About Grocery Gal

It’s been snowing a lot in Chicago lately. A little too much, if you’d ask me. Take 18 hours of snowfall and then throw in some below zero temperatures, then you’ve got Chicago 2014. While hundreds of people were stocking up at the major grocery stores the last two days, I’ve been staying in, keeping warm, and thinking about what to cook. My shelves are stocked with the stuff you need to make it through these types of days.

Grocery Gal came to fruition because I love food, entertaining and a good deal; but that really just boils down to loving to cook. Besides relaxing me, it’s a way I express gratitude to those I love. While I should be cleaning my office, folding laundry, or starting to prepare my taxes, I instead I look in the fridge to see what I can make for a nice Sunday brunch. Since there’s always eggs in the house (thank you Amish Farmers), I decided to take a twist on our normal Sunday egg taco breakfast and whip up a frittatta. I had some frozen spinach, feta cheese and orange peppers. Every good cook always has onions, garlic and potatoes on hand, so I sliced those up, sauteed with some organic Greek olive oil (thank you Fresh Farms) and assembled a little frittatta. Seven eggs and 25 minutes in the oven later, breakfast was ready to go for my family!

Grocery Gal Frittata

Grocery Gal Sunday Frittata: Feta cheese, spinach, orange pepper, onion and eggs with a sliced potato base

While that was baking, I started what I set out to cook that morning: Bean Soup with Smoked Meat. Perfect stick to your bones type of meal for a cold day like today. There should be a fancier name for this, but I don’t have one. It’s a staple at my house, and others, too. Why others? Because my husband is a vegetarian and I have no clue how to make a small pot of soup. That helped bring about Soup Fairy™. Instead of me eating the same soup over and over again, I share it with friends. They bring me back their empty jars, and I refill them. It’s win win. And it makes me the Soup Fairy™.

As a good first-generation European American, I reuse glass jars and cook with smoked meat. There are many different types out there (glass jars and smoked meat); my main protein in soups is smoked ribs. You can find smoked ribs at almost any good European deli, and a half a slab is a good amount for 1 pot of soup. My favorite smoked ribs comes from Bende, a Hungarian distributor out in Vernon Hills that has the best smoked meat selection in the midwest. Grocery Gal will be visiting Bende in the near future, but in the meantime, if you see Bende products at your local grocery, try the smoked ribs for soup, or the smoked tenderloin as a snack. Delis often have their own smoke ribs, like at  Montrose Deli and Amish Farmers, so find a slab and give this recipe a try.

Grocery Gal Bende Smoked Ribs

These are the types of gifts Grocery Gal gets from her dad. Bende smoked ribs!

My dad brought me a slab of ribs from Bende as my Christmas gift. Yes, we’re that serious about our smoked meats. It was time to break out my Christmas gift, and have me share it with you.

Bean Soup with Smoked Meat

  1. 1-2 lbs dried beans (I prefer navy beans or other small beans)
  2. 1-2 T olive oil
  3. 1 large onion, finely chopped
  4. 2-3 ribs celery, finely chopped
  5. 2-3 carrots, finely chopped
  6. 1 bay leaf
  7. 3 bullion cubes (I prefer Winiary Vegetable Buillion or 3 T Vegeta Natur)
  8. 1/2-1 slab smoked ribs, rinsed and cut into smaller pieces (2-3 ribs per piece)
  9. Fresh ground pepper

Prepare beans per bag instructions. Be sure to drain the soaking water and rinse off before adding to soup. That helps eliminate getting gas from the beans!

In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil, and saute the onion, celery and carrots until clear, about 5 minutes.

Grocery Gal Bean Soup with Smoked Meat

There’s no exact amount, but just put in a lot of onions, carrots and celery. Add some garlic, too.

Grocery Gal Bean Soup with Smoked Meat

Today’s soup has Navy and Pink beans

Grocery Gal Bean Soup with Smoked Meat

Vegeta Natur is great because it has no MSG. Use 2-3 tablespoons. Winiary has MSG, but it has a great celery root and cabbage flavor to it.

Add the beans and mix together. Add the bay leaf and bullion, stir it in to have it mix with the vegetables for a bit. Add enough water to the soup to that it covers the bean by an additional 1 inch or so. Add the ribs. Grind some pepper into the soup. You won’t need any salt, because the ribs that. Slowly cook the soup for 1-2 hours, until the beans are soft and the rib meat easily tears from the bone.

Grocery Gal Bean Soup with Smoked Meat

Rinse the slab off before slicing. Slice in to 2-3 rib chunks. Don’t forget to remove the string!

Grocery Gal Bean Soup with Smoked Meat

It might not look pretty now, but be patient

Remove the ribs from the soup and set aside to cool. Get a hand blender and zap the soup for 15-30 seconds. This will chop up the beans and vegetables, making the soup thicker. If you like thicker soups, blend it longer, if not, blend it less.

Grocery Gal Bean Soup with Smoked Meat

Use a hand blender to thicken the soup

Grocery Gal Bean Soup with Hand Pulled Smoked Meat

After the ribs have cooled, separate the meat by hand from the bones/fat and add to the soup.

Once the meat has cooled off, separate the meat from the bones and the fat. Do this by hand. There’s something about naturally torn meat that takes a million times better than sliced. I don’t know what it is, but trust me. Add it to the soup, remove the bay leaf, and enjoy. If it’s too much, pour into glass jars and freeze for yourself and your friends. Maybe you can be a Soup Fairy™, too

Stay warm!

 


Almost three years ago I moved west of the Kennedy. I had sworn I’d never move west of Western, but Beatrice, a big, blonde and buxom bunaglow, called for me and my husband. Life in Jefferson Park has made my quest as Grocery Gal much easier than in my Uptown days. Montrose Deli is probably my favorite place in the neighborhood.

Grocery Gal Chicago Montrose Deli

Unassuming deli on Montrose Avenue with plenty of well-needed parking

I often drove past Montrose Deli, surprised by their two parking lots and a third overflow lot attached to a school half a block away. I couldn’t see much from their windows, but after about a month of living in the neighborhood I finally stopped in. What threw me for a loop was the lighting – I kinda felt like I was in a friends’ rec room in the late 70’s, getting ready to watch a movie on ON-TV. The store itself is rather small. I walked past the decent selection of Eastern European brands of mineral water, and came across  the oddest looking produce section I’ve ever seen. There was nothing wrong with the produce – it was good quality and a good price,  but the fluorescent lighting they use really made the dill look electric green and the radishes look crazy red! It kinda hurt my eyes, so I just grabbed what I need and then I stopped in my tracks.

Grocery Gal Montrose Deli Produce

Don’t let the lighting scare you. That’s real produce.

While the parking lots had lots of cars in them, the store itself seemed somewhat empty when I first walked in. I turned the corner from the produce area and saw at least 35 people hovering around deli cases, numbered tickets waving in the air to announce they’re next, and about 12 ladies in white lab coats and red visors feverishly pulling smoked sausages along the back wall, slicing smoked tenderloins, weighing smoked ham hocks and veal sausages, and then wrapping them all up in white paper for hungry customers.

Grocery Gal Montrose Deli

Yes, the lighting does really look like this. Get a pair of the chicken sausages on the end – next to the smoked chicken. Heaven for under $3.

They called the numbers out in Polish, but luckily for me, they follow it up with it in English. Almost 3 years later, Montrose Deli is my go-to place anytime I host people at my house. The smoked chicken sausage cost about $3 a pair, and they’re always a hit. There’s a whole world of other polish sausages I have yet to try, but if I can ever make it when it’s not busy, maybe I’ll see if they can recommend how I should cook it.

Grocery Gal Montrose Deli Fresh Sausages

Homemade veal wieners. You can buy six of these for less than a package of who-knows-what-it-really-is hot dogs. Your guests at your next tailgate or barbecue will thank you,

Fans of Grocery Gal, please don’t be discouraged by a busy deli! There is enough staff working the counter that a wait often isn’t too long. The trick is to grab your ticket as soon as you get in the store, and then backtrack getting your celery root, leeks and other fixins to make your dinner. We get a little pierogi happy at our house, and the potato pierogis from Montrose Deli are so good and so cheap (there… I said it!) we don’t waste any time and just cook two packages at a time. Got a sweet tooth? Pick up a Pączki or two. They’re in fresh daily.

Grocery Gal Paczki Polish Donuts from Montrose Deli

They’re not donuts. They’re Pączki and they’re delicious. And fresh. And cheap!

Grocery Gal Montrose Deli Fresh Bread

Don’t let the funky lighting scare you. Great, fresh bread from local Chicagoland bakeries.

Don’t like to cook? Well then Montrose Deli is really for you! Besides having an amazing deli/butcher area with extremely affordable prices (stop buying chicken and pork chops at Jewel), they also have an entire deli case with premade soups, pierogis and salads. Everything from tuna to wheatberry salad, and vacuum packed smoked meats if you’re in a hurry. A pint? quart? not quite sure, but a container of soup perfect for a work lunch costs $2. Over the past year they’ve opened a hot bar to take a home cooked meals to go, that’s on my to-do list!

Montrose Deli Homemade Soup

Pick up a different homemade soup a day for a quick, easy and cheap lunch.

Montrose Deli Hot Bar Food to Go

The hot bar gives many choices for non-vegetarians out there.

Don’t let the fluorescent lighting or lack of knowing Polish scare you. Drive to Montrose Deli, choose whichever parking lot is available (they do really need that overflow lot), get your number at the deli, fill up that cart and thank me.

5411 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60641. 773-725-6123. Open 7 days 7am-10pm. www.montrosedeli.com


I have a lot of first-generation American friends. They like food, but they’re not as incessant as me to scour the Chicagoland area for the best place to buy something. I was trying to think of why I’m this way, and it really comes back to my parents. I remember our Saturday visits to Edelweiss Delicatessen for a Leberkäs Semmel growing up in Palatine. In the summers when my dad would want some Croatian-style roasted lamb on a spit,  we would drive an hour to some grocery store in the South Suburbs that had the best lamb. Don’t worry, I’m going to ask him more about it and will report back!

My last real family food road trip memory was in 1998 while looking for my first condo with my parents and sister. After we were done checking out Sheridan Park, my dad insisted he had to take us to this market that had great cherries. For those familiar with Chicago we drove up Clark Street from Wilson (4600 North) all the way to almost Touhy (7600 North). Really? For Cherries? Were they that good? Honestly, all I remember is him pulling into a parking lot and the store was on the east side of the street. He was going to take “just a minute,” which means at least ten, and for some reason we weren’t allowed to go in with him… but that’s my dad. He was right. They were good.

I was driving up Clark street toward Evanston yesterday and I thought, now that I’m writing a blog about food, I should at least check out the cherry place! The only problem is I couldn’t remember which place it was.  I found two – and convinced myself it was the second place, because the parking lot was bigger.

Azetca and Chapala

Azteca looked older but was a butcher shop; Chapala had a familiar awning but a new facade. I went with Chapala

Chapala

The entrance to Chapala’s parking lot with Romanian Deli in the background. Stay tuned for a further post about Romanian!

The parking lot was packed, so I went in ready to fill up on produce I was planning for an experimental 3 day juice cleanse. I was sadly disappointed. No, it wasn’t just because there weren’t any cherries, but there wasn’t any produce I’d want to bring home. It was more of the I-need-to-make-tacos-for-dinner-let-me-grab-an-avocado-zucchini-tomato-stop-before-home place. But how was that parking lot was packed?!? I turned the corner and saw tables filled with families on a Sunday afternoon. Wilted produce and a packed taqueria? In the name of research I decided to find out why this place was packed. I ordered two tacos: a pastor and carnitas one. It’s hard for me not to like a taco, but I was disappointed, here, too. The pastor taco had bits of pineapple making it promising, but lacked the flavor that those huge spits of rotisserie meats at the Mexican-meets-Döner Kepab joints.  I expected the carnitas one to have bits of crunchy fat filled with flavor, but it tasted like a bland pork loin. Bummer. The most interesting things I did see were a great selection of religious candles and bags of jamaica – hibiscus flowers – which would be perfect for making tea at home.

Supermercado y Taqueria Chapala, 7117 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL 60626.

produce not quite up to my standards

Produce not quite up to my standards

tacos

Carnitas and pastor tacos

religious candles

Religious candles