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Posts Tagged ‘brussel sprouts’

Even since it was featured on CheckPlease a while back I have wanted to check out Blue 13. I don’t know why, but it really appealed to me for some reason. When I saw that Chef Curren was doing a Restaurant Week menu I took that as an opportunity to finally get off my ass and take my wife out for some rockin viddles. Turned out to be a damn good idea.

Located in the River North area, Blue 13 is on a very residential strip just off the hwy. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because it allows for a neighborhood feel without any pretension. It’s bad because there’s nowhere to park! I hate paying for valet. I am Jewish (culturally, not religiously) after all. After finding a place to park a couple of blocks away Yuki and I were ready to get out of the cold and fill ourselves full of tastiness.

When we got there a couple of tables lingered a little longer than expected and our reservation was about 15 minutes late. No worries, 15 minutes is acceptable. So, we headed to the bar and I had a beer while we bitched to each other about how frustrating both of our jobs are. Basically, a nightly routine. When we got to our table we already knew what we wanted so we ordered up dinner, ate some good bread with great olive oil, and awaited the feast.

Yuki started off with the Duck Confit Tortellini. Served in a caper and cilantro butter sauce it was absolutely delicious. The only thing wrong with it is that the pasta was just a little too al dente, and not by much. Maybe another 45 seconds or so in salted water and it would have been perfect. On the other hand, this was the first time I’ve ever had capers with cilantro. I hope it’s not the last because it was a really weird pairing that actually works quite well.

I got the Beet Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette. I did tell you the other day that if there’s a beet salad on a menu I’ll probably get it. It didn’t hurt that their restaurant week menu only had two options (they did have a $44 pre fixe option with more choices, but that’s a little pricy for my blood). I will say this, Chef Curran’s beet salad is one of the most creative ones I’ve ever eaten. Nice sweet golden beets, frisee, endive, candied hazelnuts (quite possibly my favorite of all nuts, excluding my own of course), and, get this, marshmallows made with beets and balsamic vinegar. It was the marshmallows that set this salad over the top.

Yuki got the Arctic Char entrée. A beautiful piece of fish with a nice crispy skin and juicy flesh (is there anything better than juicy flesh?). It was served on a grain salad that consisted mainly of quinoa and pearl barley as well as a big smear of pureed butternut squash. All of the flavors worked in harmony and completed a very satisfying dish.

I got the Guinness Braised Veal Cheeks. These were some of the most tender cheeks I’ve tossed into my organs, like a really soft brisket. Served on buttered noodles with sautéed brussel sprouts and a smear of creme fraiche. It was garnished with a baby carrot and some baby cilantro. I’m beginning to realize that Chef Curran likes to use cilantro. Honestly, I got no beef with that! In fact, I got veal. The only problem with this dish is that I found that it could have used one more pinch of salt to really bring out the beery goodness of the guinness. Otherwise this was a success.

With two dessert options we decided to get one of each, and that really wasn’t a hard decision to make. Yuki had the Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Gelato. A classic that he didn’t really fiddle much with. It was very straightforward but executed nicely.

I got the Chocolate Peanut Butter Waffle. Waffle with candied peanuts, peanut butter sauce, chocolate sauce, and a scoop of vanilla gelato. As I started eating it I was greeted with a very nice surprise, very nice indeed. In the chocolate sauce were little pieces of BACON!!! It’s desserts like this that make me glad I don’t keep Kosher. Bacon truly does make everything better.

Service throughout the night was spot on. The servers were casual, yet professional. Food was brought out in good time and plates were cleared promptly. The atmosphere was also very casual. Exposed brick walls with heavy rock’n’roll on the speakers, but not too loud that it hindered conversation.

Way back when I worked at a restaurant called The Outpost I always thought that it should have been something more like this. Honestly, if I ever did open up a restaurant it would be along the lines of Blue 13, except I’d play more classic rock and throw some Fela in the mix. Otherwise I wouldn’t change a thing.

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After trying to connect with a couple of our friends for a while, with whom we usually try new Mexican restaurants with, we finally got this past Saturday night lined up. Nick and his wife invited us over for dinner this time. I told him I’d make some dessert. When he asked if ribs would be an acceptable dinner my response was “RIB ME!!!” You can’t beat slow smoking baby back ribs outside in 10 degree weather. All you can do is hope your cold beer is enough to warm you up until the ribs get in your guts.

At any rate, that’s what happened. Nick smoked some ribs, his wife made a couple of sides, and I brought a cake.

He did the ribs right. Not sure what his recipe was, but he made a nice spice rub and then placed his ribs on a rack in his grill. The hot coals were spread around the sides of the grill while he placed a drip pan filled with some cider vinegar in the middle. The indirect heat kept the ribs from burning, the cider vinegar evaporated into the meat adding some flavor and keeping the meat moist, and the rack allowed the ribs to kind of baste themselves. 3 hours under the hood and they were ready to go.

After some chips, carrots, and dip (along with some alcohol), dinner was served. Nick chopped up the ribs for us and served them with some really creamy scalloped potatoes and nice buttery brussel sprouts. Good ol down home cooking. What else should have been expected from a Kentucky-boy?

I have to say, the ribs were excellent! I’m not just saying that because he’s one of the few who actually reads all of my blog posts. They really were delicious. The meat was fall off the bone tender, the spice rub and his homemade bbq sauce set off the meat nicely. My comment at the dinner table was, “Nick, I’d eat your ribs for free over paying for Honey 1 any day of the week!”.  A couple other friends were there as well and between the 6 of us we could only muster enough stomach for about half of the fair. True to his good ol boy hospitality we were sent home with a half slab. Gotta love that!

For dessert I made this Orange Kefir cake. I’ve been on a baking-with-kefir kick and wanted to continue that trend with something simple and tasty. I found this recipe by The Barefoot Contessa herself for a Lemon Yogurt Cake. All I did was substitute the yogurt for kefir and the lemon for orange. It turned out great, nice and moist while not being too sweet.

All in all, Saturday night was a tasty feast. Any time my buddy wants to smoke up some ribs I’ll be there to help polish them off.

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I love grilling dead animals on a stick. It’s my most sadistic past time, but I love it so. The other night I picked up a 3/4 pound cod filet and did just that.

I mixed together 2 tablespoons of shiro miso, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon of pure cane sugar, and both the zest and juice of 1 lime. While mixing that together into a smooth paste I decided to pour in about 1-2 tablespoons of sesame oil to add a bit of nuttiness. I cut up the cod into bite-sized morsels and tossed them in the marinade.

While the cod was taking a miso bath I made a tomato and bread soup. I used the leftover roasted cherry tomatoes with their juice from the night before, the crusty bread left from the night before, a 28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, a handful of basil from my back porch, and 3 garlic cloves diced.

In a hot pan I poured in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and then added the garlic and the stems from the basil. Once that garlic started to color a bit, about 1 minute or so, I poured in the can of tomatoes. You need to be careful with that because the tomato juice will splatter. Then I filled the empty can with water and poured that in. I let it come to a boil and then simmer down for about 15 minutes. At that point it’s pretty easy to break down the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. After the tomatoes were completely broken down I poured in the roasted cherry tomatoes, bread, and basil and then seasoned with salt and pepper. I let that simmer together for about 10 minutes or so. Before serving I mixed in another little glug of olive oil.

To skewer with the cod I chopped up a red bell pepper, half an onion, and the last handful of brussel sprouts from my fridge (I’ve never skewered brussel sprouts before, they’re quite nice as long as they’re cooked enough). I also picked up 5 little red creamer potatoes to grill alongside.

I skewered it all up and threw it all on the grill. I let the skewers go for about 4-5 minutes on each side. The potatoes needed about 7 or 8 minutes on each side as my grill was about medium-high.

After I rinsed the rice and put it in the rice cooker I decided to throw a tablespoon of dried hijiki seaweed in with it. I just dropped it in and let it sit in the water with the rice for about a half hour before turning on the rice cooker. It’s hard to describe the flavor of hijiki on its own. It’s kind of earthy and mushroomy which is weird because I struggle to call anything from the sea “earthy”. It’s really just umami. Damn delicious!

My only mistake was not reserving some of the marinade. The potatoes weren’t as sweet as I had hoped and I would have been much better off smashing them after grilling and topping with some of the miso. Other than that I did well.

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Fresh caught sustainable Coho Salmon was on sale, and it looked damn good, so I picked up a 20 oz fillet. I really wanted to throw it on the grill, but with it raining all day yesterday I had to settle for the broiler. I hate covering up fresh flesh like this with a lot of flavors, so I kept it real simple and just added a little extra flavor. But first, the soup.

I cut the kernels off of 3 ears of corn, chopped up 4 green onions, sliced 3 cloves of garlic, and threw it all into a stockpot with 1 cup of chicken stock and 2 cups of water. I also threw the stripped corn cobs in to make sure all of that flavorful juice made it into the soup. I brought it all up to a boil, covered the pot, turned the heat down to med-low, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Then, I turned off the heat and let it cool for about 10 minutes before pouring it all into my blender. I contemplated straining it, but I like the little bits of corn so I left it as is. I poured it back into the pot, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and left it until dinner time. At that point I re-heated it and ladled it into a couple of bowls and garnished it with some fresh slices of radish.

For the hash I used 5 large shiitake stems removed and caps quartered, 5 red creamer potatoes (the pic shows 7, but I only used 5 of them), 6-7 oz of brussel sprouts quartered, half an onion large diced, 2 garlic cloves minced, and 2 thick slices of applewood smoked bacon. In a large pot of boiling salt water I par-boiled the potatoes for about 10 minutes then lifted them out with a slotted spoon. I set them aside to cool down. In the same boiling water I threw in the quartered brussel sprouts and let them go for 2 minutes. Then I drained them and let them sit until further notice.

In a large hot skillet I laid the bacon slices in and let the fat render off. Once they were crispy I took them out and drained them on paper towels, then sliced them up. I added 1 tablespoon of butter to the hot bacon fat and then chopped the cooled potatoes and tossed them in. I let them get a little crisp on the outside for about 6 minutes and then tossed in the garlic and onion. After about 6 more minutes I added the shiitake and brussel sprouts and then seasoned with a little salt and pepper. Didn’t need too much salt because of the salty bacon fat. A few minutes later and I added back in the sliced bacon. I let that all come together for about 3 minutes.

Look at that salmon! Isn’t that gorgeous?

I cut it up into 4 equal portions and seasoned it with salt and pepper. Then I took some hoisin sauce and brushed just a little on top of each piece. Not too much, just a little. While my hash was cooking I put my oven rack on the upper third and started the broiler. I put the salmon under the broiler for about 7 minutes. That’s all it needs. Ready to be devoured.

I had soup, vegetables, dead animal (salmon and bacon), a beer, my beautiful wife….what more did I need?

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Back during Chef Week a few weeks ago Yuki and I went to Spring for dinner. We have both been there before, so we pretty much knew that a $30 pre fix there would be well worth the dollar. We were right, as usual.

I do apologize, the pics I took with my phone were absolutely terrible! You’re going to have to use your imagination if TV, cinema, and the internet haven’t already sapped you of it.

When we got there our table wasn’t quite ready. No worries, we went to the bar and ordered a bottle of wine. Within a few sips we were seated. The first thing I remembered about the tables is that, unlike a lot of restaurants (and I mean you Paul Kahan!), there is more than ample space. The only conversation I heard was ours, my elbows weren’t banging into anyone, and there was no chance of an accidental ass-to-the-face of the person next to me when one of us got up. It is definitely a more romantic atmosphere.

We started with one each of the two appetizers. A smooth lemongrass-cocunut soup with prawn dumplings, thai chili, shaved shiitake, and kaffir lime. As well as a tuna and hamachi maki roll. The soup was outstanding, and while the maki was good, it was very basic. It could have been from a good sushi restaurant instead of a place like Spring.

We both got the skatewing. It was lightly floured and pan-fried to perfection. The natural sweetness of the fish was perfectly matched with light gnocchi that was flavored with kimchi as well as some Brussel sprouts and almonds. Skatewing is not a fish that I get to eat very often, so it was a nice change from salmon, tuna, or halibut, the typical fish found on menus.

For dessert, we ordered one of each. There was lemon sorbet served in a black tea. The sorbet was slightly sour, but not to the point that made your lips pucker. I guess lemons aren’t quite in season yet, they’ll get sweeter in a month or two. The other dessert was a delicious moist brown butter pound cake with caramel ice cream.

Service was quick and attentive. I never felt rushed, but never ignored either.

Overall, Spring was just as good as I remembered. It’s one of Chicago’s best seafood restaurants and Chef McClain is one of Chicago’s finest chefs and restauranteurs.

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