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Archive for July, 2011

Last night was the perfect night to grill up some juicy pork tenderloin. I’m not one to waste an opportunity like that, especially with a bunch of rain in the near future forecast. So, that’s exactly what I did, I grilled up some juicy pork tenderloin.

I made a simple marinade using 2 garlic cloves minced, 3 green onions thinly sliced, the juice from 1/2 lemon, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sake, 1 tablespoon mirin, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, and 1.25 pounds of pork tenderloin. Before letting the pork take a dip in the marinade I stabbed it all over with my knife to allow the marinade more easy access to the juicy center. I covered it and let it sit in the fridge for about 2 hours, taking it out about 30 minutes before grilling.

For my veggies I used 1 red bell pepper chopped, 1 clove garlic minced, 1/2 onion chopped, 3 fingerling potatoes chopped, 1 head of broccoli, 5 shiitake chopped, 1 tablespoon butter, and 2 tablespoons soy sauce. I also used the juice from the other half of the lemon, but forgot to get that in the pic.

I melted the butter in a hot pan and then fried the potatoes in it for about 10 minutes till they were a bit crisp on all sides. Then, I added the onion, bell pepper, and garlic. I let them sweat down for about 6 minutes. After that, I added the shiitake and broccoli and let everything cook for about 7 more minutes. In came the soy sauce, then the lemon juice along with some cracked black pepper, and then I served it up.

While the veggies were cooking I grilled up the pork. On my grill, each grill is different, tenderloin cooks best on the top rack with the heat at med-high. I can leave the pork for about 10 minutes each side leaving it just slightly pink in the middle, the way fresh tenderloin should be. I let it rest for 10 minutes and then sliced it up.

Of course, white rice was on the side.

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It’s extremely rare that I am actually proud to be a Quad City boy. So rare that last night may have actually been the first. Well, that’s not entirely true. I am proud of the fact that Roger Craig, the great 49ers running back, is from Davenport, the city in which I was born. Bix Beiderbeck, the great early jazzman is a Davenport native as well. So Davenport does have three claims to fame. However, last night made me relatively proud to call the Quad Cities my roots. That is, as proud as a pizza can make someone feel.

My good friend and real estate broker, Mike Vesole (Mike, I do expect kickbacks for every house you sell due to this post), alerted me to Roots a few weeks ago. You see, there are two pizza joints that are uniquely Quad Cities. Pizza joints that bring up Cubs vs Sox type of debates amongst the true Quad Citians. On one hand you have Happy Joe’s with their taco pizza and what is hands down the best pepperoni pizza in all of the lands! However, on the other hand, you have what I would humbly call the greatest pizza ever conceived (immaculately you could say)…the Harris sausage pizza! So good, that as a teenager I broke cardinal rules of the Jewish faith by leaving Yom Kippur services to maul one down. That pizza is literally the stuff of legend.

What Roots does is emulate that pizza of legend, bringing a nostalgic taste within 15 minutes walk, instead of $80 worth of gasoline. Having a taste of Harris sausage in mouth that quickly made me salivate to no end. With a pretty bare fridge and a beautiful night for dining al fresco last night, I convinced Yuki that we should take a nice walk for dinner. That was an easy sell.

We started off with a glass of the house brew, brewed by Two Brothers out in Warrenville. Pretty good beer I have to say. Nice maltiness while not being heavy.

We also got the stuffed artichokes and the tomato, avocado, and mozzarella salad. The artichokes weren’t worth the price. They were quality, and the breadcrumbs had a nice flavor, but they were mostly inedible leaves and not much tender heart. The creamy mustard sauce was made with Boetje’s, a Rock Island mustard and easily the best mustard ever. I always have Boetje’s in my fridge, so paying $10 to smear it on breadcrumbs  wasn’t the best idea. The salad was fantastic though. The flavors and textures all worked really well together.

I will say this though, the quality beer list and creative apps and salads are definitely not Quad Cities. At the real Harris, you can get a caesar salad and a Heineken. Oh, deep-fried mozzarella sticks too. But artichoke and avocado?

And then, out of nowhere, my schnoz detected a very familiar scent. A hint of fennel seeds, a touch of oregano. Smelled like a Harris sausage was headed my way. When they laid that thing down I felt a tingle run down my spine. Ground sausage beneath a pile of cheese with the prefect width of crust. Looked like a Harris sausage was sitting in front of me…just waiting to be devoured!

Risking a burnt tongue I went in the for kill to see if my taste buds could confirm what my other senses sensed. Honestly, a burnt tongue is part of the authentic Harris experience as well, so I had to do it right. When my teeth clamped down on that slice I felt a sort of de-ja-vou. To the untrained tongue, that was a Harris sausage!

However, I’m a highly trained tongue. I’m also an argumentative bastard who annoyingly over-analyzes everything. So, here goes with this pizza. What I haven’t told you yet is how that slice felt when I picked it up. The crust felt crisp on the bottom, but otherwise seemed about right. A Harris should have a little less rigidity to the crust. It should flop down a bit as you pick it up. Partly because of the huge amount of cheese weighing it down like a one-armed paper hanger (that jokes for you Frank and Sam), and partly because of the amount of grease that very cheese emits during it’s time in the oven, which should be a rotisserie pizza oven (since we ate outside I can’t tell you about anything on the inside). This one was more firm. As the slice sat on the plate between bites, the right amount of grease just didn’t seem to appear. This is both a good and bad thing. Good because, well, it’s much better for your nutritional well-being. Bad because, well, it just isn’t Harris. It was then that I realized that it was the lack of grease that kept the crust more firm.

The other difference I noticed was the sauce. It was almost there, but the sauce was a little more tomatoey than a Harris sauce. Again though, while not being a Harris, you can tell they are using better tomatoes.

Overall, this pizza was pretty damn close to an authentic Harris. While I understand that true masterpieces can never accurately be portrayed by another, this version of pizza was a pretty good knock-off. I think the name Roots is an accurate name for the pie. While it’s roots definitely lie in Harris, it’s more of a terrior Harris utilizing Chicago’s spoils. Being right in my backyard I will probably end up eating more Roots than Harris from this point forward, but given a choice between the two, I do have to side with Harris. Roots has become my new favorite Chicago pizza though, and that’s no easy feat to accomplish.

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Last night I made a simple burger out of ground pork and one of my usual marinades. To make it into a burger, I mixed the marinade into the meat for flavor and added some bread crumbs to help hold it together. Grilled up to perfection, these could also be pan-fried or even baked. But why when you can grill?

To make the burgers used about 1 inch of ginger grated, 3 garlic cloves grated, 3 green onions thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only), 1.25 lbs of ground pork, a few slices of bread ground into bread crumbs, 1.5 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sake, 1/2 tablespoon of mirin, and 1/2 tablespoon of sesame oil.

I threw it all into a glass bowl and mixed it together, along with some black pepper, with a metal spoon until the flavors were evenly distributed throughout the meat. By using a metal spoon I avoided having the heat in my hands melt the fat. This helps keeps the burger juicy while it’s on the grill. Once mixed, I let the meat for about 10 minutes or so to let the flavors settle. Then, I formed 4 patties and set them aside, covered in the fridge, while I prepared the rest of dinner. To cook, I took them out about 20 minutes prior to grilling. I grilled them over medium high heat for about 8 minutes on each side. This allowed nice grill marks while keeping it juicy, yet cooked.

I made miso soup using 1/2 onion sliced, 3 shiitake sliced, 3 fingerling potatoes chopped, 7 leaves of nappa cabbage sliced, and 1.5 tablespoons of miso.

The other side I made was a simple veggie mix of 1/2 pound of snow peas, 5 small garlic cloves minced, 1/2 tablespoon of butter, a handful of bean sprouts, 1/2 orange bell pepper sliced, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.

I melted the butter in a skillet and then added the garlic. I let the garlic cook for about 30 seconds and then added the orange bell pepper. After the pepper had fried up a bit in the butter, about 5 minutes, I added the cabbage and let that cook down for another 5 minutes. In came the soy sauce with some black pepper. When the soy had cooked off, just a couple of minutes, I added the bean sprouts. The sprouts have enough water so that you don’t need to much soy. When it was all cooked down for a few more minutes it was ready.

Of course, we had white rice along for the ride.

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A few nights ago Yuki and I went for a walk and realized that we were pretty hungry. The beauty of Chicago in the summer is the numerous al fresco options. We walked by Angels and Mariachis on Division and I remembered something my friend Chef John Caputo said about the place, “it’s tacos for gringos.” I happen to be a gringo, and I happen to love tacos. Mind you, he didn’t say they were good, so I had to find out for myself. Yuki’s quite frequently up for some tacos as well, so we grabbed a table outside and dined.

Pitchers of the House Margarita were on sale, so we got one. Typical bar margarita, not very strong and a little sweet. Oh well, it was hot out, the margarita was cold, I wasn’t gonna bitch too much. It was refreshing, I just prefer a little tequila in my margaritas.

The chips were freshly fried and nicely salted. The salsa, well, it was salsa. A tad sweet, not quite spicy enough, and very mediocre.

We split a tamale as an appetizer, that was a mistake. The texture was alright, but there was absolutely zero flavor! It was stuffed with slow simmer pork, but you wouldn’t know it without looking. The pork lacked seasoning, the masa lacked seasoning, even the sauce lacked seasoning. I told the waitress to let their chef know not to be afraid of serving a tamale with some flavor. She did remove it from our bill, but they should be ashamed to serve a tamale like that…blaspheme!

We also split a rice and beans plate. They were ok, but definitely not Mexican in flavor. The black beans I make at home are far better than these, but they were edible.

On to the tacos. They come 4 to a plate and are small, about 2-3 bites each. We decided to share three different orders. First was the short rib braised in red wine. It was actually pretty good. The beef was soft and tender while it had the right amount of seasoning, surprisingly after that tamale. Then we had the carnitas. Again, it was also pretty good. The pork was properly cooked and they topped it with matchsticks of carrots and pickled daikon, almost Vietnamese in flavor. It was a nice match for the pork. Last was the lobster. It was basically a seafood salad with lobster meat. Not bad, but not anything special that sings lobster. Could have easily have been crab or shrimp and you wouldn’t have noticed the difference.

The service was pretty good overall. I didn’t have to ask for that tamale to be removed from the bill. I just mentioned how bad it was and she did the right thing. Food came out at a nice pace as well.

All in all, I completely agree with Chef Caputo’s assessment that the place serves tacos for gringos. You really don’t need to say whether or not it’s good or bad as that statement pretty much says it all. While the tacos weren’t too bad at all, I don’t think I’ll jump out of my seat and rush back for more.

On a side note, I’m still very dissapointed that Andy’s Deli is no longer there. I still mourn when they sold the building, and having flavorless tamales served from the very space that used to sell the best tubes of smoked pork in town only makes me miss them more.

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There are two good reasons to drive out to Naperville: Ribfest and……… well, if anyone can think of another reason let me know. At the ripe old age of just over 2 months, Yuki and I thought it was high time that Otis experience the finer pleasures in gastronomy. So, off to Naperville we went.

Being a veteran of Naperville Ribfest I remember two pitmasters providing ribs that are a cut above the rest. Pigfoot is one of them, but the line to get their swine popsicles was insane! The other was Mojo’s, and their line was much shorter, only 5 people in front of me. Still, the line took about 20 minutes to get my ribs! They really cut back on the hired hands this year, and it really hurt the overall experience.

However, once we got our Mojo on things were all right! Juicy and tender with a nice amount of hickory, Mojo’s does a really nice job with their ribs. To make sure we got a little something extra in our stomachs I got the beans and slaw as well. Standard beans and slaw, but let’s be honest here, it’s not the Naperville Beans and Slaw Fest!

As we were Mojo all over our faces our friends Tony and Sandra found us. They headed off to get some ribs as well. Sandra got her Mojo on while Tony braved the line at Pigfoot. When he finally got back with those ribs I remembered why they have the longest line. Their ribs are fantastic! I’m not sure I’d call them light-years ahead of Mojo’s, but they do have a certain joie de vivre about them.

Ready for another flavor of ribs I set out to find my calling. Not quite sure where to wait in line, I noticed behind Sgt Oinks a short, stout woman with a mullet ponytail working amongst the pitmasters. That, to me, says BBQ! Mullet ponytail it is. I’m glad I went there too as I don’t remember eating their ribs at past fests, but I do remember seeing their booth. Their ribs themselves were the meatiest of the bunch, which was nice. Their sauce was very cuminy, which is not a bad thing at all. I also got one of their sweet cornbread muffins as they were advertised as “The best north of the Mason-Dixon Line”. I wouldn’t put them above Mojo’s or Pigfoot, but they weren’t far behind either. Ideally I’d put Sgt Oink’s ribs with Mojo’s hickory smoke and Pigfoot’s sauce. Now that would be a Naperville Ribfest champion!

A fresh squeezed lemonade (all for the low low price of $6!) to wash it all down and we were ready to head back to the City. I only wish they had a different music schedule because Bruce Hornsby is playing today. We were stuck with some pretty awful and loud music. I think they were called  “The Sweetwater Band”. Honestly, they’re no better than the bands I was in back in college! That’s not saying much.

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