Fancy Tuna Melt

One of my favorite hearty sandwiches to bite into after a long day is that ole' stand by, the tuna melt. The fact that cheese and tuna, which by all means shouldn't taste good together, combine so effortlessly to create a protein-filled grilled cheese, is so wrong that it's right. I like to fancify this humble sandwich up sometimes though - with exotic (oh la la) cheeses and heirloom tomatoes. I say there's nothing wrong with putting a bit of a new twist on an old classic. Try this version, I think you'll like it.

2 slices, whole wheat bread
Heirloom tomatoes
Feta Cheese
Chihuahua cheese, thinly sliced
1 can of solid chunk tuna
Celery Stalk
One small white onion
Dijon mustard
Salt & Pepper

1) Mix together the tuna, mayo and mustard (to taste), diced celery pieces, and a few pieces of diced onion. These are raw, so trust me, don't overdo it.
2) Line the bread with the tuna mix, add sliced tomatoes, feta cheese and top with a thin slice of Chihauhua (cheese, you weirdo). Season with salt and pepper
3) Toast in the over for 15 minutes or so, until the bread is crispy and the cheese is perfectly melted.
4) Enjoy your fancy comfort food.

Abuelo's = Awesome

While Abuelo's Grand Opening wasn't quite as exciting as a Macy's Glamorama party, it was a great day when I saw this new restaurant, half a block from my apartment and right across the street from the Damen stop of the Pink Line, open up for business. About a week after, I stopped in for a pre-Lollapalooza bite.

The meal started with chips, served with thick fresh green and red salsa, which were both a bit different from the other local taquerias in the area. The chef also brought out a delicious little amuse - stewed pork on chips, with pickled red onions. Different but also delicious. The green salsa was heavy on the cilantro, which works for me. (sidebar: do you know that genetically, some tongues interpret cilantro to taste like soap. Weird.)

Then came burritos, chilaquiles and tortas galore! Above, you'll see my roommate's vegetarian burrito, served with a side of jicama slaw. By his accounts, it was quite good (and large - only $5.50 for all that), and you'll notice that there was some thought put into the nice presentation.

Because I am a breakfast enthusiast, I went with the chilaquiles, which was invented as a smart(delicious) way to use up stale tortillas. This version came with fresh tortillas chips, a lovely green sauce, a fried egg, and beans. I think I like this dish because it reminds me of what I usually make for breakfast on the weekend - eggs with anything else I have in the fridge. It just works and it worked for Abuelo's too.

Next up, Peen's steak torta: also huge, also cheap. The best part, according to her, voice of meat, was the grilled green onions, cebollitas, layered throughout the sandwich. All in all, a hearty success.

So at Abuelo's - the food was great and very affordable, but they've also taken great pains to have a (for lack of a better word) cute interior. No offense to the other taco joints in my hood, I love you still too, but decor was never your strong point. Painted in reds and yellows, with clever art and National Geographic covers lining the walls, the look is more cafe than taqueria. Free wi-fi and flat screen TVs tuned to soccer games will hopefully bring the crowds in as well, but the food, if this meal was any indication, will keep 'em coming back. See you there!

2007 S Damen Ave
(at Cullerton St)
Chicago, IL 60608
Open Mon - Sat, 7am - 9pm
Closed Sundays

Maxwell Street Market

The Maxwell Street area in Chicago has a rich history as a bustling metropolis for Russian, Italian, Greek and African American immigrants, and at the turn of the century, became know for its large open-air market where anything and everything was sold. Over the years, the market has grown considerably smaller and moved locations many times, due to the impending dominance of UIC in the neighborhood. But every Sunday morning, hundreds of vendors still setup shop - and for a culinary-enthusiast like myself, a trip to the Maxwell Street Market is pure heaven.

The majority of the vendors we saw this Sunday, we're actually peddling food, made on the spot. Many of the stands sell tacos, tortas, and other Mexican delights. Here we found a stand that deep fried little papusas (round dough) and sliced them open to make a sandwich. You pick the filling.

I had to get a shot in of Peen's Warriors shirt, just because it rules. WARRIORS!!!

And this was quite the treat - a mushroom and Chihuahua cheese quesadilla with all the fixings for $2.00! Each stand has a few tables where you can rest your weary shopping legs, and the best part, usually a few homemade salsas to taste.

A handful of masa gets pressed into the shape of a tortilla, and grilled to perfection.

The scene on the street.

Grilled corn.

There were many sellers of dried fruit, nuts, and various spices. Here we see dried Jaimaica flowers.

More sauces for tacos.

What looks like tree branches at this spice stand, is actually cinnamon bark.

Maxwell Street Market
Desplaines Street and Roosevelt Road
640 W. Roosevelt Road


Fake Mexi Meat! Muy Super!

In the heart of Little Village, a neighborhood even more southwest than Pilsen, there lies a vegetarian paradise. Anyone who knows me, knows of my cravings for fake meat - Boca Burgers, Soyrizo and Tofurkey - I can't get enough of the stuff. It's not that I even necessarily think that these treats taste like real meat - they don't and that's not the point. It's that they easily give a vegetarian something extremely hearty to chow down on, while simultaneously expanding our options for yumminess. I am, to say the least, a fan.

So I was so happy to find El Faro, on the corner of 31st Street & Pulaski - a Mexican restaurant that serves fake "chicken", "ham", and even "steak" alongside the real stuff. This is a place for everyone and can easily solve the "where to go to dinner" dilemma for a half-vegetarian couple!

We started out with some jamaica flower water, and an order of molletes - toast with beans and cheese. I've apparently been making and enjoying molletes for years, I just never knew what it was called.

Then, on to the main course, Peen represented the meat eating people of the world by ordering 2 carne asada quesadillas, which were, according to her, quite delish. Her face says "oh yeah."

I had a fake-steak taco and a Cuban torta - which came with fake ham, fake bacon, fake steak, a fried egg, mayonnaise, avocado & tomato slices and queso. Um yes, it was a lot of food, but I enjoyed every last bite of it. And was super full. I think that fake meat may expand once it hits your stomach...

Lailah, also on team vegetarian, enjoyed a trio of tacos - soyrizo, fake chicken and fake steak. She loved the soyrizo version so much, she ordered an extra one and gave me her leftover "chicken".

El Faro also has breakfast specialties - pancakes and chilaquiles, and an entire portion of the menu dedicated to healthy juice drinks. So really, regardless of your preferences for meat or no-meat, any fan of Mexican food can be happy at El Faro. This place...brings people together!

Something is so funny.

Hee Hee.

Fake meat causes the giggles.


Texas Vegetarian Feast

Every time I come home to Dallas, my mom has my fab Aunt and Uncle, Pat and Sheila and their kids over for a big cook out. This one, just happened to be vegetarian. We decided to do a meal of appetizers and it was a doozy. I wasn't even hungry the whole next day...yes, I over ate. But that's what you do when you're home eating mama's cooking right?

This was a pesto panzanella salad. We grilled ciabatta bread, cherry tomatoes, and fresh plump balls (heh) of mozzarella, tossed with pesto and then garnished the dish with grilled avocados. Apparently, if you get an avocado that isn't quite ripe, grilling it is a good way to soften it up. It worked here.

Sheila brought these bite-sized rye toasts, which had were toasted in the oven to crispy goodness and had olives and Bac-O Bits in the cheese mixture! Yes, fake bacon bits. Amazing.

Sticking with the appetizer theme, we prepared a large Caesar salad with homemade low-fat Caesar dressing. This one is actually delicious and the secret ingredient is anchovy paste - with other components of the recipe being plain yogurt and lemon juice. That's all I can divulge at this time, as my mom closely guards all of her recipes.

Corn, Mexican-style. After charring the ears on the grill, we slathered them in a mayonnaise-lime juice sauce, sprinkled with red pepper and Queso Chihuahua. My specialty is making otherwise healthy vegetables, like corn, really fattening and delicious.

Homemade hummus rounded out the "meal" of appies. I don't hold it against my mom that this recipe actually came from the Rachael Ray magazine, because it's actually delicious - with a lot of Tahini, lemon juice and red pepper.

And for my last trick, I will turn this...

...into this! Grilled potatoes and zucchini with roasted tomato and goat cheese dip. You can't go wrong with some sort of crispy potato and a delicious dip. Enjoy the recipe below. It's sure to be a hit at your next Texas Vegetarian Feast!

Crispy Potatoes with Roasted Tomato & Goat Cheese Dip
2 pounds new potatoes
Red pepper or Cajun seasoning
Olive oil
2-3 pounds tomatoes
2 small logs of Texas goat cheese
Foil-lined pan

1. Slice the tomatoes thin, place on the foil lined sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt (lots) and pepper. Roast at 350 for 1 hour or until nice and caramelized.
2. Cube the potatoes, coat the bottom of a baking sheet with olive oil (lots) and toss the potatoes in the oil. Season heavily with red pepper or Cajun seasoning and S & P. Roast on high (400 or so) until crispy and golden brown.
3. Combine the roasted tomatoes, goat cheese, & 2-3 cloves of fresh garlic in a food processor. Pulse until smooth and serve with the tots!

Texas, the brand

When I was down in Dallas last week, visiting my mom and preparing for my 10-year high school reunion, we took a trip to the local grocery store to stock up on grillables. Wandering up and down the aisles of the massive store, I began to notice a trend in the food marketing. Big declarations of "Texas Grown!" or "Go Texan!" or even "The Beer From Here!" rang out at me from the shelves.

I just don't see that many "Illinois-style" potato chips at my Chicago-area grocery store.

Flavors From Texas!

The beer from here! McKinney, TX's very own beer - Franconia.

Go Texan!

Texas watermelon. Also from the USA.

Peanut brittle, proudly made in Ruby, TX

Texas Style!