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Archive for April, 2011

Sorry I haven’t put a post up in a while, been kind of busy the past week with my beautiful baby boy, Otis. Yeah, I know, badass name. He is a handsome little badass though, so it fits.

At any rate, Yuki’s parents came in from Japan a week ago to help us out. They’ve done all of the cooking and I absolutely love it! I do want to cook, and will in a day or two, but I am definitely enjoying their Japanese homestyle food. The other night they made this classic dish for us, Chikuzen Ni. Chikuzen is the old name for Kyushu, one of Japans main islands. Ni means simmered. It’s basically a simmered dish that comes from Kyushu. Tough to figure that one out, eh?

I don’t know exact measurements because I was busy changing diapers while they cooked. What they did was make a bonito dashi and added soy sauce, sake, mirin, and a touch of sugar. In that they simmered some chopped up skinless chicken thighs, carrots, gobo (burdock root, a root vegetable native to Japan and other countries in that region), lotus root, bamboo shoot, haricots vert, and konnyaku. It is absolutely heartwarming deliciousness!

To go with the Chikuzen Ni they made some pan-fried tofu. After pressing the water out of some silken tofu they chopped it up and fried it in my big skillet with some vegetable oil. After they took it out they poured in a mixture of bonito dashi, soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar, and potato starch. Basically, it’s the same as the broth for the Chikuzen Ni. The added starch gives it a nice gelatinous texture. On top they put a little fresh grated ginger.

White rice was on the side and a cold beer was in hand.

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After spending hours cooking heavy foods for Passover I wanted something lighter for dinner last night. Oh, and something that I could easily whip up without spending too much time hunching over the counter. When I saw cod on sale this idea hit me. It is also a good way to use up veggies in the fridge.

My ingredients include about 1/4 cup of chopped parsley, 1 14oz can of diced tomatoes, about 1/3 cup of frozen peas thawed, 3 cremini mushrooms diced (would have used more but that’s all that I had in the fridge), 1/2 onion diced, 3 garlic cloves minced, 1 carrot diced, 1/2 bag of frozen artichokes rinsed, and about 2/3 pound of cod cut into three pieces (Yuki didn’t need lunch today, so only leftovers for me).

I heated up my large skillet and poured in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I added the garlic, onion, and carrot. They sweat down for about 6 minutes before I added the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms started to release their liquid, about 3 minutes or so, I poured in the can of tomatoes. When the tomatoes started to boil a little I stirred in the artichokes, laid the cod on top, seasoned with salt and pepper, covered the skillet, turned the heat down to med-low, and let it all simmer for about 8 minutes. That’s just enough time for the fish to cook through.

Then I took the fish off, carefully so it wouldn’t flake apart, and stirred its juices into the sauce. I let it boil lightly for about 3 minutes and then added the peas. When the peas were hot, about 2 minutes more, I turned off the heat and stirred in the parsley. Then I adjusted the seasoning and served it with white rice. A sprig of parsley for garnish.

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Another year means another Passover Seder. Well, that’s not entirely true. Since Yuki is about 2 weeks from her due date we decided that it’s not a good idea to spend the holiday with my family. Being 3 hours from our OB/GYN at this point isn’t the best thing we could do (or at least that’s what we tell my family!). What makes it easier is the fact that I’m not a religious man by any stretch of the imagination. So, if I missed another recital of the 4 questions or the 4 sons or Elijah I wouldn’t lose any sleep. I do, however, love a good matzo ball soup and brisket. I decided that I would make a few of the traditional Passover delicacies for the first night. My younger bro also lives in Chicago and did not go to the Quad Cities, so he came over for dinner last night.

To keep with tradition, I started the dinner off with some matzo ball soup. You can ask Alpana Singh my thoughts on the perfect matzo ball. I made my typical chicken soup on Sunday and then put it in the fridge overnight. In the afternoon I took it out and let it come to room temperature. About 20 minutes before my brother got here I made the matzo balls.

I used 2 eggs, about 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 cup of matzo meal, a few cracks of white pepper, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

In a small glass dish I mixed together all of the dry ingredients. In a seperate bowl I beat the eggs with the olive oil and parsley. Then, I poured the egg mixture into the dry mix until it was evenly mixed. I covered it in plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

With the soup boiling I took the mix out of the fridge, wet my hands, and dropped walnut-sized balls into the soup. I let them boil for about 20 minutes to make sure they cooked through. That’s all there is to it, soup is ready. I will say that these were by far the best matzo balls I’ve ever made, and some of the best I’ve ever eaten as well.

While the rest of dinner was heating up I brought out some charoset and matzo. Side note, everything we ate was prepared ahead of time so that all I had to do was re-heat for dinner.

For the charoset I used 1 gala apple, 1/3 cup of walnuts, 1 tablespoon of red wine, 2 tablespoons of honey, and a few dashes of cinnamon which didn’t make it into the pic. In a bowl I crushed the walnuts into small chunks then poured the wine and honey in. Then I grated the apple into the bowl, seasoned with the cinnamon, mixed it up real well, covered with plastic, and let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour.

For the entrée I made a horseradish brisket (the recipe was adapted from a Gail Simmons recipe), wilted spinach with raisins and toasted soy nuts, olive oil mashed potatoes, and roasted radishes.

I made the brisket in the morning to make sure it got enough time in the braising liquid. I used 2 cups of beef stock, 1 cup of red wine, 1/2 cup of prepared horseradish, 3 carrots chopped, 3 celery stalks chopped, 7 garlic cloves minced, 1 small onion sliced, and a 3.5 pound brisket.

In a large heated skillet I poured in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil and browned the brisket. I gave each side about 7 minutes.

Then I transferred the brisket to a foil braising pan and scattered the carrots and celery around it. In the hot skillet I added half of the garlic and the onions and let them sweat down for about 6 minutes. Then I poured in the wine. I let the wine boil down for about 7 minutes and added the beef stock. When the liquid came back to a boil I poured everything around the brisket.

I mixed together the rest of the garlic with the horseradish and spread that on top of the brisket. I covered it tightly with foil and put it into a 300 degree oven for about 3 hours. The one thing I did forget was bay leaves. I would have liked 2 of them in there. Oh well, still tasted great.

After 3 hours I let it sit for the rest of the day. While we were eating the soup I removed the foil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and put it under the broiler for about 30 minutes or so to not only re-heat, but also to give the horseradish a nice crust. To serve I just lay a couple sliced on top of the onion, carrots, and celery.

For the spinach I used 1/4 cup of raisins, the zest and juice from 1 lemon, 3 garlic cloves minced, 1/2 onion diced, 1/4 cup of toasted soy nuts (this dish would typically use pine nuts, but at $24 a pound I found the soy nuts price of $3 a pound a little easier to digest), 1/4 cup of red wine, and 2 bunches of spinach chopped.

First I poured the wine into a bowl and soaked the raisins for at least 15 minutes. Then, I heated up a large pot and poured in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sweat down the garlic and onion for about 5 minutes. Handful by handful I added the spinach until it was all wilted down. I poured in the wine and raisins. Once the wine had boiled down for a few minutes I added the lemon juice and zest. I stirred that all in and then added the soy nuts. A touch of salt and pepper and the spinach was ready to go.

I skinned 5 yukon gold potatoes for the mashed potatoes. Since the laws of the Kashrut don’t allow dairy to be eaten alongside meat I decided to use olive oil in order to try to make them creamy. I know, I don’t believe any of that crap, but since I was making a pretty traditional meal I thought I’d keep with tradition (all kosher wine as well). After boiling the potatoes I mashed them with about 1/4 cup or so of olive oil. Actually, I probably used more, I just kept adding it until the potatoes were the right consistancy. A little salt and pepper and they were all set.

For the radishes I simply halved them and roasted them with olive oil, salt, and pepper at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes.

I did not have enough time to make any dessert last night. We were pretty full anyway, but a little dessert is always a nice thing. I guess life could be worse than not having dry, matzo meal cakes sit in your stomach on top of brisket. Plus, you’re all probably tired of this post by now anyway. Happy holidays!

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Yuki and I were cruisin’ around this weekend and ended up passing through the Puerto Rican strip of Division Street. Right about that time both of our stomach’s started to growl. Her’s may have been the baby kicking, but mine was definitely something else. While neither of us were all too impressed with the food we ate in Puerto Rico, with the exception of a few spots, we never really explored the Puerto Rican food in Chicago. Funny thing is we used to live 2 blocks east of it and frequently rode our bikes past it on our way to Humboldt Park, yet never made it down there for eats. When we saw Papa’s we had to stop in and give it a whirl. Honestly though, we thought it was Papa’s as in potato, but it was all about the bald guy in the pic below. Oh well, it was very busy, mostly with Puerto Rican/Chicagoans, so that was a good sign. They do have papas fritas on the menu though.

Papa’s is a small little place run by Papa and Mama. I love the palapa over the counter, gives it a nice tropical feel. The menu is mostly based on rotisserie chicken, as you can see the numerous birds rotating behind Papa. Not having had a Jibarito in a long time, and with them claiming to have the best in town, that seemed like the way for us to go. So, we grabbed a seat as soon as one opened up, and Mama came by to serve us.

Yuki got the rotisserie chicken breast and I got the steak. The plantain was the perfect thickness and fried just right. Fresh lettuce and tomatoes, garlic mayo, and some sort of white cheese rounded out the garnish. Hers came with Spanish rice and pigeon peas while mine came with white rice and beans. I have to say, they may be right, it could very well be the best damn Jibarito in town! Granted, I’ve only had three in my life, but these were by far the best I’ve had. As good as the steak was the chicken was outstanding! They may also have the best rotisserie chicken in town! Juicy and flavorful!

When Mama brought the bill there was this bumper sticker with it. I won’t put it on the green machine anytime soon, but they certainly do have every reason to be proud of the chicken. We will definitely go back for more sometime, only next time we’ll probably get a whole bird and rip that thing to pieces in a matter of seconds!

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So, yesterday one of Yuki’s supervisors decided to take her crew out to dinner at Gyu-Kaku, a yakiniku joint downtown. That left me by myself to eat, drink, whatever. My plan was to meet up with a buddy of mine from the Playboy Pilot at Five Star for a couple of drinks, then pick Yuki up around 7 or so and grab a jumbo char dog from Portillo’s on the way home to absorb the alcohol in my stomach. Things didn’t work out as planned. About 7 I got a text that they JUST got to Gyu-Kaku! What? How long would I have to wait for a friggin char dog! Hungry, I took a couple of Chinese Steam Buns out of the freezer to tide me over for a couple of hours. Shortly thereafter I got a text asking me if I wanted to join them. Absolutely! So I cruised on down and got there as they were about to order dessert. Oh well, that didn’t stop me from eating some beef.

Since they were already drunk and I was a little drunk I didn’t really care what I ate. Doug, one of two white guys in Yuki’s group, ordered one of the Kalbi’s for me along with a beer. They’re having a Sakura Festival (Cherry Blossoms) special with $3 beer and 50% off harami skirt steak so I’m sure that’s what I got. All I know is that a dish with some beautifully marbled beef covered in sesame seeds showed up alongside a nice cold draft beer.

Then, the waitress showed up with some white rice, red leaf lettuce, and red miso so that I could eat the beef properly.

Since I was too busy helping Doug make fun of Eric, the other white guy in the group, Yuki grilled my meat for me. That’s how you know you got a good one…when she grills your beef so you can drink and have a laugh.

I took the lettuce, smeared some miso on it, topped it with the beef, and chowed down! Oiishii!!! No offense to Koreans, but the quality of the meat is so much better than anything I’ve had at a Korean BBQ. Tender and juicy, the way a good cow should be. I do have a groupon for Gyu-Kaku that I can’t wait to use so that I can eat other cuts of beef along with different animals, both with legs and with gills. Oh, some veggies too. Yuki told me that their ramen was pretty good too.

At any rate, the dessert they ordered were a bunch of different doriyaki ice creams. Bowls of ice cream with red bean paste served with pancakes and mochi that you grill. Good ice cream, but they burnt the mochi. (No Eric, it didn’t taste like shwag, it just tasted burnt)

As we were getting ready to leave another co-worker of theirs who wasn’t part of this group sent over two little bottles of sake for us. Between Doug, Eric, and myself it didn’t take long to polish those babies off. Mmmmm, sake!

The best part about Gyu-Kaku is that they use really strong down-draft ventilation systems for each grill. Those things suck that smoke right down. Unlike Korean BBQ’s what have over-table hoods, you don’t have to hop in the shower and wash your clothes immediately when you get home to rid yourself of the smoke. If you have a Jewfro sponge on your head like me, your hair will definitely appreciate that!

I do have a back story regarding Gyu-Kaku. It’s a chain that started in Japan and there’s one off of the train stop near Yuki’s parent’s house. A few of years ago Yuki and I had dinner there with her sister and brother-in-law. I remember the basil marinated chicken to be fabulous. I thought that this would do really well here in Chicago because all we had were Korean BBQ joints up on the northwest side of town. There wasn’t anything downtown. So, I went to their website and saw that they’ve already hit the west coast, that really got my hopes up that I could bring them here to Chitown. I sent them a nice long e-mail letting them know about the niche they could fill here, yada yada yada. I hear nothing back from them at all. A couple of years go by and Yuki texts me, “Gyu-Kaku is coming to Chicago”. Eh? Those bastards cut me out of the deal! That’s my idea! I felt like Kramer with his ocean cologne. The least they could do is feed me for free for life since coming here was my idea from the start. Oh well, what can you do. The food is good so I will definitely go back, especially since I’ve already paid for a groupon.

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There are two seasons in my world…winter and grill! Grill season has just begun and I could not be a happier man for that. Well, I could, but this is certainly a happy moment. I actually opened up the grill a couple of weeks ago for a skirt steak, but the weather hasn’t been good enough to really start firing it up until this weekend. I know, some people think they’re more of a man because they grill in 30 below wind chills with 2 feet of snow on the ground. Personally, I think they’re morons! Every time they lift that lid they lose every bit of heat. All you do is end up with poorly cooked food. Not now though, the time is right for my clothes to smell like grill!

We had an appt this afternoon so I only made two portions last night since we had no need for lunch. First thing I did was get the chicken marinating. I mixed together 1 fennel frond chopped up, the juice from 1/2 lemon, 2 garlic cloves minced, and 3 tablespoons each of soy sauce and olive oil. A few cracks of black pepper and then I rubbed it all over the chicken and let it marinate, covered, in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Then I got the soup ready. I put 4 carrots chopped, 1/2 onion chopped, 1 inch of ginger diced, 3 garlic cloves diced, and 1 cup of chicken stock into my pot. I brought it all up to a boil, covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Then I turned off the heat and let it cool down for about a half hour.

Once cooled, I poured it all into my blender and pureed it into a smooth soup. As it was blending I decided to pour in about 1/4 cup of olive oil to give it a silkier texture. Then I seasoned it with salt and pepper and set it aside. All I had to do to serve was simply heat it up again.

For my vegetables I used 3 radishes (I cut off the leaves) each cut into 6 wedges, 1/2 yellow bell pepper sliced with each slice halved, 2 garlic cloves diced, 1/2 head of broccoli cut into florets, and about 1/2 tablespoon of butter cut into little pats.

I mixed all of the veggies in some foil, laid the butter on top, sprinkled with a little soy sauce, and then closed it up.

I fired up the grill at med-high heat and let the grates get nice and hot. I put the veggie packet on first and let them start to cook while I brought the chicken back to room temperature from the fridge. After about 15 minutes I put the chicken on. I cooked it for about 8 or 9 minutes on each side and that was all she wrote. Of course, each grill is different, so just make sure your chicken is firm when pressed so that you know it’s cooked through.

Some white rice and a cold beer and Spring weather is officially here!

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If you go back to December 24, 2010, you’ll see that I posted about the burgers at the Paramount Room. After we ate those burgers Yuki was talking about them with some of her co-workers the next day. One of them was raving to her about the burgers at Jury’s. Jury’s burgers this…Jury’s burgers that…etc. Well, the very next day Jury’s appeard on Groupon. Jury’s burgers have been rated in the top 5 best of Chicago by numerous publications many times over the years it’s been in business. We were smart enough to connect the dots which lead us to last night, trying Jury’s burgers for ourselves.

It’s atmosphere is that of a classic old Chicago Italian joint. Very comfortable with old tin ceilings and a nice long bar. There aren’t a lot of tables, maybe seating for 60, so it’s more intimate. They were playing good jazz softly in the background, just loud enough that you heard it, but not too loud that you couldn’t hear anything else. Service was fast and professional.

When we sat down they brought us a bread basket with breadsticks (plain and rye) and two types of bread (plain and multi-grain). Lots of butter as well as olive oil and parmesan to dip the bread into. Good bread. They also have a nice beer list with Bells Amber ale on tap for $3 a pint! Very nice deal.

Yuki got a cup of the soup de jour, sausage and pasta. I didn’t taste it, but she said it was good. A little salty, but overall pretty good.

We both got the classic burger. A nice big 1/2 pound patty of juicy beef. It came with lettuce, tomato, onion and a pickle on the side. We each had our onion grilled and both got cheddar cheese on our burgers. I got a big pile of fresh cut french fries while Yuki got the sauteed vegetables (zucchini, broccoli, carrots, and green beans).

I have to say, I was slightly dissapointed. Not that the burger wasn’t good. It was a very good burger. It just wasn’t a mind-altering religious experience putting that thing into my mouth and chewing. The meat was extremely fresh and juicy, but lacked a little seasoning. With all of the hype I was ready for a piece of cow that would have me up at night craving a bump of it’s bovine lovin’. I didn’t get that at all. It is clearly not a top 5 burger by any stretch of the imagination.

That said, I do wish Jury’s was in my neighborhood because that burger was lightyears beyond your regular bar burger. I would have no problem eating that thing again, no problem at all. I just wouldn’t go way out of my way to get it.

The overall Jury’s experience was a good one, and it is a great place to have in your backyard. It is also very family-friendly. But that’s all it is, a great place to have in your backyard that you can take your family to for a really good burger.

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