Kelly the Culinarian: August 2008

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Food find: Minelli Meat and Deli

This particular intersection in Niles represents some of my favorite food-shopping experiences. Minelli Meat and Deli is on Milwaukee near Oakton, pretty much right across the street from Jerry's. It's been a family-owned operation for nearly 40 years and has some of the best cuts you'll find.

The best things we've had from there so far have been the sirloin burgers and hotdogs. The hotdogs are huge and have a great variety of meats, creating a rich flavor. The burgers are pre-formed patties made with just enough fat to be tasty and juicy.

The deli portion also sells dough, pasta, sauces and specialty cheeses. One of my favorite things about this store are the packaged specialty items they have, such as anchovy paste and olive tapenade. It's really a fun place to go to get inspired.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cooking with Kelly: Homegrown guac

So I didn't grow the avocado. I don't even know if I can grow an avocado in Illinois, but that's another battle for another day.

Anyhow, with an overabundance of jalapenos and tomatoes, guacamole seems like a natural choice. Here's my downhome recipe:

1 avocado

6 cherry tomatoes

2 fresh jalapenos

1/4 of a small onion

Splash lime juice, the juice of half a jalapeno will do

Chop the onion finely, set aside. Halve the the cherry tomatoes. Finally, remove the rib and seeds of the jalapenos and finely dice. Wash your hands afterwards!

Halve the avocado, then dice inside the skin roughly. Scoop out the flesh, then sprinkle the lime juice on top. Mash all the ingredients together with a fork until fully incorporated.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Food find: Stade's Farm Market

How cute is this place! I've passed Stade's Farm Market everyday on my way to work and seen the baby horses prancing about, but I didn't get a chance to stop at the farm stand until this week.

If you ever find yourself along Route 176 near Prairie Grove, you should stop here. The day I dropped by, there were potatoes, onions, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, corn and peaches. The prices are awesome -- I got a tomato and a peach for 80 cents.

The quality of the food is great too. My peach was juicy and sweet, the tomato as delicious as what I'm getting in my garden, except larger.

Finally, the farm is just so cute -- classic red barn, horses roaming. Adorable!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Food find: Jerry's in Niles

Sunday came and went this week with no stand mixer, so I'll catch up on that next week. In the meantime, let me tell you about my absolute favorite place to shop for produce and specialty items.
I don't know how long Jerry's Fruit and Garden on Milwaukee Avenue has been there, but the place is always packed. The prices at Jerry's really can't be beat. The produce may not be the greatest quality all the time, but there are real gems to be found. I always find great green beans, there's usually tiny lemons 10 for $1 and I've netted jars of sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil 2 for $3. They also always have specialty hummus and cheeses as well as artisan breads. My favorite is the kalamata olive hummus with whole-wheat mini pitas.

I can fill up my cart with produce and a few snacks for under $20. Even after Tim moves away from Niles, I think we may have to make trips here. The only thing they don't have at Jerry's is fresh meats. They have some packaged stuff, but that doesn't really fit the bill. However, there are some other options in the neighborhood that I can't wait to share.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Candy buffet

Really, do you need to know any more than that? I was just told about this candy buffet concept for weddings and I've decided I want one.

The concept, they tell me, is that you put out glass vases and containers filled with different types of candy. Some people do candies in colors that coordinate with their flowers and such, but I don't know if I'm that great of a planner.

As people filter out, they make sure to fill up bags with candy to their liking.

I think it's a better idea than traditional favors, provided there is a variety of candy to be had. Anyone been to a wedding with a candy buffet?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Food find: Around the Clock

I work down the street from Around the Clock, a vintage little diner that's very nice inside and sports marble countertops and a modern look. The eatery is newly renovated and claims to be the oldest in McHenry County. I can't vouch for that, but this place is quite delish.

It's a classic diner with a bakery and the place is always packed. I work bizarre hours and have yet to see the parking lot a single car less than half full.

So far, I've only had one meal there. It was steak tacos, which I got the impression wasn't their specialty, but it was quite tasty. The steak was juicy and the rice and beans quite smoky and savory. A guy I work with got his wedding cake here too.

I end up at this place for work sometimes and the food always looks phenomenal. The portions are huge and the prices are awesome (a home style meal for $12 with tip? Count me in.).

Here's the deal -- make sure to get the soup and stick with your basic diner food. Tip your waitress well, they're all nice ladies.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lemon recipes needed!

I'm thinking that for my wedding, I'm going to keep in the food realm for everything and do lemon centerpieces and so forth. I bought a few 22-inch vases for a dramatic look that I plan to fill with 30 or so lemons a piece. Chances are, when I come back from my honeymoon, I will have like 100 lemons hanging around.

So what do you do when the wedding gives you lemons? I have a few ideas.

First, lemoncello sounds like a fabulous use of all those lemons. But that leaves like 60 lemons and I want to use them before they go bad.
So, there are many dishes I can make immediately, like chicken piccata or lemon salad dressing.
Then, once they start to go a little south, I'm left with using them for cleaning. I suppose there are many surfaces that could be aided with lemons.
I need some help. What are lemons used for in your house?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Container gardening with Kelly: Lessons learned

The season isn't over yet, but I've already learned quite a bit about container gardening this year. Most of it has been trail and error, but here are some things I'll have to keep in mind for next year
  • Start seedlings early and in large containers. The root systems appear to do better in bigger vessels, such as plastic 12-ounce cups. Start in early March.
  • Don't event think about hardening off the plants until at least the end of April. I started to early and killed off a whole crop of seedlings.
  • If you're going to buy seedlings, start with the good stuff. Examine the seedlings and make sure you get the healthiest, hardiest-looking plants.
  • Compost is essential, as is good drainage and sand. Make sure the planters have drainage holes, add a two-inch layer of play sand, then three or four inches of quality compost. Follow that up with a Tablespoon of sugar and several crushed egg shells for tomatoes or quality potting soil for others.
  • Use rainwater! A rain barrel is a great investment for gardening. It's cheaper and better.
  • Add more crushed eggshells on the surface of the soil after tomatoes start blooming to prevent blossom-end rot.
  • Water at the soil surface, not near the leaves or fruits.
  • More at the end of the season!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Stand-mixer Sunday: Tomato bread

According to my sister, this is the best thing invented since ... sliced bread. As soon as I walked in the door today, my mother said I had to do something about my tomato plant, it was threatening to take over the yard. There were at least 30 ripe tomatoes on my sweet 100 bush since I last looked at it on Friday morning. Love this time of year!

As a result, I decided to make a tomato flat focaccia. It was turned out sweet like a dessert because of the tiny tomatoes but savory like a pizza. Here's how it's done.

Start with a basic focaccia:

2 and 3/4 cups flour

3/8 teaspoon yeast

2 cups minus two Tablespoons warm, filtered water

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon sugar

Mix all of the dry ingredients together on low with the flat paddle attachment of the stand mixer. Add the water slowly, allowing time to incorporate, then kick up the speed to medium and let it go for three to five minutes. Assess if it may need more flour or water to create a loose, sticky, more liquid dough.

Once the correct texture is achieved, pour into a greased bowl and set aside to rise in a warm place for three to four hours or until doubled.

Next, take out a half-sheet pan and coat with about a Tablespoon of olive oil, the cheap stuff is fine. Pour out the dough onto the sheet. Grease your fingers with some olive oil and try to stretch it out to the edges of the pan. Then let it sit for 10 minutes to rest and try again to reach the dough to the edges. Set aside to rise again for one hour or until doubled.

Until then, gather the toppings:

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garlic salt

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon pizza spice

1 Tablespoon olive oil

30 sweet 100 tomatoes, cut into halves or thirds

Bring out the risen dough and coat with the remaining olive oil, using your fingertips to create dimples in the dough. Crush the herbs with your fingers and sprinkle on the dough, the press the little pieces of tomato into the dough. Please the whole thing in a 450-degree oven for 10-15 minutes, or until it's cooked and brown on the top.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Food find: White Sox hot dogs

My baseball allegiances usually are North of the city, but an uncle who is very dear to me was in town and wanted to see the White Sox/Red Sox game. So here I was in enemy territory on a Sunday in horrible traffic, but I heard the sell-out stadium was full of tasty treats.

Because we bought our tickets the day of the game, we were two rows back from the last seats in the stadium. I was up so high, I could see the lake. The atmosphere was actually different up there, I was freezing.

It was so high up, I never saw the margarita man. This fabled hero (at least in my book) walks around the stadium with what looks like a jet pack full of frozen Sauza margaritas. But I would never know, I never saw him. We joked that perhaps his canister didn't work at that altitude.

But hey, we ate almost everything else under the sun. We had the famed hot dogs, along with popcorn, peanuts and nachos. Perhaps the only things I didn't eat were the pizza and funnel cake, but I'm sure they were delicious, just like every single item we ate. I was stuffed and damn happy. The White Sox won too.

As for the hot dogs that are supposed to be the best, I really couldn't tell the different between theirs and the ones served a more historic ballpark on the north side. But maybe I'm just biased ...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Container gardening with Kelly: Bountiful harvest

Some plants have been more successful than others. Oddly, the patio tomatoes are not doing as well as I had hoped. After the tomatoes started developing, the branches without blooms died off, so the plant looks a little bare.
What has done surprisingly well is the sweet 100 plant. I put it in an Ace hardware bucket that I put holes in the bottom of. I would guess I've gotten at least 20 tiny tomatoes out of the bush and it looks like it will keep giving. I wonder if I can move it inside at the end of the month and keep getting tomatoes after the frost.

These three jalapeno bushes that I got four for $1 are doing so well I'm not sure what to do with all the little jalapenos. I don't know how to use them all, but I'll try.

I let the basil go too long and didn't get the kind of harvest I had hoped for. Next year will be much better!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Registry questions

So we're moving forward with planning the wedding. There is so much of the process I don't care for, such as picking out colors and transportation and this that and the other. But I do really like the tastings and the registering. I've worked retail before, so I know what it's like to scan things, but it's a ton more fun when you're doing it not for work.

Which brings me to my question of the day: what should be on every foodie's wedding registery? I have a stand mixer, which I think should be at the top of the list. What do you wish was on your registery?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Cheesy jalapeno loaf

What is a girl to do with a bushel of jalapenos? Make bread, of course. Out of all the plants I've tended this year, my jalapenos have done the best. I have more than I know what to do with, really, so this recipe is a great way to put these together.

1 teaspoon yeast

1 Tablespoon warm water

1 and 3/4 cups warm water
4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup olive oil

3 finely diced jalapeno peppers

1 1/2 cups shredded Monterrey jack cheese, plus 1 Tablespoon

1/2 cup Romano cheese, plus 1 Tablespoon

Mix the warm water and yeast and set aside until foamy, about five minutes. Mix that with the flour, water, salt, olive oil and the first half of the cheeses. Mix on low with the flat paddle until a dough forms, then crank it up to medium for three minutes. Go back to the slow setting and add the jalapenos until incorporated.

Next, place in a greased bowl in a warm place for two hours or until doubled. Or, allow to rise in the fridge for eight to 10 hours, as I did. Turn the risen dough on a floured surface and form into a loaf, then place in a greased loaf pan to rise for another hour, or until roughly doubled.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and put the remaining cheese on top. Cook for 45 minutes. Take the loaf out of the pan and then put it back in the oven for 10 minutes or until a nice crust forms.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Food Find: Tapas Barcelona

One of the great things about getting hitched, besides the obvious, is trying out different venues for our reception, mainly the food. Because honestly, I've eaten in some real dives in the name of a good dish, so the place better have some damn good food.

We recently tried Tapas Barcelona in Evanston, which is a cute little bistro with drinks and Spanish-style appetizers. We started with sangria. And in the name of research, we tried both the red and the white sangria. The red was savory and more full bodied, whereas the white (my favorite) was citrusy and light.

The average person orders two tapas dishes. Tim and I tried several things, including black olives stuffed with chorizo and deep fried, then served in a tomato sauce. It was delicious -- salty, crunchy and tangy, too. The second course was goat cheese baked in tomato sauce with olives served with garlic bread. It was also pretty tasty, but not enough cheese for the amount of tomatoes.

A stand out was the dates wrapped in bacon and served in a bell pepper sauce. The dates were delicious and the sauce they were served tasted a bit like caramel. I sopped it all up with some tasty white bread served with the dinner.

The final thing was grilled crab cakes with sherry mayonnaise. I was not a fan. It really tasted just like a fish stick. Not pleasant.

Overall, the food was tasty and the sangria refreshing. We decided against this place, though, because it wasn't big enough and would have had a weird layout for seating. Also, the patio overlooks a pool at a a nursing home. Not the kind of ambiance I was going for. Finally, the service sucked. Our waitress talked to her friends seated at another table while we went without water or the check and our used plates piled up. If that doesn't bother you, I really recommend the food.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Compound butter

Ever been to a fancy restaurant where they say your steak or lobster tail will be served with a compound butter? Don't be fooled, it's super simple to make in your stand mixer in 10 minutes.
Start with 3/4 of a stick of softened butter. Then add a handful of chopped rosemary and whatever other herbs you have on hand. I used a pinch of garlic salt along with veggie flakes and onion powder. Using the paddle attachment, I mixed the butter and herbs together. Then, scrape out the newly mixed butter onto a piece of wax or parchment paper and form into a log.

Freeze for one hour, then slice onto rolls, lobster tails or any other fancy dish. This way you get butter and herbs in one fellow swoop. Classy.