This week is National Vegetarian Week apparently. Well in the UK and I know only from twitter and online newspapers I read. Since I mostly eat and have a dear love for vegetarian food here is a tasty paratha version I made for lunch today. Paratha are a type of Indian flatbread and I love endless variations. On a trip to India a few months ago I had the pleasure of cooking with some pretty amazing cooks and was great to see the varieties even the simple Paratha has from different parts of India. The biggest difference is of course either stuffing the paratha or mixing the flour with ingredients but the even using ghee, butter or olive oil can make subtle differences in taste. With a fresh batch of ghee made and some Japanese kabu I thought I would make a twist on the Mooli Paratha. Kabu are a great little vegetable with lots of Vitamin C and dietary fiber and I finely chopped and added some of the shoots which gave a rather lovely colour.

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It’s been 11 days since the big one hit Japan near Sendai and to be honest it feels like a month. Not only the devastating tsunami, but the nuclear reactors in Fukushima have been on everyone’s mind. Things seem to relatively stable with regards to Fukushima, but by no means over. The rescue effort in the north in dealing with the aftereffects of the earthquake and tsunami has begun but again has a long road to go before any ‘normality’ if at all returns.

Everyday we are bombarded with news and information and as as much as we try, the truth is there is just much to digest. Helping where we can and staying aware of concerns is all we can do and one concern now is the trace levels of radiation that have been found in food and water surrounding the plant. We must remember the staff who have voluntarily given themselves to try and control the situation have been exposed to the most radiation and we are assured they undergo the strictest decontamination after working so hope they are safe. For us who live in Tokyo and other surrounding areas the full extent to the damage from radiation is far from clear, but I have every faith in the Japanese people and government that steps will be taken.  The government today announced 4 prefectures to suspend food shipments since levels of radiation have been detected in tap water, leafy vegetables, milk. The levels “do not pose a risk to human health” we are told.

Another point to remember is we are all exposed to radiation in our daily lives, being scanned at the airport and flying, CT scans, talking on mobile devices, laptops on our laps. For anyone wanting to take a few extra precautions there is a few things that are always good to do:

1. Build up your immune system

Exercise, eat garlic, onions, Vitamin C, almonds, turmeric, green tea, fresh vegetables and whole foods.
Avoid white sugars and refined flours.

2. Eat more sea vegetables

Kelp, Konbu, Wakame, Nori that are naturally high in iodine, easy if you live in Japan since readily available.

3. Limit other radiation

So less chatting on the phone, not using your phone as an alarm etc…

More advice and info here.

Little things go a long way and by choosing to eat and act carefully your body will have the right balance to deal with anything, hopefully.

I like Konbu tea anyway but thought now might be a good time to share the recipe

As you know the areas worst hit are in a state of devastation Our hearts are with those still missing, those who have lost everything and those are directly working to help, risking their lives for the safety of Japan.

In Tokyo, amidst the panic of not knowing how serious the situation is and being unable to help the situation the best we can do for now is stay calm. The British Embassy released a frank and calm statement reassuring there as no reason to worry in Tokyo about nuclear radiation and for now best to follow local authorities advice and not put further strain on resources. The people and businesses in Tokyo have been carefully using electricity so for now no power cuts and although aftershocks and small earthquakes continue we can only hope they stop soon.

I have complete respect and confidence in the Japanese systems in place, their transparency is globally monitored and we all want the same thing, our people to be safe. For those of you who want to help, here are a few ways collected from friends and other online sources:

●If you speak Japanese you can help with interpreting http://www.babelverse.com/

●The people over at Explore.org are donating $1 for every “Like” of the “Dog Bless You” Facebook page, up to $100,000.

●Apple is also dedicating resources to the crisis in Japan. They have created a simple donation page in iTunes [iTunes link] that makes it simple to donate anywhere from $5 to $200 to the Red Cross with just a few clicks.

●One beautiful idea is from ATSUKO KUDO. Her way to help & donate is http://www.atsukokudo.com/japan-tsunami-donation.php

AMERICAN RED CROSS: Emergency Operation Centers are opened in the affected areas and staffed by the chapters. This disaster is on a scale larger than the Japanese Red Cross can typically manage. Donations to the American Red Cross can be allocated for the International Disaster Relief Fund, which then deploys to the region to help. Donate here.

British Red Cross, here.

The Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund was launched at GlobalGiving.org to garner funds that will be given to a variety of relief organizations helping victims of the earthquake. It has already raised over $100,000, particularly from concerned Twitter users around the world.

Yahoo is accepting donations, only in Japanese

Let’s pray the situation improves, stay up-to-date with facts and keep spirits optimistic. Keeping the economy ticking over will help long-term and when more information on how we can help becomes available let’s do more!!

This is one of my most favourite warm salads that I have been making since the time I lived next to an amazing Deli in Glasgow, Delizique. Glasgow has lots of great deli’s and speciality shops in the West End and it was heaven living amongst them, getting the best of fresh and local produce. It has some terrific restaurants too and I am still inspired by food I ate and chefs I worked with during my time there. I miss deli’s like that and remember being star struck bumping into Robert Carlyle there one day like it was yesterday. They had the most amazing Chorizo and even though good Chorizo is a bit trickier to get your hands on in Tokyo, this salad has some very simple components which make it versatile and easy to make anytime so is worth hunting some down when you can. Sun-dried tomatos, tossed with chorizo, roasted red peppers and red onion, shiitake mushrooms, potatoes, baby spinach make this a very simple, tasty salad.

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Tai is the name for Sea Bream in Japanese. Meshi means rice and this simple yet beautiful dish is basically Sea Bream rice. The fish is cleaned, scales removed and simmered in a pot with rice, ginger and dashi stock. Very healthy and easy to make and although I forgot to include Mitsuba which would have really made the dish, it was still perfect. The recipe was kindly shared by a good friend Yuko and her knowledge of fish dishes is huge so I love getting simple recipes and trying them. Although this is usually considered a very special dish, made on occasions like birthdays and New Year, I made this on a weekday for lunch with friends. Soaking Konbu in water first, adding some Japanese seasonings and cooking the fish with the bones really gives such an incredible flavour and the key is to remove the bones and mix gently before serving. Mitsuba, the Japanese Parsley really would have been great thrown on top before serving but hey, next time…

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A classic Indian Gujarati dish here, made from baked eggplant cooked with onions, spices and tomatoes. I like to make it without tomatoes sometimes and with sliced green chillis, a mix of spices, garlic and ginger it has strong flavours yet a very delicate texture. The onions should be cooked for fairly long, browning and sweetening as they do, and the eggplant baking for 30-40 mins until the skin is black and can effortlessly be removed. The smoky flavour is truly incredible and although you could make a tasty dish without baking the eggplant, it is worth the extra effort and produces a very comforting result. With chapattis, pita bread, rice, or a daal it is a light meal and some plain yoghurt is something I love having with it.

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Such a treat to find plantains in my local supermarket! In Tokyo you have to travel to find products that aren’t usually used in Japanese cooking and these were 100 yen so was really happy to see them. Plantains are from the same family as bananas but lower in sugar and more starchy. Fried in olive oil they are the great little side or snack and with some lime salt they were magic. Very easy to make so do try next time you see some.

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Poaching Chicken is a very healthy way to cook chicken and gives tender moist chicken that is perfect for sandwiches, wraps, salads, pastas.. anything really. I love a good sandwich and poached chicken breast ensures the meat stays succulent and doesn’t dry out. An excellent source of protein and versatile so total winner. You can poach the chicken in boiling water in a pan for 10-15 mins however I like to poach in water in the oven. Just enough to cover the chicken, with a couple of bay leaves, sea salt and pepper for about 30 mins at 350°C. Adding different herbs, lemon slices and poaching in chicken or vegetable stock are some ways you can play around with flavours. Once the chicken has finished cooking, you can tear, slice, and use how you like.

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Spinach is one of my all time favourite leafy vegetables.  It has amazing health benefits and needs very little cooking, preparation and can be incorporated in anything. High in calcium, Vitamin A, C, K, folic acid and iron it is good for our bones, memory and provides important nutrients and minerals for protecting us against a whole range of diseases. Containing important enzymes, the best way to reap the benefits is by chopping the spinach, not tearing, and not overcooking. The ensures you get the best from the enzymes, and they are broken down and absorbed easily.  This rice is an easy dish to make, very pretty with any curry or side dish, and with the cumin and onions, added flavour and health benefits can be enjoyed.

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A question I am often asked and since I have spent a fair amount of time and effort on this I feel it only to share this golden information with you. Useful if you live here and have tried buying any spice or herb that isn’t used regularly used in Japanese cooking. If you come from any country outside Japan this usually applies. Herbs, spices lentils, Basmati rice, dried fruit like dates, nuts, meat, and cosmetic products like coconut oil can be bought from these places. They can vary considerably in freshness and price, so good to check expiry dates from some of the smaller outfits. Buying online is a convenient way to get heavy rice and lentils sent to your door and most of the internet online shopping groceries offer free delivery for ordering over a certain amount. You can order a big amount and split between friends so you don’t have to store kilos of beans and MUCH cheaper than buying from the international supermarkets.

Also included are the major international supermarkets and some other stores that are good for imported foods. Sometimes if you are near a place or craving something they can be handy.

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Although it’s not only tuna and avocado on toast… It’s a much fancier version with red onion, capers, dill and Yuzu. An A-list lunch and simple, yet the simplest are often the most enjoyable. Lemon juice would work too only since I had some Yuzu it was definitely worth adding. This was a lunch I was thinking about all morning and such an easy combination of flavours, all I needed to pick up was some fresh lettuce and an avocado. Capers are great to keep in your fridge, adding great flavour and no need to add extra salt. They also have a bunch of health benefits including being good for your skin, protecting DNA and apparently great for prostate health so good for men to incorporate in their diets. Short and sweet little entry today.. it is Friday after all.

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Such a wonderfully simple dish is hummus and great to have in the fridge for when you want a healthy snack. I made some pita last week and wanted  something I could throw together a quick lunch with. This was perfect. I cheated and used a tin of chickpeas which gave good results but if you have the time and the dried beans, do soak, boil them up and use them. Dried beans taste better, have less salt and preservatives and are cheaper so much better to use. Tinned on the other hand are great when you are short of time or just can’t wait as was the case with me. Rinsing the beans before use can help get rid of some of the salt. Roasting peppers is a real treat for some reason, I love the smell as you wait for them to blacken and actually even enjoying peeling them. In a blender with some lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, dill and homemade Tahini gave good results. Roasting sesame seeds until the nutty aroma is released and then grinding to a paste with some olive oil gives real depth to the hummus and is worth making. I think it’s OK to take shortcuts sometimes with one or two ingredients, just as long as there are some bold natural flavours also used.

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A much anticipated post here and with these cold winter nights Nabe is just what is needed for most of them. You can get such variety for Nabe soups. For those of you who don’t know what a Nabe is, it’s basically a hotpot. Vegetables and meat or fish simmered in a soup in a clay Nabe pot. Very easy to prepare and beautifully social with the little gas burner often in the middle of a family or group of friends, cooking, eating together and staying warm. The clay pot keeps the dish warm and usually rice or Udon noodles are added at the end. There are so many different kinds of soup bases you can have in your Nabe pot, from kimichi, sesame, tofu, soy milk, soy sauce, miso to name a few. From an earlier post for homemade nabe meatballs, I had promised to try a yuzu soup base and I’m pleased to say it turned out well. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit, somewhere between a lemon and grapefruit and if you don’t have any near where you are I think a combination of other citrus fruits would work equally well.

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A guest post this week from an extremely gifted cook.. my mum! A most wonderful recipe it is too and easy with minimum preparation ensuring a perfectly moist cake to finish with. Moist with the slightly crunchy top that is just heaven when you bite into it that is. And I had three slices yesterday! It was just too easy, what with the cake just out of the oven, lovely and warm, melting my ice-cream – and it tastes incredibly light. I will be running some of it off later as am sure it isn’t but surely some balance with the yoghurt? I do LOVE chocolate cake and having enjoyed a most wonderful Chocolate Gateau a friend made effortlessly over Christmas without even measuring, this is a perfect recipe to try anytime which will completely guarantee success. Help with the measuring is given and once the butter, sugar and eggs are mixed well, it’s a very simple case of alternately folding in the dry ingredients and yoghurt and putting in the oven for 30-40 mins while it rises. The picture above is the one my mum made, dusted with white chocolate and a little beauty I think!

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Nothing beats a weekend afternoon like a roast. Simple prep involved, patient wait while the bird cooks away with occasional tending to and the dinner itself. Incredibly easy to make provided you have an oven and a few herbs and great to try with different varieties and combinations to mix it up. Even though I didn’t grow up with roasts traditionally on Sunday I have thoroughly embraced the British roast culture in other ways. Friends making them, serving them in restaurants, have both taught me perfection to timing and hot plates is the secret. Everything ready at the same time and relaxed in the approach. Slow roasting gives the most wonderful flavour and  I just love the wait as the smell takes over the kitchen in anticipation of a perfectly cooked chicken. Next time you’re out food shopping, pick up a bird, a whole bulb of garlic(or half in my case since it was only a little chicken), lemon, some fresh rosemary, thyme and you’ll have the perfect roast. Accompanied with roast vegetables and some blanched broccoli to provide a little crunch this is a well-balanced treat.

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A healthy curry here, perfect with some fresh chappatis, pita or as a side dish. Potatoes have a bit of a bad reputation with the popularity of low-carb diets and some people I know have totally eliminated them from their kitchens. I like potatoes. It’s not the potato that’s bad for you but more the way it is prepared. Keeping the skin on ensures you get the most from the vitamins, fiber and minerals and baking, steaming, light frying in olive oil are good ways to make sure you don’t take all the goodness out of them. There are also perfect on a budget and as a firm believer of eating well I don’t feel you need to always buy the most expensive ingredients to eat tasty food. This simple curry is very easy to prepare and all you need is potatoes, spinach and whole cumin and a small cinnamon stick. Spinach really needs very little adding as it has such a lovely flavour by itself. I like it just barely cooked as the colour is vibrant and the slightly acidic taste balances well with the tender potatoes.

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Stir-fried Japanese noodles here.. Yaki means to fry and with Udon a thick wheat Japanese noodle this dish is a great way to use up any vegetables you have and takes about ten minutes to make. An all round winner when you’re hungry and have that moment of ‘what shall I eat today’. Perfect cooking for one and you can always make extra for a lunch box the next day too so don’t be shy with adding vegetables and making it colour-tastic. Flavour in this dish comes from the vegetables themselves, some simple dark sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, pepper and ginger. Katsuboshi thrown over the top add a great extra flavour, otherwise they taste perfectly fine without.

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Yes! Another birthday treat for one of my best friends.. this time a homemade focaccia B.L.T. birthday extravagnaza for Rachel. The bread is such a simple one to make and can be left overnight to rise making it even easier. This special treat paying homage to Rachel was made with Rosemary and had Happy Birthday spelt on on top in sun-dried tomatos and olives. Focaccia is great as a side dish and I like making it to use in sandwiches. The best thing is how easy it is to make, requiring few ingredients and effort, sprinkled with a a topping of choice before it is baked in the oven. Freshly chopped Rosemary or some dry herbs kneaded into the dough and a simple brushing of olive oil and some sea salt thrown over are tasty enough. Olives, sun-dried tomatos, finely chopped garlic and Parmasan are great to play around with too and this recipe is very versatile so do try kneading in ingredients in for more flavour in the focaccia as well sprinkling on top. They work well frozen too so if you have a nice afternoon baking and have any extra you can freeze in little batches for a little snack next time you’re peckish.

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Happy New year! Hope you all had a lovely break if you managed to get one and are now starting 2011 on a positive note. I was thinking about making a little something for New Year’s Eve and Dhokla seemed to be the perfect treat. Dhokla/Dhokra are a Gujarati snack made from fermented Chickpea flour, yoghurt, a few spices in and steamed for about 15 minutes. I have the best memories of eating them on a weekend afternoon. Mountains of coriander thrown over, soft and spongy and so easy to munch on. Served with fresh coriander, grated coconut, fresh green chillis, mustard seeds and sesame seeds they taste best when freshly made. Although possible to make the gram flour mix yourself, a very good alternative for people who don’t have any of the ingredients is to use a GITs packet. These ready mixes make dhokra unbelieveably easy to make and are easy to buy from most Indian groceries or online here in Japan. Don’t be put off by the name. Unlike trying to ferment and make the batter yourself which can have mixed results,  GITs make perfect Dhokla everytime. All you need is 2 tablespoons of oil, some water a very gentle stir, and cooked in a hot steamer. The way to serve them is to first cut the dhokla and sprinkle with grated coconut and freshly chopped coriander. Heat oil, and let the mustard seeds pop with the sesame seeds and fresh green chillis and pour this over the dhokla. I made a coriander chutney which mixed with yoghurt made a refreshing dip and the recipe for a Tamarind chutney will be up soon which is also a winner.

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There is nothing quite like a birthday cake to make it feel like it’s your birthday and with one of my best friend’s birthdays today, the big 3 0, and his love of Dorito’s I thought I would make a Dorito’s cake. I had been planning it for a good few days and thinking about it for a good few weeks. The dilemma was did I go for a full savoury re-fried beans, layered with guacamole, sour cream, in between corn bread with spicy salsa and Dorito’s crumbling OR did I go for a proper birthday cake but decorated in Doritos and tasting good? I decided to go for the latter after much deliberation and playing around with ideas as I found an easy sour cream frosting recipe and thought I wanted the cake to taste and look like a birthday cake. I have had a pretty bad experience of making a birthday cake a few years ago where I got a little excited by some green food coloring and it didn’t rise properly, weighed a ridiculous amount and tasted shocking. I rarely make something I can’t eat but that was one of those occasions! This time I decided to keep it au naturele with a simple white layered cake, base, a lemon and sour cream frosting, which I thought would compliment the cheese Doritos and some pretty sparkles for extra birthday effect. With some candles, a dark room, coupled with a little surprise it was going to be a special night. The idea was to look like a Dorito so I baked it in a square oven dish and sliced it in half diagonally. Each half in half through the middle, I made 4 layers. The layers were made the day before and frozen overnight. It looked a bit like a sandwich as I was layering up the next day but hopefully with all the embellishment that followed it resembled something more like a Dorito.

…. and the verdict after the party…

A few surprises at the combination at first but the cake was Oishi = tastes very good and looked like a Dorito! The Dorito’s were still standing while the candles were blown out so well done frosting for holding them up and the cake went down well. All that was left at the end of the night was a pile of candles, some Dorito’s crumbs, a small piece of frosting and a  very happy birthday boy, so success!

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A quick and easy dish here, pretty winter colours and lovely flavours. Roast chicken breast browned off nicely in a pan, some potatoes simply washed and sliced in half, a handful of cherry tomatos, garlic, rosemary and leek thrown in. A splash of avocado oil and balsamic vinegar and half an hour in the oven make this a perfect dish. The little extras that make this are the whole peppercorns that sweeten in the oven and the fresh rosemary. This is great with a fresh salad or some bread and the light chicken breast makes this a healthy dish that will keep you filled up. I like to use a mix of whole peppercorns usually but RAN out! It tasted just as good but if you have some pretty pink, white or green ones then please go ahead and peppercorn it up.

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Winter = comfort food sometimes and Shepherd’s Pie is a very comforting way to enjoy one’s dinner during these winter months. Shepherd’s Pie is a classic British dish and usually made with ground lamb or beef, it is cooked in onions and herbs and then baked in the oven with fluffy mash crisping at the peaks.  It can be adapted and made with ground pork or chicken or even a tasty vegetarian version with brown lentils or soya mince so don’t shy away if you don’t eat beef or lamb. I have a lot of fresh rosemary at the minute so was liberal with incorporating it into the sauce. This is wonderful after being baked in the oven and it’s nice taking your time making something like this. Sitting back for half an hour while it bakes anticipating the moment you’ll eat it and taste those intensified flavours. Worcestershire sauce is usually added, however if you live somewhere where it is difficult to buy or simply don’t have any you can try a couple of things. A mixture of tamarind, anchovy paste, hot pepper sauce, red wine vinegar and soy sauce is what I made this delight with, or equally good I have found is Okonomiyaki sauce.

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Zakkoku (雑穀) means mixed grains/cereals in Japanese and with rice being such a fundamental part to meals here incorporating Zakkoku in your cooking means you benefit from lots nutrients and fibre when cooking with white rice. I love Genmai brown rice (玄米)with it’s nuttier flavour and obvious health benefits that you lose when you use white rice. I love white rice too however. Although it gets bad press for taking more time to process, therefore being environmentally worse as uses more energy. And due to all this processing loses much of it’s goodness, it is cheaper, softer and much quicker to cook. Zakkoku is the magic solution! As most things in Japan it is sold in convenient packets and there are lots of varieties. You can get white mixes that often include barley, sesame seeds, millet and sprouted brown rice and a more colorful set that can include azuki beans, black rice, red rice, and any number of extra goodies. I love the subtle flavour that it adds, clearly the health benefits and it looks pretty too. You can buy this outside Japan, I know it is available in the UK at the Japan Centre and your nearest Japanese grocery might stock some. If you can’t find any, you can easily make your own mix and keep it in a ziplock bag adding whenever you need to. Some things you could add include beans, sesame seeds, barley, quinoa, mung beans, lentils, black rice, red rice, poppy seeds, flaxseeds..  anything you like! If adding bigger beans that look like they might take longer to cook you might to pre-soak the mix before you use it, overnight or in the morning.

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An easy 10 minute recipe my mum said. And after about half an hour not disimilar to a GCSE maths problem the scones were ready to start on and yes they turned out perfectly. The trouble started and usually does for myself and baking with how much of everything I needed. I much prefer cooking to baking, tasting as I go and using my palette to guide what I think should and shouldn’t be added. Baking is more of a science and unless it’s an ‘easy’ recipe I tend to shy away from any complex baking. Two reasons really. The weighing and preparing of ingredients, especially when working with recipes that involves ounces or cups, and all I have is a scale that uses grams, and the amount of butter of sugar that goes into some recipes can freak me out. With cups, a Japanese ‘go’ is slightly smaller than an American ‘cup’ and although I get it doesn’t matter as you just vary the ratio, it does matter when they don’t sell self-raising flour in Japan (except National Azabu apparently) and I have to mix baking powder and regular flour explained in cups! Anyway, thanks to technology and having my unit converter on the iPhone, together with my dashboard widget and a useful Wikipedia guide on cups I was ready to start. Pleas don’t be put off by my complicated intro. These really are easy and turn out perfect. I had some cranberries, blueberries and raisins so thought I would go for a mixed berry version and they even passed the ultimate scone test of being able to be broken in two perfect pieces. Lovely with a cup of tea and next time think I’ll grate some orange rind and with just the cranberries think they’ll make a very festive treat.

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Even though it’s been sunny in Tokyo, almost spring-esque some days, I have still been enjoying getting in the festive mood. Each year I enjoy Christmas more and more and strange really as in Japan it’s not really celebrated in the way that I like. Yes, there are Christmas trees, decorations, the full commercial side, even advent calenders for sale in the last couple of years, but something missing. The indulgent, ‘why not, it’s Christmas’ feeling, ‘keep the change’, Christmas charity I remember from living in the UK and the food! It’s possible my memory is slightly romanticized but I like it anyway and each year with my Tokyo family I guess from missing the usual festivities we make what effort we can and have our own little version. This week with catering for Xmas events and baking cookies, I feel particularly Christmassy and maybe the snow in England has something to do with it, but I really felt like some Mulled wine. Such a perfect warm drink and I love the smell of the citrus, spices and wine as it’s being prepared. I had a lonesome orange, a bottle of red and with some whole cinnamon, cloves and brown sugar this was a treat for my first night off in ages. Lots of ways you can vary this. Try different spices, slicing the fruit or keeping it whole, oranges, lemons, say the bells of St. Clemens… whatever you feel like. I like the fruit whole or sliced in half with the spices pushed into the fruit like Christingles. I remember making them at school and like the feeling of the spices being pierced into the peel with the spray of citrus. Try some and get festive I say. Why not, it is Christmas!

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A real favourite this and being able to eat it straight away is a total bonus. There are lots of different ways to make this, some recipes call for peanuts, ginger, cumin and other ingredients to be included. I personally make mine with a bunch of coriander, fresh garlic, fresh green chilli, lemon juice, salt and a touch of turmeric powder. I’m sure with all the added extras it tastes good and sometimes experiment with extras but always prefer the original version. I think when you eat it with food that already has plenty of spices, like the Aloo Tikki or a Biryani, it’s nice to keep chutney flavours bold and simple. The green chutney is is bright wonder after you’ve blended it and it’s good to taste as you make it, tweaking it with more lemon, salt, or green chili as you prefer. It’s best eaten freshly made but can keep up to a week or two in the fridge and don’t worry if the color darkens by a couple of shades.

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A great way to use any vegetables you have, some pre-cooked rice and I just love the combination of the heat, salty, sweet, tangyness that you get from Thai Fried Rice. It always tastes better when you buy from made fresh from a street stand in Thailand or from someone who cooks it piping hot in a big wok but this version does the trick just as well. And it’s the little things that make it stand out from other fried rices. The white pepper, fresh lime, coriander are worth finishing the dish with as they just make the flavours pop in your mouth and take you back to your own Thai memories.

You can make this with just vegetables, chicken or any anything you feel like really. This time I made it with some fresh shrimp and squid as I had this for breakfast everyday when I once stayed in Koh Lanta and is a total treat!

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Two very good friends of mine treated me to these delights when I was in London last month so I made some last weekend with what I could find in Tokyo. Simple and SO good. Be careful to let them cool a little when they’re out of the oven. As tempting as diving straight in is, the melted cheese can be quite hot and no-one likes burnt tongue.

If you want to try and make the pastry yourself, lots of help out there. For those of you like me who like the idea of homemade croissants without the 2/3 days prep time, buy some frozen puff pastry, some cheese, ham, or anything else you’d like inside and turn the oven on while you get them rolled out.

By cutting the pastry sheets, once thawed into triangles, filling them and rolling them up, making sure they stay chilled as if they get warm the puff pastry can get soggy. Brushing them with milk or egg and 15-20 minutes in the oven they’ll be a mighty fine start to  day.

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The Joy of Cooking with Friends… presents Aji no nanbanzuke. Thanks to Yuka from the trippplenipples and Make Believe’s own Amber Joy, as the Tokyo summer gave us one last day of beautiful sun and glory,  we had an afternoon of wine, cooking and made some classic Japanese dishes with Yuka’s help. This really deserves to be shared and can easily be made with a few key ingredients.

Nanbanzuke is a Japanese dish with meat or fish that has been deep fried and marinated in a sweet vinegar sauce. The Aji you can’t really see in the picture is a type of fish, horse mackerel to be precise, which is what we used, together with sliced vegetables and a lovely sweet marinade.

Yuka took charge of the fish which needed some preparation and a little clean, while Amber sliced away and I helped make the dashi. A video here on how to cut and clean Aji the whole way, although for this dish removing the head, innards and fins is fine. It is great in summer as has a refreshing note to it and even though this was the first time making it I will definitely be making this again. Even in winter this is a perfect part of any meal.

Try another white fish or salmon if you like and you can cut the fish or deep fry the whole fillet as we did. Making the marinade, allowing it cool while chopping some vegetables, deep frying the fish and putting it in a plate for a few hours is all this takes. Although best served after all the yummy sweet vinegar has had time to be infused with the fish, it is also great as soon as you’ve made it too. Without the depth of flavor that marinating gives you but SO fresh and deeply enjoyable nonetheless.

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Soups are brilliant for these cold winter months fastly approaching here and I although I didn’t used to much of a soup fan, that rapidly diminished when I realized how easily they could be made. Growing up mostly on Indian food, granted we have many soup/daals, I used to find some Western dishes daunting, especially soup. I’m not sure why, guess it was just down to the way it came in the tins and looked so foreign to me and from tasting some pretty bland attempts. That of course changed when I realized it is the simple hand blender that can make soup out of anything. Although nothing beats a Heinz tomato soup, I do enjoying making my own variations and last time I was sick I actually looked forward to making some nice soups to make me feel better and blitzed every meal.

This is a lovely wholesome soup, and even though you could easily use vegetable stock cubes, I chose to put my own selection of veg in with the pumpkin and lentils and it tasted perfect. Another thing with growing up on Indian food, in my house anyway, is the way I was brought up on very little packets and cans of instant food. Indian food is surprisingly easy to make with fresh ingredients and even now with other dishes I make, I like to add as little as I can of pre-packaged food which is full of additives and preservatives. Of course we all need a helping hand so I don’t rule them out completely, it’s just I prefer to cook without them. This of course means food can look different and taste different, but being creative and putting in a little more effort is always worth it I think.

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Another quick bite here. I am thinking of having a section just on toast as it’s so simple to make wherever you are, supposedly takes us back to childhood and can easily be jazzed up.

I keep fresh Dill in the freezer as it’s pretty expensive to buy here in Tokyo from regular supermarkets for such a little amount. Buying it from the Thai supermarkets here in bulk for about 200 yen, washing, drying and popping in a plastic tub from the hundred yen store as I do with some other herbs, it’s then on hand for throwing into dishes as I please.

Here, scrambled eggs with the smoked salmon on the toast, a quick squeeze of fresh lemon over, drizzle of avocado oil, and black charcoal salt, pepper and the dill thrown over make a lovely light lunch. Packed with protein will keep you from going hungry till dinner so no need to snack too!

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Loved by many, unknown to some and feared by a few, I was pleased when I came to Japan and discovered this lovely vegetable is eaten here too. I grew up with mixed ideas about Karela, Goya or Bitter Melon as it is known. I had only ever had in curries, sometimes very sweet and mushy, possibly to disguise the distinct bitter taste, other times crunchy and refreshing. One thing I noticed is that there are different varieties of this and used widely in Chinese and Okinawan dishes I really like the different ways it is used in this side of the world. Thinly sliced and raw in salads, stir-fried and stuffed are often how I cook use them and after a friend loving this curry I made last week I thought it might be a good curry to share. Fat ones, thin ones, furry ones, smooth skinned, there are a huge selection out there and I know the shinier the skins the fresher they are, so do look around and see what you can find.

Goya is super healthy, an uncle of mine used to have a glass of freshly squeezed juice every morning to help his diabetes. For anyone who has tried this, hardcore. I remember tasting it and wincing with such extremity, ooo bitter. Aside from this it has plenty of health benefits so worth trying and adding to the weekly shop.

When cooking with it, soaking or boiling the sliced goya in tamarind, sugar or salt can help remove some of the bitterness and depending on how crunchy you like it, you can get really creative with how you use it. This curry is quick to prepare and is great with potatoes as I often make it. Try it and see what you think!

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Quick, spicy, Thai food. There’s nothing quite like it when you’re hungry and this little stir-fry was made with a few vegetables, some chicken and a little help from some Nam Prik Pao, the Thai red chilli paste. A very good Thai friend who I get tips from usually brings back some pastes from Thailand and I love experimenting with them. Although I’ve tried making Nam Prik Pao paste from scratch, the roasting of the dried chillis can be quite taxing on the eyes. Since you can buy some pretty good ones I tend to buy it and since receiving the last jar I haven’t needed to buy it so easy to add to dishes quickly.

This is very simple as just requires chopped vegetables, chicken and a little fish sauce, fresh chillis and lime were added to boost the flavours. A great dish when you feel like cooking, not sure what, but want something fast with super minimal effort.

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A very simple dish here which I love to make, and you can vary the ingredients as you like. Subtle changes like trying different potatoes, different cheeses, fresh eggs, adding different herbs can keep you endlessly entertained and served with any variety of salad I find this a wonderfully versatile dish.

This particular delight was made with fresh spinach, shiitake mushrooms – huge ones as big as my palms they were! red peppers, onions, garlic, dried oregano, new potatoes, eggs and fresh parmasan cheese. I don’t buy cheese everyday but I do love treating myself to fresh, good quality cheese when I do buy it so this was one of those days.

Dead simple to make, and I started by getting my spinach filling made. As this cooled on the side, in the same pan my potatoes cooked whilst I beat the egg and turned the oven on. Salt and peppering everything is great so you get your salt levels perfectly balanced. After layering and 20 minutes in the oven, during which I made a quick salad with a classic lemon and balsamic vinegar dressing with black charcoal salt, this was a quick and very enjoyable dinner.

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A simple little pie here. Little due to the size of the pie pan but super tasty and easy to make. Popped to the shop as this was baking as felt some vanilla ice-cream was really going to make this dessert. It did, and it was that good that I ate it slowly to make it last for as long as I could.

Autumn truly a rocks in Japan, although it is fastly approaching winter, so many different foods available in abundance. In supermarkets and grocers prices are reasonable and with the huge apples around it seemed the perfect time to make a pie. Interesting how they raise apples here, to pure perfection and enormous.

Using frozen puff pastry available from Kaldi, 1 apple courtesy of my good friend who received a box of shinies from her mum, some cranberry sauce, brown sugar and cinnamon, little knob of butter made this little pie.

Halving the apple and using half to make a rough apple puree, with the other half in slices really adds a lovely sweet sauce as you eat the pie. You can add lemon juice, crushed almonds and other things in the sauce however this time I kept mine simple to mix with some cranberry sauce and it didn’t disappoint.

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Mung Beans are such a healthy bean and one of my favourites. They taste incredibly wholesome and don’t need soaking if cooking in a pressure cooker so can be cooked very quickly and great with some rice or whatever you feel like. Popular with Chinese, Indian and other cooking they are incredibly versatile and can be cooked in many different ways.

This Mung daal soup is a classic and very easy to make even if you don’t have a pressure cooker.

First you need to wash the beans in a few rinses of water, beans can be stored in dirt and stones for long amounts of time so you need to get them sparkling. Then cook the beans  with a roughly chopped tomato, and some salt, turmeric and red chilli powder.  In a pressure cooker this should take no longer than 10-15 minutes, 30 minutes if just a regular pot. Do check for the water drying out if you’re not sure and when the beans are soft and falling apart they are ready. Some beans take longer to cook and it really depends on what you buy. You could leave them to soak the night before to guarantee a shorter cooking time.

As this is cooking away, you finely chop your garlic cloves, a small chunk of ginger and some fresh chillis for a little kick. When the beans are soft, they need a good stir and with the fried mustard seeds and some fresh coriander they’ll taste wholesome and packed with flavour. Feel free to experiment with more spices. I really believe the key to good Indian cooking is taking the less is more approach. Really letting the food speak for itself and using more spices where needed.  This simple soup is great to make when you’re hungry and fills you up for hours.

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Nabe is a classic one-pot wonder here in Japan over the winter months and with such a variety of ready-made soup broths available you can really enjoy staying warm and trying all the different flavours with very little effort.

I picked up a delectable Yuzu based broth which I will attempt to try and make next time so please watch out for that recipe coming soon. Yuzu is one of my all time favourite Japanese ingredients, the citrusy loveliness somewhere inbetween a lemon, grapefruit and heaven. Here I just wanted to share the meatball recipe here which completely revolutionizes the already wonderful pot of freshly assembled ingredients.

I’d like to apologise at this stage that this post has no picture of the nabe actually cooked. The delight smelled SO good and we were SO hungry that taking a picture just didn’t happen! It did look and taste remarkable just to be clear and there will be picture of a cooked one next time.

The best thing about nabe is you don’t need to do much as you can see. Cutting the carrots into hearts and trying to get the pot as pretty as possible is the most you really do and you don’t even need to do that so please try the meatballs with your favourite nabe goodies and enjoy!

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There are many different variations of these lovely potato cutlets. Such a simple little snack and don’t require much to make. If you make them spicy by putting an extra green chilli or two they are great with just plain yoghurt and fresh coriander. Of course there are so many tasty chutneys, green coriander chutney, tamarind chutney, coconut chutney to name a few that go very well with them and I will be posting some recipes in the near future so do watch out.

These are such a classic in themselves I felt they deserved their own post.

I did pick some fresh mint from my herb garden, mix with homemade yoghurt that was ready, add a little salt and pepper and was super tasty so do feel free to try this if you have some mint and plain yoghurt handy.

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The famous milk debate of Soy Milk versus the real stuff has often concerned me. I love milk. Nothing can substitute it in a cup of tea or in my porridge in the morning. I have had mixed feelings about how much I should be drinking though and whether to incorporate and start buying Soy milk more thinking it is THE way to be healthy.

Great news however. A documentary (watch from 0.27sec-6.00min) I watched recently confirmed milk is good for you so has ended the battle for me. Apparently the calcium in milk attaches to fat in your system so you poo it out! Milk helps get rid of the fat!

Alex James from Blur, who I used to be in love with, is now a farmer and confirmed this so we can enjoy cheeses, milk, yoghurt, ice-cream!? and other dairy products without worrying now. Low-fat and in moderation of course…

And it’s not that I don’t like Soy milk, I just like proper milk too and now can enjoy both happily!

This is simple pasta dish to make and I find with a few key ingredients that are totally worth getting, the dish completely transforms itself.

The first is Whole Grain Organic Pasta. I only buy this kind and as well as retaining alot of the nutrition and fiber that is typically lost with refined pastas, I also just prefer the taste and texture of it. Pasta is such a staple food for University students in the UK and when I started cooking for myself I wasn’t a huge fan of them to be honest and hardly made it. I have realized the reason I stayed away from all pastas was because I didn’t like the plastic-type cheap ones I was trying. Since trying different pastas, homemade pastas and having my eyes opened up I buy Whole Wheat and Whole grain pastas of which there are so many kinds and actually love trying different sauces, tweaking things here and there and marvelling at the results. If you don’t mind regular pasta please try the recipes with it as am sure they taste fine! I just can’t go back now..

Shallots in the sauce, slicing the eggplants before tossing in salt, pepper and olive and roasting really add a lovely dimension to this dish and if you have any fresh basil, throwing in some at the end boosts the colors and tastes great too! I made this with lean beef but try leaving it out if you’re vegetarian or another meat and it will taste just as good. This sauce is a winner every time and feel free to add your own little flavors. Trust  me the shallots, roasted eggplant, fresh basil and organic pasta are definitely worth keeping however.

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A traditional Japanese meal here and perfect brunch for me to start my Sunday.

Sanma fish, known as Pacific Saury or Mackerel Pike depending on which dictionary you use, is a real Autumn fish here in Japan. It is very protein rich and simple to grill as needs no preparation. Some other ways it can be served are nicely shown here.

I like to put a bit of water in the grill since the fish is quite fatty and as the fish oils drip in the grill this prevents the oils from spluttering and getting too hot and also makes your grill much easier to clean after you’ve eaten.

Served with some tofu and leek Miso soup, Japanese rice and nori seaweed are the perfect accompaniments and I find fresh lemon is enough to compliment the fish.

While the fish is being grilled on a high heat for about 5-10 minutes, it only needs turning once when the skin is nicely brown and depending on the size of the fish needs a bit longer, you can boil water for the soup, add some dashi stock, chopped leek, stir in the miso paste and tofu and add some ichimi if you like.

Yes, Autumn is here in Japan. The fake red and orange leaves in convenience stores, Pumpkin flavored HaagenDazs, the sweet smell of the Kinmokusei tree flower.. and of course the real trees and lovely Autumn feeling.

Heaps of different mushrooms, pumpkin and lots of great other food is abundant and after a walk in the mountains last weekend and picking up some really fresh Shitake mushrooms, I made this colorful rice night.

Actually the rice was from the day before which made making this even easier and a great accompaniment to some Mung Daal Soup.

Some pumpkin to steam in a small pot and in a large frying pan, heated some olive oil – quite generous so it could coat the rice. Threw in some cumin, added some finely chopped garlic and sliced green chillis, chopped and added half a red onion, thinly sliced and added a big handful of Shitake mushrooms and okra. When the pumpkin was soft, after about 5 mins left it to cool. Added salt and turmeric powder to the frying pan and mixed in the rice. Chopped and stirred in the pumpkin and a final big stir on a high heat until all yellow from the turmeric and it was ready in about 10 minutes.

Need: 2 cups pre-cooked rice, half red onion, about a sixth of a pumpkin, 8-10 okra, 4 garlic cloves, handful shitake mushrooms, 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 3 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 2/3 fresh green chillis

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