13th Dinner Club: Japan – Summary
We started with light, refreshing Plum wine mixed with either soda or tonic. R brought two different wines for us to try – Choya Plum and Takara Plum. The Choya was a drier wine, while the Takara was a bit sweeter but also tasted more strongly of plum. And then, depending on what mixer was used you could create several different drinks. We busily sipped our way through the options while V prepared our starter tofu.
The key to this recipe is the "silken" tofu which, according to the recipe, may also be called "cotton" tofu. I can usually take or leave tofu, it’s fine mixed in soups or as an ingredient in a dish but eating it on its own is not something I do often. This silken tofu, however, will change that! It is so smooth and creamy. V served it with a Sesame Miso Sauce and a Garlic Soy Sauce, both complemented the tofu perfectly. It was a lovely light start to our dinner.
Next up was the Sukiyaki. M had set a low table with a propane burner so we could experience the dinner in a traditional way. (Although the cushions she used, that we both bought at Crate and Barrel last summer, may not be found in a traditional Japanese home!) We had beef loin and Kobe beef, green onions, (more!) tofu, enoki and other mushrooms and chrysanthemum leaves. M started the beef in the pan, as it began to cook she added vegetables and some of the simmering sauce. As items were finished we all reached in with our chopsticks and took what appealed to us. In addition to soy sauce, some of us chose to crack an egg in a little bowl which we then dipped the meats and vegetables into as we pulled them from the pan. It added a richness to the ingredients. Along with our Sukiyaki we enjoyed two types of Saki (we like sampling different types, as you can see…). We tried Hitorimusume Junmai Nigori (unfiltered) and Taru Kikusakari (cedar barrel aged). I believe the unfiltered was my favorite but apparently I forgot to note that so I’m not positive. We tried not to stuff ourselves with the Sukiyaki and almost succeeded as we knew we still had several courses to go!
Next, the Cucumber Salad and Miso Soup were served. The Cucumber Salad was a perfect light interlude. The Miso Soup was heavenly! This particular recipe, however, was more "stuff" than broth. As a main dish it would be great! At this point in our meal we all could have done with a little more broth and a little less vegetable and tofu (yes, more tofu!) but that was our only complaint.
We cleared the table and I tried to give the group a little break as we still had "dessert" or more properly "sweets" to go! I normally find Japanese sweets to be a little too sweet and a bit cloying so I looked for a recipe that, while being authentic, might not be too sugary. I thought I found the perfect combination in Dorayaki. This sweet uses both Anko, the red bean paste common to many Japanese sweets, and little pancakes. Interesting… The final product looked like little mini-hamburgers! :-) And when I assembled them on the serving dish, I couldn’t help but think of Wimpy ("I will gladly pay you on Tuesday…" ) and his burgers! Along with the burgers, oops I mean, Dorayaki, I served a very special green tea that M’s mom had brought back from Japan for me a few months ago. They were actually kind of good and if I hadn’t been completely stuffed I might have said they were even better. Most of the group put a pretty good dent in theirs or ate it completely, which I thought was a good testimony considering how much we’d already had to eat.
After dinner we all found an "American" seat and tried not to fall asleep, while we rested our full bellies and finished sipping tea. :-)
We all enjoyed the interactive nature of this dinner. That’s something to keep in mind for the future. And, as we’ve seen in some of our other dinners, certain ingredients came up many times in various courses. I highlighted the tofu, which I must say I liked in all its renditions in this meal, and mushrooms, miso, garlic and soy all played key roles throughout this meal.