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Posts Tagged ‘mozzarella’

It’s extremely rare that I am actually proud to be a Quad City boy. So rare that last night may have actually been the first. Well, that’s not entirely true. I am proud of the fact that Roger Craig, the great 49ers running back, is from Davenport, the city in which I was born. Bix Beiderbeck, the great early jazzman is a Davenport native as well. So Davenport does have three claims to fame. However, last night made me relatively proud to call the Quad Cities my roots. That is, as proud as a pizza can make someone feel.

My good friend and real estate broker, Mike Vesole (Mike, I do expect kickbacks for every house you sell due to this post), alerted me to Roots a few weeks ago. You see, there are two pizza joints that are uniquely Quad Cities. Pizza joints that bring up Cubs vs Sox type of debates amongst the true Quad Citians. On one hand you have Happy Joe’s with their taco pizza and what is hands down the best pepperoni pizza in all of the lands! However, on the other hand, you have what I would humbly call the greatest pizza ever conceived (immaculately you could say)…the Harris sausage pizza! So good, that as a teenager I broke cardinal rules of the Jewish faith by leaving Yom Kippur services to maul one down. That pizza is literally the stuff of legend.

What Roots does is emulate that pizza of legend, bringing a nostalgic taste within 15 minutes walk, instead of $80 worth of gasoline. Having a taste of Harris sausage in mouth that quickly made me salivate to no end. With a pretty bare fridge and a beautiful night for dining al fresco last night, I convinced Yuki that we should take a nice walk for dinner. That was an easy sell.

We started off with a glass of the house brew, brewed by Two Brothers out in Warrenville. Pretty good beer I have to say. Nice maltiness while not being heavy.

We also got the stuffed artichokes and the tomato, avocado, and mozzarella salad. The artichokes weren’t worth the price. They were quality, and the breadcrumbs had a nice flavor, but they were mostly inedible leaves and not much tender heart. The creamy mustard sauce was made with Boetje’s, a Rock Island mustard and easily the best mustard ever. I always have Boetje’s in my fridge, so paying $10 to smear it on breadcrumbs  wasn’t the best idea. The salad was fantastic though. The flavors and textures all worked really well together.

I will say this though, the quality beer list and creative apps and salads are definitely not Quad Cities. At the real Harris, you can get a caesar salad and a Heineken. Oh, deep-fried mozzarella sticks too. But artichoke and avocado?

And then, out of nowhere, my schnoz detected a very familiar scent. A hint of fennel seeds, a touch of oregano. Smelled like a Harris sausage was headed my way. When they laid that thing down I felt a tingle run down my spine. Ground sausage beneath a pile of cheese with the prefect width of crust. Looked like a Harris sausage was sitting in front of me…just waiting to be devoured!

Risking a burnt tongue I went in the for kill to see if my taste buds could confirm what my other senses sensed. Honestly, a burnt tongue is part of the authentic Harris experience as well, so I had to do it right. When my teeth clamped down on that slice I felt a sort of de-ja-vou. To the untrained tongue, that was a Harris sausage!

However, I’m a highly trained tongue. I’m also an argumentative bastard who annoyingly over-analyzes everything. So, here goes with this pizza. What I haven’t told you yet is how that slice felt when I picked it up. The crust felt crisp on the bottom, but otherwise seemed about right. A Harris should have a little less rigidity to the crust. It should flop down a bit as you pick it up. Partly because of the huge amount of cheese weighing it down like a one-armed paper hanger (that jokes for you Frank and Sam), and partly because of the amount of grease that very cheese emits during it’s time in the oven, which should be a rotisserie pizza oven (since we ate outside I can’t tell you about anything on the inside). This one was more firm. As the slice sat on the plate between bites, the right amount of grease just didn’t seem to appear. This is both a good and bad thing. Good because, well, it’s much better for your nutritional well-being. Bad because, well, it just isn’t Harris. It was then that I realized that it was the lack of grease that kept the crust more firm.

The other difference I noticed was the sauce. It was almost there, but the sauce was a little more tomatoey than a Harris sauce. Again though, while not being a Harris, you can tell they are using better tomatoes.

Overall, this pizza was pretty damn close to an authentic Harris. While I understand that true masterpieces can never accurately be portrayed by another, this version of pizza was a pretty good knock-off. I think the name Roots is an accurate name for the pie. While it’s roots definitely lie in Harris, it’s more of a terrior Harris utilizing Chicago’s spoils. Being right in my backyard I will probably end up eating more Roots than Harris from this point forward, but given a choice between the two, I do have to side with Harris. Roots has become my new favorite Chicago pizza though, and that’s no easy feat to accomplish.

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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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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, another Meatless Monday in the books. Yesterday I made Moussaka for dinner. Traditionally made with lamb, I omitted the meat and made my own version. It was a lengthy process, but the results were delicious!

I sliced an eggplant into about 1/8th inch slices. Then I layered them on a colander and sprinkled some salt all over them. I put a heavy bowl on top and added some weight and let the bitter juices drip out for about a half hour.

While that was going on I simmered about a half cup of green lentils in vegetable stock with a bay leaf for 20 minutes, just before they became tender.

I prepped my other veggies while all of that was going on. One onion sliced, two large portabella caps sliced, two cloves of garlic smashed, two medium potatoes sliced to 1/8th inch, I opened up a 14oz can of chopped tomatoes, and one can of chickpeas.

I rinsed and dried the eggplant slices and drained the lentils. I heated a pot to medium-high and sautéed the onion and garlic in olive oil. During that time I also heated up a large skillet to medium-high. In the skillet I added a little olive oil to coat the surface and added the sliced eggplant in batches until they were all browned, about 3 minutes on each side. Then I did the same with the potato slices adding a little oil as necessary. Once the onions in the pot were soft, about 6 minutes or so, I added the mushrooms for a couple of minutes until they started to give off some of their moisture. Then I added the chopped tomatoes with a couple tablespoons of tomato paste and stirred that in. After that I added the chickpeas and lentils along with a few tablespoons of water and some rosemary and thyme, salt and pepper. I let that simmer for about 10 minutes.

In a baking dish I layered the potato slices to cover the bottom. I removed the herbs from the stew and poured that on top. Then I layered the eggplant slices on top.

Then I beat three eggs with a cup and a quarter of greek yogurt, salt, and pepper. I poured that on top. Finally, I grated a half cup of mozzarella and sprinkled that all over. I threw it in the oven at 350 and baked it for 45 minutes until the top was starting to brown.

I had some buttermilk in my fridge that needed to be used up so I made some biscuits to serve alongside.

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