Kitchen Essential: Champagne Vinegar

Champagne vinegar is spectacular and every home cook should have a bottle stocked. For substitutions, various sites recommend Sherry Vinegar, White Wine Vinegar, Chardonnay Vinegar or even ‘Organic’ Apple Cider Vinegar.

The answer is: NO.

Champagne vinegar is made from the same grapes champagne is made of, and if you’re the type who substitutes sherry, ‘white wine’ whatever that means, chardonnay or apple cider for champagne, then perhaps an alternative is for you. But if you care about food then investing in a bottle is a must as champagne vinegar brightens dishes without an overpowering sourness. Think pink grapefruit vs grapefruit, lime vs lemon. The acid is very light and it is a quiet, subtle tart, extremely suited for delicate or bland ingredients.

My all-time favorite salad dressing recipe is Ina Garten’s vinaigrette (which calls for champagne vinegar). This dressing is so simple, I default for most of my salad needs and so versatile, I switch up the dressing and ingredients depending on mood or what’s in my fridge. There are two basic recipes I make the most (which I share here) and as of late, I’ve been making a more tabbouleh-Panzanella inspired version.

The core ingredients are still the same: tomatoes, red onions, English cucumber or Japanese cucumber kyūri because they have nice, crisp bites compared to the common American cucumber, American cucumbers work just as well, just scoop the seeds and cut into quarters. The only caveat is the salad needs to be served chilled otherwise the cucumbers lose their crispness.

I then add fresh mint, parsley or scallions and pita bread, brushed with olive oil and toasted in a skillet with champagne vinegar, salt, pepper, olive oil, with some lemon depending on the amount of herbs I add. (Apologies for the ambiguity, I barely measure.)

As the weather warms, Ina Garten’s vinaigrette and the variations will come in handy for sure. Recommended to all!

Enjoy.

Mirror Pancakes in Aoyama

Mental flapjacks I fondly nickname ‘egg shell pancakes’ because they’re so crazy smooth, the surface almost mirror like. Located in Aoyama, you’ll definitely wait an hour or two but go during off-peak hours on a weekday and you may just skip the line. Pro-tip: this spot is known for the pancakes but if you look at a local’s table, everyone has an order of the soufflé. And for good reason: it’s another perfect soufflé in perfect Japan Land! 🥞🥞🥞

Ginza West Aoyama Garden
1-22-10 Minami Aoyama
Website click this
*no reservations

Tacubo 


It’s no longer a secret the Japanese make unbelievable Napoli pizza (David Chang just filmed a segment for Mind of a Chef in Tokyo) but don’t write off the Italian food cooked with Japanese ingredients. Take this stunning primi piatti from Tacubo in Daikanyama. Open for less than a year, they have already attained a Michelin star and quickly rated a top 5 Italian in Tokyo. The antipasti and pastas are beautiful but the real stars are the meats cooked to perfection in the maki yaki (薪焼き) firewood grill. The lamb is 💯🐑🐑🐑

Bookings are still not impossible but pretty soon, they will become another restaurant with hard-to-acquire reservations so if you are planning a trip here, I suggest visiting sooner than later.

Tacubo
Drop this into Google Maps↓
東京都 渋谷区 恵比寿西 2-13-16 ラングス代官山
03-6455-3822

*Reservations are a must

Shin Ika #Sushi

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Shin Ika so smooth it looks like a dolphin’s tummy! Shin-ika, like shinko (baby kohada) is a baby squid and are accessible only towards the end of summer. It’s so smooth and sweet and melts in your mouth!! It was so pretty I just had to share.

Of course this is at Takahashi, my favorite sushi restaurant in Tokyo. Takahashi-san is so talented — I only eat his sushi now. I know, I know, I need to get out more. But I can’t help it. I’m now treated as a regular and as a regular’s advantage, I get special dishes like this ↓ (points below)

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I mentioned in passing the other day I loved his aji tsumami (appetizer). It’s aji with the Saito pesto, egg yolk and sesame seeds. It wasn’t included in this menu but he made one just for me!! It was, as always, super delicious and one of my favorites of all time. Love him!!

Also, he served tako (octopus) which I hadn’t had in a while. But the ceramic (kozara) was one I’ve never seen before. Even more amazing is that it’s shaped like the Bat symbol (from Batman!!)

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Highlights:
– steamed awabi, this time with kimo (liver) sauce that was AMAZING
– lightly charred anago with three condiments: wasabi, tōgarashi (red pepper) dipping sauce, salt and his raw shichimi (he shared the recipe with me this time!!!)
– aka mutusu a.k.a. nodo guro a.k.a. sea bream sakamushi (steamed with a sake base) with ponzu and some sort of sea vegetable OMG this was delicious
– tai (snapper) that was kissed with a touch of smoke

…and who am I kidding. Everything was super delicious. Takahashi-san makes me so happy.

By the way it’s almost time for fall foods. I love fall foods in Japan. SOOOOOO pumped!

Shake Shack

Mona_Nomura___mntokyo__•_Instagram_photos_and_videos
Shake Shack opened in my neighborhood. A three minute walk to be exact. They opened on 4/15. It’s 4/29. I’ve already visited 10+ times, ate through the entire menu. My favorite is the Shake Shack Double with Cheese Fries and a drink (no shake).

Eating Shake Shack almost daily makes me miss In-N-Out. I grew up in California but can’t recall the last time I ate In-N-Out and don’t remember how it tastes. Since the Shack is rapidly explanding, I see the Shake Shack vs In-N-Out debates almost daily. The last impression I have of In-N-Out is how it is overrated but I’m now so curious…

Looks like a trip back to California is in my near future!

Bonus: check out the line at Shake Shack on the first day. It’s not as bad (average 30 minute wait)

NYT Things You Should Make, Not Buy

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies. Yum. source

As the title of my blog says, there are four things I keep up with on a daily basis: food, booze, Internet, and Japan. I love the Internet as much as I love food and booze. Oh. And Japan too. But I really love the Internet — it’s an addiction. So much so I forced myself to detox.

Fast forward about seven months, I’m back online. The time I waste trolling the Internet isn’t as bad as it used to be but, I am still constantly on Twitter and Instagram. Since I follow a lot of food related accounts, I sometimes post Internet finds here, tagged under ‘Internet Finds‘.

The greatest find this week, was a NYT’s article: “20 Things You Should Make, Not Buy”. The Times only linked their recommended recipes but there are a few recipes I am 100% sure are (sorry not sorry) better than the ones in that article. (Sidenote: I cook a range of foods, not just Japanese.)

Here are a few:

Marinara Sauce — NYT shares a recipe from Julia Moskin. I am sure her recipe is delicious but this marinara recipe is easily in my top three of all time.

In 2010, I lived in LA when Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo, “the Frankies,” did a kitchen takeover at Animal Restaurant. With the dinner, each guest received a signed copy of: The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual and it is now one of my go-to cookbooks. Their marinara sauce takes four hours, requires good olive oil and pricy canned tomatoes but definitely worth it. I found their recipe online here.

I also shared some tips to roasting vegetables from The Frankie’s cookbook way back in 2010 here.

Mustard-Shallot Vinaigrette — NYTimes’ recipe is again by Julia Moskin but I am convinced Ina Garten’s Vinaigrette is king! Her recipe calls for champagne vinegar that may sound all fru-fru. But for lazy people like me, the light, tangy and subtly acidic champagne vinegar is far suited than red/white wine vinegar to drizzle over roughly chopped vegetables or, on a presentable salad to serve guests. I shared the recipe here.

EMP’s Granola source

Eleven Madison Park’s Granola — funny timing. I just posted about trail mix and was contemplating if I should do a granola round-up but this particular one is sooooo delicious by the time I get around to actually collecting my favorite recipes from around the internet, sitting down and writing out a blog post, you still won’t be sick of this one.

EMP is the famed Eleven Madison Park and their granola, like the restaurant, is a bit uppity but extremely addictive. I prefer the Serious Eats’ rendition with cherries, pistachios, and coconut flakes. The recipe is here

Hummus — hummus is astonishingly simple to make and Mark Bittman’s recipe is my favorite. This is his recipe on epicurious, taken from his book The Best Recipes in the World. Since it’s so short, I’m pasting it into the body.

  • 2 cups drained well-cooked or canned chickpeas, liquid reserved
  • 1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste), optional, with some of its oil
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus oil for drizzling
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled, or to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin or paprika, or to taste, plus a sprinkling for garnish
  • Juice of 1 lemon, plus more as needed
  • Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

PREPARATION
1. Put everything except the parsley in a food processor and begin to process; add the chickpea liquid or water as needed to allow the machine to produce a smooth puree.

2. Taste and adjust the seasoning (I often find I like to add much more lemon juice). Serve, drizzled with the olive oil and sprinkled with a bit more cumin or paprika and some parsley.

I am a cumin fiend so paprika makes zero appearances in my hummus! Also, if you’re more of a baba ghanouj person, I have my version with tips of roasting eggplant here.

And of course, from the top photo: Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies via epicurious from Laurie Colwin. There are hundreds of Katharine Hepburn brownies floating around online. But this one, edited by Ruth Reichl and taken from A Harried Cook’s Guide to Some Fast Food by Colwin is the authority. Mainly from bias — Colwin and Reichl are two of my favorite writers.

No one can compete with Colwin’s closing paragraph to the recipe:

You can cut these brownies into squares, once they have cooled, and eat them out of the pan, but it is so much nicer to pile them on a fancy plate, from which people are going to eat them with their hands anyway. If you want to smarten up your act you can put a square of brownie on a plate with a little blob of créme fraîche and a scattering of shaved chocolate.

The full brownie recipe is here.
See the NYT’s piece and the rest of the recipes here.

 

Smoked Cheese – Brilliant

photo source

Saveur has a fantastic column called “What we learned this week” and there was a bit from this weeks I couldn’t help but share. It’s from Chef Amanda Cohen of NYC’s Dirt Candy, a popular vegetarian restaurant. Chef Cohen shares how she smokes cheese:

By using a stovetop smoker lined with tin foil and whatever type of wood chips you like, you can have smoked feta in 20 minutes. Cohen blends her feta with cream to make a smooth spread, but you can also crumble it on salads, eggs, or crusty bread. Try it with feta, goat cheese, or any other firm cheese.

Sounds so delicious. I’ve been hooked on smoked foods for a while — especially smoked edamame and smoked tofu. It’s so easy to do at home and an absolute crowd pleaser.

Here are some tips I found around the Internet on smoking:

  • How to use smoke woods by Serious Eats
  • For those who don’t have an outdoor grill (like me), How to make a stove top smoker on Saveur — with a video. LA Times Food has some tips as well here.
  • For those who rely on multiple sources (like me, more tips on Fire Craft
  • And two stores online that focus on smoking woods to get familiarized with brands (sorry, US only) here and here

One of the neighborhood places I frequent, places wood chips in a small, steep cast iron pot with handles. Hard to tell from the photo, but the pots are mini:

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They cover the bottom with woodchips, place a mini wire rack inside of the pot, place edamame on top, place the lid on and throw it into their brick oven where they bake their pizzas and pastas.

Smoked foods are so delightful, beyond Chef Cohen’s smoked cheese, the possibilities are endless.

So happy to learn smoking cheeses are simple.