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Posts Tagged ‘eggplant’

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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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Ah yes, horse, the other red meat. You know, I’ve never understood why horse meat was off-limits in America. I mean, it’s an animal not all that dissimilar to deer or elk and we certainly have no problems eating them. Is it because we ride horses? Would you eat a cow if you rode it? I don’t know. I do know that many other places in the world do eat horse, and Japan is one of them. While it’s not a prominent animal in the extremely large, diverse, and interesting encyclopedia of animals consumed by the Japanese, it is featured in various areas where other meats might not be as readily available. As such, in places like Tokyo, there are restaurants dedicated to serving this animal on a platter rather than saddling it up for a gallop. The other night I finally got my first opportunity to enjoy the succulence of these animals when a friend of mine asked me if he could take me out for a horse. Not only is that the first time another man had ever asked me that questions, but that was a proposition I was only too happy to jump on. So, we headed out to the Ebisu district of Tokyo and headed to a place called Uma Yakiniku Takeshi. Uma is horse in Japanese, yakiniku is the style of grilling meat at your table, and Takeshi is the name of the proprietor of this establishment, he also happens to be a well-known Japanese comedian. Before I get to the food, one thing I love about Ebisu is that there are numerous interesting little izakaya’s serving up weird and exotic cuisine that you would never find unless you stumbled upon them. We ended up walking around for about 15 minutes before finding our destination.

When we sat down we were greeted with a cold glass of draft beer and some lightly pickled cucumbers with salted kombu. I’m not a big pickle or cucumber guy by any stretch of the imagination, but honestly, this wasn’t too bad at all. I even think my younger brother, he who has even stronger negative feelings toward pickled cucumbers than me, would eat this. At least he would if he was hungry enough to eat a horse.

We started off with horse tataki. Rolled in black pepper and lightly seared on all sides, this piece of meat (what part of the animal is still up for debate, but I think it’s the tenderloin) was covered with in thinly sliced onion and chopped scallions.

After a quick dip in ponzu (the horse meat, not me) here I am about to have my first taste in equestrian delights. MMMMMMMMMMMM! Honestly, it reminded me of kosher pastrami. I could throw this on some rye bread, slather on the mustard, and wash it down with a Dr Browns and be a happy man. Very delicious and surprisingly familiar to me. I had heard that horse tasted quite a bit like beef, but I think it’s a little more like bison as the muscles don’t have as much fat as cow does.

Next up was horse sashimi. Just think of this as beef carpaccio, except that it went nay instead of moo. A bit of fresh grated ginger and garlic, a splash in some tamari, and down the hatch. A little sweeter than beef, and much more tender than I expected. I can’t recall ever eating a beef carpaccio that I enjoyed as much.

Then we got the yakiniku going. The first plate had some napa cabbage, eggplant, the green part of the scallion, and, of course, some horse meat. This part of the animal comes from the belly/rib area. Think of it as thinly sliced ribeye.

Here’s our tabletop grill in full effect. I didn’t get a pic of it, but we each had a dish with three different dipping options for the grilled meat. There as a ponzu-based sauce that was my favorite, some sea salt, and some rice vinegar.

For the next cut of horse to be grilled my friend thought he’d throw me curveball, something I’d be hesitant to shove down my throat. He was wrong as it turned out to be one of the most delicious pieces of meat I’ve ever grilled yakiniku-style…the heart! I’m telling you, this was so tender and sweet, with a bit of black pepper it was heavenly! I’d jump a fence to get me some of this.

So good, the heart was (that’s my Yoda speak), that we had to get more on our next plate. Besides the heart and horse food (vegetables) this dish also had blood pipes. I don’t know if they were arteries or veins, but they were also delicious. A little rubbery, but after a few chews the clean flavor of the animal really came through. It was almost like eating thick intestines, but clean intestines. Very good indeed.

We put the grill aside after that and got a plate of horse weiner. No, not that kind of weiner, I don’t have that big of an appetite. This was a plate of weiner-style sausages. Again, a little sweet, but a very deep, rich flavor. It was also very juicy.

Our final dish was horse fried rice. With a little scrambled egg and some scallions this was a very typical fried rice, but with horse meat.

I have to say, Americans are a weird bunch. We shun so many different food items that the rest of the world consumes. As I write this blog it becomes clear to me that the reason we’ve not been exposed to things like horse as an edible creature is solely because of politics. If the beef lobby wasn’t so powerful I think we’d be eating all sorts of other animals…guinnea pig, various insects, horse, etc. It really is a delicious animal, and one that doesn’t contribute nearly as much to Climate Change as cows do. If we open our minds as well as our mouths, there’s a lot of tasty things out there we could enjoy. Mr Ed, sorry, but you are one delicious creature!

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Last night we finally got to try Ruxbin Kitchen. It was our third attempt, and I guess it’s true what they say, the third time’s the charm. You see, Ruxbin Kitchen is a new restaurant just down the street from us that opened up this past summer. They don’t take reservations and word must have gotten out quick about how good it is because the first two times Yuki and I went there the wait was 1.5 hours. Yesterday we planned on going early, at 6pm, to ensure a table. We got our table, and while I don’t think there was a wait after we got there, the restaurant was full, for good reason.

It’s a small space, only about a 40 person capacity maybe. It’s real kitschy inside. Comfortable seats, wood tables and fixtures, cookbooks displayed on the walls, and pages from cookbooks plastered all over the ceiling.

Service was good. Not the fastest, not the slowest, but a nice pace. Our server was knowledgable of the menu and didn’t push us in any direction. It is BYOB, so be prepared. They do offer the proper glasses and openers. They also brought out popcorn sprinkled with ground nori to nosh on while perusing the menu. That replaced bread service.

We started off with the Crispy Eggplant. It’s sliced, quartered eggplant coating in bread crumbs and deep-fried. Served with roasted beets, sticks of cucumber, frisee, and honey-cardamom yogurt. There’s also some pepper sprinkled around one edge of the plate for you own pleasure. I have to say, as much as I love the classic beet salad with mixed greens, walnuts, and fried goat cheese that everyone serves, this was a really nice change of pace. Even though it’s called Crispy Eggplant, for me, the beets were the dominant flavor. Very nice salad to start with.

Next, we shared the K-Town Empanadas. Two empanadas stuffed with masa, kimchee, Oaxaca cheese, and covered with a chimichurri creme fraiche. Who on earth would put cheese and kimchee together? Chef Ed Kim, that’s who. What a stroke of genius! The kimchee took center stage while the cheese added a subtle sweetness and the masa some texture. definitely a winner.

We split two entrees. One was a perfectly cooked piece of trout with nice crispy skin and moist flesh. It was served on top of a bulgur wheat tabbouleh with black sesame seeds and dates, asparagus spears on top, and basil pesto drizzled around the plate. I’m not usually impressed by trout, but this dish was fantastic. The sweet dates, bitter asparagus, earthy bulgur wheat and sesame seeds, and herby basil all worked really well together.

The other entrée we got was their play on chicken and waffles. There was roasted breast with crispy skin along one side of the plate. That came with a citrus sauce of some kind. Then was a cumin cheddar waffle with dark meat carnitas and apple walnut compote. The waffle was sliced in half with the carnitas sandwiched in between and the compote on top. The rest of the plate was a slaw with arugula. The waffle was outstanding. The most creative take on chicken and waffles I’ve ever eaten and another home run by Chef Kim. My only gripe with the plate was that the breast was a little over salted, not so much that it was bad though. That’s something that most chefs do and I’ll never understand. I like salt, but chefs almost always put a little too much on chicken. Oh well, the entire dish was great.

We didn’t have any room in our guts for dessert so I can’t comment on them. Next time we go back we’ll keep it to one appetizer so that we have room for dessert. And believe me, we’ll definitely go back! Not sure it’s worth a 1.5 hour wait (I don’t think any restaurant is worth that) but it’s definitely worth waiting for a while if you get there and it’s full. I love having a joint like this so close to my place. A great place to take out-of-town friends who want something hip that’s off the beaten path.

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Last night I made another Japanese flavored spaghetti dish using sake hogushi and aonori. Sake hogushi is simply cooked salmon that’s been flaked into small “crumbs” and jarred. Aonori is a type of nori, Japanese algae, that’s been ground into a powder. The two ingredients can be used in a variety of ways like being sprinkled on white rice, mixed into cream sauces or dressings, or used like I did last night to name a few. Great ingredients to have on hand and available at any Asian grocer.

First thing I did was get my side vegetables ready. I had three beefsteak tomatoes and 1 large Japanese eggplant. I sliced the top off the tomatoes, sliced the eggplant in half length-wise, and then cut the eggplant into 2-3 inch pieces. I coated the tops of the vegetables with panko, then drizzled some olive oil on top, then sprinkled some aonori on top of that. I roasted them in a 350 degree oven for about 35-40 minutes, just enough time for me to get the rest of dinner ready.

To make the spaghetti I used butter, the sake hogushi, half on onion sliced, 7 button mushrooms sliced, and 4 garlic cloves. In a large hot skillet I poured about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then melted 1 tablespoon of butter in that. I added the onion and let it sweat for about 4 minutes. Then, I added the garlic and mushrooms. At the same time I cooked my noodles in boiling water until al dente. The garlic and mushrooms needed about 5 minutes which was about the same amount of time the noodles took. After draining the noodles (I reserved about 1/3 cup of the water) I added about 1/4 cup of soy sauce along with 1/2 cup of the sake hogushi to the onions, garlic, and mushrooms. I let the soy come to boil for about 2 minutes and then added the noodles and reserved water with some black pepper. I let the noodles coat with the sauce and most of the liquid boil off then turned off the heat and covered the skillet.

Then, I took two baby bok choy that I had seperated the leaves of and put them in my steamer for about 4 minutes. That’s just enough time to cook the stems without having the leaves wilt too much.

To serve, I put the baby bok choy on the plate then the spaghetti on top of that. I sprinkled it with some aonori and then put a tomato and some eggplant on the side.

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I had an eggplant left from my shopping excursion to the HMart that I wanted to use last night. Not wanting to do my typical grilled-eggplant or stir-fry I decided to stuff it instead. Ground lamb seemed like the perfect partner.

Hollowing out an eggplant is a pretty easy thing to do. First, you have to cut it in half length-wise. Then, I took my pairing knife and cut around the edges of the eggplant about a quarter-inch from the skin, carefully making sure I didn’t pierce the skin. After that I cut a bunch of lines through the width and length.

With a small spoon (a serrated grapefruit spoon would work great, but don’t worry if you don’t have one, I don’t and I made it work with a regular spoon) carefully scoop out the flesh. Save the flesh as it’s going to be used later on. I sprinkled some salt all over the inside of the eggplant and then let them drain in a colander for about a half hour while I prepped the rest of the ingredients. This removes some of the bitter juices.

For the stuffing I diced up a green pepper, half an onion, a carrot, one tomato (I scraped out the seeds), some spinach, the eggplant flesh, three cloves of garlic, some rosemary from my back porch, a quarter cup of white wine, and 2/3’s pound of ground lamb.

I started off by sautéing the onion, green pepper, carrot, and garlic in a quarter cup of olive oil. Once the vegetables were slightly translucent, about 7 minutes, I added the eggplant flesh and let that cook down for another 7 minutes. Then I seasoned with salt and pepper and added the lamb. It took about 5 minutes or so for the lamb to be fully cooked. Once the lamb was broken down I poured in the wine, let it come to a boil, and let it simmer for another 5 minutes. Then I turned off the heat, added the rosemary, spinach, and tomato, and stirred it all together.

I wiped the salt out of the eggplant skins before stuffing them with the lamb mixture. Fill them up over the top, as much as you can before it all falls out. There will be extra stuffing, just put it in the fridge and toss it in some pasta or something for lunch the next day. I laid the stuffed eggplant halves in a lightly olive oiled baking pan and threw it in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

I had just enough time to make creamy polenta while the eggplant cooked. In a stock pot I poured in 4 cups of water, some salt, a bay leaf, and 1 cup of polenta. That’s enough for 4 portions. I brought it up to a boil over high heat. Once boiling I slowly poured in about a quarter cup of olive oil and turned the heat down to medium. I continuously stirred for about 25 minutes, until the polenta started to pull away from the sides of the pot. At that time the eggplant was done and I was ready to serve.

I poured some polenta in the middle of the plates, put an eggplant on the polenta, and topped it all with some crumbled cotija cheese. I served some white rice on the side.

Overall this dish was delicious. If I ever make it again I would make a couple of changes though. First, I’d add some spice to the lamb mixture, maybe some cumin, or turmeric, or garam masala. Second, I wouldn’t put a bay leaf in the polenta. That was the first time I used bay in polenta. It gave it kind of a medicinal taste. Yuki said it tasted like Walgreens. It wasn’t that bad, just not what I wanted. Otherwise I’d keep everything about the same.

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For Meatless Monday last night I made a Cambodian-style noodle soup. It’s very similar to Vietnamese Pho, but the broth is slightly different. Pho usually has star anise and cinnamon in the broth, I didn’t use either of those. Stylistically though, their very similar. And why not? They are neighboring countries after all.

To get the Cambodian flavor I used ginger and lemongrass. I left the skin on the ginger and the tough outer layers of the lemongrass in tact. The ginger was sliced and those marks you see on the lemongrass are from banging it with the back of my knife. That loosens up the fibers and helps release the oils.

I put them in a sauce pan along with 1 quart of vegetable stock, 1/4 cup of soy sauce, 1 cup of water, and a lot of fresh cracked white pepper. I brought that all to a boil and let the flavors steep for about 20 minutes. Then I strained the broth into a large bowl and let it sit until later on in the cooking.

My ingredient list included bean sprouts, enoki mushrooms (not Cambodian, but nevertheless delicious and healthy), fresh made tofu from the HMart that I cubed, ginger and garlic that I minced, asparagus that I cut up (again, not Cambodian), half of an eggplant diced, green onions that were sliced about 2 inches in length, and rice noodles.

I started by heating up about 1/4 cup of soy oil and a few tablespoons of sesame oil. I let the ginger and garlic go until they were fragrant, about 1 minute, then added the green onion and asparagus. Once they started to slightly soften I added the eggplant. That took about 5 minutes until it was mostly cooked through. Then I added the tofu and enoki. Those both heat through relatively quickly, about 2 minutes. After all of those vegetables were heated I poured the broth in and let it come to a boil, then turned the heat down and let it simmer, covered, for only about 5 minutes.

During that time I cooked the noodles according to package instructions. Once cooked through I drained them thoroughly and divided them up into the serving bowls and ladled the soup on top. I topped all of that with the bean sprouts, some cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice.

Half-way through eating I realized that something was missing….SRIRACHA!!! I took my sriracha out, squeezed a little into the broth, and all was good.

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What many people don’t know is that the Spanish were using pasta way before Marco Polo brought it over to Italy. I’m referring to fideos, short pasta that’s very similar to broken angel hair. In fact, if you can’t find fideos you can easily use angel hair pasta. Just break it down into 2-3 inch pieces. Another difference is that the Spanish like to toast the dried pasta before using it. This does two things. First, it adds an extra nuttiness to the flavor. Second, this causes the pasta to get even drier allowing it to soak up more of the sauce. Cooking fideos with clams is a classic Spanish dish, although I added more vegetables than the Spanish typically do to clams. I’m Jewish (I know I know, clams aren’t Kosher, but I’m not a religious man, I’m a foodie!), not Spanish, so I can get away with that.

The first thing I did was toast the fideos. I spread about 4-5 oz’s on some foil and toasted them until they became nice and dark golden in color. Then I let them sit and cool while I prepared the rest of the dish.

My ingredient list is two chopped celery ribs, half an onion diced, 1 purple potato diced, two plum tomatoes chopped and seeded, three garlic cloves minced, some broccoli florets broken down into smaller pieces, handful of basil leaves from my back porch, and a half cup of white wine. I also quartered an eggplant lengthwise, but that was used as a side and not in the main dish.

Of course, the stars of the show were the clams. I used little neck clams and got 12 of them for two portions. I only needed 5 per person, but got the extras in case some didn’t open. Sometimes my brain works perfectly as two of them didn’t open during cooking.

I started by sautéing the garlic and onion in some olive oil for about 6 minutes, just until the onion started to get translucent. Then I added the celery and let that go for another 3 minutes before added the potato. The potato was cut small enough that it didn’t need too much time to cook through, only about 5 or six minutes before adding the broccoli. Again, the broccoli was cut pretty small, it only needed about 3 minutes or so, then I added the tomato and seasoned with salt, pepper, and a few dashes of paprika. I mixed it all together and then added the toasted fideos. Once the fideos were well incorporated I poured in the white wine and let that come to a quick boil. Once boiling, in went the clams. I covered the pot and shook it around every minute until the clams opened up, anywhere from 3-6 minutes. Any clams that don’t open need to get tossed in the garbage immediately.

I kept the eggplant extremely simple. I heated up some olive oil to its smoking point and pan-fried the eggplant on all sides until it got a nice toasty color. If the oil isn’t hot enough the eggplant will absorb it all, so you need to make sure it’s hot.

To serve, I took the clams out off the pot and stirred in the basil leaves. That also allowed all of the clam juices to be evenly mixed into the dish. Then, I just put the clams on top of the fideos and vegetables in the bowl and drank everything down with the white wine I used in the dish. I sliced up some crusty bread to mop up the juices.

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