Friday, February 26, 2010

Where to Buy Avocados, Broccoli, Carrots, and Citrus

Many readers have written in over the last two years (Pinch is gonna be two on Monday, yo!) asking for advice on the best grocers from which to purchase produce. So here's a starter list, inspired by The Atlantic food writer Corby Kummer's blind tasting of produce from Whole Foods and Walmart in his Northeastern locale. Pinch is Chicago-based. The following store recommendations are based on price and quality.

There's no Walmart in my 'hood so you won't see that as an option. You won't see Stanley's, either. Stanley's can be good, but I found it not reliable enough to justify the trip west. I don't get to the indoor Green City Market very frequently. Remaining indoor market Saturdays are February 27, March 13 & 27, and April 10 & 24 from 8:00 am- 1:00 pm at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

The outdoor market begins May 12. I am so looking forward to riding my bike there are getting my Ciabatta fix and filling my bike baskets with farm produce. Until then, I'll be shopping for:

Avocados - Dominick's, Treasure Island, or Whole Foods. I'm at WF more frequently and will always check to see if there's a deal on avocados. Many times this winter I've seen them at $1 apiece. If you buy firm avocados, allow them to ripen at room temperature in a brown paper lunch bag.

Broccoli - Trader Joe's. They sell Earthbound Organic crowns and conventional (non-organic) baby broccoli that we love. In the fall I love picking up crowns at the Green City or LP Farmer's Market.

Carrots - Whole Foods. And I no longer buy baby carrots on account of them not tasting like anything. I buy 2# bags of organic carrots at WF and find them substantially better than any other carrots in the city grocers.

Citrus - Trader Joe's has the best prices on lemons, limes, Navel oranges, and Clementines. They get a nod for carrying Key Limes, blood oranges and Meyer lemons when they are in season (right now for the latter two). Whole Foods has the best Texas Ruby Red grapefruit.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Restaurant Week Ends and Wine Week Begins

Leave it to Chicago to eat and drink its way through winter.

There are just a few days left of Restaurant Week in Chicago. If you couldn't get a table at your favorite steakhouse for restaurant week you've got a second chance. Smith & Wollensky's 46th annual Wine Week begins Monday, March 1 and runs until the 5th.

This is the third year for Restaurant Week, which is sponsored by the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau. Just two years ago for the inaugural event there were 35 restaurants on board. This year they've got more than 170 restaurants participating, so you can easily find a restaurant you haven't tried yet.

The deal is for a prix-fixe three-course lunches for $22 and dinners for $32 through February 28. The Wine Week deal is $10 for ten wines with your lunch order. You go to Wine Week for the wine. Lunch is a mere matter of course.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How Do You Store Your Coffee Beans?

Metropolis told me just to store them in the dark,valve bag in which I bought them. They said it shouldn't be airtight.

Peets aggreed about storing in a dark container but disagreed about air, advocating an airtight container as the best storage option. They sell two models in the North Ave shop.

Both retailers were quick to pronounce temperature extremes as a bean's sworn enemy. One particular counterperson was ready to throw down when I mentioned reading a proponent of refrigerator storage.

Starbucks founder Jerry Baldwin recommends storing beans that will be used within two weeks in the fridge, and storing in the freezer for longer periods. He doesn't like air tight containers as they trap air in. He suggests bagging beans and squeezing out as much air as possible.

Personally, I keep my beans in the bag in which I purchase them (these days from Peet's in a valveless generic bag). I buy about 3/4 of a pound every week, on Thursday afternoons when they arrive at the store freshly roasted.

More time to kill? Read Baldwin's thoughts on the subject.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

RealTime Lunch: Mexican Pork Tenderloin Stew

In Mexican Everyday, Rick introduces this recipe (he calls it Pork Tenderloin a la Mexicana) with the advice, "Make it a staple in your kitchen." Not to be one to disregard a trusted authority, I immediately procured a pork tenderloin and a couple of poblano peppers and made my new favorite stew. Trouble is, we didn't love it so much when we had it the other night.

Soups and stewy things always tend to be better the next day when flavors have had more time, and a second round of cooking, to emerge. I'm enjoying my leftovers immensely. And so it comes to be that, today, on a gorgeous and snowy Chicago winter day, Mexican Pork Stew is being offered on Pinch.

It's hearty and lean and not unlike a fancy chili. The cooking time really is short. I'm reluctant to provide timing on recipes because people work at different comfort/skill levels and with a variety of distractions. But it took me less than 30 minutes, for sure. Next time I'll start making it at around 3 and let it sit for a few hours, then reheat at dinnertime. That would probably deliver the dish to its more flavorful 'leftover' state. Oh, and it wasn't spicy. Not even a teeny bit.

Mexican Pork Stew

Print recipe only here

Serves 4

2 poblano peppers
1 to 1 1/2 pounds pork loin or tenderloin, trimmed of all fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 T canola oil
1 onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, pressed
one 15-ounce can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)
3/4 cup beef broth (or 2/3 cup water plus 2 T Worcestershire sauce)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Roast or broil the poblanos, turning until blackened all over (allow 5 minutes over an open flame, or 10 minutes in the broiler). When done, transfer to a bowl, cover with a plate or towel, and allow to cool.

Trim and cube the pork and dry with paper towels. Don't skip this! Sprinkle with kosher salt. Heat the oil in a large skillet and, working in batches if necessary, add the pork and brown all over, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate and reserve.

Using the same skillet, add the sliced onion and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile, rub the blackened skins off the chilis and pull off the stems and seed pods. Rinse and cut into strips. Add the peppers and pressed garlic to the skillet with the onions and cook for another few minutes.

Add the tomatoes, broth or water/Worcestershire to a pot (I used a 3-quart Dutch oven) and bring to a boil. Add the peppers and onions, lower the heat and simmer for about 5-10 minutes.

Add the pork and chopped cilantro to the pot and cook for about five minutes. Season to taste and serve, or cover and let rest. Reheat for 3-5 minutes before serving.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

On the Menu This Week: Grilled Chicken with Mustard Sauce

This is a family favorite. Key is the marinade which is really out of this world. I'm partial to Eden Organic Tamari, which I buy locally at Whole Foods. It has the most depth of flavor. I will often let this marinate for an hour or two in the fridge. The meal is very quick to pull together on a busy weeknight. As always, it's extremely light and exceptionally flavorful. Experimenting with different mustards is fun, too. I've been out of that wonderful Pommery Mustard for awhile and have been happy with plain old Grey Poupon.

If you live among sauce- or mustard-hounds you might just double the mustard sauce recipe. Some guests have opted to dip everything on their plates into the sauce.

Grilled Chicken with Mustard Sauce
Print recipe only here

Skinless, boneless chicken breasts, one per person
2-3 garlic cloves
Olive oil
Dijon and Country Dijon Mustards

For the marinade:
Rinse chicken breasts, pat dry, and place in a covered dish with:

* 1-2 T tamari or regular soy sauce (I like Eden Organic Tamari)
* 1T olive oil
* A few garlic cloves, smashed or sliced

Pierce breasts all over with a fork and allow the chicken to marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes, and up to overnight.

To cook:
Preheat grill.

In a small saucepan combine:

* 3 T Grey Poupon dijon mustard
* 3 T Grey Poupon country dijon mustard (the coarse one)
* 1/4 cup milk, nonfat or lowfat here work well
* A few turns black pepper

Stir to combine and heat gently, allowing it to barely simmer. Keep an eye on it - you're really just heating it through and not looking to reduce or thicken very much.

Grill chicken and plate with a generous dollop of sauce before serving. Serve with plain Basmati rice and something green, like Spicy Lemon Baby Broccoli or Szechuan Green Beans.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

NEWSFLASH: One in Eight Americans Visited Food Banks in 2009

The Pinched News sidebar is full of some really thought-provoking stories right now.

In mid-January the Times ran a report on CDC data that suggest obesity rates in the US have plateaued. Rates are still high, of course, but didn't get higher. From that article:

Some experts, though, were not optimistic that the leveling off was a result of improved eating and exercise habits.

“Until we see rates improving, not just staying the same, we can’t have any confidence that our lifestyle has improved,” said Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Children’s Hospital Boston.

Another compelling article was Snack Time Never Ends. If you have children, you can relate, I'm sure, to the lunacy of taking snack time to the end of every activity. When my children were very small this wasn't an issue for me - it' s only since they began playing team sports that I've taken umbrage with unnecessary post-game consumables. Nice hustle, kids! Do you want Pringles or Oreos with your Capri Sun?

And we wonder why we have an obesity epidemic on our hands.

A few articles concern school gardens, including Caitlin Flangan's recent missive in The Atlantic regarding the appropriateness of using time and money for school gardening programs in low-performing schools. While Flanagan misses an essential point of the innovative and practical teaching that is contained within the confines of even a waxed paper cup filled with potting soil and a few seeds (measurement! condensation! germination!) she does make a case for these lessons superceding lessons in higher math and reading. This is a good time to add that my children's urban public school is on the cusp of completing a roof garden with no public funding whatsoever, seeded financially via a Friends-of-the-School giving program, and seeded literally by a volunteer-led after school program called - perfectly - Super Seeders.

Finally, the news that startled me the most was this headline from today's Journal: One in Eight Americans Used Food Banks in 2009. Clearly, opening our wallets to local food banks remains necessary if we're serious about combating hunger in the US.

Don't see the articles in the sidebar? Find them under FOOD & CHILDREN here.

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