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Posts Tagged ‘kabocha’

So, I had some salt cured salmon filets that needed to get eaten up from our last bimble up to Mitsuwa. These salmon filets are great because the don’t need much cooking since they’re already salt-cured. With that, we also had a kabocha that Yuki wanted me to cook. However, I did not cook it how she requested. Too bad for her. Without further ado…

First thing I did was get the kabocha ready, I only used half of it. I seeded it, cut off most of the skin, quartered the half, and then cut the quarters themselves in half.

I set them in a baking dish, drizzled them with sesame oil, salt, and pepper. I boiled about 3/4 cup of water, poured that into the pan, and put the kabocha into a 375 degree oven for about an hour. The water should be mostly absorbed by the time cooking is done keeping the kabocha nice and moist, while the top gets a little bit golden brown.  Then I took 1/4 cup of walnuts and toasted them in a dry pan for about 6 minutes.

I coarsely ground them with my mortar and pestle and then added 4 tablespoons of ponzu. I let that sit while I cooked everything else.

For the kale I used a bunch of red kale stalks removed and leaves chopped down, 1 cup of chicken stock, 1/2 onion sliced, and three garlic cloves sliced. In a hot stock pot I poured in about 2 tablespoons of sesame oil and then added the onion and garlic. About 2 minutes later I added the kale and let that wilt for about 4 minutes. Then I poured in the chicken stock and seasoned with salt and pepper. Once the stock came to a boil I loosely covered the pot, turned the heat down to medium-low, and let it simmer for about 30-40 minutes (however much time I had left on the kabocha, it doesn’t matter as long as the kale simmers for a while).

Once the kale got going I started the miso soup. I used a heaping service spoon of shiro miso, about 4 inches of daikon sliced and quartered, one small carrot cut in half moons, 4 green onions chopped in 1 inch lengths, 1/4 cup of dashi seasoned soy sauce, and 3 shiitake sliced. In a soup pot I poured in 4 cups of water and added everything except for the miso. I brought it to a boil, then covered the pot, and turned the heat down to medium-low to let it simmer for about 15-20 minutes.

I just rubbed some sesame oil on both sides of the salmon and then seasoned with pepper. My toaster oven has a broiler setting, so I just turned that on and broiled the salmon for about 8 minutes. That was just enough time to cook it all the way through and crisp up the skin. When it was finished it was time to put everything together.

I left the salmon as is. Put some of the kale on the plate and then a couple of pieces of the kabocha. I topped the kabocha with the walnut-ponzu mixture. I mixed the miso into the soup and served that up. Then I served some white rice along with everything, mainly to balance the saltiness from the salt-cured salmon.

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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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Sorry it took me a few days to put up this past week’s Meatless Monday. It’s been a pretty hectic week. Plus, I still have posts from Japan that I need to get up as well as other home cooked meals from both me and my wife. Soon enough my loyal readers (all three of you), soon enough.

At any rate, I had some kabocha that I need to use up so I decided to make a vegetarian stew based around it. It’s real simple to make, much like a pot of chili. It’s one-pot cooking at its tastiest.

I started by sweating some chopped onion in olive oil in a large pot. Then I added some ginger and garlic. After a few more minutes I threw some diced carrot and red pepper. Then I added some diced purple potatoes.  A few more minutes and then I finally added the star of the stew…the kabocha. You don’t want to cut the kabocha too small because it will start to become mushy and melt if you stew small pieces for too long (same with the purple potatoes).

After the kabocha was in there for about 5 minutes I seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, cinnamon, and a little curry powder. Then I poured in about a quarter cup of orange juice and a half cup of water (I added a little more later because it absorbed and evaporated a little quicker than I anticipated, no worries, you can always add water). Once that all came to a boil I turned the heat down to a simmer, covered, and let stew for an hour.

After the hour was up I threw in some lentils then covered it for another 15 minutes. Then I added a can of drained brown beans. Once the beans were heated through I turned off the heat and threw in a handful of chopped fresh parsley and squeezed a half a lime in.

I was just going to serve it as is with some bread on the side, but Yuki decided it would taste better with angel hair pasta. That sparked an idea. Instead of angel hair we should use udon noodles! The problem with that, though, is that we didn’t have any udon. So, angel hair it was.

The beauty of a stew like this is that you can really do anything you like. Vegetables you want and any seasonings you want. Just make sure the flavors will compliment each other. The only think really missing from this dish was nice, juicy, tender chunks of lamb!

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Alright, here’s Uichiro’s famous Kawabata-style Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is Japan’s version of a pancake of sorts. It’s base ingredients are eggs, flour, and shredded cabbage. Not entirely sure if Uichiro uses water or dashi, or what else he puts in his mix (highly guarded secret but I’m sure there are green onions in it) but it sure is tasty.

You start off by getting out the old table-top griddle. Once its hot add a little oil and pour some of the batter to form a pancake. Next to it lay out some sliced pork and start cooking it a little.

Once the batter starts to cook lay the pork slices on top.

While the okonomiyaki cooks grill various veggies. We had eggplant, green peppers, onion rings with quail eggs, kabocha, matsutake mushrooms, and various mochi cakes. Once the bottom is done you carefully flip the okonomiyaki to cook the other side.

Once it’s fully cooked spoon on top some bull dog sauce (a semi-sweet vegetable and fruit sauce), mayonnaise, shredded ao nori, bonito flakes, and pickled ginger on the side. Since it’s family-style you just cook and grab as you go. It’s a ton of fun and extremely tasty.

And if you aren’t full yet, don’t worry as yakisoba is up next. Once the batter is finished cook up the rest of the pork and veggies, add some bean sprouts and noodles, then eat it up.

Please, no dessert.

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Alright, last night I was able to knock out one more Iron Chef from my list as Yuki’s parents took us along with her sister to Iron Chef Italian Masahiko Kobe’s restaurant, Ristorante Massa. It’s located in a very cool neighborhood of Tokyo called Ebisu tucked away off a main street. It’s a simple little restaurant that seats only about 25-30 people. It was full when we were there, and probably is most nights due to his celebrity status and fantastic food.

There were two pre fix menu options. The one we opted for was the less expensive of the two (approx $65 compared to $85) as it offered one less dish than the other. Since none of us are fat Americans it seemed like the right choice. We could chose one from each category of Antipasto Freddo (3 choices), Antipasto Caldo (three choices), Primo Piatto (5 choices), Secondo Piatto (4 choices), and either a Dolce (5 choices) or Formaggio Plate (pick two out of 4 cheeses) followed by either tea or espresso. We washed down the meal with some Chianti Classico. I have pics of everything, but I’m only going to mention what I ordered otherwise this post will be way way way too long. This is already one of the longest introductions I’ve written. So, on to the food!

We each started off with the Oyster starter that was not part of the Pre Fix. It is probably the largest oyster I’ve ever eaten in my life! So fresh and clean it was simply served in its own juices with a little squeeze of lime and some rock salt. What more does a good oyster need?

Then they brought out an amuse bouche. Baked pasta filled with ricotta cheese, a little slice of pear, and an Italian parsley leaf. It almost reminded me of matzoh with cream cheese, a treat dear to my stomach for one week out of the year.

The Antipasto Freddo I ordered was a foie gras terrine with chamomile. It was served with smoked Ishikawa potatoes, a yuzu consomme jelly, Italian Arugula, and sprinkled with flaked red pepper.

My Antipasto Caldo of choice was a bit of a mis-translation. I thought I was getting duck confit, when it showed up we thought is was duck balls, but it turned out to be chicken gizzards. I actually preferred it to be balls since I’ve never eaten bird balls, but it was still outstanding! The gizzards were served on top of a kabocha puree with thinly sliced red onions that were soaked in cold water, a shishito pepper, and a pea pod.

The Primo Piatto, pasta course, I ordered was chitarra with cremini sauce. The sauce was as simple and delicious as could be…olive oil, garlic, and minced cremini mushrooms. There were big slices of sautéed cremini in it as well. With Kobe being the “Prince of Pasta” it was easily the best pasta in my life. Cooked to perfection, nice and al dente.

For the Secondo Piatto I got the beef, of course. A perfectly grilled strip loin to medium rare covered in a light mustard sauce and served with asparagus, a shiitake, a pea pod, and a slice of red pepper. Uichiro, Yuki’s dad, ordered his with black truffles on top. I wish I knew I could do that. He gave me a few of the truffles and they made an outstanding steak even better…as truffles always do.

I opted for the Formaggio instead of a Dolce. I chose the parmigiano and taleggio. He served it very typically with some dried fruits and sliced nut bread. I washed it down with lemon tea instead of espresso as I wanted to sleep later on.

Maki, Yuki’s sister, couldn’t finish her Tirimisu so I took it upon myself to not waste any food. It was served with kiwi sorbet and fresh fruit. Of course, it was the best tirimisu that I’ve ever digested.

Overall, this was by far the best Italian food I’ve ever eaten, hands down. And I’ve been to Italy. I’m sure there are places as good in Italy, but when Yuki and I went there we couldn’t afford any of the top restaurants. We ate some pretty damn good food there, but nothing as refined as this.

I have also said before that I didn’t think modern Italian food existed. I said that due to the lack of creativity and refinement of Italian food in Chicago (although, I have yet to eat at Spiaggia). At home it’s mostly humongous bowls of pasta with thick rich sauces that weigh you down. Nothing like Ristorante Massa where the portions were clean, fresh, perfectly sized, and creative modern takes on classics. I have a newfound respect for Italian food.

While I have eaten at Sakai’s, Michiba’s, and Chen’s restaurants, this is the first time that an Iron Chef has actually cooked for me. It was very exciting to see Kobe back in the kitchen when we walked in. I think there are two reasons Kobe was cooking for us. First, he only has one restaurant while the others all have numerous. So you know where Kobe will be when he cooks as opposed to it being a crapshoot for the others (I missed Sakai by 4 hours back when Yuki and I went to La Rochelle). Second, he’s still young at only 40 and still wants to create. Michiba is an old man and doesn’t cook anymore and I don’t think Sakai cooks too much anymore either.

No more Iron Chefs this trip as we head back to cold Chicago tomorrow. Next trip I’ll visit Iron Chef Japanese Nakamura Komei and maybe Honorary Iron Chef French Ishinabe Yutaka. Morimoto will have to wait as his Teppanyaki restaurant here in Tokyo starts at approx $300 a head!

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