Welcome to National Hot Dog Month, also known as July.
This Fourth of July weekend we Americans are expected to eat 150 million hot dogs -- a good chunk of the 7 billion (that's billion with a b) hot dogs we eat between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Two new books by a coupla Chicago guys pay homage to this favorite of encased meats.
In "Hot Doug's: The Book" (Midway, $24.95), owner/author Doug Sohn (with help from editor Kate DeVivo) traces how his own hot dog joint hatched from a hot dog tasting club among co-workers and evolved into the iconic Chicago eatery it is today.
Even if you've never been to Hot Doug's -- and if you haven't my question is "Why not?" -- you'll enjoy this book. You get a peek at his original menu (the place opened in 2001 in Roscoe Village), relive the May 2004 fire that closed the place down and follow his search for the new, and current, location at 3324 N. California.
You'll find out how he grew to love sausages, how his celebrity-named creations have evolved, why he only takes cash and where he got the idea to create his highly addictive duck fat fries.
The book is easy to read with stories and remembrances from friends and loyal customers peppering the pages. There's a gallery of hot dog haikus (Rattlesnake, ostrich/Animals encased for me/Doug completes my dream), tattoos, murals and fan art.
"Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture in America" by Bruce Kraig and Patty Carroll is no less fun and informative.
Kraig, a culinary professor and founder of the Culinary Historians of Chicago, and Carroll, a photographer with a leaning toward pop culture, explore hot dog lore, tackle the age-old question "what's in the hot dog, anyway?" and share oodles of photos of hot dogs stands (many from Chicago and surrounding suburbs) and hot dog paraphernalia.
What "Man Bites Dog" has that "Hot Doug's" doesn't is recipes. I wonder how Korean Barbecue-Flavored Hot Dogs with Kimchi would go over at your weekend cookout?
Oh, bologna: While I'm on the topic of sausage, I'm going to let you in on a suburban gem: Alef Sausage in Mundelein. The company started in Chicago in 2000 and grew into the Mundelein facility in 2005. They pride themselves on producing Old World style sausages without cutting corners, and the varieties I've tried have been true to style.
So last weekend I spied the last tube of baby veal bologna in the downstairs fridge when I was grabbing a requisite beer for grilling when I had an aha moment.
I remembered frying bologna for an old beau's sandwiches and decided to grill bologna. Out of the wrapper, it looks like a giant hot dog anyway.
I cut it in half for more even cooking and tossed it over the coals next to our other meat. After it got nicely charred, I cut it into slices. We enjoyed it with a bit of honey mustard and barbecue sauce and even used the slices for bologna sandwiches later in the week.
Alef Sausage carries all sorts of fresh and dry sausage and deli meats and has a line of all-natural products, like the bologna. The salami was a pleaser too, especially nice on a cheese tray.
The store is at 356 Townline Road. Hurry over and grill bologna this weekend.
Sparklers for adults: Forget about those wiry spark-shooting things that kids hold while waiting for the fireworks to begin. I'm talking about summer sparkling cocktails.
I love watching the fireworks and I've decided this year I'm going to sip a cocktail as exciting as the show: a Blueberry Sparkler.
The cocktail starts with LeSutra sparkling liqueur, the blueberry flavor, of course. LeSutra sparkling liqueurs are a bit sweet, a bit bubbly and very refreshing; they come in screw-top bottles, so if you don't finish it, it closes tightly and stays carbonated.
It's really easy to make a Blueberry Sparkler. Pour 4 ounces of blueberry LeSutra in a champagne flute and garnish with a raspberry. Enjoy!
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