Am I Home Yet?

I realize it has been weeks since my last guest blog, but to make up for it, I think I feel a bit more like a Chicagoan now, having secured employment and a sense of humor about the weather and the CTA. A little more than a month ago, while still searching for a job, any job, I ran across two unexpected things, things I feel, if I may be such a bold newcomer, perhaps only Chicago can offer.

The first of these surprises came in the form of a job offer. Oh finally, someone wanted to hire me! I had an interview, which in my industry they call stages. Essentially, these eight hour working interviews are a way for chefs to evaluate whether a person is an idiot or not through observation. I am not sure why all industries to do not practice this custom, because it seems like a much better way of assessing a worker than talking to them for an hour. But, here's the thing, I didn't want the job. Me, worrier extraordinaire, moving to a cold-ass city in a recession, in the hospitality industry in January, didn't want the cooking job I had been trained for and that would look great on my resume. Arrogance, was that it? (If you are thinking stupidity, please keep that to yourself.) If so, Andrea the Arrogant, Andrea the I Want Something Better, was the surprise that Kansas City, home, could not offer, had never offered.

The second surprise, something perhaps a bit more interesting, was the discovery of the Issacson and Stein Fish Market just off Halsted near downtown. In order to get said job I ended up turning down, I felt like I needed to hone my fish butchering skills, as I was applying for the fish cook position. I asked resident food expert Allison where I could get great quality whole fish retail (expecting a "you know you're in the Midwest, even if it is Chicago"), and was directed unblinkingly toward the best fish purveyor I have ever seen, be it wholesale or retail. Retail quality fish for cheap in the Midwest?-huge surprise. Housed in an unassuming warehouse was a veritable ocean explosion of clear-eyed, clean-gilled sea bass, red snapper, live eels, sardines, anchovies, arctic char, rainbow trout, pompano and grouper, not to mention, like, nine kinds of oysters. I would say sixty percent of the fish they had were wild caught. You walk in, you grab gloves and a bag, and walk around overwhelmed. I wanted a mix of small and larger fish for practicing on, so I picked out one red snapper, two wild mullet, and two rainbow trout. My total? $15.65. Most of the fish I looked at were between $3.00 and $4.00 per pound. Oh, yes, you Whole Foods shoppers, look at that one more time. Though I did not request these services, the fish monger offers to clean your fish at no extra charge. I immediately went home, and while drinking a bottle of Gewurztraminer, cleaned, cut up, cooked, and ate all of the the fish I bought. This was, by far, the best part of the interview. Little by little, this big city is beginning to feel like a better version of home.

Issacson and Stein Fish Company

800 W. Fulton Market,

Chicago, Il

Ph: 312.421.2444


Black and Tan Corned Beef

March 2009 includes four house guests, marathon planning for three big April events (to feed more than 400 people!), a fashion show, an impromptu Whole Foods photo shoot, and way too many late night dinner meetings. How I long for the simplicity of March 2008. I had two house guests that month, but also the foresight and fridge space to tackle a cooking project I'd put off for far too long: making my own corned beef. These instructions are adapted from March 2008's Bon Appetit. I purchased both the brisket and the sodium nitrate (sometimes called pink salt or instacure #1) at the Paulina Meat Market. This March, I've tried to substitute the deli and salt-lick store-bought versions, but Nothing Compares 2 U, homemade corned beef.


5 cups water
3 12oz. bottles Harp Lager
1 1/2 cups coarse kosher salt
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons sodium nitrate
1/4 cup pickling spices
1 6- to 8-pound flat-cut beef brisket, trimmed, with some fat remaining

Corned Beef and Veg

2 12oz. bottles of Guinness Stout
6 large cloves garlic, crushed
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 whole allspice
3 cinnamon sticks
1 dried chile de árbol, broken in half (or sub 1 tsp. red pepper flakes)
Large Tea Infuser Ball or Cheesecloth and kitchen twine
16 unpeeled medium red-skinned potatoes
6 medium carrots, peeled
4 small onions, peeled, halved through root ends
1 2-pound head of cabbage, quartered

The Brining

Add water and beer to large deep roasting pan. Add coarse salt; stir until dissolved. Add sugar; stir until dissolved. Stir in sodium nitrate. Mix in pickling spices. Pierce brisket all over with tip of small sharp knife. Submerge brisket in liquid adding more water (or beer) to cover if necessary, then top with heavy platter to weigh down. Cover and refrigerate 4 days.

Remove brisket from brine. Stir brine to blend. Return brisket to brine; top with heavy platter. Cover; refrigerate 4 days.

Remove brisket from brine. Rinse with cold water.

The Cooking

Place corned beef in very large wide pot. Add stout and enough water to cover by 1 inch. Break bay leaves and add with coriander, allspice, and chile to tea infuser ball (or wrap all in cheesecloth - securing with kitchen twine). Add garlic, cinnamon sticks and ball (or spice bag) to pot with beef. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until beef is tender, about 2 1/4 hours. Transfer beef to large baking sheet.

Add vegetables to liquid in pot; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil gently until all vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to baking sheet with beef. Return beef to pot and rewarm 5 minutes. Cut beef against grain into 1/4-inch thick slices.


Save the Date: 3.25 Soup and Bread

The Hideout should be your favorite bar in Chicago (or at least on any reputable short list). You will never just happen across it, tucked in between some warehouses and empty lots down a sidewalk-less street. If you usually go just to see a band or sweat at the dance party (or gasp! haven't been at all), here's a reason to stop by:

The Hideout doesn't usually serve food, but this year one hungry bartender/writer hatched a brilliant plan to offer a comforting respite from Chicago's harsh winter. Wednesdays, from 5 - 8 pm, soup and bread is available for free. Come early, fill up, then make a donation to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Andrea and I are guest soup chefs on March 25th! Hope to see you there.