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Archive for October, 2009

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I wanted to make my own spaghetti sauce this past Monday for our meatless dinner. I was disappointed that Stanley’s didn’t have any canned tomatoes Monday morning when I went shopping for my veggies. I was going to make a mushroom ragu with basil, but those plans went out the window because I didn’t feel like cruising to any other stores just for a can of crushed tomatoes. I knew I had an unopened jar of Whole Foods Marinara sauce, so I figured I’d just doctor that up instead of running around town all morning.

I diced up some onion, carrots, and cremini mushrooms then sauteed them in olive oil for about 5 minutes or so with garlic. Then I dumped half the jar of marinara and a half cup of red wine and let them come to a simmer. I tossed in some soft goat cheese and let it melt into the sauce. Seasoned to taste with salt and pepper. Turned off the heat and tossed in a bunch of fresh basil. Then I tossed it with al dente spaghetti. Easy as can be.

I still had a bunch of hummus left that I had to use, so instead of garlic bread we had toast with hummus instead. It worked well since there’s a ton of garlic in my hummus.

Next week’s Meatless Monday will be much more interesting. I promise.

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So, yesterday was my wife’s birthday. I won’t tell you how old she is now, you should never ask a woman her age. Needless to say, she’s still younger and better looking than me. For this year’s birthday dinner I took her to L2O. I know, I know. I’m unemployed and shouldn’t spend that kind of money right now. But hey, what can you do? I have to say, we were both extremely impressed and satisfied by what transpired at the dinner table last night.

First of all, we were fortunate enough to have found a parking spot right in front of the restaurant. No easy task in Lincoln Park. We knew all would be well when that happened. Saved me $12 on valet!

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The interior was perfect for the concept of Laurent Gras’s food. French sophistication with Japanese minimalism. It was really nice inside. The one weird thing we’re not used to is how they sat us. We got a 4 top to ourselves, but they sat us next to each other instead of across from each other. Our necks hurt a little bit since we had to turn our head to converse, but that’s being nitpicky.

We opted for the 4 course pre-fix. Our choice of one item from the Raw section, one from the Warm section, one from the Main, and one dessert. To be quite honest, deciding what to order might possibly have been the hardest decisions we’ve had to make in years! Everything sounded great. You can see the menu on their website, so you’ll understand what I mean.

Before we ordered we got not one, but two amuse buches. The first was a small little layered octopus and potato thing with a spicy soy paste underneath. It was the perfect little starter. Clean, fresh, and just enough spice to get our taste buds rolling. The second was a little…. you know what? I don’t remember what it was. I do remember it being delicious. You’d think I’d remember something from last night, but then again, my short-term memory is a little off.

tuna foie

From the Raw section Yuki ordered the Tuna and I ordered the Peekytoe Crab. The Tuna was served with little squares of tomato on top, hibiscus stems along the surface, little dollops of some sort of creamy sauce, and foie gras snow. I can only imagine that it’s frozen foie that’s been grated. It was a truly magnificent dish. Very elegant and buttery but not oily or greasy.

crab and avocado

My Crab was a little lighter but not quite as elegant. It was served in a mound with a sliced avocado dome around it. Around the avocado mound was kaffir lime jelly and lemon oil. The crab was probably the best crab meat I’ve ever eaten. The sweetness shined through all of the tart citrus with the avocado’s creaminess adding depth.

lobster bisque

For the Warm course Yuki ordered the Lobster Bisque. It was a boiled lobster claw with chestnuts and lobster/scallop dumplings. Table service lobster bisque broth was poured over it. I didn’t try the lobster claw, but Yuki claims that she’s never ever had lobster with such a soft texture. I did try a little of the dumpling and judging from that I’d have to say that Yuki’s right about the lobster. Easily the best bisque of all time.

lamb tartar

I got the Lamb Tartare. In a circle mold they layered the bottom with the freshest raw lamb I’ve ever seen. On top of that was a layer of raw diced shiro ebi (sweet shrimp). Then, on top of that was a few sliced of pickled peach and some tarragon. I think it was gold fleck on top of that, but I can’t be sure. The sliminess of the shrimp and the sourness of the pickled peach combined with the herbal notes of the tarragon so well that you hardly even knew you had lamb underneath. It was such a clean taste that nothing seemed raw. As such, I think it belongs in the raw section, but I’m not complaining because then I’d have to have chosen between that and the crab.

On to the main course. Yuki’s Tai Snapper with Deconstructed Green Curry (I couldn’t find a pic online) was a masterpiece. The Snapper seems to have been steamed with lemon zest on top. It was so moist and delicious. There was some coconut sauce, dollops of some sort of spicy chili sauce. A brown sugar tuille. The coolest part were the parsley merengues. They were brought out getting frozen in liquid nitrogen and served tableside. They were so light and airy that they melted in your mouth making you wonder if you had even eaten anything at all. But the flavor was pure parsley. Genius! When you put everything together it really tasted like green curry. Wonderful deconstruction job. Her only complaint was that she wanted white rice with it. But, she’s Japanese. She wants white rice with everything.

pork belly

I got the Pork Belly. Three thick slices of pork belly that had been seared in duck fat. Served with thin slices of potato, scalloped potato, and pureed potato in the scalloped potato. On top of everything they poured some truffle sauce. It was decadence on a plate! I can’t begin to describe to you just exactly what that crisp pig skin fried in duck fat did to my digestive tracts, but I will say this…it was a beautiful thing! My only complaint is that I couldn’t quite finish everything on the plate. I hate to waste food. (please note that the pic I found on Google only shows one slice, I was served three with three potatoes.)

Before dessert they sent out another amuse buche. This was a little ramekin filled with Meyer Lemon Marshmallow. It was super tart the second it hit our tongues, but almost immediately subsided into just a really palette cleansing citrus. It was the perfect thing to prepare us for dessert.

Dessert was two different souffles. One was a Grand Marnier, the other was a Bailey’s and Frangelico. Of course, he got the souffles just right. Super fluffy with a mild egg taste. They spooned a hole in at the table to pour in the alcohol. Absolutely scrumptious!

We weren’t quite done yet. After dessert they sent out these interesting pastry concoctions that the pastry chef came up with. In a small bundt shaped mold they poured some beeswax, let it burn a little to carmelize, then filled it with custard. I’ve never had anything quite like it.

But, there was still more. What meal is complete without chocolate? Our server brought out a loaf of some of the richest, creamiest chocolate mouse of all time! So good, so so good!

When we were done, Tony, the general manager, gave us a quick tour of the kitchen. Laurent Gras was back there with his army of chefs cooking away. It’s great to see a restaurant where the head chef is actually doing the cooking. Too often the big name chefs are never in the kitchen, having their sous chefs handle everything. Not here. Laurent is such a perfectionist that he tends the kitchen almost every single night. The man is tireless. I’m damn glad he is!

It wasn’t cheap, but when you feel like splurging for a special dinner you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place than L2O. It truly is a gem among Chicago restaurants.

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I took the easy way out for this past Meatless Monday adventure. I found a packet of Japanese Curry in my cabinet and decided to use it up. I don’t know if you can buy Japanese Curry packets at regular grocers, but it is available at almost any Asian market. It comes in a box with two packets and comes in different spice levels. I like the spicy, but it does come mild and medium.

At any rate, we usually eat this with either chicken, beef, or pork as the protein. Being Meatless Monday I used tofu instead. Not all that creative, but still delicious and healthy.

For this batch I chopped up a whole onion into about 1/3 of an inch chunks. I also cut up a green pepper, red pepper, carrot, and some potatoes (all about the same size as the onion chunks). I wanted them cut a little larger since they’d be stewing for a while. If they’re too small they can disintegrate.

In a hot stew pot I put in a little soy oil and then the onions and carrots. After they sweated a little I added the peppers so they could sweat too. Then I added the potatoes. After about 5 minutes or so I added 3 cups of water. That was a bit of a mistake on my part. The package said to add 3 cups, but my wife told me that in Japan a cup is much smaller. Not sure why that is, but it was a little too much water. To fix that I just boiled it down a little longer without covering to pot to let the water evaporate. If I had the proper amount I would have covered it. Next time I’ll only add 2 cups.

Once the veggies were cooked through I broke up the curry cube into 4 pieces and added them one at a time to mix them in completely. You’ll want to let it simmer for a little bit to let the curry sauce thicken, otherwise it’ll be too soupy.

All the while this was going on I had taken some silken tofu and pressed it to firm it up a little and rid it of some water. To do this I took a plate and lined it with a few paper towels. I put the tofu on top and then covered it with a few more paper towels and laid a cutting board on top. I put some weight on the cutting board and let it press the water out of the tofu in the fridge for about an hour.

Once the tofu was a little firmer I cut it into cubes and stirred it gently into the curry. I let the curry cook with the tofu for about 10-15 minutes over a lower heat to let some of the flavors absorb into the tofu.

I served it simply with white rice and drank it down with a cold beer. Just for my friend Tsutomu I did not add a hard boiled egg. Actually, I never do for this type of Japanese Curry.

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It’s starting to get damn cold here in Chicago. In Japan, when it gets cold out, they start eating Shabu-shabu which is a Japanese hotpot. It’s called Shabu-shabu because of the sound the thinly sliced meat makes when you slosh it around in the broth to cook. I didn’t make this one, this dish is one of my wife’s responsibilities.

To start, she had to make the broth. Typically it’s Konbu (kelp) boiled in water. We didn’t have any Konbu, so she used Niboshi, dried anchovies. A good handful boiled in water for a bit and you get a really nice healthy broth.

To the broth she added shiitake and enoki mushrooms, green onion, and shanghai cabbage. That was left to cook for about 10 minutes in the boiling broth. If I hadn’t forgotten carrots at the store she would have added them as well. Daikon also makes regular appearances in Shabu-shabu.

After the veggies cooked a little she added tofu and konnyaku, a firm gelatinous cake-like ingredient made from yam starch. Then the pot was brought to the table and left to simmer on our table-top propane burner (something every Japanese household has).

In our bowls we poured a little ponzu, a soy sauce product with yuzu citrus juice and a little vinegar mixed in, and a couple ladles of the broth. Then we picked and chose which veggies we wanted and dipped them in our bowls before eating. All the while taking slices of the pork (we picked up some thinly sliced kurobuta pork at Mitsuwa) and sloshing them around the broth to cook. A side of white rice to complete the chow.

This a the perfect winter dish to have with a cold beer. It’s fun, delicious, and very healthy since there are no added oils or anything. Just make sure your meat, whether using pork or beef, is very thinly sliced so that it cooks quickly in the broth.

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So, we just started with an idea Yuki had a while back which is to not eat meat at least one day of the week. This is a very difficult concept for me to digest seeing as beef is my favorite vegetable followed closely by lamb. However, after going through the Food, Inc. the movie website I started to get on board with the Meatless Monday thing. Last night was the first installment.

Taking a cue from Indian cooking I decided to do a sort of vegetable curry type of thing. I got some cauliflower, chickpeas, carrots, onions, potatoes, and spinach and threw them together.

I first steamed the potatoes for a few minutes before cutting them into cubes so that the cooking time in the pan would be reduced. I threw some garlic and ginger in hot soy oil for a few minutes. The dumped in the onions and carrots. About 5 minutes or so later I added half of the head of cauliflower broken into small florets. A few minutes later went in the potatoes and some salt. Once everything was heated up I added the sauce I made.

The base of the sauce was a cup of plain yogurt. I added some garam masala and mixed it in. I have absolutely no idea how much. I dumped some in, stirred it around, tasted it, dumped in some more. Just add however much you like. Then I added some finely grated lime rind, a tablespoon or so of soy sauce, a pinch of salt, the juice of one lime, and some pepper.

Once the sauce fully coated all of the veggies I threw in some spinach and turned off the heat. I only wanted the spinach to wilt a little. Then I sprinkled on some sesame seeds.

I served it with some white rice and a hard boiled egg. Since an egg was never a living bird it’s fair game for Meatless Monday’s.

I think it will be hard to cook vegetarian, but I’m up for the task. Tonight I have to do something with the other half of cauliflower and the yogurt. I’ll let you know what I come up with.

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It’s starting to get cold here in Chicago, that means less grilling and more braising. My first braise of the season was a batch of beef short ribs. One of the most flavorful cuts. Nice and fatty, lots of bone marrow, what could be better?

First, I browned them in a big pot with some olive oil to get some nice color then set them aside. Then I added onions, carrots, celery, and garlic. After about 5 minutes, when the veggies were translucent, I dumped in two cups of red wine and let it boil for a few minutes. I added three cups of beef stock, a quarter cup of balsamic vinegar, two bay leaves, a tablespoon of coriander seeds, and a bunch of thyme. Let it come to a boil and added salt and pepper. Then I returned the short ribs, covered the pot tightly, and put into a preheated oven at 250 degrees.

After 5 hours in the oven to took the pot out and removed the short ribs. The meat was tender that the bones fell right off, it sent tingles down my spine. I put the meat in a dish and tented it with foil to keep it from losing moisture and strained the braising liquid into a bowl and let it cool to room temperature allowing the fat to rise to the top. I scraped off the fat and returned the liquid to a pot and boiled for about 45 minutes so it could reduce. Then I added a little corn starch slurry to thicken it up to a more velvety texture and added a bunch of chopped parsley. There was my gravy.

I made some creamy garlic mashed potatoes along with quickly stir-fryed carrots, onions, and haricots vert to serve alongside.

Once everything was ready I put the short ribs back into the oven at 400 for 10 minutes to reheat them and then plated everything up. It was one of the best short ribs I’ve ever eaten in my life! The perfect thing for a chilly night.

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