Friday, September 10, 2010

Picnic at Storm Mountain

I speak to people back home about the heat, and am met with cries (or 'types'!?) of "jealous!" and "give us a few degrees!". Natsubate is no fun, but I'm sure once winter sets in I will be yearning for 35degrees and 90% humidity (maybe not yearning...) So on Monday this week, a few friends and I tried to enjoy the heat by going for a picnic at Arashiyama 嵐山 (lit. Storm Mountain - sounds like a Disney ride or a supervillian's hideout!) Its one of my favourite places in Kyoto, with a beautiful bamboo forest, river, tree covered hills and a monkey park.

We enjoyed noodle salad, doughnuts, onigiri (rice balls), sandwiches... I contributed melted and messy NZ chocolates (Pineapple Lumps and Crunchie Bars), the dulcic tones of a ukulele... and Pizza Bread. 
I made the  base using the same recipe at the Pickled Plum Focaccia, then topped it with sweet chilli sauce, baby tomatoes, grated parmesan、herbs, rocksalt and... homemade cheese! My sister taught me how to make this simple recipe.
Its really satisfying to make - more like a mad science experiment than cooking!

Homemade Cheese

2 litres milk
3 Tbsp lemon juice (fresh is better than presqueezed)
Cheesecloth/ peice of fabric, balanced in a sieve or colander
Salt/ herbs to taste

Heat milk in a large pot - this takes a fair while! Stir frequently to prevent the bottom from scalding or the top from forming a skin.
Once bubbles start forming, stir constantly for 10 minutes

Take of the heat and add lemon juice to seperate the milk. You may need slightly more, depending on the lemons. Its very obvious once the mixture seperates - there will be a light yellow clear liquid and creamy white cheese floating in it (incredibly unappetising to look at!)

Pour this mixture into a cheesecloth or clean thin teatowel. I use very thin paper/fabric bags used for throwing out food scraps. Squeeze out excess liquid. This is the best point to add any salt or herbs - I usually add a teaspoon of salt.

The longer you leave this to sit, the harder the end product will be. It can range anywhere from cream-cheese to crumbly feta texture - up to you! This picture shows the crumbly end of the spectrum - it hardens more in the fridge. Once it has drained to your liking, scoop into a container and refrigerate.
This cheese doesn't have a strong flavour, but I really like the texture. I eat it on toast with tomato, cooked on pizza bread, on and through pasta etc. Because of its delicate flavour, I'm sure it could easily be turned in to some kind of dessert! One of the best parts, though, is proclaiming "I made it myself!"

Summer Fatigue

I've heard the phrase natsubate - 夏ばて - summer fatigue - so often here. I got the impression that it just meant heat or sun stroke, until I found this article through Just Hungry. Finally, an explaination as to why I've been feeling so strange for the past month! Its a sense of chronic lethargy, nausea at times, that extended spells in an air conditioned room can't cure (as the article says, this can make it worse! I, my chapped lips, dry skin and deep husky voice can attest to that!). 
So in an attempt to cure myself, I made the beautiful salad featured with the article. Mine's nowhere near as beautiful as the real thing (for lack of ingredients... and the fact that I knew I would just be inhaling it within seconds of taking these photos)

Japan's seafood never ceases to amaze me. I try to time my trip to the supermarket around 6pm, when all the fresh seafood starts to go on sale, but before its picked over and drying at the edges. I picked up 10 prawns for only 150yen - about NZ$2.40! 
The best part of the salad was the dressing - I can't get enough of seasame seeds and luckily Japan shares my obsession. I don't eat chicken, so replaced it with sliced up inari (a type of deep fried tofu, intended for making inari-sushi but I love it in any kind of stirfry). I also worked with the vegetables I already had, just lettuce and cucumber. 
Deliciously light and summery, but substantial enough because of the noodles - I feel a slight coolness in the air already! Bring on Autumn!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pickled Plum Focaccia Bread

I have seriously been craving 'Food from Home' lately. I have my first meal back in NZ all planned out - nice grainy bread, hommas, olives, feta, camembert, caper berries, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatos, avocado, smoked salmon.... and Monteiths Summer Ale!
So I decided to make Focaccia bread - with a twist! Instead of using olives, sundried tomatoes or rosemary, I used Japanese pickled plums - umeboshi - and capers. Umeboshi are delicous, they have a sour, saltyness to them which is totally unique, and very Japanesey!

Mixing the umeboshi and capers into the dough was the hardest part - but after much folding (not kneading) they all found their place. And don't they just look beautiful together! A salty, sour union made in heaven.

A friend and I ate the entire loaf in no time - topped with avocado and cottage cheese (the creamyness matched the sour plums perfectly). I'll be making (and devouring) this again for sure!

Pickled Plum Focaccia Bread
3/4 cup of warm water
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp dried yeast
2 Tbsp oil
2 1/2 cups flour
pinch of salt
2 Tbsp capers
5-6 pickled plums (umeboshi)
1/2 Tbsp rock salt

Mix the warm water, sugar and oil in a small bowl. Sprinkle with the yeast and set aside for 10 minutes (until the yeast is frothy).
Add this to the flour and salt, and mix to a dough. Knead on a floured board until elastic - you may need to add a little more flour until you can knead it without making a mess. 
Oil the outside of the dough a little (to stop it drying out), place in a covered bowl (a teatowel will do), and place in a warm area. Wait until the dough is doubled in size (1-2 hours). 
Lightly knead again. Place capers and plums (patted dry and cut into 1cm pieces) into the center of the dough. Fold dough until the capers and plums are spread throughout. 
Pat into a 3cm thick circle, lightly brush with oil and sprinkle with rock salt. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 230 degrees C, until the top is lightly browned.

Adapted from the Pizza recipe in the Edmonds cookbook.