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Posts Tagged ‘goat cheese’

I know I haven’t blogged in a while, but for all of my faithful reader (I know there’s just one of you), here’s what I made for Thanksgiving last night. We decided to stay home and just have a quiet dinner and I didn’t want to just roast a turkey breast, so I did something a little different. I made Turkey Paillard. Now, I did have to include a couple of the traditional (I say traditional, yet turkey wasn’t even served at the first Thanksgiving meal) ingredients on the plate being sweet potatoes and cranberries. Otherwise, I kept it pretty simple.

The first thing I did was make the stuffing for the paillard. I used about 3oz of baby spinach, 3.5oz of shimeji mushrooms, 3oz of oyster mushrooms, about 1/4 onion diced, 3oz of goat cheese, and three cloves of garlic minced (didn’t make it in the photo).

In my hot pan I poured in a couple of tablespoons of peanut oil and sweat down the onion and garlic for about 7 minutes. Then, I tossed in the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms were in I decided to add a sprig each of rosemary and thyme to add some depth to the flavor. As the shrooms were softening, I decided that some butter would be a good idea, which it was. I added a tablespoon and then seasoned with salt and pepper. When the shrooms were soft, about 5 minutes or so of cooking with the butter, I added the spinach and cooked that down just until it wilted, about 2 minutes. I removed the rosemary and thyme and then let the mixture cool down.

For the turkey I used 1 cup of chicken stock, some rosemary, thyme, and a 1lb turkey tenderloin that I butterflied open.

I opened up the turkey and spread the mushroom and spinach mixture all over the inside, leaving about a half-inch border around the edges. Then I put chunks of the goat cheese all over that.

I rolled it all up and tied it with some kitchen twine, then seasoned it all over with salt and pepper. I will say this, it may be the ugliest rolled piece of fowl in the history of Thanksgiving. However, it was so ugly that it had to taste good! I simply put too much stuffing in, but hey, it’s Thanksgiving, you’re supposed to be glutinous.

I heated up my pan, poured in a few tablespoons of olive oil, and gently placed the turkey in. Had I done a better job tying the turkey I would have turned it so that the outside seared all over. I didn’t want it to fall apart though, so I just poured in the chicken stock and tossed the herbs on top. Once the stock was boiling I turned the heat down to low, covered the pan, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.

While the turkey was cooking I whipped up my two sides. One was a simple pureed sweet potato. I simply steamed two sweet potatoes cut up in cubes for about 15 minutes and then blended them in my little hand blender with a few spoonfuls of the turkey’s cooking liquid.

The other side was pan roasted haricots vert with onion and dried cranberries.  I used a handful of haricots vert, about 1/4 onion thinly sliced, and a handful of dried cranberries.

I heated up my saute pan over med-high heat and poured in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and then added the haricot vert and onion. I let them cook for about 10 minutes until the onion became slightly carmelized and then added the cranberries along with some salt and pepper. A few more minutes and this dish was ready.

When the turkey was done I set it aside and tented it with foil. I took 2 tablespoons of butter cut into smaller pats and added them one at a time to the chicken stock that the turkey cooked in with the heat turned up high. Well, first I removed the rosemary and thyme sprigs. As the sauce reduced a little more I added more butter until I had a nice, silky gravy to spoon over the turkey.

That was all. A very simple Thanksgiving dinner for two. It didn’t take a ton of time to cook, I didn’t have a ton of clean-up afterwords, and it was much better than a regular old roasted bird. In fact, Yuki even commented that this was the best tasting turkey she’s ever eaten. I noticed that she didn’t say the best looking.

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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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Alright, Restaurant Week restaurant number 2…Cafe Spiaggia. I’ve long thought that Italian food in Chicago was sub par with only a couple of good restaurants around. Most Italian joints here serve big heavy sauces and overcooked pasta. Even some of the higher end ones I’ve been to were extremely disappointing. I’ve always wanted to hit up Spiaggia, but it’s a little out of my normal budget. By a little I mean a lot. When special occasions come along I’ve always opted to go to other places instead. However, the $22 pre fix lunch deal at Cafe Spiaggia this week is too good to pass up. I know it’s not quite the haute that the main room of Spiaggia is, but it did give me a very good idea of what it’s all about. Good things, all good things.

We started with two salads. This one is the PERA; Baby arugula with toasted pear chips, Alto Adige I.G.P speck (a ham from northern Italy), goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. The pears were a little under-ripe, but otherwise everything was light, clean, and fresh.

This salad is the ITALIANA; Escarole, treviso, and frisee with Parmigiano Reggiano and Chianti vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was outstanding! Otherwise, it was a very simple salad that was not overdone, exactly what a salad should be.

We ordered one each of the two entrée’s that are offered on the Restaurant Week Menu. First is the CAPPELLACCI; Hand crafted butternut squash filled pasta with amaretti, Parmigiano Reggiano, brown butter, and sage. You see this dish on a lot of Italian menus and in a lot of cookbooks, so it’s nothing creative or off the wall. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone execute the dish to this level. The pasta was perfectly al dente, there was just the right amount squash seasonings (I think cinnamon), and the brown butter wasn’t greasy at all.

The other entrée offered is BATTUTA; Pounded chicken breast with sautéed Swiss chard, fingerling potatoes, cipollini onions, and Pecorino Siciliano. Again, nothing off the wall. Just simple, fresh, top quality ingredients prepared perfectly to allow each other to compliment one another.

For dessert you’re given three choices out of the Gelati and Sorbeti menu. Yuki ordered the passion fruit, vanilla, and pineapple-basil.

I ordered the red raspberry, grapefruit and stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate shavings). They were all great, but out of the six I think the pineapple-basil was the best. It wasn’t too sweet and had just the right amount of herby basil in it. The grapefruit was also great as it tasted just like eating a slice of grapefruit.

Service at Cafe Spiaggia was fluid and attentive. That’s pretty much to be expected of such a high quality restaurant. The interior was also nice and laid back. It had the feel of an outdoor cafe in Italy with views of Lake Michigan. One of these days we’ll dine in the formal restaurant to get the full on experience. I will tell you this though, there is no doubt that Chef Mantuano is one of the few chefs in Chicago who truly understand what Italian food is all about. No need for heavy red sauces or huge plates of gut-busting, overcooked pasta. Keep it simple, light, and fresh while letting the ingredients themselves do the talking. I can’t wait for the full-on experience!

Side note, there is a bit of irony for me to finally dine at Cafe Spiaggia. About 5 years ago when I was looking to get back into the restaurant biz I interviewed to become the manager of the cafe. I was called in for a total of 3 interviews and turned out to be the runner-up in their search. I lost out to a long-time server of theirs. I wonder what life would have been like had she not gone after the position……hmmmmm?

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Last Friday night we checked out another Ethiopian joint with a couple of friends. This time we went to Abyssinia, which funny enough, is literally next door to Ras Dashen. While they both serve typical Ethiopian dishes they could not be more different in atmosphere.

Ras Dashen has live music on Friday nights. You can hear live music in Abyssinia, but it isn’t being played there. It’s the music from Ras Dashen! Abyssinia is a very cozy ma and pa type of restaurant while Ras Dashen is a little more lively and urban hip. I can’t really say which atmosphere I prefer because they both have their charms.

On to the food. The main difference is that Abyssinia doesn’t offer appetizers, salads, or soups. They basically just serve breakfast and lunch/dinner entrees. That was a little disappointing because I wanted to compare Sambusas with Ras Dashen. Oh well, what can you do? 

True to Ethiopian style everything was served family style on top of Injera. We ordered the Doro Wat, Miser Wat, Derek Yebeg, and a ground beef special that’s on their physical menu but not their digital menu from their website. They actually gave us two portions of the ground beef. The sides were some yellow lentils and a few little salads. Extra Injera on the side of course.

The food took about 20 minutes or so to come out. That was fine with us as everything was being freshly prepared. Not to mention the delicious Ethiopian beer we were drinking, that tided us over for a bit. Abraham, the owner, came out and gave us some collard greens, goat cheese (tasted much like feta), and some warm beets because of the wait. Super nice guy, he has a true heart of hospitality. If my grandma was an Ethiopian man she’d be him.

Anyway, the food was awesome! Everything was friggin fantastic. The Miser Wat may very well be the best pile of lentils I’ve ever passed through my tracts. I think I liked the Doro Wat a little better at Ras Dashen, but everything else was better here. Not by much mind you, as I’d go back to either place over and over again. The only real criticism I can give about Abyssinia’s food is that the lamb chunks in our Derek Yebeg were a little dry and not real tender. I think they just cut the pieces a little too small. It did have a wonderful flavor though.

There were also plenty of leftovers as Ethiopian food is much more filling than it looks. We split the leftovers with our friends and had plenty for lunch the next day. I’m sure it was the same for them. So we basically got two meals each at extremely reasonable prices.

It’s hard to say which is the best Ethiopian in Chicago. If you want live music head to Ras Dashen. If you only want to hear the bass from the live music head to Abyssinia. Otherwise you can’t go wrong with either.

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I wanted to make my own spaghetti sauce this past Monday for our meatless dinner. I was disappointed that Stanley’s didn’t have any canned tomatoes Monday morning when I went shopping for my veggies. I was going to make a mushroom ragu with basil, but those plans went out the window because I didn’t feel like cruising to any other stores just for a can of crushed tomatoes. I knew I had an unopened jar of Whole Foods Marinara sauce, so I figured I’d just doctor that up instead of running around town all morning.

I diced up some onion, carrots, and cremini mushrooms then sauteed them in olive oil for about 5 minutes or so with garlic. Then I dumped half the jar of marinara and a half cup of red wine and let them come to a simmer. I tossed in some soft goat cheese and let it melt into the sauce. Seasoned to taste with salt and pepper. Turned off the heat and tossed in a bunch of fresh basil. Then I tossed it with al dente spaghetti. Easy as can be.

I still had a bunch of hummus left that I had to use, so instead of garlic bread we had toast with hummus instead. It worked well since there’s a ton of garlic in my hummus.

Next week’s Meatless Monday will be much more interesting. I promise.

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