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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Week 15 - A Dinner Party to Please Everyone

Ever since missing the wedding in Jaipur, we've been meaning to invite the wedding couple along with some other friends who did make it to the wedding to dinner, in lieu of an apology. Things kept getting in the way, and before we knew it, it's been two months. But better late than never, right? Only problem is, this group has various dietary restrictions:

The groom is gluten intolerant
The bride doesn't eat red meat, but ok with duck, chicken, seafood or veggies
Another guest eats veggeis, lamb, chicken, egg, but no beef, pork, seafood, or duck

At least the other two guests had no dietary restrictions. I guess I could've made chicken, but that somehow seemed too boring. Short of making a full vegetarian dinner, I was at a loss as to what to do... until I asked J to check with guest #3 if he could eat chicken cooked in duck fat, and Hallelujah, it was ok! Yes, you've guessed it, I'm making duck confit, but using chicken for the non-duck eating guest.

I had planned on buying some blue flowers to go with my Jim Thompson napkins and place mats, but these wine colored gerbera daisies looked so gorgeous at the nursery that I had to get them. Only when I started to set the table did I realize that they almost completely disappeared in the background of my table =o(

I served a cold cucumber and dill soup as entree. The person who doesn't eat seafood didn't get the smoked salmon topping.

I wanted to serve burrata from Carecci again, but their shipment arrives the same night as my dinner, so I had to change my plans and ordered buffalo mozzarella instead and made a Caprese salad with the basil growing on my balcony.

Main course is duck confit. I bought frozen duck legs from Mmmm in Novena and marinated it with sea salt, pepper, and some pink salt for 4 hours. Then I slow cooked it in duck fat with garlic and bay leaves at 190F for about 4.5hrs, until the meat is almost falling off the bone. I kept them submerged in duck fat in the fridge until the day of the dinner. Here is a similar recipe but I never marinate the duck overnight, because I find it way too salty. Four hours of marination is just right for my taste, but I've gone for as long as six. I served the duck confit (chicken confit for one guest) with a pear and cranberry salad

I also made a peasant bread using the five minute Artisan bread recipe. Too bad our gluten intolerant guest couldn't eat this.

To make it up to him, I made sure both desserts were gluten free: Pavlova with brandy berry sauce, similar recipe here. I always leave the meringue base in the turned-off oven after baking until serving time. This way it cools with the oven and doesn't absorb any moisture from the atmosphere, so it remains crispy in our humid weather.

And a decadent flourless chocolate cake that I've decided to include in my bakery menu.

The highlight of the dinner, aside from the desserts, was an envelope presented to J by one of our guests. It contained this:
He even highlighted the important parts! I don't think we'll ever live this one down =o(

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Week 14 - Post Japan lull

As you can see, we ate too much, way too much while in Japan, so the week immediately after the trip was spent cleansing. I steamed a lot of stuff: chicken, fish, veg, and drank a lot of smoothies. Of the few meals I did prepare, one recipe stood out, and it was a tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) made in the Philips Airfryer

Here's the recipe for the Tonkatsu with watermelon tomato salad, the only I did differently was to cook the cutlet in the airfryer. It looks great, doesn't it? Although it's not as juicy as the real fried-in-fat deal, it's pretty darn good for complete fat-free cooking.

Another discovery made this week was a great place to buy burrata cheese. I followed a link on Facebook to a shop on Rakuten Singapore called Carecci. The selection is limited, but the price is about half of what you normally pay at other retail outlets. The delivery charges were exorbitant, but lucky for me, one of their retail outlets is just up the road from me, so I went to collect it myself.

I got some parma ham as well while I was at it, but it was a little dry. The burrata, on the other hand, was very creamy and nice. You have to order at least 3 days in advance though, as they're flown here from Italy. I think this will be a weekend staple from now on!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Week 13 part 7 - Tsukiji and Ishikawa

One of the must-do things when we visit Tokyo is to have sushi breakfast in Daiwa in Tsukiji market. We started going when we lived there almost 15 years ago. We'd take our out of town visitors there, wait in line for an hour to squeeze into the tiny counter seats and have the set menu. Over the years the restaurant remained the same, two mirror image sides, one side helmed by the father, one side by the son. The long lines of waiting customers are herded by a little lady, making sure that people don't spill over to either side of their own shop frontage so as not to cause "meiwaku" (trouble) to their neighbors.

Even though the restaurant looks the same, the content of the set menu has become more tourist-centric. Instead of going from light to richer taste, starting with a white fish and ending with toro/uni, we were presented with toro in the beginning, which made J very happy. This is the 3500yen course, with a torigai and another piece of uni added in by us.

After breakfast we had the cakes that I bought from Idemi as dessert. I don't know about you, but I always crave for something sweet after sushi.

Although the unseasonably cold weather the previous week has caused a delay in the blooming of sakura, we're determined to find some cherry blossoms, so we set off for Chidorigafuchi, one of our all time favorite hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots.

We walked from our hotel to the Imperial Palace and followed the moat towards Chidorigafuchi. On the way we saw a cherry blossom festival outside the National theater and went to take a look. And sure enough, there were a few trees in full bloom.

I never get tired of taking photos of sakura against a perfect blue sky.

Soon enough, we reached the stretch of moat near the infamous Yasukuni shrine that's called Chidorigafuchi (千鳥ヶ淵) There are sakura trees lining the banks of the moat so when the trees are in full bloom it looks like pale pink clouds floating above the water, like this:

But for now, we'll have to settle for this view

This would've been a perfect image of nanohana against sakura, like the sunflower against lavender fields of Provence, but alas, we're one week too early =o(

After this long walk burning off some calories we met up a friend we knew in Singapore, who has moved to London a few years ago. It seems like everyone's visiting Tokyo! We arranged to meet in one of the places I used to frequent, Salon du The of Marriage Freres on Ginza's Suzuran-dori.

I again ordered the limited edition sakura flavored dessert: a sakura and pistachio tart, but this time it was a little strange. The flavors didn't really go well together, but the tea is nice as always.

The dinner on our last night in Tokyo was a special one. We had friends from Singapore who happened to be in Tokyo at the same time and one of them managed to snatch us a booking at the three Michelin starred Ishikawa in Kagurazaka.

The restaurant is tucked away on a little side street off the main road in an unassuming building.

We started off with an amuse-bouche of nanohana and crab with crab roe sauce

Tempura of pumpkin flower and seabream. The fish was cut into cubes but still connected by the skin, texture was very firm.

A light soup of clams and turnips

Sashimi platter made up of fish that was caught this morning and flown in

I've never been a huge fan of fugu, but this fugu sashimi gave me a glimpse of why people are willing to risk their lives to eat this fish.

Roasted bamboo shoot and anago was so yummy. The waitress says the bamboo shoot was "freshly picked". I bet it was picked the same morning too =oP

Braised yam and broad bean with fish had such delicate flavors

Hot pot of Aka-ushi from Kumamoto. Seems like we've been eating Aka-beef left and right on this trip ;o)

And the final dish of the meal was rice cooked in a stone pot with grilled fish on top.

The chef came to our table to personally mix the fish into the rice while all six of us took deep breath not wanting to waste any of the sweet intense fragrance of the grilled fish.

I had two servings of the rice and J forgot all about his carb-restrictions.

Dessert was Yuzu agar agar with match sorbet, caramel mousse and red bean paste.

The leftover rice were made into onigiri and packed for us to have as breakfast. So that's what we did, along with some baked small cakes from Idemi and one of the "only available in Japan" Kit Kat flavors: Hokkaido red bean. The rice balls were still very tasty despite being cold (I didn't refrigerate them but kept them at room temp overnight)

This concluded our Japan trip, but I do want to mention the cookies that our friend K gave us. It's a matcha wafer sandwich with a thin layer of matcha cream fillings from Zen Kashoin, a traditional Japanese sweets shop that originated from Kyoto. I've had my share of Japanese sweets/cookies but these by far has the most intense matcha flavor. They have a store in Shibuya, which is definitely going on the "to check out" list on our next trip to Japan =o)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Week 13 Part 6 - Hidemi Sugino and more

My all time favorite Japanese patisserie is Hidemi Sugino's eponymous shop in Kyobashi. I will never forget the first time I visited with friends of my Le Cordon Bleu course all those years ago. I've been a fan ever since and even after moving away from Japan I religiously visited his shop every time I was in Tokyo. Back in the days when the shop was first open, we used to stand in line an hour before it opened to ensure we get first seating. The one time we were late we had to wait for the first round of people to finish eating until we could be seated and that took more than 2 hours. After that J refused to go with me again, so I went alone to buy take-out. In colder months there are more cakes available for takeout and you could choose the cakes early (they get sold out around noon) do some shopping in Ginza and go back to pick up later before the store closes in the evening.

What I loved about Hidemi is that every time I go, besides the classic there will always be something new to try. The difficult part is eliminating the ones I will skip this time.

These are my final selections. Clockwise from top left:
Figue Figue: fig and pear mousse with fig gelee filling
Strawberry Pistachio
Helen: chocolate red wine cream with fig gelee topped with chantilly
Agrumes: orange and kumquat mousse
Caramel tart with dried fruits and nuts filling

Cappuccino, which was destroyed when a businessman swung his briefcase and hit the paper bag I was carefully balancing in my hand. You can see a recreation I did a few years ago here.

 The night before while walking back to our hotel we passed a restaurant specializing in Kobe beef that we wanted to try for lunch. It seemed to be very popular and we had to share a table with someone. Lunch sets were reasonably priced but the beef was just ok, and we were a little disappointed.

I think J ordered a filet and I had the sirloin.

After lunch we wondered around Ginza and went to Uniqlo to pick up some essentials. J likes their basic T-shirts. He used to get their pima cotten T-shirts but on this trip discovered another range that's better for Singapore's climate: Airism. I like their Airism range of tank tops with built-in bras and literally live in them when I'm at home. Prices are much cheaper in Japan so we stock up. This time we lucked out because Uniqlo had just launched a Kabuki themed T-shirts. The designs are so nice I bought a few for myself and some as gifts.

In the afternoon we met up with K, who recommended our lunch place yesterday and went to Meguro river for some sakura viewing. Meguro river is a famous Hanami (flower viewing) spot but this year we're a little early. It's always tricky to catch the sakura in full bloom because they're very much affected by weather. Last week there was a cold front so the flowers that were ready to bloom were shocked into staying closed. We did manage to find a couple of trees that had bloomed more than the others though.

And some bonsai sakura in a store that were in full bloom, along with some bonsai Japanese maple and wisteria.

And a regular sized purple magnolia tree

K showed me a bakery she liked along the river and of course I had to buy the sakura flavored scones and ang pan.

For dinner we went to K and her husband J's favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant called Cujorl. We had been there once on our last trip to Tokyo and liked their unpretentious food.

 The tempura that we shared.

 J's beef tongue with bamboo shoot and broad beans.

 My smoked swordfish with marinated kumquat.

 My bouillabaisse
 J was so happy to find Aka-ushi on the menu! Although pretty decent, it's still not as good as the one we had at El Patio Ranch =o( We definitely need to go back...

We ended the dinner with a cranberry souffle cheesecake with raspberry sorbet made by the restaurant.