It's been a long July. I'm a bit slow these days given that I'm going about my days one handed after nerve repair surgery. Given this, the last thing that I needed was to be slowed down by lousy customer service. Unfortunately, however, that's exactly what I got from my now former landscaper Christy Webber Landscapes this weekend and from AT&T who left us without phone service for four days.
So, boy, was it a pleasant surprise to learn that the USA Network's Character Approved Blog featured Purple Asparagus yesterday. I'd been contacted by author Terry Boyd about a month ago who had offered to pitch our story to the blog. Not hearing from him after that, I figured the idea had been quashed. And then yesterday, the post appeared on our Facebook page, a pleasant surprise indeed. I hope that you'll check it out here.
Let’s admit it. A farmers’ market can be an overwhelming place. Don’t get me wrong. I love them and won’t soon forgo my weekly visits. But there is something rather dizzying about them, especially during the height of the season when tent after tent is populated by dozens of different shapes and varieties of fruits and vegetables. Who hasn’t overbought at one time or another during summer’s zenith?
A CSA share, on the other hand, can be so comforting. For those unfamiliar with sustainable food jargon, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Many family-owned farms sell shares at the beginning of the growing season. The farm earns money during the planting season when they most need it. In exchange, CSA members pick up a box full of seasonal produce on a regular, usually weekly basis. I love my CSA not only because I get a manageable amount of certified organic produce, but also because I know that I’m cooking exactly what I should when I should.
Before signing up for a CSA, I would agonize over meal planning. It could take me take me hours to create a weekly plan, one that I would change almost the instant I stepped into the circle of market tents. After signing up for our CSA, my menu plan was circumscribed by the contents of my produce box. In spring, we eat lots of greens, such as kale, chard, and spinach. In summer, I cull my cookbook collection for delicious and unusual recipes to use up the seemingly endless supply of cucumbers and summer squash. As the growing season slows, my family enjoys slow roasted squash and more cool weather greens. I may forgo the endless selection at the market, but my CSA better connects my family to the season and to the vicissitudes of Mother Nature by tying the fortune of our dinner table with those of our farmer’s.
These days, we’re enjoying garlic scapes, the curly cue tops of the garlic plant, a early summer delight. I use them like chives, finely chopping them and using them in marinades, dressings, and as garnish.
Buttermilk-Scape Marinated Pork Chops Serves 4
3 garlic scapes 1/2 cup loosely packed mint leaves 1 cup buttermilk 1 teaspoon coarse salt 4 bone-in pork chops
Rip the scapes into large pieces and put into the bowl of a food processor with the mint leaves. Pour the buttermilk through the feed tube and process until finely chopped. Mix in salt. Place the pork chops into a large shallow dish. Pour over the marinade and turn to coat. Marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Grill on a charcoal or gas grill until the interior temperature reaches 150° F. Serve warm.
Today's guest post comes from Mary Crimmins native Nashvillian who lives with her husband, Chris of 5 years, and her 2 dogs. Mary is a local food advocate, foodie, sustainability seeker, yogi, cocktail enthusiast and Farmers Market Manager.
As I have often said, “Kids don’t stay kids forever. At some point they grow up and become adults and they need to learn how to cook before they get there.” One of my dear friends Connie, down the street from me has 5 children. As you can imagine, cooking time is often chaotic. Nevertheless, no one is exempt from kitchen duties. She has adopted the Ratatouille movie’s nickname for her kids of “little chef” 1,2,3,4 & 5 “little chefs” to be exact. Each little chef has a job from mixing, stirring, chopping, to sautéing, and of course cleaning. Some have more kitchen interest than others, but all are learning the basics of where good food comes from and how to prepare it. Connie’s family subscribes to a CSA and also supplements ingredients from their local farmers market. She believes that her kids need to be involved in understanding how food moves from the farm to the dinner table. The way she does this is by allowing her kids to have some ownership over the meals. She swears that “it will get them eating things you never thought they would touch.”
Here are some ideas on how to create this: • Visit a farm with your kids – Kids rarely eat unfamiliar vegetables that they see in the fridge. When they get to see how it was grown and even pick some veggies at a farm, they become instantly invested and excited to cook their “own” food. • Have your child plan a meal and cook it from start to finish– Depending on the age, decide how much help they actually need. Offering cookbooks that they can look through, and helping them to determine quantities and a shopping list are helpful, but let them feel in control. I have witnessed this process first hand, and it is so empowering for a child. They immediately take pride in what they are doing (so try not to micro-manage). Kids are very capable in the kitchen, try assisting them as a sous-chef would and only assist them when they absolutely need it or ask for it. • Take them shopping – Include your kids in the shopping process. A Farmers Market is a great place to ask them what looks good for dinner, without fearing they will choose Fruit Loops. Give them $5 to pick out their favorite vegetable or fruit to add to the meal. • Role play – Open up a restaurant in your house for a night. Have your child come up with a menu, little ones can help decorate, and prepare it together. • Let them taste – Interaction in the kitchen is key. Have your children taste the dishes along the way and explain what they think you should add. Ask them if it needs more salt, perhaps a little more butter.
Not only is this an important life skill for your children to learn, it gives you the opportunity to connect and teach. As Connie says, “It’s my responsibility to make sure my boys know how to make more than scrambled eggs and grilled cheese for their wives.” And she is on a mission to make sure they can prepare Boeuf Bourguignon – one step at a time. “It might be crazy, less than perfect, and they might just make something inedible, but the process is worth it. I now have one night a week to enjoy a glass of wine while my children cook for me. I am one proud mama.”
Another challenging ingredient from our weekly CSA box are collard greens. While delicious braised, one method of cooking can get boring and I need a bit more excitement in my cooking routine. This weekend faced with another bunch of olive colored, fan shaped greens from our share, I tried something new.
Borrowing and adapting a recipe from my friend and dedicated Purple Asparagus volunteer, Jill Houk, l turned my collards into spring roll wrappers. Stuffing them with grilled tofu, grated carrots and cucumbers, and lots of herbs fresh from my garden.
Next time, I'll steam the collards a little longer as they were a touch chewy. Nevertheless, they were a pleasant twist and a new way to use up a challenging CSA vegetable.
Collard Spring Rolls
1 bunch collard greens 1/4 pound rice vermicelli, cooked and cooled 2 carrots, peeled and julienned 1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and julienned 1/2 pound grilled tofu slices 2 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias 1/4 cup shredded lettuce 1/4 cup mint leaves 1/4 cup basil leaves
Fit a large pot with a an adjustable steamer insert. Pour in water to reach the bottom of the steamer. Bring the water to a boil. Place 1/2 the greens in the steamer and cook until very soft. Remove the leaves to a colander and douse with cold water. Repeat with remaining leaves.
Lay a leaf on a large cutting board, cut out the heavy stem to about halfway up the leaf. Place about 1/4 cup of noodles on the bottom of the leaf leaving a 1/4-inch border. Top with a little carrot, cucumber, cucumber, lettuce, basil, mint, and scallions. Fold the bottom over the filling and the tuck in the sides and roll over the filling. Tuck in tofu slices and roll up like a cigar until the filling is covered. Cut in half, cutting away any exess heavy stem in the collard. Serve with Sunny Thai Dipping Sauce.
Sunny Thai Dipping Sauce
¼ c. sunflower seeds ¼ c. pumpkin seeds toasted 10 min. 1 T sunflower oil 2 T Soy sauce 1 garlic clove 1 1-inch chunk ginger 3 oz. water 1/8 t. chili oil
Roast the seeds at 350 F for 7 minutes. Grind in a food processor whle warm. Add remaining ingredients and puree until smooth.
Since I’m a bit limited in my ability to type having had surgery yesterday, I’m going to fill this space today with pictures of kids cooking outside. A bit of a cheap ploy, wouldn’t you say? Everyone loves pictures of cute kids.
Last Saturday, I visited one of my favorite Chicago Public Schools, Academy for Global Citizenship. AGC is a charter school that uses the environment as the third teacher. AGC is a green facility with an organic school lunch program. The students have worms and chickens and a gorgeous garden, which is where we cooked that morning.
Our Little Garden Gourmet session Saturday highlighted herbs, one of the few plants ready to harvest. We made Carrot Tacos, Herbed Yogurt Dip and Melon Kebobs with Basil Syrup. Unsurprisingly, the last was the hit of the session. Despite the mid morning heat, the kids happily chopped, stirred, and skewered. And then they enjoyed.
Melon Kebobs Serves 4
36 melon cubes Juice of ½ lime 2 teaspoons honey 1 teaspoon chopped basil 12 5-inch skewers
Whisk together the lime juice, basil and the honey. Coat the melon with the sauce. Skewer them and serve.
Kohlrabi is a vegetable that’s hard to love. Often mistaken for a root vegetable, the bulbous kohlrabi is instead related to cabbage and other brassicas like Brussels sprouts. The kohlrabi pops out of the earth like a fat broccoli, which makes sense give that its flesh tastes and feels a bit like the broccoli stem. The kohlrabi will grow almost anywhere, which is why I think it’s popular among farmers for the CSA box. Then we CSA members get stuck with them alongside the more appealing lettuces and strawberries in spring.
In winter, I grate the older, larger kohlrabi into my potato pancake batter. After frying, I dollop them with avocado cream. Delicious, but it’s not my idea of a warm weather recipe. Last week, I julienned along with cabbage and apples to make a crunchy, sweet, and earthy slaw. We ate it with stewed bratwurst, but I think it would also be a good addition to the picnic table.
Kohlrabi*, Cabbage and Apple Slaw Serves 8
1 small green cabbage, cored and grated 3 small kohlrabi, peeled and julienned 4 tablespoons finely chopped red onion ½ cup mayonnaise 2 tablespoons buttermilk 1 tablespoon cider vinegar 1 tablespoon basil
Cover the cabbage with ice water in a large bowl. Soak for ½ hour. Whisk together the mayoonaise, buttermilk, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. After soaking, squeeze the cabbage dry with clean dish towels. Mix together with the kohlrabi in the dressing. Julienne a cored red apple and add to the salad. Stir in basil.
*Kohlrabi's nickname is German Turnip. I don't think it does much for it's reputation.
My favorite movie line comes from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. When Lt. Aldo Raine suggests to Bridget von Hammersmark blame her shoot-out injured leg on a mountain climbing accident because German actress, telling her “you [Germans] all like mountain climbing,” she retorts:
“ I like smoking, drinking, and ordering in restaurants, but I see your point.”
While smoking is a thing of the distant past for me, like von Hammersmark, I much prefer drinking and ordering and restaurants to mountain climbing. And so my vacations are not spent skiing in Aspen or horseback riding in Wyoming. I much prefer spending my precious downtime in the world’s great food cities. Just this past weekend, Mike and I celebrated the 4th of July holiday with a New York eatstravaganza imbibing and consuming at 13 different establishments over the course of 48 hours.
Given this information, you might find it ironic that tonight at 8 CST I’ll be dishing out expert advice at a Healthy Child, Healthy World twitter party on eating healthily on vacation. That is until I share one additional detail. My home scale revealed yesterday that I lost two pounds during our Manhattan adventures.
Different people enjoy their time off in different ways. The idea of a beach vacation makes me itchy, as does a RV trip across country. Give me a world class city, a train pass, and Open Table, and I’m a heaven. So while I won’t be able to shed much light on navigating the cruise ship buffet tables or Middle America’s diners, I can give the following advice on how to indulge on vacation and remain healthy.
• It’s a simple proposition. If you want to eat more, exercise more. Leave your heels at home, pack a pair of comfortable shoes, and walk. In New York, we traverse the island largely on foot. If I’m traveling to a city not known for its walkability, I make sure to pack work out gear and find the exercise room. • Eat micro meals. Instead or ordering the grass fed burger or the paella, look to the appetizers. A “meal” for us can be sharing a small order of biscuits and jams. • Don’t over order. While the double order of soup dumplings may be tempting and the bottle price on the Pinot better than the glass cost, always go with the smaller option. • Do your homework. Read up about your vacation destination and the food culture. Even in some of the most unexpected locations, you’ll find restaurants serving local food and sustainably sourced ingredients.
Following these simple, common sense tips will allow you your vacation indulgences without blowing your diet making reentry into everyday life less painful.
New York Tips: With my parents still living on Long Island, we have the pleasure of biannual travels to Manhattan. With a mix of Twitter recommendations, magazine research, and dumb luck, we always find some amazing places. This trip's gems were the following:
Goat Town: A tiny farm to table restaurant in East Village. My brunch was delicious and straightforward: two farm fresh eggs with yolks the color of tangerines. They were partnered with sautéed squash, polenta, creamy and nubby all at once, and grilled, buttered toasts. My sparkling sangria dotted with rhubarb and grapefruit was a happy start to a rainy Sunday.
Momofuko’s Milk Bar: An old favorite. I can’t resist the Compost cookie filled with pretzels, coffee grinds and chocolate bits.
Joe’s Shanghai: Thanks to Twitter, we learned about this Chinatown temple of soup dumplings. Sitting with a Chinese family, we learned how to poke the leathery skin, douse the filling with gingery soy and the pungent chili oil.
After a two day eatstravaganza in Manhattan, I'm headed to Long Island to celebrate the 4th with my parents. I'm not sure what's on the menu. Knowing my mom, we'll likely enjoy a fruit of the sea or perhaps some grilled wursts. But if we were home, we'd definitely be grilling, grilling pizzas.
Last summer we splurged. Our old faithful Weber grill bit the dust. We planned to replace it with another kettle until we met the Big Green Egg at a friend's home. Mike and I had once looked at the egg, covetously, but it's expensive. Given Chicago's truncated grilling season, I wasn't sure it was worth it.
But at my friend's party, a whole lamb cookout, I watched him grill lamb AND bake bread. Afterwards, on Labor Day weekend, we obsessively sought out out an Egg retailer. We picked it up Tuesday after it was suited up with baking stone.
The Big Green Egg is an American-made Japanese style kamodo barbecue. Big, green and ceramic, the egg can serve as a grill, smoker, and oven. It retains heat well, yet remains relatively cool on the exterior.
Not until this year did we experiment with pizzas, my new favorite item to grill. Hitting temperatures of 600 plus, the Egg replicates a wood or coal fired pizza oven easily. Lightly charred on the edges, crispy on the bottom, and chewy on the outside crusts, I was thrilled with the results. We made three: an Alsatian tarte flambé, a white pizza, and a cherry tomato-fresh mozzarella.
Cook the bacon in a large skillet until cooked about halfway through. Roll out the dough to about 11-inches, the same size as your stone. Spread the creme fraiche on top. Dot with onions and bacon. Bake in a 450 F oven for 10 minutes or a Big Green Egg heated to 600 F for 5 minutes.
While many of you around the country are enjoying early Summer produce, we Chicagoans are still seeing Spring's greens in our CSA box, lots and lots of greens.
With a little oil, salt, and a warm oven, I can transform the kale into crispy little bites. Chard, on the other hand, has begun to outlive its utility. Unlike its fairer cousin spinach, I don't like to freeze excess chard. To me, it only intensifies the bitterness.
Instead, I've been tucking the Alpine green in stews, both meatless and meaty. Last week's creation was so well received at my family's table that I reprised it again this week. If you too have an excess of the red tinged green, try this family favorite.
Franks, Beans and Greens
1 onion, diced 1/2 garlic scape, sliced 1 tablespoon sunflower oil 1/4 cup white wine 3 tablespoons light brown sugar 1 tablespoon maple syrup 1/4 cup ketchup 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard 1/2 teaspoon Worcestire sauce Pinches of cloves and cinnamon 1 12 ounce kielbasa, sliced 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed 1 small bunch Swiss chard, rinsed, stemmed and roughly chopped
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and scapes and cook until the onions are caramelized about 7 or so minutes. Pour in white wine and cook until reduced. Add sugar, maple syrup, ketchup, mustard, Worcestire sauce, cloves and cinnamon. Turn off the heat. Brown the kielbasa in a large skillet over high heat. Add the kielbasa, beans and chard to the saucepan. Cover and cook until the chard is wilted and the ingredients are hot. Serve.