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Archive for October, 2010

So, I had some salt cured salmon filets that needed to get eaten up from our last bimble up to Mitsuwa. These salmon filets are great because the don’t need much cooking since they’re already salt-cured. With that, we also had a kabocha that Yuki wanted me to cook. However, I did not cook it how she requested. Too bad for her. Without further ado…

First thing I did was get the kabocha ready, I only used half of it. I seeded it, cut off most of the skin, quartered the half, and then cut the quarters themselves in half.

I set them in a baking dish, drizzled them with sesame oil, salt, and pepper. I boiled about 3/4 cup of water, poured that into the pan, and put the kabocha into a 375 degree oven for about an hour. The water should be mostly absorbed by the time cooking is done keeping the kabocha nice and moist, while the top gets a little bit golden brown.  Then I took 1/4 cup of walnuts and toasted them in a dry pan for about 6 minutes.

I coarsely ground them with my mortar and pestle and then added 4 tablespoons of ponzu. I let that sit while I cooked everything else.

For the kale I used a bunch of red kale stalks removed and leaves chopped down, 1 cup of chicken stock, 1/2 onion sliced, and three garlic cloves sliced. In a hot stock pot I poured in about 2 tablespoons of sesame oil and then added the onion and garlic. About 2 minutes later I added the kale and let that wilt for about 4 minutes. Then I poured in the chicken stock and seasoned with salt and pepper. Once the stock came to a boil I loosely covered the pot, turned the heat down to medium-low, and let it simmer for about 30-40 minutes (however much time I had left on the kabocha, it doesn’t matter as long as the kale simmers for a while).

Once the kale got going I started the miso soup. I used a heaping service spoon of shiro miso, about 4 inches of daikon sliced and quartered, one small carrot cut in half moons, 4 green onions chopped in 1 inch lengths, 1/4 cup of dashi seasoned soy sauce, and 3 shiitake sliced. In a soup pot I poured in 4 cups of water and added everything except for the miso. I brought it to a boil, then covered the pot, and turned the heat down to medium-low to let it simmer for about 15-20 minutes.

I just rubbed some sesame oil on both sides of the salmon and then seasoned with pepper. My toaster oven has a broiler setting, so I just turned that on and broiled the salmon for about 8 minutes. That was just enough time to cook it all the way through and crisp up the skin. When it was finished it was time to put everything together.

I left the salmon as is. Put some of the kale on the plate and then a couple of pieces of the kabocha. I topped the kabocha with the walnut-ponzu mixture. I mixed the miso into the soup and served that up. Then I served some white rice along with everything, mainly to balance the saltiness from the salt-cured salmon.

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For dinner last night I made a simple Chinese-flavored ground chicken stir-fry. For the sauce, I used fermented black bean and garlic sauce. It’s a real easy way to get a lot of flavor into a quick, healthy dish.

My ingredients included 1 carrot cut into half moons, 1/2 pound bean sprouts, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 10 green onions thinly sliced, 3 tablespoons of black bean and garlic sauce, a package of shiitake diced, 1 head of broccoli cut into florets, 1/2 inch ginger, minced, 3 cloves garlic minced, and 1 pound of ground chicken thigh.

First thing I did was to mix up the sauce. In a small dish I mixed the soy and black bean sauce. After tasting it, I decided to add a little sweetness so I mixed in 1 tablespoon of mirin. I set that aside and heated up a saute pan.

Once hot, I poured in about 2 tablespoons of sesame oil and then added the ginger and garlic. I let them sizzle for about 30 seconds and then added the carrot and green onions. I sautéed them for about 3 minutes and then added the chicken. I broke up the chicken as it cooked for about 7 or 8 minutes and then added the shiitake. Once the shiitake were coated with the rest of the ingredients I added the sauce and mixed it around. At this time I put the broccoli into my steamer. Broccoli only needs about 4 minutes to steam to a nice al dente and at this point all I need to do with the stir-fry was let the sauce boil down a little and add some pepper and the bean sprouts. So, that’s what I did. Easy as that.

The other day Yuki had made some sweet potato rice that we didn’t finish. Instead of making new rice I decided to use that up. White rice probably would have matched better with the slightly salty dish, but the sweetness of the sweet potatoes wasn’t that bad of a match, and it added a higher nutritional value to the meal. So did my beer.

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So, today is Yuki’s birthday. Since she has a conference call with Japan tonight I took her for a nice dinner last night. We found out a while ago that Top Chef Master Marcus Samuelson quietly opened up a place here in Chicago, without much fair. Being fans of what we saw him cook as well as knowing his reputation we went there, C-House, located in the Affinia Hotel.

A real casual place with natural colors, the interior is just what we wanted. It was very comfortable, tables were well spaced, and music was not too loud (they even played some Afrobeat throughout the night, a huge plus in my book). Service was also casual for a fine dining restaurant. It was friendly and professional, but not the slightest bit of pretension. Food was brought at a nice pace as well.

Of course, bread service started off the meal once we ordered. Home-baked cheese bread with butter topped with sea salt. Hard to beat fresh-baked cheese bread.

Yuki started with the Scallops. Two near-perfectly cooked scallops with crab-apple butter, golden raisins, smoked almonds, shaved celery, and pear matchsticks. A nice blend of sweetness and bitterness to start the taste buds off right.

I ordered the Sweetbreads, one of my new favorite cuts of carcass. It was breaded and fried then served with a brown butter, pear matchsticks, and sautéed sweet potatoes and apples. Again, the sweetness on the plate got me ready for more grub.

Yuki’s entrée was the Fish Stew. Arctic char, prawns, leeks, and root vegetables stewed in a Goose Island Matilda and sassy cow cream broth. The beer gave a nice bitterness to the sweet seafood while the parsley garnish brightened it up.

I got the Hanger Steak. I nice bloody rare piece of meat with sautéed kale, carmelized pearl onions, lobster mushrooms and raclette cheese. I have to tell you, that cheese is some funky stuff! My plate smelled like a barnyard, but once I got that first bite in my mouth it turned out to be one delicious barnyard indeed. Bitter kale, sweet onions, earthy mushrooms, and funky cheese…a very well-balanced plate.

We split the Sage Flan for dessert. This was a winner! I’ve never had a savory flan before. The flan itself was perfectly rich, yet light. It was served with baked apples, a smear of cranberry sauce, and a maple-pear sorbet that tasted like cider. The flavors matched perfectly. This was one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten.

Since it was Yuki’s birthday they brought out a little vanilla cupcake with a raspberry and candle for her. We liked that better than the typical “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate on the dessert plate that most restaurants do. This was a nice little touch.

Overall, the food was great. This was our kind of fine dining. Nothing complex and pretentious at all. Just a casual atmosphere with top quality ingredients cooked to perfection and flavors in harmony. Everything was also very seasonal taking advantage of produce at its peak. Prices are also very respectable considering the location, the celebrity chef, and the quality. I would highly recommend C-House.

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This past Friday night Yuki and I had dinner with our friends Nick and Andrea. I was charged with finding a place that none of us had been to before. Yuki had mentioned a taste for tamales so I thought I’d find a Mexican joint. Since Nick and Andrea have travelled extensively through Mexico I knew it wouldn’t be hard to convince them to try Don Diablo with us. I believe Nick’s response was, “you had me at tamales”. So, we headed over the former Fonda Del Mar current Don Diablo, and we’re all damn glad we did.

It’s a little out of any gentrified neighborhood so there aren’t many people who know about it yet, but I think that will all change soon. Especially since it’s BYOB, keeping costs down.

The interior is very quaint. It has an exposed kitchen and the tables aren’t to close together that you’re bumping up against strangers. Music wasn’t too loud so you don’t have to shout in order to converse. The service was also pretty good. There was only one waitress, but with only 4 tables we never got antsy waiting for service.

Of course, we started with the tamales. Chicken filled and topped with a green sauce and some melted cheese. They put a lot of whole kernels in their masa which gave a little bit more sweetness to the dish. It took a couple of bites to get used to it, but after those couple of bites I found that I really enjoyed them. With two tamales per order we got two orders so that we each got our own.

The other appetizer we tried was the Quesadillas De Huitlacoche. You almost have to order huitlacoche whenever you see it because it’s such a delicacy with a great earthy flavor. That said, I don’t think they really showcased the huitlacoche all that much in these. With chihuahua cheese, epazote, and guacamole on the side the huitlacoche almost got lost. Don’t get me wrong, they were very good, but I wanted more huitlacoche flavor.

Nick and Andrea each ordered the Enchaladas De Pollo. They did so for the mole. It had a very deep chocolate flavor, but was smooth and delicious. Not an outstanding plate, but a very very good one.

I ordered Puerco en Mole. Really soft and perfectly cooked pork loin served in a green mole with pumpkin seeds. The mole was very light which was nice because it didn’t overpower the pork flavor. It also came with garlic mashed potatoes with melted cheese. Another very very good dish.

Ah, the piece de resistance! Yuki ordered the Cochinita Pibil. Slow cooked pork shoulder cooked in a banana leaf and served with black beans, pickled onions, and a spicy habanero salsa. This was one of the best pork dishes I have ever eaten in Chicago. If it were socially acceptable I would dress myself in cochinita pibil and prance about town. The pork was fall-apart tender full of flavor. The pickled onion just explodes in your mouth. The beans add substance. The habanero salsa was the perfect level of spice, a slow burn that coats your mouth but isn’t overpowering and makes you want to come back for more. This dish was truly impressive.

We kind of shared three desserts. Coconut Flan was one of them. It was a little thick, but had a great flavor.

Mango sorbet, nice and light with a great natural sweetness.

And a Pecan Pie with vanilla ice cream, not really what I think of when I think of Mexican dessert, but a delicious one nonetheless. I’m not sure if the desserts were homemade or brought it, but they were pretty good.

Overall, I find Don Diablo to be one of the best kept secrets in Chicago Mexican dining. Every dish was cooked perfectly with nice balance and quality ingredients. Service was efficient and friendly. The price point was excellent, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better value for a Mexican meal like this. Cochinita Pibil is a true masterpiece. I would crawl on my hands and knees in the middle of January to get a taste of that again.

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Last night I made a fajita fiesta for dinner. We picked up a couple of pomegranates the other day and I wanted to use some in guacamole. So, I made up a Mexican meal.

The first thing I did was make a real simple corn soup. I took 4 ears of corn, 1/2 onion, and 1 garlic clove. I stripped the kernels from the ears and tossed it all (ears included so I wouldn’t lose all of the milky flavor) into a soup pan. I chopped up the onion and garlic, tossed them in the pan as well. Then I poured in 3 cups of water. I brought it to a boil, covered the pot, turned the heat down to medium-low, and let it simmer for about 7 minutes. I turned off the heat and let it cool down a bit.

After it cooled a little I discarded the ears and poured the rest into my blender and pureed it. I wiped out the pan and strained it back in then seasoned with some salt and pepper. I let that sit covered while I prepared the rest of the dinner and just re-heated it for service, garnished with some cilantro.

For the rice, I used my rice cooker to make 2 cups of rice, but added 1/4 cup defrosted frozen peas, and 1 carrot chopped into quarter moons. I also replaced 1 cup of the cooking water with chicken stock to deepen the flavor a little. I hit the start button and let the cooker do it’s thang.

Then I put together the guacamole. I used 3 avocados, 2 plum tomatoes (the pic shows 3, but I only used 2), 1/4 onion, 1/2 pomegranate, the juice from 1 lime, 1 garlic clove minced, and some cilantro. I actually started on the onion quite a bit earlier. To take the bite out of without cooking I diced it and soaked it in cold water for about 2 hours. That keeps it crisp but eliminates the rawness. In a glass bowl I let the minced garlic soak in the lime juice for about 10 minutes to mellow it out a bit, then I added everything else and mashed it u with a fork keeping it a little chunky. I seasoned it as needed and then set it aside (I did snack on it while I cooked).

For the fajita I used 1 teaspoon cayenne, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 green bell pepper sliced, 1 orange bell pepper sliced, the zest and juice from 1 lime, 1/2 jalapeno sliced, 1/2 onion sliced, and 1 pound of chicken breasts sliced into thin strips.

In a glass bowl I mixed together the lime zest and juice with all of the spices and tossed the chicken in. I let it marinade for about 30 minutes. I used that time to cut the peppers and get the black beans going, but I’ll get to the beans in a minutes.

In a large saute pan I heated 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and stir-fryed the chicken and spices for about 7 minutes. Then I added the peppers and onion and stir-fryed them with the chicken for a further 7 minutes or so. For service I garnished it all with some fresh cilantro.

Alright, for the beans I thoroughly drained and rinsed 1 14oz can of black beans and put them in a small sauce pan with 1/4 onion small diced, and 1/2 jalapeno diced. I filled the black bean can about 1/4 full of water and poured that in. I brought it up to a slow boil and let it go while I finished up the fajitas. I seasoned it as needed.

For service I just laid everything out on the table along with some warm whole wheat tortillas. I know whole wheat is not very authentic, but I opted for the health benefits of whole wheat instead of authenticity. The only thing missing was sour cream, a mistake I will not make the next time.

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I made some daikon kimchi and really wanted to build a Meatless Monday around it. I thought I was going to make a tofu bulgolgi to stick with the Korean theme, but the marinade turned out nothing like a bulgolgi. It was very asian though so I used some ganmodoki we had bought at Mitsuwa and made a clear broth Japanese-style soup to bring more vegetables into the meal.

The daikon kimchi takes 24 hours so I had to start the Sunday. The ingredient list includes a lot of kosher salt (sea salt can be used also), 1.5 tablespoons of toban djan (I didn’t have any Korean chili paste, toban djan is Sichuan, but it is similar enough to work), 1/4 onion small diced, 1 garlic clove minced, 1 lb daikon cut into 3/4 inch cubes, 1 teaspoon fish sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 2 green onions thinly sliced.

I threw the daikon into a bowl and completely coated it with salt. I left it for 2 hours and then drained off all of the liquid that accumulated at the bottom of the bowl and then rinsed and drained very well.

Then I mixed together the rest of the ingredients, tossed the daikon to coat evenly, and put into an airtight jar. I left it out for 24 hours and then put it in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours. You absolutely have to let it sit to get the flavors to penetrate and pickle, so this does take more than 24 hours to prepare. I will say, the daikon turned out way too salty when we ate it. Not sure if I added too much during the pickling process or if I just didn’t rinse it well enough, but next time I make this I will make sure it’s completely rinsed of salt and I may just add 1/2 tablespoon instead during the pickling to make sure it doesn’t get too salty. To salvage the rest of the daikon I’ll boil it in some water to make broth for noodle soup later in the week or something.

For the tofu “bulgolgi” I used 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1/4 granny smith apple, 1/4 onion, 1 tablespoon sugar, juice from 1/2 lemon, 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds, 1/2 inch ginger, 2 garlic cloves, 2 green onions, and 1 packet of silken tofu.

I pressed the water out of the tofu for about an hour and then sliced it into 1/4 inch pieces. I put the rest of the ingredients into my little processor and made a marinade.

I took out my glass baking dish, poured a little marinade on the bottom, lined the tofu side-by-side on top, and then covered it with the rest of the marinade. I let it sit while I prepared the soup. When the soup was almost done I drizzled a little sesame oil on top of the tofu and threw it under the broiler for about 10 minutes.

For the soup I cut up 1/4 of a napa cabbage, used some bean sprouts, 1/4 cup of dashi seasoned soy sauce, 1 carrot cut into half moons, 1/2 package of enoki mushrooms, 5 ganmodoki, the rest of our green onions (about 3), and my last three shiitake sliced.

In my soup pan I poured in about 4 cups of water and added everything except for the cabbage, bean sprouts, and enoki. I brought it up to a boil and then covered it, lowered the heat to medium-low, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Then I added the rest of the ingredients and let it simmer for another 5 minutes. That’s all she wrote for the soup.

I served everything with white rice and leaves of butter lettuce. That way we could make lettuce wraps bulgolgi-style.

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We ran out of muffins so I had to make some more yesterday. Since I still had some pumpkin left from the quinoa dish I made the other day I decided to use it up.

The ingredient list includes 1 3/4 cup of cake flour, 2/3 cup of butter at room temperature, 1 egg at room temperature, 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg, 1/3 cup of maple syrup, 3/4 cup pure cane sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 cup of pumpkin.

First thing I had to do was cook my pumpkin. I diced up 1 cups worth and tossed it in my steamer for about 6 minutes or so, until it was soft enough to puree. Then I pureed it in my small processor and set it aside to cool down a bit.

Then, in my large glass bowl I creamed the butter with the sugar and syrup until it was nice and fluffy. I don’t have a good electric mixer, so this was tough for me. I started with a fork to get the butter nicely incorporated, then switched to a whisk to get the air whipped in. After that I added the egg and pumpkin and stirred it all together.

In my other glass bowl I sifted together the flour, salt, baking soda, and spices. In a few batches I added the flour mix into the pumpkin mix and mixed really well to make sure there were no lumps in my batter. I poured it into my muffin pan (only got 10 instead of the 12 I was expecting) and put it into a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.

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