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Posts Tagged ‘lettuce’

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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The other night Yuki and I went for a walk in the neighborhood, something we do quite often when the weather is nice. There’s always new stores and restaurants opening up as well as new condos and real estate that we like to admire or criticize. As we walked down Grand Street we noticed two new things. First, the new Tesla dealership located itself just west of the highway on Grand. What a sweet little ride! Don’t know how that little car will deal with Chicago potholes, but it sure is slick. Second, we noticed a new pizza joint that looked enticing. COALFire Pizza, located at 1321 W. Grand, claims to be the only coal fire oven pizza in Chicago. I’ve never seen another one, so they must be. It’s a Neapolitan-style pizza with an American spin (paraphrased from their website). Instead of the classic wood-fired oven, they use coal. Not sure if it’s from the American love of the grill or the coal unions and lobbies got to them, but they do a damn good pizza.

The interior is a classic Chicago storefront. Very simple inside with enough room between tables to not sit on top of strangers. This place just looks like a clean, mid-scale pizza joint. It smelled really good too.

We started by splitting a Caesar Salad. An absolutely huge salad! Definitely made for sharing. Fresh hand cut lettuce, not that crap that comes pre-cut in large sealed plastic bags that suffocate the produce, tossed with a classic Caesar dressing, a bunch of house toasted garlic butter crutons, and a load of parmesan on top. It was what it was, a large, classic Caesar Salad.

The pizzas are all 14 inches, so they’re ideal for splitting between two people. We ordered the Prosciutto. They do prepare their pizzas very much in the Neapolitan style. Thin crust, with fresh mozzarella on top, and then the sauce (nothing but crushed San Marzano tomatoes, the only tomato to make a real Italian pizza) lightly brushed on top of the cheese. After it came out of the oven it was topped with a lot of really good quality prosciutto. Taste-wise, it did taste pretty authentic. Having been to Naples and eaten a few pies in that area I have a good handle on what a real Neapolitan pizza is. I have no arguments at all with the taste or quality of the pizza. The only thing I would say is that the coal burnt the edges a little too much for our taste. I think the oven gets a little too hot and takes away that chewiness of a real Neapolitan crust. But, they don’t claim to be authentic, so that’s a moot point.

Overall, the service was fast and friendly, the decor was simple and inviting, and the food was fresh and of high quality. When I’m in the mood for a thin crust pizza I think Pizza Metro has found its match. If I just want a couple of slices I’ll walk to Pizza Metro, but if I want a whole pie or want to eat at the restaurant COALFiRE kicks Metro’s butt (the people who run Metro are not very friendly or inviting). I would definitely recommend COALFiRE.

One side note. If you do go for a pie, bring cash. They offer a 10% discount if you pay with cash.

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Alright, going back to last November in Japan, I wanted to show you the dinner we had in Kobe. My buddy Tom lives in Osaka which is a short 25 minute train ride from Kobe. On our way to the Chinatown section to meet up with him we walked by a sake tasting. We knew right away that we had found our appetizers! So, we grabbed Tom and headed back for some sake.

For 500 Yen per person (about $5) they give us each 3 different kinds of sake, a bag of mixed salty snacks, and a tube of sausage. The sake was great, the sausage….not so great. We ended up drinking with a bunch of businessmen that were already hammered and a lot of fun. One of them recognized Tom from a wedding he did (Tom performs weddings in Osaka). Once we were finished with the sake we needed some dinner. Being in Kobe, it had to involve beef! So, we ended up at a Yakiniku joint.

You can probably tell from Tom’s eyes that the sake already had a hold on us when we sat down for dinner. I honestly don’t remember all of the cuts we ordered, but I do know that there was some beef tongue, rib eye, and short rib.

Yakiniku is great. It’s the Japanese version of Korean BBQ. You have the grill in the middle of your table and you order up various slices of meat to grill at your leisure.

Once the meat is grilled you wrap it in lettuce leaves and top it with sauce, and scarf it down.

They also give you little pickled items to eat. I don’t remember what we had that night, but everything was fantastic! Not Kobe’s highest quality beef that made them famous (that would have cost 4 times as much), but still great beef nonetheless.

After finishing up the grilled beef we ordered some Bibimbop, a Korean hot stone rice dish. The stone is heated up super hot, then rice is put in and topped with vegetables and an egg. You stir it all up and eat it down. The best part is the rice that almost burns at the bottom. It’s a great way to finish off a Yakiniku meal.

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While we were in Merida we spent an afternoon walking through an ancient cave in the Yucatan called Lol Tun.  In the Pre-Columbian days there were an estimated 800 people living in it. It really is an impressive site with the highlight possibly being the 15,000 year old reverse hand-print paintings on the cave walls. At any rate, we filled up on lunch prior to walking through the cave.

I’m not sure what this place is called, but it was directly across the street from Lol Tun, so we gave it a shot. While we were sitting there waiting for our food, out of nowhere, something that felt like mud hit my arm, WTF! I wipe it off and look around. I didn’t see anything at all. Then I look up and see two little geckos hanging out on the wooden ceiling beams. A few seconds later another muddy item hits my arm. Little bastards! They both shit on my arm! I ought to grill them up and eat them for that! If they had shat on my food instead of my arm I would have eaten them instead.

I ordered the Salubtes. Hand-made tortillas piled with shredded turkey, tomato, lettuce and chopped onion. They were pretty damn good. About the right size too because I wasn’t starving and I had to try some of Yuki’s dish.

She ordered the Pollo Pibil. Chicken marinated in achiote (annatto), sour orange juice, peppercorns, garlic, cumin, salt, and then wrapped in banana leaves and baked. Although, instead of wrapping it in banana leaves and baking it they grilled it with the marinade and served it with rice, french fries, and a small salad with avocado. It truly was outstanding! As soon as I can fire up the grill in Spring you can better believe I’m going to try my hand at this marinade.

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I have to apologize to the environment as well as my physical well-being. There was no Meatless Monday last night. Cafe Hoang is sending all proceeds from yesterday’s take, including tips, to Haiti in order to help feed those who need. For my part I figured the least I could do was to eat some tasty food for charity. From what their website states, they’re doing it again next Monday, the 8th. I encourage you all to take part and keep my boy Jason Tran busy as hell cooking his ass off.

So, instead of a Meatless Monday post I’m going to tell you about a dinner we had at Yuki’s sister’s condo in Tokyo with her family last November. As you can see, it was family-style with some authentic Japanese flavors and some not-so-Japanese.

We had some shrimp tempura. Pretty simple, just fresh juicy shrimp deep fried in panko. Yuki’s mom scattered some cherry tomatoes, parsley, and little pieces of lemon around the plate. A squeeze of citrus, a dip in soy, some herb….makes me a happy man.

There was some Kuri Gohan, chestnut rice. This is a common dish throughout Japan. A favorite as chestnuts add a great flavor as well as nutrition to rice. Simply add the chestnuts to the rice while it’s cooking and then sprinkle some sesame seeds on top.

This is a Raw Tuna Salad that Yuki’s brother-in-law Jun made. Chunks of fresh tuna, avocado, and thinly sliced onion that’s been soaked in cold water to remove the rawness tossed in a vinaigrette. I forget exactly what he put in the vinaigrette, but it was something like sesame oil, soy oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and pepper. He lined the serving dish with some lettuce leaves and dumped it on top.

This one is a classic Japanese home cooked dish. Not sure what it’s called, maybe Yuki will leave a comment and let us all know. Yuki’s mom simmered some lotus root, bamboo shoots, green beans, shiitake, konnyaku, carrots, and chicken. Again, I’m not completely sure what the simmering liquid was, I think it was a mix of soy sauce, sake, and mirin. Maybe some dashi. Always delicious (at least when Tamiko makes it)!

We drank it all down with some Prosecco and some fantastic sake that we picked up on the way to the condo. After we ate we took turns kicking each others asses in Wii.

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So, Yuki and I took a few days to visit some of the early temples and castles in the Kansai region of Japan. Most of the structures we saw date back to the 8th century and are truly amazing! Besides the structures there were also tons of great sculptures from the same time period. However, as you all know, this blog isn’t about architecture, it’s about food. This post is to let you know about the incredible Kaiseki we ate our last night in Nara at the Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) we stayed at, Yoshino.

Kaiseki is the classic multi-course meal that progresses through various cooking techniques using regional, seasonal ingredients. It’s the highest art form you can find in food anywhere in the world. Focus on the subtleties of each ingredient to draw out natural flavors and not cover then with heavy sauces (sorry Frenchies, but the Japanese have your asses kicked in food culture!).

It started with that dish in the middle of the picture above. From left to right was a little fish grilled in a sweet soy marinade, a roasted chestnut, ama ebi (sweet shrimp), some sort of seafood that had a jellyfish-like texture in a miso sauce (I have absolutely no idea what it was, but it sure tasted good!), then a three-colored fish cake.

After that they brought out this dish. It was obviously a shrimp, but I’m not quite sure what else there was. I think it was a gratin made with the roe of the shrimp. Also on the plate as a macaroni salad and some lettuce with a tomato.

Then we moved on to the sashimi plate. It had some fantastic Chu-Toro (tuna), Tai (snapper), and the star of the plate….Ika (squid). In the States when you order Ika it’s usually very thin and a little rubbery. Not these two slices. They were about a half centimeter thick, squid steaks! Rubbery? Hell no! Each chew and the squid literally melted away in our mouths. Hands down the best squid I’ve ever eaten.

Then they brought us a plate of steamed Ayu (sweet fish). It’s a river fish that eats moss attached to stones giving it a really fresh and clean taste. It was served with a light ginger sauce. The thing that makes Ayu special is that it’s eaten when the belly is full of fish roe. There isn’t much meat, so it’s like dipping chopsticks into a bowl of fresh water caviar.

Being the meatavore that I am, the next plate was what I was most looking forward to….Beef Tataki. Lightly seared beef to give a little texture to the soft raw meat laden with mouth-watering fat. The dipping sauce is a soy-dashi mix. You see the little mound of reddish gew on the side of the dish? That’s a mix of togarahsi (Japanese red pepper) and yuzu (a small citrus fruit). You mix that into the sauce like you would wasabi for sushi, along with thinly sliced chives. With the tataki there was a small dish of sliced cucumber and I think seaweed in a vinegar sauce that cleansed the palette from the fatty beef.

Then we ate the Shabu-shabu. Unfortunately I forgot to get a picture of the individual hotpots we used, but here’s the ingredients. The broth was a light sake base, in it we added cabbage, enoki mushrooms, and shimeji mushrooms. Once they were cooked, we sloshed the thinly sliced beef around to cook it and then dipped it all in a light soy with more of the togarashi yuzu and chives.

After that we got two different preparations of Unagi. To be honest, I have absolutely no clue what the difference was. One was served on top of rice, the other with rice on the side. All I can tell you is that you will never find eel of that quality anywhere in the States. It tasted like they just caught it that morning. Best eel ever! Both came with a little dish of Japanese pickles. They were probably damn good pickles, but I don’t like pickles so I let Yuki eat mine.

After the Unagi was a clear broth soup with an ingredient we couldn’t figure out. At first, we thought it was some sort of mushroom. It wasn’t. Then we thought it might be shiroko, fish sperm sack. It wasn’t that either. We finally found out that it was eel liver, probably from the Unagi we just ate. It had kind of a crunchy yet soft texture. Not something you’ll find on any old menu.

Finally, to finish things off was a plate with fresh persimmons and grapes. persimmons are in season right now and are everywhere while Japanese grapes are absolutely huge compared to what we get.

All in all this was my 5th Kaiseki. I wish I could afford to eat like this every night as there is always something unusual and strange to the western palette. If any of you get to Japan I highly recommend splurging at least once to experience the delicate yet sophisticated Japanese cuisine at it’s finest.

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Here’s one of my favorites. It’s healthy, delicious, and cheap.

Season boneless, skinless chicken thighs with olive oil, cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper. Grill them!

Sautee onions with garlic, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, and a can of chickpeas. Season the veggies with cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper as well. Mix a little soy sauce (about 2-3 tbsp) with some chicken stock (about 1/4 cup) and dump into the veggies to add a little moisture as well as a little more depth to the flavor. If I had some fresh parsley I would have added it once taking the veggies off the heat, but I forgot to pick some up. I did squeeze a little lemon juice in it as well as on top of the chicken once taken off the grill.

Serve with white rice and you’re good to go. If  you want, you can also serve it with a salad. A simple lettuce and tomato salad would do the trick, as would something more Middle Eastern like Tabbouleh.

All in all, this dish costs about $4.50 per person ($4.75 with salad).

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