“Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are” – Brillat-Savarin

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Hot Cross Buns II

This weekend I got my Easter baking on, and baked a batch of my Hot Cross Buns. The last time I made these, I noted how crumbly the buns got after more than one day out of the oven, and wondered if using strong flour would make any difference. For this batch, I experimented with using a mixture of strong flour and plain flour with a 2:1 ratio, as an attempt to improve the texture while retaining a tender crumb. It's still too early to tell if it was a success, as it's only been a few hours since the buns were baked, but the boys enjoyed the buns fresh out of the oven and slathered with butter. The texture was more bread-like than the original recipe, and tomorrow I will find out if strong flour solves the problem of the crumbly texture.

Hot Cross Buns II

Makes a batch of 12 buns, or 16 smaller buns


2 cups (275g) strong flour
1 cup (150g) plain flour
2 teaspoons (6g) dry active yeast or breadmaker yeast
1/4 cup (45g) caster sugar
2-3 teaspoons ground spice (cinammon, nutmeg)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (120g) dried fruits (traditionally, currants are used)
1 cup (200mL) warm milk
2 tablespoons (35g) butter
1 egg

Flour paste for the cross
1/2 cup (75g) plain flour
1/3 cup (80mL) water

1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar


If using dry active yeast, it needs to 'bloom' in some sugar and warm water solution (no hotter than what your hand can handle) for 10 minutes until it's frothy. If using breadmaker yeast, you can just incorporate it into the dry mix.

1) Heat the milk gently in a saucepan over medium heat until milk is warm enough to melt the butter. Melt the butter in the warm milk.
2) Measure and mix all the dry ingredients (flour, breadmaker yeast (if using), sugar, spice, salt and dried fruits) together.
3) Add the warm milk mixture, egg and bloomed yeast (if using instead of breadmaker yeast) to the flour mix and mix until dough comes together. Use floured hands to finish mixing to form a soft dough.
4) Knead the dough for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth. (At this stage, add more flour if the dough is too wet, or add more water if the dough is too dry.)
5) Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set the bowl in a warm, draught-free place (I put it in my oven) for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until dough doubles in size.
6) After proofing, punch the dough down to expel the air, and divide into 12 even portions.
7) Line a large baking tray with baking paper. Shape each portion into a ball and place in the lined tray about 1cm apart. Set the tray aside in a draught-free place for 30minutes for its final rising.
8) In the meantime, preheat the oven to 200degC and make the flour paste by mixing the flour and water in a bowl until smooth. Add more water if paste is too thick. Spoon into a ziplock bag and snip off a corner of the bag. Pipe flour paste over tops of buns to form crosses.
9) Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25minutes until the buns are done. When they're ready, the buns will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
10) Make the sugar glaze by dissolving the sugar in hot water. Brush the tops of the buns with the glaze while the buns are still warm.

The buns are best when fresh out of the oven. You can freeze some for later.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Miso-nikomi Udon @ Yamamotoya Honten, Nagoya (Japan)

One of the food specialties of Nagoya is miso-nikomi udon, hard udon simmered in red miso soup. Yamamotoya is Nagoya's oldest and most well-known restaurant that specialises in miso-nikomi udon, and there are several branches around Nagoya to make it easy for anyone to satisfy their udon craving. The Yamamotoya chain is a regional favourite, popular with the locals and on the tourist radar, so there is sometimes a queue for a table. On the Friday we visited this branch in Sakae for lunch, we had to wait about 15 minutes for a table. This is a no-frills place with prompt and efficient service, and we appreciated the refreshing oshibori (wet towel) and free tea service.

Diners enjoying their bowls of miso-nikomi udon:

Kitchen down the back:

Several types of miso-nikomi udon on the menu:

Even though the place was operating full capacity with a perpetual queue, we didn't feel rushed at all - I think it may have something to do with the fact that we had a 4-month-old baby and a 5-year-old boy in our dining party. Many other patrons were in and out with business-like efficiency (back to the office after a short lunch break, perhaps), so those in the line didn't have long to wait. Yamamotoya's udon are handmade thick and long, and served piping hot and slightly chewy in a strong broth made with hatcho miso. Each order of udon included a bowl of rice and tsukemono (pickled vegetables). Plain miso-nikomi udon was the cheapest option available at 892 yen, and it includes the basic ingredients like negi (Japanese leek), kamaboko (fishcake) and a raw egg. There are also miso-nikomi udon with your choice of ingredients like chicken, tofu, tempura or pork. There are options to add on extra rice, pickled vegetables, egg, leek, prawn tempura and even giant garlic. In addition to the miso-nikomi udon menu, there are small and side dishes also available as well as a small selection of Japanese-flavoured gelato, in case that hearty serving of udon was not big enough to satisfy.

Tsukemono (pickled vegetables), which was quite mild and didn't taste very pickled at all:

The earthernware bowl of steaming hot udon:

Hubby's miso-nikomi udon with Nagoya cochin (1680 yen), a famous breed of native Japanese chicken grown in Nagoya, and prized for the large number of eggs laid and tasty meat. The chicken in this dish was lean and firm yet juicy. I would love to eat and compare normal domesticated chicken with Nagoya cochin side-by-side:

I chose the lunch special of miso-nikomi udon with oysters (1890 yen):

Tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) with slices of a type of green pepper that had a surprisingly spicy kick:

On the wall next to our table was a poster advertising "Genki" (healthy) juice. The mixture of green leafy vegetables, green tea and apple juice was shaken, not stirred:

The Genki juice was delicious!

We all enjoyed the slightly chewy noodles served with the robustly flavoured miso-based broth. This lunch was a great start of our foodie experience in Nagoya.

Yamamotoya Honten (Sakae Shirakawa)
1st Floor (Ground level)
Yamamotoya Honten Sakae Building
2-14-5 Sakae
Naka-ku, Nagoya
Tel. +81 52 201 4082

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Farmers' Market and Domaine Chandon Winery in Yarra Valley, Victoria (Australia)

A couple of months ago, we were in Melbourne for my sister's wedding. Many of our relatives flew in to Melbourne to attend the wedding, and they had a grand time sight-seeing the city on their first trip to Melbourne. The relatives planned a last-minute day trip out to Yarra Valley on the day after the wedding, and since I'd already made my own plans to meet up with hubby's side of the family, I declined joining the group. However, what I didn't know was that there was a surprise proposal planned, and one of my cousins was going to pop the question and ring to his long-time girlfriend while they were at the valley. The proposal was kept so secretive that I didn't find out about it until the morning of the trip! My sister (the bride) was only told about the planned proposal the night before at her reception, and she made last minute changes to her schedule to fit the trip in - and that was how I found out about it the following morning. I guess everyone assumed that everyone (but the lucky girl) knew about the surprise proposal, while my sister and I were busy with the wedding preparations. I really wanted to be there for it, so I briefly discussed our options with hubby, decided that I could bring the 2-month-old baby along with me to Yarra Valley, while hubby and son remained behind in the city to spend time with his side of the family, and off we went on an impromptu visit to the valley! It worked well because I could spend more time with my family, and hubby could spend time with his family (who I had also seen the night before).

Yarra Valley is a wine region about an hour's drive out of Melbourne's CBD, with gorgeous landscapes and beautiful scenery. Our first stop was the Farmers' Market at Yering Station (held on the third Sunday of every month), where there were plenty of delicious baked goods and hot food to eat on site, and many more other food products to take home. Many stalls were offering free samples of their goods, and I wanted to buy everything I tried!

Coldstream apple cider - refreshing and tasty, and the gentlemen running the stall was such a lovely and generous person:

One of my cousin bought hot crepe fresh off the griddle!

I was quite tempted to enjoy one myself:

Hot meat and vegetable pies:

My younger sister asked me to share a steak pie with her. I took only one bite before we got split up, and it was gone by the time I saw her again:

The undercover stalls with lots of yummy take-home goods such as jams, cookies and fresh produce:

After the Farmers' Market, we went winery-hopping and wine-tasting to a few wineries before reaching the picturesque location at Domaine Chandon where my cousin mustered up his courage to pop the question to a very surprised girlfriend!

The landscape at Domaine Chandon winery - picturesque location and delicious champagne:

The vineyard:

The hands of two doctors. She said "Of course yes!"

We bought two types of Chandon sparkling wine to celebrate the joyous occasion - brut (dry) and sweet. Both good, but the sweet wine was more popular:

It was a good but short day trip out to the Yarra Valley:

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Ligurian specialties @ Antico Borgo, Levanto (Italy)

After a big day that involved a 2.5-hour hike between Monterosso and Vernazza, and then exploring the remaining Cinque Terre villages, we were happy to finally sit down to dinner at Antico Borgo in Levanto. I can't remember why we chose this restaurant, but I think it was one of the few that was opened for dinner service at 7pm (most others operated only from 8pm). And the menu looked pretty good to us. There were a few tables out the front for al fresco dining, which was the perfect option for that mid-summer's evening. Service was pleasant, friendly and helpful, and we got to sample quite a number of regional specialties that night.

The entrance to Antico Borgo:

At the doorway looking inside the restaurant:

Gattafin, indigenous to Levanto. Deep-fried savoury pastry stuffed with chard and cheese. Quite rustic, very delicious:

The gattafin filling:

Prosciutto and melon - always a good albeit safe combination:

Scampi penne. This was on the daily specials menu, made with scampi caught that day off the coast of Levanto. It was delicious, but fiddly with the shelling:

Deep-fried Ligurian anchovies, also freshly caught that day. Very moreish:

Salad, to offset all the two deep-fried items:

Lasagna al Forno - made with seafood, it was lighter and possibly more tasty than the traditional beef mince. A nice improvement to my favourite Italian dish:

Our meal at Antico Borgo was rustic and hearty, and we enjoyed everything we ordered. This is a good choice to try all the Ligurian and Levanto specialties.

Antico Borgo
Via Garibaldi 49
19015 Levanto
La Spezia, Italy
Tel. +39 0187 800159