Friday, April 3, 2009

The Art of Dinner Partying

One of the fringe benefits of writing a food blog is that people feed you and ask you what you think of their food. To tell you the truth, everything tastes good to me when someone else makes it out of love rather than profit. But once in a while, your friends will surprise you with their culinary skills or lack there of.

But really, here are the basic ingredients to a good dinner party:

-one or more really entertaining guests
-a few bottles of fine wine
-music that goes with your dinner theme
-appetizers to tie people over while dinner is being readied

I really do enjoy throwing dinner parties, but they also stress me out. I NEED things to be perfect. The cutlery must be shiny, the napkins stimulating, and the food...
Let's just say that I am the type of person who once spent half an hour perfecting the technique of slicing paper thin cucumber "leaves" to garnish my appetizers.

Over the years, I have learned to take it more easy and use tricks of the trade such as serving main dishes that come out of the oven- it can finish up while you entertain your guests. But really, the most important asset to hosting any type of party is to have a good co host-preferably one who is charming and cleans up well. I don't care for many theories on compatibility between couples, but there is definitely validity to the idea of people who cook together stay together. Being able to indulge together and be comrades in the kitchen is truly a remarkable aspect of any good relationship. And if you and your loved one can throw a dinner party together with style and grace, wow! Then you are truly meant to be together. It is just as simple as that!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Cake that Sings!

What would provoke someone to spend three grueling hours baking, frosting and decorating a cake that would be devoured in three minutes? I can't really tell you the answer except for the fact that I did it, and I did it with pleasure! Actually, if I really think about it, a couple of reasons seem to justify the extravagant use of time and cost I go towards producing good food:

1.) The giddy feeling I get when I admire the finished product.
2.) The ohh and ahhs from others when they see and taste what I have made.
3.) Cooking is my art.

I think all of us has this innate pride in things we make with our own two hands, no matter how crappy it comes out. In fact, the worse it comes out, the more inspired we are to produce a better prototype, and the more pride we get from the improved version. It is an especially vicious cycle with cake making. Cakes and pastries take the most precise of measurements. A little too much flour, a little low on temperature, and you end up with a gooey mess. As a bit of a perfectionist, I decided against seeking help to manage expectations, but rather, to obtain resources that would help me make a finished product that would meet my standards. Therefore, I rarely bake at home, where I can screw up in more ways than you can imagine. Instead, I sign up baking classes by pastry chefs where I can get professional help.

My most recent masterpiece was created at Coup Kitchen under the supervision of pastry chef owner Alfred Cheung. The Opera Cake is one of those delectable chocolate creations that you know is worth more calories than one can afford, but it is so delicious that you don't care.
There are many stories about the origins of this cake, which is also known as the Clichy cake. It is aptly named after Louis Clichy who first showcased it at the 1903 Exposition Culinaire in Paris. However, a similar dessert was also sold at another pastry shop, Dalloyau, called L'Opera in honor of the Paris Opera. Regardless, all can agree that whoever came up with this combination of chocolate ganache, hazelnut and coffee buttercream, nestled between sheets of chocolate and vanilla cake, was a genius!

So how did I honor this cake that took a total of 200 minutes to make? I made it into a birthday cake for my dear friend Michelle. We also had a full on Mexican meal in which I made everything from scratch including the tortillas and nacho chips. So, were the fruits of my labor worth it? Absolutely! We ate, we drank and we were merry for hours into the night. I really think there is this deep appreciation when someone cooks good food for you. You feel all warm and fuzzy as if you can taste the love through each morsel that goes into your mouth. And from the cook's perspective, there is truly nothing like the delight you feel when you see people close their eyes and savor the food that you made!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Japanese Feasts

So the boyfriend and I gallivanted to his motherland, Japan, along with 8 of our finest friends to enjoy some R&R at an onsen, do some skiing and of course, partake in my favorite travel activity: eat, eat and eat!

If there is one thing I truly commend Japanese people for, besides producing some pretty cute boys, is that everything in that country tastes good, even that nasty little dish called natto. There is this unparalleled standard for quality, that even if you pick up a sushi roll at the local A.M./P.M., you can be sure that it is fresh and tastes decent.

So this time around, the eating agenda is even better as H. worked in Japan and knows quite a few eateries that are not only tasty, but have good atmosphere. But the place that I love the most, is at the onsen restaurant where we gluttonized ourselves every night with feasts that involved many tiny dishes of delectable delights. I don't know if it is because H.'s relatives owns the hotel, but the treats we got were AMAZING!!! The freshest sashimi, the tastiest morsels of things that I don't even know exists. Regardless, I cram them into my mouth where they danced and had a party. Ummm....

We also delighted ourselves with eating delicious ramen, perused through the basements of department stores where the food markets are surreal, and had some of the best beef around at this teppanaki place where they focused on the cooking rather than the typical knife wielding show we get at teppanaki places in Canada. Actually, I was kind of looking forward to the performance that never happened :(

So what do I think are the top 10 foodie things to do in Tokyo? Here goes:

1.) Go to Tsukji fish market and line up for 2 hours to eat the BEST sushi that patience can buy.
2.) The Japanese's fascination with French perfection is obvious in the beautiful pastries you find at practically every bakery around the city
3.) Eat ramen, anywhere! Although there is this hole in the wall place in Shibuya that I love but won't be able to tell you how to get there. Sorry!
4.) The fruit in Japan not only looks so perfect they look fake, but in fact, tastes perfect. Except for an U.S. $10 apple, that for sure, was not the best apple that money can buy as advertised. But it was definitely worth the money for the fascination and anticipation that it brought me.
5.) Go to any Izakaya where it looks busy, and practice sign language with the local waiter/waitress as you ask for recommendations because you cannot read Japanese. A nice beer also helps in the process, and most Izakayas chill their beer just right.
6.) Eat natto. Just get the process right. If you mask those foul smelling beans with a raw egg and plenty of soy sauce, it can actually be quite a tasty breakfast with rice.
7.) The crepes off street stands are more delicate and refined than the ones you get in France.
8.) There is this guy on the main food street in Ueno who makes this strange pancake with an egg on top. You will not miss him, as I heard he is constantly surrounded by a crowd.
9.) There is also this place that sells beef croquettes in Kochijoji that has a perpectual crowd of people. There are specific marks on the ground by this shop to guide the line up so that you don't block human traffic.
10.) Go to the basements of department stores such as Mitsukoshi and Isetan where there is edible eye candy everywhere. You will see kiosks upon kiosks of delicious snacks and take away. Perfect place to go before the airport for souvenirs and a snack!