Sunday, August 11, 2013

Japanese Cookery Workshop by Junko Hamilton

Yesterday morning I attended a Japanese Vegetarian Cooking Workshop by Junko Hamilton at The Heritage Community Garden in Donnybrook. I mean, how could I resist this? Delicious homemade veggie Japanese food, using some of the produce from a fantastic organic urban garden! Just amazing. A really nice group of people showed up to learn from Junko, some of whom had never tried making Japanese food themselves, some that had but wanted to learn more, serious foodies, veggies and non-veggies alike!

Junko started off by explaining the importance of Umami in Japanese cooking. It's the 5th taste that our tongue senses after sweet, sour, bitter and salty and it's what makes Japanese food taste so good. Junko then showed us 2 basics recipes that we can add to any dish for an authentic Japanese taste, her "Mammy" sauce and homemade Kombu Dashi (seaweed water or stock). These were then used in a variety of sauces and dressings that we would have later on for our lunch.

We took a break then from the kitchen and were shown around the beautiful sunny garden by Jean Burtchaell, the head gardener, along with Kevin Corr. The Victorian garden was left idle until about a year a ago when Jean and Kevin took it on and transformed it in an amazing organic urban farm. The amount they've done in a year is staggering, growing amazing fruits and veggies like: berries, apples, pears, rhubarb, a huge variety of salad leaves, wild flowers, kales, kohl rabi, courgettes, aubergines, carrots, pumpkins, tomatoes, onions, corn, chards, cabbages, beans and peas, herbs, komatsuna, leaf beat, pak choi...I could go on and on! It's just amazing. We harvested some lovely yellow corgettes, purpley-pink kohl rabi, a few carrots and a big head of pak choi and headed back into the kitchen. 1

Junko then showed us 4 dishes using all of the gorgeous produce including Shira-ae (a delicious fresh tofu and vegetable dish), Tikikomi-Gohan (a Japanese style pilaf), Umezu picked kohl rabi and aubergine and courgette with sweet miso paste. The sauces made earlier were also used to dress tender vegetables and salads. We took all the delicious food back out into the garden and enjoyed it around the picnic table chatting and enjoying the sunshine.

I would highly recommend Junko's workshop, she was a wonderful teacher and it was a really relaxed and enjoyable afternoon. The food was just incredible, everybody went back for seconds and we all were excited to make the dishes at home ourselves.

Junko is hosting another Japanese Vegetarian Workshop at her home in Blackrock on Thursday 22nd of August from 5.30pm-8.30pm. If you'd be interested in learning more about fantastic homemade Japanese food, go to her Facebook page for more details on this soon.

Also to find out more about The Heritage Community Garden go to their Facebook page too.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

My Perfect Loaf of Bread

Making your own bread is so rewarding and once you start it becomes a little bit addictive. Also once you taste how delicious still-warm-from-the-oven bread tastes, you'll never want to eat a bought loaf again. Here's what you need:

450g of strong bread flour (organic really is best in my opinion)
7g (1 sachet) of dried fast action yeast
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 (heaped) teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil or 1oz of unsalted butter
About 300ml of warm water 

Yeast loves sugar but hates salt, so it's really important to keep them away from each other for as long as possible until everything is combined. I always start off by putting the yeast and sugar into the mixing bowl 1st before adding the flour. Then add the oil, salt and water. This gives the yeast the best chance of not being killed by the salt. Don't be afraid of the salt though, without it you'd have a very bland bread and no one wants that!

Although my recipe says about 300ml of warm water, it really depends on the type of flour you use and the temperature around you. If it's a very warm and dry day you may need more water, likewise if it's a very humid or wet day you may need less. The more bread you make the easier this is to gauge. Dough that is too wet or too dry will not make a good loaf, you have to find the right balance by feeling the dough (although it is better to have a dough a bit on the wet side than overly dry). Add about 3/4 of the water and see what the consistency is like, it's easy to add more but not to take it away.

Once your dough is at the right consistency, it's time to knead! There is no right or wrong way to knead bread, it's just about moving the dough until it is smooth and consistent. I've made a short video of how I knead, I stretch the dough with 1 hand and pull it back with the other. You need to make sure you knead the bread enough or you won't have built up the gluten enough in the flour and you won't have as good a rise. 10 mins is usually long enough, I either listen to 3 songs on my iPod or watch a 10 min long video on YouTube, so I have a good idea of when 10mins is up.

Lightly oil the mixing bowl you've already used and leave the ball of dough to rise for 1 hour (I set an alarm so I don't forget) in a warm place away from drafts. I use a (new and unused) shower cap you get from hotels to cover the top of the bowl, but plastic wrap works perfectly well too. After the hour you need to knock the dough back by giving it a quick knead for a minute or two, this will get rid of the bigger air bubbles. Then tuck the dough in on itself and make it into a sausage shape that will fit into a greased bread tin.

You then have to leave it rest again, this time only for a 1/2 hour or until the top of the dough has risen above the edges of the tin. During this time set the oven to 200C/ 390F. To give the dough a beautiful colour and appearance, brush the top with a eggy-wash (egg beaten with a bit of milk or water) and using a sharp knife, quickly makes 3 slashes on the top of the bread. This will allow steam to escape and make sure the bread doesn't crack at the sides. Then, get it straight into the oven and bake it for 35-40 mins until it has a lovely golden crust and when tapped sounds hollow.

Although very difficult, try leave it cool for an hour on a rack before cutting into it and enjoying one of the nicest breads you've ever eaten!