Do you have a compost pile? I know I should, but living in the city makes it a little hard to start one and I guess I'd have nowhere to sling the compost when it's ready to roll. Well, the boys out at Nichol's Farm certainly do. I just thought their pile was the most beautiful array of colors, with all these near-perfect vegetables closing in on each other to create this almost-masterful arrangement. Plus, it was huge...about the size of my bedroom, if not bigger. I guess there is just so much to learn from farmers and I'm jealous that I don't have a pile to call my own. I love the city and all, but sometimes, I'm just craving a bit more space (like a huge yard). I' thinkin' I'll have to take the compost plan down to TN and get my parents all riled up and crazy over it. (I can just imagine nothing but a hundred wild mountain dogs rolling around in all of the vegetables, creating a lovely bed for themselves.)
Even though they are the perfect summer drink, I guess I love margaritas any time of the year...especially the frothy blended strawberry ones. My new favorite Mexican restaurant, La Finca, has a superior version that I can't seem to stop thinking about. Perfectly blended, made with fresh strawberries, not-too-sweet flavor and topped with fresh lime, it's really a joy to behold. Really though, just so you know, when you are in the depths of the Mexican outback, you ain't finding this cocktail being whipped up anywhere....it's more of the half blended/half melted 'rita--and it's the lime kind. Fine by me though! Seems that here in Chi, I can down one strawberry marg and be loopy...but get me to Mexico, and I can down hundreds a day and still be ready to climbin' a mountain; monkey see, monkey do....
Today, I had a delicious frittata for breakfast. Well, it wasn't really a frittata so much as it was a plate full of scrambled eggs, loaded with fresh spinach, chunks of mushrooms, roasted red peppers and smothered in mozzarella cheese. I loved it and forget how simple it is to make this good-anytime-of-day treat. In a nutshell, here's whatcha do:
Whip up some eggs with a bit of whole cream or heavy milk, fresh ground pepper and salt (you can also add a spoonful of cottage cheese which just makes the eggs creamier).
Pour it into a heavily buttered frying pan and toss in fresh basil, mushrooms, tomatoes and spinach.
Heat on low heat for about 10 minutes 'til the bottom starts to set and then toss in the oven and bake on 350 for about 15-20 min. til done.
When cooked through, toss on a bit of shredded cheese and broil for a minute or two and then, it's done and done.
Really easy and delish. I'm sure all my timings are completely off, but you get the jist...just watch the eggs if your nervous, for the love of God.
On Sunday, I was out an Nichol's Farm shooting a bit for a TV show I'm doing (Farm2Kitchen) and someone had found this crazy-ass, wild mushroom. The thing was huge and just plopped itself right on the hood of this big rig. The chef that was there cooking (Todd Stein from mk) decided to grab one of the monsters, slice it up and cook it in a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. It was so delicious and meaty, I couldn't believe that it had just been plucked from the woods that morning. I guess what I'm trying to say is that food is totally simple, completely unexpected and there for the taking if you just know where to look; it's really all around you. Think: There was life before supermarkets, yeah?
Attempting to dodge the throngs of buzzing crowds is just about the only thing I can manage when exploring the Maxwell Street Market (especially with the charred meat and earthy maiz smells distracting me every which way I turn). With an amazing view of the Chicago skyline dominating the background, I decided to simply start at the top of the southernmost "hill" and weave my way in and out of taco vendor after gordita vendor after tamale vendor; eventually I'll end up at the end of the mile-long line.
The question of the moment was: Which taco hut do I lay claim to on my very first foray into the coordinated mess that is the legendary Maxwell Street?
Today, me and my fatty crew headed down south to Nichol's Farm to shoot another segment for our Farm2Kitchen show. In a word, it was awesome. We rode around the farm (with 30 other folks there to have a farm-fresh meal and check out the inner workings of a farm) in a big 'ole tractor and plucked apples from the trees, ate strawberries from the field, bit into raw vidalia onions, picked little pumpkins to take home and chowed on a full meal that was prepared by the chefs from Chicago's mk restaurant on site. Just plain perfect and farms just make me happy. Bunny rabbits, some field mice, dirty hands, hay bales and pouring rain all make for a great day of shooting.
In an attempt to bring a foodie vibe to the filmmaking community of Chicago, Ruth Ratney (editor of Reel Chicago) has syndicated my weekly food exploring column, The Raving Dish, for her weekly online industry newsletter, reelchicago.com. Though it gets trimmed a bit in the transfer, she's done a pretty great job of keeping with my let's-get-lost mentality and this week marks the premiere of the Dish on her site (you can still read the whole Dish at centerstage.com).
Very exciting news and it's being touting as "off-the-beaten-path reviews from one of your own," which is a pretty cool angle (I've been rockin' in the biz for over a decade as a Producer and Line Producer). So, it's looking like it will reach even more folks and that's always good news...especially if you're just on the hunt for some totally different types of places (I cover lots of ethnic joints)...really, ones that maybe you'd never think to venture in on your own (I try to mix it up a bit and include those complete holes-in-the-wall with the word-of-mouth finds...but usually lean toward the ones that I've just happened upon in a random drive-by). Really, to me, if it looks shady, enter immediately~
One of my favorite things to chow on the morning is a big, fat plate of Huevos Rancheros (especially after a drink or two) and it's really hard to find a place in my 'hood that creates a decent version but, Nuevo Leon, a charming Mexican restaurant down in Pilsen, has a splendid take on them that I'm desperately craving right now. I love how the fried eggs (both whites cooked and runny in the middle) are just floating in the red sauce and the beans are still whole (some Americanized places serve them with refried beans or with black beans, but to me that just takes away from the dish). The ranchero beans have little slivers of smoky peppers and onions throughout and they've been cooked so long, they sneak their way straight down my throat (no chewing involved). I like to squeeze fresh lime all over mine and turn it into an egg & bean soup of sorts...then all I need is some warm, homemade tortillas to sop it all up with. The thought of them is so friggin' iintoxicating right this second, I think I'm gonna have to haul down~
A while back, I was at a party with/for a randy fella named Chef Stu. He is this super-passionate chef that hosts a weekly gathering for 14 people (in his world-class kitchen), and each week he whips up the most innovate, 4-star meal for very special invites (basically, are you cute? handy in the kitchen?, hysterical?). I was there covering him for a story I was writing for Time Out Chicago and I'd forgotten about this handy little tip I'd snapped a photo of until just today.
He made these incredible lemon tarts with fresh fruit and to dress the plate, he'd taken two forks and crossed them on the plate. Then, he sprinkled powdered chocolate and powdered sugar over them, removed them, and viola! Instant plate decorating. I thought it was just so clever and definitely an easy way to dress up a plate (as if I'm ever having a party....just a total loner)....but, still....good to know, good to know~
In this weeks Time Out Chicago magazine, I have a new article on one of my favorite restaurants of all time...a little hole-in-the-wall on Western Ave. called Las Delicias. If you know Chicago, you're aware that most of the best joints in the city look pretty shanty on the outside and when you roll inside, there are a bunch of native cooks sweating in the kitchen and whipping up food from their homeland, with nothing but a bunch of love and tenderness (read: full rage at the blistering hours and did I really come to America for this?)...
No, this one is awesome. The fella who owns it (Hugo Gutierrez) is young (30), proud and Guatemalan, plus has mastered pupusas, these little fried cornmeal patties stuffed with meats, cheeses and various herbs. $2 bucks each and totally delish.
My favorite item on the menu though is the Yuca Fritas. As I put it in the Time Out article, "they're the Guatemalan version of what french fries wish they could be." Fried up golden and crispy and thick with potato flakes. The best way to eat them is to cut 'em open, toss on a bit of the sour cream, vinegary slaw and tangy dressing and proceed to chow.
I'm all hyped up on Guatemala right now, cuz me and my fatcake crew are headed there in October to shoot an episode of "Stuffed," my foodie/adventure show and I cannot wait to trek volcanoes, make homemade tortillas and chocolate, see the most beautiful lake in the world, and work the fields on a fair-trade, organic coffee plantation. But, for now, I'll just kick it with my baby pupusas at Las Delicias.