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The prep work and the dashi were finished so the chef instructor at the cooking school in Tokyo moved on to the main courses. 

First up was Braised Meat and Vegetables, Japan’s take on beef stew, which used dashi for the broth.

We moved into the kitchen to start the teriyaki chicken stuffed with asparagus, which reminded me not to complain about the small size of my kitchen (they run a cooking school and restaurant with a two burner cooktop and a portable electric burner!).

The sugars carmelized in the pan…

Sesame seeds were ground in the suribachi, Japan’s version of a mortar and pestle, for the dressing on a Spring Vegetable Salad.

And tofu was prepared two ways.

    

Brian plated the teriyaki chicken.

The final products:

Braised meat and vegetables

Teriyaki chicken and the Spring vegetable salad

Tofu with amber sauce

Tofu sauteed with asatski (Japanese chives)

And miso soup of course

Our business partner (and interpreter!), Bill, had to run to a meeting part way through our cooking school experience, leaving us suddenly verbally silenced. But through giggles and smiles and fumbled words and actions, we bonded–Brian and I with the chef instructor and his assistant. (Thanks Bill.) We all learned new words and Brian and I learned new cooking techniques and new food items, like burdock root in the miso soup and myoga (ginger flower) in the vegetable salad and asatski (the long very thin green onion) in the sauteed tofu.

Then we went upstairs to the dining room and ate all these creations.

Yum!

And sadly, we said goodbye. 

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo HomeAway Holiday Rentals travel blogging competition.

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Cooking school in Japan: making dashi

Tokyo: A chef’s tour

Coffee from the source-Nicaragua

Besides eating our way through Japan, Brian thought it would be cool to cook alongside a Japanese chef to learn some local techniques. Bill, our restaurant partner in Tokyo, found this sweet cooking school, and he came along to translate. I got to come along to admire the handiwork (another bonus of having a chef for a husband!).

They started out by making dashi, a Japanese soup stock used for making soups and as a base in vegetable, meat and fish dishes. It’s made from dried bonito (skipjack tuna) flakes and dried kelp.

The chef-instructor added kelp to the pot.

Then the bonito flakes.

While the dashi steeped,the chefs moved on to prepping for the other dishes they’d make.

Dashi is done.

 

And strained.

And ready for use. 

Dashi

7 1/2 cups water

15 grams dried kelp (konbu)

25 grams dried bonito flakes (katsuo-bushi)

Place kelp and 6 1/2 cups water into a pot and turn heat on high. Just before it boils, take out the kelp and turn off heat.

Add  the bonito flakes and 1 cup cold water to sink the floating flakes.

Let sit 5 minutes, then strain the broth. Discard kelp and bonito flakes.

Can be refrigerated for later use for up to three days.

Check out more travel and food posts at wanderfood wednesday!

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Tokyo: a chef’s tour

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In search of guavas

Being a chef entails hovering over burners when the summertime kitchen temp is 120 degrees, working when your friends are out socializing, and being expected to gracefully receive criticism of your work from the public. 

But once in a while, being a chef has its rewards. Those rewards are even greater if you’re married to the chef.

We’re co-owners Black Bottle, a gastro tavern in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. Two of our partners live in Tokyo, considered by many to be the gastronomic capital of the world. We had to go.

With Bill and John at our sides, Brian and I spent a week eating our way through Tokyo. How lucky are we? Very.

Here’s lunch number one:

In Japan, presentation and quality are of utmost importance. Maguro (tuna), tai (snapper) and hamachi (young yellow tail or amberjack) sashimi. 

Starting in left corner, jellyfish, mentaiko (lotus root with spicy cod roe), takenoko (bamboo shoot), goma dofu with wasabi (sesame tofu), fish cake, ebi (shrimp)

Steamed rice with ikura (salmon roe) and green peas with tsukemono (pickles) on the side.

Left to right: braised tofu with ginger, pearl onion, fuki (type of mountain vegetable), kabocha (squash), grilled sliced gyuniku (beef), hijiki (type of seaweed), dashi with grated daikon

The detail that went into each item in this bento box was unbelievable. Have you ever seen such gorgeous food?

For more food and travel stories, check out wanderfood wednesday!

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First taste of the Caribbean

One photo, a thousand words

Our chef, and an attempt at a recipe

At 8:30, my girlfriends and I are finished with our telemarketing shift at Olan Mills Portrait Studio. We jump into a car and head to 7-11 to find out what’s happening tonight. We park in the lot and soon two cars pull in, one of them a chocolate brown BMW 320i, both full of testosterone-fueled guys. Two of them saunter into 7-11 and exit with a case of 3.2 Shaeffer beer. The guys come over, no one knows of any parties, we hang out for a bit. “We know someplace we can go,” one guy says. 

We jump into cars and peel out in a line, leaving suburbia. Our car train stops on a tumbleweed-strewn parched field.

“We call it The Moon,” one of the guys says.

The cute one inserts a Police cassette tape into his car stereo and finds the song, Walking on the Moon. He opens his car doors and cranks it up. We all cheer and dance and sing along, gazing up at the clear night sky, imagining ourselves on the surface of the moon. 

I’m chilly. The cute boy with the BMW offers his Guess jean jacket. Later he drives me home. He doesn’t ask for his jacket back.

Brian has pined for guavas since we left St. Vincent. The only place we’ve found them in Seattle is Uwajimaya, a fantastic Asian grocery store, but they’re never ripe and they’re always expensive. Once we landed on Kauai, the hunt began.

We had high hopes for the Hanalei farmers market. We saw no guavas, we were told it wasn’t guava season, but Brian wasn’t deterred, he questioned each vendor. One had brought a few, but they had sold already.

We tried the Lihu’e market. We arrived at opening time and Brian rushed through, scanning the tables for guavas, inquiring with each vendor. One vendor told us, “I have guavas, but I didn’t bring any today.”

“Awww,” we said in unison. 

She giggled. “Where are you staying?”

“On the north side,” I said.

“I will bring some to Hanalei tomorrow. Come tomorrow to the Hanalei market.”

“Really? Can I pay you today to hold them for me?” Brian asked.

“No, no, I’ll save them for you,” she said.

“Okay! We’ll be there at 9:30!”

We were there, at 9:30. Brian rushed through the already crowded market, searching for the face of the vendor who would have his prized guavas. He found her, busy attending customers. We scanned her table, no guavas, then Brian spotted two small bags of guavas on the tailgate behind her. “There they are,” he whispered.

He paid for the two bags and opened one and inhaled the sweet aroma. I took my turn and was instantly transported to standing under the guava tree at Petit Byahaut. Guavas are filled with seeds and are quite tart so eating them raw isn’t nearly as satisfying as turning them into guava cheese. Later that evening, Brian set to work.

He chopped all eight guavas.

Put them in a pot, added a cup and a half of sugar, and lit the burner.

After the seeds separated and the guavas softened, he put the stew through a sieve to remove the seeds and the puree was returned to the pot.

Stirring constantly, it seemed like forever before the puree thickened into a cheese-like consistency.

Not done yet. More cooking and stirring required.

Finally he turned it into a pan, let it cool and cut the slab into pieces before coating them with sugar.

So good…

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After seeing my last post, Brian said matter-of-factly, “That’s not a great picture of you. You look kind of weird.” I took a second look and, yeah, I think I need to say something about it. 

That picture shows what happens when you go from living in a house in the city, your main job being taking care of kids and driving a car most places you go, to living in a house on a mountainside that you can’t drive to, hence your children and every single item you eat, use, or need (including propane tanks and gasoline for the generator) has to be carried up the mountainside, plus accomodating guests whose rooms are scattered throughout a 50 acre valley, and a dependence on boat transport (in which you, yourself, are often responsible for hauling said boat in and out of the water) as your means of access to the outside world.

Want to see the picture again?

Now I’m not saying taking care of kids in the city is a walk in the park. In fact, I considered myself to be in pretty good shape from chasing kids around all day. But compare the photo above to this one, of Brian and I six months previous, while we were vacationing at Petit Byahaut.

We’re not really looking our best, having just gotten out of the water from snorkeling in the rain, but there is a difference between the photos, no?  I know this would be more impressive if I had been more ample before starting our lives as resort operators, but I think I look, you know, reasonably healthy in the bikini photo. My collarbone isn’t bulging through my skin and my face is more oval than gaunt.

My mom took the picture of Remy and I in the dining room. We had been on the island for two and a half months and Mom and Dad had just arrived for the holidays. She had a look of concern on her face when she said, “You look really different. You’re so thin, but you’re muscular. You just look so different.”

All I had really noticed was that a) all my shorts were falling down, and b) I could now almost sprint up the mountainside to retrieve or deposit this, that, or the other from The Treehouse where we lived, if I didn’t have a kid on my shoulders.

So while my parents were visiting, my mom put darts into all my shorts, just like she had done when I was seven. And Brian started using a piece of nylon cord, left over from the installation of the incredibly appreciated and loved no-see-um net Mom had sewn for our bed, to hold up his shorts. So functional was that cord that Brian still uses it today to hold up his pants.

As the months passed, I’d like to think our bodies got used to our new lifestyle and eased into a more natural looking state. They were just in shock in the beginning.

So, anyone looking to drop pounds and build muscle for the upcoming bathing suit season?

Summer 1992, Lopez Island, Washington

During a week long family reunion spent kayaking, playing volleyball, hiking and hanging out around the bonfire, Brian and I decided, with flight vouchers in hand, “Let’s get married!”

We also decided that if, for some reason, things didn’t work out for us in the Caribbean, we would be pretty content living here.

So things didn’t work out for us in the Caribbean and we don’t live here but I’m not complaining. From Seattle, Lopez Island is just a short drive and ferry ride away.

 

This is one of our favorite places to escape for a few days and we got to do it again this week.  

Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned.

That’s when you alter your course, create new dreams, remember old joys.

This was our first taste of the Caribbean. It was 1993 and it was our honeymoon.

 

What enabled us to afford this indulgence at such a tender age was our good fortune of getting bumped from a flight the year before. Truthfully, it was those generous travel vouchers we received that sparked talk about marriage in the first place, We could use those vouchers to get to the Caribbean. That would be an awesome HONEYMOON!

The instant we stepped off the plane, the hot heavy air and scent of spicy flowers and overripe fruit and the salty sea consumed us. It was love at first sight.

Nisbet Plantation Beach Club is far different than Petit Byahaut in some ways but oh so similar in others. Styled in a formal British fashion, Nisbet offers afternoon tea daily and has a dress code for dinner in the plantation house. 

Like Petit Byahaut, Nisbet and the island of Nevis also submerge you into the tropics with all the exoticism of an undeveloped land. And the people who call the island home exude a quiet, formal kindness. 

I wish I could have found the copied menu from one evening of our stay. With a new menu daily, we greatly anticipated the exquisite four course dinners. Brian was chef and manager of an Italian restaurant at the time. The stilton coated in a crispy sugary shell served with preserves, salads made with unfamiliar Caribbean vegetables, the soups: ginger carrot, pumpkin, and cool avocado with a swirl of coconut milk, mahi mahi, tuna, kingfish, all of it was an education for us.

It was hard to say goodbye, but all our hopes and dreams were confirmed. The Caribbean really was as good as we had imagined it to be.

Twelve years ago this week, Brian and I went to Costa Rica.

We were midway through figuring out how to make the dream a truth and we were craving a research trip. We found a piece of paradise at Bosque del Cabo.

Located in the southwest corner of the country, in the rainforest of the Osa Penninsula where land meets the sea, Bosque del Cabo confirmed how sweet it is to live in the midst of nature.

Macaw parrots and toucans sailed through the sky above us. Howler monkeys woke us at dawn with their dinosaur-like bellows. When our luggage failed to arrive with us, we swam in the ocean in the nude—we had the beach completely to ourselves! We shared dinners with well-seasoned travelers from around the world. We drank water from a stream when we found ourselves thirsty while exploring after a campesino showed us how he drank from the stream (without even a visit from Montezuma’s revenge!). We examined the hydropower system in the river, decided cool water showers are lovely in late afternoon, bought freshly dried peppercorns from the owner’s son, and relished the romanticism of using oil lanterns in the evening.

Here is where we showered.

And here is where we relaxed.

We watched the sun set over the ocean and later, stars fill the night sky.

When it came time to go, this dirt landing strip is where we hopped on a plane to our next destination. This was the kind of flying of which I’d dreamed. Our pilot simply laughed when we told him that I too, was a pilot.

I hoped a fuel sample would be taken after refueling to ensure there was no contamination.

 

We then traveled to another part of Costa Rica and sorely regretted leaving Bosque del Cabo. But we enjoyed a visit to a nature reserve where two orphaned baby monkeys had taken up residence. This little guy took a liking to me and wouldn’t leave my arm until we peeled him off when it was time to go.

Our guide joked with us, “What does he know that we don’t?”

Nine months later, our daughter was born. Maybe the monkey did know something we didn’t.

Brian did a lot of planning, shopping for, cooking, and serving of the three daily meals, but his additional responsibilities meant a second cook was a requirement.

So we hired a local chef. I’ll call him “Check”. Check and I got off to a bad start. On day one, our toddler and new puppy were wrestling, as youngsters do, and when the puppy’s sharp teeth made Simon cry out in surprise and pain and hurt feelings, Check rushed to Simon’s defense and swatted the puppy across the room. In turn, I rushed to the puppy’s defense. Our relationship spiraled downward from there.

More than once I’ve been told, “You’re so….calm.” Maybe it was a kind way of saying I’m dull or emotionless, but never has anyone told me I seem explosive or the type of person who thrives on conflict. But that was Check’s and my relationship. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

The after effects of each conflict reverberated to Brian. I lost track of how many conversations we had about whether to let Check go. But, where would that have left us? With Brian cooking and prepping every single meal, every single day. Check was too skilled in the kitchen, too capable of creating his own menu, and too able to wow our guests with his food. And they liked him. How could they like him? At the time, I didn’t get it.

Now that some time has passed, the reasons for that continual clash are clearer to me. Check was well read, had lived outside his country for a period of time, had strong opinions about foreign and local politics, and knew well the life of injustice, including a double whammy of recent occurrences. Then I landed on his soil–a white American woman with countless freedoms, slightly younger than him, ready to take charge and make my personal dream a success. A recipe for disaster.  

In honor of Check, I wanted to share a signature recipe of his. However, he didn’t leave his recipes lying around. So I thought I would recreate the parfaits he often made for dessert. How hard could it be, I thought. Hard enough to point out that a food blogger I am not.

I thought I would be all style-y and pour the warm panna cotta in the glass at a tilt, but I didn’t think through that the coulis wouldn’t stay in place at an angle, and the mousse definitely wouldn’t cooperate with the angle. So each one is a new attempt to make it look presentable. It didn’t work. The good thing is that each of these three layers is still delicious.

      

Comments from the tasters: Simon (now 8): “It’s delicious just the way it is.” Remy (now 11): “If you like mango, you’ll like this.” Even our Akita, Hoshi, tried it. He would have eagerly finished it off if we allowed him. For what it’s worth. 

What I should have done was consult with my chef husband before starting this experiment, rather than after. His suggestion of starting with the mousse on the bottom, then add the coulis, then the panna cotta was the answer. Here’s my final attempt.

Since the panna cotta had already set, I whisked it again which made it creamy enough to spoon over the top. Or alternatively, you could put a dollop of the mango mousse on top the panna cotta. Or scoop some mango mousse into a bowl and decorate with the coulis. Or try just the panna cotta with a zigzag of coulis over it.

Go ahead Check, shake your head at me again.

 

Mango Parfaits

Check would make parfaits with whatever fruit was available, be it mangoes, guavas, passion fruit, bananas, even plumrose. Pasteurized heavy cream isn’t available on St. Vincent so instead one is forced to use this gloppy stuff labeled as cream that could, if you’re careful, retain the shape of the can from which you expel it. Using real, refrigerated, liquid cream is a luxury here.

 Mango Mousse (or Fool)

Adapted from Gourmet, April 2000

1 ¼ tsp unflavored gelatin

2 tbsp fresh lime juice

3 large ripe mangoes, flesh coarsely chopped

¼ c sugar, or to taste

¾ c heavy cream + 1 tbsp sugar

Sprinkle gelatin over lime juice in a small heatproof cup and let stand 1 minute to soften. Purée mangoes with sugar in a blender or food processor and force through a sieve into a large bowl.

Melt softened gelatin in cup in a pan of water on low heat, then stir into purée. Beat cream and sugar with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks and gently fold into purée.

Chill, covered, at least 8 hours.

Mango Coulis

1 large ripe mango, flesh coarsely chopped

1 – 2 tbsp sugar (to taste)

Puree mango and sugar in blender or food processor. Force through sieve into bowl.

Panna Cotta

Adapted from How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman

1 cup milk

1 (1/4 ounce) pkg unflavored gelatin

2 cups heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla

½ cup sugar

Pour ½ cup of the milk in a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it, let sit for 5 minutes. Heat on low, stirring until the gelatin has dissolved.

Add remaining milk, cream, vanilla and sugar and cook over medium heat until steam rises from the pot. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 15 minutes.

Pour into six cups. Refrigerate until set.

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