Sunday, February 27, 2005

first apron, first blog

baked goats cheese with tomato sauce with garlic crostini
parsley soup
monk fish with ground almonds, spinach and sultanas
chocolate tart with raspberry coulis

this marks a departure from previous articles (?); it is the first one that i have written specifically for our little zarzamora blogspot. all the previous ones have been emails written to blancs and friends. to be honest, i'm still unsure as to what this will be; at best, it will be a document to my homeschooling in cookery that, in years to come, i can publish to great acclaim. i'm a relatively clean slate in terms of my cooking technique - having missed out on being a daughter, taught to cook by a generation of cooper women, learning recipes passed through the family by word of mouth and sworn to the secrecy of the holy grail ... that been said, a certain broken biscuit cake recipe published in my primary school days speaks of culinary fame at such a young age.

i'm inspired this morning by a hangover that is, as yet, keeping at bay. most of this has come to me whilst washing up from a dinner party last night and listening to estrella morientes (i haven't listened to flamenco since sevilla last august, so i'm happy to be getting back on track there). blancs is in bed still ...

dave and mun-ling were over last night for dinner. between tokyo, christmas and beyond, it has been sometime since we've had a saturday night dinner party. last night was great, blancs refused to share our guests with anyone else so it was an intimate affair ... gossip, conspiracy and a little big of kanji.

the cooking was quite a deal - between the shopping and the preparation we spent the afternoon at it ... given that this is the start of the school year, i wore an apron for the first time in years - the aura it gave me a confidence way in excess of my skills. blancs preached the number one rule in the kitchen; don't hesitate! my signature dish so far is hesitation, especially when it comes to seasoning

i was on amuse bouche duty (i learnt this term only a year ago - cooking baked goats cheese with tomatoe sauce from the appropriately named "diva cooking". chopped onions and garlic pulp are softened in a pan into which are added two tins of tomatoe with thyme, oregano, balsamic and honey. leaving to cook for 30 minutes plus. you leave the sauce to cool in the meantime cutting ramekin size slices of goats cheese. in order to cut the cheese, a knife dipped in boiling water (not too hot as it would melt the cheese) is best. leave these in the fridge until ready to cook. i then made my first crostini ever - slices of baguette grilled with olive oil until golden and then rubbed with garlic. the baking is straightforward - an oven at about 200c for about 10 minutes until the cheese is golden brown. these are rubbed with a garlic clove when sufficiently cooled.

this was nice, but i wasn't blown away - as with everything, the leftover sauce was better today. we had it for breakfast on toast with goats cheese, grilled momentarily. we should probably have prepared the sauce a couple of days earlier in order to enhance the flavour. either way - the dish does work well as a tasty starter ...

coming from ursula ferrigno's "bringing italy home", the parsley soup was really good. a simple vegetable soup (potatoes, carrots, celery, onion) is made, into which a parsley topping is placed to partner the flavours. this soup exemplifies my eternal struggle with cooking - seasoning; my nemesis. to my generation that grew up in ireland in the 70s / 80s, seasoning was something 'delicately' applied (not applied), as a result we have gotten used to food without any major flavouring. dave's theory over dinner was that the big health push during these years educated mothers into the risks of salt in the diet. as with everything this probably went too far. blancs scoffed at this when we first started cooking together - pasta, she would say, should be cooked in water with the salinity of the mediterranean. once the vegetables were softened we arrived at my moment of truth - the tasting. it seemed fine to me, but blancs pushed me aside and emptied handfuls of salt, pepper and vegetable stock. kind of odd, but only when finally drinking the soup did i think that it lacked flavour. at this stage i mixed the parsley topping (parsley, garlic, lemon zest, parmesan and olive oil prepared in the magimix) in - it works superbly with the soup to enhance the flavour. we served the soup on a bed of fresh spinach leaves.

blancs cooked the main - the excellent ferran adria dish of monkfish breaded with ground almond and served with sautéed spinach, soaked sultanas and roasted pine nuts. a drizzle of olive oil dressing sets this off nicely. this is a catalan dish, from the "cocinar en 10 minutos" book. this is probably the first spanish dish that i ever learnt - 98, back in the southampton days.

the monkfish can live up to 11 years. having read about problems over the past years of the depletion of the atlantic stocks of the fish, from checking out the web, it seems this is getting better ...

a trip down to niksons was required at this point of the meal - blancs was hankering for cigarettes and we were all keen enough to stretch our legs. a couple of drinks later we had the lovely dessert - again blancs had produced this without me noticing. i had an opportunity to test the theory of chinese, korean and japanese kanji meaning the same - you can imagine how happy i am that mun-ling understands my mountain, white, paddy field etc.

time to go - blancs is calling out to colour code the bookshelf; my hangover is denying any chance of the gym today, but i'm thinking that we should be getting out of the house as the sun is shining and snow falling ... perfect.

Monday, February 21, 2005

mr. ramsey's veloute

veloute and the 4 (5??) mother sauces

anyone who has flown in ba would have had the oppotunity to listen to stuart maconie's excellent bbc radio show - "highlife". it was here that i was introduced to the fact that lunch menus are by far the best value for money at restaurants in london; the kind of restaurants that we'd otherwise seldom go to. we thought we'd set ourselves a challenge (of course in the interests in learning and broadening our horizons); take some monday lunches to go to these restaurants in order that i could see some fine cuisine and experience food that wouldn't be on the syllabus until later in the year ...

claridges - always a great hotel, we've been before for afternoon tea and blanca's cordon bleu graduation events. it's well worth a visit if you are in london (book afternoon tea in advance to ensure you can get it ~ it's not too expensive, say £25pp). it's an incredible art deco dining room. we'd never been for dinner at the gordon ramsay restaurant, but had heard of it as being one of the best restaurants in london. it was an obvious first choice for our monday lunch. claridges link:

the aperitif was a fennel veloute with mushrooms. i was interested in the veloute; both from a point of view that it was a new word to me and that it was indeed the tastiest part of the menu. initial investigations revealed that it is a sister to my little spanish croqueta, a veloute is a variation of bechamel made with a light stock instead of milk added to the roux (butter and flour). the reluctant cook (
) mentioned that veloute is in fact one of the five 'mother sauces' of french cuisine ...

that was the hook that i couldn't shake this for nights, i lay awake thinking ... what were these other sauces?

the web sent me on a merry tour of innuendo, lies and conflicting reports as to what the 'mother sauces' were ... some answers, albeit conflicting, were posed at so, sauce it seems is a french word meaning relish to make our food appetizing (this was definitely something i would need to know more about). in the absence of steingarten, i consulted the course reference book "joy of cooking" for the definitive answer. there, on page 46 (even with a post it inserted as if it was expected my research would lead me here), we have the answer in black and white:

1. bechamel (white) - commonly known as white sauce, this is usually served with meat, eggs and vegetables. it is made from flour, milk and butter. there seems to be many different theories as to the origins of bechamel, but at this point, i can't go any further.
2. veloute (blond) - only one ingredient is different; instead of milk, add a white or light coloured stock that matches the food you are serving in flavour and colour.
3. brown also called espagnole - served with meaty dishes; beef, pork etc., this takes far more time to make and use a spoon rather than a whisk to avoid the addition of air. they are a concentrate of liquids (stocks, wines) and savories (onions, ham, herbs) added alternately producing a sauce that is "incomparable for flavour and texture" ~ ok, vague enough, i'm not sure now if i've ever had one. there is a good recipe for brown sauce at little bit of trivia that i found out last week - hp brown sauce is called hp on account of the houses of parliament (on the label) ..
4. hollandaise (butter) - an emulsified sauce and a close relation to mayonnaise, though served hot. this is made from egg, clarified butter and lemon juice. most often this is served with vegetables, fish and eggs.

note: i have only listed 4 sauces above. it seems there is some confusion in the culinary world as to whether the final is actually part of the mother sauces. having seen the name, i can only assume that it was a practical joke made by some budding french chef in the 19th century that has since confused many food historians ... the fifth sauce is ...

5. tomatoe (red) - ...?)*£"

getting back to claridges, but by now too exhausted to write much more - the starter was jerusalem artichoke with pancetta, caramelised onions and a tapenade of olives. mains were neck of lamb on a ballotine of cabbage, jus of gravy, rice and puree of roasted garlic. the dessert was blackberry (zarzamora), rhubarb terrine with mint sorbet and shortbread.

it seems as though i am rather out of my depth in the world of high cuisine ~ hopefully the combination of bargain meals and some research will mean that i'm not a broken man by the end of our monday lunches ...

Friday, February 18, 2005

karei raisu

if i flatter myself to thinking that if previous mails have been looking at some of the 'intellectual' aspects of japanese cuisine, this is looking at the one of the oddities of japanese cuisine ... curry rice or as the japanese call it; karei raisu (um, basically the same).

this was brought to japan in the meiji era; 1869 to 1913, but, as with most things in japan, has become most successful after world war 2 when private foreign trade was opened. it is a favourite at lunchtime i guess mainly because it covers the bases of rice, port or vegetables and the ability to eat out of a lunchbox.

today we went to a nationwide chain called cocoichibanya - this chain has over 1,000 stores nationwide; this is not just simple curry and rice - this is an empire.

the thing that got me was the scope of the menu; there are about 50 different types of curry ingredient on offer, basically if you can kill it or grow it you will find it at the cocoichi restaurants ... including the deep fried burger in curry ...

as with all lunch / fast restaurants, the focus here is on the speed of turnaround of customer. for this reason coco have developed a simple and, well in fact, deceptively complex "steps to place and order" ... i will try and describe the main steps:

1. the diner is required to choose the type of curry, here we have a choice of pork, beef, sweet pork or pork stew ... i have only eaten pork, but will try the others soon.
2. next we need to establish what size of rice is required. now, apparently there is competition, if you can eat 1.2kg of rice and equivalent sauce you can get your lunch free (and presumably the ambulance to the hospital)
3. the heat of your curry - going from 1 to 10. for a country that doesn't have a reputation for hot foods, it does surprise me that level 2 was more than hot for me - Taro settled for level 1. i did find myself wondering what 1.2kg gussling wonders managed to eat level 10 curries
4. finally the customer chooses the base ingredients with varying kcal depending on the combinations of choice - it is here where we gave up translating

presumably after this exhaustive ordering process all of the customers are hungry enough to eat the food when it arrives. i ordered the "grand mother" dish (maybe called so becuase even grandmothers can eat it) and was disappointed when i didn't win one of the prize curry spoons. this may not seem like such a great prize to us westerners, but when you've been eating with sticks all your life, it's a bit of a revelation.

nevertheless, the curry is fantastic - to locate your nearest store (no doubt it is coming to europe soon), you can check website:

for more info on curry in japan:

Thursday, February 17, 2005


i first realised that ramen was something special about ramen when taro outlined his philosophy to blancs and myself. this was a serious and detailed discussion where he often used his brothers and father as comparison. that was last october, since then i have tried quite a bit and learnt a little about this seemingly simple food.

after another viewing of tampopo, 2 focused trips to japan and perhaps25 meals, this weekend i was finally ready to be brought to toyama fora ramen lunch with taro's father. when it comes to food there is no half measures with the people of toyama - when it comes to ramen thisis a religious experience so i had to be prepared.


the ramen store that they chose to bring me is located in the centre of toyama city. this family store is now run by the grandson (a youngcook with appropriately intimidating beard and uniform). originallystarting as an oden (boiled vegetables) stall outside the town trainstation, his grandfather soon discovered particular enthusiasm fromhis customers for his ramen soup and noodles. he since set up thisstore with his son and they have specialised in ramen.

upon entering i was confident that i would have tasted better. aswith all restaurants, you immediately get welcomes by the "suimasen"from staff. the kitchen itself was surrounded in an "L" by the ramenbar, but much to my surprise there was also a long bar on the oppositeside of the little store (as mentioned below, my developing philosophydoesn't agree with this, following my tampopo teachings, all the cooksshould be able to see the faces and bowls of their customers. taro'sfamily agree that this extended bar is perhaps a little bit of asacrifice to the massive demand at this store).

it was surprisingly busy for 2pm on a sunday - this boded well. forappetizer we ordered a specialty of the store, kushi; pork oden on askewer with a sweet sauce and a side of english mustard. we also had
wari "divided/mixed"); this is made of shochu and red wine.

more about shochu:

the ramen arrived. unlike the tokyo stores that i have been to, thisshop specialises in only one type of ramen soup - pork soup. thebowls arrived piping hot. i still haven\'t developed a trueunderstanding of the compliments to ramen so i followed the family inadding a small spoonful of grated garlic and crushed tempura.

the first spoonful of soup was when it hit me ... for the first time,i noticed the stock of the soup. it was a light broth with almost acentimetre of clear fat on top - incredibly tasty. the ramen itselfwas yellow and very curled in comparison with the straighter noodlesin tokyo. the entire bowl was something to savour - only when youhave tased the flavour of good soup (the heart as taro\'s dad calls it)can you really compare other ramen ...

i knocked my water back at one point and something that had neverhappened occurred; the cook noticed that i had finished and called oneof the waitresses over to refill my glass. this is the tampopoeffect; he was aware what all of his customers were eating and wasreading their reactions at all times.

given that i somewhat stand out in toyama, we were brave enough totalk to the cook. taro explained that i had eaten ramen all overtokyo, but this was by far the best. he thanked me and we deliveredthe question - what was the stock made of. normally you would neverask this question, but given that i was a tourist the cook obliged myignorance and answered that it was pork with a little bit of fishstock - this is as close as i will ever get to knowing the truth ...

my philosophy (insofar as i can have one) ...
1. pork soup is the only one worthwhile (others are soya, salt andmiso) - you should be able to see fat on top of the your firstspoonful
2. the store should specialise in one ramen soup rather than try andcover all the soups
3. the bar should go round the borders of the kitchen, with customersfacing the cook
4. ramen should be yellow, strong and curled
5. always finish your bowl unless you want to send a strong message to the cook
6. sweat - you need to go through some pain in order to deserve goodramen. i\'ve been told that it is a good sign for restaurants to havetissues rather than the usual serviettes as this indicates peoplesweat ...

Post script (4th July 2005); Taro has just sent me a photo from Marutakaya (note the spelling change). It turns out that they have a website: This will help any of you get there if you are in need of some good noodles.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

subway pushing

most people have heard the stories of people employed to pushpassengers onto the tokyo subway. the pushers (oshiya) have a prettyimportant job; trains arrive every 2 minutes and at rush hour are atsomething like 230% capacity as they bring the greater population (20+million) to work. at the same time, you can't help but think theyform part of japan's hidden unemployed (the job isn't required on anyother subway that i've been). assuming this was an exaggeration i hadnever been too bothered to experience it.

today it was raining so i got the train one stop to the office ...

arriving at the subway i had the usual moment of "these japanese arecrazy ..." there was a long line of people queueing perpendicularlyfrom the platform across the island. typical japanese; rather thanpeople trying to bustle closest to the doors, people are obedientenough to stand in a queue that leaves them with no chance to boardthe next train.

i missed the first train .... one door had jammed on a young guy andfrom nowhere 3 pushers (oshiya) appeared in order to "remove theblock" - the unfortunate bloke looked like he was having theequivalent to an invasive massage. the door was closed and with thesatisfaction with a job welldone, the oshiya retreated back to theisland pillars and the train depart on time.

the next train pulled up and i naively stepped onto the train ...within seconds i was hit by an inhuman force from behind; somethinglike strong wave. it forced me across the train and straight into theback of a guy on the other side. the strange thing was the exact samewas happening to everyone around me. this is a part of life here;people are very accepting of being forced into someone else's face andthey remain very calm about it.

i had my laptop bag with me which i was holding in my hand. thisforced me to make a social blunder ... we had been warned previously that if we were ever pushed into a train, to remember to keep our hands in the air, there are a number of perverts in japanese society thatare only too happy to be in close contact with girls on the train ...regrettably i travelled the couple of minutes to work with both handson the bottom of two young girls to my left and right ... i'm justglad they weren't men or grandmothers ...

when the doors opened in tameiko-sanno we poured from the train ...again i underestimated the force and speed and had to do everything inorder to keep my balance ...from now on i think i'll bring an umbrella and just walk ...

Monday, February 14, 2005

abundant mountains

we arrived into toyama train station at 10 on friday night - this had been my first time on a bullet train in japan. very impressive, i think we travelled about 600k across the country in the space of 4 hours - the bullet train only went half of the distance, but in about an hour. built in the 60's they are still impressive (travelling faster than the eurostar i think?); there is a feeling that they were a bit of propaganda at the time - playing on the ever proud nation and instilling the sense of japan leading the world in engineering and technology ...

the trains themselves (and this goes for all the trains) gave me the same sense of frugal comforts that you get all over japan - the chairs are straighbacked and not the most comfortable ... there is a sense the suffering and gain are very close in japanese society ...

toyama is the land of country bumpkins as taro had previously mentioned; tractors are used to clear metres of snow from the roads and people have to shovel their driveways everyday. it means abundant mountains and its two kanji represent this "abundant" 富 "mountain" 山... you can see that mountain is a good example of kanji deriving its shape from the object it represents; two smaller peaks flanking a tall mountain. another example that i spotted (believe it or not) this weekend is the kanji for fire ... 火 ... if you look at it, you can imagine wooden logs with three flames coming out on top ...

we went directly to taro's house for sukiyaki (suki (liking) yaki(grill)). blancs - you took the cooking course in this in tokyo so know more about it than i; this was the first time that i had it. it is basically a hot pot cooked at your table (along the lines of chankonabe that I have mentioned before). the base broth is made fromsardines / bonito (dasche) combined with soy sauce, sugar and is used to cook a variety of ingredients; noodles, tofu, mushrooms,leek, cabbage, sliced beef etc. as the pot boils you just spoon out whatever you want and eat. we both had little bowls of raw egg into which you dipped your food before eating.

pretty good instructions from the usual companion ..:

the miyanishi house is very typical; everyone sleeps on futons and the walls are the typical sliding partitions that you see in the movies(photo 30). the house is incredibly cold (blancs you would sufferhere) - there is no plumbed heating, just gas stove burners in each room. i am sure that it was about zero in the room during the long as my head was under the duvets and blankets it was fine ...

the next morning we made udonsuki ... a feature of the ever present japanese ethic not to waste anything. this consisted of taking theremains of the sukiyaki from the night before and reheating and extending with udon noodles for breakfeast. this was incredible -really rich flavours and just what you want at 6.30am when you aregoing out for a day of skiing. as far as i can recall, the first timei ever had udon noodles was in wagamamas in london - i hated them. iam now totally fascinated by them ...

the skiing itself was great - i used carving skis for my first timeand will never go back ... i also made my first real jump and landed on my ass, breaking the skis and thinking that i had broken my shoulder ... very cool ... all was fine.

taro's mum had made us a lunch of onigiri - this is basically the morning's rice pressed into balls the size of you fist ... we agreed that they suffered from a lack of salt, but this is more due to taro's mum's preference rather than any lack of skill. two onigiris each;one with salmon and the other with plumb. this was all we had to eat all day - other than that, we skied nearly 9 hours and never stopped... this is the way that skiing should be done!

i'm not ashamed to say that now, 2 days later my legs are stillaching. we went to a hot spring (onsen) after the skiing - this is the only reason that my legs will not be hurting tomorrow. after sometime outdoors in the hot water pool i was at least feeling more human. this onsen was a little different to the one we went to previously on the izu peninsula; becuase it's so close to the raicho valley ski resort, it was packed - loads of kids and fathers. there was even a place where everyone was washing themselves with soaps (most houses in these areas don't have bathrooms as we know them so bathing opportunities are taken where they are found) ... i'm not sure how successful naked bathing would be at home ...

the next day was the main gastronomic event of the weekend - the trip to toyama for ramen. after 4 weeks of study and tutelage ... how wasi going to stand up to the ultimate test against the philosophy of taro's father?

Friday, February 11, 2005

buta-no-shogo yaki (ginger pork)

in tokyo everyone hits the street at lunchtime - far more than in theuk where people often eat sandwiches at their desks. the city seemsto come awake when the 12.15 lunch alarm goes off. everyone will getup and head out. the first time this happened greg and myself thoughtthat it was either a fire or an earthquake, we were relieved todiscover that it meant lunch. I don't think the office were all thathappy in the following weeks as we would continually roll about inlaughter when the alarm went off.

our little resistance to jp society is also represented in the factthat we NEVER go for lunch when the alarm goes off - we're just wildand go about half an hour later.

we went for lunch yesterday in one of the underground know the kind; it is actually the first restaurant that i went towhen i arrived over here (and one of only two lunches that i have hadwith the full team). the people of tokyo have an incredibleappreciation of space and as a result will always try to maximise it -you find restaurants in the most unlikely places; underground, dodgyelevatored blocks, carparks etc.

i chose something that i have wanted to have for ages and it wasreally very good. it's called buta (port) no ('s) shoga (ginger) yaki(fried); what taro refers to as really 'fundamental' food. basicallythe simple meal that is cooked across japan. the meal that i had wasv simple (simpler than below) - marinated pork, fried and sliced intovery thin strips and served on a bed of fried bean sprouts ... all ofthe staples of the jp diet exist here - soya sauce, pork and beansprouts.

we are preparing for our trip to toyama prefecture (leaving in acouple of hours) - we're going to be visiting the land of countrypumpkins as taro says (it's too funny to correct him right now) ... weare heading directly to one of the best ramen restaurants tonight andeating at home with the family tomorrow ... no doubt will be interesting

there are tonnes of references to this on the web - one of the best: you\'re both well and enjoying all ... love, coops