Chicago, a poem by Carl Sandburg (January 6, 1878 – July 22, 1967)

Chicago, a poem by Carl Sandburg (January 6, 1878 – July 22, 1967)

I have written in the past about «Antica Macelleria Cecchini» in Panzano, Tuscany, where my good friend Dario Cecchini transforms butchering into the poetry of every living.

I like meat markets, I like butcher shops.

It is not only the products but the atmosphere.

Going west to Elburn

Driving west to Elburn

Today I want to share a totally different experience in a meat lover’s paradise in Illinois, USA: Ream’s Elburn Market.

Elburn is a small town, some 60 miles west of Chicago, in the middle of Illinois fields.

Ream’s Elburn Market is a family meat market that attracts meatlovers from the Chicago and suburbs area, also known as Chicagoland.

Randy Ream, (right) owner of Ream’s Meat Market, with his son, Joel (Elburn Herald, 2011)

Randy Ream, (right) owner of Ream’s Meat Market, with his son, Joel (Elburn Herald, 2011)

Lynn Meredith, of the Elburn Tribune, wrote in her April 2011 article:

«Ream’s Meat Market keeps on bringing home the bacon when it comes to making Elburn a destination for Chicagoland carnivores in search of the best in meats and sausages. Ream’s recently made the list of “Best Chicagoland Places to Eat,” by the LTH Forum, a Chicago-based culinary chat site whose 9,000 members make it their business to identify small, out-of-the-way eateries and resources for all things food.»

Ream's Elburn Market (Photo Credit: Bruce's 08 Daily Photo Blog)

Ream’s Elburn Market (Photo Credit: Bruce’s 08 Daily Photo Blog)

As you enter the store you are impressed by the awards on the walls, and some cans of lard from older days.

The meats, sausages, jerkies, smoked meats, fresh meats, and other products inside the store are more than a blog article can cover.


A lot more!

“I like to call it the shotgun approach,” Ream explains. “When you walk in the door, you are overwhelmed by so many meat selections that you don’t know where to go first.” (Source: Upbeat in Elburn, by Steve Krut)

By necessity, I will confine myself to some representative selections, starting with sausages.

I could not resist to start with the tailgater brats with bacon and blue cheese.

Tailgate parties are a staple of US food culture and fun.

Bacon and Blue Cheese Tailgater Brats

Bacon and Blue Cheese Tailgater Brats

In addition to the US style sausages, there are a lot of European origin, like the Hungarian style sausage.

Hungarian Sausage

Hungarian Sausage

No sausage tray would be complete without a white sausage from Bavaria.

True to their calling, the Ream family produce one of the best weisswursts outside Bavaria.

We prepared them with sauerkraut and they were delicious!

Munich White Sausage

Munich White Sausage

Italy has very strong presence in the US culinary scene. Here are some Mild Italian Sausages.

Mild Italian Sausage

Mild Italian Sausage

I conclude the sausage section with another American sausage: Jalapeno and cheese.

I wish I could have tasted them all on the spot, but I couldn’t!

Jalapeno and cheese stix

Jalapeno and cheese stix

Moving on to the smoked products, I would like to start with the salmon.

I bought some and was handsomly rewarded. It was juicy, moist and with a subtle smoky flavor.

Smoked Salmon

Smoked Salmon

Bacon is next.

Dry cured bacon

Dry cured bacon

Dry cured bacon and Hungarian style.

Hungarian dry cured bacon

Hungarian dry cured bacon

The bacon was so good, I cooked it for breakfast in a «Bacon and eggplant omelette».

Bacon and eggplant omelette

Bacon and eggplant omelette

Jerkies are one of the reasons why Ream’s Elburn Market is so famous.

«Jerky is lean meat that has been trimmed of fat, cut into strips, and then dried to prevent spoilage. Normally, this drying includes the addition of salt, to prevent bacteria from developing on the meat before sufficient moisture has been removed. The word «jerky» is derived from the Spanish word charqui which is from the Quechua word ch’arki. which means to burn (meat). All that is needed to produce basic «jerky» is a low-temperature drying method, and salt to inhibit bacterial growth.»   (Source: Wikipedia).

Buffalo Jerky

Buffalo Jerky

In principle, jerky is similar to the Turkish and Middle-Eastern pastirma, although pastirma is not sliced in advance, but only before it is consumed.

California heat beef  jerky.

California heat beef jerky

California heat beef jerky

And – of course – Elburner beef jerky.

«In the competitive meats arena, Ream hasn’t excelled…he’s exceeded. He has directed Elburn Market products to grand championship awards in 15 separate product classes at the American Cured Meat Championships (ACMC), something never done by any processor. His small shop has garnered an incredible 235 awards in cured meat competition!»  ((Source: Upbeat in Elburn, by Steve Krut)

Elburner beef jerky

Elburner beef jerky

I now want to refer specifically to the cooked ham, which we bought and enjoyed on multiple occasions.

Cooked Ham

Cooked Ham

In the US the prime part of leg of pork, the ham, is sold also cooked. You do need to add anything to it, just warm it gently, slice and serve. In case of a high quality product, like the one we bought at Ream’s, you do want to taste the meat, rather than all the spices, sauses, and so on.

Sliced ham

Sliced ham

This top quality ham is moist, sweet, tender, it melts in your mouth and leaves a very subtle aftertaste.

It is time to have a look at the fresh meats on offer.

I start with my all time favourite, the T-bone steak. Look at the marbling of the meat!

T-bone beef steak

T-bone beef steak

More steaks are on offer. The rib eye comes next.

Rib eye beef steak

Rib eye beef steak

And a bone-in rib eye, thick and marbled to perfection. I perfect the bone-in because of the added flavor and the thickness of the cut.

Gourmet rib eye

Gourmet bone in rib eye

I get hungry only by looking at the beautiful display.

Boneless pot roast (beef)

Boneless pot roast (beef)

There are also some prepared «composite» meat dishes, to cook and serve.

I start with a beautiful beef roulade, or pinwheel in American English.

«The word roulade originates from the French word «rouler» meaning «to roll»  Typically, a roulade is a European dish consisting of a slice of meat rolled around a filling, such as cheese, vegetables, or other meats. A roulade, like a braised dish, is often browned then covered with wine or stock and cooked. Such a roulade is commonly secured with a toothpick, metal skewer or a piece of string. The roulade is then sliced into rounds and served.»  (Source: Wikipedia).

Popeye Pinwheel

Popeye Pinwheel

The popeye pinwheel has – of course spinach.

The classic bacon wrapped pork filet is another temptation.

Bacon wrapped pork filet

Bacon wrapped pork filet

And another pinwheel, less colorful.

Beef flank steak pinwheel

Beef flank steak pinwheel

The emperor of meat cuts. the beef tenderloin concludes this representative sample of goods in Ream’s Elburn Market.

Beef tenderloin

Beef tenderloin

But may be not. As I was approaching the cash register, I saw the absolute delicacy, smoked porks ears. But they were not meant for human consumption. the sign clearly said: «For Dogs». May be next time I will have my dog with me.

Pig's ears for dogs

Pig’s ears for dogs

Sideview of Cumhuriyet Meydani (Constitution Square) in Izmir, Turkey

During my visit to Izmir, Smyrni, Smyrna, I visited the Topcu Restaurant which is located very near the Constitution Square of the City.

Çiğ köfte (Chee kufta) in Topcu Restaurant, Izmir, Turkey

Once seated, I was greeted by a young waiter, who had on his tray a delicacy I had not tasted before. Almost by default, I accepted it and then tried it, knowing nothing about it.

I quote from Wikipedia:

«Çiğ köfte (Chee kufta) means ‘raw meatball’. It can also be written as one word, çiğköfte. It is a favorite Turkish snack and a specialty of southeastern Turkey.

Bulgur is kneaded with chopped onions and water until it gets soft. Then tomato and pepper paste, spices and very finely ground beef are added. This absolutely fatless raw mincemeat is treated with spices while kneading the mixture, which is said to «cook» the meat. Lastly, green onions, fresh mint and parsley are mixed in.

One spice that is associated with çiğ köfte, is isot, a very dark, almost blackish paprika, prepared in a special manner, and which is considered as indispensable for an authentically local preparation of çiğ köfte (and also of lahmacun). Although, isot is famous as the special dried pepper that is locally produced by farmers of Şanlıurfa, in fact, it is a general word used for pepper in Şanlıurfa.»

Lettuce Leafs, Topcu Restaurant, Izmir, Turkey

The plate of chee kufta came with fresh unseasoned lettuce leafs. I figured that the two should go together, and I was right. A totally refreshing combination, the lettuce fights off the spice and violent thrust of the chee kufta, that is of isor. Luckily I had on my table a nice glass of raki, and I must confess that I was in heaven. The trio of chee kufta, lettuce leafs and ice cold raki is a must!!!

Lamb Shish Kebab, Topcu Restaurant, Izmir, Turkey

For the main course I tried the lamb shish kebab. Absolutely delicious!!!! The meat was tender and juicy, and slightly marinated in herbs and vinegar. I immediately started wondering why we do not have a similar dish in Greece. I will certainly try it in the near future.

Lamb Shish Kebab, detail, Topcu Restaurant, Izmir, Turkey

I quote from Clifford A Wright’s «On Shish Kebabs»:

«Who has never heard of shish kebab? In Turkish, shish kebab, literally means “gobbets of meat roasted on a spit or skewers.” Probably the most famous preparation for grilled lamb, there seems to be countless recipes. It is said that shish kebab was born over the open field fires of the soldiers of the Turkic tribes that first invaded Anatolia, who used their swords to grill meat, as they pushed west from their homelands in Central Asia. Given the obvious simplicity of spit-roasting meat over a fire, I suspect its genesis is earlier. There is iconographical evidence of Byzantine Greeks cooking shish kebabs. But surely the descriptions of skewering strips of meat for broiling in Homer’s Odyssey must count for an early shish kebab.»

Green salad in Topcu Restaurant, Izmir, Turkey

The lamb was accompanied by a fresh green salad dressed in vinegar and olive oil. the freshness of the ingredients was unbelievable!!!! My attention was especially drawn to the ultra thin slices of raw beetroot, which I looove!!!! Crisp, subtle, a delight that cannot be replicated. A lesson on how the simplest ingredient can transform a simple dish as if by magic.

Overall, a wonderful experience, partucularly as it introduced  Çiğ köfte (Chee kufta) in my gastronomic life.

Passport Pier, Izmir, Turkey

Sujuk Borek a la Greque – Μπουρεκι με Σουτζουκι

Τετάρτη, 17 Οκτωβρίου, 2012

This post is about a tasty component of the Eastern Road. The Eastern Road is the gateway connecting the Greek civilization with the East.

I confess that I am eternally fascinated by the multivaried taste of sujuk.

A good sujuk is like a door opening to a new world, for you to discover.

(Sujuk is a dry, dark, spicy sausage produced in the Balkans, Turkey and other countries like Armenia. It can be eaten raw, but I prefer to eat it cooked.)

I was lucky to receive a wonderful sujuk the other day, and by association I instinctively decided to create a sujuk borek.

The warmth, the enveloping flavours, the melting texture, make borek one of the all time favourites in my kitchen.

(Borek or Bourek is a baked or fried filled pastry made of thin dough.)

The filling of the sujuk borek comprises in addition to the sujuk: sliced tomatoes, sliced hard yellow cheese (I used Greek gruyere), and mint leaves.

The phyllo for the borek is made with flour, water, salt and a touch of olive oil. It has to be crispy and dry.

I place the sujuk on the phyllo, then the tomato slices, the mint leaves, and on top of everything the cheese.

I prefer to give the borek the shape of a baguette, as it is easier to bake and serve. If you prefer you can fry it, but baking is far superior for this dish.

The borek needs 20 minutes in 250 C and immediate serving, steaming hot.

It can be one of the most satisfying eating experiences.

Crispy crunchy phyllo, the Spartan side of the dish, partnered by the succulent flesh of the sujuk, flavoured by the mint leave, lubricated by the melted cheese and bound by the acidity of the tomato.

Accompany it with a glass of ouzo. Bon appetit!

After the storm, comes the calm and peace and the sun!

Having witnessed a brilliant 1 1/2 rainbow the evening before, today was the day for the return of the sun and a minimalistic meal al fresco.

Fresh oregano

The air was oozing with the aromas of the wet earth and the flowers and plants.


I always grill the beef cuts with only a sprinkle f olive oil, but I could not resist the temptation of placing them on a bed of fresh oregano, rosemary and bay leaves.

After the steaks have rested for a couple of hours, it is time to grill them.

Please note that I do not put anything on the meat, other than olive oil.

On the sides of the charcoals I place some branches of bay leaves. They moderate the heat and they give a wonderful aroma.

Fresh spinach salad and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Cava Petas

On the table a fresh spinach salad was waiting patiently.

The wine I selected was a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon made by my high school friend from Rhodes, Tassos Petas.

The contrast between the brown and the red is always inviting.

As the crust on the inside is formed, the inside remains juicy.

Provided the fire is strong enough, but not too strong.

I serve the meat medium rare.

And by the bones, a bit more rare.

Salt and pepper are added by the guests at their discretion.

I want to congratulate Tassos Petas for creating a wonderful wine. Six years after it was made and bottled, the wine had a full body, and a robust but not overwhelming bouquet. Well done Tasso!

Buon appetito e arrivederci!!!

Surf and Turf: Lunch at the Bar of Hotel Metropole, Venice, Italy

Σάββατο, 5 Νοεμβρίου, 2011

Hotel Metropole is one of the hospitality jewels in Venice. This I knew before my last visit to Venice. What I did not know was that for two years now they serve some real food dishes (not only sandwiches and salds) in the bar of the hotel every day of the week from 1230 to 1430. Taking into account that the famous gourmet restaurant of the hotel (with two Michelin stars) does not serve lunch except on Saturday and Sunday, the bar is a practical solution for a visitor who wants to have lunch.

Hotel Metropole, Venice

The Hotel commands a fantastic position on the promenade of the «Riva degli Schiavoni», a few meters away from St. Mark’s square.

Lunch serving area of the Bar at the Hotel Metropole

The Bar is located on the ground floor, on the left side as you enter and before you reach the reception. It has beautiful wooden panels which are used as displays for the owner’s collection of objects.

Being in Venice, it is proper to start with the surf side of the menu.

Gamberi "in saor" - Hotel Metropole, The Bar

Gamberi (prawns) «in saor» (sweet and sour). A delightful appetizer. The prawns are seared for one or two seconds, literally, and then served on a bed of cabbage and pickled red onions, with raisins and raspberries (lamponi). On top the chef placed a few finocchio leaves. The flavor combinations are incredible! And if you do not have all the rest, go and get prawns and taste them with raspberries.

Prawns "al saor" detail - Hotel Metropole, The Bar

The red onions are pickled and caramelized, adding the mild sweet and sour background to the taste of the prawns.

Cod with asparagi and potatoes with mustard sauce - Hotel Metropole, the Bar

Merluzzo is «cod» of the Adriatic Sea. It was served on a bed of mashed potatoes with mustard seeds, and asparagus.

Cod - detail

The Merluzzo was seared on the side of the skin for a couple of minutes in very strong fire, that made the skin crispy and the flesh juicy, firm, and succulent. The fish was served with fresh oregano and dill. Wonderful execution!!!

We now move to the turf side of the menu: Italian Delicacies are the first chapter.

Prosciutto crudo di Sauris is the prince of this dish of mixed cured meats. Sauris is a locality near Udine, where this tender and tasty prosciutto crudo is produced. It tasted like it has more character than the prosciutto di Parma.

Soppressa di Valdobbiadene

Salsiccia del Veneto (deer and pork)

Speck di Alto Adige. Perfect balance of salty and sweet. When the pig has had the proper food, the fat is sweet and flavorful.

Salame del Piave

The silky and full of flavour «Veal Carpaccio (di Manzo)» completed the tasting experience.

After the qualitative parts of the food, it is time to come to the value for money summary. Not only is the food of top quality, not only is the service excellent, the value for money of the Bar’s Lunch Menu is unbeatable, the best not only in Venice, but in most of Italy!!! But please please please, keep this little secret to yourselves.

Among other things, I have recently moved out of the metropolitan area of Athens to the hills overlooking Marathon, some 40 kilometers away from the center of Athens. The arson fire that devastated the area in 2009 has left its marks on the landscape, a stark reminder that the worst enemy of Greece are the Greeks themselves!

After settling in, I invited the «closed» circle to come over and have lunch «al fresco», in the open fresh air.

As the weather is still good, with temperatures reaching 21 degrees Centigrade, the cooking was done outside as well. Charcoals provided the much needed fire.

I start with the aubergines, or eggplants, which I can eat all the time, every time. I got them from a farmer who is down the road from where I am. I cut them in thick slices and put them in salted watr for one hour. The slices must be thick because they will be grilled and we do not want them to be burned and dried, but soft and juicy, albeit with a carbonated crust.

The pork chops came from the shoulder of the animal, in order to have the necessary marbling. I always prepare the meat by placing it in a mild solution of sea salt and herbs. After two hours the meat is juicier, its color lighter, and it tastes a lot better! If you have not done it before, try it now. With pork! It also works wonders with chicken.

Finally, the «Gardoumbes», lamb’s intestines and sweetbreads on a stick, I got from a local butcher who promised me that they were fresh and local. He even showed me a bag with some intestines that he was taking home after work.

(Χορδήν έτρωγαν οι αρχαίοι Έλληνες, χορδούνιν οι Βυζαντινοί, γαρδούμπα οι Νεοέλληνες)

We now get to the very serious business of the grill. The aubergines need just a coat of olive oil in order not to stick to the grill base. Frequent turns ensure that the surface will be only marginally «burned». There is a very sensitive balance between the brown and the black of the surface, so be careful!

The pork chops also require a coating of olive oil in order for them not to stick on the mesh. The surface must be golden brown and the inside juicy and tender.

I serve the chops on a bed of finely chopped garlic. The combination of the charcoal flavour with the garlic is simply unbeatable. I do the same with the eggplants, adding a bit of vinegar or lemon.

Finally, the «gardoumbes» take a lot of time to cook, and the fire must be relatively mild, otherwise the outside will be dry and the inside uncooked.

All in all, a lunch that honoured the Greek pastoral tradition with pork and lamb, the two animals that have supported the inhabitants of the south Balkan area for centuries.

Ristorante «Il Colombaio», Casole d’Elsa, Tuscany, Italy

Παρασκευή, 26 Αυγούστου, 2011

One hot evening in August 2011 I found myself in the garden of the restaurant «Il Colombaio» in the outskirts of the beautiful Tuscan village of Casole d’Elsa.

Casole d'Elsa Coat of Arms

The restaurant came highly recommended by a friend who visits the village almost every year.

The restaurant is also listed in the Michelin Red Guide and has one star.

I started with a selection of salumi from a producer in the area.

It was divine.

Cinta Senese

I particularly liked the locally produced Prosciutto di Cinta Senese, which according to «Barilla» owes its sweet, slightly gamey flavor, oily fat and aroma to the heritage Italian breed of pig called “Cinta Senese” used to make the prosciutto.

Another first dish was based on polenta, with and without cuttlefish ink, and a vegetable mousse. Very light and tasty.

My main dish choice was a tartare from the famous «chainina» cattle breed.

The meat was served almost undressed. There was a touch of olive oil,oregano, some salt crystals, and a few peppercorns. The sauces were more decorative as they were extremely subtle.


It was the first time I had tartare almost undressed. And it was worth it. The meat was juicy and sweet, after the first couple of bites I made subconsciously the switch from main dish to desert. What an experience!

Other main dishes were pork roast and pigeon breast, caramelized in a wine sauce.

The wine was a Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico 2001, priced extremely reasonably. The same comment applies to the whole of the wine list, which is a steal. Some of the best Tuscan wines, offered at prices that amaze me. Let alone that you cannot find them in the wine shop.

Overall, «Il Colombaio» is a restaurant I enjoyed and want to visit again. Both for its food, but also because of its wine list.