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Posts Tagged ‘pepper’

With Yuki’s dad back in Japan her mom wanted to make some home-style comfort food. Unsure of what to make I suggested Nikujaga. I’ve made Nikujaga before, and it turned out pretty tasty, but I wanted to try Tamiko’s since she has a lot more experience making it than I do.

The basics are the same…beef and potatoes simmered in dashi with soy sauce, sake, and mirin. I’m not sure what her ratio for the broth was, but it was perfect! For mine, I used yukon gold potatoes, she used fingerlings (only because that’s what we had in our kitchen). Also, she used snap peas instead of the edamame in mine. Otherwise, they were pretty similar (both had carrots, a staple in any Nikujaga), only hers was definitely more refined than mine.

For a side dish she had me grill some sawara steaks. Sawara is Spanish Mackerel and we found some really nice steaks at Tensuke Market. Tamiko simply sprinkled it with salt and pepper. All I did was throw it on the grill for about 6 minutes each side. For the sauce, she mixed yuzukosho with some mayonnaise. Yuzukosho is one of my new favorite things! It’s yuzu mixed with pepper making it a citrusy spice that keeps my taste buds begging for more!

She also made a simple miso soup with wakame and tofu. Being a Japanese comfort meal, white rice was also served.

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Last weekend I did a little searching to try to find the best ramen noodles in Chicago. It’s damn near impossible to find a good, authentic bowl of Japanese ramen in this town as all Japanese restaurants seem to be the same neighborhood sushi joint serving up Americanized sushi (ie- California Roll, Dragon Roll, Philly Roll, etc.). While that’s all well and good, what I wanted was ramen!

While searching online I came across very positive reviews of newly opened (only about 3 weeks old) Arami on Chicago just west of Wood. Billed as an authentic Japanese restaurant in my neighborhood I got a little excited, tingly you might say. Not really in the mood to cook last night I decided to take Yuki out and give Arami a go. Very wise decision indeed.

The decor is true to Japanese philosophy, very simple and natural. The entrance is a big torii (traditional Japanese gate) and sets the atmosphere off right. The walls are very light, somewhere between eggshell and wasabi green, but more on the eggshell side. The tables are bamboo and the fixtures look to be made of reclaimed wood. I especially like the bar. It’s just a big slab of tree trunk.

Service was excellent. Usually, when a restaurant first opens up, the service is the worst part of the experience. The place ran like a veteran. Our server, Tiffany, was very knowledgable of the menu and very attentive without being annoying. Food came out in timely order and nothing was rushed.

As I get to the food I want to apologize as I usually do when posting pics from my phone. They are terrible! I do my best to make the food visible, but my phone’s camera is a piece of  junk. Keep that in mind and don’t let my pics deter you.

We started off with the Togarashi Seared Tuna. A beautiful strip of tuna coated in togarashi and seared perfectly, about a millimeter cooked all around the edges with the center completely raw. There were 6 pieces served on top of a seaweed and kelp salad with a meyer lemon dressing. The seaweed and kelp salad was excellent. A lot of times seaweed salads are just dripping with vinegar. Not this one. Perfectly dressed and a nice compliment to the natural fat of the tuna and mild spice of the togarashi.

Next, we got the Akami Ankimo. Akami is the red part of blue fin tuna and ankimo is monkfish liver (one of my all-time favorite ingredients). The slices of akimi sashimi (you could tell that they were cut by professionals who understand the subtlety of cutting fish) topped with small slices of ankimo and some sort of sliced green. Yuki thought it was a kind of pepper, but I think it’s just the green part of scallions. Doesn’t matter whose right, it was outstanding! Too bad Arami doesn’t yet have a liquor license as sake would have matched this perfectly.

For an entrée Yuki got the Kimchi Ramen. Hands down the best ramen I’ve ever tasted in this city! The broth was maybe a little too light to be considered authentic (in Japan the best part about ramen is all of the gelatin from using bones to make the broth, your lips should feel a little greasy), but the flavor was fantastic. Thick chunks of pork belly, cubes of tofu, sliced kimchi (not an authentic Japanese flavoring for ramen, but a delicious one), a par-boiled egg with a nice runny yolk, and sliced scallions for garnish. The only real problem is that it’s too hot in Chicago right now to eat ramen. Yuki was sweating a little from eating it. That didn’t stop her though as it was friggin fantastic.

When ever I see short rib on a menu there’s a very high likelihood that’s what I’m getting. Combine that with my love for all things donburi and I had to get the Short Rib Donburi. I really nice short rib braised in a soy-based broth served on top of rice. To counter the fattiness of the meat they serve it with sliced pickled asian pear and scallions. The rib was very tender and the broth flavors almost penetrated completely through. I’m glad it didn’t to preserve the natural flavors of the meat itself. Another winner in my book.

Dessert is the one area they fell short on. The only two options were the typical mochi ice cream balls or three different gelatos. I asked if the gelato was made in-house and Tiffany said it wasn’t. We still opted for the gelato though. They had three flavors (green tea, ginger-lemon, and muscato) and you get two scoops per order. We were told that we could only pick one flavor, but Tiffany talked the chef into letting us have two, so we got the green tea and ginger-lemon. The green tea was terrible! Overly sweet and very chunky. It was not a good product and they need to get rid of it immediately! The ginger-lemon, however, was great. Not too sweet, nice and creamy. They could do more with desserts though. I’m tired of every Japanese restaurant serving mochi ice cream and ice cream. There are so many things that can be done with Japanese ingredients to make great, simple desserts. Green Tea Pot De Creme with Adzuki Ganache was an idea I gave Tiffany. She seemed to like that idea, so hopefully she can get the chef to open his mind and make some real desserts. You don’t have to be a pastry chef to make good desserts.

At any rate, Arami is our new favorite Japanese restaurant in Chicago. While we didn’t try a lot of the sushi, we could see that they know what they’re doing. We will definitely be back over and over again, especially once they get a liquor license as I was told they’ll have a killer sake list! Sushi and sake, sounds good to me.

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Well, I finally got to Xoco today. Really, I can’t believe it took me this long to be honest. Being a fan of his cooking for years and sharing some precious moments with him shopping for produce you wouldn’t think it’d take me this long to check out his newest joint. Tortas just never really excited me all that much, though. Whenever I’m at La Pasadita or any other taqueria tacos, burritos, or parillada always get the nod over gentrified Mexican food like tortas. Bread with taco meat? It just never seemed quite right, until today that is.

When you walk it you see all of the action behind the counter. A big chalkboard has the menu. You can either take out or wait for a seat. We waited for a seat, about 15 minutes or so. It wasn’t bad though, it took that long just to decide what to order since everything looked so damn delicious! The menu is on his website.

After we ordered we sat down and ate some chips and salsa. About 10 minutes later our tortas arrived. I got Saturday’s daily special, the goat barbacoa. Nice crunchy on the outside but soft in the middle bread with slices of avocado, onions, cilantro, and Oaxacan pasilla-tomato salsa accompanying moist, soft, fall-apart goat meat. A fantastic sandwich if ever there was one.

Yuki got the Pibil. Just like the goat, this suckling pig was so moist and delicious. The pickled onion and black beans were natural with the pibil. I gotta tell you though, that habanero salsa was some spicy shit! Rick got every bit of heat out of those peppers when he made that stuff. Wow.

We also ordered some churros with ice cream, but I forgot to take a picture. No biggie, the plate had three churros that were heavily sugared and cinnamoned (are those words?). They were slightly overcooked, but delicious nonetheless. The ice cream was vanilla soft serve. Rick has it made in-house and they leave the bean in the mix. I like that. The ice cream was really good.

I have to say, I still prefer tortillas for those flavors, but I will not frown upon tortas anymore. There is definitely a place for them in my stomach from here on out. Here’s to the torta. Thanks Rick.

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I was flipping through a Jewish cookbook that I have trying to find recipes for Passover when I came across a recipe for Doro Wat, the national dish of Ethiopia. At first, I was surprised to see this. As I thought about it though, there has been a Jewish community in Ethiopia for thousands of years, untouched by the Romans or Crusaders. This allowed a more traditional interpretation of the Torah to exist, along with strict dietary Kashrut laws. I’m not saying that Doro Wat was created by the Jewish community, I don’t think anyone knows where its origins are, but it is consistent with a style of cooking prevalent throughout the Jewish diaspora during the Sabbath. Since it’s not permitted to do any work, cooking included, during the Sabbath, food is simmered on low heat for long periods of time. That way, when families get home from synagogue, a warm and filling meal is ready to go without further cooking.

I felt compelled to give it a whirl since Yuki and I both thoroughly enjoyed the two Ethiopian food experiences we’ve had. The recipe calls for a mix of spices, but I prefered to make a berbere to use instead. To make the berbere I mixed the following spices together all at a 1/2 teaspoon measurement: chili powder, paprika, ground ginger, cinnamon, ground cardamom seeds, ground cloves, and dried basil. Like any spice mix, you can make much more and store in a tight container for a few months.

To make the Doro Wat I first sautéed a diced large onion in some vegetable oil until it was soft but not burned, about 7 or 8 minutes. Then I grated in 6 garlic cloves and a 1/2 inch of fresh ginger and let those cook for a couple of minutes. After that, I added one cup of chicken stock and one 14 oz can of diced tomatoes and brought to a boil. I let it boil for about 10 minutes to reduce some of the liquid. Next, I salted and peppered to taste.

I was making 4 servings, so I picked up 8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs. You can get a whole bird and break it down, purchase 4 complete leg sections, whatever you want to make 4 portions. Just make sure to use skin-on, bone-in chicken. The skin and bones will add depth to the dish. So, just before putting the thighs in the sauce I mixed in 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric and 1 teaspoon of the berbere that I made. Once the chicken was added I covered it with the sauce, turned the heat down, and let it simmer for an hour covered.

While the chicken was simmering I hard-boiled 4 eggs, one per portion. The egg is what really sets this dish apart from other chicken stews, so make sure every plate gets one. When the chicken only had about 10 minutes left I peeled the eggs, pricked them all over with a fork making sure not to break them, and then added them to the stew.

To serve with the Doro Wat I made another traditional Ethiopian dish of stewed greens. Typically collard greens are used, but Stanley’s had some beautiful chard, so I used that instead. It’s a real simple recipe. Fry a diced red onion in some olive oil for a few minutes, then add a couple of crushed garlic cloves and 1/2 inch grated ginger. After that, add 2 green chilis that have been seeded and sliced. Add about 1/3 cup of water and let come to a boil for a couple of minutes. Then, add one red pepper that’s been seeded and sliced as well as 1 pound of whatever green you use (collard, chard, kale, cabbage, etc.) thinly sliced. Season with salt and pepper, mix it all up and cook over a med-low heat for about 25 minutes partially covered. That’s all there is too it.

As much as I wanted to make some Injera, I have absolutely no idea where to find teff, the grain used to make it. I found a bunch of recipes, but no teff. So, I just made some basmati rice.

I have to say, this is one of the best tasting dishes I’ve ever made! The sauce is so friggin delicious, I am definitely keeping it in my regular rotation. It would be equally good with lamb instead of chicken. I would even give shrimp a try in this sauce.

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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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It seems like every other program on Japanese TV has something to do with food. One program that I watched featured the biography of Nobu Matsuhisa, he of the restaurant Nobu. One of the dishes he showed on TV piqued the interest of Yuki’s mom, so the next night we set out to try and replicate it…Fluke sashimi.

It’s really quite simple. Slice a piece of fluke as thinly as possible and arrange on the plate without overlapping each slice of sashimi. Mash some garlic and lightly brush a little over each slice. On top of that lay down thin sticks of ginger and chives. In a small pot heat up equal parts soy oil and sesame oil until smoking hot. With a metal spoon dish some of the hot oil on top of the fish so that it sizzles a little. Then, drizzle with some ponzu and toasted sesame seeds.

To go with it Uichiro made his special harumaki, spring rolls. He “took the two best recipes and combined them into his own which is now the best.” I won’t give you measurements so I don’t spoil his secret, but the harumaki contain shiitake, bamboo shoots, leek, pork, ginger, oil, sake, chicken stock, soy sauce, sugar, pepper, starch, and spring roll skins. Cook it all together, roll them up, then deep fry them to golden perfection and serve with Chinese Mustard.

There was also some clear broth soup with shredded green onion and wakame.

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Being an atheist Jew who doesn’t celebrate the birth of fictional characters I always end up at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas day. I know that Saturday Night Live had their famous skit about Jews going to Chinese joints on Christmas, but it’s only funny because it’s true. Buddhists share the lack of blind faith in Jesus that we do. Plus, with every other restaurant and grocery store closed someone has to make money on this capitalist holiday!

I did countless research to find something new and interesting as Chinatown (other than Cafe Hoang) is really nothing special. Every website had Lao Szechuan and Phoenix as the best places in Chinatown. Honestly, neither of them excite me at all. They’re ok, but nothing special. One thing New Yorkers truly can claim is far superior chinese food than Chicago (I don’t buy their claims of having better pizza or hot dogs, oh, they do also have better bagels though).

Then I came across Han 202. A little 36 seat restaurant in the Bridgeport neighborhood, 605 W 31st street. They do 5 course meals for only $20! When I read that Phil Vettel, he of the Tribune’s food critiques, enjoyed his visits there I thought it would be better than typical greasy chinese stir-fry. It was!

I started with the Spicy King Crab Miso Soup. A basic miso soup with real crab meat and some spicy bean paste added. It wasn’t en fuego spicy, but it had a nice little heat to jump-start my taste buds.

After that I got the Green Apple Salad. Julienned granny smiths tossed in a mix of olive oil and truffle oil with just a hint of fish sauce. There were also a few capers for saltiness and some red peppercorns for a little bite.

Yuki got the Lemongrass Beef salad which turned out to be the exact same as mine but with extremely tender slices of lemongrass beef on top. Had I known they were the same salad but with the beef I would have ordered this since beef is my favorite vegetable. Oh well, what can you do?

For the appetizer course I ordered the Salt and Pepper Calamari. Deep fried slices of squid with diced jalapeno and green onions. The squid was cooked to perfection, nice and tender without any rubberiness (is that a word?). My only complaint would be that it was a little too salty, but with salt in the dish’s name I guess that was to be expected.

For my entrée I ordered the Duck Breast in Sichuan Hot Bean Sauce. This was the only dish that truly had an authentic Chinese aroma to it, so good! The duck was a perfect medium rare. I would have liked for the skin to be a little crispier, but I can’t complain since it was otherwise cooked the way a good duck breast outta be cooked. The sauce had a nice little tinge of spice. There was sliced bell pepper, green onion, carrot, some sort of chinese green, and some diced pineapple for a little sweetness. It was a very well-balanced sauce that matched beautifully with the duck. A really nice modern take on a classic chinese dish.

Dessert was vanilla ice cream with some mango-tomato sorbet on top. The ice cream was nice and smooth while the sorbet added a nice flavor to the spoon.

Overall, I find Han 202 to be one of Chicago’s absolute best values. Besides my enjoyment of the food, Yuki also had only positive things to say about her Scallop and Lamb Chops. Our friend who joined us also enjoyed her Tuna and Strip Steak. Having sampled everything, I have to agree with their assessments as well. We walked out fully satisfied but not overly stuffed. They could have easily charged us $35 per person (I’m glad they didn’t) and I still would have been satisfied.

They’re also BYOB, which cuts the cost of dining. No corkage fee and they kept our beer in the cooler for us. They also have nice pint glasses.

Next time you’re in the mood for some good Chinese food head south of Chinatown for an updated take on not only classic Chinese flavors, but also extremely reasonably priced pre-fix.

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