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Posts Tagged ‘vinegar’

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We had picked up some squid the other day, about a pound, that needed to be eaten before it went bad. I had always wanted to try stuffing squid and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity. Always the opportunist I went with it.

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First thing I did was make the stuffing. I picked up about a half pound of ground pork, a quarter onion diced, and minced 3 garlic cloves.

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I sautéed the onion and garlic in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil for about 7 minutes and then added in the pork. Once the pork was fully cooked, about 5 more minutes, I seasoned with salt and pepper and then let it sit for a couple of hours to cool down to room temperature.

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After getting some work done on my computer while the stuffing was cooling down I got the spaghetti sauce ready. I used a half bulb of fennel (fronds saved for garnish), a carrot diced, 3 cloves of garlic minced, a quarter onion diced, 1 can of diced tomatoes, and a quarter cup of chicken stock.

In my hot pan I poured in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and then sautéed the garlic, onion, carrot, and fennel for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat. Then I poured in the chicken stock and let it boil down for about 5 minutes before adding the tomatoes. I seasoned with salt and pepper and gave it a taste. I saw the need for a little more flavor depth so I poured in about 5 to 6 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.

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Here are my little squid. I threw the tentacles into the spaghetti sauce.

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I started stuffing the bodies with the pork mixture. That was not an easy task. None of my regular spoons were small enough to fit into the squid, my utensil is too big (I wish)! So, I tried using one of Otis’ feeding spoons. That was too big too, but did get some pork stuffed in. I ended up just using my fingers, still a difficult task as the squid kept slipping out of my hand. Slippery little suckers.

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After I got ten of the squid stuffed I realized that I was short on time and had to go pick Otis up from daycare. Since I only needed three and a half servings (dinner for all three of us and lunch for Yuki) I thought that 10 was enough. So I cut the rest of the squid into rings and tossed it into the spaghetti sauce along with the rest of the pork mixture.

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To get some green into dinner I took a big handful of haricots vert and roasted them with olive oil, salt, and pepper at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or so.

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While my noodles were cooking (I really wanted black squid ink pasta, but couldn’t find any so I used spinach spaghetti and just boiled it according to package instructions) and sauce re-heating I heated up my griddle pan to med-high, salted and peppered my squid, drizzled a little olive oil on the pan, and cooked the squid for about 4 minutes per side.

I will say, this dish was a success. It was a bit time-consuming trying to stuff those little sea aliens, but well worth it. They were soft, juicy, and very tasty. I would definitely make this, or something like it again. Actually, next time I think I’ll do a togarashi spiced squid and serve it with Japanese noodles in a dashi broth. The possibilities are endless!

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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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My buddy Nimah has been in town and finally made a little time to see Yuki and I Sunday night for dinner. His wife and brother were supposed to join us, but they both backed out. It’s nice to know where we stand on their totem pole (I’ll remember this Lora and Ramin!). At any rate, for the past couple of weeks all he’s been talking about was Smoque. “Yo Twig”. He’s been calling me Twig since high school. “How’s Smoque?” I just kept telling him that it’s hands down the best BBQ in Chicago, maybe even the best BBQ north of Mason-Dixon Line. It’s at least the best BBQ Brisket north of Texas. Honestly, I haven’t even eaten it’s equal in Texas, although I’ve only had a couple of BBQ Briskets there.

So he got there early, which is quite amazing. He’s notoriously late (no, he’s not pregnant, but he does have three testicles…all Iranians have three testicles, just ask him) and I’m notoriously punctual. We were supposed to meet at 7 and he got there at 6:40. I was just about to hop on the highway and he called. “Twig, there’s a friggin line down the street!”. That should have been a sign to him that I’m not the only one who thinks Smoque is the best. That worked well for us since he got to wait in line for us. When we showed up, it wasn’t too bad. They do a pretty good job of keeping the line moving.

He kept asking me what to order, and I kept telling him to get the sliced brisket sandwich. Honestly, that’s all I’ve ever gotten there other than the chili made with their brisket. I have to imagine that their ribs are pretty damn good too, but I’ve never had them. Always skeptical he asked one of the guys who works there. Of course, he said, “Get the brisket”. Just goes to show that I’m always right.

After about a half hour wait, not too bad, we ordered our food and got our seats. Besides sliced brisket they also do a chopped brisket. Yuki and I decided to try the chopped, so we got one of each and split them. I have to say, I think the chopped may even be better! You get more of the charred outside, and that has a ton of flavor. But, the sliced has more of the fat. You really can’t go wrong either way. All sandwiches come with a side of slaw. Theirs is nice because it’s just vinegar, no mayonnaise. That helps keep it light and helps you digest all of the delicious smoked carcass. I’m a mac’n’cheese guy, so I usually get that for my side. They have a great mac’n’cheese. Yuki got the fries. They cut their own potatoes and they keep the oil hot enough to cook them properly. Nimah got the baked beans. Simple BBQ beans, but their sauce makes them stand above the rest.

Oh, I should back up a bit in the story. While we were waiting for our food to be called at our seats one of the owners brought the people next to us some fresh made ginger cookies. I didn’t know why at the time (turns out they wanted some cobbler but Smoque was out, so they brought them some complimentary cookies) but anyone who knows me knows that I’m not shy. I said to the owner, “We have some problems with our food too, do we get cookies?” I was completely joking because we haven’t gotten our food yet. He said, “Sure, I’ll get you some cookies”. I told him I was just kidding, but he said they had more and it was no problem. Moral of that story, it pays to be an obnoxious extrovert with no shame!

Wanting to try their pulled pork, but only having one stomach each, Yuki and I brought a couple of sandwiches home for lunch today. Beautiful! Absolutely lovely. Every bit the brisket’s equal. Well, I think I’d still get the chopped brisket over the pulled pork, but there isn’t a better tasting pig-which in town! The cornbread also held up to a night in the fridge. It was relatively moist all things considered.

All in all, if you haven’t made it to Smoque yet then you really need to. That is unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan. In which case you and I must have a sit down. Vegetarian meals are important, but only on Meatless Monday. Every other day of the week Smoque makes a tasty and inexpensive option to fill your guts.

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For our 3rd anniversary last night Yuki and I decided to try out Sweets & Savories as we’ve heard great things about that restaurant. They offer a 3 course pre fix off the regular menu for only $29 every night. That deal seemed very appetizing to us. Being BYOB was also nice so we could save on a really nice bottle. We brought a bottle of Talbott Chardonnay 2007.

When we walked in the first thing we both noticed was a weird smell. It didn’t really smell like food. I’m not sure at all what it did smell like, but it was certainly a little weird. It didn’t bother us during dinner though, just when we first walked in. The interior was very drab and empty. The walls were a dark bronze-brown and there were only three pictures hanging on the back wall. Nothing else. I can’t call it minimalist because it isn’t. I think it’s more half-assed to be honest.

Service was a little off from the beginning as well. They had 3 servers and no one else. No bussers or host to help them out. The first server to greet us saw our reservation but said that we didn’t have a table assigned. I thought that was a little odd, especially since there were empty tables. He got a different server over who brought us to a table towards the back.

The first thing I noticed about the table was that there were salt and pepper shakers that looked like they came from a greasy diner. Not to sound like a snob or anything, but if you advertise your restaurant as serving upscale food there shouldn’t be salt and pepper on the table. The chef should season things for you while the servers should offer fresh cracked black pepper. I also noticed that their wine glasses are from IKEA. I know it’s BYOB, but that touch kind of cheapened the ambiance.

It took over 10 minutes for someone to bring us a wine opener and ice bucket. A few times I noticed a server standing around looking for something to do. How about letting us enjoy a glass of wine?  After we did place our order the service was much smoother, but still far from being good.

On to the food. I started off with the Vychissoise. As simple as soup gets, yet executed perfectly! I could taste every ingredient used from the potato to the leek to the garlic. Topped with some juicy lobster claw, a drizzle of truffle oil, and some chives this was a great starter.

Yuki ordered the Smoked Salmon Salade. It was also delicious. Just the right amount of vinegar to tie it all together.

For entrees I got the Grilled Pork Tenderloin. I couldn’t smell any of the rosemary that was supposedly used, but I could definitely smell the grill in my meat. Cooked rare with some pomegranate BBQ sauce it was really good. I know most people prefer their pork cooked through, but a nice tenderloin doesn’t need to be. It did send me to the porcelain god (for the record it was not to throw up)  three times this morning, but it was worth it for that soft meaty texture. The corn pudding was way under seasoned, but fortunately there was a salt shaker on the table.

Yuki got the Lobster Risotto. With peas, arugula, and grana cheese, this was a fantastic risotto. There was a ton of freshly poached lobster in this dish. As great as the lobster was, it was the arugula that held everything together. The bitterness was perfectly matched with the sweetness of the of lobster. Fantastic!

As great as the starters and entrees were the desserts fell a little short. I had the Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake and Yuki got the Sweets & Savories Bread Pudding. The chocolate cake was light and fluffy, but extremely rich. With just the one little line of raspberry coulis it was difficult to eat, it needed more to help keep my palette fresh. For the bread pudding it was the caramel and creme anglaise that weren’t up to par. The caramel wasn’t quite sweet enough and the creme anglaise was a little too thin, it needed to be a little thicker for some textural difference in the dish.

Overall, it’s hard to argue with how good most of the food was for that price. The atmosphere and service leave little to be desired, but the food more than made up for the experience. The only though is that they’ve got the savouries part down, but they definitely need help with the sweets.

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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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So, Yuki made dinner for Meatless Monday this week. As you can see from the pic, she cooks a totally different style than me. She prefers numerous different plates with different items while I usually cook more of a one-pot gig. But, with it being Presidents Day and a day off work it was her turn.

Starting with the top left dish, she simmered some daikon radish. For the broth, she boiled niboshi (small dried sardines) in water to extract that flavor into a deliciously light dashi. Then she simmered the daikon until they were softened, but still retained some texture. She topped the daikon with yuzu-miso and some sliced green onion.

The top right dish is sato imo, a hairy potato that made my fingers itch when I peeled it. It’s worth it though as it has a more pronounced earthiness in its flavor than the potatoes we’re used to here in the States. She first had boil them in some vinegar. These potatoes are very slimy and by boiling them in vinegar the slime is removed. After they were boiled she sautéed them in olive oil with some onions and garlic. Then she added some ponzu and a little mayonnaise.

The bottom bowl is harusame soup. She used konbu dashi for the broth, a very typical broth for Japanese soups. The noodles are harusame, made from mung bean starch. Also in it were some enoki mushrooms, shiitake, wakame seaweed, sliced aburage (deep fried tofu skin), baby bok choy, and an egg that was poached in the dashi.

She also made dessert, shiratama dango. They’re little dumplings made out of mochi rice flour. Simply add water to the flour, roll the dough into little balls, and boil them till they float. They’re usually grilled afterword to make them a little more savory before adding various sweet sauces. We used three of the more common sauces. On the left is azuki bean paste, the middle is mitarashi (a sweetened and thickened soy sauce with mirin, sugar, and corn starch), and the right is kinako (soy flour mixed with sugar).

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So, Yuki and I took a few days to visit some of the early temples and castles in the Kansai region of Japan. Most of the structures we saw date back to the 8th century and are truly amazing! Besides the structures there were also tons of great sculptures from the same time period. However, as you all know, this blog isn’t about architecture, it’s about food. This post is to let you know about the incredible Kaiseki we ate our last night in Nara at the Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) we stayed at, Yoshino.

Kaiseki is the classic multi-course meal that progresses through various cooking techniques using regional, seasonal ingredients. It’s the highest art form you can find in food anywhere in the world. Focus on the subtleties of each ingredient to draw out natural flavors and not cover then with heavy sauces (sorry Frenchies, but the Japanese have your asses kicked in food culture!).

It started with that dish in the middle of the picture above. From left to right was a little fish grilled in a sweet soy marinade, a roasted chestnut, ama ebi (sweet shrimp), some sort of seafood that had a jellyfish-like texture in a miso sauce (I have absolutely no idea what it was, but it sure tasted good!), then a three-colored fish cake.

After that they brought out this dish. It was obviously a shrimp, but I’m not quite sure what else there was. I think it was a gratin made with the roe of the shrimp. Also on the plate as a macaroni salad and some lettuce with a tomato.

Then we moved on to the sashimi plate. It had some fantastic Chu-Toro (tuna), Tai (snapper), and the star of the plate….Ika (squid). In the States when you order Ika it’s usually very thin and a little rubbery. Not these two slices. They were about a half centimeter thick, squid steaks! Rubbery? Hell no! Each chew and the squid literally melted away in our mouths. Hands down the best squid I’ve ever eaten.

Then they brought us a plate of steamed Ayu (sweet fish). It’s a river fish that eats moss attached to stones giving it a really fresh and clean taste. It was served with a light ginger sauce. The thing that makes Ayu special is that it’s eaten when the belly is full of fish roe. There isn’t much meat, so it’s like dipping chopsticks into a bowl of fresh water caviar.

Being the meatavore that I am, the next plate was what I was most looking forward to….Beef Tataki. Lightly seared beef to give a little texture to the soft raw meat laden with mouth-watering fat. The dipping sauce is a soy-dashi mix. You see the little mound of reddish gew on the side of the dish? That’s a mix of togarahsi (Japanese red pepper) and yuzu (a small citrus fruit). You mix that into the sauce like you would wasabi for sushi, along with thinly sliced chives. With the tataki there was a small dish of sliced cucumber and I think seaweed in a vinegar sauce that cleansed the palette from the fatty beef.

Then we ate the Shabu-shabu. Unfortunately I forgot to get a picture of the individual hotpots we used, but here’s the ingredients. The broth was a light sake base, in it we added cabbage, enoki mushrooms, and shimeji mushrooms. Once they were cooked, we sloshed the thinly sliced beef around to cook it and then dipped it all in a light soy with more of the togarashi yuzu and chives.

After that we got two different preparations of Unagi. To be honest, I have absolutely no clue what the difference was. One was served on top of rice, the other with rice on the side. All I can tell you is that you will never find eel of that quality anywhere in the States. It tasted like they just caught it that morning. Best eel ever! Both came with a little dish of Japanese pickles. They were probably damn good pickles, but I don’t like pickles so I let Yuki eat mine.

After the Unagi was a clear broth soup with an ingredient we couldn’t figure out. At first, we thought it was some sort of mushroom. It wasn’t. Then we thought it might be shiroko, fish sperm sack. It wasn’t that either. We finally found out that it was eel liver, probably from the Unagi we just ate. It had kind of a crunchy yet soft texture. Not something you’ll find on any old menu.

Finally, to finish things off was a plate with fresh persimmons and grapes. persimmons are in season right now and are everywhere while Japanese grapes are absolutely huge compared to what we get.

All in all this was my 5th Kaiseki. I wish I could afford to eat like this every night as there is always something unusual and strange to the western palette. If any of you get to Japan I highly recommend splurging at least once to experience the delicate yet sophisticated Japanese cuisine at it’s finest.

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