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Posts Tagged ‘lemon zest’

Another year means another Passover Seder. Well, that’s not entirely true. Since Yuki is about 2 weeks from her due date we decided that it’s not a good idea to spend the holiday with my family. Being 3 hours from our OB/GYN at this point isn’t the best thing we could do (or at least that’s what we tell my family!). What makes it easier is the fact that I’m not a religious man by any stretch of the imagination. So, if I missed another recital of the 4 questions or the 4 sons or Elijah I wouldn’t lose any sleep. I do, however, love a good matzo ball soup and brisket. I decided that I would make a few of the traditional Passover delicacies for the first night. My younger bro also lives in Chicago and did not go to the Quad Cities, so he came over for dinner last night.

To keep with tradition, I started the dinner off with some matzo ball soup. You can ask Alpana Singh my thoughts on the perfect matzo ball. I made my typical chicken soup on Sunday and then put it in the fridge overnight. In the afternoon I took it out and let it come to room temperature. About 20 minutes before my brother got here I made the matzo balls.

I used 2 eggs, about 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 cup of matzo meal, a few cracks of white pepper, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

In a small glass dish I mixed together all of the dry ingredients. In a seperate bowl I beat the eggs with the olive oil and parsley. Then, I poured the egg mixture into the dry mix until it was evenly mixed. I covered it in plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

With the soup boiling I took the mix out of the fridge, wet my hands, and dropped walnut-sized balls into the soup. I let them boil for about 20 minutes to make sure they cooked through. That’s all there is to it, soup is ready. I will say that these were by far the best matzo balls I’ve ever made, and some of the best I’ve ever eaten as well.

While the rest of dinner was heating up I brought out some charoset and matzo. Side note, everything we ate was prepared ahead of time so that all I had to do was re-heat for dinner.

For the charoset I used 1 gala apple, 1/3 cup of walnuts, 1 tablespoon of red wine, 2 tablespoons of honey, and a few dashes of cinnamon which didn’t make it into the pic. In a bowl I crushed the walnuts into small chunks then poured the wine and honey in. Then I grated the apple into the bowl, seasoned with the cinnamon, mixed it up real well, covered with plastic, and let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour.

For the entrée I made a horseradish brisket (the recipe was adapted from a Gail Simmons recipe), wilted spinach with raisins and toasted soy nuts, olive oil mashed potatoes, and roasted radishes.

I made the brisket in the morning to make sure it got enough time in the braising liquid. I used 2 cups of beef stock, 1 cup of red wine, 1/2 cup of prepared horseradish, 3 carrots chopped, 3 celery stalks chopped, 7 garlic cloves minced, 1 small onion sliced, and a 3.5 pound brisket.

In a large heated skillet I poured in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil and browned the brisket. I gave each side about 7 minutes.

Then I transferred the brisket to a foil braising pan and scattered the carrots and celery around it. In the hot skillet I added half of the garlic and the onions and let them sweat down for about 6 minutes. Then I poured in the wine. I let the wine boil down for about 7 minutes and added the beef stock. When the liquid came back to a boil I poured everything around the brisket.

I mixed together the rest of the garlic with the horseradish and spread that on top of the brisket. I covered it tightly with foil and put it into a 300 degree oven for about 3 hours. The one thing I did forget was bay leaves. I would have liked 2 of them in there. Oh well, still tasted great.

After 3 hours I let it sit for the rest of the day. While we were eating the soup I removed the foil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and put it under the broiler for about 30 minutes or so to not only re-heat, but also to give the horseradish a nice crust. To serve I just lay a couple sliced on top of the onion, carrots, and celery.

For the spinach I used 1/4 cup of raisins, the zest and juice from 1 lemon, 3 garlic cloves minced, 1/2 onion diced, 1/4 cup of toasted soy nuts (this dish would typically use pine nuts, but at $24 a pound I found the soy nuts price of $3 a pound a little easier to digest), 1/4 cup of red wine, and 2 bunches of spinach chopped.

First I poured the wine into a bowl and soaked the raisins for at least 15 minutes. Then, I heated up a large pot and poured in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sweat down the garlic and onion for about 5 minutes. Handful by handful I added the spinach until it was all wilted down. I poured in the wine and raisins. Once the wine had boiled down for a few minutes I added the lemon juice and zest. I stirred that all in and then added the soy nuts. A touch of salt and pepper and the spinach was ready to go.

I skinned 5 yukon gold potatoes for the mashed potatoes. Since the laws of the Kashrut don’t allow dairy to be eaten alongside meat I decided to use olive oil in order to try to make them creamy. I know, I don’t believe any of that crap, but since I was making a pretty traditional meal I thought I’d keep with tradition (all kosher wine as well). After boiling the potatoes I mashed them with about 1/4 cup or so of olive oil. Actually, I probably used more, I just kept adding it until the potatoes were the right consistancy. A little salt and pepper and they were all set.

For the radishes I simply halved them and roasted them with olive oil, salt, and pepper at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes.

I did not have enough time to make any dessert last night. We were pretty full anyway, but a little dessert is always a nice thing. I guess life could be worse than not having dry, matzo meal cakes sit in your stomach on top of brisket. Plus, you’re all probably tired of this post by now anyway. Happy holidays!

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This year for Thanksgiving we didn’t really have much of a plan. There weren’t a lot of options on the table for us. We could have gone to my mom’s in Merida, Mexico, but flights were very expensive this year. We could have gone to my Grandma’s in the Quad Cities, but no one there cooks anymore, they go to a restaurant in Andalusia. Not exactly a mouth-watering proposition. Almost all of our friends were with their families. It wasn’t until 3:00 Thursday afternoon that we figured out what to do. With so little time we decided to keep it very simple. So, we headed to Stanley’s and Whole Foods to get the fixin’s we needed to make a small dinner of four portions.

First thing I made was a sweet potato puree soup. I skinned and chopped up two medium-sized sweet potatoes and tossed them into a pot with 3 garlic cloves and 2 cups of chicken stock. I brought it to a boil, covered it, and let it simmer for 20 minutes until the potato chunks were nice and soft. Once it cooled down a little I threw it all into my blender with a cup of soy milk and pureed it nice and smooth. I seasoned it with some salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of cinnamon and then poured it back into the pot ready to re-heat once everything else was done.

For the rice I simply rinsed 2 cups of rice and put it in our rice cooker. Once I poured in the water I added one diced carrot and 1.5 tablespoons of dried hijiki. I let it sit for about 30 minutes and then hit the start button. Simple as that.

For the Turkey I just got a 1.75 pound breast. I laid it in a large rimmed baking sheet and covered it with a mix of 2 tablespoons of miso, the juice from one lemon, the zest from half of the lemon, and some black pepper. After evenly coating the top of the turkey with the miso I put it on the lower 3rd rack of the oven at 400 degrees. I let it roast for about an hour. Once the hour was up I took it out and put a bunch of haricots vert all around the pan and poured 3/4 cup of chicken stock around the bird. I put that back into the oven for another 15 minutes. When I took it out I let the bird rest on a board and set the haricots vert aside. I mixed together 1 tablespoon of miso and 1/4 cup of chicken stock and poured that into the pan to mix with the rest of the juices. That was my sauce for the turkey after slicing it.

While the turkey was cooking I melted 1/4 cup of butter and slowly carmelized 1 sliced onion for about 20 minutes.

To serve, I sliced the turkey and laid it on top of the haricots vert. I spooned some sauce on top and then laid down some of the onions. I garnished it all with the other half of lemon zest. The soup and rice were on the side.

I cheated on dessert, we just picked up a pumpkin pie and some vanilla ice cream. It’s a shame we didn’t plan ahead because both Yuki and I make a mean pumpkin pie. I also make a pretty good ice cream. Oh well, we weren’t trying to impress anyone this year, so this worked out just fine. Maybe next year we’ll be more creative and extravagant. In the meantime, everything turned out really tasty and we have no complaints. It sure beats a restaurant in Andalusia.

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Personally, I think that fennel is one of the more underrated vegetables out there. Sure, you see it in Italian cooking. You also see its seeds in some Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. But you don’t see much of it outside of that. When I saw big, beautiful fennel bulbs at the store yesterday I just had to eat them.

The first thing I did after washing the fennel was to separate the fronds from the bulbs. I took a handful of the frond and chopped them up nice and fine. I threw them into a quarter cup of olive oil along with a finely minced garlic clove, a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, and about a half lemon’s worth of zest. I slashed the skin on 6 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs and then coated them with the marinade. I covered it in plastic and threw it in the fridge for a couple of hours.

I coarsely chopped the bulbs along with half an onion, three garlic cloves, and two medium-sized russet potatoes that I skinned.

In a heated pot I melted 1 tablespoon of butter and then sautéed all of the vegetables for about 7 minutes. Then I poured in a quarter cup of white wine. I let that boil for a few minutes and then added 1 cup of chicken stock and seasoned with salt. Once that came to a boil I covered the pan and turned the heat down to med-low. I let that simmer for about 15-20 minutes until everything was nice and tender. At that point I turned off the heat and let it cool for a bit.

Once cool I poured it all into my blender along with a quarter cup of soy milk (would have used cream if I had any) and blended it to a smooth puree. Then I poured it back into the pot, checked the salt seasoning and added some black pepper. I let it sit until everything else was ready. At that point all I had to do was re-heat it.

I took some broccoli and cut it down into florets. I laid that on some foil, drizzled it with olive oil, then sprinkled zest from the other half of the lemon over it along with some salt.

I took the chicken out of the fridge about a half hour before grilling to bring it to room temperature. I grilled the chicken skin-side down first to get a nice crisp skin. The broccoli was kept on the foil during grilling, this keeps it from falling through the grate and also keeps it from burning quickly. I also grilled a couple of big red sweet peppers.

To serve, I squeezed the lemon juice on the chicken after it was taken off the grill. Then I garnished everything, the soup included, with some more of the fennel fronds chopped up. White rice accompanied.

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So, yesterday was my wife’s birthday. I won’t tell you how old she is now, you should never ask a woman her age. Needless to say, she’s still younger and better looking than me. For this year’s birthday dinner I took her to L2O. I know, I know. I’m unemployed and shouldn’t spend that kind of money right now. But hey, what can you do? I have to say, we were both extremely impressed and satisfied by what transpired at the dinner table last night.

First of all, we were fortunate enough to have found a parking spot right in front of the restaurant. No easy task in Lincoln Park. We knew all would be well when that happened. Saved me $12 on valet!

l20

The interior was perfect for the concept of Laurent Gras’s food. French sophistication with Japanese minimalism. It was really nice inside. The one weird thing we’re not used to is how they sat us. We got a 4 top to ourselves, but they sat us next to each other instead of across from each other. Our necks hurt a little bit since we had to turn our head to converse, but that’s being nitpicky.

We opted for the 4 course pre-fix. Our choice of one item from the Raw section, one from the Warm section, one from the Main, and one dessert. To be quite honest, deciding what to order might possibly have been the hardest decisions we’ve had to make in years! Everything sounded great. You can see the menu on their website, so you’ll understand what I mean.

Before we ordered we got not one, but two amuse buches. The first was a small little layered octopus and potato thing with a spicy soy paste underneath. It was the perfect little starter. Clean, fresh, and just enough spice to get our taste buds rolling. The second was a little…. you know what? I don’t remember what it was. I do remember it being delicious. You’d think I’d remember something from last night, but then again, my short-term memory is a little off.

tuna foie

From the Raw section Yuki ordered the Tuna and I ordered the Peekytoe Crab. The Tuna was served with little squares of tomato on top, hibiscus stems along the surface, little dollops of some sort of creamy sauce, and foie gras snow. I can only imagine that it’s frozen foie that’s been grated. It was a truly magnificent dish. Very elegant and buttery but not oily or greasy.

crab and avocado

My Crab was a little lighter but not quite as elegant. It was served in a mound with a sliced avocado dome around it. Around the avocado mound was kaffir lime jelly and lemon oil. The crab was probably the best crab meat I’ve ever eaten. The sweetness shined through all of the tart citrus with the avocado’s creaminess adding depth.

lobster bisque

For the Warm course Yuki ordered the Lobster Bisque. It was a boiled lobster claw with chestnuts and lobster/scallop dumplings. Table service lobster bisque broth was poured over it. I didn’t try the lobster claw, but Yuki claims that she’s never ever had lobster with such a soft texture. I did try a little of the dumpling and judging from that I’d have to say that Yuki’s right about the lobster. Easily the best bisque of all time.

lamb tartar

I got the Lamb Tartare. In a circle mold they layered the bottom with the freshest raw lamb I’ve ever seen. On top of that was a layer of raw diced shiro ebi (sweet shrimp). Then, on top of that was a few sliced of pickled peach and some tarragon. I think it was gold fleck on top of that, but I can’t be sure. The sliminess of the shrimp and the sourness of the pickled peach combined with the herbal notes of the tarragon so well that you hardly even knew you had lamb underneath. It was such a clean taste that nothing seemed raw. As such, I think it belongs in the raw section, but I’m not complaining because then I’d have to have chosen between that and the crab.

On to the main course. Yuki’s Tai Snapper with Deconstructed Green Curry (I couldn’t find a pic online) was a masterpiece. The Snapper seems to have been steamed with lemon zest on top. It was so moist and delicious. There was some coconut sauce, dollops of some sort of spicy chili sauce. A brown sugar tuille. The coolest part were the parsley merengues. They were brought out getting frozen in liquid nitrogen and served tableside. They were so light and airy that they melted in your mouth making you wonder if you had even eaten anything at all. But the flavor was pure parsley. Genius! When you put everything together it really tasted like green curry. Wonderful deconstruction job. Her only complaint was that she wanted white rice with it. But, she’s Japanese. She wants white rice with everything.

pork belly

I got the Pork Belly. Three thick slices of pork belly that had been seared in duck fat. Served with thin slices of potato, scalloped potato, and pureed potato in the scalloped potato. On top of everything they poured some truffle sauce. It was decadence on a plate! I can’t begin to describe to you just exactly what that crisp pig skin fried in duck fat did to my digestive tracts, but I will say this…it was a beautiful thing! My only complaint is that I couldn’t quite finish everything on the plate. I hate to waste food. (please note that the pic I found on Google only shows one slice, I was served three with three potatoes.)

Before dessert they sent out another amuse buche. This was a little ramekin filled with Meyer Lemon Marshmallow. It was super tart the second it hit our tongues, but almost immediately subsided into just a really palette cleansing citrus. It was the perfect thing to prepare us for dessert.

Dessert was two different souffles. One was a Grand Marnier, the other was a Bailey’s and Frangelico. Of course, he got the souffles just right. Super fluffy with a mild egg taste. They spooned a hole in at the table to pour in the alcohol. Absolutely scrumptious!

We weren’t quite done yet. After dessert they sent out these interesting pastry concoctions that the pastry chef came up with. In a small bundt shaped mold they poured some beeswax, let it burn a little to carmelize, then filled it with custard. I’ve never had anything quite like it.

But, there was still more. What meal is complete without chocolate? Our server brought out a loaf of some of the richest, creamiest chocolate mouse of all time! So good, so so good!

When we were done, Tony, the general manager, gave us a quick tour of the kitchen. Laurent Gras was back there with his army of chefs cooking away. It’s great to see a restaurant where the head chef is actually doing the cooking. Too often the big name chefs are never in the kitchen, having their sous chefs handle everything. Not here. Laurent is such a perfectionist that he tends the kitchen almost every single night. The man is tireless. I’m damn glad he is!

It wasn’t cheap, but when you feel like splurging for a special dinner you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place than L2O. It truly is a gem among Chicago restaurants.

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