Friday, April 29, 2011

When Life Gives You Ramps...

Last night a friend of mine brought me some ramps he'd dug up in Michigan a few days ago. Rarely, especially these days, is one privy to such an act of culinary generosity--seems like these days, with the ever growing popular frenzy of ramps, morel mushrooms and fiddlehead ferns come springtime, everyone turns all "Mine! Mine! Mine!" about them. Or just charges you a king's ransom to get some. Well, like I said before--sometimes it's nice to know some real people who don't mind getting their hands in the dirt, as is the case with my new found ramp fortune.

I think I'm going to use the ramps in this Sunday's Brunch Salon, but I excitedly ate some today. It isn't that ramps are so particularly thrilling or amazing you see (though they are quite tasty); it's that they represent spring, and things starting to grow again, and being able to be outside without shivering again. They are, in food form, that first warm day of the season, and there's a certain charm that goes with that. So, I chopped some stems up, sauteed them with some ground pork, onion and pinenuts, added a touch of crushed tomato, and one of my magic pork flavor cubes. I finished the sauce with the torn leaves of the ramps whose stems I'd used, boiled some good noodles I got up at H Mart and slurped it all down. Quick and top-notch.

I'd also like to say welcome to all of you who joined us after the recent/couple/of/articles--it's nuts how powerful that can be. Welcome aboard, and hope to meet you all soon!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April Showers Bring May Salons, Noodles and Dumplings!

We're gearing up for a busy month here at Food on the Dole, with four Salons planned for the month of May, plus I'm going to be cooking with my good friend Crazy Hair from X-marx at his spot on a few nights. More on that in a bit. As far as the Salons go, we've got some great ones to look forward to:
  • The Food on the Dole Brunch Salon Sunday, May 1 at 11am. We'll get all Jacques Pepin on it and visit old classics, and possibly brave some new terrain in our market-driven menu; a perfect way to resurface from the weekend's debauchery and all those Cadbury Eggs from the week before. BYOB of course, and a bloody mary'll find its way into your hand. $30.
  • The Food on the Dole Pasta Salon Sunday, May 15 at 3pm. Come spend a Sunday afternoon in the Salon kneading, rolling and cutting fresh pasta for a simple early spring dinner. We'll share stories of our experience with pasta, learn about what makes this simple food so comforting and dig in to a hearty and soulful meal together. Come with questions and an empty belly; leave with technique, a sense of community and a snapping waistband. $40.
  • The Food on the Dole Bistro Salon Saturday May 21 at 6pm. Join the bon vivant lifestyle--if just for a night! Okay, okay, so perhaps the rich foods of Parisian bistros aren't exactly in tune with the Dole ethic--or are they? We'll prepare some classic, simple favorites (think along the lines of steak frites) of the heartiest and warmest of restaurant styles on a très joyeux Saturday evening at the Salon. Come discuss your love of bistros, or come find out just what makes them and their style of food so important and well-loved. $60.
  • The Food on the Dole Spring Vegetarian Salon Thursday May 26 at 6pm. We've been cooking and eating a lot of meat lately at the Salon, so what better time to shift gears for a bit and explore the bounty that Springtime in the Midwest is producing? Believe it or not, as such a carnivorous chef, I've always enjoyed cooking vegetarian food, and love celebrating the beauty of vegetables for what they are, as opposed to finding ways of making them emulate meat--you won't find any seitan or tempeh at this Salon. This Salon will be highly market-driven based on what I find at the farmer's market. All are welcome--come discuss your views on food and share stories of your memories of the first produce of Spring, and come ready to eat some tasty food. $40.
The current offering of Salons will always be listed on the right side of Food on the Dole. To reserve seats, simply click on the desired Salon. And, as mentioned during the first couple of weeks of May, I'll be cooking with X-marx at their pop-up noodle joint, Flour and Bones, down in Fulton Market. I'll be there May 5th, 7th and 11th, but be sure to stop by anytime May 2nd-11th from 5pm-1am for some top-notch homemade Chinese-style noodles and dumplings. 954 W. Fulton Market in the Dodo space.

As always, any questions can be directed to me at Want to get updates as they are posted? Just "Like" Food on the Dole on Facebook, or sign up for email updates on the top left side of F.o.t.D. I'm looking forward to these upcoming salons, and be sure to stay tuned for more Food on the Dole adventures!

Friday, April 22, 2011

The War of the Roses is Happening In My Mouth, or, Did We Really Just Make All That?

The sizzling of the Taco Salon has nearly subsided, though I found myself with some leftover carnitas and a raw serrano chile last night. If you've never just crunched into a raw chile of moderate to high heat, give it a try sometime. The crisp brightness is followed by the heat and somehow, that just goes hand in hand with taco-style food. I learned this bold move from a guy I used to work with named Onofre; he would walk around the kitchen, carrying at all times a raw jalapeno in the pocket of his chef coat. He would gnaw away at that thing and replace it hourly--the guy ate several jalapenos per day. One day, after realizing the value of this and finding a spot for it in my daily routine--to a much lesser degree, of course--I undertook an ill-advised, though heavily encouraged and cheered-on jalapeno eating contest with him. I lost in rapidly drastic proportion, going down about one crunch into the second chile. He did that weird creepy showdown staredown like that guy in Indiana Jones in the first ten seconds of this clip. I was the quivering, cowering Marion Ravenwood. Only instead of a burning hot stake, Onofre was holding a burning hot jalapeno, right in my face. Lesson learned: don't go toe-to-toe with a guy from Veracruz in a jalapeno eating contest.

Moving right along, a quick synopsis of the F.o.t.D. Taco Salon:
  • Queso fresco, made the night before: two quarts milk, heated to just under boiling, a few tablespoons of vinegar/lime juice/any sort of acid added, stirring as the whey gradually separated from the curds, straining into cheesecloth, adding salt, pressing overnight. As the name implies, this fresh cheese is just that--pure dairy goodness to combat the heat and sharpness of other flavors in the tacos.

  • Carnitas, also started the night before: seared pork butt, braised in pork fat with garlic, orange, ancho and guajillo chiles, leeks ('cause I had 'em around), tamarind and tamarind soda. Also some pork stock I had left from the Pork Salon. The meat was removed when falling apart, and a saloneer completed this task while we reduced the braising liquid to add back in for a lovely dose of moist succulence. The tamarind soda is full of sour sugary-ness, which reduces down to a really luscious sauce.

  • Al Pastor: adapted from Middle-Eastern immigrants to Mexico, the idea is similar to shawarma, in that meat is marinated in chiles and often times pineapple, then piled onto a spit. Rather than the lamb used for shawarma, pork is used, the meat-spit is fire roasted, then sliced off into a tortilla. Since we don't have spit-roasting capabilities (yet) at F.o.t.D., we marinated pork loin in a puree of pineapple, orange, lime, ancho chile powder, onion and garlic, then grilled it lightly. When charred, we removed it, chopped it, then pan fried it with some of the leftover marinade and a touch of the chile salsa we made, described below.
  • Carne Asada: Skirt Steak, a quick marinade (and I do mean quick; don't overcook this in a marinade before you even apply heat to it) in olive oil, lime juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Then grilled nice and medium rare, and sliced.

  • Roasted Poblanos: just that--poblano peppers roasted on the grill, peeled, and cut into smoky little strips.
  • Grilled Tomatillo Salsa Verde: tomatillos grilled, then pureed with lime, serrano chiles, garlic cilantro. Tangy and sour, with a bit of heat.
  • Simmered Chile Salsa Roja: tomatoes char-grilled, then simmered to reduce with dried and fried ancho and guajillo chiles, onions and garlic. Pureed, with a nice smokiness and depth of flavor from the chiles. Hot, too.
  • And Guacamole! Diced avocado (well, avocado pressed through my cooling rack, which has wires creating squares about 1/3"x1/3". Just peel your avocado and press it through for the easiest way to get the perfect size and amount of squished-ness. This will allow you to keep some texture in your guacamole), onions, cilantro and a good bolt of the tomatillo salsa.
  • Hand Pressed Tortillas: Masa, lard, hot water, salt. Pressed and griddled. So superior to packaged tortillas, the way fresh pasta is to dried.
  • Refried Beans: Cooked black beans (simmered in just water until tender, no crunch remaining at all, but not falling apart into mush). Onions, jalapenos and garlic fried in lard, beans added to the pan and then mushed up, reserved cooking liquid added as needed.
  • Garnishes including crema (sour cream), chopped white onion, cilantro and chayote, that funny looking member of the squash family that crunches like an under-ripe pear and doesn't have a ton of flavor, but adds a great texture to the softness of tacos.
  • And of course, those Margaritas: equal parts fresh squeezed lime juice, tequila, and triple sec/Cointreau/Grand Marnier, shaken and topped off in chilled glasses with a touch of special and smoky mezcal from Oaxaca.
Is that it? I think that's it. Seemed like, for this Salon, this list format was the best way to fit everything in. Otherwise, I'd fill up page after page with silly descriptions that might not be that necessary. We'll save that for more simple topics. Perhaps the Brunch Salon? If interested, I have a couple of seats left on May 1--the Sunday after Easter, 11:00. $30, byob with a Bloody Mary included. Seats can be reserved here.

A big thank you to the Taco Saloneers who made it out despite the--sigh--still cold and rainy un-Spring-like weather. I think we were able to capture, for however short a time, a touch of summer together. Here's hoping Mother Nature catches up, and soon!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Homemade Bagels, Leftovers and a Devil-May-Care Attitude Towards Grammar

Last night's Salon--despite the frigid weather--was a success (so happy was I to hear, repeatedly, "that smells/tastes like summer!), and beyond my being comforted that my oft-used dash-dash is the new semicolon by a bunch of English-y types, we made some really great food (carnitas, al pastor, carne asada, rajas de poblano, queso fresco, lard & jalapeno-refried beans, homemade tortillas, roasted tomatillo salsa, simmered ancho/guajillo salsa, guacamole) which I will report on shortly. Meanwhile, I'm off to ponder the great meal last night and the upcoming F.o.t.D. Brunch Salon the Sunday after Easter in this chilly but sunny weather, fueled by the beautiful bagels above (yes, two lovely Saloneers brought me bagels, still warm, that they had made!), one spread with blueberry jam my Tennessee ham connection's mother in law made, one spread with queso fresco and carnitas from last night. I used to think it was sweet to have connections in the restaurant world; now I realize it's vastly better to have connections in the homemade world.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tacos! Tacos! Tacos!

Carnitas bubbling away, pork loin in a juicy, citrusy, pinapple-y marinade, masa awaiting lard and a hot griddle, skirt steak hanging out in lime, beans asking to be fried, tomatillos demanding to be roasted, homemade queso fresco begging to be slathered on top of tacos, 6 bellies ready to be filled...and of course, limes ready for juicing and tequila ready for's the Food on the Dole Taco Salon tonight! More on how it went down soon!

Monday, April 18, 2011

All'onda, But Not In That Bad Baseball Stadium Way

Despite the appearance of frost (or possibly snow?) on the ground this morning in Chicago with memories of 80 degree sunsoaked days a mere week ago still in the forefront of our minds, we've got to muscle through to spring. Like so many of the buds on trees, daffodils and tulips that thought it was time to wake up, let's make it through this lingering cold unscathed, protected by thoughts of what lies ahead.

I received help towards this in the tiny form of young green garlic from Videnovich Farms in Michigan. Still quite small and delicate, the flavor and texture at the root end stood up to light frying in a pan with some soffrito, sunchokes and preserved lemon. I added some arborio rice on the path to risotto and--17 minutes of gentle stirring and several additions of stock later--we had risotto. I folded in butter, parmigiano-reggiano cheese, piquillo peppers, parsley, butter and some of the shoot end of the green garlic, saving more to garnish with on top.

Risotto is, in a world where cooking means more than pushing some buttons and hearing a dinner bell-like beep, quite simple and quick to make. Don't be intimidated. This was a cheap, filling meal, full of clean flavors, appropriate for the season. Stir the whole while you are making it, brushing the grains of rice against each other to release their creamy starches. Add stock when the risotto asks for it--draw your spoon through the center of the pan, and when liquid isn't rushing back in to fill the ditch you just created, but is rather slowly seeping in there, add a little more. And cook until the rice has just a touch of tooth to it--not grainy grittiness, but just a bit of firm texture--realizing that a touch more cooking and absorption of liquid will happen once the process is complete and the pan is off the heat. And so very importantly, look for the condition of what Italians call all'onda, or "of the wave". See the video below to grasp what I'm talking about. Pull the risotto to one side of the pot. When it ever so slowly oozes lava-like to the other side of the pot, you have all'onda. This, plus the texture we just talked about, makes top-notch risotto. But above all else, do not neglect your risotto--unlike a stadium where the only thing necessary is a drunk fat guy with no shirt on--it takes love and attention to get the wave in a pot of risotto.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Susie's Noon Hour Grill, or Thanks To My Young Skinny Friend

Last year I was introduced to Susie's Noon Hour Grill, tucked away in the alley-like portion of Glenwood Avenue in Rogers Park by a young, hip-skinny buddy of mine. I'd walked past it a hundred times and never noticed it; don't make that same mistake. It's run by Susie--a sweet little elderly Korean lady--and to say it is a Korean restaurant would be way off. Sure, the bi bim bop comes out later in the day, but there's Japanese Ramen on the menu (that I'm anxious/nervous to try), and really, I see its strength as being a place for rolling into in the morning, or whatever part of the day one wakes up. You see, that's when Susie makes things like Korean Pancakes and Bulgogi and Kim Chee Omelets. I know what you're thinking. Kim Chee in an omelete? But hey--it really works, and so does the chile/soy sauce for those pancakes--so savory and glutinous and chewy. Cheap as all get out as well, and Susie is just such a cutie. She's the only one there, so maybe avoid it if you're the type to write negative Yelp reviews about a place with only one host, server, cook, busser, cashier, etc. But if you can appreciate the power of one little lady in a sparse, diner-like spot making you feel warm and full of delicious and different yet somehow familiar food, go to this restaurant. 6930 N. Glenwood in Rogers Park, on the part of Glenwood headed south, next to a comic book store.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tacos! Brunch! Top-Notch Food Found Here!

The nice weather--combined with making all those tortillas at the last Salon--has inspired our next event. We'll be bringing the food of the Taco Trucks of Oakland inside to the Food on the Dole Oakland Street Taco Salon. We'll press and throw down all our tortillas, make a few sauces and generally create tons of tasty taco fillings a la the taco trucks in Oakland, CA. I'll even go a step further and shake up a round or two of margaritas as we cook, eat and learn together. Bring your questions, bring your appetite, bring those thick bottles of Mexican Coke; just bring your self--it's coming up soon: next Wednesday April 20 at 6pm. $40 and BYOB. Sign up here.

If you can't make the taco-fest, rest easy; we're putting on a brunch: the Food on the Dole Brunch Salon. We'll get all Jacques Pepin on it and visit old classics, and possibly brave some new terrain in our market-driven menu; a perfect way to resurface from the weekend's debauchery and all those Cadbury Eggs from the week before. BYOB of course, and a bloody mary'll find its way into your hand; Sunday, May 1 at 11am, $30. Tickets can be found here.

So far, we've had a great, rollicking time with the Salons. Thank you to all the supporters, and welcome to all new friends!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

That First Day That Leads Us Into Thinking Summer Is Here, or, Salon III

Sunday greeted us with temperatures in the 80s, and as I lit up my tiny Smoky Joe to smoke some pork belly, I thought with amazement about how just a couple of months ago snow was howling sideways down this very street, complete with lightning and ridiculously huge accumulation. So, clearly, everyone in Chicago was in love with this first really warm day; people were finally smiling on the street, cars weren't honking except for those friendly, short little "thank you for letting me in" honks, and yours truly was gearing up for the Salon featuring pork. Specifically, a lovely bit of pig from my friend over at X-Marx, who had just finished butchering a whole pig for his highly recommended head-to-tail dinner tomorrow night. For the Salon, we'd be working with belly, hock, shoulder, tail, flank and skin.
We started with the flank, a tiny little cut suitable for a quick grill, aiming to make Matambre de Cerdo, an Argentinian dish based on Matambre, a stuffed and rolled beef flank steak. Cerdo means pig, and in this version, nothing gets stuffed or rolled--just salt and pepper, then a hot, smoky grill. I've read differing accounts--that matambre, translated, means "shoe leather"; another story is that the word is a mash up of the words "matar" (to kill) and hambre (hunger). Who can say which story is legit, but my intention was to use it as the latter: a quick bite to satiate the hungry pack who showed up to the Salon. So, we made tortillas, hand pressed and cooked on a slick cast iron skillet, and a chimichurri, with parsley, cilantro, marjoram, garlic, lemon, lime, a tomatillo, vinegar and plenty of olive oil. In place of the ubiquitous iceberg lettuce so seemingly beloved in South America, I used a crisp asparagus lettuce tip, very similar to romaine lettuce in texture but a bit more flavorful. Grilled that flank, chopped it up and into the warm tortillas it went, topped with the lettuce and chimichurri.
Hock Before Braising

Then we wanted to make rillettes, so we moved on to the hock; I'd braised this overnight with thyme and garlic so it was soft and fell right off the bone. There was a good bit of flavorful liquid left from the braise, which turned into a nice pork jelly as the hock cooled in it. We picked the meat, minced a shallot, and beat it with some mustard, vinegar, and lard rendered earlier in the day. Plenty of salt and pepper, a touch of the pork jelly, and we packed it into a little pot. Served it as a spread of sorts with some epi bread I'd made and the pork belly jam we'd make next.
Hock After Braising

For the belly jam, I did a quick cure, just overnight (as opposed to the several day cure bacon gets), with brown sugar, salt, star anise, fennel seed, black pepper, ajowan and cumin. Took it out in the morning, rinsed it, patted it dry and placed it on a rack in the fridge to dry out as much as possible in order to get the important pellicle formation--that dry, somewhat sticky outer coating of meat left uncovered in the fridge--that helps the meat absorb smoke. This usally takes more time as well, but hey--the Salon was that day so we did what we could. I then smoked it for a few hours on said Smoky Joe with some hickory chips; it got nice and smoky, and deliciously crisp on the outside. It was all I could do not to eat it all right when it came off the grill. So, when the time came, we cut it into little chunks, and fried them in lard in a pot, sort of mashing them around as we went, letting them crisp up, then we deglazed with red wine, red wine vinegar, and threw in some blueberries and mango and a bit of sugar. This cooked down for a bit, the berries popped, and we had ourselves a real nice, smoky yet bright accompaniment for the bread and rillettes.
I just had to pull out that salty Bentons ham as well, so we cubed it up, fried it in that lovely lard, then added big wedges of red onion. Got these nice and charred, deglazed with sherry vinegar, drizzled in plenty of olive oil, and tossed it all with adult spinach. Baby spinach has less flavor, costs more, and would just wilt immediately; the adult spinach kept a nice in between of wilting and staying crisp. This decadent salad was intended to be served with a garnish of pork rinds, but hey--we were drinking beer and just plain forgot. But the pork rinds would be made. Oh yes, they would be.

I cleaned the skin of the pig as much as possible, removing fat and meat. Then I boiled it for a few hours, the heat removing any fat I missed and breaking down the tough protein; then I used the back of a knife to scrape it clean again and put it in a low, low oven to dehydrate it more overnight. I then repeated the process all over again, making these guys really, really dry and tough. We heated canola oil to around 350 degrees or so, then threw the chunks of skin in; they puffed up light and crisp in seconds; we tossed them with bacon salt, a mixture not containing any bacon, but lots of salt and smoked spices that emulate bacon. Crispy, crunchy, oh so porky.

At this point people were getting pretty full, but we had to make the entree, so I gathered the troops and we made a pasta dough, then made a loose sausage as it rested. We used chunks of shoulder for this; nice and fatty and through the grinder they went. We mixed the meat with all kinds of things--garlic, marjoram, oregano, cayenne, isot pepper, red stamp pepper, cumin, coriander, red chile flake, black pepper, salt, red wine, mezcal, and the list goes on and on--then friend the spicy sausage with leeks, roasted golden beets, more pork jelly, and preserved lemon. The pasta was rolled and cut into fat thick noodles; after boiling, everything was tossed together, a bit of orange zest on top and a good dose of olive oil as well.

To finish, we whipped egg yolks and maple syrup into a sabayon--a light, foamy mousse of sorts--then folded in whipped cream, crispy bacon we'd cooked earlier and the fat that rendered out of it. Gave it a light freeze, then gobbled it all up--a nice little bacon semi-fredo.

It was a great Sunday afternoon that turned into evening that turned into night; we discussed food, the south, and demented haunted houses. I got to meet some new interesting friends, and we all ate copious amounts of food. This was a happy incarnation of the Salon, and I look forward to many more. Which reminds me--I was at a benefit last night at Kith and Kin in Chicago and ran into someone who attended the Seafood Salon by the oyster bar (where I spent much of the night parked). She proudly declared that she'd been eating the oysters bare, and chewing them, ever since the Salon. I beamed, and happily ate another with her.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Pork Rinds Popping Like Mad

We had a great F.o.t.D. Salon yesterday--7 of us cooking several different pig parts--and with the beautiful 80 degree weather, the menu rapidly morphed from a roast focused day to one incorporating the happy little Smoky Joe above. More details soon, but back inside, we made some tasty pork rinds, and took a video to show you--these things (after a long couple of series of boiling and drying) puff up in an instant and, tossed with bacon salt, are pretty porky and tasty. Big thanks to the energetic group of Saloneers yesterday!

Friday, April 8, 2011

When a Lunatic Offers You Pork, You Take It

(not the pig in question; this guy's just sleeping)

Old Crazy Hair just made his way back from China, and cyclone of energy that he is, has already procured a whole pig from Susanna Farms for a dinner he's doing next week. Luckily for us at F.o.t.D. and those attending Sunday's Salon, he's letting us share in the pig, so I'll be picking up several parts tomorrow morning for our feast. I've got my mind set on some items (rillettes, crisped belly jam), and others will be decided once I get my hands on this good stuff and hit the markets for some early spring veg, keeping the menu nice and spontaneous. Big thanks to crazy hair for the spirit of communal pig enjoyment, and big thanks, of course, to the pig itself.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Give Favas a Chance

Made famous by one cannibalizing psychopath a ways back, Fava Beans are something to look forward to in the spring, and though they can be a bit of a chore to clean, imagine what poor, poor Hannibal Lecter had to go through to prepare the rest of that meal. While cheffing, I've always enjoyed the power favas had to clear my kitchen of bored, chatty servers--anytime I've had them on a menu (favas, not servers), there's always a bowl of them floating around, and the dictum "you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean...favas" rules. Yes, they need to be peeled twice (the pod has to be opened, then the beans themselves have skin that needs to be removed), and yes, this takes a lot of time. But you know what happens when things take a lot of time in the kitchen? People start talking to each other. People start telling stories. It's like when people find out you don't have a television. "What on earth do you do with your time?" they ask, wide-eyed. Me, I'd take a half hour peeling favas over half an hour of pretty much anything on tv. Unless it was Silence of the Lambs.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Get It While It's Cold!

Believe it or not, the season where putting your face in a bowl of hot soup is more inviting than putting your face in a freezer is rapidly coming to a close. It isn't exactly sweltering yet, and North Avenue Beach has yet to turn in to a seething ant hill, but hey--Soup and Bread only has two more dates left--tonight and next Wednesday, so get yourself down there to the Hideout in a hurry. If you were one of those who made it down there a couple of weeks ago and had yours truly's version of ramen (with a broth made of pig trotters and necks, chicken feet and backs, and beef necks, not to mention those deliciously smoky bacon ends) and have several dozen hours to kill but are painfully aware of the fact that I'm not crazy about posting recipes, the recipe is up at the Soup and Bread site. Meanwhile, pig parts are en route to the F.o.t.D Salon, a couple of seats have opened up, and we're gearing up for a delicious Sunday evening.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Return to Normalcy in Trieste

A great memory popped in my head this morning a trip through Trieste, Italy. We'd been back and forth to the airport a couple of times in the hopes that our lost bags would have arrived; due to my less than rudimentary Italian language skills, the only way to really be sure that the bags weren't there was to go see for ourselves. The strange thing was that I really didn't mind the hour bus ride each way to the airport, as the route went right along the Adriatic Sea, it was a gorgeous day, and everything was simply stunning. Each trip allowed me to notice something I hadn't before, and expand on my little mind-movies of what was happening in each gelato shop, every mechanic's garage, the sea below.

Nevertheless, this much back and forth after a trans-Atlantic flight and another from Rome (which, low and sunny over the sea with the stormy Dolomites in the distance was pleasant in its own right) was exhausting. The bags were not there on the second trip, which would mean another trip back in the morning, and more painfully important, I'd have to make the decision to leave my contact lenses in my already straining eyes overnight, or bite the bullet of soaking them in tap water overnight as nary a pharmacy could be found on this otherwise lovely Sunday. These thoughts were shoved to the back of my mind as we entered a sparse little cafe/restaurant called Buffet Clai on via Ugo Foscolo in Trieste. Immediately greeted with a carafe of red table wine, we ordered some food, so simple and so delicious and comforting after the long trip: Polenta e Baccala and Gnocchi con Goulasch. The food in Trieste really seems to stand with one foot in Italy, one foot in Eastern Europe with a good deal of Hungarian and Slavik influence. These two dishes were, like I said, so very simple: the salt cod braised in a ragout of tomatoes, maybe some cream rounding things out; the polenta cooked all day, then placed in a dish to cool, be cut into squares, and reheated; the generously sized gnocchi folded into a rich goulash of beef and tomatoes. The place itself was welcoming, too, but not in an extreme way--they brought us our food and wine, and went about their business. No pandering to the tourists, just making sure we were alright; as basic and loving as the food.

I'll spare you the story about what happened with my contact lenses; it's gruesome for sure. But let's just say that if you find yourself in Trieste like James Joyce (or other, more meager writers), take a spin around and find yourself down a side street that leads to places like this.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Rebel in Manhattan

When I was younger, I had the good, good fortune of being introduced to what is now one of my favorite cocktails (close behind the mighty Negroni)--the Manhattan. Named perhaps after a club in NYC, or, in a more interesting version of the story, after the water of the city due to its dark brown color, it has certainly had a bit of a comeback in this cocktail crazed era. Traditionally made with rye (as far as I can tell, though just like anything, we could find hundreds of "true" and "traditional" recipes and stories of its origin), lots of places now make it with bourbon, and I think that's just fine. After all, that's how I first learned it, and thus will always make it.
On a recent visit to my wellspring of Manhattans, I picked up a bottle of the very affordable and passable Rebel Yell bourbon, which was quickly mixed with vermouth and stirred with ice. Into a chilled glass it went with a cherry (maraschino in this case, though if you can get your hands on the good but cheap jarred sour cherries in stores like HarvesTime in Chicago, even better--such a nice balance of sweet and sour). Dash some bitters on top if you like. Perfect way to warm up in the winter, or cool down in the summer.

Meanwhile, we're full steam ahead for the next F.o.t.D. Salon, featuring all things pork. If you haven't signed up yet, you can do so here. Until then, cheers to the Manhattan!