Minato – A Bit of Japan in Israel

20/05/ 2013, 3:11 pm Restaurant Reviews 1
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It’s always hard for me to come back to Israel after visiting my family and friends in Los Angeles. It’s the goodbyes, and not knowing when we are going to see each other again. It’s the fact that despite the jetlag- my trips there are a vacation-no dishes to wash, no laundry, no house to clean. And it’s the sushi.

I know I sound as shallow as a Kardashian right now, but it’s true. I love the sushi in Los Angeles, home to some of the greatest sushi joints in the country (Katsuya,Nobu, Urasawa,etc.) And when I arrive back in Israel, it generally takes me quite some time to eat sushi again, giving myself a buffer zone in time as to not remember the taste of fresh albacore quite so vividly.

But when Danya and I were invited to visit the Japanese restaurant, Minato, located in the heart of the Herziliya high-tech district, I was excited and yet quite skeptical having it been just a week after my trip to sushi-land (LA). I had heard really great things about this restaurant from people in the industry, but had yet to try it myself.

Disclaimer: I’m preggers, and am not eating raw fish, and therefore didn’t try some of the sushi and sashimi that they prepared for us, but I trust Danya’s word as if it was mine.

Albeit we were there during lunchtime, but the meal that they served was more characteristic of the food they serve for dinner. Eti, our server was surprisingly knowledgeable about Japan and the Japanese eating culture and started our meal out by proving us with the Shibori, the traditional hot towel served before meals. For starters we had two hot soups, a soba in a dashi broth and the agadashi tofu, both of which were packed with just the right balance of flavor and subtlety. The cold soba salad was in taste similar to the soba soup, just cold, and was quite refreshing. The highlight in the starters category was the Sea Bream dynamite, a soft white flaky fish covered in a traditional mildly spicy dynamite sauce that was a bit heavy but absolutely delicious.

For our main dishes, we were served the typical Izakya meal, meaning small dishes, destined to be shared deriving from the Japanese word of I (to stay) and sakaya (sake shop), where traditionally this type of meal would be served. Being that the restaurant is kosher, their dishes do not include any shell-fish (shrimp, crab). I thought this would be a disappointment for me, as I tend to steer clear of kosher restaurants, but I was delightfully surprised with the ingenuity of Japanese chef, Agison (I think they only one in Israel). The dishes that really stood out in this part of the meal were the Tuna tatake served with avocado and asparagus in a ponzu sauce, the Karagi special which was very lightly fried Spanish mackerel with a ginger, garlic and leek sauce and the beef Sukiyaki.

Going with the Izakya theme, I convinced Danya to order my pre-pregnancy drink of choice, Nigori Sake, the white, cloudy unfiltered cold kind. With me being delightfully full and Danya being delightfully tipsy, we didn’t have much room for the desserts, which were surprisingly quite un-Japanese.

My family and friends over there in far off LA can never be replaced, and neither can my LA sushi, but at least now I know that I have a really great place to go for authentic Japanese cuisine in the Middle East.

Minato

Address: Hamenofim 8, Herzilya Pituach

Phone: +972-9-7731703

Granola bars

17/04/ 2013, 3:47 pm Sweets, Uncategorized 3
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I have a fetish for supermarkets. When I visit a different country, one of my most favorite activities is to visit their local supermarket. For me it’s one of the most practical anthropological studies one can conduct. I just got back from a recent to Los Angeles, and besides family and friends, shopping and food, supermarket shopping is one of my favorite pastimes in the city.

My recent anthropological studies show that supermarkets in LA (mainly Trader Joes, Whole Foods) have perfected a technique to sell food which appears to be almost homemade, and packaged in a way that looks extremely healthy. This outer appearance of their products makes A. the shopping experience so much more delightful and B. gives you the feeling (erroneous or not) that what you are eating is actually healthier for you.

Back to Israel. I really do love my life here (sans the major missing the fam), and what I’ve come to appreciate is that my quality of life here is on par if not exceeding the quality of life in LA (which on paper is quite superior). The one major thing that gets me about life here though is the supermarkets. The supermarkets here are your basic-get-your-stuff-and-go type of shopping experience. I want my supermarket to be like a good pedicure- I don’t mind if the task lasts longer than expected. I’m missing those cleverly packaged items, made to look homemade and healthy.

Good thing I’ve got Danya around to make up for the lack of fabulous packaged snacks. She came up with this amazing recipe for homemade granola bars and even gave me the idea of wrapping them individually-she has a theory that her kids love a wrapped snack. I guess that’s her anthropological study.

The beauty of making your own homemade snacks is that you know exactly what goes into them, and with these granola bars, not only can you pronounce every ingredient, but most likely you have all the ingredients in your pantry. Tahini, a staple in Israeli cooking can be found at most health food stores and Middle Eastern supermarkets. The best part of this recipe is that it really is ridiculously simple to make- mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, and the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and then mix them. It’s as easy as making the simplest cookie. The trick here is to really let the granola bars completely cool in the baking dish before cutting them.

Ingredients for about 20 bars:

1⅔ cup rolled oats

½ cup dark brown sugar

⅓ cup whole wheat flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

¾ cup mini chocolate chips

⅓ cup tahini paste

¼ cup honey

2½ oz./ 6 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon water

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line an 11-inch by 7-inch baking pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl mix together all the dry ingredients-oats, sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, walnuts and chocolate chips.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining wet ingredients- tahini paste, honey, butter and water.
  4. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixtures are combined.  Pour mixture into the prepared baking pan, and use your fingers to gently press the mixture evenly into the pan.
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the sides turn golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely to room temperature before serving.
  6. Once cooled, remove the granola bars from the pan and cut into 1-inch by 3-inch rectangles.

 

Brisket, Celeriac Puree and Sweet and Sour Cabbage: Happy Passover

27/03/ 2013, 12:42 am Holidays, Main course, Side Dishes 1
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There are certain foods I grew up with in America that were known as Jewish food. When I first came to Israel I was sure that those “Jewish” foods would be readily available throughout the country. Take bagels for example, probably the most Jewish of foods you can find in America. I have still yet to find a good bagel in the country, and the ones I have found have been over-priced, hard, and nothing like the real “Jewish” American ones.

Brisket is another one of these foods. Every American Jewish mom has their own recipe for Brisket, which is actually a beef roast, synonymous with the name of cut the beef. All the briskets I tasted stateside have all shared a common denominator: cooked for hours in a sweet and savory gravy-like sauce. Here is Israel, I have yet to come across a brisket at the dinner table, even during the holidays.

This recipe was based on my mom’s famous brisket recipe, which always comes out perfectly soft, sweet and tangy, just the way it’s meant to be. But like most moms I know, my mom uses ingredients in her brisket that my generation loves to eat, but can’t bring themselves to cook with the stuff. My mom cooks her brisket for about 5 hours and bastes it every 30 minutes. If you have the time and will, go ahead and baste, but I found that tightly securing the meat does the same job.

Danya was in charge of bringing the recipes for the side dishes, and while I knew she was doing the celery root puree, she surprised me with the sweet and sour cabbage. What she didn’t know was that the brisket itself also incorporates sweet and savory flavors, but yet somehow she came up with a dish that was so perfectly fitting for the brisket.

Mom Inspired Brisket

To get this cut of meat in Israel ask your butcher (a few days in advance) for the cut known as “Brost” or cut number 3. This dish gets better with time, so I suggest making it a day in advance. After refrigeration, the large fat deposits float to the top and become solid, making it easy to remove. To reheat, simply place in the oven, covered for about 30 minutes before serving.

Ingredients for 8-10 servings:

2 cups beef stock

2 cups readymade jelly (I used apricot, but you can use any flavor)

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried thyme

3.5 kg/8 pound brisket

15 garlic cloves

5 medium onions, sliced

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF/180ºC.
  2. In a large bowl mix together the beef stock, jelly, salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, oregano and thyme.
  3. Season the brisket generously with salt and pepper. Use a sharp knife to poke 15 holes throughout the brisket. Stuff the holes with garlic cloves.
  4. Line the bottom of your baking pan with the sliced onion and place the brisket directly on top of the onions. Pour the prepared sauce over the brisket.
  5. Cover the meat tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 3-4 hours, until the meat is very tender, but not falling apart.
  6. Remove meat to a cutting board and slice into ¼-inch (½ cm.) slices. If you like your sauce smooth, then blend the sauce and the strain. (We served ours chunky, just the way it came out of the oven).

Celeriac Puree

When we were in France last month, we ate the most velvety celery root puree served with roasted lamb at Spring. When we got back from France, Danya was inspired by the big and beautiful celery roots in season now, that she was inspired to recreate the dish. What’s important to take note of in this recipe is that due to the face that every potato and celery root are different sizes, keep in mind that the ratio should be ⅔ celery root and ⅓ potatoes.

Ingredients for 8-10 servings:

3 large celeriac, peeled and cut into large cubes (about 3 pounds/1½ kilos)

5 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes

1 tablespoon salt

½ cup heavy cream

3.5 oz./100 grams butter, melted

Salt and fresh ground pepper, according to taste

Preparation:

  1. Fill a large pot with water and celeriac, potatoes and the tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes, until both are softened.
  2. Strain the celeriac and potatoes from the water, retaining a ½ cup of the cooking water.
  3. Place the celeriac and potatoes in a large bowl and add the heavy cream and butter. Blend with a hand blender until smooth, but making sure not to over blend where it becomes paste-like. If the mix seems too thick, add a bit of the cooking water.
  4. Season with salt and pepper according to taste and serve warm.

 

Sweet and Sour Cabbage

If you are preparing this dish without making the brisket as well, replace the sauce from the brisket with a bit more butter, olive oil and lemon juice.

Ingredients for 8-10 servings:

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 medium heads of red cabbage, thinly sliced

2 oz./50 grams, butter

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon coarse salt

3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

¼ cup of the sauce retained from the brisket

Preparation:

  1. Heat the olive oil in large pan over medium heat and add the onions. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, until onions are translucent. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another 2 minutes.
  2. Add the chopped cabbage, reduce heat and cook, while stirring for about 10 minutes, until the cabbage is softened.
  3. Add the butter, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and salt and cook on low heat for an additional 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat, add the lemon juice and the brisket sauce and season with salt and pepper according to taste.
  5. Serve warm with a drizzle of olive oil, on top of the celeriac puree.

 

Three Day Instense Food Photography and Styling Workshop

21/03/ 2013, 11:33 am food photography, Recommendations 2
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It’s been over two years since Danya and I taught our first food photography and styling course, and since then we have had 7(!!) amazing courses, with our eighth underway. In the past few months we’ve received many emails from people wanting to take our course, and we’ve been brainstorming about a course that would be for a wider audience. One that would include photographing  both inside and outside of a studio setting, and one that would be available for those who can’t participate in a mid-week course.

So here it is! An intense three day (weekend) food photography and styling workshop. We looked for a location that would provide us with inspiration, in both the culinary and photography fields, a place that would have soul and provide us with that vacation feeling. And so we found it: Nazareth.

Located in the northern part of Israel, Nazareth is divided into the old city and the newer part of town. Our workshop will take place in the old city, where the cobblestone streets and alleys make even the most Israeli citizen feel like they have traveled to worlds and beyond.

We will be hosting the workshop in the renowned Fauzi Azar Inn, a quaint old mansion renovated into a unique and charming guesthouse, located right next to the Nazareth Souq (Market). We were given a excellent tour of the city by Gil Lahav, a local Israeli tour guide, who helped us put together an incredible itinerary for the 3-day workshop.

So what’s on the itinerary:

Lectures on the following topics: light, composition, styling, food prep, etc.

A tour of the souq (market), which will include a session on spontaneous food photography and collecting styling accessories.

Two studio sessions (each with a different emphasis on photography and styling)

A surprise which will incorporate the local food of Nazareth and food photography…

The details:

When: May 2-5, 2013

Where: Fauzi Azar Inn, Nazareth

Who is it for: those that have basic knowledge of photography (not necessarily food related). The course is also suitable for those who have taken our course in the past.

What equipment is necessary: a digital SLR camera and a tripod.

Why: Because it will be a weekend filled with photography, food and styling. What could be better?

For prices and registration email us @ matkontion@gmail.com

Paris Luck

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One sunny winter fall morning a few months ago, Danya and I were having a business meeting regarding an upcoming project, when they guy we were having the meeting with mentioned that he was going to Paris in February for an international cookbook festival.

Danya looked at me. Paris. Cookbook festival. You and me. She didn’t have to even say the words out loud. Within days we had the whole thing booked. Flight,check. Apartment, check. The last thing I had to do to prep for the trip was to do research in the culinary department. (Those that know me well enough know that I’m not the kind to fly to Paris without an exact culinary itinerary).

My work life and personal life were so hectic in the few weeks leading up to the trip that I didn’t have the time to do the proper research. Literally three days before the flight, I found a hole in my busy schedule and sat on the computer to research away. Once I had the document ready with all the relevant information (restaurant names, addresses, opening hours) and a google map to go along with it, I began emailing and calling the restaurants to make reservations.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when not one of the places had a single place on any of the five days we were going to be there. But yet that didn’t stop me from still trying, asking to be placed on the waiting lists for lunches, dinners, whenever!

For five days in Paris we ate. We ate a lot and we ate well. In the food department we had what we called “Paris luck”. Here are two of those experiences.

Spring Restaurant

“Spring is a prix fixe menu of what we like to eat.  It is a very personal exploration of French cooking.  It is what happens when the market meets our appetite. The menu changes weekly, sometimes more often.  We are cooks, waiters, and wine enthusiasts:  all trying to provide a good time”.- From the Spring website.

Spring was one of those places on my list that I really really hoped we would be able to go to. Our flight landed in Paris on a Thursday afternoon, and by the time we got to the apartment it was around 5:00PM. We got our wifi set up, checked my email, and there it was. An email from Spring, saying a reservation had opened up that night for 7:00PM, if we were interested. Yes of course we are, I wrote them back immediately. And so it was our first meal in Paris, reservation and all.

It was a six course prix fixe meal, without any of the stuffiness I had heard about at typical expensive French restaurants. The wait staff were really laid back and very explanatory, albeit in a quite a heavy accent.

The food was incredible and walked the fine line between simple cooking with outstanding ingredients and complex cooking, with layer after layer of flavor and depth. I won’t go into everything we ate, but I can say I ate the best oyster, soup, sole fish and lamb that I have every had- in one meal.

Spring

6 Rue Bailleul, 75001 Paris, France

+33 1 45 96 05 72

Tricotin

I knew I would never be able to get a table at Le Severo without a reservation, and so I called a few times hoping to snatch a table at this steak haven.  Twice there was no answer and once a man picked up and said he didn’t speak English. I had to move to plan B. On our last day, Monday, we would show up at the restaurant at 12:30, just when the doors opened and we would be sure to get a seat. We started that morning out early at the Pompidou Museum of Modern Art, and got caught up there longer than we planned.  We got on the subway at around 1:30PM to head to the restaurant, which was quite a distance away. I had a good feeling, as our Paris luck had been following us around since Spring. We arrived at the door at 2:07, and I noticed there were several places available. We were in. Or so I thought. The man at the door looked at us and said, we stop serving at 2:00. I couldn’t move (a bit of shock+5 days of running around Pairs+freezing cold weather). We begged. Told him the truth, our flight was that night, that we came all this way. He said “come back tomorrow”. As we left the place with our heads down, my glance caught a plate on the table next to the door. That looked like the best steak and french fries I had ever seen.  Our Paris luck had ended, or so we thought.

We decided to go meet Danya’s brother who was moving into his new apartment in Paris just next to China town. On the subway on the way there I started checking my IPhone app, Paris Time-Out for places to eat in Chinatown.  I marked down a spot and we were on our way there, by this time (3:00PM), starving, and freezing and just pretty annoyed. We walk into this place, which looks like an enlarged hole in the wall and make our way to one of the many open tables, while checking out the food of the diners who we passed. Every dish smelled and looked amazing. We got the menu, which was in English (!) and started ordering-Danya took a beef Pho soup and I took a shrimp dumpling ramen soup. Both were so deliciously flavorful, that we decided we had to try more of what the kitchen had to offer. We ordered dim sum, spring rolls and pork buns, and everything we tried was perfectly prepared, seasoned and executed. We would’ve  ordered more if we had any more room.

Tricotin

15 Avenue de Choisy, 75013 Paris, France

+33 1 45 84 74 44

 

 

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