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!