Monday, December 26, 2011

Japanese Christmas Cake

If you don't like fruitcake, try making a Japanese Christmas Cake.  
A light, fluffy sponge with fresh cream and strawberries.  
Japanese christmas cake is usually a gateau, but I will never forget the dome cake we had 
for my first Christmas in Japan eight years ago.  
I was living in Fukushima City with a friend and it was the most beautiful white Christmas eve when we arrived home and found that a dear friend of ours had bought a Christmas cake for us!  
I had never thought of having anything other than fruitcake for Christmas so it was my first time to discover Japanese Christmas cake.
It was one of these dome cakes, from a patisserie and made absolutely perfectly.
So this Christmas I have tried to the best of my memory to re-create that cake we had on my first Christmas in Japan.
Slice open your dome cake and inside the sponge igloo is a centre of fresh cream and whole strawberries. 
The original cake had a diameter of about 15 cm, for about 4-5 slices.  This time my sister and her family have joined us for Christmas so I made a cake with a diameter about 22 cm.  This serves about 10-12, however I've never seen a large one like this in Japan.
The cake we had in Japan had no chocolate, however this time I have piped dark chocolate onto baking paper for the writing and hearts.
How to make a Dome-shaped Japanese Christmas Cake:
  • 1 plain round sponge cake, about 1/4 or 1/3 larger diameter than the bowl
  • 300-600mL (10-20oz) firmly whipped cream
  • 100-200mL (3-6oz) softly whipped cream
  • 250g-500g (8-16oz) fresh strawberries
  • A round bowl

  1. Slice a round sponge cake in half, with slices being about 2cm thick.  (About 2cm(3/4inch) for the dome, and bottom slice 2-3cm (3/4-1inch) for the base.
  2. Line a round noodle bowl or small mixing bowl with plastic wrap.
  3. Place the bowl up-side down on the bottom slice and cut around it to get the right size for the base of the dome.  
  4. Cut 4 thin wedges from the edge of the top slice, cutting about 1/3 to 2/5 of the way into the cake.  Line the bowl with this top slice, using any scraps to fill in any gaps if necessary.  (You may need to adapt this step depending on the exact size and shape of your bowl.)
  5. Place several spoonfuls of firmly whipped cream into the centre, half-way up the sponge.  Place whole strawberries, pointy end down, into the cream.  As you press the strawberries in, the cream will rise up to fill the sponge.  (you may need to add more fresh cream and strawberries to fill to the level of the top of the sponge, if necessary)
  6. Place the base on top.  Refrigerate for about an hour before spreading more firmly whipped cream on the outside, followed by a thin layer of softly whipped cream for a perfect smooth finish.  Decorate with fresh strawberries.
I will re-post these instructions with photographs before next Christmas if I can (^_^)
Also the recipe for light and fluffy sponge cake.

Two things I forgot to do on this Christmas cake (sorry):
  1. Sprinkle a little icing sugar on top of the strawberries, to give it a snowed-on appearance.
  2. Cut the brown edge of the sponge cake from the dome piece, to give a seamless look so you can't see brown joints in the sponge as you see here.

Christmas 2011

I hope you've all had a wonderful Christmas.  
I love this time of year, but of course it's been very busy.
Sorry for not posting regularly recently, family always comes first of course.
I'll post soon...
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Japanese Grocery Shopping In Brisbane

When you want to make Japanese food and you don't live in Japan, getting the right ingredients can sometimes become an obstacle.  Japanese Ingredients will generally cost more than in Japan, and some ingredients just can't be found in some areas.  So to help everyone's Japanese Cooking around the world, I think it would be great if we could put together an information page listing the best places to shop in each city.  If you have favorite places to shop for Japanese Ingredients, I would love to hear about it!  I'll share the information with everyone in a future post.  
Please email your contribution using this link: Email LittleJapanMama or in a comment to this post.

I live in Brisbane, Australia, and if you live nearby, here are the best and cheapest places I like  to shop for Japanese Ingredients:  (BTW no-one is sponsoring me to share this!)
  • Yuen's: I buy most things (especially Sauces, Dashi, cheap Mirin and Sake, Nori, Hakusai and other vegetables) at Yuen's Asian Supermarket (Market Square, Sunnybank and Chinatown Fortitude Valley)  which I find cheaper than most other Asian grocery stores anywhere else in Brisbane.
  • Fantastic Foods: (Sunny Park, Sunnybank)  A few things I like to get at Fantastic Foods in Sunny Park (Next to Aldi Sunnybank) which has $3/300g bunch fresh Enoki mushrooms, $4/500g bag Chikuwa, and a discount card if you ask for it...  And the best quality Daikon (giant long white radish) I've seen locally.
  • Hanaro Mart Butcher: (Times Square, Sunnybank) Thinly Siced Beef I buy inside the Korean Grocery Store in Town Square (Outside Sunnybank Plaza), $10/kg (This is VERY cheap for Australia!) or $13/kg for even thinner lean and tender shabu-shabu beef. Hanaro Mart is a Korean Grocery store which has a separate Butcher inside.  (Sometimes I buy the chinese hot pot style rolled beef (as you see in the photo above) in Fantastic Foods, $4/300g.)
  • High Fresh: (Market Square, Sunnybank) If you're after Shungiku (Spring Chrisanthemum leaves) for your Sukiyaki, High Fresh (around the back of Market Square) is your best bet, $1.30 for a huge bunch, but only in Spring.  (I sometimes saw it at Yuen's in the Valley, but not anywhere else)
Below are some examples of my favorite Japanese grocery shopping in Brisbane:
Beef Tongue and Heart from Woolworths (after I've prepared them)
Hakusai, Bok Choi, Enoki Mushrooms and Atsuage deep-fried Tofu from Fantastic Foods
$13/kg "Shabu-shabu" beef at Hanaro Mart
$10/kg "Bulgogi" beef at Hanaro Mart

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gyutan Yakiniku

Gyu-tan is one of my favorite cuts for Yakiniku.  Gyutan means beef tongue.  People travel to Sendai (in north-eastern Japan) to eat it as a special delicacy, however it is now popular as Yakiniku in restaurants throughout Japan. 
 (Yes, that's my beloved Sendai that was hit by a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in 2011) 

If you've never tried it before, your first question will probably be "What does gyutan taste like?"

The flavour of gyutan (apart from tasting like beef, obviously) I would describe as "buttery".  When cooked just right, gyutan is very tender and moist, and a little chewy at the same time.  
Ok, this description is probably sounding a little vague to you, so maybe you'll just have to try it!

In Yakiniku, gyutan may be sprinkled with salt and pepper during cooking, and/or you may like to dip it in Yakiniku Tare (Yakiniku Sauce) or Ponzu.
I find it equally delicious with Tare or Ponzu.

Click to see more about Yakiniku: How to make Yakiniku
 In my photo below is the sliced Gyutan along with some Beef Heart (Shinzou) marinated with garlic, sake, oil and a little salt.  The gyutan I leave plain as it is delicious on its own.  

In Australia, we enjoy gyutan and beef heart often as at $5/kg for whole tongues from (Woolworths) supermarkets, it's about the cheapest cut of meat.

If you don't feel like skinning and slicing a whole tongue, have a look in the freezer of your Korean grocery store, and you'll pay a little more (around $16/kg) for perfectly prepared, thinly sliced beef tongue.

If you buy a whole beef tongue for the first time (yes, I agree it is a little scary-looking) and you've never prepared beef tongue before it's quite a tricky procedure.  However, there is an easy way for removing the skin and slicing a beef tongue thinly for gyutan as you see in my photo below.
Click here for my Gyutan Preparation Tutorial.
♡ ♡ ♡ 
I first tried Gyutan at a restaurant in Matsushima, one of the great natural wonders of Japan, located near Sendai.

How to Prepare Gyutan

If you can't buy gyu-tan already prepared (or want to save some money) a whole beef tongue can be a little daunting and very tricky to prepare for Yakiniku or other Japanese dishes.  Here is the easy way to skin and slice your gyu-tan perfectly:
  1. Rinse tongue well under cold running water.
  2. Stretch tongue out flat and wrap with plastic wrap.  
  3. Place in freezer for about 4 hours or until semi-frozen (a little stiff but soft enough to slice easily.  Alternately, freeze and then defrost in fridge until semi-frozen)
  4. The skin can now be easily sliced off with a sharpened knife
  5. Slice thinly.
  6. One tongue serves about 3 people for yakiniku, or more if other meats are also used.
Click here to read more about Gyutan and Yakiniku:

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gyudon Recipe

Gyudon(牛丼)is a popular dish which was made even more popular by chains like Yoshinoya, Tsukiya and Matsuya, which make delicious Gyudon for very reasonable prices in Japan.  Gyu牛 means beef and don丼 means rice bowl (with something on top).  In other words, Beef Rice Bowl.  
Basic gyudon may be topped with beni-shoga (pickled ginger), sliced negi (shallots/spring onion) and is also delicious as Tsukimi Gyudon(月見牛丼)(with a raw egg on top) if you're feeling adventurous.
This recipe is adapted from the gyudon recipe by taka_jam on cookpad:

Gyudon Recipe  serves 4
  • 2 cups boiling water and 2 tsp Dashi powder
  • 1-2 Onions, sliced
  • 400g Beef, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Sake (optional)
  • 1/3 cup Japanese Soy Sauce
  • 1/2 tsp grated fresh Ginger
  • Steamed Rice and Beni-shoga, to serve.
Step 1
  1. Place water, dashi powder and onions in a saucepan and boil 3 min.
  2. Add sugar, sake, soy sauce, beef, and stir to combine well.  Bring to the boil and simmer 10min.
  3. Stir in freshly grated ginger and simmer another 5-10 min until beef has absorbed the flavour, onions are caramelised and liquid is reduced to half.
  4. Serve on a bowl of steamed rice and top with beni-shoga if desired.

    Step 2
    Step 3

Step 4
Tsukimi Gyudon: Crack a fresh egg on top for a more adventurous version (my favorite).  This adds a creamy element to the flavour, similar to sukiyaki.
Gyudon tips:
(At step three) One of the keys to perfect gyudon is cooking time.  If it is undercooked, the flavour hasn't developed enough and the onions are sharp.  If it is overcooked, the onions will become too soft and the flavour too strong.

Hafu Film

Did you read Half Australian Shinobu, Half Japanese Jane (my memoirs on growing up half-Japanese in Australia)?  
Well, Megumi Nishikura, one of the filmmakers of Hafu Film came across it, and introduced me to something exciting happening in the world of Half-Japanese people.

Hafu is a documentary film about the experiences of mixed-Japanese people living in Japan.

Having never met another half-Japanese (outside my immediate family) until I was an adult, and having no half-Japanese friends in Australia, it was fascinating to read about half-Japanese people who have had similar experiences and feelings to my own.

And my experience of being half-Japanese IN Japan?  That's another whole story in itself.  Where do I start?  Oh great, I don't need to, they're making a film instead (^_^)

I'm really looking forward to seeing this film.
Here's a preview:
If you'd like to contribute to the making of Hafu Film, there are various thank-you gifts on offer including autographed DVD's of the film, or for very generous donations, having your name in the film credits as associate producer, etc.  Have a look here for more information.  
Images and video in this post are by Hafu Fillm.
  • Are you half-Japanese?  What are your thoughts and feelings about being hafu?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Soft Shell Crab Sushi

Here is my photo tutorial for how to make Soft Shell Crab Sushi (maki-zushi).
I don't make soft-shell crab sushi often, but it was specially requested.  To be honest, I've never eaten soft shell crab in Japan, but it's very popular as sushi (maki-zushi) in Western countries and other Asian countries.

1.  Place the sheet of nori rough-side-up on the bamboo rolling mat.
2.  Wet your hands with vinegar-water mixture and grab a handful of prepared sushi rice.  Shape the rice into an oblong shape.
3.  Starting from the left side, push the rice ball across the nori with the (index finger edge) edge of your right hand, spreading the rice thinly and evenly across the nori.  Vice versa if you're left handed. 
(I've just had right shoulder surgery and couldn't use my right arm so you can see me clumsily doing this backward here with my left hand)
Leave a 1.5 inch gap at the far-edge of the nori, and 1/2 inch gap at the near-edge.
 4.  Place fillings across the centre of the rice.  I've used Soft shell crab and cucumber.  I placed half a sheet of nori over the rice which also makes it easier to roll.  This is just another variation.  A smear of wasabi goes very well here too.
5.  Rolling:    My one piece of advice for the novice: Your thumb-action is very important here.  

5.1  Glide a wet finger over the far-edge of the nori.  (This is to hold it together when it's done.)
5.2  Pick up the near edge of the bamboo mat and nori with your fingertips.  With your fingertips, tuck the near-edge of nori over the fillings, at the same time using your thumbs to bring the sushi mat over the top.
5.3  Continue pushing over with your thumbs while gathering the bamboo mat with your fingers, to roll the sushi into a tight cylinder.  
5.4  Now that you have your cylinder of sushi, using the bamboo mat to shape it slightly squarely can make it tighter.
5.5  Slice with a freshly sharpened, wet knife, in a gentle sawing motion.
When i get around to it, I'll post about the other steps involved: 
How to Make Perfect Sushi Rice (Sushi-meshi)
How to Clean a Soft-Shell Crab
Tempura Recipe

One Dish Meals

Do you like easy?  I definitely like easy when it comes to making dinner.  
Here are a few of the one-dish-meal recipes posted so far.  
Click on any image to see the recipe.
Cream Stew
(I'll be adding more one-dish-meals to this page as they come)

Of the first eleven non-desert recipes that I've posted so far, eight just happen to be one-dish-meals.  I think this reflects on my personality and personal preference in cooking - I love doing things the easy way!

A typical Japanese meal consists of rice, miso soup and some kinds of o-kazu. (O-kazu means whatever meat/protein or vegetables that you have with your rice, for example grilled fish, pickled cucumber, tofu, salad, etc)
My mother wasn't interested in making miso soup plus three other dishes for each meal of the day, (maybe that's why she married an Australian?!) and most days, neither am I.

And so you've seen the first few months of Little Japan Mama have often featured one-dish-meals.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Shabu-Shabu Is Too Easy

Shabu-shabu has the image of a luxurious Japanese dinner party and yet, it can be made with not-so-expensive, everyday ingredients.  Here is our family's Shabu-shabu:

Shabu-shabu Recipe (Amounts written after ingredient are approximate for 2 people.  All vegetables are optional):

  • 5cm piece of kombu (kelp)
  • Goma-dare (Sesame Seed Dipping Sauce) (click for recipe)  and/or Ponzu
  • A bowl of steamed rice for each person 
  • 4 cups water
  • Beef, Paper-thin sliced,  300g 
  • Enoki Mushrooms,  150g     (Shimeji Mushrooms are also excellent)
  • Negi (shallot, spring onion), 1
  • Moyashi (Mung bean sprouts), 100g
  • Watercress
  • Carrot shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • Daikon shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • Hakusai (chinese cabbage, wombok), A few leaves
  • Atsu-age (Deep fried tofu), sliced thinly, 150g

  1. Boil water with Kombu in a wide flat saucepan (or deep frypan).  Place on a gas cooker on the table.
  2. Add some of each vegetable and tofu, in a separate spot in the pan.
  3. After a minute or two, each person adds meat as desired.
  4. Now it's time to eat, ach person dipping each cooked item in the Goma-dare (or Ponzu).

While wagyu would be the ultimate meat of choice for shabu-shabu, in our family (in Australia) we enjoy whatever thinly sliced beef we can buy locally.  Below is a photo of the "shabu-shabu" beef at a local Korean butcher.  It was about $4 for 300g.

4-Step Shabu-Shabu:
Step 1:  Buy your meat already sliced:
Step 2:  Cut the vegetables and tofu:

Step 3: Get your Goma-dare from the refrigerator: (make a large batch - it keeps well for months in the fridge!)
Step 4:  Put the kombu in the pot of boiling water and add some vegetables, meat and tofu. all you have to do is enjoy it, because everyone cooks their own.
(Don't you love not having to cook cook dinner!)
 ❤Enjoy your Shabu-shabu❤

Goma-dare Recipe (Sesame Sauce for Shabu-shabu)

Goma-dare means "Sesame Seed Dipping Sauce".  It is the most popular sauce for Shabu-Shabu.
We love shabu-shabu so we go through a lot of Goma-dare.  It's too expensive to buy so often in Australia, and home-made has a richer sesame flavour, so I like to make it myself.
Having experimented with Goma-dare several times, sometimes just adding ingredients (tekitou), sometimes using various recipes, and here are my two best tasting versions:

Goma-dare Recipe #1 (Super Quick and Easy)

1 cup freshly toasted Sesame Seeds
1/3 cup Japanese Soy Sauce
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup vinegar
1/2 cup water (boiled and cooled)
1 tsp Aka-miso paste
2 tsp Dashi-no-moto (dashi powder)
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp salt
  1. Place sesame seeds in food processor.  Process until ground seeds don't move any more.  Ensure that all the seeds are very well ground.
  2. Add sesame oil, miso paste, dashi-no-moto, sugar and vinegar.  Blend until smooth.  Add all other ingredients, blend until smooth.
  3. Pour into a clean glass jar.  Keeps for months if refrigerated.  Shake before use.
UPDATE 2013.10.25  I now blend in about 1/2 cup Japanese mayonnaise at the end of step 2.  It makes the goma dare creamy and more like the commercial brands.  Or, if I want to use it as goma dressing, I blend in about 1 cup mayonnaise.  
I don't use dashi-no-moto or miso paste anymore.  Instead, I add an extra 1 tsp salt.  (I'm trying to avoid MSG where possible)
And by the way, I don't even have time for cooking Goma Dare Recipe 2 (below).  Easy is good.

Goma-dare Recipe #2 (A little more involved)
1 cup freshly toasted Sesame Seeds
1/3 cup Japanese Soy Sauce
1/4 cup Mirin
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup vinegar
1/3 cup water
5g katsuo-bushi (Shaved dried bonito)
1 tsp Akamiso (Miso Paste, red miso if possible)
2 tsp Dashi-no-moto (dashi powder)
1 1/2 tsp salt
  1. Place water, mirin and katsuo-bushi in a small saucepan and bring to the boil.  Simmer 5 min.  Strain out the katsuo-bushi and return to the saucepan.
  2. Add soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, stirring occasionally as you bring it to the boil.  Dissolve akamiso into the liquid.  Simmer another 1 min.  Set aside to cool.
  3. Place sesame seeds in food processor.  Process until ground seeds don't move any more.  Ensure that all the seeds are very well ground.
  4. Pour soy sauce mixture from saucepan into the food processor.  Process until well combined.
  5. Pour into a clean glass jar.  Keeps for months if refrigerated.  Home-made Goma-dare will separate when stored, so give it a good shake before using.

Click image to go to Shabu-shabu Recipe

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tenkasu - Ingredient Profile

Here tenkasu is sprinkled into takoyaki
Tenkasu look like rice bubbles cereal but they have nothing to do with puffed rice!
You buy them in a small packages about 5x8 inches (usually clear plastic, bag-type, so you can see what's inside)

Tenkasu is made by pouring Tempura batter into hot oil.  The batter separates into droplets which puff in the oil.  It is then scooped off, drained and packaged.

Unlike rice bubbles, Tenkasu holds it's shape and stays crisp even when wet.

It is added to Takoyaki to add volume which won't shrink as the takoyaki cools.  This allows for perfectly round takoyaki.

It is sometimes added to Okonomiyaki.

How to Make Crisp Golden Takoyaki (Part 1)

Yes, this is home made Takoyaki:
Here they're served in a boat I got from Gindaco.
Here is the secret method to get your takoyaki balls crispy, golden and perfectly round, just like  Gindaco!

(for if you can get Takoyaki mix) 
  • Takoyaki-no-ko
  • water (as per packet instructions)
  • eggs (as per packet instructions)
  • Boiled Octopus, sliced up
  • oil
  • a handful of tenkasu
  • finely sliced negi (shallots)
  • sakura-ebi (tiny dried prawns), optional
  • beni-shoga(red pickled ginger) (we didn't use it this time)
On top:
  • Takoyaki Sauce (or Okonomi or Tonkatsu sauce)
  • Japanese Mayonnaise
  • Katsuobushi
  • Ao-nori
1. To make the batter: Stir together Takoyaki-no-ko, water and eggs (and sakura-ebi and beni-shoga if you have them)
The mixture will be like a thin milky soup.
♡ ♡ ♡