Ramen, Roppongi Travelling to Japan With a Toddler

Puddles and Ramen – Rainy Days in Roppongi

We had designated our second day in Japan as a rest day. We had planned to stay local and take it easy. The Gods of Weather reaffirmed our decision by providing conditions that ranged from London-style drizzle to full-blown downpour. Even with the less-than-ideal weather conditions, we were still able to have some fun. The highlights included:

The supermarket and the friendly local lady

We began our morning with a walk down the road to yet another local supermarket. We wanted to find the best (cheapest) places to buy fresh food and pre-packaged meals. At some point I will write a whole post dedicated to Japanese supermarkets and convenience stores, they are fascinating places to visit.

After some time perusing the shelves and trying to figure out exactly what we were buying, a little old Japanese woman appeared. She had a big smile on her face, and her gaze was fixed on Hannah. Emma did her best to exchange pleasantries with the lady and she seemed thrilled by the effort. She said several things to Hannah that we couldn’t quite understand, but the general impression that we were left with was that she thought Hannah was very cute.

Eventually the kind woman carried on with her shopping and we returned to our attempted food gathering. We had assumed that the old lady had gone home, because we had been taking our sweet time as we tried to understand labels.

While we were trying to work out the intricacies of Japanese sweets, a little head popped out from around a corner with a great big smile spread across its face. It was our new friend, back for one last look at Hannah. Hannah, in her usual was of communicating with everyone and everything (birds, cars, cats, buildings) waved. The lady was thrilled, and she walked right up to us. She held out her hand towards Hannah and asked her to shake hands. Hannah obliged by offering her hands and the two new friends had a lovely moment in which they shook hands and smiled at each other.

Satisfied, the little old lady turned and went on her merry way. Hannah waved her new friend off.

 

Roppongi Hills – raining, cats and dogs

The rain had forced us to seek shelter, so we braved the maze of Roppongi Hills once more in search of some dry-weather fun. We had vaguely seen what looked like a children’s playroom on our day 1 venture into the Roppongi Labyrinth, and we were aiming to find it once again.

I cannot stress how difficult a task that is. Roppongi Hills appears to have been designed to deliberately stop anyone from finding their way from one end to the other. On our first visit, at one point we spent a solid 20 minutes wandering around, only to find ourselves back at the exact point at which we had started.

Nevertheless, we had little option but to venture back in. The rain was pouring down and The Roppongi streets offer little in the way of shelter, which I found slightly surprising for a city which must experience a fair amount of rain.

At least we had some dry space in which Hannah could get out of the stroller and stretch her legs. We wandered along various corridors and took a few rides in lifts, all the while attempting to head in the vague direction of the play area.

It was while we were wandering along one of these corridors that we stumbled upon a place called Joker. Joker called its self a “Dog Hotel”. But it appeared to be a combination of a pet store and a grooming salon. The dog in the window was putting on a brave face as it received the most undignified of blow-dry’s, all of which Hannah found extremely fascinating.

 

Dog grooming Roppongi Hills
Where’s the dignity? Poor pooch

 

We ventured inside the pet store component of Joker and Hannah watched the tiny puppies play with each other. I think she probably could have happily stood there and watched the boisterous little animals play all day long. However, I decided it was time to go when one of the shopkeepers dropped a terrified-looking dachshund puppy in with the rest of the dogs, who was immediately set upon by the most rowdy puppy. It grabbed the dachshund by the ear and pulled hard.

We walked a little further down the path, only to discover that the next shop along was the cat version. This one had a window full of very active cats. Each one had its own little compartment. It didn’t seem like a lot of space, but the cats seemed fairly content with playing around in their own little space. I guess this is Tokyo – some of the human apartments probably aren’t much bigger!

We eventually found the children’s playroom, but by then it was time to find a place to each lunch, so we made a mental note of its location and decided to return later in the afternoon.

 

Discovering puddles

The abundant rain provided Hannah with an opportunity that she had not yet had at home – the opportunity to stomp in puddles.

The first step in a puddle, of course, was an accident. Hannah had simply walked along the path as usual, and happened to step in a pool of water. However, once she had discovered the pure joys of a puddle, there was no stopping her from finding every other puddle on the path.

 

Tokyo Tower, rain, Roppongi Hills
Tokyo Tower in the rain

 

Hannah now had eyes purely for the little pools of water. It didn’t matter if they were in the direction that we were heading, or off on a completely different tangent. It didn’t matter if there was an army of people marching between her and said puddle. Hannah would reach it with a dogged determination that has to be admired in someone who has been with us for a mere year and a half. Each puddle was met with a gleeful stomp as she ran through it. I was pleased that I had purchased her a pair of high top sneakers in the days before we left. They were much more heavy duty than her previous shoes.

Ramen, the food of Gods

We set off in the direction of a local diner that we had passed while walking through Roppongi the day before. As with most restaurants in Tokyo, big pictures on the windows made it obvious what sort of food we would find inside. This diner specialised in ramen noodles, just the ticket for a cold and rainy day.

 

Ramen, Roppongi, Tokyo, Japan
It tasted as good as it looks – perfect meal on a rainy day!

 

Up until this point, we had managed to get away with bringing Hannah’s meals with us from home when going to restaurants. We liked to know exactly what she was eating and control access to things like sugar and salt. In Japan, however, we had realised that we would have to let that practice slide. Hannah was finally going to eat what we ate in restaurants.

Immediately, Hannah’s eyes were opened to a whole new world of flavour. She took to it like a duck to water. Hannah slurped down ramen noodles, she demolished gyoza, and she ate half a bowl of fried rice. Hannah was most definitely a fan of the Japanese flavours, especially the salty, umami goodness. We may try to leave soy sauce for a while yet – I have the feeling she will try to drink it with a straw.

 

Gyoza, Roppongi, Tokyo, Japan
Gyoza – the best dumplings on earth!

 

We all felt good after a warming bowl of ramen. It was time to head home for a nap. Again, Hannah took to her sleeping arrangements well and she quickly fell asleep.

 

Making friends with the locals

In the afternoon we headed back to the indoor children’s playroom in Roppongi Hills. We found it without any problems, I was beginning to feel like I had the Roppongi Hills maze pretty well mapped.

We parked the stroller in the stroller parking bay (yes, it was clearly marked with white lines in the area outside the playroom) and entered. Hannah walked straight past the 0-2 room and headed in to play with the older kids. There she explored some movable cogs for a while, before quickly making friends with a local girl.

 

Roppongi Hills playroom
Hannah loved that car, so did her mate! You can see the stroller parked in the parking bay outside

 

Together they played in a little wooden car, the local girl drove and Hannah sat in the passenger seat. They made an adorable little pair as they sat and babbled away to each other, each in their toddler versions of their home languages. Yet, somehow they seemed to understand each other perfectly. They had a great time together.

After a thorough play we returned home for a simple meal of smoked salmon, French bread and picked vegetables. Delicious!

 

Chicken on a stick

We followed the usual bed time routine for Hannah, then Emma and I settled onto the couch for an evening of reading. After a little while, Emma declared that she was feeling a bit hungry. I agreed, so I decided to embark on a mission to the local 7/11, to find tasty treats.

As is the way in Tokyo, a convenience store is never more than two minutes away. I managed to communicate my desires by pointing and profusely apologising for my complete lack of basic communication skills. The kind man behind the counter was more than accommodating and he made sure they I got exactly what I wanted.

 

Chicken on a stick
So tasty, so easy to acquire.

 

What I wanted was two sticks of delicious chicken. One was a little spicy, both were excellent. I was home within five minutes flat, which is both impressive and terribly dangerous for my arterial health.

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Bolognese, wooden spoon Blog

World’s Worst Food Blogger – Bolognese

The World’s Worst Food Blogger series of posts is where I share my love of all things edible in a proudly non-Pinterest-worthy way. This particular post is all about the humble bolognese.

 

Firstly, If you are someone whose authentic Italian Nonna passed down a recipe for the perfect bolognese, then this post is not for you. I can’t compete with what you know and frankly, I’m a little bit jealous! This post isn’t about authentic, traditional food, it’s about quintessential Australian cooking – that is taking the best things from around the world and modifying them to suit your needs.

 

For me, the needs are simple. Something delicious, cheap, healthy, easy to make and able to be made in bulk. Something that can easily be frozen and taste just as good when it is defrosted. If those needs sound familiar to you, read on…

 

Ingredients – Bolognese

7 cloves of garlic

Olive oil

1.5kg lean beef mince

500g quality pork mince

Mixed herbs (to taste)

1 butternut pumpkin – finely grated

4 large zucchinis – finely grated

6 carrots – finely grated

2 jars passata

Salt (to taste)

The ingredients for this bolognese are fairly simple, and as I said before, cheap. After much experimenting, they are the ones that I have found to work best together to create a meaty-tasting bolognese that is actually 2/3rds vegetable. Feel free to experiment and tweak for yourself.

 

Equipment

1 large stock pot. And I mean large. It needs to hold approximately 7kg of ingredients. Alternatively, you can reduce the amount that you are cooking.

Sharp knives

Chopping board

Large wooden spoon

Food processor (optional)

Make sure that stock pot is large. It needs to hold approximately 7kg of ingredients. Alternatively, you can reduce the amount that you are cooking (but you will then have left for freezing into convenient and tasty instant meals). The food processor is optional. I discussed the merits of buying one in a previous post. In my opinion, for this kind of cooking, a food processor is a valuable tool to have. It dealt with close to 2kg or pumpkin in a matter of seconds. Overall it probably saved me about 20 minutes of preparation time.

Sharp knives are a must for any budding home cook. I would highly recommend acquiring one or two quality general-purpose knives (I was lucky enough to pick up a set of WÜSTHOF knives cheaply from a place that went out of business), but it’s also worth having a couple of ultra-cheap knives that you don’t mind abusing. I purchased a cleaver for $2 from a junk store over ten years ago. It’s by no means the best made knife around (Its plastic handle is warped from a dishwasher incident), but I keep it sharp and it’s perfect for peeling and chopping pumpkin.

 

Method

Bung the ingredients into the pot, in order, at the start of the day. Put a lid on it, turn the gas down low and let it do its thing. Stir and taste regularly and adjust seasoning to suit your tastes. Normally I wouldn’t add any salt, but a particularly sweet pumpkin meant that a tiny bit was needed to balance the flavours.

Additional benefits of starting early in the day include making the house smell amazing, and being able to sneak regular mouthfuls to ‘check the flavours’.

If you leave it for long enough, the kids won’t be able to tell just how veg-packed this bolognese is. All of that finely grated vegetable breaks down into a deliciously rich and tasty sauce.

Serve with pasta and a mountain of grated cheese.

After feeding the family until they are ready to explode, portion out the remaining food into freeze-able containers. This particular batch made 17 containers-worth (each container holding enough for 2 adults and one toddler). When you need a quick meal, simply boil some pasta, grate some cheese and microwave one of these bad-boys. Add a salad or some steamed veg for extra variety. The magic of this bolognese is that it somehow tastes even better when reheated.

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Breville Kitchen Wizz 8 plus, food processor Blog

World’s Worst Food Blogger – Shiny New Things (Food…

I like to think that I’m a fairly frugal kind of guy. I take pride in finding a deal and getting things as cheap as possible. Over time, I have learnt that this often means avoiding the very cheapest product available, as poor quality inevitably leads to premature failure and greater overall expense.

These days, I search high and low for the products that sit in that happy place between cost and build quality. I spend time reading reviews and, if I can, looking at the product in store to determine build quality. And if I see a bargain, I jump on it quickly.

Food Processor – a Necessity or Luxury?

Some things sit in the grey area between ‘necessary’ and ‘luxury’. One such kitchen appliance is the food processor. I had lived 30 years of my life just fine without one, so to call it a necessity is a stretch. However, like the dishwasher, once acquired it has proven to be a valuable tool. It is especially useful now that we have Hannah, as we try hard to provide her with as much home-made, natural food as possible. When our original (and very cheap) food processor died recently, I had to find a quality replacement, and quickly.

The Search for the Right Food Processor

I learnt that food processors come in two forms – Cheap and nasty, and expensive and good. While some of the cheaper versions looked okay, a multitude of bad reviews for each and every one that I looked at quickly turned me off them. I had already owned a cheap food processor, and while 4 years of service may be reasonable for the price that I paid, I now wanted something that could give me a solid decade of use.

As for the top of the range, I just couldn’t justify spending over $400 on a moderately used piece of equipment. To put things in perspective, that is what I recently spent on my new oven!

After much searching I finally stumbled upon a possible unit – The Breville Kitchen Wizz 8. This unit seemed to be based on the highly rated Kitchen Wizz 11 Plus, but with a few corners cut in order to reduce cost. The main differences appeared to be less metal and more plastic components, although on first glance it appears that the quality is still there where it matters most.

I was slightly hesitant to buy this unit, as a thorough search of the internet returned zero user reviews. I still can’t figure out why that is and it concerned me slightly. However, after comparing it side-by-side with its more expensive cousin, I was game enough to give it a go.

Breville, food processor, Kitchen Wizz 8 plus, Kitchen wizz 8
The Breville Kitchen Wizz 8

The Primary Purpose of a Food Processor

The main purpose of a food processor in my kitchen is to shred large amounts of vegetables, and to finely chop ingredients. The Kitchen Wizz 8 appears to be well-equipped to carry out these tasks. The direct-drive motor should be powerful enough for most tasks that I throw at it, while the shredding disk is solidly constructed. A stainless steel “Quad Blade” takes care of the chopping side of things and it seems sharp and robust. I plan to put each of those components through their paces shortly. I will report my findings in an in-depth review shortly.

quad blade, Breville, Kitchen Wizz 8, plus, food processor
Up close with one of the ‘Quad Blades’

The Gimmicks

Every appliance these days comes with secondary purposes. These are usually gimmicks, and I would never recommend buying a product based on these gimmicks. The Kitchen Wizz 8 is no different. It has a couple of attachments that I never would have sought out, and that certainly weren’t a part of the buying decision. But now that I have them, I’m keen to give them a go, if for no other reason than for novelty’s sake.

The first of these attachments is the blade. For many people, this may be a primary piece of equipment. But for me, I’ve always cut by hand. I have a set of high-quality (very sharp) knives and I enjoy using them for food preparation. I never once used the slice blade on our previous food processor. But the blade on the Kitchen Wizz 8 intrigues me. It is adjustable from just 0.3mm thick, to 6mm. If it is able to chop consistently and more finely than I am capable of doing by hand, it may well become a more heavily used component.

adjustable blade, Breville, Kitchen Wizz 8, plus, food processor
The adjustable blade

The other two ‘gimmick’ components are far less likely to find regular use. They are a dough blade and a potato peeler. I can count the number of times that I have made home-made dough on my nose (that’s once, for anyone unsure of how many noses I possess). As for the potato peeler, we will see. It has very specific instructions for how to optimise its use. They include specifying the exact shape and size of the potato. That goes against my newly-found potato-buying morals, so we will see if I’m willing to sell out for the sake of this contraption (my money is on yes). It would only really be useful and worthwhile if one had a significant amount of potatoes that needed peeling, so I believe it will end up rarely used.

potato chart, Breville, food processor, Kitchen Wizz 8, plus
It pays to be precise in your spud selection

A Blender Too?

I purchased the model with the blender attachment. We have never owned a blender, so I’m unsure how to properly utilise that bit, but as I could buy it for just $30 more (the unit was on sale at the time of writing), I decided it was worthwhile. The blender part appears to be similar to the Breville Kinetix Light and Mighty, which retails for $69.95, so I’m happy with the price. It is, however, worth noting that the food processor base only has two speeds (as well as pulse), which gives you less control than a stand-alone blender. The upside is that having two contraptions that use just one base saves room in my compact house. Time will tell if this was a useless upsell or a moment of genius.

base unit, blender, food processor, kitchen wizz 8, plus, Breville
The base unit of the Kitchen Wizz 8 has less functionality than that of a blender

I found the Kitchen Wizz 8 Plus in Myer, with a sale price of $199.20. The regular retail price is $249.

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World's worst food blogger, chili salt, chili, chilli, mortar and pestle Blog

The World’s Worst Food Blogger – Chili Salt

If you are unfamiliar with the concept behind this series of blog posts, head on over here to read the very first one.

What is Chili Salt?

Chili salt is a thing I recently invented. Okay, I probably didn’t invent it. Like all my great ideas, I most likely saw it somewhere a while ago, stored in in my subconscious, then brought it out and claimed it as my own when the time was right (a quick Google search return 50,200,000 results for ‘chili salt’. This confirms my suspicions).

Ownership of the idea aside, the time was certainly right. My Bird’s Eye chili plants are coming towards the end of their most productive season ever (I have had them for seven years). Over the summer they have produced in excess of 600, extremely hot chilies.

chili, bird's eye, chili salt
Chilies on a tray, ready to oven-dry

That’s a lot of chili, when just one of them is enough to add a kick to a meal. I had frozen some, used as many as I could fresh and lost about 50 during some bad weather. I still had an abundance of tiny red chilies left, and no idea what to do with them.

Oven-dried Chilies

My first thought was to dry them. I did this by cutting the chilies in half lengthwise and placing them in an oven on its lowest temperature setting (50 degrees Celsius – fan forced). After about 3 hours, they were dried and ready to be crushed.

chili, bird's eye, chili salt
The chilies after drying in the oven

 

I started with the good old-fashioned mortar and pestle, but soon moved on to the food processor to finish the job. Perhaps I hadn’t quite dried them enough, but the just wouldn’t flake away properly when I tried to grind them.

I reserved some of the chili flakes for cooking. They are ideal for use in a wide range of dishes.

 

mortar and pestle, chili, bird's eye chili, chili salt

 

How to Make Chili Salt

I returned the rest of the chili flakes to the mortar and pestle, and added a good handful of rock salt. I didn’t really know what ratio to go for, but I knew that the chili was pretty potent, so I erred on the side of caution and added twice as much salt.

 

chili salt, chili, salt, bird's eye
The salt and chili before grinding

The salt helped with grinding the chili flakes into a fine powder. The final result was a pinkish salt, with some small red specks dotted throughout. I am fairly happy with the mixture, a small amount sprinkled on top of a dinner gives a good saltiness, followed by a heat kick. I find myself sprinkling the mixture over just about every meal I eat (within reason). I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a bit addicted.

chili flakes, chili salt, jar
A jar of chili flakes and a jar of chili salt

Because of my current addiction, expect chili salt to feature heavily throughout my World’s Worst Food Blogger posts.

It’s easy to make and there’s really no right or wrong way. If you are like me and you have an abundance of fresh chilies, stick some in the oven and give it a go. After a bit of experimentation, I’m sure you will end up with the perfect mix for you. Once you do, good luck ever using normal salt again!

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World's worst food blogger, chili salt, chili, chilli, mortar and pestle Blog

Introducing The World’s Worst Food Blogger

What Makes Me The World’s Worst Food Blogger?

I love food. I cook regularly, and I try new things often. I would say I have reasonable skills in the kitchen and that I have a pretty broad knowledge of flavours and styles.

I also love photography. While sitting firmly in the ‘amateur’ camp, I still enjoy the hours and hours of learning that I put in to becoming a better photographer. I shoot all kinds of photos and I have some that I’m very proud of.

Yet, for some reason, I can never seem to combine the two. Almost since I started this blog, I’ve thought to myself that I should have a food section. However, every time that I knock up something half Pinterest-able (okay, I’ll admit it, I don’t understand Pinterest), I forget to take a photo of the result.

It’s most likely to do with one of us being starving by the time the food is ready. Hannah has recently taken to walking her high chair over to the table and standing there with an expectant look on her face. If she is really hungry, she’ll try and climb in to the chair, all the while giving a diatribe on why she should be fed immediately.

If it’s not her, it’s me. I like the food that I cook, so the number one priority when cooking is done is to get it to my face as quickly as possible. No time to painstakingly present the food and take photos from every conceivable angle. Just whack it on a plate and get it in my belly.

It’s usually about half-way through the meal that I remember that I wanted to take a photo. Of course, by then it’s too late. Or is it…?

Yes. Yes it is too late. But damnit, I’m going to take the photo anyway. Because the food is too good not to share. Besides, surely everyone is sick of all the over-glamorised, self-indulgent food pictures that dominate Instagram and food blogs these days. I’m keeping it real. You’re welcome.

 

World’s Worst Food Blogger Steak, Home-made Chips and Salsa

World's worst food blogger, steak and chips with salsa
So tasty, I got half way through before remembering to take this photo

Here it is, my first ever World’s Worst Food Blogger post! I was about halfway through this tasty meal when I remembered to take this snap. Perhaps it was the article on Insta Success that inspired me!

I know what you’re thinking – that steak looks well overdone. Normally I would agree with you, but having Hannah has forced some changes to the ways in which I cook. It’s very hard to perfectly sear a steak over a gas stovetop when every couple of minutes you have to chase a young child who is eager to climb the stairs. The inevitable result of that is a screaming smoke alarm and a tough, overcooked steak. Also, it is recommended that food is thoroughly cooked for babies, they’re not really supposed to sit down to a blue steak.

I recently discovered the joys of oven-cooking such cuts of meat. Low and slow is my new mantra. Don’t be fooled by the colour of that meat, it was still so juicy and tender that it could be cut with a butter knife. A couple of hours at around 100-120 C does the job (longer time for lower temperature).

The problem with this method of cooking is then the potato and sweet potato chips. No-one likes soggy chips. That was overcome in two ways – firstly by using the top element of the oven in conjunction with the fan-forced rear element, and secondly by cranking the heat at the very end, while the meat rested. The chips were soft in the middle, but still had that bit of crunch around the outside.

The final piece of this delicious puzzle was a salsa of sorts. It was the ideal way to use up some bits and pieces that needed eating – a couple of tomatoes, some red onion, red capsicum, olive oil and lemon juice. It was the perfect accompaniment to the steak.

So there you have it, the first ever meal in my World’s Worst Food Blogger series. I plan to bring you one photo each week ,from the meal that I have most enjoyed. Given my (very low) success rate with remembering to take the damned photo, this may well not happen. Only time will tell…

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