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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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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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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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Last night we finally got to try Ruxbin Kitchen. It was our third attempt, and I guess it’s true what they say, the third time’s the charm. You see, Ruxbin Kitchen is a new restaurant just down the street from us that opened up this past summer. They don’t take reservations and word must have gotten out quick about how good it is because the first two times Yuki and I went there the wait was 1.5 hours. Yesterday we planned on going early, at 6pm, to ensure a table. We got our table, and while I don’t think there was a wait after we got there, the restaurant was full, for good reason.

It’s a small space, only about a 40 person capacity maybe. It’s real kitschy inside. Comfortable seats, wood tables and fixtures, cookbooks displayed on the walls, and pages from cookbooks plastered all over the ceiling.

Service was good. Not the fastest, not the slowest, but a nice pace. Our server was knowledgable of the menu and didn’t push us in any direction. It is BYOB, so be prepared. They do offer the proper glasses and openers. They also brought out popcorn sprinkled with ground nori to nosh on while perusing the menu. That replaced bread service.

We started off with the Crispy Eggplant. It’s sliced, quartered eggplant coating in bread crumbs and deep-fried. Served with roasted beets, sticks of cucumber, frisee, and honey-cardamom yogurt. There’s also some pepper sprinkled around one edge of the plate for you own pleasure. I have to say, as much as I love the classic beet salad with mixed greens, walnuts, and fried goat cheese that everyone serves, this was a really nice change of pace. Even though it’s called Crispy Eggplant, for me, the beets were the dominant flavor. Very nice salad to start with.

Next, we shared the K-Town Empanadas. Two empanadas stuffed with masa, kimchee, Oaxaca cheese, and covered with a chimichurri creme fraiche. Who on earth would put cheese and kimchee together? Chef Ed Kim, that’s who. What a stroke of genius! The kimchee took center stage while the cheese added a subtle sweetness and the masa some texture. definitely a winner.

We split two entrees. One was a perfectly cooked piece of trout with nice crispy skin and moist flesh. It was served on top of a bulgur wheat tabbouleh with black sesame seeds and dates, asparagus spears on top, and basil pesto drizzled around the plate. I’m not usually impressed by trout, but this dish was fantastic. The sweet dates, bitter asparagus, earthy bulgur wheat and sesame seeds, and herby basil all worked really well together.

The other entrée we got was their play on chicken and waffles. There was roasted breast with crispy skin along one side of the plate. That came with a citrus sauce of some kind. Then was a cumin cheddar waffle with dark meat carnitas and apple walnut compote. The waffle was sliced in half with the carnitas sandwiched in between and the compote on top. The rest of the plate was a slaw with arugula. The waffle was outstanding. The most creative take on chicken and waffles I’ve ever eaten and another home run by Chef Kim. My only gripe with the plate was that the breast was a little over salted, not so much that it was bad though. That’s something that most chefs do and I’ll never understand. I like salt, but chefs almost always put a little too much on chicken. Oh well, the entire dish was great.

We didn’t have any room in our guts for dessert so I can’t comment on them. Next time we go back we’ll keep it to one appetizer so that we have room for dessert. And believe me, we’ll definitely go back! Not sure it’s worth a 1.5 hour wait (I don’t think any restaurant is worth that) but it’s definitely worth waiting for a while if you get there and it’s full. I love having a joint like this so close to my place. A great place to take out-of-town friends who want something hip that’s off the beaten path.

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Alright, so I didn’t cook last night, nor did I post anything yesterday. In light of that here’s what I made Wednesday night, a Pork Curry. This recipe came from my father-in-law in Japan. He was very excited when he sent it over and translated it into English for me. Some of the measurements that I used are a little different from his since he’s on the Metric System. I also did a couple of things different. Overall my dish was pretty true to his recipe.

To start, I sautéed a sliced onion, a shredded carrot, and two ribs of celery chopped in some soy oil with garlic and ginger. Uichiro adds a little butter, I didn’t because I’ve been eating a lot of butter lately. I need to keep my girlish figure.

Once the vegetables were sweated down for about 7 minutes I added about 2/3’s of a pound of pork chops that I had sliced to about 1/4 inch width. I let the pork cook just until the exterior turned white but the insides were still uncooked. Then I added 2 tablespoons of curry powder, about a teaspoon of black pepper, 5 tablespoons of flour, 1 tablespoon of garam masala, and 1 teaspoon of turmeric. I stirred that all in and sautéed for a few more minutes. Then I poured in 50 ml of white wine and let it boil down.

Once the wine had boiled down I added three cups of water, a 14 oz can of diced tomatoes (Uichiro chopped 1 cup of fresh tomatoes), 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, once chicken bouillon cube, a bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Once that all came to a boil I covered it and turned the heat down to med-low. That simmered for about 40 minutes.

After the 40 minutes I took a half an apple and grated it into. This adds a lot of sweetness as well as some starch to help the flour thicken it up a bit. I also added a large pinch of sugar to help balance out the spice.

To add a green element to the curry I threw some mache leaves in right after turning off the heat. Uichiro didn’t do that. It really didn’t need it, I just wanted to add the color.

Overall, I have to say, it’s another winner from Uichiro. Next time I think I’ll use about a half cup less water, but otherwise it was delicious. I am disappointed that he didn’t have a cool name for the dish though. He calls his meatloaf “cool breeze amongst the pine trees”. I have no idea why, but it is a damn good meatloaf!

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In light of my great respect for the fine art of Kaiseki, Yuki’s mom decided that she wanted to take me out for another style. That woman loves me! Frankly, I can’t blame her. At any rate, a friend of hers had recommended Ushiyama in the Meguro neighborhood of Tokyo, so we gave it a shot last night. And what a shot it was! Slam dunk!

It started off with a plate of carrots, shiitake, and mibuna with grated apple. Who would have thought of putting grated apple on mushrooms? Ushiyama, that’s who. I’m damn he did, it was amazing!

After that came a dish of four. I ate them clockwise from bottom left. Ama ebi (sweet shrimp), raw sardines with thinly sliced onion that’s been soaked in cold water to remove the sharpness, warm salted ginko nuts skewered on pine needles on top of seitan (wheat gluten) cakes on top of grilled sweet potato that was shaped like a ginko leaf, and uni in a lily blossom. No, I did not eat the maple leaf in the center of the plate nor the pine needles.

Next was the soup course. I heavily bonito flaked dashi broth that was nice and smokey with a rinkon (lotus root) and mochi dumpling and a bok choy leaf with some yuzu zest. It ranks right up there with the best soups I’ve ever eaten, next to the one I ate a few years ago at Iron Chef Michiba’s restaurant.

After the soup course was the sashimi course. It consisted of suzuki (sea bass), melt-in-your-mouth tuna, and ika (squid). It must be ika season because the ika I’ve eaten on this trip is by far the softest and sweetest I’ve ever had.

Then they served us home-made soba noodles in a light soy-dashi with some thinly sliced negi (green onions) on top. I’m telling you, there is absolutely nothing like top quality freshly made soba noodles. I don’t know if I can go back to store-bought dried soba when I get home. I mean, of course I can, but it just won’t be the same. So chewy and clean tasting.

Next up was the grilled course. Sawara (a cousin of the spanish mackerel) grilled with yuzu-miso and served with yuzu-miso konnyaku and daikon that was cut into a flower with a small slice of red pepper. I’ve never had yuzu-miso before, I’m a huge fan!

After that was the simmered course which was kinmedai (splendid alfonsino) in a ginger sauce. It was served with spinach and daikon radish with chawanmushi in the middle.

For the fried course we got a dish with some tempura. Shishito pepper and ebi imo (a kind of yam) served in a light dashi with momiji oroshi and chopped chives.

Then came the rice and miso course. The rice was a glutinous rice with chirimenjako (baby sardines simmered in saltwater, dried in the sun, and covered in a sweet soy marinade), sliced shiso, and served on top of a cherry leaf. The miso had mizuna greens in it. There was also some lightly pickled cucumber and daikon on the side (yes Nick, I even ate the pickles!).

Finally, for dessert we got sweet potato mousse. It was so soft and lightly sweet, it was really more like a light sweet potato cheesecake. Served with a sweet potato chip on top.

This Kaiseki was Kyoto-style which is considered to be the most sophisticated and delicate of all styles. Hard to argue as the food was simply magnificent! Plus, all of that food for only $50 per person! I challenge anyone to find a deal half that good for a meal of that quality prepared with that caliber anywhere in the states. Thanks so much for bringing me here Tamiko!!!

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