Yakiguri Gohan and our mid-December barbecue

Where I come from, people don’t usually cook chestnuts, let alone eat them – you just throw them at each other when you’re a kid. That’s all. The other day, however, I bought some chestnuts and luckily stumbled upon an interesting recipe from a cool blogger Kyoto foodie (recipe at the end).

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It was the 14 of December and the weather was perfect for a barbecue. NOT! As it was a bit chilly, we packed our picnic basket with tea and biscuits.

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Even though we were wearing scarves and gloves, the barbecue was a definite success. The chestnuts came out very charred and full of smoky flavour.

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Theoretically it is easier to peel the chestnuts while they’re hot, so I peeled them straight off the barbecue to find out for myself.
Yes, it is easier. And yes, it does hurt.

 

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I have well over roasted the chestnuts but it didn’t over complicate the dish. And it was a nice way to enjoy a chilly afternoon with ‘chestnuts roasting on an open fire…’  song in my head.

 

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With a few alterations, here was the end result. I have slightly altered the recipe to suit the basic “westerner’s” cupboard items, however the original ingredients are included.

 

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Before you cook, you’re most likely to need a jargon buster:
DASHI KOMBU IS DRIED KELP
KELP IS A TYPE OF SEAWEED
DONABE IS A RICE COOKER/DISH/PAN
SAKE IS JAPANESE HIGH ALCOHOL WINE
MIRIN IS SWEET RICE WINE
YAKIGURI IS ROASTED CHESTNUTS
GOHAN IS RICE

 

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Ingredients:

 

20 medium size chestnuts
1 cup short grain white rice
1 cup of water
2 tablespoons sake*
1 tablespoon mirin**
1 teaspoon salt
dashi kombu***

 

*Sake is a high alcohol Japanese white wine (something over 14% would have a similar effect). I have used 13% dry white wine which was a bit bitter.
**Mirin is a sweet rice wine used in Japanese cooking. Instead of mirin you can just use dry sherry or sweet marsala. I have dissolved a small amount of sugar in a little dry white wine (1/4 teaspoon of sugar to 1/4 cup white wine).
***Dashi Kombu: Dashi kombu is dried kelp (seaweed). It has a very distinct taste and I am not sure of a substitute ingredient. I bought a bag (photo above) for £1.90 from a local Asian store and there are like 7 of them in the bag!

 

Directions:

 

1)      Roast the chestnuts in an oven (180 C) for 10-20 minutes, or on an open fire until charred. Optionally, you can cut crosses in chestnuts so they are exposed to flame and get a smoky flavour.
2)      Add the water and rice to a pot (donabe). Then add sake, mirin and salt. Mix in the chestnuts and place sheet of dried dashi kombu on top.
3)      Heat until near boil and cover the pot. Reduce heat and cook for 10 minutes.
4)      After 10 minutes, remove from heat and leave for 10 minutes.
5)      Uncover and mix gently to break chestnuts into pieces.
6)      Generally the kombu is discarded, but I really enjoyed the chewy little sponge with the meal.

 

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Apparently in certain places in Japan it is considered poor presentation if you leave the chestnuts whole. The reason is if you don’t have a chestnut in every bite, you can’t taste its full flavours. Everything has to be inside the bowl, no rice sticking out. Also, the Japanese are well known for their distinct personalities, attention to detail and aesthetics. So let’s have a nice meal with respect for our food and the ones enjoying it.

 

And Iiiii’m offering the simple phrase… for kids from 1… till 92… Merry Christmas…. tooooooo youuuuu! Tan tan tan, tan tan tan, tan tan tan.. tan tan!

Nosy about Rosy: Rosemary focaccia with olives

The room filled with smell of freshly baked bread and it felt like home. It was a sunny winter Tuesday morning and the sun had heated up the room through our huge window. Once we opened the oven, I literally had to take my clothes off!

I bought this rosemary plant for 50p or so, and it looks and smells amazing. The problem is I have to use it now, but most recipes don’t require more than a sprig of it. So here’s a start.

 

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Ingredients:

 

500g flour
10g sea salt
5g yeast
2 tbsp oil to finish
Oil
Flaky sea salt
4 sprigs fresh rosemary leaves
Olives of your choice

 

Directions:

 

1)    Mix together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Dissolve yeast it in 350ml warm water and add to the flour mix. Mix to a very rough, soft dough, add the oil and squish in.
2)    Scrape the dough on to a lightly floured work surface and, with lightly floured hands, knead until smooth and silky – about 10 minutes. Keep dusting your hands with flour; it will become less sticky as you knead. Note – it still has to be sticky once you finish kneading, otherwise it won’t rise and will become hard and heavy.
3)    Shape the dough into a ball, put it in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with a clean tea towel and leave until it has doubled in size; for about an hour.
4)    On a floured surface, shape the dough into a rough rectangle, lift into a lightly oiled shallow baking dish and press right into the corners. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for about 30 mins.
 5)    Once risen, poke rows of deep dimples over the top. Trickle generously with oil, then sprinkle with salt, rosemary and olives.
6)    Bake in an oven heated to at least 230C (450F) for 15-20 minutes, turning it down after 10 minutes if it browns too fast.

 

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Once you take this bad boy out the oven, you can serve it with an oil dip, just as they do in restaurants and charge £3 for it. Just mix 1 part balsamic vinegar/lemon juice and 3 parts oil.
Voila!

 

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The green bastard spaghetti (curly kale pesto with stilton)

This is getting ridiculous: It’s 9 PM, I’m posting this blog (blogging this post?) and helping myself to a second sitting of this… I should post a warning that it is addictive.

I was never a fan of kale. Why would you – it’s tasteless. Well, it isn’t, it has a taste: it is bitter and reminds me of antibiotics. Anyway, you knew this was coming – I cooked the green bastard and I love it now. I want to buy more kale tomorrow.

The cheese gives it a savoury mouthwatering taste, which combined with the kale pesto-smothered spaghetti, a slice of fresh ciabatta and a glass of red wine makes this dish a true evening sensation…
And the recipe is sooo easy you wouldn’t believe!

Ingredients:
1) 100g chopped curly kale
2) 2 garlic cloves
3) 4 tbsp grated parmesan
4) 3 tbsp oil
5) 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
6) 6 basil leaves

7) 150g spaghetti
8) 50g crumbled stilton or other salty cheese (you can double that if you want!)

Directions:
1) Blanch the kale with boiling water, then drain.
2) Blitz the first 6 ingredients in food processor.
3) Cook the pasta and then mix with the blitzed pesto and add the cheese.

Goes exceptionally well with a glass of red wine. I have managed to accidentally make a perfect pairing – with full-bodied 2007 rioja riserva which had a hint of vanilla oak. You can also get yourself a nice loaf of bread to lick the plate clean, because you’re going to want to.

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