I don’t think I’ve gone into details on my love of cheese, but it’s pretty well known amongst my friends. I pack lightly when visiting Europe to make sure there’s enough room to fill it with deliciously stinky Vorarlberger Bergkäse; essential for making may family’s Austrian Kasspätzele recipe at home. Yes, I’m pretty serious about my cheese.

I always knew Caputos markets carried their own line of cheese, but little did I know they had an entire store dedicated to cheese. Their Melrose Park location is easily accessible off North Avenue. I stopped in after work one day and found another Grocery Gal recommendation.

Grocery Gal Caputo's Cheese marketThere’s definitely three parts to the store. A nondescript warehouse area where you can buy dried goods on the cheap, a bakery where you can order sandwiches and pizza, and of course, the cheese shop. The Caputo family must be associated with the Roland brand; there were tons of products from them. I bought a jar of Roland brand balsamic jam, perfect on crackers and, of course, cheese. Y U M! On my most recent visit they had a good display of gluten-free items.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputo's Cheese Market

Caputo’s Cheese Market is more than just cheese

Grocery Gal Caputos Cheese Market

Sea salt – both coarse and fine – for 99¢

You take a little ramp through the warehouse and past the bakery to get to the cheese area. It’s filled with the essentials – cheese and wine. There’s a fresh deli and a meat counter for Italian sausages. I always stock up on some fresh mozzarella and look to see what looks interesting if I don’t come for a specific cheese need.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Behold, the cheese market

They have some white and sparkling wine available in a cooler, making this a great stop if you’re on your way to a party. Grab some cheese, some vino, salami and fresh bread from the bakery, all doable for under $25.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

What looks good today?

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Different levels of spiciness

If you’re looking for a more substantial dinner item, they have a frozen section with pasta and homemade pasta sauces. Having friends that eat gluten free, I captured some ravioli options for them to try.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Gluten free ravioli in the freezer case

While they don’t carry any Austrian cheeses, they did carry some Swiss Raclette which I tried. When I brought it home and shredded it, husband complained that the kitchen smelled like feet. In cheese code that means it’s a perfect choice for spätzele. Don’t worry, it doesn’t taste like feet.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese MarketThe cheese selections seem to mostly be from Europe. There’s a small amount of domestic cheeses, but not much outside the Caputo’s brand. This is a store to go to with friends. The cheeses are in large chunks, so it can add up quickly if you want to try a bunch of different things. The prices are good; but the chunks of cheese are huge. If you can split some choices with friends you definitely will get more variety.

What brought me into Caputo’s this most recent time was for some fondue cheese. Yes, I could shred different swiss cheeses and add some wine to it, but I’ve got limited time. I wanted the package of Swiss fondue with the cheese and brandy all in one convenient package.  I had stopped at Mariano’s the day before and hesitantly picked up a package for $14.99. I checked at Caputo’s – same size package, also from Switzerland with the same ingredients,  was only $8.99!

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Mariano’s $14.99, Caputo’s $8.99

My only regret is that I only bought one package of Fondue cheese at Caputo’s. Next time I’m driving by, I’ll pick up two, because the recipe below was just too good not to have again in the near future. And adding the tomatoes to it really lightened up the entire recipe. I didn’t feel as if I had to go immediately to bed, like fondue usually makes me feel.

This recipe was adapted from Vegetarian Times.

Provencal Fondue – A lighter, easier and quick way to enjoy fondue

  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes (chop the tomatoes even further)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. mixed dried herbs (I used Thyme, Oregano and Basil)
  • 1 package packaged Cheese Fondue from Switzerland
  • 1/2 cup shredded Gruyère cheese (bonus, but not necessary)

Suggested Dippers

  • Fresh baguette cubes
  • Fresh broccoli, cauliflower and red pepper cut into bite size pieces.

Heat oil in fondue pot or saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion. Cover, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until softened. Add tomatoes, garlic, dried herbs; bring to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes. Add the package of cheese fondue and mix well together. If using extra fresh cheese, add it in. Cook until it bubbles. Serve!

So if it’s a party for one or for a huge group, stop at Caputo’s Cheese Market for all your snacky-treat needs. The prices are great, but the cheese portions are large, so divide and conquer with friends for the biggest variety.

Caputos Cheese Market. 1931 N. 15th Ave. Melrose Park. 708-450-0469. Monday – Friday 8am-6pm, Saturday 8am-5pm, Sunday 8am-4pm. www.CaputosCheeseMarket.com


To say I have a love-hate relationship with Fresh Farms off of Touhy Avenue in Niles might be a little too harsh. I love everything about it. The hate comes because I really can only ever get there on a weekend when it’s pure chaos. However, this is a true one-stop international market with one of the best fresh fish selections I’ve ever seen. So you might want to do a little mediation and park as far on the outskirts of the parking lot before going in, because you’re food mind will be blown.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms International Market Niles

Park far away, take a deep breath, and grab a cart on your way in.

I decided to feature Niles’ Fresh Farms sooner than later for two reasons. The first reason is because the fish selection is just insane – quality and prices are out of this world. Thick, sushi grade wild ahi tuna steaks for $14.99 a pound? Yes, you read that right. The second was a Facebook challenge. A friend wrote he could never truly appreciate Men At Work until he could try some Vegemite. If anywhere in Chicago would have Vegemite, it had to be Fresh Farms in Niles. Grocery Gal was on the hunt!

While this Fresh Farms is a sister store of the one in Rogers Park, it’s a true international market catering to all different ethnic backgrounds. I seem to be the only person there who’s native language is English – and it’s not limited to one continent or region within the continent. It’s a true Grocery Gal store.

I first learned about Fresh Farms through a random text I received from my dad. My dad is awesome; he’s 71 going on 35, but not big in the world of texting. A picture of fresh fish appeared on my phone. A lot of fresh fish. All for sale. I replied back “Where is that??” but of course there was no response. I had to wait to get the answer in person.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms International Market Niles

Fresh fish as far as they eye can see. Turn around for more!

Fresh Farms has a great location somewhat off the Edens, which could be why it’s packed all the time. I think the Jewel across the street has felt Fresh Farms’ impact. I’ve made the mistake shopping on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and any Saturday or Sunday, but it’s still worth it. I’ll just grab a sample of wine to help me make it through the masses. If you’re able to make it during the week at all, your sanity will thank you.

You’re welcomed into Fresh Farms with an amazing, but chaotic, produce selection. It’s a true variety o produce, each appealing to the different ethnic palettes shopping there. The quality is outstanding. The prices for Grocery Gal are fair. I can’t do everyday shopping here, because I know where I can get it a little cheaper. But by no means is Fresh Farms overpriced. I usually come here for one thing: seafood. Then I grab whatever else I’m missing, along with a handful of choice finds, while I’m there.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Fire up the grill for calamari and octopus

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Oysters

My family is crazy for blue point oysters. At 75¢ each, who wouldn’t be?

There’s always a lot of samples to try, but they’re pretty strict on doling it out. There’s usually an older gentleman cooking up some fish with a lemon/garlic coating on it. They give you tips on how to cook the fish, and the quality and prices are unheard of. Afraid of a whole fish? They’ll clean it, remove the head and filet it for you, if you ask. But why waste it? The cheeks have yummy meat you’ll miss out on, but it’s ok to stay away from the fish eyes. I’ve never bought a bad piece of anything here. I get their emails that highlight weekly specials, just tempting me to come in… even on a Saturday.

Grocery Gal Chicago Fresh Farms

Oooh! Mussels on sale this week? Break out the vino and grab some fresh bread!

After making it through the produce and seafood areas, the place seems like a traditional grocery store – except each aisle is like it’s own ethnic specialty store. This is great when you have wasabi powder, jerk seasoning, olive oil and fresh ricotta all on the same grocery list. Normally, that would be 3 Grocery Gal pit stops, but at Fresh Farms I’m finding the same brands (no sacrifices here) all under one roof. Since that saves me time, I’m fine dealing with slightly more expensive produce and the crowds.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Greek cheeses made from goat and sheep milk

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Dried dates and figs from the Mediterranean and the Middle East

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Ukrainian style pierogis

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Canned clams and sardines from Spain

So on this trip I was on the hunt for Vegemite for Brian. I was on my third grocery stop for the day, so I although I was a little tired by this time,  I still zipped through the aisles in searching for Vegemite. No dice. This makes me think it either is unavailable in the Chicago area – or I missed it. But I did find some nice finds I hadn’t noticed before. In the “Croatian Section” which usually just consists of Vegeta, Ajvar and Kras wafers, I saw they also had Cedevita, the Tang-like drink I’d have every morning at my Aunt’s house.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Ready for a Croatian breakfast?

But don’t worry, my Austrian heritage is well represented, too. Milka Chocolates originally come from the Vorarlberg province of Austria, where my mom was from. The company has since been bought by Nestle and then Kraft, but I grew up with those purple cows. Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t like milk chocolate, so I’ve never been a fan of Milka. Doesn’t mean it’s not tasty to everyone else, though!

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Milka comes in pallets to Fresh Farms

Some of the other things I buy from Fresh Farms is their olive oil. They have a nice collection of Greek and Tunisian olive oils, also at unbelievable prices. It feel like the Greek brand is somehow owned by the family owning Fresh Farms; they’re always pimping it out. I love the organic one, but each time I go I still try a sample with some fresh bread, even though I already know how good it is.

Try and buy their extra-virgin olive oil

Try and buy their extra-virgin olive oil

They also have a great selection of items you don’t think of, like pot stickers and fillo dough. The fillo doughs are from the different Mediterranean regions, so you can choose which brand you prefer based on country of origin.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

So many fillo choices to choose from

Items I haven’t touched on that are also great are their bakery, butcher shop, prepared foods, deli and, well, just about everything. They have a small liquor section to pick up wines, but the beer selection has some opportunity to improve. So while they don’t carry Vegemite (I’m convinced it’s just outta stock…), it’s probably one of the best grocery stores in the entire Chicagoland area. Don’t let the crowds scare you. They’re just all on to a really good thing.

Fresh Farms International Market. 5740 W Touhy Ave, Niles, IL 60714. 847-779-7343. Open 7 days 7am-10pm. www.myfreshfarms.com

 


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!


Looking for more heavy duty grocery shopping, but don’t want to go as far west as Harlem Avenue to hit Caputos? If you live west of the Kennedy in Chicago, A&G Fresh Market might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

From Belmont, A&G looks small, but the main entrance is off Major Ave.

I’m not quite sure how originally I stumbled across A&G. Perhaps it was from a weekly mailer or an ad in the Nadig Newspaper, a great local newspaper that shows up mysteriously at my door every few weeks. A&G is pretty nondescript when you see it on Belmont, west of Central Avenue. But once I drove around back, I saw a huge parking lot with a more formal entrance. There’s often a sweet older lady helping with getting the carts back into the corral. They have the European-style carts that cost a quarter to “rent,” so before I even made it inside I had some high hopes of what was going to lay ahead.

A&G is as large as Caputo‘s and most old school grocery stores before they became the size of mega-malls. When I first came in I saw the bakery on the right with lots of fresh bread baked in-house alongside bread from local vendors. The breads weren’t as heavy on traditional European styles; think more French and Italian style breads.  At first glance it seems as if half of the store is filled with their produce selection. Later on, you realize there’s a whole other half of the store with traditional grocery store goodies. Produce here is of good quality at good prices. It’s a mix of traditional, European and Latin vegetables. Sure, they sell watercrest instead of watercress, but I couldn’t tell a difference!

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

I judge many markets by the quality of their radishes, and their watercrest

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

I could’ve shopped for my juice cleanse here for half the price!

A&G is a great spot for one-stop shopping. A busy deli counter with fresh ricotta, feta and mozzarella cheeses, smoked sausages, and good quality deli-meats. They carry a good amount of vacuum-packed smoked meats from local European markets in Chicago, like Bende and Andy’s Deli (both comin’ soon!).

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Prepackaged smoked meats from local Chicagoland markets

There’s also a fresh meat and seafood counter alongside a prepackaged meat (fresh) and seafood (frozen) area for those in a rush.

grocery gal a&G fresh market chicago

Who wants fajitas tonight?

There are two main staples I buy every time I come to A&G. Like I wrote, there’s an entire area for traditional groceries, but there’s also two different side areas: one for Latin foods, and one for Eastern-European ones. Both have lots of goodies in them!

First off, I’m a HUGE fan or Rick Bayless’ skillet sauces. My hands-down favorite is the New Mexico Red Chile sauce. We use it to season tofu for some mega yummy tofu tacos. Second favorite is the enchilada green sauce. I highly recommend both of them. They always have a good selection here, and often it’s on sale (bonus). I also beeline over to the refried bean aisle. Yep, there are so many choices, it seems to have it’s own aisle. About a year ago I tried red refried beans for the first time. There’s no lard and they’re from Guatemala. I go between two brands: the green can from Ducal or the red one from Malher. I usually buy whichever is cheaper, and there’s always at least 2 cans stocked in the Grocery Gal pantry.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market Chicago

Guatemalan red refried beans. Trust me, you’ll get hooked

After I get my fill of Latin foods, I head on over to Eastern Europe. Living on the northwest side of Chicago gives me a pretty good in to all that’s Eastern European, but I do stock up on some staples here. Until I moved to Jefferson Park, I would find myself paying $4-5 for some really good German pickles at some overpriced deli. Now I find ones just as yummy from a few different Polish brands at a fraction of the cost. I recommend Lowell’s Old Country Style Polish Dill Pickles (that’s a mouthful). They’re slightly sweet and the jar is filled with huge sprigs of dill and chunks of garlic, carrots, onion and mustard seed. The pickle juice is a perfect addition to your next bloody mary, too. There are lots of choices by many different brands, so if Lowell isn’t available, go for one with a bunch of extra goodness floating in the  jar.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Country style old world pickles. Y U M!

My stop at A&G was during baking season, and I was in need of some almond extract. Yeah, I could’ve spent $5 for some McCormick imitation almond extract in the baking aisle (that will take me an eternity to get through), or I can shop in the Eastern-Euro aisle at A&G and buy a small amount by Dr. Oeteker for only $0.99! No, I cannot read Polish, but the photos are pretty straight-forward enough. Though I’m not sure what daisy flavor is.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Tiny vials of baking extracts. Perfect size & price.

The rest of the store is like I wrote earlier, your typical grocery store. You can buy regular staples here at prices comparable to Jewel. The dairy/butter section is pretty straight forward with a few choice Eastern-Euro goodies.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Never buy Boursin again! Perfect for bagels at breakfast or with crackers and wine in the evening!

One thing that never quite made it in the US is farmer’s cheese. I don’t know why, because it’s absolutely delicious when flavored and made into a spread. It’s like having a lighter version of Boursin. Almette is a hit every time I bring it out at my house. There are various flavors – from horseradish to pickle (I’m assuming that based on the product picture above) and mixed herbs. They’re all spectacular… and there’s other flavors, too. There aren’t a lot of preservatives in it (hooray) so be sure to check the expiration date on the bottom. As tempting as it is to buy one of every flavor, that’s a lot of farmer’s cheese to eat in 7 days. Space it out. Or plan to do a lot of entertaining!


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


Yeah, I lied. I said I was going to write about the Kosher Jewel next, but if I threw in another Rogers Park/Evanston joint on Grocerygalblog.com, there would probably be some type of uprising.

I had a little accident with my grocery getter which required me getting a new windshield. The grocery getter was a little shorter than the 8 ft tube of steel that needed transporting. So while waiting for the repair on Harlem Avenue, I was trying to figure out where I could get some guacamole and Rick Bayless taco sauce for the night’s dinner stat.

I pulled into the parking lot for the flagship store of Angelo Caputo’s on the corner of Grand and Harlem Avenue, at the cross sections of Elmwood Park and Chicago’s Montclaire neighborhood.  There are different Caputo family markets in the Chicagoland area: Angelo’s (since 1958), Joe’s, a Cheese Market (all coming soon to GroceryGalBlog.com). Angelo’s has a pretty interesting history and it’s stores like these which makes me be Grocery Gal. Before I even made it into the huge store, I realized why I stopped buying produce at Fresh Farms and found other markets to shop at. There were huge, oversized boxes outside the entrance with acorn squash and Michigan apples, both for $0.49 a pound. Beautiful stocks of anise were 2 for a dollar; a perfect side dish when roasted with some sausage and/or butternut squash in the winter. The quality was just as good as Fresh Farms, but cheaper.

Grocery Gal Angelo Caputo's Market

Anise 2 for $1. Yes, please!

So I wheeled my cart in with a pair of anise, ready to get my two other items: guacamole and a New Mexico red chile sauce mix. Before I made it in through the breezeway, I stopped in my tracks, drooling at the imported Italian fig delicacies for sale only during the holidays. I grew up on figs, so I snapped up a fig salami, which is basically figs, walnuts and almonds pressed together in a salami shape. Perfect with some sheep cheese and crackers… and red wine at the holidays. I was dwarfed by Panettone cakes, but good thing Grocery Gal digs savories more than sweets, or I would’ve bought one of every brand. grocerygal-caputos-pannetone

Grocery Gal Angelo Caputo's Market

Special holiday fig delicacies from Italy at Caputo’s on Grand and Harlem

Guacamole, where are you? Are you next to the pile of asparagus for $0.79 a lb? Or wait, are you hidden behind the $0.79 four packs of the most flavorful greenish-red Kumato tomatoes? I just saw these for $3.29 at Trader Joes – same packaging and all! My grocery cart is filling up and I came in here for what again? Rapini for $0.99 a lb and not $2.99 a bundle?!? Oh yeah, guacamole! Under normal circumstances, I always make my own guacamole, but it was a long day and I got lazy. Serrano peppers in my guac or not? Definitely with. OK, in my cart. Just one more thing and then I’ll be outta here.

Grocery Gal Angelo Caputo's Market

Rapini only $0.99 a lb? Normally $2.99 a bunch elsewhere.

Oh wait, I’m at Caputo’s! I need some PASTA! They always have a great selection of different brands of pasta: semolina, wheat, organic, cheap, not as cheap, and a great selection of shapes. Most of their pasta is imported from Italy, so I always try and pick up something a little out of the ordinary here.

Grocery Gal Angelo Caputo's Market

House brand, imported and mainstream canned tomatoes and pasta at Caputo’s

Grocery Gal Angelo Caputo's Market

A small sample of Caputo’s imported pasta – only 2 for $5

This was more of a run in and pick up something quick excursion, so I bypassed the fresh fish, fresh meat, deli and cheese counters. They have a good selection of ready made food to go, and a snack bar (wait… I never noticed this trend before) at the front of the grocery store.

Grocery Gal Angelo Caputo's Market

Deli fresh meat, cheeses, olives and ready to eat foods.

Even with all the bypassing, I still stocked up on various veggies, pasta, sauces, frozen pizza dough and, yes, a mini cannoli for being such a good shopper. And it was all packed together in a repurposed produce box. I love that they give you this option – it’s easier to transport and recycle instead of those stupid plastic bags. Please note, Grocery Gal usually shops with her own reusable bags, but getting the box this time was all in the name of research!

Grocery Gal Angelo Caputo's Market

Many cannoli choices, but I took the mini one for being a good Grocery Gal

Caputo’s in Elmwood Park is one of the rare grocery stores that I could actually buy all my groceries at. Good, full selection of produce and staples, and overall really nice prices. They have multiple locations in the Chicagoland area, so if you’re not near the Elmwood Park one, check out another one of their locations. Angelo Caputo’s Fresh Markets. 2400 N. Harlem Ave., Elmwood Park, IL 60707. Open 7 days 6am-10am. 708-453-0155. http://caputomarkets.com/


It was hard to decide which store I would feature on my first blog. I didn’t want to break out the big guns on such an early post, so I let my stomach decide. It was a rainy night and I thought I’d pick up some stuff for dinner at a place I’ve seen for the past 2 months on my way home from work.

Amish Farmers Grocery Store

Amish Farmers located on Grand Avenue in Franklin Park.

You can easily miss Amish Farmers when driving by on Grand Avenue in Franklin Park. As a graphic designer, I immediately noticed the clean simple logo along a stretch of blah signage. Their tagline: organic real food sparked my interest, too. I pulled into a free street parking spot and went inside. I was immediately greeted with “tak,” Polish for hello. Not what I was expecting, but then I realized it meant one thing: they’ve got to have great smoked meat.

Amish Farmers Smoked Meat

Amish Farmers Smoked Meat. Sausages on left smoked “in the country” while larger cuts of meat smoked in-house.

I thought they would only carry vegetables, but they had a great selection of meats, dairy and dry and canned (literally through canning) goods. They’ve only been open for 3 months so far, and they carry products from Amish farmers in Indiana and Wisconsin. When I looked at above the meat display, “MEAT ONLY GIVES ASSISTANT!” I fell in love.

Amish Farmers Fresh Meat with No Hormones

Fresh chicken, pork, veal and lamb from local Amish Farmers. The meat is slaughtered fresh for the owners. All the animals are grass fed and have no hormones.

The prices were amazing. I bought 30 eggs for $6.50 and some gouda cheese curds for $2.25. They offered samples of the cheeses and the smoked meats, so l left with a little sampling of both. They had a great selection of dried goods and root vegetables. The woman who helped me said they have a larger selection of products on Fridays and Saturdays, similar to a Farmer’s Market. She recommended the brownies, but I said I’ll have to wait for next time. I’ll definitely be back, and you should, too.

amish-farms-bulk amish-farms-veggie

Amish Farmers, 9711 W Grand Ave, Franklin Park, IL 60131. (847) 916-2483. Hours: Monday-Saturday 8am-7pm, Sunday 9am-3pm.