Friday, December 30, 2005

The Czech Paradox
Believe at Operetta

No one talks about the Czech paradox. We know about the French paradox. Eat all the foie gras stuffed croissants you want, and as long as you wash it down with a nice bottle of red wine (any red wine, from Chinon to Chateau LaTour), you will avoid heart disease, diabetes and other issues that plague the super-sizing U.S of A. Still, did you know that a diet of beer, more beer and a plate full of bread dumplings will keep you fit enough to join Charlie’s Angels. Don’t believe me. Visit Operetta on Fullerton between Central and Austin. After yet another delicious meal last week, I find that I must tell the world about the Czech paradox.

I am utterly convinced that the three women who are the service staff at Operetta are paid international assassins, especially the one known as “Kate.” “Yeah, Kate” I said making little rabbit fingers when one of my daughters one asked her name, spies really tell their name to whomever asks. I go to Operetta for the ample portions, the cheap imported beer, and the garlic soup (surely a top 10 Chicago soup), but I go just as much to gawk at Kate. How can I best describe Kate? Perhaps as a shorter haired version of the old Black Canary from DC Comics? Kate looks like she could dead lift 200 lbs, yet she has none of that Chyna induced bulk. She trains to keep her edge, and like her two cohorts at Operetta, she eats Czech food. Granted while the other two are sleek and slim, they are not quite as brutal looking as Kate. But remember, each member of this Fox Force Five (of course the other two are out of town on assignment) has their own special skills. They are walking proof of the Czech paradox.

Remember that everyone over 21 is expected to order a beer when seated at Operetta, either Pilsner Urquell, Staroprame (my preference) or Radegast. Each brand has its own glass that shares a common trait of being large. Most diners get more than one. In fact, I wonder when the smoking laws take effect in a few weeks, Operetta might qualify as a tavern. Soup is less de rigueur than beer but worth getting. As I noted, the garlic soup, with croutons, parsley and a sprinkling of cheese is up there with any soup in Chicago, but creamy paprika with tiny slices of hot dog like sausages, yesterday’s goulash thinned out as soup, or the chicken are all worth ordering—my suggestions being limited to soups I have tried. Entrees at Operetta come on what we Americans call “serving” plates. Still, if you think the secret of the Czech paradox is the creamy dill gravy, you should know that many an Operetta meal comes fried as well. Perhaps nothing goes better with a Czech beer than a slab of munster like cheese (that’s American munster not the smelly French munster), battered and fried and served with a mess of sliced roasted-fried potatoes. Could the secret be the “tarter” sauce many dip their cheese? It may be that certain (not all) meals at Operetta get a bit of canned peas/canned corn and carrot salad. This little bit of veg may keep Kate sharp. Not all “plates” get this treatment though. Platters of roast pork with sauerkraut or smoked butt with creamed spinach avoid these extras. More room for the dumplings. These are dumpling eatable without gravy (but who would?), yellow from a bit of fat in the dough. Better dumplings in Chicago, I do not know.

This is the fare that nourishes the team at Operetta. A diet of great beer, fried cheese, tarter sauce, mounds of meat in gravy, and lotsa bread dumplings. Visit. Eat. Drink. Observe. You too will come to believe in the Czech Paradox.

Friday, December 16, 2005

40 Percent

Update: My wife, the Condiment Queen, is very concerned in how I am promulgating this idea that we eat out 40% of the time. She wants the foodblog world to know that that's 40% of lunches and dinners, not 40% of all meals (i.e., breakfast). And many weeks of late, we may eat out only 35% of the time! What kills us is the weekends, where we'll eat out nearly every meal.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Eat Local Challenge Challenge
(Part II)

As I noted the other day, the eat local challenge has so far, not been much of a challenge, at least when it comes to having stuff to eat. Does not mean there are not challenges. I think I have an idea why people switched to frozen peas and California lettuce.

And it's not boredom. Of course boredom is surely a challenge of the eat local challenge. Think of late May, early June. The markets are inundated with asparagus. It's special, it's delicious, if you are like our family, you find ten ways to Wednesday to make asparagus. And just as we are tiring of asparagus tetrazinni, the market switches to peas or the sugar snaps. Bore of those, and soon it's zuchinni, corn, tomatoes, etc. A lot of the fun of farmer's market shopping is to see what's new and special that week. There is pleasure in eating things every so often. So, the first squashes are a treat. Who does not like apples. Now, two months after the farmer's markets ended, the only fresh fruit we have had (besides our citrus exception) is apples. We have a lot of beets...

There is a certain disdain for keeper produce, memories of depressions and rationiong and all, and the other night when it seemed like dinner was going to be squash soup and beets, I felt so Dickens (but it was a timing thing not a price thing). I also think for a lot of people, something like rutabaga just sounds bad, like you're gagging while you say it. [ed. perhaps we should use the British, swede?] Yet, with a little bit of manipulation, these turnips and beets and celery roots, and parsnips can produce great food. It's nearly all sweet, nearly all of nice texture. But having worked with this produce for a few months, I can tell you why it is a challenge.

My wife the Condiment Queen started making roast vegetables the other night at about 4:30. At 6:00, I came down for dinner, and she was not even close. It takes time and effort to deal with this stuff. Cannot eat the skin of a squash, nor a rutabaga. I suppose you could eat a turnip or beet as is, but any time saved peeling is lost scrubbing. After the skinning and chunking (lotsa work on a squash), many of the keepers require more work. Mashed up, with some butter, wow, really get you eating vegetables kinda food, but grandma did have some triceps on her, no?

That's the challenge. I think a lot of demand for supermarket produce arose outta convenience. It was not peas that people sought, but unshelled peas. It is not beets that people really do not want, it's the purple hands they do not want.
If They Ask Me
10 Favorite Foods

Paul at Foodblog sez there is a meme going around, asking food bloggers their ten favorite foods. Well, if the meme gets to me, here's what I'd tell 'em:

Fried chicken - I like a lot of chicken: roasted, broiled, grilled, poached with home-made mayo, but I like best, fried chicken. From fast food, crisp yet moist Pollo Campero to Austin Leslie's famed garlic marinated, to rarely seen true Midwestern pan-fried chicken, I am rarely unhappy when eating fried chicken.

Spicy food - I like hot food, like Thai food, but I mean here, highly spiced food. If nothing else, I have in mind Indian food. I love how nearly everything in Indian food seems doused in secret masala spices, even the mixed nuts. Also, highly spiced sauces, like the green salsas at the Afghan resturant on Da'bomb, Isla Marias, Pico Rico, the Ecuadorian chicken place; or Salaam in Albany Park.

Nuts - Which gets me to, nuts. I like a nice plain toasted almond like the next guy, but nuts go to a new level to me, turn me into an addict, when treated with spices or sugar. My wife makes outstanding spiced nuts, so good she's considered going into the nuts business. And I think she'd make a fortune.

Anchovies - Gee, these little fishies pack a lot of flavor. Is it that mysterious fifth flavor, unami or just the salt? It really is worth the ick to de-bone genuine salt packed anchovies.

BBQ - Like fried chicken, this is a genre that appeals to me no matter what. NC style, Texas style, faux Chicago grilled ribs; you see I love both the cooking method and the sauce. I'm so far from a purest. Just the other night I really enjoyed Russell's Ribs in Elmwood Park, with just the faintest hint of char, but a lovely sauce that I can never quite diagnose.

Lake perch - Do I love this because it is so rare to find these days? Perhaps. As a medium for a lot of butter? Perhaps. Or because of their latent sweetness and perfect texture? Perhaps.

French fries - Like my younger daughter, I love potatoes in nearly all their forms. Moreover, you would think that having spent a good part of a summer in Grenoble, that my favorite potato dish would be a decadent gratin. No. The thing about gratins, mashed potatoes, or other potato dishes is that they are more vehicles for butter, cream and other great foods. Frying a potato most brings out the nuance and flavor of a potato. Take the fresh cut fries at Al's Italian Beef, there is a sweetness to these potatoes that you would never detect otherwise.

Bread - I do not see eye-to-eye with Jim Leff much these days, but when he said toast was the most perfect food (or something like that), well he's spot-on. I can walk away from the spread at Fogo de Chao and be most happy with the cheese bread. I can be happy at Old Country Buffet because I love their rolls. The overall improvement of bread in Chicago in the last ten or so years has been a real boon. My two favorites: Fox and Obel and Freddy's.

Salad - including cole slaw and papaya salad - I've noted that liking salad is really about liking salad dressing, and it is true that I love salad dressing, especially vinaigrettes but all sortsa dressings from green goddess to Hidden Valley ranch. Still, I like salad too, the stuff under the dressing. Unlike my older daughter, I will not eat plain lettuce, but dressed, it is an ideal marriage. I also adore the mouthfeel of a great chopped salad (and I make the best).

Donuts - Chowhound MikeG accurately called donuts "food crack". Not so much because they are addictive but in the way that grease and sugar, two things that make food taste great, are distilled down to their basest levels. I would be so fat if I lived in LA with great donuts on nearly every corner. Here, I go most to Dunk Donuts in Melrose Park but especially love Dat Donuts on the south side of Chicago. The Oak Park Farmer's Market donuts are not ideal but special for many reasons. Something akin to LA donuts can be found at Wheeling Donuts in, well, Wheeling.

So many things that barely made the cut: champagne, corned beef, hand sliced lox, and nearly all Jew food (except gefilte fish); how could my list exclude hot dogs or hamburgers? my mother's rack of lamb? Door county cherries?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Fried Chicken in and near Chicago

OurPalWill does a nice round-up.
Fall CSA Week 6
Eat Local Challenge Challenge (Part I)

As I have been fond of saying, don't ask me now about the Eat Local Challenge, ask me later. The question becomes, when is later now?

Unlike the last few years, winter hit hard early this year. Our eat local sources, City Market and Farmer Vicki expected to dig up things for several more weeks than Mother Nature allowed. Farmer Vicki has been planning for hard frost by building greenhouses. Early winter disrupted the plan, and her greenhouse is no fully operational while she cannot harvest from her fields. The market for local produce dwindles.

This week's box: a (lot) of red potatoes, a good amount of beets, a bag of tiny greenhouse lettuces, three onions, one medium sized squash and one tiny squash. Of course, one cannot be expected to eat for the week on this haul. Now, our family's simple solution, one that has nothing to do with the Eat Local Challenge per se, is to eat out a lot. Yea, our box goes a long way when we eat about 40% of our meals at various restaurants.

Still, our stocks contain lotsa potatoes, we have about ten or so squash in the basement, our extra fridge contains plenty of beets, turnips, even red bell peppers that are holding up very well; last week's bok choy is fine, but I cannot convince the Condiment Queen that she does not have to cook it Asian style (can someone give me an Italian name for bok choy, she'll cook it faster?). Have I mentioned that we have barely dipped into our freezer? We are not gonna starve in the next few weeks. Ask me later.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Fall CSA
Week 5

I have not picked up my box yet today, but once again, I doubt I can say it as well as Farmer Vicki.

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is cold. Mr. Weather Man says that we are 20 degrees below normal. I don't know about you, but I did not need him to tell me that. Winter is not my favorite time of the year - especially frigid winter. It is almost like we are having to pay back the extra warm fall we had - degree by degree. What do I hate about winter? Frozen water in the animal houses. Fogged up glasses every time I go into a greenhouse. Shoveling snow. Dragging hoses over to the well. A runny nose and wind stung eyes while bottle feeding the calf. Wet gloves. Slick roads. Cold vehicles. Dressing like an eskimo. Hat-hair.

But, alas, we live in Illinois - the land of "anything goes" weather-wise. Abuelo likes to tell me, "Mucho frio." I agree. But, then I tell him the good things about winter. (Can't dwell on the negative.) Snow is pretty. Warm homes are cozy. Hot chocolate is delightful. The earth rests. Snow men can be made, snow angels created and snow balls thrown. (Don't tell them - I want to throw the first snow ball.) Then there is sledding. Now thats great fun.

Its time to settle in and cook and bake those wonderful winter treats. I always cook more in the winter. Isn't it wonderful to come in from the cold to smell a pot roast and apples with cinnamon? Nothing like those "homey" smells to get us warmed up - physically and emotionally as well. This is aroma therapy at its best. But, what I like best of all is a trip to Florida. Peel off all those layers ( I wear many, many) and feel the sun and warmth for a week. Now that's really fun stuff. Actually, whenI go to Florida I spend a great deal of time pndering the seed catalogues and placing my orders for spring. I also catch up on my books for tax season. But, what better place to do it than out on the back patio looking out over the green grass.

This weeks share is pretty self explanatory. Greens are either kale or baby boc choi. Boc choi had a white stem with a large smooth leaf. The kale has a purplish stem with an oak tree shaped leaf. Squash is carnival and butternut. Your dry herb of the week is parsley. Boxes are in several sizes because I am low on boxes (please return) - just take one box each.

If you can pick up early it would be best for the produce because it is so cold out.

Hope you have a warm and cozy week. Farmer Vicki

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Geography Lesson for Chowhound Moderators

Yes, Dyer Indiana is part of the Chicago area.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Just Awful News
From this week's Chicago Magazine Dish:

Trader Vic’s, holding court with its stiff mai tais in the lower arcade of the Palmer House Hilton since 1957, is closing after New Year’s Eve. Expect another local outpost of the Chicago legend to resurface eventually. . . .

With the Inland Steel Building and the Rookery, this may have been the most perfectly articulated space in downtown Chicago. As much as I liked the tropical drinks (what ever the daily $4 special), I enjoyed even more just sitting there. Too bad the food sucked and too bad I did not go more often.
This Week’s Haul
Fall CSA 4th Week

In one of her e-mails, Farmer Vicki apologized to us CSAers that winter had nipped her earlier than expected. She told us that last year she harvested nearly to Christmas. This year's hard frost came while she still expected to pull more turnips, Swiss chard and other items for late fall/early winter eating. Mother Nature furthrert wrecked her timing as her greenhouse crops were mostly not ready. Of course that does not mean that Farmer Vicki did not take good care of us as usual.

She runs a better root cellar than me for sure (I had to toss a couple of moldy squash today), and from earlier pickings we got big bright red potatoes and smaller rutabagas. There’s still plenty of squash, and we got two butternut and one turban. Only one onion, but we’re pretty well stocked from previous weeks. The greenhouse was not totally inactive; spikey-leaf tiny lettuce and a green pepper show that a good salad can be had with local ingredients even in December. Farmer Vicki stuffs her boxes with miscellanea: dried thyme, dry ripe jalapeños, a leek or two, some green onions. Surely, enough for the week.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Antonius takes home the bacon

Several months ago, I learned the news that's own Antonius won an award for a paper presented at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. I meant to pass the word on to the millions of daily visitors to Vital Information, but like many things I mean to do, I did not. Needless to say, Antonious award is still there and still worth mentioning regardless of me. And...

...You now have the chance to see what made Oxford smile. This weekend (December 3)Antonious presents his paper at the Chicago Foodways Roundtable, a really interesting series of programs organized by LTHForum's Cathy2. See here for details of this weekend's presentation.

Chicago Foodways Roundtable

Western Mediterranean Vegetable Stews
and the Integration of Culinary Exotica
Presented by
Anthony F. Buccini, PhD

Saturday, December 3rd, 2005
11 AM
The Chicago Historical Society
1601 N. Clark St., Chicago, Illinois

Monday, November 28, 2005

Thanks Chicago
For Providing Good Eatin'

Around the Thanksgiving break, I and the VI family covered a lot of ground. We gave full thanks for the richness and variety of our eating options.

Myron and Phil’s
Walking towards our table at M&P, our 9 and 11 year old daughters lowered the average age of the clientele to about 68. As the Condiment Queen noted at lunch, eat here soon because these places are not gone be around for long. What I like best about M&P is that there is no irony, no shtick, no theme to the place. Just a place for a decent meal when you happen to be around Devon and Pulaski. For lunch you have to pay $2.50 for some chopped liver, but it is $2.50 well spent. That, the chunks of dill pickles, and an order of the “burnt onions” (more like un-breaded deep fried onions) were the best part of the meal. That’s not the say that the $8.95 lunch specials are mediocre. A tiny rib steak was over-cooked (no one even asked) but it was still tasty. Salmon patties were griddled to a dark brown and made me pine for this item more often. They did real well with the kids, the hamburger was huge and succulent (although M&P seasons their burger someway that I just do not like) and the chicken strips appeared to have been breaded and fried to order. Of course green goddess (sour cream anchovy) dressing satisfied on plain ol’ iceberg and our waitress of the hon school was just as terrific. 3900 W. Devon (east of Pulaski), 847-677-6663.

Ambala Sweets
Maybe because this place is too far west of the action on Da’ Bomb, but it does not appear to get the crowd its food deserves. Crisp-thin samosa shells outshined a filling made from frozen peas and carrots, but the halawa was mind-boggling food. 2741 W. Devon, 773-764-9000

Khan BBQ
The last time we went to visit Khan BBQ, it was hotter in there than the Division Street Baths. A chilly day made more sense. Of course, inside it can still be brutally hot and when too many orders of chicken boti get going, the table was hacking away from the smoke. Khan demands over-ordering. They made us change tables because our booth could not fit the boti, the naan, the parantha, soft-soft nehari kebab, the spicy frontier chicken, and wet spinach with yellow dal. Worth the discomfort for sure. 2262 W. Devon Ave. 773-274-8600

Happy Chef
This, to me, seems the most Chinese of places in Chinatown. Garishly bright, sticky layers of plastic table covers for quick table turns, wall specials always priced in lucky numbers, a constant crowd and just awful service—OK, no offense to the Chinese, but it does remind me of Hong Kong. On Friday, service was so bad we nearly walked out. Luckily, the dim sum was good enough that we were happy by the end. It’s a hybrid dim sum, a card to check-off as well as things flying around the room on platters. Nothing elegant, nothing fancy but all well done, especially shrimp and chive dumplings in a translucent skin, pale egg tarts and greasy turnip cakes. Less well enjoyed, a silky tofu in a not sweet enough syrup (read watery). Chinese broccoli with garlic was about as good as possible. In the Chinatown Mall.

Medici Bakery
Good French style breads (although I like Freddy’s and Fox and Obel better—the white baton had a nice crust but was a little too dry in the crumb), but really good muffins. 1327 E 57th St. Chicago, IL 60637

Steve’s Shish Kebab House
This remains my favorite Middle-Eastern restaurant in the area (and would be my next choice for a GNR nomination). The food all gets prepared from scratch—I’ve seen Steve chop up meat for kefta with two knives and grind chick peas for falafel and hummus. I kept on looking at the knee joint in our lamb shank until I realized we were eating a tiny leg of lamb not a true shank. It’s delicious as is about everything else they serve (and such generous portions!) 3816 W 63RD St, Chicago, Illinois

Lula’s Café
Of course I like Lula’s farm-centric approach to building a menu, but I find their food unsatisfying. A dish with long cooked adobo chicken, farm eggs (really good eggs), polenta and green avocado sauce should have made me a lot happier and I am not sure why. The whole was less than the parts. Spaghetti with bacon and tomato sauce was too oily (and the portion small to boot). I was not that impressed with brioche French toast that sounded good on the menu, nor did the BLT really hold sway. One thing that was good, a quince syruped Prosecco cocktail. 2537 N. Kedzie, Chicago.

El Pollo Loco
I guess my need to try EPL so soon after Lula’s tells you what I really felt about *that* meal. Eating my meal at this other new chicken place, I wondered if I would feel differently about Pollo Campero if it was not so close to me. To me, PC may be just fast-food chicken, but I like the marinade and I think they fry very well. As the Hungry Hound, Steve Dolinsky sez, moist and crisp. And to me, EPL may just be fast food chicken, but it seemed pretty flavorless. I did like the way their bake then grill method crisped up the skin. I was not so impressed with the beans or rice. For the record, the Condiment Queen liked it. 2715 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, 60647 - (773) 394-5626

At one point I stormed out of Margie’s as the older waitress was fighting with us over choice of booth. She wanted us crammed into a small booth. We refused. Well, she was not gonna take our order otherwise. My scene did bring us a new server. It still left a bad taste in my mouth, even as the ice cream, fudge and caramel remain top-notch. Cathy2’s noted whipped cream fixation has got me to look closer at Margie’s whipped cream. With scrutiny, I find it too airy. It looks good but if you pay attention, you will find it lacking. 1960 N. Western Ave., Chicago

Maxwell Street
Reported elsewhere.
Maxwell Street Adjustments
Keeping Track of Good Food

If you use Gorilla Gourmet to find great eating on Maxwell Street, you need to make some adjustments. It’s been noted that the “C’mon in, C’mon in/Guantajunto El Colonial” featured strongly in the documentary have been gone from Maxwell Street. There have been more changes, and the Maxwell Street eater needs to make some adjustments. Adjusted, you still eat really well.

Of course, we eaters call it Maxwell Street, but if you looked at a map, you would find the Sunday flea market and Mexican food extravaganza is on Canal Street. And right now, Canal Street is under construction, disrupting the southern end of the market. Think of the vendors down there as a bulge, squeeze the street and the displaced bulge has to show up somewhere else. In this case, the vendors have spilled over to Taylor Street on the far north end of the market. Here, one will find the twin masa specialists: Rubi/Manolo’s. Both stands have brought small vertical roasters for al pastor with them to their new locations. Manolo, however, uses a spit fired by charcoal briquettes, Rubi uses a gas heater. Still, neither cook the pork to full Wiv-crispness on the spit. Instead, it goes from the spit to a pan with lotsa salsa de chile arbol (at least Rubi’s did). Inside a fresh made quesadilla, with some cheese and the garlic heavy green-red salsa, it tasted very good (although it could have been greater with a full roasting). Of the other stands on the south end filmed by Gorilla Gourmet, the place with the very well done (double meaning) grilled steak tacos has not reappeared on the north end. I hope they return. The man who showed us his tongue in the movie, who claims to be the first taco stand on Maxwell (he's the one on the right on the Gorilla Gourmet home page), was parked near Rubi/Manolo’s. But also missing, the “saran-wrap” people, the stand at the corner of Canal and 14th where wide sheets of plastic prevented prying hands from snagging a taste of huitalachoche or zucchini flower. Stepping into the void down-there, were some people frying up fresh made gorditas and making bloody pambasos from either potato-chorizo or crispy steak-onion. My family really enjoyed the pambaso, missing the metallic taste of some.

The area roughly next to Dominick’s remains, besides the gone El Colonial, stable. Rico huaraches still are. I thought yesterday about the general criticism of “cheap-eats”, stands on the low quality of the raw materials, especially the meat. I noted that yes, the steak on these huaraches is tough in the most, but I also noted that a “better” place like Frontera just cannot produce a paddle of masa like this black-bean stuffed, fried-griddled piece. And it is the masa that matters. The Oaxacan tamal place remains about there as does the beef-birria place. The birria de Aguascaliente, steamed on avocado leaves guy, who can be intermittent in his Maxwell Street appearances, WAS there yesterday, but in the North hump. Another birria place, maybe the one normally South was North, but I cannot say if these are the same places. The one place I used to make a special trip North, the pupusa place, was not there yesterday.

New? Besides the al pastor, the only thing I really found new, as compared to moved or missing, was some roasted calabaza at the stand that also sells rice pudding empanadas and elotes. The Mexican pumpkin gets pretty dark from its roasting and seems caramelized, but the taste is not highly sweet.

I and others try to document Maxwell Street, but we can only capture one day. Each week brings new vendors, new locations, a few new products. The constant: delicious food. Here, you will find many examples of masa manipulation. One vendor molds the masa into thick disks and stuffs them with a mixture of soft requeson cheese, epazote and jalapeños; another manipulates the dough just bit differently, stuffs it with potato and calls it an empanada. Flat it can be a huarache, flatter and folded and it becomes a quesadilla. There are tamales wrapped in corn and bigger tamales wrapped in banana leaves. Besides tasting all that corn, Maxwell eaters get two other advantages. Lotsa steaks get grilled over live coals, something you will not see in a neighborhood taqueria. Finally, you will see at Maxwell lotsa trays of bubbling oil; your stuff gets cooked as you order. Whatever the changes, C’mon in, C’mon in.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

NYTimes Op-Eds Eating Good Food
(Registration Required)

This piece champions the middle-market farmer, too big to serve the farmer's markets, too committed to sell-out to mega-agriculture.

Organic and then some, this piece makes the same point I have made before. It aint just the organic label. The author notes how Big Ag is pinning for organic to include xanthan gum (an artificial thickener), ammonium bicarbonate (a synthetic leavening agent), and ethylene (a chemical to ripen tomatoes and other fruit). She also notes that organic does not equate with pastured/grass fed, which are much better indicators of quality in meat and milk. She leaves out mention of Whole Foods and the absurdity of brandishing a word like "organic" when the products are shipped off-season from New Zealand, Chile and South Africa, let alone trucked in long distances. Still, the writer points out the best bet for getting wholesome, real food, is to know your farmer.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Not the Best Week of Eatin'

Well, I dragged my Chuy's*/Bone Daddy lovin' team to Smoky Mo's one night last week on recommendation of an Austin resident from a foodie forum.

Now, I hate to say this, and perhaps it was just the location we visited (Cedar Park), but, well let me backtrack a second. One day for lunch, we were on our way to Serrano's. One of the team said he'd been to Serrano's before. Better than Chuy's I asked? He said no. I figured anyplace that could not even beat Chuy's was not worth goin' to. And my new standard for Austin Q, can it beat the Hooters of BBQ, Bone Daddy? (See below.) Sadly, Smoky Mo's could not.

I was put off upon entering when I saw there was no pit, only giant Southern Pride electric cookers with a bit of wood added. The wood in the oven did more to flavor the store's aroma than the meats. It showed. No visible smoke ring, no Texas flavor. Moreover, the brisket was tough. The ribs had some porcine flavor but were nothing special. The sauce was oddly bland, even the spicy version. Bone Daddy is objectionable in some (many) ways but at least you taste the pit.

The best meal of the week was a pre-Thanksgiving spread put out by the client. Second bet was Hoover's. I do find Hoovers a flawed restaurant. Some of the stuff was very well done, the smoked ribs, Elgin sausage, pork chops, jalepeno spinach, biscuits, but other stuff, chicken fried steak, mashed potates, green beans, seemed to be missing something. The buttermilk pie was sweet and delicious, the pecan pie flawed by a lack of carmelized crust. Catfish Parlor had some advantages, being inexpensive and highly efficient. I found the fish and shrimp, however, pretty cheap tasting. I did like the all you can eat sides, especially the hominey.

Being far up 183 makes it hard to try a lot of Austin. In addition, I'm on three Q places not opened at time of visit (Kreutz, Ben's and Jim Muellers). I am sure I could eat better given more control. So far, I have not got it.

Chuy's - 11680 Research Blvd (US 183) - Austin
Bone Daddy's - 11617 Research Blvd - Austin
Smoky Mo's - H.E.B. Center - 183 and TX 1431 - Cedar Park
Hoovers - 2002 Manor Road - Austin
Catfish Parlor - 11910 Research Blvd - Austin

*Standard example of why Tex-Mex gets a bad name.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Fall CSA
3rd Week

I was outta town last week, so I have not enjoyed the CSA as much as my family, and certainly not enough to blog about it. Once again, we turn to the the words of Farmer Vicki, bias as she may be (I think you'll get a great idea what your missing!):

Amazing! It is almost Thanksgiving and the first signs of winter are upon us. The winter winds are whipping and the corn stalks are flying across the fields. We lost two of our mini hoop houses over the hot peppers on Sunday and those varieties are now history. Things happen. We still have one up so we can still see how the peppers in that house do. The majority of the crops in the field are doing great, even though they are a bit wind whipped. But crops are strong and can withstand quite a bit. This cool weather is good for many of the fall crops as they get sweeter with the cool weather.

Today I visited a school in Chicago and talked to 1st graders about vegetables. We talked about roots, stems, leaves and fruits - the parts of plants that we eat. I had a Napa Cabbage with me and the last class, enthusiatic about veggies, asked if they could eat it. So, we tore it apart and they tore into it - and loved it. Most of them had never eaten a Napa Cabbage before and were amazed at how tasty it was. How awesome! These kids were so much fun.

Out in the field we are done taking up the irrigation for the winter. It was a smooth process with all the guys working hard. I had the best job - driving the truck while they pulled it up and loaded it into the back. This was our best year yet for field clean up. I really liked it because I did not have to do much of the actual labor. Men are much better at physical lobor than females. They have the body mass and braun to make it seem effortless. How thankful I am to be surrounded by hard working men who are dedicated to their jobs.

This week's share includes: a variety of greens. You may have recieved one of several varieites: chard (colorful stems), purple mustard (dark purple leaves), tatsoi (round rosette of glossy green leaves), boc choi (celerey like stems with broad top leaves). You also will receive a large variety of winter squash of your choosing. I am leaving several varieties for you to choose from. They include: Blue Hubbard (large oblong blue-grey), pink banana (long like a hotdog), cousa (crook neck with green and white stripes), black hubbard (dark green warty oblong with a crook neck), a lumina (white oblong pumpkin like), or a Rouge d etampes (squat round red pumpkin look).
They are large and perfect for a family dinner (Thanksgiving). Each variety has a unique character.
Hubbard, Blue or Black - heavy dense, some what dry, delicious, traditional New England squash
Pink Banana - sweet, tender, moist almost like a sweet potato
Cousa - light peach flash, flavor light, fresh and still squashy
Lumina - heavy dense, yet moist flesh
Rouge d Etampes - Very sweet, dark orange, most and tender.

I suggust cooking them whole for 20-30 minutes until tender enough to cut without the use of a chain saw. Then pull them from the oven, slice in half and scoop out the seeds. Then place back in the oven right side up to finish baking (time depends on the squash) until tender. For Thanksgiving, there are two way I like them best. 1) Fill with butter, brown sugar and maple syrup. Poke them with a fork a few times while cooking to ensure the flavors permeate the squash. I will often add cinnaman and or cloves for fun. Also, a nice addition is an apple, raison and but stuffing. I place these in the squash first before adding the brown sugar and maple syrup and butter. If you have left overs, this is a geat breakfast squash treat. Warm up left overs and sprinkle with granola, or add a dolop of yogurt before the granola. What a great way to start they day. For those who like a more savory dish, try stuffing your squash with a savbory dressing such as a wild rice dressing. Precook the rice and saute together onion and garlic and celery. Mix together with the cooked rice. Add seasonings to taste. I like black pepper and thyme. Stuff the partially cooked squash and place back into the oven to finish baking until tender. Both of these dishes make a beautiful dish placed on the table on a large platter. Leftovers can be frozen for latter reheating.

Another fun way to handle a large squash is to precook and cut out part of the top of the squash so it makes a bowl or turreen. Remove seeds and cut the squash off the "lid." Make a standard custard, add pumpkin pie spices and the squash cut off from the lid. I prefer using the food processor or blender to shred it before adding it to the custard mixture. Pour the mixture into the squash"bowl" and return to oven to bake until the custard is set and the squash is tender. What a beautiful Thanskgiving desert with pizazz! (Be sure to serve the custard with a scoop of the squash from the "bowl" so your guests are able to appreciate the combination of flavors.

If you have leftovers of sqaush, freeze in 1-2 cup containers for use later in a squash soup or for tasty squash muffins. In fact, if you want a real old fashioned fall treat, try squash muffins with pumpkin butter spread while still warm from the oven. (Thanks to Grandma West for the pumpkin butter. All I did was cook down the pumpkins into puree and she did all the rest.)
Your other addition is a bar of my pumpkin Goat Milk Soap. I though it might be fun to have your guests get reved up for all those fall treats by smelling all those fall spices when they tidy up.

The pic is of crops in the greenhouse. They are growing nicely. Hope you have a great Thanksgiving! Farmer Vicki

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Fall CSA
2nd Week

I'll just tell you what Farmer Vicki said about this week's box:

Welcome to week two of our fall CSA. We have a treat this week - brussel sprouts - thanks to our friends at Growing Power. Mine got tied up in weeds this summer and did not produce, so I was delighted when Amy had enough to share with us. We also have Napa cababge. It is a taller, looser head with a mild sweet flavor. You can eat it raw or cook it. Another goodie for the week is Boc Choi. THis is an Oriental veggie used in sitr fry. I find it is an excellent addition to chicken soup - great eating on a cool fall evening with squash muffins. I am also including fresh thyme - an herb that is good with poultry, pork and as an addition to salad dressing. If you do not use it all fresh, it dries nicely on a paper towel or hang it with a ribbon in the kitchen to dry. This variety is German Winter Thyme and is very flavorful. Also, included is rutabaga. Rutabaga and turnips (included) cooked together with carrots is a wonderful Irish treat. Peel and cut into hunks. Boil until tender. Rice together with a little milk, butter, salt and pepper. Each flavor blends together and yet remains distinct. Even the pickiest eaters love this dish - a great way to introduce young ones to the delights of the fall veggies. Our winter squash varieties for the week are Carnival (multi-colored) and butternut. Carnival are of the sweet dumpling types and are very sweet and moist and tender.

My youngest, Jon, has always refused to try squash until this year. Miguel's wife made butternut squash and he offered some to Jon. He did not want to refuse him, so he took one bite and found a new love. Last night he specifically requested that I cook him squash for dinner - and ate almost a whole squash himself.

This week we have been busy taking out all of our plastic and drip tape. Today we finishsed up the job. Chad mowed down the last of the peppers, and then Miguel and Jose began pulling things up. I drove the truck and they pulled and piled into the bed of the truck. When Chad got done, he joined in the "party" and before long they were done. They worked hard and even with it being cool, they were sweating. These guys are great! They made a difficult job seem easy. Isn't that the way it is with someone who has expertise in an area?

With winter coming we are looking forward to having a little bit of a break - shorter hours and some days off. But, we have lots to do before spring comes. One major task we are undertaking is the renewal of a neglected apple orchard. Jon and Jay have begun taking out every other tree. They have completed two rows (out of 40). Now they have to trim the branches off the trunks and cut the wood into usable pieces. We can't begin pruning until January and February. The coldest months are the best time to prune. BRRRRR!!!!!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Find THAT Food Blog

Someone takes the time to organize a bunch of food blogs. Great job! (Via Foodblog who does a great job of keeping up with this stuff as well!)
Fall CSA
First Week

As I have noted many times, the ability to eat local falls off considerably once the Farmer's Markets ends, and my Oak Park market ended a week ago. To continue to eat local one has to work at finding sources as well as live off of products stored. Now, I have always been frustrated that there have not been more local sources to buy local all year round. For one thing, even in our northern climate, things continue to grow past October. For another thing, vendors can maintain good stores of items like apples, cabbages, onions and potatoes. Finally, I would hope that vendors could sell stocks of items preserved themselves. For instance, my beloved Hardin Farms froze or dried any fruit not sold in season; the problem is, Hardin does not market this stuff post Farmer Market. Besides these natural cold weather products, modern technology allows farmer's to grow certain items in greenhouses.

Farmer Vicki DOES do all of this with a fall-winter CSA. She is still picking items from her grounds. Her first box included turnips with greens, serrano peppers, chard and lettuce from her farm. From her sheds, we got potatoes, onions and squash--one large acorn and one spaghetti. From who knows where, we got one, still fresh, tomato and some very sweet for green, green peppers. It was more than enough product for a week. There was also a bunch of fresh herbs including rosemary, and cilantro. The products came in enough quantities that it would not just be CSA salad and CSA eggs for the week--the result of CSA boxes come insufficient amounts of stuff.

Next week's box arrives on Wednesday.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Phil Vettel Game

Who wins?

I thought Phil had me on his review of Matsumoto. I mean, ethnic, interesting, obscure, expensive, difficult, who sez Phil's not earnin'. Still, this bugged me:

people simply demand more quality at this price range.

Now, I am not one who denigrates comfort, decor and atmosphere. I think they are important and they add immeasurably to the dining experience. On the other hand, I think at the end of the day, it's the food that counts. We have too many Arun's and such in this town that present fluff in the name of high prices. I'd prefer Mr. Vettel came down on the side of food.

(Remember you read about Matsumoto here first, where discussion continues.)

Monday, October 31, 2005

Save This Restaurant*

We walked into Mandarin Kitchen last night at about 6 PM. We walked out around 7:30. During that time, two other sets of customers arrived--for hot pots. Our table, however, was the only one to sample the Shanghainese and Northern Chinese specialties. A confidential source has reported similar sparse crowds. If Mandarin Kitchen cannot thrive because of this fallow patronage, it will be a real loss to our area’s eaters. When the un-interested make their usual banal, no good Chinese food in Chicago statements, the death of Mandarin Kitchen will inadvertently support their no-nothingness. This is a restaurant that does not deserve to die.

Already, I would say it suffered a bit from non-use. The salty vegetable and bean curd, one of my favorite of the cold appetizers, a fine mix of green something and tofu something that melds into a salty, vegetal bomb in the mouth, tasted tired. The thick and chewy Shanghai style round noodles seemed a bit too gloppy. The pond fish in spicy sauce did not taste fishy or off but my palate could tell that it was almost there. With Chinese restaurants you expect your fish to be not even close to this stage. Still, Mandarin Kitchen showed why it should matter to Chicago chowhounds and Chinese food mavens. It provides a menu filled with choices. All the standards of the Shanghai cannon, the soup dumplings and assorted items in chili oil like razor thin tendon, ten or so variations on bean curd, several items in the brown braising sauce almost equal amounts sugar and soy (with a few other ingredients to elevate). It is a rich, hearty food that should go well in Chicago. Perhaps because Shanghai food has not become “in” in Chicago, Mandarin Kitchen has been adding many dishes from Beijing, where the owners actually hail. A lot of this stuff is written only in Chinese but the menu now contains a few items like chicken and potato casserole that is more Northern than Eastern. As if ordering before was easy.

To tempt us towards this new direction, Aidee, the sly and attractive owner of MK grilled us up, on the house, some lamb kebabs coated in spices more Indian than Chinese (it seemed). Do order these when you help save this restaurant. We also ordered the Northern beef stew with crinkly sheets of dry tofu. A great rich dish (again highly desirable for our climate) that was somewhat marred by too much sterno underneath. Once we figured out how to cap the flame, we liked this dish better. More Shanghai was soft tofu cubes in a sweet dressing with plenty of contrast from a Chinese pickle. Our final dish was sautéed eggplant, than in the wonders of Chinese translations, was actually batter fried eggplant slices briefly stir-fried with a double handful of snipped chives. A dish of strong, inter-mixed flavors, salty, sweet and sharp, just another reason to return to the “New” Mandarin Kitchen.

I should add that before any of our dishes arrived; we got a bit of cabbage, slightly fermented and sneaky hot from several dried maroon peppers. We also got bowls of cabbage soup that tasted much like my Mom’s or Manny’s. At the original, Mandarin Kitchen, there was a crispy fried chicken known to eaters as gribenese chicken. Well, this soup would be a fitting match to that dish. The first Mandarin Kitchen did excellent versions of spicy, oily Szechwan style food. It was a shame it closed, but when it closed, there was still Lao Sze Chuan and Spring World doing equally good versions of this food (and subsequently, Sky). If the New Mandarin Kitchen leaves, there is really nothing else like it around. Save this restaurant!

The “New” Mandarin Kitchen
2143 S Archer

*Feature stolen from Time Out Chicago
Final Market
Oak Park Farmer's Market - 10/29/05

It’s over. Or just begun. As I have paraded before you, with high degree of righteousness and sanctimony, I will be eating from a farmer’s market shopping cart even as Oak Park’s splendid market packs up for the year—does it not seem like the old time circus, it’s here, it’s all consuming, and then just gone. For the next six months or so, that parking lot at the Pilgrim Church*, on Lake near Ridgeland will be like any other parking lot. It will be hard to imagine the many stands with their fruit, their vegetables, their flowers, their cheese, their meat, their eggs, their vinegars, and their bake sales for various good causes will not be there. No one will hear the several guitars, banjos, mandolins, fiddles, a stand-up bass or two, and whatever else shows up, that combine into one complexly pure line of music. No one will take in the whiffs of donuts being made and Oak Park’s own Hayes, since 1789 (?!), coffee. No one will not run into their neighbors, kid’s coaches, co-volunteers, and Village residents who look vaguely familiar (most likely because you see them once a week at the Market). No dogs will be parked at the edges of the lot, tails wagging, waiting for someone to return. It will just be a parking lot.

It seems so sudden because the market stayed so full this fall. In years past, the last few weeks were mostly a bazaar of snake gourds, bales of hay and corn stalks. All the things I hate for its uselessness (but have to appreciate for the way the farmer’s can make a few extra bucks pawning off their garbage). Usually by this time of year even the pumpkins look a bit haggard as all the good ones have been sold. The last market was about saying good bye and celebrating the run with a Styrofoam cup of stone soup. Inevitably, the soup kept you warm on a day that was a brutal as a Welsh summer. The metaphor for this year’s market was the fact that the stone soup was gone by the time we made it to the market (having a soccer game first), but we did not need the soup.

I will say that finally, the market thinned a bit. Nicholls’s Farm did not have any tomatoes, yet tomatoes, at the end of October! fresh tomatoes could still be found. There were also still raspberries but not enough for them to be there at 11 AM. We bought a ½ bushel of apples from Hardin Farms, under this year’s standing philosophy of sticking with the place I know. This should keep us in local fruit for a while, although we picked up a new blender the other day at Costco, and we should start mixing up smoothies with some of our frozen stuff this week. Because we gave Farmer Vicki a check for her fall CSA, we did not feel the need to over-buy vegetables. We still did buy. Skinny, leafy celery and skinny white eggplants from Nicholls; cabbage, cow’s head sized cauliflower and the remains of this years broccoli crop from The Farm (oh, and tomatoes too), lettuce and onions and potatoes and jalepenos to carry us over from Vicki’s Genesis Growers. Things cool that I passed on included sunchokes, parsley root and celery root from Nicholls’s (who uses parsley root?); fresh lavender from Vicki (smelled good though), and interesting radishes at Sandhill Organics, hand grenade-ish looking black radishes and another radish that when sliced was almost like those old-fashioned watermelon candies, green, then white then bright red. They looked like Middle-Eastern pickled turnips already pickled. As always, I admired the wild mushrooms at Nicholls more than I ever will purchase them. My favorite farmer’s, the Wettstein’s, made one their intermittent visits. We bought their brats, pork sausage and ground beef and promised to buy some eggs when they will be at Oak Park’s Buzz Café on November 19 (as like the soup and raspberries, the eggs were gone by 11). It just was like pretty much any week, plenty to buy, plenty we could have bought.

Like I say, our eating local will not stop when this week’s produce runs out. We have the CSA, which I will duly report. We have our freezer stock, our apples and squash and potatoes and onions waiting for us in the cold room. We will make a run to two to the Green City Fall market just to see what is there. Like I have also said, I believe what we eat daily in our house is as good as all but the best restaurants in Chicago. There are really great reasons to go local. Think of the effect on the environment when your produce is trucked in all the way from California, or worse, flown in from Holland, South Africa, and New Zealand. Or think of the difference between the one round stiff tomato found at Jewel and the many sizes, shapes and colors of tomatoes found at the markets when someone throws out the word biodiversity. Support the nearby farmer, not just for what they are doing but because how well they can help you eat.

See ya next year.

*The other notable shingle style, triangled roof building in Oak Park.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Why I Hate Johnny Apple


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What's Interesting This Week at Caputo's

Carrots, potatoes, grapes, apples. And what's interesting about them? All local (Michigan). It is possible to buy local produce at a convenient store (and at low prices!). You too can be local.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Why Sucks

The greatest thing about the Internet food site,, was it was there. In 2001, I found it (via a diary of site "Alpha Dog" Jim Leff in When I got there, some really smart foodies like Zim, ReneG, Seth Zurer, ErikM, and LeeK had already found the site. Over time, more great foodies like Hat Hammond, the Brilliant One, Aaron Deacon, MikeG, Cathy2, JiminLoganSquare, OurPalWill, GWiv (and hundreds more) all found the site. Except for Wiv who was kinda lured on to Chowhound from the decrepit Chi.eats, everyone else pretty much found Chowhound on their own. And we were VERY happy we found the place. We all learned so much about Chicago, about food, about people. Today, you will find none of us on And because we are all vanished from Chowhound, the site hardly offers much about Chicago, about food and about people.

Read this post to know why. The exact reasoning for Chowhound's laser-focus is what makes the site a failure as a database. If you cannot cultivate a local food community, you cannot expect to populate a board with useful tips and tidbits. Read Chicago's Chowhound board today. See what is there and what you can learn. Compare this to what was there a few years ago. Compare to (or any split-off board like OA or Mouthfuls). If you cannot attract and interest great foodies, the Seth Zurers, the RSTs, the SteveZs, the Sazeracs (and all the other LTHForum posters I barely know now) of the world, how can you expect to attract great postings?
Detroit Breakdown*
A Regional Specialty That Failed Me

Poster MJM writes lovingly (with pic) of Lafayette Coney Island of Detroit here. The grand poohbahs of Roadfood, the Sterns, also write lovingly of Lafayette in their latest book (although there is no mention on their web site). I've been anxious to try...

About 15 years ago, I tried Cincinnati chili for the first time. Before that moment, I had been reading about 5 way and all sortsa other regional specialties in the Stern books. Those books, of course, made me interested in the chili. Going into Cincy I thought I'd enjoy the experience of "trying", but I did not expect that much. I was surprised then in how much I really liked Cincinnati chili. It was good, really good. It set the standard for regional oddities over the years. And what I have found, with things like LA french dips, Central Texas BBQ, NY pastrami, Boston Indian pudding, [ed. italian beef?]etc., is that these things are not just interesting but exceptionally tasty. There is a reason they have become famous.

Which meant that when lunch came around in downtown Detroit, I knew exactly where I needed to go. For once, however, the hype did not match the product. I cannot fully say "so what" because, as well described on LTHForum (link above), Lafayette Coney is a classic, the kinda of barely changed, Hopperesque place I live for. Still, the product just did not move me. At all. And when I tried for the sake of chow-science, All-American's coneys next door, I did not leave any more blissed.

The Detroit coney dog gets griddled and then condimented with chili sauce, mustard and onions (I skipped the latter). The dog itself is pretty good, well crusted from the griddle and a nice smokey flavor. The toppings, however, added nothing. Bland is not quite a word for chili, but I am not quite sure the word (Antonius, MikeG, Hammond, Desmond?) for something with flavors that still have little taste.

I passed through Detroit's Greektown a few times for reasons I cannot detail and rued missing the lamb with squash daily special. I did buy a some nice pastries at Astoria.

To end, I'll add that for someone like me, who fetishizes over old buildings (and old stuff generally), downtown Detroit is a fine place to hang for a day. I think I counted 3 skyscrapers built after 1985.

Lafayette Coney Island
(313) 964-8198
118 W Lafayette Blvd
Detroit, MI 48226

Astoria Pastry Shop
541 Monroe St
Detroit, MI 48226-2932
(313) 963-9603

*Who else misses J and the gang?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Local Challenge Challenge
Various Un-Reported Farmer's Markets

It’s what, one, two, three, four, five markets I missed blogging? I shopped at Oak Park pretty much weekly. I have allso visited Green City, Daley Plaza, Wicker Park, and 311 S. Wacker. Want to read no more: Loved 'em all.

More? I think last time we talked there was still a peach or two to buy. Incredibly, through all these markets, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers stayed. It seemed like there were as many eggplants today at Nicholls’s as there was six weeks ago, even if most of today’s were gray-white to match the cloud cover. Yet also, in a mimic of turning leaves, Nicholls’s sold tiny eggplants the hue of a good fall drive. Several weeks ago you would not have seen the wild mushrooms including elephant ear sized hen of the woods and expensive chanterelles as you would have today in Oak Park. Just because I have not been faithfully reporting does not mean I have not been shopping.

Shopping like a fool. As I noted when I tossed my hat into the Eat Local Challenge, eating local in the summer is pretty effortless. I said come back in a few months and see how things stand. And it is still rather effortless. For long periods I could rely on a very full market. I purchased varieties of plums, summer ending with the concentrated flavor of the Stanley plum, liquid prunes. Grapes and apples and raspberries, broccoli purple or green or white which we call cauliflower (almost) and all sizes and shapes of squashes have been here forever it seems and I filled up each week. On the other hand, most of the pear varieties made the briefest of appearances and I regret not buying more. Paying attention to the market (even if not putting it to bit and byte), I noticed how short the pear season was. Not as short as the Black Walnut. One week, my favorite fruit vendor, Hardin Farms, had quarts of these for $3. I jumped at it, as much for the uniqueness as its nuttiness. Good thing because these hard to crackers never appeared again.* I have been buying a lot.

Because soon it will not be so effortless to eat local. The challenge will challenge. We are gonna try our hardest to stay local all the way to the opening of the 2006 Farmer’s Market. I am sure I have admitted my exceptions, bananas and citrus fruits. Of course, I only mean fruit and vegetables. Price wise, we cannot afford to commit too fully to local meat and fish; while, other local stuff like Wilmot grains are just too esoteric to matter. On the other hand, we pretty much stick with local dairy products. This is the true local challenge, local off-season. Eating local when the Oak Park Farmer's Market tucks in for the year.

Accepting the challenge takes work. And a fair amount of freezer space. And learning. We are learning the hard way how to keep local. We are lucky we are not Little Home on the Prairie. Whatever mistakes and such we make, we will hardly starve come January. Our biggest mistake was not really thinking about the big picture until about September. It dawned on us, after recollecting once again on the especially delicious apricots this year that we should have dried some. Drying was well within our knowledgebase. As canning is not. Next year I am gonna try to convince Cathy2 from LTHForum to hold some canning classes. Until then, the Condiment Queen and I are still afraid we will kill the family if we can. The thing is though, for the first few months of the market we neither dried or canned or froze, the idiot’s method of preserving. None of those cherries we enjoyed, the ten versions of strawberries at the market, the limited offering of blackberries, the sugar-snaps and shell peas, the edamame, we just plain did not think to save any of those. We started in earnest in September.

We realized in time to pack away a bit of blueberries, plums and peaches. Mostly, we have been packing away grapes (the frozen grapes go about 1:1 between eating now and saving), raspberries, bell peppers and green beans. We have made a ton of tomato sauce and oven dried other tomatoes. We still have a gross or so of tomatoes to process. We have one more week of market to buy, and we will stock up on all of the above plus apples—the folks at Hardin say some of the kinds of apples will stay fine in the fridge for several months. I am not worried about stocking up on everything.

As I reported before, Farmer Vicki will offer a CSA all the way through December. I expect to get plenty of greens, potatoes, cabbage and onions and more, her stand, Genesis Growers has been quite full even now, each week from the CSA. Green City Market will also be in function for the rest of the year. It’s a pain to shop in the lion house, but once or twice I am sure I will make it. I am going into unchartered territory. I think the challenge has barely begun. See what I have to say in a few months.

See ya next week at the market. It’s the last one in Oak Park.

*When we bought the black walnuts, they warned us they would break a nut cracker. And how. The thing is, not only does it take several wakes of a hammer to crack these nuts, it takes some strong work to get the nuts out of the shells. I know this is gross, but they remind me of my daughter’s Cesarean birth, the nut is like the baby held tightly in place. It is worth the work. Unlike any other nut. I would say they taste almost like grapes, with a winey, musty flavor as well as being much sweeter than you expect nuts. I am glad I was there the week the nuts were (don’t insert any jokes…)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Not Like Chicago
Tallahassee, Florida

Yea, Tallahasse aint like Chicago, but specifically, when I finished up the bit of business I had in Tallahase yesterday, I said to one of the people I was with, well, the standard Chowhound question: "got any good suggestions for dinner?" We went thru the usual process of trying to match needs and wants. They asked me, what was I looking for, and I said "not like Chicago."

I had already had lunch not like Chicago. Sonny's is a franchised BBQ chain, but it arose in Florida, so I felt reasonably authentic stopping there. More important, Sonny's symbolizes the difference between Q down there and up here. You just cannot seem to combine a place that smells real with a restaurant that is real up here--and real I mean with menus, tables, pop in glasses, etc. Yea, Sonny's is a bit cute the way most Southern BBQ restaurants these days are cute, but like I say, they are actually smoking stuff.

Smoking stuff well? As a tourist, I had to sample, and forsake the lunch specials for a Pig 3 Way special with pulled pork, sliced pork, and spareribs. Of these, only Sonny's original, the sliced pork, truly stood out. The pulled pork was mushy and watery (is mushy by its nature, watery?); the ribs had a nice hickory flavor but were way to mono-dimensional in flavor. The slice pork was exactly what you cannot get around here, meaty, porky, moist, with real flavor that did not hide when your squeezed some sauce over it. In the pantheon of great BBQ, you will not find Shorty's, but for a boychick in town, it was not like Chicago in the best of ways.

And I wanted more. The original dinner suggestion was Bonefish Grill. I am sure that was the safe, we do not wanna scare the boychick suggestion. I feigned interest. I was thinking these are just not foodies, and no form of pressing would get me anywhere. I figgered I'd thank them for the Bonefish Grill, pretend like that was a good choice and just skedadle. I have other sources you know...Luickily for me, they read through the falsity in my, "mm Bonefish Grill, sounds fine..." The said, what about Seineyard, in Woodville? I was not convinced 'til they said, "at Bonefish you get real plates, Seineyard gives you paper plates."

Well what kinda guy like us does not race out with a hook like that? Yet, I never did eat at Seineyard (and it turns out it probably would have been a good meal.) I rode past Seineyard a bit too early for dinner. I decided to drive around and find a hotel for the night nearby (which turned out to be useless both because there are no hotels in Woodville and I ended up flying back last night). A bit past Seineyard I passed Register's Country BBQ. This was in some ways, less a Not Chicago BBQ place, as our classic local Q places are shacks without tables, etc. Still, no one in Chicago is cooking their BBQ outdoors.

I had a bit of conversation with the folks at Register. They told me that Florida did not allow true pits anymore, that you had to have some kinda walls around the smoker. So, his barrall smoker was in a porch surrounded by a four foot fence. Fans blew the smoke AWAY from the store, which I guess is a sign of confidence. He let me try a bit of rib tip while he fixed up my chopped pork sammy. What a rib tip, crusty, fully of flavor, yet not the least bit greasy. The sandwich was marred by the fact that he nuked it. He regaled me with a lot of local lore. It only takes about 5 miles south to not only be Not Chicago, but Not Tallahasse either. Not too far from Woodville is a civil war battle site, where I was told the Rebs whipped the Yanks, one of the few victories for that side in that part of the world. In honor of this event, the locals do a re-enactment every year. They like the winning part. I hope this gives you a sense of his sentiments, sentiments discussed in other BBQ threads. Of course, of course, of course, go for the food.

Pretty much filled up on Q, I continued to explore. I did not realize until my discussion, how close Tallahassee is to the water. I decided to visit the coast (so to speak), which is quite bayou like. I wandered the town of St. Marks Florida where boats outnumber cars and where there are quite a few seafood markets. I asked around and was told to go to Nicholl's. The menu at Nicholls looked good, but it was early and I was stuffed. But by then, I was also on a 7 PM flight back to Chicago, and I knew I had to eat soon. Early dinner for me.

Fried shrimps, fried mullet, hush puppies, cheese grits, I was blissfully not in Chicago. I'm not much of a mullet expert. Mine last night was a fishy-fish, almost like mackeral. It grew on me as I ate it. The shrimps, well, shrimps just do not taste like that around here, so fresh. Best of all to me, the carb guy, however, was the sweet hushpuppies.

I do not have the addresses for any of the places but they are all along Woodville Highway (Florida 363) heading South from Tallahasse, first Seineyard, then Register (both on the West side of the road) and finally Nicholl's when you get near the end of the road.

Friday, October 14, 2005

What's Interesting This Week at Caputo's

Olives. Yea, yea, Caputo's always has olives. This week they have fresh, awful-tasting, fresh olives. Cure your own!
Farmer Vicki Contact Info

I should have included this in the post below. Those interested in Farmer Vicki's Fall and Spring CSA's should contact her at
Greetings from Farmer Vicki

Not only is there a plug in here for my daughter's school, but as we've been talking about, here's a way to keep local past the market season. I hope to post more resources like this soon.

What a wonderful season! The cooler weather is refreshing and the new crops are loving it. This morning I was out early looking things over and had to rejoice in the beauty of the land. It was very foggy and the dew was heavy. The land was covered with cob webs that were moist with dew. In the early light it was like a myriad of diamonds across the land. How often does nature present us with such beauty and we fail to notice because we are so busily on our way here or there? It pays to stop and enjoy the wonder of creation. What I felt was a combination of awe, inspiration, joy and peace. It caused me to stop to look and listen. The corn stalks were rustling, the leaves in the cottonwoods were murmuring and the roosters were crowing. Then I saw a toad hop off on his way to find a yummy breakfast treat. A few grasshoppers pinged their way across the field and a wooly caterpillar wiggled his way to who knows where. A lady bug sat quietly on a leaf drinking in the dew and waiting for a tasty treat to come its way. There is so much life around us. A whole world exists under us and around us. When the school kids were here a couple weeks ago they were more interested in the insects than they were anything else. Perhaps we should take a lesson form the kids at Hatch and take the time to enjoy the little things.

The fall crops are coming along very nicely - both inside and out. We have new little peppers and tomatoes in the greenhouse. I am amazed at how fast they are growing. We are prepared now to plant greens and such in the ground in one of the greenhouses, but the outside crops are doing so great in this weather that I am just thrilled. The guys hoed and cultivated everything this week and it looks beautiful. We should have a nice variety available for the fall/ winter CSA. The location and day for pick up have been arranged and are as follows: The Oak Park Children's School, located at 124 N. Kenilworth. It is located in a large, green house called Gale House, just south of Unity Temple. There is a large, covered porch where the boxes can be stacked. I will deliver on Wednesdays by approx 9:30 AM. The school asks that people not pick up during the time that parents would be picking up their children to reduce traffic stress. To sign up, just let me know and make payment either at market or by mail. A couple of folks have indicated that they would need to pick up after work and I will find out if that is workable. Ask me at market and I will let you know. The cost is $140.00 for the season. Then I will take January and February off and will hopefully begin again in March or April with a Spring share.

The picture is of the guys out picking greens. Don't those greens look great? Hope your lives are filled with as much joy and wonder as is mine. Famer Vicki

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

More La Quebrada

I've been twice of late to La Quebrada, so I guess that's what's inspired two posts. Still, the meal I had last night is about fits the model for the Suggest-A-Meal, a concept originated by ChiNola on the

For the table - Nachos - Nachos ARE Mexican in the sense that they were first conceived and served in Mexico, but for food historians, I think they are kinda Mexican in the same way Caesar salad is Mexican. In other words, more of a dish associated with Mexican restaurants in the USA. Well, La Quebrada's in the USA and they make great nachos. These are not the loaded 10,000 calorie, seven layer, nachos that can be sit in the dark and listen to Brittney Spears, guilty pleasure good. Instead, they are near minimal nachos. Some of the chips barely have a coating. Yet, it's great, like all melted Mexican cheese, great cheese, very fine guacamole, some crema, some beans, some pickled jalepenos, it stems any hunger pangs while the rest of the meal comes.

For Daddy and daughter to split - Several tacos de cesina (see previous post) and a carne asada campestre. In anticipation of this post, I asked the staff yesterday what was in the oily, spicy campestre sauce. They laughed at me. The dish is Quebrada's benchmark arranchera under a coating of queso fresca, charro beans, and nopales and soaked in this mystery sauce. I go through several tortillas just mopping the sauce.

For someone - Chiliquilles en salsa verde con cecina. It does not take a genius to realize that the best chiliquilles will come from the best tortillas. With the contrasting cecina, it is a great dish of textures and strong flavors melded against a soft background.

For the other person - A dish. Here's your chance to explore the 50 or so dishes on the Quebrada menu. Chances are, anything but the soups will be good. A lot of people have liked the chicken legs, although I have never tried. The enchilladas are boring but good, tostadas de ceviche and seafood cocktails can hit the spot when the moods is right.

There's some flan in a case but I never get around to it. If it is early enough in the day, zip over to Cermak and try some candy at Old Fashioned Candy.

I'm about six months too late in pointing out this new blog, but my new blogging motto will (soon) be, better late than ever. Since, a little brilliant one has been whispering in my ear all week, I figger now's as a good as time as ever to make things right and mention this blog.

The writer of this blog has a special place in the annals of Chicago Chowhounds. Once upon a time, our palates were shaded, shaded by our menu limitations. We knew a place as simple as Yum Thai in Forest Park seemed to offer treats beyond its stated choices. In fact, there was a secret menu, but a menu no one could actually read. Awfully hungry, we posted the menu on the Internet, seeking the kindness of a stranger who would tell us what to eat. e.e. cumming's like foodfirst came to our rescue. From the across the sea, she translated our Yum Thai menu and then later Spoon Thai's. It's been fun eatin' every since. Of course ErikM has had the advantage of visiting the restaurants and ironing out certain terms, but foodfirst did it first.

Needless to say, her blog justifies the revelation we hold her in, in Chicago.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Save the Ramova Theater

This came in the mail box, but it's pretty cool/worthwhile:

The following is some info on TheRamova Theater in bridgeport, the 'sister' theater to the north side Music Box Theater. There is a current push to save the interior of this historic old theater - currently developers want to gut the interior, which is very similar to the music box. Also threatened with emolition is the Ramova Grill, to which I have never been, but some of you may have.

If any of you have an interest in signing the petition to save this theater or want to get more information, please check out the website listed at the bottom of this newsletter...

The Chicago Sun-Times ran a great two- page article by Misha Davenport (thanks Misha!) in the Wednesday October 5th paper, page 53. You can see the online version of this article by clicking here. The photos are the first pictures published of the theatre's interior in 20 years...and while they're not pretty scenes, they definitely don't show the total devastation we were repeatedly warned to expect.

It looks to us as if that damage had to have been in place at the time in 2002 when the City published their Request For Proposals that spelled out their preference for a theatrical use for the building. So no matter what happened to the building while it was in care of the city, the city agrees: it can rehabilitated to be used as a theatre, even in its damaged state. To see that original DPD RFP, visit our new blog by clicking here.
Doing My Part for

Last week let everyone know that it's broke. Now, you won't find me sending them any money as I am infrequent user of their site. But I will help. I was putting together post today and I realized that I had never blogged on Hugo's Frog Bar, one of my favorite places to eat in Chicago. So, I decided to re-post my Chowhound Hugo's posts. This way, you can read the stuff on the blog and save Jim Leff the bandwidth costs by engaging his servers. I hope to re-post more stuff soon and save Chowhound even more money.

Hugo's Post #1

It has been a good few weeks, providing vial information to manage risks, so feeling a bit flush we made a beeline to the place we love to drop our wad. Of course, we could have spent less money and had been in the wonderful company of the Chilean chowers, but sometimes, a mayor and his consort have to do their own thing.

We got to Hugo's pretty much on time for our reservation, the place was just filling up, but we got plunked in one of the gosh darn worst seats in the house. A comfy, circular banquette that was too close to the kitchen door. Every time it opened, we got serenaded by the crash of dishes and other assorted work-in-progress noises. They moved us easily, but it still rankles me a bit, why did WE get that booth? The new booth was just as comfy and circular and built for canoodling and before long all thoughts of noise were gone.

The Condiment Queen expressed pleasure she had been served pretty much her ideal repast: shrimp de jonge, the crab cakes with hot pink mayo and a veggie combination platter that included asparagus, broccoli, sauted mushrooms, creamed spinach and sauted onions.

The shrimp de jonge was true revelation on this Chicago classic. Very large shrimps not in the least mushy or possessing that certain cooked shrimp taste I do not like--imagine that poor rendition of shrimp creole you once ate. The twelve or so shrimps were covered in the de jonge, a mix of butter, garlic and breadcrumbs. It was a dryer mix, almost a paste, but I liked it better that way. The crab cake was still terrific although perhaps because I have spent some extra time with Evil Ronnie, I was a bit more discerning on it. I did not seem pure jumbo lump, rather a mix, with only nuggets of lump interspersed. I cannot say whether this is a trend or if it has always been that way, it is only recently that I have taken this keener approach to crab cakes.

Hugo's does a very fine job with the smaller things. Not too many people whip up a better blue cheese dressing, and that effusive hot pink mayo works awfully well. The three kinds of bread on the table were even better. We resisted mightedly before meal, just nibbling on the raisin, but faced with a plate of spare de jonge, we went carb crazy. We liked all the vegetables. The simple ones, broccoli and asparagus, prospered without treatment. The more fancy spinach was just as good, tasting of spinach and cream but not too much else.

Hugo's Post #2

On Saturday night we decided to spend a fair amount of money for dinner. Deciding to put my money where my mouth is, we picked Hugo's Well, first of all, we succeeded in spending a lot of money. With tax and tip and one drink, we hit a cool three figures. What did we get for that amount of money? Did we validate my constant call?

They push the seafood. Soon after sitting down, in an alternative to the morton/gibson's meat display, they bring a fish display. This is not necessarily good marketing. I mean it would work if they brought by sparklingly fresh, whole species with bloody red gills and ultra-clear eyes, but dragging an oxidized slab of fish meat to each table, what does that prove. I mean no one wants the fish they show. Still, the menu descriptions sounded good.

I was spoiling Ms. VI and I went along with two fish dishes, forsaking the lake perch deal I really wanted. For newcomers to Hugo's, I would highly advise on the perch. Instead, we got the giant slab o'tuna and a black grouper with wild mushrooms. On the side we ordered a big helping of greenbeans and to start, the crabcake appetizer with the hot pink mayo. Everything worked with its minimal garnish. When you offer high quality stuff, why muck it up anyway with sauces. The primo dish, as always was the crab cake. I know of no better version outside of Baltimore. Ms. VI's on an anti-carb thing, and she initially shied away from the cakes. No worry, barely any bread-related product in these crab cakes. The tuna came purely rare with just the right skin of crust. With the wasabi and soy sauce offered, it was like slicing your own sushi. The other fish had a very grandma like coating of paprika type spices, but underneath was perfectly done grilled fish. The greenbeans straddled expertly the line between trendy under-done and old fashioned mushiness.

We skipped any mondo desserts, but they are fun if you have a few more people.

1024 North Rush Street, (between Oak Street and Bellevue)
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 640-0999
Eating at Home or Shopping in Chicago

As a unit, the VI family loves eating out. We do it often for convenience, for instance when Mickey's and its tasty Big Mickey's are right there between soccer games. We like the spectacle of a Todai or Fogo de Chao. We like the chance to dress up and feel like a high roller (like here or here). A lot of eating out I think comes from wanting to sample so many types of food. Indian today, Afghan tomorrow, Shanghainese during the week, Czech on weekends. Finally, I know some of it comes from the fact that no one in our clan much likes to clean up. So, we eat out a lot. But eating in, I am coming to realize, may be as good if not better.

For one thing, the ingredients available to the home cook are far superior to all but what the best restaurants are using. Granted, I am not buying Waygu beef briskets too often, but I do have great local sources. I will write soon (really) about what's in the Farmer's Markets about now. Today, I want to mention a few stores we have recently visited.

Caputo's Cheese Factory

When we started visiting this store in Melrose Park, owned by one of the Caputo brothers, it was truly a factory. Then, it sold mostly cheese and served up cheap lunches including chicken sandwich that managed to be both grilled and fried. Over time, the factory has moved out and the space taken over by more and more stuff. For a while, they tried to sell fresh produce but that did not take. Today, Caputo's is mostly about cheese with a smattering of great deals on other products. They make excellent fresh mozzarella, and we nearly always buy some. They are also especially strong in grating cheeses and provolone. It is near impossible to walk out without some of the ricotta decorated with ridges from its molding.

Argo Georgian Bakery

Or the place with the oven in the middle of the floor. It's hard to believe that for a while, I did not like this place, victim of a stale bread that I was too dumb to realize was a fluke. Now, we visit every time we hit Da'Bomb. The breads, either round or long and skinny are about as primal a loaf as possible. You really taste the flour and yeast. For the kidz, we buy up all the hatchapuri's on offer. These are a flaky pastry encasing a blend of cheeses--a blend made to simulate fresh Georgian cheese. The hatchapuris are one of the few things we know daughter number 2 will always eat for breakfast. See here for some great Argo pictures.

Elliott's Dairy

What's with the dairy thing? The milk department is nothing special. Elliott's is a supermarket that competed with Jewel and Dominick's in like 1957. As they grew, Elliott's stayed the same. If I lived in the neighborhood, I might shop for a few things. Overall, it is not that special of a store. Yet, what is worth stopping in for, are a few items. Mainly, the corned beef. Chicago, since the demise of Winklestein's, is not a town of great corned beef. It IS a town of very good corned beef, and oddly enough, one of the best sources is this store just outside of Chicago on Nagle. Maybe because they know what they do well, Elliott's is set up for the full corned beef spread. They sell very good Chicago style (i.e., not so sour) pickles from a quasi-barrel and Rosen's premier rye, one with an actual crust. They always seem to find some kinda condiments not seen at Costco. Yesterday they had Da' Coach's mustards.

Avenue's Supermarket

If Elliott's long ago stopped competing with other supermarkets around town, it has come of late that the biggies have been eclipsed as well. Chicago is, in my opinion, receiving a supermarket renaissance. Of course there is Whole Foods for Amish milk and good bread, but the real action is in the hoods, massive A&G with its extensive selection of offal along with canned goods from every corner of the map, sparkling Mexican outlets like Carneceria Guanajunto, the various "Fresh Markets" and a host of Polish markets well below most people's radars.

Avenues is a true supermarket, with aisles stuffed with stuff, several varieties of jellies and jams, a whole section of wild Polish mushrooms in cans, the requisite quasi barrels with pickles, and three kinds of sauerkraut. The deli counter is huge. I was not sure if I could manage it when the numbers were being called strictly in Polish. But the turkey looked especially good, so I managed. Once I managed to "hear" my number by watching the ticker, the staff spoke enough English for me. Most of the stuff in the cases is clearly marked, although there are all sortsa smoked sausages and smoked ribs without labels. At another counter we got herring in both vinegar and oil for only $2.99 /lb for each kind. Like all Polish stores, it is a great source for dairy--here the dairy bar name would fit, and we got a log of Amish butter as well as farmer's cheese and kefir.

New York Kosher

When I wrote the section on Da'Bomb for the Slow Food Chicago book, I lamented the state of the kosher markets remaining on Devon. New York Kosher is not what I would call a stellar store. It nearly makes Elliott's look like Zabar's, but they have a couple of neat things buried in the dreck. They make a "Persian whitefish". I am not sure what Persian Whitefish is, Google left me bare. What New York Kosher sells is a white fish, like cod or haddock, breaded with a coarse crumb, then fried. It holds up very well though as cold dish, and there is something in there, perhaps the Persian part, that gives it a neat taste. At times, there are other fresh things in the case worth buying including grape leaves, a potato salad with something red in the dressing and a good beet salad. My wife likes the ample supply of Mantiowoc Farms breads.

Caputo Cheese Market
1931 N. 15th Avenue
Melrose Park, IL 60160

Argo, Inc. Georgian Bakery
2812 w. Devon ave.chicago, IL 60659-1502

Elliotts Dairy & Deli
4800 N Nagle Ave
Harwood Heights
(708) 867-9044

Avenues Supermarket
Somewhere west on Belmont, past Oak Park Avenue

Moshe's New York Kosher
2900 W. Devon
Chicago, IL 60659
773 338-3354
La Quebrada - New(ish) Menu

La Quebrada changes its menu nearly as often as Alinea. Perhaps like ChefG, the maestros at Quebrada stay up late seeing how they can stretch the envelope of salted dried beef (a/k/a cecina). Actually, the new menu seems all about trying to get the Quebrada customer to eat more. There are several combinations ranging from $8.99 to $35 mostly combing grilled meats, but there is also a combination Teloloapan, which is like a restaurant version of the famed Maroon vans, fried tacos and enchilladas in Guerenese sweet dark brown Teloloapan mole. I'd like to comment on these items more, but I have never tried them.

La Quebrada makes some exceptional sauces, the curry scented salsa India (no joke), the house warm molcajete, with roasted tomatoes and chiles (I believe guaijillo) and the extra spicy, one dimensional, but one brutally great dimension arbol. Still, I've mostly settled in, of late with the antojitos (tacos, sopes, gorditas, picaditas).

All the antojitos at Quebrada start with a mass of nixtamal or corn masa dough (but NOT instant!). One woman in the kitchen forms to order the masa into different shapes depending on what you want. Gorditas have a thick base and the thinnest of tops for their stuffings, I especially like to have them with the steamed goat (barbacoa de chivo). If you are feeling vegetarian, get the picaditas, think a gordita without its top. While a lot of places make gorditas and such from scratch, few places also serve their tacos on fresh made tortillas.

I have not found a better tortilla in Chicago than the ones La Quebrada makes, large and thick. Stack about five and eat them with maple syrup for breakfast. The taco de cecina is, with the tacos de barbacoa at La Ley, my favorite taco outside of Maxwell Street. The ingredients do not look like much, typical friojoles refrito, bits of drab cecina (a truly ugly product), a sprinkling of pico de gallo and a dab of guacamole. Because all of the materials, from the tortilla upward, are so well done, the taco is so well done. That's what sums up La Quebrada.

From the outside it looks like nothing special, certainly one of any of thousands of Mexican places around Chicago. Inside, they make the effort to make things better. Guacamole, salsas, pico de gallo are not difficult things to make, even tortillas are not THAT difficult, assuming ideal nixtamal, yet Quebrada coaxes the most out of these things. Over time, La Quebrada has spread. You have no excuse from finding your own location. Check the new menu because it may change soon.

4859 W. Roosevelt - Cicero
3818 W. 63rd - Chicago
5100 S. California - Chicago
2906 W. Cermak - Chicago
723 S. Broadway - Aurora

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Lack of Posts

Sorry for the paucity in postings. Holidays and work combining against me. I have been to the Oak Park Farmer's Market the last two weeks, so I will post something on that soon. More importantly, the VI family is now scrambling to put away, so we can be local come November onwards. I do have one lead right now on a source for local vegetables for the winter which I will post on soon, any other leads in this area are appreciated.

The one great meal (although nothing compares with the Rosh Hashanah dinner made by the Condiment Queen) I've had of late was at Gene and Georgetti's. I'd like to say I am a long time regular there, but everyone has to start some time right. Good stuff about G&G, with some pictures and notes by moi, can be found here.
Cooking Skills, Present or Not

I'm sure everyone has certain odd memories that stick with them no matter what. One thing that has stcuk with me, is a drawing my friend Bobby Di did in 5th grade. He was one of the two or so "good artists" in our class, and I was always jealous with his ability to draw things that looked like they really were. So, I tried to pay attention to how he did it. One day, we were drawing hot dogs, that part I forget why, but I always remember how his hot dog looked so realistic, so life-like. He had added a few small lines at the end of the hot dog, showing the point where the sausage links come together. It gave the impression of bulk, of a hot dog. I realized that it was not so much a steady hand that made him the good artist, it was his ability to pick up on the bitsiest detail that made something look right. I could never draw like Bobby but I can cook.

Perhaps because I've eaten great food for so many years (thanks Mom, thanks CQ), I seem to instictively know how to make good food. I do not have a wide repotoire, and I avoid dishes that require precision. What I can make, most of the time, I can make very well. Like Bobby Di, I seem to know the right amount of seasoning or the right amount to cook something. I'm not bragging because I know a lot of people who can cook even better than me. I'm posting because, skilled as I may be, I have a real big problem in the kitchen. I cannot toss a salad.

I've written before on my love of big salads or chopped salads, usually a mess of cubed fresh vegetables with something leftover, like today, rotisserie chicken. I've become adapt at the chopping, make a great mustard vinegriette, season very aggressively especially with cracked black pepper. It all tastes great EVEN if all of the good stuff gathers on the bottom. I have tried several copied or observed methods to toss my salads. I've used tongs, spoons, fork and spoon, the flip (OK, I've not quite mastered that one). At the end of the day, I have lettuce on top, stuff underneath. I wanted total mixture so that each bite is like the last and each taste is such powerful combination of ingredients it tastes like nothing I have ever tasted before. Can anyone help

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Annals of the Discovered

Chicago Magazine's weekly e-newsletter, Penny's Morsel's [ed. I think they call it Dish now] mentions Honey1 Ribs. Some where in this big city, there's a skinny Asian man with a gift for languages crying into his Dalmation wine.
Need a Hand?

I know a trained chef from New Orleans who is currently taking shelter, with his family at the Madden Facility in Maywood, Illinois. If anyone has any job openings, contact me and I will give you his number.

Monday, September 26, 2005


GAF, a member of the Chicago LTH community, recently took shelter for a year in librul New York City. He writes with stunning detail on his gastronomic welcome here.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

What's Interesting This Week at Joseph's Market

Well, everything at this somewhat off the beaten path on the FAR west end of Chicago, but something you won't find at most other Italian markets:

  • Sea Urchin (called, oddly, "sea eggs")

Actually, as long as I'm on talking about Joseph's, I should mention a few other things of note. The pizza, what pizza, it's what I might call blob pizza. The base is free form in area like a very difficult calculus problem and awfully thick, almost two inches. Yet, unlike Chicago sheet pizza it has a crisp crust and a bit of weight in the dough. You need strong toppings to stand up to this dough and the ricotta-vegetable I tried really does.

Ok, there's more. Some of the best giardinara I've seen/tried, a mess of mostly pickled jalepenos, reminding me a lot of one of my favorite Korean panchan. There is another giardinara with vegetables. Breaded octopus to be eaten hot or cold, several kinds of salami and hams all in excellent state and cut attractively on the bias and a cheese I'm not sure the type but marinated in oil and covered heavily with spices and chopped chives. The mystery cheese is very salty. A few wedges of that, several slices of salami, both giardinaras, some marinated green olives, a bit of marinated eggplant, crusty whole wheat D'Amato bread, and my lunch went down a lot better than da Bears.


8235 W. Irving Park

Chicago, IL