knits by sachi

Cutting down on sugar

It is OK to enjoy sweets once in a while without worrying about calories, but I am making changes.

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First it was fat, then, salt. Now it is sugar, our number 1 public enemy.

Is sugar really that bad as many people say?
It is natural and yummy and make you feel happy, but we all know taking too much of it does cause you many problems.
I guess eating anything in excess, even the most healthiest foods is unhealthy.

I take feeding my family very seriously and have been educating my boys about food and nutrition since they were young. None of us has sweet tooth and eating a relatively balanced diet.

But my boys are approaching to the end of their teenage years and leaving for university soon. They have stopped growing upwards and need to be careful not to grow side ways. There will be temptations of fast food, take-aways and alcohols everywhere. I decided to take a look at our kitchen once more.

So, the first thing is our sugar(s).

It is recommended not to exceed the maximum intake of 30g or 6 teaspoons per day. It is all right to enjoy biscuits or chocolate once in a while, fully aware of having treats, but as a mother, what I want to be careful is these hidden sugars in our daily foods. There seems to be lots of sugars we are not really aware of.

For example, breakfast cereals.

Who decided that cereals are supposed to be sweet? How come the serving size written on box is so small? Who eat just 30g of cereal?

A healthy child can eat the double of the amount easily, and I think this labeling is very deceiving. If the cereal contains 8g sugar per 30g, which is quite an average, our children are having 16g sugar the first thing in the morning and that is more than 3 teaspoon of sugar already. It is the half of the daily allowance.

I would like to go back to our traditional Japanese breakfast with rice and miso soup if we could, but cereals are amazingly convenient and perfect for six-formers who seem to attend school whenever they are pleased. I decided to choose ones with less sugar. I started to buy cereals with less sugar content little by little. If I force them to eat plain corn flakes all of a sudden, boys will take off without having any of it.

Good shopping guidance is this: 22g per 100g. All food products come with nutrition table for 100g. If it contains more than 22g of sugar, you should consider it to be a high sugar product.

This made my shopping trip so much easier.

Did my boys like the change? Surprisingly yes! We became so used to low sugar cereals now and do not want to have sugar coated, choco-chipped cereals any more. Not only that, boys became less and less interest in biscuits after school.

We can make small changes and live much more healthier.

My older son had sweet potatoes every day for breakfast when he was in Kenya last summer. He said he loved it.
It is truly nice to taste natural sweetness in our vegetables. We can change our taste buds by cutting down everyday sugar intake.

I made this “imo-mochi” (sweet potato balls) for snack the other day. It is flavoured with soy sauce and mirin sweet wine. It is a little old fashioned, something like my mum used to make for snack when I was little.

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I simply cooked sweet potatoes in microwave and mashed it up. Add corn starch or rice flour if you have, about 2 table spoons or so, and keep on mashing it up until it is fairy smooth.
Roll it into balls and cook in a frying pan.

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One sweet potato yields about this much.
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Mix about 1tbsp of each soy sauce and mirin sweet wine in a small cup and pour the mixture over the potato balls and cook until the moisture evaporates.

Done.

If you want it more savory, you can make the balls with potatoes. We sometimes have them for supper.

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Low sugar life continues.

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My little gifts

To celebrate the launch of my mini book, “Tiny toys to knit” from Search Press 20 to make series, the sales team will be soon running a promotion through their Facebook and Twitter. They usually offer a chance to win a copy. This time, I suggested to add my small knitted item along with the book for the winner.

Isn’t it a nice idea?

I have lots of little knits after all, some are made as samples for patterns, some are made just for fun. It will be nice if they can find a nice home.

I decided to choose something small for easy shipping. I put them into an individual cellophane bag and tied yarn to make them look pretty. My son made transparent stickers with my web address on them.

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While I was looking for items for give-away gifts, I found these koalas.

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They are very simple and initially, I wasn’t too sure if I liked the design. I tried adding a string and a bell.

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I think they look cuter this way.

Such a little thing makes a big difference.

Would you like to have a go at making them yourself? Here is the pattern. (or something like that. It is very simple.)

Mini Koala
Size: Mummy, 5 cm, baby 4 cm
Materials
• Small amounts of grey, white, dark brown, red brown DK (8-ply)
• Stuffing

Equipment
• A pair of 2.75mm (US 2) DPN knitting needles
• A chenille needle with fairy sharp point

Abbreviations
St/st: stocking stitch
St: stitch
K: knit
P: purl
Kf/b: k one through the front then through the back (same stitch)
K2tog: knit two together
P2tog: purl two together

Special technique: i-cord
Using double-pointed needles cast on the required number of stitches. Do not turn. Slide stitches to the opposite end of the needle, then knit stitches again taking the yarn firmly across the back of work. Repeat to desired length. Cast off.

Mummy
Body
Cast on 7 sts with grey
Row1 (WS): p
Row2: (kf/b) in each st (14)
Row3: p
Row4: (k1, kf/b) to end (21)
Row5: p7 (grey), p7 (white), p7 (grey)
Rows6-10: keeping the colour correct, st/st
Row11: (p1, p2tog) to end (14)
Break white and work with grey only
Row12: shape neck; (k2tog) to end (7)
Row13: p
Row14: (kf/b) in each st (14)
Row15-22: st/st
Row23: (p2, p2tog) to end (11)
Break yarn, draw through sts, pull tightly and fasten off.

Ears: make two
Cast on 10 sts with grey, break yarn. Join white and k1 row. Break yarn, draw through sts, pull tightly and fasten off.

Arms: make two
Cast on 2 sts with grey and work 3 rows in i-cord. Fasten off.

Nose
With 2 strands taken from red brown DK, cast on 4 sts.
Row1 (WS): p1, p2tog, p1 (3)
Row2: sl 1, k2tog, pass the first st over the second and fasten off.

To make up
With fasten-off yarn end, sew head and body, stuff, avoiding the neck area. Work a gathering thread along the cast-on edge and draw tightly to close the body. Work a gathering thread along the neck and pull tightly to shape. Attach nose, ears and arms. With dark brown, French knot the eyes.

Baby koala
Body
Cast on 6 sts with grey
Row1 (WS): p
Row2: (kf/b) in each st (12)
Row3: p
Row4: (k1, kf/b) to end (18)
Row5: p6 (grey), p6 (white), p6 (grey)
Rows6-9: st/st, keeping the colour correct
Row10: (k1, k2tog) to end (12)
Break white and work with grey only

Row11: shape neck; (p2tog) to end (6)
Row12: (kf/b) in each st (12)
Rows13-19: st/st
Row20: (k2, k2tog) to end (9)
Break yarn, draw through sts, pull tightly and fasten off.

Ears: make two
Cast on 8 sts with grey, break yarn, Join white and k 1 row. Break yarn, draw through sts, pull tightly and fasten off.

Nose
Cast on 3 sts with 2 strands from DK
Row1: p2tog, p1 (2)
Pass the first st over the second and fasten off.

Arms: make two
Cast on 2 sts with grey and work 2 rows in i-cord. Fasten off.

To make up
As given for mummy

I heard that koalas sleep 22 hours a day? Amazing. They sleep longer than my teenage boys.
Wow!

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Japanese Curry?

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As I mentioned in another post, my older son is learning to cook as a part of his preparation to University.

He tried this one recently; Japanese curry.

Do Japanese eat curry? Of course we do. Actually, it is one of the most popular dishes in Japan.

Curry was introduced to Japan during the Meiji era (1868–1912) by the British (!), at a time when India was under the colonial rule of British Raj. As curry was introduced to Japan via English cuisine, it was originally considered to be Western cuisine.

I didn’t know curry was Indian dish when I was little.

It is since modified to suit Japanese people’s taste. We call it “Curry Rice (Curry sauce over rice)” Japanese curry is thicker than Indian curry and is similar to stew. It is usually served over cooked short grain sushi rice. You may find it a bit odd, but we also enjoy curry sauce over Udon noodles or egg noodles, too.

In Japanese homes, curry sauce is most commonly made from instant curry roux, which is available in block. It contains curry powder, flour, oils and various flavourings. And you know what? You can buy these pre-made roux in local supermarkets here in the UK. You may have seen them in Asian food section.

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It is very easy to make our curry. It is one of the first dish we learn to cook in food tech class in primary school. We often cook it at campsite, too. Cooking large quantity of curry in a large pot together may be a good way of team building.

If you get this box of curry roux, all you need is just to follow the instruction on the box. As ingredients, you will need meat (beef, chicken or pork is common), onions, carrots, potatoes and/or any vegetable of your choice. You cook all ingredients in a pot with a bit of oil, add water and simmer for 20 minutes or so. The amount of water you need is on the box. Add the block of curry roux and simmer another 20 minutes or until the liquid thickens.

And here it is.

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When I was little, I used to love it when I could smell curry cooking from outside of the house. Yes, “Curry Rice” is one of our comfort food.

It is only after I left my home town and started to live in Tokyo that I discovered the Indian curries. Indian curries are delicious and fun to eat; lots of varieties of dished and sauces served with naan bread. But my boys absolutely love Japanese curry.

Have a go if you find the box at your local supermarket.

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What I made during holidays

I had quiet and peaceful holidays which was very nice.

I don’t miss my family back home in Japan much at Christmas. Christmas is still a little foreign for us. But I do think about them a lot at New Year’s Day. New Year (shogatsu or oshogatsu) is the most important holiday in Japan. Most businesses shut down from January 1 to January 3, and families gather to spend the days together.

We don’t do much celebration here in our household, but we have this ritual; we go see the first sunrise together.

We would be going to shrine for “Hatsumode” if we were in Japan. Hatsumōde is the first Shinto shrine visit of the New Year. Many visit on the first, second, or third day of the year. We make new wishes for the new year.

Instead, we make new wishes to the Sun.

Fortunately, we live on the top of the hill, and there is a spot we can see the sunrise. We had have so much rain lately, but the morning was bright and promising, so with our teenage sons and off we went.

It wasn’t a clear sunrise, but we could still peak it through the clouds. I love spending time with my boys like this.
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And I had nothing planned rest of the day, so, yes, you guessed it right, I knitted.

Just before Christmas, I made a wreath with felt fabric. I was rather pleased with the result, and this time, I decided to make it in knitting.

This is the one in felt.
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I always had the idea of making garland or wreath with knitting, but I worried that the wreath would get a little heavy. Having done the wreath with felt helped tremendously. I knew the size and design I wanted before I knitted a stitch.

I used the same template for the base of the wreath. The ring I made as the base is made of two cardboard circles taped together. The diameter for the outer edge is 20 cm and the width of the ring is 2.5cm. I did maths I learned in elementary school and I figured out the circumference. From there, I calculated the stitch numbers using my gauge.

I had to cast on 120 sts. I am used to knit tiny things, so this is rather a big project which made me a little nervous. But you see, it worked.

Adding flowers is the fun bit.
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Some of the decorations were quite easy to design, but some were not. I had lots of trials and errors, but it was very exciting to see the work coming together.

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And here is the finished work.
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The wreath has my little angel and the rabbit.

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And I am quite pleased with how the bells turned out.

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I can enjoy this next Christmas.

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New Year’s Eve noodles

What we had last night: soba noodles.
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We have a tradition to eat soba (buckwheat) noodles on a New Year’s Eve. It is called “Toshikoshi soba”. The word “toshikoshi” means to climb or jump from the old year to the new.

Soba is narrow and long in shape,so it symbolizes a wish for long life.

It is also believed that eating Soba will cut misfortune of the previous year and bring good luck in the next year. Soba noodles have no gluten, they can be cut more easily than other noodles.

The other day, I found these in a charity shop’s window. I could not believe my luck.

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I do not expect many to know what they are. Shop keepers had no clue, either. These are serving plates for “Zaru soba” or chilled soba noodles with a dipping sauce. How timely is that?

Usually, Toshikoshi soaba is served hot in a bowl, but there is no rules, and soba can be served hot or cold. My younger son absolutely loves chilled noodles and had it for lunch almost everyday when we visited Japan a few years ago.

Having cold pasta or noodles are not so popular here in the UK. You may think it is rather odd, but it is very tasty.

Recipe: serves three

About 240 g / 2 oz. dried soba noodles
Shredded Nori
Green onions, finely chopped

Dipping sauce
*You need to make it in advance and chill it in a fridge.
You can also buy a ready made sauce at Asian supermarkets.
300ml Dashi stock (can be made from dashi granules available from Asian supermarkets)
100ml Soy sauce
100ml Mirin sweet wine
1/2 tbsp sugar

Instructions

1. Prepare dipping sauce:place all ingredients of the dipping sauce in a sauce pan and gently heat up the mixture. Let it cool and chill it in a fridge.

2. In boiling water in a big pot, add dried Soba noodles and stir. After coming back to a boil, cook for 3-4 minutes (follow the instructions on the package). Drain and wash noodles under running water.

3. Place Soba on plates and top with shredded Roasted Seaweed. Serve with dipping sauce, green onions, and wasabi.

Very simple.

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For my husband and older son, I served it warm with shrimp tempura. Tempura came from a local supermarket. I cheated a bit.

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Since it is just a plate of noodles, you do want side dishes. I cooked soy beans with root vegetables, shiitake mushrooms and seaweed for one of them.

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I don’t cook Japanese New Year’s feast much because ingredients are not easy to get, but we always have noodles on New Year’s Eve.

Happy New Year!

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2016, the year of monkey.

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More Christmas projects

I love Christmas Nativity and every year, I make at least one set of Nativity dolls. I have many sets in different designs but never get tired of making a new one.

It is certainly a lovely story with many characters including animals. It is just perfect for a doll maker like me.

This year, I made two sets with felt fabric.

One is very simple. It is this one.

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The figures are very simple without arms or legs and they all share the same basic template. It only took me half a day. Baby Jesus sleeps in a walnut shell comfortably.

This is very cute, and I was very pleased with it, but I just had to make a large set with all players including animals.

So, here I go.

The first part: Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. If I can make the main characters right, I know the set will work.
Then, I added shepherds.

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Animals are a little more challenging because proportions do matter, but I think I did all right. I made bull and sheep lying down to create the feeling of intimacy.

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Now, three wise men.
They are my favorite. I get to enjoy decorating with embroideries, beads and ornaments.

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My camels are dressed up nicely, too.

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And here is the full cast.

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Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Advent Calendar

A couple of years ago, I knitted this calendar.

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It is my improvisation of Alan Dart’s calendar published by Sirdar yarn. He knitted it in Christmas red and green and added yellow ribbon in the centre of the panel. I decided to have more fun with colours and went for pastel look.
The toys in the pockets are all my original design.

I have seen lots of calendars in different styles, but I still like this simple panel with pockets.

This year, I made one with felt fabric.

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I could use the knitted calendar as the template for this project which made the process very easy.

I thought about making it with red and green initially. You need a large felt sold by metre, but soft natural colour is not easy to find. I could not find anything I like online, but luckily, the owner of the haberdashery in my little town helped me get this cream colour. The fabric is slightly thicker than felt squares, and that worked very well.

I chose simple font for the numbers for easy cutting and sewing.

All is done with hand-sewing. I thought I would get better control over stitches and finish would be neater that way.

And here are the toys to go in pockets.

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Yes, I made a lot. Well, you need at least 24 of little toys. Or 25? Do you need one for the Christmas Day?
Never mind.

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It is so enjoyable and satisfying to work on a large project like this. I enjoyed every minute of it.

I wish my boys were a little younger, but they did give me compliments

Maybe I will get to make full use of it with my grandchildren.

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Granola cookies

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According to the “Love Food Hate Waste” website in UK, we throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year, and more than half of this is food and drink we could have eaten.

Wasting this food costs the average household £470 a year, rising to £700 for a family with children, the equivalent of around £60 a month.

Can this be true?

I am a frugal shopper, especially when it comes to food. I was taught not to leave anything on a plate when I was growing up. Throwing away food was unthinkable.

So, no food goes to bin in our household.

It doesn’t mean all groceries are consumed quickly without any problem. Sometimes, we do struggle to do justice to food we buy, and one of these is breakfast cereals.

We have three or four opened boxes sometimes. My boys say they get bored with one flavour, or it gets “crumby” on the bottom.
I had this crumby granola which are left for weeks sitting on top of the fridge and decided to be a little creative.

I decided to make cookies with it.

I got the basic idea from oatmeal cookies and altered its recipe. Granola contains sugar already so that I reduced the amount of sugar considerably.

Recipe; this is what I used.

1 cup chocolate chip granola, crumbs and everything in the box. Crush large pieces over the plastic bag.
1 cup flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
90ml butter, softened. I know it is rather odd to measure butter in ml. I used US measuring cup. 1/4 cup and a half and I think it is about 50 g.
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
a few drops of vanilla extract
sprinkle of cinnamon

(makes about 20)

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C, 350 F. (gas mark 4-5).

2. Fluff butter with electric beater for 30 sec- 1 min. Add sugar and cream the butter. Add egg and beat a little more until well mixed.

3. Add brown sugar, flour, baking powder, a few drops of vanilla and sprinkle cinnamon. Mix to combine using a spatula.

4. Drop a small ball of the dough with a spoon, 3cm apart, and bake in the oven for 10-12 mins.

You know what? These cookies turned out to be one of the best I made, and my family absolutely loved them! They all went in two days. I was very pleased because this is my original recipe!

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Holidays are coming and we tend to overstock food. When you have left-overs or unpopular items in your kitchen, take a challenge and be creative. You never know, you may come up with a fantastic recipe of your own.

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Christmas craft

I knitted this wreath earlier this year. I made it especially for the Knit Now magazine so that it was made in summer. (Took a little effort to get into the spirit…) Instead of making toys, I wanted something to decorate home this time.
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We feel like making something when Christmas approaches. Even if you are not involved in any craft usually, you may want to join a workshop or two and make something special for your home or someone special.

I remember making my first wreath many years ago in America. I wasn’t at all doing any craft then, but I enjoyed the workshop very much and proudly brought my creation home to show it to everyone.

I design many things all year around but still, I feel very creative in December.

I still knit a lot, but this year, I started to sewing a bit more. It works very well, doing sewing and knitting projects going at the same time. Sewing takes much less time than knitting. It is good to try the idea with sewing first and see if it works.

Hence, I am much busier than before, always having a go at new projects.

Recently, I made this felt wreath.

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I cut two cardboard circle rings and glue them together. I sew green felt to encase the cardboard and sew felt leaves and flowers.

I had no vision or plan at all when I started it. I made a poinsettia flower and decided I need another. I added holly leaves and berries, but I thought I needed something more. Then, came the little angel, acorns, oak leaves and pine cones.

I wanted to make a cute wreath without getting it look too childish. I think the angel was just right.

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Once I started to see how I wanted it, things got easier and quicker. It took me good three days and a quick run to a haberdashery to get the ribbon. But it certainly was very exciting and fun three days and I am happy with the result.

Just a little final touch, a dove.

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I was quite pleased with the angel and decided to make more.

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I am going to knit them next.

Handmade ornaments are great. You get to see them every Christmas for many years.
I still have the stockings my boys made in their kindergarten. They are simple felt stockings but very lovely.

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Japanese Kuri-gohan, Chestnut rice

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The festive season is approaching, and we started to see Christmas girts and decorations everywhere.

We start early in Britain. Because we do not have Thanksgiving, after the Halloween, we go straight to getting ready for Christmas.
It is lovely to see all those Christmassy things.

Supermarkets’ products become more interesting, too, but what I like the most is not a hamper baskets or a large tin of chocolates.

It is chestnuts.

I really look forward to this season for chestnuts.
I like them cooked in any way. Traditionally in Japan, we boil chestnuts, cut in half and scoop the inside with a tea spoon. In old days, we did not have an oven in our households, let alone a fire place, so that boiling was the easiest cooking method.

We also cook “Kurigohan”.
Chestnuts are called kuri in Japanese.Japanese home cooking is all about cooking with what’s in season and this is one of my favorite. Kurigohan is steamed rice with chestnuts and is a popular Japanese autumn dish.

Ingredients; serves 4
400cc short-grain Sushi Rice
20 chestnuts
2tbsp Sake
2tbsp Mirin sweet rice wine if you have
1 tsp Salt
10cm dried kombu sheet
420dcc water
Method

Wash the rice and soak in water for 30 minutes, then drain.
Soak the chestnuts in boiling water for 15 minutes to make them easier to peel.

I have this fantastic tool; chestnuts shell peeler which my husband brought from Japan.
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But I do not expect anyone to have this in Britain. You would be using a knife.
Make a cut in the bottom of each chestnut, then peel off the shell carefully.

Soak the chestnuts again in hot water. It is easier to peel when they are warm.
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Then, you peel the inner skin. This time, I have to use a knife, too.
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I wish I could say this is easy peasy, but I would be lying if I said so. It isn’t. It is a time consuming hard work, and I need to keep encouraging myself. End result is yummy, and I will get rewarded with smiles.

Good news is the hard work ends here.

Put the rice, water, sake, and salt in a heavy bottom pot and lightly mix all together. Then place chestnuts on top. I use a rice cooker. You can cook following manufacturer’s instruction.

Bring the rice to a boil over medium heat. Once water is boiling, turn the heat to low and cook covered for 12 to 13 minutes, or until the water is completely absorbed. If you see there is still water left, continue cooking for a little longer.

Remove from the heat, and leave for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with toasted sesami seeds if you wish, then serve.

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Ever thought of cooking chestnuts in savory dishes like this? You can peel chestnuts and cook them with vegetables and meats, too.

I make this dish only once a year. My hands ache after peeling 20 chestnuts. But I know there is no Japanese restaurants in London serves Kuri-gohan (simply too much work!) and I want to please my family who loves it.

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