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Posts Tagged ‘oregano’

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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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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Over the weekend a couple of our friends stopped by to meet Otis. They came bearing gifts. Flowers for mommy and a Rick Bayless cookbook for daddy, an autographed one nonetheless! The in-laws haven’t really experienced Mexican flavors since there really aren’t many Mexican ingredients available in Japan. While there are a few “Mexican Restaurants”, they’re really just simple mid-scale taquerias. Combine the cookbook, their lack of Mexican food experience, and the fact that Chicago hit 90 degrees yesterday and I really had no choice but to grill up some tasty tacos with all of the fixens.

Some of the dinner was right out of the Bayless cookbook (cilantro-lime dressing, jicama salad, and roasted tomatillo salsa), some was inspired by the Bayless cookbook (grilled pork and sweet potatoes where he used ancho instead of chipotle), and some is right out of my repertoire (chilled corn soup and simmered black beans).

First thing I made was the cilantro-lime dressing. I used 1/2 cup of cilantro, the zest from 1 lime and the juice from three, 1/2 jalapeno seeded and stemmed, 1/2 cup canola oil, and 1/4 cup olive oil.

I threw it all into my little blender and whipped it up! I seasoned it with a little salt and pepper, poured it into a glass jar, and let it sit in the fridge while I prepared the rest of the dinner.

Next, I made the corn soup. I cut the kernels off of 5 ears of corn, chopped up 2 garlic cloves, and diced 1/2 onion. I put it all into a pan with 1/2 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of water and brought it up to a low boil. I covered the pot and let it simmer over med-low heat for about 20 minutes. Then I let it cool down and poured it into my blender for a good puree. I seasoned it with salt and pepper and let it sit. Since I was serving it cool I didn’t need to reheat it or anything. I did pour it back into the pot so I could clean the blender for the next item.

For the roasted tomatillo salsa I husked, rinsed, and halved 4 tomatillos, pealed 2 garlic cloves, chopped the other half of the jalapeno, small diced 1/2 a small onion, and roughly chopped 1/3 cup of cilantro. I soaked the diced onion in cold water for 30 minutes to remove some of the sharpness.

In a hot, dry skillet I put the tomatillos (cut side down) and garlic in to roast, about 5-6 minutes per side.

Then I put everything except for the onions into the blender along with 1/4 cup of cold water and pureed it up. I poured it into a glass bowl and mixed in the rinsed onion. That went into the fridge until dinner time.

I opened up a 30 ounce can of black beans, rinsed them off, and placed them in a pot with 3 diced green onions, 1 minced garlic clove, and about 1/4 cup of water. I let it simmer for about 20 minutes and then seasoned with salt and pepper.

For the spice rub I used 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1/4 cup of chipotle (the chipotle I have has a little sugar mixed into the blend, otherwise I would have added a little), 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of canola oil, and 2 garlic cloves finely minced. I mixed it all together until it became a smooth paste.

I rubbed the chipotle paste all over a 1.5 pound pork loin and a large sweet potato that I had cut into 8 wedges.

I heated up the left side of my grill to med-high and the right side to med-low. I first put the pork loin over direct heat, fat-side down, for about 5 minutes to give it a nice crust. Then I moved it to the top rack, turned it over, and turned the heat down to med-low. At the same time I put the sweet potato wedges on the top rack over the right side. I closed the grill and let it go for about 15 minutes. Then I turned over the sweet potato wedges, covered the grill again, and let it go for another 10 minutes. When I took the meat off the grill I tented it with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing it up.

Look at that piece of swine! Doesn’t that just make your mouth water? I have to say, it might be the juiciest, most flavorful piece of pork I have ever grilled.

While the grill was going I put together a jicama salad. I peeled a medium jicama and then cut it into 1/4 inch width sticks. I tossed it in a large bowl with some watercress, chopped red leaf lettuce, and some of the cilantro-lime dressing.

When everything was ready I heated up some corn tortillas and laid everything out on the table. The corn soup got a drizzle of cilantro-lime dressing for garnish. We made tacos and drank beer and filled our bellies! Yuki’s parents were quite impressed with dinner. Honestly, so was I. Everything turned out fantastically! Thank you Mr. Bayless! And thank you Mr. Eirinberg!

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Last night I made a classic Beef and Barley stew. I didn’t quite make it using the classic ingredients though. Instead of potatoes I used sweet potatoes. Instead of the popular pearl barley I used hulled barley. Instead of stew meat, usually beef from the round or chuck roast, I used brisket. Oh brisket, how I love thee! I did this for health reasons as sweet potatoes have more nutrients than regular ones and hulled barley is a whole grain that still has the germ, it has 8 essential amino acids. While brisket isn’t any healtheir than typical stew meat it’s all about flavor and texture.

My ingredient list included 3 medium sized sweet potatoes skinned and chopped, 1 tablespoon of dried oregano, 2 medium sized carrots chopped, 3 stalks of celery chopped, 1 tablespoon of worcestershire sauce, 1 onion chopped, 2 cups of beef stock, 2 medium sized parsnips chopped, 5 cloves of garlic diced, 1 14oz can of peeled whole tomatoes, 1/2 cup of rinsed hulled barley, 2/3 cup of edamame, and 1 pound of brisket cubed. Not in the picture are 1 tablespoon of flour, 2 bay leaves, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

I started by heating up my stock pot. Once hot I poured in the olive oil, added the brisket, and sprinkled the flour on top. I stirred it all around just until the surface of the beef turned brown and no longer pink. Then I added the onion, celery, and garlic and sweated them down for about 5 minutes. After that I poured in the stock, added the bay leaves, brought it up to a boil, covered, turned the heat down, and let it simmer for about an hour.

Once the hour passed by I tossed in the barley, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, worcestershire, and oregano. I let that come back to a boil and let it simmer for another 45 minutes.

Finally, I added the edamame and tomatoes with their juice. I took each tomato out one at a time and broke them up with my hands as they dropped into the stew. Once everything was mixed in I seasoned with salt and pepper and let it stew for about 15 more minutes to bring it all together.

A couple slices of toast, a bowl of hot beef and barley stew, and a nice cold beer and that’s all she wrote.

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Ever since our gastroventure to Don Diablo a while back I’ve wanted to try my hand at making cochinita pibil. It’s something that needs to be planned ahead since it’s best if the pork shoulder marinates overnight. I just never planned ahead until this week rolled around. I got my shoulder the day before and went at it.

Alright, so I the shoulder I picked up weighed about 2.8 lbs, bone-in. Gotta be bone-in, there’s just no other way to go. For the marinade I crushed 2 tablespoons of achiote seeds with 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds. I found out the hard way that achiote seeds stain anything and everything. If you can find achiote past that’s a better alternative. Anyway, I mixed those in a large glass (must be a non-reactive material) bowl with 1 teaspoon each of dried oregano, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, and cayenne. Then, I minced 5 garlic cloves, crushed up 2 bay leaves, and mixed those in. I cracked about 2 tablespoons of black pepper. Finally, I poured in 1 cup of orange juice and the juice of 2 limes. With a fork I pricked the shoulder all over, let it swim in the marinade, covered it with plastic wrap, and threw it in my fridge. This was about 2pm Monday so that I could get 24 hours of marinating time.

When marinating time was up I put the shoulder along with the marinade in a cheap foil braising pan, covered it tightly with foil wrap, and threw it in a 325 degree oven for 3 hours. Use whatever braising pan you have.

While the pork was braising I made my sides and condiments. I pickled a red onion, very easy to do and very delicious. Also, pickled red onion is the classic condiment to cochinita pibil. I quartered a red onion and then sliced each quarter into 1/8 inch slices then put them in this small glass bowl. I boiled some water and poured it on top of the onions. After ten minutes I drained the onions and put them back into the bowl. I mixed together 1/2 cup of orange juice with 1/2 cup of fresh squeezed lime juice and a pinch of salt and then poured that on top of the onions. I covered it with wrap and let it sit until dinner time.

I also made some guacamole. I was going to use 2 avocados, but when I sliced the 2nd one open it was absolutely disgusting! That’s the one problem I have with avocados, they’re such a crapshoot. I did get one good though and that was enough for our dinner. Since I only had one good one I only used 1 plum tomato. I de-seeded it and chopped it up. I mixed the tomato and avocado with the juice from 1/2 lime, 1 small garlic clove minced, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a handful of chopped cilantro.

Finally, I made a black bean and corn succotash. I first took 1 cup of dried black beans and boiled them in 6 cups of water for a few minutes, then I turned off the heat, covered the pan, and let it sit for about an hour. I drained and rinsed the beans then put them back in the pan. To that I added 1/2 onion diced, 1 jalapeno diced, and the kernels from 1 ear of corn separated. I seasoned with a little salt and pepper, poured in about 1/2 cup of chicken stock, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes while I finished off the cochinita pibil.

Once the pork was fall-off-the-bone deliciousness, I let it cool a little so that I could handle it without burning myself. Although, the pleasure of sinking my teeth into that meat would be worth the pain. Once I could handle it painlessly I pulled the meat and put it in a large skillet. I poured about 1/2-1/3 cup of the liquid in and then heated it back up.

I served everything with some watercress, ricotta ensalata cheese, and some cilantro. I had warmed corn tortillas on the side and we made some fantastic cochinita pibil tacos.

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With the weather getting really cold here in Chicago already, my mind starts to go towards stews, braises, and soups. Being Jewish, a good chicken soup with matza balls is always a winner (at least the way I make it), but I wanted to do something different. Since my mom lives in Mexico I thought I’d make a Mexican-Jewish soup. I made a relatively classic chicken pozole verde but dropped some matza balls in the soup instead of tortilla chips. 

Most of the recipes I found online used a combination of store-bought chicken broth and water with chicken breasts. Making a simple chicken broth is really easy so I opted to use plain water and chicken thighs. Dark meat has much more flavor than white meat and I never use breasts when making a soup. What I did was bring 10 cups of water to a boil and then put 2 pounds of skin-on bone-in chicken thighs in. Once it came back up to a boil I turned the heat down to medium and let it simmer for about an hour. Every 10 minutes or so I skimmed the surface to remove the muck and some of the excess fat. Once I had gotten all of the chicken flavor into the broth I removed the chicken, took off the skin and bones, and shredded the meat. I set the meat aside while I prepared the verde part of the soup.

The verde part is really just a simple salsa verde, much like you’d be served at a taqueria with chips. I used 1 pound of tomatillos, 2 poblanos, 2 jalapenos, 5 garlic cloves, 1/2 cup of cilantro, 1 small onion, and 1 tablespoon of dried oregano. I gave everything a rough chop and tossed it into my processor. I processed it into a smooth salsa and added a ladle of the broth to make sure everything mixed nicely.

I heated up a soup pan and poured in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and then added the verde. As you can see from this picture it started off a nice bright green. About 10-15 minutes later with occasional stirring…

…you can see it took on a much more drab color. That’s what you want in order to get rid of the raw flavors of the garlic and jalapeno and whatnot. Then I poured it into the broth and made the matza balls.

The last time I made matza balls my mom called me out for using matza ball mix. So, this time I did it from scratch. Honestly, there really isn’t much difference. I used 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 cup of matza meal, 3 eggs, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and some cracked black pepper to taste. I mixed everything thoroughly in a glass bowl, added about 4 tablespoons of cold water and mixed that in, then covered the bowl and threw it in the fridge for about 45 minutes.

Then I got the accoutrements ready for the soup. I got out the shredded chicken, 3 radishes thinly sliced, 1 avocado, a 28 ounce can of hominy drained and rinsed, and a large handful of watercress chopped. I added the chicken and hominy to the soup and slowly brought it back up to a low boil while the rest of the ingredients stood aside and waited their turn.

When the soup was at a low boil I got the matza ball mix out and turned it into matza balls. With moist hands I rolled out balls about the size of silver dollars and dropped them in the soup. A lot of people cook theirs in plain boiling water and then add them to the soup. I’ll never understand why as that prevents them from absorbing the broth’s flavor. I want tasty balls! Once my balls were all swimming in the soup I covered it up and let them cook for about 30 minutes.

For a side I just made a simple tomato and watercress salad. I quartered a bunch of cherry tomatoes, laid them on a bed of watercress, and drizzled some sesame dressing on top.

To garnish the soup I added the sliced radish, the watercress, I diced the avocado, and squeezed some lime juice in.

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Last night I made a fajita fiesta for dinner. We picked up a couple of pomegranates the other day and I wanted to use some in guacamole. So, I made up a Mexican meal.

The first thing I did was make a real simple corn soup. I took 4 ears of corn, 1/2 onion, and 1 garlic clove. I stripped the kernels from the ears and tossed it all (ears included so I wouldn’t lose all of the milky flavor) into a soup pan. I chopped up the onion and garlic, tossed them in the pan as well. Then I poured in 3 cups of water. I brought it to a boil, covered the pot, turned the heat down to medium-low, and let it simmer for about 7 minutes. I turned off the heat and let it cool down a bit.

After it cooled a little I discarded the ears and poured the rest into my blender and pureed it. I wiped out the pan and strained it back in then seasoned with some salt and pepper. I let that sit covered while I prepared the rest of the dinner and just re-heated it for service, garnished with some cilantro.

For the rice, I used my rice cooker to make 2 cups of rice, but added 1/4 cup defrosted frozen peas, and 1 carrot chopped into quarter moons. I also replaced 1 cup of the cooking water with chicken stock to deepen the flavor a little. I hit the start button and let the cooker do it’s thang.

Then I put together the guacamole. I used 3 avocados, 2 plum tomatoes (the pic shows 3, but I only used 2), 1/4 onion, 1/2 pomegranate, the juice from 1 lime, 1 garlic clove minced, and some cilantro. I actually started on the onion quite a bit earlier. To take the bite out of without cooking I diced it and soaked it in cold water for about 2 hours. That keeps it crisp but eliminates the rawness. In a glass bowl I let the minced garlic soak in the lime juice for about 10 minutes to mellow it out a bit, then I added everything else and mashed it u with a fork keeping it a little chunky. I seasoned it as needed and then set it aside (I did snack on it while I cooked).

For the fajita I used 1 teaspoon cayenne, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 green bell pepper sliced, 1 orange bell pepper sliced, the zest and juice from 1 lime, 1/2 jalapeno sliced, 1/2 onion sliced, and 1 pound of chicken breasts sliced into thin strips.

In a glass bowl I mixed together the lime zest and juice with all of the spices and tossed the chicken in. I let it marinade for about 30 minutes. I used that time to cut the peppers and get the black beans going, but I’ll get to the beans in a minutes.

In a large saute pan I heated 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and stir-fryed the chicken and spices for about 7 minutes. Then I added the peppers and onion and stir-fryed them with the chicken for a further 7 minutes or so. For service I garnished it all with some fresh cilantro.

Alright, for the beans I thoroughly drained and rinsed 1 14oz can of black beans and put them in a small sauce pan with 1/4 onion small diced, and 1/2 jalapeno diced. I filled the black bean can about 1/4 full of water and poured that in. I brought it up to a slow boil and let it go while I finished up the fajitas. I seasoned it as needed.

For service I just laid everything out on the table along with some warm whole wheat tortillas. I know whole wheat is not very authentic, but I opted for the health benefits of whole wheat instead of authenticity. The only thing missing was sour cream, a mistake I will not make the next time.

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