Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hot Fun in the Summertime

It's summertime in Chi-Town and it looks like tomorrow's weather is going to prove it, just in time for the Fourth, when everyone decides it's a great time to cook over a live fire and hang outside. And even though the city is no longer sponsoring the beloved-by-Kanye-West Fireworks at Lake Michigan, I'm betting there will be plenty of (hopefully) controlled explosions to be heard and seen in all of our great little neighborhoods.

I've got a lot of great memories on this holiday, from the firework spectacle put on by the college in my hometown, right in the football stadium, where the entire town would gather and watch the lights; to a trip to Western Iowa where I was privy to the biggest home-fireworks scene I've ever been around, with a mortar that fired all kinds of things into the sky that we threw into the fire pit--once we were sure (or at least hopeful) that all the rounds had ignited. But as always, food comes front and center to my mind: the watermelon mom would cut up for us as we geared up for the firework spectacle and lit sparklers in the front yard, scent of lilacs hanging everywhere in the nice, dry heat of Colorado's mountains; hot dogs and hamburgers grilling in the park as we slowly waited for the sun to go down and fireworks to start; cold beer on the hot roof of my place in Boston when the electricity went out before fireworks started; fishing in the gulf of Mexico and tasting the freshest grouper (or any fish for that matter, short of the trout we'd catch in the rivers and reservoirs back home) ever, then sitting on the boat in the gulf watching the fireworks on shore. Yep; it's a good time of year, and everything great about summer, and here's to enjoying it with those around us, old friends or new. Smell that smoke from the grill, run through a sprinkler and enjoy those burgers, and a Happy 4th, y'all.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mid-Summer Soliloquy

As we crank through the summer, rejoicing at the temperate weather when we get it, the Salon is welcoming so many new and interesting people. And while the food is great, what I'm most thrilled about is the bit of community being formed--however small--amongst those that attend. Which is one of the main ideas behind the Salon: a simple cooking lesson can be had anywhere, and the city is full of great underground dinner options, but what we're really trying to foster in the Food on the Dole Salon is a community-based return to the kitchen and table, all based around really good food. A huge thanks to those who are committed to that, and to those who have, at the very least, given it a shot.

I'm loving the challenge it's presenting me with as well. The day-of shopping for a dinner for seven people, the spontaneity of menu writing once said shopping is done, the introduction of new techniques to those wanting to learn them. The exposure to so many new people and seeing them meet for the first time. The witnessing of a small bit of community unfolding. And knowing that however crazy the city gets, with all the summer construction, traffic, heat, noise and so much else pushing us away from one another, we can still turn to a tiny oasis of serenity and connection at a table, over well-crafted food, to bring us back together.

I'd like to offer a sincere thank you to the support I've gotten in this venture so far. From it's conception with Kristen Jones, who also does the beautiful graphics work for me, to those close to me who have offered advice, ingredients and the occasional car to scoot around town picking up ingredients in, and, just as importantly, to those of you who have taken the chance of coming to a stranger's Salon, and contributing a bit of yourself to its success. The Food on the Dole Salon is still an infant, but here's to the love and support it's gotten thus far!

Friday, June 24, 2011

New Salon Dates!

Greetings all! Just a quick post to formally announce four new Salons for the first half of July, with more soon to follow. After the enthusiastic responses to the past Market and Brunch Salons, we've decided to offer two of each for the beginning of the month.

The Brunch Salon is a great way to continue the wind down of the weekend--we bake, fry and poach together as a lovely Sunday morning turns to afternoon. We'll navigate our way through some beautiful market produce to a destination of lovely and delicious food. Past dishes have included homemade English muffins and scones, hollandaise sauce and farm potato hash. $40 each:
The Market Salon is an evening of foraging through just-harvested summer produce from the area's farms. I'll hit the farmer's markets in the morning to find the best stuff available and we'll guide these beauties to our table in the most tasteful (and tasty) way. Please note, this is not necessarily a vegetarian Salon. $50:
We have six seats available per Salon to ensure a great, community-building dynamic in the kitchen and at the table. The Salon is always BYOB, so please feel free to bring anything you like to drink. I've been thrilled with the turnout so far--lots of folks who love food and want to share in it with others as I guide us through the spontaneous menu. If you have any questions about the Food on the Dole Salon, please email me at Otherwise, click on a link above to grab a seat and we'll make a great thing happen! See you soon!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What's Been Hoppin'?

Gorgeous weather, a friend's birthday, two Salons and a very lazy writer make for a slow update schedule here at Food on the Dole. However, this also makes for some very good eating. Don't get me wrong--I love to write--but cooking and eating always seem to take precedence. So, with hands still smelling of Old Man Kazaam's Gillion Spice Rub and smoke from yesterday's spare ribs, here's what we've been up to at the F.o.t.D. Headquarters lately:
We had a great, great Market Salon last Wednesday. All lovely produce from Green City Market, with wonderful people to match. Folks from all walks of life. One person came down from Madison, WI; another reads Sanskrit for crying out loud. Top-notch food created as well by these Saloneers:
  • lovely and simple asparagus soup with a crouton of fresh chevre, chives and panko;
  • red leaf and spinach salad, with flavorful and nourishing spinach, so vibrant and tasty, from Tomato Mountain Farm, crispy double smoked pork loin lardons, and a poached egg;
  • spring onion, lamb's quarter (a leafy weed of sorts, not the four parts of a young sheep) and pea tendril risotto;
  • homemade rhubarb ice cream with strawberry compote.
The night was rainy but the cheer inside the Salon was not. Well done, everybody!
The next night just happened to be Old Crazy Hair's birthday. This is a guy who spends every waking moment (and most sleeping moments) planning, running around and simply doing things that makes one's hair crazy. Thus, we thought it would be nice to take the thinking off his mind for a day, and take him to Montrose Harbor to grill, drink some illegal beers and just enjoy the gorgeous weather. Foodwise, we created a tribute to a sandwich notorious in the most industrial part of Massachussetts, and beloved by O.C.H. called the Boot Mill Sandwich. It's usually a breakfast-y type sandwich but hey, we bumped it up to a ridiculous dinner sandwich. Here at the headquarters, we cooked up some home fries with plenty of lard. At the lake, we grilled two hamburger patties and a bratwurst and piled the following onto a poor, overstressed bun: homefries, burger patty, some kind of fancy cheese no one remembers the name of, bratwurst, homefries, burger patty, colby cheese, and two eggs lovingly fried up in the beloved campfire bean pot in plenty of lard. Wrapped that sucker in the mezzanine-like cardboard that separates a 30 pack of beer and delivered it into the capable jowls of O.C.H. He dubbed it the FrankenBootMill and nearly finished it. Whew.
Saturday found the Beer Food Salon moving ahead at full force, and what a tasty Salon it was (despite, unbeknownst to me until the Salon schedule was out, the fact that Two Brothers here in IL was having a Hop Juice beer event that day. D'oh!). Heavy indeed, with all kinds of beer brought from Great Lakes Brewery in Cleveland, North Coast Brewing in California, Founder's in Michigan, Allegash in Portland, ME, my newly beloved New Glarus in Wisconsin and Uinta Brewing from, of all places, Salt Lake City. I'll spare you reviews on the beer aside from saying they are all delicious, and focus on the food here:
  • We started out by deep frying some risotto balls, stuffed with cheese, called arancini (Italian for "little orange" due to their color and shape when they come out of the fryer) and dipping them in a quick puttanesca sauce we whipped up;
  • mussels steamed with a bit of white wine (the beer we had, I thought, should be saved for drinking, and would result in too bitter and hoppy of a taste in the final product) with celery, shallots and all kinds of butter;
  • frites, double fried in shortening (well known to to reduce the stink of frying in the place), served with a rich, garlicky aioli;
  • my beloved sausage plate (long ago, I got this on every trip to The Hop Leaf--it has changed since those days, so I usually stick to the delicious sandwiches and/or steak frites, but my memory and love of that original sausage plate lives on) of a few kinds of bratwurst, veal wieners, mettwurst, kielbasa, seared and stewed in a bunch of beans, crispy Benton Ham lardons, Wild Turkey bourbon and maple syrup;
  • to bring us back up to the land of the living, a simple and crisp bistro salad with butterleaf lettuce, chives, parsley and orach greens.
Now that was a solid meal. One of my favorite topics to eat. Beer was great, company even better--a couple from way up in Wisconsin came down and we couldn't have been more pleased with their presence. So glad we're getting folks from all over!

Anyway, we're gearing up for the Seafood Salon tomorrow; I'll be shopping for that tomorrow so if anyone wants to snatch up the last two seats, do so by then! Oh, and those spare ribs? Well, I was walking past the great Paulina Meat Market yesterday and got my hands on some lovely pork spare ribs. Made up a rub for 'em with all kinds of spices, then smoked them until the meat was juicy and thinking about coming off the bone, but still somewhat chewy (gotta have that chew in my opinion--it is meat being pulled off a bone with teeth, after all), outside nice and charred and so smoky in taste. Served them on top of some beans leftover from the Beer Food Salon and drank a couple beers to wash it all down. Nice way to end a crazy week.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Brunch, Beer and the Importance of Contrast

Yesterday found 6 new folks in the F.o.t.D. headquarters at the second Brunch Salon, and we spent a lovely Sunday afternoon cooking some great things together. After everyone arrived, we moved from mimosas on to making more substantial things, including:
  • cranberry scones with a quick strawberry-rhubarb jam;
  • farm potato hash with melted onions and smoked rib belly;
  • homemade english muffins with whipped maple butter;
  • poached eggs with double smoked pork loin and garlic scape pesto;
  • pea tendril and arugula salad with tiny, tiny little baby carrots and a chive vinaigrette.
One of the saloneers grew up in England, and I'm happy to report that he was ever so pleased with the scones. As I wrote here, a traditionalist such as myself believes that scones are meant to be eaten with something: clotted cream, a cup of coffee or, as in our case, butter and warm, just-off-the-stove strawberry-rhubarb jam. These days, one is hard pressed to find a good, solid scone rather than a muffin in scone's clothing; they become so filled with eggs and butter (wait--I'm actually complaining about this?) that they become little cakes, all springy and moist. I know, I know--isn't this a good thing? Well, if it were a cake or muffin, yes. But in this case, I'm slathering the thing with butter and that jam, and gulping it down with some hot coffee. And each element plays a note in the experience. Are cakey scones terrible? No way! But does a crisp outside giving way to a flaky inside complement luscious toppings? You bet.

ANYWAY, we're looking forward to Wednesday's Market Salon; some good things have been slowly trickling into the rotation at the farmer's markets, and I'll be there Wednesday morning to fill the Salon's larder. And hey! We've still got a couple seats open for the Beer Food Salon this Saturday where we'll be exploring different types of food to go along with our sudsy favorites. Pick up a ticket and bring some beer, home brewed or otherwise, and we'll see you then!

Friday, June 10, 2011

That Ain't Pizza Burning--That's My Hat!

After a nice, relaxing couple of days in the hills of Wisconsin camping--which included plenty of good beer from the lovely New Glarus Brewery, a bottle of Wild Turkey, brats on the fire from Gene's (yes I took brats to Wisconsin from Chicago), scrambled eggs cooked in plenty of bacon grease and a big juicy ribeye in my cast iron pan (geez, I love that thing; it goes right in the fire!)--I returned cleaner than usual (despite a very smoky hat) thanks to the nearby lake with pizza on the mind for the F.o.t.D. Pizzaland Salon. So, I cleansed myself with some really good greens and radishes from a friend's roof:
...and threw a bunch of pizzas with some lively people at the Salon. Various toppings included crimini mushrooms, crispy bacon, salami, cheddar cheese, parmigiano reggiano, baby greens, olive oil, tomato sauce and, perhaps most importantly, a really flavorful crust made from Flyod, the beloved bread starter given to me by old crazy hair, that got nice and crusty when rubbed with oil and cooked hot and heavy in the oven--an oven that was most welcome on the suddenly cold night, and just the right liason between the campfire and the home kitchen. Thanks to those who made it out, and we're gearing up for the Brunch Salon on Sunday! Good things in the works, including a melted onion potato hash and some tasty maple butter we're getting whipped up. See you all soon!

Monday, June 6, 2011


It's been a whirlwind weekend here at the F.o.t.D. Headquarters! Three Salons happened--one was filmed by a four-person camera crew--and we've had chicken frying and compotes bubbling, bread rising and clams shucking, risotto waving and many trips to and from the markets. Everything went great and we made some absolutely lovely food, including:
  • Stinging Nettle Soup
  • Risotto alle Vongole e Asparagi
  • Cured Copper River Salmon
  • Huge Rooftop Salads
  • Lard-Basted Epi Bread
  • Ham Hock Collard Greens
  • Rhubarb and Cornmeal Crostadas
  • The First Strawberries of the Season
  • Buttery Hoe Cakes
  • Gut-Busting Mac and Cheese
As you can see, we've really run the gamut from light to heavy, and there's so much more to come. But now, I'm really ready to get a bit of a break from it all, from the noodle-rolling madness of Flour and Bones to the first few months of the Salon's life. Thus, I'm headed up to Wisconsin for a few days of camping, tree hugging and talking to streams and lakes. But never fear, the salon is in full effect upon my return with this week's Pizzaland Salon and Sunday's Brunch Salon! These are sold out, but we do have seats available later in the month for the Beer Food Salon on Saturday the 18th and the Seafood Salon on Wednesday the 22nd. As always, thanks to Kristen Jones for the lovely poster at the top of the page, thanks to all those who have joined us in the Salon, and I hope to meet more of you soon!