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This dish is actually from this past Sunday night. Since Yuki’s parents love seafood, like most Japanese, I wanted to grill some red snapper for Tamiko on Mother’s Day. Our friends that gave us the Rick Bayless cookbook were up at Tensuke Market so I had asked them to bring me some snapper. Unfortunately, they did not have whole snapper, just filets. They did, however, have Sanma. I remember Tamiko made Sanma for me once in Japan so I thought it’d be fun to grill some up and return the favor.

Sanma is a Pacific Saury, commonly called Mackerel Pike in English. About a foot long and slender it’s simply salted and grilled, complete with the guts. You can certainly eat the guts, as Yuki’s brother-in-law Jun does, but they’re very bitter. I don’t eat them, too bitter for me. After grilling you simply pull the skin and meat off the bones and chow down. The skin gets very crisp and tasty while the meat stay moist.

To prepare the Sanma I simply washed them down with cold water and patted them dry. Then I heavily salted both sides of the fish and let it rest for about 20 minutes. This allows the salt to stick to the fish and add the depth of flavor while keeping it a little less oily.

I had some fingerling potatoes that needed to be used up so I halved them, drizzled them with olive oil, and sprinkled some salt and shichimi togarashi on them.

I heated up the grill to med-high. The potatoes went on the top rack while the fish were on direct heat. I cooked one side of the fish for about 8 minutes then flipped it over and cooked the other side for about 6 minutes. Not sure why, but Tamiko said you should cook the first side a little longer. Since this was my first go at grilling Sanma I happily took her experienced advice. Glad I did because they cooked to perfection!

Sanma is typically eaten with grated daikon radish that has a little soy sauce poured on top of it. So, I grated some daikon and we poured a little soy.

Tamiko made Bara Sushi to accompany the Sanma. Bara loosely translates to spread out, so it’s basically just spread out sushi. She made two cups of rice and mixed some rice vinegar, sake, and mirin (maybe a little sugar too, not exactly sure what her blend of sushi rice consists of, but you can find multiple recipes for sushi rice online if you feel like trying your hand at it) into the rice. I fanned the rice down while she mixed the vinegar mix in to help rid some of the moisture. Then, she mixed in some smoked salmon, thinly sliced pea pods, thinly sliced lotus root, thinly sliced soy simmered shiitake, and carrot matchsticks. She then made some scrambled egg crepes, thinly sliced them and placed them on top. Finally, it gets garnished with thin strips of nori seaweed. It is absolutely delicious!

The soup was a simple clear dashi broth with wakame seaweed and eryngii mushrooms.

I wish more Americans would cook whole fish instead of the typical flavorless tilapia filets you see at every grocery store. Sanma is such a flavorful little fish that really would be a waste to add more than just salt. By keeping the guts inside you really get a full fish flavor, and you certainly don’t have to eat the guts. Full of omega-3’s and lower in mercury, it’s a great fish to grill up and enjoy with a cold beer or some cold sake.

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Another year means another Passover Seder. Well, that’s not entirely true. Since Yuki is about 2 weeks from her due date we decided that it’s not a good idea to spend the holiday with my family. Being 3 hours from our OB/GYN at this point isn’t the best thing we could do (or at least that’s what we tell my family!). What makes it easier is the fact that I’m not a religious man by any stretch of the imagination. So, if I missed another recital of the 4 questions or the 4 sons or Elijah I wouldn’t lose any sleep. I do, however, love a good matzo ball soup and brisket. I decided that I would make a few of the traditional Passover delicacies for the first night. My younger bro also lives in Chicago and did not go to the Quad Cities, so he came over for dinner last night.

To keep with tradition, I started the dinner off with some matzo ball soup. You can ask Alpana Singh my thoughts on the perfect matzo ball. I made my typical chicken soup on Sunday and then put it in the fridge overnight. In the afternoon I took it out and let it come to room temperature. About 20 minutes before my brother got here I made the matzo balls.

I used 2 eggs, about 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 cup of matzo meal, a few cracks of white pepper, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

In a small glass dish I mixed together all of the dry ingredients. In a seperate bowl I beat the eggs with the olive oil and parsley. Then, I poured the egg mixture into the dry mix until it was evenly mixed. I covered it in plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

With the soup boiling I took the mix out of the fridge, wet my hands, and dropped walnut-sized balls into the soup. I let them boil for about 20 minutes to make sure they cooked through. That’s all there is to it, soup is ready. I will say that these were by far the best matzo balls I’ve ever made, and some of the best I’ve ever eaten as well.

While the rest of dinner was heating up I brought out some charoset and matzo. Side note, everything we ate was prepared ahead of time so that all I had to do was re-heat for dinner.

For the charoset I used 1 gala apple, 1/3 cup of walnuts, 1 tablespoon of red wine, 2 tablespoons of honey, and a few dashes of cinnamon which didn’t make it into the pic. In a bowl I crushed the walnuts into small chunks then poured the wine and honey in. Then I grated the apple into the bowl, seasoned with the cinnamon, mixed it up real well, covered with plastic, and let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour.

For the entrée I made a horseradish brisket (the recipe was adapted from a Gail Simmons recipe), wilted spinach with raisins and toasted soy nuts, olive oil mashed potatoes, and roasted radishes.

I made the brisket in the morning to make sure it got enough time in the braising liquid. I used 2 cups of beef stock, 1 cup of red wine, 1/2 cup of prepared horseradish, 3 carrots chopped, 3 celery stalks chopped, 7 garlic cloves minced, 1 small onion sliced, and a 3.5 pound brisket.

In a large heated skillet I poured in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil and browned the brisket. I gave each side about 7 minutes.

Then I transferred the brisket to a foil braising pan and scattered the carrots and celery around it. In the hot skillet I added half of the garlic and the onions and let them sweat down for about 6 minutes. Then I poured in the wine. I let the wine boil down for about 7 minutes and added the beef stock. When the liquid came back to a boil I poured everything around the brisket.

I mixed together the rest of the garlic with the horseradish and spread that on top of the brisket. I covered it tightly with foil and put it into a 300 degree oven for about 3 hours. The one thing I did forget was bay leaves. I would have liked 2 of them in there. Oh well, still tasted great.

After 3 hours I let it sit for the rest of the day. While we were eating the soup I removed the foil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and put it under the broiler for about 30 minutes or so to not only re-heat, but also to give the horseradish a nice crust. To serve I just lay a couple sliced on top of the onion, carrots, and celery.

For the spinach I used 1/4 cup of raisins, the zest and juice from 1 lemon, 3 garlic cloves minced, 1/2 onion diced, 1/4 cup of toasted soy nuts (this dish would typically use pine nuts, but at $24 a pound I found the soy nuts price of $3 a pound a little easier to digest), 1/4 cup of red wine, and 2 bunches of spinach chopped.

First I poured the wine into a bowl and soaked the raisins for at least 15 minutes. Then, I heated up a large pot and poured in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sweat down the garlic and onion for about 5 minutes. Handful by handful I added the spinach until it was all wilted down. I poured in the wine and raisins. Once the wine had boiled down for a few minutes I added the lemon juice and zest. I stirred that all in and then added the soy nuts. A touch of salt and pepper and the spinach was ready to go.

I skinned 5 yukon gold potatoes for the mashed potatoes. Since the laws of the Kashrut don’t allow dairy to be eaten alongside meat I decided to use olive oil in order to try to make them creamy. I know, I don’t believe any of that crap, but since I was making a pretty traditional meal I thought I’d keep with tradition (all kosher wine as well). After boiling the potatoes I mashed them with about 1/4 cup or so of olive oil. Actually, I probably used more, I just kept adding it until the potatoes were the right consistancy. A little salt and pepper and they were all set.

For the radishes I simply halved them and roasted them with olive oil, salt, and pepper at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes.

I did not have enough time to make any dessert last night. We were pretty full anyway, but a little dessert is always a nice thing. I guess life could be worse than not having dry, matzo meal cakes sit in your stomach on top of brisket. Plus, you’re all probably tired of this post by now anyway. Happy holidays!

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There are two seasons in my world…winter and grill! Grill season has just begun and I could not be a happier man for that. Well, I could, but this is certainly a happy moment. I actually opened up the grill a couple of weeks ago for a skirt steak, but the weather hasn’t been good enough to really start firing it up until this weekend. I know, some people think they’re more of a man because they grill in 30 below wind chills with 2 feet of snow on the ground. Personally, I think they’re morons! Every time they lift that lid they lose every bit of heat. All you do is end up with poorly cooked food. Not now though, the time is right for my clothes to smell like grill!

We had an appt this afternoon so I only made two portions last night since we had no need for lunch. First thing I did was get the chicken marinating. I mixed together 1 fennel frond chopped up, the juice from 1/2 lemon, 2 garlic cloves minced, and 3 tablespoons each of soy sauce and olive oil. A few cracks of black pepper and then I rubbed it all over the chicken and let it marinate, covered, in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Then I got the soup ready. I put 4 carrots chopped, 1/2 onion chopped, 1 inch of ginger diced, 3 garlic cloves diced, and 1 cup of chicken stock into my pot. I brought it all up to a boil, covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Then I turned off the heat and let it cool down for about a half hour.

Once cooled, I poured it all into my blender and pureed it into a smooth soup. As it was blending I decided to pour in about 1/4 cup of olive oil to give it a silkier texture. Then I seasoned it with salt and pepper and set it aside. All I had to do to serve was simply heat it up again.

For my vegetables I used 3 radishes (I cut off the leaves) each cut into 6 wedges, 1/2 yellow bell pepper sliced with each slice halved, 2 garlic cloves diced, 1/2 head of broccoli cut into florets, and about 1/2 tablespoon of butter cut into little pats.

I mixed all of the veggies in some foil, laid the butter on top, sprinkled with a little soy sauce, and then closed it up.

I fired up the grill at med-high heat and let the grates get nice and hot. I put the veggie packet on first and let them start to cook while I brought the chicken back to room temperature from the fridge. After about 15 minutes I put the chicken on. I cooked it for about 8 or 9 minutes on each side and that was all she wrote. Of course, each grill is different, so just make sure your chicken is firm when pressed so that you know it’s cooked through.

Some white rice and a cold beer and Spring weather is officially here!

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I’m just not as young as I used to be. I can tell that I was at an izakaya last night because all of that sake floating around my liver is taking its toll. However, slow-moving Saturdays usually mean fun Friday nights.

A group of Yuki’s co-workers got together last night for food and drinks at Chizakaya, a newly opened izakaya here in Chicago. Actually, it’s probably the only real izakaya in town. While there are a few places claiming to be izakayas, they’re really just sushi places. Chizakaya doesn’t serve any sushi at all. I first heard of Chizakaya a few months ago when my mom sent me an article in the Huffington Post about the very fact that there aren’t any real izakaya’s in Chicago, until now. It also mentioned that the group that opened Chizakaya came from L2O, arguably Chicago’s finest seafood restaurant. Naturally, it made the list of places I wanted to go. With Yuki’s group meeting there last night I took the opportunity and ran with it.

I got there before the rest of the group, except for the two white guys in her work team (everyone else is Japanese). We sat at the bar and had a glass of sake while waiting for everyone else. I will say that the bartender knows his sake! It’s not a huge sake list, but a very well put together one with a good variety at all price points. He also gave us each a sample of sweet potato shochu, something none of us have ever had. It’s actually quite good.

Once everyone showed up they took us to the back room at one of the two big tables. I like it much better back there because the kitchen is open and the atmosphere is a little more izakaya-like.

Our waitress was also well-trained in the art of sake flavors as well as their menu. True to being an izakaya, the menu is based on small plates and nibbles to go along with drinking. We ordered a bunch of things and just grabbed and ate as we went, along with numerous bottles of sake. Since I’m drinking for 3, I’m struggling to keep my eyes focused as I write this.

As we sat they brought out little bowls of miso soup. Really good miso, they got the ratio of miso-to-dashi right. Instead of wakame which is typically put in miso soup they used hijiki.

Japanese sweet potato fries with spiced mayo.

Puffed pig ears with togarashi soy dipping sauce. Move over potato chips, these little cracklins are fantastic!

Crispy pork with a slow poached egg.

Pork shoulder gyoza. The gyoza could have been a little bit crispier, but the braised pork shoulder filling more than made up for that shortcoming.

Oysters with bacon and shishito. I don’t know if the bacon was over smoked or if they added a little liquid smoke, but there was a bit too much smokiness to this one. The natural sweetness of the beautiful little oysters was lost. Cut back on the smoke and this one is a winner.

Grilled ika togarashi with a yuzu vinaigrette. This was some of the most tender squid I’ve had in Chicago.

This was one of the night’s specials, duck liver karaage with scallions. Little deep-fried nuggets of ducky deliciousness!

Home-made basket tofu with bonito flakes, scallions, ginger, and soy sauce. You haven’t had tofu until you’ve had a really good home-made tofu. This was a really good home-made tofu. Totally different beast than the store-bought packaged tofu. Very clean, very light, very tasty.

Crispy-braised lamb belly with chopped edamame. This one was another of the night’s specials and quite honestly, one of the most special dishes I’ve ever eaten! I’ve never had lamb belly before and after eating it am wondering why. You see pork belly everywhere as it’s one of the more trendy cuts of meat these days. As much as I love pork belly, and I do love pork belly, I’d drop it in a heartbeat to sink my teeth into some lamb belly. That layer of belly fat may be the most lamby of all lamb flavors that animal has. I absolutely luz it! The only thing that would have made this dish better would be to puree the edamame into a thick sauce instead of leaving it chunky. Otherwise it was perfect.

Now, I’ll show you all of the kushi-yaki (grilled skewers of meat) that we had.

Chicken skin, mother of schmaltz how I love thee!

Chicken meatballs.

Chicken gizzards, next to liver and sweetbreads my favorite offal.

Beef heart, surprisingly tender and juicy for such a hard-working and lean muscle.

Beets with shiso, both red and golden.

We also ordered a the ramen and oden. Both of which were, quite honestly, very disappointing.

The ramen came with braised pork, fish balls, a slow poached egg, radish, bamboo shoot, shredded scallions, and some nori. The ingredients were all top-notch, but the noodles were overcooked and soft while the broth wasn’t quite were it needed to be. With everything else so high quality I wonder why they’re using regular old store-bought quality noodles. This bowl of ramen just wasn’t up to standards. If it’s ramen you want, head over to Arami instead.

The oden wasn’t even close to what oden is. Oden should be a dashi broth filled with various fish cakes, potato, hard-boiled eggs, konyakku, etc. It’s something that we make at home a couple of times every winter. This was nowhere near oden. This was a soy-based dashi with overcooked soba noodles, a few spinach leaves, a couple of pieces of potato, some slices of radish, and a few adzuki beans. It wasn’t a terrible noodle soup, but they shouldn’t call it oden and they should be more careful with the noodles.

Now, on to desserts, which were all very creative and well-prepared.

Yuzu cake with green tea ice cream.

Tofu cheese cake with kuro mitsu (black honey) and adzuki bean sorbet. Usually you see adzuki bean ice cream, making it a sorbet was a nice touch.

Chocolate ganache with puffed barley and black sesame ice cream.

I will say, that all three desserts are among the best desserts I’ve ever had at a Japanese restaurant.

Overall, Chizakaya is a fun atmosphere with great food. There were a couple of lows, oversmoked bacon and poor noodle soups, but the rest of the food was outstanding. Don’t come here expecting a substantial sit-down meal. Come here expecting a great list of sake, beer, and cocktails with delicious small plates and skewers to match. In that sense, this is a true izakaya. They also use top quality ingredients from local sustainable farms, and you can taste the difference. I will definitely go back, I just have to be more mindful of the amount of sake that I guzzle.

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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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A couple of our friends are growing their own shiso. apparently their plant is going haywire and they have too much shiso for their own usage, so they gave us a bunch. I do mean a bunch! I only used half of it for the pesto. Does anyone want some? I have a feeling you’ll see at least one more shiso recipe on this blog sometime this week.

I made the pesto much like I would a regular pesto, but with a few changes. I used about 1/2 ounce of shiso leaves, one clove of garlic, 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon of parmesan cheese, and about 1/4 cup of olive oil. I put it all in my little food processor and whipped it all up.

For the tofukatsu I used mustard, 1 block of silken tofu, and some panko. I pressed the water out of the tofu in the fridge for about an hour. Then, I cut it in half. I sliced the halves into 4 equal pieces to look like cutlets.

I poured some panko on a plate and then spread a thin layer of mustard on top of each tofu cutlet. I pressed the tofu, mustard side down, on the panko and spread another thin layer of mustard on the other side then flipped and pressed again. I wanted both sides of the tofu crusted in panko. In a large skilled heated to high I poured in a few tablespoons of peanut oil. I like to shallow fry in peanut oil because it has a high smoking point and doesn’t really have that strong of a flavor. I fried the tofu in two batches so as to not overcrowd the skillet. After both sides were nice and golden I laid them on a wire rack to let any excess oil drip off.

I made a couple of sides to go with the tofukatsu. One was a simple steamed head of broccoli. I cut the broccoli down into bite-sized pieces, florets and stem and them steamed it for about 4 minutes. I had a packet of mixed sesame seeds with dried carrot so I decided to sprinkle that on instead of salt and pepper.

I had about 1/2 pound of oyster mushrooms in my fridge, so I decided to saute them with 1 teaspoon of sherry, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of flour, 1/2 tablespoon of butter, and I was going to use 1/2 onion.

For whatever reason I wasn’t feeling the onion. No rhyme or reason, I just decided not to use the onion and instead use the enoki mushrooms that were in my fridge. I also grated a clove of garlic at the last minute too.

In a hot pan I poured in about 2 tablespoons of sesame oil and put the grated garlic in for about 30 seconds. Then, I threw in all of the mushrooms, both oyster and enoki. I let them saute for about 4 minutes and then poured in the sherry and soy sauce. Once the liquid was almost completely boiled off, about 2 minutes, I poured in the flour and butter and stirred that all in. The flour thickened up the last bit of liquid while the butter made it all silky and smooth, as butter always does.

Finally, I took a daikon radish and skinned about half of it. I grated the part that I skinned and served it just as it is.

To serve everything, I had some white rice and then put some broccoli next to it and then two pieces of tofukatsu next to that. I poured a little of the pesto on top of the tofukatsu. The grated daikon went on the plate as well. It was a little sharp, so we poured a few drops of soy sauce on it. In a separate plate I laid some mushrooms down. Next to them I put some kimchi cucumbers that we picked up at the Assi Plaza. I’m not a big fan of cucumbers, but these kimchi ones are so damn good they just might make me a believer. Bon apetit!

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Last night Yuki and I went to Millenium Park for another one of their Made In Chicago: World Class Jazz shows. Besides listening to some killer guitar by Alfonso Ponticelli we ate some killer skirt steak sandwiches that I made earlier in the day, along with some potato salad.

For the steak I took a big handful of cilantro, 1/4 cup of sesame oil, 1/4 cup of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of ginger, and two cloves of garlic. I processed it all into a nice marinade along with some black pepper. I picked up a 1.5 pound skirt steak and cut it into 4 equal pieces. I laid the steak in a glass baking dish and covered it in the marinade. I wrapped it in plastic and put it in the fridge for about 3 hours. I took it out and let it come to room temperature for about a half hour before grilling it.

I brought my grill up to high heat and grilled the steak for about 7 minutes on each side. That made it somewhere between medium-rare and medium. I let it sit for a few hours to cool down in its own juices while I went back to my computer to do some work.

For the potato salad I defrosted about 1/3 cup of frozen organic peas and chopped up a bunch of green onions, a carrot, 4 radishes, and 7 yukon gold potatoes that were skinned before getting chopped up. For the dressing I mixed together a branch of rosemary from my back porch that I gave the once over with my knife, 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup of mayonnaise, 3 tablespoons of mustard (my favorite brand of Boetje’s of course), and a pinch of salt and pepper.

In a pot of boiling water I dumped the skinned diced potatoes and let them cook for about 10 minutes until they were soft but held their shape (may take a little longer depending upon how big the chunks are). After 10 minutes I added the green onions, radishes, and carrot for about 2 minutes. I didn’t want to cook the vegetables, I just wanted to take away the sharpness and rawness of them while keeping the texture. Then I strained everything into a colander.

In a large glass bowl I put the peas and then strained vegetables and potatoes. While still warm I poured the dressing on top and stirred it all around. I like dressing it while still warm so that the potatoes absorb some of the dressing.

To put together the sandwiches I toasted some ciabatta rolls. On the bottom I laid some baby spinach and tomato slices. I sliced up two of the steak portions and laid them on top. I covered the steak with cilantro. On the top bun I spread some mustard and mayonnaise. It was outstanding!

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