11.26.2008

For The Love of a Turkey

So I just adopted a turkey. Well, not really. It's not like the lil Gobbler is coming to live with me and my other farm animals. I just "sponsored" one, so that instead of ending up on Grandma's table, it lives out its life on a California farm. I mean, who can resist a face like this, right?


Here's what Farm Sanctuary has to say about their program:

For a one-time $25 adoption fee, you will receive:
•A special Adopt-A-Turkey certificate with color photo of and fun details about your new friend
•A Farm Sanctuary membership for one year,
•A one-year subscription to Sanctuary, our quarterly newsletter.


Find out more HERE! Gobble! And Happy Thanksgiving!

11.25.2008

Chicago's Caterers: An Interview with Fig

Chicago's own Justin Hall and Molly Schemper run Fig Catering out of a commercial kitchen in the Pilsen neighborhood, and focus on small event catering services for groups from 2-100. Here, I speak with Molly about the business they founded based on 3 little words - "For Intimate Gatherings. (FIG, duh!)

CV: When did you decide you wanted to work in food?

I don't know if I made a conscious decision to get into the foodservice business. I grew up in a restaurant (that was owned by my parents and uncle) and worked in restaurants/catering in high school/college. I went on to get my degree in advertising and worked at a branding agency for 4 years. I left that position to take a job on a private yacht as a crewmember/personal chef; I didn't necessarily know it would be a full time move into the food business until I started FIG.

CV: How did you meet your partner, Justin?

Justin and I met while working together at Poag Mahone's, a bar and grill in the Loop. He was working in the kitchen and I in the front of house.

CV: What is Fig's "food" philosophy, or to use a Top Chef buzz word, point-of-view?

I think our culinary point of view is that food should satisfy and bring people together. Our food is not overly fussy or dependant on intricate techniques or ingredients. It is good food, done well.

CV: What are you favorite restaurants in Chicago?

My favorite is Topolobampo or Frontera Grill. I love Rick Bayless' exuberance and passion for food.

CV: What is challenging about running a catering company in Chicago?

I don't know if Chicago contributes to the challenges of running a catering business, but the hours and low salary make it most difficult.

CV: What are you goals/plans for '09 for Fig?

The goals for FIG in 09 are to continue to grow (obviously) and to hone our focus. We removed prepared meals from our repertoire and will be focusing on dinner parties/intimate events.

CV: What is your favorite part about running a catering company?

Participating in other peoples' special events and helping them to enjoy those events a little more.

CV: What are some of Fig's specialty dishes or items?

I always struggle when people ask what our "signature" dishes are because our menus are always changing and evolving. As the pastry chef, currently I've been excited about making caramels, candy and chocolates.

CV: I know you're located in Pilsen, a neighborhood known for great Mexican food. Why did you choose Pilsen and how has it affected your business?

We actually chose to live in Pilsen before we chose it as our place of business. Once we realized what a great neighborhood it was, both for diversity and food & location, we found the perfect spot to open our kitchen. Because we don't have walk-in traffic some of the most important factors were low rent and accessibility to expressways.

CV: What tips would you give someone who is interested in working in catering or started a food business?

Start off slow and grow into it. Make sure you have experience in both the kitchen and business sides of the operation (or, at least, get really good advice and guidance)!

For more information about Fig or to hire them for your next special event, click here. And read Molly and Justin's blog, all about their life running the business HERE!

11.24.2008

Peen's Morsels

Welcome to the first week of CV's new mid-week feature, Morsels. Say it 5 times fast and it starts to sound funny. Morsels will contain bits of food wisdom and interviews with some of my favorite people. Enjoy these little bites!


Peen
Age: 27
Occupation: Barber
Resides in: Ukrainian Village, Chicago

1. Favorite band with some sort of food in its name:
Blind Melon

2. Give us your favorite vegetable and how you like it prepared:
Chayote (it's Mexi) in stewed soup. (Ed. note - Chayote is a type of Mexican squash)

3. If you could only eat 1 flavor of ice cream for the rest of your
life, what would that flavor be?

I love Pistachio but...really Jamoca Almond Fudge makes my dreams come true. I like the nuts!

4. Favorite food show:
This is a tough one. It's a tie between Mexico, One Plate at a Time with my man, Mexican wannabe Rick Bayless and Check, Please! Alpana Singh is muy sexy.

5. Please describe your ideal 2 am drunken feast:
First of all I get in at 4 am. 2 carne asada tacos, with onions and cilantro, 1 vegetarian taco from Allendes on Lincoln and a baked apple pancake from Clarke's. I'd be slurping on some Tamarind Juice and a Budweiser.

6. Favorite steak-house side dish:
A nice Shiraz. Oh...u mean food - - sauteed spinach with garlic and mushrooms from Gibson's.

7. If you live in Chicago, give us your favorite restaurant here in
Chi-town. If not, share with us the number one spot in your city
:
It used to be Demon Dogs but now it's Ignotz....hidden Italian gem in Pilsen. That's right, Italian in Pilsen

8. How do you take your coffee?
Black but on the weekends a hint of cream and sugar

9. Top 3 condiments:
Limes, Cholula hot sauce, and brown mustard from Gray's Papaya

10. How do you like d'em apples?
Huh??? In a warmed strudel atop honey yogurt (earwax cafe yo)

11.23.2008

Dobrou chut! (Czech for "Hope it Tastes Good!")

Steve and his family recently took a trip to Prague. I made him promise to get some good food pics, as I was curious what people in Prague ate.

Salmon in dill sauce

Baked potato with finely chopped raw garlic and cottage cheese. A favorite of Steve's

Vegetarian sausages(!) with mustard. Apparently these were not very good, although with my love for fake meat, I'm pretty sure I would have liked them.

Young lamb steaks with Bilberries. Bilberries are similar to blueberries and in fact, often referred to as European Blueberries. Some people believe they improve vision, especially night vision

The mystery dish - Steve can't remember what this was. I'm thinking some sort of potato.

A ham roll. Yes, ham roll. While a roll of ham sounds unappetizing to me, the artfulness of this plate is impressive.

Carrot and apple salad

A salad of tomatoes, lettuce and lots of raw garlic. I think their use of the pungent bulb should be saluted!

11.20.2008

Soup + Bread = Winter Soul Food

Carbomb is back with some more kitchen adventures! This week, creamy tater soup and home made bread. Wow!

Jeff and I went to the Trader Joe's as we do every other week or so to stock up on the essentials and they had packages of trimmed leeks, which I had never seen before. Leeks are delicious but kind of unwieldy and a pain in the ass to clean so this seemed like the perfect time to pick up some pre-cleaned leeks and make a potato leek soup.

I'd been sitting on a recipe from a fantastic chick named Abbey. Jeff and I went to Detroit for Columbus Day weekend (one of my top 10 favorite holidays) and one late night after many beers, Abbey wrote down her recipe for bread. It's a basic but key recipe and she threw a whole bunch of herbs she had recently harvested from her garden and it was super savory. So I figured, cold, icky Chicago night, a missed episode of Lost and some 30 Rocks to watch, let's get cooking.

HERB BREAD
1. Combine 1 packet of yeast, 1 cup of bread/all-purpose flour, 1 coup of whole wheat flour, 1 teaspoon of applesauce (I used some homemade apple butter I made after an apple picking extravaganza), 2 teaspoons honey and 2 teaspoons salt in a bowl.
2. Mix in 3 tablespoons of melted butter and 1 cup of hot water and work into a nice ball.
3. If you want to go the herb route, before you mix the wet and dry bunches together, get some basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, chives, dill - whatever you like, chop roughly and throw in a food processor just until the greens are broken into tiny pieces. Then just work the herbs into the the dough.
4. Leave the dough alone for 40 minutes to rise.
5. Open a bottle of wine and watch Lost.

LOST BREAK!

6. After 40 minutes punch down the bread, lop it into an oiled 9x5 bread pan and let it rise for 30 more minutes.
7. Perhaps play some parcheesi or bones and pre-heat your oven to 450.
8. After that lump is all full of air, bake for 10 minutes at 450 and then lower the heat to 350 for another 30 minutes.

THE SOUP!:
1. Into a large pot put 6 potatoes (peeled and cut into large pieces), 4 of the leeks (if Trader Joe's hasn't cleaned them for you, soak in salt water to remove grit) halved, 3 stalks of celery you've chopped up, 1 medium quartered onion, a bay leaf and 2 quarts of veggie stock.



2. Get that cooking and let it boil until the potatoes are soft.
3. Chop up 4 more leeks and mix 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup (1 stick) of melted butter together to make a roux.
4. After the potatoes are soft, toss in the rest of the leeks, the roux, 1 cup of milk/half n half/cream, a handful of thyme and whatever other herbs you have lying around from the bread and salt and pepper.
5. Let that work for a while to let the new leeks soften a bit. When things look creamy and good, take the pot off the heat and let it sit for about 5 minutes. If your blender is as crappy as mine, it will take approximately that long to get the thing up and running.
6. After the soup has cooled a bit, blend that mix together until smooth, I had to do mine in batches. After it's all creamy, throw the bay leaf back in and put it back on the heat for 20 minutes.
7. At the end, I added some Parmesan cheese to give it a bit of a kick, some chopped chives and pepper.

It was delicious and there are plenty of leftovers, which we like for nights we don't have 2 hours to cook. If you do not like leftovers, just cut the soup recipe in half. But who doesn't like leftovers?

Bread dough looks a lot like brains. muh hahahahaha

Fresh Herb Bread

11.19.2008

Hot Toddys, For The Dogs


On Sunday, freezing cold Sunday, Peen, Steve and I decided to take Rufus to the dog park for some exercise. He looooves the dog park. Sometimes it takes 30-45 minutes to catch him when it's time to head back home. He never wants to leave. So we decided to come prepared and make up a batch of hot toddys to take with us, to keep us nice and toasty while running after the dog.

Apparently, the term hot toddy, which refers to any sort of whiskey or strong spirit, served warm, usually with lemon and sugar, originated in the 18th century and was created to make the taste of a strong scotch more appealing to the women folk. All I can say is it worked!

Here's my hot toddy recipe. I recommend taking a jug of it to the dog park and laughing away the Sunday blues.

Shannon's Hot Toddy
Jack Daniels or Jim Beam
2 lemons
Honey
Black Tea
Cinnamon

Mix equal parts whiskey and hot black tea
Add the juice of 2 lemons, a few tablespoons of honey to taste, and a pinch or two of cinnamon. Serve warm and keep away from the dogs!

A tired pup, post dog park

11.17.2008

A Rappin' Good Time

The rapper is back! Please welcome Peen back for this ode to her Mexican vacation. If we could all be so lucky!

I'm bustin' out this rap as you can plainly see
about a little trip I took with homegirl Pixel and her hubby "Gadget D"

We went down south...for about a week or so
To the tropical paradise ...my hometown...that's Mexico

It was a rainy rainy start and we had nothing left to do
but to stock up on the Mezcal, Tequila, and domestic Sol brew

We went to the Mexican Walmart ..cuz that's where the playas shop
bought some eggs, some bread, some liquor, and a crazy tamarind lollipop

We would drink all day and wait for the sun to come out
and when it did...drinks up at the pool bar THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKIN' BOUT

There was a mad list of drinks we could order by the water
Pixel says "Gimme one Banana Monkey and two ice cold cheladas. 3 shots of Sauza" Do I want limes? "Homie don't even bother!"


After drinkin' all our drinks and sippin' on the shot
we had to order lunch and this is what we got

Tacos....breaded shrimp the most delectable kind
Smothered in creamed cilantro, orange juice and lime


Garnished with cold tomatoes and shredded lettuce that was so fresh
Deaner D ate 'em up so fast his new trunks were made a mess

After eating our feast and feelin' all right
We would proceed back to the quarters to get more drinks in our system for the night

Mexico o' Mexico how I miss your mojitos and your shrimp taquitos
I love your cenotes, your music, and your beautiful speedos.

Dork Alert! Recipe Exchange!

My friend Helen recently sent me a chain letter of sorts - although a useful one. It basically followed this format:



1. Slim Goodbody: slim@gmail.com
2. Helen: xxxxx@gmail.com

You've been invited to be a part of a recipe exchange (mostly because I know you like to cook). Please send a recipe to the person whose name is listed in the number 1 position above (even if you don't know them) and it should preferably be something quick and easy. Actually, the best one is one you know in your head and can type out and send right now.

Then, copy this letter into a new e-mail, move my name to the number 1 position and put your name in the number 2 position. Only my and your name should show when you send your e-mail. Send to 20 friends. Use your bcc: field to hide names. If you cannot do this within 5 days, let me know so it will be fair to those participating. You should receive 36 recipes




I received the following recipes from people, most of who I didn't know - score!

•Mashed Potatoes and Kale
•Avocado-Citrus Tuna Salad
•Veggie Chili
•Scalloped Potato Casserole

And the recipe that intrigued me the most:

Spicy Peanut Soup!

1. Saute 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped garlic clove and 1/8 tsp (more if you like it really spicy) cayenne pepper in a big stock pot until the onions and garlic and soft 2. Add 2 chopped carrots, 2 chopped celery stalks, a few potatoes (chopped), 1 red bell pepper chopped and cook for about 5 min.
3. Add some vegetable stock (I usually eyeball it to a nice chunky soup consistency), 4. 1 can corn (although corn cut straight from a couple of cobs is much better) and 6 tbsp peanut butter. Let simmer 20 minutes and Enjoy!

Thanks to Mollie!
Photos to come once I attempt to make this vegan speciality!

Weirdest Thing In Your Fridge

When I saw this post today on Serious Eats, about weird items in your fridge, it prompted me to look into my own fridge for "weird" things. I think it's a tie between Blood Orange Bitters, Tamarind Juice, and Texas "Caviar" - jalapeno stuffed green olives.

What weird items are hiding in your fridge? Post in the comments!

11.16.2008

A Farmer's Market Of Photos

Sitting here watching the first snow of the Chicago winter fall outside my window (and President Elect Barack Obama on 60 Minutes), I thought this was an appropriate time to look back on the bounty of summer with a photo trip to the LA farmer's market. Thanks to Smitty for the wonderful post and pics!


Welcome to the Hollywood Farmers Market in photos! Appropriately, the market is watched over by our Scientologist overlords.



A fall favorite -- swiss chard. Chard is great when sauteed like spinach. Just "de-bone" the chard (cut out the colorful stalks), chop and sautee the stalks with some onion and garlic in olive oil. Once the stalks start to soften, add the chopped leaves and allow them to wilt. Yummy!



Sprouts!


Dragonfruit




Squash Blossoms








Kitty approves of the fresh catnip


Straight from the farm to your dinner table -- brussell sprouts, heirloom baby carrots, sweet potatoes, apples and figs (along with some olive oil and fresh rosemary) head into the oven for roasting!

11.12.2008

Hungry Man Soup

In the winter, I like to make big pots of soups and stews. Then I can take the leftovers to work all week and stay warm and full on the cheap (and healthy!) But I also need something that's filing. I don't know about you but one bowl of soup ain't gonna get me through until dinner. So I find ways to make my soups extra hearty, more like a meal or a Hungry Man frozen dinner! In this soup, I added brown rice to bulk it up. Recipe below.

Creamy Asparagus and Mushroom Soup with Brown Rice

Carton of mushrooms (I used button but you can use any variety)
One medium yellow onion
12 stalks of asparagus, diced
Veggie Broth
Brown Rice (I found a package of precooked rice to make this super easy, at Trader Joe's)
Half and Half
Greek-style yogurt
Goat Cheese (yes, I'm on a goat cheese kick)
Salt and Pepper
Sage
Green Onion Stalks

1. Saute diced onion, mushroom, and asparagus in stock pan until soft
2. Add veggie broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer
3. Pour in the half-and-half (to taste, depends how creamy you like your soup) and add a cup of goat cheese. Puree with a hand mixer or food processor until the vegetables are blended.
4. Add sage (I like lots) and salt (lots) & pepper (lots)
5. Add package of brown rice
6. Serve to hungry friends and family! Garnish with a dollop of greek-style plain yogurt and chopped green onions. Yummm

11.11.2008

Pow! Roasted Asparagus and Red Onion with Creamed Chickpeas

Notes From The Bar


My dear friend Warren, who I met on the internet about 5 years ago(oh yeah), has bartended at some of the nicest restaurants in NYC. Here's his wisdom on sake, japanese Beer, and how to make the best bloody mary. Enjoy!

CV: What's it like being a bartender at a fancy downtown restaurant?

W: Being a bartender 'at a fancy downtown restaurant' is very different from just being a bartender. Firstly, food is involved, and the more elaborate the food, the more opportunity to learn...I'd never worked in a japanese restaurant before. The complexities of each fish we serve is so much more subtle in terms of pairings, I had to rethink what I can suggest to learned customers. Having Lived in Tokyo, casual diners tend to drink sake that maintains a certain degree of rice taste that accompanies the cuisine appropriately. Americans tend to want the purer, or Daiginjo sakes. None is better or worse, I just feel the latter is a trend.

CV: How does tipping work at your current restaurant?

W: As tips are concerned, I never thought I'd work in a packed place that demanded so much explanation. I stick to 3 or 4 sakes that I know work with the cuisine and make my explanations concise. I have a similar outlook to efficiency, which may even out the excitement I have for teaching. It is a business. Having a thorough sake list is a plus, as we don't offer many cocktails that do the cuisine justice. No one knows about sake...even I'm challenged when dining at restaurants that offer multiple options. There are no regions to pigeon hole, such as say the Rhone with Viognier for White and Syrah for Red. It's just not that easy. Therefore, I make my tips on speed and being savy. Salesmanship with specials and pairings always commands top tips.

CV: Give us your top 3 favorite alcoholic drinks and top 3 fav non-alcoholic drinks

W: I drink beer when relaxing....Wine with a meal, and whiskey forever.
Water and juice at all other times. I hate how sugary soda lines my tongue with sugar.

CV: Do you recommend cocktails while dining?

W: As was the case when you lived here, interesting cocktails are at a premium for diners. As far as I'm concerned the only place for a cocktail is at the beginning of a meal to get your tastebuds stimulated and not to be paired whilst dining.

CV: Do you get hit on a lot by drunk barflys?

W: Shouldn't answer...

CV: Most people have had Sake but most have not tried unfiltered Sake - can you tell us what that is?

W: Most sake is filtered through something similar to a coffee filter, and yields a clear product. The ones that aren't are called nigori. They tend to take on a sweeter aroma and are pleasantly gummy in texture, depending on the maker.

CV: Do you like Bloody Marys?

W:I Love Bloody Marys

Recipe:
Always Canned Tomato Juice
Add Celery Salt
Worcesterchire Sauce
Sriracha
Lime Juice
and a dash of Balsamic

Always to taste....always

Then 2 oz of Stolichnaya Vodka

CV: Whats your favorite Japanese beer?

W: Not available in the US, but Kirin Green Label....And it says on the label: "For Value". It tastes steely, not unlike Spaten

CV: Do you like Sparks?

W: Fuck No. [ed. note - sorry Smitty!]

11.10.2008

Guava-Rama


Smitty's back with another report from out West

One nice thing about our apartment is easy access to fruit trees. A guest comes over with a case of Tecate but forgets the limes? Nothing that a quick trip to the lime tree in the front yard can't fix! I use the word "yard" loosely, as the area out front is actually a small parking lot for the building. But you get the idea.

Recently, the parking lot was littered with the unidentified fruits of an overhanging tree. Rather than let them get squashed by the cars in the lot, an industrious Emily started gathering them up and taking them with her to work ("the factory"). She quickly discovered that they were delicious and enlisted the help of a native Californian co-worker to identify the tasty treat - guavas!


We soon began gathering the guavas faster than we could eat them, so I looked online for a guava recipe and found a winner -- guava and manchego phyllo pouches.

The recipe called for a cup of cubed guava paste (which you can apparently buy frozen), but since we had the real deal, I used fresh guava. Mix the guava with 1 cup cubed manchego cheese, 1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Next up is the spice mixture -- mix 9 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon and 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper together in a small bowl. Melt 1 stick of butter and set aside. You're now ready to begin making your phyllo pouches. You should be able to get frozen phyllo dough at your local grocery store (note that you'll need to let the dough thaw for a few hours before using).

Place 1 sheet of phyllo dough on your work surface and cover the rest with plastic wrap and a damp towel to keep them from drying out (this is important, the sheets will stick together and become brittle very quickly). Brush the phyllo with butter and sprinkle with sugar mixture to cover.


Repeat 2 more times to make 3 layers.

Cut in half crosswise, making 2 stacks. Place 1/3 cup guava filling in the middle of each stack, and gather the edges to form a pouch.


Brush the tops with butter, place them on a baking sheet, and sprinkle with some of the sugar mixture. You'll have enough mixture for 6 pouches.



Bake for 20-30 min at 350 until golden and bubbly.

Serve with some mulled wine


Dig in, and enjoy!


The end result really was delicious. The manchego and the guavas, and the sugar/cinnamon and the cayenne made for a really unusual and delightful mix of sweet and savory. If you don't have access to guava, I think apples or pears could be a great substitution (though you might want to roast or bake them first so they aren't too crunchy). You could also substitute toasted pine nuts for the almonds. It's a fun dish to play around with and make your own!

11.09.2008

A Trip To The Southside: Gyros & Hot Lather Shaves

Peen, Tim and I took a field trip to the southside of Chicago today. You see, Peen is a barber. She works in her dad's shop in Calumet City, Rich's Den, and has worked there since she was 15 years old. It's quite the charming little spot with an eclectic clientele, coming in from the surrounding area and Indiana. One of Peen's specialties is the hot lather shave with a straight razor - you know, the old fashioned way of getting your face as smooth as a baby's bottom - and Tim had been hankering to try this method for quite some time. So today was the big day.

First stop on the drive south was historical Pullman. This neighborhood was once entirely built and owned by the Pullman rail car company. The 4-5 block radius that makes up central Pullman, is full of row house-style residences. It was an interesting stop-off on the way to the shave.

A mural of the Pullman train cars, in Pullman, of all places

Then we were off to Rich's Den for the main event. This place has charm and character for miles with knick-knacks covering every surface, police memorabilia on the counter tops, and family photos covering the walls. It felt cozy (remember Peen, if you need a shop manager...), like a family-run business should feel. It made me jealous that my family didn't run a business together(I think...). More to come on the shave itself from the recipient, Tim, but here are some photos of the grooming process, up close and personal.










Finally, on to Pano's Big Boy, right down the road. They have, according to Peen, the best gyros in town. Apparently, the original Pano's burnt down years ago and the day it reopened, people waited in 3-hour lines to get their gyro fix. And while gyros aren't for me, all of the accompaniments surely are, so the woman behind the counter, without batting an eye, agreed to make me a vegetarian gyro platter with feta, a toasted pita, onions, a handful of Kalamata olives, pickled pepperoncini peppers and my favorite condiment, tatziki. It was some of the best fast food I've had in ages, and both Tim and Peen agreed it was worth the hype.


So if you're ever hankering for a straight razor shave from one of the best barbers in Chicago, head down to Rich's Den in Calument City, IL and cap off your day with a trip to Pano's. As they say, a southside adventure is the best way to spend a Sunday. (Ok, I just made that up but I think it's true!)

Be sure to check out Peen's barber stories on NPR's Vocalo radio HERE. You'll hear poignant and funny stories about her life as a barber.