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(Homage to Japan, # 1) The Ten Commandments

another world

“By the time you read this, I will be across the big pond.” This is how my very last post on this blog started, many months ago.

So by the time you are reading this, I have just arrived back home, from yet another big trip  across another big pond, and in the opposite direction than that time before. I spent the past two weeks in Japan, a place I first had visited and fallen in love with 25 years ago. This recent trip showed up on my horizon fast, furious and completely unexpected, and of course I was not just beyond excited but mighty curious about how things would be different now, or how not. (Just a hint: They are even better now than what I remembered them from back then. Seriously. Japan is stunningly clean, has beauty and art everywhere, is easily and totally safely accessible, and full of friendly folks. About the food, that glorious food, I will talk – many times on this blog – later.)

soba lunch

This post is the beginning of “Homage to Japan”, a series on Japan and its food, traditions and specialties. The articles will be served in tiny portions or multiple courses, as a one-pot-affair or an elaborate, staged story. Just like the Japanese cuisine shows up on the table, basically, depending on where and what you chose to eat that day. I will weave in other, non Nippon posts, now that I am happily back to blogging again, but please be prepared for some steady and pleasant rains of recounts from the “Land of the Rising Sun”.

As a starter, today, i am presenting you “The Ten Commandments”. This is a simple but functional list of restaurant and food related habits, tips and rules I observed and learned by eating, well… lots of foods in lots of different places (to say the least). Look at it as a pocket sized, basic but practical guide to make most of eating out in tasty Japan. Itadakimas! (Bon appétit!)

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Have a Crush!

herb pesto without basilNo basil? No worries! You still can prepare and enjoy pesto. The classic and ubiquitous recipe from Genova, a busy port town on the Ligurian coast of Italy, calls for basil (plus olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and finely grated, aged cheese) in its cold sauce. But pesto – meaning “crushed” or “pounded” in Italian – can be made of any fresh herbs, really.

So when I received more mixed herbs from a farmer friend recently that fit into my fridge, no kidding, I decided to preserve them in the form of pesto (which I prefer so much more than dried herbs). I took out my food processor, gave it a long and grateful look, cut the garlic chive, vietnamese coriander, parsley and lemon thyme into about two inch long pieces, peeled plenty of garlic and grated a good amount of Paglierina, a wonderfully well balanced sheep milk cheese from Italy. And into the groove we went, my food processor and me: I poured some oil, added some greens, garlic and cheese, and in barely any time the mighty machine worked it down into a smooth, luscious paste. More oil, more solids. Out of the bowl the pesto went with the help of a spatula, into  a very large pan, so that there was space for the next batch. On and on, until those pounds of herbs all were turned into thick, concentrated sauce – and ready for a long, long life around many happy eaters.

triple cream brie cheese sandwich with pesto

jars full of herb pesto

Don’t stop thinking outside the box once the ingredients of your pesto are chosen. Do the same when it comes to its application. Of course pestos are great on pasta. But they can do so much more! They perk up any kind of sandwich. They make for big eyes and surprised “aahhh’s” as the base layer of savory tarts. They hide in the middle of a horizontally cut wheel of Brie and, once discovered, turn out to be the star of the show. Pestos can be added to salad dressings. They bring zing to tomato based pasta sauces. Or to pizza. A little dollop of pesto does not only make a polenta look better, but also taste richer. Same with boiled, baked or fried potatoes. Fish adores pesto. Soup, anyone? It too, loves your pesto. Oh, and if you dress your favorite nuts in some pesto and then bake them shortly, your guests will love you – and your drinks will taste so much better.

So, yes. Have a crush! It is so delightful. Even the unorthodox way.

pasta al pesto

The sweetest of all Offal

Sweet Bread, mayo and radishes

It’s not that I want to complicate my life. But I have to admit: I like foods that require some special techniques, a lot of time, attention and patience, before they can be enjoyed. They remind me of people with character, a certain stubbornness and attitude. And just like such folks, these foods are more interesting and more rewarding than the “easy” ones. The intense labor with demanding foods creates a relationship that is deep and reliable, like the one with a true friend, rather than a shiny but short lasting acquaintance.

So when a Chef friend of mine handed me three bags of sweet breads the other day, to say thanks for the extra cheeses I had put with his order, I was more than just happy. The offal would make for a serene day at home, with frequent trips into the kitchen, and a succulent dinner at the end. I can not imagine a better scenario.

Technically spoken, sweet bread is the Thymus gland, an organ that helps building the immune system of young animals. It shrinks in the grown creature. In the kitchen, only the organ of veals and lambs are used. They can weigh up to a little under one pound, have an irregular shape and an appearance that resembles the one of a brain, although the consistency of sweet bread tends to be a bit firmer.

sweet bread cooling off in ice bath

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