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Posts Tagged ‘asparagus’

If memory serves me correct, there is a Chinese restaurant in Yokohama’s Chinatown that is not only the oldest Chinese restaurant in Japan, but also one of the most respected Chinese restaurants in the world. I first heard of HeiChinRou when watching Iron Chef years ago. The restaurant sent its top two deputy chef’s up against Iron Chef Chen Kenechi only to have him cut them down. Not satisfied, they finally sent their Grand Master Chef to set things straight, Xie Huaxian. Xie is considered by many to be the greatest Chinese chef of our time. He was victorious. Ever since then I told my self, “I have got to eat at that restaurant!” After 7 trips to Japan, including numerous time walking past HeiChinRou, that day had finally come. Yuki had plans with a bunch of her friends to show off Otis, so her parents took me to fulfill my belly’s destiny.

An elegant restaurant on numerous floors, there’s a peaceful bamboo garden when you walk in. They took us in an elevator up to the second floor and sat us in a very comfortable booth. Coming from Chicago I was pleasantly surprised by how absolutely clean the restaurant is. It had the look and feel of a high-end French restaurant, not the greasy Chinese stir-fry I am used to. The menu features many a la carte dishes as well as a handful of set course options. Being the first week of 2012 we opted for the “Happy New Year” course option.

Uichiro and I started off with some Shokoshu, a type of Chinese rice wine or Shaoxing. Served warm, it has a caramel color as well as taste more similar to a Brandy than a rice wine. Very smooth and very warm in the belly, its delicious on a chilly day.

The first course consisted of 5 tastes. Jellyfish, a baby squid stewed in soy sauce, a shrimp, a slice of smoked duck breast, a piece of Chinese BBQ pork, and a dollop of mustard. While they were all fantastic, I have to say that the pork may have been the best piece of swine that has ever graced my palette! If it were socially acceptable I would drape myself in it and nibble on it all day long.

The second course was Shark Fin Soup with Crab. I have eaten shark fin soup before, but always questioned the authenticity of the shark fins. I always thought I was being served cellophane noodles instead. I think I was right as this texture was nothing like the bowls I’ve previously eaten. Slightly chewy, they combined beautifully with the sweetness of the crab meat. This soup may not be humane, but it sure tasted good!

The third course was abalone with Simmered Shiitake and Bok Choy in Oyster Sauce. It’s really too bad that abalone is illegal in the States, it really is a wonderful mollusk. Dense in texture, it matched very well with the soft shiitake and bitter green.

The fourth course was Beef with Shimeji Mushrooms, Carrots, and Asparagus. Served in a soy based sauce it was simply wonderful. After eating this I don’t see how I can go back to eating Mongolian Beef in Chicago’s Chinatown.

The fifth course was Shrimp in Chili Sauce. A little bit of sweetness and just the right amount of heat to get your mouth tingling a little. The spice made you want to keep coming back for more. Fried wonton skins added some crisp texture and was Uichiro’s favorite part of the dish.

The sixth course was Sautéed Rice with Egg, Pork, Green Onion, and Lettuce. This dish is similar to fried rice except that it’s sautéed together over a lower heat. This keeps the rice a little softer and helps prevent the lettuce from wilting under the intense heat of a hot wok. I’ve seen his dish on Iron Chef and was glad to get the chance to eat such a high quality version of it.

The seventh course, dessert, was Almond Jelly with a sprig of mint. I think this was Uichiro’s favorite part of the whole meal. He’s eaten many different almond jelly’s in his life and couldn’t get over how good this one was. I’ve only eaten a few, but I agree that this one was the best I’ve ever had. Sweet with the texture of a fine silken tofu, a great way to end a great meal.

All in all, I will say that none of these dishes were out of the ordinary for Chinese food as far as creativity. However, that said, I don’t think you’ll find better preparation anywhere in the world. In each dish the ingredients were of the highest quality, they were all cooked to perfection, and the flavors were expertly balanced. Hands down the most fantastic Chinese food to ever pass through my tracts!

While Xie Huaxian is no longer cooking at HeiChinRou, his successor, Nishizaki-san, is no slouch.

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I had a half of a butternut squash in my fridge that I wanted to use up last night. The first thing that popped into my head was a puree. Squash puree’s really well, especially when you add a little ginger and garlic. So, Otis and I walked down to Trader Joe’s and grabbed some pork tenderloin to grill up for the protein.

Making a puree out of squash is one of the easiest things you can do. I took the squash and removed the seeds and skin then chopped it up. Along with that, I skinned and chopped one medium red-skin potato, 1/2 inch of ginger, 3 garlic cloves, and 1/4 cup of chicken stock. The potato is simply to add a nice smooth texture.

In a sauce pan, I threw all of the ingredients together and simmered them over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes, until everything was soft but not mushy. I let it cool down and then pureed it in my little blender. I set about 5 tablespoons aside and then salted and peppered the rest and let that sit aside ready to reheat just before serving.

While the squash was simmering I marinate the pork in 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sake, 1 tablespoon mirin, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1/2 inch of ginger grated, and 3 garlic cloves grated. I had 2 lbs of tenderloin and let it marinate in the fridge for about 2 hours, then let it sit out for about 45 minutes before grilling.

For my grill, about 10 minutes on each side at medium-high cooks it nice and medium with just a bit of pink left in the middle. I let it rest, tented in foil, for about 8 minutes before slicing it up.

To counter the Autumn sweetness of the squash I sautéed some asparagus with sliced shiitake, 1/2 an onion sliced, 2 garlic cloves minced, 1 tablespoon of butter, and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce.

In a medium-hot pan I poured in a couple of tablespoons of peanut oil. I sweat down the onion for about 7 minutes. Then I added the garlic and shiitake. I let those cook for about 5 minutes before tossing the asparagus in. Another 8 minutes and I added the butter and soy. I let it all cook together for a few more minutes. so the butter could coat everything, then served it up.

Pan roasting asparagus and shiitake with some butter bring out more of the woodsy notes rather than more sweetness.

White rice was on the side of course.

The night’s triumph, however, was that it was Otis’s first successful adult food feeding! We tried some sweet potato a couple of weeks ago, but it didn’t go over so well. He just wasn’t quite ready. With all the butternut squash puree, we gave it another shot. Remember the puree that I set aside before adding salt and pepper? (babies shouldn’t eat added salt) I mixed in about 2 oz’s of breast milk, not from my breasts or he’d get nothing but a hairball, until it was really smooth and thin enough that he could just swallow it down. Sure, his bib got fed too, but he ate the whole thing. I’m sure I’ll have a fun mess to clean up today because of it. But he’s worth it.

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Farmer’s Market season officially kicked off this past weekend, and I couldn’t be happier. While it’ll still be some time before the best produce is available (peaches, carrots, etc.), there are some great veggies ready for the taking. With Sunday not only being the first Wicker Park Farmer’s Market, but also being an absolutely beautiful day, Yuki and I took Otis out for his first taste of the fresh produce Michigan has to offer.

Jakes Country Meats was there some beautifully smoked pork products. All of their pork is smoked with wood and vegetables like beets and celery that contain natural nitrates. They hit me up for a couple of smoked chops and a package of kielbasa as I am a lover of kielbasa. Haven’t had the kielbasa yet, but I salivate every time I open up my freezer and see them sitting there just waiting to be thawed and thrown on my grill!

I also picked up some River Valley Kitchens asparagus ravioli, some beautiful purple asparagus, and a few butterball potatoes. Along with the smoked chops these ingredients were to become dinner.

I also used 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/4 onion diced, 3 garlic cloves minced, and a handful of parsley chopped.

In my large skillet I melted the butter and then sautéed the garlic, onion, and asparagus for about 6 minutes. I added the ravioli (since they were not frozen I did not boil them) and let the fry in the butter for about 5 minutes or so on each side. Then I tossed in most of the parsley and seasoned with some salt and pepper. I set it aside until my grill was done.

For the grill I cut the potatoes into wedges and drizzled them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I grilled them on the top rack for about 8 minutes on each side. Since the chops were smoked they just needed to be heated, some nice grill marks were also in order. So, I just let them cook for about 3 minutes on each side.

On the side I made a very simple salad with iceberg lettuce, tomato wedges, and a lemon vinaigrette I made with the juice from 1/2 lemon, twice as much olive oil as lemon juice, salt, and pepper (emulsified into a smooth texture).

I will say this, the chops, while very delicious, were more like breakfast ham than dinner meat. They were a tad salty for the way I prepared them. If I were to buy them again, which I would in a heartbeat, I would serve them with a vegetable hash and a nice runny poached egg on top. Otherwise everything was fantastic.

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Alright, so I don’t just cook for Uichiro when he’s here, I also cook for Tamiko. She’s a huge fan of Italian food as well as seafood. That said, I thought a nice pasta with clams would be just the trick. With Uichiro back in Japan already, this dish would also make him a little jealous since he’s probably eating a take-home bento box right now. Sorry Uichiro.

I wanted to get all of the sand and grit out of the clams so the first thing I did was purge them. To do that all I did was rinse them real well in cold water and then let them sit in cold salt water with some cornmeal for about 2 hours. What this does is trick them into thinking that the cornmeal is sand so it cycles it through spitting out any real sand in the process. Just before cooking I rinsed them again in fresh cold water. Since I was cooking for 3 I used 15 clams. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Iris Tsai (Ming’s mom) it’s that 5 is a good number for a plate of food.

One of my side dishes was a simple bruschetta. I prepared that ahead of time so that come dinner all I had to do was toast the bread and top it. I used some fresh basil chopped up, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of grated parmesan, 3 tomatoes diced, 1 garlic clove peeled, 1.5 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, a some ciabatta.

In a glass bowl I whisked together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and parmesan along with some salt and pepper until it was emulsified. Then I added the tomatoes and basil and mixed it thoroughly. I wrapped it up and put it in the fridge until dinner time. That way, all I had to do was toast the bread, rub the garlic over the toast, and then top it with the tomato-basil mix.

I also made a simple Italian bean and vegetable soup. I used one carrot cut into half moons, 14oz can of cannellini beans, 1 cup chicken stock, 1/2 onion diced, 1 garlic clove minced, and a large handful of baby spinach.

I threw everything except for the beans into a pot and brought it up to a boil. I covered the pot, turned the heat down to med-low, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Then I added the beans and let it simmer for another 3 minutes. Since the beans were canned I had no need to cook them, just heat them through. A little salt and pepper and that’s all she wrote for this one.

My final side dish was simple roast asparagus. I cleaned up 15 spears and drizzled them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and parmesan. They went into a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

Finally, the main event! For the pasta I used 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley, 1/4 cup of white wine, a pinch of red pepper flakes, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 6oz capellini (I didn’t actually use spaghetti because I already had some capellini open in my cupboard), 1 garlic clove thinly sliced, and my clams.

In a large pot of boiling salt water I cooked the pasta until about 2 minutes before al dente. I reserved a ladle of the pasta water and drained the noodles and set them aside.

While that was going on I heated up my large pan and poured in the olive oil. I added the garlic and let it sautee until it turned a light golden brown, then I added the red pepper flakes. I swirled that all around for about 15 seconds to make sure the flavors mixed into all of the oil. Then I poured in the wine, added the clams, covered the pan, and let the clams cook for about 6 minutes or so until they were all opened up. If any clams don’t open then throw them away, they’re dead. Fortunately, all 15 of these were alive and well…that is until I killed them in my spicy garlicky wine sauce!

Once the clams were open I set them aside in a bowl and poured the reserved pasta water into the pan. Once it came to a boil I added the noodles and let them cook in the wine sauce for about 2 minutes. Then I added the clams back, along with any juices that accumulated in the bottom of the bowl, as well as the parsley. I tossed it all around and then served everything up, Buon Appetito!

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Yuki was talking with her parents the other night about quinoa and her dad said that he’s never had it before. Since they’ve been doing most of the cooking the past week I took that as a cue to get my ass back in the kitchen, something I’ve been jonezin to do. I referred back to the Charlie Trotter recipe that I’ve used before for inspiration. Again, this dish is not his exact recipe, but it is inspired from it. These recipes should feed 6 adults provided their not all fat Americans.

Before getting to the chicken and quinoa I made a cauliflower puree soup that we could eat while the chicken roasted. My mom was with us also, and she is not a fan of cauliflower. I took that as a challenge to show her that cauliflower, when not referring to a boxer’s ears, is a beautiful thing.

I took one head of cauliflower broken down, 1 yukon gold potato chopped, 2 garlic cloves chopped, 1 inch of ginger chopped, 1/2 onion chopped, 1 cup of chicken stock, and 3 cups of water.

I simply threw everything into a stock pot, brought it all up to a boil, covered the pot, turned the heat down to med-low, and let it all simmer for about 30 minutes.

After that I just turned off the heat and let it cool down a bit. Then I poured it all into my blender and pureed it up. I poured it back into the pot and seasoned with salt and pepper. Before eating it I just heated it back up. My brother sprinkled a little shichimi togarashi in his which lead me to do the same. A wise decision!

Before we got to the soup I got everything else going. For the apricot curry sauce I put 3/4 cup dried apricots, 3/4 tablespoon curry powder, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, and 1/2 cup of water into my small blender and let ‘er rip for about 5 minutes or so.

Then I strained the sauce. I reserved the solids for use with the bird. I set the sauce aside and let it rest until serving time.

I had a 3.5 pound chicken to roast. I seasoned it inside and out with salt and pepper, squeezed some lemon juice all over the skin, then stuffed the cavity with the solids from the curry sauce and the lemon that I used to squeeze all over it. I put it in my roasting pan and threw it into a 450 degree oven. After 15 minutes I turned the heat down to 400 degrees and let it go for another 40 minutes. Then, I turned off the heat, slightly cracked the oven door open, and let the bird rest for about 15 minutes.

While the bird was roasting I got the quinoa ready. I used 1/2 each of an orange, yellow, and red bell pepper diced, 2 small Persian cucumbers diced, 5 tablespoons of orange juice, 1.5 cups of quinoa rinsed, and some chopped chives.

In a hot pot I poured in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then sweat down the peppers for about 5 minutes. Then I added the quinoa and let it sort of toast in the hot oil for about 3 minutes. After that, I poured in 3 cups of boiling water. With everything boiling I covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for 15 minutes. When that time passed I turned the heat off, kept it covered, and let it sit for another 15 minutes. Just before serving I added the cucumber and orange juice, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and then fluffed it up with a fork.

I also roasted some asparagus while the quinoa and chicken were cooking. I just took some asparagus spears and drizzled them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and ground sesame seeds. I threw them into my toaster oven set at bake for about 10 minutes at 375 degrees.

While all of that was going we sat down and ate the cauliflower soup.

When we finished the soup I took the bird out and cut it up. Honestly, that’s one area I’m not real good at. I butchered that thing pretty good. I got most of the meat off, but there was some left on the carcass that I didn’t get. Oh well, I’ll just have to keep roasting birds until I get better at carving them. No matter though, the meat was juicy and delicious.

To serve it, I drizzled the sauce all over the plate and then sprinkled over the chives.

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This dish is a simple riff on the classic Beef and Barley Stew. As cheap as stew beef is, ground beef is even cheaper. So, this is a great way to save some cash while still making a delicious and healthy dish.

For the stew I used a handful of parsley chopped, 2 tomatoes chopped, 1/2 onion diced, 1 large shallot diced, 3 cloves of garlic minced, 1 carrot diced, 9 asparagus stalks chopped, 4 cups of beef broth, 2/3 cup of hulled barley, 4 ounces of mixed mushrooms sliced, and a big sprig of thyme.

I heated up a pot and poured in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and added the garlic. About a minute later I added the onion, carrot, and shallot. I let them sweat down for about 5 minutes and then tossed in the asparagus. I just wanted the asparagus to get nicely coated with the olive oil, so I only let it go for a minute or two before adding the barley. I let the barley sort of toast in the hot oil for a few minutes.

After that I poured in the stock and added the tomatoes and mushrooms as soon as it came up to a slow simmer. Then I dropped the thyme in, covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.

While the barley was stewing I made my meatballs. In a glass bowl I beat 1 egg. To that I added about 2 tablespoons of fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano, fresh bread crumbs from 2 pieces of bread, 3 cloves of garlic minced, and 2/3 pound of ground beef. I mixed it all together and then formed walnut-sized meatballs.

I threw the meatballs into the stew, brought it back up to a simmer, then covered it again for about 10 more minutes until the meatballs were cooked through. Then I turned off the heat, added the parsley, and seasoned with salt and pepper. I served it up with slices of french bread.

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This past Friday night I made a rice noodle soup with some really nice shrimp I picked up. Being a Friday night dinner, this is a 2 person recipe as opposed to my normal 4 person.

First I had to make a broth. To do that I used the shells from my shrimp (I had 10 shrimp that I shelled and butterflied), 1 stick of lemongrass cut in half both in length and width then bashed up with the back of my knife to release the oils, 1 inch of ginger sliced, 1/2 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, 3 cloves of star anise, and 1/2 tablespoon of whole coriander seeds.

I heated my pan up and added the shrimp shells dry. I let them cook, tossing them around, for about 6 minutes or so until they turned pink. As they do so they release some of their oils. While the pan was still dry I added the pepper corns and coriander and let them toast for a minute.

Then I poured in 2.5 cups of hot water while scraping up the little pieces of shell that stuck to the bottom of the pan. Once the water came up to a slight boil I added the lemongrass, ginger, and cloves. I covered the pan, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes. I strained the broth into a clean pan and set it aside while I prepped my veggies.

Along with my shrimp, the veggies included 1/2 a red bell pepper sliced, 3 shiitake sliced, 6 asparagus chopped, 1 tomato cut into 6 wedges, about 2 ounces of bean sprouts, and a bunch of green onions sliced.

I brought the broth back up to a slow boil and added everything except for the shrimp, tomato, and bean sprouts. I covered it back up and let it simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Then I added the shrimp and tomato and let it go for another 4 minutes, just until the shrimp were cooked and turned pink. Finally, I added the bean sprouts and then turned off the heat about minute after that.

While this was going on I boiled some water in a large stock pot and cooked my rice noodles according to package instructions.

To put it together I simply placed the noodles in the bottom of a bowl and ladled the soup along with shrimp and vegetables on top. I garnished with a squeeze of sriracha, 1/2 an avocado diced, some lime juice, and chopped cilantro.

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