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Osechi-ryori is the Japanese style of traditional foods eaten on New Years Day. It typically consists of many different small dishes that are served in stacked jubako (fine lacquer boxes similar to bento). To purchase a ready-made Osechi can set you back well into the hundreds of dollars. Or, you can spend all of that money on an airplane ticket to Japan and let your mother-in-law cook all of the food and arrange the jubako for you, Kawabata family style. Now, I’m not completely sure of all of the ingredients that were used, but I’ll sure do my best to fill you in on what filled my belly.

First and foremost was a delicious bottle of sake. My father-in-law always gets a really nice bottle when I come to visit. This is a bottle of Junmai Daiginjo from Aomori (Aomori is the farthest north area of Honshu and I once hitchhiked from central Tokyo all the way up there, but that’s a story for another time) called Denshu. It’s one of the best bottles in Japan and you won’t find it anywhere in the States. Junmai Daiginjo is sake that is made from pure rice without any added alcohol or sugar, rice that is polished at least 50%, and cold brewed at less than 5 degrees celsius. While you can find some Junmai Daiginjo in the States, you won’t find any as nice as this. It’s smooth as a baby’s ass! Even if you don’t love a baby’s ass, you’ll certainly love this bottle of sake.

In this box there was some simple steamed pea pods, shiitake simmered in shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), boiled satoimo potatoes, simmered lotus root, simmered carrots, and koya tofu (freeze-dried tofu, something I’ve never eaten before but really like the texture).

Here we have braised beef wrapped gobo (burdock root), salmon wrapped in kombu, sweet-pickled daikon and carrot, and sweet shoyu glazed yellow tail.

This level of jubako contained dried herring roe, white and pink fish cakes, ikura (salmon roe), mashed sweet potato, soy-glazed dried anchovies, Cool Breeze Amongst Pine Trees (Uichiro’s name for his famous meatloaf, don’t ask me how he came up with that name, some things are probably better unknown), and ham.

Next to the jubako was a plate with some grilled red snapper. I’m always disappointed when I order red snapper in Chicago. I’m never disappointed with I eat it here in Japan. Tamiko got the skin nice and crisp while keeping the flesh moist and juicy. Extremely fresh fish.

Then, she brought out bowls of soup. A clear broth made from kombu and katsuo-bushi (bonito flakes) filled with mitsuba greens, fish cakes with good fortune written in the middle, mochi (an absolute necesity at the Japanese new years table), shiitake, and slices of yuzu peel.

Last, but surely not least, she served up some red snapper sashimi that was cured in kombu. A touch of wasabi was all it needed.

Dessert was simply fresh strawberries and green tea. Strawberries are extremely expensive here in Japan so they’re always a treat.

To wipe our mouths we used “Year of the Dragon” napkins since 2012 is the year of the dragon. I was born in a year of the dragon as well.

Happy new years everyone!

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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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The other night Yuki made dinner. We had some bok choy and a daikon that needed to be used up, so Yuki did her magic in the kitchen while I sat back and drank beer. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did prep the veggies for her because I love to use knives!

I cleaned up 3 bok choy, minced 3 garlic cloves, skinned 1 daikon and one carrot, and got out 1 lb of ground chicken thigh. I let her cut the daikon and carrot because I wasn’t sure how she wanted them cut. She was too busy feeding Otis to tell me, so I just let her go at it. After getting everything ready she did ask me to dice 1/2 onion, that didn’t make the pic. She ended up cutting the daikon into half moons and just chopped the carrot.

I’m not exactly sure about some of the measurements, but I think she simmered 1/4 cup fo bonito flakes in about 2 cups of water to make a nice dashi.

In a glass bowl she mixed together the meat with the garlic and onion. She wanted some ginger, but we didn’t have any and I forgot to get some at the store. Mind you, she didn’t request that I get some, but somehow I think it’s my fault, it always is.

After letting the bonito flakes simmer for about 10-15 minutes she added the daikon and carrot. Then, she poured in about 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of sake, 1 tablespoon of mirin, and a pinch of sugar. Again, just estimates on her measurements, but probably not too far off.

While that was all simmering she cooked up about half of the chicken mixture. Once it was cooked through she mixed in about 1 cup of cooked rice and some black pepper, making sort of a fried rice. That was served as one dish.

She used the rest of the chicken mixture to make meatballs. They were dropped into the dashi after the daikon and carrot had simmered for about 15 minutes and became tender. Once the meatballs were cooked through, about 6 or 7 minutes, she added the bok choy and let it cook for a few minutes.

That was all she wrote, or cooked. It was mighty tasty. I love how she used an empty teabag to simmer the daikon. That way she didn’t have to strain the dashi, she just had to remove the bag. I got the fun job of trying to clean the bag afterwords so we can use it again. I prefer using my knives!

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The other night Tamiko wanted to make Uichiro’s famous curry rice dish. I think for a couple of reasons. First, to make him a little jealous again that we’re eating so well while he’s eating take home bento boxes (although, take home bento in Japan isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination). Second, it’s just a tasty tasty dish! He sent me the recipe a long time ago and I did make it once (before I started this blog). Mine was pretty good, mainly because I’m damn good in the kitchen, but it clearly wasn’t the same as Uichiro’s. Japan uses the metric system, so I had to eyeball my measurements with the spices and whatnot as the conversion is never as smooth as it should be, for me at least. Also, since I’ve never eaten his I made it more to my tastes, which are different believe it or not.

What I’ll do for this post is first cut-and-paste the recipe he sent me. Then, I’ll go through it a little and let you know where Tamiko made the appropriate changes. Sorry, Uichiro, but I’m going to make a little fun of you as well, all in good humor. So, without further ado, here’s his recipe as he sent it to me:

Foodstuff:

ground meat with half beef and half pig meat: 300 g

chopped onion: big size one unit

chopped ginger: one piece

chopped garlic clove: one piece

chopped parsley: quantitatively

chopped raisin: 3 x 15cc spoons

chopped walnut: 4 kernels

pickled cucumber: one

curry powder: 3 x 15cc spoons

soy sauce and Worcester sauce: quantitatively

grated cheese: 3 x 15cc spoons

cinnamon, nutmeg, clove: quantitatively

boiled egg: two

Cooking:

On a cutting board mince all foodstuffs. Sautee onion to the
brown state. Sautee ginger, garlic clove and ground meat in turn with
it. After meat color is changed, then, add raisin, walnut, pickled
cucumber, parsley, soy sauce, Worcester sauce, grated cheese, cinnamon, nutmeg,
clove.  Finally, add one cup water and boil to the sapless state. Ad mix
the half with rice. Get up the half and sliced boiled egg on it.

Alright, where to start. First, Tamiko made twice as much as the recipe calls for so that the three of us had lunch the next day as well. I love that he calls the ingredients “Foodstuff”. Not exactly sure how much 300 grams is, we got 2/3’s pound of ground beef and ground pork. Going down the list is pretty self explanatory, for the most part. We forgot to get parsley at the store, so Tamiko used the 1 tablespoon of cilantro we had left in the fridge. I’ve never heard of a walnut kernal, but only a moron doesn’t know what he means. Tamiko omitted the pickles because she knows I’m not a huge fan of them, what a sweetheart! Worcester is supposed to be Worcestershire. Grate cheese refers to parmesan. As for the boiled eggs, you can hard-boil as many as you like. Just slice them up and top each plate with one.

On to the how-to portion of today’s post. Again, most of it is pretty easy to understand. Tamiko minced up everything real well, walnuts and raisins as well. She then sautéed everything according to instructions. My favorite part is boiling the water down to a sapless state. Honestly, I have never heard that phrase before in my life and probably won’t ever hear it again. He means just boil it down till it’s almost all evaporated. It is a “Dried Curry Rice” and not a wet one. Alright, that’s all I’m going to make fun of Uichiro.

Another way Tamiko’s was different is that she did not mix any of the curry into the rice. I did when I made it, but she instead just topped the rice with the curry. Either way works really well, whatever you prefer. Then, she topped the curry with the sliced egg and sprinkled the cilantro on top. It’s really a simple dish to make. But, as Tamiko likes to say, simple is best. It is also very delicious. The play between the curry and sweet raisins is beautiful. The walnuts add a nice crunch to the whole thing.

On the side we had a simple salad of lettuce, shredded celery, daikon cut into thin matchsticks, and cherry tomatoes. I whipped up a balsamic vinaigrette. One part balsamic vinegar, two parts olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper, and whisk it up until its emulsified.

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In order to solidify my role as a good Japanese housewife I decided to make another classic comfort dish from the Land of the Rising Sun. I haven’t made anything with squid in a long time and came across this recipe from a Japanese cook book that I have. Since I had a piece of daikon in my fridge that I needed to use, it all just seemed too perfect. And yes, I am perfect!

The first thing I need to do was make 3.75 cups of dashi. We don’t have any bonito flakes in our fridge, but we do have dried anchovy in our freezer that are also used for various types of dashi. In a soup pot I poured in a little more than 3.75 cups of water knowing that some would evaporate and added about 1/3 cup of the dried anchovy. I brought it to a boil, covered it, lowered the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 3o minutes. Then I strained out the fish and had a really nice flavorful dashi.

The rest of my ingredients for this dish included 4 tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of sake, 2 tablespoons of mirin, some lime zest, about 2 pounds of daikon, 1 pound of squid (body and tentacles), and 1 tablespoon of sugar.

I cut the daikon into chunks about 1.25 inches thick and rounded the edges with a pairing knife. I’m not sure why they round the edges, maybe it allows the daikon to cook more evenly or maybe it’s just an aesthetics thing, but you probably don’t need to do it if you don’t want. Being the good Japanese housewife that I am, I went all out. I put the cut daikon into cold water then drained it just before cooking. That helps keep the texture firm. I sliced the squid bodies into 1/2 inch strips and cut the tentacles in half.

I put the daikon and squid into a heavy pot and poured the dashi in. I brought it to a boil and let it cook for about 5 minutes. Every 30 seconds or so I had to skim the surface to keep the dashi nice and clear. It’s amazing that 1 pound of squid seems to have more muck than a 3 pound chicken when boiling. So you really need to skim a lot.

Once the dashi cleared up I turned the heat to low and added the soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar. I covered the pan and let it simmer for about 45 minutes or so. Every few minutes I gave the pot a good shake to make sure the flavors of the dashi were well mixed.

While the squid and daikon were simmering I made some hijiki-carrot rice. After rinsing 2 cups of rice and measuring out the liquid I added a tablespoon or so of dried hijiki and 1 chopped carrot. I let it sit for a half hour and then started the rice cooker. Actually, I had this ready to go before starting the squid and daikon. But I didn’t hit the start button until the simmering started for timing purposes.

For a side dish to get more vegetables in the meal I made a simple stir-fry. I cut up 1 head of broccoli, had a couple of ounces of bean sprouts, 3 diced garlic cloves, and 1 inch of diced ginger.

I heated a skillet and added 1 tablespoon of sesame oil then added the garlic and ginger. After about 30 seconds I tossed in the broccoli and let it go for about 5 minutes before adding the bean sprouts. About 2 minutes later and it was ready to eat, just a sprinkle of salt and pepper was needed.

For serving I put some of the squid and daikon in bowls with some of the dashi. Then I grated some of the lime zest on top. Yes, as you can see in the picture I do have the hairiest arms you’ll ever see on a Japanese housewife…I hope. In Japan they’d use yuzu instead of lime, but I couldn’t find any yuzu at the store. The lime worked really well though. And the squid, oh brother the squid! It was so soft and tender it literally melted in our mouths. I haven’t had squid that good since we were in Nara, Japan over a year ago during squid season. And if you’ve never eaten daikon simmered in a soy-dashi broth you’re missing out on one of life’s finer flavors. This was the best meal I’ve cooked in a while. OIISHII!!!

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Yuki used some of her United miles to get a coupon for the Chicago Curry House. I remember a couple of years ago she took me there for their lunch brunch. Featuring Northern Indian and Nepalese food I remember it being pretty good. When she got the coupon we figured that’d get us back down the Printer’s Row for some good Indian, the other night it did just that.

It’s in a very inconspicuous location. On the first floor of an apartment building its entrance is hidden behind brick just off State and 9th. What lies inside though is a very good, but typical, Chicago Indian restaurant. As usual, my phone pics turned out horribly. Deal with it and read on.

When we sat down we were greeted with pappadom and the usual three sauces, cilantro, chutney, and tamarind. I quickly ordered a King Fisher beer and continued perusing the menu, which is quite extensive.

Yuki ordered the Sambar Soup. I light lentil soup with vegetables it was much thinner than what we’re used to. It was very light, but very flavorful.

Our first appetizer was the Vegetarian Samosa. Some of the biggest samosa’s I’ve ever seen! Nice and spicy with whole spices, you can tell these were freshly made samosas.

Next we had the Chicken MoMo, Nepalese-style dumplings. Curry spiced ground chicken with a curry sauce to dip them into. These had some kick to them and were very tasty.

In order to try numerous menu items and ensure lunch the next day (two appetizers helped with that) we decided to get two of their “sampler” entrees. This is the Curry House Vegetable Special Dinner. It comes with Dahl Makhini, Palak Paneer, Aloo Ghobi, Navratam Korma, Chana Masala, Garden Mix Vegetable, Cardamom Rice Pudding, Raita, Naan, and Basmati Rice.

On this sizzling hot platter was the Curry House Non Vegetable Dinner. This contained Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Tikka, Lamb Seekh Kabab, Naan, and Basmati Rice.

It also came with Navratam Korma and Butter Chicken.

The Chicken Tikka and Butter Chicken were two of the best chicken dishes I’ve ever had at an Indian restaurant. The flavors penetrated through all of the meat while the chicken stayed nice and moist in both dishes. Absolutely fantastic chicken. The Palak Paneer was my favorite from the vegetarian dishes. Everything, however, was above average.

The service was nice and the space warm and inviting. Combine that with above average Indian Food and Printer’s Row has a keeper. While Chicago Curry House is a bit of a drive for me I don’t think I would go out of my way for it. If I lived in the neighborhood or ever crave Indian Food while in the South Loop area I will definitely make my way back. It’s a place that should definitely be frequented by its local townies.

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As a big fan of the Polish Deli I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to finally get out and sample the goods at Kasia’s Deli on Hoyne and Chicago. I was actually first told about it by a tow truck driver last winter. I drive a big old green hoopty, better known as a Buick, and it’s electronics don’t do so well in Chicago’s cold winter. Last winter the beast died on me in front of my apartment and I had to get it towed to my mechanic. I hopped in the two truck and started talking food with the driver. He mentioned that he stops in at Kasia’s quite often and I ought to check it out. I held on to that advice for a year before acting on it. This past Sunday Yuki and I took a nice walk over there to grab some grub only to find out they were still closed for the holidays until yesterday. So, I went back yesterday and was rewarded with some extremely tasty viddles.

It’s not a large place by any means, but good things come in small packages. They make a nice variety of prepared food from different kinds of goulash to kielbasa with krout to pierogis to salads to all sorts of wholesome goodness. They also have some deli meats and cheeses that you can either take home sliced or have them make you a sandwich. At the far end is their homemade soups, pierogis, and blintzes. They also have a few refrigerated grocery items like milk and whatnot as well as a few dried groceries like breads and polish chocolates. The prepared food is all made in the back and is extremely cheap while using quality ingredients, just like a good Polish Deli should. So, I picked up a few things and brought them home.

Last night for dinner we had some of their mushroom and barley soup, rice with vegetables (carrots, peas, and corn), stuffed cabbage rolls (pork, mushrooms, and rice) with tomato sauce, mushroom and kraut pierogis also with tomato sauce, and some grated beets.  Everything was fantastic. Each of our plates cost about $6, that’s all. It’s damn hard to beat that for such quality food.

For breakfast this morning we had some of their blueberry blintzes. The cottage cheese and melon on our plates did not come from Kasia’s. I’ve made blintzes in the past, actually many many years ago, and these are every bit as good as anything I’ve ever made. $3 for a package of 6.

I have to say, Andy’s Deli is larger and a little better (especially because they also smoke their own meats), but since they closed their Wicker Park location a few years ago it’s not very convenient for me to get to. I will still make the occasional journey to Andy’s, but I am damn glad that Kasia’s is close by to fill the void in between. I have a feeling I’ll be heading to Kasia’s whenever I wake and know that I won’t feel like cooking dinner that night.

It was obvious that the lady behind the counter had a crush on me too (how can you blame her?). As she was bagging my food she asked me if I wanted a free T-shirt. It’s very hard to say no to a Polish woman who smells like kielbasa. Not to mention how hard it is for a Jew to say no to something free.

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