Gift Guide: For Japanese Food Lovers

November 26, 2016

katsuobushi-on-a-slicing-drawerThere are few objects more beautiful than a perfectly aged block of dried katsuobushi – bonito – one of the two essential ingredients for real dashi. (The other: kelp.) Here fauna becomes flora-like; the first time I encountered a piece, outside Kyoto, I thought I had been handed a piece of exquisite petrified wood. 

At the finest producers, like in Makurazaki on the farthest tip of Japan, one piece takes more than six months to make. It’s a complex process: after each bonito medallion is meticulously cleaned, it’s covered with mashed bonito paste to seal it, smoked twice, and injected twice more with bacteria to kill moisture. The result is almost impossibly hard, and often polished to an incredible sheen. 

Of course if you’re going to do more than admire katuobushi blocks, you’ll have to shave them. A mandolin won’t cut it; no way are those blades sharp enough to achieve the right thinness. You’ll need a specific shaver. 

While buying a blocky single-use kitchen item can feel hard to rationalize, katsuobushi shavers are gorgeous objects in their own right. (I like this one, or there’s this slightly nicer one.) And then there’s what they enable: revelatory dashi. Different – deeply satisfying – because of the freshness of the shavings. 

Which makes them great gifts for Japanese food purists, or for anyone who loves both a well-made mechanical gadget and miso soup. 

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Pear Brandy

November 25, 2016


I’ve appreciated Clear Creek eaux de vies for a long time, but I was reminded of it lately because of my love for Rogue River Reserve Blue cheese, which is wrapped in grape leaves that have been soaked in their pear brandy.  Loving the cheese as I do, I went out and bought a bottle.  It was the perfect end to the Thanksgiving feast.

Clear Creek Distillery has set the standard for American fruit brandies for over 30 years, and I’m not the first person to wonder if they also set the standard for the rest of the world For the uninitiated, these clear eau-de-vies pulse with the sunny, complex pleasures of perfectly ripe fruit while maintaining the sharp, bone-dry finish of their European counterparts. As you sip, your thoughts may float to an Oregon landscape: lush rows of fruit trees, the wide Columbia River, a looming Mount Hood…

But here’s what makes this a truly great holiday gift: it cuts richness, so it’s the perfect quaff to end a big long meal. If there’s one thing I know for certain about this winter, it’s to expect a few of those.

I love this mirabelle plum brandy, an homage to the great golden plum eau-de-vie of Lorraine. But I think my favorite is the poire, which is the essence of pear. If you’re looking for a little extra panache, they sell a bottle with a whole pear inside – yes, they grow it inside the bottle. My kind of magic.


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Vintage Thanksgiving Suggestions

November 22, 2016


From the November, 1976 issue of Gourmet, these two recipes really caught my eye.  This spoon bread souffle is not your usual turkey day offering, and the dried fruit pie looks really delicious.




utes. Reduce the het to 375 and bake for 20 tao 30 minutes more, or until golden. The recipe suggests brushing the lattice with apricot glaze, but that’s not really necessary.


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Old New England Thanksgiving

November 21, 2016


Came upon these unusually old fashioned recipes from the November, 1976 issue of Gourmet. If you’re looking for the simplicity of classic New England, here are a couple of recipes to consider.  I especially like the thrifty recipe for this pudding:



Here’s an equally thrifty little pudding:


It’s too late to make this mincemeat pie for Thanksgiving; the fairly alcoholic mincemeat needs 3 weeks to cure.  But you could make it now for Christmas; the recipe sounds really good.




Tomorrow: a few more great recipes from old Thanksgiving issues.