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Kaiseki Delights

A couple weeks ago, I had the honor and privilege to travel to Asia for work and while I was there, my client and I went to a Kaiseki restaurant.  If you’ve never been, Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese dinner served over several courses.  The word “Kaiseki” also refers to the preparation of the dishes, which typically include local and seasonal fare; it’s equivalent to eating at a super-high class restaurant.  In fact, it’s difficult to even get in; you have to ask someone in Japan to make the reservation for you.  Lucky for me, my client is a foodie and plans ahead.

I can’t tell you what we ate, but I can treat you to photos of each course.  It was delightful from start to finish and by far, the highlight meal of my trip.  Hope you enjoy!

Here’s the site for where we went – of course, I can’t read any of this.  :)  http://www.tankuma.jp/

course1

course2

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course4

course5

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Blueberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

After work today, I donned my apron and starting humming “have you seen the muffin man, the muffin man, the muffin man?”  It’s been a while since I’ve done an entry, and I had the bug.  For inspiration, I decided to make a treat for my upstairs neighbor.  He’s an elderly gentleman who has been kind enough to help with the garbage cans, and remind me on street cleaning days to move my scooter.   He also has a washer and dryer I’d love to borrow.   I should simply hold up a sign – will cook for laundry services.

Anyway…..  I’ve never been much of a baker but my roommate has a KitchenAid standing mixer that has been looking a little lonely.  After a quick perusal of the single cupboard that serves as a pantry, I found enough ingredients for Blueberry Chocolate Chip Muffins.

No, it’s not healthy and no, I don’t care.

Using an automatic mixer made things a little too easy.  Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and a bit of salt in the bowl.   Add in egg (room temperature), vegetable oil and milk.  Mix well.

Blueberry Muffins

Then fold in fresh blueberries.  I cooked my blueberries a little to give them a softer texture, which will stain the batter a delightful blue color.

Blueberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

Next, fold in chocolate chips and measure batter out into muffin tin.

For an extra treat, create a crumble to bake on top.  Combine sugar, flour, cinnamon, and using a fork, mash in butter cubes, then sprinkle on top of the muffins.

Cinnamon-Sugar Crumble

Bake at 400 degrees for 20-22 minutes.

Blueberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

Amazing!

Blueberry Chocolate Chip Muffins (makes 16)

  • 3 cups of flour
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspons baking powder
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup of milk
  • 2 cups of blueberries
  • 1 cup of chocolate chips

Cinnamon-Crumble

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup butter, cubed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

New Kitchen, New Rules

Setting up a new kitchen takes careful consideration.  When I’m cooking, the last thing I want to do is frantically search for my measuring cups, food processor, or where I put that cocoa powder from the store two weeks ago.  Placement and organization should be intuitive.  So much so, I want my friends to have an immediate sense where the silverware is located or where to grab a glass.

This is the challenge.  I have a new kitchen, and to add to the fascinating conundrum, I have my roommate’s perspective to consider as well.  So before signing our lease, we went through this exercise, while our landlord laughed the entire time.

Stand in your kitchen and pick an activity in your mind.  Are you doing dishes, cooking on the stove, prepping food?  Then, think about what items you need, what would you be reaching for, and where they would be stored.  Then decide how far you’re willing to travel, assuming your hands might be covered in flour, or oven mits carrying a hot dish, or tending to four hot pots cooking at once.  One step, two, maybe even three?

Right off the bat, we agreed on the location of glasses; cups should be near the coffee, right above the dishwasher.  Appliances were the next priority and actually needing the most space – turns out, together we have all the essentials:  Cuisinart food processor, Kitchen Aide mixer, electric kettle, crock pot, rice maker, panini press, hand mixer, and submersion blender.  After that, it was almost a process of elimination among the remaining space for dishes, cutlery, baking dishes, pots & pans, and pantry.

Then came the discussion about what can live on the counter and what would need to find its own home hidden behind a wooden panel, regardless of how much it is used.   Espresso maker and milk frother gets a place of honor; yep, milk frother, hello morning cappuccino.   Primary cooking utensils and knife rack, sure, standard fare.  Kitchen aides are pretty to look at, yep, ok, fine.  After that, I confessed my need for clean empty surfaces to maintain a sense of zen calm, and with luck, she agreed.  Negotiations are key to sharing space…

San Francisco kitchens tend to run on the small side.  Having enough cupboard space and counter-top space are higher on my must-needs list than a dishwasher or even a garbage disposal, and for the first time, enough space for two people cooking at once entered the list.

After all the boxes cleared, we have the basics in place – not too shabby!  You’ll note there’s no microwave or toaster oven in sight, a.k.a. no short cuts.  It’s all gonna be made from scratch.

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As with any kitchen, things will shift and evolve as we start using the area more and more and figure out what works.  On the immediate agenda, we’ll be making something for our upstairs neighbor to say hello – debating between a fruit pie, a sweet bread, or old fashioned cookies, hmmm.

Orange This. Chocolate That.

It’s December.  Christmas is a week away and I spent the weekend in the kitchen.  I’m impressed I was able to hold off the baking urge this long.

I try to ignore the commercialized foodie fanfare of holiday sugar cookies, the candy cane chocolate bark, and the marshmallow mint cocoa, but the lure of homemade treats are hard to resist.

More than any other time of year, this wintery month of giving is when I eagerly wait to see what my coworkers will present as an outpouring of affection in the guise of kitchen-made goodies.

There’s baking and there’s cooking.  I have a passing fancy in sweets at best, and most of baking involves cakes, cookies and other confections, so it’s not something I do very often.  Baking also seems to require a certain philosophical exactness and adherence to recipes that I don’t always subscribe to.   I’m more of a “prepare-a-little-then-wing-it” kind of cook, believing that necessity often spurs spontaneous creativity.

But practice makes perfect, so I tied back my hair, floured up my hands, and after two days, was pleased to present Chocolate Spice Cookies and Pumpkin Brittle [post coming soon], and a french favorite, Candied Clementines dipped in Chocolate .

Fresh Clementines

Start with a bag of fresh clementines or oranges, or any other citrus fruit.  Whatever strikes your fancy.

Clementines with Simple Syrup

Making candied fruit involves simmering your fruit in a concentrated simple syrup for anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour.  The easiest method is to use sugar and water, but you can add infused flavoring, such as vanilla extract, cinnamon, etc to give it more personality.  I haven’t tried substituting healthier sugars such as agave nectar and honey yet.

Candied Clementines

After letting the clementines simmer for an hour, I set them out to dry overnight and allow the sugars to harden and crystalize.

milk chocolate

The next day, I cut up a milk chocolate bar and set it over boiling water to melt.  Be particular about your chocolate – get the good stuff, you’ll be glad you didn’t skimp later.  Tip for next time:  use dark chocolate instead of milk.

Chocolate Covered Clementines

Dip half of each candied slice in the chocolate and set out on parchment paper to set.   Within a day, you can package up and store in your fridge for more than 6 weeks – which may turn the chocolate a slightly different color but shouldn’t impact the taste.

These are a present for my Momma.  We have a rule – actually it’s my rule – we don’t give each other presents for holidays or birthdays, unless it’s time…. or food.   Food is a distant second, but you’ll often see me write #foodislove to draw attention to the fact that if a cook is feeding you (and you’re not paying for it), it means they love you.  It’s consistently my (second) favorite gift to give.  Merry Christmas!

I’ve never met a Thanksgiving Stuffing I liked…. Until now.

Growing up, Thanksgiving meant more than a day of visiting with family, settling in to eat for at most an hour before running off to play while the adults watched football and talked.   We ate early as a family – Thanksgiving was more brunch than dinner.   To eat by 11am meant the turkey had to go in the oven around 4am.   Thinking back, I’m in awe of my Mom, and her powers of persuasion in getting me awake and up to help her cook.

Mom and I would spend those quiet moments talking and doing small things in the kitchen until dawn, and then it would be a race to welcome in family members, setting the table and making sure everyone had a seat (kids had their own table), finalizing any last minute baking, and frantically finding both the gravy bowl and butter dish, while reminding Papa it was time to do his single duty of the day – carve the turkey.

Fast forward fifteen years and Thanksgiving dinners disappeared with my parents divorce.  Instead, those two days off were a time to travel, to visit with friends, to take long drives to the mountains or the deserts, to go camping, anything but anything involving turkey and those nostalgic memories.

But time gradually heals all things.   And the sadness I felt about losing a family tradition has dissolved with the hope of creating a new one.   This year, I invited my father to dinner at my home, and along with four good friends, we had ourselves a Thanksgiving dinner.  A real dinner this time around, 5pm sharp.

The menu was a mix of traditional classic dishes (which I never make) and healthier cuisine alternatives.

Thanksgiving 2012, kale stuffing

Kale Stuffing

puff pastries spinach and feta cheese

Spinach Puffs

Cucumber Pear Fennel Pomegranate Salad

Cucumber Pear Fennel Pomegranate Salad

This was, by far, the largest, most complicated dinner party I’ve ever thrown.  But what I love most about cooking is trying to do something you’ve never done before.  Seeing if you can get it just right, without knowing what “just right” really means yet.

So yeah, I was excited and nervous all at once.   As dinners go, Thanksgiving isn’t my normal type of cuisine.  The weekend before I was scrambling to put the menu together, unable to decide if I wanted to make anything traditional at all – I couldn’t remember the last time I’d even eaten mashed potatoes, and really, what is this obsession with stuffing?   I honestly don’t get it.   But I knew that my father would want simple fare, classic dishes that reminded him of his mother’s cooking so I couldn’t get away from it altogether.

I even baked a pre-thanksgiving turkey for practice.

Thanksgiving Dinner

I used post-it notes on the refrigerator door, detailing my timeline for every dish, including when to start it and when it would be finished, which saved me from having to keep it all in my head.  I laid out place settings on the dining table and marked out all the serving dishes.  I carefully read through the recipes and made as much as I could the night before.   Thanskgiving morning, I felt relaxed and calm, and even had time for a quiet breakfast with my Dad.

Papa & Breakfast

Although there are always things I look back on and want to improve, the little things that I would do differently, the best moment was sitting at a table with both family and friends and watching their faces while they ate the first few bites… and seeing them smile.

Housewarming Party!

It’s official, folks.  The Boss and I are living together!   Ok, it’s been four months, but the Houswarming Party is the social announcement.  A chance to see how our various circles of friends get along (it was a geek/dork fest) and an unspoken test of our hosting skills.

The Boss took care of the cleaning and ensuring the right combinations of drinks and mixers were on hand.  The menu was allllllll mine.

The day of the party I was a bit of a wreck.  I hadn’t had time to sit down and plan out a menu.  Thanks to my Pinterest obsess, I quickly pulled together a couple of appetizers to try out.

I spread out fresh strawberries, raspberries, figs, cheese, crackers, humus and pita breads, olives, chips and salsa to munch on, and spent the majority of the party in the kitchen.  It was so much fun to cook and then get immediate feedback from my taste testers (ahem, guests).

Southwestern Egg Rolls

Southwestern Egg Rolls

Wild Mushrooms on Toasted Baguette

Wild Mushrooms on Toasted Baguette

And this was the popular favorite.   Out of the three, this was the easiest to make (post coming soon).

Zucchini Bites

Zucchini Bites

Thanks again to everyone who came out!

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