Sumo Food: Chanko Nabe

I know! I’m late! I promised Beans this recipe ages ago, though, so I really wanted to wait for nabe night!

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Vegetarian readers are also safe to stay this time! I’ll offer a few options for de-meating the dish as we go. 

Those of you who are familiar with Kyuushockers will already know that our school lunches tend to be a bit light on the vegie side of things. Nabe is one of my favourite ways of making up for this; it’s an easy way to get HEAPS of vegies into yourself, without having to work very hard. Kin also approves of nabe because it doesn’t make a lot of dishes; all of the ingredients are popped into the communal stockpot, and you haul out whatever you fancy to eat, replacing ingredients as the pot empties.

Nabe ingredients differ with the season (which is a nice way of saying “with what’s on special at the supermarket/going leggy in the garden”). If you don’t have all of the ingredients in this recipe, leave them out or replace them with something else. Greens are greens, roots are roots; I would only recommend that if you’re having trouble sourcing/affording asian mushrooms, buy them dried or leave them out.

 Dashi (Stock)

This is my weeknight dashi; I get a little more elaborate on the weekend. Take a piece of kombu, (dried kelp) around 20 cm by 10 cm and wipe off any white residue with a damp cloth. Soak the kombu in a litre of water for at least half an hour. Hell, leave it in there and go to work; it’ll be fine when you get home. Gently heat the water (skimming occasionally if you can be bothered; I can’t) until it is almost boiling, then whip out your kombu and discard it. IMG_0252

Next comes katsuo. Since it’s a weeknight, I’m using dashi granules, which are available at any asian grocery and, these days, probably at supermarkets as well. They tend to come in a blue packet and will have instructions on the side (even if the instructions are in Japanese, just look at the numbers; you’ll work it out). Mine comes in sachets to be used with 600ml of water; I’m using two and a half and adding 500ml to my kombu stock, so now I have 1500ml all up. Since I’m using dashi granules, the stock will be a little scummy on top; if that bothers you, give it a skim before you go any further.

If you are vegetarian, dried shiitakes make a gorgeous alternative to fish-based dashi; just pour boiling water over about eight of them in a saucepan and leave them to soak. You get mushrooms AND dashi! Kin and I aren’t vegetarian, but shiitake dashi is one of our favourites.

Now that your stock is prepped, you just need to pop it into your nabe pot (a big saucepan will do) and stick it on the hotplate.  I then add a shake (probably about 50ml) of soy sauce and about the same of mirin. Tonight, we’re also having a dash of ponzu in there as well, just because we like it. Once it’s boiling, you’re ready to start adding ingredients!

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Ingredients

Vary as desired; the dashi is the important bit.

  • Chicken and/or fish (or extra mushrooms and cottony tofu for the vegos!)
  • Tofu
  • Udon noodles (fresh or dried). We’re also having konnyaku noodles!
  • Flavourings (chopped green onion, grated ginger and garlic chives)
  • Sliced root vegetables (One medium carrot and about 15cm of lotus root)
  • Leafy greens (Pak choy, bok choy, chrysanthemum greens and about a quarter of a wombok)
  • Mushrooms (shiitake and enokitake)

The quantities are up to you. The first time you make it, try a bunch of each thing and see if you need more or less. The best order to pop things into your stock is:

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Then flavourings…
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Then root vegies… IMG_2912

Then go mad and throw in whatever you’d like!
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On nabe nights, cooking and eating happen simultaneously, so you’ll only need a very small bowl each, with a soup spoon and chopsticks. You’ll also need at least one slotted spoon and a ladle for scooping out your dinner! When the ingredients you fancy are ready, ladle them into your bowl, devour them, then ladle out some more. Keep topping up the pot until everyone is full. (Needless to say, meat is the ONE ingredient that absolutely cannot be added later, unless you’re going to let the soup boil by itself for a little while). If you don’t have a portable hotplate, you can also prepare your nabe on the stove.

Traditionally, rice or noodles were added at the very end of the meal and then enjoyed in the soup, but Kin and I enjoy our noodles with the rest of the ingredients, so we stick them in a few at a time and haul them back out as we fancy them.

Chanko nabe is warming, hearty winter comfort food that still manages to be extremely high in fibre and nutrients. I love it after workouts and Kin loves it any time at all, especially since he gets the leftovers for breakfast. Nabe is also cheap (because you toss in whatever you can get) and super-fun to serve to guests!

What are your go-to dishes in winter?

Gem

XX

Cheep Cheep: Budget Roast Chicken

This week’s recipe: Roast chicken and stuffing, roast vegetables (with super-crunchy potatoes) and steamed greens with basil and parsley.

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Hopefully any vegetarian readers have already fled; if not, please be warned: Today’s post is not for you! If that first shot wasn’t enough to put you off, the ones below definitely will! Why don’t you try this blog or this one today instead?

Kin is very eager to practice his food photography and a couple of other people have suggested we include a regular recipe section. I’m not sure how well I’ll manage it; I’m not a trained chef or dietician and I don’t really intend to become a food blogger. That being said, I can boast of one skill that I’m not convinced all food bloggers possess: I am capable of producing decent mails on a daily basis. You probably won’t see perfectly swirled berry tarts or bowls of glossy pasta with one salmon egg and a single piece of cress balanced on top, but you will know that the dishes you see here can be cheaply reproduced and are usually manageable on a weeknight timetable. Also, unlike most food photographers, Kin actually has to EAT the dish once he’s finished photographing it, so he has a vested interest in maintaining flavour, rather than appearance.  

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Roast chicken is one of my favourite weapons in my personal war against the “real food is expensive” brigade. One small chook with stuffing will give two people a massive dinner, a couple of decently hefty lunches (think sandwiches or chicken salads), wings for snacking and a carcass to make into soup. I defy you to get that out of KFC. Roasting a chicken is also super easy! The only slightly tricky bit is the stuffing, but if you make it the day before, there’s no hassle involved.

Today’s stuffing is a fairly basic one; the main flavours come from onion, bacon and this little champion here:

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That’s sage, one of the nicest herbs I know for flavouring meat. With care, it will grow into an attractive silvery-leafed shrub. With abuse, it will grow into stunted, silvery-leafed sticks, but will still survive to flavour your food, no matter how badly you treat it. I like that in a plant. Dried sage is also easy to find in shops and the flavour is decent.

Breadcrumbs provide the bulk of your stuffing; you’ll need about four slices with the crusts cut off (we use wholemeal, but it isn’t important). If you have a food processor, toss your bread in and blitz it to crumbs. If not, cut it bread into the smallest cubes you can. Place it in a bowl, and season with pepper and salt. Add any herbs you fancy finely chopped or processed; tonight our pots have provided parsley, thyme and a little rosemary, but if you don’t have fresh herbs, don’t go out and buy them. A shake from a jar of dried herbs will do nicely.

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Heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan (med-high) and drop in about three leaves of sage. Let them frizzle and crisp for a moment, then reduce the heat to medium and toss in one finely chopped brown onion and two – three rashers of bacon, also trimmed and finely chopped. Cook, stirring for three minutes, or until onion is soft and translucent. Dump this into your breadcrumbs and mix it around with a wooden spoon. See if, when you squeeze the mixture in your fist, it keeps its shape. If not, try adding an egg, a little milk or some melted butter to bind it together. Once the mess is moist enough to hold a shape without being sticky, it’s ready to go.

Get your oven preheating to about 190°celsius (a little up or down won’t matter). Give your (thawed) chook a good wash with cold water, including inside the cavity. Dry it off with paper towels or tea towels if you plan to wash them right away. Then, trim off any fat you don’t fancy, shove in your stuffing and secure the cavity with toothpicks. Lightly oil and salt the outside (if you want to) and put it in the oven, breast side down for thirty minutes.

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I also include a head of garlic during this first part of the cooking time (garlic needs very little time to roast) for use in soups and sauces through the week. Just stick it in the fridge and it will keep almost forever.

For a weeknight dinner, I don’t do anything very elaborate with the veg; I usually toss them in a small amount of olive oil and season them with garlic powder and chopped rosemary. Ditto the greens; today’s are a combination of broccoli and beans, steamed for two minutes. After two minutes, I add spinach, flat leafed parsley, basil and a tiny wodge of butter and steam the lot for one more minute.

Potatoes, however are a serious matter. For super crunchy spuds without a lot of oil, peel, chop and then par boil them (starting from cold) for ten minutes until the outside is soft. Drain your potatoes, then toss them in their sieve to break up their outsides. Then tumble them in your oil and seasonings. 

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Put your potatoes and other baking veg on a tray together (tonight we’re having pumpkin, onion, carrot and finger eggplant). Once your chicken has been in the oven for thirty minutes, turn it breast side up and put it on the lower oven shelf, with your tray of vegies on the top shelf. Also take this time to pour off and store and juices collected on the tray; you’ll want them for gravy or soups.

After half an hour, add your soft vegies (this is when I actually add the eggplant), like tomatoes, zucchini or capsicum. Wait another half hour and your dinner is done!

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Once you’ve done your prep, this meal will cook quite happily without your supervision. You can have a bath, do some cleaning, entertain guests, whatever you’d like. If you’re the forgetful type, though, make sure you set a timer. You can also be really lazy if you want and just throw in all of your vegies at the one hour mark soft ones included; just don’t blame me if you end up with salsa!

Gem

XX

P.S. I tried to keep the word count down, so I might have left something out. If you have any questions, just send me a message and I’ll clear it up.

Settling in to 2014

By Gem

By the end of this year, we won’t be here any more!

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The start of a new year has really brought it home to us; our time in this little apartment, in this little town is going to end in 2014! This place has become so much our own it’s hard to believe that, this time next year, it will belong to someone else. Time is suddenly a limited commodity.

But the start of a new year in Japan is a difficult time to manage any sense of urgency. New Years in Japan is like Christmas in Australia; it’s the time when the whole family get together and then just kind of sit around. For a week, the country shuts down, while people eat, gossip and walk to local shrines to pray for good fortune through the year. It’s not a time for exciting trips or big projects, but for kotatsu-snuggling, cups of tea and big bowls of mandarins.

Not to mention New Year cakes!

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And other lovely things!

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Right now though, we’re still in Nagahama and we still have things to do. On Monday, Japan restarts itself. Our evening classes will resume, our friends will return from their home countries and we will be back at our schools, doing our best to slide some English into stubborn little skulls.  

At Kin’s school, there will be a continuation of the dramatic investigation into the identity of the elusive Dick Phantom; one of the boys (we assume) has developed a taste for penis-based graffiti. The Phantom spent the final months of 2013 creating elaborate, phallic extravaganzas over every wall and piece of furniture a kid that age could reach. These works don’t show a lot of dedication to accuracy, but, particularly toward the end of the year, a real focus seems to have been given to scale. We can only imagine that his scope will expand in 2014.

I never really feel I’ve left my school, as half of it seems to live in this building. The very, very small first-grader with the very, very big eyes has finally worked up the courage to ask why I seem to spend so much time here. Her eyes got even bigger when I told her this is where I live!

Although Kin and I enjoyed the Japanese-style New Year, in time-honoured Western fashion, we have made a resolution or two; or rather, have reviewed how our Tanabata wishes and our everyday goals are going.

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This is one of Kin’s tanabata goals… or sort of. He never got to start those glass-blowing classes; the college filled up before his enrolment was processed! Instead, he’s been spending his weekends up to his elbows in clay and is having a wonderful time. His very, very earliest work (above) has just returned from the kiln.

Kin never made it to cooking class either but, on the domestic front, is now single-handedly responsible for the running of our household (a development we will share at a later date) and is getting better at it every day. And on the artistic front, with blue plastic document sheets, sticky tape and a stanley knife, he produced a photographic soft-box that make today’s pictures even nicer than usual!

And me?

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As you can see, I didn’t learn to braid my hair; I cut it all off, instead! In my defence, though, this has made it a lot easier to reach my goal of learning to swim properly and I HAVE successfully poached an egg, so I think I’m still ahead of the game. I also finished my first knitting project!

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Kin’s scarf is so long that he can (and does!) wrap it around his entire head to keep the wind off his face when he rides to work. I’ve started a scarf for myself, now and once that’s done, I’ll be ready to get a little more ambitious. 

Learning to draw underwent a lengthy hiatus during our illness, but during this week of shutdown Japan, I’ve picked it back up. Kin is excited to share his skills with me; I think he’s too optimistic, but I’ll keep trying.

We’re ready for you, 2014. We might end the year in New South Wales, but we’re starting it in Shiga, and we’re going to enjoy every single day of both!

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Gem

XX

Happy New Year!

By Gem
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What a year it was and what a year it will be!

There we were in January 2013, huddled in our new(ish) Japanese apartment, sick, isolated, wretchedly cold and watching cloudy grey skies dump another few feet of snow on our already-buried bicycles (not to mention our defunct kitchen herbs). Venturing outside was frozen torment, while staying inside was chilly, miserable and soggy! The only place to find relief from the cold was the bathtub, but even this wasn’t safe. Both of us were so ill, the hot water made us horribly dizzy and, on at least one memorable occasion, almost knocked out a struggling Kin (who was running a spectacular fever at the time).

Here we are, in January 2014, in the same apartment in the same town, with the same grim skies dropping the same white stuff on us in big, crunchy drifts. We’ve even had very near facsimiles of the same viruses! But in 2013, we gradually learned things we needed to know to work with the situation. And this year, we’re warm, happy and having a great time!

We learned how to dress. Such an obvious thing to Northern Hemisphere folk, but a total mystery to two clueless Australians, whose usual response to winter is to simply pop a coat over their regular clothes. Here, we had to learn how to add layer upon layer before we stick the coat on top, then carefully plugging up all of the gaps with gloves, woolly scarves, mufflers, big socks, hats… you get the idea. It’s a complex process and we were starting from scratch, adding one element at a time, desperate to escape the horrible, face-freezing, bone-hurting cold outside. This year, our apartment is toasty warm, thanks to Kin developing sealing techniques with foam tape and our discoveries of various active heating methods, involving location changes, sunlight, cooking warmth and a small, very well-researched kerosene heater. Our most valuable plants are enjoying above-zero temperatures in a sunny space indoors and, importantly, we’ve learned that it is impossible to get around in snow without boots. Now that we know about boots and about which back roads regularly see the snowplough, isolation is no longer a problem.

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The rather laboured point I’m trying to make here is that, during unhappy times, it isn’t always your situation that’s the problem. Once you’ve learned how to deal with a situation, a lot of the problems will vanish. Last year we were suffering. This year we aren’t. All that has changed is what we know and do. And the reason I’m making this point now, is that the internet is currently full of joy and optimism regarding the New Year (which is great!) together with happy certainty that this year everything will be different (which is NOT!)

This time next year, Kin and I will have left Japan behind, to return to Australia. On the outside, everything will be different. But when you look at our basic situation, nothing is going to change. We’ll still be married, so we’ll still spend each day experiencing the rewards (and demands) of life with another person. We’ll still need to earn money, maintain our home, nurture ourselves and manage our growth. And we’ll need to learn the skills and the information necessary for us to be able to do those things in the manner that we choose.

Were you suffering in 2013? What do you need to learn so that you don’t have to suffer any more? If you have no money for things that you need, perhaps you need to learn from a financial advisor. If you are miserable in your job, perhaps you need to learn work skills that will allow you to leave. If you are surrounded by people who are unkind to you, perhaps you need a counsellor or a sympathetic friend who will help you learn that you deserve kindness.

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There is no need for you to suffer this year. You have the right to be happy. It is GOOD that you are full of joy and hope; a new year has just begun and wonderful things ARE going to happen in it. But that’s because we’re going to make them happen.  

Don’t say to yourself “This year, things will be different.” Say “This year, I will be different!”

2014 is going to be an amazing year, because all of us together are going to MAKE it amazing! We will be positive! We will set goals! We will love and be loved! What will you learn?

Bring on the new year!

Gem

XX