Calligraphy and Food

We were out in the agricultural hills of central Kanagawa prefecture a couple of weeks ago, and stopped off at the 90 year old home of the Hekkoro / Gonbachi restaurant. It’s an old style wooden Japanese farm house, old wooden floors, a casual table layout, and the back is adorned with artwork from local art classes, mainly from children.

Aside from serving some very decent food using local vegetables and making dishes from noodles to curry, it also allows you to read some of the books they have, and even do some shodou (書道 /calligraphy), which a couple of junior high school kids did actually do whilst we were there. On the day we went it was raining, and as you can see, the condensation on the doors to the garden was a relaxing backdrop to the calligraphy table.


Recipe: Gazpacho Soup

As it’s probably been noted – it gets pretty hot in most of Japan in the summer, so what could be better than a nice bowl of chilled soup? Over the years I’ve come to quite like gazpacho soup, made famous to my generation in the UK from the comedy ‘Red Dwarf’, where the character Rimmer ruins his career by asking the chef to ‘heat it up’ whilst at the captain’s table. The soup itself is Spanish in origin, so you can expect a lot of juicy ripe fruit in there.

Anyway, I’ve digressed already, this soup is prepared chilled from fresh ingredients, and should be chilled in a fridge before serving – it tastes very good after being chilled overnight. To make it, you really just need that fridge, some ingredients, and a blender. One thing I like about Gazpacho soup is that it’s difficult to say it’s wrong since there are so many permutations of it based on local recipes (a bit like Miso Shiru!).

Gazpacho Vegetables
Gazpacho Vegetables

For mine I get the following ingredients and roughly chop them into a bowl – this should make 6+ servings:

  • 500g chopped Italian tomatoes
  • 300g of bell peppers
  • 200g of cucumber
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 50g of celery
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 100g of red onion
  • 30g parsley
  • pinch of oregano

That goes into (and essentially fills) my blender! Give it a whirl around a bit until it’s broken down a bit, then add:

  • 100g virgin olive oil

after a bit more time you can add some of the following to taste:

  • salt
  • pepper
  • balsamic vinegar
  • pepper sauce
Blended Gazpacho
Blended Gazpacho

You can really blend it as far as you like – I’ve tried leaving some more chunks in there, and I’ve tried taking it all the way down to a thick liquid, and it tastes good most ways, so you can’t really over blend it. You can also add some ingredients at the end just diced if you prefer.


There’s lots of ways you can do Gazpacho, adding a few things – I quite like adding a few olives, or sometimes a piman (a smaller Japanese non-spicy pepper) from my mini-garden. I’ve done some with several drops of Tabasco and it’s actually ended up really quite good for accompanying a BBQ, with that added spice and a drink. If you want it less spicy, you could add some cold boiled potato which would also thicken it up.

Also, if you don’t think you’ve got enough liquid in there after a minute or so of blending, you can add some tomato puree or juice.

Please post good variations in the comments!

Recipe: Chicken Kiev

I’ve always liked chicken Kiev, though usually it’s been in a restaurant, or from a pre-made one back when I lived in the UK. I like the idea (garlic butter in a bread crumbed chicken breast) so I thought I’d have a go at it myself, from (almost) first principles.

I looked around and found quite a few recipes, but in the end they morphed something of my own. Some suggested deeper frying in corn oil which didn’t appeal to me, so I went for a more oven based approach with olive oil.

This was for two adults and a child. So then, the most important part:

  • 485g of chicken (2 breasts)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tblspn of flour
  • chicken filling: 1 tblspn of lemon juice
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  • ~100g of butter salt and pepper
  • ‘herbs’ – I used some parsley from the garden but tarragon seems popular
  • breadcrumbs – 100g from 3 slices of rye bread – dried a bit then blended (with no crusts in there!)

Oven: pre-heat to 200C

Prepare the chicken by cutting along the thickest part of the chicken breast to form a pocket as large as possible – you may even want to remove some of the chicken for this (I didn’t though).

Get all your filling together in a large bowl, and mix with a fork until it’s well mixed together, then leave it to sit.

Get three plates or bowls, and put a couple of tablespoons of flour in one, and in the other beat the egg. In the third bowl we want fresh breadcrumbs – get two or three slices of bread, minus the crusts, blend them for a couple of minutes and then put them in the bowl and let then dry a little.

Now stuff the butter/garlic mixture into the pocket – really pack it in there – then drag it in the flour, then the beaten egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs. I then closed the pocket with a couple of wooden skewers to keep as much butter in the chicken as possible.

Cooking the Kiev
Cooking the Kiev

Heat up a very thin layer of olive oil in a frying pan, and place the chicken in it, turning when it looks browned. Now put all of this (including the olive oil) into the 200C pre heated oven for 18-20mins. We have a handle-less frying pan which we simply placed in the oven, but an oven tray would be fine too.

Then, when the time is up, serve and eat! We had ours with boiled new potatoes and some pickles since it was a hot day – you can use the butter/olive oil in the oven tray as some sauce for the potatoes.

Cooked Kievs
Cooked Kievs

I really enjoyed it, though I’d like to make my own bread for the breadcrumbs too if I had time. The only thing I’d say is that it might be better going for smaller chicken breasts.

If you’re in the mood for something else along similar lines, try ‘double stuffed pork chicken breasts’, which are delicious too, if something of a meat overload.

Three Local Beers

Just a short post. Over the last few years, perhaps due to family and tastes, I just seem to have gotten out of drinking beer very often, or at least the lager derived beer which constitutes such a large percentage of the market here. I should say though that whilst wine now represents the small amount of alcohol beverages I do drink, I have been trying some local micro-brewery beers to see what the local brewers are offering.

shonan beers
Three Local Beers

The three I tried this month were from two breweries – “Shonan Bitter” from the Kumazawa Brewery and “Kamakura Prime” and “Enoshima Beer” from the Kamakura Beer Company.

Overall they were all palatable ales. I’m not sure I’d want to drink too many of any of them on a given night, but if you’re having a bit of a house party they’d go down pretty well.  They’re a little bit pricey – even in supermarkets – going for 400-500yen a bottle, compared to the 200-300yen for a can of lager. That said, you’ll enjoy one of these more than two cans of Asahi Super Dry.

Despite the names, by European standards, they’re perhaps not deep, rich tasting beers but again, very decent, and fit the region they come from – Shonan is famed for it’s beaches and layed back attitude – to being almost horizontal at times, and drinking these I don’t think of oak beamed pubs but of open fronted cafes selling yakitori with surf boards propped up.

Looking around, the area seems well served with local brews apparently grown from local hops too, so as I try a few more I’ll perhaps post on them, and actually make some more notes on the taste comparison front. I wouldn’t mind getting on the bike and visiting a hop farm too.

Recipe: Tsukune

Just like the recipe I put up before for misoshiru, I’m playing safe with another Japanese dish in that there are lots of different versions, so no-one can say I’m definitively wrong.

Tsukune is essentially a chicken ‘meatball’, often cooked over a flame or hot coals in restaurants – especially in yakitoriya. I quite like tsukune so I thought I’d cook my own a bit more over the summer since they’re great over BBQ, and they’re really simple.


400g of fresh chicken breast (no skin!)

~5g of fresh garlic (1 clove)

75g of diced fresh onion

1 tablespoon of olive oil

a little Tabasco sauce

a little soy sauce (usukuchi)

salt and black pepper

some tare sauce

some small wooden skewer/kebab sticks

a blender

The Making Bit

First, chop up all the chicken into chunks into a bowl, then add the olive oil, Tabasco, soy sauce , salt and pepper and stir it up to get it all well mixed in and whilst it’s sitting, dice up the onion and garlic quite finely, and add that to the chicken, stirring it in well.You can let it sit a bit now, and put your skewers into water, which should reduce the amount they burn later on.

Next, get your blender / food processor ready. In all honesty, you can just keep chopping the chicken and other ingredients up to get the consistency you want, but the blender is going to save you time – however, we’re aiming for a meatball type consistency, not a paste! Put everything in and work it through – chicken is quite fibrous, so you need to make sure you’ve got all the large chunks cut down. The onion should still be visible.

Once you’re happy it all looks right and consistent, ball it up, with a size of about an inch (~2.5cm) across. The mixture can be sticky, so don’t be afraid to use some flour to keep them from sticking to the plate and everything else, and keep your fingers wet when picking the mixture up.

Then simply place a few on each skewer and we’re ready to cook. When we aren’t having a BBQ, I tend to use our ridged Le Creuset skillet, but you can also grill them. Once they’re cooked through you can server them with a tare sauce.

As an option, you can put some fresh parsley or other herbs into the mixture, and cook with a little olive oil. you can also serve with some sliced lemon between each ball.

If anyone has any suggestions – please put them in the comments.

Recipe: Miso Shiru

I just thought I’d post on a little bit of simple cooking for a change, and something fairly synonymous with Japan – miso shiru. This is one of the recipes I’ve kind of worked along with of late – a carrot and daikon vegetable one.

I’m a big fan of soups generally, growing up with Scotch broth and chunky vegetable soups in the UK, so I tend to go a little heavier in this recipe than others.

1 litre of water
150g of daikon
80g of carrots
100g of miso/dashi paste
135g of kinu tofu
Some Worcester sauce
Some wakame (type of seaweed)

Cooking time: 20-30mins. (to whatever). Makes 4-5 bowls worth.

First off, get the water boiling in a decent sized pan. Add the carrots and daikon to this. I tend to leave the vegetables chunky – about 1cm+ on a side – and since carrots and daikon are fairly hard, you want to soften them up a little before adding the rest of the ingredients.

This is when I usually add a few drops of Worcester sauce, which some people don’t go for, but I find it a bit more subtle than soy or bare salt, but still adding something to the background flavour.

Once the vegetables have softened up a little I take it off the boil, then slowly stir in the miso-dashi paste. I’m lazy – I don’t make my own dashi, and since I’ve seen nice old ladies buying the same stuff I use, it must be legitimate, right? I just don’t have time for boiling up various fish and such. Either way, it tastes pretty good.

Now is a good time to add wakame if that’s your thing, and after a few more minutes, add the tofu, once you’ve sliced that to the size you like. I find it prudent not to cut it too small, especially with kinu tofu, so it’s still easy to retrieve from the bowl when you’re eating, and so that it doesn’t fall to pieces if it’s sat cooking for any period of time.

Keep it going for a few more minutes, by which time the daikon should be cooked and the tofu will be mixed through and then serve in a small bowl.

For those not too familiar, you can usually get two main types of tofu in the supermarkets here – kinu (絹)and momen (木綿) – named after how they’re made, being from silk and cotton sieves respectively. The kinu tofus are a bit smoother, but some prefer the more solid momen variety.

A couple of friends have commented that I use more miso-dashi than they would, and from having had a lot of miso shiru in various restaurants, that’s probably true, so you might want to reduce the amount of miso. The truth is, I like miso. I like miso ramen. I like miso onigiri.

Anyway, I thought I’d throw this simple recipe out there but it’s so simple it seems just too obvious. Any tips or family recipes always appreciated.

niso dashi
It’s good enough for obaa-san

Chicken Genocide?

So a collection of us, a congregation, maybe even a brood so to speak, had a night out, dining at Zest in Kyobashi, where, for some reason, a couple of us decided to feast for the entirety of our pre-defined two hour stay on chicken wings, served in one of four ways. I can’t name those four due to the three hours of karaoke in the intervening period, but rest assured, there were four kinds.

I think what attracted us was the fact that they advertised several batches – from ten pieces, to one hundred. One hundred chicken wings. That’s fifty chickens as far as I can tell, but served on four plates. Anyway, long story short, the two of us took about half of that order, and just kept going. The final tally will never be known, but there were a few.

Anyway, fast forward to after the karaoke, tired, covered in various beverages and heading to the lift, but before two of our depleted number fall through the lift doors on the wrong floor, and LH comes up with the correct term for the evening’s gorging: Chicken Genocide.

Maybe I should take up the offer of Vegetarian Week at the end of the month.

pile o bones

Future lifestyle – drunken shopping?

I’d often thought that if I stayed in Japan for years and years, until retirement or something, I’d while away the days sitting in Yoshinoya, chewing on gyudon/butadon and criticising how badly young people use their chopsticks. However, I realised there’s something else I could try – drunk shopping.

Now I know that’s not very original, indeed I’ve tried a version of it myself, resulting in a Jon Bon Jovi “Destination Anywhere” CD from a shop in Isehara. But that was being drunk whilst shopping. I wasn’t actually drinking at the time.

When I was in the local supermarket (sober) on Sunday, I noticed a man in his late forties and his wife seemed to be careering around the produce section, barring many other shoppers from the potatoes and carrots, and it wasn’t until he turned around I realised two things: firstly, he had a beverage in his hand, and secondly, it most certainly was not the first he’d had. I expected this to be a refreshing beer or similar to calm his nerves through the trauma of buying the right tofu, but, it turned out it was one of those Suntory ‘whisky in a can’ things. Then it occurred to me that I was really limiting myself on these jaunts to the supermarket – not only should I try it tanked up, but I should still be drinking on the way round. OK. So now I know what else I can try.

I should say in closing that I am a bit of a whisky snob in that I prefer single Scotch malts and prefer to use Suntory whisky products as a cleaning aid rather than a drink. A tip to Suntory marketing: if it was any good, you wouldn’t sell it in 2 litre plastic bottles, with a free miniature attached.

Shabu Shabu Split Bowl

An odd title to a post, but tonight we went out to have a bit of shabu shabu for the first time in a while.

For those who don’t know, shabu shabu is a meal where you have a big bowl of boiling water, and you sweep (or drop in and leave) very thin slices of beef or pork through it until it’s cooked and then eat it with different sauces like sesame (for example). The same goes for vegetables too – just put some carrots in there or such, pull them out when they’re ready and eat away.

We went to a branch of the Mo Mo Paradise chain in Ginza, and the twist here is that you don’t just get a choice of water to cook your sliced meat in, but of three soups: cow’s tongue, kimuchi and a salt based, potentially pork based one. We went for the first two. At this point in my order, I thought I’d got it wrong as the waitress said we’d need two nabe (pots/pans), one for each soup.

Ah. I was trying to see how we were going to fit two pots on the heating element in the middle of the table, and still be able to heat them both, when the waitress returned with split bowl shown below, in an almost yin-yang configuration. for reference, that’s the kimuchi on the right. I just thought I’d post it because I’d never seen one like this before, and it looked pretty good.

shab du shab

Miso Shiru Musings

So basically, when I woke up last Sunday morning, I was thinking about making some miso shiru. This is not a normal way to wake up. A normal way to wake up is either a) thinking about an enormous fried breakfast which somehow makes itself and then does the washing up, or b) going back to bed because it’s still technically ‘AM’.

Or both.

However, there I was wandering around the apartment thinking about miso shiru. Of course, like anything, my plan just got grander and grander.

“I’m going to grind fresh miso, make my own dashi from dead fish, recycled Gundam robots etc., make my own tofu and find clams and such on Tsukiji market to flavour and it will truly be an epic soup!! [Insert evil laugh here]”

One thing I do know about my local supermarket on a Sunday AM is that it’s packed with customers over the age of 120. Hundreds of them. All buying the same things. So I decided to spend a bit more time in the planning phase.

After a cup of tea and a good sit down at the dining table, the whole thing seemed like a lot of hard work. Maybe I’d buy the dashi paste or powder and to be honest I don’t actually like clams, so what’s the point in that?

After another cup of tea and a quick game of Katamari Damashi, the ‘grinding your own miso’ thing seemed positively twentieth century – you can get very reasonable miso in a tube I’m told.

It takes a lot of time to make tofu. I remember seeing a programme on TV about it. Also, I don’t have the huge bath they had, so I’m better off just buying some.

OK. I have my plan. Just one more cup of tea, and off to the shop.

So after another quick Katamari session, I got to the supermarket, and had decided to do an all vegetable miso shiru based on the truth that I had a lot of veggies in the fridge which needed using. Potatoes, carrots and mushrooms to be exact. Also, I spied a tub of miso/dashi paste. Pre-mixed! I saw an elderly lady buy one, so I figured it must be pretty good, because I can’t quite see her allowing herself to be ridiculed by friends and family for not knowing how to make good miso shiru.

Buying the tofu proved to be more difficult than I thought it would be. Actually, it shouldn’t have been. There’s basically two types in our local supermarket – kinu and momen. They’re actually made differently, taste different, and have slightly different consistencies. I wanted momen, which should have been easy as I can read the ‘kinu’ kanji pretty easily, so I just needed to avoid it.

Actually, it was only after I bought the kinu tofu, and carried it home, that I had this epiphany. Ah well, no problem, I’ll just figure it out later.

Bottom line was I mixed the dashi/miso mix (very twenty first century I might add) with hot water for a few minutes, added my slightly pre-boiled potatoes and carrots, then a bit later the mushrooms, and then finally, a couple of minutes before serving, the slightly soft tofu. Outcome: complete success. See, I knew that was a quick, pain free idea.

No, there was no wakame. I just wasn’t in a seaweedy mood that day. Maybe next Sunday.