Thursday, August 28, 2008

Get With the Local Beet

I've been reporting on my weekly local acquisitions at the Local Beet and rallying people to buy now when it's most affordable and accessible. Michael tackles the anti's, then opens the discussions. Another good discussion is on what to do with the seasons tomatoes. All this while we are still in soft launch.

Look soon to a guide to off-season CSAs and after that, advice for how to store and put-away your local food. We are working hard behind the scenes to create the best possible guides to local stores, restaurants, markets, etc. The Beet rolls with what's local today and what's local tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Eat Seasonal Food - Suffering Succotash

If you are of a certain generation, you immediately think Yosemite Sam when you hear the word succotash. "Mommy was saying the same thing" was my daughter's bit of exasperation when I walked around the kitchen exclaiming, "suffering succotash". Who can make succotash without saying that. Who makes succotash?

Who makes succotash the right way. To the extent that it is eaten, succotash tends to be a bag of Birdseye frozen, corn niblets and starchy limas. It is the latter that give it its bad rap. Why Sam suffered with it. I would guess that most people believe that the corn got there to rescue kidz palates from suffering with too much lima. Local, as always comes to the rescue, that and a bit of tradition.

First, the tradition, how many of you knew that succotash was not just some school cafeteria side but rather an all in one meal. A meal based on what the early settlers in New England saw being eaten by those here ahead of them. Many, but not all, early recipes for succotash included some meat, especially the standard meat of the day, salt pork. A little history can be read here. So, what they saw being eaten was what was in season at that time, fresh beans and sweet corn. As Top Chef Tom Collichio is want to say, what grows together, goes together. You can make a superior succotash if using the season's fresh, fresh beans and fresh corn. Including some pork really makes superior succotash, an all-in-one dish.

I used slab bacon instead of salt pork, what I had around. I also used fresh Illinois crowder beans instead of fresh limas, but I do not think that matters too much. You cook fresh beans in a minimal amount of water (start with cold water); the water should be only about an inch over the beans. The beans need about 15 minutes of cooking once the water comes to a boil, at which time you turn to a simmer. The actual cooking time for the beans will vary based on what fresh bean you use. While the beans are cooking, make lardons of the slab bacon then crisp them up on medium heat in a skillet. Slice an onion. In the bacon grease get the onion a-cooking. A bit of garlic, not too heavy, this is New England cooking, and fresh chile (likewise) add dimension. If your corn is raw, a quick blanch could be done, but really, you could add it raw. The final product is the result of mixing in the beans and corn with the porky goodness. Season to taste, taking into account the saltiness of your pork. Serve with some spiced vinegar.

I suppose a good hard cider would go best, but that's something still for the local wishlist. I drank an Atwater Pilsner brewed in Detroit, Michigan. I toasted our early settlers and the ones here even earlier who inspired and taught this dish. Made proper, no one is gonna suffer with succotash.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mado Truly Revealed

Department of Whoops, Part 2,73

I somehow managed to put the wrong link in my Mado post yesterday. What I want to reveal, most of all, is how good the food can look at Mado, and what I need to do most of all, is correctly link to the post by Ronnie Suburban. It's here!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Old Wounds Still Un-healed? Chowhound

I admit I'm not the food board addict that I used to be. I would venture that I skip over the vast bulk of posts on LTHForum, surely missing some great stuff--not the least bit noticing that someone had asked about surplus cucumbers a day before I raised the question on the Local Beet. Dumb on my part for sure. If I read less of LTHForum than I once did, what about Chowhound/Chicago where I once ruled as the benevolent "mayor". I hardly ever drop by. Yesterday, though, in a fit of non-work pique, I decided to see what was there. What do I find, but a question on farmer's markets, a topic near and dear to me. I post some useful advice, namely a link to the Illinois Department of Agriculture's Agrihappening web site for a person to find a market in their area. Inspired and feeling generous, I find a second post on farmer's markets. I share a bit of my knowledge on downtown markets and vendors. Today, between cases, I decide to see if anyone noticed. They did. Gone! Both of my posts.

Gone! I never realized I was flat out banned from Chowhound. It would be a bit unfair and disengenuos of me not to say that in one of the two posts, I mentioned the Local Beet as a source for eat local discussion. I can possibly see the deletion of that post. How 'bout asking me to edit the reference. Still, why the other post with no reference to anything more than my blog, which I understand is within the CH rules? And why generally the drastic deletion of reference to another site? Years now, CH has allowed links and references back to LTHForum.

The Chowhound rupture ruptured a lot of things for me, personally. I've (mostly) moved on; I am surprised a place like that has not.

Mado Revealed

For the, er, several who read this vehicle steadily, you know that I mention Mado restaurant a lot. I expressed affection for the place before it opened, or at least before I visited. Mado lured me with its twin missions of serving an ever changing menu of market driven cuisine and its dedication to using the whole beast. I have since dined at Mado, I believe, eight times. I have found my initial instincts to be correct. I really enjoy Mado, not just the food presented but the whole Mado shtick. I do, however, need to reveal a few things about Mado.

What Mado looks like: one of the most active in the Chicago eating community, Ronnie Suburban, takes great food pics. We dined with him at Mado last week. Let his pictures do the talking.

The menu canard: the early reviews of Mado warned
By the time you read about what I ate at Allison and Rob Levitt’s minimalist new Wicker Park restaurant, you may have to wait until next year to try some of it.
I've already revealed this on the blog, but Mado does not change quite as much as first suspected. The hanger steak has not left the menu, nor has baby octopus. A grilled lake fish, probably trout, will be there, with a spare sauce, either herb or nut based. Given that these items have been consistently spot-on, I am not so much complaining. Still, not as an every day diner, but as a frequent Mado diner, I can report that the menu does not change as much as you would think.

The impact: over the last several years, my food interests have segued from the hounding, find the next great find mentality, to an intense interest in local, farms and the such. In other words, instead of having a new favorite restaurant each week, I have come to favor only a few. Instead we mostly dine-in on our bounty of local. Mado joined a short list. It is special to me, and I have had few bad things to say about it both in idealism and execution. As I said above, nearly everything I have eaten at Mado, I have loved. Still, I want to express a few ires.

The ires: I think I have already expressed my primary ire, a tendency to play it safe. This, of course, is only a criticism that a true devotee, a full kool-aid sucker could express. I think I understand Mado's concerns. The need to attract customers not as over-the-top as me. To afford some safety or at least have dishes that will sell. It's a needle-threader. I think there are many up to the challenge. More lamb belly? Cuts of cow beyond hanger? Get a little Fergus Henderson on us Rob. Also, I'd like to see a bit more veg adventure too. Mado tends to stall on favored preparations. Small potatoes are roasted; summer squash is escabeached; eggplants are honeyed. The left side of Mado's menu seemed a bit stagnant on my last visit.

Am I like the indy music fan who rejects his favorite band on the first whiff of its hitting it big? But I love Nevermind. I love Mado. I do not think Mado has gone downhill in two short months, nor has it violated any spirit it once had. I think a few revelations, good and bad, are fine for this blog.

1647 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 342-2340
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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Who the Hell Cans - Oven Concentrate

No, it is not a sign of defeat that a good portion of this afternoon was set to tomatoes but not to canning tomatoes. It is not of frustration. Believe me, it is not for ease. Instead, it is just more ways to set aside our bounty. Also, it is a good recipe for the many tomatoes that are about as ripe as they are gonna get, as well as the ones with bruises and cuts.

I'm talking tomato concentrate. Not quite a home made tomato paste but something close. The method is to find your nearly rottonest tomatoes; quarter, cook them in a big pot until they get soft--in our case two big pots as we had many very ripe tomatoes. You run them through a food mill to remove the seeds and skins. Return to a pot and cook down for two hours. Think you are done? From there (where we have not gotten yet) you bake in a very slow oven, about 200 degrees, for like five hours.

It's a lot of tomatoes for a few cups of product, but this concentrate should serve us very well for many a dish come winter. It will go in small bags in the freezer.

Eat local all year round via canning and freezing.