Sunday, October 2, 2011

3 Japanese Dressings

My trips to Japan weren't all work and play. There was plenty of time to meditate on dining while touring around. The western influence in Japan is evident, but there is never any mistaking where you are. Great attention and respect are given to the food preparation in appearance and taste. When the Japanese prepare western foods, there is always a trace of the hand that makes it. There is a certain je ne sais quoi. And so, these dressings have that same quality. They came by me from a book I got in London, Simple Japanese, and I have loosely adapted a few recipes. All of the dressings are comfortable on just beds of greens, or whatever combination suits you. I used the Japanese Creamy Dill Dressing to top an heirloom tomato salad that was fresh from my Massachusetts garden, dill and all. It is also perfect with grilled or poached fish.The Miso Dressing sat beside varieties of grilled baby eggplant and peppers that I got at the farmers market in Boise, Idaho while I was visiting my son. I have bought a version of this dressing for years not really knowing how to make it, but wanting to. The sesame flavor compliments beef, chicken or pork when used in a salad. One evening I quickly made a salad of leftover grilled chicken, sliced peaches ripe from the tree and toasted pecans. The Japanese Vinaigrette blended with the fruit and chicken so well, that I wondered how I had never known this fusion of flavors. One of the ingredients is yuzu juice, a citrus juice that tastes like a medley of lemon and grapefruit with a hint of orange. My daughter, who lives in Korea, uses it in her cooking. I bought a bottle in Japan and it is available here, as well.

These are all easily made in advance, keep well and will make your salads as satisfying as a walk through a Japanese garden....well, almost.

Japanese Creamy Dill Dressing

1/3 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
6 ounces creme fraiche
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon wasabi paste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
salt and freshly ground pepper

Mix all of the chopped dill, crème fraîche, lemon juice, wasabi paste and sugar together in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Keeps 3 days refrigerated.

Miso Dressing

1 shallot, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
3 tablespoons white miso paste
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
3 teaspoons good quality toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoon olive oil

Put shallot and garlic into a small food processor with the miso, lemon juice, mustard, sesame oil, balsamic vinegar and honey. Blend to combine.

Mix together the peanut oil, olive oil and canola oil in a bowl. Gradually add the oil mixture to the miso mixture and blend until emulsified and the consistency of a thick vinaigrette. You may not need all of the oil, or you may need more, just check the consistency and see.

Keeps 1 week refrigerated.

Japanese Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons yuzu juice*
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon wasabi paste
2 teaspoons sweet chili sauce
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup olive oil
*can substitute 1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice and 1 tablespoon grapefruit juice to equal 2 tablespoons yuzu juice.

Combine the yuzu juice, vinegar,wasabi and sweet chili sauce in a small food processor and blend until smooth.

Mix the canola oil and olive oil in a bowl. Add to the wasabi mixture while the machine is running and mix until it has the consistency of a vinaigrette.

Keeps 2 weeks refrigerated.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Commuting, Crossing the Line and Tokyo

I have been remiss, not by intent, but by default. My commute to New York's JFK airport is a time eater. These past few seasons Mother Nature has shown her power with persistent thunderstorms, an east coast earthquake and hurricane. I guess I didn't realize how much chaos that could throw into commuting to another city by plane. It seems that every time I think I have cracked the commuting code, it changes. Who needs crossword puzzles to keep the mind astute? Just commute. I used to ask people what it was like to make the commute from Boston to New York. I also wondered what it was like to then fly to far away places after that trek. Crossing the state line is much different than crossing the International Date Line. Add the 2 together and it gets enigmatic. How can it be explained and understood? Well...on a typical flight to Tokyo I start my day from the Boston area at about 11:30 am to get to NY for my 7:20pm flight to Tokyo. There are a lot more options flying into NY from Boston if you take the shuttle into LaGuardia Airport then cab it over to JFK.
Sounds crazy, I know, and sometimes I think it is. It is a trade off of stress. You're pretty sure you'll get there, but you have to add the NYC cab ride stress into the mixture. I like to give myself backup flights in case the weather or any other issue pops up. That means I usually arrive at JFK 4 hours early. After signing in for my trip I get on the plane and do the usual checks. Most often I am the purser, which includes briefings with the captain and then the crew. The flight plan is 13 hours long each way. And there is a 13 hour time difference. On this trip we left at 7:20 pm Friday evening and arrived Tokyo at 10:30 pm Saturday night. Now that is a mind bender. Your body just doesn't know what to do and when. And neither does your mind. Good thing we have a flight path on our video monitors to tell us where we are and where we are going. Our flight leaves JFK airport and travels toward the north pole. We serve 3 meals on the flight and since it leaves in the evening and arrives in the evening, they are all a lunch or dinner or breakfast. Where did the morning go? We crossed the line....the International Date Line. Our flight path goes east to west and north until we approach Japan. Coming back to the US we leave in the morning, and arrive in the morning so we serve breakfast all day...or is it all morning? Coming back we left Monday morning and arrived Monday morning. Yikes! You just really have to throw all concepts of time out of the window and just here now. The video flight path helps to keep it real. Looking out the window we see the lights of the Japanese fishing boats in formation down below. They almost look celestial. Then we see the blurred lights of Tokyo as we make our approach.When we land in Tokyo it is evening. After deplaning, we go through customs and obtain our temporary visa or shore pass as it's called. The ride to the hotel is about half an hour, and sleep is now in sight. I unpack and settle into my room but, after the long flight and time change, it is not a good idea to make important decisions. Does the toilet really need controls on it? And the TV remote is only barely decipherable to my tired western eyes. Phew!After checking email, I get ready for the long awaited sleep. My flashlight sits on my bedside table with shoes close by just in case my wake up call isn't the phone, but a swaying of the highrise hotel. We are, after all, in the Ring of Fire, the earthquake zone. The reality is unsettling, but fear is not my friend. The next morning it is luckily my phone that gives me the wake up call at 9 am. Our hotel presents us with a complimentary buffet breakfast as we look out over the Yokohama Bay. It is a lavish spread of western and eastern foods. I dine on a fusion of my own making by sprinkling seaweed and edamame over my scrambled eggs. The coffee is good and strong and plentiful. The day is ready to begin. It has been as hot as Hades outside with high humidity. Sunglasses, sunscreen, and a fan get tucked inside my bag beside my yen. A group of us decide at breakfast to go to a Japanese garden. Hurricane Irene is raging against the Northeast US, so 2 other crews are stuck for days since all have flights cancelled going into the states. Each 777 crew has 11 flight attendants and 4 pilots, and on this day there were 45 of us at the hotel. Usually it is only 1 crew at a time at the hotel. Organized, we hop on a bus to the outskirts of town to Sankeien Gardens. They are traditional Japanese gardens built and designed by Sankei Hara, who was a Japanese silk trader, and encompass 175 square meters of calm and beauty. As we walk toward the garden entrance there are small shops with local goods. We enter the gardens and notice a bin of parasols to help shield the hot midday sun. Very civil....and welcome as we walk around taking it all in. There are paths and pagodas. Bamboo and boats. And a lounging cat to remind us to stop and take a break before we return to town. Back to Yokohama we go as the day begins to close. Some of us reconvene for dinner at a local noodle house. We are greeted with a cold glass of ice tea as we sit down. I order a bowl of Ramen noodles as I sip my tea. The hot dumplings and bowls of ramen noodles arrive to the waiting addition of spices and condiments already on the table. There is a garlic press to squeeze fresh garlic in the bowl and crocks full of I'm not sure what, but I delve in anyway! I still dream of this warm, soothing and flavorful food. Every good day must come to an end and even the city prepares for sleep. The next morning brings us back to the airport at dawn. Taking off my shoes as I go through security, I am presented with a pair of slippers. This city and airport are the cleanest I've ever seen. A reverence and respect is given to that process. We return our shore passes and board and load our aircraft to head back to the US. The gentlemen giving us clearance, wave and bow as our 777 releases the brakes and pushes back for taxi. You always feel it is a privilege to be here and you are made to feel like the privilege is all theirs. So now we are off to cross the line again, but this time we gain our day back. Now that is my kinda math! After serving breakfast all day, New York is within reach again. We land at 7 am to calm skies in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. Home in Boston is looking good. It is 1:30 in the afternoon before I walk in my door and remove my watch with the spinning hands, and put up my feet. Now, where are my slippers?!

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Lit a Candle to Remember

I lit a candle to remember,
but how could I ever forget.

Smiles never seen again,
and lives left unfinished
in the chaos of the rubble.
Through the unimaginable,
bravery was pulled
from the pocket of innocence
to dab at our wounds.
You will always be with us.

September 11, 2011

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Star Spangled Strawberry Rhubarb Tarts

Ahhh, summer in New Balmy days, sand between your toes and sunburned noses from a long day at the beach, cookouts and get togethers, the 4th of July, farmer's markets, and lingering over a good book. This year summer is even better. My daughter is home from Korea for a 3 week visit and she has brought a friend who had never been to the US. Today is the 4th of July and we'll celebrate our independence with the best of what summer has to offer. I went to the farmer's market Saturday and got some red, ripe local strawberries and stalks of crisp rhubarb. My daughter loves strawberry rhubarb pie, so I thought I'd make some festive tarts. Using crème brûleé dishes and Christmas star cookie cutters, I put the tarts together. They look so patriotic with the bubbling red fruit and pastry stars. I used my red, white and blue tie-dyed napkins that my son made for me last year when he made his tie-dyed flag. The tarts will be the grand finale after a day of our local art's festival, barbecue, lobster rolls and fireworks. Happy 4th of July!!
Strawberry Rhubarb Tarts

2 1/2 cups rhubarb stalks, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (ends and any stringy parts removed and leaves discarded)
2 1/2 cups ripe strawberries, stemmed and cut in half
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons minute quick cooking tapioca
zest of 1 Meyer lemon (or 1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest)
unbaked pie crust for two 9-inch pies
tart pans or custard dishes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix together the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, cinnamon, tapioca and lemon zest. Roll out the pie crust dough and cut out circles of dough for the bottom of your dishes or pans. I used 4 1/2 inch dishes and cut out 5 1/2 inch circles, using a saucer as a template. Line the dishes with the dough and prick the bottom with a fork. Fill to the top with the fruit mixture and top with stars cut out of the pastry scraps. This filled 5 of the 4 1/2 inch dishes, but will vary depending on the size of your dish. You can also use a 9 inch pie dish and make a whole pie.
Place the tarts or pie on a parchment lined baking sheet (the tarts will bubble over), and put in the preheated oven. Bake for about 50-60 minutes or until they are bubbling and done. If the pastry browns too quickly, loosely put a foil tent over the tarts.

Makes five 4 1/2 inch tarts or one 9 inch pie.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Italian Sausage, Radicchio and Pear Pasta

Lately I feel like the Johnny Cash song, I've Been Everywhere. In the past few weeks I've been to Dallas, Rome, Budapest, Boston, New York, Minneapolis, Boise, Idaho and back again. I'm off to Rome today. I'm not complaining, mind you, but my affairs aren't in order. The weeds are growing, the dust is collecting and my computer time has been zero. If only I had an iPad for my a few days off! Oh yeah, don't forget a house cleaner on that list of wants. I settled yesterday for an easy and tasty pasta dish to keep me going. I have been wanting to make the Pater Nostri pasta I bought in Rome using a recipe that was inspired by a dish I had at Trattoria Moderne last month. It had Italian sausage, pear and radicchio. The flavors rounded out each other with a little sweet from the pear, some savory sausage, salty cheese and a slightly bitter taste from the radicchio. The essences of life. I added some dried porcini mushrooms, onion, and a fresh grating of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and that was about it. Pater Nostri pasta is shaped like rings of calamari. I saw some in Whole Foods the other day and they even called it calamari pasta. I like it in this dish because the sausage handily finds its way into the rings. Any pasta will work, but a tubular one catches any sauce and bits and pieces the best. I used garlic herb sausage from Whole Foods that was wonderful (it was even on sale!) As a garnish, I sprinkled chive flowerets from my blooming chives on top. They have a delicate look and chive flavor. All in all, this dish was quick, tasty and brought me back to Rome as all of the dust settled around me. Pasta with Italian Sausage, Radicchio and Pears

6 ounces Italian sausage, removed from casing*
1/2 cup diced onion
8 porcini mushrooms, reconstituted in 1/2 cup boiling water
2 radicchio leaves, sliced thinly
1/2 ripe Bosc pear, cut into 1/2 x 1/4 inch slices
2 servings cooked pasta
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Optional: Chive or other herb flowerets for garnish
*If the sausage doesn't have herbs in it, add the leaves from some sprigs of fresh thyme and a few finely snipped fresh sage leaves.

In a heavy skillet over medium heat, sauté the sausage and onion, breaking up the sausage as it cooks. Once the sausage is done and the onions are translucent, remove any excess oil. If you are using a high quality and lower fat sausage, you probably won't have any extra oil. Add the pears and radicchio, and stir until the pears are just slightly cooked and the radicchio is wilted. Transfer the sausage mixture into a bowl. Put the strained mushroom liquid into the skillet to deglaze over medium heat. Scrape up any bits that stick to the bottom and reduce the liquid by half. Return the sausage mixture back into the skillet and toss in cooked pasta to fully coat. If it seems dry at all, you can add a little of the cooked pasta water or a small amount of olive oil. Mine didn't need anything. Add a few gratings of Parmesan cheese and put into serving dishes. Top with the chive flower garnish if used, and offer freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 for a pasta course.

My Beautiful cutting board is from Ann at Thibeault's Table. Take a peek here...they are works of art.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Roamin' in Rome

Rome is the Eternal City whose history spans over two and a half thousand years. And around every corner is evidence of its architectural, artistic, culinary, historical and religious influence. Whew!! After arriving from New York and a quick 2 hours sleep, we started our day with cappucino at an outdoor café. The warm Roman sun and the caffeine started to melt away some of the jetlag before we headed to a specialty store in search of basil olive oil. They were fresh out of the oil, but had plenty of pasta to choose from. I found an interesting pasta, called maltagliati, that is irregularly cut flat pasta that I'll experiment with. I love a challenge! Walking along, we stopped in Santa Maria in Via Church. It has a long and ancient history with a chapel built around a holy well. Some refer to the well water as miracle water. Reverently, we took a sip from cups of the water that are served in the chapel as we thought about its complex history. Continuing through the streets I was able to capture a photo of my friend Debbie as she looked up at Pope John Paul II. OK, no miracle here, she was just standing in front of a poster for his beatification in Rome this month :-) A few blocks away as the contrasting heavens looked down, a band played Hava Nagila (Debbie is did they know?!) as we walked in front of the Pantheon. Directly across from the Pantheon are the remnants of a closed McDonalds. Another Roman relic. Around the corner is Basilica di Sant'Agostino where Madonna di Loreto, a Caravaggio hangs that was painted in 1604. According to Wikipedia, "While beautiful, the Virgin Mary could be any woman emerging from the night shadows......the scene is a moment where everyday common man (or woman) encounters the divine, whose appearance is not unlike that of a common man (or woman). History and art are at every footstep. As well as Gelaterias, and that is a good thing....a very good thing. At Piazza Navona, there are several fountains. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I decided to take a drink, but I think my miracle water wish of world peace went out of door here. I'm pretty sure my miracle was used up by not getting some crazy, water fountain bacteria. We were on the way to our friend Magda's jewelry and art glass store, La Fornace, The cobblestone streets meandered along the way as my appetite built with each step. We weren't the only ones thinking about dinner.We had reservations at Trattoria Moderna and I couldn't wait. Some of Magda's artwork grace the tables of this warm and friendly restaurant. Rose buds rest in her blown glass vases and desserts are presented on her glass platters. The dishes that came from the kitchen were also works of art. After plates of assorted starters, my main course of paccheri pasta with sausage, radicchio and pear arrived from the busy kitchen. It was a masterful combination of tastes. The divine with the common. Just when we thought we didn't have any room left for dessert, Magda somehow had one of her beautiful platters arrive with about a half dozen different desserts. Sorry that I don't have any good photos, my hands were too busy deciding what to try first! We finished everything and could have used a long walk back to the hotel, but Magda gave us a ride through the narrow twisting streets of Rome....the city of miracles.

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