A fascinating weekend in 'France,' 'Kyoto' Grinds Ground beef sunday night suppers
By Wanda Adams
Janice Hirabayashi of Honolulu wrote to ask: Where can I find a recipe for a really good beef Stroganoff (I'm working on that, Janice) and what do you do when you're not writing about food?
Answer: Reading about food.
I spent the weekend with, first, Julia Child's "My Life in France" (see my blog for more on this) and then "Untangling My Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto" by Victoria Abbott Riccardi (Broadway Books, 2003).
The latter appealed to me particularly because I recently lost a friend who loved Japan, Japanese food and Kyoto and it was a way to spend a little more time with her.
It was also fascinating to read about Japanese food from the perspective of someone who had not been surrounded by it all their lives, as we in Hawai'i think we have been.
Reading this book revealed how much Japanese culture has been changed and interpreted in the Islands, and how little most of us know about where these foods and customs came from, or evolved. Your obachan may have known, but we do not.
I learned so much: the proper names of certain foods, how particular ingredients are prepared, the roots of various Japanese customs.
We break so many of the rules here in Hawai'i: We drench our sushi in shoyu and wasabi, insulting the sushi chef who believes the fish and rice are already properly seasoned. We eat gargantuan portions when the Japanese aesthetic is to consume modest, well-considered quantities.
As I read, I wondered how it was that so much had been "lost in translation."
Though "Untangling" is not, strictly speaking, a cookbook, Riccardi drops recipes throughout the narrative. Many — shabu shabu, yakisoba — are familiar to us. But one —the only non-Japanese recipe in the book— delighted me. It illustrates how, as her hosts introduced her to Japan, she satisfied their hunger for Western culinary ideas.
So simple. So decadent. And, served to her Japanese house parents at a Christmas — "Ku-ri-sa-mi-su" — celebration, a shock to palates used to more delicate flavors.
It's a dense chocolate sauce to be served over ice cream or cake. It is, Riccardi writes, "a decadent sludge." And quite simple. Use good-quality chocolate.
The recipe comes from an old cookbook, and it's not clear who Julia is (it's definitely not Child) but, as Riccardi says, her legacy lives on.
JULIA'S CHOCOLATE SAUCE
• 4 (2-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
• 2 cups sugar
• 2/3 cup cream
• 2 teaspoons salted butter
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Combine the chocolate, sugar and cream in a double boiler. Cook until the chocolate has melted and whisk vigorously to combine the ingredients. Whisk in butter and vanilla and serve. Makes 3 cups. Serve over ice cream, plain cake or fresh fruit.
Reach Wanda Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org; fax: 525-8055; or 605 Kapi'olani Blvd., Honolulu, HI 96813.