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Archive for January, 2009

Kanten (Agar-agar) Raspberry Cubes

kanten One of the ingredients used in a lot of Japense desserts is kanten, also known as agar-agar. It’s a gelling agent made from seaweed, and not only is it flavourless and vegetarian (gelatine is derived from animal products), but it’s high in fibre, and contains 0 calories. In fact, it spurred a diet fad in Asia, known as the Kanten Diet. In Japan, we found it as jelly cubes in desserts such as Anmitsu, sometimes served with ice cream, or in traditional Japanese sweets.

I brought back a packet from Tokyo, and when I saw a beautiful-looking punnet of raspberries in the supermarket, I had to use it! Here’s what I did:

Kanten Cubes with fresh Raspberry

Ingredients:

  • 4 gm kanten (agar-agar) powder. If you can only find the flakes, you’ll probably need to use more…
  • 350ml water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (or more to taste)
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • kanten2About 12 fresh raspberries

What to do:

  1. Put the water in a saucepan, and sprinkle over the kanten powder.
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat.
  4. Add the lemon juice.
  5. Pour into a 6″ square container, and allow to cool at room temperature for about 15 minutes.
  6. It should have thinkened a bit by now, so put in the raspberries in neat rows, pushing them down so that they are covered by the liquid.
  7. Cover and refridgerate.
  8. To serve, remove from the container and cut into cubes.

PS. Agar-agar is most likely available at your local whole foods shop.

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Are we really that expensive?

noka Since I’ve come back from Tokyo, I’ve been digesting what I experienced and thinking a lot about the huge range of premium food products on offer there. It was actually quite a shock in that for all of the wealth generated during the Celtic Tiger, we really don’t have super-premium-priced food here, outside of a few restaurants. Perhaps that is because we obsessed about prices non-stop during the good times, talking about “Rip-off Ireland,” and fuming if things weren’t cheap (except houses and salaries). Food seemed to bear the brunt of this, which is ironic, since Ireland simply can’t produce cheap food products – at least not compared to Poland, Germany, Argentina, etc., where the economies of scale are much larger and the costs much lower.

What few people seem to realise is that the prices of the best Irish cheeses, meats, etc., are actually quite low if you look at what super premium products such as those would cost in the US, France, Italy or the UK. In Japan, it’s a whole different level. From sushi to fruit to chocolate, there are so many different levels of price and quality that your head would spin.

noka2Although you can buy chocolate in a convenience store for similar prices to here, you also have Aoki charging €12+ for a bar, or Noka, where a box of four tiny chocolates retailed for more than €20 (in the US it’s less, but still expensive). There are no Irish chocolatiers charging anything remotely similar. With oranges, you can buy normal priced oranges in Tokyo, and they go up from there, to about €15/orange. Of course there are also the €100+ melons (mostly given as gifts), and I paid €7 for a scoop of ice cream.

Now most Irish people would say – “€15 for an orange? What an absolute rip-off!” I, on the other hand, would wonder – “What makes an orange so good that it’s worth €15? I’d better taste it!” Most importantly, there are clearly people out there who would pay it. Yet, we certainly don’t have fruit at those prices.

The reason I’m writing this post is that tonight, at the checkout of my local supermarket, I was given a snide comment about the price I was paying for a piece of Gubbeen cheese, and it made me very angry. Are we all expected to buy the cheapest chedder on the market? I hardly drink, don’t frequent the bookie, and I don’t own a nice car or a holiday home. Even if I did, why shouldn’t I spend money on a good Irish cheese if I want to? I love cheese, I’m supporting an Irish producer making a quality product, and the truth is I’d pay even more.

I know that especially now that the economy is in tailspin, there are many people who cannot afford high priced products. However, to assume that there isn’t a place for an expensive cheese (or ice cream for that matter) that cheers us up and makes us feel good is pure ignorance. It would be great if more of us could appreciate, as the Japanese do, that a piece of sublime food, no matter what the cost, when it is produced, prepared, and served with love, is sometimes the very thing that can make bad times palatable.

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Surfing in Ventry

ventry5 Those of you who know Ventry, know that it is rare to have waves on the beach there that are more than a ripple. 

ventry4Yesterday, however, when I went for a late afternoon walk on the beach with the pregnant one, we were quite astonished to see quite a few members of Dingle’s surfing brigade packing up for the day. 

Surfers in Ventry? It didn’t take long to see why – there was serious swell. 

In fact, I have never seen waves there like it. 

ventry3The day was bright and sunny, and yet the ocean was in fighting form. I guess the recent storm systems were working their way through.

We all enjoyed the spectacle, but unfortunately it looked like the erosion on the dunes was pretty severe. Still, the beach changes every year, and the next storm might bring all the sand back again!

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It’s That Time of Year Again

Thanks to whoever nominated me for the Irish Blog Awards! As always, it’s wonderful to see the varied and interesting blogs out there! Best of luck to all of them. 

I’ve been nominated in two categories: Best Food and Drink, and Best Business Blog. I have asked that icecreamireland be withdrawn from the business category, since I’ve already won it twice. 

Here are the long list of nominees in the two categories, and they make good reading:

Best Food/Drink Blog – Sponsored by Bord Bia

Best Blog of a Business – Sponsored by RedCardinal.ie

Goodbye to Tokyo

sushi2 Tomorrow, we leave early to go back to Ireland, and I thought I should make my last post about sushi.

In terms of food, it’s what I will miss most. In case you were wondering, although we had many good meals, the best sushi we had was a lunch at the Tsukiji Fish Market (both photos) in one of the alleys and a heavenly dinner tonight.

sushiWe were lucky enough to meet a Japanese food writer on this trip, and she brought us to an old-school sushi place in a quiet part of town. There was no glitz or glamour here and no crowds, just a serious sushi master and the best cuts of the best fish.

If you’re in Tokyo, check it out: Katori-Zushi, 3-7-10 Kiyosumi, Koto-ku, Tokyo. It’s just by the Kiyosumi-Shirakawa metro station.

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Salon du Chocolat

chocolate2 Sometimes life is full of serendipity, and happening to be in Tokyo during Salon du Chocolat is a very happy coincidence indeed.

chocolateIt seems that the “wakai josei,” or young Japanese women, are in the habit of buying chocolate for male friends, fiances, husbands and bosses during this time of year as a harbinger of happiness. (Irish woman please note – this is a very good idea!)

Actually, a Japanese friend here said that most Japanese men don’t like chocolate at all and that their sisters and mothers usually end up with the treats. That is a shame!

caoki1Many European chocolatiers are here, including Marcolini, Herme, Neuhaus, etc., and a number of Japanese ones as well. 

We managed to meet Sadaharu Aoki, and my mother even got him to sign a box of chocolates for her.

I might have to go back tomorrow. Happy days for a chocoholic!

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10 Reasons To Love Tokyo

service I’m not saying that any city or society is perfect, but from my short time here, I believe some things are just better in Japan. Here’s a list of what’s impressed me:

bubbles1. A sense of playfulness and joy in many people that really jars with the West’s idea of Japanese being shy and repressed. I have heard more laughter on this trip than I have ever heard in a city.

2. Astonishingly good service in shops, hotels, restaurants – always with a smile (photo top). If we could manage half their  level of service in Ireland, we’d be doing very well.

scooter

3. City so safe that bicycles are left unlocked, keys left in scooters, purses left on outside tables when people go in to order food. At no time have I felt even vaguely threatened.

4. Best food presentation I have ever seen, and wonderful ceremony surrounding food. Obviously there is fast food as well, but a proper meal is cooked with love, served with care, includes a range of tastes and sensations, and is eaten with gratitude. It’s consistently uplifting. No wonder the place is awash in Michelin stars

5. Best looking shops I have ever seen and lots of interesting things to buy. I’m not a huge shopper, but if you are (and can afford it), come here!

6. Heated seats on the subway in winter, heated toilet seats with built in bidets in the hotels, and a clear square that magically appears on the fogged up mirror after a shower.

7. People so well dressed Parisians almost look shabby in comparison.

dog8. City so clean that in parts of town even the sidewalks look freshly polished. What’s really strange about this is all the rubbish bins were removed after the poison gas attack in the subway, and yet it is a shock if you even see a cigarette butt on the street. 

9. Smoking rooms that keep the air clean (even inside the smoking room) and separate smoking areas in outdoor public spaces.

10. Pet lovers never had it so good. There’s:

 a. Pet drinking fountains.
 b. Dogfood dispensing stations.                
 c.  Cat cafes
 d. Pet buggies, stylish pet clothing, pet everything. The man in the photo had just about every pet gadget you can buy…

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A Few Faces of Tokyo

I thought that rather than write anything today, I’d just put up some photos I took strolling around Tokyo…

Author

Kieran Murphy is a director of Murphys Ice Cream living in Dingle, Co. Kerry, Ireland.

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Murphys Ice Cream

Murphys Ice Cream has shops in Dingle, Killarney and Dublin 2 (Wicklow Street).

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