Last weekend, my dear friends, my partner and I wandered into the forest, for what’s become an annual chanterelle picking excursion. It’s a wonderful way to connect with nature. Hiking, breathing in the freshest air, foraging for food and taking photographs… my very favourite things all came together, and it was indeed a nice way to welcome the beginning of autumn.
Omelette with Chanterelle Mushrooms
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 heaping cups chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and patted dry
4 eggs, room temperature
¼ cup 2% or whole milk
A few flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and olive oil in a small (9 inch), well-seasoned frying pan or non-stick pan over medium high heat.
Sauté the garlic until it gives off an appetizing aroma, then add the mushrooms and continue to sauté until mushrooms become soft and juice becomes thick. Adjust with salt and pepper, and transfer to a plate. Wipe off the pan, return it to the stove, and keep warm over medium high heat.
Whisk the eggs, milk, half the parsley and pinch of salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Melt the other half of the butter, making sure that the pan is covered, edge to edge, with the butter.
Pour the egg mixture into the hot frying pan, swirling to the edges of the pan. Turn the heat down to low, cover and cook until the edges of the eggs separate from the pan cleanly, but the inside is not completely cooked.
Return the mushrooms to the half circle of the omelette, spreading evenly and closing the other half over top. Turn the heat off, cover and continue to cook for a couple more minutes.
Cut in half and transfer to individual plates. Garnish with the rest of the parsley. Serve warm with crusty bread.
The truth is, making a post on my blog requires some organization skills on my part. Each vegetable variety that we grow in our garden has its prime period, and arranging the timing to harvest, cook, photograph and write all about the abundance isn’t that easy! So once a particular kind of vegetable(s) needs to be harvested, I have to pick it and go all the way to the end of the journey to finally create a post about it. However, quite often, I have found myself starting to gather the luscious food, down on my knees in the dirt, and get struck by an idea to write about; after a series of trials, errors and minor adjustments (both in cooking and photographing), my recipe/ post is finally complete. Sometimes, I don’t have the same vegetables left to do the second or third trial, so I just have to wait till the next season for the recipe!
Luckily, this dish has been in my repertoire for a long time. So there was no fuss adjusting the recipe, but I did have to finally write about it on paper, (it was previously embedded in my brain without a written recipe). Nikujaga literally means “meat potatoes,” and in Japanese cuisine it is often accompanied with a good bottle of sake, beer or wine as a starter. I bet if you ask 10 Japanese people to cook Nikujaga, you will get 10 different versions with 10 different flavours and finished textures. My recipe goes all the way back to when I was 20 years old, and is based on a recipe that I learned from my superior, Ms. Tsukazaki, who was an exceptional cook.
This recipe is excellent without meat, but you can add sliced beef, pork or, in a pinch, ground beef as you wish. The catch is to source the freshest potatoes and carrots that just came out of the field. Although Nikujaga is cooked all year round with stored vegetables, it’s a joy to taste the freshest produce. I remember my grandma was making it when the summer’s hot heat withdrew and the late evening light was shining on her in the kitchen. The good thing is it is super easy and all you need are good ingredients and a braiser!
Also written here is a “go to” recipe for when I have too many freshly picked beans in a short time. If you are interested in easy Japanese home cooking, it may be a good time for you to get a bottle of Japanese soy sauce, mirin and a tub of miso once and for all! These dishes are some of the simplest options for your next Japanese-themed dinner party!
I like using small potatoes, as they keep their shapes after being braised for a long time.
3 heaping cups starchy potatoes (or Yukon Gold), cut into 1 inch cubes if big
2 cups carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
A few young green beans, cut into 1 inch lengths
2 large onions, cut into 8 wedges
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup sake or dry white wine
1 cup water or dashi stock (it will be tasty even without dashi stock)
1 tablespoon soba sauce (store bought or homemade, or none if you don’t have any)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
Wash the potatoes well. You can peel the potatoes, but it´s not necessary. Do the same for the carrots. Pat the vegetables dry using a tea towel, etc., and remove the moisture completely.
Place the oil in a large braiser over high heat. When the oil is smoking hot, fry the potatoes until they become golden, making sure all the sides are nicely coloured, for about 10 to 12 minutes. This will help the potatoes keep their shapes during and after braising, rather than having them break into pieces.
Pour over the sake or wine, still on high heat, and let the alcohol dissipate for a few minutes; let the potatoes soak up the liquid.
Add carrots and onions, and sauté until onions become transparent and carrots are completely coated with oil. If you are adding meat, follow the carrots and onions, and just sauté until the meat turns its colour.
Add water and bring to a boil; in the meantime, skim the scum as necessary. Turn the heat down to medium low, then add the soba sauce and sugar, and cook for a few minutes covered. Lastly, add the soy sauce and braise it covered, until the potatoes are tender. If you run out of the liquid before the potatoes become tender, add a little bit of water at a time. This is the reason why I adore my braiser, whose lid recycles all the goodness back to the vegetables so it never runs out of the juice!
Add the green beans and continue to cook, covered, until the beans are tender, for a few minutes.
To finish, add the mirin and braise for a few more minutes, covered. If you use sweet wine, the finished dish tends to be on a bit on the sweeter side. So this is the time to adjust with a little bit more soy, if you wish. If you do, braise for a couple more minutes.
Now you might have thick starchy sauce, not clear liquid, and this is what you want to have. Serve hot.
Green Beans with Miso Beef Sauce
A big bunch of green beans, ends removed (I used Fortex, the French pole beans)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small knob ginger, finely chopped
2 chili peppers, such as Thai Dragon, seeds removed and finely sliced in rounds
½ onion, finely chopped
1 lb ground beef
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons miso, preferably aka (red) miso or hatcho miso
3 tablespoons sake or dry white wine
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
Combine the sugar, soy, miso and sake in a small mixing bowl, and mix well. Set aside.
Boil water in a large pot that can accommodate the beans. In the meantime, heat a large frying pan over medium high heat and warm both oils.
Stir-fry the garlic, ginger and peppers in the pan until it gives off a pleasing aroma, and the garlic becomes slightly golden. Then, add the onion and continue to sauté until the onion is transparent. Add the beef and sauté, and when the beef’s colour has turned, add the miso mixture and continue to sauté to let the beef soak up the sauce, for about 5 to 7 minutes.
In the meantime, add some salt to the boiling water and cook the beans until tender. Drain well and set aside.
Combine the cornstarch and water in a small mixing bowl, and stir until emulsified. Add to the sizzling hot beef mixture. If you find your beef mixture is on the drier side, add the cornstarch mixture a tablespoon at a time and see if you need more to meet the saucy consistency.
Serve the beans on a large platter and pour over the beef sauce. Serve warm.
My intention to make apricot lavender jam this summer quickly shifted when I saw the young peaches forming on the tree that was given to me by one of my gardener friends when it was a baby tree, 4 years ago.
When she offered me the tree that emerged from her compost pile, I hesitated but was interested in finding out the result of this experimentation. So with open arms, I welcomed it and nestled it in a wooden box with plenty of humus. I then placed its planter between the south wall of the house and the property fence, where heat radiates all day long.
I never, ever imagined that we would end up harvesting 80 peaches (and counting) this year, when we had a grand total of only had 4 peaches last year. I cannot tell you how pleased I have been with the result! We have been happily eating the raw, sliced fruit, accompanied with a generous dollop of yogurt plus sprinkles of flax seed meal and chia seeds, as a healthy breakfast. In the effort not to lose the fruits, I had to make preserves, and decided to pack them with summer’s remnant: rosemary and ginger. We also prepared peach galettes for a spontaneous gathering when our friends suddenly decided to come by!
Although my peach tree seems to be doing great, I still don’t recommend that you sprout the pit of an organic peach that you bought from the store. As a practical tip for small urban gardens, I strongly suggest that you source your fruit trees from local nurseries where they carry varieties suitable to the microclimate of your region. Plant fruit trees with desirable traits such as hardiness, disease/ pest resistance, etc. that are grafted onto rootstocks that also have dwarf characters; such precautions will help ensure the proper, healthy growth of your trees. Indeed, if you follow this advice you should reap the benefits of more production, which results in greater efficiency and longevity of the tree. Take it from me, it is very disappointing when trees perform poorly after a few years of lavishing them with TLC, and even worse when you eventually, have to eliminate them due to diseases, etc. *FYI, as a final note, do not plant the grafted part below the soil as the top part of the tree can grow roots and revert back to the original size!
Peach Rosemary Jam
When paired with Brie and smeared on nutty crackers, this jam makes a great appetizer or fancy snack.
Makes 6 x 250ml jars
10 cups peaches, crushed (I throw it into a Vitamix for 5 sec.)
1 apple, unpeeled, cut into wedges including the core, then roughly chopped
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
A few small knobs of ginger, peeled
2 teaspoons fresh or dried rosemary, finely chopped
6 cups granulated sugar or more*
A pinch of salt
* Depending on the amount of juice you get from peaches. The rule of a thumb is that the proportion of the sugar in preserves needs to be 60 % or higher in order to prevent it from spoiling.
Sterilize the jars. I immerse the jars in a large pot filled with water and bring it to a roiling boil for at least 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Remove the hot jars, draining well, and then place on a baking sheet in the oven set to the lowest possible temperature (in my case, 170F) until the jam is ready to be poured. You can flip the jars once to ensure even drying. By the time the jam is ready, the jars will be nicely dried. Sterilize the lids in boiling water and dry as well.
Place a small plate in a refrigerator (you are going to use this in order to test the setting point later). Place the peach, apple and lemon juice in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, and bring to a boil. Make a few slits in the knobs of ginger and add to the pot along with the rosemary. Simmer until apple pieces are soft. Skim off the scum as needed.
Add the sugar, stir to dissolve and bring to a boil. Add the salt, and boil rapidly without stirring until the setting point is reached, for about 10 to 15 minutes. Test the setting point by dropping a small amount of the jam onto the cooled plate. Let sit for a bit, then using your fingertip, gently push the jam. If it crinkles, it is set. In order to make smooth-textured jam, I removed apple pieces and peels from the jam (and served it with sharp cheddar cheese next day). The apple was needed for its high pectin content to help the peach jam to set.
Remove the jam from the heat. Remove the jars from the oven. Pour the hot jam into the warm sterilized jars and seal tightly. Store in a cool, dry place and use up within 12 months or so. Once open, the jam should be refrigerated.