food

Cheesemaking Adventures

It started with paneer. I love saag paneer and wanted to try it at home. But the paneer I used was horrible! I don’t know if the manufacturer knew what paneer is because that wasn’t even close. That was the only brand available in my supermarket so I decided to try making my own cheese. I could have googled recipes but instead I decided to sign up for a 3hr workshop last April to make feta, halloumi, and ricotta. Cupcakes, dumplings, and cocktails were all fun workshops so why not try cheese? It was so satisfying making my own cheese and I was instantly hooked.

One of these is feta and one is halloumi. But which one?

The workshop teacher recommended the book Mastering Basic Cheesemaking: The Fun and Fundamentals of Making Cheese at Home by Gianaclis Caldwell. The book is set out into structured lessons with increasingly complicated cheeses (and other dairy products) and I have been working my way through the lessons. It is a very good book! Most of it is easy to follow, aside from a bit of wording that I have trouble with (am I meant to spend 20 minutes bringing the milk to x temperature or is it meant to sit at x for 20 minutes?).

Paneer is so easy to make! But I haven’t done so well with a lot of the lessons. I failed to make butter. My attempt at yoghurt resulted in yoghurt-infused milk. Two out of three mascarpone attempts were too sour. My quick mozzarella was kinda stretchy but not melty enough. My recent feta didn’t form curds so I added extra rennet and it seems to be fine aside from being a little too melty and I’m still confused.

This is meant to be mozzarella
Marinated “feta” with an extra dose of rennet

I have a big issue with cream. Australia is special. We are so special that we’ve fucked up our cream. We put thickeners in our cream. They call clotted cream “double cream”. Or “pure cream” so you know it’s not equivalent to British double cream. But wait! “Pure cream” can also mean no thickeners and actually is equivalent to double cream (I think? It’s hard to keep track of this shit). The amount of time I’ve spent starting aimlessly at cream cartons trying to find the right fat content without thickeners is ridiculous. I am surprised that my cream cheese actually worked – I had to mix cream and milk to get a low enough percentage and I was just guesstimating.

Cream cheese. It worked! \o/

Clearly I still have a long way to go. But I am excited by the prospect (and a little bit intimidated). I’m sure I’ll improve a lot in 2019. I can’t wait to try my first hard, aged cheese. Just as soon as my boyfriend makes me a cheese press…

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sewing

New Look 6452

The end of the year tends to spark a restlessness in me. I like having a fresh start with the new year so I try hard to finish up all my creative projects (and video games…). But I have too many projects and it just isn’t possible. They hang over my head and I constantly feel like I’m not doing enough and oh crap Christmas is almost here and I have so many Christmas parties and we’ve just agreed to dog-sit over across the festive period and I just want to sleep through this stupid month…

So here I am, trying to tick things off the list. Hooray, I completed a thing! That thing is New Look 6452, made using my lovely new Japanese fabric. I am in love with my new fabrics and so excited that I finally get to wear one.

Choosing the right pattern size is not my strong point so this year I’ve been making toiles for most of my garments. For the most part I’ve made no adjustments after making toiles but this time the shoulders were extremely tight! I ended up grading the pattern from size 12 to size 8. Thank goodness I did make a toile! 

I was planning on including the cord across the chest. But it looked awful. So I stuck with lace, which I think is a good choice. It was my first time sewing lace and I don’t think I did a good job. Thankfully the stitches are not visible. My sewing machine really struggled, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising as it is an entry-level machine. I later realised that one of the walking foot screws was loose. Ohhhhh

books · food

Cookbooks of 2018

Joining a cookbook club was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Our group has been running for three years now and I absolutely love to share awesome cook with awesome people and discover new cookbooks.

2018 has been a challenging year for our group. It seems like our lives are getting busier and busier and there has been a reduction in attendance. One month only had three members attend, which was still very much enjoyable but I also find it disheartening and I worry that the group will dwindle to nothing.

But never mind that, check out the books we explored:

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Feasts

I was very excited to start the year with Feasts. I absolutely love Sabrina Ghayour’s first book, Persiana (which the group tried in our first year) and had actually borrowed this book the month before our host announced that this was our book.

I made delicious pea pastizzis the day before, using home made curry powder instead of store-bought. Then I woke up on the day to a stomach bug. Devastating! I saw the photos on Facebook, all the food looked delicious and I missed out ;_;
(At least I had the pea pastizzis all to myself when I was well again. Small consolation.)

I did end up making Apple and Sultana Loaf for the group’s anniversary event (in which we can choose a recipe from any book we have done in the past year) and it was lovely (wasn’t so keen on the nigella seed butter that went with it). Over the year I have made quite a few recipes from the book and I’m quite a fan of it. A book worth owning.

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What Katie Ate: At The Weekend

Next in the line-up was What Katie Ate: At The Weekend by Katie Quinn Davies. Katie seems to be a very talented person – professional recipe writing and food styling and photography. The photos within this book are certainly beautiful.

There are a lot of recipes that appealed to me but they tended to be the slow cooked ones that were an all-day venture. I do like those kinds of recipes but not during summer. I can see those recipes putting people off the cookbook but there are quite a few keepers in there that aren’t as long and involved. I really should borrow this book again in winter and see how good the slow cooked recipes are.

I made Katie’s Pasta Salad for the day and it was very well received. Perfect for a gathering or as a work lunch. I’ll definitely be making this one again. Our host also provided Basil and Jalapeno Margaritas and I loved the kick that the chilies bring to the cocktail. Yum!

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Sweet

Not everyone in the group has a sweet tooth but I do and was very excited when our April host chose Sweet. I am a big fan of Ottolenghi’s vegetarian cookbooks and was eager to try his latest book on sweet treats.

…Yeah, that day was a mistake. I overdosed on sugar and hadn’t even sampled everything. I left with a desire to never eat added sugar again (haha, I could never give up sugar…). It was all too much in one afternoon and I learned a valuable lesson that day.

There were some great dishes. I loved the Rhubarb and Strawberry Crumble Cake that I made, as well as the Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing and Millionaire’s Shortbread (my boyfriend wasn’t a fan of that one). But a lot of the other recipes were nice but not special. Those recipes didn’t stand out from other sweet cookbooks. It is definitely not a bad book but I found myself somewhat disappointed and left feeling that I do not need it. This might be a case of setting my expectations too high due to the Ottolenghi name.

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One Knife One Pot One Dish

From sweet to meat! And really that was my first impression of One Knife One Pot One Dish by Stéphane Reynaud – meat. Lots and lots of meat. There was a small selection of vegetarian dishes but I found them very uninspiring.

I chose to make rabbit, as I have never cooked with rabbit before. I have often walked past it in my super market, thinking it would be nice to try. Of course they didn’t have any rabbit on the one day I needed it! We were rushing around the suburb trying to find a rabbit and eventually found a frozen one. At home I had it sitting in a water-bath to defrost, cursing myself for not buying one the night before and cursing the group for choosing Saturday instead of our usual Sunday.

Moments before I had to leave I transferred the stew into a lighter dish (I use public transport and have to carry my meals) and noticed that some of the rabbit wasn’t properly cooked 😦 Of course I could finish the cooking at the hostesses home but it was certainly a stressful morning!

Then I arrived at the house and remembered that one of the members has pet rabbits… shit… Thankfully she has this great attitude and no meat is off limits to her. The rabbit was nice but the dish itself wasn’t special. And that pretty much sums up how I feel about the book.

I love the layout of the recipes – well organised and simple which makes this a good book for newcomers and those who hate cooking. But ultimately this book leaves me with a shoulder shrug “meh” feeling.

Boodle Fight!

We did not have a book for this month. Instead we had a Filipino Boodle Fight. It’s basically eating with your hands from a table full of delightful treats. It was super fun and I highly recommend anyone to host their own boodle-inspired feast, even if it isn’t Filipino cuisine (although it is very tasty).

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Cooking with Kindness
I am always on the lookout for veg books to add to my collection and was very hopeful about this one. I am certainly not one for ingredients such as activated charcoal or liquid smoke but that’s a minor detail that can be easily ignored.

This is a good book with simple easy to make food. And yet the food I’ve made from this book have been nothing special or blown me away like other veggie books. Cooking with Kindness seems to lack refinement. Some quantities to recipe components are out of whack and create an imbalance to a decent dish. With a little more attention to detail the flavours in this book could be elevated from “hmm, that’s ok” to “wow, this is amazing”. This isn’t an issue based on being vegan recipes. There are so many delicious vegetarian/vegan foods out there. I was dancing around the house because I made the most amazing vegetarian ramen I had ever eaten. I fell in love with a vegan carrot hotdog from a cafe that is sadly too far from home. The recipes in this book can be much better.

In the end only two members were able to make it to the event so it was cancelled for that month 😦

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The Great Australian Cookbook

I chose The Great Australia Cookbook for my turn hosting. The cookbook contains recipes from 100 different Australian cooks, chefs and bakers. Each contributor provides 1-3 recipes, which probably ensures that they have taken care to select the very best from their repertoire. There is a wide range on offer, from simple to technical. I have made many recipes from this book and very few disappointed.

On the day I made Sweet and Sour Pork, purely because I was fascinated by making a sauce that contained strawberries. We have a vegetarian member so I kept the pork separately (and actually tasted great on their own) and added more veggies to the sauce, which tasted lovely. The standout of the day was Slashed Roast Leg of Lamb with Crash Hot Potatoes. There are actually quite a lot of the recipes available online and you can check out some more here and here if you’re interested. It’s definitely worth a look.

SimpleSimple

Our second Ottolenghi book for the year. The group was quite excited by Simple, with many of us buying it as soon as it was released. Of course we had to choose it!

Simple does not disappoint at all. The book tries to cover different concepts of “simple”, whether it’s fast meals or less ingredients or perhaps being able to prepare components the day before. The book has a lovely key that easily shows which recipes are fast, which ones use <=10 ingredients etc. And within the recipes Ottolenghi explains which components can be made how long in advance, which I really appreciate. The book doesn’t meet everyone’s expectations of what simple is but it certainly meets mine.

Despite loving Plenty and Plenty More, some of the ingredients are difficult to find, if at all. Or are ridiculous like yeah sure I’ll pay $22.50AU for 150g sea spaghetti, no worries… The ingredients in Simple are much more accessible (although sea spaghetti still makes an appearance). And Ottolenghi’s hard work at restricting ingredients without compromising on the quality of the dishes has really paid off as the food is just as delicious as his more complicated ones.

Thankfully the event was held a few days after I returned from my holiday in Japan so I didn’t miss out. The food we had was all delicious and worked so well together. I made Coucous, Cherry Tomato and Herb Salad, which of course was yummy. The absolute standout was Sumac-Roasted Strawberries with Yoghurt Cream. So good! I am in love with this book!

broadsheetThe Broadsheet Italian Cookbook

Our final book of the year was The Broadsheet Italian Cookbook. This recently released book celebrates Italian influences in Australia by showcasing modern Italian cooking from popular cafes and restaurants. Like The Great Australian Cookbook, I imagine this one highlights the best that the chefs have to offer.

The downside to choosing a new release is that it isn’t available in libraries. We do get around accessibility by sharing the book’s index on Facebook and requesting photos of recipes but it isn’t the same as being able to flick through a physical copy of the book. Is it a good book? I don’t know. Maybe?

Again, the turnout on the day wasn’t that great but the food that was on offer impressed me. The dishes worked well together. The food we had was very dairy heavy so maybe not the best for people with dairy issues. I think maybe it would be suitable for vegetarians but I can’t say for sure without looking through the actual book.

I made Rich Lemon Custard with Fresh Berries and Herbs, which I think is misleading. It sounds like a really lemony dish but all it has is zest from one lemon. And herbs to me implies a variety of herbs but was actually just mint. So let’s rename the dish Lemon-infused Custard with Fresh Berries and Mint. Regardless of name, it was delicious (especially pimped up with a lemon sauce). But also excessive to make. So you know how many eggs it takes to get 300g of yolk? A lot! I had only just used up my frozen supply of egg whites and now I’ve added 18 to the freezer…

The highlight for me was definitely Eggplant Lasagne. Eggplant and cheese: what’s not to like! The Ricotta and Sour Cherry Tart was also delicious and I think it is the perfect offering for an Australian Christmas meal. I cannot wait until my library stocks it!

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And that’s it! Another year draws to a close. There was some good and some not so good but on the whole 2018 was a good year for me. I’m eager to see what 2019 brings.

sewing · travel

Japan Adventure – Fabric!

I was very excited to browse Japanese fabrics. I mean, Tokyo has a Fabric Town. How amazing is that? And I had heard online about Tomato Fabrics, which sounds like five floors (plus sister stores) of heaven. As luck would have it, we went to Fabric Street on Health and Sports Day so a lot of stores were closed. Including Tomato Fabrics ;_;

I was still blown away by the shops that were open. There is so much gorgeous Japanese fabric. And a lot of it is really good value (from an Australian perspective at least). I had packed a minimal wardrobe to ensure room for purchases but I was mindful how quickly fabric can add up and I did also want to visit Kitchen Town (again, amazing! I seriously regret not buying more things there) so I tried to set up rules to stop me from getting carried away and Buy All The Things.

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In Takayama we managed to stumble across a fabric store by accident. It was geared more towards making yakutas and selling made ones to silly tourists. Which leads me to the issue of hand gestures. A British couple asked the shopkeeper how many meters they needed to make a kimono and the woman responded with “six” and gestured in the Japanese style – one finger resting on the open palm of her other hand. Seven would be two fingers on an open palm, eight would be three fingers etc.

The couple interpreted this gesture as five. I guess they thought the woman was pointing to her open palm? Regardless, there was so much confusion that the couple ended up leaving with 4 1/2 meters…I just don’t know how that happened…

Anyway, I was very torn by the small selection of fabric on offer and ended up getting a nice one with a print called San Go, which corresponds to the number of vertical and horizontal lines (three and five). And I got a few pre-cuts that I thought might be nice to make into bags (except I haven’t made a bag before so now I’m not so sure…).

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We had time at the end of the holiday to revisit Fabric Town and check out Tomato Fabrics. To describe it as overwhelming was an understatement. There was so much fabric that my brain shut down. I found so much fabric that I wanted…but then couldn’t find them again…I set out to get stripped knit and ended up walking out with a dotty knit…It is a common issue that the more choice you’re given, the less capable you are making any choice beyond walking away with nothing. So I guess I should be amazed that I got anything, right?

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So there we go – over 20 meters of fabric for 18715yen (~$235AUD). Now what to do with them? One of the first things I did after arriving home (after napping of course) was to go through my pattern stash and pull out anything that felt suitable for my new fabric. Only four patterns stood out, two oldies and two I haven’t tried yet.

The other fabrics will take a bit more thought. Lander pants? Morgan boyfriend jeans? Any suggestions are much appreciated.

food · travel

Japan Adventures – Food!

Ah food. Good food makes me so happy. And there was plenty of it in Japan! My mouth is watering just thinking of it all.

Let’s start with breakfast. We chose to have a breakfast buffet at our first business hotel to help make life a little easier. The food was a mix of western and Japanese and the western was very odd. Gem potatoes, too-sweet pasta, “pizza” toast…is this how the Japanese perceive us? It wasn’t very nice. The Japanese options were much better. I’m sure the business hotels are pretty much the same among them so I would say that it isn’t a good idea to eat at them for an entire trip.

For the most part we had breakfast at three different fast-food chains: Sukiya, Nakau, and Yoshinoya. I preferred Sukiya but both offered decent cheap breakfast sets, about $5AU. You couldn’t get much for that price back home. I discovered that I like raw egg in rice but don’t like natto (fermented soybeans).

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We also had breakfast at our Ryokan (traditional inn) in Takayama. Yum! Each day offered a slightly different meal but we always had bacon and eggs and hoba miso, which is a region speciality. I wish I could have stayed entirely in Ryokans and had their breakfasts.

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Hoba miso is what happiness tastes like. It involves cooking a sweet miso mixture on a dried magnolia leaf (hoba) and is so delicious that one day I stole the hoba miso from the table next to me after the people had left (I can’t believe they didn’t eat it!). I’m going to have to experiment in the kitchen to see if I can make a suitable substitute.

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Our goal was to try a wide range of foods and I think we were reasonably successful. We stumbled through making our own okonomiyaki and later in the week watched an expert make it in front of us (I also watched in horror as a European asked for our kewpie mayo bottle and added some to his brothless ramen…). Our mind was blown when we dipped tempura into a matcha salt (why oh why don’t they do that here?!). We waited an hour for over-hyped pancakes. We discovered that cold soba with doing sauce is actually delicious. We sampled a German Bakery that wasnt even remotely German (but had a yummy pudding bun). We even tried a 7-Eleven meal and it actually wasn’t bad.

One thing I highly recommend is Kaiseki restaurants. Kaiseki is haute cuisine so is certainly not cheap but some are cheaper than others and lunch is cheaper still. I do so wish I could have give to the high-end ones. Such care was put into the two lunches we did have, I can only imagine what the others have to offer.

Our first Kaiseki restaurant was Inshotei in Ueno, Tokyo. I can’t quite remember but I think I chose the most expensive set meal on offer (3600yen). I don’t know what we ate but whatever it was, we were not disappointed at all. It was all so beautiful and delicious. And so well balanced. Such a contrast to the banquets we have at home.

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Top was made using New Look 6286

We also went to Kodaiji Manjiro in Gion, Kyoto. Unfortunately we arrived late in the service hours and was restricted to choosing the smaller sets. It wasn’t quite as good as Inshotei but it was still pretty amazing. I did not except salmon roe in rice would taste so good but it really did. I want to eat it again (and asparagus jelly…).

One of the highlights was lunch at Sakurajaya in Takayama. The chef studied in Germany, which has influenced his restaurant to create a lovely blend (and caters to vegetarians too). He opened it 13 years ago but didn’t get tourist visitors until about 3 years ago and now he is so busy in the evenings (with only his mother to help him) that reservations are required. Lunch is the ideal time for walk-ins, as only one other couple was there with us. We all sat at the bar and could watch the chef prepare our food, which I absolutely love.

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The other couple asked the chef a lot of questions, which lead him to showing us how to make one of his soy sauce blends. Then after straining the blend, he used the leftover bonito flakes to make us delicious onigiri free of charge! This is the kind of theatre and hospitality that doesn’t happen at home.

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After sampling so much good food, we spent our last day doing a little cooking class. It was such a lovely way to finish our holiday.

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travel

Japan Adventures – Jidai Matsuri festival

My three weeks in Japan have been absolutely amazing. I am so grateful that I was finally able to go and experience so many wonderful things. That said, I’m ready to return home.

Our visit to Kyoto coincided with the Jidai Matsuri festival (the Festival of Ages) on Oct 22nd. It involves a long parade of authentic costumes seperated into historical ages as well as portable shrines carrying the spirits of the first and last emperors of Kyoto.

We had reserved seats at the Imperial Palace. Which I am grateful for as the sun was very intense and the parade was two hours long. The parade wasn’t as musical as I was expecting but I absolutely love the costumes.img_20181022_1233324201027485131.jpgimg_20181022_12350440813982162521.jpgimg_20181022_123650199102095807.jpgimg_20181022_124352020235740400.jpgimg_20181022_1247594061446131657.jpgimg_20181022_1258168982098515702.jpgimg_20181022_125838989_hdr1940405740.jpgimg_20181022_130424209505046240.jpg

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travel

Japan Adventures – the usual suspects in Kyoto

We have already spent two days in Kyoto, with three more to go. I feel like we have already crammed a lot in.

Fushimi Inari-taisha is very impressive. Walking through the many torii was magical, despite the crowds (and there were a LOT of people). The crowd does thin out the further along you walk, which I much prefer despite the strenuous sweaty climb. I didn’t realise that the torii gates very in size. I love the non uniformity.

I was also very impressed by Nijo-jo. We were kind of thinking we’ve already seen two castles, do we need to see another? The answer turned out to be yes we do really need to see this castle. The opulence and detail in Nijo-jo is amazing. And walking on the nightingale floor was fun.

The Bamboo Grove is quite nice as a path to Okochi Sanso Villa and Tenryu-ji but otherwise I don’t understand its popularity. It seems like it’s little more than a chance to take photos of yourself and brag to your friends. Bonus points if you have an interesting or romantic pose.

I much prefer the gardens of Okochi Sanso Villa and Tenryu-ji are much more worth the visit. I think Okochi Sanso Villa was the better of the two and also the more expensive one (though a Japanese sweet and a cup of matcha is included in the cost).

Kinkaku-ji (aka the Golden Pavilion) is one of the top Kyoto attractions and was full of people. But I was very nonplussed by it. It’s a building. It’s golden. I took my tourist snaps and left. And as for nearby Ryoan-ji rock garden…I guess it’s not my thing because I was really unimpressed and couldn’t be bothered trying to appreciate it.

Top was made using New Look 6286