Wednesday, 26 October 2011

AFK! Long Time no Posts

Apologies for my very very late post. The last month and a bit has been action-packed and very busy!

I hope nobody was waiting on tender hooks for the Yakisoba post. It will come in a few weeks (I haven't been in a yakisoba mood, so when that day comes there will be a visually delicious recipe posted)

So what has been occupying me in the last month? Well mainly unemployment (for the last 7 months) so a friend and I decided enough is enough and have joined a craft market to sell our crafty wares! I would have loved to make a Japanese food stall, but regulations in Ireland are very tough and costly when setting up a business.

So, instead I have turned to origami paper craft in an effort to make some extra cash. The last month was spent folding, creating and towards market day, not sleeping!

Origami Advent Calendars

Things seemed to go well for my first day. I sold a good majority of produce and I'll hopefully do it again!

My stall selling advent calendars, fairy light lanterns & my own photographs from Japan!

And while this was happening, I managed to get a job! Hallelujah!

So now I am in full time employment while also crafting and selling on the weekends (majorly busy like!)

I should hopefully be able to update with tasty tasty food in the coming weeks!

Any suggestions for recipes let me know! I'll be happy to give anything a shot :)

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Izakaya Series: Week 2 Chicken Tsukune 鶏つくね

Continuing on with our Izakaya Series, this week we have another popular choice when ordering yakitori; Chicken Tsukune 鶏つくね. Yum!

Tsukune at my local Yakitori bar when living in Japan. The left is salted and the right is coated with a sauce.
Tsukune in Japanese refers to any type of ground meat that is moulded into a ball, sausage or burger shape. Although Tsukune is commonly grilled yakitori style, you can fry, barbeque or boil it, much like a sausage. Tsukune is also a great addition to a bento box (Japanese style lunch boxes) and nabemono (hotpot) as they stay very moist and full of flavour!

This recipe should make around 5-6 skewers (soak the skewers for an hour in water to prevent burning)

Chicken Tsukune

500g (1lb 2oz) chicken thigh skin on, or chicken breast (if you can find chicken mince, great! It is non-existent in Cork!)
1 spring onion minced
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tbsp mirin
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
Good pinch of salt

If you want to have a sauce coating, the Yakitori Sauce from the previous post is perfect!
1. Finely mince the spring onion and put in a bowl.
2. Grate your ginger (or very finely chop if you have no grater) and add to the spring onions.
Lovely spring onions!
3. Mix your mirin, soy, sugar and salt with the spring onion and ginger.
4. Wash and thoroughly dry them with kitchen paper. If there are any bones remove them along with any connective tissue.

5. Remove all skin, keeping one aside for later.
6. Mince the chicken either by hand or using a food processor (I minced by hand as it creates a lovely texture that is lost through processing)
7.Add mince to bowl .

A great texture from hand mincing
8. Finely mince the skin and add to the bowl. (this step is optional, the added skin intensifies the flavour)
9. Mix all the ingredients together and allow to marinade for 2-3 hours in the fridge.

To Prepare

1. Preheat grill to medium-high.
2. Shape the chicken mixture onto the skewers in a cylindrical shape and set on to the grilling rack.
3. If using a wooden spoon, like I have (mainly because I added too much mirin and they wouldn't hold on the skewer! ^^) shape the mixture over the spoon.
4. Cover the end of the spoon with tin foil to prevent burning and place on the grill.

5. If using the Yakitori Sauce, grill until starting to brown and then brush the sauce over. Continue to do this ever 3-4 minutes until cooked and/or brown and glossy. (I lightly coated mine in sauce)
6. Check to see if they are cooked by either cutting one open or using a thermometer.

To Serve

Serve directly on to the table and allow guests (or yourself :)) to choose as they please.
A small dish of seven-spice mixture (shichimi), sea salt or some Japanese mayonnaise are great condiments for chicken Tsukune.

From my experience in making this dish I found that it was slightly too sweet for my taste (possibly due to my incorrect measure of mirin) If you prefer a more savoury flavour, omit some of the sugar.

If the mince mixture is not moulding itself well to the skewer, add in 1-2 tbsp of panko (Japanese bread crumbs) which should hopefully bind it more strongly together.

Enjoy with your Yakitori Negima and some chilled drinks!


Next week on the Izakaya Series we have a firm favourite with my partner in crime and my friends; Yakisoba 焼きそば, literally "fried noodle"! A perfect way to complete your Izakaya Banquet!

Looks noodle-icious! :D

See you then!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Izakaya Series: Week 1 Yakitori Negima 焼き鳥ねぎま

Hello again and apologies for the lateness of my post. August was a flurry of family weddings, reunions, a head cold (bleugh) and a foodie holiday (yum!).

And now its back to the posting. Over the coming weeks I will be focusing on the Japan's Izakaya style food. These dishes are great for a relaxed dinner with friends or finger food for any type of party.

Izakaya Banquet! Delicious :)
An Izakaya is a bar/pub which serves a huge range of small dishes to accompany your drinks. Most Izakayas have a mix of tatami mat flooring or tables and chairs. I have been lucky enough to enjoy Izakayas with both colleagues and friends while living in Japan and it is definitely a must if you're visiting Japan. They can usually be spotted by their red lanterns hanging outside.

In most Izakayas you will find a delicious selection of food ranging from sushi, sashimi, yakitori (chicken skewers), kushiyaki (meat & vegetable skewers), kaarage (fried chicken), yakisoba, tofu dishes and a range of salads and pickles.

These dishes may all be ordered at one time and shared among the table with a nice glass of Japanese beer, sake or shōchū. Sounds good?

Then invite your friends around and create your own Izakaya experience!

焼き鳥ねぎま! おいいし!
This week will we be making Yakitori Negima (焼き鳥ねぎま) Yaki- grill, Tori- chicken, Negi- onion, Ma- (I'm not too sure). Many will have seen this dish available in your local Japanese restaurant and enjoy it as a starter to your meal.

Let us begin the grilling!

Yakitori Negima Ingredients

500g (1lb 2oz) chicken thigh fillet (chicken breast works just as well if you don't like chicken thigh)
5-6 baby leeks or thick spring onions. I used the latter.
8-10 bamboo skewers soaked in water for one hour.

Our yakitori sauce ingredients

 Yakitori Sauce

500g (1lb 2oz) Chicken wings

375ml mirin
250ml sake (cooking sake will work well)
375ml Japanese soy sauce
55g caster sugar
2-3 tsps kuzu starch rocks (a Japanese starch) or arrowroot

1. Preheat the grill to high and cook the chicken wings, turning occasionally, for 15-20 minutes. Ideally the chicken should be golden brown and just starting to blacken slightly.
Remove and set aside.

Grilled chicken wings

2. Pour the mirin and sake into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the soy sauce and sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
3. Add the grilled chicken wings and bring to the boil. Reduce and simmer for 30 minutes.

The chicken wings add a rich flavour to the yakitori sauce
4. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
5. Once cooled, strain the sauce and serve the chicken wings as a snack (I like to sprinkle them with some sesame seeds), or keep them until serving for an extra dish in your Izakaya banquet!

I overdid mine slightly, but they still tasted wonderful!

6. Pour 2 tbsp of sauce into a smalldish and add the kuza/arrowroot and stir until it has dissolved, then return to the saucepan.
7. Place over a high heat until the yakitori sauce starts to boil and becomes glossy and thick.
8. Remove from heat and allow to cool once again before using.

Making the Yakitori Negima

1. Cut each thigh fillet into 8 even pieces.
2. Slice the spring onion into 4 even pieces (the white/greenish part of the spring onion only)

 3. Thread the chicken and spring onions in any variation that suits you. I started with a piece of chicken and alternated with the spring onion to arrive at 3 pieces of chicken and 2 pieces of spring onion.

To Grill and Serve

1. Grill the skewers in a conventional grill for 3-4 minutes till juices begin to flow from the meat.

2. Brush with the yakitori sauce or dip the kebabs into the sauce and continue grilling, turning regularly.
Allow excess sauce to drip back into the bowl

3. Brush, or dip for a second time and cook for a further 1-2 minutes or until well glazed.

4. As the yakitori finish grilling, remove to a serving platter and pour a small amount of yakitori sauce over the kebabs and allow guests to help themselves.

A small dish of seven-spice mixture (shichimi) is an excellent condiment for this tasty dish.

Deliciously coated yakitori negima

A serving of edamame beans 枝豆 is also a welcome side

Yakitori/ Kushiyaki is a very versatile dish and you can add any types of meat, fish or vegetable you like. Great variations include salted pork belly, chicken skin, squid tentacles, asparagus wrapped in parma ham, a variety of mushrooms etc etc.

Also, Yakitori can be seasoned with the method above; a sweet soy sauce, or they can simply be salted as they are cooked (especially the pork belly-delicious)
Any seafood should be served with a wedge of lemon.

Enjoy and いただきます!!

Next week in the Izakaya Series: Tsukune つくね, chicken meatball skewer. Another great accompaniment to your Izakaya Banquet!

I can't wait!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Tasty Tonkatsu!

I find it very surprising when I tell people I love to make Japanese food, they recoil slightly and ask "isn't it all just raw fish?"
Japanese food does of course use raw fish many times, but I have learned from my experiences in Japan that they love meat, with many popular dishes in Japan being meat based. Just like today's recipe for Tonkatsu or breaded pork cutlet.
So to these people who ask if all Japanese food is raw fish I simply tell them to check out my blog recipes and see that there is a great variety available. (Oh shameless self promotion, how I love thee)

It looks so pretty...and tasty of course!

Tonkatsu originated in the late 19th century and was derived from the European breaded cutlet. The only difference being in the cooking method with the latter being deep-fried as apposed to shallow frying of the European version.

Served alongside a thick sauce, based on Worcestershire sauce, Tonkatsu is very popular in Japan with whole restaurants dedicated to this method of cooking. As well as being tasty, it is very cheap! A set meal-which includes tonkatsu, rice, miso soup, salads and some pickles-may only cost between ¥800-¥1000 or about €8.50! Bargin!

Tonkatsu is also very cheap to make here as there are very few fresh ingredients needed. The only expense will be in buying store cupboard essentials, but they will last a long time and have many other uses.

Very simple and straight forward ingredients

Serves 3-4

4 slices pork loin 1/2 inch thick
Freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Panko (Japanese bread crumbs), or fresh breadcrumbs
oil for deep-frying
Shredded cabbage
Lemon wedges (optional)

Tonkatsu Sauce ingredients

Tonkatsu Sauce
60 ml Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1/2 teaspoon Japanese mustard (English mustard can work as a substitute here)
1 tbsp sake
1 tbsp Japanese rice vinegar
1 garlic clove, bruised

To make the sauce, combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over a high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook for around 20 minutes or until it is glossy and slightly thickened.

Also, if you find the taste a bit tart, add a little extra sugar to the sauce.

Method for Shredding Cabbage
1. If you are without a shredder, a simple substitute is available for shredding cabbage.
Cut cabbage in half
Remove the tough stem
3. Holding the cabbage in your non-dominant hand, tilt it to a 130 degree angle with the bottom resting on a chopping board.
4. With a knife, slice down the cabbage from top to bottom as thinly as you can manage.
5. Place in a bowl until ready to serve.

The knife should glide down the cabbage as if shaving it

Deep-frying Method
1. Slash the pork loin in a few places.

This stops the meat from curling when frying
2. Salt lightly and grind black pepper over both sides.
3. Dredge the loin lightly in the flour.
4. Dip into beaten egg

5. Press into the panko/breadcrumbs. Continue this with all cutlets and sit on a plate in the fridge for 15 minutes to settle.
Panko breadcrumbs are drier then fresh and give a delicate crispy coating

6. Bring about 3 inches of oil to about 175°C in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
7. Lay 1 or 2 cutlets in the hot oil and fry for about 5 to 7 minutes, turning evenly until golden brown. Drain the cutlets on paper towel.
Remember to take extra care when using hot oil

8. Slice the Tonkatsu into strips.

To Serve
Present the Tonkatsu fillet in its original shape on a plate, accompanied by a pile of shredded cabbage and lemon wedges.
The Tonkatsu sauce may be poured across the fillet, or pour it from a ewer into a small dish to be used as a dip.
Serve along side fresh hot rice and miso soup.

A Tasty Feast!

This dish is inexpensive, filling and so full of flavour. The Tonkatsu sauce adds an amazing depth to the pork cutlet, while the shredded cabbage acts as a refreshing salad with mild peppery undertones.

Let's make tasty Tonkatsu!


Monday, 18 July 2011

Vegetable Tempura- Quick, easy and extremely delicious!

Tempura is one of the most well known dishes outside of Japan besides sushi and although looking very delicate and complicated, is very very easy to prepare. Tempura is great as a light meal, or for a dinner party. Let's wow your friends and family with your Japanese culinary skills! (but only we know how easy it will be :) )

What is not well known about this dish is that this so-called Japanese dish was introduced by Spanish and Portuguese missionaries during the sixteenth century. Like many foods adopted by the Japanese, Tempura has been tweaked to suit their palate and it has passed so thoroughly into native cooking that its origin is almost forgotten.

When cooking tempura there are three essentials:
1. Fresh ingrediants
2. Oil at a constant temperature
3. Lumpy batter.....(don't worry, I'll elaborate more on this)

Using fresh meat, fish and vegetables is a given really, while keeping the oil at a consistent temperature allows for even and light cooking.

The lumpy batter, although sounds odd as we tend to make batters as smooth as possible, allows for a crisper, lighter coating.
With Tempura the goal is a lacy, golden effect with the deep fried coating, not a thick coating of pancake mix.

To achieve this, prepare the batter just before you are ready to begin deep-frying and do not let the batter stand for too long.
Tempura batter should not be smooth and velvety. It should only be loosely blended together (with chopsticks, which are not an effective tool for mixing and hence the perfect utensil for this job!) Fantastic!

A good Tempura batter should have a ring of flour around the sides of a mixing bowl and a mixture marked with lumps of dry flour.

Special Tempura flour with a well of ice water
Mix briefly using chopsticks
Use less water for a thicker coating

 Now! Time for some ingredients!

Serves 4

2 medium onions cut lengthways. Pierce with toothpicks then cut into rounds to keep rounds from falling apart.
4-5 inches lotus root, scraped and sliced into rounds.
8-10 mushrooms (I used oyster, but shiitake or white mushrooms work well too) wiped and trimmed
1 small aubergine, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices on the diagonal
1 small green pepper, cut lengthways into quarters
1 batch Tempura batter
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
60ml sesame oil

Note: White fish, such as whiting or pollack, king prawns and squid are highly recommended for Tempura as they are light and cook quickly. Chicken is also a good addition to Tempura, but make sure it is thinly sliced so its cooks thoroughly.

Tempura Batter
500ml iced water (I sit the jug in the freezer an hour before I begin cooking)
45g potato starch, sifted
140g plain flour, sifted
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Mix dry ingredients together and add small amounts of water to get correct consistency before frying.
Make a second batch if needed.

Note: In my cooking, I used a special Tempura flour which can be found in most Asian food stores and makes the process even easier.

Tempura is best served with a dipping sauce
Dipping Sauce
250ml dashi stock (for vegetarians/vegans, a kombu and shiitake mix works just as well.)
80ml mirin
80ml light soy sauce
2 tsps finely grated root ginger

Prepare the dipping sauce by combining dashi, mirin and soy over heat. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Keep warm until serving.

Deep-frying Method
1. Prepare the vegetables (and fish or chicken if using). Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate until needed.
2. Fill a heavy based saucepan one third full of vegetable oil and add the sesame oil.
3. Heat to 180C. Test by dropping a tiny bit of batter into the oil; it should sink slightly and the be buoyed up to the surface with the oil gently bubbling around its edges.

(Just a reminder, this is hot oil so please be cautious and avoid splashing and high heat. On my electric cooker, I move between 3 and 4 on the dial) But this is just a guideline. If nervous have a safety blanket nearby.

4. Make a batch of batter and starting with the onion, quickly dip into the batter-allowing any excess to drip off- and then lower into the oil.

Fry for 2-3 minutes, or until the batter is a golden, crispy colour.

Cook 2-3 pieces at any one time.

5. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a low heated oven.
6. Continue with the rest of the vegetables while making sure the oil temperature doesn't drop. (check using above method)
7. If using fish or prawns, allow 1-2 minutes cooking time. With chicken, allow for 2-3 minutes and if unsure, cut one piece open to see if there is no pink.

To Serve

Serve the cooked Tempura on a large platter for all to take as they please along with bowls of hot rice.

All for meeee....nom nom nom!

At the table, pour the hot dipping sauce into a small bowl and mix in the grated ginger.
Dip Tempura in this sauce and eat.
Simple as that.

From L to R: Grated ginger, dipping sauce, selection of Tempura and rice.


Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Hint of sunshine? Break out the Mugicha! (Barley tea)

As the title suggests, the weather today in Cork was one of sunshine! Something that is hungered for by the UV deprived nation. 

Seeing it was such a hot and beautiful day, a post about refreshingly chilled mugicha (barley tea) was needed. When I went to work in Japan August last year it was roasting! I had never experienced heat like it. 38degrees everyday, high humidity and extreme amounts of sweating (not pleasant). This made worse by being suited up all day long (even more unpleasant), trying not to melt. Us Irish people really can't handle heat too well....

But thankfully there was glorious chilled relief available in the staff room; mugicha.

Mugicha is made with roasted barley grains and is hugely popular during the summer months in Japan and Korea. Mugicha can also be enjoyed cold in the summer and hot in the winter, but I personally prefer drinking it cold.

Mugicha is caffeine free. Its colour ranges from pale to dark brown and has a roasted taste with an earthy undertone. My partner in crime abhors the stuff and likens it to "nasty cold coffee". I adore it and will happily drink it all day long-even when its not sunny outside!

There are a few different ways to prepare mugicha and all of them involve bulk production. If you're making it, it is best to make it in large volumes.

The teabags I have are a 'hybrid' type where they can be used in boiling water or cold water for the same effect. 

The method I use most is the hot water one. I boil around 2 litres of water, throw in the tea bag and allow the flavour to develop over a few minutes. I then leave the water to cool, bottle it and pop it in the fridge.

The cold water method where the teabag is left in a jug of water in the fridge anywhere from 40 minutes to 1 day, depending on how strong you like your tea.

The large teabags can be used twice, so don't throw it away too quickly!
As health benefits go, I haven't found any solid scientific research in the area of barley tea. However, I've gleaned bits and pieces from other sites.

Mugicha's top health benefits are that its caffeine free, filled with antioxidants and poly-phenols which aid the heart and general well being. It is also high in copper which apparently lessens the effects of grey hairs...(might come in handy down the line).

A good friend told me when he asked his companies tea lady which was the best way to make mugicha, she recommended using the hot water method as it released the antioxidants and goodness! I took that on board straight away. They know their stuff!

In Japan mugicha is very reasonably priced. A pack of 50 large teabags cos me about ¥300 or €2.60!
The best and most convenient place I've seen to purchase mugicha is on the Japan Centre website-

If I find anything local, it shall be known to you all.

So on a warm day break out the barley tea and enjoy the cold and earthy flavours!

いただきます!! (Itadakimasu- Let's eat; I humbly receive-preferably with my feet up, sunglasses and a book)

Curry Udon

Today I decided to crack out an old favourite; Curry Udon.

While living in Japan, there were some days where you wouldn't go out and eat in the beautifully tasty and beautifully cheap restaurants. Usually due to a bad weather, very very little money or that need to be creative...and what better place then the kitchen. On such occasions, one would just go to their local Japanese supermarket and pick up a pre made curry kit of carrots, onions and potatoes, similar to Ireland's stew kits found in Dunnes Stores.

This recipe is great because you can use any left over vegetables and it will still taste amazing.

It is very straight forward and will make a huge batch, so plenty for lunch the next day, for seconds...and sometimes thirds. :)

So, let's get to it!

Serves 3-4
200g pork (I used pork neck, but any cut of pork will work for this)
2 small potatoes, cubed
1 onion, sliced in half and again into thin slices
1 carrot, cut in half lengthways, then cut into slices
3-4 chinese cabbage leaves finely chopped (optional)
1/2 pack Japanese curry roux(I used House Vermont Curry with apple and honey)
500ml dashi stock, using instant dashi
3-4 packs of vacuum sealed udon noodles (dried noodles will also work well with this recipe)
200ml boiling water
2 scallions, finely chopped to garnish
pickles, to serve (fukujinzuke pickles are most common with Japanese curry


1. Freeze the pork for 3 hours, or until partially frozen. Using a sharp knife, thinly slice the pork into 5cm pieces.

Freezing the meat makes it easier to slice thinly
2. Heat 1tbsp oil in a pan and gently fry the onions, carrots and potato for 3 minutes. Transfer to the dashi stock.

3. Add another 1tbsp oil to the pan and fry the thinly sliced pork in batches until just brown. Add to vegetable and dashi stock.

4. Allow the dashi to simmer for 10 minutes over a medium-low heat. This fully cooks the meat and vegetables while allowing the flavours to infuse. (skim off any scum that surfaces from the pork)

5. Add the curry roux 2 cubes at a time, allowing for them to dissolve and thicken the mixture. Slowly add 200ml boiling water to the curry mixture until you get the preferred consistency

Add boiling water in small amounts to avoid making the curry watery

6. Add the udon packets and gently break apart with chopsticks. Simmer for another 3-4 minutes.

7. Serve in deep bowls and garnish with chopped scallions. A small saucer of pickles on the side makes a nice addition, but not 100% necessary (it's going to taste brilliant even without them!)

いただきます!! (Itadakimasu- Let's eat; I humbly receive)