So, yes, more on my Kyoto-inspired dinner. All of today's photos were taken by Molly, who was braving my camera for the first time! Thanks to her, I have pictures today!!
The sakura onigiri (cherry blossom rice balls) I made was so very Kyoto, it could have been served in a little eatery in Kyoto. This dish didn't quite get the recognition I hoped it would, eclipsed by the epicurean giants (meat dishes) it was surrounded by... This was actually a product of my creativity, and I secretly patted myself in the back for it. The cherry blossoms were salt-preserved when I bought them in Kyoto, and most people make a savory tea with it by soaking the rinsed blossoms in hot water. I put them directly into my rice cooker with rice after a quick rinse. It gave the rice a subtle saltiness and that cherry leaf fragrance of sakura mochi - mmmmm, I love that smell! I made them into rice balls (onigiris) since I needed it to be easily eaten with chop sticks on paper plates.
And the vegetables! Since this was a dinner get together, I had plenty of time for my weekly visit to the Farmer's Market in the morning with Anne, and we came home with a humongous - I mean HUMONGOUS! - bag of vegetables. Mysteriously, they cooked down to nothing. The first dish I made was blanched asparagus with my ponzu dressing. I have a wonderful ponzu recipe:
1 part dashi
1 part freshly squeezed orange juice
1 part soy sauce
1/4 part vinegar
1/2 part mirin
with adjustments made to taste.
I had some left over edamame I had boiled for the miso-trout, so I topped the asparagus with edamame. And since ponzu is best matched with daikon, I added grated daikon. This is a fairly typical dish I make at home fairly routinely, but since asparagus is so very good right now, I figured it was a nice dish to add some color on the table.
This vinegar white-miso (su-miso) dressing on blanched Asian greens from the Pleasanton Farmer's Market was another dish made with that magical white miso from Kyoto. The natural sweetness of the white miso and the gentle tartness of the aged Kyoto vinegar produced a very motherly, warm dressing for the natural bitterness of the greens. Cooking with good ingredients is such a pleasure!
I also made shiitake skewers with a mirin basting sauce, modeled after the shira-yaki sauce at Horai with fresh shiitake I picked up, also at the Pleasanton Farmer's Market. I'm telling you - the Pleasanton Farmer's Market is a nice place to shop! I obviously didn't buy enough of these shiitakes, since they went very quickly and I only got one shiitake - not even one skewer... I hope my friends had enough to eat...
For dessert, we had a fabulous cherry tart that Molly picked up at the San Mateo Farmer's Market, and my dessert with the last twist - green tea agar jello. Agar is a seaweed that produces results similar to gelatin, except that it makes jello that is a lot less 'jiggly'. On a side note, we also use agar in the Lab, and some biologists get a little bit freaked out about eating agar... but it is very good, and Anne didn't seem to be bothered by it - another brave scientist gastronomist! The twist with the green tea jello was that I made two batches of the jello identically, except I used two different kinds of tea - a very high-end green tea and an average-joe green tea. (The difference in tea grades is based on how much 'new leaf' tea and which varieties of teas were used in the blending process.) This question also proved to be not-so-difficult for this discerning bunch - and many people got this right. They noted that one batch was significantly more unnaturally bitter than the other and that this bitterness was a sure fire sign that the tea was cheaper/lower quality. Well done!
When the answers were revealed, although we didn't have anyone with all three questions correct, we had five winners all tied at 2.5 questions correct! They all got one of the "guess the soy sauce in the teriyaki" skewers but got thrown off by the third bowl of soy sauce. Impressive!
I had a lot of fun making and enjoying dinner! I love these themed dinner parties, since they are such a wonderful way to share the joy of epicurean debauchery! One of these days, I'm thinking of hosting a bread-bake off, "Yakitate Japain" style. I'll supply the bread flour and basic bread ingredients, and everyone else will bring along a recipe and any special ingredient(s) - we'll have a 120 min time limit and we'll compete for who makes the best bread! Any takers?
By the way, Yuzu in San Mateo is celebrating their 1st Anniversary, starting today (or tomorrow, depending on when you read this), Thursday, May 12th, all the way through the weekend. If you're in the area, stop by and give Arima-san a pat on his back for making it through a somewhat tumultuous year!