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Posts Tagged ‘mushrooms’

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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After spending hours cooking heavy foods for Passover I wanted something lighter for dinner last night. Oh, and something that I could easily whip up without spending too much time hunching over the counter. When I saw cod on sale this idea hit me. It is also a good way to use up veggies in the fridge.

My ingredients include about 1/4 cup of chopped parsley, 1 14oz can of diced tomatoes, about 1/3 cup of frozen peas thawed, 3 cremini mushrooms diced (would have used more but that’s all that I had in the fridge), 1/2 onion diced, 3 garlic cloves minced, 1 carrot diced, 1/2 bag of frozen artichokes rinsed, and about 2/3 pound of cod cut into three pieces (Yuki didn’t need lunch today, so only leftovers for me).

I heated up my large skillet and poured in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I added the garlic, onion, and carrot. They sweat down for about 6 minutes before I added the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms started to release their liquid, about 3 minutes or so, I poured in the can of tomatoes. When the tomatoes started to boil a little I stirred in the artichokes, laid the cod on top, seasoned with salt and pepper, covered the skillet, turned the heat down to med-low, and let it all simmer for about 8 minutes. That’s just enough time for the fish to cook through.

Then I took the fish off, carefully so it wouldn’t flake apart, and stirred its juices into the sauce. I let it boil lightly for about 3 minutes and then added the peas. When the peas were hot, about 2 minutes more, I turned off the heat and stirred in the parsley. Then I adjusted the seasoning and served it with white rice. A sprig of parsley for garnish.

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This dish is a simple riff on the classic Beef and Barley Stew. As cheap as stew beef is, ground beef is even cheaper. So, this is a great way to save some cash while still making a delicious and healthy dish.

For the stew I used a handful of parsley chopped, 2 tomatoes chopped, 1/2 onion diced, 1 large shallot diced, 3 cloves of garlic minced, 1 carrot diced, 9 asparagus stalks chopped, 4 cups of beef broth, 2/3 cup of hulled barley, 4 ounces of mixed mushrooms sliced, and a big sprig of thyme.

I heated up a pot and poured in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and added the garlic. About a minute later I added the onion, carrot, and shallot. I let them sweat down for about 5 minutes and then tossed in the asparagus. I just wanted the asparagus to get nicely coated with the olive oil, so I only let it go for a minute or two before adding the barley. I let the barley sort of toast in the hot oil for a few minutes.

After that I poured in the stock and added the tomatoes and mushrooms as soon as it came up to a slow simmer. Then I dropped the thyme in, covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.

While the barley was stewing I made my meatballs. In a glass bowl I beat 1 egg. To that I added about 2 tablespoons of fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano, fresh bread crumbs from 2 pieces of bread, 3 cloves of garlic minced, and 2/3 pound of ground beef. I mixed it all together and then formed walnut-sized meatballs.

I threw the meatballs into the stew, brought it back up to a simmer, then covered it again for about 10 more minutes until the meatballs were cooked through. Then I turned off the heat, added the parsley, and seasoned with salt and pepper. I served it up with slices of french bread.

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The other night Yuki was craving a big burger. To be honest, I should have knocked her up a long time ago. Pregnancy has her craving red meat. I’ve often said that red meat is my favorite vegetable. She wanted a burger, who was I to say no? We had a Groupon for the Paramount Room so it all worked out a little too perfectly.

The Paramount Room is known for their $9 Kobe Burger. They also have a nice beer list. Yuki couldn’t enjoy the beer list, but I was more than happy to enjoy it for both of us, I mean the three of us.

It’s your basic neighborhood bar with exposed brick walls, loud rock’n’roll, and a TV over the bar playing the Bulls game (it’s still weird to see Hinrich in a Wizzards uniform). The menu is nice and short with basic bar food fare. We really didn’t have to look at the menu though because we both knew we’d be full of Kobe Burger way before we ever walked through their front door. And boy were we ever full of Kobe Burger!

I know the picture is terrible, but just imagine two plates with 1/2 pound burgers, lettuce, tomato, and red onion. On one we got the french fries, on the other we got the tempura green beans. The fries came with ketchup and a garlic aioli while the green beans came with a red chili dipping sauce. I got my burger with the applewood smoked bacon, sautéed mushrooms, and blue cheese. Yuki got the same only with cheddar instead of blue.

I will say, the beef was not Japanese Kobe, it was Kobe-style wagu beef probably from Nebraska (most beef that’s called Kobe in America is not from Japan). If it were real Kobe from Japan there is no way they could serve 1/2 pound for $9, it’d be more like $35. That said, Kobe-style beef from Nebraska is not a bad thing, it’s still a very tasty high quality meat. That came through in this burger as it was a very delicious burger. Very juicy and full of beefy goodness. They are also using high quality bacon and cheeses (no velveeta on this plate!). What really made the burgers stand out though was the sautéed mushrooms. I was fully expecting regular old button mushrooms, maybe cremini. No no no. They went full-out and threw some oyster mushrooms under the bun for these bad boys! While the flavor of oyster mushrooms was nice with the beef it was the texture that put it over the top. Very nice touch, very nice indeed.

As for the fries and tempura green beans, they were just your average fries and tempura green beans. They were cooked properly though and the sauces were nice. With garlic aioli on top of my blue cheese I was extremely kissable!

All in all I would definitely put the Paramount Room’s Kobe Burgers up with the best of them. Are they the best? Probably not, there are some damn good burgers around, not to mention the ones I grill up myself (ask any of my high school buddies, I am famous for my ghetto burgers). They are in the discussion though, thanks to the oyster mushrooms. With the Paramount Room being very close to our apartment I can definitely see more trips there in our future, as long as Yuki is pregnant and craving red meat.

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Belly Shack has been open for, I don’t know, a little more than a year now. I remember freezing my nads off with my buddy Nick early last winter walking 2 blocks from his place for our first taste. I’ve been there at least a half-dozen times since. But this weekend Yuki and I met up with one of our friends there and they both wondered why I haven’t blogged about it yet. So ladies, here it is, my blog about Belly Shack.

Located right under the Western “L” stop this is Chef Bill Kim’s second joint. Like its counterpart, Urban Belly, Chef Kim fuses Asian and Latin seamlessly. It’s also similar to Urban Belly in that it is counter service, communal dining, and recycled fixtures. They differ in that Urban Belly is based on ramen noodles while Belly Shack is sandwiches.

During this trip I ordered the special that they had running, a pulled pork sandwich with pickles. I’m not a big pickle guy, so Yuki polished those off for me. The sandwich was fantastic though. Pulled pork served with sautéed mushrooms, bean sprouts, melted cheese, cilantro, salsa verde, and Korean chili paste. My only problem with it was that they cut the pita bread and served it like a Western-style sandwich. With all of the juice it was a sloppy sandwich. It would have been better served Middle Eastern-style stuffed into the pita. Oh well, still a delicious sandwich well worth gorging on.

Yuki ordered our favorite sandwich on their menu and one of the best sandwiches in all of Chicago, the Asian Meatball. Juicy, tender meatballs of pork and beef served inside a pita with somen noodles, bean sprouts, mint, and Korean chili paste. Just thinking about this sandwich makes my mouth water.

Our friend ordered the Korean BBQ Beef. Extremely tender beef that just falls apart. The beef has sliced scallions and fried garlic chips on top along with some ssam paste. Next to it is kimchi and some flat bread. For this dish you make your own little sandwiches, much more Asian in presentation. I have no beef with this dish, it was outstanding.

She also ordered the Togarashi Fries. French fries topped with togarashi and lime zest served with a curry mayonnaise.

Belly Shack isn’t the cheapest sandwich in town at $9 a pop, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more flavorful, well prepared one. This place is definitely worth the visit.

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Finally, I got Meatless Monday back into my life. No Bears game (thank goodness, I don’t think I can stand to watch that O-line pretend to block anymore) or anything that calls for carcus so I cleaned out some of the vegetables I had in my fridge. With the weather getting a little chilly I thought a nice hot bowl of Minestrone would hit the spot, especially since Yuki loves soup. To go with it I made some mushrooms in soy milk on toast.

For the minestrone I used 1 can of brown beans, 4 quarts of vegetable stock, 1 28oz can of skinned tomatoes, 6oz of farfale pasta, 2 ribs of celery chopped, 1 carrot chopped, 1 zucchini chopped, 1/2 an onion chopped, 1/2 green bell pepper chopped, 1 yukon gold potato skinned and chopped (2 in the pic but I only used 1), 3 garlic cloves chopped, some basil thinly sliced, and Parmigiano Reggiano grated.

In a heated stock pot I poured in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then sweated down the onion, carrot, and celery for about 3 minutes. Then I added the green pepper and garlic and let that go for another 3 minutes. I dumped the juice from the tomato can in and crushed the tomatoes with my hands. Once the tomato juice started to boil, about 1 minute or so, I poured in the stock and seasoned with salt and pepper and 1 bay leaf. Once the stock started to boil, about 2 or 3 minutes, I added the potato and zucchini. The potato and zucchini obviously lowered the temperature of the soup, so a few minutes later when it came back to a boil I added the pasta then covered the pot and turned the heat down from medium-high to medium. I let it simmer for about 15 minutes to let the pasta cook properly.

While the pasta was cooking I heated up my saute pan and got the mushrooms ready. I thickly sliced (about 1/4-1/3 inch) 4 button mushrooms and a container of cremini mushrooms and sliced up 3 green onions. I melted 1 tablespoon of butter and poured in another tablespoon of olive oil then dumped all of the mushrooms and green onions in. I let them cook down for about 10 minutes until the mushrooms started to release their moisture. Then I poured in about 1/4 cup of soy milk and let that thicken up for about 2 minutes. I added some thinly sliced basil and turned off the heat. I toasted some sliced of challah during the cooking.

To serve, I ladled some soup into my bowls and topped it with sliced basil. I put the toasted challah on a plate and spooned some of the mushrooms on top. Then I topped everything with fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

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So, Yuki had some coupons from unused miles on United Airlines. Last night we used one at Ai Sushi.  I dvr’d the Bears-Giants game and we headed down to Ontario St for some grub.

Parking was a pain because all of the meters were “For Residents Only Until Oct 4”. We did find a spot about a block away so we didn’t have to spend on valet. Tonight we could have gotten a spot right in front. Oh well, can’t blame that on the restaurant.

The interior is really nice. It has the open loft feel with exposed brick and wood beams. The art on the walls was not flashy at all and instead complimented the brick. Colors were soft and very intimate. It has a real nice setting inside.

I did use my phone’s camera, so these pics are terrible.

First thing we got was the Sunomono Moriawase. Shrimp, real crab meat, and octopus lightly cooked along with fluke sashimi in a dashi vinaigrette with daikon sticks and seaweed. It was really good, fresh fish and not to vinegary at all.

Next was one of the specials of the night, Wagyu Tobanyaki. 5 slices of real Kobe beef imported from Japan, enoki mushrooms, and shimeji mushrooms that you cook yourself on a hot stone with butter. The beef was so soft and delicious. It was definitely the real thing, none of that cow from Nebraska.

After that we each had a bowl of Kabocha Corn Soup. Simply a puree of kabocha and corn, probably with onion. It tasted like something I would make, which is to say it was pretty tasty.

Then came the Chawanmushi. A Chinese style egg custard with shiitake, shimeji, and enoki mushrooms. The custard was the perfect consistency. Not a fancy dish, but a good one.

The first maki roll we got was their Habanero Lobster. It had tempura lobster, kampyo, ginger, mango, avocado, habanero, capers, cilantro, and sour cream mayo. We’re not usually fans of rolls with more than a few ingredients, but this one was pretty good. That habanero packed a punch, but not so much that you couldn’t taste the lobster’s sweetness. It was pretty good. They also put a few slices of smoked duck on the plate. They serve smoked duck sushi and must have needed to get rid of it, but it tasted pretty good to me, so I didn’t mind.

The last thing we got was one of the night’s special rolls, Orange Maki. It had tempura shrimp and orange zest inside and was topped with salmon and black tobiko. It was really good! Light, sweet, and refreshing. I would definitely order that roll again. Also, there was more smoked duck on this plate.

We didn’t have any room for dessert and didn’t even look at the dessert menu so I can’t comment on that.

The service was professional. We never had to wait long for anything, we weren’t rushed or bothered to hurry up, and our server was very knowledgable of the menu. The only gripe I have, and it’s nitpicking, is that the food should have come out in a different order. The beef should have been last and soup served before the chawanmushi. Other than that, I have no complaints at all.

I would have to say that Ai is one of the better sushi restaurants we’ve been to in Chicago. I wouldn’t call it the best, but it is definitely worth while with some creative offerings as well as some classics, all very fresh and properly prepared. I would go back without hesitation.

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It doesn’t look like much in this picture, but last night I made some delicious pasta with scallops and vegetables. I had some things in my fridge I wanted to use up and pasta seemed like a good way to do it. While at the store I first went to the fish counter to figure out what to do. They just got in some really fresh bay scallops for $9.99 a pound, I couldn’t resist.

I had some cherry tomatoes to use up along with some asparagus, 3 cloves of garlic, a carrot, 1/2 onion, and 1/4 cup of white wine. To go with it I picked up a bulb of fennel (I only used half), some cremini mushrooms (I only used half the package), 1 pound of bay scallops. I chopped up all of the vegetables slicing the onion and fennel.

In a large hot skillet I poured in a good glug of olive oil, probably about 1/4 cup or so and then tossed in the garlic for about minute. Then I added the onion, carrot, and asparagus and let them go for about 4 minutes. Then I added the fennel and mushrooms for about another 4 minutes. Once all of the vegetables were slightly transparent I poured in the white wine and let it boil off for 3 minutes while seasoning with salt and pepper. After that I added the scallops which only needed about 2-3 minutes to cook. You never want to overcook scallops so always cook them a little less than you think.

While this was going on I cooked some angel hair pasta according to package instructions and drained them. Once the scallops were ready I tossed the cherry tomatoes in followed by the pasta and some basil I picked from my back porch. I tossed and tossed and tossed it all together so that the vegetables were incorporated throughout the pasta. Then I turned of the heat and served it up. Quick, simple, healthy, and delicious.

To eat with the pasta I toasted some bread and spread this delicious artichoke-garlic dip I have on top.

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Friday night we went out to Sun Wah B.B.Q. with a bunch of Yuki’s co-workers. We had a big group of 12 adults (I still have trouble thinking of myself as an adult) including spouses and then there were 3 babies. For Chinese food, I think it’s best to go with a big crowd so you can order a variety of food.

The first thing I noticed about Sun Wah was that they had duck hanging in the window. You don’t see that often in Chicago which is a shame. Any restaurant that serves Peking Duck (Sun Wah is considered the best Peking Duck in Chicago, from what I’ve eaten here, I would have to agree) needs to display it in the window to dry the skin and show the customers what’s in store.

They have a huge dining room. I guess that’s a good thing because as the night went on they got packed! I think the wait was about 30-45 minutes when we left. Good thing we got there relatively early, although, we did have a reservation. Service was pretty typical of a Chinese restaurant. Not refined, but not sloppy. As for the food…

…the first thing that rolled out was the Peking Duck. Since we had two big round tables we ordered two of each dish so that we didn’t have to pass things from one table to the other.

Classic tableside duck carving. Slice off that crispy skin first and then chop up the meat. Really good duck. If you’re a fan of Peking Duck, and the only people I know who aren’t are veggies, you have to try Sun Wah’s. I wouldn’t say it’s really anything special, but it is the best in town, very good duck.

Lobster with ginger and scallions, what more do you need? My only gripe with this dish, and it’s not unique to Sun Wah, is that the lobster was all hacked up and very hard to get the meat from the shell. Why do Chinese restaurants hack up lobster like this? Surely there has to be a better way to stir-fry all of that flavor into the meat and keep it easy to eat.

Peking Pork Ribs. Thin slices of rib meat cooked in a thickened sweet sauce. There were slices of carrot, green pepper, and yellow pepper in it as well. If you like sweet Chinese ribs, this is the dish for you!

Stir-fried water spinach. We wanted green beans, but they didn’t have any. No worries, water spinach has a nice subtle bitterness to it. It’s also extremely healthy. A good vegetable to help cut through all of the animal fat we were mauling down.

Fried rice with BBQ pork, shrimp, scallions, carrots, and scrambled eggs. Another classic, but one you must have with a Chinese feast.

Shanton soup with chunks of pork. It’s the pork bone that gives this soup its flavor. This is to the Chinese kitchen what chicken soup is to the Jewish kitchen.

Fried noodles. For this dish they used the duck breast from the Peking duck (for Peking you only eat the skin and some of the dark meat), pea pods, baby corn, carrots, mushrooms, and onions. Personally, I would have used shiitake instead of white button mushrooms, but hey, it’s not my restaurant. Still a tasty dish.

Our last dish was silken tofu steamed with shrimp. It was topped with cilantro and swimming in a soy and broth soup. It was really good.

Overall, I have to say, Sun Wah B.B.Q. is quite possibly the best Chinese food in Chicago. While I am a true believer that Chicago does not have the best Chinese food in the world, this place is definitely worth passing through your entrails. Every dish was fresh and well prepared. Nothing was over the top, but everything was extremely solid. The best part was that all of that food, along with Tsing Dao and tip, only came to $25 per person. Well worth the weakened US Dollar.

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Mapo tofu is a Szechuan dish typically made with ground pork. However, last night being Meatless Monday, I diced up some shiitake mushrooms to take the place of the meat.

To start, I made the sauce. I used 2 heaping tablespoons of toban djan (a szechuan chili and fermented bean sauce, its spicy but this dish is supposed to be very hot), 1/4 cup of soy sauce, 1/8 cup of sake, and 2 teaspoons of tapioca flour to thicken it up a bit. I mixed it all together and set it aside.

I used a 3.5 oz package of shiitake, about 6 oz of haricots vert cut into thirds, a carrot cut into matchsticks about 2 inches long, 8 green onions chopped into 1 inch pieces, 3 minced garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons minced ginger, 1 red bell pepper cut into thin slices and then halved, and 1 package of firm tofu. I prefer silken tofu, but there wasn’t any at the store. Oh well, what can you do? I pressed the water out of the tofu for an hour in the fridge and then diced it.

In a hot pan I poured in about 2 tablespoons of sesame oil and then fried the garlic and ginger for about a minute. Then I added the haricots vert. About 3 minutes later I tossed in the carrot and pepper. I let that go for about 3 more minutes and then the shiitake and green onions went in. Once the shiitake were softened a bit, about 3 or 4 minutes, I poured in the sauce (I mixed the sauce thoroughly again to make sure the tapioca didn’t form any clumps). This was the first time I’ve ever used tapioca flour as a thickening agent and it worked a little better than I expected. The sauce almost immediately thickened up on me in that hot pan. To remedy that I poured in about 1/3 cup of water and that thinned it out nicely. I needed it a little thinner so it would evenly coat the tofu which went in right after I stirred the water in. I let the tofu heat through for about 4 minutes over medium heat and then served it all up with some white rice and drank it down with a cold beer.

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