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.