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.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Well, I think your wheat germ bread looks mouthwateringly good, and I'm sure it doesn't smell bad. Am I going to get to make it too? I don't remember seeing it on the list.

You wouldn't consider sharing the pho soup recipe, would you...? Or if you didn't want to translate, maybe you could just fax it to me. Heheh.