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Posts Tagged ‘basil’

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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We had some salmon that needed to be used up, 2 servings worth, so I decided to make this simple recipe last night. The beauty of a pepper sauce like this one is that you can do almost anything with it. I used red bell pepper, but you could use any kind of pepper you like…poblano, green bell pepper, jalapeno, etc. You can also use any kind of green. For example, yellow bell pepper with cilantro (you could even add some ginger) would be great with shrimp. Red bell pepper with basil would be great for Italian flavor. The possibilities are endless once you know learn this simple technique.

On to this wonderful technique. I used 2/3 cup of milk, 1 red bell pepper, 2 cloves of garlic skinned, 1 tablespoon of flour, and a handful of watercress roughly chopped.

Over a burner on my range I roasted the pepper on all sides, until the skin was black and blistered. This takes about 1o minutes or so and can be done on a grill or under a broiler as well. I prefer the grill because it adds a nice smokey flavor, but we saw a bit of rain yesterday so I kept it inside.

Once the pepper was roasted I put it in a glass bowl and covered it with plastic wrap. I let it steam in its own juices for about 15-20 minutes, until it was cool enough to handle. Then I peeled off the skin, seeded it, and gave it a rough chop.

While the pepper was steaming I roasted the garlic on a dry pan for a few minutes on each side. This brings out some of the sweetness of the garlic and mellows the punch.

Then I put the pepper, garlic, milk, and flour into a blender, along with some salt and pepper, and pureed it up into a smooth liquid. I let it blend until there were no chunks left. Then I poured it into a pan, added the watercress, and simmered it for about 10 minutes constantly stirring it. This thickens the sauce up nicely because of the flour. If the sauce gets a little too thick just add a little more milk.

I made a simple miso soup to go with dinner. I made it my usual way using 2 shiitake sliced, 3 small fingerling potatoes chopped, 2 green onions cut up, and 1 tablespoon of miso. I also rinsed off some salted wakame, but didn’t remember to get that out until after I took this photo.

My other side, besides white rice, was some corn. I cleaned off one ear, broke it in half, and boiled it for about 10 minutes. I used some of the sauce on the plate to flavor the corn.

Finally, for the salmon I simply drizzled it with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I put it into a 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes. When I took it out I topped it with the sauce and we ate.

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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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So, yesterday one of Yuki’s supervisors decided to take her crew out to dinner at Gyu-Kaku, a yakiniku joint downtown. That left me by myself to eat, drink, whatever. My plan was to meet up with a buddy of mine from the Playboy Pilot at Five Star for a couple of drinks, then pick Yuki up around 7 or so and grab a jumbo char dog from Portillo’s on the way home to absorb the alcohol in my stomach. Things didn’t work out as planned. About 7 I got a text that they JUST got to Gyu-Kaku! What? How long would I have to wait for a friggin char dog! Hungry, I took a couple of Chinese Steam Buns out of the freezer to tide me over for a couple of hours. Shortly thereafter I got a text asking me if I wanted to join them. Absolutely! So I cruised on down and got there as they were about to order dessert. Oh well, that didn’t stop me from eating some beef.

Since they were already drunk and I was a little drunk I didn’t really care what I ate. Doug, one of two white guys in Yuki’s group, ordered one of the Kalbi’s for me along with a beer. They’re having a Sakura Festival (Cherry Blossoms) special with $3 beer and 50% off harami skirt steak so I’m sure that’s what I got. All I know is that a dish with some beautifully marbled beef covered in sesame seeds showed up alongside a nice cold draft beer.

Then, the waitress showed up with some white rice, red leaf lettuce, and red miso so that I could eat the beef properly.

Since I was too busy helping Doug make fun of Eric, the other white guy in the group, Yuki grilled my meat for me. That’s how you know you got a good one…when she grills your beef so you can drink and have a laugh.

I took the lettuce, smeared some miso on it, topped it with the beef, and chowed down! Oiishii!!! No offense to Koreans, but the quality of the meat is so much better than anything I’ve had at a Korean BBQ. Tender and juicy, the way a good cow should be. I do have a groupon for Gyu-Kaku that I can’t wait to use so that I can eat other cuts of beef along with different animals, both with legs and with gills. Oh, some veggies too. Yuki told me that their ramen was pretty good too.

At any rate, the dessert they ordered were a bunch of different doriyaki ice creams. Bowls of ice cream with red bean paste served with pancakes and mochi that you grill. Good ice cream, but they burnt the mochi. (No Eric, it didn’t taste like shwag, it just tasted burnt)

As we were getting ready to leave another co-worker of theirs who wasn’t part of this group sent over two little bottles of sake for us. Between Doug, Eric, and myself it didn’t take long to polish those babies off. Mmmmm, sake!

The best part about Gyu-Kaku is that they use really strong down-draft ventilation systems for each grill. Those things suck that smoke right down. Unlike Korean BBQ’s what have over-table hoods, you don’t have to hop in the shower and wash your clothes immediately when you get home to rid yourself of the smoke. If you have a Jewfro sponge on your head like me, your hair will definitely appreciate that!

I do have a back story regarding Gyu-Kaku. It’s a chain that started in Japan and there’s one off of the train stop near Yuki’s parent’s house. A few of years ago Yuki and I had dinner there with her sister and brother-in-law. I remember the basil marinated chicken to be fabulous. I thought that this would do really well here in Chicago because all we had were Korean BBQ joints up on the northwest side of town. There wasn’t anything downtown. So, I went to their website and saw that they’ve already hit the west coast, that really got my hopes up that I could bring them here to Chitown. I sent them a nice long e-mail letting them know about the niche they could fill here, yada yada yada. I hear nothing back from them at all. A couple of years go by and Yuki texts me, “Gyu-Kaku is coming to Chicago”. Eh? Those bastards cut me out of the deal! That’s my idea! I felt like Kramer with his ocean cologne. The least they could do is feed me for free for life since coming here was my idea from the start. Oh well, what can you do. The food is good so I will definitely go back, especially since I’ve already paid for a groupon.

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Surprisingly, I’ve never made cornbread before. Yuki and I were talking about it and she thought some homemade cornbread would be good, I agreed. The only thing I disagreed with was that I wanted to make cornbread muffins while she wanted a loaf. Of course, she won that one and it wasn’t even close! I did find out though just how easy it is to make delicious cornbread.

My ingredients for the cornbread included 1.5 cups of buttermilk, 1 bunch of basil chopped up, 1 cup of flour, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of butter melted, 1/4 cup of sugar, 3 ears of corn, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1.5 cups of polenta.

In a large glass bowl I mixed together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Then I mixed in the polenta real well. In another glass bowl I beat the eggs with the buttermilk and then added the melted butter once it had cooled to room temperature (don’t want to make cornbread with scrambled eggs!). I rinsed and chopped up the basil and cut the kernels from the corn.

I poured the liquid into the dried ingredients and mixed it until everything was incorporated while being careful not to overmix. Then I added the corn and basil and mixed that in as well. I poured that into a buttered loaf pan. It went into a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes.

Once it cooled down it was ready to eat. It’s great cold, it’s great warm, but it’s best toasted with a little butter.

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This is a dish I made last week when I noticed that blue crab meat was on sale. The meat came in little sealed containers and was much fresher than canned crab meat. I thought making a spaghetti with it would be a good way to go. I also made a simple soup to go with it, along with some wheat bread. I made this Friday night so the recipe is only portioned for 2 servings.

I made the soup first since I could just re-heat it when the spaghetti was ready. I used 1/2 an onion sliced, 2 garlic cloves chopped, 1 carrot chopped, 1 can of cannellini beans rinsed and drained, 1 cup of chicken stock, and a large handful of baby spinach.

Real simple, I poured the stock in a soup pan and added the onion, carrot, and garlic. I brought it to a boil, turned the heat down, and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Then I added the beans and spinach and turned off the heat. The beans and spinach don’t need to be cooked so I could just let them heat up when I re-heated the soup. Before serving I seasoned with salt and pepper.

The spaghetti was real simple as well. I used 1 red bell pepper chopped, 1/2 onion chopped, 1 14oz can of Italian peeled tomatoes, 1 8oz container of blue crab meat, 3 cloves of garlic chopped, and 3/4 oz of basil.

I threw the onion, tomatoes, and garlic and into my blender. I filled the tomato can about half-way with water and added that as well along with a few red pepper flakes. I let it go until I had a smooth tomato sauce.

In a pan I heated up about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sautéed the red pepper for 5 minutes. Then I poured in the tomato sauce and let that come up to a boil. Once it started bubbling I turned the heat down and let the raw onion and garlic in it cook out for about 10 minutes. While that was going on I picked through the crab meat to make sure all of the shells had been removed and then added it to the sauce with all of its juice. I cooked some spaghetti noodles according to package instructions, heated up the soup, seasoned the crab-tomato sauce with salt and pepper and added the basil, and then served it all up.

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Finally, I got Meatless Monday back into my life. No Bears game (thank goodness, I don’t think I can stand to watch that O-line pretend to block anymore) or anything that calls for carcus so I cleaned out some of the vegetables I had in my fridge. With the weather getting a little chilly I thought a nice hot bowl of Minestrone would hit the spot, especially since Yuki loves soup. To go with it I made some mushrooms in soy milk on toast.

For the minestrone I used 1 can of brown beans, 4 quarts of vegetable stock, 1 28oz can of skinned tomatoes, 6oz of farfale pasta, 2 ribs of celery chopped, 1 carrot chopped, 1 zucchini chopped, 1/2 an onion chopped, 1/2 green bell pepper chopped, 1 yukon gold potato skinned and chopped (2 in the pic but I only used 1), 3 garlic cloves chopped, some basil thinly sliced, and Parmigiano Reggiano grated.

In a heated stock pot I poured in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then sweated down the onion, carrot, and celery for about 3 minutes. Then I added the green pepper and garlic and let that go for another 3 minutes. I dumped the juice from the tomato can in and crushed the tomatoes with my hands. Once the tomato juice started to boil, about 1 minute or so, I poured in the stock and seasoned with salt and pepper and 1 bay leaf. Once the stock started to boil, about 2 or 3 minutes, I added the potato and zucchini. The potato and zucchini obviously lowered the temperature of the soup, so a few minutes later when it came back to a boil I added the pasta then covered the pot and turned the heat down from medium-high to medium. I let it simmer for about 15 minutes to let the pasta cook properly.

While the pasta was cooking I heated up my saute pan and got the mushrooms ready. I thickly sliced (about 1/4-1/3 inch) 4 button mushrooms and a container of cremini mushrooms and sliced up 3 green onions. I melted 1 tablespoon of butter and poured in another tablespoon of olive oil then dumped all of the mushrooms and green onions in. I let them cook down for about 10 minutes until the mushrooms started to release their moisture. Then I poured in about 1/4 cup of soy milk and let that thicken up for about 2 minutes. I added some thinly sliced basil and turned off the heat. I toasted some sliced of challah during the cooking.

To serve, I ladled some soup into my bowls and topped it with sliced basil. I put the toasted challah on a plate and spooned some of the mushrooms on top. Then I topped everything with fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

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