Friday, August 7, 2009

I adore....

Lula Cafe in the Logan Square neighborhood here in Chicago.

I've been to Lula more times than I can count and after tonight's delicious meal I felt compelled to offer my undying love for Lula.

It's hard not to fall in love with this place. First of all there's the atmosphere. It's one of those places where you immediately feel comfortable. It's a neighborhood spot, everyone is friendly and conversing openly, the kitchen is open to the dining room, and its just a generally warm and welcoming environment. And, when the weather permits they have an adorable patio.

Secondly, for a lover of the farm like myself the menu is incredibly driven by the season, and the availability of local, sustainable foods.

And even better still, they use local ingredients WELL. I've been to Lula countless times and I have yet to leave saying "eh it was alright." Dishes are executed nicely, seasoning is always spot on, and I'm never lost in a sea of juxtaposed flavors. The food is always the focus - and to me that's what matters.

One complaint I often hear about Lula is that the platings often have a bit of a "rustic" feel. For me, I could care less. The food looks like...FOOD and it tastes great too. So, most likely you won't see a classic French presentation, but it will taste good!

Lula has been an amazing part of Logan Square for a long time now and I look forward to continuing to see them grow and change and feed the neighborhood.

Thanks to Jason and Amalea for really hitting the nail on the head. Keep it up.

If anyone is interested... tonight I had (to start) house made tagliatelle, with homemade spicy ham, basil, gruyere cheese and these delicious little heirloom tomatoes the size of peas. I'm not sure what they were called (mom a little help here?!)

For my entree I had heritage pork shoulder, prosciutto, shell beans, early Brussels sprout choucroute, grapes and hazelnut butter. Everything was awesome. I was a bit worried about the Brussels being a little bitter since we haven't had a frost yet but they were great. The flavors blended fabulously and I love that the cooks at Lula aren't afraid to serve their pork relatively rare!

And, for dessert, a local raw sheep's milk cheese with washed rind, house made grape sorbet, and candied almonds. One of the best desserts I've had in a long time. So light and wonderful, the perfect dessert for a lover of the sweet/savory combo. And for me, the cheese lover.

Ode To Ginger

No this post is not about red-heads.

Today's post will be about the miracle that is ginger root. Anyone who knows me knows of my love affair with all things ginger. I just can't get enough, and with good reason. Ginger has been known for centuries as a bit of a wonder-food. In fact, I have a zip-loc bag with about 5 pounds of pickled ginger sitting in my fridge right now. Yum!

So what's the deal with ginger?

Ginger has been regarded as a healing food for centuries upon centuries especially in Eastern culture. From Pythagorus (you know the "father of numbers") to King Henry VIII to little old me, we are all singing its praises. Pythagorus spread his love of ginger across all of ancient Rome, while Henry was said to have believed ginger could protect humans from plague. And now here I am, spreading the word across all of cyberspace.

Now, no one is really sure if ginger can protect from the plague, and I don't want to be the guinea pig in that study, but we do know that it has several real, testable health benefits. And its taste is like nothing else in this world.

Motion Sickness (and morning sickness too!)
Ginger has been tested in several laboratories, and is shown to significantly reduce nausea and dizziness associated with motion sickness. Researchers believe something in the ginger is responsible for blocking the body's reflex to vomit. It is said that only 1/4 teaspoon of ginger taken 20 minutes before a car ride can provide up to 4 hours of relief from motion sickness.


Researchers in Denmark have discovered that ginger can block the effects of substances that cause inflammation of blood vessels in the brain which leads to headache/migraine.

Researchers are also discovering that ginger has a similar effect as aspirin on blood clots. And, it appears that cholesterol levels are being lowered in individuals who consume fresh ginger. Ginger can be used to calm an upset stomach and relieve bloating and gas. The intake of ginger helps stimulate the secretion of mucos, which can quiet coughs and soothe irritated throats. Ginger contains anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-hisitimine properties, making it a great treatment for the common cold and allergies. Ginger also displays anti-inflammatory properties and is being tested as a treatment for different forms of arthritis. In some studies ginger is being shown as more effective than today's commonly prescribed medications.

I often eat ginger based desserts after a heavy meal or even drink a ginger tea to help settle my stomach. The Greeks have been doing this for centuries and I swear by it. Ginger always calms my stomach. And who can resist that spicy complex flavor?

So what is ginger? Although the common name for the part we eat is ginger root. It is technically a rhizome not a root. The rhizome is a horizontal plant stem usually found underground which sends out the roots below and shoots above ground. It serves as the reproductive structure for the plant. Some people say it is a tuber. I'm not really sure what the difference between a tuber and a rhizome is. I think I heard somewhere that a tuber is just a swollen part of the rhizome that contains a lot of starch. Mom is any of this right??? The reason for ginger's insanely pungent spicy flavor is due to the fact that it is made up of 3% essential oils.

Anyway, I'm just going to eat the thing... and hopefully
so are you. So, here are a few uses for ginger that I love.

First of all, as with almost all foods, FRESH is best. When selecting a ginger "root" you want to look for one that is firm and has smooth tan skin. I use the same guidelines when selecting a man. Haha. Sorry mom. Anyway... Shriveled skin indicates the flesh inside will be dry and lacking flavor. Once you get the ginger home use it right away or store it in the refrigerator. Only peel the part of the ginger you are going to use. Try to avoid putting peeled ginger in the fridge as it will lose flavor and dry out quite quickly. If you absolutely must store peeled ginger, do so in an air-tight container.

Homemade Ginger Ale
This recipe is so easy and so much better than store bough ginger ale. You will wonder why you ever bought it in the first place. (I will say that Goose Island Chicago makes a wonderful bottled ginger ale without any high fructose corn syrup. Thanks Goose Island)

For about 2-4 servings all you need to do is make 2 cups of simple syrup (equal parts sugar and boiling water) blended with a hand blender (if you have one) or a standard blender if you don't.

In a sauce pan bring to a boil 2 cups of water, reduce to a simmer and add one cup of peeled sliced ginger. Let it simmer for a few minutes then shut off the heat and remove the ginger pieces.

To serve - combine ginger water, simple syrup and 2 cups of club soda. Garnish with a lime wedge or even better... homemade candied ginger (recipe follows). You can also experiement with incorporating fresh fruits/fruit juices into your ginger ale. I personally enjoy pomegranate in mine.

Candied Ginger
This snack is delicious. It is the perfect garnish for a glass of ginger ale with your favorite spicy rum (my drink of choice). Or, a great stomach settler if you've had too much to eat or drink. And believe me, it tastes so much better than Pepto. Even better news, this snack is super cheap to make. All you really need is ginger, sugar, water and a knife.

Peel and thinly slice about 1 pound of ginger. Some people say to use a spoon to peel ginger. I personally prefer a regular old vegetable peeler.

Place the sliced ginger in a heavy saucepan and cover with water. Note, I said cover not, drown. Cook it gently until the ginger is soft. This will take about 30 minutes. Drain off the water and weigh the ginger. Measure equal parts sugar. Retun the ginger to the sauce pan and add the sugar plus 3 T. water. Bring to a boil stirring often and cook until the ginger is transparent and liquid is almost evaporated. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until almost dry. Once dry, remove from heat and toss the ginger in a "sanding" sugar (you know the big crystals) to coat it. Cool the crystallized ginger and store in an airtight container for up to 3 months!

These are just 2 way to incorporate ginger into your diet. I know lots of other ways and am interested in hearing how you enjoy ginger. Please share, and if you'd like to hear more ways to use ginger feel free to contact me!

Heres to happy stomachs,