Thursday, August 30, 2012

Goya Champloo (guaranteed samurai-free!) *

Are you familiar with goya?

...LOL nope, not this Goya either! 

What I mean is: goya, the vegetable. The weird one that looks like zucchini with a bad case of acne. 
This one. 

Better known as bitter melon or bitter squash in English, it is a tropical variety of the Cucurbitaceae family. It is a widely used ingredient in the Caribbeans, Asia and Africa; for us who live in other parts of the world it is not easy to get hold of it, but Asian and South-American groceries stock it on a regular basis, so a visit to your local Chinatown might be your best chance (and hey, it's always fun!) 
The Japanese call it nigauri, but in the Okinawan dialect it is called goya, and the name kind of stuck. 

 "China hereJapan hereOkinawa here."

The geography lesson is on me, peeps. Feel free to thank me later. And yes, of course I did it just for the sake of throwing in a gratuitous Mr Miyagi quote!
What was I saying again? 
Oh. Right., in short, goya is to Okinawa what potatoes are to Ireland, or something like that. And since Okinawans are proverbially long-lived, the rest of Japan had to wonder: could goya be their secret? 
(Now, while the Japanese are as hungry as anyone else for reputedly magical food that will make them fit and healthy with zero effort, goya actually is good for your health. I won't delve into the scientifical stuff here; that's what Wikipedia is for, right?)

Let's slice our goya in half. You will see the white pith inside, with seeds in it. Get rid of it, then wash your goya accurately, pat it dry, and slice it. 

If your fruit (yes, it's technicaly fruit) is slightly more ripe, the rind will be a greenish yellow and you'll find that the pith has turned red - you still don't want it in your Champloo, but it is now sweet and delicious to eat as-is, or you can throw it into a salad (mind the seeds though!)
One of my goya was at that stage but I forgot to snap a pic of it, until after I had absent-mindedly devoured its soft, squishy insides (ewww, gross!) while slicing the rind. 

Now for the actual recipe... 

Goya Champloo

Ingredients (serves 4):

* two goya fruits
* shima-dofu (Okinawan tofu), one block
* 150 g bacon, thinly cut
* 1 Tbsp instant dashi stock powder
* 1/2 tsp salt
* ground black pepper

(shima-dofu is a firm, savory kind of tofu. If you can't find it, you can use ricotta salata or a similar cheese instead, or simply substitute silk tofu - that's what I did myself!)

1.  Fry the bacon slices in a pan. When it's done, add the sliced goya and let it fry with the meat. 

2.  Add the dashi powder and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon, and adjust salt if needed. 

3.  Break the tofu block with your fingers and throw it into the mix. Let it soak up the flavours for a couple minutes. 

4.  Remove from heat. You can grind some black pepper on it if you like. You're done!

You can enjoy your Goya Champloo while it's warm, or cold from the fridge. It is yummy on its own, but I like to pour it over brown rice; I find it makes a perfect lunchbox meal since it is filling and satisfying, but not too heavy. I mostly eat it in the summer as a welcome alternative to the usual rice salad, because the bitterness from the goya gives it a very refreshing quality. 

Why, yes - goya is bitter, as the smartest among you may have surmised. If you really hate it, I guess you could swap it for plain old zucchini or cucumbers, but trust me on this - give it a try!
It might taste unpleasant at first, as the bitterness is all you'll perceive, but after a few mouthfuls you will find that it sort of recedes in the background, and the other flavours and textures - the sweetness of the rice, the salty, crispy bacon, and the delicate tofu - are incredibly heightened by it. 

Once you're familiar with the basic recipe, feel free to play around with it - fried eggs are a popular addition; your fave veggies would fit right into it, as would different spices. 
Champloo, or champuru, means "mixed up" or "stirred together" in the dialect of Okinawa, so... do it! Be creative!

* = some of you may be old enough to remember the word from the title of the anime Samurai Champloo. It was a weird but cool series, indeed mixing up traditional samurai tales with modern elements such as pop music (much like in Cowboy Bebop, which ended up being far more popular in the long run).

Samurai Champloo belongs to  ShinichirĊ Watanabe and Manglobe

Apart from this bit of linguistic trivia, this is totally unrelated to the recipe above - I just thought I'd better state clearly that no samurai where hurt in the making of this Champloo.  You know, just to be on the safe side! 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

It's Christmas early!

OMG look what was waiting for me as I got home from work... 

Yummy green box by that devious deal-of-the-day website. And what can be in it? 


I truly can't wait to try my hand at some bona fide cake decorating. Now I went and splurged for this stuff, so I really have no excuse not to anymore... 


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Lazing on a Wednesday afternoon

Yup. Sorry about that, Freddie. 

It's just that I've worked my bi-monthly cluster of night shifts over the weekend, and felt totally pooped ever since. 
Well, today I can safely say I feel remotely human again. It being, you know, Wednesday

That said, you are probably expecting me to show you some breath-taking example of my baking prowess. All right. Here you go. 

I SO wish I could take credit for bringing this marvel into the world, but no - this is Kristin Rosenau's Peach & Blackberry Galette.
Go get the recipe from her blog directly, and be sure to swipe a few more while you're at it!

Now incidentally - much as I generally dislike French-style desserts, I find that the mere word, galette, is so evocative of all things sweet and decadent to have me salivating like Pavlov's proverbial dogs in zero time. No matter that this particular dessert is not nearly as rich and heavy as quite a few others that I would serenely scarf down by reason of a less debauched-sounding  denomination. The moral of the story being: What's in a name?, my arse!
This is something of (gosh!) an healthy treat actually. Which means you'll have to warm up your slice and plop a dollop of vanilla ice cream on it, so that the balance of the universe is restored.

...oh, and before I leave you to deal with your galette, let me tell you a word concerning Kristin and her wonderful blog, The Pastry Affair.

She is a human being I admire unconditionally; I wish I'd had the courage, ten years ago, to make the same choice she did and dump a job I was miserable with in order to pursue my true calling. I am not sure I would have chosen to become a baker back then, or whether I'd have been successful if I had tried, but... yeah. HUUUUGE missed opportunity right there.

Baking-wise, I am in love with her. Nothing less.  He confections are perfectly balanced, elegant in a "less is more" way - something you don't always get from online recipes, where the wow factor is often the main concern.
When food is discussed, we Italians have a bad habit of looking down on other people, Americans especially. Since, you know, the Mediterranean diet is so awesome, whereas they created McDonald's and everything nasty and evil, right? No matter that we cheerfully ignore our much-flaunted "golden pyramid" thingie and stuff our faces with carbs for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Well, anyway - Kristin's recipes can give any Italian diet doctor a run for his money. A little while ago they went, if anything, a little too healthy, as she was experimented with the Vegan lifestyle for a whole month. What can I say? I still loved her recipes, but I am glad it is over. Butter and eggs are staple food as far as I am concerned!

Image belongs to Kristin Rosenau @

Last but not least, her pics. Will you just look at them? Her photography is flawless. I would like to say I envy her for it, but then again, I have no right to because most of the times I'm not even trying.
Her galette's like a Platonic ideal; mine looks like something butchered by a maniac... The red tablecloth doesn't help, of course. Nor does the pack of tissues peeking from the upper right corner. Oh well...

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Fanbaking Project: Kareh, or Japanese Curry (as seen in Kuroshitsuji)

So you are going to start this Fanbaking Project of yours by posting a recipe that doesn't even qualify as baking?
Why, yes. 
Get over it. 

There could be no better recipe to kick it into motion anyway, since - as any Kuroshitsuji fan will know - it is not only featured into both the manga and the anime, but was the pivotal plot element of a whole story arc. 

Kuroshitsuji belongs to Yana Toboso and Square Enix

Better still, it is really really good... so, without further ado, let's get started!

Here. You need this

Right, so we all know Agni would be horrified, but don't let his stern countenance affect you overmuch! Maybe you won't win a Royal Warrant with it but I assure you, this stuff will give you a perfectly yummy kareh!

You can buy it - or any other brand, since they are more or less equivalent - at your local Asian foodstore. It typically comes in Mild, Medium, and Hot flavour. I hear the Japanese mostly use the sweetest kind to make it more palatable for kids; I picked the Medium one as you can see, and it's still pretty bland, so no need to worry even if you're not into spicy food. 
Below you can see what it looks like. It's not a powder, but not really a paste either; it looks more like stock cubes, only - you know - curry instead of stock. 

You just need to follow the directions on the package... assuming, of course, that it has one of those handy translation stickers pasted to it. If not, don't panic and read on! It really is super-easy and foolproof!

I had about 1/2 Kg chicken meat left in the fridge. I used a common pair of (clean) scissors to get rid of the stringy bits and cut it randomly into strips, like this: 

By the time I was done I had about 350 g left, so I guess I could have used some more; anyway I was happy with the meat-to-veggies ratio in the end.

You could use beef instead, or lamb - I'm not sure about pork, but who knows - or even shrimps; or you could just skip the meat altogether and go for an all-vegetables kareh, maybe with a few bits of tofu thrown in. Your choice!

I melted a little butter in a large frying pan, cut a small onion into thin slices, and let them brown slightly. I threw in the meat until it colored, then added about 500 g frozen vegetables.

Yup, that was it! I didn't even bother thawing the vegetables (be careful, though, because the hot butter will spittle).

Finally I added water to the mix. The instructions on the package will give you a fair idea of how much you need. In my instance, 3 cups were the right amount.

As soon as the water boils, lower the flame, cover the pan and let your mixture simmer for 10-15 minutes. You want the liquid to reduce, but not completely... this. Almost done! At this point you can turn off the heat and add the curry paste to the hot mixture, stirring until it's completely dissolved. I didn't use the whole package, as I found three out of four blocks to be enough for me.
If you want to do things like Sebby and throw in some chocolate, now's the time to do it - only do yourself a favor and pick milk chocolate, not dark like he did. Just trust me on this, ok?

Don't go overboard with it. A small Kinder bar was more than enough for this batch.

Cover again and let your curry sit for five minutes or so. It might turn a bit dense; if so, add a little water. Proper kareh must be runny, almost soupy, yet you should still be able to tell apart the various veggies that are in it. 

Kuroshitsuji belongs to Yana Toboso and Square Enix

You can now pour it over steamed rice (white or brown), or boiled potatoes. Or you can take this one step further and turn it into kareh-pan, just like Sebastian did!

So guess what my next installment's going to be about?