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Posts Tagged ‘tomato sauce’

The other night Yuki and I used up another Groupon that was about to expire. We were intrigued by the $30 savings from an all-you-can-eat Brazillian steakhouse, yet one that’s different from the Brazzaz’s and Fogo’s of the world. This Groupon was for Al Primo Canto. At the time they had two locations, one at 749 N Clark and one at 5414 W Devon. The Clark location would have been a quick busride for us, but for whatever reason they closed that one down before we used the Groupon. Oh well, what can you do? So, we drove up to Edgebrook.

The location looks very generic on the outside. It’s a small little strip of storefronts right on the intersection of Devon and Central. The Metra rolls by about 1/2 block to the west. When we saw the facade we weren’t real excited about going inside. Once inside though, it was a different story. I wish I had a good pic of the interior, but it was the complete opposite of the exterior. It was very warm with lots of wood and really was a comfortable atmosphere. They do need a little better exhause system though as we both smelled like smoke when we left. The grills are in the back, but somehow the smoke fills the entire place. It’s not too bad, but will absorb into your clothes and hair, especially if you have a thick Jew-fro like me (and I’m just talking about my tuchas!).

The main difference between Al Primo Canto and other Brazzilian steakhouses is that there are no gouchos walking around with huge skewers of meat and there is no mile long salad bar. You can either order a la carte, or all-you-can-eat. We opted for the all-you-can-eat option in order to try out the various cuts of meat.

The meal started off with cheese pop-overs, flat bread, and eggplant caponatto. The eggplant was great, it tasted very similar to baba ghanoush.

Then they brought out three pasta dishes, all with fetucini. One had a mushroom sauce, one tomato sauce, and one garlic and herb. The pasta was all very simple, but tasted pretty good. The noodles were nicely al dente.

Next came the meats and starches. Fried potatoes with a blue cheese sauce, fried polenta with parmesan cheese, a plate with lamb and beef both grilled on large skewers typical of Brazillian steakhouses on top of sauteed green beans and pearl onions, and a couple pieces of grilled chicken.

They also brought out a mixed green salad.

The beef and lamb were a little dry due to overcooking on the grill, but not so much that it ruined the dinner. The flavors and quality of the meat were pretty damn good. I will say that the chicken was outstanding! Crisp skin and juicy meat they covered it in fresh sage. I liked that a lot.

I washed everything down with a couple of caparinhas. Not too sweet, but could have used a little more cachaca.

We split a flan for dessert. It was served with a raspberry couli, powdered sugar, and a blackberry garnish. It was ok, a little dense for our tastes. Don’t quote me on this but it didn’t taste homemade. It wasn’t terrible though.

As for the service I will say that the server and bussers were extremely attentive and on the ball…for the most part. We had actually commented a few times to each other at how good the service was until we asked for a box to take our leftovers home. That’s where the wrench was thrown. Appearantly they do not allow you to take home leftovers from the all-you-can-eat menu. I told them how ridiculous it was that they were going to throw away all of that perfectly good food that we were paying for. The server brought the manager over who, again, wouldn’t allow a box to be brought over. He said he’d have to speak with the owner and I told him to let me speak to the owner. So, the owner came over and explained the reasoning behind this. I guess people used to take advantage and would order more dishes just to take home. While I can understand that we were never even aware that we could order more meats or pasta. We were under the assumption that what was brought out was the meal, plain and simple. A little back and forth and finally he agreed to let us take our food home since the server never explained how they operate. I would have won even if the server did just because I’m an argumentative bastard who doesn’t give up. Plus, how can you throw away all of that food? This world is on the brink of a major food crisis. People in Japan right now would love a full meal to eat, not to mention all of the 3rd world countries or even a lot of people in America (Yuki even brought up Japan’s crisis).

In the end though, the owner did do right by us. We didn’t order any refills of any food so he didn’t feel cheated. Because of that we got our lunch the next day.

Overall, I would say that Al Primo Canto is a very average restaurant. The food is good, the service for the most part is good, but nothing is special. If we lived in Edgebrook we’d probably go there every once in a while. It is not worth a drive though. There are way too many places much closer to us that serve better food at similar or even lower prices. So, while we’ll probably never be back, I can’t say that the place isn’t worth a stop, it’s just not worth going out of your way for.

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Punjabi Bolognese…sounds kind of weird, right? Well, it isn’t, its delicious! Basically, all I did was take a classic Punjabi dish called Masaledar Chholay (spicy tomato sauce with chickpeas) and add a few things, take away some of the heat, and smother some pasta with it. It really worked out well and is a nice change from regular bolognese.

I had already started my prep when I realized that I need to take a photo. So, here are the ingredients all chopped up and ready to go. I had a handful of cilantro that I ripped up at the last minute of cooking, a bunch of rapini chopped up (not an Indian ingredient, but I thought the mustardiness would match real well, I was right of course), 1 medium sweet potato diced, 2 medium carrots diced, 1/2 onion diced, 1 inch of ginger minced, 3 garlic cloves minced, 3/4 pound of ground lamb, 1.5 tablespoons of cumin, 1 tablespoon of garam masala, 1/2 tablespoon of turmeric, 1 14oz can of diced tomatoes, and 1 14oz can of chickpeas.

In a hot pan our poured in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and added the ginger and garlic. I let them go for a minute until the oil was very fragrant. Then, I added the onion and carrots. I let them sweat down for about 5 minutes before adding the lamb. It took the lamb another 5 minutes or so to cook through as I broke it up. Once cooked through I added the spices and mixed them in.

With the meat spiced I poured in the tomatoes along with the juice in the can and let it come up to a slight boil. Then I added the rapini and sweet potato, stirred it all in, covered the pot, turned the heat down to med-low, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes.

After that I added the chickpeas, seasoned with salt and pepper, and let it simmer for another 5 minutes or so. Since I used canned chickpeas I only needed them to heat through.

While the chickpeas were heating up I boiled a mix of regular and wheat spaghetti in salt water according to package instructions. To serve I simply put the noodles in the bottom of a big bowl and ladled some of the Punjabi Bolognese on top. I garnished with the cilantro.

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This was about as simple as cooking can get while using up items that were lying around our fridge. I had about 1/4 cup left of the tomato sauce that accompanies the cabbage rolls from Kasia’s that I didn’t want to waste, so I turned it into a tasty sauce for some salmon. I grabbed the veggies I had and put together a well-rounded dinner.

I picked up 1 pound of salmon and cut it into four equal portions, I chopped up some watercress, 1/2 onion, 1 carrot, 2 small yukon gold potatoes, 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 yellow bell pepper, and mixed together 1/4 cup of Kasia’s tomato sauce with 1 heaping tablespoon of ground horseradish.

In a small saucepan I heated the sauce gently, not to cook anything, just to have a warm sauce. When I tasted it I decided to add 1 tablespoon soy sauce. That really did the trick, it almost made the sauce taste Japanese. I mean, horseradish is basically wasabi.

For the vegetables I heated up a saute pan and added a tablespoon of vegetable oil and 1/2 tablespoon of butter. Once the butter had melted I tossed in the potatoes and let them start to crisp up for about 10 minutes while occasionally shaking them around. Then, I added the garlic and onion and let them sweat down for about 4 minutes before adding the bell pepper and carrot. I let everything saute for another 5 or 6 minutes and then added the watercress along with salt and pepper.

While that was going on I had drizzled some olive oil on the salmon and then seasoned it with salt and cracked white pepper. I put it in the oven at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes.

To serve, I put some white rice on the plate next to the veggies and salmon. I spooned some of the sauce on top of the salmon. Perfect for a cold beer to wash down. Simple, healthy, fast, and tasty.

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The other night I knew I wanted to make some spaghetti of some sort, but I wasnt sure what to do with it until I came across these beautiful little scallops. We haven’t had scallops in a while so I figured I’d just make a very simple tomato sauce with them and some vegetables.

Besides about 2/3 pound of scallops I chopped up 8 asparagus, 3 shiitake, 1/2 onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 yellow bell pepper, opened up 1 14oz can of diced tomatoes, and got out 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce and sake just to add a little umami.

This is about is simple as cooking gets. While I was boiling some salt water for the noodles, I used half angel hair and half wheat noodles, I heated up my pan and poured in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I sautéed the onion for about 5 minutes before adding the garlic, I let that go for another minute. After that I added the shiitake, pepper, and asparagus and let them go for another 5 minutes. I added the soy sauce and sake, let them boil off for about 1 minute, and then dumped in the tomatoes. Once the tomatoes were at a low boil I turned the heat down to medium and added the scallops. Scallops can be a little tricky here because if you overcook them they’ll become a bit rubbery. On the other hand, they do give off a lot of liquid so you need to boil some of that excess off. I let them go at a very low simmer for about 10 minutes and it worked out perfectly, but each stove top is different so you have to keep a close eye on it. At the very end of cooking I decided to add a little dried basil along with some salt and pepper.

Once I drained the noodles I just ladled the sauce on top. I had some wheat dinner rolls to eat with it.

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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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This recipe is based on an old Yiddish-a-bachur dish. I made a similar dish years ago at my old man’s house and thought it’d be good again. It was, but I might have made it a tad spicy for preggo’s taste buds. It’s that cayenne pepper I love so much. It didn’t turn out quite as pretty as I had wanted because the phyllo dough I had was pretty old and not as easy to work with as a fresh bought pack. I had to work faster than normal and didn’t get as many photos as I would have liked. Oh well, what can you do? It still tasted pretty damn good and that’s all that really matters.

My ingredient list included 12 oz of skinned salmon that I cut into three portions (we only needed one lunch the next day instead of 2), 1/2 cup of strained tomato, 1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes, 5 garlic cloves minced, 2 ribs of celery chopped, the juice from half a lemon, 1 green bell pepper diced, 1/2 onion diced, 1 broccoli head broken down with stem skinned and chopped, a handful of cilantro chopped, and some phyllo dough (they spell it Fillo, take your pick).

Before I made the sauce I salted and peppered the salmon and then squeezed the lemon juice all over. I let it sit and rest while making the sauce. I heated up my sauce pan and added about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. I sweated down the onion, celery, and green pepper for about 7 minutes before adding the garlic and letting it saute for another 1 minute or so. Then I poured in the strained tomato and the canned tomatoes and let them boil down for about another 7 minutes. I grabbed my cayenne and ground cloves out of the spice rack and threw a few dashes of each in. Cut back on the cayenne if you want it less spicy. I seasoned with salt and pepper, turned of the heat, and stirred in the cilantro.

Working as fast as possible and using a moist dish towel to keep the phyllo from drying out I wrapped up the salmon. I layered 3-4 sheets on top of each other, topped it with a piece of salmon, spooned some of the sauce on top of the salmon, wrapped it all up, place it on an olive oiled baking sheet, and brushed more olive oil all over the phyllo to give it a nice golden color in the oven. I did this for all three pieces of salmon. Then, I put the sheet into a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

I steamed the broccoli during the last 5 minutes of baking time and re-heated the rest of the sauce. To serve, I threw it all on a plate and slapped a bowl of white rice next to it.

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This is a dish I made last week when I noticed that blue crab meat was on sale. The meat came in little sealed containers and was much fresher than canned crab meat. I thought making a spaghetti with it would be a good way to go. I also made a simple soup to go with it, along with some wheat bread. I made this Friday night so the recipe is only portioned for 2 servings.

I made the soup first since I could just re-heat it when the spaghetti was ready. I used 1/2 an onion sliced, 2 garlic cloves chopped, 1 carrot chopped, 1 can of cannellini beans rinsed and drained, 1 cup of chicken stock, and a large handful of baby spinach.

Real simple, I poured the stock in a soup pan and added the onion, carrot, and garlic. I brought it to a boil, turned the heat down, and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Then I added the beans and spinach and turned off the heat. The beans and spinach don’t need to be cooked so I could just let them heat up when I re-heated the soup. Before serving I seasoned with salt and pepper.

The spaghetti was real simple as well. I used 1 red bell pepper chopped, 1/2 onion chopped, 1 14oz can of Italian peeled tomatoes, 1 8oz container of blue crab meat, 3 cloves of garlic chopped, and 3/4 oz of basil.

I threw the onion, tomatoes, and garlic and into my blender. I filled the tomato can about half-way with water and added that as well along with a few red pepper flakes. I let it go until I had a smooth tomato sauce.

In a pan I heated up about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sautéed the red pepper for 5 minutes. Then I poured in the tomato sauce and let that come up to a boil. Once it started bubbling I turned the heat down and let the raw onion and garlic in it cook out for about 10 minutes. While that was going on I picked through the crab meat to make sure all of the shells had been removed and then added it to the sauce with all of its juice. I cooked some spaghetti noodles according to package instructions, heated up the soup, seasoned the crab-tomato sauce with salt and pepper and added the basil, and then served it all up.

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For Meatless Monday I took advantage of another grilling opportunity. I made lasagna with grilled vegetables. By doing this, the sweetness of the veggies is brought out and that fantastic smokey flavor is added. I needed all the flavor I could get since I wasn’t adding any meat. I also opted not to use a tomato sauce or bechamel sauce either in order to keep the flavors more natural and lighter.

I started by thinly slicing a large eggplant and two smaller zucchini as well as two orange bell peppers. I drizzled them with olive oil and then grilled them until they were about half-way cooked.

Then, in my baking dish I poured a tablespoon of olive oil and coated the bottom. I put down a layer of pasta, then alternated layers of veggies. The veggies I used were the eggplant, zucchini, and pepper from the grill, some thinly sliced red onion, garlic, mushrooms, and tomatoes. I also put some ricotta cheese layers inside. I seasoned with salt and pepper as I went along.

I covered it in foil and then put it in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Then I took it out and removed the foil. I sprinkled some parmesan cheese on top and then put it back into the oven, uncovered, for another 20 minutes until the cheese and top layer of tomatoes started to brown a little.

To serve, I put pieces on top of some baby arugula. Then I drizzled some basil oil I made. A handful of basil blended with olive oil and a touch of balsamic vinegar. I do prefer meat, but this tasted pretty damn good.

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As if Restaurant Week wasn’t enough, Chicago also has a Chef Week sponsored by OpenTable. It’s a much smaller promotion than Restaurant Week, but there are a couple of tasty deals at $30 pre fix dinners. One restaurant that’s participating is Sepia, easily one of my favorite joints in town. So, last night, Yuki and I ate a delicious pre fix.

My appetizer was the Scotch Duck Egg. It was a perfect croquet of ground duck meat, nice and medium rare after frying, coated in bread crumbs and filled with duck egg yolk that just oozed out when you cut it open. Chef Zimmerman served it with wild rice, arugula, and black olive honey.

Yuki ordered the Grilled Squid. Perfectly grilled, nice and tender. It was served with cara-cara and blood orange segments, watercress, thin slices of red onion that’s been soaked to remove the sharpness, and herb oil.

My entrée was Cider Braised Pork Belly with barbeque lentils and crispy cavalo nero (not sure what cavalo nero means, it was red cabbage in some kind of vinegar). Delicious fatty pork belly! MMMM! The cider and bbq flavors really tasted like backyard cooking, but it definitely had an upscale, modern twist. The only thing I would have done different is to give the pork belly a quick grill after taking it out of the braising liquid. That would have crisped up the skin a little and added some smoke. It’s hard to argue with what was served though.

Yuki’s entrée was the Vegetarian Lasagna with herbed ricotta and piquillo pepper. The herbed ricotta cheese was brilliant with that tomato sauce. The piquillo pepper almost tasted like an olive, lending an interesting briny contrast. The noodles may have been slightly overcooked, but it was up there with the best lasagna I’ve ever tasted.

For dessert I ordered the Maracaibo Mousse with mango ice cream and caramel-mango rum sauce.

Yuki got the Citrus Meringue-Tart with champagne-raspberry sorbet and lemon sauce.

While all of the individual components of both desserts were delicious, they didn’t all work out quite so well. The mango ice cream’s texture and overall feel were very similar to the mousse. There wasn’t much diversity in textures. On Yuki’s, the sorbet was more tart than the tart. Two tarts don’t make a match. We actually switched the ice cream and sorbet and the sorbet matched the mousse perfectly. While I wouldn’t say the mango matched the tart perfectly, it did offer a nice reprieve from the tart lemon. Maybe some sort of herb sorbet, like mint or basil, would have matched the tart better.

Overall, Sepia still resides towards the top of my list for best restaurants in Chicago. Last night’s meal wasn’t perfect, nor was the service as we had to ask for bread (should have been put down as soon as we ordered, but that’s nitpicking), but the ingredients were fresh, perfectly cooked, and for the most part thoughtfully prepared. I will definitely head back at some point.

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One thing that being unemployed is teaching me is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money in order to eat right. To me, eating right doesn’t mean counting carbs, or taking supplements, or any of that nutritionist crap (I’m a believer in Michael Pollan). There’s nothing wrong with eating animal fat, or bread, or dessert. There is everything wrong with eating too much and eating processed foods brought to you by the Big Food Industry.

At any rate, last night I made some of the best Lasagna you could ever pass through your tracts (and pass it through my tracts I did!). I did it using only fresh, high quality, organic ingredients, and I did it on the cheap.

I don’t buy much at Whole Foods since their prices are sometimes ridiculously high. However, I won’t buy meats from normal chain grocers because they sell meat from sick, hormone and antibiotic pumped animals. In order to save a few shekels The Big Farm Industry feeds livestock unnatural diets causing them to get ill. In turn they need to inject large amounts of antibiotics because the feed is unhealthy to them, not to mention the extremely unsanitary living-quarters. On top of all of that the animals are fed hormones to speed up growth, this causes even more health issues. Basically, if you’re not eating organic naturally fed, humanely raised animals, you’re eating sick animals. Would you eat a moldy tomato? So why eat a moldy cow?

But I digress. I headed over to Whole Foods and got some really nice, fresh ground chicken thigh meat. I opted for chicken instead of the usual beef because I grilled skirt steak (from Olympic Meat Market) the previous night. Variety is the spice of life. I went for thigh meat for a few reasons. One, it’s cheaper. Two, even though it’s higher fat it’s actually healthier for you since it’s heart-healthy unsaturated fat. Three, it has more flavor. 

While there, I noticed that organic zucchini was on sale. A perfect match for lasagna. They also had high quality parmigiano on sale. I had a jar of organic pasta sauce that I got for $2.19 from my last trip to Whole Foods sitting in my pantry. Otherwise I would have made my own sauce that would have cost me roughly the same amount, maybe another dollar or two.

Back home, I also had some lasagna noodles in the cupboard already. One thing when you have no income is that you try to eat what you’ve already bought and stocked. I picked some basil from my back porch garden. I also had some mushrooms that I bought at Stanley’s, where I buy most of my fruits and veggies.

So, I whipped up a bechemel sauce. I, for one, do not think that putting butter, flour, and milk together is too much fat. As long as the dairy comes from good cows and the flour isn’t processed or enhanced or anything unnatural. Then I cooked the ground chicken with onions, garlic, and some of the tomato sauce. I thinly sliced the zucchini and mushrooms. Then I put it all together.

Turned out to be enough for 4 full servings (I try to cook for 4 even though it’s just my wife and I, that way we have a good lunch the next day as well)when paired with a simple mixed green salad with sliced tomatoes. When I add up the costs of everything and divide by the 4 meals I got out of it I ended up making delicious healthy food for about $4 per person. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather eat that than a $5 foot-long.

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