Cooking is meditation for me. Kneading dough, washing rice or slicing greens. Moments where my mind wanders only as far as what my hands are doing or mouth tasting. Sometimes watching someone else preparing the produce can be almost as soothing – thus here follows three of my favourite online cooking content.
Dianxi Xiaoge has been my go-to since summer of 2018. Her videos is what I wish all cooking videos would be. Real. No talking, no explaining or looking into the camera. She’s literally just making food (also collecting the produce first), albeit traditional Chinese food that I have never experience myself – so some kind of escapism I suppose? One of the best parts is how you can hear the pleasant sounds of washing freshly picked mountain vegetables in a small stream, the crushing of a handful of garlic cloves with the blade of a knife or frying chillies in an enormous wok. It so relaxing. The only back side is that I now have a ridiculous longing the vibrant Yunnan produce readily at hand (I must have a Sichuan pepper tree in my future garden).
Naoko Ideno makes some of the most beautiful tea ceremonies online (also in reality I assume, but I’m yet to experience that). We met briefly once in Kumamoto, but unfortunately not with enough time to sit down for a cup of tea – next time I hope. Until then I thoroughly enjoy every single one of her beautiful instagram stories.
Shirley & Mathieu running, The Social Food account, are the only french foodies you have to follow, trust me this duo is something extra. We share the same love for Japan and they are a constant inspiration behind the camera and in the kitchen. Currently they are doing a #QuarantineCooking series (complete with recipes!) on a daily basis – with beautifully composed videos and photographs. All and everything is incredibly mouthwatering and makes you want to dig in at once.
Last year I spent all of April walking up and down the mountain side of Onomichi, under blooming cherry blossoms and with the intensely blue the Seito Inland Sea spreading out below. I’ll talk more about the circumstances another time, and now focus on some of the magical food I ate during that time. Because I did not only walk the small paths of the mountain side but I also spend a lot of time in a kitchen, both making, tasting photographing food. At that time I ate some of the most beautiful food I’ve had in my entire life, both visually and in flavor. Right now I’m trying to occupy myself as much as I can with things that takes focus from the fact that I painfully miss hanging out with my friends and family (already failed miserably twice) – and focusing for a bit on these serene dishes proved a soothing remedy.
I’ve recently rediscovered anchovies in life and right now I want to use them in everything. Dinner, breakfasts, lunches… A while back we were having cheese, olives and other small dishes (let’s call them “tapas”) for dinner and while biking home I contemplated what I could add to the spread that would contribute with some sturdiness and comfort, whilst allowing me to indulge freely in anchovies. If you face the same challenge at anytime: this is your perfect “fatty potato with dip”-dish that cures both friday-fatigue as well as PMS (I suffer from both atm). Scroll for recipe. Side note: you can of course buy ready-made mayonnaise (just pick a good one, such as Hellmann’s) but making it is really not that complicated to why not give it a try?
500 g potatoes (firm ones, I choose multi-colored ones, or Amandine is a favourite!)
7 anchovy filets + their oil
1 egg yolk
1-2 dl plain vegetable oil (canola/sunflower)
1/2 tsp Moutard de Dijon
fresh tarragon, chopped (if you want a bearnaise feel to it)
Set the oven to 250°C, regular setting. Wash and cut the potatoes into wedges, careful not to make them too thick. Place them on a large oven tray lined with baking paper. Pick up the anchovy filets from the oil and chop finely, into a fine paste. Massage the potatoes with anchovy and oil (from the jar and potentially additional). Bake for 20-30 min, stirring one or twice, until crispy and golden.
While the potatoes bake move onto making the mayonnaise. In a metal bowl (any bowl works, I just find a metal one works the best when making mayonnaise for some reason) add the egg yolk and the mustard and stir together. Slowly pour in the oil, very little at a time in a thin beam, while whisking vigorously. If you find the mayo too thick add a little water. Salt to desired taste and add the optional tarragon.
Serve with other small tapas dishes and maybe a fresh salad?
My Easter was great, even though we had our initial plans cancelled and I was disappointed not to go visit my parents, I really enjoyed these past four days. I hope you did too?
It did come with perfect timing as my brain was low on fuel from intense past weeks. The reality is that very much I need space to turn my brain off regularly. Not do what I’m always doing, see what I’m always seeing. I’m same amounts envious and in disbelief with people who seem to be always on. Opening the computer again after coming home from an 8 hour workday. Shooting an email here and there. Finding the energy and inspiration to go at it on a Sunday. I don’t mean that I have to binge Netflix for 8 hours straight to relax, but I need consecutive time when I’m not thinking about work. Otherwise I won’t be thinking about work when I’m actually working. So these past days my kitchen filled up with non-work-related content. Mazarins and bread, pies and chicken stock. We spent time in the sun in the archipelago, hung out with our sisters (on both sides), picnics outside and ice-creams despite chilly winds. Naps and books. It was all delicious.
I do feel I’ve had time to rest, and I love that sun is up early nowadays, it makes life a whole lot easier. Despite this I still experience that it can be hard to get going, set the mind in motion, get (work)stuff done. During a period in uni I had the habit of starting my days with baking, as I discovered I would have the most productive days of studying when I had set a dough in the morning. Sound crazy but it worked like a charm. It probably has something to do with the meditative element of massaging water and flour into a paste. Maybe I should try it again now (no matter how handy the overnight fermentation might be…) as yoga dosen’t seem to do the trick. If nothing else this breakfast sandwich might just be one piece of the puzzle, those mornings when you need something extra to get out of bed for. What are your secrets to getting started?
Serves as many as you make it for
Apple, Ingrid Marie or similar
Slice of bread (preferably sourdough), toasted/fried in pan
Remove the core and slice the apple in thin wedges, not too thin though. Fry them in a good amount of butter until golden, on both sides (medium high heat). Place on the bread and drizzle with Neri goma and honey. That’s it.
Recently I’ve made my share of effort to move and exhaust my body physically, since the most exercise I get currently get on a regular basis is folding the dough for my bread or vacuuming the apartment increasingly often… The other day I did yoga, baked bread, vacuumed the apartment AND made a banana bread before my first meeting at 9. Yesterday I went for a run in the morning, biked to run an errand over lunch and then took a long walk with C in the evening. How can I still feel restless? I don’t know if it is that I’m very eager to turn of my brain off for a few days during easter or if it’s this constantly being at home that is getting to me. My mind and body is going in circles and I’m thrown between feeling quite content to the next second be in despair. Don’t get me wrong, I love being at home, and I love hanging out on my own. Usually I seek out ways that forces me to hang out with myself (have become somewhat of a pro in the area, ask me anytime and I’ll let you in on the secrets) but now I just want to throw a big party (every day) for all my friends and family, cook them loads of foods and make them stay to help me with and keep me company by the dishes late at night. Or really, just a dinner with a few of my best friends would suffice. In the meantime I do have the <3 company of my bf, a pretty nice sourdough starter going on and many books on my to-read list. So in reality nothing to complain about (but maybe it’s ok to not feel 100% these days?). This recipe below is one thing that kept me busy, at least for a little while. Slight warning, it’s a somewhat unpolished recipe, so I don’t take any responsibility for the dough here, if you want to be on the super-safe side you could also use this one from Mr. Oliver but bake it in the oven. Nevertheless, it didn’t feel fair not to share this with you since these flatbread treats and a glass of wine is about all you need for a prefect date-night at home, with yourself or a loved one. That’s where I’m heading in a few hours.
PS. included a version with asparagus as well.
about 4 breads
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sour-dough starter (optional, you can leave out all together or swap for 1/3 tsp instant yeast)
400 ml (4 dl) flour
100-150 ml water (can be swapped for yoghurt)
1/2 tsp salt
*not adding measurements here, as it depends on how many flat breads you make, and I can’t really say what’s a perfect amount for you?
Spring onion, chopped in medium sized pieces
Make the dough by mixing dry ingredients together in one bowl and wet in another before combining and kneading together to a dough. If you use instant yeast make sure the water is 37°c. Add more water/flour as needed. Let rest under a towel for at least 30 min (or a couple of hours, I made mine early afternoon, and baked it early evening, using sour-dough).
Take out the dough and split into 4 pieces, shape into balls before rolling out to round-ish flats, dusting with flour to keep them from sticking to the surface. They should be thin, but not pizza-level thin. Place on oven tray with baking sheet.
For the anchovy version: brush the dough with a good amount of olive oil, place 2-3 anchovies and chopped spring onion on top.
For the asparagus version: smear with a thin layer of crème fraiche and add shaved parmesan.
Bake breads at 250°c for 10-15 min, or until golden. Then add chopped parsley on the anchovy flatbread, and panfried asparagus, shaved parmesan and lemon zest and sea salt on the other one. Serve warm.
There’s something funny about pancakes. How even an adult (read: myself) can become so childishly excited about having them for breakfast (and lunch or dinner for that matter). I don’t know if it has to do with the fact that pancakes are something you had a lot growing up, and they spark memories of a life where the highest level of concern was how much jam you were allowed to put on said pancake. Now you’re probably wondering why I’m going on about pancakes as this really is not a pancake recipe. Though, you could argue, that it does contain a few of the key components; like eggs, milk, a sweetish filling and something a little close to whipped cream. So in reality this is a very grown up pancake in the shape of an omelet.
I should mention, in all honesty, that I’ve made this a few times now and failed every time. When I say fail I mean that the omelet did not turn out in that perfect, fluffy oval shape you imagine before getting your frying pan out of the cupboard. The fold didn’t fold fully over as I wanted, and the whole thing ended up a little scattered on the plate. With that said, it was still “shut-up-and-eat-in-silence”-good. So here I am posting a picture of this omelet pre-fold, and hope you’ll make it – because it will be a success no matter if turns out perfectly folded or not. Wabi-sabi as they say in Japan, the beauty is in the imperfections. A thing to remember: make sure you use enough butter and don’t be too shy on the salt on the filling.
a splash of milk
1/3 tsp Moutard de Dijon
1/2 apple (I’d go for Ingrid Marie, but any winter apple works)
3 tbsp ricotta
butter for frying
sea salt & pepper
Whisk together eggs and mustard. Slice the apple thinly, leaving the skin on. Heat a frying pan to medium heat, add butter and pour in the egg. When the egg has started to set spread the apples on half of the egg, placing the ricotta on top. Add tarragon leaves, salt and pepper on top. Now comes the tricky part. When the egg has set, but is still a little runny on top, fold the “empty” half over the ricotta and apple. Leave for another minute or so. Carefully pour onto a plate, salt on top and eat. Possibly with a side of sourdough.
Right now I’m sure I’m not the only one trying to escape reality a little. So I go down the rabbit hole that is instagram/pinterest hunting for ceramics with soft lines and everyday objects that are pleasing on the eye. Let’s look at a few things I suddenly felt an intense need to put in (my already over-filled) cupboards.
If you’ve never put grapes in the oven, it’s high time you try. They multiply in deliciousness. Imagine somewhere in between a deep sweet dessert wine, sun-ripe fresh grapes and soft raisin. Says it all. This is very much a no-fuzz dish that goes just as perfect on a buffet spread as it does solo, with some bread and a good glass of wine. I’m going to leave it at that I think.
chèvre or other soft goat cheese of your liking
good olive oil
Rinse and pat the grapes dry, on the vine. Place in oven safe form and drizzle with small amount of olive oil. Bake at 200°c, about 10 min – do keep an eye out since you don’t want ot over-bake them. When they start releasing liquid and the skin begins to curl bring them out. Place on plate of choice and break the cheese in pieces before placing on the warm grapes. Add fresh thyme, oil and pepper. Serve with bread.
I know warm fruit in food is a topic with many opinions, but just try this will you? And let me know if you do.
Working from home comes with both good and bad. Personally I’m missing my colleagues a whole lot at the moment. However, let’s focus on the good. Being at home means you have your full pantry and equipment at home to make a great lunch for yourself (and others at home with you), good bye food in a box. Though, we all know that lunch time flies by and before you know it you need to be back infront of the screen for another zoom or hang out. So this is a quick one (read: I used last night leftovers and put them on bread). Don’t feel limited to sweet potatoes, any roasted root vegetable will work and should you wish for it, don’t think too much about it just swap the parsley for basil.
adjust amount for hunger/number of ppl
oven roasted sweet potaotes
parmesan/pecorino or other hard salty cheese of your liking
For the parsley pesto
a big handfull of flat leaf parsley
a small handful of sunflower seeds
juice from 1/2 a lemon, or a dash if white wine vinegar
2-3 pinches of sea salt
50-100 ml olive oil
1 tsp honey
Peel and cut potatoes in smaller irregular pieces, toss with oil and a little salt, roast at 250°c until crispy, approximately 15-20 min. If using last night’s, reheat with olive oil in a frying pan. For the pesto: put all ingredients in a mixer (including stems) and mix until it looks like a pesto. Up to you how chunky you want it. Taste for salt/acid/sweet.
Toast a piece of bread, or fry up in the pan with olive oil. Mount with vegetables, anchovies (2 per/person should be enough), pesto and finish with the cheese.
So, go on have this for lunch.
Currently I’m having very mixed feelings of insane pride and excitement that I want to shout out, but at the same time I’m scared of having people grow tired of my (not so very humble) bragging. As such I also didn’t really know what to choose as title for this post, because everything I tried out felt a little off. Anyhow, I’ll cut to the chase and ask you to be patient with me patting my own back (I promise you a really nice lunch recipe for tomorrow – deal?).
My book, my baby, was last week featured in the New York Times. In the New York Times?! It feels just as insane as it sounds. Still pinching myself a little in disbelief (yes I clicked the link more than many times to check that it was still there, and it is). What’s even more crazy about this story is that the book hasn’t been (to my knowledge) actively pitched to the editorial team. I, at least, have not sent them any copy. So, my conclusion here is that Florence, who is obviously my new favourite columnist, has picked up my book out of the many, many fantastic cookbooks out there. And then she liked it enough to write about it. I mean COME ON. To me it was big when I realised that was with the same UK publisher as food super-star Alison Roman. And when my best bookstore in Daikanyama, Tokyo started selling the book. But this? Side note: Florence has written 12(!) cookbooks herself.
They’re the sort of nourishing, comforting plates that are easily made and frequently feature vegetables. They’re also enjoyable to serve one or two but no more than four: perfect for troubled times in sequestered households. – NYT
When I started out writing and photographing The Japanese Table in early 2017, I could have never imagine this. That my “just for fun” project would turn into such an incredible thing. I’m so happy I spent those nights and weekends turning my idea into something real, and that I dared to send it out to publishers around the world. Because at that time it was a little nerve-wrecking, and even more so when it was release to the stores – because what would people think? Would they like it? But now I’m so proud to be able to say that I created every single part of the book. The food, the text, the photos, the design. It encapsulates so many of my memories and feelings from Japan and their kitchen. So to have it received this way, I’m at a loss of words.
To end with even more self-promotion: if you want to buy the book you can get it most places you get books (adlibris, amazon or elsewhere) and I would be so happy if you share with me when/if you try out a recipe or two, @shellsten #thejapanesetable
End of brag.
Sofia Hellsten, cookbook author & photographer, although main trade of work at the moment is Creative Director at podcast platform Acast. Her book “The Japanese Table – Small Plates for Simple Meals” was released fall of 2019. This will with some probability be a space with recipes of simple (but GOOD) food, a constant quest for the perfect breakfast or just some good old inspiration to life’s important details – flavour and form. Based in Stockholm, but always longing for Japan.