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Archive for February, 2011

After a couple of nights eating out for Restaurant Week I decided to give our stomachs, as well as our wallets, a little bit of a break. Simple, cheap, and delicious, I made a stew with cod and vegetables. Warm stews like this are great for cold winter nights and are packed full of nutrients that won’t bulge your belly or bank account.

I started off with my typical dashi. I boiled 1/3 cup of dried anchovies in 3 cups of water for about 30 minutes and then strained out the fish. I really love making this dashi because it’s easy, healthy, and delicious.

The rest of my ingredients included 2 carrots chopped, 1/2 head of cauliflower broken into florets, 1 head of broccoli broken into florets with the stem chopped, 5 large fingerling potatoes chopped, 1 onion large diced, 3 garlic cloves large diced, 5 ounces of spinach rinsed, 3/4 pound of cod cut into bite-sized pieces, 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, and 2 tablespoons of sake.

I heated up a stock pot and poured in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once the oil was hot and shimmering I added the onion, carrot, and garlic. I let that all sweat down for about 3 minutes and then added the broccoli and cauliflower. About 2 minutes later I poured in the dashi, soy, sake, and a bay leaf and brought that up to a boil. Once boiling I added the potatoes and turned the heat down to med-low so that it could simmer for about 10 minutes. Then I added the fish and let it simmer for another 10 minutes before throwing the spinach in. Once the spinach was in I seasoned with pepper (no need for salt because of the soy in the broth), covered the pot, and let simmer for another 10 minutes. After that all I did was adjust the seasoning and serve it up with some white rice.

Just be gentle stirring after you add the fish, cod will flake apart.

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Even since it was featured on CheckPlease a while back I have wanted to check out Blue 13. I don’t know why, but it really appealed to me for some reason. When I saw that Chef Curren was doing a Restaurant Week menu I took that as an opportunity to finally get off my ass and take my wife out for some rockin viddles. Turned out to be a damn good idea.

Located in the River North area, Blue 13 is on a very residential strip just off the hwy. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because it allows for a neighborhood feel without any pretension. It’s bad because there’s nowhere to park! I hate paying for valet. I am Jewish (culturally, not religiously) after all. After finding a place to park a couple of blocks away Yuki and I were ready to get out of the cold and fill ourselves full of tastiness.

When we got there a couple of tables lingered a little longer than expected and our reservation was about 15 minutes late. No worries, 15 minutes is acceptable. So, we headed to the bar and I had a beer while we bitched to each other about how frustrating both of our jobs are. Basically, a nightly routine. When we got to our table we already knew what we wanted so we ordered up dinner, ate some good bread with great olive oil, and awaited the feast.

Yuki started off with the Duck Confit Tortellini. Served in a caper and cilantro butter sauce it was absolutely delicious. The only thing wrong with it is that the pasta was just a little too al dente, and not by much. Maybe another 45 seconds or so in salted water and it would have been perfect. On the other hand, this was the first time I’ve ever had capers with cilantro. I hope it’s not the last because it was a really weird pairing that actually works quite well.

I got the Beet Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette. I did tell you the other day that if there’s a beet salad on a menu I’ll probably get it. It didn’t hurt that their restaurant week menu only had two options (they did have a $44 pre fixe option with more choices, but that’s a little pricy for my blood). I will say this, Chef Curran’s beet salad is one of the most creative ones I’ve ever eaten. Nice sweet golden beets, frisee, endive, candied hazelnuts (quite possibly my favorite of all nuts, excluding my own of course), and, get this, marshmallows made with beets and balsamic vinegar. It was the marshmallows that set this salad over the top.

Yuki got the Arctic Char entrée. A beautiful piece of fish with a nice crispy skin and juicy flesh (is there anything better than juicy flesh?). It was served on a grain salad that consisted mainly of quinoa and pearl barley as well as a big smear of pureed butternut squash. All of the flavors worked in harmony and completed a very satisfying dish.

I got the Guinness Braised Veal Cheeks. These were some of the most tender cheeks I’ve tossed into my organs, like a really soft brisket. Served on buttered noodles with sautéed brussel sprouts and a smear of creme fraiche. It was garnished with a baby carrot and some baby cilantro. I’m beginning to realize that Chef Curran likes to use cilantro. Honestly, I got no beef with that! In fact, I got veal. The only problem with this dish is that I found that it could have used one more pinch of salt to really bring out the beery goodness of the guinness. Otherwise this was a success.

With two dessert options we decided to get one of each, and that really wasn’t a hard decision to make. Yuki had the Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Gelato. A classic that he didn’t really fiddle much with. It was very straightforward but executed nicely.

I got the Chocolate Peanut Butter Waffle. Waffle with candied peanuts, peanut butter sauce, chocolate sauce, and a scoop of vanilla gelato. As I started eating it I was greeted with a very nice surprise, very nice indeed. In the chocolate sauce were little pieces of BACON!!! It’s desserts like this that make me glad I don’t keep Kosher. Bacon truly does make everything better.

Service throughout the night was spot on. The servers were casual, yet professional. Food was brought out in good time and plates were cleared promptly. The atmosphere was also very casual. Exposed brick walls with heavy rock’n’roll on the speakers, but not too loud that it hindered conversation.

Way back when I worked at a restaurant called The Outpost I always thought that it should have been something more like this. Honestly, if I ever did open up a restaurant it would be along the lines of Blue 13, except I’d play more classic rock and throw some Fela in the mix. Otherwise I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Restaurant Week started here in Chicago this past Friday. Unlike last year where Yuki and I ended up going to 6 or 7 different places we’ve decided to only do 2 this year. We started off Saturday night at a place that’s been high on our list of places to try for a while but never got around to hitting up…BOKA. Located in a very sheik area of Lincoln Park we were a little concerned it’d be a little too pretentious for our tastes. What happened though, is that our tastes were pleasantly surprised.

I know that Restaurant Week menus don’t fully show off all of a chef’s skills, but it does do a good job of giving an idea of what a particular chef is all about. I really dig what Chef Tentori is all about. You gotta love an Italian who effortlessly blends Asian flavors with French techniques. I used my phone’s camera again, and of course, in dark lighting it does a terrible job. Just let your imagination go wild with my descriptions. You can also check out the menu they have posted on the Restaurant Week website, just know that those menus aren’t completely accurate.

Yuki started off with the Maine Diver Scallop. A big juicy scallop with a perfectly cooked crust served with some sort of bean puree (tasted like it could have either been edamame or fava, don’t remember exactly what the server said) and forbidden black rice. The flavors matched perfectly and the scallop was easily one of the best scallops we’ve eaten in Chicago.

I started with the Beet Salad. Sweet, juicy golden beets with candied walnuts and frisee served on a blood orange sauce. It’s hard to get too creative with beet salads anymore since every restaurant in America serves one and this was not the most creative one I’ve ever eaten. It was, however, one of the best. Chef Tentori kept it simple and let the sweetness of the beets take center stage. The crunch of the candied walnuts was the perfect match while the slight bitterness of the blood orange sauce countered nicely.

Yuki’s entrée was the Seared Angus Tenderloin. While Angus lost it’s luster as a brand the moment fast food chains started using head and hoof scrapings to make up the required 40% beef in their patties, this was the real deal. Tender, juicy, full of beefy goodness. It was served with braised red cabbage, croquettes of wild mushrooms and some kind of cheese (the cheese gave a real nice barnyardy aroma and flavor the remind you that cows come from farms and not manufacturing plants), and a parsnip puree. Absolutely delicious.

I got the Braised Pork Belly. I’m very predictable, I usually get the beet salad and pork belly when I see them on menus. I’m glad I did at BOKA. While most places will sear the pork belly before serving to give that crunch on the skin Chef Tentori didn’t. Instead he kept the whole thing soft and fork-tender. The texture was almost like a slow-braised brisket. I loved it! He served it with two huge deep-fried oysters, spicy bok choy, little green tea soba noodle cakes, and some sort of white vegetable puree (I think it was cauliflower). The flavors and textures worked really well together making this one of my favorite pork belly dishes (light years beyond that crap Naha served me last August).

They ony offered one dessert with the Restaurant Week pre fixe, and that’s fine because it was a damn good one. They called it Ginger Kulfi and served it with toasted marshmallow, ground espresso chips, chocolate fudge, and a tangerine segment. I think they got it backwards. The chocolate fudge was the star for me. Everything else on that plate supported its richness and added depth to its flavor. The kulfi was outstanding though…smooth, gingery, and creamy but not overpowering. It was one of the more well-balanced desserts I’ve had at an upscale Chicago restaurant.

Throughout the evening service was spot on as well. We were promptly seated in the covered courtyard (I think they use it for al fresco dining in warm weather). Our server was quick, knowledgable, and had a good sense of humor. The courses were well spaced and we didn’t have a lot of down time between them.

My only real gripe with BOKA is their IPod shuffle. It went from Dave Brubeck and some great jazz to the same horrible soundtrack that most restaurants play. You know, that light techno that makes you feel like you’re trying on blue jeans at Banana Republic. Fortunately, it went back to jazz after a few techno songs. They really just need to stick with the jazz. But, when that’s my only gripe with a place it’s probably a pretty good place.

All in all, I would definitely recommend BOKA. They were able to present us with an extremely professional and upscale environment with absolutely delicious food while keeping all pretensions out of the picture. A rare feat I must say.

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Valentine’s Day…you gotta love holidays that are created for the sole purpose of capitalist pleasure. While the origins of Saint Valentine had absolutely nothing to do with lovers, today Hallmark sells millions of cards and Jared sells tons of ugly jewelry. Restaurants are always packed with their special Valentine’s prix fixe dinners. Extremely disappointed by every meal we’ve gone out for at Valentine’s this year I took the truly romantic way through the day of lovers and put my own hard work into a beautiful meal for the love of my life. I made a Japanese flavored Osso Bucco. Let’s be honest, is there anything sexier than slow-braised oxtails?

While I have never braised oxtails (actually cow tail, not an ox) the principles of braising are the same across the board. Brown your meat, saute your mise en place, and simmer it all together for a couple of hours minimum while keeping the braising liquid about 3/4’s of the way covering your meat.

To make this one Japanese flavored I used dashi and soy instead of beef stock and wine. To start I made my dashi. I put 3 cups of water and 1/4 cup of dried anchovies in a pot, brought it to a boil, covered it, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about a half hour. Then I strained out the anchovies and set the dashi aside.

To flavor the dashi, my mise en place, I used 4 tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of sake, 2 tablespoons of mirin, 1/2 onion diced, 1 rib of celery diced, 1 carrot diced, 3 cloves of garlic smashed, and 3 bay leaves.

The ingredients I used to serve included 3 pounds of beef oxtail cut into 4 portions (have your butcher use his saw to get through the bone, I went to Olympic Meats for mine), about 1/4 cup of parsley chopped, 2 medium carrots chopped, 1 pound of daikon chopped, 12 cipollini onions skin peeled, 1 package of konnyaku, and 1 package of shiitake halved (large ones quartered).

To get started I heated up a few tablespoons of olive oil in my large stock pot. I dredged the oxtail pieces in flour (no need to season the flour since I used soy sauce, without soy sauce you’d probably want to season the flour with salt and pepper) and browned all sides for a couple of minutes. I did two at a time so as not to overcrowd the pot. I set the browned oxtails off the side.

Once the oxtails were all browned I added another couple of tablespoons of olive oil and added all of my mise en place. I sweated it all down for about 5 minutes. Then I put the oxtails in along with any accumulated juices on the plate and poured the reserved dashi in. Once the dashi came to a boil I let it rumble for a few minutes and skimmed the surface a few times for a clearer liquid. Once I finished skimming I added the soy, sake, and mirin. I covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about an hour and 15 minutes.

During this time is when I prepped all of my serving veggies. For the konnyaku I cut it in a very traditional Japanese way. I sliced the block into 1/4 inch strips. I put a slit in the middle of each and then folded inside of itself to make this braided shape. Not only does this add visual appeal, but I gives more surface for the konnyaku to absorb the flavors of the broth.

After the initial hour and 15 minute braising time I removed the oxtails and strained out all of the mise en place. With the back of a wooden spoon I squeezed out every last drop of flavor from the soft onion, celery, and carrot. I wiped out my stock pot, poured the strained broth back in, put the oxtails back in, put the serving veggies in, brought it up to a boil, covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for another 45 minutes. That was enough time for the daikon to absorb the broth flavors and become nice and tender.

To serve, I placed on piece of oxtail in a large bowl and surrounded it with broth and veggies. I sprinkled the parsley all over the top. On the side was white rice with ground sesame seeds and some seaweed salad (the same kind you get at your neighborhood sushi joint, I picked some up at the Mitsuwa Market).

As if I weren’t already in-love with myself, this dish made me fall heads-over-heals in-love with myself. I can only image what it did to my wife.

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Besides being a great Japanese housewife, I also have a little Italian bosom to me. I’m very worldly for being a midwestern Jewish man. The other night I made a classic Southern Italian Chicken and Pepper Stew along with a Tuscan-style soup. Instead of a Tuscan Bean Soup that uses cannelloni beans I used chickpeas, simply because I had a can in my cupboard.

The soup couldn’t be simpler. I used 1 bunch of kale chopped, 1 onion sliced, 3 garlic cloves diced, 1 quart of chicken stock, and 1 can of chickpeas drained and rinsed.

I put everything except for the chickpeas in a pot along with a couple of bay leaves. I brought it up to a boil, covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 45 minutes so that the kale would get nice and tender. I didn’t add the chickpeas until a few minutes before dinner time. Since they were canned the didn’t need to be cooked, just heated. I seasoned with salt and pepper just before serving.

For the chicken I used about 1/4 cup of parsley chopped, 1/2 onion sliced, 3 cloves of garlic diced, 2 plum tomatoes skinned and diced, 1 dry pint of sweet peppers seeded and sliced, 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks skinned with the bone in, and 1/2 cup of white wine.

In my pan I heated up about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and sautéed the onion for about 6 minutes. I took the onion out, added another 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and added the chicken. I browned the chicken all over for a few minutes and then put the onion back in. I poured in the wine and let it reduce by half for about 5 minutes or so. Then I added the peppers and tomatoes, seasoned with salt and pepper, stirred it up really well, covered the pan, turned the heat down to med-low, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes. I stirred it occasionally throughout the 30 minutes. Just before serving I mixed in the parsley. Another simple, yet delicious dish.

I got some nice crusty bread to serve with everything. I did make some white rice for Yuki since she needs rice in her guts. I stuck with the bread though so I could sop up all of the juices and dip into my soup.

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In order to solidify my role as a good Japanese housewife I decided to make another classic comfort dish from the Land of the Rising Sun. I haven’t made anything with squid in a long time and came across this recipe from a Japanese cook book that I have. Since I had a piece of daikon in my fridge that I needed to use, it all just seemed too perfect. And yes, I am perfect!

The first thing I need to do was make 3.75 cups of dashi. We don’t have any bonito flakes in our fridge, but we do have dried anchovy in our freezer that are also used for various types of dashi. In a soup pot I poured in a little more than 3.75 cups of water knowing that some would evaporate and added about 1/3 cup of the dried anchovy. I brought it to a boil, covered it, lowered the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 3o minutes. Then I strained out the fish and had a really nice flavorful dashi.

The rest of my ingredients for this dish included 4 tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of sake, 2 tablespoons of mirin, some lime zest, about 2 pounds of daikon, 1 pound of squid (body and tentacles), and 1 tablespoon of sugar.

I cut the daikon into chunks about 1.25 inches thick and rounded the edges with a pairing knife. I’m not sure why they round the edges, maybe it allows the daikon to cook more evenly or maybe it’s just an aesthetics thing, but you probably don’t need to do it if you don’t want. Being the good Japanese housewife that I am, I went all out. I put the cut daikon into cold water then drained it just before cooking. That helps keep the texture firm. I sliced the squid bodies into 1/2 inch strips and cut the tentacles in half.

I put the daikon and squid into a heavy pot and poured the dashi in. I brought it to a boil and let it cook for about 5 minutes. Every 30 seconds or so I had to skim the surface to keep the dashi nice and clear. It’s amazing that 1 pound of squid seems to have more muck than a 3 pound chicken when boiling. So you really need to skim a lot.

Once the dashi cleared up I turned the heat to low and added the soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar. I covered the pan and let it simmer for about 45 minutes or so. Every few minutes I gave the pot a good shake to make sure the flavors of the dashi were well mixed.

While the squid and daikon were simmering I made some hijiki-carrot rice. After rinsing 2 cups of rice and measuring out the liquid I added a tablespoon or so of dried hijiki and 1 chopped carrot. I let it sit for a half hour and then started the rice cooker. Actually, I had this ready to go before starting the squid and daikon. But I didn’t hit the start button until the simmering started for timing purposes.

For a side dish to get more vegetables in the meal I made a simple stir-fry. I cut up 1 head of broccoli, had a couple of ounces of bean sprouts, 3 diced garlic cloves, and 1 inch of diced ginger.

I heated a skillet and added 1 tablespoon of sesame oil then added the garlic and ginger. After about 30 seconds I tossed in the broccoli and let it go for about 5 minutes before adding the bean sprouts. About 2 minutes later and it was ready to eat, just a sprinkle of salt and pepper was needed.

For serving I put some of the squid and daikon in bowls with some of the dashi. Then I grated some of the lime zest on top. Yes, as you can see in the picture I do have the hairiest arms you’ll ever see on a Japanese housewife…I hope. In Japan they’d use yuzu instead of lime, but I couldn’t find any yuzu at the store. The lime worked really well though. And the squid, oh brother the squid! It was so soft and tender it literally melted in our mouths. I haven’t had squid that good since we were in Nara, Japan over a year ago during squid season. And if you’ve never eaten daikon simmered in a soy-dashi broth you’re missing out on one of life’s finer flavors. This was the best meal I’ve cooked in a while. OIISHII!!!

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Last night for dinner I made Japanese-style ginger pork with miso soup. The more I cook Japanese food the more I realize just how much healthier it is to American food. There is very little added fat and much more vegetable-to-meat ratio. Cooking Japanese-style food is extremely as well, not to mention delicious!

I first got my miso soup ingredients ready to go. I won’t go into great detail about making miso soup because I’ve done that a few times on this blog already. I poured about 3 cups of water into my pot and added 4 sliced shiitake, 3 chopped fingerling potatoes, 3 chopped green onions, and about 3 tablespoons of dashi soy sauce. I rinsed and soaked some salted wakame and added it to the soup at the end along with a large tablespoon of miso. The soup simmered over low while I cooked everything else, just enough time for the potatoes to cook.

For the pork I used about 3/4 pound of snap peas, 3 ounces of bean sprouts, 1/2 onion sliced, 1 inch of ginger grated, 1 garlic clove grated, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of sake, 1 tablespoon of mirin, and 4 thin pork chops each about 3 ounces.

I mixed together the ginger, garlic, soy, sake, and mirin as the marinade. I let the pork sit in it for about 15 minutes or so. I heated up my large skillet and added about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and then cooked the onion for about 4 minutes. I took the onion out and rested it on a plate and then cooked the pork (reserving the marinade) for about 2-3 minutes per side. I rested the pork with the onion. I poured the marinade into the skillet to cook it down a little. I added about 4 tablespoons of water to help turn the marinade into a pan sauce and scrape up the bits from the pork, lots of flavor there you don’t want to lose.

Once the sauce had reduced a little bit, a minute or so, I added the snap peas and let them cook for about 5 minutes. After that I added the bean sprouts and the reserved onions.

I placed the pork on top, covered the skillet, and let it go for a few minutes while I mixed the miso into the soup. Then I plated it all up with some white rice. Yuki topped the rice with some ground sesame seeds.

So, we got 7 different vegetables into dinner with only 3 ounces of animal carcass. The only added fat was 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil split between 4 portions. No wonder America is a bunch of fat-asses while Japan is extremely fit and healthy.

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