I am excited to announce that my next holidays will be taking place in Japan! In a month! If you’ve been paying attention you’ll know that, for me, formula number one for a successful vacation is a set of terrific food experiences. Here’s what/where I hope to be eating:
Sukiyabashi Jiro: Jiro dreams of sushi at his original Ginza location or his son’s branch in Roppongi Hills. The meal can take as little as 15 minutes, costs 30,000 yen ($300) and is adjacent to a metro station. But the sushi is supposed to be incredible. So good, in fact, that it is the subject of an entire documentary.
Planetarium Cafe: Could anything be better than drinking under the stars in a climate-controlled environment? How about drinking surrounded by exotic fish? Or in a vampire cafe? So many options.
Square Watermelons: What a cute, clever idea, Japan! However, now that it’s been confirmed that they are $80+, I’m not sure I’ll be buying one any time soon. But I definitely at least want a photo of me stacking them, Lego-style.
Owl Cafe: Just like the cat cafe only…with owls. Some cafes even have owl-themed snacks! But, um, the restrictions for holding the animals are a little different:
Wriggling Squid: An experience I declined in Korea but I think I might try it now. The squid is still wriggling as you eat it…
Fugu: I’ve never started dinner with a warning before, but if they slice the pufferfish the wrong way, you can die. Challenge accepted!
Japanese Beauty Drinks: Hyaluronic acid and collagen are important ingredients in anti-aging beauty creams, and in Japan you can get them in drink form for a not-that-bad price. Perfect skin will be mine!
Cafe Anniversaire: Seems like one of those trendy, traditional cafes with good coffee and drinks: like Cafe de Flore in Paris, or the fancy Bosco Cafe at GUM in Moscow. Perfect people watching.
Streetside Ramen Houses: After reading a lot of Murakami, nothing sounds better than going to one of Kyoto’s many ramen shops to eat noodles, listen to jazz, or just reenact this futuristic scene:
Bento Box: Damn, all I want in life now is a Totoro bento box! Is there a restaurant I can go to for this? If not, I may have to find myself a Japanese mum. Apparently, in Japan, your child’s lunch will ideally consist of five+ colours. If it doesn’t, other children will ridicule their ugly lunch and comment that their mother clearly doesn’t love them. Please note that the lunch below has not five, not six, but TEN different colours!
Japanese Coffee: Specifically, Kyoto slow drip coffee. I’ve heard Blue Bottle Coffee in the States uses this method, and there may be others in North America too. But I can’t wait to get my hands on the real deal. And look how beautiful those glass kettles are, too.
Anything else I should eat in Japan? How delicious (or not) is fugu? Which coffee shop should I head to first??
I’ll keep it short: think of these as little clouds. Soft, melting clouds to serve with afternoon tea on what we can only hope to call the very last days of what has been a very cold winter. Provided you have a stand mixer, meringues are easy indeed. They do require a bit of time in the oven, but will keep very well.
Cinnamon and Almond Meringues (adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)
- 100g cold, fresh egg whites (3-4)
- 130g (1 1/4 cup) superfine sugar
- 70g (1/4 cup) dark brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 20g unskinned almonds, coarsely chopped
Preheat your oven to 225°F/110°C and line one or two baking trays with parchment paper.
Fill a saucepan halfway with water. Heat the water to a low simmer and place the egg whites and sugars in a heat-proof bowl. Put the bowl over the water, making sure it doesn’t actually touch the water, and stir occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the mixture is hot and the sugars have dissolved.
Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip on high speed for about 8 minutes, until quite glossy and firm, and it holds its shape.
Sprinkle the cinnamon on top and fold in gently with a spatula.
Take apple-sized dollops of the mixture and plonk it onto the baking trays using two spoons, being careful to allow some space between the meringues. Using the spoons, shape the tops into spiky dollops, then sprinkle over the chopped almonds. Place in the oven and bake for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, until the undersides are dry but the centres are still a little soft. Let cool. Packed in a sealed container they will keep well for several days.
I like to think that when you have only 90-120 minutes of screen time, every frame has to count. There’s no point in showing someone peeling potatoes, or sitting down to a steak dinner, if it doesn’t also serve the plot or characters in some way. That’s why I like these–they’re all enjoyable and don’t waste any details. It helps that a couple of these, like In the Mood for Love and I am Love, are also very beautifully shot.
Bonnie and Clyde: Just looking at this still, it’s easy to see the connection between passion, physicality and violence in this movie. Gangsters and food are made for each other; someone has even written a dissertation on the subject.
Estomago: Things are looking good for drifter Nonato when he gets himself a place to stay, a job as a cook and a girlfriend…of sorts. But his passion turns sour, the knives come out, and you don’t even want to know what he ends up cooking for dinner.
I am Love: Emma, a Russian housewife living in Milan, longs to leave her dull husband for her restauranteur lover. Ukha, the traditional fish soup, plays a role.
In the Mood for Love: Every day would-be lovers Su Li-zhen and Chow Mo-wan meet at the noodle shop, forever crossing paths but never to be together.
Waitress: Jenna is pregnant, poor, and living in the South with her dreadful husband. But every time things get really bad, she thinks up a new pie to bake.
Shanghai: My last summer stop before Korea. I got clothes made, stayed in an industrial-chic hotel, ate Häagen-Dazs, went to Belgian beer bars with French staff, had spicy hot pot, and ate dumplings. Far too many dumplings. One of the best things I did in China was take a dumpling tour of Shanghai with Untour, a company I had actually bookmarked (and almost forgotten about) a couple of years prior. Yes, a dumpling tour is a real thing, and indeed, it is the best idea ever. There we were, walking around the city eating steaming hot dumplings while Shanghai had its hottest July in 140 years. Here’s the rundown:
1. Street Hawker Potstickers on Gao’an Lu, between Jianguo Xi Lu and Zhaojiabang Lu. Wheat dumplings stuffed with pork. Fried.
2. Harbin Dumpling House on 645 Jianguo Xi Lu, near Gao’an Lu. Steamed wheat-based dumplings, one kind filled with pork, the other filled with seafood (see photo at top).
3. Hengshan Café on 290 Wanping Lu, inside Xujiahui Park. Lighter rice dumplings and shredded bean curd. Rice (not wheat) dumplings are more common in Cantonese cuisine; rice needs the intense rains of the southern Canton region, but wheat grows better in the hardy North. Hong Kong, too, is a part of Canton, so those of us who have had dim sum will be most familiar with rice dumplings.
4. Heng Yue Xuan Dim Sum, 290 Wanping Lu, inside Xujiahui Park. This restaurant was beautiful and, crucially, air-conditioned. Tasty, tasty sesame rice balls and watermelon juice. So refreshing on a hot day.
5. Qin Huai Fang on 196 Guangyuan Lu, near Tianping Lu. I cannot remember what this one was about, but I am positive it was delicious.
6. Nanjing Soup Dumplings on 641 Jianguo Xi Lu, near Gao’an Lu. Classic wonton soup. As the sixth round of dumplings I could barely finish my soup. But finish I did.
And after all this food, we went on a tour of one of the wet markets: frozen dumplings, pickled eggs, fresh eggplant, greens and swimming fish. This is why it’s fun to go on tours, I think–to find out about places we never would’ve discovered otherwise, and to have a guide help us out when those five words of Mandarin just won’t cut it.
If you’re in Ottawa, The Urban Element holds very nice, high-quality cooking classes set in a beautiful converted fire station. There’s pretty much nothing I love more than a cooking class (which you will have noticed here, here and here). I love the spaces, the expert cooking equipment, the chefs, the like-minded nerds. True to form, this bread-baking class was a lovely mix of bearded stay-at-home dads, public servants, and the woman who casually mentioned that she hand made eight dozen croissants over Christmas.
This class was five hours long, so we made a lot: iced lemon loaf, herbed biscuits, gingerbread waffles, challah, raisin bread, grissini (aka breadsticks), lavash, and these dougnuts. It took three whole hours before I could think about carbs again. I was almost sure that my leftover doughnut dough was going to waste away in my freezer, like deep frying was “hard,” but need I remind you that it is January and outdoor temperatures have been hovering around -20. The dough is a little precious, yes, but it mostly just involves waiting and using your stand mixer. And yes, a stand mixer is probably going to be necessary, for reasons you shall see in a second…
Brioche Doughnuts (adapted from Anna March at The Urban Element)
The measurements look a bit loopy because they had been converted back from grams. Just know that if you have to choose between dough that is slightly too dry or slightly too wet, choose to keep it on the wetter side. Oh, and one of the most interesting discoveries from this class was that flour can be quite different even between Canada and the U.S., especially with pastry flour. So you needn’t bother with any special bread flour here, all-purpose is fine.
- 3 1/2 cups + 3 tbsp flour
- 1 tbsp instant yeast (quick-rise)
- 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp salt
- 3/4 cup + 1 1/2 tbsp milk, warmed to 75°F
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla pod, scraped
- 2 ounces soft butter, cut into small cubes
- canola oil, for frying
- cinnamon sugar/powdered sugar for tossing your doughnuts
- Place the flour and yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix for about 15 seconds to distribute the yeast. Add all remaining ingredients except for the butter and mix for about four minutes.
- Increase the speed a bit and slowly start adding the cubes of butter one piece of a time, waiting until one piece is incorporated into the dough before adding another. Mix for another 15-20 minutes (see?) until the dough is smooth and soft.
- Scrape the dough onto a very lightly floured surface, shape it into a rectangle and fold it in like a letter.
- Grease a glass or plastic bowl and put your dough into it, seam side down. Spread with a bit more oil, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for an hour at cool room temperature (ideally 20-22°C).
- Using a spatula, release the dough from the bowl and again pat it into a rectangle and fold it like an envelope.
- Now you want to proof the dough by putting it back into the bowl, covering it and letting it rest in the fridge overnight.
- The next day take it out and roll the dough out into an 11-inch round, which should be a couple centimetres thick.
- If it’s hard to work with, put it in the freezer for 10 minutes. I had no problems, though, so I just went on to slicing. With a round cutter, stamp out as many doughnuts as you can. If you’re going to fill them after (with jam, custard, lemon curd, you name it), leave as is. If you want your doughnuts to have little holes, then you can find a smaller cutter or do as I did and just use a sharp knife.
The final stages:
- Put your formed doughnuts onto baking trays greased with canola oil and set aside to proof for 60-90 minutes. They should be roughly doubled in size. Now, you can cheat with the first proof, but not this. They will puff up quite a bit in the oil, but you do want to make sure they’re looking risen and fluffy at this stage.
- Now heat your oil to around 300°C. Conventional wisdom is to go to around 350-375, but that was making my doughnuts burn, so 300 seemed to work better. Keep in mind that frying in oil on the stove is never going to be as fool-proof as with a deep-fryer; on the stove the temperature regulation just isn’t there.
- Keep a wire cooling rack and your powdered sugar nearby and start frying! You’re looking at about 30 seconds each side, depending on how big your doughnuts are. When they’re browned, take them out and put onto your cooling rack. You want to roll the doughnuts in the sugar while they’re still hot. As you may have gathered, these are best eaten soon after frying.