Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Cooking class 2: Legendary simmered hamburg steak

As I mentioned before, I went to a complimentary cooking lesson at ABC Cooking Studio a couple of weeks ago courtesy of my dear friend Malaka over at Aloha Mahalo. I had so much fun I snapped up the opportunity of *another* free lesson, this time making what was billed (by her) as "legendary simmered hamburg steak". Legendary because several ABC devotees have apparently made a trip down the aisle after feeding their man this tasty recipe! With a write up like that, who could resist??

This time there were 2 other students in our class (the limit is 4-5 people per session), who were single, and seemed to be fairly new to cooking. I got the feeling they might be taking the lessons to prepare for marriage sometime in the future (hence the interest in this recipe??!). There is, afterall, a tradition in Japan of women taking special classes in various arts--including culinary arts--in preparation for getting married. I find this practice strangely endearing, but it's also a little worrying that prospective spouses (male and female) are not learning basic living skills at home from childhood. Then again, as someone who hogs the kitchen at home, I could also be accused of denying the Young Man the opportunity to learn important cooking skills...

But getting back to the class.

I was keen to take this session as theYoung Man is rather partial to Hamburg steaks (his favourite is here), so another choice is very welcome at this house. ABC's version is different in that it is not topped with "gravy" but a brown sauce. I'd never made such a sauce and was surprised that the colour derives from dry-frying flour for a not inconsiderable amount of time "until it is the colour of nuteg". The particular version we made in the class was a little salty for my liking, but with the proportions of liquid to flour, it should be easy enough to substitute yummier ingredients (like red wine (g)) to bring it more in line with my palate.

I also learned a new technique for chopping onions. Normally I cut the onions top to tail, then slice vertically almost all the way to the tail end of each half, then turn the knife to cut horizontally so that little cubes will form when I cut perpendicular across the original vertical cuts. This works pretty well for the most part, except if the onions are particularly large, when the edges of the onion tend to spread out and "escape" the knife's edge, leaving you with what looks like an onion cut in a bob.

With ABC's technique, you cut your onion top to tail into quarters, slice vertically down almost to the tail, turn the onion onto its other cut face and repeat the process (thereby neatly bypassing the need to turn the knife on the horizontal), then chopping diagonally across the corner of the quarter, alternating diagonal cuts to keep the outer edges from splaying out. Nice.

Another neat trick was to kneed the hamburg meat with your left (non-dominant) hand, while adding seasonings to the mixture with your right (dominant) hand so you don't have to keep washing hands between additions/mixing. Why didn't I think of that!

While ABC does offer some lessons in more exotic food, I reckon I have that side of things pretty much covered with the growing cookbook collection. Japanese food, on the other hand, can be pretty exacting and I thought it might be worth getting some professional advice on this. So I've signed up for 12 lessons and, with luck, maybe I'll be able to capture the heart of my (Young) Man with some exciting new Japanese dishes.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Coconut chicken salad

I adapted this creamy, piquant, zesty Thai-inspired salad from a recipe found ages ago on the Age website.

Although, adapt is perhaps not the right word: I was intending making the recipe to specification, but the heavens had other ideas. For one thing, the green papaya I bought, having checked with the veggie shop lady that it was indeed an unripe papaya for salads, turned out not to be! Oooops. Then there was the toasted rice thing. Had planned on doing that too, but was too short of time. (It was good to learn how to make it, though, for a time when time is on my side (g).) The lack of time (and it being hot in the kitchen) also threw the blackened chillis out the window! I'll keep that one up my sleeve for next time.

Not to worry. The recipe was stellar for all that. The only thing I would advise is to add a little less fish sauce to begin with, and check for saltiness as you go.

This is an Australian recipe, tablespoons are 20 ml and cups 250 ml. If using non-Aussie measuring spoons, add an extra teaspoon for each tablespoon. Just guestimate for the cups. It is not going to make much difference to a recipe like this.

For the chicken
2 chicken breasts, skin removed
1 tin coconut milk
3 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp grated palm sugar
4 kaffir lime leaves

For the dressing
2 green chillies, halved and deseeded (leave seeds in if you want it hot)
3 tbsp grated palm sugar
juice of 1-2 limes
3 tbsp fish sauce
2-3 tbsp of cooled coconut poaching liquid

For the salad
1/3 cup rice
1/2 cup of peanut oil
6 large dried red chillies, halved and deseeded
1-2 green papayas, peeled and cut very thinly (a mandolin is good)
a handful each of Thai basil and coriander leaves
2 kaffir lime leaves, very finely sliced

For the chicken: Gently poach the chicken in the coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar and lime leaves until just cooked (about 10 minutes depending on size). Leave the chicken to cool in the liquid. Once cool, shred by hand.

For the dressing: Crush the chillies in a mortar and pestle, then add the sugar and combine until you have a wet paste. Add remaining ingredients and pound (you can use a food processor but the mortar and pestle gives a better result). Adjust to taste. If the dressing is too hot add more coconut liquid.

For the salad: Place the rice in a wok over high heat and stir until the rice turns opaque and lightly toasted. When cool, crush into fine crumbs in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

Place the clean wok over high heat with the peanut oil. When the oil is hot, add the dried chillies and move about with a ladle. They will turn dark brown very quickly. Turn onto kitchen paper. When cool, crush to a powder as for the rice.

Combine the papaya, chicken, lime leaves, herbs and dressing. Place on serving plates and sprinkle with the ground rice and blackened chilli.


Friday, 11 July 2008

Cooking class 1: Tuna & onion quiche bread

My dear friend and food blogging mentor Malaka over at Aloha Mahalo has been attending cooking classes at ABC Cooking Studio in Shibuya, Tokyo for some time, and asked me along to a complimentary lesson to check it out. Being totally self-taught (although admittedly having lived with a professional cook for many years), I was keen to see what a school could offer me that I couldn't learn myself from a book (of which you know I have one or two).

So it was off to Shibuya after work one night to make these very yummy bread quiches.

The cooking school was divided into 3 studios, one for each course they offer (bread, cooking and cakes), I suppose. The baking studio had several large benches, a row of kitchen sinks (the Japanese kitchen sink, which is large enough to bath a 1 year old in, is a wonder to behold!), several dough risers (if that's the word) and a bank of maybe 15 ovens. Although it was after work, it was still light out, all the better to enjoy the view out the huge wall of windows. Windows are so often NOT a feature of Japanese kitchens that it is a dream of mine to one day have one in my own (sad, isn't it?!).

The teacher was also very bright and cheery, and had lots of words of praise and encouragement (probably not necessary in my case, but surely welcomed by kitchen neophytes and brides in training (g)). Those of you that know me, know I'm not one for a lot of palaver in the kitchen (probably why I'm a breadmaker kind of baker, rather than a do-it-by-hand type), but our instructor had just the right words for both my slap-dash style, and Malaka's more careful work.

The day's recipe was very simple, and we were given an illustration-rich recipe card that was very easy to understand. So far so good. I did, however, miss the chopping and measuring that usually goes with cooking. The teachers had everything ready-measured for handing to us to add at just the right moment, so you also missed out on the adrenaline rush from getting everything ready and added in good time.

Anyway, the day's recipe might have been simple, but it was delicious, and I did learn some things that I probably wouldn't have from a book. For instance that sugar and yeast are buddies, so put them close together in you bowl, but keep the egg separate till the very last second. And when making dough balls, cut and don't pull the dough, or you'll loose all the air inside. Ditto not overworking the dough. And for the same reason, always put the cut face (pinched together into what our teacher called an oshiri, or, ahem, "nether region"!) face down when waiting for it to rise.

Throughout the lesson there was plenty of talk about food (what else!), and much washing and drying of dishes at the end of each step. I guess this is necessary if the studio is full, but as it was not so busy the day we were there, I thought it a bit unnecessary to dry the dishes almost before they hit the draining board. But that's just me. I'll be taking my rubber gloves with me next time, as my poor hands didn't cope well with the constant immersion in water, and a quick squirt of alcohol before the start of each step. Still, it's good to know the school takes food hygiene very seriously (other than drying the dishes with a dish towel (g)).

So how to make these darling little breads? Here's my rendition of the recipe in words rather than pictures.

Tuna and onion quiche bread

Makes 6 breads around 10 cm in diameter

For the dough
50 g white bread flour
10 g plain white flour
2/3 tsp dry yeast
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 an egg, beaten; at room temperature
40-50 ml water, warmed to 42-43 degrees C

50 g white bread flour
10 g plain white flour
1/3 tsp salt
30 g butter; at room temperature

For the tuna and onion filling
160 g tinned tuna, drained
15 g onion, very finely chopped

For the egg filling
75 g egg, beaten
30 ml fresh cream
pinch of salt (optional; I felt it really didn't need it)
pinch of pepper
1 tbsp Parmesan cheese

To garnish
Dried parsley

1. Measure dough ingredients (1) (except the water) into a mixing bowl and (2) into a small bowl. Add water to bowl (1) and mix vigorously with a wooden spoon until very smooth.

2. Add bowl (2) ingredients to bowl (1) and fold in. Turn out onto clean work surface and kneed with the heel of your hand until there are no lumps. Kneading forms gluten in the dough, making it elastic. Form into a ball, with the joint face down, and return to the mixing bowl. Cover with cling film and leave to rise in a 40 degree C oven for 25-35 minutes. (Many Japanese ovens have handy a dough function for this.)

3. Meanwhile, mix the tuna and onion filling and egg filling ingredients in 2 small bowls.

4. Use the finger test to check the dough has risen sufficiently. Insert a finger up to the first knuckle, and if the indentation remains, the dough is ready. Punch the excess gas out of the dough and use a blunt knife to form 6 equal portions. Do not pull the dough apart with your hands as this will let all the gas out. Take each portion one by one in the palm of your less dominant hand and gently form into a ball using 3 large circular motions around the edge of the dough. Place the 6 balls seam side down on an oven tray, cover with a damp towel and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

5. After resting the dough, place each ball seam side up and spread out into circles around 12 cm in diameter. Fit into foil cases, leaving a little (say 2 mm) of the dough hanging over the edge. Prick all over with a fork. Divide tuna and onion filling equally between the 6 dough-lined cases. Cover with cling film and a damp tea towel, and place in 40 degree C oven again to rise for a further 20-25 min. Preheat oven to 190 degrees C if gas, or 200 degrees C if electric.

6. Brush rim of dough with lightly beaten egg and divide the egg filling equally between the quiches. Bake in oven for 9-13 minutes if gas, or 11-15 minutes if electric.

7. When egg filling is cooked, remove from oven to cooling rack and sprinkle with dried parsley.


Thursday, 10 July 2008

Beans with ocean trout, preserved lemons and rocket

It is a real special occasion to get the opportunity to eat this dish. It has been a favourite of mine for many years, but it contains just one too many of the things that make the Young Man turn up his nose for me to be able to make and actually expect him to eat it. Hopefully you don't have such problems, as this is a truly spectacular medley, despite comprising just a handful of ingredients.

I remember printing this out years ago (my printout is well spattered and grease-stained--always a good sign), but forgot where. Happily, it is still on the Net, and wouldn't you know it, it's from my food hero Nigel!

Nigel's version is for flageolet beans and salmon, but I've substituted soy beans and ocean trout, which I reckon is even better. I've also made this with white beans and chickpeas, and spinach instead of rocket (which goes by the name arugula in other parts, apparently) before, so feel free to ring the changes yourself. It is what Nigel would tell you himself.

If you have a stash of pre-cooked pulses in the freezer, you can have this on the table in minutes. Just don't forget to reheat your beans beforehand, to kill off any lurking bacteria. If you have a pressure cooker and remember to soak your beans before going out to work, you'll still be tucking in in no time. Soy beans take around 3 1/2 minutes to cook under pressure. I'll leave Nigel's full instructions here, in case neither of these options are available to you.

Soy beas with ocean trout, preserved lemons and rocket

Serves 2 as a main dish

150g dried soy beans
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
couple of bay leaves (optional)
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
half a preserved (pickled) lemon
a loosely cupped handful of coriander leaves
300g ocean trout fillet (the tail is good here)
2 small bunches (about 100g) rocket leaves

Rinse the beans - they can be dusty - and check them over for any small stones, then soak overnight in cold water. They will need a good five or six hours to plump up. Drain, then tip into a deep pan of furiously boiling water, but adding no salt - it would make them tough. Cook for 10 minutes or so at a fierce boil - a habit that is supposed to stop them from giving you wind later on - then turn them down to a rolling boil. I put a little olive oil and a couple of bay leaves in at this point for no other reason than that it makes the kitchen smell good as they cook.

If the water gets low, top it up from the kettle. The time the beans will take to cook is anyone's guess - much will depend on their age. At this time of year they are certain to be last year's harvest, so they will need at least 40 minutes (mine took an hour yesterday). New-season's dried beans that appear in the autumn should be tender in 20 minutes.

A tender bean will squash easily between your fingers, but the best way is to taste them.

Put the salmon on a dish or grill pan and rub it lightly with oil, then cook it under an overhead grill for 10 minutes or so till the flesh is just opaque.

To make the dressing, add the vinegar to the oil in a large mixing bowl, a grind of salt and pepper (remember that the lemon will be salty), then finely chop the lemon and roughly chop the coriander leaves and add them both to the oil and vinegar. Pull the fish from its skin in fat chunks - I think bigger pieces are more attractive in a salad - and add them to the dressing. No need to toss it yet.

Drain the beans (you can get them ready early in the day and shake them in a little seasoned olive oil while they are warm), then toss them gently with the salmon and dressing. Try not to break up the fish.

Pick the rocket over, discarding anything that is not in good nick, then fold the leaves tenderly into the salad and serve in the next half hour or so, before the leaves wilt in the dressing. Serves 2 as a main dish.


Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Plum cous cous

The Young Man has jetted off to Australia for his "summer holidays" and I am now cooking for 1 (or two, since I like to have the second portion for lunch the next day). As the YM says, now's my chance to eat all the herbs that he normally turns his nose up at and to put chilli in everything. There are some benefits to having the run of the house (g).

As I often do when the YM is away, I immediately turned to Nigel for some lazy cooking-for-one food inspiration. Most of the recipes in his The 30-Minute Cook (subtitled The Best of the World's Quick Cooking in my older edition) and Real Fast Food are for 2, so you get great grub without copious amounts of leftovers to somehow cram into your poor overworked freezer.

This is an adaptation of a recipe for peach and almond cous cous in The 30-Minute Cook. I've made it with peaches before and loved it, but it will be another month or so before peaches come down to anything like the price that would permit their wanton inclusion in a side dish (g).

Plums are in season, though, so here we go.

Now, you are probably not going to get lots of luscious juice from a plum like you would with a peach: since you want to be able to dice your fruit, it may not quite have reached the point where it is dripping with sweet nectar. You might want to compensate for this with lots of lovely fresh ground black pepper. You might also want to adjust the amount of lemon juice you use depending on the sweetness of the plums.

I had this with the very brilliant Crisp Spiced Grilled Chicken from the same book. I never can get enough of the stuff. Nigel has even convinced me that you really do want to leave the skin on when it's grilled chicken. And since no-one was around to see, I even got to scoop up the marinade that got stuck to the foil in my grill pan and scoff that down as well. Just don't tell the YM, alright!

I didn't have almonds on hand, so they got left out, but if you want to add them back in, the original recipe calls for 2 tbs flaked almonds, toasted.

Plum cous cous

100 g cous cous
2 large plums, diced
Handful of mint leaves, chopped
Large handful of flat-leafed parsley, chopped
2-3 spring onions, sliced
Juice of 1-2 lemons
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper

Sprinkle cous cous with 100 ml water, leave for 10 min, then break up the lumps that form with your fingers. Chop the parsley and mint, but not too finely, and mix with the lemon juice and olive oil in a salad bowl. Add the spring onions to the dressing.

Halve and stone the plums and cut the flesh into large dice, saving any juice. Add the plum flesh to the dressing along with the cous cous.