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Posts Tagged ‘orange’

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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We had some Chinese wonton noodles in the fridge that were starting to get a little dry the other night, so I had to use them up before they became worthless. Yuki requested something with a Chinese black bean sauce. She thought I was going to use the prepared fermented black bean sauce that you can get at any grocery store, but I decided that I wanted to make my own this time. As much as I like the prepared fermented black beans, this sauce turned out fantastic!

To make the sauce I used 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, the rind of 1 orange grated, about 1 inch of ginger grated, 3 garlic cloves grated, 14 ounce can of black beans drained and rinsed, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar, and 2 tablespoons of peanut oil.

I heated up a pan and then poured in the peanut oil. I added the ginger and beans and let them cook down for about 1 minute. Then, I added everything else. I made sure it was all mixed thoroughly and let it cook down for about 2 more minutes. I covered the pan and set it aside off the heat while I got everything else ready.

For the rest of the dish I used 1 carrot diced, 4 shiitake diced, 2 Japanese eggplants diced, 1 bunch of green onions sliced, about 3 tablespoons of cilantro chopped, 1 pound of bay scallops, and 4 portions of Chinese wonton noodles.

While my water was boiling for the noodles I heated up my large skillet and poured in another tablespoon of peanut oil. I sautéed the carrot, green onions, and shiitake for about 3 minutes and then added the eggplant. I let the eggplant go for another 3 minutes. At this point my water was boiling so I dropped the noodles in. They weren’t dry noodles, so they only needed 2 minutes. I drained them, setting aside 1/2 cup of the water, and then rinsed them with cold water. After that I dumped my scallops into the skillet and let them cook for about 5 minutes allowing them to release their liquid. Then, I added the black bean sauce in and a little of the noodle water to keep it from getting too thick. I added the noodles and cilantro then tossed it around real well. That’s about all, I served it up and we ate it down!

I will say that this was not the best use for this type of noodle. It is a very starchy noodle and they clump together very easily. While the flavor was great, wonton noodles are better served in a noodle soup. An Italian pasta would have worked a little better texture-wise. No complaints though, it was a tasty dish and I will definitely use this black bean recipe for other applications in the future.

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After trying to connect with a couple of our friends for a while, with whom we usually try new Mexican restaurants with, we finally got this past Saturday night lined up. Nick and his wife invited us over for dinner this time. I told him I’d make some dessert. When he asked if ribs would be an acceptable dinner my response was “RIB ME!!!” You can’t beat slow smoking baby back ribs outside in 10 degree weather. All you can do is hope your cold beer is enough to warm you up until the ribs get in your guts.

At any rate, that’s what happened. Nick smoked some ribs, his wife made a couple of sides, and I brought a cake.

He did the ribs right. Not sure what his recipe was, but he made a nice spice rub and then placed his ribs on a rack in his grill. The hot coals were spread around the sides of the grill while he placed a drip pan filled with some cider vinegar in the middle. The indirect heat kept the ribs from burning, the cider vinegar evaporated into the meat adding some flavor and keeping the meat moist, and the rack allowed the ribs to kind of baste themselves. 3 hours under the hood and they were ready to go.

After some chips, carrots, and dip (along with some alcohol), dinner was served. Nick chopped up the ribs for us and served them with some really creamy scalloped potatoes and nice buttery brussel sprouts. Good ol down home cooking. What else should have been expected from a Kentucky-boy?

I have to say, the ribs were excellent! I’m not just saying that because he’s one of the few who actually reads all of my blog posts. They really were delicious. The meat was fall off the bone tender, the spice rub and his homemade bbq sauce set off the meat nicely. My comment at the dinner table was, “Nick, I’d eat your ribs for free over paying for Honey 1 any day of the week!”.  A couple other friends were there as well and between the 6 of us we could only muster enough stomach for about half of the fair. True to his good ol boy hospitality we were sent home with a half slab. Gotta love that!

For dessert I made this Orange Kefir cake. I’ve been on a baking-with-kefir kick and wanted to continue that trend with something simple and tasty. I found this recipe by The Barefoot Contessa herself for a Lemon Yogurt Cake. All I did was substitute the yogurt for kefir and the lemon for orange. It turned out great, nice and moist while not being too sweet.

All in all, Saturday night was a tasty feast. Any time my buddy wants to smoke up some ribs I’ll be there to help polish them off.

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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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The other day Yuki requested macaroni and cheese. I thought that was weird because that’s not her favorite dish as a main, she prefers it as a side. Then she went on about how she misses her parents gratin. I have to agree, they make delicious gratin, especially with oysters. So, I found a recipe on Food and Wine’s website by Jeremy Fox that looked interesting using a carrot and cheddar sauce. It looked to me more like a side, so I put my own twist on it to make it a more fulfilling main.

The ingredients I used were 1 Valencia orange, 3 ounces medium cheddar cheese, 1/4 onion, 9 ounces serpentini pasta, a sprig of rosemary from my back porch, 3/4 pound carrots (turned out to be 2.5 carrots), and 3/4 pound ground turkey thigh.

I pretty much followed Jeremy Fox’s recipe in the beginning. I sliced the carrots and simmered them for a half hour with the zest and juice from the orange as well as 1/4 cup of water. Then I discarded the zest and puree’d the carrots into a smooth paste. During that time I boiled the pasta until it was al dente, then reserved 1 cup of the boiling liquid and drained the pasta. Then I added my own touch.

I diced the onion and sautéed it in olive oil for about 4 minutes and then added the turkey meat. I broke the turkey meat up as it cooked through, about 6 or 7 minutes. Once it was cooked through I got back to the recipe on hand and added the pasta, the reserved cup of water, and the carrot puree. I mixed it all together and let it thicken for about 5 minutes. I added 3/4’s of the cheese after grating it and mixed it in well. Then I seasoned it with salt, white pepper, and the rosemary. Once everything was well mixed I poured it into my glass baking dish.

I topped it with the rest of the cheese and then some panko. That all went into a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes and was left to rest for about 5 minutes before I cut it up and served it.

While the macaroni was cooking we made a side to go with it. I cleaned 3 ears of corn and chopped them into 2 inch pieces. I tossed them into boiling water and let them par-cook for about 3 minutes. Then I drained them and cut the kernels from the core.

In a heated pot Yuki melted some butter and added two minced garlic cloves. After a minute she added the corn and some halved haricots vert. She sautéed it all together for about 7 minutes and seasoned with salt and pepper.

I also made up a simple salad. Torn iceberg lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumber, and shiitake vinaigrette.

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Alright, so Tuesday night’s Passover Seder was spent at my dad’s. His Seder is different from the one with my mom’s side of the family. They do everything family style while my dad likes to serve each plate himself. I think it’s a control thing, but this site isn’t about psychoanalysis.

This is what his Seder Plate looks like. It has all the elements, however, he uses a roasted turkey neck instead of shankbone and a horseradish root instead of green onion.

Also, instead of putting Elijah’s wine glass on the Seder Plate, he puts a full place setting off to the side for him.

My old man did all of the cooking himself, which of course includes his Matzah Ball Soup. The main difference is that, like me, he puts the chicken meat back into the soup. I do have to say, this was one of his best batches.

For dinner he served some roast turkey, matzah meal stuffing, carrot ring, tsimis (a slow braised beef short rib with carrots), green beans, and potato kugel (basically a casserole of grated potato).

He freshly grated some horseradish.

And, of course, plenty of Matzah on hand.

I was in charge of dessert. I made a citrus sponge cake and served it with whipped cream and strawberries. The cake was made with matzah meal flour and potato flour. I mixed in the grated rind and juice from a lemon and an orange. As thick as the batter was with all of the heavy flour it actually turned out light and moist.

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Sepia

Yesterday was my 33rd birthday. My wife and I use birthdays as excuses to enjoy finer dining than a typical eve. Last night she took me to Sepia, a place that we’ve wanted to go to for quite a while now. While I would have liked to try Kendal Duque’s cooking, new Executive Chef Andrew Zimmerman is definately his equal in the kitchen.

Sepia Interior

The interior definately has that old-world feel with lots of dark brick, leather tables, buffed mirrors, and large chandeliers. But it isn’t stuffy at all. The place was quite comfortable and not too loud like most exposed brick restaurants. But it was the food that stole the show, not the interior.

We started off with some Gruet Blanc de Noir. I personally think that New Mexico turns out some of our countries best bubbly. For apps, Yuki ordered the scallops. Two big, meaty scallops cooked to absolute perfection! A nice sear on top and bottom while nicely opaque in the middle. We both feel that they’re the best scallops we’ve ever eaten in this city. They were served with a sunchoke puree, marcona almonds, and some serrano ham on top with frisee.

I ordered the sweetbreads. I’ve never really been a fan of sweetbreads, but I’ve only eaten them once before. However, if I’m going to consider myself a foodie then I need to order the proper food. Damn glad I did! Damn glad! Those glands had a texture that was like a cross between scallops and foie gras. It almost had a scallop-like sweetness as well, but also the butteriness of foie gras. Chef served them with this orange-fennel sauce. It was thick, creamy, and you could really taste the bitterness of the orange. Perfect match with the sweet sweetbreads. (I get the sweet part, but it really is more like foie than a bread). Some frisee on top as well.

Sepia_pork_t_bone_2

For entrees, Yuki ordered the Pork Porterhouse served on some grits with a bourbon sauce and cherries. Again, perfectly cooked, nice and medium rare on the tenderloin side and medium on the strip side. The accompaniments also complimented nicely. Fortunately for me it was too big for her stomach, so I get to eat the rest of it today for lunch! We paired it with a glass of Dolcetto D’Alba.

I ordered the Duck. A perfectly cooked breast; the skin nice and crispy, the meat nice medium rare and juicy. It was served atop a medly of chantrelle mushrooms, green onions, marcona almonds (Zimmerman must love these almonds, but for good reason), and these little spongy black things that we couldn’t quite figure out what they were. Yuki thought they were little pieces of liver or something, I thought they were some sort of mushroom stem. It was killing us not knowing what they were so I asked the manager….duck gizzards. (Yuki was closer, she wins) That was the first time I’ve ever eaten duck gizzards and I gotta tell you, I love them! They added a deeper flavor to the dish that the mushrooms alone probably couldn’t provide. Delicious! I drank a glass of Portugese wine, and interesting red blend from the Douro Valley. Nice recommendation from our server.

The desserts were awesome too! We had the Ricotta Pound Cake with carmelized peaches, buttermilk ice cream, and pecans as well as the Blueberry Cobbler with sweet corn ice cream, lemon-thyme cookies. Of course, on my plate was the obligatory “Happy Birthday Dan” written in chocolate with some artistic design. Always a nice touch. The food runner also said he’d sing to me for an extra fee. I’m cheap (even though dinner was Yuki’s treat), so we declined.

All in all, I have to say that Sepia is one of the better dinner’s I’ve had a quite a while. It is easily in the upper-echelon of Chicago restaurants. Because of it I can’t wait for my next opportunity to munch on some sweetbreads!

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