Archive for the ‘Culinary Theory’ Category


December 08, 2013: Sushi Class and Flamenco

December 8, 2013

Yoshio Teaches Sushi LCHCEarly this week, it was my honor and pleasure to once again don the uniform of a “Okonomy” sous-chef. “Okonomy” is Master Chef Yoshio Saito’s catering restaurant and is what this blog is named after. This week, it was to assist Chef Saito in teaching a sushi class at the Lowell Community Health Center in an effort to promote healthier options for diet. There were two classes scheduled with an expected 60 people per class, so we had our work cut out for us!

There is a saying in the East: “Give a man a fish, and he will stave off hunger for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will stave off hunger for a lifetime.” My experience with Yoshio and Okonomy, up to now, has been more of “giving of a fish” (literally and figuratively) to patrons. This time, it was a “teaching to fish” kind of affair. Okonomy was to provide all the materials ready to make temaki roll. This is sushi in a cone wrap of nori (seaweed sheets.) Yoshio would teach history, techniques and procedure to allow the health center administrators to learn the hows and whys of making sushi and then (best of all) teach them to make their own delicious combinations!

Considerable preparation was needed to buy, cut, package, and store all the separate elements of the temaki roll Yoshio was teaching. Those items were:

Nori Wraps             Toasted Sesame Seeds               Trefoil (or Beefsteak) leaves
Cucumber               Brown & White Sushi Rice         Shoyu (soy sauce)
Natto (fermented soybean)      Pickled Ginger         Daikon (Japanese Radish)
Fried Tofu Sheets          Scallions              Wasabi (Japanese Horseradish)
Imitation Crab             Avocado

Yoshios Sushi Rice

Brown Sushi Rice from Rice Cooker Photo: Y. Saito

Most troublesome to Chef Saito was the huge quantity of rice (we ended up with close to eighty pounds, between the white and brown) and most important, to keep such a huge quantity consistently warm until serving. Yoshio came up with  very clever technique of putting the rice batches in huge sealed bags and keeping them in a large thermos with hot water bottles. Yoshio flavored the rice with his special mixture of seasoning, stirring each batch under a fan to cool the rice to the proper temperature.

Chef Saito also made his home-made wasabi, which is much more hot (as well as more flavorful) than store-bought brands. [I observed more than one patron with watery eyes after applying just a tad too much!] Yoshio tempered such heat in the temaki rolls with the cool, bright, and tangy trefoil leaves, as well as the slightly sweet daikon and pickled ginger. He rounded out his temaki with the nutty toasted sesame seeds and salty shoyu.

The most delicious cucumber soup ever!

The most delicious cucumber soup ever! Photo: Y. Saito

Cooking with Yoshio is always such a positive experience in so many ways: not only is the work a lot of fun, but I learn so much every time just by being around a master and asking questions (which Yoshio is always pleased to answer.) It certainly helps to work for a master chef around break time. For dinner, he took the leavings from the cucumbers I was working on and whipped up a wonderful cucumber soup on the fly! He combined the cucumber with stock and milk and topped it of with white truffle oil, finely chopped trefoil, and crumbled feta cheese. I can honestly say it was one of the most spectacular soups I’ve ever had!

During an earlier break, Yoshio played a flamenco piece on his guitar (something I didn’t know he was training for) to perfection, but I was curious, “Why flamenco?” Actually, this style of playing from Southern Spain has more schools in Japan than Spain! It seems the flamenco style is hard on guitars and that guitar makers consider a flamenco guitar as “disposable!” After prepping was all done, Yoshio treated me to my favorite bourbon as we watched “Toast” which I was happy to find that Yoshio and his wife Dorcas liked as well as I.

Temaki by Mark; Photo: M.Raymond

Temaki by Mark; Photo: M.Raymond

As not as many people showed up as expected to both classes, Yoshio sent me home with a few leftovers. As I had lost a day at work, I thought it only fair to share the sushi fixings with those at work. The guys at work were making perfect tamaki rolls by their third go-around and we enjoyed a varied, healthy, tasty lunch, while taking pride in developing our make-it-yourself  skills!

Preparing Sushi; Photo: M.Raymond

Preparing Sushi; Photo: M.Raymond


November 05, 2012: Cook’s Country on DVD

November 5, 2012

Sorry for such few posts lately, folks. Please be patient while I iron a few pesky inconveniences like how to pay for the mortgage, clothes, food…I have a number of posts already composed in my noggin. I just need to get some time away from job searching to flesh them out.

I continue to prospect through the river of knowledge with my pan of curiosity for the gold of experience at my favorite little library, the Hudson Public Library. This week’s gold is the entire “Cook’s Country” PBS cooking show on DVD.

For the best of American cooking, the magazine “Cook’s Illustrated” and its’ sister magazine, “Cook’s Country” (and now the TV show) hits the spot. These are classic American recipes tested and retested by “America’s Test Kitchen” (the name of the group that oversees the cooking and the media) to make them “bulletproof.” Both the magazines and the TV show work out all the ways a chef  can go wrong with these classic recipes and guide the viewer to ways of perfecting them. They also test out modern tools and gadgets and recommend their top choices. They do the same with store-bought, popular foods. Best of all, they frequently show you how to take care of your kitchen tools to make them last and functioning top-notch.

Christopher Kimball founded “Cook’s” magazine in 1980 and was publisher and editor until 1989 when the magazine was relaunched as “Cook’s Country.” I was surprised (and pleased) to discover that Christopher is a Boston native and that America’s Test kitchen is located in Brookline!

For years I subscribed to various cooking magazines and finally settled on “Cook’s Illustrated” as the perfect one for me. There is nothing flashy about “Cook’s Illustrated.” A well-composed color illustration for the front, color photographs of the recipes inside the back cover and just clean, black and white illustrations for the inside to accompany the articles.

The PBS-TV show has a little bit more by way of presentation, while holding back on the flash. It comes close to the Julia Child show, minus Julia’s charming goofyness. “Cook’s Country” does radiate a warmth as Christopher graciously takes a back seat as tester, taster, and sometimes target for his charming, affable, and clearly knowledgeable staff. Viewers are taken through the recipes step-by-step, with the staff pointing out where they went wrong in their tests and most importantly why these trials went wrong. I believe I learned more watching just the first season of “Cook’s Country” than I did working an entire year and half at a bona-fide French restaurant!

I won’t deny that I sometimes like to go a bit fancy on some dishes. I do like to spoil my guests, when ever possible, with the visual and the complicated. Fancy I can dream up on my own, but for practical, solid solutions to good recipes of America’s favorite dishes, nothing beats “Cook’s Country” and “Cook’s Illustrated!”


December 09, 2011: Sleepy Concerns

December 9, 2011

I’ve been a sporadic insomniac for just about forever. The combination of being of an extremely light sleeper (critters rummaging amongst leaves below my window will wake me up) coupled with being a very vivid dreamer makes for a rather broken sleep cycle. Any added stress doesn’t help. The tricky thing about insomnia is that you never know when it will strike, but Murphy’s Law assures that you will get a bout when you can least afford it!

A caveat here: I AM NOT A DOCTOR! These are things I have found to be generally true and certainly help ME, but if you have a sleeping condition, please see a doctor for help. I was amazed that while doing research for this article, that there are things I’ve always considered innocuous, but can be harmful to some people. For instance chamomile is part of the daisy family and can really mess you up if you have a daisy allergy!

The good news is that there are a few things that can help a regular sleep cycle. The bad news is that it may involve a change of behavior (but in a good way.) It is not a small coincidence that just about all these rules revolve around a healthy life style and a fair dose of common sense. It’s nothing you’ve haven’t heard before: exercise regularly, eat no or lean meats and more veggies, avoid excesses of: sugar, white flour, alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes, drugs of all sorts..oh…and food! Try to regulate your sleep schedule, so that you go to bed at the same time each night. Blah, blah, blah…like I said: it’s the old song and dance. Trouble is: I do ALL of these things and STILL have the occasional bout of insomnia!

So, my tweaks: first is a Zen approach to the whole event. Nothing is worse that the insomniac’s worry “If I don’t fall asleep soon, I won’t have enough sleep to function the next day.” Honestly, this is torture, but this added stress does nothing for the problem. I literally can’t count the nights I’ve gone without sleep, and while it certainly is not comfortable, you can do more than you think you are able without sleep. So first: LET GO of the problem (as best as you can) and find a way to distract yourself. Reading helps me, but I have learned to stay away from the very interesting, active plot-lines. Philosophy, for instance, puts me right out! I love movies, but they are too stimulating for purposes of rest.

I started this article with the idea of finding a food panacea for insomnia. Most authorities recommend a high-carb diet within four hours of sleeping. Carbs are said to increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter that reduces stress and promotes rest. So, a PB&J sandwich, pasta, oatmeal cookie and milk. Yep, generations of pre-school teachers knew what they were doing feeding kids cookies and milk before nap time! I find a warm drink helps, so my warm milk and freshly ground nutmeg is my “go-to” cure. It’s said to have tryptophan (another stress-reducer) but I believe it has more to do with the action and habit of a participating in a mundane chore. The same with making tea. Teas with herbs like chamomile, valerian, lavender, and lemon balm are said to help digestion and relax muscles.

Pets can help too: there is nothing so Zen and ready for a nap than a cat, and I have a friend who uses his two large German Shepherds like huge, cozy, hot-water bottles! Having no pets, I have to look to my inanimate buddy, pictured above, for an example. “Sleepy” was my crib-mate from my first days. He’s lost his closed lashes that earned him his name, and has had all the stuffing loved outta him a long while back, but he still has that relaxed demeanor that with one look, just as in childhood…lulls me off to the Land of Nod.

C’mon Sleepy. It’s been a long day. Off we go.


November 02, 2011: Tasty Healthy Snacks

November 2, 2011

I’m still working through the generous supplies from my friends and trying to figure the best way to use them. I got a bunch of kale from Pam’s CSA, but I was worried that with all the veggies she gave to me that I wouldn’t get to them. Answer: turn the kale into chips. Kale chips are a very delicious (and much more healthy) answer to potato chips, and their taste is more complex. By making them yourself, you can control the amount of fat and salt you apply, and they are super easy and fun to make. I would guess the kids would enjoy mixing these (after parents do the cutting.)

I wanted to also toast the raw peanuts that Yoshio gave me. The process and spices are identical for both kale and peanuts, yet the taste is very different. I did use olive oil for the kale and corn oil for the peanuts because “it just seemed right” to do so. The only problem is that a whole head of kale makes only a couple of cups of chips. You don’t have to worry about storing them for long, trust me, they’ll go pretty fast!

Preheat oven to 350°F. Wash kale and dry in a salad spinner. If you don’t have a salad spinner, blot them with paper towels until very dry. Remove stem ends and use for stock. You just want the leaves of the kale. Any stems will turn chewy when finished. I don’t mind that, but if only want the crunch o the leaves, spend the time to trim the stems completely. Cut pieces into 2-3″ pieces. Dribble with about 1/4-1/2Tsp. olive oil (only enough to make the leaves glossy.) Sprinkle with a little sal de mer, paprika, and chili powder and toss well. Spread kale on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Put in oven and immediately reduce heat to 300°F. Bake for about 20-30 minutes, turning with tongs often. When done, leaves will have a nice crunch to them. Cool. Cover. Store in a cool, dry place.

Same recipe for the raw peanuts, just sub corn oil (or peanut) instead of olive oil. For both these dishes, vary spices as you choose for each batch, to keep the kids interested!


August 25, 2011: Talk at Showa Institute

August 25, 2011

"Colcannon" (Kale, mashed potatoes, cream,& spices) Photo by Y. Saito via IPhone

A quick “thank you” to Showa Institute of Boston, Yoshio, Michelle, and the students from Japan for having me out, to once again talk about Irish Cooking. A perfect day of organizing my notes by the koi pond, cooking with Yoshio (always a pleasure) and meeting and talking to the students. Once again, Yoshio and I made a variety of Irish dishes showing the range of influences of different cultures on Irish cuisine. We made:

Corned Beef and Cabbage
Codling Cream
Irish Soda Bread

Recipes are available on last year’s entry “August 26, 2010: Irish Cuisine at Showa”


June 08, 2011: Dried Dill

June 8, 2011

Two of my favorite summer foods are my own potato salad and iced green tea. I’ll save the tea for the next post, but potato salad…quartered potatoes, sliced radishes, chopped celery, spices, mustard and mayo make a wonderful combination, but it is chopped fresh dill that makes it work. The trouble is that you can’t use the entire bunch of dill, unless you’re making enough potato salad for an army, and it goes bad soon. Solution: dry it. Now, this is old hat for those who have dried herbs before, but if you’ve never done it, it’s super easy to dry herbs that keep for much longer than fresh. You can also save a good deal of money: one bunch of dill dries down to about .3oz. of dried dill, which cost almost $6 at the store.

Preheat oven to 300°F. Remove the very ends of stems of dill. Wash and dry dill well in a salad spinner. Put whole dill (no need to remove stems before drying) and spread out on a cookie sheet with tin foil. Lower heat to 200°F and put tray in oven for about 20 minutes. Dill should be dry, crisp, but not burnt.  Cool. Rub dill to remove stems and discard them. The whole process takes about an hour at the most and you could do many different herbs at once.

1 Tblsp. Fresh Herb=1 Tsp. Dried Herb


May 31. 2011: Carrot a l’Etuvee

May 31, 2011

Last week, I was home to attend the wedding of my nephew, Jonathan and his new bride, Nikki. I was invited to cook for my family (a rare treat) as a follow-up to the wedding, at my sister, Mary Lou’s house. I made:

  • Bruschetta with goat cheese-shallot topping
  • Pumpkin Vichyssoise
  • Beef Tenderloin with Cajun Spice/Dijon Mustard/Horseradish Crust
  • Duchess Potatoes
  • French-Style Asparagus (see May 10, 2011 entry)
  • Carottes à l’Etuvée (steamed carrots w/no water)
  • Boston Lettuce/Belgian Endive Salad w/ Pear, Toasted Walnuts, Macadamia Nut Oil & Balsamic Vinegar Dressing
  • Pumpkin Cheesecake

This was a very challenging meal considering all the dishes and the time spent for traveling and for the wedding itself. Mary Lou set a beautiful table with her fine china, silver and Waterford crystal. Nikki donated one of her bouquets from the wedding, for the centerpiece for the table.

One of my “sure things” for this meal was the Carottes à l’Etuvée recipe. “Etuvée” is French for “steamed.” Fair warning, here: You may never make carrots any other way (I sure haven’t.) This recipe creates a fresh carrot, steamed in its own water and that results in a brighter color, firmer texture, and a more flavorful taste. It has a by-product as being one of the easiest dishes I’ve ever made!

Have your chosen quantity of carrots (washed, skinned, ends removed, and cut at 45°angle.) Here, it is important to get the mass of each piece the same, in order to get each piece to cook evenly. You don’t need to add any water! The carrots cook in their own juices. Add a pat of butter, a sprinkling of ground pepper and sal de mer, herbs de Provence, a bay leaf and a tiny bit of ground nutmeg to the pot. Cover and heat at medium-high until the carrots start to sizzle. Reduce heat to low, shaking the pot every once in a while (about 20 minutes) until the biggest piece is able to be pierced with a fork. Serve immediately.

That’s all for the best carrots you will ever have!

06.02.11 Update:

The diners, minus hosts & chef (photo: S. Swasey)

Just got the pics from the host, my brother-in-law Steve (thanks!) Steve absolutely hates veggies! He told me that he would not try the asparagus dish so I (unconsciously) served him twice the carrot dish! Steve was (silently) less than pleased at my doing so, but after tasting, he finished them all!

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