Bocconcini Salad with Strawberry Dressing

At this moment, I do not have access to my pots, pans or to my pantry as we are currently in temporary accommodation. What I have is only some essential things such as soy sauce (of course!!), dashi powder, cooking sake and sugar, which I think allows me to cook decent things.

And…, my boss (the kind one) gave me a packet of Shio Koji.

As I have written about it in my blog previously, Shio Koji is one of my “super foods” – which is not only for its nutrition but also for its versatility (please see here for more detail).

That made me cook something different from the usual suspects, and even allowed me to come up with this new salad idea!

This strawberry dressing is a little bit sweet as well as a little bit savoury – as the result of a touch of Shio Koji. It is a perfect salad for hot summer days!

Since Shio Koji can be purchased in the Japanese shops in Perth, I assume that it can be found in other cities. If you have a chance to find it, I recommend you to get and try it 🙂

Ingredient: 
For Salad
200g Salad Leaves
210g Traditional Bocconcini- cut into 4
1 Lebanese Cucumber -diced
1/2 Onion - finely chopped

For Strawberry Dressing
250g Strawberries - washed and hulled
1/2 tablespoon of Shio Koji
1/2 tablespoon of Sugar
1/2 tablespoon of Lemon

Method :
For Strawberry Dressing
1. Place all of the ingredients for dressing in a small pot. Heat the pot over medium heat with the lid on. Once it is boiled, reduce the heat to low.

2. Keep cooking for about 15 minutes or until the strawberries become very soft, while stirring and mashing the strawberries occasionally.

3. Remove it from the heat. Place the dressing in a clean container and cool it down in the fridge.

For Salad
In a salad bowl or plate, place salad leaves, bocconcini, cucumber and onions nicely. Just before serving, pour the strawberry dressing over the salad.

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Our Dream Trip : First Stop – Buenos Aires

Since he booked his dream Antarctic trip as soon as we decided to take off, we had to plan the rest of our trip around to meet the schedule. That made us stay 4 nights in Buenos Aires, which I originally thought it would be too long.

I was totally wrong….

I think, whoever named this city, certainly has a point. Buenos Aires has a super great atmosphere.
The city itself is just beautiful – a modern city with historic European-style architecture. There are so many places to visit – the 2nd beautiful bookshop, the most beautiful cemetery, the new city area along the river, modern art events in the art gallery etc…. What I liked the most, however, is the vibe. There is a wonderful vibe around the city 24/7. There is no down-time. There are a lot of people, a lot of cafes, a lot of restaurants everywhere all the time. People are just having a coffee or tea, relaxing in one of the parks (there are a lot of parks around the city- which is really lovely too) and actually eating regardless of what the time is! We just walked around the city, sat in the park when we got tired, and popped in to have a really nice cup of coffee or tea. We just loved doing it every day.

I am certain that the vibe is made by the people in Buenos Aires. I do not know, but maybe, this is because their ancestors were immigrants? We found them very kind, open-minded, flexible and relaxed people with a funky Latino flavor. I totally loved their craziness! The people who we got in touch with had their own attitude and character, which I found very uplifting and sun-shining. When they would like to say something, they say what they want to say in a very straightforward way. The message is clearly delivered, but it is in the nicest, funniest and funkiest way possible. How can they do that?!

Food? OK, let’s start with what they are famous for – Steak (Parrilla).

As a tourist, it is always difficult to pick the right place to eat. We constantly have to ask ourselves “is this place authentic or just for tourists?, do the locals eat here too?”.
We saw a lot of “Parrilla” signs in front of restaurants. We could see ourselves easily ended up at one of the tourist places and eating far lower quality steak than our proud Aussie steak.
Luckily, a good friend of ours recommended this place called “La Cabrera”. He is Argentinian/Australian and he is a gourmet – the best source of the information. Furthermore, they have 40% off deal when you eat there between 18:30 – 20:00! The steak was really nice too! Go there by 18:15 and join in the queue to be able to get seated for the deal – totally worth it!

Another thing I was really impressed by and loved was their cafe culture! Seriously, it reminded me of Kobe – cafes after cafes, cakes after cakes. The view was just like heaven to me. The biggest thing for me was that most of the cafes could serve tea properly! I know I might sound like a tea snob (and I am), but please tell me how many cafes in Perth can serve tea properly? And their pastries, cakes, bread, desserts…. It was a BIG YES for me….

Here are a few of the places I enjoyed. Most of the places are located in Recoleta as we stayed there. Maybe next time, I would be interested in exploring the San Telmo area more. We just visited there before heading off to the airport, but the area looked very interesting!

Sasha (Recoleta) – Great pastry and tea. The owner (at least we thought) was a super lovely guy. Very very very nice but never crossing the line. They serve proper leaf tea with a proper iron tea set. This small cup (name -unknown) was really tasty…. I would like to recreate it.

Ol’s Cafe (Recoleta) – great for healthy options after eating a lot of Parrilla. A lot of salad options. Really good atmosphere. They bake their own bread downstairs.

La Cabrera (Palermo)- Parrilla as mentioned above. Recommended.

Casa Saltshaker (Recoleta). If you can manage to book this so-called “closed-restaurant” (even though the owner/chef does not like the term), you are very lucky. The restaurant takes only 10 people for dinner and the only opens 4 days a week. The 5 course detestation with matching wines cost USD80 per person, which I think is a pretty good deal. His food is unique – smoky, spicy – and delicious. The matching wines are actually matching to each dish. Very intimate feeling.

Pain et Vin – Palermo – After early dinner at La Cabrera, we found this “bottle shop”. It is technically a bottle shop so we can only “taste” their wine. We tried 3 different wines with nibbles. They serve only local Argentinian wines. When we asked her recommendation, the cool waitress said “my advice is do not try “Malbec” in Argentina. You can have it in your county, can’t you”. So right.
I really liked “RD” – Malbec- Cabenet 2017 from Salta, He liked “Martir” 2015″ Cabernet Franc from Mendoza. As it is a “bottle shop”, you can purchase wines here too.

Some random cocktail bars: Boticario (Palermo), Presidete (Recoleta) – these were recommended by the cool waitress. Oh yeah. They serve really good cocktails – 3 shots of whisky in it! – it cost only about AUD10! YEAHHH.

In Buenos Aires, I somehow felt like they are enjoying their life more than us. Do we tend to worry about tomorrow too much?? That’s why the city is dead quiet Monday night? I do not know…. But I just thought, why not make the most of it while you can….

The Short Version of Our Life Time Trip – This is how it happened.

I know I have just finished writing about my Bhutan Trip, I have a confession here – We are currently on 2 months holiday now. Jealous? Yeah, I know! To make you feel more jealous, I am writing this entry from a boat cruising Antarctica. HA! I KNOW!!

Beautiful Antarctica with Penguins!! The best view ever….

My husband and I had been talking about taking time-off and traveling the world for a year. This year, I became 40 years old. We are getting old. Our parents are getting old. We have been living in the same city for 5 years. I have been working for the same company for 5 years. I felt it was enough talking. I felt it was time to take action.

And…, this opportunity came up. A good opportunity…, a job opportunity…, for him…, here in Perth….

That happened in September while we were still traveling in Nepal. That time, I was probably the only wife in the world who was disappointed with the husband having a new good job….

However, however! He is my husband, not an ordinary husband! He somehow negotiated with his new employer and managed to start with this company next year! I do not know how he did, but he did it.
After that, time was gold! As soon as we came back from our Bhutan and Nepal trip, he handed in his resignation, so that we would be able to have approximately 2 months off until his new job starts (Me? well… me too. Somehow the company I works for agreed to hold my position for 2 months….I do not know how I did, but i did it.). We decided our destinations, booked tickets, packed up our apartment and here we are!

These are our destinations;
Adelaide (to attend my brother-in law’s wedding – that was really really lovely….) -> Buenos Aires (cool city, loved it!)-> Patagonia (a lot of hiking) -> Antarctica (currently here), -> Spain (Madrid – Seville) -> Morocco (Fez – Sahara Desert – Marrakesh – Essouira) -> Portugal (Porto – Douro Valley – Coimbra -> Obidos -> Lisbon) -> Hong Kong -> home.

This might be a super short and quick version of our original 1 year world tour plan, but when can we get 2 months off next, hey? I have to admit that I cannot complain about this arrangement.
This will be a quite busy trip, but I will be writing about the trip where I can. Especially I HAVE TO write about the food in these places. I am so existed just to think about what we can eat there!

Memoir of Bhutan Trip – Bhutanese Food

Before our trip, we did not really know much about Bhutanese food. We, of course, googled a bit about what we could eat over there, but all we found out was it would be hot. OK, good, we love chilis! – That was our thought.
Now, we went there and we ate their food. Our opinion towards it is… LOVE Bhutanese food!!! Give me more!!!!
What did we love about? Here are the reasons….

Having a Picnic – Punakha Tshechu
  1. The Heat
    Yes it did not disappoint us! It was hot!
    On the way from Paro airport to our first hotel, we saw something red spread on top of the houses. When we asked our guide- Nim (the cool and intelligent Bhutanese lady), she told me that they were all red chilis drying on their roof! At that point, we realised that we would face serious heat here – which made us excited.
    Technically they put chilis in all of their dishes. Starting from Ema Datshi (which is chili cheese – the Bhutanese national food), chili salad (which is technically only chopped chilis, coriander and lemon- that’s it!), chili chicken (if you are not a vegetarian) and chili paste to add onto it. Probably corn soup and buckwheat pancakes were the only dishes without chilis among what we ate during our stay.
    Once Nim realised that we loved chilis, she started taking us to several restaurants which served all different levels of heat. In the end, we got her approval that we could eat like the locals! YEY!
Dried Chili in the Bhutanese Farm House

2. The Simplicity
Simple – this is the perfect word to describe Bhutanese cuisine. As Bhutan is not quite open to the whole world, what Bhutan produces is what the Bhutanese eat. For that reason, there are not many varieties in their dishes. They eat Ema Datshi every day. There are a few different variations – mushrooms, potatoes and onions, however technically, they are vegetables and cheese.

Sounds boring?

Not at all! The vegetables are produced locally and the cheese is home-made. Each restaurant and family has their own recipes. That made us eager to try Ema Datshi every day to taste each family’s secret.
We also found that they do not use seasoning much in cooking, which actually puts the emphasis on the taste of the ingredients themselves. This is a wonderful example of simplicity of cooking. You do not need many fancy condiments such as sugar, vinegar, oyster sauce or even a little bit of soy sauce (!) to make wonderful dishes out of good fresh ingredients.

3. Home-made
In addition to their fresh produce that I have mentioned above, for winter when they cannot produce much, they dry most of their produce… well… to be honest, ALL of their produce!- chilis (of course), corn (make their own corn flour), mushrooms (nice), pork belly (!), cheese (!!) etc.
They make their own alcohol as well, which is called Ara. It is made from…. anything really. Some are made from wheat, some are from millet, some are from potatoes.
We visited 2 farm houses for dinner during our stay. Both families had their own Ara. Both Ara were quite strong! It was quite similar to Shochu or even whisky. Among the several kinds of Ara from both families, the one I remember the most is Ara infused with Matsutake (I called it “Japanese Porcini” for an easy translation – in short, it is mushroom which is famous for its fragrance. It is in season in fall and is super expensive in Japan. Bhutan produces Matsutake – not for export, of course…). A touch of Matsutake fragrance in Ara was quite nice. My husband, especially, quite enjoyed it that night.

Home made Ara – Bhutanese Sake 
  1. Family-oriented
    Although each of the dishes are simple, there are normally several dishes served at the table. This is the common dinner menu:
    From top right – clockwise
    Rice, Spinach Soup, Potato Cheese, Ema Datshi, Stir-fried Asparagas and Carrot, Chili Chicken (in the middle)

Bhutan Dinner

They put all dishes in the middle (of the floor as they do not use a table) and share with their family members. Rice is served first, and then pass the dishes around each other. Mother recommends her family to eat one of the dishes more than others, as maybe it is her today’s special. Family members sit together, eat together and chat together. I just love this simple basic concept of dinner.

Sooo now, as a recipe developer (to be), I am super interested in recreating Bhutanese Food. The difficulty is that it is super simple, therefore, the favour heavily replies on the quality of ingredients. For example, Ema Datshi – it is technically stir-fried Chilis and Cheese. However, Bhutanese chili is medium size and very meaty like a capsicum, and it is hot and spicy. I have never seen the same kind in either Australia or Japan. The cheese for Ema Datshi – apparently they use their home-made cottage cheese as a base and add some different kinds of cheese (depending on each family), but it is completely different from the cottage cheese that we know here in Australia. I have tried a few different combinations of cheese to recreate Ema Datshi, but so far, it has not been successful…. That makes me more keen and eager to eat THAT Ema Datshi. Something like you know you cannot get, therefore you really want it…. Awww give me THAT Ema Datshi!

Re creating THAT Ema Datsi is my big project now. When I succeed, I will certainly let you know….

My mum’s Recipe : Anko – Japanese Sweet Red Bean Paste

My memory of Japanese sweets is my mum’s homemade Anko (Japanese Sweet Red Bean Paste).  Well…, it is not exactly the anko itself…. It is more like my mum and my sister.

They love anko. They sometimes had this sudden craving for anko (and I do not know why, but this happened always at night), and the next day, my mum would make it. When they ate it, they looked super happy… The homemade anko must have had some sort of magical power to make these 2 powerful Osaka ladies (especially if you know them…, you know what I mean) calm and speechless…

On the other hand, I have never been a big fan of Anko…. Somehow, I felt it was too sweet….That’s why I had never made it before. However, as I became older, I started missing the sweet anko – age does funny thing to humans!

So here it is! I recreated my mum’s happy Anko. As always, she gave me the instructions and tips  (well, of course she does not know the measurement…). I think it is quite good.

Anko Red Bean Paste 1 a little bit of soy

I made Dorayaki (Red Bean Pancake) by using this anko this time. You can use if for anything else – such as Zensai (Sweet Red Bean Soup), Daifuku (mochi rice cake filled with anko), or even western style sweets (cupcakes and pound cakes will be good!).

It takes time to make, but it is easy. Try it when you have time!

Ingredients:

220g Azuki Red Beans

1200ml of Water

140g of Caster Sugar

1/4 Teaspoon of Sea Salt

Method: 

  1. Soak Azuki red beans overnight (15 – 20 hours).
  2. Rinse the azuki red beans.
  3. Place the azuki red beans and 1200ml water into a big pot. Bring it to the boil. Once it is boiled, turn the heat to low. Skim the scum off the top.  Keep cooking over low heat for about 1 hour or until the azuki red beans become soft and tender.
  4. Add caster sugar and sea salt into the pot. Keep simmering until the liquid is evaporated. This will take about 1 – 1.5 hours.
  5. Once the liquid is evaporated, mix and mash the azuki red beans to the consistency of your liking. Cool it down to use. You can wrap and freeze the anko if you are not planing to use it straight away.

This is Dorataki (Japanese Red Bean Pancake Sandwich). I used this recipe.

http://www.ntv.co.jp/3min/recipe/20100923.html

Dorayaki_Anko_A little bit of soy

Healthy! Super Moist Boiled Chicken with Peanut Sauce

Boiling is a super healthy way to cook chicken breast, but how long do you boil the chicken?

Of course you can boil it until the chicken is dead. However, in my opinion, it is super dry to eat…. well still edible, I guess….

Today, I would like to introduce my way of boiling chicken. I boil it only for 2 minutes and then just leave it for for 1 hour. Technically the chicken will be cooked in the residual heat. I found this way makes the chicken super moist!

Boiled Chicken a little bit of soy
Healthy! Super Moist Boiled Chicken with Peanut Sauce

I would also like to introduce my peanut butter sauce to go with my super moist boiled chicken. I created it, just because I had a leftover peanut butter in the kitchen…( Well, I believe I am not the only one who has it after trying to make satay chicken?). However, it came out great!

This boiled chicken is super versatile. You can use it for salad, sandwich or you can enjoy it with a lot of different sauces. Furthermore, it is super healthy!

Hope you like it and add it onto your regular menu…. 🙂

Ingredients:

1 Chicken Breast – skinless and boneless

2 pinches of Sea Salt for Chicken Breast

800 ml of Water

2/3 Teaspoon of Sea Salt

1 Teaspoon of White Wine or Cooking Sake

For Peanut Sauce

1 Tablespoon of Peanut Butter – no added sugar

1 Tablespoon of Lemon Juice

1/2 Tablespoon of Soy Sauce

1 Teaspoon of Dark Sugar

1 Teaspoon of Sesame Oil

1 Tablespoon of Chicken Broth left over after boiling chicken

Coriander  – chopped for topping

Method: 

  1. Sprinkle 2 pinches of sea salt over chicken breast. Wrap the chicken with paper towels.  Leave it for about 20 minutes at room temperature.
  2. Bring water to a boil and add sea salt and white wine. Place the chicken breast into the boiling water and reduce the heat to medium. Keep cooking for 2 minutes. Turn the heat off.  Put a lid on. Leave it for minimum 1 hour.
  3. Making peanut sauce. Place peanut butter, lemon juice, soy sauce, dark sugar and sesame oil in a bowl. Mix all together. Pour the remaining chicken broth from the boiled chicken to make the sauce to the consistency of your liking.
  4. Slice the boiled chicken and arrange it on the serving plate. Serve it with the peanut sauce and chopped coriander on top.

The remaining chicken broth is full of flavor, so do not throw it away! I normally use it to make soup!

The Easiest Ever Japanese – Nasu Dengaku (Miso Glazed Eggplant)

I would like to introduce my 2nd Easiest Ever Japanese recipe – Nasu Dengaku, which is known as Miso Glazed Eggplant.

Nasu Dengaku a little bit of soy
Juicy! Nasu Dengaku.

Again there is nothing difficult involved in this recipe, basically all you have to do is make miso sauce (by just mixing) and bake eggplant. Ingredients are common Japanese ones which you might already have in your pantry, otherwise can be obtained easily from the shop.

The baked eggplant will be super tender and melting in your month with the sweet and salty miso glaze. It is delicious!

This is another good recipe if you are not familiar with cooking Japanese.  Hope you like it 🙂

Ingredients (serving 2)

1 big Eggplant – about 500g

2 teaspoon of Sesame Oil

Sesame Seeds for topping

For Dengaku Sauce

1 tablespoon of Miso

1 tablespoon of Sugar

1/2 tablespoon of Cooking Sake

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 °C.
  2. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise. Score the flesh (almost to the skin) around the inner edge of the skin about 5mm in, and then score the same diagonally inside in small squares (see photo).

    Nasu Dengaku step by step
    Nasu Dengaku How to score eggplant flash

  3. Put sesame oil on the surfaces of the eggplant. Place the eggplant facing up on a baking tray. Bake it for about 30 minutes or until the eggplant is cooked and juicy.
  4. In the mean time, mix all ingredients for dengaku sauce
  5. Take out the eggplant from the oven.  Glaze the eggplant with the dengaku sauce. Turn the oven to 220 °C. Bake the eggplant for another 8-10 minutes.
  6. Take it out from the oven. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Serve while hot.