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Feature Fri Oct 10 2008

Chow from the Corner Store

The Drive-Thru staff met recently to eat and socialize under the theme of a Bodega in a Box Party. The Neighbors Project created Bodega in a Box to highlight the benefits of shopping at bodegas and to benefit their Food and Liquor project, which encourages corner stores to stock more produce on its shelves.

The tableBelow is a description of what we ate and where we bought it. We all agreed it was a delicious spread and a great reflection of our individual cooking styles. Pictures for several of the dishes are included.

Gemma Petrie: Black Bean, Jicama, and Corn Salad
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Serves 8

2 cups corn, fresh, grilled or sauteed (or frozen, thawed)
2*15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed, drained
1 cup 1/3-inch diced, peeled jicama
1/3 cup chopped onion
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 1/2 teaspoons grated lime peel
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

In a large bowl combine corn, black beans, jicama, and onion. Whisk lime juice, lime peel, cumin, and oil in small bowl. Mix dressing into salad. Season generously with salt and pepper.

I purchased the black beans, onion, jicama, and limes at Supermercado La Vina in Pilsen (814 W 18th). This small bodega is steps from my house and offers a wide variety of products. I chose to make this dish because the simple, bright flavors make a perfect end-of-summer salad.

Andie Thomalla: Corn Cakes with Cheddar and Jalapenos
The jalapenos, canned corn and Jiffy cornbread mix can be found at my local bodega (in this case, the UN-like Farmer's Pride produce at Western and Chicago, but I also like the more traditionally Latino selection at the Windy City Market at Chicago and Wood). I've made these delicious, spicy little snacks at many family gatherings and potlucks over the year -- they're doughy and crispy without being too heavy or filling, and you can eat them with one hand, which is always a plus. Put a little sour cream and extra cheese on top, and you've basically got a meal. Here's the how-to:

1 box Jiffy cornbread mix
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely minced
1 can unsalted corn, drained
2 cups shredded cheddar or jack cheese

Combine all ingredients, stir until just combined. Oil a skillet over medium heat, and drop in generous spoonfuls of batter -- about three at a time. Flip once, when air bubbles form on the uncooked side of the pancake, and remove from the pan when firm. The whole process should take about 20 minutes tops.

Lori's dishLori Barrett: Poached Pears
In Brooklyn, I lived in a neighborhood with an actual bodega on the corner. I could buy any number of Goya products, practice speaking in Spanish with the guys behind the counter, or simply stay put on my stoop and watch my kids walk to the bodega for 25-cent popsicles.

But here in Chicago I live in a neighborhood with corner markets that cater to the population of recent college grads who like to drink beer (a neighborhood chosen for the public school). So for my contribution to the Bodega-in-a-Box party, I bought a six pack of Fat Tire and stewed some pears. I used a recipe form a Belgian cookbook that has several recipes calling for beer. The poached pears looked like the easiest choice. The recipe actually calls for Rodenbach rather than Fat Tire, but I couldn't find a Belgian beer at the market I went to in Lincoln Park:

2 bottles of Rodenbach or strong, dark beer
1 cup sugar
4 cinnamon sticks (I used ground cinnamon)
1 tablespoon ground ginger
about a teaspoon of lemon zest
4 lemon slices
4 whole cloves
4 to 6 firm, ripe pears, peeled, cored and halved

Bring the beer and sugar to a boil in a saucepan large enough to hold the pears. Reduce the heat and add cinnamon, ginger, lemon zest, lemon and ground cloves. Simmer sauce over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Add pears and simmer until the pears are soft, 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the pears. Remove the pears from the liquid, then continue to simmer the liquid until it thickens to a syruplike consistency. Combine the pears with the syrup and refrigerate until ready to serve. They would make a nice dessert with pound cake or ice cream, but were tasty on their own at our dinner.

Kaitlin's dishKaitlin Olson: Cherry Chicken Salad
The bodega ingredient I used was the celery and onion - I got both from the Green City market (the only bodega-type store near my apartment was White Hen and the Green City market is about a block away). My mom gave me this recipe a couple of years ago and I haven't met anyone who doesn't like it. It's really easy to make and has a really great blend of flavors.

1*16-ounce box of penne rigate pasta
1 pound of grilled and diced chicken breast
1*8 ounce package of dried cherries
3/4 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped celery
2 cups mayonnaise
2 tablespoons honey Dijon mustard
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
1 cup toasted whole almonds
1) Cook pasta according to directions, rinse with cold water and drain.
2) In a large bowl, combine pasta, chicken, cherries, onion and celery.
3) In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, mustard, sugar, salt, pepper and poppy seeds until thoroughly combined.
4) Stir dressing into salad along with 3/4 cup almonds; top with remaining almonds.

Mandy Burrell Booth: Saffron Noodle Cake
The Bodega Party in a Box is near and dear to my heart because I volunteer for Neighbors Project, and supported the community project that spawned the BPinaB. We wanted to encourage more corner store and bodega owners in Uptown to carry fresh produce, so in addition to reaching out to store owners, we sponsored a cooking class at Inspiration Corporation featuring healthy recipes using inredients purchased at local corner stores.

The BPinaB features a cookbook with a wide range of party-friendly recipes, some of which can be prepared with corner store staples, and others requiring more bountiful bodega, such as Alta Vista Finer Foods off the Sheridan Red Line stop. I'm lucky to call Alta Vista my corner store, because the place stocks produce, dairy, meats, ethnic foods, toiletries, cleaning supplies and even pet foods.

I adapated Deborah Madison's Saffron Noodle Cake. I picked up about half the ingredients at Alta Vista and a third at the farmers market; I had the rest in my pantry. The result was a crunchy on the outside, noodly on the inside, herbacious, buttery cake unlike anything I've ever made. This is comfort food with a twist.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoons saffron, crushed
1/2 lb spaghetti, cooked al dente in salted water and rinsed under cold water
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1/2 bunch finely sliced chives
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped basil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter, divided in half

Warm the oil in a small bowl, add the saffron, and set aside. Be sure spaghetti is drained well, and then in a large bowl, mix it with the saffron oil, eggs, cheese, chives, salt, pepper and herbs. It's easiest to mix with your hands. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a 10-inch nonstick skillet and then add pasta, patting down and forming into a nice circle, to make a cake. Cook over medium heat until golden on the bottom. Deb says this takes about five minutes. It seemed longer to me, but maybe my pan wasn't hot enough. Slide the cake out onto a plate, then place another plate on top, carefully flipping over to invert the cake. Heat the remaining tablespoon of butter in the pan, and then slide the noodle cake back in the pan, uncooked side down. Brown as you did the first side. Cut into wedges to serve, and garnish with some chopped chives.

Brunn's dishChris Brunn: Savory Tofu Scramble
The tofu came from Green Grocer, as did an onion I sauteed to kick it off.

1 pound firm water-packed tofu (preferably locally made organic, like Mu Tofu)
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon dark sesame seed oil
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce, low salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 dashes of turmeric powder (for a yellow tint)
oil to coat pan

Drain the tofu and give it a good squeeze. In a bowl, combine all other ingredients, including the 3 tablespoons of water, which will make the sauce easier to mix the tofu into. Next, break hand-size pieces from the block of tofu and squeeze over the bowl of sauce until your handful crumbles through your fingers and into your bowl below. Mix well and sauté in a hot, oiled pan on medium-low heat. Give it a good stir every few minutes. Cook until it looks a bit dry. For a slightly browned tofu, use more oil - a few good glugs of it - and cook over medium heat while stirring more frequently.

Doyle's dishMike Doyle: Arroz con Chorizo
(Reprinted here from a previous Gapers Block post)

In honor of tomorrow night's Drive-Thru bodega party staff meeting, tonight I find myself 12-years-old again. For the meeting, we've each been asked to bring a dish made from ingredients found at our local bodega or corner grocery. I live downtown, but my bodega is in my old neighborhood of Logan Square. It's Tianguis. It's the only place I can find real New York-style Goya smoked chorizo. And that, friends, is the star ingredient of the best culinary memory of my childhood: the dish I learned to make before I learned to boil water, my mom's Spanish rice.

Before I became the home cook that I am now, this was my go-to dish. It still is. Every time I make it I remember my mom who passed on in 1996. With each bite I'm a child again, standing net to her at the stove. Actually, her being a Spanish mom, that would be more like me being shooed away from the hot stove for my own good under threat of paleta spanking. Or threatened with same in the morning for having picked all the chorizo out of the leftover rice under overnight cover of darkness.

Either way, it was worth it. I hope you'll think so, too. Here's how it goes:

Serves 6

2 cups medium-grain rice
4 smoked chorizo sausages (two packages), sliced*
1 medium jar pimento-filled Manzanilla olives, drained and rinsed*
1 medium jar capers, drained and rinsed*
1 medium Spanish onion, medium dice
1 medium red or green pepper, medium dice
1 packet Goya Sazón con Azafran powder*
12 oz. weak beer (e.g. Budweiser)
12 oz. water
2 pan turns of extra-virgin olive oil

(*Recipe notes: In NYC, you grow up surrounded by Goya products. I travel to Tianguis, 2722 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square, to get the starred products under the Goya label. So far, it is the only market I can find that sells Spanish-style smoked chorizo at all, which amazed me when I moved here since it's everywhere available back in Gotham. Don't use raw Mexican chorizo whatever you do, it's a different beast entirely and will ruin this poor-man's paella. Speaking of which, the Sazón con Azafran is essentially poor-man's saffron with MSG, but I grew up near--and eventually in--the barrio and that's my tradition. And yes, you are about to cook your rice in that beer.)

In a large, heavy pot over medium heat, drizzle the olive oil. When fragrant, add the sliced chorizo and brown.

Reserve the browned chorizo, being careful to retain the now-seasoned oil. Add the onion and pepper and sweat until the onions are translucent and beginning to brown.

Before the onions begin to caramelize, add the rice and Sazón powder and stir until the rice is well-coated. Allow the rice to toast for a minute or two while continuing to stir.

Add the reserved chorizo and the remaining ingredients, and cover with the beer and water. Bring to a boil and stir, then cover and simmer on low for 25 minutes or until the water is absorbed.

Take off heat and let sit for several minutes for the rice to finish steaming, then uncover, fluff with a large fork, and serve.

I like to serve this with lots of Tabasco sauce and pair it with a medium-intensity lager. Your mileage may vary. Just don't drink the Budweiser you cooked with or my mom will likely come back and haunt the both of us. I can still hear her now, "Honey, God put this beer on earth to cook with. If you were supposed to drink it, do you really think you'd be able to see right through it?"

Words to cook by if I ever heard any, from a slightly Hispanic childhood in Richmond Hill, Queens to you.

Robyn Nisi: Garbanzo Bean Brownies
Like a lot of GB readers, I love the One Good Meal column, and I also prefer to make dessert when I go to get-togethers that require food. Brownies are easy to transport and when kept in the baking pan, they prevent the sugar lover in me from sampling them before everyone else has. Scanning the OGM archive, the garbanzo bean brownies jumped out at me, and I knew I had to make them.

This recipe is extremely convenient and innovative--the addition of garbanzo beans in lieu of oil or butter, getting permission to use a microwave to melt chocolate chips instead of a fussy double-boiler, and mixing the ingredients in a blender instead of a mixing bowl--but I couldn't follow it all the way. I substituted regular old white flour for the chickpea flour called for in the recipe. As my weary blender chugged away at the concoction, I was nervous that the dish wouldn't come out correctly--or worse, tasting bad. The smell it produced while in the oven was heavenly, and the result looked like a brownie--but with this unorthodox recipe, could I trust that I made them correctly? I gave them a dusting of powdered sugar and was anxiously ready to go.

None of us at the dinner were disappointed; the brownies had a light, nutty flavor to them, and tasted much better than the powdered mix I usually use (at least I can admit it).

The bodega I used is on the corner of Fullerton and California, and is called "Honey! Don't Forget the Milk!" A kitschy name, but it's decent place, with a small deli counter in the back, and a nice supply of garbanzo beans, which I used in my dish. My initial, beloved bodega, at the corner of Milwaukee and California, is now a Citibank. I still get mad when I walk by.

(Recipe below is reposted from One Good Meal; notes and instructions written by Cinnamon Cooper.)

2 cups of canned garbanzo beans
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups of semisweet chocolate chips (be sure to look for brands suitable for celiacs if that is a concern)
1 1/4 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of vanilla
1/4 cup of chickpea flour
3/4 teaspoon of baking powder

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Grease an 8- or 9-inch cake pan and set aside. Add the eggs to a blender or food-processor. Drain the liquid from the beans and rinse. Drain off as much liquid as possible and add the beans to your blender. Run on the puree setting until the mixture seems very smooth. This will take several minutes. You'll have some air bubbles in the mix, but if it looks like it is starting to become a meringue, stop.

Melt your chocolate chips in a double boiler or in your microwave. Turn the blender to a low setting and add a few tablespoons of the chocolate to the mix. Let it blend for several seconds and then slowly add the rest of the chocolate. This is called tempering, and will keep you from scrambling the eggs like you would if you added the mixture all at once. You'll likely have to scrape the sides of the blender down with a spatula every so often, just make sure to do this while the blender is off.

Once the mixture is all the same color, add the sugar and vanilla. Puree for another minute or two, until it seems like the sugar is fully incorporated. Now add in the flour and the baking powder and puree until the flour is also throughly incorporated. Pour the contents of the blender into your baking dish (a metal pan will work better than a glass one) and place in the middle rack of your oven for 60 minutes. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the brownies and once it comes out clean, or mostly clean, you're ready to remove it from the oven. Your baking time will vary. It took me 70 minutes before the brownies seemed done enough. Once you remove the pan from the oven, let it cool for about 5-10 minutes before turning the brownies out onto a decorative plate or cutting from the pan and serving.

A few more pics of the spread:
The plate! The plate!

Things got saucy

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Gee / October 10, 2008 4:13 PM

Since when do we call the Corner Store a Bodega in Chicago??

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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