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Posts Tagged ‘lemon’

The other night Yuki and I met up with a bunch of her ex-coworkers who have moved back to Tokyo. They got a table at a modern, hip Yakitori joint in the Hibiya neighborhood. If you want to buy a brand new Hermes bag, Hibiya is the place for you. It’s a very swanky area filled with great food. The place they met us at is called Yakitori Akira. It’s in the basement of a large office/shopping building along with a handful of other slightly upscale food joints.

When you walk in you take your shoes off and walk past the open counter where the chefs prepare the chow. The tables are sunken. I was a little nervous at first because the tables were floor level and my knees are terrible. But, the floor was recessed making them regular table height, something that is becoming more common in newer restaurants, sort of fusion if you will.

The first dish, after a cold draft beer of course,  was a salad of raw Nappa cabbage swimming in a mayonnaise-based dressing and topped with sliced kombu.

After that came some natto topped with sliced green onions and nori seaweed. Natto is a love-hate food. You either love it or you hate it. It’s a type of fermented soy bean and has a really pungent odor, like ripe armpits. It also has a very sticky texture. It’s commonly eaten with Chinese-style mustard to mask some of the smell. Yuki loves it, I don’t prefer it. Very few Westerners can tolerate it and, these days, not so many of the younger Japanese do either. But, I had to try it since they put it in my face. Needless to say, I took one bite and the quickly proceeded to chug some beer!

Then we had some chicken karage, Japanese-style chicken nuggets. Unlike your McDonald’s variety of processed crap, this is big juicy chunks of thigh meat. I have no idea what kind of sauce this one came with, but it sure was tasty!

This here is the dish I was most looking forward to…rare chicken meat! The meat from the neck was quickly seared, almost completely raw (the pink you see in the picture is indeed raw chicken), on a hot skillet and served with some yuzu kosho. Rare chicken is extremely controversial, for obvious reasons, but given the upscale atmosphere I was certain they were using fresh, high quality birds. Since I have yet to get diarrhea or vomit profusely, I’m pretty sure the meat was clean. Flavor-wise it tasted like chicken, oddly enough. The texture was a little chewy, chicken al dente. Honestly, it’s nothing really special, it’s just chicken meat.

Avocado sautéed in some sort of shoyu sauce came next. Coming from Chicago I’m used to Mexican preparations of avocado. This was a nice change to what my taste buds are used to. The sauce carmelized a little while the avocado stayed nice and soft.

After the Avocado we spiced things up a bit with some kimchi. It was served with some chopped green onion, julienned daikon, and a shiso leaf.

Next came what is probably my favorite snack of the night, deep-fried chicken skin. Japan’s answer to chicharones. Crispy, buttery, all-around chickeny goodness! I may have to make this a staple of my future diet.

What tour around the bird would complete without some chicken wings? These were deep-fried with either basil or shiso in the batter, I couldn’t really tell. With a squirt of lemon they were delicious.

The main course of the night was the table-top charcoal grill. Instead of eating yakitori style (chicken on skewers) we ate yakiniku style (grill yourself). The first pieces we grilled were breast meat wrapped in shiso leaf.

The other pieces of chicken we got were neck meat, 2 parts of the heart (heart skin and heart meat), meat that was dangling off a piece of cartilage (I think the breastplate), and skin. We also had a few pieces of okra to grill.

Once the meat was grilled we dipped the pieces into an onsen egg. Basically it’s just an egg that’s been barely soft-boiled to the point where the whites were just set and the yolk is still runny. To me, this is natures most perfect sauce.

After all of that chicken we decided to get a few cuts of pork for shits and giggles. We got shoulder, cheek, and side meat and grilled them all the same as the chicken.

As Yuki and I were leaving due to having Otis back at grandma and grandpa’s, everyone else ordered up some soup. I really have no idea what was in the soup, but I imagine it was miso. From the pic I took here as I left I can definitely tell you it was topped with nori and had a shtickle of wasabi.

All in all, I thought Akira was a great izakaya. They call themselves Yakitori Akira because the chef’s specialty is chicken, but to me it’s not a yakitori restaurant at all, even though they do serve yakitori. The menu is much too diverse to be called yakitori. Since they serve up numerous small plates and whatnot with a nice beer and sake list, its pure izakaya to me. That said, what’s in a name? An izakaya by any other name’s chicken would taste is sweet.

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Sorry to all of my loyal readers (all 3 of you) for not posting anything in a while. Been pretty busy with life and life itself. Yesterday was by birthday however, so Yuki and Otis took me out for dinner. Tired of overpaying for mediocre celebrity-chef meals I wanted to go somewhere more casual and Otis-friendly. Also, now that we’re in the South Loop I wanted somewhere close. So, Tapas Valencia it was.

We’ve actually been there once before a long time ago. We joined a couple of friends for their happy hour tapas specials before heading down to Hyde Park to watch the movie, “Food, Inc.”. I remember it being very good and had a taste for bacon-wrapped dates. It all made perfect sense to head there last night.

Without further ado, here’s what was on our dinner table.

First up was the Calamares A La Plancha. The squid was perfectly cooked…soft and tender, yet crispy at the same time. A little too much salt, but not so much that it killed the dish.

Next we had the Jamon con Melon. You really can’t beat quality Serrano Ham on top of ripe, sweet, juicy cantaloupe. With cantaloupe at it’s finest about now we couldn’t pass on this one. Served with a simple cucumber and tomato relish this was tapas at it’s finest.

Then we had the Pado Confitado, duck confit with apples and mushrooms. Fall-apart duck leg, apples, and mushrooms…need I say more?

I can’t remember the name of this dish in Spanish, it was a special on the menu. Short rib braised in Rioja and then served with garlic and rosemary Israeli Couscous and spinach. While this dish was missing one note, something slightly acidic like tomato or even a small squirt of orange or lemon, this could’ve been an entrée unto itself.

Finally, our last tapas (or is it tapa?), the Datiles Con Tocino. Crisp bacon around sweet dates smothered in a roasted red pepper sauce, that’s where it’s at! A true crowd-pleaser if there ever was one.

While I did say that was our last tapas, it wasn’t our last dish. We also split an order of the Paella Valenciana. Paella with mussels, clams, shrimp, and chicken. This was huge! I’m glad we only got one order. I will say that my paella is a little better, but this was a very delicious paella, it just didn’t have that crisp burnt rice on the bottom that I love. I wasn’t dissatisfied at all though.

For dessert we split the flan of the day, coconut. Not too rich or sweet, this one was just right. I don’t think coconut is typical in Spain, but coconut almost always makes a great flan. This is one of the better flan in Chicago.

To drink it all down we forgoed the Sangria and went for a couple of glasses of Clara, which apparently is Spain’s most popular drink right now. It’s Alhambra Beer (a Spanish Lager) with a little lemonade. I was a little skeptical at first, but I will say that it wasn’t bad at all. I mean, you put lime in Corona, why not a little lemonade in Spanish Lager?

The service was great too. Very friendly and attentive. They gave us more of a private table where Otis’s stroller wouldn’t get in the way, and where it’d be a little quieter for him. Food was served and cleared in a timely fashion as well. It was a little slow being a Wednesday night, but this seems to be a very well run restaurant.

All in all, there are probably better Spanish and Tapas joints somewhere, but I haven’t found them yet here in Chicago. The dishes are well prepared, the portions are big, and the quality of ingredients are high. If anything, and I hate to say this, the prices might be a little too low for what you get. But don’t tell Tapas Valencia that.

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Last night was the perfect night to grill up some juicy pork tenderloin. I’m not one to waste an opportunity like that, especially with a bunch of rain in the near future forecast. So, that’s exactly what I did, I grilled up some juicy pork tenderloin.

I made a simple marinade using 2 garlic cloves minced, 3 green onions thinly sliced, the juice from 1/2 lemon, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sake, 1 tablespoon mirin, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, and 1.25 pounds of pork tenderloin. Before letting the pork take a dip in the marinade I stabbed it all over with my knife to allow the marinade more easy access to the juicy center. I covered it and let it sit in the fridge for about 2 hours, taking it out about 30 minutes before grilling.

For my veggies I used 1 red bell pepper chopped, 1 clove garlic minced, 1/2 onion chopped, 3 fingerling potatoes chopped, 1 head of broccoli, 5 shiitake chopped, 1 tablespoon butter, and 2 tablespoons soy sauce. I also used the juice from the other half of the lemon, but forgot to get that in the pic.

I melted the butter in a hot pan and then fried the potatoes in it for about 10 minutes till they were a bit crisp on all sides. Then, I added the onion, bell pepper, and garlic. I let them sweat down for about 6 minutes. After that, I added the shiitake and broccoli and let everything cook for about 7 more minutes. In came the soy sauce, then the lemon juice along with some cracked black pepper, and then I served it up.

While the veggies were cooking I grilled up the pork. On my grill, each grill is different, tenderloin cooks best on the top rack with the heat at med-high. I can leave the pork for about 10 minutes each side leaving it just slightly pink in the middle, the way fresh tenderloin should be. I let it rest for 10 minutes and then sliced it up.

Of course, white rice was on the side.

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So, last night was Uichiro’s last night here. I figured I had one more shot to impress him with something he’s never eaten before. I had never made a chermoula so it was the perfect opportunity since he’s never tasted Moroccan food. That means, even though it was the worst chermoula he’s ever eaten, it was also the best! Actually, it was pretty good. I do think sea bass or halibut would’ve been a better fish, but it’s hard to argue with the flavors.

I made a carrot soup to accompany the fish, so I got that ready first so that all I had to do was heat it up and garnish it come dinner time. I peeled and chopped 5 large carrots, chopped 1/2 onion, chopped 3 garlic cloves, used 1/4 stick of butter, a dash of cumin on each bowl for garnish, 1/4 teaspoon of allspice, juice of 1 lemon, some honey yogurt, and 1 cup of chicken stock that didn’t make the photo.

First, I melted the butter and then caramelized the onion and garlic for about 15 minutes over medium heat. Then I added the carrot and allspice and let the carrots caramlize for another 15 minutes. Then I poured in the chicken stock along with 1 cup of water. I brought it up to a boil, covered it, and let it simmer over med-low heat for about 20 minutes. Then I let it cool down for a while before pureeing it in my blender with a bit of salt. For dinner I just re-heated it, dropped a dollop of honey yogurt into the middle of each bowl, sprinkled a dash of cumin, and then squeezed a little lemon juice. It tasted like pumpkin pie!

For the cod chermoula I used a small bunch of parsley finely chopped, 1/2 teaspoon of paprika, 1 teaspoon of cumin, juice of 1 lemon, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 garlic cloves mashed to a paste in with my mortar and pestle, and about 1 pound of cod cut up into 8 pieces.

Once the garlic was mashed up I added the rest of the ingredients (except for the fish) along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and mixed it all together. I let the chermoula sit for about an hour to let the flavors meld together.

Then I spooned about half of the chermoula on top of the fish, covered it, and let it sit in the fridge for about an hour. I took it out and let it come back to room temp before cooking it.

For the “tagine” I used a small bunch of chopped parsley, 1 orange bell pepper diced, 1 yellow bell pepper diced, 1/2 onion diced, 1 large garlic clove minced, 14oz can of chickpeas rinsed, 2/3 pint of cherry tomatoes, 1/2 bag of frozen artichoke hearts, and the rest of the chermoula.

I heated up my large skillet and poured in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I sweat down the onion and garlic for about 6 minutes, then added the peppers and let them sweat down for another 6 minutes. I stirred in the chermoula along with about 1/4 cup of water and let that boil down for a few minutes before adding the artichokes, tomatoes, and chickpeas. I let them heat up for about 3 or 4 minutes.

I placed the cod on top, covered the pan, and let it cook for about 6 minutes. You don’t want to cook the cod for too long because it will overcook very quickly and become dense. You want to keep it flaky.

When all was said and done the cod (garnished with parsley) and soup were served alongside some white rice. Everything turned out delicious. Yet another dish of mine that was a big success in the mouth of my father-in-law.

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Uichiro, Yuki’s dad, makes a mean oyster gratin. Once a year one of Tamiko’s (Yuki’s mom) friends from her hometown of Miyagi in Japan (unfortunately not far from the recent earthquake, but fortunately everyone is alright, will be quite some time before the oyster population recovers though) sends her the famous oysters that she grew up on. A big container filled with the juiciest, most flavorful oysters you could imagine sinking your teeth into. Just so happens that I have timed a couple of my trips to Japan around oyster season. So, I’ve enjoyed Uichiro’s oyster gratin twice.

On to last night. While trying to decide what to have for dinner I remembered the oysters that I got at Whole Foods a while back that were freshly packaged. Nice big and juicy with great flavor. I asked Uichiro if he’d make his oyster gratin. He was happy to oblige but didn’t want to make the bechamel sauce. No worries, I happen to make a tasty bechamel.

At Whole Foods I noticed that they didn’t have the oysters I remembered in stock. All they had were oysters in the shell. It would’ve been a bit costly to buy the necessary amount to make gratin for 4. Improvisation is the key to cooking (life too), so we decided to get some of the beautiful shrimp behind the counter instead. Along with some chicken thigh we had the necessary fixens to make a classic gratin.

For the bechamel sauce I melted 5 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and then added 4 tablespoons of butter. I whisked it constantly for about  minutes until it became a dark golden color. Then I poured in 4 cups of hot milk and whisked that for 10 minutes giving it a nice thick consistency. Then I seasoned it with 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg. I set that aside.

Once I was done with the range Uichiro went to town on the rest of the ingredients. In some butter he lightly sautéed together about 1/2 pound of shrimp that he shelled and halved, 3 chopped skinless chicken thighs, 1/2 half large onion diced, 6-8 (not exactly sure how many) button mushrooms quartered, and some al dente macaroni (again, not exactly sure how much, but I think about 1/2 a package). He seasoned it all with salt and pepper and then mixed it in the bechamel sauce.

That all got poured into my ceramic baking dish. He topped it with some mozzarella and matzo meal. We didn’t have any panko, so again, we improvised. 35 minutes in a 400 degree oven, some parsley garnish, and it was ready to go.

Two things with this gratin. First, my bechamel, while extremely tasty, could’ve used another 3-5 minutes on the burner before letting it rest. A little bit thicker consistency would’ve been nice. Second, with oysters not used scallops would’ve been a little better than shrimp. Scallops are a lot more expensive though, so shrimp do a pretty good job, but scallops would be outstanding!

To balance out the heavy, creamy gratin Uichiro made this smoked salmon and onion dish. He thinly sliced a Vidalia onion and soaked it in cold water. He changed out the water 3 times squeezing the onions dry with each change. They were scattered all over a plate and then topped with thinly sliced smoked salmon. On to of the salmon went some thinly sliced lemon, including the rind with lends a nice bitterness to the overall flavor, not to mention a lot of nutrients the people usually waste by not eating the whole fruit. Then he scattered some chopped parsley all over the whole thing. I made a simple dressing to drizzle over the top. I whisked together 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and some black pepper until it emulsified.

Some sliced baguette and a cold beer completed the dinner. But, I still crave his oyster gratin!

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Yuki was talking with her parents the other night about quinoa and her dad said that he’s never had it before. Since they’ve been doing most of the cooking the past week I took that as a cue to get my ass back in the kitchen, something I’ve been jonezin to do. I referred back to the Charlie Trotter recipe that I’ve used before for inspiration. Again, this dish is not his exact recipe, but it is inspired from it. These recipes should feed 6 adults provided their not all fat Americans.

Before getting to the chicken and quinoa I made a cauliflower puree soup that we could eat while the chicken roasted. My mom was with us also, and she is not a fan of cauliflower. I took that as a challenge to show her that cauliflower, when not referring to a boxer’s ears, is a beautiful thing.

I took one head of cauliflower broken down, 1 yukon gold potato chopped, 2 garlic cloves chopped, 1 inch of ginger chopped, 1/2 onion chopped, 1 cup of chicken stock, and 3 cups of water.

I simply threw everything into a stock pot, brought it all up to a boil, covered the pot, turned the heat down to med-low, and let it all simmer for about 30 minutes.

After that I just turned off the heat and let it cool down a bit. Then I poured it all into my blender and pureed it up. I poured it back into the pot and seasoned with salt and pepper. Before eating it I just heated it back up. My brother sprinkled a little shichimi togarashi in his which lead me to do the same. A wise decision!

Before we got to the soup I got everything else going. For the apricot curry sauce I put 3/4 cup dried apricots, 3/4 tablespoon curry powder, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, and 1/2 cup of water into my small blender and let ‘er rip for about 5 minutes or so.

Then I strained the sauce. I reserved the solids for use with the bird. I set the sauce aside and let it rest until serving time.

I had a 3.5 pound chicken to roast. I seasoned it inside and out with salt and pepper, squeezed some lemon juice all over the skin, then stuffed the cavity with the solids from the curry sauce and the lemon that I used to squeeze all over it. I put it in my roasting pan and threw it into a 450 degree oven. After 15 minutes I turned the heat down to 400 degrees and let it go for another 40 minutes. Then, I turned off the heat, slightly cracked the oven door open, and let the bird rest for about 15 minutes.

While the bird was roasting I got the quinoa ready. I used 1/2 each of an orange, yellow, and red bell pepper diced, 2 small Persian cucumbers diced, 5 tablespoons of orange juice, 1.5 cups of quinoa rinsed, and some chopped chives.

In a hot pot I poured in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then sweat down the peppers for about 5 minutes. Then I added the quinoa and let it sort of toast in the hot oil for about 3 minutes. After that, I poured in 3 cups of boiling water. With everything boiling I covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for 15 minutes. When that time passed I turned the heat off, kept it covered, and let it sit for another 15 minutes. Just before serving I added the cucumber and orange juice, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and then fluffed it up with a fork.

I also roasted some asparagus while the quinoa and chicken were cooking. I just took some asparagus spears and drizzled them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and ground sesame seeds. I threw them into my toaster oven set at bake for about 10 minutes at 375 degrees.

While all of that was going we sat down and ate the cauliflower soup.

When we finished the soup I took the bird out and cut it up. Honestly, that’s one area I’m not real good at. I butchered that thing pretty good. I got most of the meat off, but there was some left on the carcass that I didn’t get. Oh well, I’ll just have to keep roasting birds until I get better at carving them. No matter though, the meat was juicy and delicious.

To serve it, I drizzled the sauce all over the plate and then sprinkled over the chives.

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There are two seasons in my world…winter and grill! Grill season has just begun and I could not be a happier man for that. Well, I could, but this is certainly a happy moment. I actually opened up the grill a couple of weeks ago for a skirt steak, but the weather hasn’t been good enough to really start firing it up until this weekend. I know, some people think they’re more of a man because they grill in 30 below wind chills with 2 feet of snow on the ground. Personally, I think they’re morons! Every time they lift that lid they lose every bit of heat. All you do is end up with poorly cooked food. Not now though, the time is right for my clothes to smell like grill!

We had an appt this afternoon so I only made two portions last night since we had no need for lunch. First thing I did was get the chicken marinating. I mixed together 1 fennel frond chopped up, the juice from 1/2 lemon, 2 garlic cloves minced, and 3 tablespoons each of soy sauce and olive oil. A few cracks of black pepper and then I rubbed it all over the chicken and let it marinate, covered, in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Then I got the soup ready. I put 4 carrots chopped, 1/2 onion chopped, 1 inch of ginger diced, 3 garlic cloves diced, and 1 cup of chicken stock into my pot. I brought it all up to a boil, covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Then I turned off the heat and let it cool down for about a half hour.

Once cooled, I poured it all into my blender and pureed it into a smooth soup. As it was blending I decided to pour in about 1/4 cup of olive oil to give it a silkier texture. Then I seasoned it with salt and pepper and set it aside. All I had to do to serve was simply heat it up again.

For my vegetables I used 3 radishes (I cut off the leaves) each cut into 6 wedges, 1/2 yellow bell pepper sliced with each slice halved, 2 garlic cloves diced, 1/2 head of broccoli cut into florets, and about 1/2 tablespoon of butter cut into little pats.

I mixed all of the veggies in some foil, laid the butter on top, sprinkled with a little soy sauce, and then closed it up.

I fired up the grill at med-high heat and let the grates get nice and hot. I put the veggie packet on first and let them start to cook while I brought the chicken back to room temperature from the fridge. After about 15 minutes I put the chicken on. I cooked it for about 8 or 9 minutes on each side and that was all she wrote. Of course, each grill is different, so just make sure your chicken is firm when pressed so that you know it’s cooked through.

Some white rice and a cold beer and Spring weather is officially here!

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