tin made for this purpose, or else wrapped in double-triple-layers of foil and places near the edge of the fire). But who has the time for that? Here in Switzerland, as well as in Austria, Germany and France, it's easy to buy bags of "heisse Marroni" (hot roasted chestnuts) on the street during the cold months. You do need to peel them but the shell does pop off easily. Try not to pop too many in your mouth while you peel them.

If you have money to burn, you can substitute chestnuts-in-honey or syrup or whatever you can find at your local gourmet store. This is what Nigella Lawson does in the original recipe from which this recipe has been freely adapted. I would not be so crazy as to use real, beautiful marron glacé though. Here we can also buy peeled frozen chestnuts at the supermarket, which do the job just fine.

If you don't have any chestnuts, I would (and have) substitute an equivalent amount of cut up sweet potatoes, or Japanese-type squash (kabocha). Butternut would be okay too. You just need a rather dense, sweetish, floury ingredient. Plain potatoes lack the sweetness factor.

For this sort of soup you don't need to get too fussy about the stock. Plain water plus a vegetable stock cube does the job, provided you start with the sauteed vegetable mix.

This is a pureed soup, so you need a stick blender. Believe me, a stick blender is well worth getting, and they are really cheap. Even if you have a food processor or blender, it's way easier to just puree a soup in the pan. I don't worry about tiny little lumps being left - it just makes it more rustic and satisfying. continue reading...

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Sunday Breakfast Fry-up

One of the strangest habits of the Brits is the Fry-up. A fry-up is consumed for breakfast, is supposed to be a great hangover cure, and is a big greasy mess. Here is a rather sedate version. I've seen ones with fried kidneys, blood sausage, and more too.

I sort of wonder how the British got into the habit of consuming this lethal mixture of fat, protein, and more for breakfast while throughout the rest of Europe people settled happily for bread and coffee. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: dashi stock

One of the regular features I’ll be putting here are some basics of Japanese cooking…since that’s what I am (Japanese). Believe me, it’s not as hard as you might think it is. continue reading...

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Mushroom rice

Fall is the season for wild mushrooms. We can get mushrooms all year round now of course, but the wild variety are at their best when the fungi can draw lots of nice nutrients from the rotting leaves and wood that is lying around.

Fungi are a strange thing. They feast on decay. All plant material draw energy to grow from their decayed ancestors, but fungi are the only things that draw all of their energy from this source. And, the more they can suck up, the more flavorful they seem to be.

Truffles for instance, are so greedy that they don't even raise their heads out of the earth, until their are sniffed out by pigs or dogs. (Allegedly, virgins can also detect truffles.) I was quite sceptical about the reputation enjoyed by the truffle, until the day I actually had one, a real one, not just truffle oil or the microscopic specks of truffle that are allegedly in some canned patés. This was a real truffle, sliced into bold chunks and baked inside a dish modestly called a galette de pommes (potato cake) on the menu of the Beurehiesel in Stransbourg. (The Buerehiesel is a 3-star Michelin establishment, and our favorite restaurant right now. It will be mentioned many times in this blog I'm sure.) The wonderful fragrance of the truffle permeated the potato cake and made it something out of this world.

While we can't afford truffles on a regular basis, we can enjoy wild mushrooms. One of our favorite ways of enjoying a delightfully smelly bag of mixed fungi is simply cooked in our trusty rice cooker with a basic dashi stock. It can be assembled in no time, and then you just wait for your kitchen to be filled with the fragrance of the 'shrooms. It's low-fat too. continue reading...

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