Archive for July, 2016

IMG_0385Summer in the Midwest means corn – tall, green, hearty stalks that march on for miles along Illinois’ flat highways and byways. Visitors complain that it’s so FLAT, but to my mind, it’s breath-able and open and you always know what’s up ahead.  In Summer, it’s just more corn.  As the second largest corn-producer in the US, you’d think you could just hop out of your car on Route 116 and pick a dozen ears. Not recommended for two reasons:  1) our hard-working farmers will not be pleased; and, 2) that corn is not for eatin’ (at least for two-legged humans or until its been processed into things that no one has ever actually seen like high-fructose corn syrup).  Now, the sweet corn harvest, on the other hand, is just starting to come in stacked high at the Farmers Markets.  I eat mine raw, right from the cob, no cooking required.  The sweetness pops in your mouth with every bite and fairly bursts with sunshine. On a recent weekday travelling south to Champaign to pick up my daughter from volleyball camp my stomach is rumbling and “I got to get me some of that corn”!

Luckily, I can stop in again at Maize Mexican Grill to load up on hand-made corn tortillas and authentic Mexican fare that warms my palate.  The tiny spot right on Green Street (the main campustown drag) offers dine-in, carry-out, or outside dining on picnic tables.  Not fancy, and can get really busy with long lines out the door, the always hoppin’ place serves simple, hearty, homemade dishes with fresh ingredients and friendly service. Indoors is a small counter with colorful Mexican tiles where you can drink your Mexican coke from a bottle and feast on chips with two kinds of salsa and fresh limes.  On this visit I had a spicy, chorizo taco with loads of fresh cilantro, a grilled chicken quesadilla, and velvety guacamole piled so high we couldn’t even finish it!  They were also offering fresh watermelon water that day which the woman next me said was wonderful.

Collecting awards since opening in 2011, Maize says 90% of their menu is gluten free, how about that for hitting on a trend, and they offer some interesting ingredients to try on each new visit – chicharron (pork back) or pastor (marinated pork), zucchini blossoms, and huitlacoche (a corn ‘mushroom’ and let’s leave it at that).

Take a road trip this Summer before the students all come back and enjoy Mexican food in the middle of the Heartland celebrating the eternal kernal.

Maize Mexican Grill
60 East Green Street
Champaign, IL
11am – 9pm every day
Minimum $5 credit card purchase (and no AMX)



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pork_burgersBlue Apron is the hot new foodie trend bringing fresh, sustainable ingredients and custom recipes straight to your door each week for super easy meals.  My sister shared one of her deliveries with me to taste-test/test-run at home.  Ginger Pork Burgers with Black Bean Mayo and Furikake-Dressed Green Beans was my assignment.  Does anyone know what Furikake is … well, my handy recipe card explains.  A Japanese blend of seasonings that includes seaweed flakes and sesame seeds (this seems like a cliff notes version) but no matter, I read on for my suggested wine pairing and my 6-step instructions to “…piquant pork burgers with layers of complex flavor …”.  With 11 total ingredients (all included) and literally 6-steps laid out beautifully in a full-color recipe card, it’s hard to mess up here.  The instructions even have photos!  Now if my ophthalmologist had given me a step-by-step “recipe” card for eye surgery today I would have dissolved into a quivering heap, but for Blue Apron, it’s a big selling point.  Clear, concise, and if it doesn’t condense onto an 8 1/2 x 11 card it’s out.

And now for the million-dollar question … how does it taste?  My pork burger was juicy, flavorful with minced ginger and black bean sauce, and the spiced green beans were a nice Asian-inspired accompaniment.  You can see the original recipe card with photo and my rendition next to it!  My dinner was ready in about 30 minutes. At approximately  $10/serving, it’s competitively priced and if you factor in convenience, less food waste, and less general angst about meal planning, I think I would give it a whirl.  My one comment is the packaging.  While very cute with pint-sized bottles of rice vinegar and sesame oil, there’s a lot of plastic with each ingredient wrapped and packaged separately (please recycle responsibly).  Others have also commented that the portions may still need some adjusting.  I give Blue Apron an 8 out 10.  I had a home-cooked meal that was easy to prepare, had an interesting flavor profile, tasted good, and I have left-overs for lunch tomorrow!

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IMG_0348It’s Summer … and it’s the perfect time for some cool jazz on the patio.  A great evening listening to Dave Hoffman on trumpet (hah, I’m just realizing he’s not in the picture ’cause he was taking a break) and members of Peoria’s jazz scene sitting in.  Yes, I said jazz and scene in the same sentence as Peoria. Dave was a long-time trumpeter with the Ray Charles Orchestra and toured the globe.  He’s accompanied Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson and Gladys Knight among many other music legends.

Friday nights at Two25 bring in musicians and music fans alike for a bit of food, some drinks, and swinging tunes … straight-up, standards I would say, in my un-educated opinion, with some amusing twists thrown in.  Did I hear a few bars of Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead ?!  There was a brief interlude of impromptu singing at one point and ribbing among the band members many of whom belong to the Central Illinois Jazz Society.  I love the whole informal, off-the-cuff feeling although I know there’s a lot of communication going on up there that I’m not aware of.  I raise my glass to all those who take risks, put themselves out there, and create some great art in the process so the rest of us can sit back and enjoy.  Cheers!

For an in-depth, and very interesting, background on jazz and the Peoria jazz scene, read Finding Jazz in Peoria published in Art & Society magazine.

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