Friday, December 23, 2011

If What's Supposed To Happen in 2012 Really Happens in 2012, At Least We'll Be Well Fed in 2012

*when you live in close proximity to FotD Salon leftovers, you get to wake up to croissantillas filled with braised pork belly and shoulder and pickled chiles*

Whenever we've got a lack of snow this deep in winter, I'm always suspicious as to what's going on out there--but I try to enjoy it knowing that we're going to get nailed with plenty of snow and cold weather here in Chicago soon enough, and for long enough. Yes, I know that in late April I will be trudging around, freezing, wondering when it will all end. Well, nevermind all that--we've got four new Salons for January to keep us warm--click on a link for tickets:

Brunch Salon Sunday, 1/8/12 11:00am In the Food on the Dole Brunch Salon we create a highly market-driven menu together, touring some classic dishes and exploring some new terrain as well; a perfect way to resurface after the decadence of the holiday season--BYOB as always! $50.

Ramen and Gyoza Salon Saturday, 1/14/12 7:00pm One of our favorite things to eat here at the Food on the Dole Salon, this ain't the ramen you slurped down in college! We'll hand roll and cut noodles and serve them up in a rich broth with a bevy of tasty accompaniments. Learn what you've been missing all this time eating 10-for-a-dollar packs of Maruchan, and explore one of the tastiest, most fulfilling dishes out there! Not to mention--we'll fill, fold and fry one of my favorite comfort foods--the Japanese dumplings known as Gyoza. BYOB! $50.

Winter Market Salon Thursday, 1/19/12 7:00pm We're in the depths of winter in the Midwest--what will the market have to offer us? If you've ever wondered what to cook in the middle of the season of frozen ground in Chicago, come join us as we find all the hidden gems awaiting us in the market and we'll create a rich, hearty mid-winter market dinner together. Anything goes, and please note that this is not necessarily a vegetarian Salon. BYOB as always! $50.

Pasta Salon Wednesday, 1/25/12 7:00pm Come learn how simple and easy it is to make fresh pasta as you spend an evening in the Salon kneading, rolling and cutting for a lovely winter feast! We'll share stories of our experience with pasta, learn about what makes this simple food so comforting and dig in to a hearty and soulful meal together. The Salon is, as always, BYOB, so bring those big Tuscan wines to enjoy as we cook the evening away. Come with questions and an empty belly; leave with technique, a sense of community and a snapping waistband. $50.

We're rolling off the great Beer Salon and Pasta Salon that finished out a great 2011, and moving full steam ahead into 2012 with another year of great Salons--hope to see you at one soon!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Beer Shall Keep Them Warm

After a top-notch Beer Salon last Saturday night we're all set to roll into (out of?) the holiday season and into January. I'm putting together Salon dates for the cold months ahead, all certain to warm us up just when we need it the most. Meanwhile--that Beer Salon. What a great night, with really good food and beer brought out by the Saloneers. Stateside Saison from Stillwater, Supplication from Russian River, Avec Les Bons Voeux from Brasserie Dupont, and of course the delicious if big Bourbon County Brand Stout from Goose Island, made in 2008. Lots to try, and an enormous thanks to everyone for sharing in the true spirit of the Salon. But perhaps the beer that will stay with me was one that a Saloneer made himself using Citra hops, something he calls the Blasted Heath IPA, which--if I had to compare it to something--reminded me of the wonderfully un-syrupy, un-sweet Zombie Dust from Three Floyds I stumbled upon early in the year. Anyway, Blasted Heath was a real treat, and the thought of this happening in someone's home thrilled me to no end.

The food we made stood up to so many beers, and after a day of drinking beer and judging chili at Graze Magazine's Chili Home Companion fundraiser down at The Empty Bottle, you'd think I would be knackered and ready to call it a night. On the contrary, the energy of the Salon and those attending simply brought me back to life and so we steamed some mussels in a strong ham broth with leeks, celery and wheat beer; we dove into a crock full of pork rillettes with homemade epi bread; we rolled out some buttery flatbreads I stole from the fine Mission Street Food Cookbook that eat like a tortilla crossed with a croissant, and topped these with briased pork shoulder and crispy pork belly, with sauce options of Oarsman-braised cherries and apricots or nam prik pao pickled chiles. A huge bibb leaf salad--upon which we rained just-fried pork rinds from the belly skin--served to cut through all the decadence. And, as we finished our beers, the caramel ice cream bombe made it's way to the table, capping a very indulgent day.

I sat back after everyone had made their way back out into the cold, fortified by all that food and beer, and drank the remainder of the Bourbon Stout left by the home brewer. To me, that was a holiday celebration--not centered around a holiday--for the ages.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Strawberries? In December?

Strawberry. Plantain. Syrupy. So read the description on the package of Metropolis' Costa Rican Perla Negra I'd just picked up. I worried they'd gone sappy up there in Edgewater. I mean, I understood the decision to move from more prose-like descriptions to the hard and direct system of few words as indication of what one might expect from a certain coffee, but this was too much. This described a smoothie--or worse: a slurpie.

But then, at home later, I boiled some water and ground some of the beans. And as soon as the hot water hit the grind, I said to myself, "why do I smell berries? It's December!" I looked in the fridge, trying to remember if I had something berry-laden left over from a Salon. No. I scanned the countertop, thinking something must have been left out, some jam, or the kombucha had picked up a weird strain perhaps--or wait! The Super Bubble in the cabinet! No. And finally, looking at the brew sitting on the counter I recalled the words from the bag. I approached the thick mix of ground beans and hot water, and yes indeed...the strawberry aroma was steaming up from the coffee! Weird! And behind it--the rich, almost sticky aroma of banana...but earthier, and not quite as sweet...perhaps a touch greener. Plantain!

Feeling embarrassed at my excitement over something I usually try to avoid--bypassing actual multi-sensual enjoyment of food, wine, beer, and yes, coffee for esoteric, cerebral reasons as the food/drink gets cold or flat (second only to relentlessly taking cell-phone photos while forgetting to actually experience the food)--I poured the coffee, kept with the usual gameplan of sticking my nose in the cup, and enjoyed the aromas, not to mention the astute olfactory palates of the fellows up at Metropolis. Well done guys!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Comfort, In Food and Place

Just read a great article about the Supper Clubs up in Wisconsin in the NYT--places whose appeal and quality stand frozen in time from nearly a century ago, aptly captured by the author David McAninch in the following, lovely paragraph:
Imbibed in this north woods sanctum, Tom Kelly’s cocktails are a potent tonic for body and spirit alike. It helps, perhaps, if you’ve spent the day hiking amid the magnificent birches and pines of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, which extends in a vast patchwork across this lake-studded swath of northern Wisconsin. It also helps to know that a thick slice of prime rib is waiting for you at the end of that drink. You know this because the hostess, dressed in a prim black waitress uniform with white piping, has already appeared alongside you at the bar unbidden, pen poised over order pad, asking what you’d like for dinner and informing you that your table will be ready whenever you happen to be — no sooner, no later.
No schemes here, nothing to make you think you're somewhere you're not. It's Wisconsin. It's 2011. But none of that matters, because you are well-fed, well-oiled from the drinks, and you have that pleasant sense of physical exhaustion smoothed over by these things. I think this is something we can all appreciate.

Looking ahead, we've got a couple Salons with some well worn seats and tasty food yet available, and I'd love to see you there! Click on a Salon to purchase tickets:

See you then!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

WARNING: Butcher's Shops May Contain Meat

I was preparing for a private catering gig on Saturday when I stopped in to Gene's Sausage to get some pork and beef and salami for what would be tasty little meatballs. As she was getting me the meat, my friend behind the butcher's glass told me tale of dastardly proportion. You see, Gene's currently has hanging in their windows a few quarters of beef; immense, big slabs of shoulder and flank waiting to be cut into more manageable pieces (though wouldn't it be wonderful to build a great fire and somehow fashion a spit large enough to spin a side of beef and roast the whole thing medium rare?). I relayed my excitement to my friend and she told me how they'd received a comment card condemning the beef; that perhaps that sort of display might fly in Europe, but that "this is America", and it was in exceedingly poor taste for a butcher shop to, um, display meat.


This certainly wasn't the same blood thirsty person that ordered three turkeys from a local farm for Thanksgiving, then once they were slaughtered changed their mind, leaving the farm holding three dead turkeys (which, incidentally, found their way to a table via some good-spirited folk). Both examples remind me of the great Max von Sydow in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters, talking about the inanity of television: "Can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling?"

ANYWAY, this is all clearly a matter of opinion. For those who do, stop by Gene's and get a big slab of that meat. For those who don't, stop by anyway and get a jar of Biscoff Spread before it's only available at precious little boutiques--just be sure to shield your eyes while walking by the butcher case.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Back Inside, and Stolen Yiayia

Back from yet another splendid trip yonder to the Mississippi River area, where the usual Thanksgiving feast and festivities throve, including the traditional bourbon in the morning, followed by bloody marys and goose right out of the smoker, creekside campfires every night, great slabs of rib roast cooked over said fire, tons of wild geese bestowed upon me by a hunter in the area, and of course, the overwhelmingly delicious Thanksgiving feast. A top notch time and a huge thank you to all those involved. It's always so nice to get out for a bit--in the city, when people ask the obligatory small talk question "what do you do?", and you say you are a chef, they immediately, almost desperately respond with "WHERE?" In the country, when you say you are a chef, people almost always respond "Oh, that's nice. What do you like to cook?"

So refreshing.

Anyway, upon returning home, I combined the two obsessions--that of where and what and made what I've loved so long and have touted as the perfect way to get children into some more advanced flavors: Pasta Yiayia, stolen straight from the playbook of the great Lula Cafe. Noodles (they use a great big bucatini noodle, but I had spaghetti on hand, which is absolutely fine) tossed with thinly sliced garlic that has been browned nice and crisp in butter (I added a good deal of olive oil and a couple arbol chiles) as well. Topped with crumbled feta cheese and a good dose of cinnamon, this is the classic, comforting noodles and butter, but with some pretty delicious kid-friendly-but-loved-by-adults flavors thrown in. Real easy riding after a long trip home.

Meanwhile, I've had a couple seats open up for Thursday's Vegetarian Salon, and would love to get them filled. Tickets can be had here--I'd love to see you there!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In The Spirit of The Holiday Season, a Re-Run

I was reading over what I wrote after last year's Thanksgiving, and I got all excited in hoping that this year's will be much of the same. In fact, in my child-like holiday head, every single thing is going to happen, in sequence, again this year. So since I've got a foot out the door to head towards the Mississippi, leaving all electronic devices behind, what say we revisit yesteryear in a trip down memory lane, shall we? Here's what happened last year on Thanksgiving for F.o.t.D., as belatedly written on December 6, 2010:

When a Guy Gives You a Duck That Was in the Air That Morning, You Cook it Up and Eat It

I had the extreme fortune of traveling to the banks of the mighty Mississippi River over Thanksgiving. Included in this trip:
  • Outfitting in new winter gear (just in time) via Farm King, a store full of Carhartt and the like, luxuriously empty on Black Friday when I went. (What am I doing in the city?)

  • Eating a delicious huarache (a big huge disk of masa topped with good things I wrote about here) in a curious and unexpected Mexican restaurant, one of a few, in a small midwestern town of less than 10,000, which were all attached to pretty well stocked Mexican groceries, on par with what can be found in Chicago.

  • The obligatory Thanksgiving feast, complete with traditions such as corn pudding, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. We brined a turkey for a few days and roasted it, of course--and had a couple extra breasts in the brine that we rolled and smoked a couple days later over what could be one of the greatest backyard, creekside, all-year-long firepits I've known. When the breasts were finishing up, we grilled a huge bone-in ribeye, I'm talking a couple of inches thick, and roasted some vegetables in foil as well. Where'd we get the vegetables? We got them the night before when dining at a place in Peoria, IL, called June, where the chef (a guy by the name of Josh Adams who is more enthusiastic about farms and farmers and vegetables than the oxyclean guy is about soap) came out to chat and wouldn't let us leave without a big bag full of crazy vegetables for us to cook. Ahh, the benefits of being in the industry. Oh, and did I mention this bonfire took place around 33 degrees or so? Fire warm. Carhartt, too.

  • Whiskey at 8am Thanksgiving morning in a small bar full of smoke on said Mississippi River. Tastes good. Too good. Too easy. So we left after one and went to a friend's cabin on the river. This man, a science teacher, is also quite the hunter/fisherman/maker of bloody marys. Stories were exchanged in the taxidermy-filled cabin, cigars blazing, deer sausage on the cutting board and in the belly. Toasty from the wood burning stove (and booze, I suppose), we decided to go out on the river on his boat. It was that good kind of really cold that I like so much walking along Lake Michigan in the winter--no one else around, really biting and invigorating and cleansing. We spotted a few bald eagles, so much larger than the back of any dollar bill has ever led me to believe; a woodpecker (also really huge) whose breed, I was told is that of the Woody Woodpecker; and a few ducks here and there hiding from the hunters. Back in the cabin, I asked how a city guy who might be interested in tasting one of the ducks shot that morning might be able to acquire one. Thankfully, instead of handing me a shotgun (yeah, I grew up in Colorado, but no, I never learned to hunt), he took me outside and pulled out a duck he had shot that morning before our arrival. It was a diver duck, he told me, and as such had very small parts. He easily plucked the feathers and removed two tiny breast for me. The legs on these guys were really scrawny and do not lend themselves to cooking very well, nor did the organs--but the breasts, he told me, were strongly flavored. "Livery" was the term he used. I licked my lips and thanked him. Seeing how it was Thanksgiving, I held off cooking the duck that day. But when the time came a couple days later, I got a pan hot with some butter and fried those two breasts, getting a nice dark sear on one side, flipping them, and spoon-basting with butter. They came off nice and medium-rare. I gave them a rest, then sliced. Delicious. Strong. Ducky. Just as a heritage breed turkey tastes like turkey, as opposed the the tastes-like-chicken-bred broad breasted white, this duck, flying in the midwest just days earlier tasted like duck is supposed to taste. I recommend it. Just be sure to remove any shot left in it.

All in all, it was the kind of trip that makes a city dweller wonder what he's doing in the city. But I suppose proximity to this sort of thing is, for now, good enough. I know a guy here who is out hunting before showing up to work in the absolute middle of Chicago at 5pm (to be clear, he is hunting in rural Illinois; working in Chicago). That lovely winter isolation can be had out on the lake during the coldest times. And sometimes, sometimes the city skyline on a blustery, wintry night can be as stunning a a sky rich with glowing stars. And where else am I going to be able to wake up to Metropolis, eat at Anteprima or Schwa, drink at the Hop Leaf, shop at Reckless and Myopic, create with crazy-haired guys, and see that noisy Hanukkah truck driving all over the city, all in the same week?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Duck is Delicious, and, If You're Gonna Kill a Turkey, You Gotta Be Sure You Want To Eat It

What a great Salon on Saturday night! We hit the Pre-Thanksgiving pavement, picked up a duck and made some Mission Street Food inspired flatbread--think tortillas laden with butter and duck fat--into which went duck confit, pickled thai chiles, cucumber, cilantro and radish for a decadent first course. From there, we made celeriac puree-filled tortellini, and served these creamy little nuggets in a rich duck broth with pea shoots and black cumin. And finally, a big fall/winter salad of chicory, watercress, Brussels sprout leaves, pomegranate, oranges and seared duck breast all rained over with crispy duck skins. Oh, and a caramel ice cream bombe with brown sugar and butter roasted honey crisp apples. Some beautiful food with a great, lively bunch! Thanks, all!

Moving on, in anticipation of the shopping madness that begins this time of year, I'd like to say that Food on the Dole Salon Gift Certificates are now available in any amount you like. Click on the link for details.

And one final anecdote--a friend who was acting as middle (wo)man for the great Gunthorp Farms and selling their turkeys received word from someone who put in an order for 3, yes THREE birds, that "oh, nevermind, I guess I don't want those anymore." Problem is...gulp...the birds have already been slaughtered, and are not returnable as are, say, a pair of suspenders you just don't like. So, my friend is left holding these three great turkeys in an understandably furious fashion (on so many levels). SO, if you find yourself without a great turkey (or three) for Thursday, send me an email at and I can point you in the right direction. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

May the Frigid Month of December Find You in the Salon

We've got a new round of Salons to warm you up in the chilly month of December, and I hope to see you there! Remember, all events are BYOB and tickets can be had by clicking on the name of the desired Salon:

Vegetarian Salon As you know, we're not about replacing meat with boring faux-meats here at Food on the Dole. We're celebrating all the gorgeous vegetables available to us as we enter the depths of winter in several different preparations, letting each vegetable and grain be what they are--delicious and nourishing! Come explore all of the bounty from the local farms in this highly market-driven Salon; based on what I find at the market, we'll prepare a full and delicious meal. The Salon is BYOB, please bring whatever you'd like to drink! Thursday, 12/1/11, 7pm. $50.

Seafood Salon
We're paddling ahead into another Seafood Salon! Depending on what the market is providing, we'll cook up the freshest fish around, and definitely crack into some top-notch oysters. We'll keep everything light yet warming, and don't forget to BYOB those crisp white wines! Saturday, 12/3/11, 7pm. $60.

Parisian Bistro
We're bringing back the Bistro Salon! Last time we discovered that these are the picture perfect foods for the Salon, so come back as we revisit some classic, simple favorites like steak frites, pork rillettes, and big bursting salads on a festive evening in the Salon. Come discuss your love of bistros, or come find out just what makes them and their style of food so important and well-loved. Wednesday, 12/7/11, 7pm. $50.

Brunch Salon
We're putting on a brunch! In the Food on the Dole Brunch Salon we create a highly market-driven menu together, touring some classic dishes and exploring some new terrain as well; a perfect way to resurface in the middle of the decadence of the holiday season! Sunday, 12/11/11, 11am. $40.

Beer Food
Join us in this rollicking BYOB Salon as we kick back and make some simple, completely from scratch food to go along with your beer. We'll steam some mussels, roast some sausages, and who knows what else? Bring whatever style beer you like--this food goes well with anything from the lightest swill to the heartiest Belgian! Teetotalers not allowed! Saturday, 12/17/11, 7pm. $50.

Pasta Salon
Fresh pasta is one of my absolute favorite things to make, so come spend an evening in the Salon kneading, rolling and cutting fresh pasta for a lovely winter feast. We'll share stories of our experience with pasta, learn about what makes this simple food so comforting and dig in to a hearty and soulful meal together. Come with questions and an empty belly; leave with technique, a sense of community and a snapping waistband. Wednesday, 12/21/11, 7pm. $50.

As always, thanks for your support--and for making the Salon such a wonderful place to cook and eat!

Monday, November 14, 2011

All Hail Cast Iron

A friend asked me about cast iron and my seemingly unnatural love of it recently. Specifically, she asked me about "curing" or "seasoning" it, a question most common among folks who have cast iron but don't use it too much. Simply put, curing or seasoning cast iron simply refers to the application of a small amount of fat to the pot or pan, then heating it for awhile to set the fat into the pan. Scientifically speaking (and thus quoting Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking): "The oil penetrates into the pores and fissures of the metal, sealing it from the attack of air and water." Furthermore, the fatty acid chains oxidize and bond to form to form a hard, protective layer on the surface of the pan, "just as linseed and other 'drying oils' do on wood and paintings". To put it simply: the fat bakes into the pan, sets, and protects it from rusting, while creating a surface that, when heated thoroughly, is essentially non-stick.

Of course, one wants to preserve this seasoning. To begin with, many cast iron pans sold these days are "pre-seasoned" and are all set to go. However, if you are surfing the thrift store and yard sale circuit, and find a great pan for a couple bucks that is all rusty and beat up (or if you have this very pan hidden away in the depths of your lower cupboards), never fear, for it can be salvaged by scrubbing all of the rust away with an abrasive metal scrubbie, drying it completely, then rubbing it with some fat. Canola oil is fine. Pop it in to a 350° oven for an hour or so. It'll smell weird, but don't worry. Then, turn off the heat and leave the pan in the oven overnight. Good as new. As far as maintenance: DO NOT USE SOAP on the pan. This will remove the protective fatty later described above (which can be replaced using this same process when, unavoidably, someone comes over and "helps" with the dishes, but really--you don't want to do this every time). Instead, scrub it out the same way you normally would, just don't use soap. If anything gives you a hard time coming out (a result of food sticking due to not giving the dense cast iron plenty of time to heat up before cooking--i.e. 5 solid minutes over at least a medium flame), pour in some kosher salt for added abrasiveness. Just don't lose that fat layer. Dry it thoroughly and store (I actually keep mine in the oven sometimes, as the pilot light provides enough heat to ensure it is always dry). You shouldn't need to re-season it; in fact, the fat used each time you cook will build on the coating already present, creating a slick layer of seasoning that should last forever. This is one reason things cooked in cast iron always taste so great: the subtle flavors of a thousand meals past.
And how about a quick, easy, one-pan route to killer tri-tip (or any steak for that matter) with romesco sauce inspired by Mr. Mark Bittman:
  • Get a cast iron pan smoking hot. Get an oven to 450°.
  • Season a hunk of meat. Add a touch of canola oil to said pan. Add meat. Throw some whole almonds and grape tomatoes in the pan next to the meat.
  • Get a lovely sear on the first side of the meat. Nice, dark golden brown. 3-4 minutes. Flip meat and remove almonds and tomatoes. Replace them in the pan with some chopped shallots and move the pan to the oven.
  • In a food processor, mince 2 cloves of garlic. Add almonds and tomatoes. Puree while drizzling in some olive oil until it tastes good. Season with salt and pepper and perhaps some red wine vinegar.
  • Remove steak from oven when it is done to your liking. Let it rest. Slice and serve with the sauce and what are now carmelized shallots. (Admittedly, the pictures prove that my appetite is matched by only my impatience as a long rest prevents some of the juice from escaping. But hey. Do as I say and not as I do, kids.)

Moral of the story here: use that cast iron! It's cheaper and better than pretty much all other cookware out there. And don't forget to remember meals past while cooking new ones in this beauty.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Brief History of Cheesemaking

Warning: This post contains graphic vomit-related material. Not for those easily made queasy, or those who do not have cats.

I just heard a story about a woman returning milk to a store insisting that--despite the fact that the expiration date on said milk was nowhere near happening, and despite the fact that the milk smelled fine, and despite the yet more bewildering fact that one of the two bottles she was returning was not even open--the milk was bad. Her reason: her son, who apparently has never been sick in his life, drank the milk, then vomited awhile later. In this vomit, there seemed to be chunks of curdled milk. Yes, the milk had curdled in the stomach of this boy (who may or may not also lay golden eggs). In the head of this woman--who I'm sure is a lovely person--this meant the milk was somehow bad.

Nay, fine woman! Instead, you have bore witness to a magical feat indeed, for this lad had made cheese right in his stomach!

Well, as you may have guessed, the milk was not bad, or at least if it was this is not what made it curdle. For inside the brave young boy's stomach was a complex of enzymes and acids, not unlike the rennet (harvested from the stomach linings of young animals, as well as some vegetarian-friendly sources) that cheesemakers use to separate milk into curds and whey. That milk, good or not, inside a warm stummy with all kinds of digestive acids floating around gets broken down into parts that look a lot like this curds and whey situation in the cheesemaker's pot, making the milk digestable and the nutrients absorbable, and this lady simply was lucky enough to see it up close. Could have been a good teaching moment. But hey, she got her seven bucks back, and junior got out of school. Of course, if that milk is curdled before drinking, that's a different story...but here's trusting our senses to protect us from that one.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Big Misunderstanding That Causes Winter

One of my great Southerner friends brought me a pomegranate from her grandparent's Alabama backyard, where they apparently litter the ground in much the same fashion as the oranges in Florida and grapefruit in Arizona, a problem I'm not sure is a problem. The tale of the pomegranate is one of my favorites, where the lovely Persephone is captured by Hades and whisked away to the underworld, sending her mother--who happens to be Demeter, goddess of the harvest and earth's fertility--into a deep depression. Well, Zeus just couldn't have this, what with Demeter all mopey all the time and the earth basically dying because of it, so he commanded Hades to return Persephone back upstairs. Unfortunately, this didn't happen until after she had eaten six pomegranate seeds and--a well known fact when visiting the underworld--eating or drinking down there means you stay down there. Forever. There are signs all over the place. So, Zeus had to compromise his demands for her return so as not to contradict The Fates, and Persephone was doomed to spend one month each year in the underworld for each pomegranate seed she ate. Which translated to Demeter's depression for half a year, every year. Which translates to this terrible winter we're about to face. But it does make it easy to remember when this delicious fruit is in season. So, not a bad trade-off.
ANYWAY, the pomegranate may seem difficult to deal with, but it really is quite simple. The gentle way is to cut it in half and coax the seeds out in a bowl of water, where they will sink and the foamy, inedible membrane around them floats, making it quite simple to separate them. I find a much quicker and effective method is to score the pomegranate about 6-8 times from top to bottom, cut it in half, and whack it on the skin side with a wooden spoon handle.
They'll rain out, and if you get stuck at all, just give the fruit a squeeze to loosen the seeds, and continue whacking it. No problem, and the seeds are delicious with yogurt and pistachios and honey, in savory braised-meat pasta dishes, or just by themselves. Special thanks to Hades, Persephone, and that little backyard in 'Bama for making it possible.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The November Salons Cometh!

We're already rolling through Halloween and into November--spooky scary indeed. So I've decided on four Salons for November, and I think we've got several bases covered in this line-up. If you are new to the Salon, read the Food on the Dole Salon manifesto here for more information. Repeat guests, welcome back! To purchase tickets, click on the desired Salon name, and remember, the Salon is always BYOB. Come cook, learn and eat with us!

Vegetarian Salon I'll be picking up some great produce from our surrounding farms in the day or two leading up to this Salon, and we'll be cooking some delicious food in honor of this bountiful time of year! As some of you know, I tend to stay away from faux-meats--like tofurkey--in order to truly celebrate all the great produce we have available. Meat lovers, never fear--you'll love this one too! Thursday, November 3 at 7:00pm. $50.

Pizza Town Salon Stop by the Pizza Town Salon and throw some dough! F.o.t.D. wants you to learn how simple it is to leave the pizza guy out in the cold and build top-notch pies from scratch. We'll put together a ton of great homemade toppings and bake pizza after pizza, not to mention a couple of great accompanying salads! Saturday, November 5 at 7:00pm. $40.

Cold Weather Quickies Salon I usually espouse the "lower and slower is better" theme in all walks of life, especially cooking. But sometimes, it's Monday night, and it's cold outside, and you just want to get something warm to eat without it taking all night. This Salon will be all about leaving the microwave alone and cooking up hearty, delicious and whole food in careful yet swift fashion. Monday, November 14 at 7:00pm. $50.

Pre-Thanksgiving Salon This Salon is not about roasting a turkey and plopping cranberry sauce out of a can, and is not a crash course for cooking an entire Thanksgiving meal--though many of the things we make could be recreated the following week to impress at Thanksgiving. We'll be cooking up some fall favorites, using everything that is available at the market at this wonderful time of year, creating a deliciously seasonal menu to help stretch that stomach for Thanksgiving day that we'll share over a discussion of all things food--and of course, questions about the upcoming big day are welcome! Saturday, November 19 at 6:00pm. $50.

The Salons have been fantastic in their six months of existence, and I've loved meeting so many of you and watching the evening unfold in an always different, always delicious, entertaining and fun way. I hope to keep this going strong as we enter fall, and hope to meet many more of you. Naturally, questions can be sent to me at Thanks very much!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Hobo with a Po' Boy

Few things are better than finishing up a long frigid fall night working outside, then getting a call to stop by a friend's house because he's making a big batch of venison stew. You show up with some beer sometime after midnight, and find a kitchen table full of fresh oregano and parsley hanging out with mysterious chiles and the most tender baby green onions from someone's garden; a hunk of deer sausage sitting next to a bowl full of romanesco cauliflower; a po-boy filled with halibut cheeks crispy from a corn-meal deep fry and a spicy remoulade; a corn bread-spoon bread-scrapple-like thing full of corn and chives and wrapped in bacon; and the enormous crock pot full of the promised stew--rich and flavorful, spicy and the deer just downright tender. And enough to last for weeks. And then a guy you just met mentions something about porchetta, and how he's been hiding one in the fridge because he, too, was on his way home from work and planned on spending the weekend eating it. Your head comes out of the steam of the stew and your ears perk up, and you mention that it's been some time since you've had porchetta, so he immediately takes it out, slices you some, heats it up and garnishes it with a tangy mostarda including stone fruit and roasting juices, and puts a salad of fennel and tiny little greens on top. First of all, it's gorgeous. You stick your nose in it and absorb all that amazing-after-all-these-years aroma, then you demolish every last sweet/salty/porky bite. It's ridiculous how good it is, and it settles in to the happy little party of stew and po-boy and corn bread down below in the best of ways.

Sometimes--no, always--the best meals are had unexpectedly, without pomp and spectacle, without anything other than a here, I made this and it's good and I think you might like it kind of attitude. To have this many great things to eat after the midnight hour standing around hanging out in a friend's apartment--I'd take this over a 3-star meal any day.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Jeri's, or The Importance of All Night Diners

*French Chef/Short Order Cook by Mark Laita*

When people come to the Salon they invariably ask what my favorite restaurants in town are. Predictable (for me) answers like Anteprima and The Hop Leaf, as well as typical answers like Lula Cafe and The Publican abound. But one I always throw in is this little joint at the corner of Montrose and Western called Jeri's. I get plenty of gruff for this in my circle of friends, but let me say this: short-order diner cookery of this sort is a form of cuisine quite unique to the United States, and one that has fed a lot of people. Sure, they don't sous-vide anything there. Sure, they don't use every farm in the land (though I did see the busser up at the Lincoln Square Farmer's Market over the summer buying a huge box of tomatoes, so who knows). Sure, they're rough servers in there. Sure, every time Old Crazy Hair goes there I get blamed by his old lady. But man, these cooks have been doing it for years, and efficiency and speed-wise, could cook most fancy chefs out of their hundred-and-fifty dollar Dansko's in a flash. And the food is good, and real. No triple-organic figs on a plate here. And hey--Jeri's has been here for 50 years. In the same spot. Name many other joints that can claim that.

So, when driving by next time, put the nose down, get yourself in a booth and order yourself a patty melt. Hot, salty onions over cheese and a burger patty and ice cold pickles, and a load of fries. Get one of their great milkshakes, too (if the server is one of the good ones who doesn't bellyache about making you one). We were in there one night, the night of the boot mill incident in fact, and we decided we needed yet more salt and fat and whatever else might be lurking in there. Well, we got the waitress who hates making shakes, but between the six of us, we must have ordered four of them anyway. The faster-than-ever cook delivered our six patty melts in no time, while the grumpy waitress struggled with the shakes. But as she made them, a googly-eyed old timer, helping himself to Old Crazy Hair's fries, announced, "They're worth the wait. I've been all over the world, and no one makes a cookies and cream shake like Jeri's."


Friday, October 14, 2011


Finally. We're starting to feel that autumnal chill in the air--not that I'm complaining about the prolonged summer, or looking forward to what I hear is going to be the nastiest winter ever--but it's nice when the seasons act like seasons. The ground is crunchy and yellow with leaves everywhere we go, and burning fireplaces fill the cool evening air. This means it's time to act like Carl Weathers and get a stew on.

Or a soup. Just something warm, and tasty, and preferably made with an old ham bone. I'm now in possession of several of these smoky salty hunks of magic, and for some reason, the place I got them from (brought to me from Tennessee by a buddy) leaves all kinds of meat on these bones. I'd love to be a dog that got these bones. Anyway, we trimmed off some of the meat, crisped it up with carrot, celery and onion, then threw in the bone itself with water and some pearl barley. Finished it with some green lentils which thicken things up a touch and man, you've got a smoky, salty soup goin'. Oldest trick in the book--people have been using ham bones to flavor soups forever. And now's the perfect time to give it a try.

Meanwhile, we've got a great sold-out Brunch Salon happening on Sunday, but have a few seats left for the Welcome Autumn Salon next Saturday 10/22. It's going to be a warm, hearty, festive one, and I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Birthday that Fred Berry Could Get Behind

*not the friend in question*

It's a good friend's birthday, the kind of friend that goes to Tennessee to visit kin and comes back with some of the country's best ham for you. The kind of guy who brings a big bucket of pate with a bottle of Chartreuse to your New Year's Eve party just 'cause. Who isn't a chef but has as much (if not more) passion and knowledge of food than so many chefs out there. The kind of guy who brings a Time Life American Cooking Southern Style book to you for your birthday, if only to point out the picture of the 30-foot-in-diameter-cast-iron-pan-frying-ungodly-amounts-of-chicken.

So, what do you get this guy for his birthday? Well, you don't really get him anything. No, you take him to revel and possibly gorge at Huaraches Dona Chio. And you repost something you wrote about the place a couple years ago in his honor. So, happy birthday, my dear grub-loving friend:

Excerpt from F.o.t.D. 1/4/09
Huaraches Dona Chio has ridiculous Huaraches for super, super cheap. A Huarache is most popularly known as a kind of sandal; what I'm talking about is a sandal shaped wad of masa that a wonderful woman, shaped not unlike a thick Huarache, makes from a fresh tub full of the stuff. She presses it on this enormous old press and throws it on a flattop griddle, and ultimately tops it with whatever you like. The al Pastor was wonderful, everything done in big pots on a few burners in the tiny, exposed kitchen, as cramped as the dining room, which consists of 3 tables, 8 seats, a few stools at the bar overlooking the kitchen, and one large television blasting novellas. It's the kind of place that people of my "demographic" tend to get nervous being in, trying to act as natural as possible and trying to pronounce things properly without sounding patronizing, and as we all know, these are the places that the best food can be had at. The great food writer Calvin Trillin, in his essay Divining the Mysteries of the East, writes about his difficulties in eating at Chinese restaurants and his displeasure in receiving the dumbed-down menu given to most Americans when what he really wants is the "off the menu" type items, usually displayed in Chinese prints on the wall, available only to those speaking and reading the language. He's not scared to ask. I still kind of am. ANYWAY, the Huaraches at Dona Chio are delightful, and plenty for two, even when one of those two is a race-to-the-finish, eat-it-all-before-anyone-else-does hog.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Kegs for Kids!

Well, now that the Red Sox have completed their historically sickening collapse, we can return all of our attention right where it belongs: fall food and drink. Use that oven to heat the place up and braise those hearty dishes; pick up those big red wines and strong beers. And don't forget to indulge in it all this Saturday, October 8 at Kegs for Kids, put on by two of my favorite places, The Hopleaf and Metropolis Coffee. It's 65 clams to get in, but oh me, oh my, there'll be more than 50 craft beers to drink, food of all kinds, and a special brew by Metropolis. Can't make it? There's a silent auction of all kinds of stuff, one of which just might be a dinner from yours truly paired with wines by Alpana Singh. That particular item may be a bit pricey, but hey--all the proceeds go to the Pierce Elementary School in Andersonville. It's a good cause full of great food and drink--and a great way to kick off fall!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Red Sox Are Leaving That Bitter Broccoli Rabe Taste In My Mouth

I was on my way to watch the Red Sox try to stop the bleeding that has been their pitiful September last night when a friend called me with questions about broccoli rabe. Also known as rapini, this cousin of broccoli in the brassicaceae family often draws complaints of bitterness. Which is exactly why I love it. The taste known as "bitter" is misunderstood in my book; we're taught to not eat bitter things when we get lost in the woods for fear that they are poisonous. Perhaps, but bitter is also the taste of things good for us--vitamins and minerals--and it also offers us a sharp contrast to the rich dishes it may accompany. And besides--eating bitter berries is merely one of a number of problems that may arise when lost in the woods .

SO, broccoli rabe. Saute it with some garlic and chili flake in olive oil until tender. Blanch it first if you're that kind of person--but me, I get it going in a pan with the other ingredients, then add a splash of water here or there as I cook it if it needs more time to become tender. Perhaps I'm lazy, but to have a pot of boiling water, then a strainer, and an ice bath, well, this just makes too much clutter in a kitchen. Finish it with salt and pepper and lemon, and you're set. Quick and easy. You could also roast it--the slow, dry heat of the oven will rob it of some color but give it some nice brown roasted bits, which will lessen the bitter taste. An article in the current issue of Saveur (October 2011) praises the act of what many perceive as "overcooking" vegetables, that is, cooking them past the popular point of crunch and vitality into a soft, warm hug. Said article has a recipe for broccoli rabe, in which it is cooked with olive oil and water until tender as all get out, and hey, I can get behind that. After all, there's more than one way to skin a cat.

One note--don't be fooled into thinking broccolini is the same thing as broccoli rabe. It'll often get served and sold as such, but it ain't--it's a hybrid of broccoli and Chinese broccoli, and is much more sweet and far less bitter than broccoli rabe. If you eat it and like it, fine--it's delicious--but don't let it go on masquerading as something it's not. Serve broccoli rabe with rich pastas and braises, and let it be it's bitter self. I'll need a like-minded friend after this baseball season.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Welcoming Autumn in The Salon

When autumn rolls around and that feeling of nostalgia starts to seep in, that cool, crisp air always reminds me of my childhood in Colorado. The whole back-to-school thing which I hated then and yearn for now; the changing colors of the trees that had no impact on me as a kid, then, as an adult living in New England I couldn't be without; the sound of the announcer at the college football stadium nearby as we kids played our own game of football in the churchyard across the street. And the food. The braised meats, and the fall squashes. Pumpkins and candy and cider and everything in those earthy tones of autumn. Well, it's here again, and I've got three Salons to greet it:
  • Autumn Vegetarian Salon. We've been lovin' the Food on the Dole Vegetarian Salon! As you know, we're not about replacing meat with boring faux-meats. We're celebrating all the gorgeous vegetables available to us as fall gets underway in several different preparations, letting each vegetable and grain be what they are--delicious and nourishing! Come explore all of the bounty from the local farms in this highly market-driven Salon; based on what I find at the market, we'll prepare a full and delicious meal. The Salon is BYOB, so please bring whatever you'd like to drink. Wednesday, 10/12/11, 7:00pm. $50.00.
  • Autumn Brunch Salon. The Food on the Dole Brunch Salons have been wildly popular so we're going to keep it rolling. As always, we'll visit old classics, and brave some new terrain in our market-driven menu; a perfect way to welcome Autumn. BYOB as always! Sunday, 10/16/11, 11:0oam. $50.00.
  • Welcome Autumn! Salon. We're easing into the Autumn season--and how! Leaves falling and lovely crisp weather to go with roasted apples and braised meats. Hearty vegetables keep coming out of the ground and we're set to welcome Autumn in the Salon tonight! BYOB as always, so bring nice big red wines, or even hearty beer. Saturday, 10/22/11, 7:00pm. $60.00.
So if you can, find some time in between your Apple & Pork and Pork & Apple Festivals and make a Salon! We'd love to see you.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hark! A New Menu There Be!

I'm just finishing up some menu work for a place whose mission and product I truly believe in. The place? Metropolis Coffee, with a cafe in Edgewater on Granville featuring the aforementioned menu and a roasterie that keeps Andersonville smelling great on Clark. Metropolis sources and roasts some of the best coffee around, and deserves the majority of credit for my interest in and (very) limited knowledge of coffee. The passion they put into their product really shines, and for that reason, I'm proud to be behind the conception, sourcing and implementation of a like food program.

It's a challenge, spending but a month creating a menu and a functional kitchen; sourcing the right product and staff; then getting it all up and running. But that's the easy part. Letting go of the program, walking away and leaving it running--in capable hands, it should be noted--will be the true test. I'll admit, I'm a bit of a control freak when it comes to things like this. But hey--the food is simple yet well prepared, which should make sense to those of you familiar with the F.o.t.D. ethic and my style of cooking. And it is a cafe, after all. I understand the coffee has to come first, and the food should complement that. After all, they go to great lengths (quite literally--one of the owners just returned from a trip to Brazil to source great coffee) in the sourcing and production of their coffee, and to them, it's all about guiding one of the world's great natural goods into a cup, relying on the quality of the coffee rather than manipulation in the roasting process. There's a good deal of the terroir concept in their work, and we, as humans, are simply guides, or more accurately, transporters in the process. By now you know that's my belief in food as well. So if you're in the neighborhood, please stop by the cafe. We serve from 6:30am-2:00pm; if not, keep cooking that good food you know and love.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Indian Tacos and The Primest Beef

On my way--making a mad dash across the state to hit up the Warren County Prime Beef Festival, which will prove to be this summer's only excursion into the beautiful, unhealthy world that is fair food. Indian tacos, a wonder of dough filled with ground beef, cheese and various other things gets all wadded up and deep fried, nice and crispy and clogging. All kinds of pie, which can be more difficult to navigate--pie is one of those things that despite everywhere advertising it as "homemade", it rarely is. Unless you, like the purveyors of said "homemade" pie, find that label appropriate as long as the can of horse phlegm was opened on premises; the heat applied in your oven. But here, I have it on good authority that at least some of the pies are actually homemade, meaning there was a rolling pin and raw fruit involved at some point. And there's a demolition derby. A demolition derby! Safety way out the window (a most welcome place for it to be in this day and age of soft-foam and brightly colored plastic playground equipment), mud flying everywhere, plastic sheets being held up when the action comes to your end of the track. Or be like one of the tough kids and let the old beat-up derby cars paint it all over your face. It's worth it. It'll be a hearty weekend, to say the least, but there'll be plenty to wash it down, to thin the blood back out a bit. Put some water on that track and grab an Indian taco, and I'll see you at the fair.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why Brunch? (with full acknowledgement of the bourgeois nature of the question)

A fascinating question: why do we like brunch? No no, that's not right. Brunch in the home is actually pretty wonderful so, more specifically, why do we like to go out to brunch? I don't really know, as the brunch conundrum goes round and round like so: over-crowded restaurants + long waits + hungover customers + hungover staff and not enough of them + marginal food + a turn and burn, fill those seats as many times as we can then get them outta here attitude + a general "it's good enough so leave it at that" vibe + tepid coffee served in cold mugs - a lot of money = a downright nutty meal to seek outside of the home. It's frustrating, like reading a James Joyce book, only with no reward or enrichment.

Yet somehow, it remains one of the most popular meal periods of the week. Clearly, the main draw is the stumble out of bed/put on brunch uniform of cap, t-shirt, cargo shorts for guys, yoga pants for gals/sit at a table where everything is brought to you and you don't have to do anything aspect of it. But, in the name of good food, and a much better time, can I encourage us all to prepare some things the night before, then roll out of bed to easily do it all at home? I promise that the food will be better and the service unspeakably superior, plus you can do the whole thing naked if you want.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Atlantic Ocean, Irene, and Stomping Grounds Revisited

I just got back from a great trip to New England, visiting some old haunts from my time living in Boston, Providence and Vermont, as well as getting to know Portland a bit. For some strange reason, during all of my time in New England, I never set foot in Maine, which has always been a regret of mine. And these days, it seems like everyone I know is moving to one of the Portlands; I can totally agree with the desire to move to Oregon, but since I didn't know anything about what it's like to be in Maine, I thought I'd better find out. It was touristy this late summer, but beautiful, and ocean-sea-coast-y, and Portland itself has some pretty great restaurants (and, of course, its share of downright terrible ones: $50 for a gloppy crab roll and some fried clams? Gulp.). Initially, the idea in my head was to go to Hugo's in Portland or Arrows in Ogunquit, since these seem to be the great restaurants of Maine, and many of my fellow NECI alumni work in these places. But as the reality of just wanting to take it easy, nice and slow, not having to worry about making reservations anywhere, and not wanting to break the bank on a meal or two set in, we decided to not do too much planning, and fall into wherever we might fall in to. One great, great success was a bistro called Petite Jacqueline, with a head spinning foie gras terrine and solid bistro food everywhere you looked. Complete with the zinc bar, I was in heaven: steak tartare, the ripest tomato salad, beautiful cheese, etc. I can't say too much was unique to Portland, but give me a good Bistro, and you have my heart. And the $1.95 "domestic" beer down the street wasn't bad, either. 'Cause you see, they consider Allegash and the like domestic.

Problem is, I don't think I got a great feel for the character of Portland in the short amount of time I was there. Hurricane Irene moved in and pushed the flight out of Boston back a couple of days, but we thankfully made it to Vermont a day ahead of the storm and were able to go to American Flatbread, site of so many great meals for me: a nice, long sit with a beer by the bonfires in the lush valley, then kiln-fired pizza of the tastiest variety. This is a place where every morsel of food need not be described--a place where the convergence of atmosphere and food, done properly or, more importantly, with oodles of heart, makes the entire experience memorable.

We stayed in Vermont a couple more days with the storm delay, and this allowed me time to see some people I needed to catch up with. As the storm hit I met a former chef of mine in a bakery run by an old classmate; we chatted and drank coffee as the rain built up. From there, I made a visit to a dear friend who introduced me to the world of wine while I was at school in Vermont. He made a lovely dish of rabbit braised in cream and mustard, porcini risotto and roasted eggplant to go along with a couple great bottles of wine from the Loire Valley. We ate and caught up, watching the storm develop in a rather picturesque setting. From there I made a move to Burlington to look at the stormy Lake Champlain, thinking Champ would be enjoying the storm. If he was, we weren't able to see him, so as the worst of the storm hit, we made it back to the hotel and waited it out. The next morning greeted us calm and clear, but unfortunately, much of the damage was to come to those in Vermont, and became evident as we made the move down to Boston for the flight out: flooding like I've never seen before in the many valleys of Vermont; rivers running high, dirty and angry; bridges taken out and entire sections of road missing; farms and crops buried under water. Some people have been stranded without running water or power, homes ruined, for the past few days. It's devastating for sure, but the people of Vermont and all over New England are resilient. The rebuilding will be expensive, and will take time, but Vermonters will (and already have) come together to pull themselves out of the disaster.

All the extra time afforded a trip down to Providence for the evening, and while there, I was able to visit some old places I used to frequent: a great bar named The Wild Colonial, where I used to go with friends to be demolished at trivia, Thayer Street, where all the kids from Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design hang out, and just a general walk about of the entire east side hill of the city. The enjoyment of the extra time turned into a killing of the extra time, as we decided to forgo the hotel room that night as the flight out would happen at 5am, making the room a bit moot. This meant a midnight visit to Fenway Park in Boston, then a reluctant return to Logan airport to wait it all out. And take it from me: food options aren't all that great in an airport in the midnight to 5am stretch. Thus, a return to the nostalgia of Dunkin' Donuts: terrible, terrible coffee, but made so, so good when ordered "regular" (read: reg-yuu-lah in Beantown), where they add about a cup each of cream and sugar to the coffee, making it more milkshake-like than anything else. I used to drink this all the time out there, and kind of separate it in my head from coffee--Dunkin' Donuts is something all to its own, special in its own way.

The return to Chicago has found a very relaxed and (now, after a good night's sleep after skipping one) well-rested me, and I'm ready to dig my feet back into the midwestern soil and continue on my quest to eat the best food of all levels, be it the solid patty melt at the diner down the street, or 3-star cuisine way beyond haute (incidentally, while driving through Massachussetts, I heard a captivating interview with Alinea's Grant Achatz that reminded me that on all levels, we (should) cook and eat because we love food at it's most basic, sensual level). And of course, to continue on with the beloved Salon. This month, I'm busy with a side project, but am offering two Salon dates as of yet. I still have a couple seats open for this Saturday's Vegetarian Salon, and I'd love to see those seats filled--tickets available here. Otherwise, here's to New England, and a speedy recovery to those affected by Irene, and to the good food that brings us all together!

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Trip, A Sabbatical, A Coupla Salons

Last night we had a great Late Summer Salon--we cooked up a bunch of beautiful food from the area and got to know some really great people. This menu was inspired by an upcoming trip I'm taking to New England, and thus included two of my favorite things from my time living out there: Italian sausage and maple "creamies". Outside of Fenway Park in Boston, whether you're lucky enough or not to be heading inside to watch the Red Sox win, all kinds of stands are grilling sausages and then piling them into buns with grilled peppers. Simple, right? But so good--and the atmosphere makes it all complete. Last night, we braised ours--searing them first, then adding peppers of all kinds, onions and garlic; a little red wine and some stock. All those flavors melted together and--well--good things happened. Moving on, the creamie is something I discovered during my time living in Vermont--basically maple soft-serve. The taste of maple and cream together is seemingly made for each other, and last night was a happy improvisation from the original plan to make a honey tangelo ice cream. I'd made my ice cream base, and when I went to spin it, I found that my ice cream maker was kaput! I was distressed, and slurped down a few spoonfuls of the sweet cream base, pondering my next move. I decided to line a shallow, wide bowl with plastic wrap, pour in the base then freeze it. When we were ready, I turned the frozen "bombe" onto a cutting board, sliced it into wedges and drizzled it with some really good maple syrup--instant creamie, and so good. I led all the Saloneers in licking the plate.

Moving forward, this week will take me to New England to visit these favorites in the flesh in Boston, Portland and my old stomping grounds of Montpelier, VT (where I will be visiting my favorite restaurant in the world--no hyperbole there--American Flatbread). It'll be a week of eating and notalgia-izing and general relaxing. I'm also hereby announcing two new Salon dates for September, a month that will find me stepping back a bit to focus on another great project that has arisen for me here in Chicago. But never fear! The Salon remains a strong focus for me and I hope to see you at one soon. Click on a link for tickets:
  • Vegetarian Salon: It's high time we run another one of these--as you know, we're not about replacing meat with boring faux-meats. We're celebrating all the gorgeous vegetables available to us here in the late summer in several different preparations, letting each vegetable and grain be what they are--delicious and nourishing! Come explore all of the bounty from the local farms in this highly market-driven Salon; based on what I find at the market, we'll prepare a full and delicious meal. The Salon is BYOB, please bring whatever you'd like to drink! Saturday 9/3/11 at 6pm. $50.
  • Tuscany Salon: Come join us and those tall Chianina cows in the Salon as we go under the influence of one of the great food regions of the world, Tuscany. The menu will be set the day of the Salon, but count on some big, hearty fare to go along with your big red wines--BYOB as always! Saturday 9/17/11 at 6pm. $60.
Here's to New England and the late summer, and see you soon!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Let's Squeeze Another Salon Outta August, Shall We?

Summer is pretty much at its peak, produce-wise, and I'm getting an overwhelming amount of great stuff coming through the Salon. It's amazing how good everything is, and it's high time to appreciate it all right now. That said, I'm taking a week or so to go back east (Boston, Maine and Vermont), and since that means that the Food on the Dole Salon is going to take a bit of a hiatus, I've decided to squeeze one more date into August before I leave (new September Salon dates to be released soon). We're going to cook a great summer evening meal this Sunday, August 21st at 7pm in the Salon; this will be highly market based with no set theme other than the enjoyment of all that nature is giving us right now. It'll be BYOB as always, $50, and since it is such a late add-on, we'll only run it if we sell all 6 seats by this Friday. I'd love to get some of you who've been wondering about the Salon in here, and even some of those of you have already been--come on back and let's just cook some really great food together! Tickets can be purchased here. Hope to see you soon!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Oh Joy, It's Happened Again, or, Food Like a Grandmother's Hug

Lucky, lucky me. I recently celebrated a birthday, and the epic weekend of friends and food and, of course, plenty of drink was marked by so many great things--a top notch dinner of lots of different plates at a nearby kitchen; a surprise gathering at a favorite bar; a lazy day of eating a huge Hawaiian box lunch at one of my favorite hangover cure places, Aloha Eats in Lakeview; a lazy slither into a movie theater to cool off. But the big highlight was the much anticipated celebration of food and drink at what is one of my favorite places in the city; the place I say first when people ask me what my favorite restaurants are; the place I think of first when I want to take guests to a great spot. The place? Anteprima in Andersonville. SO devoid of pretense and anything other than solid, soulfully crafted, thoughtful food; a menu that stands on its own without succumbing to the name-every-single-farm-that-every-single-item-came-from craze, despite the fact that they utilize more local farm produce than many of the restaurants in the city; a beautifully simple dining room that, like the food, relies on human touches and the quality of what is being offered above any over-the-top rock star touches or minimalist lack thereof. A great review I read just after it opened in 2007 stated that "despite having just opened, Anteprima has the kind of servers who seem like they've been there for years"--and this, of course, was meant in the positive--the place just has that warm, welcoming, giving atmosphere. Dishes are presented with an emphasis on the food being the food--not some sort of esoteric art display. In a city and time of so much overthinking happening about food, Anteprima is real.

So, what did we have? Well, I had more help this time, and we made our way through:
  • a cold antipasti of olives, stuffed baby eggplant, glazed carrots, beans, farro, radishes and chiles;
  • proscuitto di Parma with melon;
  • tuna carpaccio;
  • bruschetta with sweet corn;
  • the crispiest stuffed and fried zucchini flowers with tomato;
  • big, chubby pork meatballs;
  • grilled octopus with potatoes and chiles;
  • fried duck egg on tomato;
  • the long-time favorite orecchiette with lamb sausage and bitter greens;
  • ravioli stuffed with beets and ricotta;
  • spaghetti with anchovy and chiles;
  • trofie (short, thin, delicate spiral pasta) with green beans, tomato and pesto
  • braised goat (good lord, get me another!)
  • arctic char with salsa verde
  • bison flank steak;
  • lemon panna cotta, so well done, smooth, with a birthday candle in the middle;
  • apricots poached in amaretto with crushed amaretti cookies;
  • peach crostata
  • ...and of course a whole tub full of drinks and wine.
You'll notice my lack of detail above, mainly because these dishes really do speak for themselves and require no embellishment. When composing dishes for the Salon, or any restaurant I've worked in, I always seek to make the elements on the plate complement each other. Like a good pasta dish, there should really be no filler--no ton of noodles with a ladle of sauce on the top. No, these two elements should be tossed together, with equal billing. And this is how things have always gone for me at this restaurant. The service doesn't distract from the food; the wine doesn't overshadow the service; everything is in its place and plays its role in support of the other. And they all do it to such a high level, the result is one of the more relaxed, loving meals that one can experience. And the other important part of the equation? Those eating it. In this case I had some of my closest friends there with me--people who I'd eat anywhere on earth with without the fear of someone not liking something or someone wanting to have the server split the check 10 ways or someone doing anything other than just straight up enjoying themselves and each other. Maybe it's the marking of another year of my life talking, but you can keep your rock-star chefs with their haircuts, tattoos and jewelry; I'll take the warm hug of a loving grandmother over that every time.