Monthly Archives: March 2012

Chicago-Style Hot Dogs

By Samantha Stepp

Chicago has two iconic foods: hot dogs and deep dish pizza. I was in Chicago for St. Patty’s Day this past weekend and having already tried the latter of these two foods, decided to get my very first Chicago-style hot dog.

Anyone from Illinois (or who watches the Travel Channel on a semi-regular basis) knows Chicago-style hot dogs consist of an all-beef dog, diced white onions, mustard, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, pickled peppers, and a dash of celery salt on a poppy seed bun. Ketchup? Don’t even think about it.

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Now you might be thinking, “Get a Chicago-style hot dog in Chicago? What an utterly clichéd and touristy thing to do” but hold off your judgement just for a moment, because I have a vested interest in trying this dog.

About a year ago, I put up a post on my other food blog, So Good, about all the different regional hot dog styles (American, Coney Island, New York, Chicago) and polled readers about which one they thought was the best. As for my own vote, I put down Coney Island because I assumed nothing would ever beat the winning combination of warm, aromatic chili and gooey cheese. BUT I had never tried any of the other hot dog styles and didn’t truly have anything to compare it to.

Well readers, Chicago WON. I resolved to try it, my love of gooey cheese-chili and hatred of mustard be damned.

Due to many Sunday closings, it took me and my friends several tries and many blocks of walking through shady neighborhoods to find an open hot dog place crouched in the corner of a northern Chicago suburb. Once there, we ordered at the dirty yellow counter (cash only) and had to move around a bunch of chairs and tables in the narrow dining room to find a configuration that could seat us all.

But you know what? It was SO WORTH IT. This hot dog was amazing. The beefy warmth of the hot dog was set off by the tang of the peppers and dill pickle, while the onions provided savory depth. Even the mustard struck the perfect tone in this harmony of garden flavors. The relish was dark green instead of bright green, but other than that it was perfect. Maybe even better than a Coney dog.

Now here is where I should give you the name and address of this great little hole-in-the-wall hot dog place so you can go experience it for yourself…but I failed. I didn’t get the name or address of this place. All I know is it was across from a Walgreens. And hours of searching “Walgreens Chicago” on Google maps yields lots of frustration and no hole-in-the-wall hot dog places.

In a way, I’m kind of happy I don’t remember. There’s something poetic about letting a nameless place remain nameless, so I’m going to let this treasure lay where I found it. If you’re meant to discover this hot dog place, reader, you will. But this time, try and remember the name for the rest of us.

***UPDATE: I found it! It’s Mic Duck’s Drive In, address 3401 West Belmont Avenue. So much for poetry…

Photo courtesy of The Paupered Chef.

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Happy Pi Day!

By Katie Van Dam

First off, let me start by wishing everyone a very happy Pi Day! I am obviously not a math person given the fact that I had no idea Van Vleck Hall existed until earlier this week, but I do know I love pie. And although I crave French Silk and Apple pie as much as the next person, I would encourage you all to step outside the box this March 14th and try some delicious savory pies from Myles Teddywedgers Cornish Pasty, located at 101 State Street.

Although it’s at the very end of State Street across from the Capitol (I know, I know, it’s a bit of a walk) Myles Teddywedgers is still definitely worth trying out and is undeniably unique. The menu is small and to the point, offering ground beef, steak, cheesy, veggie and chicken pies, or as Myles Teddywedgers likes to call them, “pasties.” Personally, I think the simple menu just adds to its quirky charm.

I went to Myles Teddywedgers for the first time this past fall, and I was actually really impressed with the simplicity of it. I just handed over my money and before I knew it I was holding a steaming hot dough ball bursting with chicken, veggies and cheese. There’s really nowhere to sit in the place itself, but luckily the Capitol steps and freakish 80 degree March weather are waiting for you right outside. Even though it was raining the first time I went, my roommate and I can fully admit we were in pure bliss sitting with our pies in the heart of Madison, with the Farmer’s Market bustling around us and street performers galore. Since then, I have made the trek up State Street several other times just to get my hands on one of those delicious pies. I’ve tried the “Big Cheesy” which is more of a pizza, filled with ground beef, mozzarella and pizza sauce, but I keep coming back to the classic chicken, which is basically a chicken pot pie. I mean, who doesn’t like comfort food in college?

Myles Teddywedgers

Here it is in all its glory!

So, once again, HAPPY PI DAY! If you’re feeling adventurous or just in the mood for a lazy stroll where you can enjoy the weather and listen to “Here Comes the Sun” over and over again on your iPod, take my advice and try out Myles Teddywedgers. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the holiday. Until next time, happy eating! ☺

Pointy objects for fun and profit: A layman’s guide to kitchen cutlery

By Joseph Shaul

While the average knife block may contains everything from scalpels to English broadswords, the number of knives truly necessary for most cooking tasks is in reality very small. Many professional chefs carry only two or three, and a few quality blades can replace a slew of inferior products. Purchasing the right knives and using them correctly makes cooking much more enjoyable, and greatly reduces the incidence of missing digits.

A brief comment on materials and origin:

There are a few venerable and respected knife manufacturers known for producing consistently flawless product. Sold under such banners as Wüsthof and Messermeister, these knives are forged of the finest materials by the learned dwarfs of Khazad-Dur in their great volcano forges.  Needless to say, you can’t afford them.

The good news is that rather less exotic production methods produce some perfectly serviceable knives. Even very pedestrian cutlery of decent quality can hold a remarkable edge, and a relatively small investment can produce highly worthwhile results.

While most knives are made of very similar alloys, there are some important distinctions in production methods. The best knives are forged, hammered into shame from a blob of molten steel in some Brunelian foundry; while hideously expensive, they do hold a fabulous edge. I don’t own any.

More common are knives stamped from a sheet of steel and honed down by machine. Despite the cut-rate manufacturing process, clever metallurgy can produce quality close to that of forged knives at a fraction of the cost. Most knives you’ll find in stores are accordingly produced.Quality is all over the map, but many brands provide functional and economical products.

A few vendors I’m willing to shill include Forschner and  Victorinox (yes, the  Swiss Army Knife people). Foodservice brands like Mercer, Genesis, and Dexter-Russell may be ugly and coarse, but they’re every bit as effective as their more luxurious counterparts at quadruple the price. A razor-sharp Victorinox $25 chef’s knife is worth more than an entire block of dull Wüsthofs, and offers very good value for money.

A special mention is reserved for the Cutco knives sold by Vector Marketing. So useless and dull as to be a hazard to their owners; anyone selling or having sold these should be ashamed of themselves. They really are that awful.

The Classic Chef’s Knife:

A slightly curved blade between 8″ and 11″ in length, the standard chef’s knife is the single most important tool you can have. A good one, kept sharp, can perform roughly 90% of the tasks in a kitchen, and the remainder can usually be fudged if you’re careful For chopping vegetables, it’s a must; for meat and fish there’s nothing better. It’s the most important tool you can have.

If you’re going to spend any significant sum on a knife, it should be this one. An entire block of cut-rate knives can’t beat the broad utility of one good chef’s knife.

The Paring Knife:

The smaller cousin to the chef’s knife, a paring knife is reduced in size for cutting objects held in the hand as opposed to on a cutting board. Useful for peeling, coring, and trimming, it’s a valuable tool for situationswhere a chef’s knife is simply too large and ungainly to be handy.  However, it’s small stature makes it unsuitable for cutting larger objects.

A good sharp paring knife is a valuable tool, and significantly reduces the chance of a too-large blade removing bits of your fingers. It’s not as broadly useful or impressive as its’ larger cousins, but its’ utility should not be underestimated.

The deboning knife:

A long, thin knife of relatively elastic construction, the deboning knife is designed to slide between bones and sever tendons on large joints of meat. Unless you regularly prepare large cuts of meat or frequently tear down large quantities of whole chickens, I can’t particularly commend spending much on one of these – if buying one at all.

The Cleaver:

Sometimes, you need to skin an onion. Sometimes, you need to decapitate an angry leopoard. For this eventuality, a cleaver is the  of choice.

Effectively a larger, heavier cousin of the chef’s knife, the cleaver is about as close as most home users will get to having an industrial laser in the kitchen. While other knives can separate bones, a cleaver will slice through them like mascarpone. It’s not particularly sophisticated, but if you want to coarsely dismember a turkey in three minutes, a cleaver is up to the task.

That’s not to say it’s a one-purpose beast, however. While somewhat more ungainly than the classic chef’s knife, a skilled operator can also create

 as flawless a dice or julienne as anything else. However, klutzes like the author would be better suited by the more easily manipulated chef’s knife.

It should be noted that poorly constructed cleavers dull very quickly due to the enormous pressure placed on the blade. However, if you have to prepare a lot of poultry or are frequently attacked by jungle cats, it’s a handy knife to have.

The serrated knife:

 There’s a certain degree of controversy as to the utility of the serrated knife in skilled hands: A sharp chef’s knife can dice vegetables with equal ease and greater speed, and the merit of buying a blade for the sole purpose of  separating crusty bread seems somewhat inefficient. In addition to the poor reputation of low-quality serrated “ginsu” (not actually a Japanese word) used in lieu of the real deal, the inability to repeatedly resharpen these knives makes them realtively unpopular.However, a good serrated knife definitely has the place in even a modest kitchen. As a bread knife, it can’t be beat; furthermore, they’re quite inexpensive, and very handy for thinly slicing meats. They’re no substitute for a good chef’s knife, however.

Going Greek

By Stefanie Dulak

While everyone’s focus is probably on eating as many Irish foods as possible this week (Irish Stew or Corned Beef and Cabbage anyone?), I decided to take a different route and concentrate on a dish from a different area of the world: Greece. Lentil soup is said to have originated in Greece where the legumes were first harvested between 10700-9400 BC. There are three reasons why I love lentil soup:

  1. It’s basically a one-pot dish, which means super easy cleanup.
  2. It’s almost impossible to mess up. You can add, remove or combine any ingredients you want, and the soup will still probably turn out delicious.
  3. It is very healthy and very filling. This recipe serves six and is only about 170 calories per serving.

I found a simple recipe for lentil soup from Alton Brown but modified it a bit to suit my personal tastes. Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic, chopped (I love garlic, so I added it to the soup, but Alton didn’t use any.)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 pound lentils, picked and rinsed
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes (Alton suggests using peeled tomatoes from a can, but I didn’t have any so I just used cherry tomatoes and left the skins on.)
  • 2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth (I had just under 2 quarts of broth, so I just added water to make up the difference.)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground toasted cumin (Alton only used ½ teaspoon each of coriander and cumin, but I like a little more flavor, so I used a full teaspoon of each.)

Directions

  1. Place the olive oil into a large soup pot and set over medium heat.
  2. Once hot, add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and salt, and sweat until the onions are translucent, approximately 6 to 7 minutes. (NOTE: don’t be afraid to use the leaves on the celery! They have a lot of flavor and add another texture to the soup.)
  3. Add the lentils, tomatoes, broth, coriander and cumin, and stir to combine.
  4. Increase the heat to high and bring just to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook at a low simmer until the lentils are tender, approximately 35 to 40 minutes.
  6. If you want, use a blender to puree the soup to your preferred consistency, but I just left it as is.

 

Use this recipe as a guideline. Modify the ingredients to reflect what you have on hand or what you prefer taste-wise. And if you really need to add Irish flair in honor of St. Patty’s Day, throw in some lamb.

No Messing Around: the new Chili Burger at the Sett

Eric Lynne

I’m a big fan of chili.  Nothing warms you up better after a long day in the cold than big spoonfuls of spicy, cheesy, hearty chili.  However, I’ve never been a huge fan of chili out of the bowl.  Chili dogs and chili burgers are great tasting, but they usually have too many problems to make me love them.  The bun gets all soggy, it overpowers the taste of the actual meat, and you can’t seem to eat them without the chili inevitably ending up in your lap.  In the end, I usually just feel cheated out of a perfectly good bowl of chili.

 
So, when trying the Union South’s new Chili Burger at the Sett, I had come pessimistically prepared.  With a fork and more than a few strategically placed napkins at the ready, I was surprised to find at the end of the meal I had not needed either.  I left the meal not only satisfied, but also stainless!  It seems the food gurus at the Union South’s Sett have found a way to do the impossible: make a Chili Burger that’s both delicious and clean.
 
How’d the Sett do it?  In my opinion, they made a very smart and fundamental change; they decided to let chili the complement the sandwich instead of dominate it.  By putting only a conservative amount of chili on the burger, they are able to contain the messy chili with a very generous slice of melted cheddar cheese over top, which works to keep the chili in place and also prevents the soupy substance from making the bun all soggy.  Though thechili is a secondary flavor for this meal–which may be disappointing to some avid chili fans–it still results in a very tasty burger, and one you can actually eat with your hands.
 
Personally, on those bitter cold Madison days, I’ll always prefer a regular bowl of chili over any sort of chili dog or chili burger.  But, when the weather might not call for an actual bowl of chili, and yet I’m still craving those spicy, meaty, tomatoey flavors, I’ll probably grab aburger like this instead.
 
Kudos to the Sett for another delicious menu item. 

Developing the Taco Price Index

By Sam Zipper (taco reviewer)

I’ve been in a mania over a recent economic discovery for a while now. I’ve finally exhausted my supply of papier mache (always the first thing I turn to in times of great delusion) and feel it’s necessary to share. I haven’t been able to stop shaking enough to develop it into a full-length article; however, in these tough economic times, I do feel it’s my duty as both an American and world-renowned taco reviewer to discuss an Earth-shatteringly important trend.

We used monthly USDA NASS data to construct a price index based on the primary ingredients of tacos: corn, pork, tomato, and labor. This was normalized to the maximum within the 30-year period. There are obviously a huge number of flaws – for example, it doesn’t take into account the relative weights necessary of corn and pork to make a taco, and is thus disproportionately driven by the more expensive items – but it does give a rough picture for the past 30 years. Two obvious examples are the price spike after the 1996 Phnom Penh Pupusa riots; and, the past 10 years during which international unease with European Taco Failure has driven prices steadily upwards.

 

My first encounter with deep-dish pizza

By: Chelsea Lawliss

I’ve lived within two hours of the Windy City for almost 15 years now and I just had my first taste of Chicago-style deep dish pizza this last weekend! Now I know what you’re thinking, “She must live under a rock.” In my defense, I’m a big fan of thin crust pizza; there’s just something about that crispiness that allows for all the yummy topping flavors to really take center stage. Little did I know what I was missing!

My girlfriends and I were visiting Chicago for the weekend and  Gino’s East was the closest restaurant to our hotel. Little traveling tip, if you’re planning on staying downtown, Affinia Hotel has wonderful accommodations, is centrally located a block away from the Magnificent Mile and pretty much a ten minute cab ride from everything else. Oh, and they offer a priority seating pass for Gino’s East, plus free breadsticks! If that’s not a selling point, I’m not sure what is.

Anyway, back to the pizza. We ordered a large, half pepperoni/half sausage (crumbled) deep dish pizza and settled in to wait the 45-50 minutes it takes to bake. Being the mature, composed 20-somethings that we are, we proceeded to play a game that entailed writing down a random sentence on a napkin and then passing it to the person on our left who then had to draw a picture representing what the sentence said. This process repeated until the original ideas were so convoluted that we could only laugh hysterically.

When the pizza finally arrived, I was so hungry that I almost forgot to snap a photo of the gooey monstrosity that was presented to us. However, much to my companions’ dismay, I whipped out my camera and did what I do best- embarrass myself in a public place!

Almost two inches thick!

I can’t say that I’ve been converted from thin-crust to deep-dish; however,  there is something to be said about consuming what is probably a two pounds of cheese, sauce, and some of the most delicious crust I’ve ever had!

Word to fellow foodies, don’t wait 15 years to try Chicago-style deep dish pizza. It’s truly as good as they say.