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Posts Tagged ‘avocado’

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Last night we dined on some pulled pork shoulder that I made. I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to serve it, but when Yuki was on her way home from work she stopped to grab some tortillas and oiala, lemongrass carnitas were born…and devoured…and still getting devoured as there is a ton of it in our fridge.

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I started this dish off the day before since flavors develop over time on braised dishes. I picked up a 4.5 lb bone-in pork shoulder, diced a tomato and half onion (shown in my little mini food processor container), three stalks of lemongrass outer leaves removed and tender middle chopped up (I reserved the tougher top portions for the braising liquid), a 2 inch piece of ginger chopped, 10 cloves of garlic chopped, the juice of 1 lime, three good pinches of sugar, about 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, and 15 or so cracks of black pepper. Everything except for the pork went into my little food processor and I turned it into a wet rub.

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I covered the pork shoulder with my marinade and let it sit in my large pot with the reserved lemongrass stalks for about an hour to let the juice start to penetrate the meat.

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Then I poured in about 1/3 cup of soy sauce, 1/4 cup of cooking sake, and then filled it with water till the liquid covered about 3/4’s of the shoulder. I brought it up to a boil then covered the pot and turned the heat to low. I let it simmer for about 6 hours. After it was done simmering I let it cool down a bit and then put it in my fridge to sit overnight.

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Yesterday afternoon I took it out of the fridge, scooped up the thin layer of fat that hardened on the surface, and took the shoulder out.

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I pulled the pork apart. Best way to do that is to just get your hands dirty. Let’s be honest here, is there anything wrong with having your hands smell like lemongrass pork? I think not. Speaking of lemongrass, I discarded the tough parts that were in the braise.

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I put the pulled pork back into the pot with the braising liquid and brought it back up to a boil.

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I let it boil down for about an hour to let a majority of the liquid evaporate. What you’re left with is a rich, flavorful heaping pile of swinealicious meat that drips down your hands as you slap it on a tortilla. Again, there’s nothing wrong with hands that smell like lemongrass pork.

I served these carnitas with cilantro, white rice, steamed bok choy, and sautéed chinese eggplant, green onion, and yellow bell pepper. Avocado would’ve been pretty good with them too. Topping them with diced tomato and onion wouldn’t be bad either.

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The other night Yuki and I met up with a bunch of her ex-coworkers who have moved back to Tokyo. They got a table at a modern, hip Yakitori joint in the Hibiya neighborhood. If you want to buy a brand new Hermes bag, Hibiya is the place for you. It’s a very swanky area filled with great food. The place they met us at is called Yakitori Akira. It’s in the basement of a large office/shopping building along with a handful of other slightly upscale food joints.

When you walk in you take your shoes off and walk past the open counter where the chefs prepare the chow. The tables are sunken. I was a little nervous at first because the tables were floor level and my knees are terrible. But, the floor was recessed making them regular table height, something that is becoming more common in newer restaurants, sort of fusion if you will.

The first dish, after a cold draft beer of course,  was a salad of raw Nappa cabbage swimming in a mayonnaise-based dressing and topped with sliced kombu.

After that came some natto topped with sliced green onions and nori seaweed. Natto is a love-hate food. You either love it or you hate it. It’s a type of fermented soy bean and has a really pungent odor, like ripe armpits. It also has a very sticky texture. It’s commonly eaten with Chinese-style mustard to mask some of the smell. Yuki loves it, I don’t prefer it. Very few Westerners can tolerate it and, these days, not so many of the younger Japanese do either. But, I had to try it since they put it in my face. Needless to say, I took one bite and the quickly proceeded to chug some beer!

Then we had some chicken karage, Japanese-style chicken nuggets. Unlike your McDonald’s variety of processed crap, this is big juicy chunks of thigh meat. I have no idea what kind of sauce this one came with, but it sure was tasty!

This here is the dish I was most looking forward to…rare chicken meat! The meat from the neck was quickly seared, almost completely raw (the pink you see in the picture is indeed raw chicken), on a hot skillet and served with some yuzu kosho. Rare chicken is extremely controversial, for obvious reasons, but given the upscale atmosphere I was certain they were using fresh, high quality birds. Since I have yet to get diarrhea or vomit profusely, I’m pretty sure the meat was clean. Flavor-wise it tasted like chicken, oddly enough. The texture was a little chewy, chicken al dente. Honestly, it’s nothing really special, it’s just chicken meat.

Avocado sautéed in some sort of shoyu sauce came next. Coming from Chicago I’m used to Mexican preparations of avocado. This was a nice change to what my taste buds are used to. The sauce carmelized a little while the avocado stayed nice and soft.

After the Avocado we spiced things up a bit with some kimchi. It was served with some chopped green onion, julienned daikon, and a shiso leaf.

Next came what is probably my favorite snack of the night, deep-fried chicken skin. Japan’s answer to chicharones. Crispy, buttery, all-around chickeny goodness! I may have to make this a staple of my future diet.

What tour around the bird would complete without some chicken wings? These were deep-fried with either basil or shiso in the batter, I couldn’t really tell. With a squirt of lemon they were delicious.

The main course of the night was the table-top charcoal grill. Instead of eating yakitori style (chicken on skewers) we ate yakiniku style (grill yourself). The first pieces we grilled were breast meat wrapped in shiso leaf.

The other pieces of chicken we got were neck meat, 2 parts of the heart (heart skin and heart meat), meat that was dangling off a piece of cartilage (I think the breastplate), and skin. We also had a few pieces of okra to grill.

Once the meat was grilled we dipped the pieces into an onsen egg. Basically it’s just an egg that’s been barely soft-boiled to the point where the whites were just set and the yolk is still runny. To me, this is natures most perfect sauce.

After all of that chicken we decided to get a few cuts of pork for shits and giggles. We got shoulder, cheek, and side meat and grilled them all the same as the chicken.

As Yuki and I were leaving due to having Otis back at grandma and grandpa’s, everyone else ordered up some soup. I really have no idea what was in the soup, but I imagine it was miso. From the pic I took here as I left I can definitely tell you it was topped with nori and had a shtickle of wasabi.

All in all, I thought Akira was a great izakaya. They call themselves Yakitori Akira because the chef’s specialty is chicken, but to me it’s not a yakitori restaurant at all, even though they do serve yakitori. The menu is much too diverse to be called yakitori. Since they serve up numerous small plates and whatnot with a nice beer and sake list, its pure izakaya to me. That said, what’s in a name? An izakaya by any other name’s chicken would taste is sweet.

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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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This past weekend Whole Foods had West Coast Sole filets on sale. I gots me sum soul, so I figured we oughtta eat some sole. I wanted to do something with cilantro and capers since I liked that combination at Blue 13 (Yuki actually made a dish a couple of weeks ago with those two ingredients, it was delicious but I didn’t take pics so I can’t blog it). I thought that I could do a simple riff on the classic Sole Meuniere, so that’s what I did.

The ingredient list included a few tablespoons of cilantro chopped, about 3 tablespoons of capers rinsed, a little paprika, zest and juice from 1/2 a lemon, 1/2 a tomato seeded and diced, 1/2 an avocado diced, 2 tablespoons of butter, some flour for dusting, and 4 sole filets.

I sprinkled the sole filets with salt, pepper, paprika, and some of the lemon zest and then set it aside while I diced up the tomato and avocado. Once all of my mise en place was all set I heated up my large skillet and melted 1 tablespoon of the butter. I let the butter go for a couple of minutes until it just started to turn a little brown. I didn’t want it to burn, but I wanted a little depth to the flavor. Then I dredged the sole filets in the flour and cooked them in the melted butter, about 2 minutes per side. When the fish was ready I put two filets on each plate and topped them with the avocado. After that I put the other tablespoon of butter in the skillet. Once it melted I added the tomato, capers, cilantro, lemon juice, and the rest of the lemon zest. I mixed it all around over med-high heat for about 30 seconds or s0 and then poured it right on top of the fish and avocado. Simple as that.

I served it with some white rice and some mushroom barley soup I had left from a trip to Kasia’s. Mushroom barley soup might not be the obvious choice for this dish, but it worked out alright.

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Very few things get my taste buds watering like a good taco. So when I asked Yuki what she wanted for dinner yesterday at breakfast and she said, “TACOS!”, I swear I was about to make love to her right there on top of our hard-boiled eggs. Tacos it is.

Before making the tacos I got my rice going. I rinsed 1.5 cups of white rice, poured in enough chicken stock to get the right amount of liquid (about 1 cup), and then tossed in 1/4 cup of thawed frozen peas and 1 diced carrot. I let it rest for a half hour and then started up the rice cooker.

When I make tacos at home I like to have both ground beef as well as black beans for a very fulfilling taco. I don’t cook them together though. Keeping them separate allows them to retain their own flavors for full enjoyment come tortilla time. With that, to make the beans I took 1 14oz can of black beans rinsed and drained, 4 green onions chopped, and 1/2 cup of chicken stock. I put it all in a small sauce pan, brought it up to a boil, covered it, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer together for about 15 minutes. I seasoned with salt and pepper before serving.

For the meat I used 1 pound of ground chuck, 1/4 onion diced, 2 garlic cloves minced, and 1 tablespoon of cumin (forgot to put in the photo).

I heated my pan and poured in just enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom. I didn’t want the onion and garlic to stick, but the ground chuck is 20% fat so I didn’t want too much added oil. When the oil was hot I added the onion and let it sweat down for about 3 minutes. Then I added the garlic and let that go for another minute. After that came the beef. As I broke up the beef I seasoned it with the cumin, salt, and pepper. I constantly mixed it up so that it all cooked through and broke apart nicely. When it was finished cooking I poured most of the fat out leaving a little so that the meat didn’t dry out. After tasting it I decided to zest a lime and mix that into the meat. I set all of that aside and got the rest of the fixins ready.

I got out the cheddar cheese that was sitting in my cheese drawer, seeded and diced two tomatoes, diced an avocado and mixed it with the juice of a lime, cut up some red leaf lettuce, chopped up some cilantro, warmed up some corn tortillas, and roasted some sweet peppers at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Honestly, I had everything cut up and ready to go with the peppers roasting before I started the beans and beef.

I laid everything out on the table and we away we tacoed!

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Ever since our gastroventure to Don Diablo a while back I’ve wanted to try my hand at making cochinita pibil. It’s something that needs to be planned ahead since it’s best if the pork shoulder marinates overnight. I just never planned ahead until this week rolled around. I got my shoulder the day before and went at it.

Alright, so I the shoulder I picked up weighed about 2.8 lbs, bone-in. Gotta be bone-in, there’s just no other way to go. For the marinade I crushed 2 tablespoons of achiote seeds with 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds. I found out the hard way that achiote seeds stain anything and everything. If you can find achiote past that’s a better alternative. Anyway, I mixed those in a large glass (must be a non-reactive material) bowl with 1 teaspoon each of dried oregano, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, and cayenne. Then, I minced 5 garlic cloves, crushed up 2 bay leaves, and mixed those in. I cracked about 2 tablespoons of black pepper. Finally, I poured in 1 cup of orange juice and the juice of 2 limes. With a fork I pricked the shoulder all over, let it swim in the marinade, covered it with plastic wrap, and threw it in my fridge. This was about 2pm Monday so that I could get 24 hours of marinating time.

When marinating time was up I put the shoulder along with the marinade in a cheap foil braising pan, covered it tightly with foil wrap, and threw it in a 325 degree oven for 3 hours. Use whatever braising pan you have.

While the pork was braising I made my sides and condiments. I pickled a red onion, very easy to do and very delicious. Also, pickled red onion is the classic condiment to cochinita pibil. I quartered a red onion and then sliced each quarter into 1/8 inch slices then put them in this small glass bowl. I boiled some water and poured it on top of the onions. After ten minutes I drained the onions and put them back into the bowl. I mixed together 1/2 cup of orange juice with 1/2 cup of fresh squeezed lime juice and a pinch of salt and then poured that on top of the onions. I covered it with wrap and let it sit until dinner time.

I also made some guacamole. I was going to use 2 avocados, but when I sliced the 2nd one open it was absolutely disgusting! That’s the one problem I have with avocados, they’re such a crapshoot. I did get one good though and that was enough for our dinner. Since I only had one good one I only used 1 plum tomato. I de-seeded it and chopped it up. I mixed the tomato and avocado with the juice from 1/2 lime, 1 small garlic clove minced, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a handful of chopped cilantro.

Finally, I made a black bean and corn succotash. I first took 1 cup of dried black beans and boiled them in 6 cups of water for a few minutes, then I turned off the heat, covered the pan, and let it sit for about an hour. I drained and rinsed the beans then put them back in the pan. To that I added 1/2 onion diced, 1 jalapeno diced, and the kernels from 1 ear of corn separated. I seasoned with a little salt and pepper, poured in about 1/2 cup of chicken stock, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes while I finished off the cochinita pibil.

Once the pork was fall-off-the-bone deliciousness, I let it cool a little so that I could handle it without burning myself. Although, the pleasure of sinking my teeth into that meat would be worth the pain. Once I could handle it painlessly I pulled the meat and put it in a large skillet. I poured about 1/2-1/3 cup of the liquid in and then heated it back up.

I served everything with some watercress, ricotta ensalata cheese, and some cilantro. I had warmed corn tortillas on the side and we made some fantastic cochinita pibil tacos.

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There are few things more satisfying in life than sinking your teeth into something truly special. Living in a fast food nation this is something that is harder and harder to come by. Yuki and I were just in Puerto Rico for 10 days, and due to American influence it’s also hard to come by there. If you look though, you can still find moment of culture, that moment of awe, that moment of pure bliss. For us, that moment was found in Guavate, better known as “The Pork Highway”.

Nestled in the mountains about 45 minutes south of San Juan, Guavate has become a destination unlike any other. I was first alerted to it by Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods Episode in Puerto Rico. As a fellow Jew who appreciates the fine art of lechon, suckling pig slowly and expertly roasted on an open fire, I knew I had to get me some.

After turning off Hwy 52 on Rt 184, we kept winding around the mountains looking for this juicy animal. We’d go by a lechonaria here, a lechonaria there, but nothing that resembled what could be called “The Pork Highway”. And then, about 15 minutes later…Xanadu! We had found the object of our desire. A strip with 7 or 8 lechonarias in full bloom. We had told ourselves that we weren’t going to just end up at the one Andrew featured, we would head to the one with the most action, the one that locals were eating at. Of course, that ended up being the one Andrew was at, El Rancho Original. More aptly put, hog heaven!

We got in line as our taste buds were salivating. The line was pretty long, but it moved quickly. El Rancho Original is cafeteria-style, so you just order what you want then pick it up at the register. All the while they have live music and a dance floor that is always packed with people, especially old people gettin down.

When we got up to order I just had to marvel at that pig on a spit with the master hacking it up with a machete. We speak very little Spanish, so they had to get a lady over who spoke more English to take our order. It all worked out as we got what we wanted. We grabbed our food, walked past the dancing into the back cafeteria, and proceeded accordingly.

We ordered a plate full of lechon (of course), some rice and beans, this tamale-like thing of mashed pineapple and pork, a salad of lettuce and tomato to help our bowels process this overload of nutrient information, some morcilla (blood sausage, basically pigs blood with rice and spices stuffed into its intestines and grilled), sweet potato, and a big slice of avocado. It may not look like much in the photo, but believe me, it was a lot of food for two people. All for only $21! I dare you to find a deal like that in Chicago.

Mmmmmmm, crispy skin. Or, as Yuki likes to call it “meat candy”.

This spread was so good! It really was the best pig I’ve ever eaten. My older brother is going to be mad at me for saying this, but Jews are CRAZY!!! Along with every other culture and being who deprives themselves of such pleasure. Call me a hedonist, but that pig sure is tasty! If I could eat El Rancho Original’s lechon every day three times a day I would, as long as there was some beef and scallops peppered in there.

Pork coma. You know, a good nap is a necessary part of life.

Once the pork coma wears off you really have no choice but to start shaking your hips and moving various body parts to the rhythms of old world latin music. Or, maybe all of our bodies were just convulsing from pork overdoses. All I know is that Guavate is one of the last true Puerto Rican experiences left in this world. Something not to be missed if you’re ever in our 51st state, or commonwealth, or whatever it is.

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