On Our Shelves

Thanksgiving Catering 2014

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Worried about the cross look from Grandma about your choice of side this year? Bring something worth bragging about – catering from us! Here is the full menu to choose from.

Thanksgiving Dinner for 12

all food made from scratch; comes cooked, ready to heat & serve; heating instructions will be provided
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fresh roasted, all-natural Amish turkey

fresh herb challah bread stuffing
our red potato mash & gravy
green bean casserole
roasted butternut squash
cranberry grape sauce
1 maple pumpkin pie
1 rustic oatmeal apple pie

$325+tax

catering add-ons, if you need:

chop salad $32/small serves 6-10; $62/large serves 12-20
romaine, roasted root vegetables, broccoli, cucumber, radish, feta & parmesan crisps w/herb buttermilk dressing
apple salad $32/small serves 6-10; $64/large serves 12-20
apples, roasted & shaved brussel sprouts, pickled pumpkin, mixed greens, pecans au poirve & cider mustard dressing
fruit & cheese platter $40/small serves 12-16; $80 large serves 24-32
antipasto platter $45/small serves 8-12; $90 large serves 18-25

more from our bakery:

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cupcakes chocolate or vanilla w/butter cream, red velvet w/goat cheese frosting $3.00 each
gluten free vanilla $3.25 each
dessert tray mini cookies & brownies; $22/small serves 12-15; $44/large serves 24-30
rustic oatmeal apple pie serves 6-8 $18
maple pumpkin pie serves 6-8 $12

our customer’s favorite ala cartes:

Red Potato Mash-wdie
fresh roasted, all-natural Amish turkey $175/ serves 12
gravy $12 quart/ serves 6
our red potato mash $25/small serves 12-15; $50/large serves 18-24
fresh herb challah bread stuffing $21/small serves 12-15; $42/large serves 18-24

Orders must be in by Sunday November 23rd
Pick-up: before 4 p.m. Wednesday, November 26th

Bittermilk No. 4 & 5 – New Additions of Flavor Layers

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

We’ve gone into great detail about Bittermilk previously – the long and short is they come from the industry and craft simple to make yet fantastically complex cocktail mixers. Recently, they’ve poured over a couple of new mixers, perfect for wooing those ever more adventurous taste buds.

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Pack together the flavors of absinthe and bitters – lots of depth, both in color and taste – and you end at Bittermilk’s No. 4. A natural red and aged in rye whiskey barrels makes a perfect pair with whiskey, tasty and beautiful. All of the licorice and flavor makes it hard to ignore and easy to sip. Pick up a No. 5 – their Charred Grapefruit Tonic – if you love tonics, but want to stray into uncharted (hard) waters. It’s lemon, lime and quinice – meaning refreshing and bitter with heaps of grapefruit punchiness. A touch of salt makes the savoriness flutter across the palate making for a quenching drinker, lovely with vodka and a dash of soda water. Both of the new additions make delightfully tasty and manageable mixers.

Pick up these two Bittermilk additions plus the rest of their spread on our shelves now and get drinking the tasty potions.

Ayara Thai Sauces – Bottles of Tasty Love

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

Looking for something just a bit different? Sauces that brighten, speak up, and compliment rather than coat, cover, and just lay limp? We’ve tasted loads of thai sauces over the years and few have spoken to us the way Ayara Sauces do. They may be exactly what your steak, dips, and marinades have been missing.

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Inspiration struck Vanda, who founded Ayara, by simply being around her parents, who would bring their homemade sauces to backyard barbeques and holiday dinners where family and friends would badger them to bring more. She stuck to her parent’s passion for creating 100% natural and preservative-free sauces, versatile enough to make for staples in the kitchen. After the established success that Ayara had as a restaurant, it wasn’t long before customers were asking for take-away containers full of their delicious creations. Even with the growth of their sauce line, no shortcuts made, always crafting them by hand in their own kitchen with real ingredients, making for unabashedly refined sauce. All of which allows Anna, Andy, and Vanda’s dream come to fruition, to share their family’s sauce – a true expression of love.

Pick up a jar of Ayara handiwork, you’ll taste the love. Like our store favorite, When Tigers Cry, which puts slow roasted chili, onions, and garlic into a sauce that makes perfect pairing on pork or a rack of ribs – sweet and hints of heat, so delicious. Love a bit of sour with heat? Their Thai Cucumber sauce makes for easy dipping, for fried foods or mix with mayo for a seriously fantastic aioli – it’s a perfected thai tradition, bottled. If your fish needs a bit of love, or the chicken needs a good soak, pick up the Chili-Lime for bright lime and punchy thai pepper heat – making an easy reach when it comes to just about any seafood. How about that creamy, simply wonderful sauce everyone knows and loves – peanut sauce? Ayara has a version that will leave you wishing you bought two, it’s a pinch salty and rich with playful zest from garlic and onions – a thai table standard refreshed. All are super-simple with superb flavor just waiting to be utilized in new and fun ways.

Get your jars of Ayara’s bottled love, aka Thai Sauces, right here on our shelves today. Have a favorite recipe for the Thai Cucumber Sauce? Want to send some love for their wares into the universe? Drop us a line below in the comments, we’d love to hear from ya!

A Reintroduction to Mel – Q&A 2.0

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

headshot-melanie-2A couple of years ago we got our preservationist to answer a handful of questions, but now we wanted to check back in. See what, if anything, she had to add. To no one’s surprise, she had things to say.

What sort of things have you learned here, over the last 3 years, heading up canning? Has working closely with the farmers taught you anything?
Geez, lots of stuff.
For starters, weather conditions – brutal winters, early springs, and rainy, dry, cold or hot summers – obviously have huge impacts on crops. Some years there isn’t a type of fruit or vegetable we want available and other years there is a bumper crop. There can also be huge swings in how the fruit will act with the same recipe year-to-year. Because I use the same farm (Mick Klug Farm) every year and I’ve begun to understand how their fruit reacts to the methods I use. Every year serves as a guide for the next, but each year it’s still a learning experience. Mostly due to climate and weather changes. For example: in years past, I made a blackberry butter and it set up perfectly. This year we got huge, delicious blackberries, which probably had too much water from all the rain and, since I don’t add extra pectin, the blackberry butter just wouldn’t set up. So I was left with loose syrup. I worried over it for a week and then decided we were just going to use it in our sodas instead. Cucumbers are the same; how much water they get, how crowded they are in the field, and how much heat vs cool weather, all matter and all change the quality of the crop.
Another is figuring out who we can work with and when. When should we buy; which variety is best for which application and which crop can provide enough quality at the quantity we need? When is it worthwhile for the farmers to sell? When is it worthwhile for us to buy? Figuring out our production schedule against the growing season is tricky, since I need to fit in fruit and vegetables all around the same time, and that takes time to understand. Working with some farmers, we try to let them know what and how much we’ll likely need as we go through the season. And in turn, they let us know how their crops are coming along; it helps us decide what we make, as well as who we work with. Farmers that are receptive to our goals and communicate their needs are the farmers with which I like to maintain relationships.

Do you find most of your inspiration at the market?
The first summer (2011), yes. That year was about discovering and making and we tried a whole bunch of new things. Over the last couple of years I’ve been working on improving and perfecting what I make – focusing on the really successfully made and well received items. For example the pepper jelly, evolving from a box brand pectin based jelly into working with tart summer apples and in season sweet and hot peppers. Which makes for a really tasty, great textured, seasonal pepper jelly. It is still all the things it ever was, but now is so much better!
We try and work with our customer’s preferences & favorites. Using this knowledge, I talk to farmers and Local Foods – a locally grown produce distributor – to make produce choices for the best possible products.
The Start of Jakes Giard
Continuing education? What have you been working on?
I was trained and certified 3 years ago through University of Wisconsin for Acidified Food for Licensed Food Processor and this fall I’m going to take an online Food Preservation class through Michigan State University. It’s important to me to stay current on the science of food preservation, but reading and researching about current food trends is also an important element of what I do. Continuing education and experience teaches me how to do things more effectively; what we need to do or have to do to make it work well for us and the canned goods.
This past year I’ve also been studying and volunteering to become a University of Illinois certified Master Gardener, which is entirely for personal insight and community involvement. However, it has also given us a leg up on our little roof garden’s success. We’ve been using the tomatoes, peppers and herbs throughout the canning season and now dehydrating anything that is left.
I also like to eat at different places, read lots of books, and generally get inspired by my peers. For instance, I recently had a salad with a cherry tomato anchovy dressing. We wouldn’t do something exactly like it, but I can bring elements of the idea into what I do for the store. There is information everywhere! Since condiments are universal, I like to get insights from different cultures, sift through publications to build upon ideas we are discussing. Always finding processes, techniques, and ratios to make for a better canned good.
In addition to trying to improve upon what I already make or ideas for new items, this kind of constant research, education, and experience allow me to proactively look at items that others might view as “waste”, and make useful, tasty items.

Do you have a favorite machine? Something you couldn’t live without?
Robot Coupe, a really sharp mandolin and paring knife.
Using a Robot Coupe changed how much smoked onion marmalade I was able to make in a day (week, month, year!). It makes for a consistently fast prep every time, since the smoking and cooking then take many additional hours. However, I’m a firm believer that the best way isn’t always the easiest way. For the cucumber and green tomato pickles, for instance, it’s extremely important that there is consistent uniformity. In these cases, I use my wide body Japanese mandolin.
Also, I’ve gone through four brands of cherry pitters. It’s probably easy to understand that not all pitters are created equal. I have my favorite and a few runners up.

What process do you find most interesting?
R&D; Developing recipes. Because we have lab testing and the appropriate in-house equipment, I’m able to utilize the USDA approved processes in combination with my kitchen experience, Ball jar ratios, and “new” preservation ideas. Figuring out the best method for appearance, flavor and texture, playing with different flavor combinations, spices, sweeteners, vinegars, and fresh vs dried herbs and spices, adding spices to the brine or to the jar, do I or don’t I add sugar in the vinegar brine, cold water vs hot water brine, do I hot or raw pack an ingredient, when do I apply heat and when do I add sugar, etc. It takes a lot of testing – doing small changes to recipes. The Smoked Onion Marmalade went through four process changes and two recipe changes.
Also finding eco-friendly, US or locally produced items. I’m always hunting for environmentally conscience items for the preserves, not just produce, but vinegar, sweeteners, and spices.

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Is there anything that has surprised you? Like in the way of ingredients, flavor changes.
Little things still surprise me every year. But specifically, with my first few batches of kimchi I was surprised by how much chili peppers mellow when fermented. And what a huge difference fresh over dried turmeric makes in our pickles and mustards.

What canned good are you most excited about? Which do you feel most creative pull to?
Anything that is a byproduct or creative use of what otherwise would be waste. Such as dehydrating the strawberries used in making the soda syrup to put in the apricot chutney, I used blackberry seeds to infuse vinegar which the kitchen used in a vinaigrette, roasting cherry pits and infusing simple syrup for soda, etc.
Using small ideas as a jumping off point; such as our trip to Co-Op (talking about vinegars) or working with other employee’s experiences and expertise in crafting new and interesting ideas (beer brewing methods in soda making). The evolution of making something better, as well as using the people around the grocery to create something new or better.
As far as most excited about, I’d imagine, it’s like choosing a favorite child. In the spring I’m excited for strawberries. During the summer, it’s all the pickles. Right now, I’m excited about apple butter. During the winter, it’s focusing on tasting and refinement. I really like that I can constantly work at coming up with a better and more effective way of doing the whole process. Each piece can be improved upon every time and I, we, are always trying to do that. We choose to look at what we’re doing well and making it better, over simply making crazy new items every year that we think are exciting. Although there definitely is some of that…

Askinosie Chocolate Hazelnut Spread – A Spread Above the Rest

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

We know what you’re thinking and no, it’s nearly nothing that ‘other’ chocolate hazelnut spread. This jar comes to us from the wonderful folks over at Askinosie.

Askinosie Hazelnut Spread

This particular hazelnut spread is done in true-to-form Askinosie style – every single thing done by scratch while being mindful of their source. That means it’s not loaded with additives, thickeners, preservatives, or syrupy sweeteners. They pull hazelnuts from Holmquist Orchard in Washington state, which is crushed and blended in-house into a hazelnut butter. From there, it’s ground for days with sugar, cocoa nibs & powder, sourced from their choice farmers in the Philippines. If you are looking for perfectly delicious and domestically crafted Chocolate Hazelnut Spread – this is it, the only one. The chocolate richness of their spread doesn’t hide behind cloying sweetness, it’s lovely filled in puff pastry or drizzled on homemade doughnuts. Sometimes, well usually, we just end up plopping a clean spoon in the jar and drawing a heaping mound of this dreamy magic into our mouth. There is a good reason why it’s won a silver sofi award in 2011; just make sure to be seated when giving it a taste.

Do yourself the favor, get a jar – or seven, of Askinosie’s Chocolate Hazelnut Spread and make your mouth happy. Have a favorite use for your Hazelnut Spread? Can’t get enough of the sweet goodness from Askinosie? Leave a message below and we’ll cast it into the world of the internet.

Ames Farm Dandelion Honey – Hive to Jar Deliciousness

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Bottle up some of nature’s only manufactured good and you’ve got liquid gold, square up your hives around a single source of sugar, and well – then you’ve got a real thing happening. Ames Farms in Minnesota does just that and over the top.

Ames Honey

The thing about bees is they travel, up to 1 to 5 miles just to help build their stock pile. So that means if you are trying to get one very specific plant used, you’ve got to provide enough of said plant to make it worth their while. Ames Farm has over 400 hives spread across 17 counties. That is a lot of bees and a lot of planting, focusing on varietals, pulling supers to keep the product consistent. It’s work, for sure, but the rewards speak for themselves. They are true a “hive-to-table” apiary, with each jar printed with exactly which yard and hive the contents came from; a style of labeling not often seen, especially with honey.

We’ve picked up Ames Farm’s newest honey for 2014, the Dandelion Honey, which is really delightful. It plays a nice grapefruit bitterness and citrus note that is fantastic in plain yogurt and drizzled across desserts. It’s fairly limited edition this year so you’ll want to pick up your jars and get on your way with having some super-tasty single source honey. Get Ames Farm honey, the last bit of summer treasure, now on our shelves.

Bread & Butter Cauliflower – Fall in Love With Florets

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

What is it about love that draws the heart? It may seem banal to play the ‘love card’ when it comes to canned cauliflower, but it truly sends our heart a flutter with each bite.

Bread Butter Cauliflower

We draw in heaps of fresh locally grown cauliflower and pull them apart piece by piece. Sliced onion and the picked florets go into a short saltwater bath for an hour, firming up the texture and setting in the salt seasoning. After the bath, the veggies are strained while each jar gets a bit of seasoning. Everything is packed in and our bread and butter brine gets poured to ‘full,’ the full jars get processed in a 185f bath for 30min to pasteurize and keep them firm and crispy. It’s a labor of love that creates a pickle worth the weight of such admiration. Get these sweet and tasty munchable goodies on our shelf now and explore your innermost love for pickled goods.

Creative uses for our Bread and Butter Cauliflower:

  • soup & salads
  • finish off stews, as a garnish
  • chopped up in chicken salad
  • mixed into veggie burgers
  • with cold pasta/bean/grain salad

Illinois Sparkling Co – Grapes, Sweat, and Bubbly

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Recently, a couple of our team took in a day at the beloved Illinois Sparking Company winery. They were not there just to ogle the vines, eat a handful of grapes, and be on their way – nay, the duo seeked out work, to help wherever they could and get the juice flowing! Their visit in (mostly) photos.

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In the rolling hills that butt against the Illinois River, at the top of one of the hills sits estate grapes, a couple of bird cannons, a creepy 25ft air-filled dancing man to keep the grapes on the vine and the animals at bay. It’s stunning peaceful and beautiful at their vineyard. Inside the seemingly simple outbuilding situated mid-hill, it gets a lot louder.

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Rice hulls are dusted in with the grapes to make crushing easier. A plastic pitchfork makes for a workout push into the crusher with glinting stainless fermenters situated around the room. Pumps whirl, machines wail, water & grape must drips off most surfaces, and smiles are traded through a short afternoon.

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A disgorger here, naturally cold wine caves there, concrete block and a whole bunch of green bottles make for eager taste buds. Lunch was shared, with a bottle of bubbly, which paired perfectly with our family-made subs. Our love for Illinois Sparkling was only deepened and honed by our visit. If the chance arises: make the trek, well worth to make friends with your bubbly making team.

Char Crust® – A Juicy History

Monday, September 15th, 2014

When picking a product off our shelves, there is always a story – which is why this blog exists – from the far flung friends that came to craft a snack, chocolate with a purpose, or just a long tradition of craftsmanship passed down through the generations. It is there, in that small glimmer of history, that we start our tale of Char Crust®, makers of local dry-rub seasonings.

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The lineage starts with a man and a vision, Nathan Silver & to make the best fine-dining restaurant and steaks. Al Farber’s, the family steakhouse, positioned itself among the hustle and bustle of 1957 Chicago with a focus on thick juicy steaks with a crust that combined the best parts of grilling with all the things it was missing – the perfect char. Just south of Fullerton on Lincoln Park West, in the shadow of the Lincoln Park Conservatory, the restaurant gained traction with awards like ‘The Perfect Steak Award’, ‘The Epicurean Award’, & ‘Gourmet Society Merit Award,’ to in large part to their signature Char-Crusted steaks.

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The restaurant sailed it’s way through the decades, always making it’s mark. Diners panged for bags of Char Crust® seasonings to take home, Nathan and his son, Bernie, knew they had something special. In the early 60s, Nathan gave retail packing a short stint, cooking up sample steaks at Marshall Fields with Char Crust® out of simple mason jars. In 1977 the restaurant closed with Nathan’s retirement, but the seasonings lived on with Bernie continuing sales at restaurants across the country.

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It was in 1991, when Susan met Bernie and what we know as Char Crust® grew – all over a chicken dinner. Susan was eager to try the family mainstay and Bernie prepared dinner in the same apartment they still live in today. At first, Susan thought her future husband had burned the chicken into a dark husk. Once she once she sliced into the chicken, she saw the incredibly juicy interior, tasted the crispy-delicious exterior, and proof positive that Char Crust® was something special. That first bite sent Susan on a journey to join Bernie continuing sales to restaurants and move into packaging retail packs. They built their business in their family’s building in the heart of Lakeview, just eight blocks from our place. Which is where they still are today, churning out consistently fantastic spice blends that enrobe the meat, which “Seals In The Juices”® and makes any meal memorable.

Char Crust

And thats where it is, between the meat and pan, a thin layer of crusty goodness that keeps all those flavors and juices inside. We currently carry Original Hickory, Ginger Teriyaki, and All American Barbeque, a trifecta of righteous flavor bundled into small boxes. Each has it’s own characteristics that will compliment, pair well with your meat, seal in the juices, and go with just about anything thrown at them.

Pick up a box (or all three) off our shelves today for a taste of real Chicago food history with Char Crust®. Have a favorite Char Crust®, or Al Farber’s Steakhouse memory? Want to share the char love? Drop us a line in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!

Truli Julie – Crumble Under Flavor

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

When someone brings a bit of the old world into the new – it can make you rethink it’s usefulness. When the Truli Julie gang dropped off samples, we loved how they put the simple biscotti on it’s ear.

Truli Juli

All handmade, locally in Evanston by people who love what they do and let is show in their goods. Crack a pack of Truli Julie biscotti crumbs and prepare to be cast off into adventureland, a venerable cornucopia of ideas come flooding. Mash the Chocolate Hazelnut into vanilla ice cream for little pockets of crunchy goodness, sprinkle the Peanut Butter in with your morning yogurt for the pick-me-up your tastebuds deserve, but those are just the easy ones. Dump a handful into the morning pancake mix or your grandmother’s cheesecake recipe, and explore the possibilities.

Love delicious local biscotti? Pick up a bag of Truli Julie right now off our shelves and get creative with this fantastic treat.