Oct 14

Your Japanese Kitchen and Can’t Do Without Utensils

Japanese Rice Paddle and ContainerIf you like to cook, no matter what style, you will know there are essentials required. For instance, you won’t come across many kitchens in the UK that don’t have things like a fish slice, pots and pans or the odd garlic crusher. We could go on, but the list is endless!

Of course, if you like to cook Japanese food at home there isn’t any reason why you can’t get along with your every-day gadgets. However, this is all you will be doing – getting along! That’s not to say you can’t produce wonderful Japanese dishes without those added extras, but there are some things you should think about adding to your repertoire if you really want to get the best from your food.

This is especially important if you cook Japanese food often. In fact, once you’ve read about the utensils we think you can’t do without, and decide to add one or two the chances are that after a while you’ll wonder how you ever got on without them.

The first one we’ve listed should really be considered a piece of equipment rather than a utensil, and you can actually use it for other dishes you create in the kitchen:

The Rice Cooker!

OK, so you can find information on our blog section that tells you how to create the perfect pan of rice in a traditional way. However, we know not everyone has the time to spend cooking rice (and getting it right first time). If you cook rice more than twice a week, investing in one of these will really help you create the perfect plate of rice.

But beware! Most modern rice cookers come with a “keep warm” option and it’s tempting to hit the button when you’re in a hurry. However, you will be far better off with our next utensil.

Hangiri or Wooden Rice Container

This utensil is essentially a container that allows your rice to breathe once it’s cooked. Yes! For those of you who are novices to cooking rice, it does need to rest. You may think your rice cooker will do this for you, but most models on the market are not made that way. Besides, having an authentic utensil like this in your kitchen will really impress those dinner guests!

A Rice Paddle

Sticking with rice (excuse the pun), some of you may be aware that certain types of rice in Japanese cooking needs a good fluffing once it’s ready. You can do this with a fork but it doesn’t give the best results.

Instead, a rice paddle is designed to do this job and should be part of any Japanese cooking utensil list. There are various types on the market, but if you intend to use it to scoop as well as mix, one that’s slightly curved is a great option.

Finally

There are lots of other utensils to learn about with Japanese cooking, but it seems those you use with rice have taken up all the space we have for this week! Our next instalment will discuss other items you need for both novice, and intermediary levels.

 

 

Sep 15

Always Cook By The Book? Why Not Breakaway!

Recipe BookAs someone who ALWAYS pulled out a recipe book when I cook, I believe I can say with good authority that discovering breakaway cooking was one of the best things I ever did! I was always such a stickler for making sure I had just the right amount of herbs and spices so everything tasted just the way the “book” told me it should.

However, I came across the marvel that is breakaway cooking. How that happened is a story for another day but suffice to say, I owe a very good friend plenty of thanks! Of course, there are plenty of recipe books on the market that will teach you how to embrace this form of cooking, and it’s becoming ever more popular.

I have to say, I decided to try it the hard way but just for you, I intend to give you a few tips on how you can finally leave (well, almost) your recipe book on the shelf and just go for it!

Taste

We all know that when you’re creating a dish in the kitchen tasting as you go is one of the most important things to remember. Think about this for a second? How many times have you followed a recipe and found that you need to add just a little more pepper, salt or even chilli so it suits your own palate?

If the answer is “pretty much every-time” you’re already embracing the art of breakaway cooking. But, you can take it one step further. For instance, the next time you’re cooking say a beef casserole try using a different brand of red wine or shallots instead of standard onions. You could even have a play around with the types of vegetables you add.

Smell

This is where you can really have some fun! I never used to smell herbs or spices before I added them to a dish. After all, the celebrity chef smiling up at me from my favourite recipe book new best – right? Wrong!

What I have discovered is that you may find you prefer rosemary instead of sage. You could even discover that by adding a dash of Worcester sauce or (dare I say it), some brown sauce to a casserole you’ll suddenly find the aromas rising before you are far more enticing than they ever were.

It’s a Matter of Personal Taste

This is what I love about breakaway cooking. Not only does it enable you to use every-day ingredients instead of having to shop for those “special” items you’re preferred chef uses, it also allows you to push the boundaries with cooking in general.

Sure, like me, you might end up with something that’s not exactly what you imagined but practice makes perfect. Plus, you’ll eventually find the right balance which is personal to you and you alone. Of course, if you often cook for others it’s a good idea to get them involved as well, (especially the kids). For me, embracing breakaway cooking has been, and still is, a journey but I’ve already come up with family recipes to die for – well, for my family anyway!

Aug 22

Know Asian Cooking? Know Your Noodles!

Rice NoodlesAs with many things that have been around for thousands of years, there can be healthy debates about who “invented” something and it’s no different when it comes to noodles. As most of us know, noodles are a long stringy type food used in many an Asian dish. However, don’t be surprised if you hear an Italian say they were the first to pass the idea on or, indeed someone from the Middle East.

The debate of where noodles originally came from aside, these days there are a vast amount of different varieties used in Asian cooking alone and in this article we aim to give you an idea of some of the most popular.

Oh, and by the way if you hear noodles being referred to as either fresh or dried, this is due to the amount of starch they contain when they’re produced.

Fresh Rice Noodles

If you want the best of the best with this type of noodle, you’re much better off paying a visit to an authentic Asian food shop although they can be found in your local supermarket if that’s not possible. Generally, they’re made from water and ground rice.

However, do bear in mind you can buy both thin and thick varieties. Thick is best used when you fancy a stir-fry and thin is best for soups. Also bear in mind that if you want to enjoy them at their freshest you should use them within 7 days, and soak them in warm water to help separate the “strands”.

Chow Mein Noodles

These can be purchased either fresh or dried and are an excellent addition to a tasty stir-fry. You can tell a Chow Mein noodle because it doesn’t look unlike a strand of spaghetti. For those of you with dietary issues, remember this type of noodle does contain wheat and is enriched with egg.

The best way to cook them is to add the required amount to a bowl, cover with boiling water and drain almost immediately before adding them to your stir-fry.

Rice Stick Noodles

These are nearly (if not always) dried and like rice noodles are also made from rice and water. However, unlike rice noodles they’re almost translucent, very thin and flat. Because of this they’re great for soups, salads and stir-fries, and if you’re using strong flavours it’s a good idea to use rice stick noodles as they’re very good at absorbing them.

Hokkien Noodles

Again, be careful with these if you’re intolerant to egg or wheat as this is what they’re made from. Hokkien noodles usually come fresh in vacuum packs. If you’re interested in using these, make sure you look in the refrigerated section at the supermarket.

Thickness is also the key with these and they can be thin or thick. Thin is best for use with salads or soups and the thick (fettuccine) type are best used in stir-fries. If you’re a stir-fry “nut” using Hokkien noodles are the best because they don’t break easily.

So there you are! Several options of noodles for Asian cooking but then, as you know we want you to experiment with your cooking skills so don’t discount using them with others types of foods as well.

Aug 17

Fusion Style Cooking Meets Pan Asian Or Does It?

Fusion Vs Pan Asian CookingIf you’re no stranger to the blog section on our website, you will notice that in recent months we have centred on fusion style cooking. This type of cooking has been around for some time now. In fact, it first appeared thousands of years ago! Some of you who are new to fusion cooking may be forgiven for thinking it’s yet another “gimmick” that’s been invented by those infamous television chefs that adorn our screens however, there is an awful lot more to it than that.

If you’re interested in finding out more about this style of cooking, feel free to take a look at our blog on “What is Fusion Cooking”. What we do aim to discuss today is the “new kid on the block” (or maybe not for some of you) and that’s Pan Asian Cooking but what’s the difference?

Fusion Cooking

This type of cooking does originate from China, but the Japanese may contest that particular piece of information. There are no rules with fusion cooking really, but for the beginners among you it’s probably best to start with what we like to call “east meets west”.

This means you can create various tasty and actually very healthy dishes that include all sorts of flavours from both sides of the world, and once you get to grips with the whole thing you’ll be cooking meals your friends and relatives will be back for time and again!

Pan Asian

Lots of people (especially the professionals) will tell you that Pan Asian cooking is a form of fusion, and this might be true to some extent. However, instead of mixing ingredients and flavours from the east and the west, this style of cooking focuses solely on food that originates from Southern India, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.

If you were to visit a Pan Asian style restaurant, don’t expect a classic three course meal followed by a coffee and perhaps a liqueur (if you’re that way inclined). Instead, you will be met with what can only be described as a “tapas” style type menu.

For those of you who are not aware of eating in this way, it means you will be given a large number of plates (or a small number if you prefer). This allows the diners to mix and match what they would like to eat and is a fantastic way of testing your palate!

In fact, whether you’re interested in Fusion or Pan Asian food and how it all works visiting either type of restaurant is a great way to start. You can pick up some great ideas and as mentioned, it will give you an idea of what flavours, smells, and tastes work best for you.

Overall

In answer to the question “fusion style cooking meets Pan Asian or does it”? Well, that’s entirely up to you which is what we love about both styles. Just remember that both types are a form of fusion, it’s just that they combine ingredients from different parts of the world.

Aug 10

How to Use Chopsticks and Chopstick Etiquette

Chopsticks1As we all know, when you visit a Chinese restaurant (or any Asian food restaurant for that matter), there is always a set of chopsticks waiting for you. For many of us, the mere idea of being able to handle these “eating” utensils sends us into a spin. However, help is at hand! See below for a guide on how to use chopsticks and what chopstick etiquette you should follow:

The Main Chopstick

What you have to remember is there is what’s called an “anchor” chopstick and this is the one that should never move when you’re using it. To start, you should pick this one up with your thumb and middle finger.

It may seem a little obvious but the broader end of the chopstick should be at the top, and the narrower tip at the end. When you’re holding it correctly, it should be virtually immobile. Think of it as if you’re holding a pen but a little lower than normal.

The Moveable Chopstick

This is where things can get a bit tricky, and it will need some practice in the beginning. Your thumb and first finger should cover the top chopstick, but have a good play around until it feels comfortable. One thing you should always remember is the “pointy” end of the chopsticks should be level with each other.

If they’re not, you will get a cross over and that’s when things can get very messy at the table. No-one likes to be showered with pieces of rice or the odd bit of sizzling beef! One little trick to get them even is to lightly tap them on the table before you start to use them.

Experiment!

As the saying goes “practice makes perfect” so have a good play with your chopsticks. Practice opening and closing them and don’t be afraid to adjust where you hold them so it feels natural to you. You can even experiment with picking up non-food items before you head out to the restaurant.

Once you feel confident enough, start with say, noodles or rice and once you have that mastered you can then move on to other food items like fish or meat.

Know The Rules!

In many Asian restaurants you will be offered to share a large platter of food. However, using your own chopsticks to dive into those tasty morsels is a big non-no! Instead, use the chopsticks that have come with the platter. This ensures the food you choose has not been near any utensils you’ve been using.

Other points to remember are:

  • Never pop your chopsticks into your food in an upright position. This is seen as a bad omen and is highly frowned upon.
  • DO NOT spear your food if you’re having trouble with your chopsticks, this is regarded as impolite. If you are having a problem, no-one is going to chastise you for turning to a more traditional method.
  • When you’re finished eating, make sure you don’t cross your chopsticks over on your plate. Instead, always lay them side by side and they should sit to the left.

So, there you have it! A quick guide on how to use chopsticks and chopstick etiquette – enjoy!

Apr 30

Tips for Healthy Chinese Cooking

Stir FryThere is a reason why people who come from the east are famous for living longer and it’s largely down to diet. Of course, Chinese food has long been a favourite in the west but if you want to create dishes at home that really will benefit your health, try some of the tips below:

Stir-Fry

This is one of the quickest and easiest meals to make. You can buy ready made stir-fry but since it tends to be frozen, you lose all the goodness you get from this dish. Stir-fry is cooked at a very high heat and very quickly, so when you use fresh ingredients, the nutrients are not lost.

Try adding some lean meat, seasonal vegetables (seasonal are best because they’re fresh) and some noodles into a hot pan. A wok will give you the best results but you can use a standard frying pan. Oh, and if you like a bit of “zing” in your food pop a few spices in as well.

Ginger, Garlic and Chilli

All of these have great health benefits. For instance, garlic is well known for keeping your immune system in check and ginger will help keep your digestive system healthy. Surprisingly, chilli is packed full of vitamins so you should use these whenever you cook Chinese!

On Those Cold Days

When the weather outside is less than friendly and all you want is a filling meal to warm your heart, try making a Chinese broth. It might sound like this is complicated but all you need is some of your favourite meat, spring onions, some Chinese mushrooms and boiling water. Don’t forget that organic vegetable bouillon for some added flavour!

For Vegetarians

You can adapt both stir-fries and soups for a vegetarian diet but one of the best ingredients that originate from the east is tofu. Made from soya beans it’s loaded with calcium and high in protein. Not only that, tofu also has an amazing ability to absorb all the flavours from the meal you’re preparing.

High Fibre – Low Carbohydrate Diets

If you’re watching your weight or just want to eat more healthily make mung bean and rice noodles part of your every-day diet. If you’re looking for more fibre in your diet, go for brown rice instead of white.

Finally

Keep it natural! Nothing you eat should come out of a packet and it’s actually really easy to make your own chilli paste or soy sauce without spending hours in the kitchen. People in the east are highly aware of what they put into their bodies, and that’s the reason they look and feel younger.

Although remember, your body does need a certain amount of sugar and salt but these can be found in all sorts of places. Fruit for example is a good source of natural sugar and if you make your own black bean sauce you can control the amount of salt you use. Chinese cooking isn’t hard to do and best of all, it doesn’t take a lot of time!

Apr 22

Fusion Cooking Isn’t Just for the Professionals

Fusion CookingIf you’re new to fusion cooking or indeed, if you think you have no idea what it is you might be surprised to know you probably use it pretty much every-time you hit the kitchen (so to speak). Sure, there are professional chefs out there that take this style of cooking very seriously and guard the recipes they create with their lives.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to be a trained chef in order to create your own sense of fusion style meals. The fact is it’s all about taste, smell and texture. Think about it. Maybe you have a family recipe that’s been handed down and you use it often? How many little “tweaks” of your own have you made? This, in a sense is fusion.

Some May Disagree

If there are any professionals reading this, they’ll probably be ready to stick their heads through the computer screen because it could be construed that I’m over simplifying this art of cooking. After all, it has a history all of its own that spans back many hundreds of years.

What has happened in the past 100 years or so is the world has become a much smaller place, and with that we have far more ingredients available to us than we once did. This means people are experimenting with various tastes and smells. Long gone are the days when you had to search high and low for that “special” ingredient and for me, fusion cooking has made this even simpler.

It’s About Being Brave

If you’re the type of cook that gets really stressed if a recipe doesn’t work out, then be prepared for some stressful times ahead if you want to try fusion style cooking. You see it’s all about making mistakes until you get the taste you’re really after. It’s also about mixing various different cooking methods from around the world.

How many people have a bottle of soy sauce they bought a while ago for that special dinner they created, and then never used it again? I’ll bet there are plenty and I’ll also bet that items like soy sauce are not the only things lurking in the pantry or fridge.

Say for instance you’re going to make a casserole and you have something in the cupboard you think might work. Well, part of fusion cooking is about being brave enough to stir it in and see what happens. Of course, it may not turn out the way you want it to, but then again it just might. Before you know it, there is a new recipe being used in your home that everyone loves and it’s not in any professional cook book!

Overall

Fusion cooking has its history, it also has its rules to a certain degree but you really don’t have to be a professional in order to practice this art of cooking at home. Just trust your taste buds, sense of smell and don’t be afraid to throw different ingredients from different cultures into the mix – that’s exactly what fusion cooking is all about!

Apr 14

Everyone Should Try Teppanyaki

TeppanyakiLots of people tend to view Japanese cuisine with a little scepticism because they think it’s all about raw food (especially fish). However, there is an abundance of dishes you can try that do involve cooking and one of them is Teppanyaki.

Just to breakdown the actual meaning of the word, “teppan” translates as iron plate and “yaki” translates as fried or grilled. It might surprise you to know that this dish isn’t that popular among the Japanese and was originally created to entertain tourists as well as treat them to delicious food prepared by some of the most talented chefs you will ever come across!

The most famous chain of Teppanyaki restaurants is called Misono and first appeared in Japan in the mid 1940’s. Not long after that, a restaurant chain you’re probably more familiar with (Benihana) soon became very popular in the US from the 1960’s onwards. Of course, you can now find these highly entertaining restaurants all over the UK.

Your First Experience of Teppanyaki

If you’ve never been to a restaurant like this it has to be said that you’re in for a real treat! For a start, the dish itself is pretty versatile and you can choose from any number of meats, fish and vegetables. However, beef is used extensively which is why restaurants like this have been nicknamed “Japanese Steakhouses”.

When you arrive at a restaurant like a Benihana that’s dedicated to preparing Teppanyaki, don’t expect to see a few tables dotted about. In fact, if it’s a romantic dinner you’re after this probably isn’t the type of place to go because this style of dining is incredibly social.

You will be seated at a large table and in the middle will be a flat iron plate which is where all the cooking takes place. You will also be treated to your own chef who isn’t just about cooking (although they can create some of the tastiest dishes around) they will also be there to entertain you.

Chefs who train in the art of Teppanyaki cooking also have fantastic skills with the tools they use. Don’t be surprised that whilst slicing and dicing at top speed, your chef will start to juggle with various sharp implements!

Types of Food

As said, there is a large variety of meats available to you but mostly it will be beef, chicken and pork. Fish is also available in abundance including shrimp, tuna, salmon and shellfish. Of course, there will be all sorts of vegetables to choose from as well.

All you do is pick what you would like to eat, let the chef entertain you while he expertly cooks your own Teppanyaki dish and enjoy!

The Perfect Party Night

If you have a special occasion coming up which means a group of family and friends will be getting together, taking everyone to a Teppanyaki restaurant will delight them all. Watch out though, you might be asked to try a Japanese drink called Saki which is well known for it’s high alcohol content so approach this one with caution!

Apr 08

Must Have Tools in Your Kitchen for Chinese Cooking

WokIt’s a well known fact among aspiring chefs (and accomplished ones) that the tools you use to create various dishes really do have a bearing on how everything turns out. This is especially true if you intend to cook food that comes from a country that’s not your own.

After all, you weren’t brought up on the “do’s and don’ts” so having the right tools will certainly make cooking a more enjoyable experience. If you’re new to Chinese cooking, you might be thinking that you’re about to hit the shops and buy a whole arsenal of equipment. However, that’s not necessarily true. In fact you can get away with as little as just six!

The Chinese Spatula

Because a lot of Chinese cooking uses a high heat, food needs to be moved around pretty quickly. A Chinese spatula is a shovel type shape, and is perfect for that all time favourite – stir-fry! It will allow you to quickly scoop up more food than a standard spatula so it can be placed into another pan.

The Chinese Ladle

Although not an essential part of your Chinese cooking utensils, a Chinese ladle will come in very handy when you’re using a wok. Generally it’s used upside down and will enable you to quickly move food back and forth over the base of the pan.

The Wok

Of all the tools in your kitchen, a wok is one of the most important, and you’ll be surprised at the number of shapes and sizes you can buy. The cheapest and most common type usually has a flat bottom and is made of stainless carbon.

Of course, you will have to make sure you care for your wok so it lasts for many years to come and in order to do this it’s worth investing in a cover and brush (for woks). This pan can be used for just about everything from frying to boiling so whatever Chinese dish you intend to create, your wok will be the first thing you reach for.

A Bamboo Steamer

Chinese dumplings! The mere words make your mouth start to salivate! If you want to make the perfect dumplings, a bamboo steamer is another “must have”. Although, when you buy one of these you should also buy your wok at the same time. The reason for this is the steamer needs to fit into the wok.

A Cleaver

If you invest in a decent cleaver, this is the only knife you will ever reach for when cooking Chinese. It slices, dices, minces, shreds, peels and will complete a whole host of other preparation jobs for you. When you go shopping for a cleaver make sure you like the feel of it in your hand (not in psycho way you understand)! Just make sure it doesn’t feel too heavy and the handle suits your hand.

There you have it! Six essential tools you should have in your kitchen for Chinese cooking. As you can see from the information above, it won’t have to cost you a fortune either – enjoy!

Mar 23

Sushi for Beginners

Sushi RollsFor some, the mere word “sushi” is off putting simply because a lot of us associate this Japanese delicacy with raw fish. However, in the following few words you’re going to learn that sushi doesn’t have to be that fishy. In fact, you can even enjoy non-fish sushi which is a great way to get used to eating it.

Sushi Can Be Cooked

It may surprise you to learn that sushi can include cooked ingredients so if you’re a true sushi beginner, you don’t have to dive straight into eating raw food. California rolls for instance are made with avocado, cooked crab meat and cucumber.

For those of you who are already fairly adventurous with the food you eat (especially fish) but don’t like the idea of raw, you can order sushi dishes that contain cooked squid or clams. Shrimp is another safe bet, but make sure you check first as not all sushi with shrimp is cooked.

If you come across the term “tempura” this means you will also be eating something that’s cooked but do bear in mind that tempura is a Japanese term for “fried” or “battered”. If you choose to have sushi with mackerel or tuna this might not be cooked in what you would consider as the traditional way. These types of fish are often “cooked” in an acidic marinade. What this means is the marinade will cook the fish without the aid of heat. It’s also a great way to add other flavours to the dish.

Keep it Simple

This may sound like a contradiction because sushi is actually a very simple way to enjoy fish (raw or cooked). However, if you’ve never tried a strong fish like crab meat or mackerel then it’s probably best to leave that to the “professionals”!

Start instead with meats you know like salmon, shrimp, tuna and clams. In fact it’s a good idea to stick with your favourites in the beginning. Below are a couple of examples of sushi you might like the idea of:

  • Philadelphia Roll – Contains cream cheese, smoked salmon and cucumber.
  • Boston Roll – Contains cooked crab, salmon and scallops.
  • Spicy Tuna Roll – Contains spiced tuna and sauce.

Of course, the above selections are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the types of sushi you can sample but the idea here is to let you know that eating sushi doesn’t mean putting a lump of raw fish in your mouth.

Sushi is an Art Form

It’s hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t want to put a sushi roll in their mouths. When a chef creates sushi it isn’t just about taste and texture, it’s about looks as well (something the Japanese have mastered in the kitchen). If something looks good, your brain automatically assumes it’s going to taste good as well.  In fact, you could actually feel guilty about putting the tasty morsel before you in your mouth at all!

Sushi is massively misunderstood by a lot of people. If you’re a beginner just keep it simple, start with what you know and the chances are this dish will become something you look forward to daily!

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