2013 Gift Guide: Day One

November 25, 2013

Salad Cutaway

The geniueses at Modernist Cuisine have so many cool products it's hard to know where to begin: you could please just about any cook with a gift from their product line.  They've got products to help you cure, foam, fry, sweeten, stablilize, thicken and transform. Even the pickiest food nerd would be thrilled to get one of their spherification kits. (So, for that matter, would I.)

But their latest invention sounds coolest of all. While many of these products are fairly arcane, this one has only one desire: to help you make a better pizza. The Modernist Cuisine Baking Steel turns an ordinary home oven into a blast furnace.  The baking surface has a thermal conductivity eighteen times greater than that of a ceramic pizza stone; as a result pizzas cook faster and come out crisper. You put the steel into the oven an hour ahead of time and let it get glowing hot.  It will then cook a pizza  in four minutes flat. And since it retains heat, once it's ready you can keep cooking pizzas to your heart's content. 

It costss $99 – and makes a very hot gift.


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Another Great New Product

November 23, 2013

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Just back from the Berkshire Farmers' Market where I found a new (to me, anyway) product:

Carr's Ciderhouse Apple Cider Syrup.  Couldn't wait to try it, so I roasted the butternut squash I'd also bought at the market, and then mashed it with some salt, butter and generous lashings of the syrup. It's going to be great with the ham we're having for dinner.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Apple Cider Syrup

Cut the squsah in half, which is the hardest part of this entire recipe. Remove the seeds, put it in a roasting pan, cut side down, with a little bit of water and roast at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes. Let it cool, then squish it out of the skin and mash.  

Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper to taste and allow the butter to melt.  Splash in some of the syrup; I used a couple of tablespoons, but you might want to use more.

At the very end, I stirred in some pomegranate seeds. Great for color and crunch.


Serves 4-6. 




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Things I Love

November 20, 2013


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I've had a long love affair with the pickled "plums" (they're actually apricots) of Japan.  I love to start the day with ume tea, and I try  to end every sushi meal with a handroll of rice and yama imo sparked with sweetly salty umeboshi paste.

But on this trip to Japan I discovered the many varieties of ume pickles, which run an entire gamut of flavors and textures. The plums can be hard or soft, sweet or salty; the kind I ended up bringing home are lightly grilled, which brings out another aspect of their character.  

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In Japan good umeboshi can be very expensive; this little jar was $15, which means that the plums themselves were more than $2 each.  Well worth it, I think.  I've been eating them with nothing more than a warm bowl of rice – a perfect breakfast.

I'm about to start looking for a source of great umeboshi on this side of the Pacific; all suggestions will be gratefully received.






Notes from Japan: Kikunoi, Kyoto

November 16, 2013


This golden sake cup, almost weightless and just large enough to cup comfortably in your hand, seems like the perfect symbol for the serenely elegant Kikunoi. The restaurant quietly strives for a luxurious and old-fashioned perfection.  Chef Yoshihiro Murata has described himself as trying to "accurately communicate Japanese food to the world."  

A few hours at Kikunoi is very much like going back to another time when women in kimono entered tatami rooms and knelt to serve you a parade of poetic courses. 


The first offering in this meal for "the season of frost"  arrives wrapped in a scroll of paper, with a gingko leaf adorning the top.  Open it up and this is what your find:


Poached ankimo with mibuna and shimeji mushrooms

Karasumi (bottarga)

Duck liver pate with white poppy seeds, maple leaf made out of cuttlefish coated with egg yolk and uni in an edible basket woven out of kombu (the pine needles are actually noodles). 

At the very front, sake-glazed gingko nuts.

 Yuzu tofu inside a hollowed out yuzu with diced yuzu on top.

 Red snapper, prawn, vinegared chrysanthemum petals.

 Slices of young tuna with a thick sauce made of egg yolk and excellent soy sauce.


Tilefish steamed with chestnuts and millet in a chrysanthemum sauce.


Hiding inside this tiny vessel is an astonishing sorbet made of yuzu and wasabi; it has the same effect as the trou normande in a French meal. The spicy, icy shock completely clears your palate.


Barracuda grilled in cedar.


A lovely light salad of persimmon, daikon, carrot, chrysanthemum and mitsuba with sesame dressing and crab. We ate this so gratefully that it left us completely unprepared for the shock of the next course….


That large curve in the turnip and grilled onion soup is an entire shark fin.  We all looked down at our bowls in dismay.  Shark fin is enormously expensive, and Murata-san was honoring us by offering it in such profusion. But we've all pledged not to eat shark fin, and our soup went back to the kitchen untouched. Our hope: Murata-san will get the message.


Steamed rice with roe, napa cabbage soup, pickled thistle root.


A perfectly ripe Daishiro persimmon splashed with Cognac.


Chef Yoshihiro Murata with Hiro Sone of California's Terra and Ame.

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Notes from Osaka: Hoshiyama

November 15, 2013

Down a crooked alley and then up three narrow flights of stairs. At the top, the usual sliding wooden door into a tiny restaurant: Sushi Hoshiyami is a counter with just 8 seats. 

But this sushi chef walks his own path.  He is young, with a shock of mod-cut hair, and a serious look that approaches a scowl. 


Without a word he hands us each a bowl of muzuku, and it feels like he means it as a challenge. 

I have a passion for this seaweed, although the kind I know, from Okinawa, is thinner and much slimmier than this Hokkaido version.  This one is crisp, snapping in the mouth.  He watches intently as we eat.  “You like?” he asks, peering at us with a puzzled expression.   

We like. He nods and hands the first piece of sushi across the counter.  “No soy sauce,” he says sternly, painting the tai with some elixir of his own.


In fact, as he hands one impeccable piece of fish after another across the counter, the mantra never changes.  “No soy sauce.”  This is sushi chef as control freak, carefully calibrating each bite. 

The fish is excellent, but it does not taste like any sushi I’ve eaten before.  The rice is chewier and saltier, which lends the fish a different flavor.  Even the ginger, eaten between bites, is salty, not sweet. 

The meal is long, slow deliberate.  The flavors I remember best:


this kohada.



 Wonderful chu-toro. 

An amazing shrimp – large, briny, more like lobster than any shrimp I’ve ever experienced. 


A sardine. 




Blood clam.



The flavors rise to a crescendo; in the middle there is an onslaught of very flavorful and oily fish. Then the curve moves downward, each fish becoming softer, gentler than the one before.  The final piece of sushi is this crab, which whispers into the mouth.

and is followed by the most concentrated tamago I’ve ever eaten.


It’s the one sweet thing we have all night.

It has been a fascinating new look at sushi: the salty rice, with very little wasabi, no nori, and just the slightest umami hint of soy sauce, formed a  frame around the fish, which seemed more naked, the flavors more exposed. To anyone accustomed to drowing sushi in that power pair of soy sauce and wasabi, it would be a revelation.