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Posts Tagged ‘artichoke’

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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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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I’ve been wanting to do something with artichokes for a while, but fresh one’s are pretty pricey. I found these great frozen ones at Trader Joe’s that taste great and retain all of their nutrients. I whipped this salmon dish up to get them into our guts.

This is a really easy dish that can be made within a half hour or so. I took 1.5 cups of the frozen artichokes (about half the bag) and rinsed them real well, 1/2 cup of chicken stock, 1 red bell pepper diced, 1/2 onion diced, 1 carrot diced, 1 14oz can of chickpeas drained and rinsed, 1 container of cherry tomatoes, 1 large sprig of thyme, and 5 garlic cloves minced.

I poured about 2 tablespoons into a heated pot and added the garlic. I let that go for about 30 seconds and then added the onion. The onion sweat for about 3 minutes and then in came the bell pepper and carrot. Once that all sweat down for about 5 more minutes I poured in the chicken stock and seasoned with some salt and pepper. When the stock started to slowly boil I added the artichokes, chickpeas, tomatoes, and thyme. I covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes.

For the salmon I simply used some chopped up fennel fronds and about 3/4 pound of salmon cut into 4 portions.

I seasoned the salmon with salt and pepper, then topped it with the fennel and drizzled some olive oil all over it. I threw it into a 375 degree oven and let it go for about 10 minutes just until it was cooked through.

I tasted the artichoke chickpeas mix and adjusted the seasoning accordingly then ladled a big scoop onto the middle of a plate. I placed a piece of salmon on top. White rice was on the side, along with a cold beer.

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It doesn’t look like much in this picture, but last night I made some delicious pasta with scallops and vegetables. I had some things in my fridge I wanted to use up and pasta seemed like a good way to do it. While at the store I first went to the fish counter to figure out what to do. They just got in some really fresh bay scallops for $9.99 a pound, I couldn’t resist.

I had some cherry tomatoes to use up along with some asparagus, 3 cloves of garlic, a carrot, 1/2 onion, and 1/4 cup of white wine. To go with it I picked up a bulb of fennel (I only used half), some cremini mushrooms (I only used half the package), 1 pound of bay scallops. I chopped up all of the vegetables slicing the onion and fennel.

In a large hot skillet I poured in a good glug of olive oil, probably about 1/4 cup or so and then tossed in the garlic for about minute. Then I added the onion, carrot, and asparagus and let them go for about 4 minutes. Then I added the fennel and mushrooms for about another 4 minutes. Once all of the vegetables were slightly transparent I poured in the white wine and let it boil off for 3 minutes while seasoning with salt and pepper. After that I added the scallops which only needed about 2-3 minutes to cook. You never want to overcook scallops so always cook them a little less than you think.

While this was going on I cooked some angel hair pasta according to package instructions and drained them. Once the scallops were ready I tossed the cherry tomatoes in followed by the pasta and some basil I picked from my back porch. I tossed and tossed and tossed it all together so that the vegetables were incorporated throughout the pasta. Then I turned of the heat and served it up. Quick, simple, healthy, and delicious.

To eat with the pasta I toasted some bread and spread this delicious artichoke-garlic dip I have on top.

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Meatless Monday this week was gnocchi. I do have to say that I cheated a little. I didn’t make my own gnocchi. It’s not hard to make, but it does take time. Time is what I lacked. However, most people don’t make their own pasta, so using pre-made gnocchi isn’t really that bad I guess. What’s the difference? Just use a good quality gnocchi.

First thing I did was boil some chopped rapini in salt water for about 3 minutes. Rapini can be really bitter and strong. Boiling it for a few minutes removes a lot of the bitterness. Drain it well afterword and squeeze out all of the water.

I made some pesto. Just a classic pesto. Some basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan, salt, pepper, and I like to throw in a pinch of red pepper flakes all into the blender and let her rip while slowly pouring in some olive oil. I think I ended up pouring in about 1/3 cup or so. It all depends upon how much of the other ingredients you put in. Do what you dig.

In a large pan I sautéed a chopped onion and a bunch of quartered mushrooms in olive oil with garlic. I let them go until the onion got a little translucent and the mushrooms started to release some of their liquid.

Then I threw in the rapini and a bunch of cherry tomatoes that were halved. I let them go for just a couple of minutes.

Once the tomato skins started to wilt a little I tossed in the gnocchi (I had boiled it while cooking the veggies) and spooned in some of the pesto. I mixed it all around and the it cook for just a minute to bring all of the flavors together.

To serve, I tossed a little fresh parmesan on top. On the side I toasted some bread and spread some artichoke and garlic in olive oil puree on top.

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indian-restaurant-complaint1

 

 

I went to Vermilion, 10 W. Hubbard, a while back and have to let you all know about the horrible experience I had there as the bitter taste still lingers on (from the night I tried to make her stay. Bob Dylan, “If you see her say hello”, Blood on the Tracks, 1975).

 

The fact that the vermilion is a highly toxic red dye is really the only thing the people behind the restaurant got correct as my experience there was emotionally toxic. I have yet, to this date, experienced such a poorly run restaurant that served such bland and uninspiring food. Excitement was running high as the concept of fusing Indian and Latin cuisine seems like a homerun to me. Both use similar fruits, coriander, tamarind, chilis, and whatnot. There has to be a ton of possibilities when blending these two, but Vermilion didn’t really fuse anything. It was mostly Indian food, that is, poorly spiced Indian food, with the rare cameo from the chipotle. It wasn’t just the poor attempt at a hip new fusion, Vermilion failed to deliver on all aspects of restaurant dining.

 

I was with a party of 13 (yeah, I know, the “lucky” number that the superstitious would claim is the reason for my poor experience) for an 8pm reservation on a Friday night. We walked in and I couldn’t believe how boring the interior was. When I think of Indian and Latin cultures I think of vibrant colors and sensuality. Well, they sort of covered the sensuality with some photos of hot women on the walls, but everything was white! White walls, white tablecloths. There were black accents with red napkins and candles. That’s it, no other colors. To me it just looked like your typical minimalist upscale restaurant wannabe hip club. I never got the sense from the décor that this was a spicy place.

 

 

The restaurant was pretty full in the dining area while the bar was relatively empty. We went up to the host who said that our table wasn’t quite ready, just a few minutes. Ok, no big deal. Restaurants run behind sometimes, it happens. Might as well grab a cocktail while waiting. Little did I know at the time that later in the evening the cocktail I would want in hand is a Molotov ready to be tossed into that poor excuse of a host’s britches. On top of that, their “specialty” cocktails were mostly putrid! Some of those Indian spices used in cooking should stay in the sauté pan and stay out of the martini glass.

 

 

A half hour goes by and it doesn’t look like there’s any table even remotely close to leaving for us to sit down. I go to the host to see what the story is. “It’ll be just a little bit longer, I’m very sorry.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s obvious to me at this point that Vermilion has no idea how to book its seatings. 15 minutes late, it happens. 20 minutes late, I can understand some people eat a little slower. Once you hit 30 minutes late on a reservation there’s something wrong. I’m starting to get pissed now. We wait a little longer and order another round of drinks.

 

 

15 more minutes go by and no table ready. Now, if you have a reservation and you don’t get seated for 45 minutes it’s up to the manager to come out and smooth the situation over. Buy us a round of drinks, send us a few bites to tide us over….something! Not a thing. The manager didn’t even have the balls to walk his horrible checkered tie wearing self over to us and explain what the problem was. Instead, he kept his lowly host in the line of fire. Poor host. He had no idea the likes of who he was dealing with.

 

 

So, now an hour has gone by. I go back to the host and am noticeably upset with him. He tells me, “We’re very busy tonight, we’ll get you a table as soon as we can.” WOW! Did he really just tell this to a customer with a reservation. I know you guys are busy on a Friday night, that’s why we made a RESERVATION! You know, that thing that holds a table for us. I felt like I was in a Seinfeld episode. Furthermore, I’ve worked downtown in busy restaurants, I know what a busy restaurant looks like. A busy restaurant is 3-4 people deep at the bar with people who don’t have reservations waiting for tables. Vermilion didn’t even have a full bar, so there were no walk-ins to contend with. This was just pure and simple bad restaurant management.

 

 

I was ready to start yelling out “THERE’S A RAT, THERE’S A RAT”, get out of there and head over to Bin36 where I know I’ll get a seat, good food, and good wine, but everyone else I was with wanted to stay and try what was supposed to be interesting food. 1 to 12, yeah, I’m clearly outnumbered. Since dinner was a business expense and I’m Jewish (Free food baby!) I sucked it up.

 

 

Finally, an hour and a half after our reservation time we finally get seated. We’ve already had plenty of time to digest the menu (which would digest much better than the food did) so we were ready to go. We’re sitting, waiting, waiting, waiting. It took another 15 minutes after we sat down for our server to even come by and greet us. This is just ridiculous! He says hi, takes our drink order, and walks away before we can order our food. GET BACK HERE YOU SON OF A BITCH! He comes back and we order our food. We thought it’d be fun to share a bunch of small plates so we could each try a bunch of new flavors. I gotta be honest, I don’t know why they call their small plates Tapas. That’s a pet peeve of mine, when restaurants serve small plates and automatically call them Tapas. Tapas are Spanish appetizers meant to be eaten with drinks at a bar. I have no problem with Tapas restaurants branching out beyond that, but if it’s not Spanish cuisine then don’t call them Tapas! Call them small plates! And don’t give me that whole tapasya BS which in Sanskrit means heat or spiritual suffering. Although, come to think of it, my experience at Vermilion was a spiritual suffering of sorts, so maybe it is accurate after all.

 

 

With our orders in we wait some more for our food and drink to show up. About 20 minutes later some of the plates start arriving, but still no drinks. We ordered a bunch of sangria (again, what is it with the Spanish theme here, I thought it was Indian and Latin, not Spanish…and no, the conquistadors pillaging and plundering of Latin America doesn’t make it right) that should take no more than a few minutes to prepare and send out. Furthermore, in fine dining you always serve drinks first. If there are no drinks on the table yet you don’t serve the food.

 

 

Here we are with overcooked, rubbery shrimp with mung bean (a southeast Asian ingredient, not Indian or Latin) and daikon (a Japanese ingredient). Mussels in a coconut chili broth that tasted just like Mussels in a coconut broth at any restaurant and was nothing exciting or creative. Artichoke Pakoras, they say it’s Spain’s favorite (again with Spain), that were already starting to discolor due to the lentil batter not covering the entire artichoke (artichokes discolor if left out in open air for too long, how fresh were these artichokes?). Duck Vindaloo that was cooked like chicken and not medium rare like duck should be. Etc, etc, etc.

 

 

There was not one saving grace for this meal. The flavors were not fusion at all! The dishes tasted like half-assed Indian food. There was a lot more Spanish influence than Latin. Why can’t people understand the difference between Spanish and Latin? Just because they both speak Spanish doesn’t make them the same. Extremely disappointing.

 

 

If I didn’t have a conscience I would have dined and ditched. The fact that we never once got an apology or a comped drink from the manager compounded with the lack of flavor and creativity of the food with some lacksadaisical service thrown in for good measure ensures that I will never ever ever come back to this sorry excuse for an establishment. I wouldn’t even come back for free food! You could pay me to come back, but that’s only because I can be bought.

 

 

I can’t comment on dessert because at that point we were all so upset with this place that everyone finally decided to listen to me. We went to Bin36 for dessert and wine, so the entire evening was not all loss.

 

 

All in all, I couldn’t wait to process all of those tasteless morsels and pass them through my intestines and into Chicago’s sewer systems, exactly where Vermilion belongs.

 

 

 

(cartoon courtesy of Toothpaste for Dinner)

 

 

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