Category Archives: what’s for dinner

Naoberly’s Noodle Tour: Ramen-San

Ramen-SanNaoto and I are back in a ramen groove again…which is perfect timing since we are still in the dead of winter around here. Last weekend, we tried Ramen-san in the River North neighborhood of Chicago. I wish I’d taken more pictures of the entire restaurant. It’s rustic-modern with beautiful exposed brick walls, semi-communal tables and bench seating. It was just the right amount of noisy and while we were there (early dinner on Saturday night), they turned down the lights and showed the Bulls game on the brick walls. Ramen-SanWe started with cocktails. Naoto got an Asahi (He loves finding Japanese beers on tap!) and I got a Singapore Sling. Can you believe I’ve never had a Singapore Sling before? It was so good–gin, pineapple, Cherry Heering, Benedictine and lime, all beautifully topped with a slice of pineapple and decadent Luxardo cherries. Ramen-SanWe ordered the shrimp & pork wontons, which were a little spicy and really tasty. It was a nice warm-up for our big bowls of ramen. Ramen-SanI have to say that the ramen presentation at Ramen-san was pretty lackluster. It kind of looked like my ramen was just thrown in the bowl, which was a bit surprising considering this was the priciest ramen we’ve had and the restaurant itself was very polished. In spite of it all, the ramen was very tasty. I got the tonkotsu ramen, which is pretty traditional with its pork broth, chashu pork slices and soft cooked egg. The broth was really tasty and the noodles were cooked perfectly.ramen sanNaoto had the Kimchi & Fried Chicken Ramen. He really liked this spicy and unusual take on traditional ramen. He said it had just the right amount of heat to warm him up and he loved that the fried chicken was still crispy, even in the broth! Ramen-SanBecause we were taking the L, we got drinks for dessert. Naoto got another beer and I tried the Cilantro-Lime Margarita. It was rich and delicious with its special addition of yuzu (my favorite Japanese citrus) and spicy lime salt.

Ramen-san is the latest in our Ramen Adventures. Here are the links to our previous journeys:

Slurping Turtle

Misoya

 

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Homemaker’s Challenge #5: Sushi

making sushi at homeNaoto and I made homemade sushi in December. (Naoto did all of the work, but someone had to be in charge of taking photos, right?) It’s something that’s been on our to-do list for awhile, and Naoto saw a holiday sale for sashimi-grade tuna so he brought some home on a whim. He also bought a sushi maki, the bamboo contraption that helps roll the sushi rolls. making sushi at home, seasoning riceWe made regular rice using our rice cooker and, once the rice was cooked, we seasoned it with sushi rice seasoning (sushinoko). All of the instructions were in Japanese but I think we used two tablespoons for two cups of rice. It gave the rice a little bit of a vinegar flavor, which apparently helps to highlight the fish. making sushi at home, slicing tunaWhen the rice was cool, Naoto worked on the tuna. To make sushi, you have to use sashimi-grade fish. You can’t just go to the grocery store and choose any piece of fish, leave it raw and call it sushi. (This article muddies the waters…it’s unclear what determines if fish is “sashimi-grade”. I think the bottom line is…only shop at trusted places and this is not the time to be shopping for day-old specials.) Naoto got our piece of tuna from Mitsuwa, where sashimi-grade tuna is about $32/pound (regular price). Thankfully, the small piece of fish (a little larger than a deck of cards) was the perfect size for our sushi appetizer.

Naoto sliced the tuna into 1/2 inch pieces. making sushi at homeHe cut the nori (seaweed sheets) into pieces just long enough to fit the tuna. Then he spread the rice, leaving two and a half inches at the top empty for rolling. (He also covered the sushi maki with plastic wrap. Apparently this is a restaurant tip to keep the sushi maki clean.) Keeping a bowl of warm water on hand to wash off the sticky rice was helpful, too. making sushi at home, adding wasabi and tunaAfter dabbing on a bit of wasabi, he laid down the fish about one inch up on the rice end of the nori. making sushi at home, rolling sushiNext, he rolled up the sushi tightly. making sushi at homeI don’t think it was a bad first attempt, but it was hard to get the right amount of rice. Next time, we need to work on using less rice or cut thicker pieces of tuna to make up for the rice. It’s definitely harder than it looks to get the perfect amount of rice and a nice, tight roll going on. Sushi chefs make it look too easy! making sushi at home, presley tries tunaEven Presley got into the sushi action with a taste of fresh tuna. She loved it, obviously.

All-in-all it was a lot of fun and a tasty experiment. I think we are going to devote a Hasegawa Happy Hour to sushi making soon, where we will add some more ingredients like avocado and cucumber and maybe another type of fish.

To see the other Homemaker’s Challenge posts, go here.

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Summer Fresh Salsa

summer fresh salsa ingredientsI’ve been on the obvious end-of-summer mission to use up our tomato crop. In the last week, I’ve eaten tomato sandwiches, BLTs, roasted tomato caprese salad, panzanella, plain ol’ caprese salad, and I’ve added tomatoes to every other meal I’ve made or eaten. And still…there are tomatoes.

Since we have so many Juliets (which are slightly larger than grape tomatoes and are not well-suited for sandwiches because of their tiny size) I decided to make salsa last weekend. I started with this recipe and made some tweaks to give it the freshest flavor possible.

Summer Fresh Salsa

24-30 Juliet tomatoes (or 6-7 Romas), chopped

2-3 Jalapeño, seeded and diced

1 red, yellow or orange  pepper, diced

1/2 red onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

handful cilantro, chopped

1-2 limes, juiced

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt, to tastesummer fresh salsaChop and stir the vegetables and herbs together. Add olive oil, salt and one lime. Taste and add more lime or salt as needed. (I usually use two limes because I like things citrusy.)

This salsa is very fresh, but if you prefer something more spicy, you can add chili peppers, chili powder some of the jalapeño seeds to heat things up. Try to make it ahead of time and chill it in the fridge to allow the flavors to meld. summer fresh salsaIsn’t it a pretty salsa? I love the colors and the crunch and the garlic and the citrus…and of course the tomatoes. Those perfect garden Juliet gems really make a good salsa. I’m so thankful for our bountiful harvest!

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Naoberly’s Noodle Tour: Slurping Turtle

Slurping Turtle Chicago, ILOur ramen tour continued last weekend with a trip to Slurping Turtle in Chicago. I read about Slurping Turtle in this Thrillist article of the best ramen shops in the country. It didn’t take much coaxing to get Naoto to join me for another ramen adventure on Saturday (even though yet again, it was super hot and humid outside.) Slurping Turtle Chicago, IL Slurping Turtle Chicago, ILThe nice thing about Slurping Turtle for us is that it is a quick train ride away. It’s in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, which is a quick walk from the Clark & Lake station. We made it downtown in time for an early lunch (which may explain why the restaurant is pretty empty in my pictures.)

The restaurant is very different from Misoya. It is sleek and modern, offering booth seating and a giant communal table in the middle. There is a full bar and the Slurping Turtle menu offers more than ramen–there are appetizers, bao, bento boxes, sushi and rice dishes. We went for the noodles though. IMG_7768Because it was Saturday and because we rode the train, we decided to get a drink. Naoto had a Sapporo and I had the Groundhog Day cocktail–gin, Luxardo Bitter Liqueur, Yellow Chartreuse, Grenadine and lime. It was really refreshing and reminded me of a Negroni.

The Trillist article recommended the Roasted Chicken Shoyu Ramen, but unfortunately that was not on the menu. (It seems that Slurping Turtle changes their menu with the seasons, so maybe it will come back?) tonkotusu ramen, Slurping Turtle Chicago, ILNaoto got the Tonkotsu ramen, which is similar to what he had at Misoya. It had homemade ramen noodles, braised pork, bok choy, pickled mustard greens, braised mushrooms and scallions swimming in the salty pork broth. It was really good, and I liked the braised pork. Though it was definitely different than the grilled pork of Misoya, it was seasoned well and was really moist and tasty. Slurping TurtleAs you can tell, Naoto really enjoyed his bowl of ramen. He liked the addition of the chili oil and he loved the homemade noodles.Hiyashi Chu-Ka, Slurping TurtleI went rogue and ordered a cold noodle dish, the Hiyashi Chu-Ka. It had homemade ramen noodles, carrots asparagus, kabocha squash, broccolini, seaweed alongside crab sticks, shrimp, pork and ham gently tossed with a citrus-soy dressing. I am a sucker for anything with a citrus-soy dressing and this dish was the perfect cure for a hot summer day. I loved everything about my dish. It was fresh and hearty. The homemade noodles were firm and held the dressing perfectly. The citrus-soy complemented every bite of noodle, meat and vegetable without overpowering. Between this dish and my cocktail, I was a cool cucumber for the walk back to the train. bathroom sign, slurping turtle bathroom sign, slurping turtleBefore we walked to the train, we stopped downstairs to use the restrooms. I had to take a picture of the cutie turtles on the restroom signs. I’m not sure what the fruit basket turtle was all about but the guy in the smoking jacket pretty much stole my heart.

I can’t wait to go back to the Turtle!

Slurping Turtle is located at 116 W. Hubbard Street in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. 

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Naoberly’s Noodle Tour: Ramen Misoya

Ramen Misoya ChicagoTuesday definitely wasn’t ramen weather–it was humid and in the nineties, but that didn’t stop us from visiting our favorite lunch spot out by Mitsuwa, Ramen Misoya. Misoya is a Japanese chain that is fairly new–only a year old–to Chicagoland. We’ve eaten there a few times and although I’m not always the biggest ramen eater, I absolutely love this place. Ramen Misoya ChicagoRamen Misoya ChicagoThe funny thing is, Misoya took over the space of one of our old favorites, Tori Shin, a Japanese izakaya that was run by the husband of a woman I used to work with. The place looks almost the same as it did in the old days, but instead of a sushi counter, there is a tiny kitchen with boiling pots of noodles and delicious broth. The restaurant is pretty small and rumor has it that there is sometimes a line to get inside, especially for weekend dinners.

If you are looking for sushi, teriyaki chicken or green tea ice cream, this is not the place. There are very little offerings outside of ramen, but that’s a good thing because the chefs are working on making bowl after bowl of tasty ramen. They have it perfected.

The ramen noodles, handmade at the California location, are firm and thick and they hold up well in the broth. Misoya offers three options of broth for their ramen and then loads of options of meats and vegetables to have with the noodles. The three broth options are pork based broths with different types of miso mixed in. They are described by the regions of their origins:

The Kyoto-style is made with shiro miso and is light and fruity.

The Nagoya-style is made with mame miso, which is aged and is dark and slightly bitter.

And, my favorite, the Hokkaido-style is made with kome miso and it is full bodied and oh so delicious. Ramen Misoya ChicagoI order the Hokkaido-style Kome Miso Cha-shu (pictured above). In the bowl, swimming with the noodles are  marinated bamboo chutes, fried potatoes, scallions, corn, bean sprouts, sweet ground pork and to top it all off, three slabs of marinated grilled pork. I am not a big pork eater, but I have to say, this stuff is amazing. The charred flavor really adds a fantastic smoky taste to the ramen. Next time I’m going to get the same thing, but add a soft boiled egg just to be adventurous. Ramen Misoya ChicagoNaoto always tries something new. This time he got a special tonkotsu (pork bone marrow) ramen with clams. It included a lot of the same toppings as my bowl, but his had a soft boiled egg, fish cake and nori (seaweed) as well. He loved it.

Ramen is super salty, so thankfully the staff is attentive to the water glasses. Oh, and just like izakaya in Japan, the entire Misoya staff stops to greet you when you arrive and to thank you when you leave…I love this place!

Misoya is located in a tiny strip mall at 1584 S Busse Road (Busse and Dempster) in Mt. Prospect. It’s only a little over a mile from Mitsuwa, making it the perfect dinner spot after you shop! 

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Trader Joe’s Panko-Breaded Tilapia

trader Joes, tilapia, panko breaded, frozen, bulldog sauceIt’s been awhile since I’ve talked about Trader Joe’s…

Last month, Naoto brought home a box of frozen fish. I’m not usually a fan of frozen fish, but I agreed to try this because it was Panko-breaded tilapia filets. Panko breadcrumbs are the best breadcrumbs. (Panko could have its own Japan Does It Better post!) And tilapia is my favorite fish because it’s not too fishy and it has a nice texture. I’ve eaten several meals of panko-breaded tilapia since then. I’m a fan.

trader joe's The box comes with four filets, each individually wrapped, making it perfect for work widows like me. I just take one out, pop it on a cookie sheet and bake it for twenty-five minutes, flipping once at twelve minutes. The panko breading is thick and crispy and the fish is moist. We love it topped with our favorite Japanese condiment, Bull-Dog sauce. Bull-Dog sauce is used most often for tonkatsu (panko breaded pork). It is kind of like America’s Heinz 57 sauce but fruitier and tangier…it’s hard to explain, but it’s delicious, especially on fried foods because the tanginess complements the heaviness of the breading. Trader Joe recommends topping the tilapia with their corn salsa, but trust me…nothing is going to beat Bull-Dog sauce! (You can find it in Asian markets.)

We had this for dinner on Sunday night along with couscous and a tasty salad (painstakingly chopped by Naoto-the-slicing & dicing-perfectionist.)

If you’d like to see more Trader Joe’s posts, go here.

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Easter Sunday & Roasted Grapes

dunkin donutsYesterday was Easter, but even better than that, it finally felt like real spring outside–warm enough to wear a dress and spend some time outside writing letters, and warm enough to sleep with the windows open. Bliss. blue skyEven my “anniversary tree” is budding and looking more spring-like. I’m excited to plant some flowers and plan a balcony party or two. roasted grape appetizerWe spent Easter evening at our neighbor-friend, Karen’s. We joined her family party, which included Karen’s ninety-nine year old grandmother (who didn’t look a day over seventy-five!)

I made an appetizer of roasted grapes and manchego cheese and like last week, it seemed like a hit. (It really is hard to tell if people are just being polite or if they truly love your cooking.) I love easy and unique recipes (much like my beloved ricotta) and this one is going to be a new go-to for happy hours and dinners around here. Also, I bet it would be tasty with the ricotta…

Roasted Grapes with Honey & Thyme

(adapted slightly from Right at Home)

1 pound seedless red grapes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh thyme (stems removed)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon honey

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a cookie sheet with foil and set aside.

Wash grapes and remove from stems. Dry the grapes on a tea towel to remove excess moisture and place in a large bowl. Add olive oil, thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Stir to coat.

Pour grapes onto cookie sheet and place in oven until skins pop (about fifteen minutes). There will be a little bit of grape juice in the pan.

Remove from oven and drizzle with honey.

Serve warm or at room temperature with manchego cheese and crackers.

Because I was serving the grapes with cheese and crackers, I used a slotted spoon to transfer them from the pan to the serving bowl. If you were serving the grapes with chicken or desserts, the juice would be a delicious addition. And while the original recipe called for two teaspoons of thyme, I think extra thyme is a welcomed flavor, especially with the manchego cheese.

appetizer tableKaren made her famous pimento cheese (along with a traditional Easter dinner) and made us feel like family. Thanks for a fun time, Karen!!

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Empty Bowls

empty bowls 2014A couple of weeks ago, I attended Empty Bowls, a fundraiser hosted by Oak Park-River Forest High School and its Wheel Throwing Club. Empty Bowls raises money to help West Suburban PADS (a shelter program) and the local food pantry. For $15 you get a handmade bowl and some soup and bread.  The bowls are made and donated by OPRF students and the soup is made and donated by local grocery stores and restaurants. The event feels very community-driven. My friend Karen goes every year and this year Jackie and I joined her. I’m only sad I didn’t know about it sooner. Many communities host Empty Bowls, so I highly recommend seeing if there’s one near you.

our bowlsThere were hundreds of bowls to choose from–big ones, little ones, well-made ones, imperfect ones, colorful ones, natural ones–it was seriously hard to choose. I think we each swapped out our choices at least once. Jackie ended up with a blue spotted bowl and Karen’s was a green ombre. My bowl (bottom center) is speckled white. It reminds me of a bird’s egg. Taking your bowl home serves “as a gentle reminder of the many empty bowls that need filling world wide.” (Quote taken from the Empty Bowls website.)

chicken noodle soupDuring the fundraiser, my bowl held a hearty portion of chicken noodle soup. Today it’s sitting on my desk reminding me that I have enough.

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Mini Olympics Party

international flag bannerOn Friday night, I hosted a mini party for the Olympics Opening Ceremony. Even though it was a small party, I felt compelled to decorate just a little bit. (I find the decorations distract guests from my messy desk.) I searched Pinterest for some ideas and found this fun flag print-out.Presley and the USA flag I trimmed out the flags of participating countries (they all weren’t represented, sadly) and pasted them around some baker’s twine. (Presley helped. She’s on Team USA.)olympics decorations I made two separate garlands and hung them up over the TV–front and center with the Olympic action–and right next to the official Adami Hasegawa Medal Count board. Naoto and I have a medal count competition–USA v Japan. Olympics appetizersFor snacks, I made these cheese crackers and these salami crisps. The cheese crackers were delicious and couldn’t have been simpler. I made the dough early in the afternoon, rolled it into the log and kept it in the fridge. Then, right before the guests came, I sliced the crackers and  popped them in the oven. My house smelled delicious and the crackers were amazing right out of the oven.

The sausage crisps were easy too. I used thinly sliced Trader Joe’s Chianti sausage and instead of Giada’s recommended basil, I used dill for topping…I love dill, and I felt like it was more “Russian”.

It was a fun way to welcome back the games and to gear up for two weeks of snow and ice (both on TV and outside…I don’t think our snow is going to melt until April.)

P.S. I really wanted to make these Olympic torch snacks.

P.P.S. For another Olympic party, go here.

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Our Thanksgiving 2013

vintage style thanksgiving tableIt’s not too late to share our Thanksgiving, right?

Naoto and I hosted my parents for Thanksgiving dinner last Thursday afternoon. As usual, we had a grand time with them, cooking, eating, drinking and cleaning up the massive kitchen mess. And as it has been for the past seven years, Naoto did all of the cooking (except the cranberries!) and I did all of the cleaning and decorating. Nourishing Notes apronIn honor of his Thanksgiving duties, I gave Naoto this apron that I bought from Nourishing Notes during Show of Hands. He rocked the apron with his pajamas all day long. (It was a very relaxed holiday.) vintage thanksgiving tableEver since I made the vintage ephemera Thanksgiving invitations, I had visions of incorporating some more ephemera into the table centerpiece. And, since I was using old paper, it only made sense to get vintage colors and vintage dishes into the mix. The wonderful thing was, other than the flowers, I had everything I needed right in my china cabinet and buffet. (It pays to be a dish hoarder sometimes.)vintage thanksgiving tableTaylor Smith Taylor Brocatelle Vintage DishesI was excited to use my vintage Taylor Smith Taylor dishes. My mom and I found a whole set at a thrift store for $10 a few years ago and I bought them with the intent of using them for Thanksgiving. They were perfect for the table this year. (And thanks, Mom, for hand washing them after dinner!) Naoto carving the turkeyNaoto’s turkey was perfect, the stuffing was amazing (in spite of a close call with an almost-forgotten egg) and, along with the cranberries, we enjoyed fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy, roasted cauliflower, Hawaiian rolls and a tasty caramel apple cheesecake that my mom made. There is a reason I look forward to this meal every year. (But man, am I ever ready for pizza after the long weekend of leftovers!)thanksgiving dinnerThe chef was glad to have another successful year under his apron belt. chef naotoToday I am (finally) putting away Thanksgiving for another year, and hopefully dipping into the Christmas decorations. We are hosting two small parties the next two weekends, so time to break out the Christmas spirit. It’s one of those years when retailers make you feel like you’re running behind…cheers to enjoying the season!

If you’d like to relive Thanksgiving 2012, go here.

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