Bulerias Tapas Restaurant, Chicago

>> Monday, May 15, 2017




We've been to Bulerias twice, once for a birthday celebration and once for Mother's Day lunch. I really want to love this place - it has so much going for it - but I'm not in love.

First, it's hard to tell online whether the dancing shows are ticketed/paid or free. Luckily for us, the first time we reserved the downstairs area and got to see the show, which is really spectacular. Unluckily, we were so close to the stage that the dancer's fringed costume swept through my food a couple of times. Blech.

On our recent visit, our group of seven made reservations ahead of time and then confirmed it in a later phone call, but they didn't have our reservation. They sat us anyway, though, so it's all good.I would note though that the tables are small and close together; if our server hadn't been on top of our used plates, we would have had trouble!

The food is wonderful. My favorites are the bacon-wrapped dates, mild grilled octopus, and flank steak on crostini with blue cheese. Oh, and the potatoes alli olio! Good sized portions, well-prepared, and all the tapas came quickly after we ordered. They have a nice wine list and good sangria. One of our guests is on a restrictive no-cholesterol diet, and while he wasn't able to share some of the tapas us fat-lovin' people ate, he found some satisfying items to order.

We spent a long time at lunch and it would have been much more enjoyable if we could hear each other talk. We really wanted to catch up with each other but it was difficult. We were in an alcove and the music was extremely loud; even the waiter had trouble hearing us and made some ordering mistakes because of it. We asked him to turn down the noise but he said he couldn't do anything about it. That seemed strange, since he said he could turn the TV to any game we wanted...but couldn't adjust the volume of the music.

There are many tapas places in Chicago so once they have the food nailed down, it's the extra touches of service and atmosphere that determine where people will dine. Bulerias has some problems that could easily be fixed.  I hope they get on it!


Bulerias Tapas Bar is at 3656 N Ashland Ave. Chicago, IL 60613 
buleriastapas.com 

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Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Rollups

>> Sunday, April 30, 2017


Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Rollups


My bio-dad, Rick, was an avid fisherman in Southwestern Michigan. His first fishing boat, the Cricket, was a little four-seater that he took out on the small sleepy lakes that speckled our county. On foggy early mornings, a thermos of coffee for him, hot chocolate for me, our gear and a good book, we were off into the lilypads and quiet inlets of Little Paw Paw Lake.


I don't remember whether I actually caught any fish, and I have a hunch than my dad might have allowed me to claim that the fish I'm holding in the picture were ones that I bagged. I didn't like the whole fishing process - I felt sorry for the worm, sorry for the fish, and grossed out by touching the bait. But I did love to drowse in the sun with a good book and hang out with him. He was not very talkative on the boat but could tell a good story.

Later on, he traded up into a bigger boat, the SherAn (a combo name of his daughters Sheryl and Angela). I can't tell you anything about boats or sizes but the engine was bigger, there was storage under the seats instead of lake water, and there was a glass windshield. There was also a Fish Lo-K-Tor and downriggers that Rick hand-machined and lovingly attached. He was taking this one out on the big lake.

Rick caught steelhead trout, coho salomn and sturgeon on Lake Michigan, and went smelting in the spring off the St. Joseph piers. One of the most scary and exhilarating sights was to head off from a storm barrelling across the lake, when there was only the boat, the gray water, the rain, and the sky. The horizon was a seamless blend of lake and air. Seems like we always came home ravenous.


One year he bought a four-shelf smoker about three feet tall, and began smoking the fish for a change of taste. His smoked coho salmon was brown-fleshed, rather than the bright color of ocean salmon, but densely flavored and tender.

Recently, a friend gave me a gift of home-smoked salmon, and it brought back all kinds of memories of boats and reading Zilpha Keatley Snyder and Native American legends and steaming rich plastic cups of cocoa, and my dad telling me pay attention, I had a bite.

Fishing season has begun on Lake Michigan, though I no longer have a boat. If you have avid fishing friends with access to a fish smoker, they might offer you a few pieces of fresh-smoked coho or steelhead. I made these smoked salmon rollups with my friend's fish, and each morsel was a taste of the past.

Ingredients

1/2 cup chives, chopped
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
1 tsp lemon zest
8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
4 oz smoked salmon
1 small cucumber
12 spikes of green onions
8-10 flour tortillas

Directions


Mix well the chives, dill, lemon zest, and cream cheese. Slice the salmon as thinly as possible. If you have a kitchen mandolin, this might help. My salmon had been frozen and was rather crumbly when I defrosted it, so I shredded it instead.

Thinly slice the cucumber lengthwise. I bet a kitchen mandolin would work well for this too, but I don't have one so I used a vegetable peeler.


Bend the package of tortillas back and forth a couple of times to prevent them from sticking together. Microwave the package for about 30 seconds until they are pilable. Usually I would heat tortillas on a dry griddle, but this recipe needs soft, moist flour tortillas.

Spread about 1 1/2 tbsp of the cream cheese mixture on each tortilla, making sure you spread it clear to the ends of each one. Place the salmon, cucumber, and green onions lengthwise in the center half of the tortilla. I added a little more dill because I love it fresh. Starting at the left side, tightly roll up the tortilla to the other side, stuffing in the ingredients if they start to roll out. Seal the seam with the cream cheese on the other side of the wrap. Chill for 30 minutes.

Slice each roll into 1-inch pieces. I cut off the misshapen ends where there were few ingredients and Joe and I quality-checked those. It was good. We served them on their sides so you could see the spiral design of the salmon rollups. Yum!

Makes approximately 60 little rolls.

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Pork Chop Valdostano (stuffed pork chop)

>> Sunday, April 2, 2017


Pork Chop Valdostano (stuffed pork chop)


Joe and I were looking through cookbooks for some new recipe ideas, and I pulled down a cookbook from Rao's, a famous Italian restaurant in New York City. The original recipe was made with veal chops, prosciutto, and golden raisins, but we made it a little more budget-friendly with Virginia ham, black raisins, and boneless pork chops. Joe gave the recipe a few more tweaks for our taste, and he says that next time he makes this, he'll try a bone-in chop for ease of stuffing, and golden raisins for a prettier presentation.

Ingredients
6 6 oz, 1 1/2 inch thick pork chops, trimmed of all fat
12 pieces of ham or prosciutto, thinly sliced
1/2 cup black or golden raisins
6 thin slices of mozzarella cheese
2 cups flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sliced white mushrooms
1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. butter
2 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup Marsala wine
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
3 tbsp. chopped Italian parsley

For the egg batter:
2 large eggs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
2 tbsp. minced Italian parsley
dash of salt and pepper

Directions
Cut each chop open horizontally to the bone, splitting it open like a hamburger bun. Pound the meat very thin. Layer the inside of each chop with a slice of ham,  a spoonful of raisins, a slice of mozzarella, and another slice of ham. Fold the top of the chop down and pound the edges together until sealed.

Heat oil in a large saucepan on medium heat. Dredge each chop in flour and then dip the chops into the egg batter. Cook the chops five minutes on each side, then place on a platter and keep warm in the oven.

Sprinkle the onions with flour and then saute in the saucepan until soft. Add the mushrooms and saute until tender, about five minutes. Stir in butter, and when it is melted, return the chops to the pan.

Pour in the broth and wine and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Place a chop on each plate and pour several spoonfuls of sauce over the top. Sprinkle with parsley and Parmesan before serving.

Serves 6.

Find more of Rao's recipes here.

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Mushroom Barley Soup (Zupa Grzybowa)

>> Saturday, March 11, 2017




Now that we live in a heavily Polish neighborhood of Chicago (Jefferson Park/Portage Park), we're trying to learn about traditional dishes. One of the most exciting Polish traditions is the paczki (PUNCH-key), a heavenly jam-filled donut you see everywhere at the beginning of Lent. This soup is another popular one - and we'll be learning how to make Dill Pickle Soup soon. 

Mushroom Barley soup is a classic Polish dish using barley grain, dried or fresh mushrooms, and sometimes a dollop of sour cream. In Polish, it is called Zupa Grzybowa, and its filling, healthy, and satisfying. The soup can be made quickly, or it can slowly simmer all day in a crock pot. Either method is flavorful, hearty, and easy. Add some cornbread, hot crusty bread, or a salad for a solid filling meal.

We recommend using a several kinds of fresh mushrooms for maximum flavor. The soup can be made with vegetable broth for a Meatless Monday or a fasting holiday, or it can be made with beef stock for extra flavor.

Ingredients

2 tbsp oil 
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup sliced white button mushrooms
1 cup chopped portabella mushrooms
1/2 cup sliced shiitake or porcini mushrooms
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
5 cups vegetable or beef stock
1 cup pearl barley or quick-cooking barley (use quick-cooking barley if you're going to make this in a crock pot)
1 1/2 cups sour cream (optional)

Instructions

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Add onions and mushrooms and fry until slightly browned, about 10 or 15 minutes. 

If using a crock pot, transfer to the crock pot, add the rest of the vegetables and the beef stock and cook at low heat for 6-8 hours or high heat at 4-6 hours. Fifteen minutes before serving, cook the quick-cooking barley separately according to package directions, then stir into the soup. 

If cooking in a soup pot, add the rest of the vegetables and the beef stock and heat to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the pearl barley and simmer for 30 more minutes, or until the barley is tender.

Remove the bay leaf. Serve in bowls with a dollop of room-temperature sour cream, if desired.

Serves 4-6.

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Skinny Chicken Piccata

>> Saturday, February 25, 2017


Skinny Chicken Piccata


The original recipe for this light chicken piccata came from LaaLoosh, a delicious and healthy food blog for people on Weight Watchers. She says one serving is 4 points + in the Weight Watchers system.

I made a few changes, like omitting the wine, since I was making this for our dinner but also taking dinner to a friend who is just recovering from serious surgery.

We don't mind eating lighter as long as it's this easy and tasty!

Ingredients

1 tbsp light butter
1 10oz package white mushrooms, sliced
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp paprika
Dash salt and pepper
1 tsp oil
2 cups fat free chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
2 tbsp capers, rinsed
2 tsp cornstarch stirred into 1 tbsp cold water

Directions

Heat the butter in a large frying pan. Saute the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender and slightly browned. Set them aside in a separate plate.

Stir together the flour, salt, pepper, and paprika, and place in a shallow plate. Cut the chicken breasts in half, then cut them through the middle to produce 4 thin cutlets. Press them into the flour until they're covered on all sides.

Heat the oil in the pan, then add the chicken and brown on all sides. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 15-20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is thickened.

Serve over rice pilaf or with a side of vegetables.

Serves 4.

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