Chicago Italian Beef

The Chicago Italian Beef Sandwiches that I made for Mixed Signals this year were a rampaging success. Making allowances for differences in giardiniera and breads, this stuff tasted just the way it should, the way it tastes at Al’s or one of the other stands in Chicago. Beefy, salty, lightly fatty, fragrant with garlic and oregano, vinegary and spicy from the pickles, and just barely holding its structural integrity due to immersion in the delicious broth.

Nomming Chicago-Style

I used this recipe because there were lots of comments from born-and-raised South Siders who swore it was the genuine article. I followed it closely, though I did double it and make two 5+ pound rump roasts, I studded the roasts with garlic, and I doubled the gravy for each batch to end up with a quadruple recipe of juice.

That juice reeked in a terrifying manner of oregano, to the extent that I was worried I’d overdone it, but after an hour or less of simmering, I sieved out the oregano and the garlic, and added in 4 more bouillon cubes and 6 cups more water. I was worried that canned beef broth would taste of the can, so I used all bouillon cubes, and I’d do the same next time. This wound up just perfect, not too strong of oregano, not too spicy from the hot sauce, not too salty.

The roasts smelled absolutely dreamy, and honestly they would have been delicious just as they were, sliced and served. But I put them through the meat slicer — home meat slicer FTW, again! — and then into the cooled broth to soak. Due to logistical pressures, they were only in for a few hours the day of the party, but I think that was plenty. I didn’t notice any lack of flavor in the meat itself, and it didn’t overcook due to too long a stay in hot broth.

I put the broth and meat into the crockpot to serve it, which worked out well. A quick 4 minute trip in the microwave got it up to temp, and then I left it on low, which kept things hot without toughening the beef.

Giardiniera and hefty rolls were handcarried from Chicago last week, and we augmented with some other sub rolls from Costco that we left out for a day to stale up. Everyone seemed to like it, but the best compliment was from another former Chicago dweller who made a point to thank me for making something just like he used to eat when he lived there, something he missed pretty bad. I know the feeling.

fun with cilantro chutney

On a whim I bought some 3-layer Trader Joe’s hummus which had plain, red pepper and cilantro hummus. It was delicious and I developed a minor obsession with the cilantro layer. My mind wandered. I wanted a whole tub of cilantro hummus, but Trader Joe’s didn’t make one.

Slightly later I was in Patel Brothers buying some red lentils to feed another minor obsession with cooking dal as a way to incorporate more reputedly healthful spices into my diet. And I wandered by the chutney rack, and the lightbulb went off: maybe I could stir some coriander chutney into plain hummus and get something akin to the delicious bottom layer.

Turns out I was right, and the resulting treat is even more delicious than the original, since the chutney lends a bit more tanginess and spiciness.

Now I buy organic plain hummus and plop in unholy dollops of cilantro chutney, and put that stuff on salads instead of dressing, and dip carrots in, and put it on Triscuits. NOMS.

And I’ve also learned that cilantro chutney is fantastic on a ham sandwich. Sometimes I think that is the truest test of a condiment: Does it taste great on a ham sandwich?

eating in montreal

We were in Montreal for a dance weekend, and between the sleep deprivation and the language barrier, we were not going too far afield. Happily the dance venue was smack in the middle of what appeared to be Little Saigon, so we ate pho and banh mi the whole time. The banh mi were particularly good, on skinny crunchy baguettes with a schmear of pate and mayo on each, plus the grilled pork or cold cuts and daikon, carrots and wee hot peppers.

Then finally last night we had a bit of time so I asked one of the Montreal dancers where the really good poutine was to be had. He sent us to La Banquise, and he was not wrong. Yum.

Poutine from la banquise, montreal

Really delicious, crisp fries as a base, with good gravy and squeaky cheese curds on top, and then you can go nuts with variations. T got his with hamburger meat and sauteed onion, which was the best. It’s basically a burger and fries all smushed up together on the plate — can’t go wrong. I had smoked meat which was not as good as you’d hope, and tallasiandude got merguez sausage but what came wasn’t nothing but a hot dog as far as I could tell. So I guess stick with simple toppings and stay away from cured meats. Anyway, absolutely the best possible meal with a beer after two solid days of dancing. Open 24 hrs, too, doing a brisk business in cheesy gravy fries. Hell to the yes.

Penny Cluse Cafe, Burlington VT: Best Sammich Evar

Or pretty darn close anyway. Ham Randy: thick cut smoked ham, cheddar cheese, fresh red tomato, lightly spicy jalapeno mayo, on grilled sourdough. DAYUM. Available at Penny Cluse Cafe in Burlington VT, where we are visiting pals.

Comes with delicious bread and butter pickle slices and some cilantro-cabbage slaw. We also got a side of excellent mac-and-cheese, and a broccoli-cheese-cherry pepper relish grilled sandwich, and a side of bucket-o-spuds (homefries with cheese, pico de gallo and sour cream). All excellent, but eclipsed by the glory of the Ham Randy.

not-grilled cheese sandwich

I learned something useful today when I put Kosciusko mustard on bread, added some thick slices of cheddar, and stuck the whole thing dry into the toaster oven for a double toasting. And that lesson is that such a sandwich comes out even crispier, and stays crunchy longer, than a sandwich grilled in butter. WIN!

also: Kosciusko mustard is very likely the most delicious mustard on earth. yum.