June 20, 2006

between the rains

Been hot, been wet, been gray - that's what's all about the rainy season here in Tokyo. Can't bother to go out in the rain (thank god I'm not a nine-to-five office worker, even though I am supposed to be working from home for longer hours anyways) but when I saw some brighter sky through the windows on Saturday, I just had to go out. We need to photosynthesize every now and then, I suppose.

I rode my bike, got some fresh air, and bought some summer veggies for dinner that evening - I hadn't gotten around to cooking a proper meal for some time.

Well, by "proper" I mean anything more complicated than making some simple hiya-yakko or chilled tofu (not a fancy one like this), so even a salad could count as a proper dish, I reckon. So I made ourselves two salads; one was this summery vegetable salad which combined grilled zucchini, eggplants, and bell peppers with plum tomatoes and arugula, dressed with mustard-based dressing. Slow-grilled vegetables render wonderful sweetness, which would be matched nicely by a sharp mustard and slightly bitter arugula.

The other one is called minted potato salad. To put it bluntly though, this was simply boiled potatoes, slightly sophisticated way. Basically, you throw a good bunch of fresh mint into a pot of potatoes in the water, cook as you'd normally do, drain and discard the mint, dress the potatoes with olive oil and a fresh squeeze of juice of lemon, and season with salt and pepper. It was that simple, but I loved it - I loved the way mint didn't make the whole thing taste like a toothpaste but just subtly add that distinctive sharp and soothing scent of mint to the tender potatoes, which was complemented by the fresh lemon splash.

The salads were both appeared in a June 2005 issue of delicious. magazine (Issue 66), and although the article included these as barbecue sides, they made a light dinner just fine. And while the article suggested some white wines to go with these, which should make a perfect sense, I instead supped at a ginger ale and citrus-scented green tea cocktail. It was light and refreshing, although not as full-bodied as the Earl Grey version, which is my all-time favorite.

It seems like, if I bother to make dinner, I should make some afters, might as well; while grilling my vegetables, I whipped up raspberry ganache using pureed fresh berries and good-quality Italian dark chocolate. Although this was nowhere close to the original recipe, which comes in a form of tartelettes comprising of raspberry ganache in tart shells served with berry sauce and vanilla ice-cream, all home-made, the ganache was dainty enough by itself, and made some lovely nibbles along with some good nut cookies.

It has been only a week since the beginning of wet season was officially announced for Tokyo, I'm already feeling so deprived of blue skies, knowing how I will be tired of it once the long and hot summer actually comes in several weeks' time....

June 10, 2006

officially started

The World Cup? No, I am talking about the Rainy Season 2006 Tokyo - we are officially in a month-long wet season starting as of yesterday. Unlike the FIFA World Cup, our rainy season may not necessarily end on July 9. Unlike the FIFA World Cup, the real heat will not reach its peak during the season, but after the rainy season when the notorious Tokyo summer arrives. Just how ready am I for that.

A tropical fruit with a Japanese touch: Mango with Tofu Cream, recipe by Kazuwo Hida (in her 2002 book, in Japanese). Cubed mango flesh is tossed in drained and pureed silken tofu combined with a bit of cream, a bit of white sesame paste, a dash of soy sauce, and a pinch of salt. The ripe fruit is meant to make enough sweetness in this light treat, although I liked it better with a drizzle of honey. This may not be your typical mango dessert, but it can make an easy-to-prep little nosh.

June 9, 2006

accidental birthday cake

June 7th is my sister Yuka's birthday. When I ask her what she'd want for birthday cake, she'd usually request cheesecake, and that was exactly the case last year - I made her some ultra-rich and cheesey New York cheesecake (I didn't do a post about it here, but you can see some photos in my Japanese blog here). This year, she happened to fancy something a little different, which happened to be a little time-consuming for me to whip up on the very day today - so I ended up making something else that I had wanted to try, which happened to be cheesecake.

It's called East End Cheesecake, a recipe by Dan Lepard that my friend and great baker Naoko has tried a little while ago for her own birthday. It's got extra-thick double cream in both the crust and the filling and is thus meant to be rich, but it turned out to be a moist but not so heavy, probably thanks to the addition of a firmly whipped egg white.

I baked the cake in individual-sized heart shapes, and served them with quick raspberry compote, which was basically fresh raspberries tossed with a mixture of pureed raspberries and a bit of late-harvest Riesling. For drawing lines on the plate I used 75% dark chocolate from a New York chocolatier Vere, about which I should be doing a post sometime within the coming weeks.

I'm just so partial to rich and heavy New York cheesecake, but this one sure was a nice change on a slightly lighter side. I was also pleased to see it get a nod from the cheesecake-sucker; it wasn't meant to be her birthday cake, but it's always good idea to keep our birthday girl happy, I suppose.

By the way, the happy b-day girl happily cooperated with me for today's photo shooting session; the white hearts necklace appearing along with the white heart cheesecake is a work of my sister, who is an independent jewelry desginer/artist. Those tiny enameled silver hearts have made a motif in a number of her works including earings and bracelets, and they are always my favorites amongst her other beautiful creations. She's a devoted artisan, occasional surfer, loving wife and many other things to boot... but to me she's a cool sister and great friend whom I am proud of. Here're my best wishes for her ever successful year - Happy Birthday Yuka, good luck with everything... if you're lucky enough, you'll get a "proper" birthday cake this weekend.