Cooking Lessons
Is that romance in the air? Or is it dinner?

Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin is property of Nobuhiro Watsuki, JUMP Comics,
Sony and...ummm...some other people, but most importantly, not me.

Rating: PG. Fun with daikons, but not in the perverted sense.

Spoilers: Nooooo

A/N: Recipes included at the end!

Part I: Breakfast

Kenshin woke early, as was his habit, and padded to the bathhouse to take a
quick bath in the cold water. He found that using the unheated water helped
him best shake off the remnants of sleep. He bathed and dressed quickly,
tying his damp red hair back into its usual ponytail before padding into the
kitchen to see about making some breakfast. A ravenous Yahiko had finished
the last of the miso soup the day before, so the rurouni searched the
shelves for the necessary ingredients to make more.

He found the kelp and dried bonito and turned up enough miso paste to flavor
the stock. He made a mental note to buy more the next time they went to the
market, which was probably going to be later that day since he planned on
using the rest of the tofu in the soup.

Humming a nameless tune, he picked up the water bucket and made a quick trip
to the well to get the water for his soup. The sun had almost completely
risen and he paused for a moment to breathe in the fresh morning air and
quietly welcome a new day in his peaceful world where his sword skills only
guaranteed that the tofu would be cut into perfect squares to rest at the
bottom of a bowl. He smiled at the thought and went back into the kitchen.

When Kaoru found him a half an hour later, he was standing over her
grandmother's old black kettle, coaxing the water to boil with low words of
encouragement, a 3 inch square of dried kelp clutched in his hand, waiting
to be dropped in the moment the water began to roll.

"A watched pot doesn't boil, Kenshin." She said, her amusement clearly
evident.

He looked up at her with his usual rurouni smile. "Good morning,
Kaoru-dono." He said, his eyes drifting back to the pot. "Oro?" The moment
he had looked away, the water began to bubble.

Kaoru laughed. "See?"

He chuckled and tossed the kelp in, watching until it sank to the bottom of
the pot. He waited until the water began to bubble again and then deftly
fished out the kelp with a slotted spoon and put it aside on a neatly folded
square of cloth. "Kaoru-dono, could you hand me the katsuobushi, please?" He
asked.

She nodded and handed him the dried bonito that he had already measured out.
She watched as she stirred it into the boiling water and then promptly
removed the kettle from the heat. She liked to watch him cook. The practical
reason was because she hoped to learn something that might make her cooking
less toxic. The more impractical reason, which she would never admit, was
because it comforted her to find him doing something so mundane. That the
hitokiri Battousai stood in her kitchen every morning and quietly coaxed
water to boil made her feel like he was home. That he would never leave.

Her mind wandered as she watched him skim the surface of the broth with a
spoon, and then spread a double thickness of cloth over another large pot
before pouring the broth into it to drain through. He worked with such care,
such precision. Idly, she wondered where he had learned to do such things.

"Kenshin?"

"Hmm?" He replied his attention half on her and half on the draining soup.

"Where did you learn how to cook?"

He straightened and turned his full attention to her, turning around to gaze
at her with a rather surprised look.

"Where...?"

She nodded and suddenly it occurred to her that perhaps her innocent
question might stir up bad memories for him. She tensed slightly and awaited
his response.

He turned back around and scooped out the katsuobushi and placed it
alongside the discarded kelp to be used later in another broth.

"I picked it up here and there." He replied lightly.

"Oh." Kaoru felt the hesitation in his response and mentally berated herself
for asking and then him for having a past that made asking even innocent
questions a gamble.

He seemed to realize that his answer had upset her and he decided to offer
her a more detailed answer.

"My mother taught me how to make this stock. I used to help her cook." He
offered, turning around to smile at Kaoru. After a second of surprise, she
returned his smile. He gathered up the remainder of the tofu and a scallion,
which he planned to use to garnish the soup with.

"Would you like me to help you?" Kaoru asked after a moment.

Kenshin was too diplomatic to refuse her help, and, his mind reasoned that
if he taught her how to cook, then he wouldn't spend hours curled up in a
ball of agony after eating her food. "Sure. Why don't you chop the scallion
and tofu while I flavor the stock."

She smiled brightly and grabbed a knife from the wall rack.

"Just cut the tofu into small cubes." He said, dividing his attention
between her and the miso paste that he was forcing through a sieve with a
large spoon. She cut the first few chunks too large.

"No, not that big, Kaoru-dono." He said, "Just a little bit smaller." He
nodded with approval when she cut the next cubes the right size.

She quickly cut the soybean curd into small cubes and then moved to the
scallion. Kenshin watched her and shook his head when she cut a huge chunk.

"Too thick, Kaoru-dono." He admonished gently. She pouted and tried again,
but the rounds were still too thick.
"Here, let me show you." He put down the spoon and walked behind her, gently
taking her hands in his.
She froze at the contact, her face immediately turning red. Kenshin ignored
this and concentrated instead on her small hands and the knife she held in
them. "Hold the knife like this." He murmured into her ear, his breath a
heated tickle. She had to fight the urge to lean back into him, his warmth
was so inviting, so safe.


"Then you just shave off a very thin piece, like this..." He guided her
hands gently, showing her the correct way to cut the scallion. He then
relinquished her hands and watched as she mimicked him, shaving off perfect
thin rounds.

"Perfect." He said, favoring her with another smile before turning his
attention back to his soup. Kaoru finished chopping the scallion despite the
weakness in her knees and the flush on her face. While she worked, her mind
began to formulate a plan. She and Kenshin had never had this kind of
closeness or rapport, he was rarely this relaxed. Maybe...just maybe...that
brief touch of his hands, the warmth of his chest against her back as he
patiently taught her...maybe with time and a little extra effort on her
part, those brief moments could be turned into something truly wonderful.
And, her cooking would improve. As far as Kaoru could see, there was no down
side to the idea that was germinating in her mind.

"Ne, Kenshin?"

"Hai, Kaoru-dono?"

"Could you teach me how to cook?"


Recipes...

Ichiban Dashi: Basic Soup Stock


Ichiban dashi is a cornerstone of Japanese cooking-the Japanese equivalent
of our chicken and beef stocks. Like them, it is used as the cooking stock
for many meat, poultry and fish dishes and becomes a soup in itself with the
addition of various garnishes. Ichiban dashi is made easily and quickly from
packages, easy-to-store items.

To make 2 1/2 quarts

2 1/2 quarts cold water
A 3-inch square kombu (dried kelp), cut with a heavy knife from a sheet of
packaged kombu and washed under cold running water.
1 cup pre-flaked katsuobushi (dried bonito)

Pour 2 1/2 quarts of cold water into a 4-to-6 quart pan and, over high heat,
bring it to a boil. Drop in the kombu, let the water come just to the
boiling point again, then immediately remove the kombu from the pan with
tongs or a slotted spoon and set it aside. Stir the katsuobushi into the
boiling water and turn off the heat. Let the stock rest undisturbed for
about 2 minutes, or until the katsuobushi sinks to the bottom of the pan,
then skim any surface scum with a large spoon. Place a double thickness of
cheesecloth or a clean cloth napkin in a sieve set over a large bowl, pour
in the stock and let it drain through undisturbed. Remove the katsuobushi
and set it aside.
The stock may now be used as the base for a soup or stew, or as a cooking
base. Although best if freshly prepared for each occasion, ichiban dashi can
remain at room temperature up to 8 hours with appreciable loss of flavor. Or
it can be cooled to room temperature, covered with plastic wrap and
refrigerated as long as 2 days.

Misoshiro
Clear soup with soybean paste

Aka miso (summer miso soup)
6 cups ichiban dashi
1/2 cup aka miso (red soybean paste)
MSG (so this book is a little dated. Use salt or an MSG substitute)

Prepare ahead: Place the 6 cups of dashi in a 2-quart saucepan and set a
sieve over the pan. With the back of a large spoon, rub the miso through the
sieve, moistening it from time to time with some of the dashi to help force
it through more easily.
To cook and serve: Bring the soup to a simmer over moderate heat. Then
remove from the heat and stir in a small pinch of MSG (or don't. hee hee)
Pour the soup into bowls, add a garnish and serve at once. If the soup seems
to be separating, stir to recombine it.

Tofu and scallions garnish

A 6-ounce cake of tofu (soybean curd) cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 scallion, including the green stem, sliced into very thin rounds.

When the soup simmers, drop in the tofu and simmer 1-minute. Pour into soup
bowls, garnish with scallions and serve.