One of the benefits of the place I currently live in, is that it is very near to Düsseldorf. The city is not know for its beauty, and for what I have seen so far, it is rightfully so (but I’m always open to surprises, especially pleasant ones, so if you are of different advice, please do leave whatever suggestion you have). On the other hand, Düsseldorf is well-known for being a shopping heaven. I’m not exactly a fashion addict: I tend to get really attached to my clothes, and use them until they fall literally to pieces and sometimes beyond that, and I am able to wear only what I feel comfortable with; foodwise, though, I am the ‘shop-till-you-drop’ girl type, ready to fork out for a new ingredient. Düsseldorf hosts a big Japanese community, with a whole street where writing in Japanese is actually more common than writing in German.
Add to this that I share my German classes with a few lovely young girls from Japan. We have become good friends and one of them was kind enough to lead me to a tour of a Japanese food shop. It was great! When confronted with say ten types of miso, she’d help me to choose the best one. I hope to return the favour with Italian food sooner or later: don’t touch Barilla! Go for De Cecco instead! My Japanese friends also helped me to learn a lot of recipes from Japan. I’ll make soon some experiments. For the moment, this is what I have bought. The prices are quite high – much higher than in Japan, my friend confirmed; but if you know what to buy, some of these items are staples that will guide you through many lunches and dinners. The little black dress of Japanese cooking.
- Sake. I went for an averaged priced one, which is still quite expensive when compared to wine. It is very delicate, I find it very good, but I am not a sake expert at all. I was dying to buy a fantastic sake set on a Japanese crockery shop, but honestly, girl, you are moving every two years. Do you really want to pack it? (… yes!!!) (ok, I was lying when I said I don’t like shopping. I don’t like buying clothes. I love shopping for home items, cooking equipment, diy tools, plants, flowers, shoes (do they count as clothes?), books, food, pens … )
- Japanese diet snack. These were a special advice from my friend. These Japanese girls, they are so thin, and they manage to be so, not by Nature’s gift, but using the only method we all know – they don’t eat much. These snacks are very light and filling – basically some rice flour crackers, topped with some soy sauce flavouring, topped with a gram or two of sugar. They do work for a diet. I quite dislike them. I am not thin though, and never will (did I mention I don’t like buying clothes?).
- Edamame. Green soy beans. These ones are frozen and already cooked! Eeek! I have no microwave so I defrosted them using a steamer. They were surprisingly ok.
- Green tea with puffed rice (genmaicha). I already knew it. It is probably my favourite variety of tea for drinking with food. It is intensely savoury thanks to its nutty taste. I started to apply an advice from a chinese friend, and now reuse the tea leaves several times. I usually work the whole afternoon in front of a computer, and I love having something to drink that I can use for hours. With green tea, you can leave it in your cup, and pour hot water on it up to four or five times. The second one gives the best resulting tea. What is really important is not to let it infuse for long. I totally agree with it, and it works quite well also for this tea. I don’t like having leaves floating in my tea so I do that, but use a tea pot. I make one cup at a time, making sure I don’t let the tea infuse more than a minute each time by pouring it off straight away.
- Dashi – the basis of Japanese cooking. Pair it with miso for soup. Smells very fishy alone, tastes divine in dishes – a bit like nam pla, but less complex and more delicate.
- Ume plums. I want to make onigiri, and this is a traditional filling. I gave one of them a little bite, they might not make it to the onigiri. They are sweet and salty and sour and taste of plums.
- Natto. Fermented soy beans, smelly and sticky. Apparently western people usually hate this stuff. I really liked it, even though I must admit the filaments look a bit spooky. It comes frozen in little plastic trays.
- Miso. How could I live without miso a whole life? It’s almost like having lived with no cheese. It is so good I’d eat it raw. I do eat it raw. For a more civilized version, I go for a quick miso soup almost every lunch, and vegetables with miso.
- Pickled ginger, the one they give you with sushi.
- Enoki mushrooms. I have a couple of recipes from Plenty to blame for not resisting to enoki. They were a little slimy though.
- Azuki beans, will make some cake sooner or later
- Soba noodles. After asking my friend, I choose a 100% buckwheat variety, and a very good one.
- Tofu – forgot to put in the picture. There were tons of types of tofu and honestly I was not too happy with the choice of my friend – she told be this can be eaten alone especially in miso soup. She is probably right for the flavour, because of its delicate but definite soy bean flavour, but it is very soft, too much for my taste. I do prefer firmer tofu for eating as is.
On the Japan theme, I just tried a Japanese inspired dessert. It is funny how things go with blogs. I wanted to make a crème brûlée for a dinner this week, because I had some leftover cream and because it must be done in advance, making it ideal for week dinners. Then I thought of pairing it with matcha, and then I found out that one of my favourite bloggers had already tried it. I used her recipe, and, as usual, it was spot on. I especially loved the trick with the kitchen paper to get rid of the little bubbles on the top of the crème. It works! The matcha flavoured cream works well with the bitterness of caramel. I never have enough occasions to use my incredibly funny burner, but when I did not have one, I always used the oven grill for caramelizing. I can’t tell you that you are going to get the same effect, because a few things in life beat the pleasure of cracking the solid caramel over a crème brûlée, but you will still get a very nice dessert. Just make sure your grill is very hot and that you leave the cream pots under it for the minimum amount of time needed.
Matcha Crème Brûlée
Ingredients (makes four)
4 egg yolks
200 ml fresh double or whipping cream (I used 33% fat)
50 ml whole milk
4 tablespoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon matcha
+ light muscovado sugar for the tops, about 4 scant tablespoons
Preheat the oven to 170C. Heat about a litre of water until boiling. Prepare a large oven pan, with high borders, large enough to contain all the pots you want to use for the cream. I recommend choosing shallow pots, if possible, because you’ll get more caramel.
Heat in a small pan milk and cream until nearly boiling. In the meanwhile, mix in a bowl egg yolks, sugar and matcha (My matcha did not melt completely, so maybe next time I’ll try blending it shortly with the sugar beforehand; anyway, it just had visual consequences, no flavour ones). Add the hot liquid mixing continuously. Pass through a fine mesh sieve and pour in the pots. Use some kitchen paper to remove any foam from the surface. Arrange the pots in the large oven tray, and carefully pour hot water into it, until about half of the pots are immersed. Cook in the oven for about 20 minutes, until just set (be careful not to overcook it).
Let the pots cool: they’ll keep in the fridge for a couple of days. Sigrid suggests to make them come at room temperature before use; I didn’t because I like my cream to be cold under the caramel and my pots are very stubborn, but there might be a danger that some containers break if they are too cold.
When you want to serve them, sprinkle the surface with some muscovado sugar and caramelize with a small flamethrower.