Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Vindication is awesome

So the other night, feeling a bit peckish, as I often do, I embarked on an adventure to cook the kale that had been delivered the week before. Prior roommates and long time friends will remember that I often tried to cook kale while in college, which occassionally resulted in unpleasant odors and uncomplimentary looks from members of U of C's famed X-country team.
Anyway, age gives us the wisdom and the patience to do what escaped us in our youth, or I just got lucky. The kale came out quite good. I did it in two batches, first sauteing 4 cloves of garlic in some olive oil, then added the first batch, another dollop of oil, kept it on low to medium low heat (I remembered that burnt kale is not good eats, as the wise Alton Brown would say) added salt and pepper near the end, took it out, second batch more or less the same. It was pretty good. Bryan even hesitantly ventured the opinion, as if testing his toe in it first, that it might replace brocolli as his favorite vegetable. This, not more than 2 months after his brocolli was declared the "world's best"; by a vegetarian no less. So I am rather proud, even if compliments from Bryan are a little too easy, I know he's just trying to get me to start contributing.

I must apologize for the self-promotion and woop-de-doo-ness of the post, but I am quite proud of the kale. And it has given me the little confidence boost necessary to try and write in such a public and well-regarded forum.

The other aspect of it that makes me happy is that its such a simple thing and means of preparation couldn't be more basic. I find that my tastes in regards to food are often most satisfied by the competently prepared simple dish, rather than anything extravagant. Incisive critics might deride this statement as obvious, pointing to the whole concept of "comfort foods" but for me, it really represents the avenue that I generally pursue with cooking. Trying to make pizza dough right, or the more difficult for me, if less frequently attempted, good black beans is more of what I'm interested than anything else. To be fair, part of this may be attributed to what can only charitably described as my below-average pallet. (can someone help me on the spelling for pallet? No matter what I put into the online dictionary I keep getting painter's pallet, is it the same? trophywife, help.) But as Luther said, "Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen."

Anyway, that's my post, now maybe bryan will open up the flood gates and allow some outside posting.

Wednesday Morning Links. And Some Encouragement

Jess submitted this to the editorial staff for inclusion in the Wednesday Morning Links. This article tells of the first female chef to be given three Michelin stars in the past 50 years. I've never been to a Michelin starred restaurant, but I do understand this is a pretty big deal.

I'd like to try to eat more seafood, and it sounds like it might be a good time to try Scylla. I used to walk past the place quite a bit when I lived in Bucktown.

This thread on LTHForum is about Lenten eating, and features Rick / Eric favorite the Duke of Perth. I think my agnosticism finally overtook my childhood upbringing, as this year I only feel the slightest twinges of guilt when eating meat on Fridays. Still, fish on Friday wouldn't be a bad dietary modification for me, although fried fish probably isn't the way to go.

On to the encouragement. I realize that Drew and I haven't been posting much recently. You can tell because two consecutive sets of Wednesday Morning links bump together on the main page. Very tacky. We're working on it. I'm just lazy and haven't done anything interesting food wise this past week, and Drew has been on a super secret mission. I've already said too much. Anyway, there is a third member to the Scrumptulescence team. Joe. You remember, he posted a little intro about how he shouldn't be posting here. Something about qualifications. Well, to encourage him, and to justify my insistence that he start writing about something here on this site, I am going to link to a few posts from his early blogging days on Crazy Nomad. They're not 100% about food, but you can see the genius, the willingness to share share everything with the world, and the lack of decorum. I have only linked to ones that are at least peripherally about food or drink(ing). After reading through some of these, if you know Joe, email him or IM him and encourage him to start writing regularly for our humble site. Ask about the kale he made. It was glorious. If you don't have contact info for him, just leave some comments here. He'll see them.

  • This is one of a number of postings he made while drunk. I like the assaulting of the waitstaff in a bar.
  • This post has some more good stuff about being in a bar, along with a talent show including a milk challenge, pizza hut, and pretending to drive while drunk.
  • More drunken posting, this one involving some BBQ among other things.
  • He makes soup in this one, and talks about Arrested Development.
  • In this he talks about wearing a loincloth, as well as touching on a breakfast place that is run by a cult.
  • And the last one, with a mini restaurant review and some details about an unusual path on a train trip.
See? I told you.

These were just randomly sampled from his archives. There's a lot of good stuff there. Which is why we all need to gently encourage him to write more, both here and on his own blog.

Have a good Wednesday.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wednesday Morning Links, brought to you by the ellipsis......

I like this casual approach to buying wine. I have a feeling that a lot of us don't often find ourselves in Sam's or the Wine Discount Center when we want to grab a bottle of wine for casual consumption. I'd like to be a more informed wine buyer, but who has the time? I mean, I'd like to be a more informed college graduate, too....

This isn't food related, but i found it really entertaining. When I was in high school in Idaho we didn't have any cool 24 hour superstore. We were lucky to have indoor plumbing. Our only 24 hour hangout was the Perkins restaurant by the mall. We didn't have room to breakdance there. Who am I kidding? I'm no JL. I can't dance.....

And, finally, some recipes from the greatest cooking show ever produced: Good Eats. I'm not going to spend time describing the show to you, but I will say that it's funny and informative and makes you think you can cook whatever the host, Alton Brown, is cooking. I have tried all three of these and had good results even the first time......

  • For those who want good Texas-red style chili (no beans!), but don't want to take a lot of time to make it, you can use this recipe from this episode and you'll have a very good version of the stuff. You DO have a pressure cooker, right.......

  • A great episode gives us a great recipe for broccoli casserole. Easy to make, very tasty, and uses instant ramen in an interesting way.......

  • Until I saw this episode, I had no idea that making chocolate eclairs was relatively easy. As long as you can make the pâte a choux..............

  • Last but not least, the episode that started it all. It's a good steak, and it's pretty easy. You just have to be willing to deal with some smoke in your kitchen. My roommates have become rather adept at airing out the apartment when I'm cooking. It's not ALWAYS necessary, though......................

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


That's right, a few quickies from the past few days that don't rate their own post.

Thursday night we went to Fogo de Chao so Kevin could get his meat on before moving to China. It was the usual meat orgy. I ate too much. Kolb acted like the total n3wb that he was. I've never seen someone so worried about the positioning of a red and green cardboard circle. The meats were all good. While I enjoyed the garlic beef, the pork ribs, the bacon wrapped items, and the new ribeye they are serving, the best tasting meat item the gauchos brought over: chicken legs. I've probably eaten at Fogo ten times. Each time a different meat has been prepared just a little better than the rest. For the first time it was poultry. Good work, Fogo de Chao. By the way, if you ever go to Fogo, take Thor along. Watching him narrow the meats down to the one he wants, and then watching him ask for it at every opportunity, sending the gauchos and managers scurrying to find it is highly entertaining.

Friday I didn't feel much like eating.

Saturday I did some shopping and bought some wine and good beer. I took a BR approach to beer selection: pick the beers with cool labels. Walking down the aisle at Binny's, I started looking at those big Belgian bottles that they sell, some with actual corks in them. I decided that since it would just be JL, KC, and I hanging out, I'd splurge on some good stuff. But I'm not that familiar with the large fancy bottle style of beer, where you don't by 6 or even 4 packs, you buy one 24-36 oz bottle. So I grabbed 8 different bottles from all over the world. I don't know which brands. Trust me, they were good. I know because they were expensive. Went home, did some dishes, and we started drinking the fancy beer. Turns out these nice beers have a lot of alcohol in them. I know because both Kevin and I agreed that "Employee of the Month," which we watched while drinking, was pretty funny. As the fine-beer-haze started drifting away, I offered the choice of two meals: grilled ham and cheese sandwiches with tater tots, or homemade mac & cheese. KC asked for the mac & cheese and the tots. Whatever. I don't think they have any of that stuff in China, so in about 25 minutes, it was ready. I even steamed some broccoli to make it a healthy meal.

Sunday morning we woke up and went to The Depot American Diner for breakfast. It's out of the way, on West Roosevelt. Good cooks doing classic diner food. Had to try the biscuits and gravy, which were definitely good, but I liked the ones at Tweet better. Service was so so, possibly because there was only one server. Great breakfast potatoes.

The Depot American Diner
5840 W. Roosevelt
(773) 261-8422

Sunday for dinner some Cincinnati folks had been talking about chili, so I made Cincinnati-style chili. For those who don't know, it's a ground beef chili made with some sweet spices like allspice, cinnamon, brown sugar, and cocoa powder. Usually it is served over spaghetti and topped with grated cheese, onions, and/or kidney beans. Pretty good stuff, and I do a passable version. So we ate that and watched the NBA All-star game. Which was boring. But the food was good.

Monday I received my new smoker. More on that in the future, I'm sure. Monday night I made winter vegetable chowder from all of the root vegetables that Fresh Picks has been sending. It was decent. Light and hearty at the same time. JL tried it, but the rest of the roommates went with the leftover chili. Hard to argue with that decision, I must say.

Tonight? Meal number one from this 5 step course on mastering the vertical water smoker.

Have a good day. Everyone should eat or drink something good or at least interesting tonight. Feel free to post a comment here about that.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Past Life - an informal poll

We received some good comments from some ex-Chicago people who now live elsewhere. I knew posting about tortilla chips would get people talking. So, if you used to live in Chicago, and now you don't, what restaurants, bars, or food products do you miss? Maybe some of the Scrumptulescence staff will go to the restaurant or bar or pick up some of the food and then write about it, so you can live vicariously through us.

Might as well expand it, so Drew can do the same thing. If you used to live in Philly, what do you miss?

(If you've only visited either place, and you had some good food, you're welcome to comment as well.)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Disappointment, You Smack of Blood Orange!

Friday night.

Hot night on the old town tonight.

The Gayborhood. Two men. A bottle of Don Julio Blanco. A wad of cash. Sounds like all the trappings of an excellent night? Well, you could ask Todd, who would probably give an even more scatching review...but you'll have to settle for me.

Long story short, I had convinced Todd to join me at one of my favorite little BYOT (tequila, duh) joints in Philly, the much-lauded, dripping-with-atmosphere Lolita. I had been a handful of times before, and each trip was more satisfying than the last. Known best for their delicious guac (even though the avocado-based starter from across the street at El Vez gets more press, that's just because they makes some poor woman with morter, pestel, and handfuls of garlic make the stuff tableside. People need to realize that all guacamole they get at reputable dining establishments is probably fresh, since that stuff oxidizes like nobody's business and you seldom see brownish green dreck on the menu. Rant over, back to the review) and tender-as-can-be carne asada (which is billed in the English translation as "filet mignon," which I realize is both somewhat of a misnomer and not really English, but whatever)...

...okay, that sentence was out of control. Basically, Lolita's guacamole and carne asada are amazing. There are probably twenty tops in the dimly-lit hallway restaurant, and black-clad hardbody waiters are never too far away. It's a sweet little place, although the lack of reservations on the weekend can make it a madhouse. Luckily, Todd and I only waited about half an hour before grabbing a good table. Our waiter appeared immediately and knew right away that we wanted the fresh blood orange margaritas (passion fruit is for weenies) mixed at the table. The drinks were good, thanks mostly to the quality booze (the mix was a bit dull, to be honest; hardly comparable to their incredible watermelon variety).

We dove into the menu, since neither of us had eaten. The guacamole and fundido con queso y otras cosas (translate: delicious melty cheese with other stuff like salchicha or whatever that you eat in little corn tortillas) were amazing. We both ordered the carne asada, medium. Hopes were high.

This is where the meal took a downward turn. The food arrived quickly, but after five minutes of both chewing our first respective bites, Todd and I looked at each other and shook our heads. The waiter was at my elbow immediately, looking very concerned indeed. Without speaking, he whisked our plates away and replaced them with fresh copies of the menu. Confusion and profuse apologies followed. Please note that while I write for a low-budget food blog, I have never never sent a meal back, it's just not in my nature. But I did, somewhat against my will.

Entree number two was waluu for Todd and mushroom enchiladas and rock shrimp for me. We were both disappointed. I'm serious. All my descriptive prowess and knack for conveying culinary discourse with impeccable equipoise fails me. So, here goes, with minimal energy:

-The fish sucked
-The enchiladas were *yawn*
-Dessert was forced - an uninspired cheesecake with goat cheese for me and some other stuff for Todd (bread pudding? Jesus, I just lost all will to write).

Damn it all, I want my carne asada.

Look, don't let this less than stellar review turn you off. Lolita is awesome and if you come to Philadelphia, I will personally escort you there unless you chew with your mouth open or have cloying BO or something.

I mean, Tiger Woods doesn't birdie every hole.

106 South 13th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 546-7100

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Joe's addiction. On Drive-Thru for all to see.

Yes, they are the best in Chicago. Perhaps in the country, unless you're going to make your own.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Wednesday Morning Links

To all within earshot: we need to go here.

And this guy has the right idea. Quitting his cubicle job at 30, fishing for 2 years, then becoming a chef with a passion for great ingredients? Did I dream that last night, or read about it here?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Cupid and Cheese Cubes: A Valentine's Day Food Special

So, Valentine's Day. Another quasi-holiday whose purpose is to exacerbate the situations of the ugly, lonely masses. You go to Hallmark. You buy cards, flowers, candy, little cute Gund bears with those glossy button eyes and ever-so-soft fur, new cars, diamonds, etc. You book the worst table at the best restaurant (you totally should have thought about making reservations BEFORE today). You iron your finest shirt. Ha! Totally got you there; dudes do not iron shirts. Dudes wear shirts (any women out there can disregard the previous sentences. Besides, you probably weren't going to wear a damn shirt anyway. You probably had a blouse or something, or whatever chick shirts are called these days).

Now, if for some reason you couldn't get a table at any restaurant, you might break out the fry pan and caviar (probably in no direct combination) and give an old-fashioned romantic meal a go.

This is an awful idea. Let me tell you why. First, we'll need to go back to basics. Below is a list of known aphrodisiacs/sexy foods that people try to cook without any real experience and probably cock up more than anything:

-Asparagus (I didn't know either)

Okay, it's only a partial list, but it's all the ammunition I need. Take a good look at that list, and I guarantee the majority of foods listed are seldom in heavy rotation for you amateur chefs out there. I'll split them into two categories to make this easy:
1) Foods you eat often but don't necessarily incorporate into a special occasion menu;
2) Things you do not eat outside a restaurant.

For me, I know I eat a lot of chocolate, almonds and strawberries, cook asparagus regularly, and drink a good amount of wine. I love truffles, oysters, and sparkling wine when I'm out to eat. I want to you make a note of where these foodstuffs fall in your life. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Right, so, here we are with a bunch of food that are familiar and you probably like. And yet, there's something amiss. Most attempts to present these arousing foodstuffs in concert with each other will turn out disastrous. I imagine two distinct, yet equally awful, scenarios (per items 1 and 2 above - I love referring to my lists, it makes me feel organized).

1) You spread the ingredients out on the counter and see them as completely separate entities. You panic. You and your significant other end up eating a handful of almonds to start (I hear seven is the optimal serving to maximize the positive effects of protein and folic acid, yet minimize the amount of fat). Then you eat some asparagus, probably [I hope] as an accompaniment to something else you know how to cook (like a boring chicken breast - remember, you used all your energy considering the ingredients and their ability to drop the drawers, as it were). Then you finish up with champagne and chocolate, but not necessarily the right sparkling wine that goes with the right chocolate (I won't even get into that). You drink wine throughout, and that's cool, because you like wine. Boooooooooring.

2) You have no clue how to prepare oysters. You've only ever had them raw at Bobby Flay Steak and one time somebody said something about Rockefeller, but you figured it was another one of Jay-Z's marketing ploys to get you to drink his vodka or buy records or something. So you serve them raw. That is, after you cut the hell out of yourself trying to open them with a chef's knife. So, you're bleeding, but you apply pressure and suck down a few oysters. They taste a little fishy, but that's okay, right, because they're from the ocean? A jagged piece of shell scores your esophagus, but only slightly. You wash it down with a hearty swig of Franzia blush. You move on to the main course: asparagus and truffles. You hear it's better if asparagus is crispy, so you don't cook it. You weren't sure if they meant truffles from the ground that pigs sniff out or the chocolate ones. Who would eat something that's all dirty and was in a pig's nose? Eww. You opt for the chocolate ones. You choke everything down with more Franzia. The dinner has ended, thankfully, so you raise a toast of Cold Duck brut as you force-feed Hersey baking squares into your date's maw.

Flash forward a couple hours: your hand is still bleeding, and you feel a little faint. As your date drives you to the ER, she starts vomiting uncontrollably. Somehow you make it, only to hear that you've lost nearly a pint of blood and her healthy bowel flora has been overtaken Vibrio vulnificus and she'll be riding the toilet for the next 48-72 (that is, provided she doesn't die from consuming the tainted oysters). You smile sadly and drool a little, since your throat is bleeding from the shell and you can't swallow. You wake up the next morning with a ridiculous hangover from the cheap booze and have to go to work because Valentine's Day was on a Wednesday. Awesome.

There you have it. Happy Valentine's Day. If you choose to cook, go with what you know and let your charm (read: diamonds) be your aphrodisiac.

Joe Needs Some Assistance

Here's something to occupy your time while sitting through this snowstorm wishing you weren't at work.

You'll notice a bit of disparity in the number of posts each of the blog authors has put up here on Scrumptulescence. I'll leave the counting to you.

Joe claims that his lack of posting is due to some lack of culinary abilities. I've tasted his food. And believe me, he can cook. He just doesn't choose to cook as often as he should. And he seems to feel that only a truly interesting gastronomic experience is worthy of posting about. I obviously don't share that view.

But in keeping with the spirit of Joe's wishes, I decided to ask you, the five readers of this blog, to leave some comments about what food-related adventure Joe should embark upon, ideally leading to a blog post, or series of posts. We are getting started with sourdough, raising a culture from scratch. We won't know for two weeks whether it will be a viable culture to use for breadmaking, but if it is, hopefully he will write about that. But think bigger.

Perhaps he should go the traditional route, and master some historic dish, like coq au vin. Or maybe he should focus on learning the building blocks of classic cooking, like learning to make the best roasted veal stock possible. Perhaps he should apprentice at a live poultry store for a week and learn to butcher and dress a chicken in under 15 minutes. Or maybe he should find the ten best ethnic grocers in a specific Chicago neighborhood. What about figuring out the 5 meals made at home that are sure to impress a date. Or he could just cook his way through a cool cookbook, perhaps by Rick Bayless or Patricia Wells. How about erotic cooking, like in that Patrick Stewart SNL sketch. He could even model them after his friends. Tell me you wouldn't want to hear about his attempts at a Tiger Titillating Tamale, Jayadev's Jackfruit Jellyroll, Luscious Lyrica's Ladyfingers, Akira's Amorous ASSpic, or George's Generous Galantine. Just reading him write about trying to get Akira to model for an Amorous ASSpic mold would be worth the price of admission.

What comestible adventure would you like to see Joe undertake? Lets get some good brainstorming going on. If we get enough good comments, we'll take the best ideas and have a little poll thing to track them.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The One Where Joe and I Find Ourselves in a Gay Bar

Yeah. I thought that would get your attention.

Funny Story. Joe and I went to have breakfast Sunday morning. I had heard that there is this place called Tweet that has the best biscuits and gravy in Chicago. I haven't had really good biscuits and gravy in this city, so I thought it might be worth a trip.

We drive over in the Big Green Machine and it's right next to a bar called Big Chicks. Funny. We're a little north of Boystown, so between that and its name, I assumed it was a lesbian bar. Not that we need labels like that. I'd just call it a bar, but that would lessen the story possibilities, I feel. So we went in to Tweet and were told there was a 25 minute wait, and we could wait next door. Next door is Big Chicks. There is quite an extensive art collection on the walls of Big Chicks, mostly depicting women. That further contributed to the lesbian bar feeling. But I just looked it up online, and it's considered a gay bar. Which marks my first visit to one. It sounds like the owner of the place would rather it just be considered a bar. I 'm sure anyone is welcome. We certainly didn't feel that people were looking at us strangely. Although we were a pair of guys. Sunday morning, kind of early. For breakfast.... Anyway, onto the food.

We were seated after about 7 minutes. There were a lot of larger groups, so I think the fact that we were a pair helped us get seated faster. There was some sort of breakfast pastry on the table with a strussel sort of topping. I didn't try it, but Joe said it was good. They also had an entire array of Tabasco brand sauces on the table, along with Whole Foods Organic hot sauce. We both ordered biscuits and gravy. I ordered mine with scrambled eggs and hashbrowns. I also got a big fresh-squeezed orange juice. All breakfasts came with a fruit cup or fruit compote. The rest of the breakfast menu looks pretty good. Emphasis on fresh and organic ingredients where possible, and it shows in the final product.

While we were waiting for the food, I did some looking around. Lots of art on the walls in here, like the bar. But the art here is a little tamer as far as subject matter goes. The clientèle for breakfast was all over the place. Lots of couples, lots of families. A few couples with newborns, a few groups of couples. It was a good, busy Sunday breakfast atmosphere.

OK. The food. Definitely the best biscuits and gravy I've had in the city. Joe declared that the biscuits were the best he'd ever had anywhere. I would agree. The gravy was really good, too. It had a richness to it that went past even normal sausage gravies. The sausage was obviously high quality, and I think they use some cream or at least half-and-half instead of just milk. The eggs were perfectly scrambled. I think scrambled eggs can be deceptively difficult to get right, and I'm not great at it. Whoever was cooking the eggs here did a great job. The hashbrowns were definitely good, as well.

Joe claims that my sausage gravy is better. Well, that's awfully nice of him to say. I'm not so sure. They're a little different. The best sausage gravy I've ever had comes from my grandma. But her family moved to Idaho from Arkansas. She really knows how to make it. When she is making breakfast, she pulls out four ancient perfectly seasoned cast-iron skillets. And then it takes off from there. Believe me, not a speck of bacon or sausage drippings gets wasted. So she makes the best sausage gravy that I've ever had. But this place will do when I get a craving for it in Chicago and don't want to make it myself. But I think I do need to focus a bit more on the biscuits now.

Here's a picture of my biscuits and gravy. I forgot my real digital camera, and only had my phone, which has a crappy camera with no flash. So, it's blurry, but you can at least see the food somewhat. Those are the hashbrowns on the left.

I would definitely recommend checking this place out. Friendly waitstaff, great food, nice atmosphere. We also had no problems parking. Check it out.

5020 N. Sheridan Rd.
Chicago, IL

Friday, February 9, 2007

Three posts

So, over the past week, I've started and nearly finished two posts for this fine website. I also started a third one last night. This week I will be posting all three*. It would be ideal if they had been spread out a little more. It would have also been ideal if the Bears had won the Superbowl. In other news, Joe actually posted to his blog this weekend, albeit with a failed link attempt to this blog. Maybe we'll see a post from him here someday. Joe? Maybe a comment? Throw us a bone.

FYI, I'll keep this post at the top of my three posts. I have finally posted all three of them.

*Disclaimer for the boss, who might be reading. I did not write these at work. I only posted them at work, perhaps with a few alterations.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Game for the Big Game

What to do for the Superbowl? I like to cook food for people, but cooking for a crowd can be a little overwhelming. And sometimes you have to compromise on quality in order to make it work. This year, I actually wanted to watch the game, and I have a tradition of serving food at halftime, having underestimated the time necessary to get everything ready.

Since we live in Chicago, and one of my roommates is from Indiana and is a huge Colts fan, I wanted to push up the food quality a bit and spend some extra time on making some good food. But I like traditional Superbowl food. Wings, chili, various chips and dips, mini-burgers, taco pie, things of that nature. I have a beef chili recipe that I like quite a bit. It's from a basic slow-cooker recipe in Cook's Country magazine, made with chunks of beef chuck, not ground meat. I change things around and try different things when I make it, but it's a solid recipe. Plus, it doesn't have beans. I don't think beans really belong in chili. Possibly because I don't like beans, but there are historical reasons behind it, too. Anyway.

OK, lets make chili. With beef. Well, there are other meats out there, right? Maybe I should do a beef, lamb, and pork chili based on the same recipe. I've done it before. It's pretty good. But why stop there? This is Chicago. I should be able to get some good meats, right? So I decided to look for a source where I could get venison, boar, and bison. I also checked with my party guests to make sure everyone was willing to contribute about $15 to the event. They all said yes. I posted a query to the great LTH forum folks, and came up with some helpful replies. I called Chicago Game and spoke to a very nice woman there. It's a great business, but there's no storefront. They mainly sell to restaurants, so you have to be willing to buy large pieces of cryovac'd frozen meat. But they have a large variety, and are happy to sell to the public as long you're willing to buy the correct quantities. During our conversation, she helped me to realize that bison isn't practical, because the smallest roast I could get would be like 30 pounds. It turns out the bison is a big animal.
I ended up ordering a 5 pound boar shoulder, and a 20 pound "Denver leg" of venison. This is where they take a venison leg, remove each whole muscle, and clean them up of silverskin and other non-meat matter. I'd use half of the vension for the chili, and keep the other half in the freezer for grilling later on.

I also decided to get some beef stew meat from Costco, to make a pot of beef only chili, so we could compare and decide if the expense of the game meats was worth it.

Cut to the Saturday before the game. I need to cut and brown all of the meat, approximately 20 pounds worth. Well, actually, the beef is all cut. So I cut and clean up the boar first (sorry for the slightly blurry picture):

There was a LOT of fat going through it. No big chunks, but a lot of it. Before eating it, I would have said it was a little fatty. After eating it, I would say it was nicely marbled. I started browning the boar, and then started unwrapping the venison. I took a picture of one piece of it sitting next to a pile of the cubes. It was absolutely beautiful. No fat whatsoever, and a perfect deep red color.

Here's a shot of the meat browning. On the left is boar, on the right is venison.

After one batch of venison, Kevin, Joe, Mina, and I each tried a piece, brown on the outside, medium on the inside. We all agreed it was pretty good. They were up helping clean up after the party the night before, and keeping me company. Yes, I felt a little bad about putting this venison into the chili. It really should have been grilled or roasted, and kept away from a stewing process. Such is life. The patrons were promised game chili.

The browning took quite awhile. After each pan of meat was done, I would deglaze with a cup or so of Goose Island Honker's ale, in the keg that was leftover from a party the night before. I added the beer / fond goodness to the browned meat. Once I finished browning the boar and venison, I moved on to the beef (with some help from Mina). The stew beef from Costco is really nice, but no need for pictures. After the meat was all browned, I packaged it in three bags. One for venison and boar, one for venison and beef, and a third for just beef. I was making three crockpots of chili, so those would be the three varieties. The cutting and browning of the meat had taken about three hours, from 8 am to 11 am on Saturday. I took a break to do a few things, then came back around 4 pm to prepare the rest of the chili ingredients. First, the chili powder.
Usually I used a commercial chili powder for this recipe, but since I had gotten good meat, I took the extra step of making the chili powder. I got pasila, arbol, and ancho dried chiles from the Family Fruit Market, as well as while cumin seed. Next I stemmed and seeded the chiles, and cut them into strips. Then they all got dumped into a dry skillet along with the whole cumin seed. After about 10 minutes, I could smell the chiles and the cumin and they had darkened somewhat. I set them aside to cool, and then spun them in Joe's food processor. I toasted some extra cumin by itself, and ground it in a coffee grinder I keep just for spices. Into the chile and cumin mixture, I added garlic powder and oregano, and spun it again. This would be my chili powder.

The next step in this recipe builds a lot of flavor and adds richness and thickness to the chili. I blistered 18 small fresh corn tortillas under the broiler (six for each pot of chili). Then I tore them up and microwaved them with chicken broth to form a mush of sorts. Spin that in the food processor, then add canned diced tomatoes and some canned chipotles. Spin it all together.

After that, it's time for the aromatics. The yellow onions I got from Family Fruit Market were HUGE, so I only used one per chili pot. I diced and sweated the onions for about 7 minutes along with 3 diced jalepenos per pot, then added some chili powder and chopped garlic and cooked another 2 minutes, and added a little more cumin. I mixed the tomato/tortilla/broth/chipotle mixture with the onion/jalepeno/garlic/chili powder mixture in 3 separate containers, and put it all in the fridge. The chili was ready for Sunday morning.

Sunday. 8 am. Three crockpots. Three batches of chili. Over eight hours of cooking. Each pot took one bag of meat and one bag of the other stuff. Mix and let it go. Here's what that looked like.

Believe me, the smell was awesome.

No superbowl party would be complete without various chips and dips. One of my roommates claims that Hidden Valley Ranch dip (the $2 powder mixed with sour cream)is the best thing I make. So I made it, along with a number of other dips that I made from scratch. You know, for comparison. Here's the table of chips and dips:

Starting at the front left and moving to the right, the dips are packaged ranch dip, caramelized onion dip, guacamole, salsa, and then hummous is back on the right. The chip components are potato chips, tortilla chips, pita chips, pretzels, and pita bread. I got compliments on all of the dips except the ranch dip, which made me happy.

Time to eat the chili. I was too busy eating and drinking and watching the game to get many pictures of the finished product, but I grabbed one. It's serving number two for this bowl, so it's not exactly the cleanest presentation field.

But you get the idea. The toppings for the chili were merely diced white onion (rinsed under cold water), shredded cheese mix (I didn't want to take the time to shred all of that cheese), and Fritos. It was all very good.

Was the game meat worth it? I was really impressed with the boar. It just melted into this intense porky goodness. I feel like I may have overtrimmed it, actually. It was really nice. The venison was good, you could taste the intensity of it's flavor. It has a much stronger flavor than the beef, and that did come through in the chili, IF you were looking for it. But the venison wasn't falling apart like the beef and the boar. It wasn't tough, but you can see in the pictures. There wasn't much connective tissue to melt away, so they chunks of venison stayed chunks of venison. But still, great flavor. I would probably do game meat chili again for a special occasion, but I think for everyday use, I'll stick with beef, and maybe supplement it with pork shoulder.

I wanted to have some good beverage options, not just cheap beer. I asked over on the LTH forum for some beer and wine ideas to go with spicy game chili. (some of this report is copied from my results post there) They had some great ideas. We had half a keg of Honker's ale, so that was the main beverage, and it went really well with the chili. It helps that there were probably about 15 cups (reduced) of the stuff spread across the three pots of chili . Someone suggested a good strong Bock beer. I got the relatively new Anchor Bock. Not bad, but it didn't actually go well with the chili. I went to Binny's wine store and asked them to help me pair some inexpensive wine with the game chili, suggesting maybe a decent Zinfandel. He thought that Zin would be ok, but pointed me at a rack of California field blends, saying their low tannins and fruitiness would go well with the chili. He suggested two in particular, Rosenblum Cellars 2004 Chateau La Paws, a blend of Carignane, Syrah, Zinfandel and Mourvedre, and one known simply as Ten Mile, a blend of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Barbera, Malbec, and Carignane. I bought two bottles of each, knowing that the beer would be in high demand, not the wine. I tasted both wines with the chili, and they both went really well. I'm not a wine guy who can describe the bouquet or the nose or detect the spices and fruit that consume my palate, but I can tell you that both wines really highlighted the flavors of the chili. They were both quite different, but both were good. And I can tell you that they are both quite drinkable without the chili present. (I had to kill both bottles later that night). And both were inexpensive. The Ten Mile was 9.99 a bottle, and the Chateau La Paws was like 13.99 or so.

At the end of the night, the Colts had won, but I was feeling pretty good. The food was pretty successful, and thanks to the wonders of the crockpot, I was able to enjoy the game, the food, the drinks, and the people, and not worry about the cooking. I even stayed ahead on the dishes, cleaning up as I went. Thanks to all of the roommates for the help, or at least the encouragement to go ahead with the game chili idea, and thanks to the guests who were willing to chip in so we could have better food and beverages. And if you read this far, good work.

P.S. There was quite a bit leftover. All five of us who live in our house had it for dinner Monday and Tuesday night, and a couple of them had it for lunch those days, too. I think it was all gone by Wednesday night. It was even better tasting each day, but I got a little tired of it. I would have frozen some if it weren't in such demand.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Kuma's Corner

Last Saturday (over a week ago) three of my my roommates and I accompanied the Filipino couple and the WASP couple out to dinner. With eight of us, getting a table with no reservation could have proven difficult. But we went to Kuma's Corner, a haven of good food and good beer located conveniently at the edge of Logan Square in Chicago. For the second time in less than six weeks, Kuma's was able to seat a large-ish group on Saturday night without much of a wait. Very cool.

But the easy seating isn't what brought me back here for the third time since discovering it in November. Why do we like it? Burgers. Beer. Mac & Cheese. Mussels. The first two times we were there, the menu included a few entrees, a Mac & Cheese section where you pick what toppings to add, a burger and sandwich section, and salad and appetizer sections. They recently revamped their menu, getting rid of the entrees (except as specials), and expanding the burger section to encompass almost its entire panel of the menu.

All three times I've gone, I've had a burger. It's not a hard decision for me. I'm pretty sure someone takes the time to pat out these patties by hand, and they use very good beef. Add to that the fact that all of the burgers and sandwiches are served on a pretzel roll, my all time favorite burger vehicle, and I'm afraid I may never try anything else there. The first time, I purchased the Kuma burger. Going by the Boss's rule of dining that says any dish named after the restaurant has to be good, the Kuma didn't disappoint. It's your basic perfect beef patty, half a pound, on a pretzel roll, it's topped with bacon, cheddar, and a fried egg. I'm not a huge fried egg fan at breakfast time, but just picture this: you take delivery of your Kuma, sitting with the top of the roll off to the side, a strangely nice tomato slice for winter time nestled with some nice green leaf lettuce and raw onions, waiting to be placed atop the burger if you desire. The burger has the cheese and bacon, with the egg sunny-side-up perched on top. Put on whatever vegetable toppings you desire, then gently push the roll top onto this mass of goodness. When the yolk breaks, it makes this beautiful sauce for the deliciousness underneath. Trust me, you want to try it.

The second time there I had the Kaijo. Bacon. Blue Cheese. "Frizzled" onions. Yeah, it was good. Not as word worthy as the Kuma. But really good. The third time I had the Mayhem burger. Same pretzel roll, same perfectly cooked burger (I get mine cooked medium, by the way), topped with pepper-jack cheese, giardinera mayo, pancetta, and fresh slice jalepenos (as opposed to pickled canned jalepenos). Yeah, guess what? It was pretty tasty. The Mayhem burger is pictured above.

The mac and cheese picture is with peas and proscuitto. The hand holding the fork belongs to the moving-to-China roommate. I was able to try the Mac & Cheese pictured, and it's pretty good. He's ordered it twice, so it couldn't be bad.

I am not a big fan of mussels. Or any bi-valve mollusk, really. But RER and EA love them, so I was able to give them a try. I still don't like the texture, and that black-brown ring around the edge is a little weird, but they were sure tasty. Could be the ale-butter-chili broth that they are swimming in.

The beer list is pretty good. Not huge, but all of the beers are interesting. The selection of bottles is better than the draft selection, but it's all pretty good. They have one night with all Belgian beers on sale. Saturdays they discount all of their whiskey.

It's a very casual place, the waitstaff and bartenders are very friendly, and the kitchen crew really knows what they're doing. It's not haute cuisine, but who wants that? Go for good food and good beer.

Kuma's Corner
2900 W. Belmont Ave.
Chicgao, IL 60618
Ph. 773.604.8769

Monday, February 5, 2007

Pizza Pizza Pizza Pizza

That's right. Pizza. Four times.

Evening dawns in the Old Irving Park neighborhood of Chicago. Which evening? Last Tuesday evening. Having purchased the ingredients for a night of pizza making from Family Fruit Market* , I whipped up a double batch of pizza dough. My dough recipe of choice right now is from this book. I used the 24 hour variation. Slower rise theoretically equals better texture and flavor. I also slow braised some sliced onions in a liquid of olive oil, vinegar, and sugar. Three hours in the oven at 250. Sharing the three hour oven were 8 sliced roma tomatoes on a pan drizzled with olive oil and chopped garlic.

Cut to Wednesday morning. Joe remembers to take the dough out of the fridge for a 10 hour room temperature rise. Cut again to Wednesday night. Pizza stone in the oven, heating to 450. Bag of semolina next to the stove, ready to dust the peel and the stone. I make a quick spicy tomato sauce for use on one pizza. I dice some spicy calabrese salami and slice some andouille sausage. A variety of cheese are grated, sliced, or crumbled: Romano, Parmesan, Gorgonzola, Mozzarella, and Fontina. All were domestic, as I didn't feel the need to go to my favorite Italian cheese importer for pizza for this batch of pizza. It's time to shape the dough.

I cut the dough into 4 pieces, and shape each one into a ball. I'm no whiz with pizza dough. I've been known to resort to a rolling pin if I make a dough that is too elastic and don't feel like waiting for the dough to rest between each attempt at stretching it. This time, with the nicely slow-risen dough, it was actually quite easy to handle.

Pizza number 1:

I made a circle-ish oval with the first dough ball. I just pressed it out with my fingertips, and then used the hold-the-middle-while-pulling-the-sides method, where you do exactly that, rotate 90 degrees, and keep pulling. When it got to the correct size, I put it on the dusted peel, brushed the outside inch of it with olive oil, and poked it all over with a fork. Topping time: a layer of the spicy tomato sauce. A layer of the diced calabrese salami. A layer of sliced mozzarella, then a touch of fresh oregano and some parmesan cheese. Into the oven. It looked pretty good when it came out. It tasted fantastic. The calabrese really elevated it above the usual pepperoni pizza.

Pizza number 2:

We'll call this one the mistake. I decided to get a little bolder with the dough. I patted it out a little, making a disk of sorts, and then put it up on my knuckles and tried tossing it in the air. The amazing thing, it actually worked. I caught it on my fingertips and it was noticeably bigger. So I kept going. Ended up with a nice sized round with a think edge and a REALLY thin center. I dusted an edgeless sheet pan with semolina, because the peel was waiting to pull out the first pizza. I brushed oil on the edge and topped it with a layer of the slow cooked onions, a very little bit of fontina, then the oven-dried tomatoes, then some sliced andouille, and then a little bit of romano. Onto the now vacated peel, to put in the oven. The problem, it won't budge off of the sheet pan. At all. It won't slide. So I have a pizza with a very thin center, with a good amount of topping. I could have just tossed the whole pan into the oven, but I didn't think of that at the time. So Joe and I grabbed it with four hands and tried to cleanly move it to the peel. Surprisingly, the dough didn't break through, but all of the toppings slide to the middle. So after some quick rearranging, the pizza went in the oven. Twelve minutes later, out it comes. It's the second picture. Note that I didn't prick the dough with a fork before it went in, so the edges bubbled up quite a bit. How did it taste? Pretty good. The crust was great at the edges and didn't have much texture in the middle. Not surprising. The tomatoes kind of overpowered everything, and I wish I had looked for better andouille. Also, it needed more cheese.

Pizza number 3:

Not wanting the excessively thin center, I decided not to spin-toss the pizza. When I was about 19, I spent a summer delivering for Dominos. I didn't prepare any food there, but I recall the managers talking about why you should never spin-toss the dough. Instead they used a horizontal method, passing the dough from one hand to the other, holding onto the edges and turning it as you toss it back and forth. Hard to describe, but I tried it, and it worked. It gave me a nice crust that was uniformly thicker in the middle than in the previous attempt, and gave me a good ridge around the edge. Toppings for this one? Gorgonzola and parmesan covering a smear of the slow cooked onions. No tomatoes at all. It came out with the best crust, but overall the calabrese pizza was still in the lead. The Gorgonzola might have been a little too strong for the subtle sweetness of the onions. Still, a good pizza. It's the third picture.

Pizza # 4:

Pizza number four was supposed to be another try at the 2nd pizza, but I put on fewer tomatoes, and threw on the odds and ends of cheese I had from the others. Used the horizontal passing method for the crust. It came out well, with an odd protrusion from one side. Good flavor, tomatoes weren't overpowering, still disappointed with the cheap andouille. Picture number four.

No one came over to share the pizza, it was just three roommates and I. The calabrese / mozzarella pizza was the winner in my mind. The horizontal toss method worked well for the crust. The wooden pizza peel, big stone in the oven, and semolina flour were essential to the success of the evening. Definitely a successful food night.

*Family Fruit Market is a small grocery store in our neighborhood with an amazing selection of produce and deli items. Joe and I probably shop there 2-3 times a week. It will get its own post someday.