Cooking to me is more than just heating up ingredients. It is a process, something that takes time, determination, and love. That starts with good, quality ingredients.

Luckily, in Champaign-Urbana, there are plenty of excellent places to get great quality local foods. I went around C-U and found five items that are delicious, versatile, and excellent options for your next meal.


Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Rotisserie Chicken | Harvest Market

Rotisserie chickens truly are a wonderful thing. They’re relatively inexpensive, hot and ready, and extremely versatile. Whenever I want a rotisserie chicken, I head over to Harvest Market. Rotisserie chicken at Harvest Market is $6. Located near the self-checkout stations, Harvest Market carries a few different flavors of rotisserie chickens. I personally don’t think they taste all that different, but I do think you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Once you’ve bought a rotisserie chicken, the possibilities are endless. I used mine to make a southwest-style corn and poblano chowder, and it turned out beautifully. When you have a rotisserie chicken, you can also simply eat it, or you could shred the chicken and use it in a soup like I did, or even make casseroles, salads, or tacos with the chicken. Once you have used up all the chicken, don’t even think about throwing out the carcass. The bones still have a lot left to give and can be used to make stocks. If you don’t have time right at that moment, the bones can be frozen and used at a later date.

Harvest Market
2029 S Neil St
Champaign, IL
M-Su 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Pickled Vegetables | Ochoa Farms

If you have never been to the farmers' market near Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana, I highly suggest that you make it a priority for your next Saturday morning. There’s nothing better than wandering the aisles under the beating sun and looking at an array of vegetables, fruits, and other delectable ingredients.

One of my favorite things to buy at the farmers' market are the pickled vegetables from the Ochoa Farms stand. One large jar of pickled veggies costs $12 and will last you quite some time. The jar includes jalapeños, carrots, cauliflower, and more, and the pickled veggies have a great spice. If you don’t like spicy food, then this may not be for you. However, they can be used on any sandwich, or nachos, or whatever your heart desires if you do enjoy some heat.

Ochoa Farms
Urbana Market in the Square
401 S Vine St
Urbana
Sa 7 a.m. to noon

Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Rye Bread | Rick's Bakery

This is the second time I’ve written about Rick’s Bakery in Downtown Urbana. While I normally go for tamales, it’s hard not to pass up their great selection of bread. I bought rye ($5), but they offer a wide range of styles from sourdough to baguettes. The bread is perfect for sandwiches or croutons, and at around five dollars for each loaf, I think it’s a deal that is hard to pass up on.

The rye loaf was nutty and firm, with great flavor that was almost citrusy. I used it to make sandwiches and also for toast. Once the bread begins to get stale, you can also use it to make croutons. I hate wasting food, and croutons are a great way to extend the life of your bread.

Rick’s Bakery
124 W Main St
Urbana
Tu-Sa 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Photo by Anthony Erlinger. 

Sirloin Steak | Old Time Meat and Deli

Old Time Meat and Deli is the closest thing to a classic butcher shop that I have stumbled upon in my time living in Champaign-Urbana. They have quality meats and also offer other groceries including great loaded baked potatoes. One of the best things that I have found at Old Time, however, are their Burgundy peppercorn steaks. I like to get their sirloin steaks because they are a little cheaper and still delicious. I bought two steaks which cost me $20. They are savory, sweet, and peppery — and can complement just about any side.

I bought two steaks and used them to make steak sandwiches with the bread I bought from Rick’s and the pickled vegetables from Ochoa Farms.

Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Trust me though, these steaks do not need to be masked by anything. They are delicious on their own.

Old Time Meat and Deli
2018 S Neil St
Champaign
M-Sa 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Photo by Anthony Erlinger. 

Guanciale | Piedmonte Sausages

Growing up in an Italian household, I was exposed to a plethora of cured meats from a young age. I’ve eaten a ridiculous amount of salami and prosciutto in my time, but have not had that much guanciale. Guanciale, unlike salami or prosciutto, is not a cured meat, so you can not and should not eat it raw. Similar to pancetta, guanciale needs to be cooked. It is very common in Italy, especially in Rome, but is much harder to find in the United States. It comes from the pork jowl, unlike pancetta which is pork belly and has a slightly different, more earthy flavor. It can be somewhat strong sometimes, so a little can go a long way if you are not accustomed to its flavor.

I got mine from Cheese and Crackers for $9. I love using guanciale or pancetta in Pasta all’Amatriciana, or pasta carbonara. Pasta all’Amatriciana is my favorite way to use guanciale because it compliments the flavor of tomatoes incredibly well. If you love these kinds of pasta or are curious to try guanciale out, you can buy Piemonte’s products at Cheese and Crackers, Harvest Market, Art Mart, and Prairie Fruit Farms .

Piemonte Sausages
Urbana

You can follow Anthony on Instagram at @food_by_ant.

Top image by Anthony Erlinger.