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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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Over the weekend a couple of our friends stopped by to meet Otis. They came bearing gifts. Flowers for mommy and a Rick Bayless cookbook for daddy, an autographed one nonetheless! The in-laws haven’t really experienced Mexican flavors since there really aren’t many Mexican ingredients available in Japan. While there are a few “Mexican Restaurants”, they’re really just simple mid-scale taquerias. Combine the cookbook, their lack of Mexican food experience, and the fact that Chicago hit 90 degrees yesterday and I really had no choice but to grill up some tasty tacos with all of the fixens.

Some of the dinner was right out of the Bayless cookbook (cilantro-lime dressing, jicama salad, and roasted tomatillo salsa), some was inspired by the Bayless cookbook (grilled pork and sweet potatoes where he used ancho instead of chipotle), and some is right out of my repertoire (chilled corn soup and simmered black beans).

First thing I made was the cilantro-lime dressing. I used 1/2 cup of cilantro, the zest from 1 lime and the juice from three, 1/2 jalapeno seeded and stemmed, 1/2 cup canola oil, and 1/4 cup olive oil.

I threw it all into my little blender and whipped it up! I seasoned it with a little salt and pepper, poured it into a glass jar, and let it sit in the fridge while I prepared the rest of the dinner.

Next, I made the corn soup. I cut the kernels off of 5 ears of corn, chopped up 2 garlic cloves, and diced 1/2 onion. I put it all into a pan with 1/2 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of water and brought it up to a low boil. I covered the pot and let it simmer over med-low heat for about 20 minutes. Then I let it cool down and poured it into my blender for a good puree. I seasoned it with salt and pepper and let it sit. Since I was serving it cool I didn’t need to reheat it or anything. I did pour it back into the pot so I could clean the blender for the next item.

For the roasted tomatillo salsa I husked, rinsed, and halved 4 tomatillos, pealed 2 garlic cloves, chopped the other half of the jalapeno, small diced 1/2 a small onion, and roughly chopped 1/3 cup of cilantro. I soaked the diced onion in cold water for 30 minutes to remove some of the sharpness.

In a hot, dry skillet I put the tomatillos (cut side down) and garlic in to roast, about 5-6 minutes per side.

Then I put everything except for the onions into the blender along with 1/4 cup of cold water and pureed it up. I poured it into a glass bowl and mixed in the rinsed onion. That went into the fridge until dinner time.

I opened up a 30 ounce can of black beans, rinsed them off, and placed them in a pot with 3 diced green onions, 1 minced garlic clove, and about 1/4 cup of water. I let it simmer for about 20 minutes and then seasoned with salt and pepper.

For the spice rub I used 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1/4 cup of chipotle (the chipotle I have has a little sugar mixed into the blend, otherwise I would have added a little), 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of canola oil, and 2 garlic cloves finely minced. I mixed it all together until it became a smooth paste.

I rubbed the chipotle paste all over a 1.5 pound pork loin and a large sweet potato that I had cut into 8 wedges.

I heated up the left side of my grill to med-high and the right side to med-low. I first put the pork loin over direct heat, fat-side down, for about 5 minutes to give it a nice crust. Then I moved it to the top rack, turned it over, and turned the heat down to med-low. At the same time I put the sweet potato wedges on the top rack over the right side. I closed the grill and let it go for about 15 minutes. Then I turned over the sweet potato wedges, covered the grill again, and let it go for another 10 minutes. When I took the meat off the grill I tented it with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing it up.

Look at that piece of swine! Doesn’t that just make your mouth water? I have to say, it might be the juiciest, most flavorful piece of pork I have ever grilled.

While the grill was going I put together a jicama salad. I peeled a medium jicama and then cut it into 1/4 inch width sticks. I tossed it in a large bowl with some watercress, chopped red leaf lettuce, and some of the cilantro-lime dressing.

When everything was ready I heated up some corn tortillas and laid everything out on the table. The corn soup got a drizzle of cilantro-lime dressing for garnish. We made tacos and drank beer and filled our bellies! Yuki’s parents were quite impressed with dinner. Honestly, so was I. Everything turned out fantastically! Thank you Mr. Bayless! And thank you Mr. Eirinberg!

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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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As a big fan of the Polish Deli I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to finally get out and sample the goods at Kasia’s Deli on Hoyne and Chicago. I was actually first told about it by a tow truck driver last winter. I drive a big old green hoopty, better known as a Buick, and it’s electronics don’t do so well in Chicago’s cold winter. Last winter the beast died on me in front of my apartment and I had to get it towed to my mechanic. I hopped in the two truck and started talking food with the driver. He mentioned that he stops in at Kasia’s quite often and I ought to check it out. I held on to that advice for a year before acting on it. This past Sunday Yuki and I took a nice walk over there to grab some grub only to find out they were still closed for the holidays until yesterday. So, I went back yesterday and was rewarded with some extremely tasty viddles.

It’s not a large place by any means, but good things come in small packages. They make a nice variety of prepared food from different kinds of goulash to kielbasa with krout to pierogis to salads to all sorts of wholesome goodness. They also have some deli meats and cheeses that you can either take home sliced or have them make you a sandwich. At the far end is their homemade soups, pierogis, and blintzes. They also have a few refrigerated grocery items like milk and whatnot as well as a few dried groceries like breads and polish chocolates. The prepared food is all made in the back and is extremely cheap while using quality ingredients, just like a good Polish Deli should. So, I picked up a few things and brought them home.

Last night for dinner we had some of their mushroom and barley soup, rice with vegetables (carrots, peas, and corn), stuffed cabbage rolls (pork, mushrooms, and rice) with tomato sauce, mushroom and kraut pierogis also with tomato sauce, and some grated beets.  Everything was fantastic. Each of our plates cost about $6, that’s all. It’s damn hard to beat that for such quality food.

For breakfast this morning we had some of their blueberry blintzes. The cottage cheese and melon on our plates did not come from Kasia’s. I’ve made blintzes in the past, actually many many years ago, and these are every bit as good as anything I’ve ever made. $3 for a package of 6.

I have to say, Andy’s Deli is larger and a little better (especially because they also smoke their own meats), but since they closed their Wicker Park location a few years ago it’s not very convenient for me to get to. I will still make the occasional journey to Andy’s, but I am damn glad that Kasia’s is close by to fill the void in between. I have a feeling I’ll be heading to Kasia’s whenever I wake and know that I won’t feel like cooking dinner that night.

It was obvious that the lady behind the counter had a crush on me too (how can you blame her?). As she was bagging my food she asked me if I wanted a free T-shirt. It’s very hard to say no to a Polish woman who smells like kielbasa. Not to mention how hard it is for a Jew to say no to something free.

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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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Last night I made a fajita fiesta for dinner. We picked up a couple of pomegranates the other day and I wanted to use some in guacamole. So, I made up a Mexican meal.

The first thing I did was make a real simple corn soup. I took 4 ears of corn, 1/2 onion, and 1 garlic clove. I stripped the kernels from the ears and tossed it all (ears included so I wouldn’t lose all of the milky flavor) into a soup pan. I chopped up the onion and garlic, tossed them in the pan as well. Then I poured in 3 cups of water. I brought it to a boil, covered the pot, turned the heat down to medium-low, and let it simmer for about 7 minutes. I turned off the heat and let it cool down a bit.

After it cooled a little I discarded the ears and poured the rest into my blender and pureed it. I wiped out the pan and strained it back in then seasoned with some salt and pepper. I let that sit covered while I prepared the rest of the dinner and just re-heated it for service, garnished with some cilantro.

For the rice, I used my rice cooker to make 2 cups of rice, but added 1/4 cup defrosted frozen peas, and 1 carrot chopped into quarter moons. I also replaced 1 cup of the cooking water with chicken stock to deepen the flavor a little. I hit the start button and let the cooker do it’s thang.

Then I put together the guacamole. I used 3 avocados, 2 plum tomatoes (the pic shows 3, but I only used 2), 1/4 onion, 1/2 pomegranate, the juice from 1 lime, 1 garlic clove minced, and some cilantro. I actually started on the onion quite a bit earlier. To take the bite out of without cooking I diced it and soaked it in cold water for about 2 hours. That keeps it crisp but eliminates the rawness. In a glass bowl I let the minced garlic soak in the lime juice for about 10 minutes to mellow it out a bit, then I added everything else and mashed it u with a fork keeping it a little chunky. I seasoned it as needed and then set it aside (I did snack on it while I cooked).

For the fajita I used 1 teaspoon cayenne, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 green bell pepper sliced, 1 orange bell pepper sliced, the zest and juice from 1 lime, 1/2 jalapeno sliced, 1/2 onion sliced, and 1 pound of chicken breasts sliced into thin strips.

In a glass bowl I mixed together the lime zest and juice with all of the spices and tossed the chicken in. I let it marinade for about 30 minutes. I used that time to cut the peppers and get the black beans going, but I’ll get to the beans in a minutes.

In a large saute pan I heated 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and stir-fryed the chicken and spices for about 7 minutes. Then I added the peppers and onion and stir-fryed them with the chicken for a further 7 minutes or so. For service I garnished it all with some fresh cilantro.

Alright, for the beans I thoroughly drained and rinsed 1 14oz can of black beans and put them in a small sauce pan with 1/4 onion small diced, and 1/2 jalapeno diced. I filled the black bean can about 1/4 full of water and poured that in. I brought it up to a slow boil and let it go while I finished up the fajitas. I seasoned it as needed.

For service I just laid everything out on the table along with some warm whole wheat tortillas. I know whole wheat is not very authentic, but I opted for the health benefits of whole wheat instead of authenticity. The only thing missing was sour cream, a mistake I will not make the next time.

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So, Yuki had some coupons from unused miles on United Airlines. Last night we used one at Ai Sushi.  I dvr’d the Bears-Giants game and we headed down to Ontario St for some grub.

Parking was a pain because all of the meters were “For Residents Only Until Oct 4”. We did find a spot about a block away so we didn’t have to spend on valet. Tonight we could have gotten a spot right in front. Oh well, can’t blame that on the restaurant.

The interior is really nice. It has the open loft feel with exposed brick and wood beams. The art on the walls was not flashy at all and instead complimented the brick. Colors were soft and very intimate. It has a real nice setting inside.

I did use my phone’s camera, so these pics are terrible.

First thing we got was the Sunomono Moriawase. Shrimp, real crab meat, and octopus lightly cooked along with fluke sashimi in a dashi vinaigrette with daikon sticks and seaweed. It was really good, fresh fish and not to vinegary at all.

Next was one of the specials of the night, Wagyu Tobanyaki. 5 slices of real Kobe beef imported from Japan, enoki mushrooms, and shimeji mushrooms that you cook yourself on a hot stone with butter. The beef was so soft and delicious. It was definitely the real thing, none of that cow from Nebraska.

After that we each had a bowl of Kabocha Corn Soup. Simply a puree of kabocha and corn, probably with onion. It tasted like something I would make, which is to say it was pretty tasty.

Then came the Chawanmushi. A Chinese style egg custard with shiitake, shimeji, and enoki mushrooms. The custard was the perfect consistency. Not a fancy dish, but a good one.

The first maki roll we got was their Habanero Lobster. It had tempura lobster, kampyo, ginger, mango, avocado, habanero, capers, cilantro, and sour cream mayo. We’re not usually fans of rolls with more than a few ingredients, but this one was pretty good. That habanero packed a punch, but not so much that you couldn’t taste the lobster’s sweetness. It was pretty good. They also put a few slices of smoked duck on the plate. They serve smoked duck sushi and must have needed to get rid of it, but it tasted pretty good to me, so I didn’t mind.

The last thing we got was one of the night’s special rolls, Orange Maki. It had tempura shrimp and orange zest inside and was topped with salmon and black tobiko. It was really good! Light, sweet, and refreshing. I would definitely order that roll again. Also, there was more smoked duck on this plate.

We didn’t have any room for dessert and didn’t even look at the dessert menu so I can’t comment on that.

The service was professional. We never had to wait long for anything, we weren’t rushed or bothered to hurry up, and our server was very knowledgable of the menu. The only gripe I have, and it’s nitpicking, is that the food should have come out in a different order. The beef should have been last and soup served before the chawanmushi. Other than that, I have no complaints at all.

I would have to say that Ai is one of the better sushi restaurants we’ve been to in Chicago. I wouldn’t call it the best, but it is definitely worth while with some creative offerings as well as some classics, all very fresh and properly prepared. I would go back without hesitation.

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