Friday, July 02, 2004

Morning Toast

I had forsaken morning toast for a few weeks, not so much because of fealty to Dr. Atkins (perchance, never!), but for lack of good bread in the house. Mostly I was using our bread for the field special sandwiches, and Welsh rabbits and such discussed below. Well, this week got back to normal, with some very good morning toast.

Bread: Whole Foods round white loaf. It's not my favorite Whole Foods' bread. This bread after day one is really only good for toast, as the crust all but evaporates, but it does toast up fine, with a dense texture and light crumb.

Butter and Jelly: At the same time, I unwrapped a new butter and a new jelly. The former was Kerrygold Irish imported butter, the latter was Ararat Amermenian sour cherry jelly, which like the Condiment Queen's signature clafouti, contains pits. Now, what a mix, just absolute pure chemical combination, producing utter satisfaction. Yet, I was somewhat stumped. Was it the butter base or the jelly topping. Which was driving the joy. I am sure a lot has to do with the ideal mix of ingredients--I hear Armenians and Irish are great friends, but eventual the CQ sussed out some secrets. I buy, often, my jelly based on the ingredients, and I ascribe to the rule, the fewer the better (and an odd side note, it is often the cheaper, less yuppie jellies, especially the imported ones, that will be free of citric acid, pectin and such; I adore the label, like this Ararat: sour cherry, sugar.) Still, it turns out there was a mystery ingredient. Like the bracing green nam prik dip sold at Thai Grocery on Broadway, the Ararat jelly label was not purely true to what was inside. Turns out there is a hint of cinnamon and maybe some nutmeg or other spice too. It is this spice, floating ably in this soupy jelly, that combines with pools of butter (for the Kerrygold seems to always melt into pools) that I now realize produces in the palate.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Really Good Average Mexican Food

Or is it really average good Mexican food? You know things are really crankin' in Chicago's Mexican food scene when you can walk away from a place with hand-made huraches, hand-made tortillas for tacos en canasta and, well not the advertised 10 salsas to try, but 4 very nice ones, and you walk away saying, pretty good. You think about the deliciousness of fresh masa, but you also wonder, were the walls of the gordita just a bit too thick. The hurache is broad and flat and filled with beans that taste better than they look, but the huarache also tastes a bit thin in the mouth. It is not the robust pleasure of chew that is the rico huarache at Maxwell Street. Those crated up tacos have semi-exotic fillings like chicharron in a surprising spicy sauce, whipped potatoes and chorizo blended into one modern contraption and a mixed dice, that included, I believe, hot dogs, but the homemade tortillas were also dunked just a few seconds too long in the grease before hitting the griddle.

I wonder now if I'd be as picky about say, Dona Lois, the very first Mexican place I touted on Chowhound. It's a slightly similar store that also combines folded fresh masa with a bit of grease, but the fact that I can be so picky is a pretty nice thing.

La Chilangueada
5131 W. Fullerton
Chicago, IL
Eat Local!

Let us count the ways...

Via The Chicago Tribune (registration required):

The Guide to Eating Organic In and Around Chicago," recently issued by the Organic Food Network, offers a resource for diners and cooks on the prowl for organic foodstuffs. The listing includes farms, farmers markets, restaurants and supermarkets. Also included is the "Summer 2004 Guide to Local Organic Produce." (Some information is online at For a copy send a check or money order for $6 payable to Organic Food Network, P.O. Box 4086, Wheaton, IL 60189. You will see that organic/local produce, meat, etc. is out there and not just at the Green City Market or Evanston. According to the Organic Food Network, local organic farm stuff can be found at farmer's markets in Naperville, Orland Park, Kankakee, Woodstock, Crystal Lake, Wilmette, Park Forest, and Wheaton (and more).

This is an amazing resource of things available in Illinois, I bet you had no idea so much was out there.

Terra Brockman can often be found selling the wares from her brother Henry's farm at the Evanston Farmer's Market. Her organization, Land Connection, is a great resource.

Seven Generations Ahead works on environmental issues as well as sustainable food issues, but just for us foodies helps bring local produce such as organic meat to Oak Park. I am in the process of joining. You should too!

How local is London? Still, Fergus Henderson is my idol and role model. I look at his menu daily to see how I should eat.

Monday, June 28, 2004

There's Always Room for Salt n' Pepper Shrimps!

My dearly departed grandmother was in no way the inspiration for my obsession with food. One could say I am a foodie in spite of my grandmother instead of because of my grandmother. I have strong memories of her particular way of cooking skirt steak in the toaster oven, particularly bad that is, and I also have strong memories of dishes I really did not partake, but learned about through my dad, especially her vile cornflake chicken and her viler brisket. To this day, with just a bit of egging, my dad will describe in loving detail the three day process of over-cooking, soaking with whole onion, and leaving in grease that produced the treat that was my grandmother's brisket. Ask him. Yet, yet, as I say, everyone has a dish, their cole slaw, their source of redemption. My grandmother's was jello, preferably en mold. Her motto was, you always have room for jello. Well, yesterday, as we were wrapping up an ample sampling of the dim sum at Happy Chef, they came around with plates of whole, head-on, salt and pepper shrimps. And of course, who does not have room for Happy Chef's salt and pepper shrimps, head-on.

I've always known, of the places I have tried in Chicago, that Happy Chef's were the best salt and pepper shrimps. These are shrimps to make you crave shrimp head. Fresh, crisp, slightly spicy, not marred by grease. You eat everything but the last bits of tail. I've not know about the dim sum at Happy Chef until yesterday. I would say that not everything rose to the satisfaction of the whole shrimps, but it was a very well done dim sum nonetheless. Solid. It is a hybrid dim sum. There is a sheet to fill, with choices, like most of these sheets, that do not make full sense. There is shrimp dumpling and steamed shrimp dumpling (both in the steamed category); baked egg tart and baked custard egg tart, pan fried pork bun and pan fried pork dumpling. And you think that's confusing, there is also a 2 page listing of mysterious noodles with offerings like hong tol e-fu noodle and ha-moon rice stick noodle. We got the hong tol e-fu noodle just to see what it was (not big deal at $3.88) Still, there are a few things in plates, off menu, that get paraded around the room.

We had filled up pretty well. From the sheet we got some really good shrimp with pea pod green dumpling in a yellow wrapper and ultra hot steamed shrimp dumpling puffing with shrimp air. I liked the eggplant slices with black bean more than the Condiment Queen that came from the pass-arounds. Sesame balls, also off-menu, were chewy and big. We passed on the Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce because, based on sight and aroma, we mimicked a nearby table and got a big plate of Chinese broccoli showered with garlic. Those hong tol-e-fu noodles were a big old bowl of thick chewy noodles underneath a layer of egg white. It turned out to be a good way to get some protein into the chowhoundita who was with us (the other on a birthday jaunt to Navy Pier). We were past full when they started passing the salt and pepper shrimps around the room. Who, however, does not have room for Happy Chef's salt and pepper shrimps. The great news, especially for the chowhoundita, was the extra ten minutes needed to eat the shrimps also kept us there for some very hot, very fresh, very delicious custard filled, sweet top buns.

Happy Chef may be a great, probably the best, Cantonese style place in Chinatown, but do not go there for creature comforts or atmosphere. Ms. VI complained all morning about the plastic tablecloths sticking to her knees. A small price, alas for making room for salt and pepper shrimps.

Happy Chef
2164-2166A S. Archer (in the Chinatown Mall)
Chicago, IL

It has been sadly reported that the delicious Mandarin Kitchen recently closed. Well, a restaurant has recently opened in its place. It is called, well in English, it is still called Mandarin Kitchen, yet in place of the former Szechuan style place, is a Shanghai style place. There is the full range of typical Shanghai stuff on the English menu including two kinds of soup dumplings, various cold dishes, pork leg, lion's head meatballs and eel. There is also a nice sounding deal of 3 dishes for $22.95. The women I chatted up were very nice. I'll give it a scout and if its good, maybe arrange a group meal.