Monday, January 25, 2010

Windy City Cooking: Week 25

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


Top 5
by Jason Hissong
25 January 2010

A big Windy City welcome to Beach City Cooking's newest contributor, Ray Goldfield. Go read his column. It's great.

My column comes inspired by two places. First, Ray's column I mentioned above. Second, from one of my favorite films- High Fidelity. In the film, and the novel upon which it is based by Nick Hornby, the three main characters sit around a record store and create hypothetical Top Five lists. Top Five Side Ones, Track Ones, for example.

And thus I present: my personal Top Five Ingredients.

1) Pork. I often joke that I would be a vegetarian if it weren't for pork. And while it's said most often in jest it's absolute truth. Chicken? Beef? Veal? Lamb? Take it all away. Really. I'll cope with that loss no problem. But pork? That, my friends, is a different story. Pork is succulent and salty. It tastes great for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The four different main cuts of pork offer wide variety- sirloin, belly bacon, rib bacon, ribs, tenderloin, the shoulders, chops, etc. Pork is always tasty for a side dish or a main dish. Or, even on occasion, for its flavor.

Favorite preparations: bacon, usually thick cut. Ribs. And the tenderloin has always treated me well.

2) The Egg. Some will declare the egg to be the most perfect food substance ever created. And they're not far off. I love eggs. They're packed with protein. They're versatile. One can separate the different components of the egg for different preparations. They're used in baking formulas and as a standalone item themselves.

Favorite preparations: poached or scrambled.

3) Cheese: a dear friend of mine once said that she thought cheese should be its own food group. I agree. Again, it's all about the versatility. There are so many cheeses, almost an infinite variety. I've never made my own cheese- maybe someday- but I don't think I'll ever get sick of it. I love it as slices for cheese and crackers. I love it shredded and mixed into my risotto. I love it melted in fondue. I love the smoothness of a brie. I love the crumbles of the blue cheese. I love the heat of the pepperjack. I love cheese. Plain and simple. Parmigiano-Reggiano is the king of all cheese, and if someone tells you otherwise they are fools.

Favorite types of cheese: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Muenster, Gouda, Pepperjack.

4) Rice. Another food item with a seemingly endless amount of variation. I enjoy rice for my starch more often than not because it's cheap and easy. Basmati or jasmine are great for everyday dishes. Risotto is a specific preparation with, more often than not, arborio rice- a short grained variety. I love rice in sushi and other Asian preparations. I love rice where it's not supposed to go- rice with eggs and bacon? I've made that. Chili with rice as the starch instead of bread? I've made that, too. It's lovely. I love the smell of cooked rice. I loved the fluffiness of the basmati. I love that rice is mostly tasteless. That allows it to be versatile and mutable.

Favorite preparations: risotto.

5) Beer. I love beer. I love cooking with it. I love drinking it. I love learning about it. I love tasting new ones. I love going back to old favorites. Beer, to me, is based in friendship. That sounds a little strange but it makes sense given my life. I learned about the wonderful world of beer while in Cambridge, England for a semester during my undergrad career. And it was in those English and other European pubs that, while drinking beer, some of my deepest friendships formed. So there's that. I love the smell of cooked beer. I love the taste it gives both starches, such as rice, and meats, such as sausages, when cooking with it. I love the taste of deep, dark beers. They are heavy and old and wise. I love the lightness of pale ales for those breezy summer days when the sun doesn't set until after nine. Obviously there's a lesson about excess, here, but it's common sensical to me. And some nights that common sense is checked at the door.

Favorite beers: Guinness. Rogue Dead Guy Ale. Fat Tire. Delirium Tremens.

Also, I wanted to spice up my column a bit with a new feature. One of my favorite sports writers often has a mailbag edition of his column in which he answers questions from his readers. I would like to copy that, because it works well. So, if you're reading this and want to ask me a question please leave a comment below or contact me at jason dot hissong at gmail dot com. I will compile a list of questions and answers and hopefully in another few weeks or so those will fill a column.

What Others Cooked for Me, What I Cooked, Where I Ate

A big thank you to my friends Dave and Dana who provided an incredible lunch for me on Saturday. They prepared gnocchi with a saute of garlic and red chard. A small spinach salad and garlic bread accompanied the gnocchi. We also polished off this tasty snack food that I don't even know how to describe. Bugles served as the base but there was a caramel/sugary covering that made them stick to one another and the various nuts mixed in. So good. Thank you.

I cooked a stir fry dish this week. It didn't turn out so great. My favorite preparation that came from the noodles, ground turkey, carrots and onion of the stir fry was the soup I made on Friday night. I re-heated the stir fry in my cast iron and then added to it whatever tomato soup I had left from the box of tomato soup I grabbed at Trader Joe's the last time I went. I made pancakes, and this morning I poached two eggs to go on top of two pieces of buttered toast.

I ate a lot of Mexican food this week. First, at Tony's Burrito House at the corner of Damen and Belmont. I went with some friends on Tuesday and it was lovely. I had the chips and guac and was pleasantly satisfied. Tony's isn't the best I've ever had, but it's quite good. I also dined with a party of 20 or so at El Mariachi. A nicer place than Tony's, for sure. It was great to be with a great group of people, and know that lunch was going to take two hours or more and just not care. I like those people a lot. And my quesadilla left nothing to be desired.


  1. Great addition to the world of blogs this week. I love the Top 5 list and agree with you...until number 5. So, let’s take on a make your own beer and cheese adventure…I'll eat the get the beer. Fair? Question: You mention that your favorite preparation of rice is risotto; I thought risotto was pasta.

  2. Loin has, indeed, always treated you well.