September 26, 2005

what berries?

No sooner than I mumbled that I wouldn't really be able to find blackberries in Tokyo the other day (because I would have liked to add some blackberries to the roasted fruit galette), my mom sent me a huge care package loaded with fresh summer fruits and vegetables, alongside a basket of what seemed like blackberries.

Or so we thought - they might well have been mulberries, though. They were really tart, so much so I ate only a few right out of the basket and turned the remaining majority to some desserts, including cobbler and mousse, but what I liked the best was a simple way of serving berries - with scones.

This was a great excuse for me to try the ginger scone recipe from Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery (Villard, 2000) for the second time; I had tried it once a couple of months back and was really happy with my scones that had turned pretty much as good as La Brea Bakery's.

The recipe does not use ground ginger but a bunch of crystallized ginger along with lemon zest, together which I think make really tangy and refreshing scones. This time, I used grated zest of a lime instead of lemon because I wanted to match the scones to the accompanying berries, which I combined with sugar and lime juice to make scone sauce.

The scones, served with clotted cream and the berries, were delish, and I thought it was a really nice change from an ordinary cream-tea staple of fruit scones, clotted cream, and strawberry jam - I even thought that I'd like my scones better with fresh berries like these than with sugar-laden preserves.

I got this idea of serving blackberries with scones from my friend/fellow blogger Naoko, who said she'd tried the recipe from a recent issue of Good Food Magazine. The original recipe apparently didn't tell you to add lime juice to the berries, but I liked how the citrus added another dimension of tartness to the berries, although I couldn't really tell a taste of lime in the scones.

And the berries: they may not have been blackberries that I had wanted to have, but I sure did enjoy the fruits fresh from the backyard of my mom's, and appreciated her for the care she had sent to me.

September 22, 2005

marriage of late-summer and early-autumn beauties

Autumn is my most favorite season of all, and summer, the least. So it is a sign of relief when it starts getting a little less hot and humid at the end of August, although we do have summer-like days even in September. And it happens to be the time when we get busy stuffing ourselves with fruits of both summer and autumn, and this is one of such things that I made at the end of last month.

Got fresh late-summer and early-autumn fruits from local greengrocer's: a small and firm, tart yellow-fleshed plum; a large and plump, ivory-fleshed plum; a small but juicy, fragrant nectarine; a large and sweet, glamorous yellow peach; a soft and fragile fig, and; a handsome bunch of grapes (I don't know about other places, but grapes are definitely autumn fruits here in Japan).

Halved a good croissant, lightly buttered each cut side, and on top of the bottom half, laid a bed of sliced fruits, placed small dice of cultured butter, scattered over cassonade (French brown sugar, so to speak) and a pinch of sea salt, and finished with a dash of mixed spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, peppers, cardamom, those clans). And popped the boat in the oven and baked until the sugar caramelized and the edges of fruits got nicely browned. Served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Seriously, this was one of the most delectable things I have ever made - well, it didn't owe me but a magic of the fresh fruits combined with simple seasonings and good bread. This is a small deviation from a recipe that I tried and loved last summer, one for roasted fruits salad found in Trish Deseine's book mes petits plats preferes (2002, Marabout). I thought of a mixture of juicy fruits cooking with sugar, butter, and salt, giving out a juice which gets absorbed in a buttery croissant - and the mere idea almost seemed good enough. And the real thing was even better, I tell you.

I loved the original recipe, but I am really happy with the results of my little experiment... I think I can call this a roasted fruit galette, perhaps? I will definitely try this one again - technically, I should be able to make this with any combination of fruits, ones of summer or winter, but somehow, this one always comes back to my mind in the late summer... so I will probably wait till next year. Or should I?

September 16, 2005

white phoenix and gold on the table

O peaches, a beauty of summer - here they have started being replaced by autumn bounties while things kept me busy, so I have to rush, rush, rush to savor the fruits while I can. Because I love them. I love peaches!

When I lived in Hawaii, one of the many things I would miss a lot was peaches. There were a bunch of peaches sold everywhere, of course, but none really rivaled what we have in Japan when it comes to eating them raw, except maybe the ones I got from Colorado in one summer.

Peaches sold in here are generally large, juicy, sweet, mellow, scrumptious, delicious, you get the idea. And sure, they can be quite a luxury; one handsome, large white peach could cost $10 or more if you choose a high-end store. Most of them are of course a lot cheaper, but they still are a sort of fruits that can make you feel that you are eating something special.

Back in the day, when you were looking for fresh peaches in Japan, you'd only see white ones; I don't think as a kid I ever saw yellow peaches anywhere except in heavy syrup in a can. I don't know where they came from, but fresh yellow peaches were never available until recently, and as far as I know, it is in the last decade or so that fresh yellow peaches have become accessible. And yellow-fleshed peaches we have in here are a variety named ogon-to, or literally, golden peach. I have heard that they are a sort of hybrid with white kind, and they really do taste like juicy and tender white peaches while distinctively retaining the apricot- or nectarine- like flavor and firm flesh of a yellow peach. I love them as much as regular white kind, and it has made me happy that the golden peaches are now commonly available everywhere.

While I can't really afford a 10-buck peach, I do manage to treat myself with pretty ones once in a while. I got those white and yellow cuties in mid August (which is about a month ago, oh well...). This variety of white peach is named haku-ho or white phoenix; gold and phoenix nestled in styrofoam nets, now you might get some idea of how they are treated in this country.

Like I have said, they both are made to consume raw, and that is what most people undoubtedly do. So did I.

They tasted exactly like they appear to - perfectly ripe, sweet and juicy. I could have eaten them up like this, but part of me wanted to give them a little twist, and so I went with this:

Broiled peaches with kiwi coulis, for which I got an inspiration from one recipe. There is nothing particularly new about cooking peaches, but it seemed interesting to me to pair them with kiwi fruits like this.

Now I only got the ideas from the recipe, and made several changes. First, I broiled the fruits rather than pan-frying them like suggested in the original recipe. I thought the peaches here would be too soft to get pan-fried for five long minutes, so I cut them into thick wedges, sprinkled them with some brown sugar and broiled for a few minutes. Second, I didn't mix up kiwi and mint - I simply stuck a spring of mint into a mixture of lightly crushed kiwi flesh and sugar, just to add a hint of mint to the coulis and discarded it after several minutes. I also served mascarpone cheese along with the fruits.

I was happy with the result of my experiment; beneath the only slightly burned and caramelized surface of the peach slices was mostly fresh flesh, to which the cold, minty fresh kiwi coulis added a nice contrast. I imagine this would make a pleasant after-dinner treat in summer - ah well, it is almost gone by now. (And I have still been chasing the last bits of peaches while they are around, so stay tuned.)

September 4, 2005

eat italy early summer 2005: travelog 2

My next destination after Paris was Milan, Italy - to be more precise, it was Piacenza, a town located to the south of Milan, where I was met by T, my fellow Japanese blogger and surely one of the most influential Japanese food bloggers. I ended up staying at her place for two nights before going back to Milan to spend one night. Piacenza was a small but pretty town, and I only did a little sightseeing there and instead hanged out with T and her family, enjoying my good company and the great weather (a bit too hot, perhaps).

As is the case with my stay in Paris, I have some of my photos from Italy in flickr to share with you, so go check them out.

A quick look: highlights of my three-day stay in Italy include:

- Piacenza: downtown and its vicinity. Downtown Piacenza is really compact and you won’t need much time to see its major sightseeing spots, but there're pretty small shops and streets, and I had fun just walking around. T and her husband took me to two of their favorite places to eat in their area, and there I had great local treats and one of the best pizzas I had ever had.

- Homemade dishes and sweets. I couldn't help but look forward to trying T's food, which has always looked great in these beautiful photographs on her blog. She didn't even try to be ostentatious, but instead had me at the plain dining table with the family and served me what they usually eat - simple dishes such as pasta and salad, or slices of cake with a cup of tea. They tasted as good as they'd look in the picture - and believe me, her photography never fails to make you drool.

- Milan. Well, I hadn't particularly been interested in visiting Milan, so I only took one afternoon there. The only thing I did want to see was the famous Duomo, which was under massive renovation to my great disappointment. I suppose there should be a number of attractions in town if I try to look for them, so next time I visit the friend I might do some research on the town beforehand.

- Trans-alps flight to London. My flight was nearly cancelled due to sciopero, a notorious Italian strike. It did fly on schedule though, and what I saw aboard was this spectacular sight below me.

Go to see other photos here.