Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Baking your own bread is difficult and time consuming, right? No longer! Mark Bittman shared his simple bread recipe in 11/8/06 issue of NYT. Hiroko was thrilled to try it and yes indeed, it is very easy...
After mixing the bread flour with salt, yeast, and water, let the dough rest for 18 hours. Then, wrap the dough in a corn meal-covered towel, and allow it to rest for another 2 hours or so. Heat a cast- iron pot with lid in the oven at 500 F for 30 mintues. Then, place the dough in the pot, close the lid, and bake for about 30 mintues. Closing the lid will create a steaming effect in the pot. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until the bread becomes a golden color and voila!
Bread was very moist with a chewy texture. Even our Italian friend Maria said that the bread is very similar to breads she used to eat at home in Modena. That's a huge compliment for an inexperienced bread maker! Thanks to Mark Bittman, anyone who is willing to try his recipe can now savor the joy of freshly baked homemade bread!
One afternoon Hiroko exclaimed, "I want to cook a whole fish!" Being an omnivore who leans toward meat, Rick gave her a quick sideways glance, but he could see that she was determined to buy and cook a whole fish. For quite some time she had longed to try a recipe that she had found for Salt Baked Fish. For years we've heard that baking fish in salt is the one of most delicious and simple ways to enjoy fish. Rick surrendered to her wish and went shopping.
Since red snapper wasn't available that day, we chose pompano for the dish. After preparing a mixture of salt with egg whites, we placed the fish on the bed of the salt mixture and covered the fish with the rest, and then, baked the fish in 400 degree F oven for about 30 mintues.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Our Yosemite visit was nothing less than fantastic! We had two full days in the park; on the first, we hiked short trails to Lower Yosemite Falls (a trickle at this time of year) and through the Mariposa Grove (of giant sequoias) and drove up to Glacier Point where we were to begin a more rigorous hike the next day. From that point overlooking the entire Yosemite Valley, the familiar glacial rocks, El Capitan and Half Dome, as well as the Nevada and Illiouette Falls, on day two, we hiked the 8.7 mile Panorama Trail. Half Dome is its signiture landmark, and it was majestic and beautiful. Shaped like a slice of watermelon, it is smooth and rounded on one side and sheer vertical cliff on the other. All along the winding Panorama Trail, we kept seeing the Half Dome at different levels (altitudes) and from new angles as we decended from 7200 ft. to 4000 ft. The final two mile segment of the Panorama, called the Mist Trail, runs along the waterfalls, and was by no means easy going. Following the near vertical drop of the falls is an unending trail of rock "steps" (and that is a VERY loose use of the term). In reality they weren't much more than what looked like a jumble of rocks and more rocks left by the last glacier of 3 million years ago. Given the strenuous demands and mental exhaustion (from having to focus on not twisting and ankle or falling) that we experienced we found it difficult to conceive of climbing the trail that we had descended. Hiroko became dizzy looking down and walking down the steps and the front thigh and shin muscles in my legs ached for the ensuing two days as if I had just made my first visit to the gym. In the end, it took us about 6 hours to finish the trail, we began the trail around 10:00 am and finished around 4 pm. Needless to say, we slept VERY well that night!
Marina Sub, a non-descript sandwich shop owned by the same Asian man who makes an array of overstuffed submarine sandwiches (hero, grinder, hoagie...call it what you will) is located at the corner of Union and Steiner Streets in the Marina section of San Francisco. When we arrived at about 1PM, there were only a few customers waiting on line with a handful seated at one of the sparse tables, eating their sandwiches. What we discovered was...the man sure knows how to make sandwich! Of particular note, is the impressive way in which he peels and slices an avocado. The man was a finely tuned machine; taking orders, making and toasting sandwiches, and then wrapping them with no wasted effort. It was the fusion of art and efficiency!
There are 3 sizes to choose from: small (5 inches), medium (7 inches), and large (10 inches). After having some time to observe while waiting, we opted for sharing a large "Italian" on which he first put mustard on one side the large Italian style baguette (we almost stopped him but are glad that we didn't), to which he then added cappicola, salami, mortadella, and provolone. He then put them in the oven to toast. While he was building our sandwich, he also prepared several phone ordered sandwiches and took orders from the next customers in line. When the sandwich was toasted, he added mayonnaise, shredded lettuce, tomato, and Italian dressing, then using his long knife closed the bread tightly and neatly wrapped it.
The sandwich was as tasty as we had anticipated from observing its construction. The bread was soft and lightly toasted, and the contents blended perfectly with the flavors of the mustard, mayonnaise and Italian dressing. It was well worth the walk there and we enjoyed the rare good fortune of a relatively short wait. Because, by the time we left, the line was out the door and around the corner!
Friday, September 22, 2006
The shop, located on Larkin street in Mission, is small and simple. When we got there, no line was formed and only one man was eating his banh mi at a, make that THE small counter, in the front window. The proprietor, sweeping the floor, without missing a broomstroke, took our order for the special banh mi, i.e. doc viet.
Without a doubt this is the best we have eaten so far. Yes, even better than the hallowed Saigon Banh Mi on Mott Street, we thought. With a generous amount of the tasty mix of pate, grilled seasoned pork, pickled carrot and daikon, cilantro, and price was $2.75! While we were savoring the sandwich, the line grew longer and longer. We seemed to got there just in time!
Sunday, September 10, 2006
A cake is not Hiroko's favorite dessert to make. She is scared to make sponge cake because she doesn't own an electric mixer (which is a most useful gadget to have when whipping and mixing butter, egg, and sugar). That's her excuse not to attempt baking cakes. However, she realized that if she never tries, then she will never improve her skill, either.
After avoiding her loan baking fear for many years, she was moved to face it when Rick requested a chocolate cake for his birthday. At first, she didn't really want to make it, but then she decided it was time to take on the challenge.
Instead of the plain and typical chocolate sponge cake, which required her to whip egg and whites, Hiroko discovered a recipe for the cake using buttermilk, which didn't require whipping the eggs.
This recipe from December 2005 issue of Food & Wine uses coffee and butter milk to create a moist, rich and fudgy cake. She used Scharffenberger's bittersweet chocolate for her frosting and it was very dense and VERY chocolatey. As you can see in the photograph above, it wasn't the most professional looking, but it was delicious and it completely satisfied our chocolate craving. It was Hiroko's first try and she was happy with the results for a first effort. And now that she has overcome her fear of baking chocolate cakes, her only remaining fear is maintaining her waistline...
As Rick's birthday approached, Hiroko wanted to create something she had never prepared before. She went through cookbook after cookbook and found a relatively simple recipe for DUCK. It can be prepared in advance, which is allowed more time for the preparation of the other dinner dishes and dessert.
The aforementioned recipe is for Chilled Duck with Zinfandel Sauce from Food & Wine's 2004 Cookbook. After browning the duck breast in a cast iron pan, she placed it in a ziploc bag containing a Zinfandel, mirin, and soy sauce mixture. The following day, she cooked it in what trendy chefs are currently calling the "sous vide" method by placing the bag in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Once cooked, the bag with the duck and marinade is plunged into a bowl of ice water and chilled for 45 mintues, and then popped it in the refrigerator to marnate overnight.
Just before the dinner, Hiroko warmed up the duck and sauce, and served it by placing the sliced duck breast on each plate and drizzling it with the warmed zinfandel sauce.
It was most and delicious...in a word, fantastic! Somehow, the picture we took does do it justice. You will just have to trust us and try it yourself with a few glasses of Martinelli Jackass Vineyard Zinfandel to simulate Rick's best birthday meal in memory!
Saturday, August 12, 2006
This particular flower, housed at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, bloomed on Friday, August 11. When we saw it on Saturday at around 11am, the noxious smell had (mercifully) dissipated. Although we arrived a little too late to experience the infamous odor, we were able to see the unusual looking flower, which blooms so infrequently and for such short duration (and has provoked so much controversy over time....women weren't allowed to view it in the Victorian era).
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Rick eats blueberries on his daily bowl of cereal in the morning but, never are they as tasty as they are right now. But with three pounds of irresistably fat, ripe, deep colored berries to eat, what to do with them before they spoil...what a travesty that would be! Solution? Make berry tarts!
Hiroko has been working on perfecting her tartmaking skills for a year. And the more tarts she makes, the better they get! Lately she has finally confessed (modestly) that she is finally comfortable with her tart shell.
She makes a sweet pastry shell from flour, butter, eggs, sugar, and ice water. And, for the filling....... lots and lots of berries! If you'd like to know her recipe, let us know. How can you resist one that has been a year in the making? Especially during berry season.
Since we returned from Japan, we've become fascinated by and interested in Japanese style pottery. We tend to go for unusually shaped and handmade "one of the kind" designs. Recently, Rick's Uncle Carl generously sent us beautiful Bizen-yaki plates made by American man named John Ray. He studied and honed his pottery skills in Okayama, which is reknowned for Bizen-yaki.
We love the organic, earthy shape, texture, and feeling of the plate. We were told that it is a sushi plate, but why just limit its use to sushi when its design makes any food presented look and taste delicious. We've use them for serving appetizers or salads (no sushi as yet).
Check out John Ray's website to enjoy some of his beautiful work!
Thursday, June 29, 2006
After observing the ladies making the dumplings, Hiroko decided to make her own from scratch. She consulted dumpling/gyoza recipes from websites to cookbooks, and picked the gyoza recipe from one of her Japanese cookbooks.
She started by making the dough, mixing the dry ingredients with warm water. After pounding and kneading for 10 minutes, the dough reached the proper texture approximating that of an earlobe....this guideline courtesy of the cookbook. Now it was time to allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator for an hour. While the dough napped, she prepared the stuffing using ground chicken and pork and mixing the meat with minced ginger, scallions, and garlic.
So far, it seemed very simple and easy. The struggle began when she tried to roll out the dough into small individual wrappers. She rolled the dough into a log about 1-inch in diameter and then cut it into 1-inch slices. She then carefully rolled each out into a thin crepe-like sheet. The recipe made it look as if these would be easily rolled out into a round shape. However, everytime she rolled out the dough, it was neither round nor square. After awhile, her rolling skill improved a little, but the wrappers were still far from being a nice round shape.
She filled the wrappers with the seasoned meat stuffing, but they resembled ugly croissants more than dumplings. Rick suggested to cut the dough using a round cookie cutter, so that the wrappers will have uniform shape.
Hiroko fried the dumplings in grapeseed oil while Rick made the simple soy/vinegar dipping sauce. After tasting it, we realized that Hiroko had forgotten to add salt to the stuffing mix. Although the use of some salt is recommended we found that once they made contact with the dipping sauce and entered our mouths, our first homemade ugly dumplings tasted beautifully juicy and delicious!
Hiroko gained a new appreciation for the skill of the dumpling ladies at Fried Dumpling. Each return visit presents her with another opportunity to observe their technique and marvel at how they roll out the nice round wrappers.
Sugar snap pea season is here! We look forward to this time of the year to buying sugar snap peas at Greenmarket. On a recent Saturday we made a special trip to the market in Union Square to see if the local producers were offering them yet. And sure enough, we spotted the peas filled a bag with several handfulls, and we have been eating them practically everyday since.
The way we like to eat them is simple. Cook them for 1 minute in boiling water, drain and run under cold water to chill and arrest the cooking process. The sugar snap peas are very soft and can be eaten raw, so it isn't necessary to cook them more than 60 seconds. This blanching in the boiling water is just enough to bring out the beautiful bright green color.
Eat them plain or dip them in a sauce of your own choosing. We like a slightly spicy mix of Kewpie mayonnaise and yuzu kosho paste (or Kewpie and miso). Enjoy them now (preferably with a glass of rose) because the season is short and there's nothing like the local variety!
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
That occasion presented itself recently when we celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Upon arrival we were seated immediately for our 7:30PM reservation and were soon greeted by an amuse of roasted lobster in an asparagus bisque. As soon as Hiroko heard the "L word," she expressed her dislike for lobster to the waiter who without hesitation very kindly offered an additional amuse, an exquisite smoked wild salmon. Neither of us are usually inclined to order smoked salmon but this salmon had beautiful pale pink color and unlike most smoked salmon served in restaurants, it was not the least bit oily or salty and, its texture struck the perfect balance between firm and tender. As we savored each bite we imprinted it in our sensory memory as the gold standard for wild smoked salmon. Rick's first appetizer kanpachi tartare, a delicately composed interweaving of silky kanpachi with a whisper of citrus, olive oil, and fresh herbs, was also a classic example of how restraint and simplicity can produce maximum pleasure.
Along with its exceptional food, Le Bernardin is also a restaurant with a profound understanding of the importance of ensuring that their customers leave with the feeling that they've had the most enjoyable dining experience. They've mastered the art of focusing on pleasing their customer from every perspective. Our lobster amuse story exemplifies that ethic. Another instance occured when Hiroko diplomatically voiced her unhappiness with her first appetizer, a warm spicy octopus cut into small medallions, flecked with black olive and drizzled with aged sherry vinegar. After politely pointing out that it was too salty to enjoy the flavor of octopus and vinegar, to our surprise, they insisted on bringing another dish, an Escolar (Hawaiian white tuna) salad (which turned out to be Rick's favorite dish of the evening). We couldn't have been more impressed with their dedication to hospitality. Not only did they replace the initial dish, but it was accomplished with virtually no delay in our meal. There are not many restaurants that we've visited that deliver this level of exceptional multi-dimensional service!
One of our favorite dishes was a "progression" of fluke ceviches in four marinades: citrus, tomato and basil, ponzu, and lemongrass and coconut. It was very simple dish, but each of the four explored a different flavor and seasoning combination that made their own mark on the taste of the fluke. This perfectly light yet flavor-focused execution characterized the restaurant's deft ability to achieve balance among the elements of each dish on the menu.
Four-star restaurants don't always have great ambience. Le Bernardin has been said to have the look of an airport frequent flyer lounge or hotel lobby. We suppose the midtown location of the restaurant, its need to serve the corporate world, and the fact that it was designed in the mid-80's have something to do with its decidedly bland decor. Nevertheless, it certainly doesn't intrude on or distract the least bit from the dining experience... which may actually be a plus!
Overall, we had a wonderful evening. Service, as we noted earlier, was superb and even the dishes that we had that we don't mention here were of nearly equal caliber. Every course was well matched with by-the-glass and half bottle selections from the mostly French and American wine list (we were happy to see that several sakes were offered and in fact, we enjoyed one with the fluke). Le Bernardin is not an everyday kind of place (certainly not for us, at least!), but it is, indeed, the perfect place to go for a special occasion. Now that we've had the experience, we won't necessarily go again next month, but on another special occasion....we wouldn't hestitate one bit!
Thursday, May 25, 2006
To put it in the terms used by our friend Harris, the weather has been a little "schizo" this Spring. When the forecast predicts rain, we are treated to (the always welcome) blue sky. When fair skies are expected, we are subjected to a deluge. One day last week, the evening news weather forecast promised that it would rain the entire following day. Rather than just sit at home and watch the "rain in vain," we decided to make the most of the drearily inclement weather and prepare a recipe that we had recently read for slow cooked beef cheeks. This particular recipe requires the cheeks to cook at a low oven temperature for 8 to 10 hours. What better way to enjoy what otherwise would be a total washout?
Our basic recipe was from Daniel Patterson's piece in the NYT Magazine (5/7/06). We also consulted Tom Colicchio's "Cook Like a Chef" before departing for Staubitz, our nearby butcher where we purchased a pound of beef cheeks for less than $5. After first browning our cheeks on the stovetop, we popped them in a 180 degree oven where they quietly remained for 6 hours the first day and additional 4 hours the next. But, even after 10 hours, these cheeks hadn't reached the tenderness that we were seeking so, we raised the temperature to 350 degrees (taking a cue from the Colicchio method) and cooked them for another 30 minutes. That did the trick! The cheeks were now ready to eat -- very tender but not quite falling apart. We served them with two of Spring's quintessential ingredients, fresh greenmarket asparagus and ramps. When we initally planned our menu, we fully expected to have leftovers for following day but, before we realized it, all that was left was the smile on our faces!
This recipe was very easy to make but, who has the time to stay home and babysit their oven for 10 hours? All that we can say is that if you do, you will be rewarded with a juicy, tender and richly flavored dish that will have you wishing you could do it again the next day.
By the way, in case you were wondering about the weather on those two days that it took for us to cook the beef cheeks.... the sky was blue and we didn't see a drop of rain!
Slow-Cooked Beef Cheeks with Spring Vegetables and Rosemary
inspired by Daniel Patterson's recipe on 5/7/06 NYT Magazine
1 beef cheek
salt and black pepper
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
3 sprigs rosemary
1 cup beef stock and 1 cup chicken stock
4 asparagus, cut into 1-inch lengths
4 ramps, steamed
1 tablespoon minced chives
Season the beef cheeks with salt and pepper. Brown the meat in a braising pan in olive oil. Transfer the meat onto a plate. In the same pan, sautee the onion, carrots, and garlic with pinch of salt and pepper in low heat until the onion is tender. Remove from the heat and add the rosemary and return the meat to the pan. Let stand 15 minutes, until cooled.
Pour the stock into the pan, but not to cover the meat completely. Cover the pan and put in a cold oven. Turn the oven to 180 degrees and cook for 8 to 10 hours, until the meat is very tender. You can cook the cheeks partly, then put them into the refrigerator and finish them later. Raise the tempreture to 350 degrees for 1/2 to 1 hours if you need to, until the meat has reached the desired tenderness.
Cook the asparagus in salted boiling water for about 2 minutes, drain well and set aside. Steam the ramps about 4 minutes, drain well and set aside. Adjust the beef and broth for seasoning, and slice the meat for serving. Place the meat and vegetables in a bowl, and laddle some broth over the top. Sprinkle with chives.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
After months of anticipation, we went to the new Fairway that opened in Red Hook, Brooklyn today. Yes, it is huge (52,000 sq. feet) and filled with a multitudinous variety of fresh and prepared foods, including produce, meats (they even have an aging locker for steaks), seafood, cheeses, coffees, beverages of every sort (with an alcohol level below 6%), a bakery with everything from baguettes to bagels, a staff friendlier than Japanese airline flight attendants (impossible?!), and low, make that LOW prices!
We compared and found that many of our staples, e.g. Tropicana Ruby Red Grapefruit juice, Haagen Daz ice cream, Farmland Skim Plus, and Sauders Organic extra large eggs were all anywhere from 50 cents to $1 less than Key Food or Met Food.
Last night at a sake tasting at The Good Fork we heard that the Grand Opening will be Monday, May 22. Mayor Bloomberg is expected to preside at the ribbon cutting ceremony. Yes, this SUPERmarket is literally a BIG deal! It brings more jobs to what was until recently an underdeveloped area. A few years ago, unless you lived there, Sunny's (or Johnny's as this quirky bar is sometimes known) was the only reason outsiders ventured into this former warehouse-fraught area on the southern Brooklyn waterfront. Now, with the new Cruise Line Terminal and the impending opening of an IKEA, the once modest local economy will get a welcome boost and consumers are winners too.
Getting to the new Fairway might be a bit of a trek for all but those who live in Red Hook. But, with parking for 300, the variety, prices, and quality are sure to draw many more shoppers from a wider area....us included!
Thursday, May 11, 2006
While wandering through Kyoto's Gion District, we bought this small envelope containing "Japan's Hottest Golden Hot Pepper" at Gion Ajikou. Although we'd never heard of the shop or this pepper, the label on the package saying "Japan's hottest pepper," was irresistable. Always seeking a challenge and, to improve our "spiciness tolerance," we bought it. And besides, Japanese cuisine is not known to be spicy we thought, so how spicy could it really be?
This particular powdered pepper is made from a Japanese yellow or "Ogon (golden)" pepper and it is claimed to be 10 times hotter than regular Japanese "Togarashi (red)"pepper. The Ogon pepper is thought to have originated as a yellow hot pepper in Southeast Asia, and its cultivation in Japan was first recorded in the mid-18th century.
Yesterday, we finally opened the envelope for the first time since our return to NY and inside found the innocuous-looking yellow powder. When the mere scent of that "powder" hit our noses, we began to sneeze violently. We dipped a moistened finger, ever so slightly into the powder and gingerly touched it to our tongue....
...which immediately began to blister! The capsacin level was off the chart! If you, like us thought that Habanero was the benchmark for ultra-hot, Ogon sets a new standard. How to use our "lifetime supply" of this hyper hot ingredient? Some suggestions....how about substituting it for the cayenne in deviled eggs? Use it in lieu of the aforementioned Togarashi in kinpira (gobo or burdock sauteed in grapeseed oil, sugar, mirin, and sake), or maybe in spicy fried rice, or in rubs and pastes for grilling.
Ordering this may be a challenge if you haven't brushed up on your Japanese lately...the website is entirely in Japanese. If you're interested in getting your hands on some, let us know!
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Ho Chi Minh City was chaotic and busy. It was such a shock going from orderly Japan to disorderly Vietnam. With thousands of motorcycles clogging the streets, traffic lights were a rarity in this city. Something as simple as crossing the street took some time to learn...you don't wait for traffic to stop or run, just walk VERY slowly and they all drive around you! Once you get to used to it, suddenly you find an order amidst the chaos.
For food, we needed some time to get adjusted, too. At first, nothing at the food stalls on the street looked sanitary, so we were very careful where we ate (mostly in restaurants). We didn't want to risk eating on the street or in the market and get sick. So, we (regrettably, now) didn't try any street food in Ho Chi Minh.
This is not to say that we didn't try to eat any delicious authentic Vietnamese food there. We did. We found a great pho (beef noodle soup flavored with star anise) at Pho 2000 near the Ben Thanh Market and Ham Nghi street. Pho 2000 is a chain restaurant, but it was soooo good. Another popular place Pho 24 is a chain pho cafe, but we found Pho 24's eponymous dish to be not nearly as flavorful as Pho 2000. 2000 is constantly crowded with tourists as well as locals (go to the second floor, it is air conditioned). We learned about the second floor AC on our second visit and there too we saw photos on the wall of Former President Clinton as he enjoyed his Pho 2000 experience.
We also loved the food at Quan An Ngon near Dinh Thong Nhat, the former presidentilal palace. This place seemed popular dining place among young Vietnamese. When we arrived at the restaurant, people were flooded outside of the restaurant, and we didn't know if there was a waiting list or if people were just hanging out. We wedged our way through the crowd to the inside of the restuarant to see if there was a waiting list. The crowd inside was equally as dense and we were told to wait. So, did. Uncertain as to whether they had understood us, we continued to wait in anticipation of something worth tasting. Luckily, we were seated in less than 20 minutes. Sure enough, the food was fantastic, the best (outside of the pho) that we had eaten in HCM! We had lotus salad with shrimp and pork, a shrimp and sweet potato pancake, sticky rice with pork and Chinese sausage, spring rolls with shrimp and pork, grilled beef with toast and chili salt....all very authentic Vietnamese dishes served in a stylish outdoor garden setting (with beers) at a very reasonable 175,000 VND ($12 US)!
Quan An Ngon
138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Nozomi is the fastest train among all Shinkansen (bullet trains). Nozomi, which means "hope" is faster than the train named, Hikari which means "light" so, that may give you some idea as to how fast it is. With an average speed of 261.8km/hour or164mph, it's route begins in Kyushu (southwest Japan) and ends in Tokyo (map). Since the Shinkansen rail service does not run through Shikoku, we needed to make a connection with it via an express train from Matsuyama to Okayama. Our Nozomi departed Okayama at 12:06pm and arrived in Tokyo at 3:30pm, less than 3.5 hours to traverse the entire country!
A train station in Japan is nothing like its American counterpart. In fact there is no comparison when it comes to both the quality of food and the number of purveyors. At the "eki" there is always an irresistably aromatic bakery, as well as numerous shops selling bento (boxed meals), noodles (ramen, udon, soba), souvenirs (or "omiyage," the all-essential gifts brought back for friends and family by Japanese travelers), and kissaten (coffee shops that offer amazing coffee, baked goods, and light sandwiches). Hard as it may be to imagine from our own experience in the US, in Japan, the train station is a gastronomic fantasyland!
A train trip without "ekiben" (eki=station and ben=bento) is like a visit to New York without eating bagels. If you have never had the ekiben experience, you really must try it at least once. Since train travel is the most popular (and easiest way to get around) in Japan and the Japanese have grown up eating bento since their childhood, it was natural for the culture of ekiben to develop. Each region's ekiben features their own unique and local specialities. This self contained meal is a great value too, costing ony about $5 to $7. Each comes complete with chopsticks, soy sauce, napkin, and of course, a tooth pick (a hopitality fixture in Japanese dining).
It is quite easy to understand the attraction to traveling by train in Japan. The rail system is pervasive and ALWAYS on time. The stations are monuments to cleanliness, organization, efficiency, and most importantly, the place where great food is found at every turn. It's no wonder that every inter-city passenger seems to carry an ekiben with them when they board, no matter what the time of day! We were delighted that our Nozomi experience allowed us the time to indulge ourselves in ekiben, a quintessential source of pleasure that exists only in Japan!
Monday, May 01, 2006
One of the most popular Yoshoku is Omuraisu, omelet rice. It is fried ketchup rice wrapped with an omelet. This peculiar dish is a favorite of many Japanese kids, and oddly, Hiroko still craves this strange dish time to time. Many Americans don't seem to embrace the flavor combination of ketchup, rice, and omelet. Although he grew up in a household where the ketchup bottle was always on the table for scrambled egg breakfasts, Rick is one of those who hasn't yet gained an appreciation for this dish. Since his youth, his tastebuds have somehow lost their affinity for ketchup, so he finds it difficult to understand why anyone would want to ruin good rice by mixing it with the wretched red condiment. But, in the name of love for Hiroko and her similar sentiment for this crazy concoction, he yielded to her desire to eat it while in Japan. So, off we went to the cafe where she had gone for her favorite Omuraisu when she was in high school.
When the the plate bearing the fluffy omelet delicately wrapped around the ketchup rice arrived at the table, Rick's curiousity got the best of him so he closed his eyes and tried one bite. As bizzare as this dish had seemed to him, after tasting it he admitted that it was not nearly as bad as he had imagined. His expression of newfound appreciation went virtually unnoticed as Hiroko's attention was focused on polishing off the Omuraisu before he could do further damage.
On this food journey down memory lane, the second Youshoku dish that Hiroko craved was lasagna. We went to a restaurant, which has the reputation for serving the best lasagna in the city. This lasagna, however, is not exactly Italian-style lasagna but rather the Japanese concept. Unlike the oven-baked dish of layered pasta, meat (or vegetable), cheese, and tomato sauce that most Americans recognize, this variety consisted of single layer of pasta, tomato sauce, cheese, and onions, presented to the table grilled in a cast-iron pan. The popularity of this dish has not waned a bit since Hiroko's high school days. When we went for lunch on a cold February day, the restaurant was packed with customers, most of whom were also eating this lasagna. What we didn't know as we surveyed this scene and inhaled the aroma of sizzling tomato sauce and melted cheese was whether they were reliving a memory or building one for the future.
Sunday, April 30, 2006
Now, about that signature dish.....Hiroko's father awkwardly warned us in advance that Ikkaku's chicken is "nothing like that ordinary tender grilled chicken. This chicken is much chewier and so much better." We didn't quite know what to expect, but told him we were game to try it...after all if it was little chewy but more flavorful, why not? Well...
Ikkaku's menu is short, simple, and straightforward consisting of "Oyadori" (adult chicken), "Hinadori" (young chicken), and a few other small dishes like edamame, salad, chicken rice, and soup. Needless to say, this simple kind of food was meant to be eaten with continuously flowing beer, sake, and/or shochu.
At Hiroko's father's insistence, we started with a beer and the Oyadori (adult chicken). A plate bearing a chicken leg and thigh arrived in front of each of us. The chicken was redolent of garlic, oil, and a blend of black and red pepper. It looked and smelled delicious. The scent of the glistening spicy grilled meat made us salivate immediately. Rick bit into the chicken. The meat didn't budge from the bone.. It became apparent that Hiroko's father's warning was no understatement. This Oyadori was not the least bit tender at all; and was just the kind of "tough chicken" that would make a tender man of Frank Perdue (or at least be his nightmare). But, the flavor of the chicken was so irresistably tasty and toothsome that it was next to impossible to stop attacking and chewing the meat....maybe it brought out the deeply buried primeval satisfaction of the early carnivores. Our fingers were covered with juice and our lips were happily buzzing with spices from the marinade. We had to keep licking our fingers, it was senseless to continue to try to use napkins.
Hiroko's father believes that once people have the Ikkaku experience, it is difficult to go back to eating tender chicken...it is almost as if tender chicken does not have the flavor or provide the satisfaction that should come from eating this farmyard (or probably freerange in this case) fowl. And, as we cleaned the last bits of meat from the bones, we could clearly understand why he felt that way. After the Oyadori, we ordered some "Hinadori" (young chicken) for comparison...yes, it was juicy and tasty, but somehow now it just seemed ordinary.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Our friends Lumi and Eric recently brought us some Meyer lemons from her mother's tree in California. The Meyer lemon, originally from China, is thought to be a hybrid of lemon and mandarin orange was introduced to the U.S. in 1908 by Frank Meyer who worked at Department of Agriculture.
These meyer lemons were ripe and ready to eat, so Hiroko didn't waste any time putting them to use. After immediately Googling meyer lemon recipes, she decided to bake a Flourless Orange and Ginger Cake, substituting meyer lemons for oranges and further modifying the recipe a little bit.
Flourless Meyer Lemon and Ginger Cake
(7 inch springform pan)
3 Meyer lemons
1 cup sugar
2cups Almond Meal/Flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1~2 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
6~8 pieces of candied ginger, chopped
Butter for greasing the pan
Lemon juice: 1 lemon
Lemon zest: half lemon
crystalized sugar or crushed unrefined sugar cube
Scrub the lemons well. Place in a medium sauce pan covered with water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook the lemons for about 2 hours. Add more hot water as necessary when the water level gets low. Drain and cut lemons in half removing the seeds. Place them in blender or food processor to puree.
Preheat oven 375F/190C. Beat the eggs with sugar. Whisk in the lemon puree, almond meal/flour, baking powder, fresh ginger, and candied ginger, and mix well.
Butter the pan and line with parchment paper. Pour the mixture into the pan and bake for about 1 hour until golden on the top. Let cool for a few minutes while you make the frosting. In a small bowl, mix lemon juice, lemon zest, and sugar. Remove the cake from the pan and pour the frosting over the cake. Let cool it before serving.
The resulting cake was wonderfully moist with intensely concentrated flavor. We served it after dinner that evening and ate it again the next morning too...it was just as moist and delicious!
This recipe was not work intensive and was easy to make. Use as much or as little ginger as you like. We love ginger, but in this recipe, its flavor does not stand out. Its role is to simply amplify the fresh sweet, piquant flavor of the Meyer lemon (or orange) If you don't like it, omit the ginger.... the cake will still be quite tasty!
Monday, April 10, 2006
With our apologies to the Declaration of Independence, all Udon are not created equal. There are all other udon noodles and then there is Sanuki Udon. Sanuki Udon is the ultimate udon noodle, according to Hiroko, who was born and raised in Kagawa-ken, the birthplace and ancestral home of udon (think bagels and New York).
Sanuki Udon is different from the udon noodles from other places in Japan. It is shinier and silkier in color and more springy in texture. While we were driving around town, udon noodle shops (small restaurants) were as ubiquitous as nail salons in Manhattan. Most of these shops are quite small and many of them are self-service.
The way to order sanuki udon is:
1. Order the type of udon noodle dish (i.e. the preparation)...Zaru Udon or Kake Udon, etc.
2. Specify size/quantity i.e. small, medium, and large.
3. Wait patiently (for usually a minute or two) and recieve the bowl of noodles.
4. Choose from a selection of toppings e.g. vegetable or shrimp tempura or fishcake for the noodle (if desired).
5. Pay the cashier (a little over a dollar).
6. Find a seat
On our visit to his ryokan in Kotahira (a town at the foot of the mountains in Kagawa-ken prefecture), Hiroko's friend's brother drove us to "Yamagoe, "the most popular udon shop in Kagawa. Located about 40 minutes from the town, it was easily identifiable as it was surrounded by nothing but a rice field and parking lot. Despite what sounds like an obvious location, what really made the place easy to spot was the line of people standing outside the entrance waiting to order their noodles! Yet even after arriving during a snow squall and taking our place in line on this blustery cold winter day, we had placed our order and were seated at a counter happily slurping our sanuki udon in less than 5 minutes! After having our faces buried in our bowls for the ensuing 5 minutes, we exchanged grins, our tastebuds were smiling and our bellies full!
Saturday, April 08, 2006
This butcher, Oi, has 130-year history, has the reputation of being the best Kobe Beef butcher in Kobe. The sirloin steak range from 2100 yen to 5250 yen for 100g. We did the math at the prevailing exchange rate and....it came to $200 per pound!
From his bag he pulled three packages, each a better grade than the one prior. After slicing the meat from the first, we began grilling the meat on a tabletop "hot plate"( yes, that is the Japanese term). It was remarkably tender and tasty...oishii ne (soooo delcious)! He then opened the second package, sliced and grilled it. OMG! It was even better! The third one...yes, you guessed it... was the best....sublime! The meat literally melted in our mouths. It was an unforgettable experience! We still remember the texture of the meat even after three months. It was the most AMAZING meat we've ever tasted! Never before had either of us ever had anything like it. We only wished that we had had the time to go to Kobe after that to eat more Kobe Beef! We have to thank Yoshiko-chan not only inviting us for dinner but moreso for dating a guy from Kobe!
Butcher Information in Japanese
While in Osaka, we visited Daimon Sake Brewery for a tour followed by a tasting and then lunch. Daimon Brewery is actually located east of the city, about 45 minutes by train from Osaka Station. Founded in 1826, the kura (brewery) is situated in a small village bounded by a mountain range to the east from which it draws an abundance of clean water. Long ago, during Edo period this region between Osaka and Nara (the ancient capital prior to Kyoto) was populated with as many as 1,600 sake breweries. Currently, only a few remain.
Yasutaka Daimon, the director and 6th generation of the Daimon brewing family, began with a brief introduction to the process of sake-making and then led a tour of the brewery. After learning about how the product was made, we tasted six different varieties that Daimon makes ranging from their fresh namazakes (unpasteurized) to their Junmai, Junmai Ginjo, and Junmai Daiginjo nihonshu (sake).
After the tour and tasting, it was time for lunch. We were led to their small restaurant upstairs from the brewery and seated at a small shin high table. The lunch served was Sakekasu Nabe with Salmon paired with our choice of sake.
For those of you who may be wondering what Sakekasu Nabe is, here is the explanation.
Sakekasu comes from the process of making sake; when rice, koji (mold produced when rice is affected with yeast), and water is fermented, the liquid part becomes sake and the solid residue from that process is sakekasu. Nabe is a "hot pot" dish (think fondue with a broth cooking medium) that is very popular during the winter in Japan. Nabe simply means "pot," which is usually made from clay. The nabe (pot) is usually prepared over a gas burner on the dining table. Beginning with dashi (bonito flake based) stock, various ingredients like vegetables, mushrooms, meat or seafood are added to it once it comes to a boil. There are many regional varieties to this dish, and there are really no rules about what to put or not put into the nabe. It is a very social dish, and it is common for family and/or friends to gather around the nabe and drop fresh ingredients in the hot pot while they eat, drink, and talk at a leisurely pace. We observed four men enjoying their sake and nabe experience so much that their glacial eating pace necessitated some gentle nudging along by the servers when all other diners had finished. This is the way it is meant to be!
The server brought us a big clay pot filled with dashi mixed with Sakekasu and placed in on the stove in the center of our table. While the Sakekasu dashi bubbled, we dropped the fresh vegetables and salmon into the hot pot to cook our meal. Sakekasu has the fragrance of sake... it was mild and not as sharp as miso flavor. The rich salmon was great compliment to the mild sake flavor. To go with this we ordered a nama (just-made fresh sake) to go with our lunch. It was the perfect meal for a cold winter day!
We left Daimon with our very own bag of sakekasu, compliments of the brewery. And although we had many more travels ahead of us, we were already thinking about making Sakekasu Nabe in Brooklyn.
More photos of eating in Osaka? Click here!
Sunday, April 02, 2006
Our friend Harris Salat has visited Kyoto several times, so we asked him to recommend where we should eat there. Without hesitation, he immediately responded with "Soujiki Nakahigashi." He urged us to make a reservation quickly since the restaurant is very popular. So, Hiroko picked up the telephone (one day in early January) and called the restaurant from our home in Brooklyn.
A woman answered, and Hiroko requested a table for two on Feb 2 at 6:30PM. "See you then," she said, and hung up. Great! We had a reservation. Easily done!
On Feb 2, we went to the restaurant. It was a cozy place with a counter that seated 12, and two additional tatami rooms. There were already 7 customers sitting, waiting to be served, and two more arrived shortly after. After greeting us and chatting briefly (we learned that Masa, yes "that Masa", had made the trip to Kyoto to his restaurant), Chef Nakahigashi-san presented each dish to each member of what quickly had become a friendly group, explaining what it was that we were to be tasting and how it had been prepared.
Every bite either elicited the ultimate compliment of "oishii" (delicious) from everyone or rendered them speechless as they reveled in the flavors and textures of this masterfully conceived and prepared kaiseki meal. Despite the chef's descriptions, the food was so incredible that we don't remember specifics...so sorry but notetaking just didn't seem right! Chef Nakahigashi-san uses nothing but organic and seasonally available ingredients. It was an experience that was pure and sensitive, and simple and straightforward. His deft use of seasoning ensured that it never interfered with the natural flavor of the ingredients. Sugoi!
A woman from Osaka seated next to Hiroko asked us if we had been to the restaurant before and when we had made our reservation. The gentleman next to Rick inquired if we knew the chef and if we had arranged our trip intinerary around the date of the reservation. At first we were amused by their questions, thinking that they were very friendly people who love to talk to foreigners. However, what we then realized was that they were curious because the restaurant is known to be extremely hard to get a reservation....next to impossible according to them. In fact, they were wondering how WE living in NY managed to get a reservation at all on such "short notice!"
They described to us how many of the restaurant's customers, while there, make their NEXT reservation 2 or 3 months ahead. The woman next Hiroko told us that she made a reservation for July, 5 months ahead; the man next to Rick told us that he comes to the restaurant every 3 to 4 months. That's how they make reservation, not calling them, but eating at the restaurant! As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for anyone other than regular customers to get reservation...even among people living in Kyoto.
And yet somehow, even though we called from NY, actually had someone pick up the phone, and easily made a reservation only one month advance for the week that we were already scheduled to be in Kyoto, and for the day we wanted???!!! How? Mystery or Miracle?
Information on the restaurant in Japanese
(they do not have their own website.)
More photos of dining in Kyoto? Click here!
Friday, March 31, 2006
We love going to the market. It is favorite way to begin our exploration of a new place. Seeing what strange and delicious-looking food is available locally can tell you so much about a city's culture and personality. In Kyoto, that place is the well known Nishiki Market, a narrow shopping street, lined by many different shops selling everything from pickles, fried foods, and fish, to meat, tofu, and kitchen items. We had read about knife shop, Aritsugu located in the market, and searched for it because we wanted to update our kitchen knife.
It was almost their 6PM closing time, and we hurriedly ran through the market and with luck, found Aritsugu. No sooner had we set foot in the store, than we saw our friend Harris Salat from NY....a completely random coincidence! Of course, we couldn't believe our eyes. He, however, didn't seem the least bit surprised, as he nonchalantly greeted us with "Hi guys."
Harris is a food journalist living in NYC. He is not just talented writer, but he is also an interesting human being. He has no fear! He talks to everyone and he loves learning about everything. He has his website, "He ate well". Please check it out!
The next evening, he took us to his favorite izakaya, Rikyu, a casual, small local place with a counter and 10 seats. When you sit down, you look at what is displayed on the counter, choose what looks good, order, and dig in!
Everything we ate tasted delicious. One unusual item we had was Pig Ear. Yes, that's right, a sliced pig's ear! Needless to say, this was our first time for this part of the pork, so we tried it. It had been boiled and then cooked in soup stock....well, let's just say that if you like something that is somewhere between VERY chewy and cartilagenous, this dish is for you....but not for us!
Thursday, March 30, 2006
In fact, there are so many temples, we focused our attention on only a few, since the length of our visit was significantly shorter than the several months it would take to see them all!
Kinkakuji, Golden Temple, was originally build in 1397, serving as a retirement villa for the Shogun. On the day of our visit, the weather was cloudy, but its gold color was so vivid and beautiful even the reflection on the water was golden.
Ginkakuji, the Silver Temple, was built in 1474, also as a retirement villa for the Shogun. After the death of the Shogun, the temple became a Buddhist temple. Although the name implies that the color of the temple would be silver, its intended silver covering was never completed due to the interruption caused by the Onin War which broke out in 1467 and lasted until 1477.
More photos of Kyoto? Click Here!
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Hakone is a well known resort area, situated in Fuji Hakone Izu National Park, 100 km west of Tokyo. Famous for spas and onsens (hot spring) and the view of Mt. Fuji, Hakone is one of the popular destination for travelers from all over Japan.
A Ryokan is a Japanese style gueshouse or inn, in which each guest room has tatami-mat floors with a low table. Usually, dinner and breakfast is included and served in the room. The meals are Japanese style and include foods made up of regional specialities. After dinner the room is converted into sleeping quarters by the staff with futons and bedding that are carefully concealed in large closets in the rooms. Ryokans range in price from inexpensive (less than $100) to very expensive (more than $500).
We decided to stay in a so-called boutique ryokan with private onsen in a room. It combined modern conveniences such as a sunken table that was electronically elevated for dining with traditional Japanese design/style. The room includes a separate bathroom with toilet, shower room, and entry to the private onsen (outdoors on a covered deck).
At a ryokan, a yukata is provided for you to wear during your stay. It is worn after bathing in the onsen (for your evening meal). You can walk around the public areas of the ryokan in the yukata.
Meal at the ryokan was a feast consisting of a parade of local delicacies. Our personal room attendant would leave the room and return every tweny minutes or so, each time returning with another dish...it seemed endless! One of the early courses of sashimi even included a live lobster on our plate. The lobster was still moving even though the body had been cut into sashimi!
Monday, March 27, 2006
Bake the liquidy dough first, and when it is crispy. you scrape it from the cooking surface with your small spatula and eat the thin crepe-like skin. Atfter that....eat the rest of Monja by scraping small sections of the pancake bit by bit.