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Posts Tagged ‘ham’

Osechi-ryori is the Japanese style of traditional foods eaten on New Years Day. It typically consists of many different small dishes that are served in stacked jubako (fine lacquer boxes similar to bento). To purchase a ready-made Osechi can set you back well into the hundreds of dollars. Or, you can spend all of that money on an airplane ticket to Japan and let your mother-in-law cook all of the food and arrange the jubako for you, Kawabata family style. Now, I’m not completely sure of all of the ingredients that were used, but I’ll sure do my best to fill you in on what filled my belly.

First and foremost was a delicious bottle of sake. My father-in-law always gets a really nice bottle when I come to visit. This is a bottle of Junmai Daiginjo from Aomori (Aomori is the farthest north area of Honshu and I once hitchhiked from central Tokyo all the way up there, but that’s a story for another time) called Denshu. It’s one of the best bottles in Japan and you won’t find it anywhere in the States. Junmai Daiginjo is sake that is made from pure rice without any added alcohol or sugar, rice that is polished at least 50%, and cold brewed at less than 5 degrees celsius. While you can find some Junmai Daiginjo in the States, you won’t find any as nice as this. It’s smooth as a baby’s ass! Even if you don’t love a baby’s ass, you’ll certainly love this bottle of sake.

In this box there was some simple steamed pea pods, shiitake simmered in shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), boiled satoimo potatoes, simmered lotus root, simmered carrots, and koya tofu (freeze-dried tofu, something I’ve never eaten before but really like the texture).

Here we have braised beef wrapped gobo (burdock root), salmon wrapped in kombu, sweet-pickled daikon and carrot, and sweet shoyu glazed yellow tail.

This level of jubako contained dried herring roe, white and pink fish cakes, ikura (salmon roe), mashed sweet potato, soy-glazed dried anchovies, Cool Breeze Amongst Pine Trees (Uichiro’s name for his famous meatloaf, don’t ask me how he came up with that name, some things are probably better unknown), and ham.

Next to the jubako was a plate with some grilled red snapper. I’m always disappointed when I order red snapper in Chicago. I’m never disappointed with I eat it here in Japan. Tamiko got the skin nice and crisp while keeping the flesh moist and juicy. Extremely fresh fish.

Then, she brought out bowls of soup. A clear broth made from kombu and katsuo-bushi (bonito flakes) filled with mitsuba greens, fish cakes with good fortune written in the middle, mochi (an absolute necesity at the Japanese new years table), shiitake, and slices of yuzu peel.

Last, but surely not least, she served up some red snapper sashimi that was cured in kombu. A touch of wasabi was all it needed.

Dessert was simply fresh strawberries and green tea. Strawberries are extremely expensive here in Japan so they’re always a treat.

To wipe our mouths we used “Year of the Dragon” napkins since 2012 is the year of the dragon. I was born in a year of the dragon as well.

Happy new years everyone!

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The food in San Juan, Puerto Rico is very expensive for what you get. I guess that’s expected in such a touristy city. That’s especially true when walking the streets of Old San Juan. While that part of town isn’t without its charm, rustic old world food certainly isn’t its draw. We found that the best way to fill your belly without emptying your wallet is to find a good kiosk and get your hands on a tripleta sandwich, a similar morsel to the Cuban sandwich.

We found this Las Tripletas kiosk on the south end of Old San Juan on the cobblestone street near the cruise docks. While I was ordering the sandwich artist told me that his tripleta was much better than any Cuban I’d ever eat. When I asked why he said because his pork was wet and juicy while most Cubans had dry pork. Nothing better than a wet sloppy pork sandwich. Well, almost nothing, I can think of a few things but that’s another conversation.

Quite spacious for a little kiosk. My man here layered the lettuce, tomato, turkey, ham, and pork on the pan de agua (typical Puerto Rican baguette), then squirted some mayo all over and pressed it on his griddle panini-style.

It was a damn good, juicy pork sandwich. Not bad for $5.50.

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We attended a Hawaiian-themed pot-luck party this weekend. I decided to make something really simple, but tasty. I came up with this hors d’oeuvres using typical Hawaiian ingredients; purple potato,  ham, pineapple, macadamia nuts, and cilantro.

I lightly oiled my baking sheet and then laid down slices of purple potato about 1/4 inch thick. I drizzled a little olive oil on top then seasoned lightly with salt and pepper. I threw that into a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Then, I took it out and put some thin-sliced ham (regular lunch meat ham) on top and then a slice of pineapple. I put that back into the oven for about 10 minutes. I poured a handful of macadamia nuts into a plastic bag and bashed it up with a bottle. I took the baking sheet back out of the oven and sprinkled the macadamia nuts all over and then put it back into the oven for another 5 minutes. I took it out, turned off the oven, and sprinkled some chopped up cilantro all over and let it cool. That’s it, about as simple as it gets.

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Yesterday Yuki and I made a trip up to the Mitsuwa market, something we do once or twice a month. Neither of us really felt like cooking dinner so we decided to take advantage of the Bento boxes they prepare fresh every day. I got the Bento Du Jour which centered around a minced cutlet.

Going clockwise starting with the cutlet, you see it was served on top of white rice. The cutlet itself was simply a mix of ground beef, ground pork, and some small diced onion. They coated it in panko and deep-fried it. It was absolutely delicious!

In the next section was a piece if fish cake, a piece of tamagoyaki, two pieces of simmered eggplant, a deep-fried shrimp coated in bread crumbs, broccoli, and a piece of white fish wrapped in squid that was deep-fried. This was all on top of some lettuce.

In the upper left section was a small macaroni salad. It had a very typical mayonnaise sauce with small diced carrot and ham.

Next to that was some gobo and some kuromame. These were both a bit sweeter, especially the kuromame. The simmering liquid for each contained sugar and mirin. I treated the kuromame like dessert.

All of this for only $6.75!!! Good luck finding a meal as well-rounded and delicious as this for that price. The only way I can think of pulling that off is to cook for yourself.

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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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