February 28, 2011

uses of yuzu: making marmalade

Winter is the time for many varieties of citrus fruits to come around, but nothing makes me appreciate this more than the abundant availability of yuzu does. Citrus like lemon, orange, and grapefruit may be seen throughout the year (partly because they are almost always imported from a far land), but yuzu isn't; it is not impossible to find it in the middle of the summer if you search for it high and low, but your expensive, hard-won specimens are never going to be comparable to what you can see everywhere during cold months.

And nothing makes me feel sorry to see the winter go more than when I start seeing less of yuzu, which often becomes more expensive as the weather gets gradually warmer and the day becomes longer. There are other varieties of Japanese citrus fruits that are only available during winter, but yuzu seems to hold a special place in my heart.

So I always like to make the most of the fruit while I can, both in cooking and baking, but this year I have gone so far as to make my own yuzu marmalade.
Which may perhaps be nothing special or even noteworthy for many of you, but I have never been an avid jam maker or eater. I think I've mentioned this before, but I'm not really partial to jams in general; I don't eat them much, so they are rarely be the first thing I'd make when I want to preserve seasonal fruits. Citrus marmalade is in fact the only category of fruit preserves that I can say I like to eat, but even so, I usually don't bother to make it by myself.

So I don't know what got into me this winter, but I made yuzu marmalade not once, not twice, but a number of times in the past month, to see how I could make it more to my taste. While doing so, I've also made it with a bunch of different flavor add-ins, such as ginger, champagne, and chocolate - which was a big fun part.

So even though I made it all in small batches, I still manage to stack up a quite few jars of yuzu marmalade of different flavors, and I thought I'd keep a record of what I did for a future reference.
My variations of yuzu marmalade are all not overly sweet and taste really fresh. I use the whole fruit, peel and pith and seeds and all for a maximum flavor and minimum waste. Cooking time is fairly short, thanks partly to the fruit that cooks pretty quick. They are more on a looser side - not runny, but not as 'set' as many of more traditional marmalade high in sugar.

The low sugar content means they are not suitable to long-term room temperature storage; they are meant to be stored in the refrigerator and consumed quickly. So I typically skip an 'proper' sterilization process but simply use very clean jars rinsed in hot water. For a longer storage, you'll need to increase the amount of sugar and sterilize your jars properly.

Now I won't pretend to be an expert in marmalade making, because I'm not. If you are new to marmalade making and are after 'standard' recipes, there are a plenty of them out there created and provided by more experienced and knowledgeable marmalade makers. But here is how I have done it and it has worked for me. Hope it will work for you as well, should you decide to make a good use of this long-loved citrus fruit of ours in a spreadable form.

::: how to make yuzu marmalade :::

February 15, 2011

overload of chocolate... with love

Aah, another St. Valentine's Day came and went quietly but quickly, like any ordinary Monday does. I hope you all spent a lovely time.

As you may or may not know, St. Valentine's Day in Japan is all about chocolate. Period. It may often involve something romantic, but not always. But I have already gone on about how it is like, so I won't repeat it here. But I couldn't help but repeat one thing for the occasion, and that involved overloading myself (and family) with chocolate.

For the past couple of years, I went out in town before St. Valentine's and braved the crowd to score some of the finest, much sought-after pieces and bars of chocolate, mostly at the event known as Salon du Chocolat. I've written about it, both the event itself and the chocolate I brought home with.
But this year I didn't make it to any such event, partly because I am not in Tokyo where the entire place seems to be taken over by the chocolate fever; as a matter of fact, I am deep in the mountainous countryside where the only really "fancy" chocolate you'd find is a limited selection of Godiva bars at a local supermarket.

Incidentally, the last Friday happened to be a public holiday (which I hadn't realized until Thursday evening) and we had a three-day weekend right before St. Valentine's. So instead of spending a small fortune on lavish, professionally made chocolates sold in beautiful boxes, this year I decided to take matters into my hands and come up with a few good homemade chocolate treats.

And this provided me a perfect excuse to dig into my special bags of baking chocolate I'd saved for months:
Chocolate by Trish baking chocolate, created by renowned Paris-based Irish chef and cookbook author Trish Deseine. She has authored a large number of cookbooks in both French and English, and more than a few of them are focused on chocolate recipes. Among them, probably the best known would be Je Veux du Chocolat! (Marabout, 2002) (available in English as I Want Chocolate! (Laurel Glen Publishing, 2003)).

I have been a fan of her recipes, which are mostly casual and simple yet manage to look sophisticated. I have several of her cookbooks that are all beautifully designed with gorgeous photography - well, my French is nowhere near good enough to read a newspaper or even children books, but I can manage to figure out cooking/baking recipes with a help of dictionaries and resources on the Internet in general.

I have cooked and baked a lot from her books, and some of them have - sometimes with a little tweaking and substitutions - become my go-to recipes, including this oven-roasted warm fruit salad with salted butter, and pork casserole in hard cider, and of course, her famous melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake that seems to have been made by chocolate lovers of every corner of the world.
I have even been lucky enough to meet her in person - not privately, of course, but still as special as it gets for me. You see, a few years ago I happened to be staying in Paris for a couple of weeks, and one afternoon I went out in the city just to get a fresh air, after spending a whole week stuck inside working.

I had nowhere particular to go to, and just wandered into a large bookstore in Les Halles. I headed to the cookbook section as I always do whenever I find myself in a bookstore. And there she was, sat at a small table, signing her then new cookbook that had just come out, along with several stacks of older titles.

I remember being dumbstruck, unable to believe my luck - it was so totally random! And let's face it, my life is not exactly filled with encounters with chefs and cookbook authors I look up to.
I chatted with her a bit, snapped a couple of pictures, and picked up her latest title which Trish had signed for me. I left the store still half shocked by the lucky coincidence.

So imagine how excited I was last year to learn she was to launch her own chocolate brand in mid October. As a London-based brand offering fine French chocolate, most of their products are available only in the UK for now (soon to hit Paris, according to their website). But I was lucky once again; a good friend of mine in London was to come back to Japan to visit her family at the end of last October, and she was nice enough to get a selected few bags of chocolate for me at Selfridges department store, where Chocolate by Trish products were first made available for purchase.

As I got bags of chocolate brought to me all the way from London, however, I did not open them up immediately but tucked them safely in the cupboard; it was partly because I had still not decided what to make with them - I wanted to do justice to them! - but mostly I didn't want to end up eating them all up before doing any baking with them. It was only too likely and I didn't want to be tempted.
A few months have past since then and 2010 turned into 2011, and I have finally pulled them out to put them in some good use: dark and milk chocolate buttons, cocoa powder, and chocolate shards.

Having flown from the other side of the world and spent a few months deep inside the cupboard, my precious bags of chocolate were now slightly battered-looking, but the chocolate inside did a perfect job and worked wonderfully well in cakes, puddings and cookies alike; the chocolate buttons melted beautifully (where necessary), extra-fine cocoa powder provided a deeply dark chocolate shade and flavor to everything it fell upon, and chocolate shards - though they got broken after the long transportation - still made a nice topping and made my desserts look pretty.

So below are the things these chocolates were transformed into over the weekend - I hope you're not already full with chocolate, because I suspect you will be after these!