Recipe of the Week!


My weekend and the days after have been terribly busy. From Friday, and especially Saturday until Tuesday, the store was mobbed with people preparing for the great Blizzard of 2011. It didn’t matter if it was 10 inches of snow or 24- people were buying food as though they were never going to see the outside world again.

I can kind of understand this mentality, but not in Chicago. In every case, there is a place that will be open for business regardless of the outcome of the snowfall. If not now, perhaps it will be open three days down the road. Still, people insist on buying as much food as they can to reinforce their winter coats.

Ten pork chops (of which we ran out after two days), five giant ribeye steaks, 5 lbs. of ground beef. It isn’t my place, I’ve found, to tell people to take it easy on the meat, as much will go south before they have the opportunity to cook it. In addition, many people, while putting their meat in the freezer, fail to account for the fact that during large blizzards, electrical storms, etc., power goes out. Chicagoans can be left without electricity for hours or days on end, rendering the contents of their fridge soured and ruined.

There’s an easy solution to this: Buy what you need, and supplement it with what you have in your pantry. Over the last few days, behind the counter, we’ve talked about this, and the general consensus of foodservice workers who have jobs at Whole Foods is this: our customers do not have empty pantries. If they can afford to spend 300 dollars on enough food for the last supper, chances are that somewhere in the back of their cupboards, they have that one can of chili or Dinty Moore beef stew, a can of tuna fish, a loaf of bread, and many other things that they can turn into dinners for days, if not weeks, on end.

People don’t like to have to resort to this sort of eating. It is eating to sustain one’s self, but within that, it is eating to make it to the next time you can come to the supermarket to refill and restock your fresh food, sundries, etc. Many people live like the former, pulling out a box of pasta and a jar of tomato sauce, boiling it up and having a dinner that provides the basic nutrients to survive and feel sated. It just doesn’t make sense to me that there are those out there who shop so selfishly that they show little to no concern for others who, with a slightly more rational view of eating, only need a pound of hamburger meat.

Here’s the big beef with it all: For better or worse, many stores out there that supply the necessities of dinner are going to try to make that push to stay open. It may mean that a lot of people call in to work, citing lack of transportation, etc., but coming from Wisconsin, all it means to me is that you need to accurately plot out more time to allow yourself to get to work.

Yesterday, a night after we got 2 feet of snow dumped on us, our store leadership made the decision to open for business at ten AM. All it meant for us was that we had to show up and wait for the lucky few who chose to brave the cold to purchase the essentials for a few days worth of eating. Throughout the store, there were the expected call offs in numbers, but for my meat department, 100% of the workers showed up on time, ready to cut meat, ready to serve customers for the day. They came from 30 minutes away by bike, an hour away by train, and in my case, 45 minutes by bus and train. If all of us can make it to work, so can you.

In addition to our department, those who chose to show up came from as far away as Evanston by way of public transportation. On a clear day, catching the express train, it takes an hour and twenty minutes. Take the Evanston Purple Line to Howard, switch to the Red Line, and, if you’re lucky, catch the 12 bus up Roosevelt to the store, about a half a mile away. On my route, I took the 65 bus from Navy Pier to the Red Line, and then the Red Line to Roosevelt. Seeing the snowdrifts lining the unshoveled sidewalks, I started walking in the street towards work, still ahead of the game by 45 minutes thanks to prior planning.

As the slight hill crested at the halfway mark, I looked behind me to see a Jeep slowly making its way up the hill. As I trudged along, it pulled up beside me, the driver recognizing me from work.

“You work at Whole Foods, right?”

Yep.

“Want a ride the rest of the way?”

Sure I do.

I hopped in, and we rode the two minutes up to work, punched the time clock, and finished the set up for the day. The store opened by ten, and as we had cut every last scrap of meat in the cooler, we immediately started breaking down the shop, assuming correctly that what we had would be sufficient to serve whomever chose to come out and buy.

All this chicken, and nobody in the store to buy it.

I shouldn’t say immediately. The day before, one of our guys had his mother down from Michigan, and he had prepared a giant pot of jambalaya, the remnants of which were to be enjoyed at a leisurely pacce by those who chose to show up to work.

It was delicious. Because we were there, we were not only able to make the sausage for his jambalaya, but prep a pork shoulder that was also destined for the pot, and the next day, enjoy the fruits of his culinary labor.

As for my own pantry, before it all hit, I bought a giant bag of root vegetables from work, which I’m immeasurably excited about. For seven bucks, I got a 5 lb bag of organic carrots, japanese turnips, rutabagas and sunchokes that I plan on using for either a roasted dish or a soup. When plans changed a few days ago and I couldn’t get to a dish of swiss chard and white beans that I wanted to make, I turned items from my pantry into another hearty soup, and it served to satisfy and heal.

The lady was sick for a few days, so on Saturday, with only snow and chill in the forecast, I woke up early and started a soup.

Here’s the recipe:

Winter Soup

2 Yellow Onions, sliced thin

3 Cloves of Garlic, sliced thin

1 Fennel Bulb, tops reserved, sliced thin

2 Carrots, peeled and chopped into rounds

1 Bunch Swiss Chard, stems sliced, greens rough chopped

1 Can White Beans

8 oz. Italian Style Seitan (I used Upton’s brand, which was really good, but you can use ground beef, sausage, or fake meat crumbles)

Vegetable Broth

Water

Salt, Pepper, Oregano, Thyme

Olive Oil

***

1. In a large stockpot, heat a swirl or two of olive oil. Add the garlic, onions, fennel, carrots, swiss chard stems,  and sweat over medium heat until they become translucent. Season with Salt and Pepper, and add enough vegetable broth to cover the vegetables. Add some water to double the volume if you, like me, don’t have enough vegetable broth. With all the vegetables in there, it’ll come together on its own.

2. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables soften and you get the aroma of a soup in the air.

3. Add your can of white beans, your meat (if it’s raw ground beef, brown it in a separate pan if you want to), and the chard greens. Season it up with thyme, oregano, and let it simmer another 30 minutes, until the soup smells really good.

4. Taste the soup. What does it need? Is it bland? Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Does it need heat? Add some chili flakes. Stir it, and let it sit. It’s only going to get better as the days go on.

***

Think about all the things that you can do with your pantry. I cleaned out the fridge and made a soup that has lasted for days, and I’m on the verge of making another one. Don’t let snow get in the way of your plans. Take your time, and if anything, get a bottle of wine or two to make sure that you don’t have to head out in the snow for at least a day or two. Then, curl up by the television with someone you’re fond of, open that bottle of wine, and enjoy the majesty of Mother Nature that is creating a Wintry wonderland of wintriness outside your window.

As for the shoveling that no doubt you’ll have to do, just leave it for tomorrow. If it’s too much, just take the train.

Last night, we had the windiest weather that we’ve seen in a long time. When I went out yesterday, trash cans had been tipped over, and garbage was strewn about the street. Umbrellas, inside out and useless, were discarded on random street corners, and people were bracing themselves against the gusts of 60 miles per hour.

I had gone up to get a suit fitted for a wedding this December (classy suits for classy gents and nothing less will be accepted- that’s their motto that I just made up), and I stopped at a Halloween store to check out costumes. It is worth noting that there are very rarely the Halloween stores that are open year round. Some people at the store were amused and amazed by the fact that they just sort of pop up for a month and then disappear for a year. It’s like looking for a spot where you went to a party, only to find remnants at best. That’s going to be Yankee Bill’s come November 1st.

In any case, I looked there, and then went down to meet the lady at her place of business downtown. I had to wait in the lobby, as outside on Michigan was far too blustery for me to bear.

She came out, we walked down to 8th and State, and got a couple excellent ideas, which will be told at a later time and date when we get everything together.

Wind, wind, wind. We caught a bus back uptown, stopped at a few places along the way, and got a delicata squash at the store.

I had some store bought gnocchi, and that seemed like a good idea for a hearty, filling vegetarian meal. Without further ado, here’s the recipe:

Gnocchi with Maple Glazed Squash in Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Ingredients:

1 Delicata Squash, peeled, seeded, and small diced

1 clove garlic, sliced wahfer thin

1 Tablespoon Maple Syrup

Sage leaves, rolled and chiffonade (fancy thin strips)

Gnocchi, 1 Package fresh

Butter, 4 Tbsp

Salt

Pepper

Parmesan of a grating kind

***

Start 2 burners on the stove. Put a big saute pan on one, and a pot for boiling water on the other.

Boil some water.

Add some oil or a little butter to the saute pan, set at about half heat, tossing in the diced squash. Season with salt and pepper, give  a generous shake, and let it sit until it begins to caramelize, about five minutes. Add some sage and sautee a bit more. Check the squash to see if it’s fork tender. It should be. Add your shot of maple syrup, give the pan a couple quick flips, and dump the squash bits in a bowl for later.

Wipe the pan, add the butter on low to medium heat, and toss in some more sage.

Is your water boiling yet? It should be. If it is, put some salt in there, and add your gnocchi. When they float to the top, give them an extra minute or two to cook, and then get out your strainer and drain those gnocchi. Turn your butter pan up to med-high. This’ll start the butter browning process.

When they’re good and drained, toss the gnocchi in the frying pan with the butter, flipping them about with great zest and vigor. Reintroduce them to their new bedfellows, the squash bits, and let them have a quick courtship in the pan, shaking them all about before they decide to be bound in marriage by Pastor Parmesan.

Cut the heat. Grate the Parmesan. (And hey, get a wedge. Any parm worth its salt does not come out of a green bottle). Toss it a little more. Then, serve it in bowls. It’s very good. Hearty, filling, rib-sticking, and unprocessed.

Delicious Squash, Sage, and Gnocchi

Delicious Squash, Sage, and Gnocchi

 

A few weeks ago, the lady and I were down at the Market, and we decided to pull in to the Zig Zag Cafe for a drink. First, a little word about the Zig Zag. If you’ve ever been to Seattle, specifically the market, the secondary attraction behind the market is the Pike Street Hillclimb. The lowest level is the Waterfront, where you can find such gems as the ferry terminal, Ivar’s Acres of Clams, Ye Olde Curiousity Shoppe, and the Seattle Aquarium. The Third Level is, of course, Pike Place Market, home of delicious fish at the foot of Pine Street, the first Starbucks, and DeLaurenti’s Fine Foods, an Italian Market hosting Mario Batali’s dad’s Pancetta, an impressive selection of olives and European Chocolates, and great looking, authentically Italian-named cafe staff.

Right in the middle lies 150 steps leading between the levels, and on a patio with a fountain, you can find the Zig Zag. The guys buy scallops and salmon from me, and I’ve always meant to go down there for a drink and an appetizer to show a little bit of support, but that day seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Look at this guy, will ya? This is a bartender. All others, take note. In addition to the wisely chosen seafood selections on the menu, they have a bartender, Murray, who has been named by many governing bodies as the best bartender in America. Playboy, bestower of gentlemanly titles, and the more professionally sanctioned Tales of the Cocktail c0mpetition/gathering that took place last week in New Orleans. As we’re constantly on the search for new cocktails, ones that are no-nonsense, Zig Zag is an uncomplicated stop on the tour of Seattle’s spirit walk.

With all the hype surrounding Murray’s drinks, the menu looked like someone had opened up your grandfather’s liquor cabinet and started pouring at random. All sorts of the so called medicinal liquors were there, as well as strange whiskey/bourbon/grain alcohol combinations. The main difference between Murray’s drinks and the drinks of everyone else (it is important to make that distinction, because there’s now officially Murray, and everyone else) was that this was a drink with purpose. It didn’t have floral overtones that lingered on the palate. It was, simply put, an original strong drink with balance, which is sorely lacking in all bars these days.

You can go to the speakeasies of the world and they’ll be able to make you a sling, or a punch, or a fizz, or a flip, but the drinks that they invent are with a twist. I don’t want a twist. I don’t want your take on something, because I’m not going to leave your bar thinking that I really needed to try the rhubarb syrup mixed with celery bitters. I just want to leave thinking “Hey, that was a damn fine drink.”

And drink, we did. Just one. Mine had a name like “Drunken Sailor with a Rusty Nail”. While it was akin to ordering an unfortunately named Pancake breakfast at the IHOP, the drink was uncomplicated, straightforward, and strong.

Enough about the drink, though. Alongside the drink, we got a small bowl of mixed green and black olives cured in oil, toast points, and a small bowl of hummus. In the dimly lit back corner of the restaurant, it looked like something was green in our hummus.

I looked closer, and it was fresh basil. It went so well with our cool drinks. I went up to the chef when I saw him come out of the kitchen, with my compliments.

“Yeah, it’s really simple. We just take our dried garbanzos and make the hummus from scratch, then add fresh basil at the end.”

Sounds simple enough.

Went home, bought some stuff, tested it, and here’s my recipe:

Hummus

1 lb. dried garbanzos

1 Small can or jar of tahini (8-10 ounces)

Olive oil

Salt

1 Lemon

Water

Fresh basil

***

Soak the garbanzos overnight. Next, drain them, fill a large pot with water and simmer them for about 2-3 hours over low heat. You can use canned garbanzos, but I like the texture result with the dried.

When you can pull one out and mash it with the back of a fork, pull the pot off the heat, draining the beans.

Grab your can of tahini, open it, and pour the whole thing in. Add a few swirls of olive oil and a generous pinch of salt, starting at 1 tsp and making your way up from there if you so desire it. Then, mash. Mash like you’ve never mashed before. Even with a hand blender, the hummus still had that rustic look. I don’t have a food processor, but I don’t particularly want one, either. Taste, adjust. Maybe put a little bit of black pepper in there.

Now, take your lemon and zest it. Zest it right into the hummus. Don’t be shy. Lemon is the vehicle with which you get the flavor to make your hummus burst with…hummusy goodness?

Yeah.

So zest it.

Then, juice it. Put all that juice right into the hummus and mix it thoroughly. Taste it again. Is it too thick? Add a little bit of oil. Too rich as well? Add a little bit of water. All the flavor’s there. You won’t dumb down your hummus by thinning it with water.

Then, the basil. If you have a plant, pull some leaves off of it, stack them on top of one another, roll them up, and slice it like you would if you were making those cinnamon rolls that came in the poppin’ fresh tube. Slice it into thin ribbons, so it looks like a swirl when you slice it. Congratulations. The culinary term for this is ‘chiffonade’, and now you can do it in the splendor of your very own kitchen!

Put the hummus in a bowl or on a plate, sprinkle it with a bit of paprika, some more lemon zest, maybe some sesame seeds, and that fresh basil. A perfect summertime treat!

If you choose to use canned garbanzos, I will not frown. Just like canned beans, they’re actually very healthy and a well cared for canned product. It’ll also save you about a day of prep time. As I mentioned, the texture of the hummus will be a bit smoother, but some people like that. For a hummus that resembles the tub that you get at the store, put it into a blender and hit whatever button it is that blenders have to make it smooth.

As you may have noticed, I didn’t put any garlic in there. Some recipes call for it, and some don’t. I read an article in the New York Times last month (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/16/dining/16united.html) that discussed the flavored hummus craze at length. If there’s one thing about this hummus that’s good, it’s that you can use it as a base for creating any number of delicious flavored hummi in your future.

Lastly, if you’re looking for a quick, cheap and easy accompaniment to your hummus, take a pack of corn tortillas, brush them with oil and cut them into wedges, sprinkle them with salt, and put them in the oven at 375° for 8 minutes. They’re about ten times as delicious as Doritos, much healthier because they’re baked, and a fulfilling way to make a snack at home.

One of the World's Biggest Plates of Hummus

Last night, we had some delicious fresh Cod tacos with homemade escabeche, or pickled jalapenos. To continue on with the tradition of delicious, fresh summer fare, here’s a recipe for a great cool down summertime special.

Ceviche is the more widely known name for fish that has been marinated in citrus and served chilled. It is popular in Spain, Central America, and other tropical regions where fish is a staple in the diet. Other forms of marinated fish include tartare and Poke, both popular in Hawaii as a cool way to beat the heat. Any kind of fish can be used, but for what we’ve got around here, I like to stick with the Pacific Snapper, some great local Oregon Bay Shrimpmeat, and Scallops.

Scallop, Snapper and Shrimp Ceviche with Mango and Avocado

3/4# Sea Scallops, sliced horizontally

3/4# Snapper fillet, sliced on the bias, thinly

1 Champagne Mango, small diced

1 avocado, firm, diced.

2 stalks mint leaves, minced

1 bunch radishes

1 bunch parsley, minced

1 sweet yellow onion, minced

2 fresh tomatoes, chopped

1 chile, seeded and minced

4 cloves garlic

1 carrot, finely chopped

juice of two limes

celery salt

pepper

1/2# fresh cooked Oregon Shrimpmeat

Take your fresh seafood (except for the shrimpmeat) and combine in a bowl. Incorporate the fresh herbs and vegetables, garlic, etc., and add the lime juice. Season with celery salt and pepper. Mix all ingredients gently, and put it in the fridge to sit for two hours. The lime juice will effectively cook it, using a process called acidulation, to kill surface bacteria and provide a safety net for eating raw or undercooked foods.

After two hours, take it out of the fridge, stir it, and incorporate the cooked shrimpmeat. The fact that it’s cooked means that it needs no additional bang from the lime juice to deem it safer to eat.

Grab your favorite bag of tortilla or plantain chips and a cool glass of iced tea with some fresh mint, and use the ceviche in place of salsa for a fresh and delicious way to keep cool. Garnish with fresh parsley, sprigs of cilantro, or simply eat plain. Enjoy!