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Chocolate Cake, 1933 style

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"All About Baking", published in 1933, is an excellent primer on baking with lots of lost wisdom about how to prepare pans, to set baking times, and to perfect mixing techniques in the days before electric mixers. Doing this with a hand mixer makes it so very easy. Creaming butter by hand is a good workout I am happy to avoid.

This recipe produces a light crumb with a nice chocolate flavor. I frosted mine with buttercream and topped it with coconut but the recipe suggests a chocolate fudge frosting, which I'm sure would be delicious.

Chocolate Fudge Loaf
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 ounces melted baking chocolate
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 325F /160C and prepare an 8x8x2 pan (or two round pans) with butter on the bottom and halfway up the sides, plus baking paper cut to fit the bottom. 

Sift the cake flour once, measure, then add baking powder and salt and sift together three times. In a separate bowl, cream butter thoroughly, add sugar gradually, and cream together until light and fluffy. Beat the egg separately until it is light and foamy, then add to the butter and sugar mixture. Beat well. Add the melted chocolate and blend until the color is even.

Add flour alternately with milk, a small amount at a time. Beat after each addition until smooth. Add vanilla. Spread batter into pan and bake for 1 hour.

Allow the cake to cool a bit, then turn out of pan to finish cooling. Frost with your choice of icing.

Jaljeera, Cumin Lemonade

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While teaching a school program on a hot day in India, the kids and I were served a drink I'd never tasted before. It's a sweet, salty, and spicy lemonade called jaljeera. I'm in love; this is the best thing for a hot day, whether it's a Tokyo heatwave or a dusty playground.

There are many variations on jaljeera, but all include sugar, salt, lemon, and cumin. I have two recipes for it; one quick and basic; the other more flavorful. Vary proportions to suit your own taste;  prefer mine not too sweet and the recipes reflect that. Other flavours you can add to jaljeera include tamarind, amchar (dried mango powder), cardamom, and even a sprinkle of chat masala to garnish. 

Quick Jaljeera
serves 1

1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
250 ml water

Squeeze the lemon into a glass, stir in cumin powder, salt and sugar. Add water. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Spicy Green Jaljeera
serves 4-6

1 lemon, juiced
2 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp whole black pepper 
2 tsp salt
4 tsp sugar
1/2 cup mint leaves
1/4 cup cilantro (optional)

Lightly toast the cumin and fennel seeds. Grind together all the seasonings until a paste forms. Add in the lemon juice. This mixture can be saved in the fridge. To make the drink, stir together 1 Tbsp of the seasoning in 1 cup of water and adjust as desired.

Curried Mushroom Toast

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Back from India, Tod is perfecting his fusion Indian recipes. Here is this morning's brunch - a creamy curried mushroom sauce over toast. We've made this before, but this time Tod's included some of the more esoteric Indian spices. The result is a rich, full-bodied flavour. If you don't have these spices and seasonings at home, you can pare the recipe to turmeric, garlic & ginger which is simple and tasty on its own.

Tod's Curried Mushroom Toast
serves 2

1 Tbsp dried kasoori methi (fenugreek leaf)*
3 curry leaves, dried or fresh
1-2 Tbsp butter or ghee
1/2 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 tsp cumin seed
pinch hing
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, minced
20-30 button mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup cream
1 tsp turmeric
salt and pepper to taste

Soak kasoori methi and dried curry leaves in hot water. Melt butter or ghee in skillet over high heat. Drop in cumin seeds, black mustard seed, and hing. When the seeds pop, put in the garlic and ginger.Reduce heat. Add the mushrooms and after they start to brown a little, sprinkle in some of the soaking water to help steam them. As they cook down, add turmeric, methi and curry leaf. When the mushrooms are cooked, pour in cream until you like the consistency of the sauce. Finish with salt and cracked black pepper. Serve over toast or use as a filling in a sandwich toaster.

* If you don't have fenugreek leaf, use a pinch or two of fenugreek seeds along with the cumin and mustard seed.

Scorching Orange and Mint Salad

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We had a strange assortment of leftovers from a party, including a bag of oranges, a bunch of mint and and a whole jar of black olives. A friend recently returned from a trip to South America gifted us some unidentified dried chiles. This must be a salad! The addition of cilantro and salt rounded it out. We considered adding red onion or feta - maybe next time - but the salad stood well without them.

Tod says, "The whole is more than the sum of its parts. Each ingredient contributes its own unique character and the salad wouldn't be the same without any of them. The chiles contribute a shocking level of capsaicin but the mouth quickly grows used to it and, in fact, craves more. Just the level of spiciness that addicts seek out. The oranges are all sweetness, the olives provide a roundness, the cilantro is a high note and the mint a cool relief."

There's no particular recipe, but we used two oranges, a big handful each of mint and cilantro, a tablespoon of sliced black olives and a 10 cm soaked dried chile snipped into shreds.


Gyoza Variations

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I don't know why this didn't occur to us sooner, but gyoza wrappers work well with non-traditional fillings. We've been experimenting and two of our favorites are spinach and feta (gyozakopita), and potato with sauerkraut (pieroza). You can use your favorite spanikopita or pierogie recipe, or try ours.

Gyozakopita Filling

1 onion
1 clove garlic
2 bunches spinach
1 Tbsp dried dill
handful of fresh aromatic herbs, like oregano and thyme
pinch nutmeg
50 gr feta cheese, crumbled

Chop the onion & garlic into small pieces. Saute until golden. Rinse and shred the spinach; add to the pan with the onion and allow to cook down. Remove from the heat and drain the excess water from the pan. Stir in the herbs, nutmeg and cheese. Season to taste. Allow to cool.

Pieroza Filling

2 large potatoes
1/2 cup sauerkraut
1/4 cheddar or cottage cheese (optional)
salt & pepper

Steam or boil the potatoes and mash them. Add the sauerkraut and optional cheese. Season to taste. Allow to cool. 

Assemble & Fry

15-20 wrappers per filling

Spoon a bit of filling onto the gyoza wrapper. Wet your finger and run it around the edge before folding the wrapper in half and fluting the curved edge. Make all the gyoza before you start frying.

In a fry pan, heat some oil and place a layer of gyoza close together. When the bottom of the gyoza are crispy and brown, add some water and cover with a lid to steam them. Tod likes to turn them to get two crispy brown sides before steaming them, but turning is optional. When the water evaporates, remove the lid and let the gyoza fry a bit longer in any remaining oil. 

Plate and serve. We like fried onions to top the pieroza and regular gyoza sauce (soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil) for the gyozakopita. Serve with a culturally appropriate salad.

Sardine & Tomato Risotto

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This is one of Tod's inspired creations the fuses Japanese stock with a classically Italian dish. It fits into the veg-aquarian mode of eating and is so full of umami that all you will need to accompany it is a salad.

Sardine & Tomato Risotto
serves 2

20 g dried konbu
1 cup katsuobushi flakes
1 liter water
1 onion, minced
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 T olive oil
160 g risotto rice
1 tin sardines in spicy tomato sauce
1/2 tin crushed tomatoes 
1 bunch spinach, chopped
100 g Parmesan cheese, grated
chopped parsley for garnish

Make a simple dashi stock by heating cold water and konbu until boiling. Remove from heat, add katsuobushi flakes. When the fish flakes sink, strain the broth and pour into a clean pan and simmer on very low heat.

Heat 2 T of oil in a large skillet. Saute the onion and garlic until soft. Push to one side. Add 1 T oil and gently saute the rice on low heat until the grains change color stirring as needed.

Begin pouring the dashi into the rice and onions one ladle at a time. Allow the rice to absorb the liquid, then add another ladle. This process takes 20 - 30 minutes. When the rice is nearly cooked, add the sardines and tinned tomatoes, stirring to combine. Adjust with more dashi (or hot water if you have used all the dashi) until the rice is completely cooked. Add the most of the cheese and the chopped spinach and allow it to wilt.

Serve with a sprinkling of cheese and parsley.

Honey Gingerbread Cookies

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When we were travelling in Prague and Poland at Christmas a few years back, we fell in love with lebkuchen and pirniki, German and Polish gingerbreads. They are hard to find in Tokyo, so this year I decided to try making some myself. There is a bewildering variety of European gingerbread so settling on a single recipe was impossible. I selected two and they are both quite delicious. I'm republishing them here with my adaptations so that I can come back to them next Christmas.

Honey Lebkuchen
makes 6 dozen squares
(original recipe:

1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1.5 cups honey
1 T cinnamon
1 t cloves
1/4 t coriander
1/4 t cardamom
1/4 t ginger
1/4 t allspice
pinch nutmeg
5 cups white flour
5 t baking powder
2.5 cups almonds powder/flour
1/2 cup ground hazelnuts
3 T raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, chopped
50g candied orange peel, chopped 

1 .75 cups powdered sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
blanched, skinless whole almonds (optional)

Cream eggs and sugar. Drizzle in honey (if it is thick, gently heat to liquid), stirring to blend. Mix in flour, spices, baking powder, nut flours. Fold in chopped nuts and fruits. Turn the dough onto a parchment paper on your baking tray. Press or smooth the dough to about 2 cm thick. 

Bake at 150C/300F for about 40 minutes.

Mix the powdered sugar and lemon juice, adjusting with water if needed to create a thick liquid consistency. Spread the glaze evenly over the gingerbread while still warm. Decorate with blanched almonds. Cut into squares when cool.

Store in an airtight container. The flavours develop with time, so doing this in advance is a great idea.

Torun Pirniki
makes several dozen
(original recipe:

300 g honey
60 g butter
60 g sugar
1 t coriander
1 t cardamom
1/2 t cinnamon
pinch cloves
pinch ginger
3 t baking powder
50 g almond flour
370 g while flour
1 egg yolk

Gently heat the butter, honey and sugar until the butter melts. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Combine dry ingredients. Pour in the honey mixture. Add the egg yolk. Mix thoroughly. Roll out to 1/4" thickness and cut with cookie cutter. Bake at 170C/350F for 7 - 8 minutes or until golden brown.

Glaze with the same lemon glaze as above or dip and drizzle with chocolate, ganache, or glaze.

Store in an airtight container.

High Fat, High Yum Shepherd's Pie

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This weekend, Tod made an incredible shepherd's pie. It's an adaptation of one from Alton Brown and it makes the best I've ever eaten. The reason it was so good is the large quantity of lamb fat and cream in it.  If you are afraid of fat, this is not the dish for you. Otherwise, it is truly delicious and like most casserole things it is even better the second day.

It seems mostly adaptable to a variety of foodways. If you are gluten-free, use something other than wheat flour in the roux. If you are paleo, use sweet potatoes instead of white.  If you are vegetarian, pick a different recipe.

High Fat Shepherd's Pie
serves 4

1 large onion
1 large carrot
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
500 g lamb mince
2 Tbsp chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, savoury, thyme, etc)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
water or stock

5 potatoes
1/4 cup cream or a bit more
1 egg yolk

While you are preparing the filling, also boil the potatoes, mash them and stir in cream and egg yolk until they are smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Finely mince the onion, carrot and garlic (a mandoline is perfect for this) and sauté in oil until the onions are translucent. Add the lamb and fry until the meat is cooked through and crumbled but not browned. At this point you are going to want to drain the fat, but don't! Sprinkle flour over the meat and onion mixture and stir until you have a glossy roux. How much flour will depend on how much fat is in teh pan. Ours was about 5 tablespoons. Let it cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to make sure the flour doesn't stick. Pour in a cup or two of liquid (how much will depend on the amount of roux you have). Season with Worcestershire and herbs. Allow the filling to simmer for a few minutes to thicken the gravy.

Pour the filing into a casserole dish. Spoon the potatoes on top and smooth across the filling. Bake at 190 for about 25 minutes or until the potatoes are browned.

Pesto Eggplant Bake

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recipe-thursday.jpgThis is a variation of a favorite recipe, Baked Eggplant Parm, that I blogged about in 2010. The original has been a staple of our dinners ever since but I think this variation is just as delicious. It came about while I was visiting Heather in Utsunomiya. Her garden harvest while I visited was a lot of eggplant and a pile of fresh tomatoes of all different varieties. She'd just made a huge pile of pesto from her basil. What would we do with it all? Obvious choice!

Pesto Eggplant Bake
serves 4

3/4 cup panko (bread crumbs)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp olive oil

6 Japanese eggplants (~6 cups), cut into cubes (if using US eggplants, peel them first)
2 cups vine ripened tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup pesto
1 huge clove of garlic, thinly sliced

1 whole milk buffalo mozzarella, sliced into matchsticks
100 g feta cheese, crumbled

Combine the panko, parmesan, and oil until you have a nice, even crumb. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine everything else except the mozzarella, feta and crumbs. Toss well to coat, then stir in half the crumbs. 

Spread into a 9x13 baking dish or large nabe. Sprinkle with remaining crumbs. Bake at 180C for about 40 minutes. You may wish to cover the pan with foil or a lid to steam the eggplant if it is a little tough.

Sprinkle with feta and fresh mozzarella and bake until the cheese is toasted (10 -15 minutes). Let rest for ten minutes before serving. Is even better the second day.

Ice Cream Fruit Pie

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recipe-thursday.jpgSummer is full of fresh fruits at the peak of their juiciness. Peaches, plums, melons, and berries of all kinds fill the produce section. Irresistible and so delicious. But after a few weeks, fruit salads and smoothies wear thin. It's too hot to bake. What to do?

Make an ice cream pie with fresh fruit! You'll create a base with a graham cracker crust and vanilla ice cream. Keep it in the freezer and then top it with any variety of fruit you like and you'll have a cool, sweet dessert in five minutes. Creative and simple, my favorite sort of food.

Since it's just me and Tod here, we enjoyed the pie base four times over the course of a week or so. And since it was mostly fruit, it seemed like a relatively healthy indulgence.

By switching out the fruit and toppings, every serving was different. For dessert I fancied up the pie with extra toppings - whipped cream, sprinkles, chocolate. I even served it as part of weekend brunch by piling on the fresh fruit, then sprinkling it with dried fruits and nuts. Ice cream granola pie, anyone?

Ice Cream Fruit Pie
8 servings

1 graham cracker crust or 8 graham cracker tarts
400ml ice cream (vanilla, or whatever flavor you like with fruit)
chopped nuts, chocolate chips (optional)

You can make your own crust or use a store bought one. Homemade always tastes better, but my ice cream pie was inspired by seeing a Keebler crust in my Tokyo supermarket.

Allow the ice cream to thaw until it is spreadable, but not soupy. It goes a little faster if you stir as it thaws. Gently spread it in the pie crust. The ice cream layer will be about 2 cm (1") think. Not too much, you want room for fruit. Optionally sprinkle the ice cream with chopped nuts or chocolate chips. These add flavor and texture.

Cover the pie and freeze it for several hours. It will keep, covered for at least a week. 

When you are ready to serve your ice cream fruit pie, take it out of the freezer and allow it to thaw a bit while you prepare the fruit. Slice into the pie and lift the cuts onto serving plates. Return the pie to the freezer, then top your slices with fruit and whatever toppings you like.

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