Monday, November 30, 2009

Windy City Cooking: Week 18

(Ed.'s Note- Every Monday, Chicago's Jason Hissong writes Windy City Cooking, a column whose title says it all. Enjoy! -Max)


Giving Thanks: The Harvest
by Jason Hissong
30 November 2009

I'm sitting shotgun in our rented Jeep Wrangler. Jonathan's driving down I-70 towards Indianapolis, where we'll switch to I-65 which will deliver us back to Chicago. We're listening to the Garden State soundtrack as the miles tick by. It's calm, and collected, and it just seems appropriate as we travel home. We haven't spoken much on this trip. There's no need.

We've spent the last four days on his family farm in south-eastern Ohio. I love going to the farm. It's so quiet and peaceful and serene. The house is at the end of a mile long road, and sits by itself. This time of year the fields are harvested and the air freezes the ground into a hard, dense mass. The farm is great because it's such an antithesis to city living. The dark is darker. The quiet quieter. Isolated from others, yes, but at the same time more a part of the natural earth.

And this little farmhouse that has been around for generations and generations is now the place to come to recuperate from a few months in in-city living. The isolation and open road and rolling hills provide ample time to take stock of gratitude, and to collect myself and prepare for the frenetic end to this year, and the beginning of the next.

I am grateful for the Isemans. Over the past eight years they have always been so open and kind and giving to me. They have opened their homes to me on numerous occasions, simply telling me to make myself at home. They have fed me on more occasions than I can count. They have taken an interest in my life, and provided guidance and wisdom when asked.

And so, on Thursday, a celebration. Of friends and family, sure. But of food as well. And I am grateful that Sue asked me to contribute a risotto dish to the Thanksgiving Day spread. Being in the kitchen with her, for however brief a period of time, was one of the most enjoyable parts of the weekend.

So I give thanks. For the spread: turkey, broccoli and cheese casserole, sweet potatoes, gravy, oysters, rolls, stuffing, risotto. Everything home made. Everything made with care, and grace, and love. Everything made with the knowledge of generations passed from one to another. And so they will continue to pass, to the Iseman's children and grandchildren.

And to my own, if that is to happen.
And for that, I give thanks.

What I've Cooked, What Others Have Cooked For Me, Where I Ate

This is such an interesting week to write this section as half of it has been away from Chicago, and away from home.

The first three days this week were my usually suspects for lunch: a club lulu from Jimmy Johns, a chopped salad from Corner Bakery Cafe, and a baja turkey sandwich (turkey, snap peas, tomatoes, swiss, and jalapeno mayonnaise on a ciabatta bun) from Au Bon.

For dinner this week I had macaroni and cheese on Monday. On Tuesday I made an omelet to use some items I needed to use before they expired: avocado and chicken, mostly.

Then we get to the fun part of this week, in an eating sense. Wednesday night Jonathan and I stopped in Merrillville, Indiana and had dinner at Steak and Shake. I had the spicy chipotle cheeseburger because I'm a sucker for spicy chipotle menu items. I know Steak and Shake is strange, but I have such fond memories of going there late at night during the summers of my youth. It wasn't an unpleasant experience on Wednesday, just one full of nostalgia.

On Thursday, of course, I had the spread mentioned above. I am grateful for Sue and Dr. Iseman for preparing such a great meal. A little assistance from their daughter Alyssa and her oldest son, Jacob. Thursday evening brought the traditional turkey sandwich / leftovers.

Friday I used some of the turkey and combined in with the leftover risotto while adding some red pepper flakes and thyme. I simply heated it in the cast iron skillet and away we went.

Friday brought another incredible meal from Sue. I contributed the sweet potato french fries. She and Jacob prepared a marinade for the pork tenderloin, which Dr. Iseman then grilled. Add some green beans and it's a recipe for the perfect meal.

Saturday and Sunday brought an expensive meal ticket. Saturday at noon we met up with Jonathan's cousin Wade, and his wife, Susan, at a little place called Who's Diner in Greenfield.

Jonathan and I then drove to Athens, Ohio to meet our friend Drew, whom we have known since college. The three of us had a Guinness at Tony's, and then we made our way across the street to a place called Casa Nueva. It's incredible. One of the best Mexican places I've ever been to. And it's employee owned. It's pro-Slow Food movement. This is a place deserving of a column of its own.

Sunday brought Jonathan and I back to Chicago, and back to our daily lives. We stopped in Richmond, Indiana at Applebee's for lunch. Why? Because sometimes one must eat at Applebee's. I'm not saying it was good. I'm saying it was necessary. Sunday evening brought us to Merrillville, Indiana, again, and we thought: well, might as well. I went to Potbelly and he went to Chipotle.

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