Home Cooking: Franconello’s

By Kristin Boza

Franconello’s has been serving fine Italian cuisine in Beverly/Morgan Park since 1993, opened by Frank Ruffolo and Nello Sabatini. After a devastating fire four years ago, the owners decided to take their time to repair the damage to come back stronger than ever and once again serve the community.

“We have a different type of clientele than other restaurants throughout the city,” said Frank A. Ruffolo, son of owner Frank Ruffolo. “This is a very family-oriented neighborhood; we’ve been welcomed into the community and accepted for 25 years.”

Well-known for the homemade gnocchi, a handmade Itailan potato dumpling, and their fresh marinara sauce, Franconello’s also boasts an incredible 2-inch center cut pork chop. Other Italian style staples include chicken parmesan, shrimp diavalo, and, of course, their homemade tiramisu.

“The gnocchi and tiramisu are a dying art since they’re so labor intensive,” Ruffolo said. “It takes a lot of time and practice to make, but you can really tell the difference between these dishes made from hand and those that are pre-prepared.”

Sausage Franconello is another crowd favorite, putting sausage, peppers, potatoes and mushrooms into one dish. “Any time you come in here, you’ll see at least one of these dishes on every table; it’s been on the menu since we opened,” Ruffolo said. “We don’t want to mess with the classics.”

“People always ask us what’s the secret to our food. For a lot of it, there’s no secret recipe. It’s about using quality ingredients to start with,” Ruffolo said. “When you start with a lower quality food, you’ll end up with a bad dish. We always use fresh, seasonal produce for our weekly specials, and our sausage is a house-made blend.”

Ruffolo knows that providing a great dining experience is just as important as the food. “Our chefs have become our family and have been here forever. Our bus boys and waitresses know our clients by name. You feel welcome when you come in and you feel like family,” he said.

Franconello’s Rigatoni Arrabbiata

Ingredients:

1/2 cup diced onions

2 cloves minced garlic

1/2 cup chopped prosciutto

1 can of crushed tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 cup chopped basil

1/4 cup chopped basil

Rigatoni Pasta

Parmesan Cheese

Heat oil in sauce pan, add onions garlic and prosciutto until vegetables have turned translucent. Then add crushed tomatoes and pepper flakes.  Let simmer for 20 minutes or until sauce thickens.

Cook rigatoni in salted water until al dente. Add pasta to completed sauce and fresh herbs. Garnish with basil and parmesan cheese.

 

Home Cooking: Le Beverly Bistro’s Urban Farming Tips

By Kristin Boza

Tim Sullivan and his family moved to Beverly/Morgan Park 13 years ago, bringing his north side tradition of decadent dinner parties to the south side. Over the last decade, Sullivan took his love of cooking to the next level and created an urban farm in his own backyard, yielding enough tomatoes to feed his family a steady diet of fresh tomato sauce all winter long.

Inspired by legendary Chicago chef and restaurateur Rick Bayless, Sullivan’s backyard “farm” supports his “out-of-control crazy cooking hobby,” he said. Out of this hobby, and his wife’s photography skills, Sullivan started an Instagram page at the urging of his daughters. Now, Le Beverly Bistro has nearly 800 followers salivating over the delectable dishes he prepares.

Fourteen years ago, Sullivan came across a tomato sauce recipe in Food & Wine magazine from famed Italian chef Marcella Hazan. Ever since, Sullivan makes batch upon batch of the sauce at the end of each farming season. He freezes the sauce and uses it all winter long.

“I have about 40 heirloom tomato plants and the first tomatoes start to come in around the end of July. For two months at the end of the summer, my oven is on and I’m roasting tomatoes to make Rick Bayless’ salsa and Marcella Hazan’s sauce,” he said. “It all goes into the freezer and is used to prepare all of our meals from scratch — in fact, our kids have never had a canned tomato in their lives.”

Despite not having any formal cooking training, Sullivan loves to indulge in his hobby to create a Top Chef style restaurant experience for his family and friends right in the comfort of his home.

“I can cook with my eyes closed; I love getting up on the cliff and pulling off an amazing chef dinner on a weeknight,” he said. “I also work on a continual cycle of cooking, composting and creating my own 500 pounds of organic fertilizer each year.”

The long-term goal for Sullivan is to open a farmhouse restaurant in Traverse City, “but for now I’m having a lot of fun on Instagram and urban farming,” Sullivan said.

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

2 1/4 lbs ripe tomatoes
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400. Halve the tomatoes crosswise and arrange them cut-side up in a glass or ceramic baking dish in which they fit snugly. Sprinkle the parsley and garlic evenly over the tomatoes and season them with salt and pepper. Pour 1/4 cup of the olive oil all over the tomatoes and bake them on the top rack of the oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until they are very tender, shrunken slightly and browned at the edges. Let the tomatoes cool slightly.

Lift the tomatoes with a fork, letting them drain well, and transfer them to a food mill (Editor’s Note: Sullivan uses a food processor). Puree the tomatoes into a bowl.

Home Cooking: County Fair Makes Summer Grilling Easy

By Kristin Boza

Tom Baffes and his County Fair butchers work diligently to make summer grilling as easy as possible for their customers. Whether you’re looking for beef, pork, chicken or fish, County Fair offers pre-packaged but uncooked food, allowing customers to serve their families a home-cooked meal with a lot less prep work.

“Our pub burgers are always a big hit and not a lot of stores do it like we do,” Baffes said. The hand-packed pub burgers and mini burgers come ready-made in four different flavors: Bacon cheddar, jalapeno, bleu cheese and plain. “It’s best to sear both sides of the burgers before grilling. They’re so thick that you have to watch them on the grill, and cover them to ensure they’re evenly cooked.”

County Fair also stocks U.S. Choice steaks in filet, strip and porterhouse cuts. And if you’re looking for another food item that can be eaten on a bun, County Fair makes their own Italian sausage and bratwurst from their pork trimmings.

Baffes says that their shish kabobs are among their most popular pre-packaged items. Made with vegetables and either chicken, steak or salmon, they’re easy to throw on the grill and avoid the mess that comes with chopping and spearing the food at home.

Chicken breasts marinated in three flavors provide another grilling option. Besides the traditional lemon pepper and Italian seasoning options, County Fair offers a spicy buffalo chicken this year. “We always try to come up with a different flavor for the summer,” Baffes said. The butchers split the chicken breasts before marinating and packaging, which makes them really easy to cook, about 10 minutes on each side according to Baffes. All of the marinades are made in-house.

For seafood lovers, the shrimp scampi is a great option and grills quickly.

“Each of our butchers has his own specialty. Jeff makes a great shrimp scampi and ceviche; Greg is our pub burger specialist; Michael is our shish kabob guy; and Rocky’s specialty is steaks. While each of them has their own niche, they’re a good team. We’re lucky to have all of them!”

Besides the great meat options, a July 4th barbecue isn’t complete without sweet corn and black diamond watermelon, both of which will be on special at County Fair this month.

Barnard Student Competes on MasterChef Junior

By Kristin Boza

There’s a new MasterChef competitor in town — and she’s only 11. Barnard School 6th grader Na’imah Johnson is competing for the title of MasterChef Junior on the show’s fifth season which premieres on Thurs., Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. on FOX.

Johnson heard about the audition in 2015 and had her chance to prove her skills in front of producers. Now cast for the show, she’s competing against 39 other 8 to 13 year olds for the MasterChef Junior trophy and $100,000 grand prize. Competition judges are award-winning chef and host Gordon Ramsay and pastry chef Christina Tosi.

“I had a pretty good experience there, I got to meet a whole lot of new people who I’m still in contact with today,” Johnson said. “I was able to cook in front of a lot of great judges.”

Johnson has always been active in the kitchen, thanks to the encouragement from her mom, aunt and grandma. “I followed [them] around the kitchen at the age of six. Then around the age of eight I started to bake. By the age of nine I was allowed to use knives and the stove and oven so I really became more interested in cooking,” she said. “My aunt is a professional baker and I had some training from her, but I also watched videos on YouTube to learn more.”

So high was her commitment to her craft that Johnson opened her own bakery business, Na Ni Nu Batter Cakes, three years ago with her sisters Na’ilah, 13, and Nuriyah, 8. They bake their signature red velvet cupcakes for their family, teachers, friends and people from their church. “My favorite thing to bake is red velvet cupcakes, but my signature dish is cream cheese pound cake,” Johnson said.

Johnson is an eager student, very interested in math and science, which she says makes it easy to be a cook and baker. “Cooking involves a lot of [math and science], and I like all of those things,” she said. “I like to make new recipes and be in the kitchen with my family.”

Cooking is her daily hobby and she enjoys preparing meals for the family. “I make a cilantro lime chicken with cilantro lime rice that my dad really loves,” she said. And while she loves the creativity of cooking, the clean-up is definitely her least favorite kitchen activity.

Cilantro Lime Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 c. chopped cilantro

juice of 2 limes

pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. cumin

 

Make marinade: Whisk together 2 tablespoons olive oil, cilantro, lime juice, red pepper flakes, garlic and cumin. Add chicken and toss to evenly coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Pour olive oil into large oven-proof skillet to cover bottom of pan. Heat over medium-high heat. Season both sides of marinated chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to hot pan, skin-side down and pour in the marinade. Sear until skin becomes golden and crispy, about 6 min. Flip chicken and cook for 2 min. more. (Chicken should not be cooked through).

Turn off the heat and transfer pan into hot oven; bake until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 to 12 min.

Serve with rice and drizzle with extra pan drippings.

 

Cilantro Lime Rice

3 c. water

2 tbsp. butter

1 1/2 c. long-grain white rice

1 tsp. lime zest

2 tbsp. fresh lime juice

1/2 c. chopped cilantro

Bring water to a boil; stir in butter and rice. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the rice is tender, about 20 min.

Stir in lime zest, lime juice and cilantro just before serving.

Home Cooking: Signature Cocktails by Lizzy Benner

lizzy_benner-1
By Kristin Boza

A party’s not a party without a signature drink.

Lizzy Benner, Horse Thief Hollow mixologist, loves entertaining her guests at home and at Horse Thief Hollow with her out-of-the-ordinary handcrafted cocktails. “One of my favorite cocktails is a Manhattan. It’s such a good cold-weather cocktail,” Benner said. But of course she makes her own version with a twist, which can be found on Horse Thief Hollow’s menu as “Lizzy’s Perfect Manhattan.”

Benner enjoys playing with the classic cocktails and giving them a more modern flavor. Yet, she also craves the artistic experience of coming up with someone brand new, particularly her Mushroom Cocktail, which includes candied mushrooms; and Blood Moon Rising, made with blood oranges, bourbon and smoked thyme. Another featured item on Horse Thief Hollow’s menu is a margarita, concocted with blood oranges, cinnamon and jalapeno. “So, those are a little different!” she said.

Benner’s devotion to hand-crafted cocktails began when she worked at Hard Rock Hotel. “We had a bunch of craft cocktails on the menu, when they weren’t even a thing yet. So that’s how I got my start,” she said. Then her friend Emily, who worked at Mapletree Inn, became another great influence. “I would go to Mapletree, get a drink and just be amazed,” she said. “Emily makes these crazy cocktails that, still to this day, I haven’t even heard of, so she introduced me to the craft cocktails a while ago.”

When Neil Byers opened Horse Thief Hollow, he also wanted to ensure the handcrafted nature of his business extended to cocktails as well. Benner joined the staff from the start four years ago and now has created an extensive menu of handcrafted drinks.

Later this month, Benner will launch her own cocktail demonstration business. “People always ask me to do demonstrations at their events, so I got the idea to do it on my own in my free time,” she said. “I always engage the audience during the demos and can come to your house for a private party,” which will include making a signature drink just for your guests. Stay tuned for more news from Benner and how you can hire her for your own unique party.

 

Blood Moon Rising

2 oz Bella Meade Bourbon

1 oz Combier Orange Liquor

2 dashes of black walnut bitters or vanilla bitters

2 blood orange wedges

1 lemon wedge

A sprig of fresh thyme

Muddle blood oranges and lemon in a shaker. Add all ingredients in shaker with ice (except thyme). Shake. Shake. Shake! Strain in an old fashion glass. Light the thyme on fire over the drink to add smoke. Garnish with the smoked thyme.

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Feasts: Dialing for Dinner

county_fair_turkeys
By Grace Kuikman & Kristin Boza

Thanksgiving is a day of family and feasting, and, traditionally, a day (or week!) of cooking. Busy schedules can make it hard to feed a dining room full of guests, but local businesses can help streamline the process by offering delicious dishes from appetizers to dessert.

Here’s a menu of Thanksgiving foods available locally.

Hoka turkeys from County Fair Foods, 10800 S. Western, truly bring the freshness of Thanksgiving to your table. Raised at Kauffman Turkey Farm in Waterman, Illinois, Hoka turkeys are free- range and all natural. Because the turkeys are raised naturally, they develop a rich flavor. You buy them fresh – not frozen. Order by Nov. 19. Call 773-238-5576 or stop by the butcher counter when you’re at the store.

Ellie’s Café, 10701 S. Hale, offers a variety of delectable side dishes including their cheesy, yummy cauliflower or zucchini gratin casseroles. Orders start at 2 pounds and come in pans that can easily be reheated in the oven. Order by Nov. 19. Call 773-941-4401.

For many families, it’s just not a party without a cheeseball from Swanson’s Beverly Ritz, 2414 W. 103rd St. Created from a 50-year-old can’t miss recipe, Swanson’s hires a full time person to make cheeseballs during the holiday season! One customer orders 60 cheeseballs and gives them as gifts! Place your order at 773-239-1197.

Dinner rolls from Beverly Woods Banquet Hall, 11532 S Western, have been passed around local Thanksgiving tables for nearly 50 years. Flakey and fresh, be sure to order in advance so your guests won’t be disappointed! Call 773-233-7700.

There are two go-to Thanksgiving desserts at Laine’s Bake Shop, 11057 S. Homewood Ave.: banana pudding and peach cobbler. Home-style goodness id guaranteed, whichever you choose! Peach cobbler is available in half and full sheets; banana pudding comes small and large bowls. Order ahead! 844-352-4637.

Looking for a savory meal without the mess in your kitchen? Fox’s Beverly Pub, 9956 S. Western, is serving Thanksgiving dinner for $6.99 per plate. The mean includes sliced turkey breast with a variety of side dishes. Just looking to supplement dinner with side dishes? Fox’s catering menu includes meats, pastas, salads and lots more. The restaurant is closed on Thanksgiving day, so orders need to be placed early and picked up on Wed., Nov. 23. Call 773-239-3212

Beverages round out a meal, May we suggest that Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir pair well with turkey. Stop in at Town Liquor, 10000 S. Western for a terrific selection. Stop at Beverly Bakery, 10528 S. Western, to buy freshly roasted coffee for after your meal. Choose from a variety of roasts that are carefully selected and roasted right in the store!

Home Cooking: 19 Paul’s Mac and Cheese

KurrinBeamon_19Paul
By Kristin Boza

19 Paul BBQ, 11155 S. Vincennes, began as a dream for owner Kurrin Beamon. Without any previous restaurant experience, Beamon, also a Chicago police officer, worked diligently to make her restaurant one of the best places for barbecue on the south side.

19 Paul is police radio jargon that classifies something as “miscellaneous and other,” according to Beamon. Keeping with the police theme, each of Beamon’s dishes is named using police terminology. From the “Snitches” fish sandwich to the “Top Brass St. Louis Ribs,” all items are culled from recipes passed down to Beamon from her mother and grandmother. The pork and beef brisket are smoked for a minimum of 14 hours and rubbed with a special blend of spices, guaranteed to satisfy the hungriest customer.

Beamon has thrown herself into her business, acting as cook, cleaner, dishwasher, accountant and maintenance repairperson, all while maintaining a satisfying career as a police officer. “Owning a restaurant and being a police officer is certainly challenging, but from the standpoint of time, let’s just say I make sure I get enough rest to keep me sharp while I’m functioning as a police officer in the 22nd District,” she said. “While at the same time, I’m also staying energized to oversee some great food being prepared!”

Her passion for both of her careers is contagious, and Beamon thrives on making her customers happy. “Hands down, my favorite part is seeing the smiles on the faces of our customers as they leave 19 Paul satisfied,” she said. One dish that consistently gets rave reviews is Beamon’s Hot Leads Mac and Cheese, which she is sharing with Villager readers.

Beamon loves everything on 19 Paul’s menu, but the ribs, brisket and mac and cheese round out her top three. At home, she loves to cook baked chicken with vegetables and rice, all influenced by 19 Paul flavors, she said.

Additionally, 19 Paul offers catering services, and has catered many community events. “We have been so fortunate to serve the community on so many occasions,” Beamon said. She’s provided food for the Emily Beazley Kures for Kids fundraiser, the St. Margaret’s all-class reunion, numerous block parties and BAPA’s Bikes and Brews.

19 Paul is open Mon. through Thurs., 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Fri. and Sat., 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Hot Leads Mac N Cheese

Mix: 1 c buttermilk, 1 c sour cream and 1 egg

In a separate bowl, combine: 4 c sharp cheese, hot peppers, corn kernels, and salt and pepper to taste

Boil three cups of macaroni noodles, drain. Add to the cheese mixture. Stir, then add the wet mixture. Put in a baking pan, add cheese topping and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

 

 

Southern-Inspired Cooking at Horse Thief Hollow 

Home Cooking - Byers
By Kristin Boza∼

Horse Thief Hollow, 10426 S. Western Ave., is a neighborhood favorite. Thanks to the passion of owner and chef Neil Byers, the restaurant is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the gastro pub world.

Byers worked as a chef in Charleston, SC, which helped develop his interest in Southern cooking. A recent trip to Charleston inspired him to create the soft shell blue crab entree, which will be featured on their new summer menu, along with chicken and biscuit sliders which will offer three different takes on that traditional dish.

For the most part, Horse Thief’s ingredients are locally sourced, but with a larger focus on what the patrons want to see and experience. “The desire would be to source everything locally with small producers, but the reality is that that’s not in our ability to do in Chicago,” Byers said. “We’re able to source a lot of local proteins and cheeses, but sometimes we’re not able to always locally source fruits and vegetables.”

Some of the biggest Horse Thief hits include the lamb burger, made from locally raised lambs, and the grass-fed beef burger.

Byers is sharing his blue crab recipe with Villager readers. “It is designed to let the simple, fresh ingredients stand on their own,” he said. “I went to different markets in Charleston and this crab is what I took away from [the experience].”

Fried Soft Shell Blue Crab with Sweet Corn Salad and Honey Jalapeno Drizzle
For crab:
4 jumbo soft shell crabs, cleaned. (Internet videos can provide instructions.)
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
1 T black pepper
1 T salt
Combine cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper in bowl.  Dredge crabs in buttermilk, then bread in cornmeal mixture. Place breaded crabs on a plate in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

For salad:
2 ears of fresh, bi-color sweet corn. Husk, wash and cut kernels off cob using Chef’s knife. “Milk” the cob by running back of blade against the cob. Great flavor is found in this “milk.”
20 grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup baby arugula
1/4 small red onion, shaved
2 T olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Toss all ingredients together and set to the side

For drizzle:
1/2 cup sherry or red wine vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1 jalapeno, minced as fine as possible
Combine all ingredients, season with salt and pepper. Adjust honey/vinegar if necessary to taste
Final steps
Heat 1 quart peanut oil in cast iron pot to 350 degrees over medium high heat. Fry crabs 3-4 minutes or so, making sure to flip over to fry evenly. Remove from oil and drain on newspaper. Place 1/4 of the salad on the plate. Place crab on salad, drizzle with dressing.

Bon Manger Creates Mouthwatering Dishes

Bon Manger Catering, 1973 W. 111th St., specializes in creating a unique atmosphere for private events with authentic Louisiana Creole-American food.

Andrea Dillon, head chef and president of the company, grew up in New Orleans. Her signature dishes include jambalaya, dirty rice, crawfish pies, bourbon chicken, blackened tilapia, and bread pudding with caramel sauce and peach cobbler for dessert. Mouth watering yet? The best part is that you don’t need to host a function to enjoy Dillon’s food. Bon Manger’s bread pudding and peach cobbler can be found at Mariano’s.

Dillon doesn’t advertise her business; her reputation stands on its own and she enjoys numerous word-of-mouth referrals. “We feel as though we are a life-long lifestyle caterer; we are an extension of you. I have clients where I’ve done their baby shower, and then later catered for a death of their parent or grandparent. Our food is comforting to people,” Dillon said.

Dillon knows that when you’re hosting an event, you want everything to be perfect. “You want to hire someone you can trust,” she said. “Our personal touch separates us from other caterers. All of our events feel like you’re in someone’s living room; we take the time to plan the event and make every customer feel special.”

Along with that personal touch, Dillon changes her food’s display with the seasons or based on an event’s theme. “We always try to have something fun and entertaining to make you remember the event,” she said. Dillon and her team handled the grand opening of The Quilter’s Trunk, and incorporated some of the store’s rich fabrics into the centerpieces on the food table.

With the amount of work that goes into managing Bon Manger, Dillon has one very special helper: her 13-year-old son, Kendall Dillon. He is quickly becoming a chef and entrepreneur of his own.

“I was doing a cooking demo at the Taste of Chicago three years ago and Kendall was my sous chef,” Dillon said. “He stole the show! The following year we were asked back and his name was on the billing. This is going to be our third year and he asked me if we’re doing it again; I told him that we would have to see if we are asked back. I told him that the cute kid thing might not be working for him anymore. His response: ‘well, maybe you won’t be asked back…!’”

Wittiness aside, Kendall has taught an after school kids’ cooking class at CPS. He also teaches at food-oriented birthday parties. “He brings a little oven and demonstrates to the kids and teaches them to make their own items, like pizza or cookies,” Dillon said.

Bon Manger can accommodate events from 10 people to 4,000. They offer continental breakfasts, boxed lunches, buffet style lunches and dinners and extravagant dining events. For more information, visit BonMangerCatering.com.

By Kristin Boza