Japanese home cooking may be pretty simple, but if you haven’t had the chance to witness the actual practice of preparing the dishes, there are always nuances that are lost when you just follow a recipe. This is often exacerbated by the inevitable inaccuracies of translation. How you work out what kind of starch is used to dust tofu for frying, gauge whether oil has been heated to the right temperature for deep frying tempura or whether you’ve wrapped your gyoza correctly is made so much clearer when an expert shows you how to do it and talks you through the process as you try your hand at it. It’s doubly useful when the person guiding you speaks the same language that you do. This is why Haru Cooking Class in Kyoto is such a gem of a find.
When my toddler, T, had his first taste of this roll cake his wee face broke into a wide smile that lit up his eyes and entire face. Like him, I can’t seem to get enough of this light-as-a-feather roll cake. Asian incarnations of the Swiss roll are decidedly lighter than their European forebear. The Japanese, in particular, have catapulted the roll cake (ロールケーキ or ro-ru keiki) into another stratosphere. Their roll cakes tend to be lightly, rather than assertively sweetened. And they have a soft, delicate texture and moist, fine crumb I absolutely love. I was heartbroken when the Arinco stall in the basement of Ion where I had indulged in many a salted caramel roll cake air-flown from Japan closed down.
My French family is full of ancestral tradition, and when I visit they always seem to pull out an old recipe that to them seems the epitome of simplicity, and to me seems exquisite and mysterious. The Broyé du Poitou – an old, old recipe for a buttery biscuit coming from the Poitou region of western France – is one such little treasure.
Whether I’m making chawanmushi (茶碗蒸しwhich broadly means ‘steamed in a teacup’ but specifically refers to Japanese steamed savoury custard), zheng shui dan (蒸水蛋 or steamed eggs), egg tofu or a savoury custard of my own invention, my base ratio for the custard ingredients is 1 egg to 100ml liquid. With this master recipe, the custard consistently retains a meltingly delicate quiver that possibly accounts for its comforting, nursery-food like qualities. And it takes just 20 minutes to steam.
When I was pregnant, people were constantly asking me to imagine what kind of child I was going to have. “What if he doesn’t have all of his limbs?” my fellow pregnant friends would worry. “What if he is ugly?” others would wonder. But for me, the most troublesome and scary thought of all was: “what if he doesn’t like food?!”
Two years ago, I bought a Belgian waffle iron purely on the strength of Molly’s post recommending two outstanding waffle recipes, Marion Cunningham’s yeast-raised one and the Food Network’s Waffles of Insane Greatness (WIG). Prior to reading Molly’s post, I had never considered making waffles at home. Waffles weren’t even high on my list of favourite breakfast (or dessert) dishes. Today, waffles are permanent fixtures on my breakfast repertoire.
I have probably used this Dutch baby recipe every week since I first received a copy of Herbivoracious, fellow blogger Michael Natkin’s vegetarian cookbook, a few months ago. As T’s appreciation for food gradually extends beyond purees and other soft foods, I have amassed a range of breakfast recipes that appeal to both T and CH. Michael’s Dutch baby ticks a number of vital boxes for me.
I didn’t attempt to make my own yoghurt until I had our son, T. We always had some in our fridge, but I guess it never occurred to me that it would be worth the effort to make my own. Prompted by a desire to minimize T’s exposure to additives as he started on his first solids, I tried a recipe I found in a baby food cookbook that was unfortunately a dismal failure. But Google, combined with a mother’s obsessive compulsion can be a powerful thing. The outcome: the unearthing of a recipe from Harold McGee—master of culinary science and precision. A version of it (see below) now resides in my mobile phone.
This is one of those recipes that I reckon works for both papa and toddler. I’m constantly trying to find snacks for T (and CH) that aren’t packed with sugar. These savoury madeleines from Patricia Wells—inspired by Anne-Sophie Pic of the century-old Maison Pic in Valence, no less—fit the bill. They are an easy-to-make treat that T can’t get enough of.