KONNICHIWA and Happy Labor Day from Tokyo!
As the jet lag wears off and I adjust to the neon-lit signs of karaoke halls, electronic stores, my humid sub-tropical drenched trousers, and the sun sets and night life kicks in around 5pm, I'm reminded how lucky I am to be somewhere new every few weeks. I always stop and reflect on how grateful I am to have this opportunity. Food, as is always the case, is my weakness and biggest thrill while traveling.
However, when the language barrier between you and the woman serving you (while she's holding up a piece of half cooked brown mysterymeat with a thick glazed coating) and you're chocked up to pointing to pictures on the menu, reality quickly sets in that sometimes the best meals on the road are the ones you cook for yourself. In some cases, pointing to the guy next to you at the counter and miming the old standard "I'll have what he's having" works like a charm but I can't solely rely on this tactic.
This brought me to my next question...How can one prepare a meal using only the tools found in a hotel room - without standard appliances like a microwave and a hot plate? If MacGyver booked a room at the Hampton Inn, how would he fashion a classic combination like a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup using only appliances on hand?
I decided to try my hand at the challenge of hotel room cookery and guess what...it works ! I always travel with a mini blender (for my morning kale smoothies) and a hot water kettle. I used an iron and tin foil as my skillet, the hot water kettle I travel with to fill up the sink as a hot water submersion (the French call this hot bath a sous-vide) for my tomato soup, and a coffee maker to heat up the soup. It's a little unconventional and may take a little longer than your kitchen at home but just go with me here. Once you're frying bacon on your iron, (a) you'll be smiling from your scientific ingenuity and (b) rewarded a beautiful satisfying meal at the end. For tomato soup in a saucepan, I would normally use all fresh tomatoes but for this impromptu method I found that going half fresh and half canned (or all canned) works just fine. A note on the coffee maker: do a run with water beforehand to make sure any extra debris like coffee grounds are washed out and run sudsy water through it afterwards so the next hotel guest doesn't have a savory cup of joe.
TOOLS YOU'LL NEED:
Mini Blender (like the 'magic bullet' or 'Ninja')
Iron (and something to place it on upside down)
Ziplock freezer bag
Knife (butter knife or steak knife work fine)
Fork and Spoon (plastic is fine)
GRILLED CHEESE (BRIE + BACON + BLACKBERRY) AND TOMATO BASIL SOUP
3 fresh plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 - 14 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
2 shallots, roughly sliced
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Small handful of basil
1 chicken bouillon cube soaked in 3/4 cup hot water from the kettle
1 pint blackberries
1 sugar packet
1/2 lemon, juiced
2-3 oz of brie cheese
2 rashers thick bacon, cut in half
2 large croissants, sliced through and buttered
1 packet butter
Ok, lets get cooking. Fill your kettle with water and heat until boiling. Place all your tomatoes in the bag along with shallots, garlic and olive oil. Roll up the bag from the bottom up so as much air pushes out as possible to create a vacuum and seal. Plug up your sink. If it isn't holding water properly, an ice bucket works fine. Place the bag in the sink and pour over your hot water and let sit for at least 20 minutes.
While the tomatoes are breaking down in the hot water, tear off a footlong sized sheet of tinfoil and wrap it around your iron, creating a 1/2 inch lip around the edge and turn on the iron to the highest setting. When hot, place the bacon on the iron and cook both sides until browned and crispy. You can either hold it yourself or find a spot where it can sit upright without falling. Be patient. When it's browned and crispy, set aside.
Now assemble the grilled cheese. Place your blackberries in a cup with lemon juice and sugar and mash with a fork. Open your croissant, slather a good amount of brie on bottom side, spoon the blackberries over and top, add bacon and close sandwich. Don't worry about cleaning the iron unless there is excess bacon grease. Place the sandwich on the iron and let it brown. Depending on the iron it may take 5-10 minutes on each side so be patient.
Remove the bag of tomatoes from the water and add the basil and chicken stock and stir around. In batches, pour the tomato mixture into your blender and puree until smooth. Be sure it's completely smooth, otherwise it won't pass properly through the coffee maker. Once it's all pureed smooth, in batches we'll pass through the coffee maker and empty into a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. Remove the grilled cheese from the iron, cut in half and tuck in!