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Archive for April, 2010

Last night I used up ingredients that were already in my fridge. Fresh vegetables don’t last forever, so I use them up within a couple of days after purchasing them. I decided to make a nice soup and get some salmon to grill alongside it.

For the soup, I started by sweating down half an onion, a carrot, and a rib of celery (all chopped) in some olive oil. After about 7 minutes I tossed in 2 crushed garlic cloves. A couple of minutes later I added a half of a yellow bell pepper chopped. I let that all sweat out for a few more minutes.

Then I dumped in one 14oz can of diced tomatoes (no salt added), one cup of chicken stock, and 1.5 cups of water. I stirred that all around and seasoned with some salt. There was a Parmigiano Reggiano rind in my cheese drawer, I try not to through them away once the grateable part of the cheese is used for reasons like this, so I dropped that in as well. By doing so a subtle sharpness is added to both the taste and aroma, you can tell there’s Parmigiano in there. Once that started to boil I covered the pot and simmered over a med-low heat for about 20 minutes.

I had a zucchini in my fridge from the day before, so I chopped that up and added it along with a half cup of Israeli couscous that was sitting in my cabinet. Then I let the soup simmer for another 10 minutes.

All I did to the salmon was rub some olive oil over the flesh, then salt and pepper. I grilled it to get the skin crisp.

To serve, I drizzled a little balsamic vinegar on the salmon and garnished with some fresh basil. I also sliced up a handful of basil and added it to the soup along with some black pepper just before serving. White rice was also on the menu.

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Last night’s dinner is probably the easiest thing in the world to make, chicken thighs and vegetables grilled. That’s basically it. What better way to enjoy fresh ingredients?

I took some skin-on bone-in chicken thighs and rubbed some olive oil into the skin then salted and peppered them. I cut one Chinese eggplant in half lengthwise, same with a zucchini. I cut up one and half yellow bell peppers into 1/3 inch strips. I cut a red onion in half and then each half into eighths (this sounds like I’m doing something entirely different) keeping the root end intact to keep the wedges together. I also took two tomatoes and cut them in half. I drizzled all of the vegetables with olive oil.

Then I threw everything on the grill. I started the chicken skin-side down to get it nice and crispy. I let all of the vegetables cook until just before they started to char. Then I took everything off the grill.

While the chicken was resting I cut the vegetables down into chunks and threw them into a large bowl. In the bowl I poured in about 1.5 tablespoons of balsamic vinager (so it’s technically not a grilled ratatouille), a little more olive oil, a handful of thinly sliced fresh basil, salt, and pepper. I tossed it all around for an even coat. I plated it all with some white rice. Simple as that.

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So, last night’s Meatless Monday was an absolute disaster. I have no desire to fill you in on what I made. I’m just damn glad it wasn’t in front of my brother-in-law like last week cause I’d never hear the end of it. I still get shit for a failed attempt at Nudi Ravioli from he and my sister. Instead of writing about last night’s mess I want to tell you about a successful vegetarian endeavour from a few weeks ago.

Yuki and I were invited to a pot-luck, so I decided to make these baked vegetables in golden crust. It was cheap, simple, and absolutely delicious!

To start, I poured 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet and threw it in a 425 degree oven. I just wanted to get the oil hot to help give the veggies a better sear instead of them soaking up cold oil. Once the oil was hot, about 10 minutes or so in the oven, I added some sliced eggplant, zucchini, red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, and red onion. I coated them in the hot oil and put back in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, I made the batter. I beat an egg and then gradually beat in 1 cup of flour. Then I beat in a quarter cup of soy milk to make a smooth, thick paste. After that I stirred in another full cup of soy milk, some rosemary, salt, and pepper.

After the 20 minutes were up I took the vegetables out of the oven and quickly poured the batter all over to cover the pan. Much like a Yorkshire Pudding, you need to pour the batter into really hot oil for it to puff up and be light. I put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes until crust was nice and golden and the vegetables were nicely roasted.

When we got to the party I garnished it with some fresh grated parmesan cheese and some fresh rosemary. Cut it up into squares and you have a great party dish. I think it would also go well next to some roasted chicken.

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I stopped by Andy’s Deli the other day, easily one of my favorite grocers in Chicago. While there, I really had no choice but to pick up some of their smoked kielbasa sausages. So friggin good! They have the best kielbasa in town. To serve with grilled kielbasa I made a carrot soup, some white rice, some chickpeas, and no kielbasa would be complete without a dollop of mustard. I used my favorite Boetjes.

For the carrot soup I chopped up three large carrots, half of an onion, 1 celery rib, and 3 cloves of garlic. I sautéed it all in olive oil for about 10 minutes. Then I poured in about 1.75 cups of chicken stock, half a teaspoon of turmeric, half a teaspoon of cumin, half a teaspoon of paprika, and salt. I brought that to a boil, lowered the heat to medium, covered, and let simmer until the veggies were soft (about 15 minutes or so).

After letting the veggies cool down a bit I dumped them all into the blender and pureed it. While it was blending I poured about a half cup of olive oil in to make the soup silkier. I put it all back into the pot, tasted for seasoning, and added pepper. When it came time to serve I simply reheated it.

To make the chickpeas I started by sautéing a quarter of an onion small diced in butter and olive oil with 2 minced garlic cloves. I had a couple of purple potatoes left from the other night so I diced them up and added them. I didn’t stir too much because I wanted the potatoes to get a little crisp. Once they were I added about a quarter cup of chicken stock, salt, and pepper.

Once the stock had reduced by about half I added one can of drained chickpeas. I let that cook for about 10 minutes over medium-low heat. The chickpeas just needed to be heated through.

Once they were I threw a bunch of baby arugula in, turned off the heat, adjusted the seasoning, and let it sit until the kielbasa were cooked.

I threw the kielbasa on the grill. They were smoked so I only needed to char them for texture and to heat them through. Once they were ready dinner was served.

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Last night I made the dinner that my brother-in-law probably would have preferred over Meatless Monday, I grilled up some skirt steak!

I got a steak that weighed about 1.3 lbs. For it to fit in my largest dish to marinate, I had to cut it into thirds. I marinated it in a mix of 6 tbls of soy sauce, 4 tbls of sake, 2 tbls of mirin, 1 tbls of sesame oil, 5 minced garlic cloves, a bunch of chopped cilantro, black pepper, and nanami togarashi. I wrapped it and let it sit in the fridge for about an hour. I took it out about 30 minutes before grilling to bring it up to room temperature.

For vegetables I found these great little sweet onions at Stanleys. I halved them and set them on the upper rack of the grill so that they’d get real sweet but not burned. They also had some great little purple potatoes. I quartered them, drizzled them with olive oil, threw some salt and pepper on, then grilled them as well. They get a nice crisp skin and get real soft inside. I love grilled potatoes! I also cut a couple of red bell peppers into disks. I waited until everything was about 10 minutes from being finished on the grill. Since they were pretty thin, I didn’t want them to burn.

I served everything with some sliced avocado and halved cherry tomatoes. Some cilantro garnish, a beer, and we were set! Yuki had to have some white rice too, she has white rice with everything.

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Last night for Meatless Monday I made these stuffed bell peppers. I do want to apologize to my brother-in-law. You see, he was in town and stopped by for dinner. My sister is a vegetarian (well, she will eat some seafood) which basically makes him one when he eats at home. In the past I would treat him to a big honking piece of meat since he doesn’t eat that at home. He just happened to be in during Meatless Monday. Sure, I could have made this week Meatless Tuesday, but that just doesn’t sound quite right. Sorry Dave. I did dig on that wine you brought over though.

To start, I made the stuffing. I took a medium onion and sliced it. That got sautéed in olive oil with three minced garlic cloves. After a few minutes I added a zucchini that I diced as well as a handful of sliced cremini mushrooms. I let that all cook for a few minutes and then added a 14oz can of crushed tomatoes. I let that all simmer at a low boil for about 15 minutes to thicken up the sauce, then I added a drained can of Italian brown beans as well as a bunch of chopped basil. I set all of that aside.

Meanwhile, I took 4 large yellow bell peppers and halved them. I scooped out the seeds and the white pith and then dropped them in boiling water for just a few minutes. I didn’t want to cook them, just get them slightly pliable.

Then I laid the peppers on a large baking sheet and stuffed them with the tomato sauce mixture. I covered it all with foil and cooked at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Then I took them out and sprinkled some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano over the tops and put them back in, uncovered, for another 10 minutes just until the cheese and the edges of the peppers started to brown a little.

I served them with a mixed green salad with cherry tomatoes and shiitake vinaigrette as well as white rice. I sprinkled some fresh basil and more cheese on top. Dave brought over some kick ass white wines. It was a good Meatless Monday.

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The other night Yuki and I went for a walk in the neighborhood, something we do quite often when the weather is nice. There’s always new stores and restaurants opening up as well as new condos and real estate that we like to admire or criticize. As we walked down Grand Street we noticed two new things. First, the new Tesla dealership located itself just west of the highway on Grand. What a sweet little ride! Don’t know how that little car will deal with Chicago potholes, but it sure is slick. Second, we noticed a new pizza joint that looked enticing. COALFire Pizza, located at 1321 W. Grand, claims to be the only coal fire oven pizza in Chicago. I’ve never seen another one, so they must be. It’s a Neapolitan-style pizza with an American spin (paraphrased from their website). Instead of the classic wood-fired oven, they use coal. Not sure if it’s from the American love of the grill or the coal unions and lobbies got to them, but they do a damn good pizza.

The interior is a classic Chicago storefront. Very simple inside with enough room between tables to not sit on top of strangers. This place just looks like a clean, mid-scale pizza joint. It smelled really good too.

We started by splitting a Caesar Salad. An absolutely huge salad! Definitely made for sharing. Fresh hand cut lettuce, not that crap that comes pre-cut in large sealed plastic bags that suffocate the produce, tossed with a classic Caesar dressing, a bunch of house toasted garlic butter crutons, and a load of parmesan on top. It was what it was, a large, classic Caesar Salad.

The pizzas are all 14 inches, so they’re ideal for splitting between two people. We ordered the Prosciutto. They do prepare their pizzas very much in the Neapolitan style. Thin crust, with fresh mozzarella on top, and then the sauce (nothing but crushed San Marzano tomatoes, the only tomato to make a real Italian pizza) lightly brushed on top of the cheese. After it came out of the oven it was topped with a lot of really good quality prosciutto. Taste-wise, it did taste pretty authentic. Having been to Naples and eaten a few pies in that area I have a good handle on what a real Neapolitan pizza is. I have no arguments at all with the taste or quality of the pizza. The only thing I would say is that the coal burnt the edges a little too much for our taste. I think the oven gets a little too hot and takes away that chewiness of a real Neapolitan crust. But, they don’t claim to be authentic, so that’s a moot point.

Overall, the service was fast and friendly, the decor was simple and inviting, and the food was fresh and of high quality. When I’m in the mood for a thin crust pizza I think Pizza Metro has found its match. If I just want a couple of slices I’ll walk to Pizza Metro, but if I want a whole pie or want to eat at the restaurant COALFiRE kicks Metro’s butt (the people who run Metro are not very friendly or inviting). I would definitely recommend COALFiRE.

One side note. If you do go for a pie, bring cash. They offer a 10% discount if you pay with cash.

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Well, last night was another beautiful night to fire up the grill, so fire up the grill I did. I still had a couple of the chorizo (the ones that taste more like andouille) in my fridge, so I decided to skewer them withe some white fish. At the Whole Foods, Sea Bass looked the freshest.

First, I cut the fish into chunks and marinated them in olive oil, a bunch of chopped parsley, a teaspoon of paprika, and some black pepper. I never salt marinades for fish because the salt will draw out the moisture. I want my fish moist and succulent! I covered the marinading fish with wrap and set it in the fridge for about an hour. Since I have bamboo skewers, I put a bunch in water to soak during that time.

I cut up the chorizo, an onion, and some zucchini into good-sized chunks. When I took the fish out of the fridge I alternated all of the ingredients so that there were two of each on every skewer. Then I took some large cherry tomatoes and skewered them on separate pieces of bamboo. I also picked up some Japanese Eggplants. I didn’t skewer or cut them, I grilled them whole. I drizzled the remaining marinade on the tomatoes and eggplants.

After I put everything on the grill I realized that I had forgotten to add salt. So, I salted everything on the grill.

It was pretty windy last night, I mean, I am in the windy city. I had to constantly move things around the grill because the wind was affecting my grill’s hotspots. I was able to control it pretty well though. Everything cooked perfectly.

I served the food with some white rice.

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A common dish in our diets is a shiitake burger. When I was at the store cremini mushrooms were on sale for $1.49 per 8oz package as opposed to the normal $4.99. Shiitakes also typically cost about $4.99 per 8oz package. So, I decided to use creminis.

To make the patties I small diced a quarter of a medium-sized onion, two garlic cloves minced, about 5 or 6 oz’s of creminis diced, and about a pound of ground beef. To that, I mixed in a half teaspoon of mirin, 1 teaspoon of sake, 1.5 teaspoons of sake, and one egg all beaten together. I don’t typically like to put egg in my burgers, but I didn’t have any bread crumbs or any bread to make breadcrumbs and I was a little worried that the added liquids would make the meat too loose. Once everything was mixed up I let it rest for about fifteen minutes. Then, I made it into 4 patties and put them in the fridge, covered, until just before grilling time.

I made some soup to serve with the burgers. I put about 3 cups of water in a pan and turned the heat up. I added about 8 chopped green onions, one chopped carrot, the rest of the creminis sliced, and let that all boil for about 7 minutes. Then I added a tablespoon of instant dashi and about a quarter cup of soy sauce. Once that all mixed in I added some sliced aburage and a half block of silken tofu that I diced. I let that simmer a little and then covered it and turned the heat down to keep it warm while I grilled.

I first grilled some broccoli and orange bell pepper slices (both drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper) over direct heat on the top rack until the broccoli started to show some grill marks. Then I moved the broccoli to the other side of the grill off the direct heat so that it would continue to cook a little without burning. After the broccoli was moved I put the burgers on the lower rack and grilled them up. By the time the burgers were done on both sides the peppers were nice and roasted and the broccoli nice and al dente.

I served everything with white rice. I also drizzled a little ponzu on top of the burgers to add a little zing to them.

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So, I had planned on making sort of an easy-to-make paella for dinner last night, but the chorizo I bought tasted more like andouille than chorizo. No worries, it’s just as easy to make a gumbo. So that’s what I did.

I started off by thinly slicing about 4oz’s of chorizo and cooking them in a hot pan without any oil. I wanted two things, first was a nice brown crusty surface, second was some melted tasty pig fat in my pan.

Once the chorizo was browned I added 4 meaty chicken thighs skin side down. Before doing this I generously seasoned the chicken with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. I only cooked the skin side of the chicken for the same reasons I cooked the chorizo. Crispy skin and animal fat. Now I have no need to add any oil.

I threw in a small onion that I had diced along with 4 minced garlic cloves. I let those cook in the animal fat for about 7 minutes, or just when they started to turn translucent.

Then I added a yellow bell pepper that I chopped along with 1.5 cups of Thai Red Rice. I stirred that all together and let it saute for about 3 minutes.

Then I added a half cup of dry white wine that had some saffron strands soaking in it for about an hour. I scraped up all of the burnt bits on the bottom of the pan and stirred them into the dish (the burnt parts have tons of flavor!). Then added a 14 oz can of crushed tomato to form a base for the sauce, as well as 1.5 cups of chicken stock and a bunch of green beans that I cut up. After that I mixed in the cooked chorizo and laid the chicken pieces on top. I covered the pan and threw it in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes.

After the 25 minutes I took it out, put the chicken on a plate, added salt and pepper, stirred everything around, put the chicken back on top, covered it, and threw it back into the oven for another 10 minutes.

When I took it out again I took the chicken back off and mixed in a bunch of chopped parsley. To serve, I laid a bed of fresh baby spinach on the plate, put a pile of the gumbo on top, then a piece of chicken on top of that, and garnished with parsley. I drank it all down with the rest of the wine that I used in the sauce.

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