Summer baby shower

Summertime, outdoor BBQ, sunshine, cool breeze, champagne, friends, laughter, gifts, food, laying out on the grass…

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All of these wonderful elements came together for my friend Emi’s baby shower that I co-hosted this summer.  I was genuinely excited to throw this bash and make it a special day for her.  Emi, wife of the chef and owner of The Curious Palate, has been my good friend since the 6th grade.  I brainstormed for weeks about the food spread for the joyous occasion.  I wanted to keep things simple and fresh, and I wanted to use farmers market ingredients that were at their summer peak. I also needed to simplify the preparation, garnishing and plating, in order to minimize my time in the kitchen and maximize my time having fun at the party.

For starters, I made a watermelon gazpacho.  I used plump heirloom tomatoes to deepen the flavors, blanched almonds to add texture, Spanish Jerez Reserva sherry vinegar to add a subtle kick, and a nutty French extra virgin olive oil to bring it all together.  Garlic and red peppers were thrown in for some underlying zest.  Garnished with edible flower petals, chopped chives and drops of basil oil that I made the night before, it was the perfect cool concoction for a hot summer day.

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Roasted red and yellow beets were flavored with Jerez Reserva sherry vinegar, olive oil, ginger and slivers, zest and juice of Valencia oranges.  The snapping ginger and citrus flavors balanced out the deep sweetness of the beets, and the vibrant colors of the edible flower garnish really popped out against the crimson background.

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For the main course, we decided to do the obligatory BBQ.  What’s an outdoor summer party without slapping some meat on the hot grill?  I marinated kalbi short ribs in my own secret recipe, and let it absorb the flavors overnight.  Italian zucchini and eggplants cut lengthwise were brushed with olive oil and flavored with fleur de sel.  What a sight to see 3 chicks (the 3 hosts) running the hot smoking grill in heels and summer dresses!  Sorry, no photos of the meat, it went too quickly.  They were tender, succulent, juicy and delicious.

I wanted to do something special, original and cute for dessert.  A store ordered cake with a messy ‘Congratulations’ in chocolate inscription?  Boring.  Cupcakes from Sprinkles?  Been there, done that.  After numerous revisions, I decided to make a playful plate that featured ripe summer white peaches.

I found this interesting fruit called a honeyloupe at the farmers market in Santa Monica.  As you can guess by the name, it’s a cross between a honeydew melon and a cantaloupe.  I used cookie cutters to cut the flesh into star, leaf and flower shapes, and marinated it for a few hours in lemongrass syrup.  Lemongrass syrup is easy to make- boil equal parts water and sugar in a pot with bruised lemongrass stalks for a few minutes.  You can drizzle it over ice cream or yogurt, and it marinates fruits really well.  It also keeps in the fridge for a long time.

I made a chocolate fudge sauce that I painted onto the plate with a pastry brush, and sprinkled the honeyloupe pieces along with edible flower petals and mint leaves to create a shooting star effect.  Using a cardboard stencil that took me only a few minutes to cut out with an exacto knife, I sprinkled a Valrhona chocolate powder teddy bear onto each plate.

I poached the white peaches the evening before in water and sugar with: cinnamon, cloves, black peppercorns, vanilla beans, honey, star anise, ginger and lemon zest.  To make the peach foam, I puréed some of those peaches with the poaching syrup, then added bloomed silver gelatin sheets before pouring it into my Espuma gun.  For those of you who don’t own an Espuma gun, I highly recommend getting one.  You can turn anything into foam or cream, and it’s so fun to use.  Load it with a couple of CO2 cartridges, and you’re ready to foam away.

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It all came together nicely for a colorful and cute summer dessert plate.

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My friend Emi had a healthy and beautiful baby boy, and I’m already thinking of the desserts that Auntie Tomo can spoil him with.

Random trivia:  Did you know that lemongrass oil enhances milk production in breast-feeding mothers?  It’s also believed that babies who drink this milk will have a better immune system, making them less prone to infections.

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Ooyama Hanten 大山飯店- Tokyo, Japan

We all love Korean BBQ.  I’m truly blessed to be living in Los Angeles where I can go to Koreatown for real Korean BBQ anytime.  But I still salivate profusely over the thought of going to a Korean BBQ restaurant in Japan.  Why?  For the simple love of organ meats.

I love my kalbi, my sirloin, my filet mignon, my chateaubriand, and all the fine red meat cuts, but what I really love are organ meats- the parts that actually keep the animals alive, and the parts that often get tossed as waste.  Offals are incredibly fresh, well prepared and delicious at Korean BBQ restaurants in Japan.

On a recent visit back to my homeland, my friends took me out to Ooyama Hanten in Gotanda, Tokyo 五反田の大山飯店 for an evening of grilled organ meats.

We started off with a few wonderful cold appetizers:

Chanja

Chanja

Chanja, a staple Korean appetizer, is made of spicy marinated cod fish stomach.  It has a bit of a tough texture so it’s chopped up in small pieces, and absolutely great on warm white rice.

Senmai beef tripe

Senmai beef tripe

Nobody else seemed to appreciate the senmai beef tripe, one of my favorite delicacies.  The cow has 4 parts to its stomach, and technically tripe is the muscular lining of the beef stomach.  The third stomach, called ‘senmai’ in Japanese, means ‘1000 layers’ because of the appearance of the fine fringed villae that we see above.  Although prepared very fresh, it does has a slightly gamey aftertaste, though the consistency is soft, slightly chewy and tender like fresh mozzarella.  Sprinkled with lemon juice and dipped in a spicy red pepper miso paste, this was truly heaven in a bite.

In Japan, it’s somewhat of a tradition to start the BBQ portion of the meal with thinly sliced beef tongue as their first cut to grill.   Dipped in sesame oil with salt and pepper, these hearty and slightly chewy cuts are delectable.

Beef tongue

Beef tongue

Some more organ meats….

Beef liver sashimi

Beef liver sashimi

Raw beef liver, and only the finest, came with 3 dipping sauces: garlic soy sauce, ginger soy sauce, and a simple salted sesame oil.  I liked how the ginger balanced out the dense iron taste of the liver.  For liver though, I must say, this was light, easy on the palate, and did not leave much of an aftertaste.  It was slippery, cool, and quickly melted in my mouth.  I’m not usually a fan of beef liver (though I love foie gras, chicken liver, fish liver), but this was a delightful surprise dish for me.

After a quick palate cleanser of spicy marinated perilla leaves eaten with warm white rice:

Marinated perilla leaves

Marinated perilla leaves

Marinated perilla leaves with a bowl of warm white rice is a simple comfort food that hits the spot even when I don’t have much of an appetite.  These leaves can be purchased at almost any Korean supermarket in Koreatown.

Beef tripe

Beef tripe

The 4th stomach, in Japanese, is called ‘giara’ ギアラ.  It was derived from the word ‘guarantee’ ギャランテイー, for unclear reasons.  Guaranteed to please your palate?  Guarantees the cow to be able to digest its food?  Well, it guaranteed a good final dinner for me in Tokyo.  On the BBQ grill it started to shrink and become slightly firm and white, and the texture was slightly chewy though tender on the inside.  It was marinated with spicy soy sauce to counteract that gaminess.

We also had honeycomb tripe (second stomach) as a cold appetizer.  It was a popular dish and went fast.  Honeycomb tripe is what is commonly used in European dishes- like Italian trippa stew, Trippa a la Fiorentina, a wonderful Florentine dish of tripe stewed in a tomato sauce, that melts in your mouth like butter.

I wanted to continue ordering more cow innards, but since I was dining with 7 other friends who didn’t share my same enthusiasm, we finished off the evening with the standard red meat cuts, like kalbi (fatty juicy cuts of short rib with beautiful marbling and exquisite flavors.

Kalbi

Kalbi

 

Random trivia:  Did you know that the methane gas released by cows’ burping and farting is said to be one of the leading causes of holes in the ozone layer?