Tonight, as a month-long personal experiment to try one new culinary wonder -- a gadget or recipe or restaurant -- each day in January comes to an end, I journeyed in to the snowy night for a piece of Jamaica. I found it at Good To Go Jamaican Cuisine & Fresh Juice Bar, 1947 W. Howard St. The jerk chicken, which came with a side of rice and peas (that looked a lot like dirty rice and black beans), fried plantain and steamed vegetables, was a first for me and a good, simple final meal. The bone-in breast meat was done just right and the tangy brown sauce, with hints of allspice and cinnamon, is something I'd love to make as a marinade for pork tenderloin. I ordered for the small, which was $9.50 and with seven small cut pieces of chicken breast, plus the sides, it was enough to feed two.
Food for thought: January 2008 Archives
Mint and booze have long enjoyed a strong bond. I don't get it. But it's true. Witness the Mint Julep with its mint, bourbon, sugar and water mix. To me a mere sip has me wondering how any right-minded person with a gag reflex could ever get liquored up on this stuff. But they do -- the first Saturday each May in Louisville, Ky. And I love the Kentucky Derby, don't get me rung.
Head a ways south, to Cuba, and there is the mojito -- a rum based cocktail with mint that also leaves me non-plussed. So today, when I opened up a box of Charles Chocolates from San Francisco chocolatier Charles Segal, I looked close at the package and there it was. The final straw. A mojito chocolate. Heart shaped and all, just in time for Valentine's Day.
I had ordered the shrimp in walnut sauce at Peruvian restaurant Machu Picchu, 3856 N. Ashland tonight, figuring I had never had it before. But my Spanish is good enough to know that what I was served was Picante de Camarones -- shrimp in a chili sauce made with garlic, paprika and some other spices. While it's supposed to be spicy -- maybe they toned it down for me without asking -- there dish had a mild kick. The 8 shrimp were served with a side of rice and potato. The dish was $14 and But the runaway hit? The Papa Relleno -- stuffed potato balls ($8).
The great part of Annie Chun's Miso Noodle Soup is the biodegradable bowl and its ready-in-two-minutes dinner option. But microwave this baby and what you have are some amazing noodles swimming in utterly flavorless broth.
Tonight, we journeyed to Russell's Barbecue, 1621 N. Thatcher Ave., a recommendation courtesy of WGN-AM radio personality Nick DiGilio. He described it was an institution. The restaurant's take-out menu says it's been a family tradition since 1930. This was a nice diversion, since I tend to get caught in my routines, including regular trips to the very trendy Smoque BBQ, 3800 N. Pulaski, for the sliced brisket sandwich and must-have macaroni and cheese (I'd eat the foil cup it's served in if I didn't think it would hurt my silver fillings), and Fat Willy's Rib Shack, 2416 W. Schubert, for the pulled pork sandwich. Time to branch out -- even if it means leaving the city.
My bookcase of cookbooks is about one-quarter magazines, filled with recipes that I've either used or hoped to use. The October 2007 Food & Wine falls in to the latter category. Recipes for four different cheese souffles are featured. Much like working with yeast for a pizza dough or bread dough, I fear the chemistry project that is a souffle. Especially when a recipe for this light, meant-to-be fluffy dish is accompanied by a color photo of a gorgeously browned souffle magically sprouting from a simple white ramekin. It's all so very Ina Garten, really.
Folks, this installment of one-new-food-a-day features a homemade -- yes, made in the Donovan kitchen -- meat and cabbage stuffed pastry brought to my native Nebraska by German immigrants. I found the recipe by chance in a cookbook that crossed my desk "America's Best Lost Recipes" at the paper. The dough, made with sweetened condensed milk, provided a sweet to the savory, dare I say bland, cabbage, onion, beef, cheddar cheese filling. I'm hoping to find out what WGN-AM 720 host Nick Digilio thinks when he has me on his show tonight (Friday) at midnight to talk about the blog.
The tiny Fishpond, 4416 N. Clark, in Uptown has this amazing seafood menu ranging from Escabecheng Tilapia (fried fish with sweet and sour sauce) to Halabos Na Hipon (steamed shrimp or prawns), and while the $10 price points were affordable I wasn't in the mood for that tonight. In fact, I wasn't sure what I wanted but the helpful server guided me, pointing out what American diners typically enjoy as well as dishes I might see locals enjoing in Manila.
In the end I went for the very simple, very traditional, the server says, Chicken Adobo. The dish is essentially cut up chicken simmered in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and red pepper. Did I mention the vinegar?
OK, so Coalfire Pizza Chicago, 1321 W. Grand Ave., has gotten all this buzz because the thin-crust Neopolitan-style pizza, covered first with cheese, then with tomato sauce -- a recipe for a crispy crust -- followed by just a few toppings is deliciously simple. No kidding, they don't recommend anything beyond 3 toppings because the added moisture might result in a soggy pie. So tonight, we ordered a Fiorentino pizza and minutes later it was on the table. They're not kidding when they say the pizza is baked in an 800-degree oven. But what was really hot was the calabrese salami covering this gorgeous pizza. Long shavings of the meat, coupled with the roasted red peppers were amazing.
Goose Island is so named for the geese that once made their home on this block of land surrounded by the Chicago River, but when Irish immigrants moved in more than 100 years ago it was named Kilgubbin. Tonight, I went to Goose Island Brew Pub, 1800 N. Clyborn, and sampled some of the brewery's red ale known as Kilgubbin, so named for the community in Ireland where residents once lived.
Yeah, I went to Hot Doug's, 3224 N. California. If there was ever a restaurant made for this challenge, to eat one thing I've never tried before each day in January, it's Doug Sohn's Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium.
Gold Coast eatery Jake Melnick's Corner Tap, 41 E. Superior, started serving up wings this month so hot guests are required to sign a waiver before they feel the burn and their lips swell to the size of Lisa Rinna's.
January is national Oatmeal month and to celebrate, Wild Oats in Evanston, 1111 Chicago Ave., had a cooking party. Well, it was more of a demonstration, complete with granola, the best-ever pancakes, cookies, of course, and even oat milk. Staffer Dana, who hosted the event, even threw out a trivia question about which state eats the most oatmeal. One gentlemen in the crowd of about 20 answered proudly,"Illinois?"
I'm still getting over the fact that this recipe calls for crumbled egg shell. I first spotted it some years ago, when I was perusing a hand-me-down Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. The new part of the title, of course, being irrelevant now because it was given to me in the early 1990s, passed on to me by my sister, who believed she had gotten it either for her wedding -- in 1976 -- or sometime thereafter. Cookbooks of yesteryear are mysterious with those unattractive photos and tips about using muffin pans to make groundbeef recipes. And yet, they're foodie-friendly with the Cafe au Lait to paella recipes. Note: to make foam for the au lait, the only machinery needed is a rotary beater. So quaint.
OK, back to Swedish Egg coffee.
My dream has always been to own a coffee house that is also a used book store. You know, when this journalism thing is over, which, if the economy continues as it does, may be soon. Too soon. Anyway, I've always enjoyed coffeehouse culture -- solitude without being alone and a chance to leave behind my messy pad to read a book in the order and relative cleanliness of the corner shop. So a few months back, perhaps, I made a symbolic first step toward that during a visit to Ikea. That's where I picked up this little gadget known as the Produkt. http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/10076320
A note from a reader having problems with a brownie recipe got me to thinking about a newfound favorite brownie recipe -- the one on the back of the Baker's Unsweetened Baking Chocolate Squares. And it is the thing that led me back to the kitchen today, after days of searching the city for new food and drink for my ongoing project: to eat or drink or try one new gadget each day in January.
It was right around 1996 and my grandmother, living in Onawa, Iowa, rang my apartment in Covington, Ky., to see how I was doing. I had a cold like the one I'm nursing right now and, because my decongestant didn't seem to be wokring, she suggested I try a Hot Toddy. She was surprised I didn't know the ingredients. I mean, come on, here I was living in the land of Jim Beam, made in Frankfort, Ky. She instructed that it was a touch of bourbon added to warm water and lemon. Of course there was nothing my place, except for water. Today was a different story, sort of.
The server at Chicago's only Costa Rican eatery, Irazu, 1865 N. Milwaukee Ave., asked my husband and I how we'd like the rice and beans that came with our meals. The options were just a plain white rice and black beans or a mixture of both that is known as both tico rice and gallo pinto. He opted for the plain beans and rice since the latter had cilantro. I opted for the latter because it did have the cilantro. And besides the server mentioned the gallo pinto had been cooking for hours spent hours; seems like if it's been working that long I should eat it.
Today's trip to the neighborhood Thai restaurant, En-Thai-Ce, 5701 N. Clark St., was all about finding something spicy to open up my sinuses as a cold sets in. In addition to requesting a spicier-than-my-normal mild cashew chicken, which means there are four hot peppers in a serving, I asked friend and server Sarah M. Barker about my quest to try one new thing a day in January.
First, let's digress from the point here and start with a little background. No matter what city I've lived in -- and I've lived in a few -- I've always managed to find a place that makes awesome chicken noodle soup so that when I'm sick, all I have to do is show up with my red nose and not only do I get a little soup, I also receive a healthy does of pity from whomever is working at the counter.
Today's journey led me from downtown west on Lake Street in search of a hot mint tea that I came across while researching a story about tea. January is tea month. And I like to drink. So I parked my car, on this darkened, warehouse-lined stretch of Lake Street, at Carpenter. The signs hanging from buildings on the North Side of the street say "no parking" but I figure it's cool. I'll be out of the car jst long enough to find out that the place is either closed or I've got the wrong address.
OK, so I didn't know that I picked the wrong season to try pomegranate, those large, red-apple looking fruit that are a lot of damn work to eat.
For more than a year now, I've been driving by the Juicy Wine Co., 694 N. Milwaukee Ave., an island of coolness with its floor-to-ceiling front windows and spare decor. Tonight, I pulled over to see what it was all about. And what it was about was three of the most downed-to-earth, hipter-looking guys willing to take the time to answer questions about wine, cheese and, well, the tastiest salami I've ever had.
That's right, that South Side bastion of veganism -- no meat, no dairy, people -- Soul Vegetarian East on has several outposts around the city, many of them on the North Side, Evanston, around the University of Chicago campus and even a kiosk on the Congress stop of the Blue Line. In my quest to eat one new food a day during January, I stopped in to True Nature Foods, 6034 N. Broadway, and there, next to the few burritos that were left in the refrigator section, was my next meal: "BBQ Delights." This Nebraska girl continues to be amazed at what people can do with wheat gluten.
Just opened a quart of Meyenberg lowfat goat milk. Yeah, it's 9 p.m. on a Monday night. But sometimes cereal can be dinner. So I poured the milk, easy to digest and a friend to the lactose intolerant, some over my Kashi crunchy bits and had a try. Hate to say it, but I found a bit hard to swallow.
Actually, it's nearly 9 :30 p.m. as of this writing and The Weather Channel is reporting it's 57 degrees. Indeed it was a day to celebrate winter's reprieve by kicking around downtown and Grant Park, and then ducking in to a fancy hotel for a little bubbly. So it was an afternoon of firsts, including a visit to the 7-year-old Peninsula Chicago, 108 E. Superior, at Michigan Avenue, and a glass of Laurent-Perrier, Brut L-P Champagne.
My God, this was not the burp-inducing, California-produced asti spumanti sparkling wine that accompanied my college graduation oh so many years ago.
I've driven past Deta's storefront cafe', 7555 N. Ridge Ave. on the Chicago-Evanston line probably hundreds of times. This afternoon I decided to stop in. Once through the door, I found only one table open. The other two were occupied -- one surrounded by a group of large men, some drinking coffee and the others beer, and at the other was owner Deta Lekic (day-tuh lay-kitch) herself, checking her blood pressure with a home monitor.
My stomach had been hurting since I walked in to work this morning. I can say with some confidence it had little to do with the red pepper speckled Szechwan-style pig’s ear, the Pakistani fudge or the myriad taste tests at the Spice House in Old Town this week – all part of the January experiment to try one new food item each day.
There is nothing but adventure in the extensive menu at Lao's, 2172 S. Archer Ave. Kung pao kidneys. Tofu and pork blood cake home style. Stir-fried liver.
For all the years I've been going to the Spice House in Old Town, I've never needed the address. It's just a few blocks south of North Avenue, and about a half-block in either direction the shop's Bronzeville "Galena Street" Rib Rub, hot curry and cinnamon all beckon. Indoors it's even stronger. But this morning, all of that disappared when store manager Steven Tobiason opened the glass bottle of black truffle salt first and, then, popped open the top to the white truffle salt.
Happy New Year's Day and welcome to my resolution to try one new food, drink or kitchen gadget a day for 31 days. Or maybe longer. We'll see. The idea was, in part, born after 2007's introduction of the Food Detective in the Sun-Times' Wednesday Food section. Fruits, veggies, area chefs and even the chain cooking store have all provided windows in to our city's rich ethnic heritage, today's trends and, strikingly, how we connect with each other.