‘Japanese Food Made Easy’ – A Review

My kitchen cupboards contain an array of sauces and condiments including soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, ketcap manis and even a small bottle of sake. When I make any food classed as ‘Asian’, I tend to randomly throw in some or all of these things in varying quantities until I’m happy with the taste. So for 2016, one of the things on my ‘to-do’ list was buy a book on Japanese cooking and learn how to make some authentic dishes. After a quick Google search and a look on Amazon, I found “Japanese Food Made Easy” by Fiona Uyema.

Japanese Food book cover

Fiona explains in the introduction that she was born in Ireland, studied Japanese at College and lived in Japan for three years, where she met her husband. After the birth of her first child, Fiona started writing a Japanese cooking blog and also taught cookery classes, and demonstrated at food festivals and events in Ireland and then had the opportunity to write a cook book.

The book guides the reader through the basics of Japanese cooking and gives some of Fiona’s favourite traditional recipes (some with a modern twist). I was pleased to see that almost every recipe was accompanied by a full-page photograph. Fiona has also included chapters about Japanese food culture and dining etiquette and a comprehensive list of basic Japanese ingredients. Suggested suppliers and stockists are listed – with website addresses – although these are based in Ireland. There are of course similar suppliers in the UK and elsewhere.

The recipe sections are divided as follows:

Rice

Soups & Salads

Chicken

Beef, Pork & Lamb

Fish & Seafood

Vegetarian

Noodles

Sushi & Sashimi

Desserts & Drinks

Bento Planner.

This book contains a lot of the items I’d eat if I went to a Japanese restaurant e.g. gyoza (dumplings), chicken katsu curry (a Wagamama restaurant staple thaqt’s very popular), tempura, a variety of noodle dishes (I’m really into noodles at the moment) and of course sushi. Fiona shows you how to make a variety of dips, stocks and sauces and as these are the real ‘flavour carriers’ for the dishes, it’s useful to know how to whip these up to keep stored in the fridge.

I’m in temporary accommodation at the moment (we’re in the process of buying a house having relocated from south London to North Norfolk) with only a very small, poorly-equipped kitchen, but I’ve made a few of the sauces e.g. teriyaki, tonkatsu and okonomiyaki and used them to liven up the limited range of food I can currently make.

Here’s my ‘teriyaki rice’ dish using Fiona’s recipe for the sauce:

 

Teriyaki rice

 

And here’s my very substantial ‘miso soup’ using Fiona’s recipe for the stock. I added edamame beans (I buy them fresh in Tesco), rice noodles, mushrooms and spinach.

 

Miso soup

 

I can’t wait to move into our new house and have a fully functioning kitchen again so I can make more of Fiona’s recipes. I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in Japanese food particularly if they have felt a bit daunted by the thought of trying it at home. I have three or four other Japanese cook books written by Japanese authors which are also worth a look but they assume that the reader is more experienced in Asian cookery. Fiona’s book stands out because it takes the fear away!

 

Disclaimer: I purchased the book ‘Japanese Food Made Easy’ and was not asked to write a review for any rewards or incentives. This review represents my honest opinion about Fiona Uyema’s book.

 

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Never Say Diet!

My foodie interests are quite wide-ranging and in my time I have tried all sorts of eating regimes including vegetarianism, veganism, raw foodism, high protein and everything in between. Over the last 30 years I’ve been slim (ish) and I’ve been overweight. In fact, I’m on the rather generous side of the “Rubenesque” scale at the moment with the genuine intention of doing something about it this year. As I do every year (oh dear). In 2015 I managed to lose just over 2 stone (30lbs) and to date only 1 of those (stones) has gone back on. So, somewhat unusually, I start a new year lighter than I was at this point 365 days ago. Which is a good thing. But I want to do better.

My downfall as far as diets go is that I absolutely love food and if I’m not eating it, I’m thinking about it, reading about it or writing about it. I love cooking and experimenting with new ingredients and baking makes me feel really good. Unfortunately, with cooking comes eating and that’s my downfall. As a result, I’ve joined various slimming groups over the years including WeightWatchers and Rosemary Conley (RIP that company), and I’ve tried diets like Atkins (lost over 3 stone) and LighterLife (lost almost 7 stone). I’ve realised that all sorts of diets do work – when you stick to them. I get to the point when I feel I’ve done really well and decide I don’t need ‘the diet’ any more …… and I duly go back to my poor eating habits and pile the weight on again. Plus a little bit more for good measure.

In December 2015, I moved with my husband and our dog to North Norfolk to escape our busy, stressful, and traffic fume filled existence in south London and have a better quality of life in the country. We’re staying temporarily in my mum’s former holiday rental cottage on the coast – very “bijou” with a tiny kitchen – while we look for a house to buy. I’m also looking for a job. Lots of changes at one time so not ideal really.

I’ve decided to bite the diet bullet (here I go again) and join a local “Slimming World” group because their Jan/Feb 2016 magazine proudly claims that you can eat the food you love and therefore have decent meals. No sparrow sized portions. How great is that? Apparently, there are also “free foods” that you can eat in unlimited quantities which I’m curious about, seeing as eating food in unlimited quantities is what has made me fat in the first place! I’ll be toddling along to my first meeting on Tuesday 5th January 2016 – watch this space and I’ll report back on how it goes.

So, bearing in mind that I’ll be able to eat proper food while I’m on the Slimming World programme, I’m going to treat myself to some new cookbooks and write reviews of each one I buy. This will be an interesting project seeing as I seem to buy quite a lot (ooops) but I hope it will be helpful for other people who may be struggling with their weight as well as for people who just wonder what the XX cook book may be like.

I want to be able to eat the same food as my husband. I don’t want to be eating celery and lettuce or cutting out any major food groups while he tucks into a hearty chicken or beef dish. I’ll be looking for recipes that are immediately “diet friendly” as well as those I can tweak to make more suitable e.g. by reducing the fat or portion sizes. It has taken me a long time to appreciate that diets are only short-term fixes. If I’m ever going to conquer my 30 year history of yoyo dieting, I have to change my lifestyle once and for all. As we moved to Norfolk to improve our lives, this seems the ideal time to do it. Carpe diem, and all that.

When I buy books, I like to read reviews first but I’m never sure how reliable the ones are that you see on Amazon: there has been the occasional scandal of dodgy reviews posted by an author’s competitors or times when a writer’s friends and family post excessively positive reviews. People that know me appreciate that I’ll be honest and unbiased and also that I won’t be malicious or unkind.

The things I look for in any cook book are:

  1. Are the recipes “do-able” for the average home cook? Too much faffing or fancy / obscure ingredients put me off right away;
  2. Are there decent photographs? We may all know what a lasagne or chocolate cake should look like, but I’d like to know how the dish I’m making at any one time is expected to turn out. I tend not to buy recipe books with a lack of pictures;
  3. Are the instructions clear? Cook books are usually aimed at domestic cooks or people who wish to improve their skills in the kitchen. Too much jargon or vague explanations are not helpful nor are authors who patronise their readers;
  4. Do I want to eat the food or am I buying the book for another reason? This may seem to be a silly question but if you think about it, do we buy the recipe book or do we “buy” the person who’s written it? At the time of writing this piece, I’ve seen a couple of Sunday newspaper supplements and Davina McCall has a recipe book coming out and Bear Grylls – not usually known for his culinary skills – is also publishing a cook book. The extract from the book by Davina frequently refers to her “team of nutritionists” which does make me wonder who created the recipes that she’s selling. Sorry Bear and Davina, your books aren’t going to make my list of purchases this year.
  5. Nutritional information. This could be calories per portion or how much fat, protein or carbohydrate is in a dish. While Slimming World doesn’t work on the basis of calories, I find it helpful to know how much fat a recipe contains as this is something I can change when I make it.

During this year I’ll be reviewing newly published cookbooks by a diverse group of writers, including Anna Jones, Amelia Freer, Ella Woodward, Jamie Oliver, Fiona Uyema, Hemsley & Hemsley, Anya Ladra, and Natasha Corrett. Please be aware that these aren’t “diet books” as such but ones I happen to be interested in anyway that I hope will help me to lose weight while eating rather well.

 

Happy New Year!