Before the internet, there was mail order. Growing up in the late 70’s/early 80’s I’d love to get catalogs in the mail, addressed to me of course, from places like Current, Lillian Vernon and the chocolate motherload: Swiss Colony.

I didn’t know or care where the Swiss Colony was located. I would dream every year that maybe this was the year my mom would buy me a solid chocolate Chris Mouse, mint chocolate twelve layer log cake, or a box of petit fours for my birthday. What would I get? Some European style cake with real whipped cream  with a hazelnut or real fruit filling that everyone but me loved. In hindsight, her choices were much smarter and healthier, but as a kid all I wanted was buttercream.

Swiss Colony Chris Mouse Grocery Gal

Chris Mouse welcoming me to Swiss Colony’s signature gifts

Years passed with never a package arriving from the Swiss Colony. Packages from Austria came instead, filled with rich chocolates that I didn’t like, but I was still hopeful that one day a special red and white striped package would arrive addressed to me.

Fast forward years, no… decades, later and I’m heading off to New Glarus, Wisconsin. Better known as Little Switzerland, I drove a few hours from Chicago to camp with my husband and see the New Glarus Brewery. The town was great; structures built by Swiss settlers in the 19th century and, despite some expected touristy kitchiness, were the real deal. Driving through the region, we stopped in Monroe, Wisconsin to get some provisions for dinner. Along the way in a random strip mall, I read the words: “The Swiss Colony.” Those three words pulled at my heartstrings and brought childhood memories rushing in. I begged my husband to pull into the strip mall, and finally, I was going to make my childhood dreams a reality.

Swiss Colony Outlet Monroe Wisconsin petit four

The familiar logo from my childhood

Get this, it was an outlet store, to boot! I hoped they took credit cards, because I had big plans on stocking up. I walked into the cheese portion of the store and had a variety of soft pub style cheese to choose from. Port wine and cheddar was calling my name, so I grabbed one and put it in my basket.

Grocery Gal Swiss Colony cheese Chicago

Soft cheeses – including ones with Port Wine – from the Swiss Colony

What next? I didn’t want to waste much time; I was on a hunt for the evening’s dessert, but saw my favorite American-made cheese, Grand Cru by Roth, for 50% off. I first came across this amazing alpine-style cheese at the Whole Foods in Milwaukee (shhh, yes, I occasionally shop there), and it was the closest cheese I have found in the US to my beloved Bergkäse from Austria. That went into the basket next.

Roth cheese Grand cru swiss colony grocery gal

Roth Cheese at 50% off – the hidden gem inside the Swiss Colony outlet store

I then switched over to the next room which focused on Swiss Colony’s signature desserts. A bag of 25-30 random petit fours looked tempting, but I instead focused on the nicely packaged assortment of 9, 5 in vanilla and 4 in chocolate, for $1.99. They were also buy one get one free, so how could I resist? I exercised some discretion and passed on the layered mint cake. With it being May, there weren’t any Chris Mouse chocolates; I guess I’d have to come back closer to Christmas.

Grocery Gal Swiss colony mint chocolate toret

The mint chocolate layered torte I always dreamt of getting for a birthday cake

Happy with my bounty, I paid for my goods and excitedly waited for that night’s special dessert. A few hours later, I carefully opened up the package of petit fours and sat down to enjoy the dessert I had been waiting at least 30 years for. I took a bite, and was… disgusted.

Grocery Gal Swiss Colony Petit Four

I waited over 25 years to finally get these. I should’ve gotten them back in the 80’s

My childhood pastry dreams were shattered! It tasted super sweet, synthetic and somewhat stale. Ok, maybe that’s just the vanilla one. Maybe the chocolate one was better? Maybe it was because I bought these at the outlet store in May…?

How could this be? I took a look at the ingredients and found natural, but a lot of artificial ingredients. This couldn’t have been how they made them when I was a kid? Or did they, and that’s why my mom never bought them?

However, Swiss Colony fans, don’t fret; it is just my opinion. I brought the second unopened box of petit fours to work. The last Friday of the month is enthusiastically called “Food Friday,” where everyone brings in snacks to share. I was wondering if anyone would eat these discarded cakes of mine? Well, guess what, they were the hit of the day! My coworkers loved them so much that they quietly rationed them amongst the themselves and hid them from the other departments. When I offered to bring the other opened box on Monday, everyone eagerly said yes.

So, maybe I just have a selective palate and don’t like things super sweet? Then it’s just more petit fours for everyone else. While my childhood dreams of pastries from the Swiss Colony didn’t live up to my adult expectations, the price on the Grand Cru made it all worth while. See, there’s something for everyone. You might just have to drive up to the outlet mall and find out which is your preference.

Swiss Colony Monroe Outlet Store. 652 8th St, Monroe, WI 53566 www.swisscolony.com


Mother’s Day is coming up. This will be my 11th Mother’s Day without my mom, but I still think of her every day. She would love to go downtown with me and window shop on the Magnificent Mile. If she was still here today, I know we’d want to spend part of Mother’s Day eating some great food and enjoying wine at Eataly.

Grocery Gal Eataly Chicago

Welcome to food heaven

Eataly opened in Chicago around Thanksgiving. Friends messaged me, asking if I wanted to see it with them. An entire mega-store food-court filled with imported Italian foods and wines? A Dean and Deluca on steroids? Two floors of food goodness that took over an EPSN Zone? I’m in!

I first went on a Saturday at 6pm a few weeks after it opened. It was total chaos! I thought Fresh Farms on a Saturday was insane; it was nothing compared to Eataly’s crowds. I tried to forget the crowds and focus on what was in front of me: rows and rows of pasta, wines, cheeses, jellies, fresh bread, fresh meat, fresh truffles, freshly made mozzarella??? It’s a culinary overload and I didn’t really know where to go first.

I’ll be blunt. Eataly is expensive. They have two locations in the US, some in Japan, Istanbul, Dubai and a handful in Italy. When Japan and Dubai are in the mix, you know you’re not going to have bargain basement prices.  Amazing fresh bread that was… $6 a loaf? I’ll pass. However, I did find a nice 4 pack of jams for $9 that go with cheese and crackers that I’ll likely purchase somewhere else (like Caputo‘s).

The everyday food, including fresh fish counter, are really for those high rollers who don’t flinch when they see a sushi grade tuna for $29/lb. I wanted to pass out Grocery Gal cards telling passers by they could get the same exact quality of tuna at Fresh Farms for literally half that price. Farmed raised salmon for $15??? Pfft. Fresh Farms offers two types of wild salmon lower than that price. too.

Grocery Gal Eataly Chicago

Nice looking, but overpriced, fresh fish

So, why am I writing about Eataly if I’m dissing on the prices? Eataly is more about the experience than a place to buy groceries at. This is the place I want to meet my friends at, grab a table, some wine and a plate of snacks. I’ll recommend anyone visiting the city to stop in for a drink. It is chaotic, but it’s brilliant at the same time. The second time I stopped in at Eataly was at 4pm on a Thursday. It was like the quiet before the storm, and it was perfect.

Grocery Gal Eataly Chicago

If I still worked downtown I’d be bellying up to one of these every week.

If I was in Italy, I would’ve sat at the bar alone, had a nice afternoon Prosecco and maybe a small cheese plate. Instead, I wanted to get home to my family, so I grabbed a few slices of focaccia to go. They wrapped up the slices in paper just like in Italy. In the seven plus times I’ve visited the country, I’ve never had focaccia better than what I had at Chicago’s Eataly. The bread/crust had a bite to it that was like nothing I’ve ever had before. They bake all their bread onsite in brick ovens; if their $6 loaf of bread tasted this good, then it was probably worth it. A slice of marghertia and squash/ricotta focaccia set me back $6, and was totally worth every penny.

Grocery Gal Focaccia eataly chicago

Grab multiple flavors of focaccia to go

You can easily get lost inside Eataly. The place is so huge they offer maps when you walk in. On that quiet Thursday afternoon I stumbled upon areas that I never even knew existed: the meat take-away, preserved condiments and tomatoes & sauces. I knew those areas would just take me to the financial dark side, so I slowly exited the area until I found myself at the Salumi & Formaggi station.

grocery gal blog eataly chicago

food porn eataly style

I think I sighed out loud when first saw the cheese counter with the various smoked meats dangling from the ceiling. I knew my mom would’ve loved this. Combined, we would’ve spent too much money, consumed too many calories and laughed about it all over glasses of Valpolicella. Since we were in Eataly, I could convince her to forgo her usual (insert hand rub) Chardonnay. What a great way to spend a Mother’s Day, right?

I miss my mom dearly, but I think about whenever I’m searching for delicious, interesting food at the best price possible. Her influence is what made me Grocery Gal. And it’s not all about the good deal; it’s also about enjoying life with my loved ones. Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

Eataly Chicago Market. 43 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611. 312-521-8700. Open 7 days 10am-11pm. You can sneak in at 8am for coffee.


I had written about attending my first trade show as Grocery Gal about two months ago. It was exciting to see new products, drool over stuff I always wanted to have and meet some product vendors. I have a sometimes strong opinion about stores I shop at; why not build off of that to include products I would use to cook with? I enjoy cooking as much as exploring stores or finding the best deal, so I decided to branch out and find out about doing product reviews. One of the vendors I bee-lined over to was Nesco, a Wisconsin-based company who specializes in food dehydrators.

So why this interest in food dehydrators? I heard of coworkers making their own beef jerky with their food dehydrators and was intrigued. Food dehydrators seemed so 1980’s to me; I’d go in the early 80’s with my mom and sister for some dried fruit (and hopefully yogurt raisins, too!) at a bulk health-food store off of Northwest Highway called “The Home Economist.” My younger sister would call The Home Ecco-mom-mo-mist. Seriously, that’s the only way I remember the name of it after 30 years. It seemed like food dehydrators had a bad wrap and I needed to find out more about them; they seemed like an easy way to make some  healthy snacks. I found out during the demo that there was a built-in timer to run it while I was asleep or at work… bonus! I loved that I wouldn’t be tied to monitoring the dehydrator while it worked. During the demo, they spent a lot of time suggesting making jerky with ground beef; it seemed like some jerky blasphemy to me. I knew I’d have to put that to the test!

Grocery Gal Nesco Food Dehydrator American Harvest Made in USA

Now I can prepare for the next Y2K

A few weeks after the show, Nesco was kind enough to send me a food dehydrator to test. While they had beautiful images of dried fruits, herbs and veggies in their literature, I was most interested in making jerky. I had 2 lbs of grass fed round steak which I intended to marinate three different ways and do a little jerky dry-off: the “Original” Nesco flavor packet, some Jamaican Jerk paste I had at home, and my own take on a jerky marinade.

Grocery Gal’s Jerky Marinade – adapted from Food Network’s Alton Brown

1 lb round steak
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon New Mexico red pepper flakes
I might’ve added some extra honey – I kept adding spices until it all smelled perfect! Mix it all together in a zip-lock bag, add the meat & marinate for up to 24 hours.
After everything had marinated for a day, I sliced the meat into thin strips and started layering it on the dehydrator.
Grocery Gal Nesco Food Dehydrator Jerky

Slices of the Jamaican Jerk marinated beef ready to dry

The dehydrator is idiot proof – you set the temperature and the timer and leave. My only complaint, per se, was the, ahem, odor of drying meat. This first batch was done in the kitchen, but all subsequent jerky batches have been done on the back porch.
Grocery Gal Nesco Food Dehydrator Jerky

Easy to figure out without having to read directions!

I sliced the meat into small strips and dried it for 3-4 hours. I thought it was best to have them in nice, small pieces instead of a hunk of meat that you’d keep in your pocket all day long. About 2 or 3 times I would stop to check it out (this was my first dehydrating experience, after all!), and pat some of the fat off of it. The meat was so lean to begin with, there was very little to blot up.
Grocery Gal Nesco Food Dehydrator Jerky

Nesco’s Original Mix on the left, Grocery Gal marinade on the right

My guests and I were really happy with the end result… it was eaten quicker than it took to make! End result – I liked my marinade the best (because I’m biased). The group consensus was the Nesco original flavoring tied with the Grocery Gal marinade. The Jamaican Jerk paste was too spicy for most of us, but a favorite for our friend with a higher heat tolerance.
Grocery Gal Nesco Food Dehydrator Jerky

Top – Nesco Original Jerky Mix,
Left – Grocery Gal Marinade, Right – Jamaican Jerk Paste

I loved the traditional jerky experience. The next step was to see what the hell the ground beef version was like. I used Nesco’s Garlic and Cracked Pepper packet instead of my wet marinade, because I thought it was best to keep the meat as dry as possible. I added an extra tablespoons each of fresh cracked black pepper and garlic powder, because you can never have enough of either of those! I loaded my jerky gun – which, yes, looks like a caulk gun, and started squeezing our some jerky strips.

Grocery Gal Nesco Food Dehydrator Jerky

Making jerky with ground beef

Nesco offers different attachments with the jerky gun, similar to a cookie spritz machine. The entire process is extremely quick, so if you don’t have time or desire to marinate or slice the meat, this might be right up your alley. I made both sizes; in hindsight, I’d only use the thin version in the future.

Grocery Gal Nesco Food Dehydrator Jerky

Full size jerky gun strips. A little too wide for me.

Grocery Gal Nesco Food Dehydrator Jerky

Slap into… some homemade jerky

These took about 3-4 hours to dry. Since there’s more fat in ground beef, it required more blotting along the way. When done, the consistency was kinda like a strip of a Slim Jim. It was definitely better than anticipated, but I prefer jerky from the round steak. When I brought this into work, a coworker asked if it could be done with ground turkey. Why not? I went home that night and did a ground turkey batch which I liked much better; it was soft, very fresh and had almost a smoked sausage consistency. I’d like to try this with ground bison one day, too.

So what about those non-meat eaters out there? A dehydrator is still for you, too! I definitely have Butternut Squash Chips on my to-dehydrate list. I did dehydrate some zucchini, kale, banana and kiwi last night.

Grocery Gal Nesco Food Dehydrator Jerky

Yes, I dehydrate fruits & veggies, too.

While the kale was interesting, my stepson loved the bananas and kiwi. The few times I’ve dehydrated now, it’s more for short-term use and not long term. If I wanted stuff to last more than a day or two, I’d probably dehydrate it longer. I like how the bananas still had a fresh, slightly chewy texture to them instead of a hard crunch like store-bought banana chips.

The Nesco FP-77DT digital top food dehydrator can be bought directly from the manufacturer, or online at various retailers. I really loved making jerky with it. It’s a easy way to make a high protein, low fat snack that isn’t processed like traditional beef jerky is. While the jerky gun wasn’t my favorite, if you want to experiment with ground turkey or bison, it seems like a great, quick option, especially when you’re pressed (get it?) for time.


I’ve been rather busy lately, which doesn’t give me much time to devote to my Grocery Gal fans. However, a package arrived yesterday and I just had to share it! I’ve gotten my first Food Dehydrator! I remember hearing about food dehydrators as a kid, but never thought of getting one… until I realized you can make your own beef jerky with it! Finally, I can be prepared for the zombie apocalypse! What really is great about the Nesco dehydrator is that it’s programmable. I’m hoping I can prepare everything either before I go to bed or to work in the morning.

Grocery Gal Nesco Food Dehydrator American Harvest Made in USA

Now I can prepare for the zombie apocalypse

The inspiration to make my own jerky came after I had visited Paulina Meat Market for the first time in a few years. Yes, comin’ soon to GG. Paulina Meat Market makes their own beef jerky, and it’s just super yummy. This will be new cooking territory for me, but I will share my experience (and my recipe, if it’s good) in the near future. Stay tuned! Have you made your own jerky? Any suggestions on flavors are welcome!

Grocery Gal shops at Paulina Meat Market in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood

Paulina Market’s beef jerky sliced to order – super tender and not tough


I received my first media pass for Grocery Gal to attend the International Home & Housewares Show, compliments of Chicago Food Bloggers and Hamilton Beach.  This is where companies both large and small showcase their products in three huge halls at McCormick Place in Chicago, and I was like a kid in a candy store with no cash. I asked many companies where their products were located, a surprising amount told me Bed Bath and Beyond. Ugh. I normally avoid that store like the plague, but I might need do dig out a 20% mailer, don some sunglasses and a hat, and stop in. My new favorite show, Broad City, seems to have a love affair with the store, too.

I digress.

The trade show was filled with color and so many crazy new products that made me want to experiment more in the kitchen and share my successful recipes with my Grocery Gal fans. I got excited over the possibilities a food dehydrator could give me!

And I’ve finally convinced myself I must save up my pennies for my dream kitchen accessory – a Kitchenaid mixer. I always thought it was a lazy person’s tool, but now I’m obsessed with them. I keep on checking eBay for vintage ones, while the shiny new Pistachio and Ice colors keep trying to reign me in. If you have anything to share about vintage versus new (I’ve heard the motors are better on the older ones), please share them below. I was hoping to snap a few pictures of some of the more obnoxious booths, but those surprisingly didn’t allow me to take photos. Enjoy some show highlights…

Kitchen Aid Mixers Grocery Gal

Torn between the pistachio and the ice

Grocery Gal Mad Millie

Next to the Kitchenaid Mixer, this is the 2nd item on my wishlist

Grocery Gal spots Pantone colored carafes

I’m a sucker for anything Pantone

Grocery Gal finds Moscow Mule copper mugs at the international housewares show

If it ever stops snowing in Chicago, it’ll be time for some Moscow Mules

Grocery Gal finds Peeps at International Home & Housewares show in Chicago

Peeps are fascinating. But I would never, ever, ever eat one.


For today’s installment, please don’t laugh.  Why would I write about a mainstream store? Well, if you grew up in the early 80’s, you probably have a stigma of shopping here. I know I did. The stores had no character and little or no windows. You could only pay in cash, everything was stacked on top of itself, and you had to bag your own groceries. Sounds like Costco without the samples, right? Well, it’s not. It’s Aldi.

In the early 80’s, I remember feeling like a poor kid because I didn’t have Jordache jeans or a pair of robin’s egg blue Nike’s with the gold swoosh. We had a blue Nova with a hole in the back seat floor pan that we covered with a piece of plywood. Not poor enough for you? Well, my mom also would shop at Aldi. While we didn’t shop there all the time, I was somehow more embarrassed by their unknown brands of canned goods than the generic brand with the stencil font from Jewel. Those white and black Jewel labels screamed my family is poor,  but since Jewel had baggers, it somehow was more acceptable than Aldi. When I studied abroad years later, I was surprised to learn Aldi was a German grocery store, with it’s Austrian counterpart called Hofer. And that was the end of my Aldi story.

In the late 1990’s, Trader Joes came to Chicago. I was excited for the store to open. My boss at the time was from California and she always raved about the place. There was a lot of press, and in there I read that the good-feelin’ organic-lovin’ affordable Trader Joe’s was owned by Aldi. Aldi?!? Really? But when you think about it, Trader Joe’s is merely a distributor who rebrands everything under a different version of the name Joe. Pretty obvious it’s the same business model as Aldi.  TJ’s just does it with better graphics, and baggers in Hawaiian shirts. Oh yeah, they have samples, too.

After connecting the dots, a few years ago I hesitantly went back to check out Aldi. Yeah, you need the quarter deposit to use the carts, but I realized it’s because they’re European, not because they’re afraid poor people would steal their carts. I walked in and immediately saw bars of chocolate. Hmm, not just milk chocolate, but dark chocolate with different cacao percentages, with orange, and with chili pepper. All made in my motherland, Austria. Just like the Lindt brand that’s often over $3, but these were a mere $1.29. Hmmm, not bad….

Each Aldi is different. I think they really rely on what their customers are purchasing in each store. If you go into one and aren’t wowed, then check out another. Some carry alcohol. There’s a great everyday Cabernet Sauvignion that’s $4.99 and a real winner. No, it’s no Castano from Vin Chicago, but it’s a great one to have on standby at home. I’ve just started trying their German Pils for $5.99, not bad.

They carry a lot of seasonal specials, just like Trader Joe’s. My favorite time is before Christmas — incredible selections of Germany chocolates, including advent calendars for $0.99 and chocolate ornaments, for $3, both staples from my childhood. I remember my parents buying these for an arm & a leg as a child from the German delicatessens. Smoked meat, cheese and frozen appetizers  fill the shelves for holiday parties. What’s been catching my eye now is their organic selection. Yep, organic at Aldi.

Grocery Gal Chicago Aldi organic foods

Baby Kale and Arugula for $2.49 at Aldi. Perfect dinner addition.

 

Grocery Gal Chicago Aldi organic foods

Organic cookies, cereal, apple sauce and jams… just to name a few. All under $2.50.

If you’re a label reader like I am, you’ll find most of their breads do not carry high fructose corn syrup. The fancy Brownberry bread with it’s whole grain claims has high fructose corn syrup in it. Not the bread at Aldi! Aldi’s quart of Greek yogurt just dropped in price and it’s about same as an 8oz container at any other store. Our family loves adding hash browns to our egg tacos on Sundays, and the package of 20 is the same price as a package of 10 from Trader Joe’s. And I’ll bet you 2 cartons of fresh-not-from-concentrate orange juice they’re from the same distributor!

They do carry a decent selection of produce, albeit prepackaged. Their avocado (an essential ingredient to egg tacos) are often $0.49 each so I grab a handful. More recently I’m finding organic onions and apples, too. I love seeing the tricolor fingerling potatoes for $1.49 and then going to Trader Joe’s to see the exact same ones for $2.99! Kumato tomatoes (best tomato ever) $1.29 at Aldi, $2.99 at sister store TJ’s. In the exact same packaging!

Grocery Gal Chicago Aldi Old Oak Farms Purple Potatoes

Old Oak Farms tri-color fingerling potatoes for half the Trader Joe’s price

They carry organic honey and agave nectar. Unfortunately they still haven’t gotten around to 100% natural peanut butter, but I’m hopeful!  Great, affordable pasta sauces, all with no high fructose corn syrup added. A previously seasonal item that I’m finding more often in their stores is red and green pesto. A small jar is $1.49, which would easily be over $4 anywhere else. Sundried tomato red pesto is amazing, I had only ever seen it before in Italy. It’s a killer base for your homemade pizzas. Try it… you’ll never go back to traditional pizza sauce. Side note: I’m currently on a work trip in California and just received a text from my husband asking me where the red pesto sauce is…. unfortunately we used it all two days ago!

Grocery Gal Chicago Aldi Rosso Pesto and Pesto Alla Genovese

Pesto this delicious and cheap makes me want to eat Italian every day.

Most of their beauty items are made in Germany. Their aluminum foil is good and cheap. Pass on their paper towels and toilet paper. They have rock salt and peppercorns in their own acrylic dispensers. Their packaged guacamole is perfect for a party dip. They have cheap Kerrygold cheese and great fancy cheese selections around the holidays.

Grocery Gal Chicago Aldi Kerrygold cheese

Wine and cheese party anyone? Offer a great spread for under $20

And, it being Aldi, there’s always some random household items that change seasonally. Since it’s still January, go on in and get some workout gear before the gardening stuff shows up for the spring. I did buy pretty decent lawn seed their last year.

While I don’t buy everything there, I always run in at lunch to stock up on their cheese and dairy products, great German and Italian foods, and their growing organic selection at prices that are just unbelievable. If you grew up with a stigma of shopping at Aldi like I did, go with your own grocery bags and a quarter for your cart and your mind will definitely be changed!


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!

 


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


I’m not a procrastinator; most people know I get shit done. However, for the past two years I’ve been talking about writing a blog about all the crazy grocery stores I drive all over Chicago to find. With all the overeating that’s going to be happening over the holidays, I thought this is as good of a time as any to tell you where you should really be buying your chocolate-filled advent calendars, oysters and fig jam from.

I love food. But it’s beyond that. I love GOOD food. I’m first generation American and all that crusty bread, cured sausages and rosehip jam I took for granted as a kid has helped me be a great entertainer and cook.  I love an adventure. There’s a grocery store where I can’t understand any of the window signage? I’m in. Finally, I love a great deal. I’m not cheap – I will pay for good quality.  I really enjoy finding that $6.98 bottle of Castano (watch for an upcoming post) when you paid $10 for it at Binny’s.

Hope you enjoy all that’s to come.

Cheers,

Grocery Gal