2018 Update – unfortunately Bende has closed this location.

Of all the grocery stores I have written about, I probably have been enjoying food from Bende the longest; at least 20+ years. I don’t know who found the place first: my mom or my dad. When I would be in town during college break, I’d drive with my mom to Vernon Hills on a Saturday morning to visit the this sparkling clean and almost sterile Hungarian gem hidden in an industrial park. We’d go inside, pick up smoked Hungarian sausages, smoked tenderloin, paprika, sauerkraut and a case of Croatian Karlovacko beer, then head home. More recently, when I see my dad, there’s often a vacuum sealed package of Bende’s smoked pork tenderloin waiting for me.

As a city dweller for almost as long as I’ve know of Bende’s existence, it has become more difficult to make it to Vernon Hills without investing an entire day which includes mandatory stops at both Par-King in Lincolnshire and Bill’s Pizza in Mundelein. I went online to check Bende’s hours and found they had a storefront in Glen Ellyn. Hmm, I hadn’t written about Bende yet, have never been to Glen Ellyn, and it’s open on a Sunday? It sounded like a perfect Grocery Gal adventure to have with my stepson!

I’m notorious for getting lost anywhere South and West of Chicago, but we easily found Bende’s large sign along Roosevelt Road to guide us in to European goodness. It was early on a Sunday and we were ready to shop.

The store was bright and inviting. First thing I saw was a collection of European bath products that made me swoon. The prices were definitely cheaper than the wonderful Merz Apothecary in Lincoln Square, but my bath oil quota had recently been filled during a trip to Europe.

Bende’s in Glen Ellyn is a proper European style deli. Living on the northwest side of Chicago, I have plenty of Polish delis which cater to that clientele. I get frustrated when I can’t understand the language on all the labels, so I try to guess my way through the products. Bende’s carries childhood essentials that pulled at my heart strings; all in German, which I could understand. They carried items I meant to bring back from Germany this past summer, but forgot, like the tasty Löwensenf Extra, from Düsseldorf.

Germans have a love for condiments to spread on meats and breads, and make some pretty tasty ones. Bende carries spicy red pepper spreads, similar to Croatian Ajvar, along with creamy garlic spreads, and my favorite full fat mayonnaise in toothpaste tubes with fluted ends to make fancy sandwiches with.

Many stores I’ve shopped at carry the delicious European “Giant Beans,” which aren’t quite lima or butter beans, but some mysterious hybrid that cannot be found in the US. What makes Bende even more special is that they carry the very hard to find Purple Bean Salad, which is native to Sytria in Austria. I first ate purple beans on a hiking trip through Austrian wine country with my Aunt in 2007, and whenever I see them, I think fondly of her and that time we spent together.

But, wait, there’s more Austrian memories! Bende carries a nice variety of hard to find European beers, but as a gluten free person, I’m more interested in their, um, wheat-free beverages. I was delighted to find that Bende carries Austrian schnapps, and at a much lower price point that Gene’s Sausage Shop. Now, I’m not going to drive 30 minutes to save $7, but I will check my current inventory to see if I need to stock up the next time I drive out to Glen Ellyn. The Croatian side of me was happy to see they offered a huge selection of plum brandies, but I haven’t ventured into the world of those spirits just yet. However, if you have a toothache, nothing helps more (according to my dad), than a little slivovitz.After navigating the aisles, my stepson and I came across what makes Bende a destination for food lovers: their deli. Before I even came across their own products, I saw they offered products from wonderful and well-known Chicago brands Koenemann and Stiglmeier. That’s what makes Bende great. Instead of trying to create a wide variety of products, they focus on what they do best, and bring in the best of the best as their supporting cast. I’m not a fan of headcheese, but based on their breadth of their offering, this place seems like a good bet.

As much as I wanted to get a few slices of Tyrolska lunchmeat, I focused my purchase on Bende products to make my bean soup for the Chicago Food Swap. While there are a few places in Chicago that offer smoked ribs, I have yet to find anyone better than Bende’s smoked ribs. How good are they? I’ve gotten a slab as a Christmas gift more than once from my dad. My sister drives in from Michigian to stock up on it, too. ‘Nuff said.I knew I was going to cook the soup the later that day, so I opted to select the exact slab of smoked ribs behind the counter, and had them wrapped in signature white deli paper. However, Bende offers options vacuum packed so you can stock up for the future while you’re there. I’m a sucker for the smoked tenderloin sliced thinly, and any of their Hungarian style dried sausages are also delicious. I don’t know what the difference is, perhaps the spices or that it’s drier, but the flavor is different than Polish and Italian dried sausages. Just try it, you’ll like it.

Even though there were expressways and tolls involved, Bende is a great resource for many German items that I have yet to find in the Chicagoland area. It was a great adventure for me to share part of my heritage with my stepson. If you don’t have a way to get out to Glen Ellyn or Vernon Hills, Bende products can be found at a variety of stores in the Chicagoland area including A&G Market and Fresh Farms, so you can work on making your own little Euro-plate at home.

Bende’s Specialty Foods Direct.  444 Roosevelt Rd, Glen Ellyn, IL 60137. 630-469-6525.

Hours: Tuesday – Friday 9:30AM – 7:00PM, Saturday 9:30AM – 6:30PM, Sunday 10:00AM – 3:00PM. Monday closed.


Bende’s Corporate Headquarters

925 Corporate Woods Pkwy. Vernon Hills, IL 60061. 847-913-0306
Hours:    Monday – Friday 7:00AM – 3:30PM, Saturday 9:00AM – 3:30PM, Sunday closed.


When the days shorten and the temperatures begin to drop, I think about a few things: wearing tights, turning on the seat warmers in my grocery getter, and making soup. My only problem with making soups, as previously written, is I can’t make a small batch. The monthly Chicago Food Swap has helped me distribute some of that extra soup, but how do I handle a last minute soup craving during the workweek?  That’s when Frontier Soups come to the rescue!

Frontier Soups are a family based business located in Waukegan and offer a variety of soups with state and regional themes. They also offer heartier meals, dips and other items, all for sale on their website, online retailers and locally at Sunset Foods, Jewel and Whole Foods. They were introducing their new gluten-free West Coast Kale & Quinoa Vegetable Soup, and asked that I give it a try.  I loved seeing all the ingredients of the soup in a clear pouch – filled with good-for-you stuff. I needed to add a can of tomatoes (which I bought on sale at HarvesTime Foods), a butternut squash (picked up an organic one for $1.50 at Amish Farmers) and some vegetable broth.

Grocery Gal Frontier Soup Kale & Quinoa SoupThey suggested cooking the butternut squash first in a microwave. I live in a microwave-free home, so I cooked it the old fashioned way – I just simmered the squash in the broth first for 10 minutes and then added the rest of the ingredients.

Grocery Gal Frontier Soup West Coast Kale SoupIn about 30 minutes I had a great tasting, super healthy soup for dinner! One package serves 4-6 people, so I had some leftovers which I froze in jars for lunch, and I was going to bring one jar to a friend who was a little under the weather.

Why do I freeze my soups if it takes a day to defrost? Probably because I can’t can them. Canning is something I want to try, but I’m totally intimidated by it. I pour my hot soup into glass jars and the heat does a good job of almost sealing it, but I know it needs to be frozen to stay fresh. I’d love to show up to the Chicago Food Swap with a variety of soups I made and canned, but as close as I can get to that (right now) is filling my soups in a Ball mason jar and telling people to freeze or eat it within 2 days.

Since the soup was a for a friend and not for my lunch, I felt sheepish pouring it into an old salsa jar. I felt I had to class it up a notch with by putting it in a beautiful Ball Heritage Collection jar.

Grocery Gal Ball Hertiage JarWhat is the Ball Heritage Collection, you ask? They’re limited edition jars from Ball which celebrate 100 years of mason jar designs by the Ball brothers. They’re the same quality you know and love from Ball, but in a vintage style and wonderful colors. They first were launched in 2013 with the blue “Perfect Mason” jar, which I need to order for when my kitchen is redone one day. I’d love to have quart size jars on display filled with my different gluten-free flours, but I didn’t find out about them until the larger jars were sold out. I guess I’ll have to search eBay for those. 2014’s spring green jar is called “Perfection” which goes well with Grocery Gal’s current website colors, I might add! I loved the raised letters and the period-correct reproduction of “PERFECTION” on the front of the jar.  I can’t wait to see what they launch for 2015 – I’m wondering if it will be yellow/amber/red colored glass?

Grocery Gal Ball Perfection American Heritage Mason JarIn the end, I brought my friend a delicious, hearty soup that took little effort to make in a beautiful vessel. She loved it, so I hope she’ll return the favor by trying a different Frontier Soup (I’m hoping Illinois Prairie Corn Chowder or New Mexico Mesa Spicy Fiesta Soup Mix) and bringing me a batch in the same jar!

Frontier Soups. Locally made in Waukegan, Illinois.

Ball Heritage Collection.


I first heard about the Chicago Food Swap through Chicago Food Bloggers. The concept on their website was just too perfect: The Chicago Food Swap is an organization dedicated to bringing together cooks, bakers, canners, gardeners and foragers to trade homemade and homegrown foods. This was something right up my alley. I had written in an earlier post how I’m physically unable to make a small amount of soup, so I’d pawn it all off on friends who affectionately named me the Soup Fairy™. Now, I could still make that entire vat of soup, but just package it a little nicer and actually get food made by other people in return! Brilliant! Sorry, friends!

I thought I had my concept in the bag – design some labels, cut them with pinking shears and hand tie them around some Ball mason jars. I’d cook something featuring a local store I’d feature on Grocery Gal. For My First Food Swap™, I chose my famous bean soup using smoked ribs from Bende (GG post comin’ soon!).

Grocery Gal Ball mason jar  Chicago Food SwapThe swap is usually held on the 3rd Sunday of the month at the Fearless Food Kitchen, part of the Peterson Garden Project, in the Broadway Armory from 2-4 pm. I was a few minutes late, because I had to grab some Co-op Poblano Hot Sauce, and the place was packed!

Grocery Gal at the Chicago Food SwapWhile I thought I had an edge making my own label and using pinking sheers, the more experienced swappers schooled me with their promotional styles. Samples! Detailed descriptions! Beautiful displays! Multiple food choices! Customized swap lists!

Grocery Gal at the Chicago Food SwapGrocery Gal at the Chicago Food SwapGrocery Gal at the Chicago Food SwapEmily, the founder of the Food Swap, was very helpful and took me, as a newbie, under her wing. She helped explain how I should look and see what everyone was offering, and then write down my offers. Actually, everyone there was friendly and helpful, and handful of experienced swappers showed me the ropes. I felt sheepish offering just soup when others had fancy stuff like honey and preserved lemons, but then I saw people coming over to sign up to hopefully swap for my soup and I felt relieved! It was almost as if I’d taken my soup-making skills for granted. While I’m not the best baker, I do a nice job with savory foods… and yeah, did anyone else there know where to buy Hungarian-style smoked ribs to put in soups like Grocery Gal did? Maybe not! Hooray – confidence returned!

Grocery Gal at the Chicago Food SwapThere was a small $5 registration fee that offsets any costs and then proceeds go the Peterson Garden Project. Everyone also received a sample bottle of incredible vanilla from Nielsen-Massey. We spent the first 45 minutes walking around, chatting and deciding what we were hoping to trade for. When the official “swap” began, there was a frenzy of trading the foods before the favorites on your list sold out. We were done in 15 minutes. There was something gratifying hearing people say “Yes, I’d love to have your soup!” as you traded it for pecan caramel corn, gluten-free pumpkin bites, preserved lemons (yep, got ’em) and Indian Dal mixes. I did come home with a bounty, in less than an hour!

Grocery Gal at the Chicago Food Swap

My bounty after an afternoon of swapping

For my next Food Swap, I’ll probably make something vegan to hopefully score some of the delicious homemade kimchee I was unable to get this last time.

Unfortunately, I will be out of town for the October Food swap on Sunday October 19th. However, don’t let that keep you away – sign up now on Eventbrite.  I will be at the November 16th one, using a few of the marketing tips I learned at the past one, and probably with my stepson who will help guide me on what we should bring home. Hope to see you there!

Chicago Food Swap. Also find them on Facebook.


Someone recently asked me, “Who has the best produce?”  The answer I gave was simple: it all depends on where you live. I was trying to think of landmark neighborhoods to answer her with and realized I hadn’t written about a great grocery store for people living near Lincoln Square and Albany Park: HarvesTime Foods. Located on Lawrence, between Western and California, you’ll notice HarvesTime as the building covered in solar panels alongside their large parking lot, and the delicious tamales for sale outside the entrance.

Grocery Gal visits HarvestTime FoodsHarvesTime is a nice mashup of a store who can cater to the variety of people living in Lincoln Square and Albany Park. HarvesTime is your standard Produce Stand meets Middle Eastern/Balkan Deli meets Latin Grocery Store meets Organic Foods meets Locally Sourced Products at reasonable prices and all under one roof. What else could anyone need? Well, booze, I guess…

Grocery Gal HarvestTime Homeade Guacamole

I was first introduced to HarvesTime at a party years ago, where their in-house salsas and guacamole were being gobbled up by everyone. I was familiar with the store and stopped in, happy to see many Balkan favorites of mine, including Vegata Natur, a nice deli selection and thorough meat selection. With such a heavy Eastern Euro/Balkan influence, I’m still surprised they don’t carry lamb. Years later, the store continues to expand to the needs of their clients, with a big push of organic and locally produced items (but I still need to buy lamb somewhere else). Grocery Gal HarvestTime DeliTwo local brands HarvesTime carries are Big Pork and Chef Martin’s Alpine Brand Sausages. I have yet to try Big Pork’s brand, but I am very familiar with the Chef Martin brand, and every type I’ve tried is outstanding. If you have your heart on sausages from Paulina Market and they’re closed, stop in at HarvesTime and try a few varieties from these two local Chicago sausage makers.

Chef Martin and Big Pork Sausage at Harvesttime FoodsAnother favorite that HarvesTime carries is Breadsmith breads. My husband (and I, before I went gluten free) go CRAZY over their French Peasant bread. As I stopped in late on a Saturday, I had to settle for their Rustic Italian bread. Their breads are absolutely amazing, and if you’re ever on the fence whether or not you should buy it, read their ingredient label and compare it to your other option. They use no additives or preservatives which is exactly why it tastes incredible. They also offer fresh Vie De France options along with a bunch of other very good local bakery breads, but my family’s choice for sandwich bread is always Breadsmith.

Grocery Gal buys Breadsmith bread at Harvesttime FoodsWhen you leave HarvesTime, make sure you have a few dollars cash on hand for the tamales for sale outside. The family selling them have been there for years, and I believe it’s 6 tamales for $5. I grabbed six cheese ones to share with my husband and they were still warm even after my bike ride back home.

HarvesTime Foods. 2632 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60625.  (773) 989-4400


If you grew up in Illinois anywhere near the Wisconsin, there’s a good chance you heard of Mars’ Cheese Castle. It meant you were on I-94, had just passed through Kenosha, and were en route to Milwaukee. However, tucked next to the huge CHEESE CASTLE sign (and newly constructed castle), is a true gem worthy of a visit: Bobby Nelson’s Cheese Shop.

Grocery Gal Bobby Nelson Cheese Shop

Pass the castle and come to Bobby Nelson’s

While I didn’t have a chance to learn more about Bobby Nelson’s history, it was still love at first sight. I felt like I was visiting the original Meyer Delicatessen in Lincoln Square (before it became Gene’s Sausage Shop) or a brighter Erickson’s Deli in Andersonville. There was a definite Scandinavian-meets-German feel to the place.

Grocery Gal Bobby Nelson Wisonsin CheeseInside was just heaven for me. While there’s a huge cheese selection at Woodman’s (and I’m sure Mars’ Cheese Castle), Bobby Nelson’s had more specialty cheeses, making it worth the trip for true Cheese foodies. With only $20 in my pocket, I had to ration my choices. I narrowed my cheese selection to a Roth Käse Horseradish-Chive Havarti that was out of this world! They had the staples of cheese curds and summer sausages, just not in touristy packaging. The hand-lettered signage on the wall announcing their 100% pure home made sausages made me cave in and buy a summer sausage. The woman working at the counter said the garlic sausage was the way to go; I eagerly nodded and asked for one. Those two items, along with a landjäger for the ride home put me back a little under $20. It was all worth every penny.

grocerygal-bobbynelson-cheeseIn addition to a nice variety of cheese, smoked sausages and brats, they offered a lot of local jellies, sauces and pickled products. While I don’t think I’d be picking up any turkey gizzards or pork hocks anytime soon, I wondered how a pickled egg would taste in a bloody mary. Grocery Gal Bobby Nelson Wisconsin Cheese PickledNext time you see the sign, be sure to get off the highway and stop in to select what you deem the perfect Wisconsin experience (minus the beer!).

Grocery Gal Bobby Nelson Wisconsin cheese

Wisconsin knows how to do Neon right

How good was it? Well, I had to try a bite of that delicious horseradish-chive havarti before I could even take the photo!  And the summer sausage? Probably the best and only summer sausage I’ll ever have again. I’m normally not a fan of summer sausage (not dry enough), but this was just perfect. It’s worth the road trip. Just let me know when you’re going, so I can tag along.

Bobby Nelson Grocery Gal Summer Sausage

Bobby Nelson’s Garlic Summer Sausage – yum

Bobby Nelson Cheese Shop. 2924 120th Ave. Kenosha, WI 53144. 262-859-2232


I’ve found I have more grocery stores and food related things to write about than I have time for. That’s the basis for GGBite: bite sized reviews of places that I stopped in at, but might not have the time to do a full-on Grocery Gal posting on. Today’s first GGBite I came across on my bicycle one Saturday afternoon while running errands: Ameera Food, located next to Chicago Live Poultry on Western Avenue at Devon.

Grocery  Gal GG Bite Ameera Chicago Live Poultry

My Two Wheeled Austrian Grocery Getter – KTM City Bike

I was on my way to an appointment at Santhigram Wellness Kerala Ayurveda (you must try an Ayurvedic treatment  – it will change your life!) and was running a little early. As I was on Devon at Western, I looked north and saw Chicago Live Poultry. I was always a little scared of the store – but now as Grocery Gal, I knew I just had to go in.

Sorry, there aren’t any photos. As you can tell by the name, here’s where you can buy live chickens, along with other types of fowl: turkeys, pheasant, duck, goose. There was a hand-written sign on the wall listing what was available and at what price. I didn’t take a photo, as it was just such an uncomfortable place to be in; I had to go. The gist is you can choose your animal and it will be slaughtered and cleaned there for you. You can’t get any fresher than that, but it’s not for those with a weak stomach.

Next to Chicago Live Poultry was the the bright, clean Ameera Food. There were no windows to look in, but fresh posters touting “Fresh Fish” and “Meat.” Inside, it looked as if they’d be open only a few weeks – the place was well stocked with African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and South Asian foods.

Can't get any fresherThey had a pretty large fresh fish selection with many of the staples: tilapia, catfish, but a few other fish I had never heard of. All were tucked in with lots of ice to keep them fresh. What was most interesting was the aquarium where you could purchase live tilapia.

They also offered the services of Chicago Live Poultry without the full experience. You could tell the butcher counter you’d like a chicken, and they would take care of the rest. They had a small, but fresh butcher case with Zabiha Halal meats as well.

Grocery Gal Ameera Food Western ChicagoThey carried a lot of African products including Red African Beans, Oporo and dried Crawfish. There was a good selection of grains that I haven’t cooked with before: Elubo/Amala and Yellow Gari. As I’m currently eating gluten free, I bought some Fufu flour which is used to make a West African style dumpling. Yellow Gari Ameera Nigerian Grain Chicago Grocery GalFufu flour African Ameera Chicago Grocery GalThere was a small produce section. I think there are other options on Devon, like Fresh Farms, that are better options to by produce from. However, specialized ones like Ghana Yams are worth a purchase at Ameera.

Ghana Yams African Produce Chicago Grocery Gal AmeeraA frozen selection focused more on Asian specialties including Durian, which I have never seen outside of Thailand, and Cassava and Jute leaves from the Philippines.Durian Fruit Chicago Ameera Grocery Gal

Cassava Leaves Jute Leaves Chicago Ameera Grocery GalEntering Ameera was an adventure for me. While I didn’t exactly know how to cook much of the food they sold, I knew it’s a great resource to share on Grocery Gal. And next time I cook a whole chicken, I might stop in to get a freshly slaughtered on from Ameera. I’ll admit, it’s a little easier to digest when you don’t have to see the what happens behind the curtain.

Grocery Gal Ameera Food

Ameera Food. 6410 N. Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60645. 773-338-8400.  Chicago Live Poultry. 6421 N. Western Ave. Chicago, IL 60645. 773-381-1000.


I share my Grocery Gal posts on social media sites like Facebook, Reddit and LinkedIn. After sharing my article on either Caputo’s Cheese Market or the Swiss Colony, I received comments telling me I needed to check out the cheese selection at Woodman’s Market in Wisconsin.

I knew of the place right when I read it. It was a huge store off of Route 50 in Kenosha, right off 94. It was on the opposite side of the highway from the legendary BratstopI’ll admit it, I never went in because I didn’t like their logo. Plain & simple. However, I had to make a stop for provisions on my way to camp at Plymouth Rock, so I thought Grocery Gal should put away her design-snobbery and check out what it had to offer.

I liked how Woodman’s is employee owned, and proud of it. When you walk in, they make it known that they don’t accept credit cards, similar to Aldi.  I liked that philosophy, and it probably keep their prices down. The place was huge – I usually don’t like shopping in such large places (though I love Costco), but I had to see what they had to offer.

Grocery Gal Woodman's Market

Summer Sausage at Woodman’s

Walking in, there was a fairly large produce section with a good amount of organic produce and vegetarian food. I was on a mission for cheese and on a tight schedule, so I went past all the healthy stuff. There’s a large meat section and I saw something that seems to be only in Wisconsin: summer sausage. I’m not a fan of it; the consistency and flavors are too American (moist) for me. I favor the dry European style sausages from Montrose Deli and Amish Farmers. However, if you love summer sausages, Woodman’s offers a variety from what seem to be small, local sausage makers in a variety of flavors.

What I do like is beef jerky! I got suckered into both the locally made and gluten free tags on Wayne’s Jerky and bought it. Even though real beef jerky should always be gluten free, it made me wonder if how many wheat fillers were in that Jack Link’s brand next to it. I was also reminded that it had been a while since I made my own beef jerky, and I needed to put that on my to-do list.

Grocery Gal Woodman's Market Wayne's Jerky

Some of the freshest packaged jerky I’ve had.

Meats were covered, now where was the cheese? I came across a small refrigerated case that had some locally made cheese in it. Really? That’s it? Wow, this is pathetic. I was really disappointed. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Until I turned the corner and came across probably 40 feet of refrigerated cheeses.

Grocery Gal Woodman's Market

People from Illinois love Wisconsin cheese curds

grocery gal wisconsin cheese woodman's market

The retro cheese section, including checkerboard flavor and cheese food with “process salami” in it.

The cheese section was overwhelming. Every brand I found, except one, was not a mass produced brand, and all from Wisconsin. The cheese staples were pretty basic. I was hoping to find something a little more exotic, but I had to wait for that later on at Bobby Nelson’s Cheese Shop.

Beef jerky, cheese curds, what else did I need while I was in Wisconsin? Oh yeah, beer. Their liquor department was in a separate area. Department is the wrong word to use. Emporium seems more appropriate. This place was larger than any liquor store I’ve been to in Chicago, minus the Binny’s location at Goose Island. And, wow, they gave you free stuff when you bought beer!

Grocery Gal Woodman Markets

Free stuff when you buy beer? Only in Wisconsin!

I could down a PBR as good as anyone before, and who wouldn’t love some sweet corn for free with a 30 pack of Pabst? Unfortunately, now I must restrict gluten from my diet. Honestly, this new chapter in my dietary life really sucks because I love me a hoppy IPA any day of the week! I wanted to see if Woodman’s carried Daura Damm gluten free beer, because it’s the only gluten free beer that tastes like real beer. I like a cider here and there, but it’s just too sweet after a while. What did Woodman’s have in their liquor emporium? More gluten free options than I ever even thought imaginable. My Daura that’s $9.99 in Chicago was a mere $5.29 at Woodman’s! What did I do? I bought four 4 packs.

Grocery Gal Woodman's Market

The Gluten Free Motherload!

I was happy. Really happy. I knew I needed to pick up some Moon Man for my husband. I’m sure Woodman’s would be carrying some New Glarus beer, right? Well, Woodman’s seemed to have more New Glarus beer than the brewery had! They also had a big stash of Lakefront Brewery’s IPA, so I picked up some for him, too.

Grocery Gal Woodman's Market

Umm, want some Spotted Cow or Moon Man?

Smoked meats? Check. Cheese curds? Check. Beer? Check. What else is Wisconsin famous for? Bloody Mary’s! When you look at the stash of what Woodman’s has to offer, you understand why they make them so well in this state.

Grocery Gal Woodman's Market

With accoutrements like this, no wonder the best Bloody Mary’s in the world are from Wisconsin.

I had everything I needed to camp, but I was still thinking about my Grocery Gal readers.

One last thing I’d recommend adding to your Wisconsin gift basket is the famous Lehmann’s Danish Kringle out of Racine. Friends brought us a Kringle before, and while many might think it’s just another coffee cake, it’s not. Go buy one and enjoy it with coffee in the am. Let me know when the gluten-free version becomes available.

Grocery Gal Woodman's Market

The famous Racine Kringle

Once again, my logo prejudice kept me away from a real gem of a store. Woodman’s had all the fixins to make a great Wisconsin gift basket any Illinoisan would want to bring back home. They have been in Wisconsin since 1919 and have three locations in Illinois. Next time you see a Woodman’s while driving in on the interstate, stop off and stock up on a the Wisconsin experience.

Grocery Gal Woodman's Market

Ready to go camping!

Woodman’s Markets. 7145 120th Avenue, Kenosha, WI, 53142. 262-857-3801


A few months ago, a Chicago startup contacted me to ask if I would try and review their product. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed Relished, and gushed about their meal service to my Grocery Gal fans. More recently, they rebranded themselves as Home Chef, and I heard meals were available with many more dietary options.

My husband is a pescetarian and for years we’ve eaten vegetarian food for the majority of our meals. Recently, I’ve found I needed to remove gluten and soy from my diet, which had made making dinner together challenging at times, to say the least. So what’s a Grocery Gal to do? Call Home Chef to the rescue!

Home Chef now offers eight unique meals each week. Whereas previously I had to ask them to substitute meat with fish, they now cater to both traditional and specific diets including vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free. I can set up my account for these restrictions, including general foods I just don’t prefer, like pork. They also offer fully organic meals for $1 more a meal.

Home Chef Grocery Gal

Dietary concerns are easily identified at a glance

Another improvement is including the measurements on the recipe cards. While this is great for spices, beans and starches, I’d still like to see it for the vegetables, too. There can be such a wide variety of sizes when it comes to a head of cauliflower or a red pepper, it would be nice to know how much is too much.

Grocery Gal Home Chef

Recipe cards now include measurements and dietary restrictions.

There’s so much to love about Home Chef.

I love that I don’t have to think. Those who know me know how I get shit done, so it’s nice not to have to worry about dinner for once.  What to cook? Do we have all the ingredients? Oh crap, do I need to stop at the store? It’s all there, ready to go. Why, thank you, Home Chef!

I love that the meals are often prepared in less than 30 minutes. My husband whipped up the Mahi-Mahi en Papillote for him and his son one evening.  They loved the tasty meal, and he loved the easy cleanup.

I also love how they list the ingredients for each meal on their website. I’m a sucker for roasted cauliflower, and wanted to try their Garlic Cauliflower Steak recipe — but it wasn’t listed as gluten free. I saw couscous and breadcrumbs were the culprits, so I ordered the meal and substituted with quinoa when I made it.

Grocery Gal Home Chef

Best of both worlds: I modified Home Chef’s Cauliflower Steaks recipe to make it both vegetarian and gluten free.

I love the value of Home Chef. Most meals are $9.95 a serving, which is still an amazing deal. The week of my delivery, my schedule was a little more hectic than usual. The ground bison in the organic bison tacos meal (my favorite of the delivery) was still frozen when the package arrived, so I put it in the freezer and created the vegetarian version for the entire family that night. Hooray! Another meal where all dietary restrictions were met!

Grocery Gal Home Chef

Bison tacos sans bison. I’ll use the bison next time!

If I’m gushing so much about Home Chef’s meal delivery service, I should be honest about the very few things I’d like to see them improve upon. One is to include the measurements of the vegetables. I think the Garlic Cauliflower Steaks recipe could have been even more delicious had I know how many of the leftover cauliflower florets should’ve been left over. 1/4 cup? 1 cup? I chose the latter and it was the wrong choice. My sauce ended up being  a consistency of red mashed potatoes while the beautiful yellow sauce in the recipe card’s photograph mocked me.  The meal was still yummy, but I know it could’ve been even better if I could make the sauce correctly. I think there also needs to be a better editing process to the recipe cards. I’ve seen errors, omissions and sometimes things don’t make sense. Hey, Home Chef, let me be your editor/test kitchen!

Overall, I love Home Chef; it’s an great value and service for busy people, aspiring cooks and people with dietary restrictions, like me, who don’t want to be using corn tortillas in 85% of their meals because they can’t think of what to cook after a long day of work. Maybe now I’ll be able to bring that percentage down to 50%.

Home Chef. Find them on Facebook, too.

 

 


My first introduction to Coop grocery store was during college with the Neighborhood Co-op, located in Carbondale, Illinois. It was on the north side of town, in one of the more historical buildings, next to Longbranch Coffee House. It was a small shop filled with long-time residents (read: hippies, but in a good way) of Southern Illinois, where I could find vegetarian food and bulk dried goods. I spent a semester documenting the store for one of my photography classes.

After graduating I had gone back to eating meat (well, both my parents were from Europe…), and knew where to find quality food throughout Chicagoland, so my interest in co-ops faded away. Fast forward twenty years, and I came across an article on Chicago Market, a co-op in the organizing and start up phase to be located on the north side of the city. They were having an informative meeting the next day in my old stomping grounds of Sheridan Park.

Grocery Gal Chicago Market Coop Meeting

Saturday morning in Chase Park

Being a Saturday and coming from Jefferson Park, I knew I could get there faster on my bike than my grocery getter. I’m going to a meeting about a co-op, how dare I drive there!  I showed up at the Park District (albeit a little sweaty) to a group of about 15 interested people learning more about the concept of Chicago Market. Do co-ops make you think of granola, hippies, patchoulli and bulk foods? Well, that’s not the image of Chicago Market. Their nice, clean logo, well designed website and collateral material pulled on my graphic heart strings and screamed modern and urban, but by no means hipster.

Grocery Gal Chicago Market Logo

Gotta love good design

The brains behind the co-op, Greg Berlowitz, along with 5 or so members of their Steering Committee, told us more about their vision. They answered some really frank questions: What makes you think you’ll succeed? (My answer: they’re organized and passionate) If you don’t make your goal will we get our money back? (Their answer: Yes, after any startup loans have been paid off). They have addressed the ten most common questions on their website, so I won’t repeat them all here.

These people have their shit together; and while that might read as funny, it’s nothing but accolades. They’re organized, professional and passionate about making Chicago Market successful. They want to build community, small businesses and a sustainable way of life. I envisioned myself taking my stepson (or a bunch of girlfriends) to a cooking class hosted by a Chef Moya. I could see my friends at Molter Family Orchards selling their delicious organic produce at the store. I could share my suggestions on carrying some of the amazing (and affordable) homemade sausages from local stores like Montrose Deli and Amish Farmers, which not only exposes more people to their great products, but also builds these local businesses.

That’s why I signed up that Saturday to be a member (I’m number 206). It wasn’t something I planned to do. I didn’t have a spare $250 just lying around, but I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of. Since the meeting, they’ve offered a more palatable payment plan, where you can spread the cost over ten months. Help Chicago Market reach their goal of getting 1000 members in 100 days by joining up now. Even if you’re not ready to commit, sign up for their newsletter and follow them on Facebook to see when their next informative meeting works with your schedule.

Chicago Market – A Community Co-op.


As I’ve written before, I love to host and cook for friends. We had an impromptu brunch with a friend who was visiting Chicago for the weekend. It was last minute, so I had to come up with whatever I had in the house.

Grocery Gal La Criolla

Spanish tortilla adapted from La Criolla’s recipe

We had enough potatoes and eggs to whip up our go-to brunch recipe: Spanish Tortilla. My husband follows an authentic recipe from friends in Barcelona, and I’ve been adapting mine from a spice-filled recipe from La Criolla’s website. While his thinks it’s tortilla blasphemy to add garlic and spices, I love it. So we created a scenario that was the best of both worlds: my husband’s authentic one, my spice filled one, and our friend could try both. I had gotten some garlic tops from Amish Farmers the previous Friday and I added those to my tortilla. I even cut the potatoes two different ways so there was not questioning which tortilla was which.

Grocery Gal LaCriolla spice

Her and His spanish tortilla components

Along with two types of Spanish tortilla we also had manchego cheese, a staple in the Grocery Gal household. Unfortunately we were out of Cava (my stash from Vin Chicago had been exhausted), so we couldn’t make our standard brunch drink of Cava with apricot nectar. It seemed as good of a time as any to continue our Spanish theme and open up a box of Beso del Sol Sangria. Sangria for brunch? Why not!

Beso del Sol Grocery gal Caputo's

Beso Del Sol Sangria – 3 liters in one handy box

I am usually skeptical of premixed drinks. I found Beso Del Sol at Caputo’s, and after reading that it was imported from Spain, I thought I’d give it a try. My original intentions were to bring the sangria to a barbecue I was going to later that day, but with 3 liters hidden in one handy box, I thought it was ok to test out a few glasses in advance.

We drank the sangria straight, with no fruit. The only reason the drink was sans fruit was I couldn’t  remember what type of fruits to put in the drink. Apples, yes… but I’d have to go downstairs and get some out of the fridge. Oranges, oh yeah! But I didn’t have any in the house. Had they recommended fruits to add on the box, I would’ve bought them when I bought the sangria. Fortunately the sangria was perfect on it’s own – it didn’t need any fruits.

What I loved about it was it wasn’t too sweet. It had a slight sweetness to it, but nothing so sweet that you couldn’t drink more than one glass.

So round one of entertaining with Beso Del Sol’s sangria was a success. How would it be a few hours later at a summer barbecue? I’d have to wait and see.

There were beverages a plenty at the barbecue, but I seemed to be the only one enjoying the sangria. It had cute, bright packaging – but no takers. Was it the boxed wine stigma? Perhaps. Had I transferred it from a box to a pitcher filled with fruits, it might’ve sparked more interest. It wasn’t until the hostess brought the box and some glasses to a table of friends that everyone tried the Beso Del Sol, and subsequently fell in love with it, too. They agreed with me – it wasn’t too sweet and was refreshing on a warm summer day. They couldn’t believe that tiny box held 3 liters of tasty goodness, and was only $19! Fortunately, all my friends have an outpost of Caputo’s near their homes or work, and I’m pretty confident they’ll be picking up a box or two real soon: one for brunch and one for their next barbecue!

Beso Del Sol Sangria. I bought mine at Angelo Caputo’s in Elmwood Park.