This piece originally posted in March 2014 for the online company Relished. A rebranding has recently taken place and Relished is now known as Home Chef. Relished links have been updated to take users to the correct Home Chef links. Enjoy!

Today is a first for Grocery Gal. A company contacted me to try out their food. Really? Free food? Bring it on! The catch was they wanted me to honestly write about it. I’m fine about being honest. And I thought too bad for them, because this sounds like a concept so NOT Grocery Gal. Why not? It sounded fancy and way too expensive. Well it was fancy, and to my shock and absolutely amazing value. What was it? It’s a new Chicago company called Relished.

I was familiar with the delivery concept with Door-to-Door Organics. The twist here was it’s three complete meals for you to cook at home, with everything (minus salt, pepper, oil and your cookware) in one box. It’s sounded great for my busy schedule. And it sounded expensive.

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery

A box of goodness from Relished Foods

A box was delivered by Fed Ex on a Wednesday. It was like Christmas! I opened a well insulated box filled with lots of veggies, two packages of shrimp and two mahi mahi fillets.

Grocery Gal Chicago Relished Food Delivery

All this delivered for under $60!

You can customize meals for your dietary needs, so I requested the pescatarian option. Recipe cards on thick card stock were well designed (a big plus in my book) with lots of step by step photos for those new to cooking, and the components for three meals, individually bagged. Wine or beer pairing suggestions are also included. I had some stash from Vin Chicago, so we were covered in the wine department. The Grocery Gal cooking show was about to begin!

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery Recipe Card

All the how-to’s including drink pairings

Since the mahi-mahi was still frozen, I chose to cook a shrimp dish the first night. The package was for a 2 person meal, but we had three of us at home, so we got a little creative… which just meant adding extra shrimp and veggies. We chose the creamy fresh pesto pasta recipe with fresh peas and roasted peppers. All I had to do was slice the red peppers and prosciutto; the rest of the prep work is done for you. The meat eaters enjoyed crispy prosciutto with the shrimp.

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery

Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken became Shrimp with Crispy Prosciutto

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery

Looks as good as their photos!

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery

The tiny shrimp and yellow squash were added to make it a meal for three

The end result was delicious! The portions were big; while I extended the meal with extra shrimp, yellow squash and pasta, there was still enough leftovers to take for lunch the next day. What I really enjoyed about it was it was something I’d never think of cooking myself. I thought it would’ve been about a zillion calories, but according to the calorie chart on the recipe card, each serving was under 500 calories. I don’t know if I believe that, but I won’t question it now. Day one was pretty impressive.

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery

More prosciutto for me!

Day two’s meal was supposed to be steak with roasted vegetable hash, but we used Mahi Mahi which was delivered to us instead. The rainbow carrots and shallots were already peeled; a great time saver. I only used 1/2 of the cauliflower and squash; I saved the rest for another meal. The recipe said the vegetables only needed 20 minutes in the oven, and I knew that was way to short for the acorn squash to be done.

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery

Roasted vegetables and Mahi Mahi – even though I”m showing shrimp here

I roasted them in the oven for almost an hour – I like my roasted veggies charred – and added some extra brussels sprouts I had to the mix. End result was a much fuller flavor.

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery

I like my veggies charred!

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery

Thursday night’s end result featuring a great wine from Vin Chicago

Friday came and went and we didn’t cook our third meal, which was a spinach salad with shrimp. I ended up cooking it on Saturday for lunch. My only complaint was on Saturday my cherry tomatoes had gone bad, which was really surprising. Being Grocery Gal, though, all was not lost; I had tomatoes in the house. It was one minor mishap on an otherwise great experience.

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery Meal

Day three – Spinach and Shrimp Salad

Once I was done cooking the final meal and formed my opinion, I looked into the cost of having a subscription to Relished. I was convinced three substantial meals for two people being delivered to your home in incredible packaging with high quality printed materials was easily $100 a week. Perfect for my well-to-do friends with demanding jobs, downtown homes and no cars, but not for budget-conscious Grocery Gal. I think i literally gasped when I logged on to RelishedFoods.com and saw the price: $9.95 per person/per meal. Three dinners delivered to me for $59.70. The packaging alone seemed to be $20 – how do they do it?

You can have their food delivered to you up to five days a week, and they offer four and six person servings for those with larger families.  Today I just logged on to their site for a delivery for two weeks from now, and there’s 5 options for me to choose from. It’s great, because my husband doesn’t like beets, so I swapped that out for a rainbow chard salad.

Another thing that’s great is they deliver outside of Chicagoland: anywhere east of the Colorado River, except Florida and Maine. Seeing that, I signed up for a delivery to my sister in rural Michigan. Hope I didn’t ruin the surprise, Tanya! There’s no hidden fees I can see, and you can cancel at anytime. I won’t do Relished every week, but I can see myself doing a delivery every other month. You can see their weekly menu online.

HomeChef.com. Also on Facebook.


Living on the northwest side of Chicago exposes me to a variety of Polish delis. I am pretty loyal to my local Montrose Deli, but one night I was a few minutes early meeting my father at Old Warsaw Buffet, and had an opportunity to stop in at Deli 4 You. I don’t know why so many Polish delis cover their windows with decals of food, like the private coffeehouse-meets-soccer-club joints peppered throughout the city. Maybe they’re trying to keep me out, but Grocery Gal still wants to see what’s inside….

Deli 4 You Norridge Grocery Gal

Windows hiding the goodness inside

I had plans to cook a beer can chicken the next day and needed to grab a whole chicken. If you haven’t tried cooking a beer can chicken, I highly recommend it. For years I subscribed to Real Simple magazine, and every recipe I tried tasted terrible: except their beer can chicken recipe. Any recipe that starts out saying “open a can of beer and drink half of it,” is a winner in my book.

I went inside Deli 4 and it had the familiar Eastern-Euro smoked meat meets bakery smell in the air. It’s a compact store with all the regular Polish staples there. I’m very partial to Montrose Deli’s pork snack sausages, and saw Deli 4 You had their own. After being greeted only in Polish by the woman at the deli counter, I asked for one sausage apologetically in English.

Grocery Gal Deli 4 You Chicago

Murals give it a homey feeling

Grocery Gal Deli 4 you blood sausage

While I’m adventurous, I haven’t tried the blood sausage

Grocery Gal Chicago Deli 4 You readymade food

Heat and Eat dinner options

I noticed they had a nice selection of smoked fish, so I ordered a small piece of smoked trout. I like how you can purchase small pieces and not have to be stuck with an entire smoked fish. Finally, I got what I originally came in for: a whole chicken. I had a choice between a traditional Purdue chicken and an Amish one, and bought an Amish one for about $2.29 a pound. The chicken wasn’t the cheapest price, but I know it’s not their main business, so I was fine spending a little extra.

Deli 4 You Grocery Gal Smoked Fish

Smoked trout and salmon in nice, small chunks

Prices were good; my favorite Lowell Old Country Style pickles were on sale, as was some dark chocolate for smoring in the back yard later in the week. Definitely a solid stop if you’re in the neighborhood looking for some smoked sausages, smoked fish and even some creamy Polish pastries.

Grocery Gal Chicago Deli 4 You Pastries

Creamy cakes are pretty popular Polish pastries

grocerygal-deli4you-lowellDo you like Kit Kats? If so, be sure to buy some Prince Polos the next time you see them. They’re the Eastern European version of Kit-Kat, covered in dark chocolate and not as sugary. There must’ve been a sale going on that I missed, but the customers before and after me in line were really stocking up. A standard price is 3 for $1. I knew my dad was going to be waiting on me, but I might’ve missed out on the Prince Polo deal of the century.

Grocery Gal Blog Prince Polo Candy bar deli 4 you

I missed the Prince Polo display, but the guy behind me didn’t!

When I did my research on Deli 4 You, I found, as with most delis I like, they have multiple locations. This Deli 4 You was in Norridge on Harlem, while their other location is in Prospect Heights.

Oh yeah, and what did I do with the smoked trout? I made a great salad from a recipe I found from Food & Wine. It was beautiful and deeee-lish!

Grocery Gal smoked tuna grapefruit salad

Components for a really great salad

Grocery Gal Blog Deli 4 You Norridge smoked trout

Smoked trout salad with crispy skin

Deli 4 You. 4343 N. Harlem Ave, Norridge, IL 60706. 708-457-1700. Open Monday – Saturday 8am-8pm (till 9 on Fridays). Sunday 9am-5pm.


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 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


I’m not going to go into detail here, but I know we’re all sick of snow. I dream about being on a beach feeling the sun’s rays on my skin and sipping a fruity cocktail. Then the alarm goes off and I’m off to another day of work. If I’m still dreaming of the beach on my way home from work, I’ll stop at Rio Valley Market to get the ingredients to make a feel-better fish taco dinner.

Grocery Gal Rio Valley Market

Rio Valley Market on Mannheim at Grand

I think the first time I went into Rio Grande I stopped in my tracks as soon as I walked in. Why? My favorite summertime beer, Tecate, was a mere $14.99 a case. OK, Pacifico is my favorite, but on a budget it’s Tecate. Somehow over the past few years Tecate has gotten into bargain basement pricing, and that’s fine by me. I’ve yet to see it cheaper anywhere else. They even carry Tecate Light – but, seriously, don’t waste your time.

So many choices, but the best deal is 24 Tecates for $14.99

So many choices, but the best deal is 24 Tecates for $14.99

In a perfect world, fish tacos are grilled over real hardwood charcoal on my Weber grill. When it’s 1 degree outside, I’ll have to settle for fish tacos from the kitchen. Rio Valley is by no means a fish market. They are a traditional, independent Latin-influenced market, nothing fancy and value priced. Think full butcher section with an offshoot of fish staples. They carry different types of fish – tilapia, basa, swai and catfish. I’m usually in a rush, so I grab some prepackaged fish for around $5 a package.

Grocery Gal Rio Valley Market

No time to wait in the deli? Grab your fish to go. Don’t worry, every day is “today’s special” — doesn’t mean it’s about to go bad.

What goes with fish tacos? Well, mango salsa, of course! All the staples I need are here: fresh, ready to eat mangoes (not too ripe and not too hard), cilantro, jalapeño, red pepper, limes and avocado. The week I was there avocados were 4 for $1!. There’s also red cabbage for shredding and adding the perfect crunch to your taco.

Grocery Gal Rio Valley Market

Who don’t love avocados?

I’m also a sucker for Crema – Mexican Style sour cream. I think it’s because it has a slightly salty taste to it; it’s replaced traditional sour cream in my house. Yes, it has a few more calories, but with so much flavor, you can use it sparingly. Lots of choices at Rio Valley and usually at least one brand is on sale.

Grocery Gal Rio Valley Market

So many Crema choices, so little time…

That’s it. My cart is filled with fresh tortillas (the corn ones are often still warm, they must get daily deliveries), fish, produce and a case of Tecate. I quickly check out, get in the Grocery Getter and head home to put a little sunshine in my family’s dinner that night. Why not stop in and grab what you need to make some for yourself? I’ve included my recipe for mango salsa along with my husband’s killer aioli recipe.  You can most likely feed a family of three for $15, which includes a few Tecates for the adults!
Mango Salsa

  • 1 Mango peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 red onion finely chopped
  • 1/2 red/orange/yellow pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 avocado, chopped (but not mashed)
  • 1 small jalapeño, seeds removed & chopped
  • 2 T chopped cilantro
  • Juice of 2 limes

Mix all the items together and taste. Feel free to add more/less of any ingredient, based on spice needs. Sometimes I add a 1/4 peeled/seeded cucumber.

Aioli for Fish Tacos

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (I prefer it with olive oil)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • dash of Lawry’s seasoned salt
  • 1-2 T Mexican-style hot sauce

Press the cloves of garlic with a garlic press. Mix everything together. This is a perfect “base layer” for your tacos. It gets so addicting, I’ve found myself using it as a dip!

Rio Valley Market. 2745 Mannheim Rd, Franklin Park, Illinois 60131. 847-451-8440. www.RioValleyMarket.com


I’ve noticed all my posts have required all my readers to have a set of wheels to get them to the recommended Grocery Gal destination. Today’s installment can be easily reached via the Red Line at the Argyle stop, or the Broadway bus, the 145 and 146, if those are still running. It’s a tucked away market in a very busy strip mall in Chicago’s Southeast Asian neighborhood near Broadway and Argyle, and it’s called Tai Nam.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

People from all over the midwest show up at Tai Nam on the weekends. Take the el or park on side streets when you go.

I lived in Uptown for well over ten years, and it was the both the diversity and history that made the area special to me. There are many more restaurants than markets on Argyle, and I was always a little intimated grocery shopping, because I couldn’t decipher the packaging. It’s a little easier for me to figure out what’s going on when the Latin alphabet is being used.  The markets were also rather pungent upon first entering.  It wasn’t until I took an amazing hands-on Vietnamese/Thai cooking class I had with Chef Rebecca Wheeler circa 2006-ish at Wooden Spoon in Andersonville when I understood which markets I needed to go into and what I needed to buy.

For those driving to Tai Nam, don’t even attempt to park in their parking lot. Or on Broadway. Especially if it’s the weekend. It’s a mess, so either walk, take the CTA, or park on a side street and take a walk there. Make the most out of it, checking out the next outdoor Vintage Garage Chicago event, grab some lunch (Dim Sum at Furama, Thai at Thai Pastry, Pho & Vietnamese pancake at Tank Noodle/Pho 777, or sandwiches at Ba-Le), and then head on over to Tai Nam.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Sauces as far as the eye can see – and all at great prices

You can easily stock up on affordable sesame oil, Asian sauces, rice, rice noodles and canned baby corn for a perfect stir-fry at home. They also have a very busy butcher counter, live lobster and crab for a song, and self service fresh fish. The self service part still freaks me out a little; I have yet to buy some. However, the eyes always look clear, which means it’s fresh. One day, when I’m ready to take the plunge and pick my fish with tongs and put them in bag myself, instead of pointing and telling someone else to do it for me, I’ll be back. I’m just not there yet.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Self-serve fresh fish at Tai Nam market in Uptown

I have yet to purchase live lobster. $9.99 a pound seems like a ridiculously great price, but I can’t see myself steaming these guys in a big pot at home. If you’re a lobster-boiler, please send me a message and tell me if it’s really not as horrendous as it seems to be.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Live lobster for $9.99/lb.

What I DO come into Tai Nam for is fresh mint, Thai basil, lemon grass and Thai red chilies. The mint and basil are at unheard of prices. Making mint juleps? Grab a huge bag for mint for under $2. Three stalks of lemongrass for $.99! They also have pea shoots for $2 a bag and a bunch of super fresh Asian greens.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Bags and bags of fresh mint, Thai basil and many other goodies – most under $1.50 each.

What did I need Thai basil, lemongrass and fresh mint for? It’s all part of the most delicious Thai Beef Salad recipe below. I lost the recipe during a move, but the ladies at Wooden Spoon dug into their archives and emailed it to me. Check out their cooking classes, they’re always a great experience.

Yum Neua Fiery Beef Salad

Chef Rebecca Wheeler, Wooden Spoon Chicago.
Serves 4­-6 people

Dressing
2 tablespoons chopped Thai bird or Serrano chilies (about 4 chilies)
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup fresh lime juice

Salad
1 pound skirt steak
2 large stalks lemongrass, tough outer leaves discarded, lower stalk trimmed to 4 inches and finely sliced as thin as possible
1 small red onion, cut in half and finely sliced then roughly chopped to make approximately 1­inch pieces
1/2 pound small pickling cucumbers or regular cucumbers peeled and finely sliced
1 tomato cut into wedges (for garnish)
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh Thai basil
A few leaves of leafy lettuce for garnish
1/2 cup bean sprouts (optional garnish)

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and stir to dissolve palm sugar and combine. Set aside.

Let the meat come to room temperature before grilling. Dry the outside so there is no moisture and season liberally with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper on all sides. Preheat a grill or grill pan and grill the meat until it is medium rare. Allow the meat to rest before cutting about 15 to 20 minutes. Slice the meat against the grain at a 45­ degree angle in very thin slices. Slice in half again if needed so pieces are about 1 inch long, or bite size. Transfer the meat with any accumulated juices to a mixing bowl and toss with the remaining salad ingredients. Add the dressing and mix well. Let stand 15­-30 minutes before serving. Garnish a platter with the lettuce leaves and tomato wedges. Arrange the salad on top and top with bean sprouts and additional herb sprigs if desired. Serve at room temperature. If you refrigerating for use at a later time allow the salad to come to room temperature before serving.

Note: To reduce the level of spiciness, remove the seeds from the chilies or omit the chilies altogether.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Shopping for some good luck.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Sweets of the gummy variety are pretty popular.

Tai Nam Food Market. 4925 N. Broadway Street, Chicago, IL 60640. 773-275-5666.


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!