All posts by Lauren

Folklore Argentine Grill

Unique Wine Pairings at Folklore Argentine Grill

Folklore is the latest concept by the team behind Tango Sur in Lakeview, a Chicago institution that to this day boasts two-hour waits for tables fifteen years after its launch. Known for its authentic Argentina cuisine, the original concept evolved from the butcher shop next door, El Mercado Meat Market, which expanded into a restaurant once the son of its immigrant owners came of age. The owners, now mentors to the family restaurant group run mostly by their children, brought their knowledge of Argentina traditions to Chicago through their restaurants, which became known not just for their grilled meats, but for a BYOB policy that allowed generations of steak and red wine lovers to indulge freely without breaking the bank.

The newest incarnation of the dining group brings wine and cocktails to the multi-unit operation, but keeps the spirit of free-flowing drinking still going by serving the affordable and drinkable wines their youthful clientele seem to prefer. At the same time, as their customers become more sophisticated, so does the wine list, which bar manager Pablo Javier continues to evolve, in keeping with the newer styles and varietals coming from the emerging wine markets of Argentina and Chile.

The wine list is limited to Argentina, Chilean, Spanish and Portuguese wine selections, a rare focus that allows for a wide range of selections in its categories. Because of its specialized nature, the list can afford to include multiple selections of the most popular varietals growing in those countries – there are seven Malbec offerings alone. And while the big fruit bombs beloved by Folklore’s faithful clientele remain ever popular, the newer inclusions on the menu veer in the direction of Bordeaux-Style blends.

The restaurant itself looks like Argentina suspended in a certain era in time and sensibility. Full of leather, wood, natural artifacts and fall foliage, a single white candle glows from each of the thick wooden tables. Loud with the boisterous sounds of a mostly young and South American clientele, the place bustles with the dream of old-time Argentina haunts. Staffed almost exclusively by Latino employees, servers are knowledgeable in Argentina wine and cuisine, and hospitable and accommodating to a fault. Everything about the place supports a vision of Argentina, flanked by a wine list with unusual varietal selections and a breadth of offerings.

The original list was conceived by Jason Norman, owner of now-shuttered Telegraph notoriety, and is now run by Pablo Javier, an industry veteran who worked alongside Norman since Folklore’s opening. Some of Norman’s strongest picks remain on the list – the Mendel, the Tikal, La Posta and the Cocina Blend—wines Javier believes are indicative of the region and what it shows best. At the same time, he continues to evolve the list in keeping with some of the newer expressions emerging in the region, yet stays close to the original spirit of the wine program, one that continually seeks out new wines and varietals that show great quality at truly affordable prices.

One of the other changes instituted by Javier was putting more descriptive language on the menu. As Javier puts it, “People can’t always relate to talks about winemakers and how long they’ve been around. What they want to know is what the wine tastes like. Not everyone has a vocabulary for wine.”

The list Javier put together reflects the dual challenge of keeping customers happy who are in love with a particular grape or a fruity style, while introducing them to what else South America has to offer. “I think people have this idea of what Argentina and Chilean wines are about, because of what they’ve been doing for the last 20 years (as in Malbec). I don’t think they realize that there’s a shift in the wine culture coming out of South America,” he says. The wine list at Folklore showcases a number of wines that pair well with the broad range of offerings on the menu.

Check out some suggested wine pairings

Door County Fish Boil

The Door County Fish Boil Chronicles

P1020238 best fish plateI’d heard of a fish boil before – it’s hard not to if you’ve ever visited the Door County peninsula in northern Wisconsin. Yet, somehow the concept didn’t stick in my brain. Fish, after all, is a tender protein that would seemingly be the last thing you’d subject to rugged boil.

There must be some kind of glitch, I reasoned—some reason why people would flock to fish boils other than for the pure showmanship of the famed “boil over.” I poked around on the Internet, viewing picture after picture of flames leaping to sky as the water gurgled and spilled from the kettle.

We decided to try out our luck at Pelletier’s, one of the more well-known and long-standing of the fish boils. Turns out the Master Fish Boiler at this place, a lumberjack-looking man named Matthew Peterson, has been helming the kettle for 30 years, first under the tutelage of Mr. Pelletier himself and now as its owner for the past twelve.

“Oh, I never get sick of eating this fish,” he explained. “Some nights I have it as tacos, other times as part of a Cioppini fish stew – there are always plenty of leftovers.”

The Fish boil, Matthew explained, is a tradition originating in Door County itself and does not exist anywhere else in the world. Rumored as a way to have fed lumberjacks or any other large gatherings of people, this popular tradition now feeds flocks of curious tourists during the summer season–Pelletier’s alone does 1200.

Into the Brew went the Whitefish

Whitefish for Fish BoilMatthew walked me through the process. First into a giant caldron go red potatoes, ends sliced off to better allow the salt to penetrate. Ten minutes later in go the yellow sweet onions, also called Texas sweets, bred to taste like Vidalia’s, but in miniaturized form. Finally, large chunks of Lake Michigan whitefish descend into the brew, followed by the grand finale ten minutes later with the famed “boil over.” A common misperception is that kerosene is added to the water itself. Not true – the kerosene is doused on the fire, resulting in the shooting flames that cause the water to boil over.

Does a Fish Boil actually Boil?

One question in my mind was whether the fish actually boils, rather than simmer or poach before its fiery finish.  From my eyewitness account, the mixture mainly simmered and only started to roll into a rapid boil five minutes or so before the boil over. I noted the grayish murk floating on the surface, the same stuff you see when you make a stock of any kind before skimming it. Oh, I get it, I thought. The boil over effectively “skims” the fish stock by boiling it over with a last-minute and short-lived burst of flames, leaving in it’s a wake a clean tasting fish. Voila!

Another essential ingredient to the boil is salt – and lots of it. The salt not only flavors the fish boil ingredients but also increases the boiling temperature of the water, to encourage more oil to the top. Nothing actually tastes salty, just perfectly seasoned.

As for the verdict – the fish boil was delicious. The fish has a meaty texture, with the pillowy folds of a lobster tail, yet as tender and flakey as any perfectly cooked fish. There was absolutely no trace of toughness.

The Midwestern Version of a Lobster Boil

Kind of a Mid-west version of the boiled Lobster dinners of New England, the act of eating the fish itself involves a bit of ceremony. You’ll need to know how to get the fish off the bones without ending up with a mouthful of pin bones–there is a method. Ask your server to show you or come prepared.

 The Fish Boil is one Heck of a Deal

P1020246 best cherry pieTo top it off, the fish boil is one heck of a deal. At Pelletier’s, you get 2 large chunks of fish, red potatoes, sweet onions, coleslaw, rye bread and butter, cherry pie and the non-alcoholic beverage of your choice for $18. Add $1.50 extra if you want ice cream on the pie and trust me, you do. If you are further towards the tip of the peninsula, I noticed a similar menu and Master Boiler lineage (both boilers have the same last name and what appears to be a similar facial appearance) at the Viking Grill for just $15.95.

Fish Boil Recipe

If you’d like to try your luck at home, try the fish boil recipe on the Viking Grill site.

 

soy best

Fresh Tofu Pasta with Tomato and Basil

A great way to indulge your pasta cravings while avoiding carbs or gluten is to make a pasta dish from tofu noodles.  Because they are a protein source, tofu noodles tend to fill you up more so than pasta  – I felt full and satisfied for 3-4 hours after eating a 3 ounce serving.

Use tofu pasta the same way you’d use any pasta. Cook them for just a few minutes, and then pair them with any sauce you’d normally use with pasta. While you may catch a whiff of tofu aroma as you drop the noodles into the pot, there is little trace of that flavor once you combine them with the sauce.  Like fresh egg pasta, the noodles cook in just a few minutes.

Fresh Tofu Pasta with Tomato and Basil

Ingredients (for two servings)

Fresh Tofu, 6 oz.
Roma Tomatoes, 2 each
Basil, 1 T, chiffonade
Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), 1 T

Method

Bring a large pot of water to boil and add a pinch of salt. Drop in the noodles. Remove after 3 minutes and set aside.

Meanwhile, seed the tomatoes and cut into 1/2 inch dice. Mix the tomatoes with salt and basil and allow to macerate for at least twenty minutes.

Mix the noodles with the pasta after draining them, using a bit of the pasta water to make the pasta saucy.
soy noodle sauce
Making the fresh tomato sauce
soy good P1020206

Terroir of Tofu

Known for its bland taste, the last thing I’d ever associate with tofu would be an aroma. Yet, that’s exactly what drew Jenny Yang into the storefront location of Phoenix Bean Tofu for the first time, a company she later bought and grew. You see, Jenny grew up in Taiwan, a place where tofu was common at all meals, especially at breakfast in the form of a tofu shake. Each morning, as she took her morning stroll, the aroma of tofu hung in the air, drifting from morning stalls in the manner that coffee does in America’s streets.

One morning, a few years back, the distinct taste memory of fresh tofu popped into her head as she pushed her stroller through a Chicago neighborhood, having long ago emigrated. Following her nose, she landed in the nondescript storefront of Phoenix Tofu, a place where she found a team of workers clustered behind a thick plastic curtain, hard at work producing the fresh tofu that was to be delivered to surrounding restaurants that day.

What led Jenny to buy the business, ultimately, was her belief in the craft of fresh tofu. Usually only available in restaurants, Jenny believes people will come to want the fresh stuff as soon as they taste the difference. What makes Phoenix tofu different from supermarket varieties is not just the flavor, but also the lack of preservatives and the quality of the beans, which are locally sourced and non-GMO.

I asked Jenny, who I met the Good Food festival in Chicago, why the previous owners of Phoenix tofu didn’t use preservatives. “They don’t even know what preservatives are,” she laughed. “They just deliver it fresh to the restaurants each day, which order more of it when they run out.” To that point, Jenny is hesitant to sell tofu to any retail grocer not able to sell its products fresh. She dreams of tofu bars in the not too distant future, akin to today’s mozzarella bars, where customers order fresh tofu in different formats and flavors.

In an effort to take tofu mainstream, Jenny’s team sets up shop at local farmers markets and food festivals, preaching the gospel of tofu through sampling and educational demos. Curious onlookers happily chow on the assortment of toothpick-spea

P1020174

Ropa Vieja – The Classic Cuban Dish

Ropa Vieja, the classic Cuban dish of shredded beef, peppers and tomatoes, is Spanish for “old clothes.” As legend goes, the dish got its name from an era when food was so scarce, women shredded clothes and turned them into stew.  A kind of Cuban pot roast, Ropa Vieja’s most distinguishing feature is the shredded nature of its beef, which could resemble braised rags, if you use your imagination.

I’ve loved this dish so long I don’t remember where I discovered it, but now its the dish I can’t not order on a Cuban menu. Having long dreamed of adding it to my cooking repertoire, I decided to make it the star of my Cuban-themed dinner party. As I put together a menu of traditional Cuban dishes, I did some cursory research, seeking to understand the origin, technique and variations of this dish. Opinions differed, but a consensus emerged that flank steak was the traditional cut of beef for the dish, and the most authentic versions entailed a two-part cooking process similar to the one used for a corned beef and cabbage or boiled New England dinner.

Seeking to validate this theory by a resident Cuban expert,  it occurred to me I  live within spitting distance of one, namely the chef from one of the best Cuban places in town. Tucked into the back room of a Cuban food market, La Unica Food Mart is a mecca for all things Cuban–restaurant, butcher and a grocery store featuring Cuban products.

After verifying that Ropa Vieja was on the menu , I proceeded to the butcher counter in the adjoining room,  theorizing that the meat must be sourced from it. Seeing no flank steak in the case, I asked the butcher which cut to use for the Ropa Vieja. “Flank steak,” he answered in a blink and asked “how much do you want?”

“Enough for six people,” I replied. With that, he smiled and scurried into the walk-in, emerging a few seconds later with two large cuts of beef amounting to three pounds.

“Do you know how to make it?” I asked.

“Oh, no, but the chef does,” he replied, gesturing towards the restaurant with a friendly smile. Luckily for me, he spoke English, since the chef did not, I was soon to discover.

The butcher followed me back there and introduced me to Chef Jose, who was only too happy to share his knowledge of the craft, pantomiming the makings of a dish that clearly made him proud. He gesticulated the long simmer in aromatics low and slow, the subsequent removal of the meat from the broth, the cooling and shredding, and finally the merge of the shredded meat with a sofrito of onions, tomatoes, and peppers. With my rudimentary knowledge of Spanish combined with snippets of translation from the butcher, the chef  confirmed the two-part cooking theory.

Afterwards, the chef noticed the fresh yucca in my basket, intended for a Yucca con mojo and shook his head with displeasure. He marched over to the frozen bin, pulled out a bag of the frozen variety, and replaced my fresh yucca,  murmuring something about the ease of plopping the frozen yucca into boiled water and serving it with a sauce of mojo on a platter.

We served both of these dishes as part of the Cuban dinner party menu below, which includes some links for recipes, and my own version of Ropa Vieja, adapted loosely from Island Bites, the closest thing I found to the two-part cooking approach I had in mind. My version replaces the round steak with flank steak, uses more vegetables and aromatics and incorporates pickled jalapenos and dry Sherry for some Spanish-inspired acidity. There’s also loads of recipes out there for using slow cookers, if that’s more your style.

Ropa Vieja is a great dish for dinner parties, Sunday suppers, and Latin-themed events. Leftovers also make for some fine tacos, very similar to the meltingly tender shredded beef tacos you’ll find at Mexican joints, driven into popularity in recent years by the emergence of Chipotle’s famed Beef Barbacoa.

The Ultimate Cuban Dinner Party

Mojito Cocktail Bar
Mojito Cocktail Bar

Cocktail Hour

 Dinner Menu

Dessert

Cuban Ropa Vieja with Flank Steak and Peppers

My take on this dish is cooked in the oven, instead of the stovetop, as many do, but it could also be cooked that way. I prefer to not worry about whether its simmering too low or high, so I just put it in the oven and forget about it.  Either way is fine.

Ingredients

  • Flank Steak, 3 pounds
  • Large onion, 1 each, cut in quarters
  • Large onions, 2 each, sliced
  • Red bell peppers, 2 each, sliced,  ends reserved
  • Green bell peppers, 2 each,  sliced, ends reserved
  • Cubanelle pepper, 1 each, sliced
  • Garlic cloves, 10 each, 6 whole, 4 minced
  • Peppercorns, 6 each
  • Bay Leaf, 1 each
  • Ground cumin, 2 tsp, divided
  • Dried oregano, 2 T, crumbled, divided
  • Kosher salt, 1 tsp for broth, more to taste
  • Goya (Spanish-Style) Tomato sauce, 1  8 oz can*
  • Dry Sherry, ½ cup
  • Pickled Jalapeno, chopped, ¼ cup
  • Olive oil, 2 T

Part 1 – Cooking the Meat, Making the Broth

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
  • Place meat in an 4-quart Dutch oven, add the quartered onion, reserved pepper ends, 6 cloves of garlic, 6 peppercorns, 1 tsp cumin, 1 T oregano, 1 bay leaf and 1 tsp salt
  • Add enough water to cover—there should be about 1 inch of water above the meat
  • Bring the mixture to boil on the stovetop, cover with a lid, and place in the oven
  • Cook until the meat is fork tender, about 2-3 hours
  • Remove from the oven,  and let it cool a few minutes
  • Remove the meat, strain, and reserve the broth
  • When the meat cools, tear it into shreds, discarding any fatty pieces or sinew
  • Meanwhile, proceed to Part 2, once the meat is out of the oven

Part 2 –Making the Sofrito and Final Dish

  • Heat oil in a large skillet
  • Add the onions and sliced peppers, add a pinch of Kosher salt, and sauté at medium heat until soft, about 15 minutes
  • Add minced garlic, 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp oregano and cook 2-3 minutes more
  • Add Sherry and cook until the pan is nearly dry, about 5 minutes
  • Add shredded meat, tomato sauce and pickled jalapenos
  • Stir and cook until all ingredients are mixed together
  • Add enough of the reserved broth to barely cover the ingredients, about 2 cups, and stir
  • Taste and add salt and pepper, if needed
  • Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, and cook until the oil begins to separate from the sauce, about 20-30 minutes, adding more broth if the mixture becomes too dry
Edible Alchemy Underground Dinner

A True Underground Dinner Experience

Underground dinners have always held a certain allure – that sense of mystery and exclusiveness that makes you feel lucky to get “in.” Unfortunately, most of the ones I’ve attended have not lived up the hype. I remember going to one a few years ago that sounded great on paper, but failed to deliver the great food, sense of community and just plain fun that I had imagined.

But I held out hope that the one I was planning to attend last weekend would fare better. I’d never heard of it before in the popular press, having  only found out about it after subscribing to the Edible Alchemy newsletter at the Good Food Festival in Chicago. It promised an “immersive vegetarian dinner experience focused on using local ingredients in traditional ways,” pretty much summing up my own philosophy of food. This particular monthly community gathering centered on the Persian New Year, or Nowruz. I was in.

The Altar of NowruzLocated in Pilsen, we arrived at a non-descript residential street and knew we’d found the right place when we spotted a few other curious-looking people hovering outside the building. We stepped inside and at once were immersed, as promised, in a Mid-Eastern feast. Friendly servers, chefs and hosts dressed in Mid-eastern garb swirled around us as we took seats at one of many long tables.  The menu explained the unusual décor we found at our tables, featuring the seven elements of the traditional table setting for the celebration, including fishbowls of live goldfish.

Edible Alchemy Mixologist
Pomegranate Rosewater Cocktail

The evening’s mixologist was hard at work with the first of the optional beverage pairings for the night, a vodka, pomegranate and rose water cocktail, garnished with drunken grapes. Mid-eastern music echoed through the lofted space, and we got to know our neighbors, friendly in the community way we’d always imagined.

Persian Appetizer Plate
Persian Appetizer Plate

Each course was introduced by the evening’s menu consultant, a Persian woman who shared the backstory on her mother’s recipes and the Nowruz traditions. The first course, a medley of salads and cold dishes, was akin to what you’d imagine Mid-Eastern food to be, but with interesting variations, such as the Koo Koo Sabzi, an insanely green quiche heavier on herbs and greens than eggs.

Vegan Kebab and Sweet Saffron Rice
Sweet Saffron Rice

One of the highlights of the evening was the Sweet Saffron rice, a sweet, chewy pilaf, highly aromatic from a long bath in Iranian-smuggled saffron, garnished with large bright strips of pickled carrots. It was served with a vegan kebab.

Date Nut Cake with Saffron Ice Cream
Date Nut Cake with Saffron Ice Cream

Finally, the night had to end, but not without a grand finale – dessert was the surprise hit of the evening. Described merely as “date nut cake + homemade saffron ice cream” it was way better than described.  More  fudge than cake, this utter slab of decadence was thick with dates and richly coated in pistachios. Cooling notes from the accompanying saffron ice cream  as dense as wet sand was the perfect complement.

At last, a true underground experience. But, shh! Don’t tell anyone. We’ll be back.

Rau Muong

Rau muống – the Spinach of Vietnam

Argyle Street is the bustling capital of Vietnamese food in Chicago, and I certainly go there whenever a good bowl of pho is in order, but I would venture to say that the best Vietnamese food in Chicago can be found at Hoanh Long, where the closest it comes to having an Asian neighbor is the Panda Express in the shopping mall across the street.

Despite the obscure location, Hoanh Long has plenty of admirers, many for its pho among other popular Vietnamese dishes, but I wouldn’t know anything about those, since I cannot get past ordering the two outrageously delicious dishes that are the reason I come here in the first place.

The first object of my admiration is the deceptively simply named “Chicken Salad” or  Goi Ga in Vietnamese, which is not at all like the one coming from the deli counter of a grocery store, although the name does conjure up those images. Thick with shredded chicken, this salad is a tumbleweed of carrots, cabbage and mild onions, dripping with the typical southeast Asian flavor profile of sweet, sour and spicy flavors. A shower of finely chopped peanuts, fried shallots and shrimp crackers crown the dish, adding depth, crunch and flavor.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad
Vietnamese Chicken Salad

This was my only go-to dish for the longest time, until one day I was joined by a friend who lived in Hawaii seventeen years. She requested the Rau Muong, translated as stir fried water spinach with minced garlic, a favorite of hers from the island days. It seemed pricy at $8.95 for just a vegetable but once I tasted it, I’ve never not ordered it again. And it’s a good deal anyway – the giant platter of leafy greens, including both the crunchy stems and wilted leaves, is satisfying in a way that’s unexpected. Since then, I’ve returned the favor and shared this dish with many a friend, and I’ve yet to meet someone who wasn’t both surprised and delighted.

A tropical plant reputed to grow several inches in a day, rau moung is is staple vegetable of Vietnam cuisine. You can buy a bunch on Argyle Street at Tai Nam  for a few dollars, but ask for Ong Choy, its Chinese name, or look at this photo so you know what to buy.

greens in package no good
Rau Muong

 

P1020053

Leetle Eataly

I don’t remember exactly when the newly opened Chop Shop arrived on my radar, but somehow I got the idea that it was a smaller version of Eataly, the famed slow food market and restaurant emporium recently opened in the River North. While I could see some common elements – butchery, deli and restaurants all sharing the same space with emphasis placed on quality products, it felt more like a gastropub than an enoteca.

The lovely cuts displayed in the butcher case inspire visions of intimate dinners and candlelight, while the bar in the back is a draw for eaters and drinkers with more immediate needs.  A small demo station separates the two, with an apron-clad chef hard at work breaking down meat. I stopped for a few moments to watch, but felt it best to move on when he responded to my inquiry about whether he minded an audience with “whatever floats your boat” without looking up.

Undeterred, we headed to the bar to sample the wares. The menu is mostly a platform for its meats, which appear in multiple forms—deli sandwich, hot sandwich, and panini. The real star of show, however, is clearly the Meat and Cheese Board, an antipasto of Italian meats, cheeses and accoutrements that just about everyone in the bar was ordering.

Meat and Cheese Board at The Chop ShopOur very own wooden board arrived in due time, accompanied by a side of crusty charred bread. The meats themselves were delightful, but the lonely artichoke heart was clearly scooped straight from the can, doing nothing to improve its insipid flavor. My companion bit into it, flinched and remarked “If you’re going to take something out of a can, you better do something with it.”

On the other hand, the housemade porchetta was the best thing we ate all day and a truly a revelation. The chef and manager both seemed rather proud of how they’d made it, and I can’t say I blame them. Wrapped in pork belly to keep it moist, the pork tenderloin is stuffed with a blend of fennel, marmalade and other aromatics, giving it the kind of complexity that lingers long after you swallow. I’d heard of porchetta before, a traditional Italian roasted meat also featured as the sandwich of the day at Eataly on Thursdays, but I’d never actually tasted it. In one bite, the taste memory of porchetta and Chop Shop merged into one.

The Chop Shop is a great choice for a mixed crowd. Meat lovers will be giddy, but there is also an interesting assortment of salads, hand-tossed in bowls the size of the family-style salads served at popular pizza places. We spotted a lovely bowl of wild arugula on a nearby table, a billowy pile of feathery greens,  peppered with beets, goat cheese and nuts and hungrily anticipated its arrival. Unfortunately, our salad was flatter and wetter than that our neighbors and lacking the acidity it needed to balance the  arugula.

Surprising, amidst the sea of meat choices, there stands a lone ricotta gnocchi offering, perhaps an ode to Italy after all.

Smoked Salmon Tartine

Smoked Salmon Tartine

This is one of my “fast food” lunch favorites – a smoked salmon tartine,  essentially a fancy word for an open-faced sandwich, which came into play in recent years with the renown of the Bar Tartine bakery in San Francisco and its bestselling cookbook, Tartine.

It requires no advance preparation, as long as you have smoked salmon on hand, which I often do, owing to the fact that salmon freezes easily. Pick up a few 4 oz. packets, throw them in the freezer, then pop them into the fridge the night before to defrost.

To prepare this dish, simply fine dice some red onions, toast some bread and spread them with cream cheese. I love capers and onion so that definitely goes on next, but you could also sprinkle some dill, chives or however you prefer to dress your smoked salmon.  Last, drape the smoked salmon across the toast, squeeze lots of lemon over it and serve with lightly dressed spring  greens.

This dish takes less than 10 minutes to make, no more than it would take to fry some eggs, and it’s rich in the omega-3 fatty acids people like Dr. Oz are always telling you to eat. It’s also low in calories, even with the bread and cream cheese, since there’s only 100 calories in the salmon, so it clocks in under 500 calories per serving.

Smoked Salmon Tartine
serves 2

Ingredients
4 oz. Smoked salmon
4 3 oz. slices bread
2 oz. cream cheese
1/2 lemon, cut into 4 wedges
Red onion, small dice, 2 oz
Capers, 2 tsp.
Mixed greens, 2 cups
EVOO, sprinkled to taste, around 1/2 tsp.
White wine vinegar, sprinkled to taste, around 1/4 tsp.
Salt and pepper

Method
Toast the bread
Spread with cream cheese
Press the red onions and capers into the bread
Drape the salmon across the toast
Meanwhile, toss greens oil, vinegar, s/p to taste
Serve with lemon wedges and salad

 

 

 

Citrus-infused Beet Tacos

No Bull at Bullhead

I love a simple menu with a clear focus. And that’s what you get at Bullhead Cantina, the Rogers Park incarnation of “Paco” Ruiz’s popular whisky and taco bar in Humboldt Park—tacos, more tacos and not a lot else. Not that you need more choices when so many tacos options abound, with equal billing given to both vegetarian and meaty fillings. Meat-lovers will enjoy fresh riffs on traditional standbys, such as carnitas cooked in banana leaves or brisket melted into tender shreds, while vegetarians will love such unusual combinations as braised kale with stone-corn grits, sweet potatoes with lime-avocado cream or citrus-infused roasted beet tacos.

I discovered this place as part of my morning walk. Like many other like-minded winter hibernators, hordes of us walkers, joggers and shorts-wearing rebels were on the streets paying homage to the call of “spring forward” announced by our atomic clocks. Busting my boots through the stubborn slivers of thin ice still clinging to the remnants of winter puddles scattered on the sidewalks, I noticed a fresh restaurant occupying the ever-changing tenancy of the corner just northwest of the Red line Morse stop. Quickly, hopefully, I glanced at the menu. While perusing its contents, it dawned on me that I was realizing a dream I didn’t even know I had, one of a local taco joint appearing in my neighborhood where one could peacefully drink margaritas made from fresh limes and munch on artful tacos wrapped in homemade tortillas.

Bullhead Cantina, I discovered, is the second location of Chef/owner Francisco “Paco” Ruiz, Kendall College alum, who apprenticed in Italy and ran a tequila bar in Bucktown before shifting gears to whisky, tacos, craft beers and cocktails. Still, there are plenty of margarita options on the menu. We tried the original version, always a good starting point—a thirst-quenching mug of fresh-lime mix and tequila, and look forward to trying the smoky mescal and pomegranate varieties on future neighborhood “walks.”

My reason to return was the Kale and Grits

Hands down, my favorite taco and reason to return was the kale and grits, and I say that with an entirely straight face. Bullhead also seems to do a great job with braised meats – we liked the carnitas, brisket and pulled pork tacos, all lovingly braised low and slow and bathed in flavorful sauces and rubs. But more than anything, I’d say we just liked the variety. There are frequent taco specials planned– such as the corned beef and pickled cabbage taco rumored to debut on St. Patrick’s day and fish and chip tacos for Lenten Fridays during the coming weeks.

Bullhead Cantina, 1406 W Morse Ave, Chicago, IL, Cash only.

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Make your own Granola

Why make your own Granola?

As my “DIY Cooking” philosophy expands,  I’ve gradually been replacing store-bought items with homemade versions of them, granola being a prime example. It all started with my love for Milk and Honey Granola, made by a local Chicago food company that inspired me to make my own.

Cost/Benefit Analysis of Homemade Granola

Before deciding to DIY any food product at home, I do an intuitive cost/benefit analysis that goes something like this:

  • Will it taste measurably better?
  • Is it simple to make?
  • Is it something I eat often enough that it’s worth the trouble?
  • Will I save money?

And the answers to all these questions are a resounding yes!

Especially if you eat granola almost everyday, which I do, as part of my weekday automated breakfast routine.

Eat it with Yogurt and Berries

It’s really good with yogurt and fruit. We drain the yogurt to make it thicken and then add fresh berries or frozen raspberries and the granola.  A little bit goes a long way.

Granola Mama Recipe

Homemade granola is not just for hippies and Whole Foods shoppers with big budgets. It's easy to make at home and tastes better than fancy in-store brands. You can leave out the flax seeds and quinoa if you don't have any - I added them to add fiber and other whole grain nutrients.
Ingredients
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 2 T flaxseed (optional)
  • 2 T quinoa (optional)
  • 1/4 cup pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds), or other nuts
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Pinch of garam masala (optional)
  • 1/4 cup mix of golden raisin, dried cranberries, and currants, or any dried fruit
Instructions
  • Preheat oven to 325° F
  • Melt honey and water together and let cool
  • In big silver bowl, fold together rolled oats, quinoa, flaxseed, pepitas, honey mixture, oil, brown sugar, vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, salt and garam masala
  • Pour into unlined, ungreased 1/2 sheet pan (cookie sheet)
  • Spread evenly so there are no bald spots on the pan or it may burn
  • Bake, stirring and flattening every 10 minutes until very golden brown, 30-35 minutes; let cool slightly
  • Mix in the dried fruit. Let cool completely
  • Store at room temperature for up to three week
Serving size: 1 oz Calories: 73 Fat: 3 g Saturated fat: 0 Unsaturated fat: 3 g Trans fat: 0 Carbohydrates: 11 g Sugar: 5 g Sodium: 61 mg Protein: 1 g
Best Lobster Roll we Ate

Anatomy of a Lobster Roll

I first heard of lobster rolls years ago, when a restaurant in Chicago put them on the menu as the next best thing. I didn’t get it at the time. To me, lobster was a special treat– I couldn’t see using it as a hot dog bun filling. The only thing I could figure was that lobsters were so abundant back East, people had to find a way to make use of them. We visited Cape Cod shortly after, tried a few rolls, but still didn’t grasp the idea of forking over nearly twenty bucks for mayonnaise and lobster on a hot dog bun.

Undeterred, we headed to Maine recently for a lobster roll tour, self-planned, with likely contenders culled from online reviews and discussions. We planned our lobster route in Portland and nearby Mid-coast, as locals call the region stretching north of Portland.

Our first discovery was the two different schools of thought on dressing lobster rolls –mayonnaise or butter being the predominant contention. Before long, some other foundational principles emerged as the keys to a great lobster roll, as follows:

Do not shred the lobster meat – You are not making tuna salad–you want big chunks, even the whole claw or half a tail
Dressing on the side or with a light hand – When lobster is this fresh, you want nothing to mask the flavor
Grilled buttered bun – Whether you choose butter or mayo or nothing, butter the bun and grill it.
Top-sliced hot dog bun– you may have to special order the bun, but it’s not really a lobster roll with out it
Fresh lobster –It goes without saying, but the best lobster rolls, naturally, come from the freshest lobsters
A lot of lobster –The most popular rolls on the circuit boast an entire lobster between the bun

Aside from that, we enjoyed a great diversity of lobster rolls – our favorite being “The Picnic,” from the Bite into Maine food truck camped in South Portland, the key to which seemed to be a barely detectable pinch of celery salt mixed with the requisite butter. We very quickly came to subscribe to the butter camp – I’d rather taste the sweetness of the lobster than lobster muted by mayonnaise and only butter seemed to enhance, rather than mask the ultimate luxury of fresh lobster.

Best Lobster Roll we Ate
Best Lobster Roll we Ate