Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Happiness is a Full Pantry: Baked Spaghetti Squash

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Just this past Sunday, I put up my last jar. My cabinet is stocked full of jams, jellies, pickles, and preserves. I've canned tomatoes, dried peppers, and frozen berries. I poached my peaches, covered my black currants with vodka, and juiced and frozen my cucumbers. I'm officially ready for winter, with not a minute to spare given that the winds of the Great Lakes cyclone are howling at our door.

In years past, I'd make jar after jar of jams and fruit preserves with an occasional pickle thrown in for good measure. This year, I invested in a Wisconsin made pressure canner, allowing me to put up more tomatoes. Using our first jar on Monday, I made a real winner of a recipe. Full of vegetables, low in carbs and long on taste, Baked Spaghetti Squash with Italian Sausage and Mozzarella, was a perfect antidote to a stormy October night.

Next year, a root cellar . . .

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Baked Spaghetti Squash with Italian Sausage and Mozzarella
Serves 6

1 large spaghetti squash
1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
28 ounce can of tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 green pepper, trimmed, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup red wine
1 teaspoon oregano
pinch of red pepper
1/4 pound mozzarella, grated
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Poke the squash all over with a fork and put it on a dinner plate in the microwave. Cook on high for nine minutes. Turn over and cook for an additional 9 minutes. Remove and cool for at least 5 minutes.

While the squash is cooking, heat a saute pan over a medium-high flame. Add the sausage, cooking and breaking it up with a wooden spoon until it is no longer pink. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Pour in the tomatoes, breaking them up with a spoon. Stir in the peppers, red wine, oregano, red pepper and salt to taste. Simmer for about 10 minutes until slightly thickened.

Butter a casserole dish. Slice the squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and then scrape out the strands into the dish. Mix in the sauce and the grated mozzarella, stir to combine. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top. Place in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until lightly bro-wned on top.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cheers to Kitchen Experiments! Pumpkin Banana Smoothies

Thor's Majon recipe

Although Thor is a good eater, helping in the kitchen is not really his thing. He'd rather play catch with dad, build elaborate edifices with his blocks, and draw various sports related sketchs (Anyone want to join the Dog Fetch League? We've got uniforms and league rules). So on Sunday afternoon, when he scheduled a meeting (yes, seriously a meeting with coasters and everything) to discuss creating a new recipe, I knew I had to play along.

His recipe, which he develped all by himself, with only a little assistance from me in pouring is pictured above. Still a phonetical speller, it's not easy to decipher. To translate, it's got pink grapefruit juice, apple cider, orange juice and watermelon. Because every delicious drink needs a cocktail name, like Martini or Shirley Temple, he called it the Majon (soft j).

I too played around in the kitchen on Sunday using some leftover pumpkin puree and blackened bananas, I created a Pumpkin-Banana Smoothie, which after receiving an enthusiastic thumbs up from Little Locathor will be featured in Purple Asparagus' November school programs.

Pumpkin-Banana Smoothie
Serves 1

1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1 overripe banana
1/2 cup apple cider

Puree all of the ingredients in a blender.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Happy Healthy, Green Halloween

Image Courtesy of Kiwilog

Late October is a scary time. Both the crisp autumn air and the falling leaves whisper the promise of ghosts, ghouls and goblins soon to arrive. These days also bring other frightful things. While I know I’m going sound like a fuddy-duddy, I have to ask: when did Halloween become the holiday of excess?

To read more of my second post for Kiwi Magazine click here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Club Sprouts at Green City Market

In the midst of working on my day job, catering, I was desperate to find something to post today. Regular readers may notice that I've been a bit more disciplined about posting here - three times a week. Nevertheless, I hit a wall today after hitting one snag after another in the kitchen. I was so glad then to come across this video that features our work at Green City Market this summer. The recipe, Pear Squared Salad, can be found here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chefs in the Classroom and the Washington Post

It's been a good few weeks for publicity. As I mentioned, last week, you may have seen me on page 3 of last Tuesday's Chicago Tribune, seeming as if I were accepting the celery root award. Today, if you live in DC or scope out other city's food sections, you'll see my mug surrounded by some chef hatted munchkins in the Washington Post, a picture accompanying a terrific article by Jane Black about Chefs Move to Schools. It describes Monday's Chefs in the Classroom event for which Purple Asparagus provided a curriculum focused on children's book Little Pea, written by Chicago author, Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

To see a bunch of adorable kindergarten kids chomping on veggies, check out this video.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Indian Summer, Global Warming and Grilled Currant-Mustard Chicken Thighs


It was a fine weekend in Chicago full of endless blue skies and autumn trees in full plumage. It was also hot, the thermometer hovering near 80 F. With fall duties on my agenda, including planting mums and changing over closets, this spike in temperature was not welcome. Then there's the suggestion from our friendly neighborhood weathermen that these warm days are with us for a little while, about a week they say.

Of course, we've always had Indian summer, a day or two of unseasonable warmth in autumn. But this is more than that and it seems to underline recent assertions by Chicagoans in the know that in 20 years our weather will be more like that of Arkansas. That may sound nice to those of us who've survived a Chicago winter or two, but let's not forget what that means for Arkansas and rest of the southern states of this country, much less that of the southern hemisphere. And still politicians debate about the existence of global warming.

Not wanting to fire up the air conditioner again, we threw open all the doors and windows. For dinner, we lit the fire in our Big Green Egg so as to avoid the oven and served a meal of fall ingredients cooked summer style, including Grill Roasted Butternut Squash Served on Mustard Greens with Goat Brie and Walnuts and Red Currant-Mustard Chicken Thighs.

Red Currant-Mustard Chicken Thighs
Serves 6

1/2 cup red currant jelly
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 boneless skinless chicken thighs

Combine the first 4 ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking frequently. Turn the heat to medium and reduce by half to a sticky glaze. Fire up a grill or heat a non-stick grill pan. Brush the glaze all over the chicken thighs and cook until they reach 165 F. This won't take long at all. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, October 8, 2010

In Praise of the Braise: Butternut Squash-Rosemary Puree


When the trees change colors and the air acquires that crisp snap of fall, the slow cooker returns to my kitchen counter. After months of quickly cooked (if at all) vegetables and grilled meats, braising re-enters my culinary vocabulary and not a minute too soon.

Braising, slow cooking, stewing all give us the luxury of time. Throw a handful of hard, sinewy, ingredients, add a liquid, maybe a few, and a certain alchemy occurs. I particularly love when you start the process early on in the day, depart, and return to the aromas of the hearth.

This has been a busy week for me, a good one as well. Due to my organization Purple Asparagus' involvement in Healthy Schools Campaign's Chefs in the Classroom Day, my face has been seen in several media outlets, including the Chicago Tribune and ABC7, and my voice heard on WBBM. I've received word yesterday that I may even get a picture in the Washington Post (but, shhh, I'd hate to spread it around and then it not happen).

On a week like this, short on time, long on stress, I love the braise - delicious dinner with minimum of effort. I made the recipe from my last post Beef Braised with Wine and Onions. Using an arm roast, the meat turned out sturdy, yet silky. I served these wide strands of meat enveloped with a slightly acidic sauce atop Butternut Squash-Rosemary Puree. Even Little Locathor ate every bite.

Butternut Squash-Rosemary Puree
Serves 3

1 small butternut squash
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
1 minced garlic clove
salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Halve the squash and remove the seeds. Line a baking sheet with silpat or parchment and set the squash flesh side down. Roast until tender approximately 40 minutes. Let cool slightly and then puree in a food processor. Heat the cream, rosemary and garlic in a small saucepan to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Pour the cream through the feeding tube and puree with the squash. Season with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Market Inspired Alternative Meal Plan to Let's Move's Let's Cook

Photo credit, Chicago Tribune, from an article about Monday's Chefs in the Classroom Event

Since my critique of the Let's Cook series on the White House's Let's Move website, I've posted several delicious meal plans from guest bloggers. It's now my turn.

In the past, to create a meal plan, I would scour through magazines and cookbooks on a Friday night searching for inspiration. Saturday, I would shop, both at farmers’ markets (during the season) and the grocery store for the staples not available at the market. This year changed all that. As a member of two CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), my menu is defined by what arrives in my produce box from Harvest Moon Organics and what meat is in the freezer from my monthly pick up from Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm, a meat CSA. We still go to the market and the grocery store, but that’s just to fill in around what’s already here. As I’ve written before, it’s a very comforting way to plan a menu.

I served the following meals late in September, a particularly good week for my kitchen. With few evening meetings, we were home for dinner every night that week – a rare occurrence. I think it’s a terrific set of dinners for early autumn.

You'll likely notice that there’s something missing from my meal plan that you may want to reincorporate for your family: bread, pasta, and potatoes. My husband adheres to a low carb diet after his doctor strongly recommended it for the health of his heart. He has a family history of heart disease and high cholesterol and a severely bad back prevents him from vigorous exercise. We don’t go crazy, so you’ll see breadcrumbs, legumes and other starchy ingredients here, but we have tried to excise all of the simple carbs from our daily routine. Well, except one, nobody’s given up wine around here.

I suggest setting aside a few hours on Sunday, whatever time is good for you, to prep for the rest of the week’s meals. Much of this Sunday time is unattended, so you could read a book, help your kid with their homework, play a game, or watch television while you’re getting ready for a week full of delicious, nutritious meals.


1. In the morning, soak a pound dried chickpeas by covering them with water in a large bowl.
2. At any point at least an hour before dinner, start making your meat mixture to stuff in the peppers for Sunday’s supper. You’ll use the remaining mix to make Meat Loaf for a meal later in the week.
3. Cook the hollowed out green peppers in salted boiling water for 3 minutes. Remove with tongs and drain. Add ½ pound of trimmed green beans. Cook for 2 minutes and then remove to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking immediately. Set the peppers in a pan ready for stuffing. Wrap the green beans in paper towels then package in a container and refrigerate.
4. While the Stuffed Peppers and Meat Loaf are baking, prepare the Moussaka up until the point at which it goes in the oven.
5. Cook the chickpeas. Drain the chickpeas and put them in a large saucepan. Cover with about 1 ½ inches of water and add a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, skimming any foam that rises to the top (you don’t have to be obsessive about this). Reduce to a simmer and cook until tender. Let cool then package the chickpeas in their cooking liquid and refrigerate.

Stuffed Peppers/Meat Loaf
Makes 1 loaf and 4 stuffed peppers

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound ground pork
1 ½ pounds ground beef
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ cup chopped Italian parsley
1/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 large eggs
1 cup bread crumbs
Freshly ground pepper
4 large green peppers, blanched
6 slices bacon

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook until softened approximately 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Whisk the eggs slightly in a large bowl. Mix in the sautéed vegetables. Add the pork, beef, salt, parsley, ketchup, sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, bread crumbs, and a few grinds of freshly ground pepper. Combine with your hands, being careful not to overmix.

Slice off the first ¼-inch top of the stem of each pepper. Remove the ribs and seeds. Slice off a small bit of the bottom so that it will sit flat. Sit the peppers into a 9-inch round baking pan. Press half of the mixture into a standard metal, glass or ceramic loaf pan. Lay two slices of bacon on top of the meat. Scoop the remaining meat loaf into the green peppers. Halve each of the remaining slices of bacon and lay on top of the peppers.Set each pan onto the center rack.

Bake for 30-45 minutes or until the meat reaches 165° F. Let it sit for 10 minutes while the cauliflower is roasting. Serve the peppers on Sunday. Let the meat loaf cool and then wrap in aluminum foil. Refrigerate for up to a week or freeze. You can serve the leftovers either at room temperature or reheated.

Roast Cauliflower
Serves 4

1 large cauliflower, trimmed and separated into florets
1 ½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Increase the oven temperature to 400° F. Arrange the cauliflower in a single layer on a 9 by 13 baking pan. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is lightly browned.

Braised Green Beans with Tomato and Onion
Serves 4

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 white or yellow onion, chopped
3/4 pound green beans, trimmed
1/2 tomato, chopped

Heat the oil over medium heat in a skillet with a cover. Add onion and cook until slightly softened, approximately 3 minutes. Dump in green beans, tomato, and 1 tablespoon water. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the green beans have softened. Season with salt to taste.


Serves 4 with leftovers

I prepare the Moussaka and prebake it on Sunday night so that all I have to do on Monday, usually a busy day, is heat the oven, brown the Moussaka, and make a green salad.

1 large eggplant
1 pound ground lamb
Approximately ¼-cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
1 teaspoon dried oregano
12 ounces tomato puree
½ cup red wine
½ stick unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups warm milk
pinch nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
2 large eggs
5 grinds freshly ground pepper
1/3 pound grated goat cheddar or mozzarella (substitute cows milk mozzarella, if you can't find the goat variety)

Preheat the oven to 300º F.

Peel the eggplant and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Set them in a colander and sprinkle with approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt. Let the eggplant drain for 1/2 hour.

Cook the ground lamb in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium high heat until it just loses its pink color. Add onions and garlic and cook for 10 minutes. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, oregano, tomato puree, red wine and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 1/2 hour. Remove from the heat.

Wipe the eggplant slices dry. Heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in a large non-stick sauté pan over high heat. When hot, add a single layer of eggplant slices and cook until they are just browned on the exterior. Repeat with additional oil and eggplant slices.

Melt the butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Sprinkle in flour and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the warm milk and cook until the mixture thickens, stirring constantly. This will take between 1 and 3 minutes. Let it cool slightly, then whisk in the eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

In a medium sized oval casserole or a 9 by 9-inch baking pan, layer half of the eggplant slices. Spread all of the lamb sauce on top. Sprinkle the meat with half of the cheese. Top with remaining eggplant. Smooth on the white sauce over the top and then sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake for 1 hour. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 350° F and bake until browned.

Yogurt-Scallion Dressing
The recipe makes dressing for 2 salads.

This is delicious with romaine or green leaf lettuce. I like to cut up a cucumber or radish to toss with the lettuce.

3 tablespoons plain low fat yogurt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 teaspoons finely chopped scallion
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl.


I do admit that there’s a little irony in the ingredient list. One of the biggest critiques that I had for Let’s Move Let’s Cook series was that it called for hard to find ingredients like smoked paprika. That being said, when I looked back at what I used to make this soup – one of the seasonings was smoked paprika, which I use frequently given its versatility. If you can find it, it’s a good spice to have. If you cannot, substitute sweet paprika, chipotle chili powder or chili spice mix. The resulting soup will taste a little differently, but it will still be delicious.

This is a terrific almost vegetarian soup. You could round this out with some whole wheat pita bread and a green salad.


Chickpea and Tomato Soup
Serves 4

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 leek, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
pinch coriander (optional)
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika, sweet paprika, or ground chipotle
3 red beefsteak tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (you could substitute canned)
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 small bunch kale or Swiss chard, ribs removed

Heat the oil in a large sauce pan or a soup pot over medium heat. Cook until the leeks give off moisture and are softened about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika or chipotle. Stir and cook until fragrant about 30 seconds. Scrape in tomatoes, pour in the chicken stock, and add half of the chickpeas. Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. While cooking, thinly slice the kale. After 15 minutes, remove the soup from the heat. Let cool slightly. Puree the soup in a blender, food processor, food mill or with a stick blender. Return the soup to the pan. Add the remaining chickpeas and the greens and cook until the greens are wilted, about 10 minutes. Serve warm.


The chicken with peppers and a touch of arugula, another way to serve it.

Makes approximately 2 ½ cups

On our low carb diet, we often substitute hummus for mashed potatoes. If you don’t have time to make it, there are certainly many delicious commercially prepared versions.

1 15-ounce can chickpeas
¼ cup tahini
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice or more to taste
¼-½ teaspoon kosher salt

Strain the chickpeas over a small bowl. Put them in the bowl of a food processor. Add tahini, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and kosher salt then process until smooth. Add liquid from chickpeas through the feeding tube until the hummus reaches the desired consistency.

Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Breasts
Serves 4

Of course, you could always buy bone-in chicken breasts for this recipe and remove the bone to use for stock. Since this is a regular dish in my after work repertoire, I often take the easy way out with pre-pounded chicken cutlets. I like to pair it with roasted, marinated, multi-colored peppers.

4 chicken cutlets or chicken breast halves, boned, skinned, and pounded between two pieces of plastic wrap or parchment
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons water
½ cup whole wheat crumbs (I use panko-style)
½ cup grated parmesan style cheese (I use a Midwestern cheese called Sarvecchio)
2 tablespoons snipped chives, optional
Zest from half of a lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 grinds of pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Place two shallow bowls side by side. Put the flour in one bowl. Mix together the water and egg in the second and then the bread crumbs, cheese, chives, lemon zest, salt and pepper in the third. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick sauté pan over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Dredge the chicken first in the flour, then the egg mixture and finally the bread crumb mixture. Add each piece of meat into the pan and immediately turn the heat to medium. Sauté for approximately 4 minutes on one side, 3 minutes on the other. Serve warm with the following recipe for marinated peppers.

Mama Lena’s Roasted and Marinated Bell Peppers
Serves 4

6 bell peppers of various colors
6 garlic cloves
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon fine sea salt

Grill, broil or roast the peppers over an open flame. Put the peppers into bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap until cool to the touch. Remove the skins and the seeds from the peppers. Slice into ¼-inch slices. Very thinly slice garlic cloves. Mix together the peppers, sliced garlic cloves, olive oil, vinegar and salt in a medium-size bowl and marinate for at least an hour, preferably overnight.

Green Beans with Balsamic-Shallot Dressing
Serves 4

½ green beans, trimmed and blanched on Sunday
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot lobe, finely chopped
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Stir in the shallots and cook until softened. Let cool slightly and whisk in the balsamic vinegar. Toss with the green beans and sprinkle with salt.


Whole Wheat Pasta with Broccoli-Tomato Sauce
Serves 4 with leftovers

1 large clove garlic (3 large if using tomato puree)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 bunch broccoli
1/3 pound bulk Italian sausage (optional)
4 cups tomato puree or tomato sauce
pinch dried basil (if using puree)
½ teaspoon dried oregano (if using puree)
1 teaspoon salt (if using puree)
pinch of red pepper flakes, optional
1 pound dried whole wheat pasta, such as shells or rotini
parmesan or romano cheese to top, optional

Chop the garlic very finely. Remove the broccoli tops from the stems and separate them into florets. Slice the stems to ½-inch thick. Heat the olive oil in a medium soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute. Add the broccoli and stir to coat with the oil. Dump in the sausage (if using) and cook until no longer pink. Pour in tomato puree or sauce and sprinkle in red pepper flakes. If using puree, add the herbs. Cover and cook for 15 minutes to a half hour depending on how soft you like your broccoli. Taste for seasoning.

While the sauce is cooking, cook the pasta according to the directions. Serve topped with cheese.

Raw Kale Salad with Tomato and Almonds
Serves 4

1 tablespoon orange juice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
A few dashes hot sauce
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small bunch kale, preferably dinosaur, sliced ¼-inch thick
½ medium tomato, diced
6 toasted whole almonds, chopped

Stir together the orange juice, vinegar, hot sauce, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Whisk in olive oil until thickened. Stir in kale, tomato, and almonds. Let sit for about an hour or until the kale has softened.


It doesn’t have to be Friday, but on one of days of the week, we have a leftover night with Meat Loaf as our protein. You could serve the rest of the hummus and roast peppers with a green salad. You could also toss the peppers with pasta and a bit a cheese, goat or mozzarella.


You can start this in the morning and set into a slow cooker all day, perfuming the house with its meaty fragrance. By the time the dinner rolls around, you’ll have a plateful of tender meat slices to top pasta, polenta, or mashed potatoes. Serve with a green vegetable on the side either a salad, broccoli, or peas.

Beef Braised in Wine & Onions
Serves 4 with leftovers

1 chuck roast, approximately 3 pounds
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup full bodied red wine
1 cup beef broth, preferably homemade
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
¼ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried Greek oregano
Pinch of red pepper flakes

Season the roast with salt and pepper. Brown it on all sides in a Dutch oven over set over medium-high heat. (I do this in the insert to my slow cooker). Remove the meat to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium and add the olive oil. After about a minute, add the onion, stirring until softened and slightly browned, approximately 10 minutes – you may need to reduce the heat to medium-low. Add garlic and cook for approximately 2 minutes. Add red wine and bring to a boil. Reduce slightly. Add broth, tomatoes, basil, oregano and red pepper flakes, return to a boil. Add the chuck roast and any juices that have accumulated onto the plate. Reduce to a low simmer, cover, and cook for 3-5 hours until extremely tender, flipping the meat about half way through. This can be done in a slow cooker on low, which would take about 6 hours. Remove the meat from the pot and put onto a plate. Reduce the sauce by increasing the heat to medium high. Let the sauce reduce to your preference. Adjust the sauce seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve on top of the polenta.

No Stir Polenta
Serves 4

I found this recipe in the dearly departed Gourmet Magazine. It’s so easy that it makes polenta more plentiful in my household. If, however, you don’t have 45 minutes to wait, you can always use an instant polenta.

2 cups water
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup polenta or coarsely ground cornmeal
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese (optional

Heat the water and chicken stock in a large saucepan to a boil. Add salt and reduce the heat to low heat. Whisk in the polenta in a slow stream. Stir constantly for 2 minutes. Cover for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and stir continually for one more minute. Repeat this process 4 more times. Remove the cover and add butter and parmesan.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Autumn Enters, Baseball Departs: Corn-Cheddar Souffle


For me, the beginning of fall is not marked by Labor Day nor the equinox. No, autumn doesn't officially begin until the last baseball game is played in Chicago on the south side.

I'm a relative newcomer to the appreciation of America's pastime. Never one for sports, it wasn't until I met my sports crazed husband, that I understood its appeal. I fell in love with the game many autumns ago when the game was won over by a series of underdogs starting the Arizona Dbacks defeating the 1990's dynastic Yankees to our own White Sox, the second team of the second city, whose dramatic and decisive World Series cemented me as a lifetime fan. We've had season tickets since 2006 and we've seen our share of wins, losses, rain days, and fireworks. Throughout the six month season, I get attached to the other season ticket holders around us and the ballpark and so when it comes to an end at that last home game, it's hard for me to keep a dry eye.

Today's game was a particularly emotional one with the retirement of long time organist Nancy Faust and the possible departure of two of the most beloved White Sox players of this decade. Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzinski have each come to be almost inseparable to the White Sox brand. Both crucial to bringing the World Series trophy to the "Cell" as the rechristened Comiskey Park has come to be known. Each player's contract is up this year and there's no guarantee that either will ever play again in a White Sox uniform.

We sat on a crisply cool October afternoon cheering our Sox to a 6-5 victory over the Indians, a day that seemed so full of promise that it could almost disguise itself as one in April were it not for the sky festooned with autumn's colors of red, orange and yellow. It was then that I knew that summer was over. The outdoor markets will close in just a few weeks, the leaves will drift away from their branches and snow will soon fall. To savor the moment, but yet honor the transition, we enjoyed a meal of autumn flavors, including Gingered-Pear Pork Chops, Honey Glazed Acorn Squash and a Corn-Cheddar Souffle, stuffed in the last of our purple bell peppers.

Corn-Cheddar Souffles
Serves 4

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup 2 % milk
1/4 cup grated cheddar
salt, pepper and nutmeg
kernels from 1 ear corn
2 eggs, separated
Pinch of cream of tartar
4 bell peppers, hollowed out and with a touch sliced off the bottom so that it will sit flat

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and cook until thickened. Season with a touch of salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add cheese and heat until melted. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Whisk in egg yolks and then stir in the corn. With an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar and increase the speed. Cook until stiff peaks form. Fold in about a third of the corn and cheese base into the whites gently. Add the remaining amount and fill the bell peppers with an equal amount of batter. Bake in the center of the oven until puffed and golden about 20 minutes.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Snofrisk: A Special Surprise From the Chicago Food Film Festival

Photo Credit

In my view, the first ever Chicago Food Film Festival was a resounding success. Purple Asparagus walked away with a big wad of cash from donations as the event's non-profit beneficiary; I got to try a few new varieties from my favorite burger joint, DMK Burger Bar; I drank my fill of Portuguese rose thanks to Lush Wine and Spirits; and spent two delightful evening with my two favorite farmers, Jenny and Bob Borchardt of Harvest Moon Farms. Oh, and, yes, the movies were pretty entertaining as well. Truthfully, unfortunately, I didn't get to see much of the film festival as I was helping the volunteers in the kitchen, but the bits I did see (including The Best Hamburger in America) seemed very well made.

But the most happy, unintended, consequence of the weekend was my discovery of Snowfrisk, a spreadable goat/cheese from the makers of Jarlsberg. Jarlsberg donated a whole bunch of cheese, what would have seemed like an endless supply, but for the seemingly endless line of people anxious to try it. When I saw the prominently displayed Norwegian flag, I knew I had to commandeer a package to bring home for my son.

As I've mentioned here many times, I love cheese, all kinds of cheese. And this one is no exception. 80% goat and 20%, the Snowfrisk has a delightful tangy taste, rounded out by its saltiness. Softer than chevre, more substantial than cream cheese, this is going to be my new favorite for bagels, dips, and cheese spreads, like my very favorite pimento cheese. This week, I spread it on corn cakes and sprinkled some zucchini-thyme compote on it for dinner side. Thor loved it minus the zucchini. I'm not sure where it's sold yet, that's on my "to investigate" list. For now, I'll enjoy the remaining package. Just this morning, I spread it onto a poor man's bagel (two pieces of toast sandwiched with Snowfrisk with a whole cut into it) at Thor's suggestion.

I use Alice Waters' recipe for Corn Cakes found in Chez Panisse Vegetables. It's flawless and cannot be improved upon, so I won't try. It's also a book that I recommend to anyone who shops regularly at a farmers' market or buys a CSA as it provides recipes for common ingredients as well as ones those off the beaten path. I then top them with this Zucchini Compote. I would only note that these cakes can be made ahead of time and reheated in the oven even though I know that Alice would not approve.

Zucchini-Thyme Compote
Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups

1 medium zucchini, cut into small dice
4 large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick saute pan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant a few seconds. Add zucchini and cook until softened approximately 7 minutes. Add thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Use to top corn cakes.
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