One last post on the topic...

Okay, I get the sense that you are tired of reading about food, but this is what happens when I slow down my social life -- I finally have time to cook! Besides, I think food is fascinating. Just indulge me one last time, and I promise, I'll try to think of something else to talk about for a while.

According to yesterday's Red Eye, I'm somewhere between a "foodie" and a "food enthusiast." I own an immersion blender and although I can't name all five of the classical French "mother sauces," I can name bechamel, veloute, and the poorly defined category of emulsified sauces, such as bernaise, mayonnaise, or hollandaise -- characteristics of the foodie. However, I don't miss an episode of Top Chef, I can't wait for the Julie and Julia movie, I own a rabbit corkscrew, but I'm not above eating at P.F. Chang's -- the hallmarks of a food enthusiast.

Often, in my conversations with people about food, a central theme emerges time and time again -- how far are you willing to go for food? Once upon a time, an old friend of mine said to me, "It's just food, it can only be so good," while arguing against spending too much on what he deemed to be overpriced restaurants. To some extent, I agree. I've never eaten at Alinea, the restaurant typically heralded as the best in Chicago, and often included in lists of the best restaurants of the nation, and the world at large, but it is hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that the bare minimum you can spend there is $145 per person, before tax and tip. The food may be ground-breaking, but how much better can it be than your favorite dish at a local restaurant for a fraction of the price? In the end, you are really paying for the experience of enjoying food as a form of performance art, and only you can place a subjective value on what that experience is worth.

Although far less expensive, another vanguard of the Chicago dining scene recieves similar attention in my circles -- Hot Doug's. This "encased meat emporium" is the mecca of sausage afficianados nationwide, and yet, as much as I love sausage, in almost any incarnation (I'm going to exclude the tofu hotdog), I have never been to Hot Doug's. Why? It's too far, and I can't find anyone to go with me. Call me crazy, but the prospect of two trains, a bus, and a long walk, followed by an average two-hour long wait begs for some company. I think this is an affirmation that I'm not a true "foodie;" I just can't see myself devoting half a day to obtaining a hot dog by myself, even if it is the greatest available exemplar of said food product.

There is one area, however, in which I am willing to go the distance for food: actual cooking. This weekend, for instance, I prepared my caramelized onion and bacon pizza with gruyere for me and Mom, which only took a mere seven hours of prep time, spread over the course of two days. Yes, I live in one of the country's great pizza capitals, but this dish is worthy of the effort of making it at home. It was inspired by one of my favorite dishes at the Park Grill, in Millennium Park, which I used to order on every visit until it was taken off their seasonally rotating menu. My only choice was to devise a home version. When I first made it, my Mom asked me, "Okay, it's good, but is it really seven hours' worth of good?" The definitive answer is yes. It is that delicious, but more importantly, if you make someone a dish that takes seven hours to make, it shows that person that they are worth seven hours of your time. Sure, I like to cook for the soothing methodical process and the near-instant gratification, but cooking for someone else is a million times better than cooking for yourself. As the old cliche goes, 'tis better to give...

I'm not going to give you the recipe, because, as you might expect, seven hours' worth of instructions would take a long time to type, and the recipe for the crust comes from Cook's Illustrated, which actually scours the web for people who try to give their recipes out for free, and serves them with cease and desist orders. So, you'll just have to play your cards right, and if you're nice to me, maybe I'll make one for you...
Caramelizing the onions alone can take between 1-2 hours. Here are photos taken at each half-hour mark in the process. I always take my caramelized onions to about the point seen in the bottom photo. Much longer, and they start to burn.

The finished product. My mouth is watering just thinking about it...

Check out the crispy, golden delicious crust. We joked that we should have taken a audio clip of us eating, so you could hear the audible crunch of the crust. Using a non-insulated pan in a non-convection oven is key; the pizza is a soggy, under-baked disaster otherwise.

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