Mexico City restaurant crawl: Osaka

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I've been in Mexico City two weeks and already have tried about 14 restaurants, so I thought it was about time I started a dining review series!  This gem came highly recommended and while it is a chain (which I hate), it was absolutely delicious.  Osaka is a Peruvian-Japanese fusion place.  It has restaurants all over Latin America, including Peru, Mexico City, and Sao Paulo.  I thought it was creative and well-executed, and can't wait to go back.  I also thought the price was spot on - about $35 bucks a head for a semi-filling meal and alcohol.

The restaurant does fusion right - not some weird mash-up but taking the best of both cultures in taste and presentation.  Japanese have a knack for food that resembles art and for fine balancing of elements in a dish. Peruvian food is fresh, un-fussy, and generally packs punch with lime acidity and mellowness of other flavors, like corn and sweet potato.  For this dinner we ordered a trio of ceviches, which featured one with wasabi cream, another with toasted quinoa and picked carrot, and traditional ceviche with a spicy kick (added chiles).  We also ordered a salmon coated in two types of sesame atop a sweet miso sauce - the salmon was melt in your mouth delicious.  We also ordered a causa - which is like sushi but with a mashed potato base - we had this topped with octopus in a chipotle spicy sauce.  For our one sushi fusion dish we ordered a roll that had breaded shrimp, avocado, and was topped with thinly-sliced clams with a parmesan sauce.  Parmesan on sushi sounds weird, but guess what - it goes great in ceasar salad and guess what else is in Caesar salad ... anchovies! Which are fish.  So full circle.

To top off the delicious evening we had a lychee ice crumble.  What is this, you ask? It's fresh lychees, a fine lychee granita, and some delicious buttery crumbs.  The combo is so delicious - fresh from the cold granita, chewy juicy lychees, and then the right amount of salty, buttery crunch.

In short, I was super impressed by Osaka and would go there again. The atmosphere was hip, and the price makes it worth it to experiment a little on the menu.  Or maybe I'd just been in Tunis for too long and am easily impressed.  Either way, 9 out of 10 for Osaka!

pork tenderloin + fruits and nuts

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As I've blabbed about before a zillion times, pork tenderloin is one of my absolute favorite cuts of meat.  More exciting than chicken but just as healthy, it lends itself well to all sorts of flavors.  This particular recipe is an easy way to use up all those dried fruits in the pantry, and all you need is a little dessert wine on hand. 

a great mix of sweet and savory


An assortment of dried fruits, plus some sweet Tunisian wine

Roast your pine nuts by putting them in a hot pan with no oil

cover your fruits in boiling water, let rest for 20 minutes

the sauce at full boil

savory and sweet!

Ingredients
2 pork tenderloin steaks
1 c mixed dried fruits (any combination prunes, raisins, currants, cranberries, cherries)
1/8 c pine nuts
1 c pork, beef, or chicken broth
sweet wine (any kind)
salt and pepper
butter
dried sage (optional)

Preparation
The best way to make this is in an ovenproof skillet. If you don't have one, just use a regular frying pan and then a baking pan to finish off the pork.  First, soak your fruits.  Put them in a bowl and cover with boiling water, then let sit for about 20 minutes.  When they are plump, squeeze out the liquid and reserve the liquid. 

Next, toast your pine nuts! This is easy.  Turn on the heat on, toss them in a pan, and toast them until they start getting brown and fragrant.  Set aside. 

Preheat your oven to 350.  For your pork, make sure the pieces are dry (pat them dry with a paper towel), and then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and sage.  In your pan, heat up a little olive oil and butter and brown the pork on all sides.  Once browned, put the skillet in the oven (or remove the pork and put into a greased baking pan) and bake for about 10-15 minutes.  I know that doesn't seem like a lot, but you will pull it out of the oven and the pork will continue to cook on the counter while resting. 

Using the same pan you used for the pork, heat up a tiny bit of butter and add a swing of sweet wine, scraping up the brown bits with a wooden spoon.  When the wine has cooked down a bit, add the broth and turn the heat to medium.  Let it reduce a little bit and add the dried fruits and the juice they left behind.  During all this your pork is resting and letting off juice.  Add that juice back in with your sauce, which should be simmering and reducing. 

Reduce sauce until it is pretty thick (if this is taking too long or not working out for you, remove a little liquid and add in a tsp of cornstarch, then add that mix back into the sauce).  While the sauce is finishing, slice the pork on a diagonal and arrange on a plate.  If the pork is too rare, just stick back in the oven for 5-10 more minutes.  Put the pork on a platter and top with sauce (which you have checked for salt), then sprinkle pine nuts on it and serve.  If you happen to have fresh herbs, like parsley, they will look nice on top. 

have you ever tried dim sum?

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If you have never tried dim sum, please clear your Sunday morning calendar and go this weekend STAT.  No excuses!  Dim sum is the Chinese equivalent of brunch.  You sit down, and (if the place is authentic) a ton of little carts will drive by your table offering various little portions of stuff, like the steamed pork buns shown below.  The waitress will mark a paper at your table with what you got off the cart, and dishes normally range between $2-5 each. 

I highly recommend any kind of dumpling, the steamed buns, some vegetables (like Chinese mustard greens or bok choy) and whatever else looks interesting, such as chicken feet.  Bon appetit (or the Chinese equivalent of that phrase). 

Steamed pork buns

Shiumai (shrimp steamed dumplings - ask for vinegar to dip these in)

chinese stir fried beef

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My love affair with Chinese food is obvious to everyone.  I spent a semester abroad in Hong Kong, and let me tell you some of my best memories include eating weird shit at street stalls at 4AM and then taking a light bus to the dorms.  Alas, a decade later, here I am, making my own Chinese food.  This recipe below is for stir-fried beef, which you can make with broccoli or peppers or whatever.

Flank steak is the perfect cut, slice it thin

Mix with cornstarch and seasonings, let sit for 30 minutes

stir fry in a hot wok

add your other cooked elements back in

Ingredients
1 lb flank steak
1 green pepper, cut into thin slices
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp minced ginger
1 onion, cut into thick slices
cornstarch
1 packet of seasoning from ramen noodles (or seasoned salt)
soy sauce
rice wine (or any cooking wine)
salt
pepper

Preparation
Cut your flank steak into thin strips, and put in a bowl.  Sprinkle with cornstarch (1 tsp at most), then add the seasoning packet, a swig of wine, a swig of soy sauce, and a dash of salt and pepper.  Let it sit for 30 minutes. 

In your wok, heat up some peanut or canola oil and fry the onions and peppers at the same time.  When they are soft (you may need to add a bit of water as they are cooking), remove them from the heat.  In the leftover oil, toss the garlic and ginger, and stir a little bit until fragrant.  Add the beef and stir, until beef is nicely browned.  Add the peppers and onions back in.  Taste. Enjoy. 

Troubleshooting tips: If your sauce is too runny, it probably means your beef was frozen and let out a bunch of water, or you otherwise messed it up.  The solution is to remove the excess liquid, take a bit of cornstarch and mix it into the liquid in a cup, then pour the contents back in the wok and reduce until desired consistency.  If your dish is too salty, you can add a bit of lime juice to cut the saltiness.

nutter butter at Avec

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To continue my food trip through Chicago, my friend Victoria and I went to Avec, a little restaurant that features a smattering of European influences but pretty much boils down to your basic foodie chef-centrist American nuveau cuisine restaurant.  Of course, I was starving and trying to eat with an active small child, so I neglected to take pictures of our entrees.  We had orecchiette with braised duck, olives, tomato, calabrian chiles, summer squash and asiago and roasted rainbow trout with donut peaches, fresh garbanzo, mustard greens and chili-preserved meyer lemon vinaigrette.  Both were outstanding.  

My only qualm about the restaurant was the borderline surly waitress - she needs to go. There's nothing I hate more than someone who serves you but implies they are more refined and qualified to be there than you.  Listen, no one is as much of a foodie nerd as I! Seriously, I may not be wearing my cooking prize badges, but I am a patron and should be treated nicely. Aside from this, I must also give special mention to the nutter butter dessert (pictured below).  It was a great salty-caramel-toffee-fudge concoction.  So, in sum, I give Avec a 7 out of 10, and it would have been a 9 or 10 were it not for the retarded service.  



For a similar recipe, check out these Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars from Epicurious. 

raspberry egg sandwich

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Last week I went to Chicago, which is a very good food town.  I kept thinking of that SNL skit parodying Mike Ditka, the Chicago Bears coach, which always featured him eating loads of fried and unhealthy foods and drinking beer.  No joke, you can eat like that in Chicago.  Viva the midwest!  I had my fill of various "traditional" foods like deep dish pizza, a Chicago dog, and an Italian beef sandwich (which was like a cheesesteak).  We also ate a ton of other great food, including dim sum, brunch food (featured below), high-end fusion food, southern-style barbeque, Persian, and sushi.  Anyway, the sandwich below was nothing to write home about, from Orange Restaurant, a brunch place.  HOWEVER, I did like the idea of including a sweet taste in what essentially was a savory sandwich.  I guess I wasn't enthused because the description was so fancy "raspberry pink peppercorn sandwich" ... and then it just tasted like a sandwich with raspberry jam ... which is what is was.  Here's a way to recreate this below:

raspberry-peppercorn egg sandwich on wheat bread


Ellen had a vegetable omelet

Ingredients
2 slices wheat bread, toasted
1 egg, beaten
2 slices bacon
raspberry jam
pink peppercorns, grounded (or regular ground pepper)
arugula leaves

Preparation
To make a good omelet, use a nonstick pan or a ton of butter.  Beat your egg.  Some people add milk, yogurt, or a bit of sour cream to the egg.  Heat up the pan on low-medium heat, add some butter, and pour your egg in.  When the egg is beginning to set, take the pan handle and give it a violent shake away from you (following a horizontal line outward).  The omelet should begin to turn on itself.  If it doesn't, or it sticks, you should not shoot yourself - it's going into a sandwich and doesn't need to be pretty.  Salt and pepper it.

Next, make your bacon. I like making bacon in a microwave ... trust! Just put down two paper towels, your bacon, and then cover with a paper towel.  Heat for 1-2 minutes (depending on the strength of your microwave) or until bacon is done.  This is way easier than juggling bacon in a pan during a busy brunch preparation. 

Assemble the rest of your sandwich. Enjoy. 

upright roasted chicken

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Throwing a bird in the oven is the easiest thing in the world to fix for a weeknight or weekend dinner.  You should budget about an hour and a half start to finish, with 15 minutes more if you want to make a pan sauce.   There are two ways to roast - vertical and horizontal.  As you can see from the pic below, this is a vertical roasting strategy - I know, raping the bird like this seems weird, but the results are delicious.  Vertical roasters will set you back about $12 (you can find this upright roaster on Amazon), which is like the one in the picture.  You can then put a spice rub or just salt and pepper on it.  The other variation, if you don't have a roaster like this, is to put a giant half-empty beer can up the bird's ass. 


Ingredients
1 roasting chicken, remove giblets and any innards
prepared spice rub, or salt and pepper
butter

Preparation
Heat your oven to 375.  Place your chicken in the roaster, and cover it with softened butter.  Rub in the spice rub (or salt and pepper).  If you want, put a little water in the drippings pan so the drippings don't burn at first.  Roast for about an hour.  How do you know if it's done? Cut a little slit in the thigh - if the juices run clear, it is done.  Don't worry about undercooking, as that can be fixed later.  Take bird out and carve it.  If you don't know how you can watch this video: how to carve a chicken.  If you carve it and find out it's raw still, simply put the pieces and juices back in your pan, and roast for 15-20 more minutes at 375 until they are done. 

behold the sonoran hot dog

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If this is any indication of the type of food I'll be eating when I get to Mexico (we're moving to Mexico City next week), I'll probably be well on my way to a heart attack by age 45.  Today, I sampled the one and only Sonoran hot dog, at the legendary El Guero Canelo (loosely translated to the light-skinned redhead, which I guess describes the owner, who is Mexican but whatever).  The hot dog is on a buttery bun and consists of a weiner wrapped in bacon, topped with mayonnaise, mustard, jalapeno sauce, tomatoes, and beans.  I thought I would be disgusted, but it was good.  Please note you can get a "sammy" which has TWO weiners.  It reminds me of that scene in Blades of Glory with the two hot dogs on a bun and the dude saying "does that look right to you??"). 



I also found this is on the website describing the owner, which I think is interesting.  "In 1979, Daniel Contreras, Immigrated to Tucson, Arizona looking for the American Dream, and holding a dishwasher position as his first job in The Unites States. In October 20th, 1993 Daniel Contreras, Began selling carne asada and sonoran style Hot dogs, from a carreta on 12th avenue and Utah street, about a block and a half towards the north, in an empty lot. In 1997, The first El Guero Canelo Restaurant opened its doors for business on 5201 S. 12th avenue now known as EGC #1."

quirky baked potatoes

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As is customary for me, I get involved in cooking these big complex dinners and then don't take adequate photographs of my hard work! Below are hasselback potatoes, or so I have learned from a nice cooking blog called Sea Salt with Food.  Hilariously, you can see the photos below are the very nice photography result, and the "real" thing with bad fluorescent lighting in my boss' house (where I cooked a dinner for 15 bankers).  Anyway, this recipe is a fancy way to dress up any day potatoes for a dinner party. The final result (despite the bad lighting) did turn out more like the first picture - I promise!

Ingredients
As many potatoes as you'd like
butter
olive oil
sea salt
a sharp knife

Preparation
Technique is everything with these potatoes.  First, scrub them and make them look pretty.  Second, slice thinly all the way down until the very end of the potato, being careful to not slice all the way through! Do it slowly, with a sharp knife, and make sure the slices are very very thin.

Grease a baking sheet and heat oven to 350.  Place potatoes in the oven, drizzle with olive oil, top with butter (as pictured), and cook for 45 min - 1 hour.  To serve, sprinkle with sea salt and ground pepper.  Make sure to make an extra one you can split apart and taste before serving - you want it to be cooked all the way.  If the potatoes are browning too fast, just put foil over them and put back in the oven at 325.

Enjoy!

squash ravioli with butter sage sauce

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I'm a busy person. I have a crazy job, a 1yr old child, and lots of social obligations.  However, since food is important to me I take time out to make special things every once in a while, and this includes some homemade ravioli from scratch.  Granted, this does take a while and requires special equipment (a pasta maker, a ravioli cutter, and a ravioli tray) but man oh man the results are worth it.  What I like to do is spend a few hours cooking on the weekend and then freeze some of this stuff for a quick dinner later.  This particular ravioli is stuffed with squash and then tossed in a quick butter-sage sauce. 

This is the final product!

After cutting off the hard shell, dice and boil your squash

Try to get roughly even pieces

The basics of homemade pasta - flour, eggs, and olive oil

Make a nice dough

The let it sit wrapped in a cloth

Roll it through the pasta machine


Lay the sheet on the ravioli maker pan, then put in the filling (I used a plastic bag with the corner cut off)

This is what they look like before boiling

and again on the plate

with delicious filling!

Ingredients

For pasta dough:
1 2/3 c flour
2 eggs
small swig of olive oil
pinch of salt

For filling:
3 c uncooked squash, in chunks
1 tsp sugar
dash of cinnamon
dash of salt

For sauce: 
1/4 c fresh sage leaves
butter

Preparation
To make the pasta, you can do it two ways: manually or with a food processor.  If using a processor, just put all the ingredients in there, mix until it forms a dough ball, and then take out an knead for 5 minutes (if you don't know how to knead, just Youtube it).  If you are doing it manually, make a "volcano" with your flour, break the eggs in the middle, and gently mix the flour with the egg from the outside edges in until it forms a dough.  Knead as described.  Wrap it up tightly in plastic wrap or a cloth, and let rest for 30 minutes.  

While your dough is sitting, make your filling.  Boil the squash with salted water until it is tender.  Place in food processor or blender with the other ingredients, tasting for salt and pepper.  Consistency is key here.  If your puree is too thick, you can add a little water.  If' it's too runny, then you can put it all back in a saucepan and boil it until it reduces. 

After 30 minutes, remove dough from plastic wrap, knead a few times more (add flour if the pasta is too wet and a little olive oil if it's too dry).  Using your pasta maker, ring half the ball through the settings, starting on 1 and rolling through each setting until it's the thinnest.  I guess you could do this with a rolling pin if you really wanted to. 

Lay out your pasta sheet on the ravioli maker.  Put your filling in a plastic ziplock bag and cut off a tiny corner - this will be your makeshift pastry filler!  Carefully fill the raviolis, and then top with another pasta sheet, pressing down on the seams of the ravioli.  With a ravioli cutter, cut the pieces on the seams, making sure they are sealed so that your filling doesn't ooze out and ruin the fruits of your painstaking labor. 

To cook, you should boil salted water and toss them in one at a time -- they are done when they float to the top (I like to take them out with a slotted spoon).  If you want to freeze, I recommend parboiling them (boiling them for a few minutes) and then putting on a cookie sheet and freezing them individually, then tossing them into a bag. 

For the sage sauce, it's so simple your mind will be blown - melt butter, add sage leaves, cook until sage leaves are beginning to crisp (watch out your butter doesn't brown!). 

Top cooked ravioli with butter sauce and gobble it down.