Thursday, June 30, 2005

Cooking ABC: June

June is the rainy season in Japan, before the really humid and hot summer smothers anyone who dares set foot outside. Taking advantage of the still bearable temperature, I made an effort to go to the cooking school as much as I could this month.

I only went for one bread lesson in June because cooking and cake lessons kept me busy.

This is a wheat germ bread, the first bread I’ve made at the school that didn’t contain eggs. The dough was extremely wet and a pain to knead, but the wheat germ smelled so nice while it was baking. It made really nice bread for sandwiches and toast. I thought the wheat germ added a very nice flavor but Jason insisted that the smell reminded of him of mold.

Him - “This smells funny. Does wheat germ means it has germs in it?”
Me - “Please, don’t be ignorant. Germ stands for germinate, not germs as in bacteria.”
Him - “It tastes funny too. Are you sure it hasn’t gone bad?”
Me - “I just made it yesterday. Trust me, it’s fine.”
Him - turning the slice of bread this way and that, “I don’t see any mold on this, but it sure smells like it.”
Me - “Find, don’t eat it.”
Arrrr, the man is impossible!

One of the three cooking menus this month that immediately caught my eyes was the so-called Asian-styled warm noodles, a twist on the pho. It was paired with a salad topped with battered deep fried prawns, fried tofu with peanut sauce, and a soymilk pudding in peach sauce.

The soup for the noodles was delicious, and when I made it at home, Jason liked it too. However, we used Japanese thin noodles (そうめん) in class, which turned soggy in the soup. When I made it at home, I used real Vietnamese rice noodles and it tasted very authentic, almost as good as my friend Anna’s recipe. Besides the noodle soup, the most delicious part of this meal was the deep fried prawns. The shells were left on, and the prawns split down the middle along the stomach line. They were then opened, pressed into a butterfly shape, marinated, coated in flour, and fried. The entire prawn, down to the shell, was crispy and soaked in flavor. The deep fried tofu paled in comparison. In fact it even tasted a little strange because the peanut sauce was sweet so it was almost dessert-like, but not entirely so. We always make a simple dessert to go with the meals, and I was interested in how the soymilk pudding would taste. However I was disappointed to find the whole thing smothered in the peach sauce and as a result I could hardly make out any soy flavor at all.

The dessert menus for June were mousse cakes. The first one I made was a chocolate mousse cake with banana fillings.

The bananas were sautéed whole in butter until golden on both sides, then cut into chunks with the spatula and flavored with sugar and cinnamon. The challenging part was to smooth the mousse over the ring, top with a chocolate sauce, and smooth that into a shiny surface too. I was mighty proud of my mousse cake and couldn’t wait to get home to take a picture, but alas, I was not careful enough on the way back and had inadvertently tilted the box. A squished cake greeted me when I open the box, and that is why I don’t have a picture of the whole cake =o(

The second cooking lesson I went this month features chili shrimp (a favorite Japanized Chinese dish in Tokyo) and fried rice with thick sauce poured over it.

My all-time favorite dish when I lived in Singapore was chili crab: huge Sri Lanka crabs were battered, fried and smothered in red hot chili sauce. I think I enjoyed mopping up the sauce with fried Chinese steamed buns more than I did eating the crabs. I know the sauce for chili shrimp is quite similar to the sauce for chili crab, so I wanted to see how it’s made. The shrimp was tasty enough, but it was not as spicy as I would’ve liked it to be (mostly due to the fact that the majority of Japanese people simply can’t eat spicy food). However, the base is there, so I think all I need to do is to experiment with it a little to come up with a good sauce. The fried rice was nothing special, and we poured a soup-like sauce thickened with corn starch on top of it. It’s called あんかけ炒飯in Japanese, and 盖交饭 in Chinese, the most common lunch dish you can find in any road-side eateries in China. The almond tofu had black sesame paste in it and I quite liked the variation.

The last of the mousse cake series is a currant mousse cake, with a very shiny, mirror-like surface (in fact it’s called Miroir aux cassis).

Although it was one level up from the chocolate mousse cake, I found it much easier to make. After smoothing off the mousse layer, mousse film was put around the cake and black currant jelly was poured onto the mousse layer. We then tilted the cake to spread the jelly all around. Much easier than the strawberry mousse cake where the jam had to be spread with a spatula.

I never really liked black currant because I always thought they were too tart, but this cake was surprisingly good. The balance of sweetness and tartness was just right so the mousse didn’t feel too heavy to eat.

Next month I’ll be making a chestnut cake! I’ll be sure to post a photo if it doesn’t melt into a puddle in the July heat when I take it home.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Cooking ABC May: Korean pancakes

I was a little rusty coming back from a month long break in the US, so when I went to my first cooking lesson in May, I forgot my camera. As a result, I don’t have any photos of the delicious meal of Korean seafood pancake (chijimi), cold cabbage roll with boiled pork and shiso leaves, and the custard filled dessert spring roll to show you. I am, however, going to give you the recipe for the seafood pancake because it’s simply too easy and too delicious to not share.

The recipe uses tempura flour, but in a pinch you can substitute regular flour and add some salt to it, but keep in mind the texture will suffer a little.

Ingredients (makes two pancakes):
Squid 80g, sliced into 2cm strips
Scallops 80g, cut into 7mm cubs
2 tsp Japanese cooking wine
green onions 40g, cut into 4cm strips
Chinese chive 40g, cut into 4cm strips
Carrot 40g, cut into 4cm thin strips
Kimchi 60g, blot dry and cut into 2cm squares
One dried red chili pepper, seeds removed and cut into thin rings
Tempura flour 100g
Four medium shell-on shrimps
One medium egg
100ml water
2tsp soy sauce
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp sesame oil

1. Combine cut squid and scallop pieces, mix in the cooking wine and let stand
2. Divide all the cut vegetables in two equal portions
3. Peel the shrimps and using food processor or kitchen knife, finely chop into a paste.
4. Beat egg, add 100ml water, soy sauce, salt, and sesame oil. Divide into two equal portions.
5. Using a pair of chopsticks or whisk, mix half the egg mixture into half the shrimp paste until combined. Add 50g of tempura flour and whisk until no clumps are left. (Do not over-mix, otherwise gluten will form, making the pancake too chewy.)
6. Add half the seafood mixture and half the vegetable mixture into the batter. (Do not mix the other half of the ingredients until ready to cook, otherwise batter will become watery from moisture in the vegetables).
7. Coat the bottom of a COLD frying pan with 1 tbsp of sesame oil, drop the batter with vegetable and seafood onto the COLD oil and using the back of a spoon, pat into a round (about 9 inch in diameter). If the oil and pan are hot when you pour the batter in, the surface will get burned before it's cooked. Make sure you cool and clean the frying pan before making the secone pancake.
8. Turn the heat to medium low and cook for 3-4 minutes or until golden, loosening the edge with a spatula occasionally, but otherwise try not to touch the pancake too much. (If you prefer your pancakes to be a little crispy, like me, you may cook the first side until it smells like it’s almost burnt).
9. Flip the pancake and press down with spatula lightly. Cook for 2-3 minutes until desired doneness.
10. Repeat steps 5 through 9 for the second pancake.

While pancakes are cooking, make the dipping sauce:
4 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar
½ tsp Chinese chili pepper
1 tsp sugar
¼ tsp garlic paste
½ tsp white sesame, lightly toasted
½ tsp sesame oil
1 green onion, approximately 4g, diced

Mix all the ingredients except for the green onions. Add the green onions right before serving so sauce doesn’t become watery.

This is an extremely flexible recipe and any seafood will do (I used two types of shrimps). It also takes not time to whip up so I’ve made it at home twice already (once after an all-day hiking trip). Incidentally, we went to a Korean restaurant the day after my first attempt, and for comparison ordered the chijimi. Don’t mean to boast, but I thought mine was so much better, crispy dark golden crust and loaded with goodies. My in-laws agreed.

Other than the cooking lessons, I also went for two bread courses. The first lesson was these cute little buns with rum raisins and sugar sprinkled on top.

I was expecting them to be the hard-crusted type, but they turned out quite soft, with lots of butter in it. Jason surprised me by saying that he liked them, despite the softness.

Next was Green Tea bread, with sweetened red beans in it.

If you think it’s green now, you should’ve seen the raw dough (which I accidentally dropped on the floor, heehee), but surprisingly you still couldn’t taste too much tea in it. My in-laws say it tastes more like a cake, and Jason refused to comment because he said he could taste the floor in it! You know what dude? I drop stuff on the floor all the time and then feed them to you! (Actually, Libby eats whatever I drop on the floor before I have a chance to pick it up.)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Happy Birthday Libby

My sweet Libby turned seven today. That’s 49 in human years! (But according to this, her real age is only 32. Yes, I’m a compulsive test taker.)

There’s a Chinese saying that goes something like this “a girl goes through eighteen changes before she becomes a woman” (女大十八变). I kowtow to this because it so accurately applies not only girls, but girl dogs also.

This was Libby at the tender age of 8 weeks, waiting for her vaccination shots at the vet’s office. She came home with us on that day and we nicknamed her “FeiFei,” which means chubby in Chinese (肥肥).

She outgrew her chubbiness and cuteness at an astonishing speed and became a gangly teenager who seemed all legs, with no meat on her bones. She stayed skinny for two more years, even after coming to Japan with us (we got her while living in Singapore).

Thank goodness she realized pretty soon that she needed to grow more fur to combat Tokyo’s cold winter and was soon sporting some serious fluff, especially in the nether regions. I thought the new furrier look suits her immensely and she can finally be called a beauty. Or is her beauty only in the eyes of one doting owner?

Well, regardless of what she looks like, we still think the world of her, and here’s to another seven years of swimming

snow eating

Frisbee catching



socializing, singing, cat chasing, and just being a really cool dog!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Five Favorie Cookbooks Meme

The baton was passed to me by AG of Grab Your Fork . I am guilty of indiscriminate buying of cookbooks everywhere I go, sometimes forgetting that I have a book already and buying a second copy (memory problem, as always). In the recent couple of years however, I’ve veered more towards on-line recipes (Allrecipes for everyday cooking, Epicurious for more complicated dishes, and google searches for less common ingredients) and neglected most of my cookbooks. Thanks to AG, this meme made me take another look at my cookbooks and I rediscovered some books that I forgot I even had, oops. Without further ado, here are the answers:

1. Total number of cookbooks I own:
I counted seventy-four in the cupboard, but there could be a couple more lying around the house somewhere.
2. Last cookbook I bought:
The latest addition to my cookbook collection was Allrecipes’ Dinner Tonight, but I didn’t buy it, Allrecipes sent it to me for free.
3. Last food/cook book I read:
A book on two hundred selected restaurants in Tokyo that are known for their traditional/authentic taste. I found out from the book that a building that looks like someone’s house a stone’s throw from my home is an Italian restaurant. I have been trying to get a reservation but so far no luck.
4. Five (cook) books that mean a lot to me:
- Food for Thought by Vivien Quahe-Seah, a Singaporean doctor who wrote the book on Singaporean cooking after finding out she had cancer (proceeds on the sale of the book went to cancer research). Besides recipes and tons of beautiful pictures of wonderful Singaporean food, as well as Vivien also shared her thoughts and feelings. It is as much a book of recipes for food as recipes for love and living. I am embarrassed to say that I haven’t made a single dish out of the book because when I lived in Singapore there was never any need to cook (food is so readily available everywhere) and now that I don’t live there any more, I cannot find half the ingredients.
- Classic Japanese Cooking Course by Masaki Ko. This book contains many photos illustrating the cooking process and showcasing wonderful Japanese pottery pieces. But the real reason that it is special to me is because my first dog Jack chewed off part of the book’s binding, so whenever I look at the book, I think of him.
- A thin booklet called Asian Desserts that I bought for 100yen (about US 90cents) at the famous Daiso 100yen shop. (Every tourist who’s ever visited Tokyo knows about this place. You can buy just about everything, from dishes to cosmetics to interior decorations to kitchen supplies, all of reasonable quality, for 100yen.) The book has recipes for twenty simple desserts from various Asian countries, each accompanied by an attractive photo. All the recipes can be done within 30 minutes, perfect for evenings when you don’t feel like anything elaborate.
- The Quaker Oat Bran cookbook, bought in the summer of 1995. It’s the book I used to teach myself baking. I still make the banana bread from it once in a while.
- A Chinese cookbook brought back from China by a friend. It has no pictures and is not very big on giving clear instructions (terms such as “some” “the appropriate amount” are employed to describe quantities of ingredients used). I was never able to make anything of predictable result from that book, but it made me appreciate the art of Chinese cooking – in the realization that I can’t do it!
5. Which five people would you like to see fill this out in their blogs?
Rachel of Brown Bread Ice Cream
Keiko of Nordljus
Karen of the Pilgrim’s Pots and Pans
Nic of Baking Sheet
Chefdoc of A Perfect Pear

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Drink Juice and Floss!

Scientists might finally be close to finding a way to predict who will develop Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and how to prevent it. AD is a subject close to my heart not only because the company I just quit launched the first AD drug into the market, but also because I used to work with patients with AD in nursing homes and know what a debilitating and dehumanizing disease it can be. The ones whose children are willing to take care of them in a home setting are truly blessed. More often, because of the demanding nature of taking care of an AD patient, families choose to send the afflicted to long-term care facilities and leave the dirty works to others. I won’t get into the gritty details of how patients are neglected even in the best facilities (it’s hard to demand total strangers to understand the incomprehensible babbles, let alone notice subtle signs of distress), but suffice it to say it made such an impression on me that I am scared of AD more than I am of cancer. The worst that can happen with cancer is that I die, but with AD, I could end up in a living hell.

At the first Alzheimer prevention conference, researchers presented early evidence of how AD might be predicted, along with brain-healthy lifestyles that might prevent the onset of the disease. Among the lifestyles markers that protect one from AD are:

- Drink fruit or vegetable juices at least three times a week (people who do are four times less likely to develop AD).
- Higher education, healthy gum and absence of stroke (education stimulates brain development and gum disease points towards inflammation harmful to the brain)
- Stay socially active in old age.

Full story

Can't do anything with your genes but you can do something with your lifestyle! So down those cartons of OJ and don’t forget to floss!

Monday, June 20, 2005

A Day Ruined

The world is made up of all kinds of personalities. There are shy people, outgoing people, funny people, dull people, smart people, not-so-smart people, etc. etc. Then, there are the crazy people, creeps that behave in such bizarre ways that they should be locked in their houses and never be allowed in public. We met such a person yesterday.

It started out as a pleasant hike in Mt. Takao on a humid Sunday. We picked a six-hour hiking course that would take us to a couple of peaks. Although the beginning of the track was rather crowded with people, it became progressively remote and we were able to enjoy the sounds of chirping birds and the fresh mountain air. Libby happily padded along in the muddy trails, occasionally stopping to take a bite out of a particularly fresh clump of grass.

Half way through our hike, a woman dashed out of the woods from our left, every inch of her skin covered, despite the absence of sun and the humid weather. I looked at the low bush where she came out of and didn’t see a trail. She proceeded to zig-zag down the mountain at surprisingly high speed, hopping over exposed tree roots, passing Jason and Libby about 10 meters in front of me and another hiker. Soon, she was nothing but a red blotch between the trees. Damn that woman’s fast, I thought to myself, wondering if she got lost from her group. Then all of a sudden, she turned back and ran towards Jason, screaming something. Jason, being the non-Japanese speaker, stopped and stared at her in confusion. I quickened my pace to see what’s going on, and heard her high-pitched voice hysterically asking Jason why Libby wasn’t on a leash. Without waiting for an answer she declared that she’s terribly afraid of dogs and demanded that we leash Libby. I looked down at Libby, who was, at the time, right by Jason’s feet minding her own business. I just don’t see in what way Libby was bothering this woman. As she went on and on, I decided to go into my non-Japanese speaking mode. I know, I’m a horrible person for doing this, but I thought it was athe easiest way to deal with a hysterical people who wouldn't stop screaming. So I put on my best gaijin accent and said in Japanese, “I don’t understand Japanese.” This put her into new fits and she frantically searched the English word for leash and came up with rope!

Maybe it was her choice of words, maybe it was the way she was wildly gesturing, or maybe because I just don’t like the way she looked (she’s wearing earphones for crying out loud! Why would you want to assault your ears with manmade music when you can enjoy the sounds of nature? And why are you even hiking if you are afraid of animals? PLUS I do not trust people who are afraid of dogs as a group!), I looked at her straight in the eyes and said firmly, “No, I will not leash my dog because it is dangerous. The road is too slippery.” (Yeah, this is the bitchy side of me that finds its way to the surface every now and then.) I don’t know how much of it she understood, but she got the NO part for sure. She probably thought she was going to put an insolent gaijin/dog owner into place and teach me a lesson, only to be denied of the satisfaction. The look of disbelief was unmistakable on her face. For a second she didn’t know what to say, but then turned around and ran away mumbling loudly, “Unbelievable!” in Japanese.

Unbelievable is exactly what it is. If the woman hadn’t dashed back to yell at us, Libby would’ve never been within ten feet of her, not to mention the fact that outside people she knows, the dog is completely oblivious to everyone, especially when it comes to lunatics like her. I bet Libby wouldn’t even go near her if she was holding a piece of prime rib!

The rest of the hike turned into a ridiculous game of chase. The creep is surprisingly fast but took frequent breaks. To avoid confrontation, we hung back whenever we see her in front, and took different detours whenever possible. She finally tired herself out running away from us and sat down for a rest on a wooden bench at a split. Since we already lost precious time hanging back, I decided that since she was resting, we would overtake her, solving HER problem once and for all. But the minute she saw us coming, she jumped up from her seat and sprinted up the hill screaming to someone she didn’t even know, “Those two people with that dog claim they don’t speak Japanese, and they won’t listen to me! I’m terrified of that dog…” As she ran further ahead, her voice faded. Boy, it must be so stressful to be her.

Our hike sufficiently ruined, we took a different route to get back to the foot of the mountain, missing a couple of points of interest. I realize I might be grossly biased here because, well, it is my precious dog that we are talking about, and like I said, I just don’t get people who don’t like dogs (except kids). That said, I firmly stand by my belief that in a mountain with slippery trails, it’s extremely unreasonable to ask a dog to be leashed (we could both trip and injure ourselves). I realize I could’ve been nicer and explain all this to her in Japanese, but then again, I know a freak when I see one, and any explanation would've just been a waste of time and energy.

At any rate, what kind of a normal person would be scared of this sweet dog?

Photos from the hike here.

Friday, June 17, 2005

SHF#9: Sweet Tomato Tart

Life in Flow is hosting the ninth edition of Sugar High Friday and the theme is Tantalizing Titillating Tempting Tarts! Since I am a self-proclaimed queen of tarts, I simply have to make an entry to this one, if only I can figure out how to submit my entry (technical problems). But even if it never makes it into the SHF roundup, it’s ok too, because it is something that I’ve been meaning to try for a long time.

My favorite neighborhood patisserie came up with a cherry tomato tart a couple of summers ago. I’ve eaten it a few times and really liked it, but maybe the idea is not universally appealing so now they have taken it out of their summer rotation. In its place, they are selling a new tomato mousse tart with strawberries and tomatoes on top, but I still prefer the old version better, with only tomatoes.

So I set out to make my own version of a sweet tomato tart. I found some oblong shaped mini tomatoes in the supermarket that are sweeter than the normal cherry variety and decided to try them. The skin on these tomatoes are rather thick so I cut them in half and roasted in the toaster oven for about eight minutes, just enough that the skin comes off easily but before the tomatoes lose shape.

For the tart base, I decided to use the pate sucree recipe that I learned in cooking school. Here’s how:

Makes one 18cm tart, or double recipe to make 10inch tart.
Unsalted butter 60g
Pinch of salt
One egg yolk
Vanilla essence (or oil) 3-4 drops
Cake flour 80g
Almond powder 30g
Powdered sugar 50g
Bread flour for dusting

1. Sift together cake flour and almond powder twice, store in fridge until use.
2. Place powdered sugar in fridge before use.
3. Bring butter to room temperature.
4. Butter and flour the tart pan. Place in fridge to prevent butter from melting.

Making the dough:
1. Clean and disinfect a large area of the counter.
2. Place the mixture of cake flour and almond powder on the counter and make a big well out of it using a plastic scraper (diameter of well should be twice the width of scraper)
3. Place the remaining ingredients inside the well in the following order: powdered sugar, vanilla oil, salt, butter, egg yolk. As much as you can, try not to let the ingredients touch each other, and block the egg yolk from the sugar with a wall of butter. (This prevents sugar from absorbing water in the egg yolk, leading to clumps)

4. Using your fingers, squeeze butter and egg yolk together until completely incorporated.
5. Use scraper to cut into butter the powdered sugar, then flour mixture.

6. Gather all the dough in front of you with the scraper. Using the heel of your hand, push a portion of the dough the size of a golf ball away from you on the counter. Repeat in a radiating pattern until all the dough is pushed away. Gather up dough and repeat. At first the dry ingredients will separate from the butter mixture,

but after three to four repetitions, the dough should come together nicely. Do not over-knead, otherwise gluten will form, causing the dough to become hard and also shrink while baking.

7. Pat dough into a round disc, and place inside freezer for 15 minutes or fridge for at least one hour.
8. Dust counter with bread flour (particle size of bread flour is larger than cake flour, so it’s better suited to prevent sticking) and roll dough out into a disc and line the tart pan, prick all over with fork.
9. Bake in 350F/180C oven for 15 minutes or until golden.
10. Cool on rack and invert out of tart pan.

1/6 cup sour cream
½ cup mascarpone cheese
1/8 cup sugar
¾ tsp finely grated lemon zest
pinch of salt
roasted mini tomato halves with skin removed (enough to line top of tart)

1 tbsp apricot jam boiled with 1-2 tbsp water until desired consistency is reached.

Whisk together all the fillings ingredients except for tomatoes and spread in cooled shell. Arrange tomato halves on top of filling. Brush the tomatoes with glaze to prevent from drying out.

All in all, it worked out ok. The dough gets soft really quickly so I wasn’t able to get the complete piece of rolled out dough into the tart pan. After two tries, I gave up and patched it up in the pan instead. It still worked out really well and came out effortlessly, and my tart pan doesn’t even have a removable bottom. Despite my convoluted description, it is actually really easy to make the pate sucree. Using this method, you get a really nice almost fluffy texture. Never will you have the problem of the unbreakable tart bottom because this one crumbles nicely under a slight stab of the fork, yet holds up nicely for easy handling.

The cream filling is nice and tasty, but not exactly what I had in mind. Thinking back, the original filling had more of a custard feel. The tomatoes and fillings were probably baked with the tart base too, because if I remember correctly, the custard also had tomato taste in it. Oh shucks, it’s been so long since I had the real thing that I can’t remember exactly what it’s like. I guess I will just have to settle with my version of it for now.

Update: the host at Life in Flow graciously gave me his email address so it looks like the tomato tart will make its way into the SHF roundup. Thanks, Redbeard for uniting tart lovers all over for this SHF!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Pierre Herme: Emotion Eden

Ok, I’m going to come clean and tell you that I actually had this a while ago, shortly after I came back to Japan. I know some of you have been waiting for another PH review, and I really did mean to tell you about it sooner, but what can I say? Life as an unemployed bum can sometimes get so busy.

Ok, first let’s get this out of the way. Someone asked me for the address of the Pierre Herme store on Aoyama-dori, so here it is. It’s in La Porte Aoyama (5-51-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku) next to the UN building. The closest station is Omotesando on the Ginza or Hanzomon line, exit B2.

Anyway, as I was saying, soon after I came back to Tokyo, I noticed a distinctively citrus theme at the PH store. A couple of times I passed it on my bike but was always in a hurry and didn’t have time to linger and check out the new window display, but I did spot a new addition to the Emotion range that looked oh-so-lemony. Or so I thought.

The glistening golden jelly piled on top of Emotion Eden is actually saffron flavored. If you look closely, you can actually make out the crimson threads. Well, maybe not in this photo, but trust me, they are there. The next layer is a compote of peach and apricot, followed by saffron infused cream on the very bottom. The saleslady again told me that I must scoop up all the layers so that the saffron flavor does not overwhelm me. This hardly worries me as I am a huge fan of saffron. When I asked if this was going to be a summer item only, she assured me that if enough customers like it, it will be available year-round. But just in case, you should go and try it before it disappears for good.

That night, Emotion Eden received rave reviews. Jason practically licked the glass clean and went on to say that out of all the Emotions, Eden is his favorite. You really have to taste it to believe that yes, apricot and saffron are the perfect match. Jason claims that he has no idea what saffron tastes like, but I do suspect that you’d have to really love saffron to like this dessert, because despite the strong peach and apricot flavors, the saffron shines through. Again, no complaint from me, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Past Pierre Herme entries:

Emotion Ludic & Inca


Emotion Ispahan

Monday, June 13, 2005

Here We Go Again

The idea of an herb garden from which I can pick fresh ingredients to cook a tasty meal has always appealed to me. Never will I have to think of ways to use up an entire bunch of dill when all I needed was one tablespoonful, or resort to dry herbs for less than satisfactory results.

My inspiration in the gardening area is my mother, who diligently starts a vegetable garden every spring with cucumbers, tomatoes, and winter melon as anchors, plus some other things that strike her fancy that year. Come summer, we have an abundant supply of juicy cucumbers, and the plump tomatoes are so sweet that it is almost a waste to tamper with the taste so I chomp on them like apples. You can see that the desire to garden runs in the family. I say desire because I obviously did not inherit her talent. I’m ok with green houseplants that don’t flower or bear fruit. I have a huge palm-like plant that we’ve had for years and it’s grown so big that when I sit underneath it on our teakwood indoor recliner, I feel like I’m on a tropical island under a palm tree. My luck with plants, however, ends when it comes to anything that has any utilitarian function. Virtually all flowering plants we buy end up dying within a month, be it peony, peach blossom or gardenia. The ones that do manage to survive are turned into green houseplants that never ever bloom again. The fruit trees last longer, but not by much. I think our little olive tree lived for a year (never bearing any olives), but the mini orange tree dried out like a stick in less time than it took for the oranges to fall off (the tree was full of oranges when we bought it).

My luck with herbs is not that much better. I cannot remember how many parsley plants I bought, only to have them wither into yellow threads a week later. And you probably remember the poor rosemary plant that didn’t survive my business trip last year. One year I was extra ambitious and bought seed already sowed into little dirt cakes that expanded when I poured water on it. They all germinated all right, but I timed it badly so when we came back from ten glorious days from the Maldives, the little seedlings had all disappeared and all I had were shrunken dirt cakes. With a track record like this, you’d think I would’ve stopped trying a long time ago and resigned to the fate of buying herbs from the market. Oh no, not this determined wannabe gardener. Spring after spring, I try again and again. After all, two of my little rosemary plants did survive the winter last year, so maybe my luck is turning after all.

This year, I wasted no time in buying the seedlings right after I came back from the US, because you see, I only have 6 weeks to cultivate my dream herb garden before we go on our Tibet trip and leave the herbs to fend for themselves.

Now, two weeks later, the basil plants are thriving but the parsley is dying a slow death; the two kinds of mint are still hanging in there, but I don’t know for how much longer; and both rosemary plants are completely bald now after I snipped off some for a steak marinade.

I’m also keeping my finger crossed on the cucumber. They are not pictured here but Jason was interested in growing them so I bought three a week after the herbs were planted. I was hoping to harvest them at least once before leaving for Tibet, but my gardening consultant (i.e. my mom) told me today that it usually takes six to eight weeks. Umm, maybe one of my neighbors can be bribed into coming to water them and reaping in the cucumbers as reward?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Nice People at

Last week, I received an email from the creative director of, the website that I use frequently for everyday meals. He said that in appreciation of all the photos I submitted, they wanted to send me a free Dinner Tonight cookbook. How nice of them to do such a thing!

Here’s a little background. started the photo feature at the end of last year. They encouraged readers to submit photos of their cooking to the website, as well as personal photos. Acutely aware of my memory problem, especially when it comes to names of absolutely everything, including dishes, I immediately recognized it as a good way to keep track of the recipes that I have tried on that site. So I faithfully took a picture of my dinner every night. If I had time I’d add some styling touches, but more often than not, the pictures were snapped in the kitchen seconds before they were brought out onto the dinner table, sometimes with Jason tapping his foot going, “Is it necessary to take a picture of EVERYTHING?” Lack of moral support notwithstanding, I persevered, and have submitted over one hundred food photos so far. Some of the early ones actually look quite horrible and unappetizing because I was still trying to figure out the fluorescent light in my kitchen, but I do have some that I am quite happy about, especially the ones I took while I was back in the US, with a skylight above the dining table.

This is one page of my photos on, and you can hit the back/next button on the bottom to see more.

It's just such a nice feeling to know that someone does appreciate your efforts, isn't it!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I Scream for Ice Cream

Ever since I saw the lovely picture of the brownbread ice-cream that Keiko made, I knew I had to put ice-cream maker on the top of my shopping list when I was back in the States. I decided on the 1.5 Qt version made by Cuisinart because of its sleek design, and its perfect size to stuff into my suitcase. Since it doesn’t make a ton, hopefully there won’t be any detrimental effects on my waistline, hopefully.

I was going to show a picture of the mouthwatering mango sorbet that I made back in the States (Cuisinart’s original recipe) posing next to my ice cream maker, but the picture was taken hostage in a damaged CD. So I guess you’ll just have to take my words when I say it was not only the most flavorful sorbet I’d ever eaten, but had the best golden color and firm texture, superior to any commercial sorbet.

My first attempt at making ice-cream, however, was somewhat of a disaster. It was after I came back to Japan. Eager to show off my brand new toy, I made a batch of banana ice-cream from a recipe found on the internet. The cooled mixture did not solidify at all after churning for half an hour in the ice-cream maker. I went back to the recipe but didn’t find anything that I had done wrong. It was only after cross-referencing other recipes that I found the problem. I think I was supposed to cook the mixture until it resembles custard, but the recipe was not clear on that and I had stopped cooking way too early. To salvage the situation the best I could, I re-cooked the mixture, to the effect of a gooey lumpy mess. I don’t know whether it’s due to the double-cooking or the fact that I had substituted all the milk with skim milk, the resulting ice-cream tasted like wax. To top it all off, the chocolate chips that I decided to throw in at the very last minute tasted like steel bits after they’ve been frozen. Although I would’ve been happy to throw the whole thing down the drain, Jason and the in-laws ate every last bit of it graciously (half of it made into a milk shake with ground black sesame added in, which was actually pretty good), saying that it wasn’t bad as a first attempt.

Knowing the ice-cream maker can do better than this, and determined not to let the in-laws leave Tokyo with nasty aftertastes of the waxy ice cream, I tried again. This time, it was a simple chocolate ice cream, and I spared no calories. It made me feel full just stirring all that cream into the mixture, but I was rewarded with such creamy texture and silky taste, it was worth risking a clogged artery or two, just this once. If this ice cream maker wants to see the light of the day often, I will have to find some low fat and tasty recipes.