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Posts Tagged ‘leek’

Yesterday was our 4th Anniversary. Somehow, Yuki’s been able to tolerate being married to me for 4 years. Not sure how, so I’ll just roll with it. With a 7 week old we are not able to go out for fine dining to celebrate. No worries, I prefer to cook anyway. Even though it’s not a pricey cut, I’ve always thought of lamb shanks as being a special occasion piece of meat. If done right, it should be fall-off-the-bone tender with a rich lamb taste uncomparable to any other part of the animal. I’ve never braised a lamb shank before, but since I’ve done my share of braising with other cuts, I knew I’d end up doing it right. For this recipe I made two portions of lamb, but 4 portions of accompanyments.

I used 1/2 bunch of arugula, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, a few sprigs of fresh tarragon, 5 garlic cloves peeled, 1 carrot roughly chopped, 1 rib of celery roughly chopped, 1 leek sliced, 2 lamb shanks that each weighed about 3/4 lb, 1 cup of red wine, 3/4 cup of chicken stock, and a 14oz can of diced roasted tomatoes.

When I braise large quantities of meat I use  my big Le Cruset stock pot, but I have a skillet that’s large enough for 2 lamb shanks. So, I heated it up, poured in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and browned the shanks. That took about 3-4 minutes on each side. Then I set the shanks aside.

I put the carrot, celery, leek, and garlic in and let them sweat down for about 7 minutes. I wanted them to just start carmelizing to add their sweetness to the braising liquid.

Then I poured in the wine and let it reduce by half, scraping up the little burnt bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. That’s where all of the flavor is. Once the wine was boiled down I added the tomatoes. After they came up to a boil I poured in the chicken stock and added the thyme. I seasoned with some salt and pepper and then put the shanks into the liquid. I covered the skillet, turned the heat down to med-low, and let it simmer for about 1.5 hours.

While the shanks were braising I threw together the sides. One was simmered chickpeas. I used a 14oz can of chickpeas, 3 garlic cloves minced, 1 rib of celery diced, 1 carrot diced, 1/4 onion diced, 10oz cherry tomatoes, a couple of thyme sprigs, and 1/4 cup of chicken stock.

I simply threw it all into a pot and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Before serving I removed the thyme and seasoned with salt and pepper.

I also made some mashed potatoes. I used 5 yukon gold potatoes skinned and chopped, 3 cloves of garlic skinned, 1/2 cup of milk, and 3 tablespoons of grated parmesan.

I put the potatoes and garlic into a pot with cold water, brought it up to a boil, and let it boil for about 20 minutes until the potatoes were soft. I poured out the water, added the milk and parmesan along with some salt and pepper, and mashed it all together.

With the sides ready to go I finished up the shanks. I removed the shanks and put them into a smaller pan. Then, I strained the braising liquid. I discarded the solids and poured the liquid in the pan with the shanks. I brought it up to a boil and added the tarragon. I let it boil for about 15 minutes. This allowed the tarragon flavors to infuse into the liquid as well as reduce it by half.

Then I plated everything up. After placing the shanks on the plate I removed the tarragon from the liquid. I added the arugula and let it boil down for another 5 minutes. I checked the seasoning and then covered the shank with it.

I have to say, even though this is a time-consuming recipe, it’s absolutely delicious! The meat was extremely tender and flavorful. While eating this Yuki commented that I could charge $40 for this dish. Not sure about that, but it’s definately a $28 dollar dish, at least better than most lamb you get at restaurants. Well worth the effort for a special occasion.

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So, today is Yuki’s birthday. Since she has a conference call with Japan tonight I took her for a nice dinner last night. We found out a while ago that Top Chef Master Marcus Samuelson quietly opened up a place here in Chicago, without much fair. Being fans of what we saw him cook as well as knowing his reputation we went there, C-House, located in the Affinia Hotel.

A real casual place with natural colors, the interior is just what we wanted. It was very comfortable, tables were well spaced, and music was not too loud (they even played some Afrobeat throughout the night, a huge plus in my book). Service was also casual for a fine dining restaurant. It was friendly and professional, but not the slightest bit of pretension. Food was brought at a nice pace as well.

Of course, bread service started off the meal once we ordered. Home-baked cheese bread with butter topped with sea salt. Hard to beat fresh-baked cheese bread.

Yuki started with the Scallops. Two near-perfectly cooked scallops with crab-apple butter, golden raisins, smoked almonds, shaved celery, and pear matchsticks. A nice blend of sweetness and bitterness to start the taste buds off right.

I ordered the Sweetbreads, one of my new favorite cuts of carcass. It was breaded and fried then served with a brown butter, pear matchsticks, and sautéed sweet potatoes and apples. Again, the sweetness on the plate got me ready for more grub.

Yuki’s entrée was the Fish Stew. Arctic char, prawns, leeks, and root vegetables stewed in a Goose Island Matilda and sassy cow cream broth. The beer gave a nice bitterness to the sweet seafood while the parsley garnish brightened it up.

I got the Hanger Steak. I nice bloody rare piece of meat with sautéed kale, carmelized pearl onions, lobster mushrooms and raclette cheese. I have to tell you, that cheese is some funky stuff! My plate smelled like a barnyard, but once I got that first bite in my mouth it turned out to be one delicious barnyard indeed. Bitter kale, sweet onions, earthy mushrooms, and funky cheese…a very well-balanced plate.

We split the Sage Flan for dessert. This was a winner! I’ve never had a savory flan before. The flan itself was perfectly rich, yet light. It was served with baked apples, a smear of cranberry sauce, and a maple-pear sorbet that tasted like cider. The flavors matched perfectly. This was one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten.

Since it was Yuki’s birthday they brought out a little vanilla cupcake with a raspberry and candle for her. We liked that better than the typical “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate on the dessert plate that most restaurants do. This was a nice little touch.

Overall, the food was great. This was our kind of fine dining. Nothing complex and pretentious at all. Just a casual atmosphere with top quality ingredients cooked to perfection and flavors in harmony. Everything was also very seasonal taking advantage of produce at its peak. Prices are also very respectable considering the location, the celebrity chef, and the quality. I would highly recommend C-House.

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Last night I did a riff on one of Yuki’s recipes. She commonly makes ground chicken dumplings similar to these patties in the winter when we eat nabe (Japanese hot-pot). So, I took her idea and made my own Japanese flavored dinner.

The ingredient list for the patties were 3/4’s pound of ground chicken thigh, 1 block of tofu that I had pressed the water out of, one egg scrambled with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 carrot cut into a small dice, 3 garlic cloves and 1 inch of ginger that I minced, and 1 tablespoon of hijiki seaweed. The hijiki comes dried and is available in most Asian sections of your grocer. I put 1 tablespoon of dried hijiki in a couple of cups of cold water and let it sit for about a half hour. Then I strained it, reserving the liquid for the miso soup.

I mixed it all together, with about a tablespoon of nanami togarashi (a Japanese red pepper spice mix, there are various kinds of togarashi that are also usually available in the Asian section) until the tofu was completely broken down and everything was mixed well. Then, on a lightly oiled baking sheet, I laid 8 patties (two patties per serving, leftovers for lunch). I let it cook in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

Before cooking the patties I got my miso soup ingredients ready to go. I cut 2 negi (Japanese green onions, larger than regular green onions, not as big as leeks) into 1 inch pieces, hiratake (oyster mushrooms), and wakame seaweed. Wakame can be bought dried or fresh. Fresh comes heavily salted to preserve it. You need to soak it really well in water and cut it into smaller pieces as it expands once the salt is rinsed off.

I also chopped up a small head of napa cabbage to cook as a side.

Once I put the patties in the oven I melted 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet and heated up the hijiki liquid in a pan along with one more cup of water, 1 teaspoon of dashi-no-moto (instant dashi), the negi, and the mushrooms. I let the soup simmer while working on the cabbage. Once the butter was melted I added 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and then the cabbage. I let the cabbage wilt in the soy butter for about 10 minutes and then turned off the heat.

After the cabbage was ready I added the wakame to the soup and then the miso. The best way to add the miso is to take a heaping spoonful and swirl it around in a ladle that is just slightly in the soup. This allows the miso to incorporate slowly keeping it from being lumpy.

I served everything with some white rice. I poured just a little ponzu on top of the patties to add a touch of acidity and help keep them moist. To keep with the Japanese flavors it only seemed right to drink Asahi.

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For our 3rd anniversary last night Yuki and I decided to try out Sweets & Savories as we’ve heard great things about that restaurant. They offer a 3 course pre fix off the regular menu for only $29 every night. That deal seemed very appetizing to us. Being BYOB was also nice so we could save on a really nice bottle. We brought a bottle of Talbott Chardonnay 2007.

When we walked in the first thing we both noticed was a weird smell. It didn’t really smell like food. I’m not sure at all what it did smell like, but it was certainly a little weird. It didn’t bother us during dinner though, just when we first walked in. The interior was very drab and empty. The walls were a dark bronze-brown and there were only three pictures hanging on the back wall. Nothing else. I can’t call it minimalist because it isn’t. I think it’s more half-assed to be honest.

Service was a little off from the beginning as well. They had 3 servers and no one else. No bussers or host to help them out. The first server to greet us saw our reservation but said that we didn’t have a table assigned. I thought that was a little odd, especially since there were empty tables. He got a different server over who brought us to a table towards the back.

The first thing I noticed about the table was that there were salt and pepper shakers that looked like they came from a greasy diner. Not to sound like a snob or anything, but if you advertise your restaurant as serving upscale food there shouldn’t be salt and pepper on the table. The chef should season things for you while the servers should offer fresh cracked black pepper. I also noticed that their wine glasses are from IKEA. I know it’s BYOB, but that touch kind of cheapened the ambiance.

It took over 10 minutes for someone to bring us a wine opener and ice bucket. A few times I noticed a server standing around looking for something to do. How about letting us enjoy a glass of wine?  After we did place our order the service was much smoother, but still far from being good.

On to the food. I started off with the Vychissoise. As simple as soup gets, yet executed perfectly! I could taste every ingredient used from the potato to the leek to the garlic. Topped with some juicy lobster claw, a drizzle of truffle oil, and some chives this was a great starter.

Yuki ordered the Smoked Salmon Salade. It was also delicious. Just the right amount of vinegar to tie it all together.

For entrees I got the Grilled Pork Tenderloin. I couldn’t smell any of the rosemary that was supposedly used, but I could definitely smell the grill in my meat. Cooked rare with some pomegranate BBQ sauce it was really good. I know most people prefer their pork cooked through, but a nice tenderloin doesn’t need to be. It did send me to the porcelain god (for the record it was not to throw up)  three times this morning, but it was worth it for that soft meaty texture. The corn pudding was way under seasoned, but fortunately there was a salt shaker on the table.

Yuki got the Lobster Risotto. With peas, arugula, and grana cheese, this was a fantastic risotto. There was a ton of freshly poached lobster in this dish. As great as the lobster was, it was the arugula that held everything together. The bitterness was perfectly matched with the sweetness of the of lobster. Fantastic!

As great as the starters and entrees were the desserts fell a little short. I had the Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake and Yuki got the Sweets & Savories Bread Pudding. The chocolate cake was light and fluffy, but extremely rich. With just the one little line of raspberry coulis it was difficult to eat, it needed more to help keep my palette fresh. For the bread pudding it was the caramel and creme anglaise that weren’t up to par. The caramel wasn’t quite sweet enough and the creme anglaise was a little too thin, it needed to be a little thicker for some textural difference in the dish.

Overall, it’s hard to argue with how good most of the food was for that price. The atmosphere and service leave little to be desired, but the food more than made up for the experience. The only though is that they’ve got the savouries part down, but they definitely need help with the sweets.

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It seems like every other program on Japanese TV has something to do with food. One program that I watched featured the biography of Nobu Matsuhisa, he of the restaurant Nobu. One of the dishes he showed on TV piqued the interest of Yuki’s mom, so the next night we set out to try and replicate it…Fluke sashimi.

It’s really quite simple. Slice a piece of fluke as thinly as possible and arrange on the plate without overlapping each slice of sashimi. Mash some garlic and lightly brush a little over each slice. On top of that lay down thin sticks of ginger and chives. In a small pot heat up equal parts soy oil and sesame oil until smoking hot. With a metal spoon dish some of the hot oil on top of the fish so that it sizzles a little. Then, drizzle with some ponzu and toasted sesame seeds.

To go with it Uichiro made his special harumaki, spring rolls. He “took the two best recipes and combined them into his own which is now the best.” I won’t give you measurements so I don’t spoil his secret, but the harumaki contain shiitake, bamboo shoots, leek, pork, ginger, oil, sake, chicken stock, soy sauce, sugar, pepper, starch, and spring roll skins. Cook it all together, roll them up, then deep fry them to golden perfection and serve with Chinese Mustard.

There was also some clear broth soup with shredded green onion and wakame.

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