Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Passover 2018 -- Mostly Familiar Favorites

It's not that I'm lazy or unwilling to think about new things, but last year's Passover Seder was so successful that I mostly repeated it for this year.

I stayed with a mostly Sephardic Seder, which I have been doing for some years. I started with a roasted eggplant spread, an artichoke and olive tapenade, my own ricotta, sun-dried tomato and lemon zest spread, lemon scented meatballs and Union Square Cafe's iconic bar nuts.

For the religious portion of the Seder, we had the required symbolic elements for the Seder: bitter herbs (parsley and watercress), roasted lamb shank bone, hard-boiled eggs dipped in salt water, and, my favorites, moror (head-clearing homemade horseradish) and nutty, fruity charoseth (I made French and Syrian style versions as in the past).

Then, for the meal after the retelling the story of the flight of the Jews from Egypt, my sister-in-law's excellent chicken and matzo ball soup, followed by crusty Persian rice with tons of herbs -- parsley, cilantro, dill, and tarragon -- and fava beans, roasted squash with pumpkin and nigella seeds,

Roasted squash with pumpkin and nigella seeds; Persian rice with herbs
Syrian chicken with olives and lemons, and lamb tagine with figs, carrots onions and Moroccan spices, made by Cousin Vicki,

Lamb tagine with figs, onions, carrots and Moroccan spices
Of course, desserts followed: my fresh blueberry and raspberry tart, the crust made with matzo flour,

Blueberry and raspberry tart
and my mother's favorite ginger molasses cake,

Ginger molasses cake
with coconut macaroons to honor an Ashkenazi tradition of our youths.

In case that was not enough, Vicki provided her wonderful chocolate covered matzos and chocolate tahini brownies.

Bobby Jay

For convenience, here is a list of the sources for the dishes that made up the meal.
  • Burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate seeds: Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty.
  • Artichoke and olive tapenade: David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen.
  • Lemon scented veal meatballs: Mario Batali, Food Network. Caution: the recipe calls for 4 lemons; 2 are more than enough.
  • Bar Nuts: Michael Romano, The Union Square Cafe Cookbook.
  • Bordeaux style haroset: Joan Nathan, Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France.
  • Syrian style haroset: Jennifer Abadi, blog Too Good to Passover.
  • Dja'je zetoon b'limoneh (chicken with lemon and olives): Jennifer Abadi, A Fistful of Lentils.
  • Lamb tagine with figs: cooking lesson at Atelier des Chefs in Paris.
  • Persian rice, Cooking lesson by Jennifer Abadi,
  • Roasted butternut squash with pumpkin and nigella seeds: Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty More.
  • Fresh ginger molasses cake, David Lebovitz, Ready for Dessert.
  • Blueberry tart: Kristen Miglore, ed., Food52 Genius Recipes.
  • Coconut Macaroons: Kristen Migliore, ed., Food52 Genius Recipes







Saturday, March 31, 2018

Paris -- Fun Chocolaterie/Confiserie

My friends Eric and Fabienne took me today to À l'Étoile d'Or, at 30 rue Pierre Fontaine in the Ninth arrondissment. This wonderful shop is a chocolaterie/confiserie, not a chocolatier/confiseur, because they don't make the things they sell. The owner, Denise Acabo, has been in business in this location near Place Pigalle for 47 years, interrupted a few years ago by a gas explosion in her building. She is a pistol, and when you know her, as my friends do, will tell amazing stories about the clients she has served over the years.

After all these years, she is bubbling over with enthusiasm for her extraordinarily fine chocolates and traditional candies, recommending all of them in succession. And she has apparently been wearing the same outfit, including the kilt, for decades: a lovely character.

Bobby Jay with Denise Acabo
A portrait of Denise with a chocolate sculpture of her
(Photos courtesy of Eric Perdrizet.)

This is a great place to go, for yourself or for gifts, much more interesting than À la Mère de Famille or La Cure Gourmande, which have become chain stores present wherever chain stores tend to be.

Bobby Jay

Friday, March 30, 2018

Paris -- Lebanese Steak Tartare

Kibbe nayeh (Lebanese steak tartare)
Last year, my  Parisian friend Tania, a wonderful Lebanese woman living in Paris, and I went to brasserie le Stella, where I had a perfect steak tartare. Knowing that I would be in Paris this week, without Joan, who can't eat beef, Tania invited me for a lesson and then meal of which the principal element was Lebanese steak tartare (kibbe nayeh). Getting there was fun, but not as much fun as the tasting portion of the evening, for this is an extraordinary dish, made with incredibly lean beef, fine bulgur wheat, onions, garlic and special spices.

Tania proudly displaying her handiwork
Of course, chez Tania one does not get a single dish. We had wonderful salad of olives and homemade pickled, turnips,

Marinated olives and home-pickled turnips
roasted cauliflower with tarator (tahini and lemon sauce)

Roasted cauliflower
 and a kind of mint covered hamburger made with some extra ground beef.

Mint-covered hamburger
Sophisticated Lebanese food, especially chez Tania, is really great: impeccable ingredients, pure flavors with lots of interesting spices (like Tania's own nine-spice blend) and varied textures.

And a night at Tania's is not just about the food: it's about sharing stories and food lore with this warm and intelligent lady.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Sous Vide Duck Breast with Port and Plum Sauce

I was an early adopted of sous-vide cooking, which permits the cook to heat foods to a precise temperature  and keep them there (using a water bath and a vacuum sealed cooking pouch) until it's convenient to remove them. I particularly use it for meats that are very sensitive to temperature, such as ostrich (which I like at 132 degrees), turkey breast (155 degrees) and duck breasts (138 or 145, depending).

Recently we had a friend and dedicated follower of my blog, whom I will call Doctor Who, to dinner, and the centerpiece of a fairly extensive meal was duck breast with port and plum sauce, based on a recipe from Gordon Hamersley's excellent Bistro Cooking at Home, one of my go-to cookbooks, that I adapted for sous vide cooking.

I have to admit that it came out perfectly.
Sous vide duck breast with sauteed fingerling potatoes

Since J cannot eat duck meat cooked to rare (say 138 degrees), I cooked one breast at that temperature and the other at 145 degrees, which turned out to be fine for her. First, I marinated the meat for an hour in a port, shallot, soy sauce and ginger marinade, then, saving the marinade, sealed the breasts into vacuum (hence sous vide) bags. I cooked the breasts at 138 for two hours and then cooked one of them for another 40 minutes at 145. I chilled them and later sauteed them slowly to sear them and crisp up the skin. Plums were sauteed and combined with more port, chicken stock and with the reserved marinade and liquid from the sealed bags, and reduced. A rich combination of sweet and savory.
Port and plum sauce
As this was a bistro meal, we started with a very light version of céleri rémoulade that I made with Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise or crème fraîche, plus the obligatory mustard, served side by side with a traditional grated carrot salad (carottes rapées).
Céleri rémoulade and grated carrot salad
After the main, as a palate cleanser, I served a simple salad of tossed pea shoots and radish sprouts that I got at the wonderful Sunday green market on Columbus Avenue between 77th and 81st Streets, lightly dressed with lemon and Sicilian olive oil.
Pea shoot and radish sprout salad
For dessert I made my fresh blueberry and raspberry pie from Food52 Genius Recipes but without the crust, i.e. fresh and cooked berries with a dollop of crème fraîche.
Fresh and cooked berries with crème fraîche
In honor of Doctor Who, who is a museum curator of Asian art, the salads and dessert were served on plates made by Japanese ceramic artists, which I think went well with French bistro cooking.

A fun meal, made nearly foolproof by use of sous vide cooking. As sous vide devices have become smarter and easier to use, and can now be used with ordinary (large) pots or storage vessels, I encourage you to take the plunge (along with your food).

Bobby Jay

More on the Instant Pot

I recently wrote about my initial experiences with the Instant Pot, which were, on the whole, favorable. In particular, I praised Melissa Clark's Dinner in an Instant, which contains 75 recipes expressly designed for the Instant Pot. Since then, I have cooked her Green Persian Rice with Tahdig (crust), an authentic take on this Iranian treasure, made with copious amounts of dill, parsley, chives and cilantro.

Green Persian Rice with Tahdig
This was my second try on this recipe, and this time I followed Clark's suggestion and got a non-stick insert for my Instant Pot, which enabled me to be more bold about frying the steamed rice. I may go a couple of minutes longer next time, but this was plenty crispy, as you can see.

I have done several other recipes from her book with great success and one that didn't work for me. The good ones were Garlicky Cuban Pork, Duck Confit (it's probably worth getting the pot for this and the Persian rice alone), Braised Italian Style Pork, Osso Bucco and Polenta (effortless, which is great, but a little lumpy, which required some serious whisking). My one failure -- and it was not really so bad -- was the Butternut Squash Soup, although in fairness I added too much liquid so had to reduce it for longer than normal. Together with the ones I mentioned in my previous post, that's ten recipes from the book, and I'm by no means through.

So get an Instant Pot and get Clark's book. You won't be disappointed.

Bobby Jay

Monday, February 26, 2018

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street

Christopher Kimball founded America's Test Kitchen in 1993. Among other things, he produced Cook's Illustrated, Cook's Country, a television series, and many useful books. Over the years, innumerable recipes were developed and shared, and tests conducted of pantry items and cooking equipment.

The hallmarks of the recipes that Kimball disseminated through these projects were the inclusion of detailed descriptions of how the recipes were developed. Taste and equipment tests were conducted with complete independence from advertisers and, as a result, were extremely reliable. For example, I still get Muir Glen whole peeled tomatoes, Hunt's diced tomatoes and the crushed tomatoes with fake San Marzano tomatoes on the label. You would think that one brand would be good for all forms of canned tomatoes, but not true. Similarly, I chose my food processor, standing mixer and numerous other appliances and tools based on Cook's Illustrated's test results.

In 2015, Kimball left America's Test Kitchen in the midst of a dispute and started Milk Street, which includes Milk Street Magazine, a television series, podcasts, and a store, and recently published Milk Street: The New Home Cooking.

Kimball's manifesto is simple:

Milk Street is changeing how we cook by serarcying the world for bold, simple recipes. Adapted and tested for home cooks everywhere, this is what we call the new home cooking. 

And Milk Street delivers. I have made a number of exciting recipes from the book and the magazine (there is a substantial overlap between the book and the first year of the magazine0, with excellent results. The are eclectic, from food cultures all around the world, and carefully edited and tested to conform to American cooking equipment and ingredients.

Here's what I've already made:
  • Central Mexican Guacamole (with no lime, only avocado, red onion, diced cherry tomatoes and salt)
  • Smashed Cucumber Salad based on Chinese technique
  • Shrimp in Chipotle Sauce
  • Sous Vide Red Chile Chicken
  • Turkish Meatballs (Kofte) made with ground lamb substituting for beef, with lime yogurt sauce
  • Sumac Spiced Chicken (Musakhan) from Palestine
  • Foolproof Single Crust Pie Dough
  • Acorn Squash roasted whole in the oven (a genius tip)
  • Harissa Roasted Potatoes
  • Tomato Sauce for pizza
  • Charred Brussels Sprouts (good but really messed up my skillet)
  • Caramelized Oranges
And there are tons more that I plan to make, including but not limited to
  • Whipped Cream Biscuits
  • Piedine (Italian flatbread) with various toppings
  • Pistachio-Cardamom Cake 
  • Cauliflower with Tahini
  • Chiang Mai Chicken
  • Za'Atar Chicken Cutlets
  • Vietnamese Caramel Fish
  • Rosemary-Pine Nut-Cormeal Cookies
  • Israeli Hummus
  • Pasta with Trapani Pesto
  • Spice-Crusted Tenderloin of Pork
  • Pork and Kimchi Stew
While I have versions of many of these (or similar) recipes, Milk Street's are worth a try.

This is the most exciting and useful cookbook that I've read since Food52 Genius Recipes. Between the book and the magazine, you learn a tremendous amount about food cultures and traditions in a way that relates to your ordinary life in the kitchen.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Ottolenghi's Newest Cookbook: Sweet

I have written over the years about the wonderful cookbooks of Yotam Ottolenghi, who first got me excited about Middle Eastern food. I have read and cooked from all of his books -- The Cookbook, Plenty, Plenty More and Jerusalem -- with one exception. The exception is Nopi, which contains recipes used in the restaurant of the same name where Ramael Scully is the chef. The recipes in Nopi look too complicated and intimidating to be of much appeal to me, although I hope someday to have a go. But I digress. Ottolenghi's newest book is Sweet, written with Helen Goh, an Australian woman who is, above all, Ottolenghi's principal dessert chef.

When I read a cookbook, I write down or put stickies next to the recipes I really want to try. Here is my annotated copy of Sweet, where I marked 24 items in the "must try" category.

Sweet with "must try" recipes tabbed
Some examples: amaretti with honey and orange blossoms; orange and star anise shortbread ;Persian "love cakes"; tahini and halva brownies; rum and raisin cake with rum caramel icing (see below); prune cake with Armagnac and walnuts; parsnip and pecan cake with aniseed and orange; apple and olive oil cake with maple frosting; coconut, almond and blueberry cake; Helen's version of lemon and poppy seed cake; flourless coconut and chocolate cake; ricotta and hazelnut cheesecakes; chocolate tart with hazelnut, rosemary and orange; fig and pistachio frangipane tarlets; apricot and thyme galettes with polenta pastry; lemon, yogurt and juniper berry ice cream; and saffron and pistachio brittle.

You get the picture: non-conventional adaptations of classic cakes and other desserts, with unexpected spices and syrups that take them to new places.

I have only had time to make the rum and raisin cake with caramelized rum icing, and it was a delicious beauty.

Rum and raisin caske with caramelized rum glaze from Sweet
As I get through the "must try" recipes, I will probably return to this book for another post or two.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Instant Pot

Well, it was only a matter of time until I broke down and got an Instant Pot, in my case the Six-Quart Duo Plus, with nine programs. This piece of equipment has been nearly universally praised, and already there are many many cookbooks and blogs with recipes written just for the Instant Pot.

I love kitchen gadgets and already had a pressure cooker, which I use frequently, and a slow cooker, which I use rarely. The Instant Pot is above all a substitute for these space consumers, and by getting rid of them, the IP has already save me precious kitchen space. It is a good pressure cooker, not quite as fast as my trusty Fagor stovetop one, but I do appreciate the controls that an electric cooker provides. My wonderful chicken stock was just as good with my IP as with the Fagor.I haven't tested the slow cooker but I am sure that it will be competent, if not quite as good as my Crockpot 8-quart model.

What about other results? I have made yogurt and hard(ish) boiled eggs using the special functions for these applications, with mixed success. The first thing I learned is that no recipe for the IP works perfectly the first time, except for something like soup or stew, where you can just toss a lot of ingredients together and cook in one go, especially the Indian food I describe below.

Here is an egg I almost hard-boiled using the "egg" function. Very nice indeed, but you need to know your eggs and your cooker to be able to duplicate the result. For sure they are easier to peel than eggs boiled conventionally, and I have tried countless methods.

Instant Pot five minute egg
Melissa Clark has written an excellent book, Dinner in an Instant, which contains recipes for the IP, usually using the pressure function, but with alternate instructions for slow cooking. I have used her takes on yogurt, eggs, steel-cut oats and, most notably Persian rice. The rice was OK but the tahdig was not sufficiently crusty due to my own lack of courage. I will definitely try this again because I love Persian rice and cook it rarely due to the complexity.

Clark is a good food writer and her book has a number of very inviting recipes that I hope to try, including very simple duck confit, braised pork with garlic, fennel and olive; braised Roman style lamb with herbs and peas; classic polenta; saffron risotto, butternut squash soup with coriander and lemon, dulce de leche, among many others.

Switching gears, I read somewhere that Urvashi Pitre's Indian Instant Pot Cookbook was a winner and so far so good. The book is written with my exact IP in mind, and the recipes seem to be very authentic. So far I've made a wonderful and super easy coconut tomato soup, and chana dal (chickpeas in sauce), based on an onion masala that comes together very easily and, to this non-Indian at least, screams INDIA. Finally, I made Punjabi chicken curry, which was also amazingly easy and flavorful, although neither Joan nor I loved the flavor profile at first (it was totally delicious when reheated for lunch, though, so maybe I'll make it again, this time with more fresh ginger.)

Urvashi's book is short and efficient, and contains a lot of good information about Indian cooking. Her mother grew up in Punjab and her father in Maharashtra, so she is adept at two quite different cuisines, and has recipes from both cultures. This is a useful and fun book.

Based on the foregoing, I give the Instant Pot thumbs up, but don't expect miracles: it requires experience but in the long run will become an essential part of your kitchen battery.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thoughts on Knives

I was recently asked by a friend which types and brands of knives I would recommend as a gift for his wife, who does the cooking in their family. Here’s my response, which I am recording because the question comes up from time to time:

I would pick the best knives in each category rather than going for a set. Expensive German or Japanese knives are not always best. I have read a fair amount of testing research, from Cook’s Illustrated and Serious Eats, among others, and have personal experience with countless knives from all sorts of manufacturers. Based on this I can recommend the following to someone just setting out to equip a kitchen or to upgrade his or her knives.
  • Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 8- inch Chef’s Knife, $39.95 at Amazon. Workhorse.
     
  • Wusthof Classic 5-inch Hollow Ground Santoku. $93.89 at Amazon. Nice for cutting small items, like garlic, shallots, radishes, scallions, sun-dried tomatoes, but not necessary, as the chef’s knife and paring knives can do these jobs. It just feels right.
     
  • Mercer Culinary 10-inch Wide Bread Knife, $22.61 at Amazon. Best I’ve had. Great for tomatoes, too.
  • Schmidt Brothers Cutlery 7-inch Boning Knife $74.24 at Amazon. Expensive but superior to Wusthof and Victorinox. I love this knife.
     
  • Wusthof Classic 3-inch Hollow Ground Paring Knife in Sheep’s Foot Shape, $64.95 at Amazon (optional, the pairing knives below being adequate, but I love mine). Wusthof and Henkels paring knives are expensive, dull quickly and are impossible to sharpen.
     
  • Victorinox Swiss Classic 3-piece paring knife set. $14.36 at Amazon. I use these every day.  They are cheap and you can just replace them once a year (which I don't).
  • Victorinox 12-inch Fibrox Pro Slicing Knife with Granton Blade, $43.96 at Amazon. Inexpensive but it has a very thin sharp blade that does its one job beautifully.
There’s one knife that would be a splurge. I have never used it, although the source who recommends it (Kenji Lopez-Alt) is reliable. It’s the Misono UX10 Santoku 180, double edge. $171.99 + shipping at Hocho Knife, much more expensive at Amazon. I have a Japanese style deba knife that I use all the time, even more than my chef’s knives, and I would probably go for the Misono if I didn’t already have mine. Be careful to get the 2-edge model. Amazon has a similar right-hand model (which is the one Kenji uses) at a good price but don’t get that, as it requires special sharpening technique.

Of course there are many specialty knives for specific tasks, like flexible fish knives for boning fish, sushi knives, cleavers, etc., but this post is about basic equipment that can be used for many tasks, except for the single-purpose slicer.

Finally, a ceramic sharpening “steel,” preferably at least 10”. There’s a 10.5” white ceramic sharpening rod for $29.95 at Amazon. I would get ceramic because, unlike a true steel, which hones but does not sharpen, I think ceramic sharpens lightly so you can avoid (or do less often) true sharpening. If you sharpen your knives regularly (but what non-professional does?), then a conventional steel would be fine.

I love knives. I am reminded of Jacques Pépin, who said you only need a chef's knife, a bread knife and a paring knife, but added with a twinkle that he had about three hundred knives. I am not there, but probably am closing in on a hundred.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Way I Cook

People often ask me what I like to cook, and I always answer "everything," which is a slight exaggeration, but I do enjoy learning about and trying new cuisines. For the past few years, I have been delving pretty deeply into the food of Turkey and the Middle East, including Syria, Iran, Jerusalem, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia.

We had dear friends for dinner last night and I made a Middle Eastern/French meal. Hors d'oeuvres consisted of crostini topped with salmon rillettes made with poached and smoked salmon, dill and preserved lemon, which I learned to make a lesson at Atelier des Chefs in Paris,
Salmon rillettes
and mustard batons (puff pastry with mustard inside) from Dorie Greenspan's excellent Around My French Table,
Mustard batons
The starter was watercress and chickpea soup with rose water and ras el hanout from Ottolenghi's Jerusalem, a beautiful expression of complex and warm Middle Eastern spices.
Watercress and chickpeas soup
For the main course I made roast chicken with sumac, za'atar, lemon and pine nuts from the same chef's first book, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, an old favorite that showcases different -- but just as interesting -- Middle Eastern flavors.
Roast chicken with sumac, za'atar, lemon slices and pine nuts
As a side, I made Persian rice with tons of herbs, using my new Instant Pot and a recipe from Melissa Clark's Dinner in an Instant. This was only partly successful: the wonderful crust (tahdig) that is a hallmark of Persian rice was not quite thick enough. Still, Clark's method is easier than the way I usually do it, so I'll try again, adjusting based on my experience.

Dessert was back to Dorie's French table, for Marie-Hélène's apple cake, made especially for my apple-loving old friend.
Marie-Hélène's apple cake
With the exception of the rice, I had made all of these dishes before, but not in the same combination, and I think it turned out to be a coherent and interesting sequence of dishes.

Bobby Jay

Friday, December 8, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017

This year we had 11 adults, one five-year-old and a three-year-old for Thanksgiving dinner. With careful planning, and knocking off a couple of dishes a day, I was able to get a huge amount done in advance and actually had a pretty relaxed Thanksgiving day.

I made the turkey the same way as I have a number of times: deconstructed, then the breast cooked upside down in a saute pan, and finally all cooked over the stuffing. I dry-brined the turkey with salt for one day, instead of wet-brining the breast as the recipe suggests. It looked pretty good, and turned out to be the best I have ever made, moist white meat that held up even as leftovers the next day.
Turkey breast ready to be carved
Here's what I served (and cooked except for the Opera Cake):

Thanksgiving Dinner
 November 23, 2017
  • Slow poached garlic shrimp (from Tyler Florence's Ultimate TV show)
  • Mustard and tapenade batons (from Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table)
  • Whipped feta with home made pita chips (from Milk Street)
  • Tuna and cannellini bean crostini (Bobby Jay)
  • Bar nuts (from The Union Square Cookbook)
  • Turkey with chicken sausage and sage stuffing, gravy (from Cook's Illustrated for Turkey, The Food Lab for stuffing and gravy)
  • Cranberry mostarda (from Food and Wine)
  • Sweet potato gratin with sage (from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook)
  • Hashed Brussels sprouts with poppy seeds and lemon (from The Union Square Cookbook)
  • Apple Tart Mémé  (from Essential Pépin)
  • Giant cannelé with pumpkin pie spices (from Atelier des Chefs cooking lesson, modified by Bobby Jay)
  • Chocolate espresso Opera Cake furnished by Payard (for mother's 95th birthday)
And here's what some of it looked like:

Hors d'oeuvres were served in the living room, around our old art deco table.
Mustard and green olive tapenade batons
Slow-cooked garlic shrimp
Then we moved to the dining room, spectacularly arranged as always by Joan, for a buffet style dinner.
Thanksgiving table
The turkey, deconstructed and carved:
Carved turkey
Sweet potato gratin:
Sweet potato gratin
Hashed Brussels sprouts:
Hashed Brussels sprouts
Finally, a chocolate espresso Opera Cake furnished by Payard to celebrate my mother's upcoming 95th birthday and two desserts that I whipped up the day before and the day of: Jacques Pépin's Apple Tart Mémé and a giant cannelé inspired by Michel Trama, with a recipe from Atelier des Chefs and added pumpkin pie spices (my [very good] idea).
Apple tart Mémé
Giant cannelé with pumpkin pie spices
Many commented that it was the best Thanksgiving meal I have ever served. Maybe true, maybe not, but when in doubt, say thank you.

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Japan 2017 -- A Humble But Perfect Finale

Kitsune udon at Korian
Our Japanese ceramics tour ended with a visit to the great Kyushu artist, Tanaka Sajiro, who lives in the world's most picturesque compound perched on a mountaintop (see below), followed by lunch at a wonderful nearby noodle shop, Korian.

We had an innovative version of inari sushi, rice balls coated with okara, the grainy lees that are a byproduct of tofu making (usually aburaage -- see below -- is used for this),
Inari tofu at Korian
followed by noodles: I ordered my favorite kitsune udon (pictured above), made with aburaage, thin tofu that is fried, then blanched in boiling water to eliminate the grease. Delicious.
A humble -- but perfect -- ending to a tour filled with high-end gourmet adventures.

Bobby Jay

PS  I can't resist showing a few non-food related pictures of Tanaka-sensei's magnificent compound.

Tanaka Sajiro's compound and the artist himself

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Japan 2017 -- Ruminations on Western Food in Japan

Japanese chefs are now omnipresent in Paris and, indeed, all over France. I'm talking about chefs making genuine modern French food with, perhaps, a stylistic acknowledgment (often unconscious) of his or her Japanese origin. I guess they like living and working in France more than returning to Japan. Of course, many young chefs get training in the West and return to Japan.

Some Western style food in Japan is excellent; some is not, particularly outside of Tokyo.

We returned to an Italian favorite in Kyoto called Kyoto Nese. The food was excellent and the service beyond. The man behind the counter remembered us from four (or possibly six) years ago and could not have been nicer. The food was authentic and good and beautifully presented. Look at this linguini with clam sauce: not a traditional presentation . . . but it should be.

Linguini with clam sauce at Kyoto Nese
I wish there were more good Italian restaurants in Kyoto, but I fear there are few. Ones that we have tried over the years have always been disappointing.

Our favorite French restaurant in Kyoto for many years was Bellecour The owner chef had never trained in France but served amazingly authentic and excellent French fare. The owner is no longer the chef, spending his time at his informal bistro and catering facility, and the restaurant, now La Part Dieu, has lost its soul. The set meal includes a sashimi course and the so-called French food, while pretty good, is not French. Presentation is everything, from the amuse bouches served with holly to the 64-vegetable salad to the foam for dessert.

Dinner at La Part Dieu in Kyoto
Even La Mer, the French restaurant at the wonderful Shima Kanko, had no clue.

Dinner at La Mer at Shima Kanko
I mean, really, what is this stuff?

I don't want to over-generalize. I am sure that excellent French and Italian restaurants exist in Japan outside of Tokyo, but apart from Kyoto Nese, we haven't found them. Surprising in this era of global cuisine, but there you have it.

Bobby Jay

Monday, December 4, 2017

Japan 2017 -- Gorgeous Food Where You Least Expect It

I love Japanese food. The quality of the fish, meat and produce never ceases to amaze, as does the subtle manner of preparation. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Japanese food is the beauty of the presentation. This has inspired chefs in the West, and notably had very strong and direct impact on the French Nouvelle Cuisine movement of the 1970s and 80s.

Of course one expects to find magnificent food at fancy kaiseki meals, and I have shown pictures of one of these in the previous post. What is more surprising is that beautiful food presentation is everywhere, as will be seen below.

Our tour formally began with a welcome event at Tsuki-no-Katsura, a centuries-old sake brewery in the Southern part of Kyoto, which featured a catered party consisting of numerous delicious and beautifully presented items.

Party food at Tsuki no Katsura
A number of our meals were at ceramic artists' ateliers or showrooms, and they made sure to provide excellent food with presentation to match. This lovely sushi and bento lunch was served by Fukumoto Fuku and her husband Yoshimura Toshiharu, on Yoshimura-san's plates, at their workshop North of Kyoto.

Lunch with Fukumoto Fuku and  Yoshiharu Toshiharu
An elaborate spread was arranged for us by Tanimoto Kei and his wife, which we ate in their large country kitchen.

Lunch at Tanimoto Kei's home
A late afternoon snack was provided by the ceramist Kato Ichiro: elaborate Western style pastries served on the artist's exquisite plates.

Late afternoon pastries at Kato Ichiro's home
Sometimes we traveled at lunch time rather than stopping for lunch. But all was definitely not lost: Japanese bento boxes are justly famous and, at their best, contain dozens of wonderful ingredients, beautifully served. Here's one example, a two-part box that we consumed on the train to Yamaguchi.

Bento box eaten on the train to Yamaguchi
Wherever we went we ate spectacularly well, feasts for all the senses: taste, of course, texture (occasionally weird by Western standards), smell, hearing (think slurping of noodles) and, perhaps most of all, sight.

Bobby Jay