Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread

Believe it or not, I made this . . .

I have been meaning to write about Jim Lahey's no-knead bread for some months, but now he has put out a book describing the method in beautifully illustrated detail, so my task is different. Lahey, who founded and runs the Sullivan Street Bakery, invented a virtually fool-proof method for baking crusty and delicious bread.

Essentially, you (i) mix together flour, water, salt and a tiny amount of yeast into a pretty sloppy mess, (ii) put it in a bowl for 12-18 (or more) hours until it more than doubles in volume, (iii) turn it out, fold it and place it on (and covered by) a dusted kitchen towel for about 2 hours, and (iv) bake it in a pre-heated very hot dutch oven, covered, for 30 minutes and then uncovered for 15-30 more minutes. Active work is about five minutes, although the process takes nearly a day.

. . . and this.

I have made this bread several times and it really is great. There is a huge amount of discussion on the Internet among the large community of bread bakers, including lots of useful insight and variations. Now, though, Lahey has put out My Bread, a lovely book that tells you everything you want to know about his method, and gives recipes for many breads using the same (or a similar) method, including whole wheat loaves, ciabatta, baguettes, flavored breads and pizza. I highly recommend this book. Pictured above and below are my first and tries based on Lahey's actual recipe from the book. The second is a really fantastic loaf of bread, crusty with just the right amount of bitterness.

Bobby Jay

Kyoto's Funahashi-Ya Sembei Store

Rice crackers (sembei or, in Kyoto, o-kake) are ubiquitous in Japan. The most famous emporium for these delicious crackers in Kyoto, Funahashi-Ya, is located at the west end of the Sanjo bridge. Founded in 1885, Funashi-Ya sells countless varieties from its picturesque Meiji period establishment.

Bobby Jay

Kyoto's Nishiki Dori Food Market

edamame (soy beans)
I love going to food markets and nowhere are they better than in Japan. Most department stores have serious food floors, usually in the basement, where luxury goods from all over the world are sold, along with cooked and uncooked fish, vegetables, meats and sweets. Most of the major French bakers and patissiers (such as Dalloyau, Eric Kayser Lenotre, Pierre Hermé, Ladurée) and chocolatiers (Jacques Hévin - I know, it's Belgian) have stands at the better stores. All is very neat and extremely appetizingly presented.

But my big treat is going to the covered market street in Kyoto, Nishiki Dori. Here the products are not international, but Japanese: pickles for which Kyoto is famous), fresh and salted fish, homemade crackers, miso paste, meat, tofu in all its forms, seaweed, fresh fruit and vegetables, cooked yakitori, nuts, etc. Much of it is not identifiable by a non-Japanese person (other than Elizabeth Andoh, an American authority on Japanese food, but she has lived in Japan for more than 40 years).
two approaches to miso pickles
Fortunately, the vendors are used to having their pictures taken, and I have some that give the flavor of the place. To see them, click on more below


Pictured above: chestnut vendor (top), little fish (above left), eel (unagi) and sea eel (anago) (above right), tofu skin (yuba) (bottom left) and still more pickles (bottom right).

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Japan - Kyoto's Ippodo Tea Store

A few months ago, I did a post on Mariage Frères, a great Parisian tea store dating from 1854. Ippodo, in Kyoto, has that beat by more than a century. Ippodo dates back to the year 1717, when founder Ihei Watanabe established a tea shop called OMIYA at Teramachi Nijo, just south of the Imperial Palace. It is still there, and still sells some of the best tea available in a picturesque setting: matcha, the ground tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony; gyokuro, a rich and mellow green tea; sencha, which Japanese drink several times a day; and bancha, coarse-leaf teas (including yanagi, hojicha and genmaicha).

While the people at the shop don't speak English, they have English materials - instructions and order forms, and a bilingual web site, at

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Japan - Naoshima Island's Benesse House: A Unique Museum/Hotel

On the obscure island of Naoshima is Benesse House, a modern art museum/hotel founded by a large Japanese publishing firm of the same name. Benesse House, built by the renowned architect Tadao Ando, is part of a larger art project that includes another museum by Ando and about a half dozen other modern art installations on the island. As is typical of Ando's buildings, every detail of the museum is planned to work in harmony with the excellent modern art collection it houses.

Staying and dining in the museum is a special treat, and literally one for many senses. We ate a lovely kaiseki lunch at a long table where half of us faced a large Sebastian Basquiat painting and the other half faced the sea, with their eyes led to the shore line by a series of shore line paintings by Sugimoto Hiroshi, one of the leading photographers of the world and a major collaborator on the Benesse Art Project.

Scattered around the hotel site are important sculptures . . .

. . . and up the road is a ceramic scupture -- known locally as the gomi bako (trash can) -- by Mishima Kimio, a leading Japanese ceramic artist who has worked for decades in the pop tradition and who herself stands less than five feet tall.

My favorite thing on the island is the Chichu (literally underground) Museum, a masterpiece designed by Ando Tadao, where every step reveals a new vista combining sophisticated architecture and sunlight. The entire museum is underground, with open air courtyards and galleries lit only by natural skylights. It contains only seven works of art: four large Monet water lilies hung in a specially designed room that must be experienced, a relatively small James Turrell light sculpture, an entire Turrell room that explores (very successfully in my opinion) the essence of light and an enormous installation by Walter de la Maria that explores symmetry, light and mathematical relationships. (Unfortunately, photographs were not permitted in the museum.)

Although not easy to get to, Benesse House is truly a must!

Bobby Jay

Japan - Kyoto Italian Fare

After all the magnificent food described in the last several posts, finally . . . a delicious lamb chop, nicely prepared and presented!

Lamb Chop at Kyotonese, an Italian Restaurant in Kyoto

Bobby Jay

Monday, November 16, 2009

Japan - Gorgeous Kaiseki at Osaka Kitcho

After our tour ended, my exhausted wife and I visited clients of my wife's - an elegant Japanese mother and daughter - who took us to a breathtaking kaiseki lunch at Kitcho, in Osaka. Although we thought we had reached sensory overload on the tour, the beauty of this seasonably inspired meal proved irresistible, and we managed to eat it with gusto.

For more pictures, click more below.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Japan - Kanazawa

One of the most enjoyable stops on our Japan tour was at Kanazawa, a beautiful city famous for its food (it seems every city in Japan is famous for its food). There the fine ceramist, Nakamura Takuo, in addition to showing us his contemporary take on Kutani-glazed ceramics, acted as our guide to the old part of the city and then as our host for a delicious meal prepared by his wife and served on his plates. pictures of work and lunch The food was excellent, and eating it off the artist's own plates definitely enhanced the experience. One of the exciting things about Japan is the way traditions persist in parallel with modernity, and the seasonality of the food and serving vessels is tangible evidence of this.

Nakamura Takuo Vase
Lunch Served on Nakamura Takuo's Plates

Bobby Jay

Japan - An 800 Year-Old Onsen: Araya Totoan

Our Japan tour included two nights at Araya Totoan, an elegant onsen (hot spring) near Kaga, about a half hour from Kanazawa. The family that owns this place has been in business on the same spot for 800 years (I was very impressed until we found out that the neighboring onsen has been in the same family for 1200 years - 50 generations!). The famous ceramic artist Rosanjin Kitaoji (1883-1959) lived nearby and was a friend of the house; as a result, the place is replete with Rosanjin ceramics and paintings, which are on view for guests.

A great onsen needs to have excellent common baths - generally separate men's and women's indoor and outdoor baths, and Araya Totoan does. But it must also have delicious and beautifully presented food, both for dinner and especially for breakfast. Judge for yourself.


Bobby Jay

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tokyo the Beautiful?!

Fashion Center, Shinjuku

I love Tokyo, but it's so ugly, right? Well, not completely. In fact, despite having miles and miles of undistinguished (or worse) post-war structures, Tokyo has some of the most beautiful and interesting modern architecture in the world

My wife and I recently completed a three-week trip to Japan. Our principal purpose for the trip was a tour that my wife organized for four couples who are avid collectors of contemporary Japanese ceramics. We traveled around the middle part of Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Gifu, Kanazawa and the Island of Naoshima) meeting an amazing array of artists and encountering their work in the artists' ateliers and studios. I think it is safe to say that all the participants, as well as my wife and I, enormously enjoyed the experience.

In addition to meeting the artists and confronting their works, we stayed at some wonderful places and ate some fantastic food, which will be the focus of several succeeding posts.

But first, Tokyo, the beginning of the journey, where our fantastic guide Steve Beimel took us on a brief architectural tour.

The National Art Center, Tokyo


Tokyo Midtown

Prada and BMW Buildings

Nike and Tokyo Midtown

Bobby Jay

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Japan - River Retreat Garaku

The first gastronomic highlight of our contemporary ceramics tour came at a fantastic ultra-modern hotel/spa called River Retreat Garaku, located near Toyama, about an hour from Kanazawa. The hotel, which also contains a spa, is owned by a serious collector of contemporary Japanese ceramics, and is filled with wonderful major pieces, in common spaces and in private gardens for the spacious, well-furnished suites.

Two Garaku Hotel Suites with Private Ceramic Gardens

We ate a wonderful kaiseki lunch in a room with an entire wall covered by ceramic plaques by Ogawa Machiko, one of Japan's most celebrated woman ceramic artists, whose works are on view in museums throughout the world.


Ogawa Machiko Room
The delicious food was beautifully presented: seasonal arrangements and ingredients in unusually beautiful plates and vessels.

Kaiseki Meal with Seasonal Foods and Presentations
This is a virtually unknown hotel, off the beaten track, but it is well worth a visit!

Bobby Jay