The end of fall, and some lunch

What a difference a few weeks make. I feel like I just broke out my boots and tights for fall. And then nature goes and dumps a few hours worth of snow on us. It was wet and gloomy and miserable. I've been out of commission with strep throat for a few days. Tuesday I took a nap around noon and woke to a white winter wasteland out my window. I did not regret that final sick day.

I bought a new camera recently, the Nikon D7000. I'm thrilled with the purchase so far but haven't gotten around doing much shooting. The camera's low light capabilities really helped me make my choice. I've gotten to shoot with it at one concert so far and the high iso options were great (also helpful for some recent burger photos.) So I'm going to try and do some regular Bloomington lunch posts just to keep in the groove of writing about and shooting my food.

I eat out for lunch quite a bit. On a good day I have Katy for company. This is a typical lunch at uber popular Village Deli. It's right across the street from work so, while the food is good (not great,) it's convenient enough to be a regular spot for us. Plus you can order from the breakfast or lunch menu and I'm all about the options.

My typical order is the Spinach Scramble, sans onion. It's a simple egg scramble with bacon, swiss cheese, and spinach. Deep fried home fries on the side. Add a few glugs of cholula hot sauce and you've got a nice meal for a rainy day.

If you follow the blog by RSS feed, last week you may have seen a little preview of a post I'm finishing up, pickled serrano peppers. I accidentally hit publish instead of save, oops! But it's coming, long overdue I know. Summer already feels so far away.


Chicago - Hot Dougs Redux

I love Hot Doug's. This was only my second visit despite multiple trips to Chicago in the last few years, mostly due to the long lines and general inconvenience. But I'd been planning this trip out to Avondale for months. It didn't take much to convince Carly to come with, her two year experiment as a vegetarian was foiled by a too-tempting hot dog. Last minute we coerced my parents into tagging along (aka, do the driving) and they sure were glad they did. Carly and I were especially happy to avoid the ~hour commute by public transit. Despite the hour and a half wait everyone loved their hot dogs, it was by far the most memorable meal of our vacation.

While we were waiting an ice cream truck pulled up and I thought "genius idea, this dude is going to do great with all people waiting patiently in line." But nope, it seemed most of the queue was saving their appetites for gourmet sausage. Carly was one of the few to give in to the icy temptation. She chose a bomb pop even though there were dozens of other more interesting treats on the menu.

Ribeye Steak Sausage with Chimichurri, Ardagh Wine Cheese and Crispy Fried Onions
The four of us each picked a sausage plus a few extras and passed them around. This was Carly's main sausage. The encased meat was beefy and substantial with a tangy chimichurri and delicately crisp fried onions. And so pretty with the mottled pink and cream wine cheese.

Swedish Potato Sausage with Dill Mustard and Horseradish Havarti Cheese
This was mom's pick and it was delicious. The potato sausage was particularly tender, more give, less snap to the casing. Quite a bit better than the potato sausage I had at Ann Sather. The horseradish cheese added a nice kick to the mild sausage.

Burgundy and Orange Pork Sausage with Roasted Garlic Aioli and Cheese-Stuffed Hot Peppers
Definitely our least favorite sausage of the day. The gring on the meat was pretty coarse, leaving the sausage unpleasantly tough and chunky. Unfortunately the orange just seemed to intensify the gamey-ness of the pork. The aioli was quite good and so were the cheesy hot peppers, but the elements just didn't work together.

Cheddar Cheese Pork Sausage with Coca-Cola BBQ Sauce and Vintage Farmhouse Cheese
We had no complaints, this one was super tasty. One change I noticed from my visit in 2009, the cheese on the dogs seems to be cubed a bit smaller and there seems to be less of it. I definitely approve, the sausages are easier to eat and the cheese rarely overpowers the meat.

The Dog
Classic, awesome. Great snap on the hot dog! And so cheap, just $2. It was Carly's favorite of the day. It's a classic for a reason, and Hot Doug's does it especially well. You choose how the dog is cooked - steamed, grilled, deep fried, etc. Ours was grilled, the casing taut and charred, giving way to the salty, juicy innards.

Smoked Portuguese Linguica with Saffron Rouille and Olive Manchego Cheese
My chosen encased meat, the sausage was fantastic, spicy and fatty with tons of snap. The rouille was spicy without being hot, French's mustard yellow, but with so much more flavor. This is the sausage I keep thinking about, wishing I could have another.

Duck Fat Fries
And, of course, the Duck Fat Fries. If you visit on Friday or Saturday, and you should, don't bother with the regular fries, duck fat all the way. Deep fried to a perfect caramel-y brown, the fries are surprisingly light yet satisfyingly crisp. Great on their own, yummy with ketchup, but now I wonder if you could order a side of, say, roasted garlic aioli or that amazing saffron rouille to dip? Perhaps next time I will dare to ask.

I've still not tried the Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage, perhaps the most famous Hot Doug hot dog. Bourdain raved about it on No Reservations and it's ever popular on flickr. Someday I will try it, someday! As usual Doug was behind the counter taking orders. And just like last time, when Dad tried to order a large soda he recommended a small instead as refills are unlimited. Go to Hot Doug's, it's worth the wait. And don't forget your cash!

Hot Doug's
3324 N California Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 279-9550
Menu including daily specials!


Fresh Corn and Chickpea Salad

I feel like I'm playing catch up again. I'm still working on that burger story I mentioned in my last post. I thought I was done, but we added three more burgers to the already bulging list. I don't mind much. Sure I'm a bit tired of cheeseburgers (especially the mediocre ones,) but I've gotten to try so many restaurants I might not have visited otherwise. In fact, two of my next few burgers come from restaurants I've never eaten at, rather expensive restaurants that I normally couldn't hope to afford. And I think I'm getting my burger appetite back. I ate some delightful little lamb sliders at the Rail last week. Tiny and juicy on adorable little pretzel rolls, the lamb patties were topped with a tangy chimichurri and caramelized onions.

But about this little salad, I made it weeks ago. While I was still deep in burger overload, when just the thought of ground beef sent an unpleasant rumble through my being. It's a lovely side dish, but a larger serving with a hunk of crusty bread would certainly make a satisfying meal.

There isn't much corn left at the market but if you can find some good stuff, this is a quick and super satisfying salad. Colorful and fresh, full of texture. The recipe is slightly adapted from this one at Serious Eats. I added some gorgeous watermelon radishes for color and a bit of extra crunch. Gosh, they're pretty, innards blooming with fuchsia streaks (after they're peeled and chopped of course, before, not so much.) And pretty peppery too, they have a bite. I upped the corn ratio since I had an extra ear, microwaving them around 7 minutes in the husk until they were crisp tender. I skipped the edamame because I didn't have any (well, mostly I forgot to buy any at the store, oops) and added ground coriander and fresh thyme for an extra boost of spice.

The vinaigrette is tangy with lime, just sweet enough with the honey and lightly spiced with cumin, thyme and coriander. You could even add a bit of chipotle for more of a kick. The only problem I had was that the longer the salad sits, the wetter it gets. I'm still not sure if it was the corn weeping or if I added too much dressing initially. So I recommend being conservative with the vinaigrette, add half to the veggies, then a little at a time to get the right consistency. You can always add more later. I waited until right before serving to add the radishes, as they can lose their crunch and tend to get a little odoriferous once they've been sliced (store them in cold water to keep them crisp if you slice them more than a few hours before serving.)

print recipe

Fresh Corn and Chickpea Salad
This fresh and colorful corn salad is full of bright flavors and textures. Sweet corn pairs beautifully with creamy chickpeas and crisp peppers and radishes, held together with a tangy honey-lime vinaigrette. Adapted from Serious Eats.
    3 Ears Cooked Corn 1 can Chickpeas, rinsed and drained 2 Red or Orange Bell Peppers, diced 1 clove Garlic, minced 1 Watermelon Radish, diced 1/3 cup Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil 2 tablespoons Honey 1 1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt 1/4 teaspoon Freshly Ground Pepper 3 sprigs Fresh Thyme  1/2 teaspoon Cumin 1/2 teaspoon Coriander 1 small bunch Cilantro or Parsley
Slice corn kernels from the cob. I like this method using a bundt pan to steady the ear and catch the kernels. In a medium bowl, toss corn with bell peppers and chickpeas. Add the radishes if serving right away or cover and refrigerate until ready. Vigorously whisk lime juice, garlic, olive oil, honey, and spices to make the vinaigrette. Pluck the thyme leaves and add them to the vinaigrette (quickly dice the leaves for more intense flavor.) Add half of the vinaigrette to the corn mixture and stir. Taste and drizzle in more vinaigrette if necessary. Tear off or chop the leaves of cilantro or parsley and mix into the salad. Add the radishes, if you haven't already, and serve.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4-6 servings


Summer of tomatoes

The truth is I haven't been cooking much these last few months. At least, I haven't been cooking anything new and interesting. When I've taken the time to make my own food, I've stuck to my tried and true recipes (lots of roasted broccoli, lemony chickpea pasta, pickles.) And I've been inhaling tomatoes left and right. Gorgeous slow roasted grape tomatoes, burst-in-your-mouth teeny heirloom tomatoes, and lots of salt & pepper seasoned, olive oil drizzled heirlooms.

For most of my formative years my dad kept a massive garden in our backyard. He grew all sorts of veggies; peppers, green beans, snap peas, and, of course, tons of tomatoes. But I rarely ate the tomatoes. I was an oddly picky eater, I devoured bowls of garlic and wine soaked mussels, adored spicy hot & sour soup, and ate my way through thousands of steamed asparagus spears. But any food involving onions, cabbage, or chunky  tomatoes would be met with a grimace and a resounding no.

So while I loved certain parts of those gorgeous gardens, I didn't really appreciate the tomato bounty. My parents have since moved and majorly downsized their garden. A small selection of cherry and heirloom tomatoes grow out of planters on the deck, but its not quite the same. It's only been in the past year or so that I've grown to enjoy tomatoes, raw and cooked. I still prefer a smooth tomato sauce to chunky and mealy raw tomatoes kind of gross me out. But it's progress. I'm still working on the cilantro. And the onions.

The main reason I haven't done much cooking (other than my profound laziness) is a new project I'm working on. It's an article on burgers in Bloomington for a local magazine. So far I've tried burgers at over twenty restaurants around town. Tons of fun but also rather overwhelming. Between the burgers and the heat, when I get home all that sounds good is quick, meatless, and, frequently, a mostly vegetal food.

It's been a good summer, a crazy summer. But I'm ready for fall. I had my first honeycrisp apple of the season today. It was wonderful. I should have a few recipes coming up soon. A lovely corn and chickpea salad and some pickles serrano peppers. In the meantime, here's some tomato porn and a few of my favorites photos from this summer.


Chicago - Dumplings and things

This year's Pitchfork Music Festival made me feel old. This was my fifth Pitchfork fest (years 2, 3, 4) perhaps my last. Maybe next year I'll feel differently. It seems that every year the crowds get larger, the lines longer, the weather hotter. I love live music, I love how songs change in a live setting, and I love when the musicians have a bit of personality, bantering and engaging with the crowd. By necessity some of this is lost in a festival setting, when crowds are bigger and set lists are shorter. And it's so hard to get a good sight line. I'm short as it is, so unless I get super close to the stage my visibility is basically nil. One of my most anticipated bands performing at this year's festival, The Radio Dept, was at the smaller stage. It was so crowded, I couldn't get close. I could barely see or hear, I was so disappointed.

But there were a few bright spots at the festival. Cut Copy was amazing. We got to the stage early and staked out a spot along the side rail. The view was great, the music was better and I was able to get some nice photos. Sweat was flying everywhere, at one point I brushed up against another person's sweaty arm and for the rest of the set I could feel that second layer of foreign sweat drying in an itchy swath across my forearm. Thank goodness event staff were nice enough to pass around bottles of cold water.

The other bright spot was pot stickers. Besides loads of brunch, I also ate loads of dumplings in Chicago. In general, food at the festival is pretty darn good, though, of course, a bit over priced. But not the pot stickers, you get a giant paper boat piled high with gingery chicken (and pork?) dumplings. Way more than you'd get at an actual restaurant for a $6 pot sticker appetizer. Star of Siam runs the Thai booth, which also serves up tons of pad thai and curry, and has a physical restaurant on the near North side.

Maybe the pot stickers would be disappointing at the actual restaurant. Maybe it's just the crowds and the heat and the craziness that make the dumplings such good festival food. I ate them two days in a row, sprawled on the lumpy, dusty ground between sets. A little respite from the stifling heat and ever-expanding crowds. Despite the mass production, the filling is moist and gingery, many of the dumplings develop a bit of crispy brown chew on the exterior. A ladle of red chili flecked soy-vinegar sauce is poured on top of the pot stickers. It's already a little spicy but an extra squirt or two of watered down sriracha is still welcome. The pina colada smoothies were perfect with the spicy dumplings, more icy than creamy, super refreshing in +90°F weather.

Sunday, after the festival, we had a quick dinner at Flattop Grill, one of those design your own stir fry restaurants. I was pretty happy with my food. I loved that they had noodle options alongside the usual white rice. I loaded my bowl up with egg noodles, tons of veggies (broccoli, snap peas, cabbage, etc) and a combo of chicken and pork. I spooned on all sorts of sauces (kung pao, sesame ginger, black bean garlic, hot red chili) and the mysterious garlic and ginger waters. Add a bit of stretchy, crisp roti bread and I ended up with a pretty tasty meal. The edamame was pretty great, tossed in salt, pepper and something citrusy then served with two dipping sauces. It certainly wasn't ground-breakingly amazing, but it was just right after a sweaty, exhausting day at the festival.


Chicago - So Much Brunch - Yolk, Wishbone, Ann Sather

Oh my, it's been a while. Through the spring and early summer I was really trying to update more often, more consistently. I've fallen off the wagon a bit since mid-July. Two trips to Chicago, my birthday, and a really exciting new project I've been working on has put me behind schedule. But about those trips to Chicago. In July I was up north for the Pitchfork Music Festival, returning to the fest after one year off. The most defining part of the trip was brunch, we ate a lot of brunch and only saw a little bit of music. So this post is about brunch, some good, some okay. Next post should be about music and non-brunch related food, we'll see.

I was super excited about Yolk but ended up slightly disappointed. The food was pretty good but not especially impressive. Service was iffy, and though I know it's a problem at most Chicago restaurants, why is it so hard to split checks? I guess I'm so used to Bloomington where large groups of people dine together all of the time, so servers are prepared and expected to separate checks. And if they hadn't made everything so difficult, maybe I wouldn't feel so bitter. Meh.

Yolk serves all of the expected brunch favorites, Eggs Benedict, waffles, etc, some with a twist. Ginny had the Bacon Waffles & Eggs, bacon baked right into the waffle, scrambled eggs on top. She liked it, but the bacon could have been a little crisper inside the waffle, especially to contrast with the soft scrambled eggs on top. My french toast platter was fine, the link sausage was awesome, though sunnyside up eggs were a bit albumen-y. Regular old waffles and crepes were good. Maybe the best meal of the morning was the South of the Border Benny, Eggs Benedict with chorizo and chipotle hollandaise.

Probably my fave brunch of the trip, Wishbone serves Southern food with a local, seasonal, occasional gluten free bent. Ginny's Biscuits and Gravy were delish, thick and messy and rich in the best way. Mariann had the Corn cakes, which were also great. Studded with sweet corn kernels and slivers of green onion, they're sweet and savory, served with a red pepper sauce.

I loved my Blackened Catfish, which was tender with a bit of chew. Perfect with over easy fried eggs, cheesy grits and a corn muffin. The homemade lemonade is totally refreshing, with a frothy top and icy bottom. Banana pancakes were also solid, home fries golden brown and very tasty.

This was my third time at Ann Sather, a super popular Swedish restaurant known for their brunch. There are a few Ann Sather locations in Chicago, for this trip we ate at the Belmont outpost. The Swedish meatballs weren't as good as I remembered. Take a look at this photo from back in 2008, so many more meatballs, smaller and nicely browned. They were from the Andersonville location, so maybe they're just better there?

The Cinnamon rolls are great, especially when they're hot, straight out of the oven. Like the Swedish meatballs, the potato sausage didn't quite live up to my memories. I did like my hashbrowns, which were plenty creamy in the middle but still nicely crisp on the outside. Especially good dipped in a little spicy mustard and lingonberry sauce. Applesauce is lovely as well, chunky and not too sweet. It tastes like real, fresh apples cooked until just soft. Mariann liked her Swedish Pancake plate, and the Swedish Waffle was a winner as well. The orange-strawberry-banana juice I ordered was great, refreshing and fruity and not overly sweet.

1120 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60605-2301
(312) 789-9655
Website + Menu

3300 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657-1108
(773) 549-2663 ‎  
Website + Menu

Ann Sather
909 West Belmont Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657-4473
(773) 348-2378 ‎ 
Website + Menu
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