Thursday, June 26, 2008

Kaiseki Cuisine

The art of kaiseki cuisine has its roots in Buddhism and dates back hundreds of years to the origins of the tea ceremony. The basic guidelines for this haute cuisine is that it celebrates nature by featuring fresh seasonal ingredients designed to imitate leaves, trees, flowers, mountains, rivers and sea. The shapes, textures, and colours of the food are all displayed to reflect these elements found in nature. There is a sense of culinary theatre as each course is respectfully served with quiet grace and charm.
A distinct selection of courses is followed which includes an appetizer, a clear soup, a fish dish, a mountain and sea dish, a grilled course, a simmered food, a deep fried course, a vinegar style dish accompanied by rice and pickles, a final course, and then a selection of seasonal fruit. These courses are all served on hand painted porcelain, lacquer bowls and boxes, handmade wicker baskets, rare pieces of pottery, and other exquisite serving dishes that subtly suit the food to the appropriate season.
Since I was visiting Japan in the autumn, our menu focused on ingredients such as chestnut, matsutake (pine) mushroom, sweet potato, persimmon, pumpkin, and seasonal fish. Each course was a visual and edible work of art that followed a tranquil traditional order meant to be appreciated and savoured.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hawaiian Poi Supper

In Honolulu during the late 1800's, the Poi Supper was the traditional culinary entertainment for the Hawaiian ali'i (nobility) and the elite haole (non-native residents).There were strict rules for the Poi Supper: the decor and table arrangements had to be as special and meaningful as the cuisine. Fragrant leis were draped on each chair, while flowers, ti leaves and ferns were scattered down the middle of the table. In the centre was a display of gorgeous tropical fruit. Elegant crystal glasses and heavy silver cutlery were contrasted with poi cups made from coconut shell and bowls made from koa wood. The menu was usually a hybrid selection of Hawaiian and Western specialties. Typically, the starter was a fruit cocktail, followed by fish steamed in ti leaves, pork laulau, poi, and Western side dishes. Dessert was baked bananas or coconut cake. Princess Ka'iulani, the last crown princess of Hawaii, would have been an honoured guest at many such occasion. She would have worn a floral holoku or formal mu'umu'u while her escort would have been wearing a loose white silk shirt with a colorful cummerbund.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Celtic Comfort Food

'Rumbledethumps' is a traditional celtic comfort meal typically consisting of boiled potatoes, butter, milk, and seasoning; these ingredients are then mixed in with boiled cabbage and chives and grilled with a cheddar cheese topping. Irish Colcannon is a slightly different version of this recipe using parsnips and leeks with the mashed potatoes, milk and seasoning. It does not have a melted cheese topping but is garnished with parsley. Another cozy variation of this dish, known as ‘Bubble and Squeak’ in England, is typically made of leftovers from a weekly Sunday roast with potatoes, brussel sprouts, and seasoning all fried up and served for Monday’s breakfast or a light lunch. Bacon bits or small morsels of beef can be added along with chopped chives or spring onion for variation.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Korean Noodles - Naeng Myon

Fragrant noodle soup is a common element in Asian cuisine. In Korea's hot and humid summer months, many people enjoy a refreshing noodle soup called 'naeng myon'. Made from iced beef broth flavoured with vinegar and Korean spice, 'naeng myon' is traditionally served in a chilled stainless steel bowl over a mound of buckwheat noodles topped with half a boiled egg. What makes this summer dish so delicious is the addition of various garnishes such as crunchy Asian pear, tender beef brisket, kimchee (pickled cabbage), dried seaweed, and julienned cucumber. The overall flavour is tangy and slightly sweet with a contrast of chewy and crunchy textures. The extra long noodles are easier to eat if cut with scissors beforehand. A dab of mustard or a spicy sauce made of pepper paste, garlic, vinegar and soy sauce can be added for more zest. On a sweltering summer day, 'naeng myon' is ideal for soothing your nerves and restoring your strength.