Where to begin? I am pretty sure I first tried Merlie’s Blue Ribbon Salsa in 1997. I was vacationing in Albuquerque and took a walk to the neighborhood grocery store, because I knew there had to be something local and delicious that I’d never find in Chicago. At this time, my palate for heat was pretty minimal, so I kept it simple and looked for salsas. While I liked the new flavors of traditional New Mexican red or green chile, I couldn’t handle the heat without adding loads of sour cream (side note: fortunately, my tolerance for heat expanded, and my need for sour cream diminished.). A green jar with a dancing cartoon red chile on front caught my eye. It proudly announced that it was a blue medal winner at the New Mexico State Fair, so I knew it would be my purchase: Merlie’s Blue Ribbon Salsa.

Grocery Gal Merlie's Salsa Mail Order New Mexico Label

Original and New Labels

Fast forward almost 17, yes, 17 years later, and Merlie’s is still the only salsa I’ll buy. Granted, my salsa needs have diminished over the past few years, but I’m still a very faithful customer. Why? Well, once you’ve had green chiles from Hatch, New Mexico, you realize nothing else compares. Merlie’s Blue Ribbon Salsa is just filled with green chilies — so many that it’s the first item on the ingredients list.

Grocery Gal Blog Merlie's Blue Ribbon Hatch Green Chile salsaSpeaking of ingredients, it’s Merlie’s homemade recipe that makes her salsa just the best: Green chilies from Hatch New Mexico, jalapeños, tomatoes, onion, garlic, salt and spices. Everyone who has tried her salsa (and I ration it out pretty sparingly to my guests) always raves about the fresh taste, and how it tastes like no other salsa they’ve tried before. That’s exactly why I send Merlie an email approximately every 9 months to order my case of hot salsa for $77 over so many years. That’s a little over $6 for a jar of insanely delicious salsa. An important note: this salsa is ONLY for eating. This is not something you’d put in a layered dip, add to a dish, or season meat or tofu in. It’s so good it should only be eaten straight out of the jar with chips, in a taco, or even a spoon!

Grocery Gal Merlie's Salsa Mail Order New Mexico DeliveryI’ve always wanted to find a boutique grocery store to carry Merlie’s salsa in Chicago. It’s just that good. Maybe a grocer like Gene’s Sausage Shop, Paulina Market or even Harvestime Foods come across this write up and give Merlie’s a try. I’d love to see more people in Chicago get introduced to this amazing salsa.

I wish I could make it out to Albuquerque to meet Merlie in person. However, I feel like her and I are old pals though my regular orders. Once, she suggested I add a jar or two of her Blue Ribbon Green Chile to my order and it was just delicious. More often than not, red and green chile is enjoyed fresh in people’s homes and isn’t available canned. Merlie’s Green Chile helps bring that taste of New Mexico to anyone in the US. I think the green chile probably goes best with chicken, but since my husband is a vegetarian, I’ve held off on buying some in my last order. But wait… I could put it in some cheese enchiladas — what was I thinking?

Merlie’s products are very well packaged. Over all the years I’ve ordered from her, I’ve never had a jar break on me. She jars are well packed, along with a second layer of packing peanuts to make it safely to Chicago.

If you’re not ready to commit to buying an entire case of Merlie’s Blue Ribbon Salsa, don’t fret – she also offers starter packs that include 2 jars of salsa and 2 jars of canned green chile for only $35 which includes shipping. You can also just split a case with a friend or two. Your choices come in Medium or Hot, because there’s no such thing as mild in New Mexican cooking.

Grocery Gal Merlie's Salsa Mail Order New Mexico Green ChileMerlie’s Blue Ribbon Chile and Salsa. 888-873-3966.

 

 


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.


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.


It’s 6:45am on a Saturday, and I’m driving on the Kennedy heading to Lincoln Park. Why am I doing this? I wake up Monday-Friday at 5:30 and this is the one day I can really sleep in… it’s not even 7 and I’m already in a car driving 60 mph on the expressway?

I’m on my way to Lincoln Park’s Green City Market to meet up with Efren Candelaria and Chef Gabriel Moya, two of the four partners behind Sobremesa Supper Club. The other two, Felipe Cabrera and Mayra Estrella, Efren’s wife, were busy with their own to-do lists for the next night’s dinner. I had strict orders to meet Efren and Chef Moya at 7:15am while they would be shopping for fresh, locally grown, sustainable produce which are the cornerstone of their amazing Sunday dinner events. If you haven’t heard of Sobremesa yet, shame on you! Chef Gabriel Moya has already been identified as one of Chicago’s “finest up-and-coming ‘underground’ chefs” by the Huffington Post. Their mission statement sums it up: they’re a Latin inspired, locally sourced dining experience that looks to foster community through food, relationships, and dialogue. The only thing that’s missing in their mission statement is how incredible the food tastes!

The Green City Market is easily Chicago’s go-to place for locally sourced food. From May to October they’re on Clark Street at Lincoln on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and from November to April in the Peggy Notebart Museum on Saturdays only. Chicago doesn’t offer a seven day traditional free standing market like my favorites La Boqueria Market in Barcelona or the Naschmarkt in Vienna do. The Green City Market started in 1998 and grew to Chicago’s premier Farmer’s Market, with the closest rival being the City of Chicago’s Daley Plaza Farmer’s Market.

Grocery Gal Green City Farmer's Market Chicago

The Quiet before the Storm at (what I think is) Chicago’s largest Farmer’s Market

And because the Green City Market is one of Chicago’s favorite markets, I had to meet bright and early at 7:15am. There are a ton of benefits to arriving early at the market: parking meters didn’t go into effect until 8am, the market was extremely manageable to walk through, the people at this hour were serious about shopping, and I could easily see Efren’s bright yellow Colombia soccer jersey as I walked over to meet them.

Grocery Gal Sobremesa Green City Market

There’s Efren in the middle of the photo

When I caught up with them (on time, too!), Chef Moya reminded me of myself as Grocery Gal: he was focused man on a mission; just let him go shop and stay out of his way while you just step back and take it all in. Shopping is just part of the long process; after you leave, and get to work on the prep. The Sobremesa chef has an idea what he’ll cook for their Sunday night dinners based knowing what produce is in season, but he refines his menu here based on what looks good at the market. It’s really amazing.

Sobremesa Supper Club Grocery Gal Green City Market

Looks like this will be on Chef Moya’s menu tomorrow

Chef Moya Sobremesa Grocery Gal Green City Market

Stocking up on more organic scallions from King’s Hill Farm

I really enjoyed watching Chef Moya purchase produce from a variety of farmers. Sobremesa supports the community of farmers at the market, not just one vendor. It follows Sobremesa’s theme of fostering community through food and relationships. The bulk of the ingredients used in their dishes are sourced from the Green City Market, and many of the vendors know Chef Moya well. What really stuck with me was the chef was the one choosing what he was purchasing; it wasn’t just placing an order and getting something delivered. It gave me a whole new appreciation of the care and thought that goes into each meal they create.

Grocery Gal Chef Moya Sobremesa Nichols Farm

Buying produce and talking World Cup with Nichols Farm

Yes, when it’s that early, you could get the best of what’s there to offer, and the throngs of people who enjoy the market a weekly social event had yet to arrive. But what I enjoyed the most was watching the dialog between the Sobremesa crew and the farmers.

A quick 30 minutes had gone by and both Chef Moya and Efren were saying their goodbyes. There was still a lot of prep work needing to be done for the next night’s dinner. As long as I was at the market and the crowds were still non-existent, I was going to do a little shopping myself. We said goodbyes and I couldn’t wait to see their creations tomorrow on Instagram.

The perimeter of the market focused on produce, while the interior parts were more artisan products including baked goods, jellies and honey, cheeses, meats and such. If you weren’t a cook, there were crepes and wood fired pizzas ready to order and eat there. There were a fair number of Wisconsin artisan food products, and one that caught my eye was Black Garlic North America: fermented black garlic that was super sweet and smelled incredible. I am aware of the many health benefits of eating fermented foods, so I picked up a clove. I headed back to my car by 7:56am, and I still had 4 more minutes before I’d have to feed a meter!

North America Black Garlic Grocery Gal Green City Market

Sweet and savory wrapped up in one: fermented black garlic.

So, the big question still is, what did Sobremesa end up buying, right? I was lucky enough to have them send me a picture of the day’s bounty. The rest of the images I grabbed from their Instagram feed.

Sobremesa Supper Club Chef Moya Grocery gal

Photo courtesy of Sobremesa Supper Club.

Diners at Sobremesa each get a hand written menu of their vegetable-forward meal. I’ve attended two of their events and have saved both menus because it’s just been such a wonderful experience. There’s so much love an passion in what they do it’s inspiring; and with their locally sourced vegetable focus reinforces community and thinking about where food comes from. They’re helping to support small business all while keeping a smaller environmental footprint.  Follow them on Facebook and get into one of their dinners as soon as you can.

Chef Moya Sobremesa Efren Art menu

It’s just perfect. Wish I had been there! Photo courtesy Sobremesa Supper Club

Sobremesa Supper Club Foodie Pilsen

The beautiful (and delicious) end result. Photo courtesy Sobremesa Supper Club.

Sobremesa Supper Club. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to find out about upcoming events.

Green City Market. Clark Street at Lincoln. Chicago, IL 60614 (773) 880-1266

 

 


Wow, where there’s so much crossover in this and a few upcoming Grocery Gal installments, I was struggling on which topic to write about first. As you know, my European roots make me fond of meats of the smoked variety. Other than that, I’m not a big meat eater. It’s rare that I head over to an actual butcher, but I was planning on making my own sausages and needed to get some casings. I was told I could find them at Paulina Market.

Now that I live west of the Kennedy, I don’t make it to Lakeview often. I’m also not someone who traditionally buys steaks or large amounts of meat, because my husband is a vegetarian. If I did, though, I’d definitely go out of my way and visit Paulina Market for my special occasion meats. This isn’t a store where you’ll get some ground beef for tacos or poultry for beer can chicken. This is the place you go to when you want a special cut of meat, or something exotic. Forget Whole Foods; go support a Chicago staple since 1949.

Grocery Gal Paulina Meat Market Chicago

Don’t be fooled by the 80’s brick facade.

Paulina Meat market’s entrance is on Lincoln Avenue. They have a few parking spaces behind the store, which is great when you’re sick of shelling out $1 for 30 minutes of street parking like I am. The 80’s brick facade doesn’t prepare you for what you’ll experience on the inside. Even if you don’t know what you want, start out by grabbing a number when you walk in.

Grocery Gal Paulina Meat market chicago lakeview

Take a number!

Grocery Gal shops at Lakeview's Paulina Meat Market

Not sure if there’s anywhere in Chicagoland that can top this

Grocery Gal Paulina Market Chicago

a true butcher shop

Grocery Gal Paulina Market Chicago

Rabbit, Wild Boar, Pheasant, Poussin, Squab and Duck

Huge meat cases flank half of the store: fresh meat, fresh sausages and smoked meats. More exotic meats, game and fowl are in freezer cases which divide the store into quadrants. If you’re a breakfast person, grab a frozen pack of their Corned Beef Hash. Don’t worry about the $7 price tag – this is worth it! They’ve expanded their offering in 2007 and there just seems to be anything and everything you’d ever need related to meat.

The butchers (I think they’re all men), know their stuff and are ready to recommend anything you ask them about. What type of meat should I use for jerky? Eye of round recommended for at home, but would I like to try a sample of theirs which uses sirloin? Why yes, yes I would.

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

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

What also makes Paulina Meat Market absolutely amazing for cooks is the breadth of their offering. I found out from Chef Martin at my DANK Haus sausage making class that Paulina Meat Market would carry natural casings to make your own sausage. When a woman working there showed me where to find it, I came across rendered duck fat, pork lard, pork crackling, who knew it was different than pork lard, and goose lard. So, if I made my own sausages and then cooked some fries in duck fat, I could create my own take on Hot Dougs!

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

Rendered Duck Fat, Pork Lard, Pork Crackling, Goose Lard and plain ole butter

While I did pick up the Nature’s Best casings, a company based out of Chicago, I passed on getting the pork shoulder at this time. I knew I could find it cheaper somewhere else. Being so close to Wrigley Field, Paulina Market created some “Beat the Curse” Goat Brats, and I picked up one to grill at home. I highly recommend it whether you like the Cubs or not!

Grocery Gal Paulina Market Chicago

Fresh made brats, including the Cub Fan Favorite – Goat Brats. It was amazing!

Grocery Gal Paulina Meat Market Chicago Lakeview

Who doesn’t love the Sausage Font?

If fresh meat isn’t your thing, they have other options, too. Frozen meals, cheese, fresh bread, and a limited produce section which is more for the items you forgot to pick up at another store. Lots of fancy European snacks and spreads, with a particular nod to Germany. There’s a great selection of sauces and condiments, and Paulina Market does a nice job providing local brands.

Grocery Gal Smoke Daddy Lille's Q BBQ Sauce Chicago Paulina Market

Get sauced at Paulina Meat Market – including local Chicago brands

Overall, Paulina Market is so much more than a butcher shop. If you’re a chef that is cooking a special meal, head on over. If you don’t like to cook but want some comfort food, you can easily stock your freezer with their stuff. Have a question about meat? Not sure if anyone else can better answer your questions than these people. This is a great stop for out of towners with all the vacuum packed and frozen options; it’s easy to take stuff home. And on top of it all, everyone at Paulina Market seems to just love what they do. In true European style, they have limited hours, so make sure you get there on a Saturday if you don’t live nearby.

Grocery Gal Paulina Meat Market Chicago

Beyond the traditional smoked meat fare: goose, tasso, pork loin and turkey

Paulina Market. 3501 N. Lincoln Avenue (corner of Lincoln & Cornelia) Chicago, IL 60657. 773-248-6272. Mon-Friday 9am-6pm, open till 7pm on Thursdays. Saturday 9-5. Closed Sunday.


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

 


Part of the allure of Grocery Gal is to give myself a reason to stop in a grocery store I’ve never been to before. On a recent trip home from work, I stopped at the glowing LED-lit Middle Eastern Market on Harlem Avenue at Irving Park Road. It was a Tuesday night and it the store empty. It has been open for five months, and seems to be family owned. One of the sons told me in the next week they plan on adding a hot bar with their own food they cook in-house. I felt I couldn’t do an honest write up without them being fully functioning, so I’ll go back. I felt I needed to still write about a middle eastern grocery store since I can only write about different smoked meats for so long before there will be an uproar. I have a great Middle Eastern recommendation from a friend, but didn’t have time to stop there yet. So I went to an old reliable shop, which I’m happy to hear will be expanding soon.

The Middle Eastern Bakery & Grocery has been a staple in Andersonville for countless years. It’s a nondescript place with an old sign that I often forget about. When I finally do inside I think why has it been so long since i’ve been here last?  Since I was up in Andersonville running errands, I thought it’s as good of a time as any to go, and in the process grab some food to make a nice family Saturday lunch. While their name says bakery, and they bake their own amazing pita breads, the place doesn’t scream bakery. They have lots of packaged dried legumes, beans, snacks, fruit and spices, and all in nice manageable sized containers. I’ll buy spices I use a lot from Kamdar Plaza, but if I just need a little of something, the small containers at Middle Eastern Bakery are a great size.

Grocery Gal finds nicely sized spices at Middle Eastern Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville in Chicago

Bulk spices in nice, manageable sizes.

In the back of the store is bakery area. They sell mini pizzas which are more like heavily-seasoned focacia bread. Some of them are vegan, too.

Grocery Gal finds homemade fresh mini pizzas at Middle East Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville, Chicago

Freshly baked mini pizzas

Grocery Gal visits Middle Eastern Bakery and Grocery Andersonville

Freshly baked savory pies

In the display case are different meat and vegetable pies, I’ve tried the lamb and artichoke cheese one. While they’re good, they’re even better with some of their Baba ghanoush added to it. The refrigerated cases stock a variety of hummus, Baba ghanoush, yogurt dips, marinated beans, vegetables and olives, This is a great place to get a variety of snacks for a party, but at $3 each container they can add up.

Grocery Gal finds homemade spreads & salads at Middle East Bakery & Grocery

Snack goodness!

Grocery Gal finds homemade tzatziki at Middle East Bakery & Grocery

Tzatziki for one or party size

Also in the bottom of the refrigerated case are pickled turnips. I’ve never seen them anywhere else for sale in Chicago. If you’ve had a doner kebab outside of the US, or an amazing sandwich at Taste of Lebanon just across the street, you’ll know what these are, and how they have a delicious tangy crunch.

The pita I grabbed to go with my dips and falafel was still warm in it’s bag. I love how they have a variety of pita sizes and counts. All I needed was 5 medium pitas for $1.59. They also carry a great selection of jellies, exotic flavors like rose petal and hibiscus, that I grew up with as a kid.

Grocery Gal finds fresh coffee beans in East Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville, Chicago

Turkish coffee, anyone?

For Turkish coffee lovers, they carry fresh beans and the proper tools to make it at home. I have a memory of my Croatian grandmother visiting us in the US, reading our fortunes from the grains left inside the cup of Turkish coffee, though I was too young at the time to drink the dark beverage.

Grocery Gal finds Baklava at Middle East Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville

Baklava Upgrade: Pistachio and Chocolate!

Middle Eastern Bakery will be expanding in the near future. If that expansion includes food service, it would be a great, and hopefully affordable, dining option in Andersonville. If you’re hosting a party or don’t feel like cooking a meal at home, stop by Middle Eastern Bakery and stock up on some great homemade foods.

1512 W Foster Ave, Chicago, IL 60640. 773-561-2224. Monday-Saturday 9:30am-8:00pm. Sunday 11am-5pm.


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!

 


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.