Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Home is Where the Dog Is

Make that a smelly dog, for in my absence last month Jason did not bother to bathe Libby. Even though Libby is one of those dogs that don’t naturally smell (lucky us), she does like to roll in the grass whenever she gets a chance and whatever smell in the grass that appealed to her is usually foul to us human noses.

Besides a stinky dog enthusiastically welcoming me with little yelps and spinning tail, I was also greeted with piles of paperwork waiting to be taken care of, along with a yard full of weeds that crept up while I was gone. But you know what? Even the weeds at home look lovelier than the weeds elsewhere.

It’s good to be home.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Want seconds?

This, my friends, is called Dobos torte, a death-by-chocolate kinda dessert that makes your blood sluggish and your artery clogged up like outbound Rt. 66 on a Friday afternoon. I have wanted to make this for so long, but I knew I had to share the artery clogging aftereffects with people dear to my heart. So I took it to a get-together of friends from high school last weekend. It’s only fair that we share this health hazard the same way we shared our SAT angst years ago.

Everyone gobbled up their piece and took home seconds. If you are wondering if it’s as rich as it looks, that’ll be affirmative. Being a torte, it was very dense and half way through my slice, I wished I had divided it into 16 portions instead of 12. I also wished I had left out two cups of sugar in the buttercream instead of just one. Oh well, next time (if there ever is a next time).

Recipe here.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Cooking ABC – April

April was a busy month for me at ABC cooking studio. I was taking free trial lessons, regular lessons, and I was only in Japan for the first two weeks because of my trip back to the US, so let’s get started before I forget even more details.

I was interested in two out of the three cooking menus offered in April, the first one being brunch with omelet.

I almost always order an omelet with ham and mushrooms whenever I have breakfast at one of the nicer hotels because I just can’t make an omelet fluffy enough for me to want to eat it myself. I thought this was the perfect chance for me to master the technique, but just as expected, it was not easy. I messed up the flipping part and my omelet came out wrinkled and ugly. The teacher says I should practice with a towel first and then try to make omelets often. Mmm Hmm, and who is going to eat all those cholesterol-laden omelets from my practice sessions? I guess I will have to rely on other people to cook my omelets for the time being.

To accompany the omelet, we also made cabbage rolls. Strange brunch menu if you asked me, but I really liked the cabbage roll, although I’ve made better French toast before.

The next cooking menu was a very traditional Japanese meal. Both the presentation and the ingredients attracted me.

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to sandwich ground pork in lotus root slices and batter fry them (called fried lotus box). We would then eat them dipped in Chinese dark vinegar. I think it was one of my favorite dishes, but then again, back then I loved everything deep fried. The ABC version (蓮根はさみ揚げ), however, was a bit of a letdown. I think the reason for this is three-fold: 1. we used chicken, which, although low fat, was much less flavorful and very dry compared to pork; 2. the tempura batter was not as thick as the one my grandmother used, so it didn’t provide as crunchy a layer; 3. What was I thinking? How can anything replace, or even compare to a childhood memory? Even if it were just as good, I’d still think of three reasons to deny it. But the other two dishes in the menu were just as unmemorable: the Taimeshi (鯛飯, rice with Tai, sorry the name of the fish in English escapes me now) was devoid of any taste of the fish; and the Sawaniwan (沢煮椀, soup with assorted vegetables) was nothing more than a tasteless bowl of vegetable in water. The saving grace of this meal was the strawberry daifuku with white bean paste. (If you remember, I made mame daifuku a couple of months ago, so another reason I chose to take this lesson was to see if I was making the daifuku the right way. I am happy to report that I am.) but even this didn’t make up for the disappointment for having wasted precious time (not to mention money) on food that was so forgetful that I draw a complete blank on recalling any taste at all.

Luckily, I could always count on the desserts to make up for the disappointment. One surprise was the pear tart that I made with my friend Tomoko in a free trial lesson.

Isn’t it cute? I won’t dwell on the fact that one contains close to 500 calories, but suffice it to say that the almond paste and all that butter made this one yummy little tart. My in-laws couldn’t stop saying good things about it and Jason enjoyed it too until I told him about the calorie content.

The next thing I made was very blah. ABC has this system of making you learn the basic things first before letting you go on to the next level. So in order to learn decorated cakes, I had to make the basic sponge cake. Here it is, nothing fancy, just a sponge cake filled with jam, but it contains no baking powder or baking soda. The cake rose entirely on beaten eggs.

I did manage to squeeze in one bread lesson in April, and I made English muffins. They came out shaped like little hamburger buns, but the taste was definitely English muffin. Too bad I won’t be able to make them at home, unless I buy the muffin rings.

This is my favorite this month, and I saved it for last: rum raisin sandwich and chocolate chip cookies.

This is another basic course before going on to make fancier tarts, but much nicer than the sponge cake. When I went to Hokkaido for the first time a couple of years ago, I discovered a local tea biscuit sandwich with rum raisin cream cheese filling, and what we made in class tasted almost exactly like it, but the filling was softer, with more cream than cream cheese. The process of making the dough was particularly fun. Instead of mixing bowls, we sifted all the dry ingredients onto the countertop, and made it into a large well. We then made a wall with butter, putting the sugar etc. on one side, and eggs on the other (memory is a bit fuzzy now and I can’t remember exactly what went on each side without looking at my notes). Then, slowly, using the heel of one hand, we slowly blended all the ingredients into a wet paste. Some gentle stretching and kneading later, we each had ourselves a ball of very soft buttery dough. After refrigeration, we first rolled and cut out the rounds for the sandwiches, then added chocolate chips to the scrap and made them into cookies. The cookies are not the American type, but tasted good nonetheless. I gave some to a friend’s daughter and she couldn’t stop eating them. Personally, I liked the sandwiches much better, and it’s something I will definitely be making again.

Update: I've posted the dough recipe here.