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Tuesday, November 30, 2010


The word 'pudding' means something completely different in Japan than it does in New Zealand. When I hear 'pudding' I imagine bread pudding, rice pudding, steamed pudding, apple sponge pudding, or self-saucing chocolate pudding, or some other delicious and probably hot dessert, often served accompanied by ice-cream, whipped cream, or maybe pouring custard. But in Japan, pudding is custard with runny caramel topping. I think it's what we call creme caramel.

My first encounter with this kind of pudding was when I decided to try making some Brazilian food because a Brazilian guy was staying with us in New Zealand. A quick search of the internet produced two recipes, feijoada and pudim. The dessert had a much shorter list of ingredients, all of which I recognized and knew where to buy, so of course I made the dessert. I manged to get a nasty burn while making the caramel, but the result was so delicious I made it again many times. 

In Japan the puddings are always mini, like individual creme caramels, but the caramel is always thin and liquid. They are sold in supermarkets and convenience stores, like yogurts. The matcha pudding in the picture was from somewhere a bit more upmarket, because it was a beautifully packaged gift from an employer. 

Do I like pudding? Yes, it's quite nice. But now that the weather's getting colder I find myself missing New Zealand puddings...

Monday, November 29, 2010


First there were cheesecake brownies... then there were cheesecake greenies... and now....

CARAMEL BROWNIES!! (I love caramel so much!!!)

I've been playing recipe leggo again. I used the same recipe as for cheesecake brownies, but I replaced the  cheesecake mixture with caramel made by heating sweetened condensed milk in the microwave and thinned with a little cream. Viola! Caramel brownies!

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Sunday, November 28, 2010


If you go to the supermarket in Japan you can see huge 5kg and 10kg bags of rice and tiny 300g to 500g bags of potatoes. It's the complete opposite of New Zealand where the bags of potatoes are huge and the packets of rice are tiny. But in Japan potatoes are just another vegetable, not a staple food.

One Japanese meal I make again and again is 肉じゃが (nikujaga which means 'meat and potatoes'.) It's easy and delicious. Nikujaga uses beef sliced as thinly as bacon. Slightly fatty beef makes this dish even more delicious. But in New Zealand mince might be the easiest available option.

In a large saucepan, brown 400-500g thinly sliced beef and 1 large sliced onion in a little oil. Add 400g potato chunks (and carrot if you want.) In Japan slimy konyaku noodles are often added to this dish as well, but it is still good without them. Add water until all the ingredients are almost covered and bring to boiling point. My recipe book says to remove the scum, but I never do. (I wonder if anyone does?) Reduce the heat then add 4 tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons sugar and a dash of sake or cooking sherry if you have some. Cover with a 'drop lid' or if you don't have one use a piece of tinfoil. Simmer until most of the liquid has gone. Serve with rice.

This tastes even better the next day!

For a more exciting version of nikujaka:
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Seems like I always make cheesecake brownies for dessert so I decided to change the recipe around and make cheesecake 'greenies.' Instead of using melted chocolate I added extra melted butter and extra sugar, and mixed 2-3 tablespoons of matcha with the flour.  The mixture was not as thick as usual. It might have been better to substitute white chocolate for dark chocolate. Or perhaps I should have creamed the butter and sugar together, then added the eggs (instead of beating the eggs and sugar then adding melted butter.) This sounds a bit like recipe leggo! 

The 'greenies' turned out quite well anyway, and my workmates seemed to enjoy them.
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Monday, November 22, 2010


I like convenience stores in Japan. They are very convenient. They seem to stock all the essentials for life. I suppose they are comparable with dairies in New Zealand, but their prices are similar to, and occasionally even cheaper than supermarkets. If you wanted to buy a meal from a New Zealand dairy, you could get a meat pie, maybe a sandwich, an ice-cream or yogurt, a reasonable range of cookies and snacks like potato chips or maybe some fruit. 

Here is my lunch on the last day of my ride around Lake Biwa. The coffee, peanut chocolate and rice ball were all delicious. The calzone thing was horrible. It was full of not very good mayonnaise, which is a real let-down if you are expecting melted cheese. I should have made more effort to read the packet.
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Friday, November 19, 2010


A while ago I wrote about kimchi cheese bread, and I mentioned that I love kimchi fried rice. Here's a photo of my kimchi fried rice just before I turn down the heat and put the lid on to cook the egg and melt the cheese. I usually use thinly sliced pork, and clean out whatever vegetables are lying around in the fridge. But I think beansprouts, shitake mushrooms, carrot matchsticks, and wakame seaweed are especially good in this dish. 

By the way, a lot of people tell me they don't like kimchi because it's too spicy. That was my impression of kimchi too, but actually there are hundreds of different kinds of kimchi, using many different vegetables, and the kimchi I usually buy in Japan is not so spicy (probably made for Japanese tastes.) Also, I find that combining curry or kimchi with cheese seems to make it milder.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


 If you order a sundae or a parfait in Japan, it will arrive at your table looking like a dream desert, but as soon as you dig down into it you will find... CORNFLAKES!!! Sometimes you will find a lot of cornflakes. It's very strange for Westerners to find breakfast cereal in a dessert. I suppose it is similar to how Japanese people often feel if they encounter rice pudding. It's a strange world, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Tần ô being sold in a Los Angeles, California ...Image via WikipediaI've encountered a lot of completely new vegetables in Japan, and shungiku instantly became one of my favorites. This dark green leafy member of the chrysanthemum family looks a bit like spinach when it has been cooked, but had a delicate flavor unlike anything else. It's really good in nabe, delicious tossed with lettuce in salad, and wonderful steamed with a light dressing of soy sauce or ponzu. But my favorite way to eat shungiku is in clear soup with mini gyouza (a kind of small Chinese dumpling.) I always add the gyouza dressing (made of soy sauce, sesame oil, a touch of chili, and lemon juice or rice vinegar) to the soup.
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Sunday, November 14, 2010


This was my dinner last night. I had pan-fried pork steak. Pork is my favorite meat, and I always enjoy it. I also had sweet potatoes with mustard flavored mayonnaise, fried tomato, and mushrooms with parsley pesto. It was all very delicious.  


Zucchini was a real treat, because usually one zucchini costs at least 100 yen (NZ$1.50) in Japan, but my supermarket had a few for only 50 yen. I have no idea why it's so expensive here, because it's a really easy vegetable to grow. I know this because it was one of the few vegetables I managed to grow successfully in New Zealand, where I had a really pathetic vegetable garden. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010


TeramachiImage by MotleyPrincess via FlickrThere's a new store in town, near the Oike Street end of Teramachi, my favorite shopping street. The store is called Lupicia.  (ルピシア)They sell tea, and they are a class act! The shop is gorgeous. Along the one wall there are small tins of different teas - probably hundreds - for customers to inspect and smell. If you want to try before you buy there is an area at the back of the store where they will brew a cup of whichever tea you are interested in. They have teas from all over the world, green teas, black teas, herb teas, fruit teas, flower teas, even South African red bush tea. There are some very special Japanese style teas available in pretty little sample packs of three teabags for 300 yen, and also in various sizes of beautifully packaged gift tins. They would make wonderful souvenirs or gifts for tea drinking friends back home.
The store opened just yesterday. I found they have a mail order tea business on the internet, but I chatted with the charming European manager who was strolling around the shop in traditional Japanese dress, and he told me the store is the only one in Kyoto. (After we left the store my friend and I were speculating about the nationality of the manager. My friend thought French but I thought perhaps Belgian or Swiss...)
Now I'll tell you what I bought! The first tea that attracted my interest was 'Karigane Nikki' ( 雁ヶ音日記 ) which is Houjicha (roasted tea) with cinnamon. Then there was the fruity-scented 'Karakoro' ( からころ ), a black tea flavored with yuzu (citrus) and  plum. Finally I bought 'Tattoo', a green tea blend with jasmine flowers and longan fruit, which smells heavenly and is described on the packet as having a smoky flavor.
I only bought 300 yen sample packs of each of these, but I still received three gift teas at the check-out, where they also inquired whether I wanted my purchases gift wrapped. So in addition to my selections I will also be able to try 'First Flush', 'Grapefruit' and 'Champagne Rose' (no English description on the packets so I don't know what I'm in for.)
It's enough to make me wish I was into tea... but sadly, although I drink the occasional cup of tea, and I do like to try new things, what I really like is coffee...
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Friday, November 12, 2010


Sometimes described as Japanese 'pizza', okonomi-yaki is a kind of giant cabbage pancake or fritter, and the name literally means 'as you like it'. I realize that cabbage pancake doesn't sound very inspiring, but it's one of my favorite meals in Japan. I was introduced to okonomi-yaki by the first Japanese home-stay student who ever stayed with us. He also taught me my first Japanese words beyond konnichiwa and sayonara... ika (squid) and ebi (prawn or shrimp.) Different areas of Japan have different styles of okonomi-yaki. For example, Hiroshima-yaki uses noodles and hardly any (maybe none?) cabbage. But my favorite kind is Kansai style. Here's how I make it.

You need 2-3 cups of finely shredded cabbage, an egg, 1/4 flour, and a little cold water (2 or 3 tablespoons.) A little grated yama-imo (slimy mountain potato) always makes it better, but that would probably be difficult to get if you're not in Japan. You mix the egg, flour and water to make a medium batter, then add the shredded cabbage. And here is where 'as you like it' comes into play... add anything you like for extra flavor. Common additions are diced squid, shrimps, kimchi, cheese, pickled ginger, and chopped onion or leek. Just use your imagination, and maybe clean up the left overs in the fridge.

Heat some oil in a heavy frypan and add the mixture (it should cover the frypan and be 2-3 cm thick). Turn the heat to medium low, cover and cook for about 5 minutes. You are supposed to lay strips of thinly sliced pork belly  on top before you turn it. I've used bacon, but usually I just skip this step. The easiest way to flip it is to slide it onto a plate and turn it over back into the frypan. Cook uncovered for another 5 minutes. (Check that the middle is cooked through.)

So that's the okonomiyaki, but you need the right sauce. If you can get proper Japanese okonomiyaki sauce, great! If you can't, mix 3/4 ketchup with 1/4 Worcester sauce, and a dash of soy sauce. Slather this sauce over the okonomiyaki, and a creamy mayonnaise (not sweet or vinegary) and enjoy.

If you visit Japan, you should really try to go to an okomiyaki restaurant. They are usually not expensive, and often have a large hotplate at the tables, so that you cook your own. It's fun. The picture shows Hiroshima-yaki from a restaurant near the ferry terminal at Miyajima-guchi in Hiroshima-Ken.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Japan has all sorts of wonderful instant stuff, and I'm still surprised by something new from time to time. One of my friends gave me two different kinds of instant soup to try. I think she said the first one was from China. It looked like a rice puff cracker. You were supposed to put it in a bowl, sprinkle the powder sachet over, and pour on hot water. It was quite nice.

The other came beautifully presented in a gift box with four different flavors, small wafer containers with kanji written on them. You were supposed to break the wafer container open, place it in the bowl and pour hot water over. It was good, and even had chunks of dried vegetable in it.

Monday, November 8, 2010


I'm so lucky. I enjoy cooking myself, but I also have friends who cook. Have you ever eaten a cookie called a yoyo? Made with custard powder and sandwiched together with white icing, any New Zealander or Australian  would recognize them immediately. My Kiwi friend in Japan makes divine yoyos. And her lasange is to die for.

One of my Japanese friends often makes delicious cheesecakes. Along with an Asian desert made of steamed rice cake topped with red beans, they are her specialties. Once she made a sweet potato pie with puff pastry which was really good.

Another cooking friend of mine worked in sushi shops in Toronto and California, and knows how to make some unusual and delicious variations on the usual sushi types. (Unfortunately he is used to larger, more easily cleaned kitchens so my tiny cluttered kitchen smelt horribly fishy when he was finished.)

A while ago the same friend cooked me this delightful meal. Eggplant, red peppers, beansprouts, chicken and Mexican seasoning mix. It tasted as good as it looks.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Cold weather makes me feel like baking... This is my favorite brownie recipe, translated from Japanese especially for you. (Who would have thought I'd find a favorite brownie recipe in Japan? But these are seriously good!)
Line a 20 cm square tin with baking paper and preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
For the brownie mixture:
50 grams butter
150 grams chocolate pieces
60 grams (1/4 cup) of sugar
2 eggs
50 grams (1/2 cup) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
For the cheese mixture:
100 grams cream cheese
30 grams sugar
3 tablespoons cream
1 teaspoon lemon juice
First make the brownie mixture:  Melt the chocolate and butter together over hot water (or microwave for about 50 seconds)
Beat the eggs and sugar in a bowl until thick. Mix in melted chocolate, then add sifted flour and baking power and mix gently until just combined.
Now make the cheese mixture:  Combine softened cream cheese with other ingredients, beating until thoroughly combined.
Pour cheese mixture onto chocolate mixture and swirl around with a spoon to create a marbled pattern. Bake for about 30 minutes at 170 degrees Celsius. Cool in tin and cut into squares or triangles.
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