Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Vegetarian Kaiseki at Hachi Ju Hachi Restaurant

Chef Jin Suzuki isn't so happy when a customer comes to Hachi Ju Hachi and asks for California rolls and spicy tuna rolls to go. He's a classically trained Japanese chef, and you get the impression that he'd be much happier if he could just stop serving American-style sushi rolls entirely. He'd much rather introduce you to traditional Kansai-style sushi pressed in a wooden box. And he'd really appreciate it if all of his customers took the time to sit down and enjoy the food that he puts so much work into preparing.

Suzuki-san isn't interested in modernizing Japanese cuisine. He prefers to work with traditional Japanese ingredients and techniques to produce refined Kansai-style cuisine. He eschews food processors and other modern kitchen tools, preferring to use traditional Japanese equipment and techniques. he prepares his own tofu in house and even boils down seawater to produce his own sea salt.

On one visit, Suzuki-san brought out a dumpling of kabocha squash enrobed in mochi, which he had flash fried. The dumpling was served on a braised slice of daikon in a pool of dashi and garnished with a tangle of tororo kombu filaments. He explained that the dish was prepared without any meat or fish in the traditional Buddhist style. We inquired about his interest in shojin ryori and learned that he was a Buddhist and loved to prepare vegetarian dishes.

I wanted to return to Hachi and Hachi for an entire traditional shojin ryori kaiseki meal and see what Suzuki-san could provide within the constraints of no meat, no fish, no eggs, and no garlic or onions.

Here are a few dishes from the first shojin ryori kaiseki meal Suzuki-san said he's prepared since leaving Japan:

An early course was maitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, and yuba (tofu skin) in a rich kombu dashi. Suzuki-san's kombu dashi augmented with mushrooms had remarkable depth and a rich uamami flavor. Adding a few drops of lime juice provided a bright counterpoint to the earthiness of the broth.

Another dish we really liked was marinated, pressed tofu, which was fried, grilled, and served with a maitake mushroom and a shishito chile. Somehow, pressing the tofu created a texture similar to shredded meat.

This dish featured braised lily bulb, which had a flavor reminiscent of chestnuts. The lily bulb was served on braised baby bok choi and a braised slice of daikon in more of Suzuki-san's flavorful kombu dashi.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Recipe: Gratin of Greens and Smoked Cheese

I've been harvesting a lot of beets from my garden plot to clear out space for summer crops. I've noticed that most people buying beets at my neighborhood farmers' market immediately discard their beet greens, but they're very good to eat. Beets are botanically related to chard, and beet greens can be prepared in the same manner as chard.

In this recipe, I'm using a bechamel sauce to add some richness to the greens. Smoked cheese and herbs make this dish savory enough to satisfy meat-eaters, and baking it in a gratin dish with bread crumbs provides form and a nice textural contrast.

2 cups milk
4 cloves of garlic, smashed
a few sprigs of thyme (optional)
1 1/2 pounds of beet greens, chard, or spinach, washed and well drained
1/4 cup buter (1/2 stick) + enough to butter the baking dish
1/4 cup flour
8 ounces smoked mozzarella or another smoked cheese
2 cups bread torn into rough pieces, preferably from a rustic loaf
3 Tbs. olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a gratin dish or baking dish.

2. Reserve a teaspoon of thyme leaves. Put 3 cloves of garlic and the remaining thyme into a small saucepan with the milk. Over low heat, bring the milk to steaming. Turn off the heat, cover the saucepan, and allow the aromatics to steep in the milk.

3. Tear the greens as needed into large pieces. Place the greens in a heavy-bottomed pot with a tight lid over low heat. If you've just washed the greens, there should be enough residual moisture to cook the greens. If you're using pre-packaged, washed and dried greens, add 1/4 cup of water. Turn the leaves over occaisionally and stir until the greens are tender.

4. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the flour until smooth and cook for about a minute over low heat. Strain the hot milk into the butter and whisk until smooth. Continue stirring and cook over medium heat until the sauce has thickened.

5. Stir the cheese, greens, 3/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper, and any pot liquor from the greens into the sauce. Adjust seasonings to taste. Pour the mixture into the gratin dish.

6. In the food processor, pulse the bread, olive oil, reserved garlic and 1/4 tsp. of salt until you get coarse bread crumbs. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the gratin.

7. Bake for about 30 minutes until the gratin is bubbling and nicely browned.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bread and Butter Pickles

I started cultivating a plot of vegetables at my neighborhood community garden a year ago. I'm enjoying the experience of producing my own food, but it's a venture rife with uncertainties. Sometimes the seeds won't germinate. Or the birds will wipe out the seedlings. Perhaps the tomatoes will thrive, but the eggplant will refuse to set fruit.

I was fortunate to get a good crop of cucumbers. To utlilize the abundance, I put up a few quarts of bread and butter pickles using Elise's recipe. Here are the cucumbers coming up to boil with onions (also from my garden), vinegar, sugar, and spices. (A special thanks to my friend, Suzanne, for giving me the mandoline with the fancy crinkle-cut blade!)

In addition to the Blenheim apricot jam from my previous post, I've also home-crafted Santa Rosa plum jam, Black Tartarian cherry jam, August Flame peach jam, Mark Bittman's tomato jam, pickled green beans, and tomato sauce with garlic and basil this season.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Blenheim Apricot Jam

Blenheim apricots are a food treasure of the Santa Clara valley. Although they're small and often pale skinned with a green tinge, they're widely regarded to be the superior tasting apricot variety and have an incredible fragrance and intense flavor. Blenheim apricots are too delicate to ship and difficult to find even in California, but they're well worth seeking out.

I bought two flats of "jam quality" imperfect fruit from the C.J. Olsen Farmstand in Sunnyvale, CA last weekend. Andy's Orchard in Morgan Hill, CA is another local source for Blenheim apricots, and there are some farmers' market vendors who offer Blenheim apricots.

Since the harvest season for Blenheim apricots is only a few weeks for each orchard, I preserved my Blenheims by making jam. I learned to appreciate artisanal jams from buying small batch conserves and fruit butter from June Taylor's stand at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market and eventually taking a jam making class with her last year.

I'm very pleased with the fresh-tasting but intensely flavored result of my jam making labors:

If you're interested in trying Blenheim apricot jam, June Taylor's very limited availability Blenheim apricot conserve is amazing. Although I haven't tried their product, welovejam offers an apricot jam, which has gotten great reviews.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Recipe: Matcha Shortbread

Matcha powdered green tea is traditionally whisked into hot water to make a frothy beverage, but I think matcha's herbal and tannic notes complement sugar and butter nicely in western desserts.

I took the French Laundry / Bouchon Bakery shortbread recipe from Claire Clark's Indulge: 100 Perfect Desserts and reworked it into the following matcha version.

1/3 cup + 1 Tb granulated sugar (75 g)
1 1/2 Tb matcha green tea powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour (225 g)
1 stick + 3 Tb butter, cut into small pieces (150 g)
1/4 cup additional granulated sugar for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees farenheit (180 degrees centigrade)

2. Put the 1/3 cup + 1 TB granulated sugar, matcha, and salt into a food processor and process for about 15 seconds.

2. Add the flour and pulse until incorporated. Add the butter and pulse until incorporated into a loose mass.

3. Turn the dough out onto a service and knead a few times until the dough comes together. Flatten the ball and roll it about 1/3 inch think.

4. Cut the dough into about 15 rectangles and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 20 minutes - the shortbread should just be beginning to color.

5. Remove from the oven and use a strainer or sifter to dust the shortbread with the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. Let the shortbreads cool on the baking sheet.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Quesadillas De Flor De Calabaza

There are many wonderful things to eat in Oaxaca, Mexico, but one of my favorites was this simple quesadilla with squash blossoms.

This senora had set up shop on the sidewalk making quesadillas de flor de calabaza over a charcoal fire.

She pressed the masa dough using a handmade wooden tortilla press and cooked the tortilla on the comal.  After flipping the tortilla over, she added quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese), squash blossoms, and epazote (an anise-flavored herb).

She folded the quesadilla in half and turned it over on the comal a couple more times until heated through.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Radishes with Chèvre, Nori, and Salt

I was intrigued by the unusual combination of goat cheese and nori in this recipe from Jeremy Fox of Ubuntu Restaurant.

In this dish nori flavors the goat cheese, contributing umami and balancing the soft lactic acid in the cheese. The nori-enriched goat cheese contrasts nicely with the crisp, peppery radish slices and an assertive mustard dressing.

The other way I like to eat radishes is sliced thinly on an Acme baguette with unsalted butter and sprinkled with flakes of Maldon salt: