Friday, April 12, 2013

Cooking class: Everything coming up cherry blossoms

When checking out the offerings of Japanese cookbooks after the New Year holiday, I came across one with a recipe for yuzu-flavoured scallop date-maki which, as a big fan of yuzu and scallops, really got my heart racing. A how-to of plating techniques that just happened to have recipes, the book was right up my alley, and came home with me the very same day. Written by the daughter half of a mother-daughter cooking school and table coordination combi, it pointed me in the direction of their lovely blogs (mother and daughter), the photos on which had my tummy rumbling on many a long homeward commute since I can tell you!

I was particularly struck by the mouthwatering blog photos of the sakura-themed cooking class, and reading that there were a small number of places still available, arranged to go on the last session offered, which happened to be the day before I was having guests.

Welcome drink: Sakura-yu cherry blossom "tea"
 It was rather a hike out to Nakamura-sensei's home in the picturesque woods of Chiba, a good two hours from Yokohama. The long journey was soon forgotten, however, when I met sensei. A more charming, knowledgeable and kind teacher you could not hope to have. The earliest arrivals sipped sakura-yu, a fragrant "tea" of preserved cherry blossoms, while we waited for the last two students to turn up. All assembled and aproned up, the five of us put together the the amazing spread above over the next 3 hours, but it never felt rushed or like hard work. 

On the day's menu:

A meal of spring delights
In the bowl:
Eel and prawn-filled lotus root balls in thickened yuzukosho (yuzu and green chilli) dashi soup

In the cocktail glass:
Firefly squid jelly topped with onsen tamago (eggs with cooked yolks and loose whites) and dashi gelee

On the dinner plate from top left:
Yuzukosho sauce for dipping the bamboo shoot coquettes
Bite-sized steaks with wild spring vegetables and sesame dressing
Kombu-jime sushi wrapped in sakura leaf
Bamboo shoot coquettes with yuzukosho sauce

On the side plate:
Yuba rolls with chicken fillet, rape blossoms and wasabina leaf mustard, again with dashi gelee

Sakura pound cake

There was a great deal to learn, both in the cooking and the plating and table decoration fronts. Sensei gave me special instructions on 3-hour dashi and how to make gari sushi shop-style pickled ginger, as well as explaining the method of preserving sashimi by sandwiching it between sheets of vinegared kombu kelp. I also learned a delicious way to prepare seasonal Japanese veggies udo (aralia cordata), kogomi (ostrich fern) and tara no me (buds of the angelica tree) that I had long passed over in the veggie shop for lack of knowing how to prepare them. I particularly liked the crunchy udo. Must have a look for some more recipes for that : )

Main dish set to the correct orientation

On the plating front, we learned the correct way to serve a main dish (wrongly oriented in the photo above), how the tiniest sprinkling of matcha can transform a white plate, and how to make decorative "cherry blossom petals" from the odd end of a daikon!

I also got the recipe for perhaps the loveliest cake you can ever bake in under an hour! The secret to making a pound cake lovely and moist, I learned, is to cover it with wrap while it cools. For a non-baker like me, that was a total revelation!

A feast of sakura: Sakura leaves, sakura bean paste and blossoms baked to perfection
Sitting down to eat at the gorgeous table, I found I had few words as I took each mouthful of truly amazing flavours and textures, savouring every moment.

If not for the distance, I would love to become a regular at Y's Kitchen. As it is, I think I may have to take a day or two off work this year to go on a weekday.

 And that sakura pound cake? Truly as amazing as I thought it would be, it appeared on my Persian New Year spread the very next day!

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