Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A is for Apple-licious!


Did you know that October is National Apple Month? We at Purple Asparagus sure do! These days our cars are smelling all apple-licious as we cart varieties like Mutsu, Razor Russet, Scarlet O’Hara, and Lucky Jon’s to Chicago Public Schools all over the city.

See Purple Asparagus is a non-profit that educates children, families and the community about eating that’s good for the body and the planet. Our cornerstone educational program, Delicious Nutritious Adventures, teaches elementary school students about fruits and vegetables in season. Starting with a tasting and ending with a cooking lesson, each program is designed to get kids excited about eating fresh, local and seasonal produce.

In October, we taste 6 or 7 varieties of locally grown apples ranging from tart to sweet. Our students compare the texture, the taste, and of course the appearance of America’s favorite fruit. During the tasting, we learn about Johnny Appleseed and his role in spreading the seeds of apple love to most of the Continental United States. He was quite persuasive and today each of the 50 states can boast its own variety of apple. In America alone, we grow 2,500 different kinds. Worldwide, the number of apple varieties rise to 7,500. If you were to eat a single apple variety every day, it would take over 20 years to eat every kind of apple grown. That’s a lot of apples!

Apples range in size. The smallest member of the apple family grows on a shrub and is smaller than the size of a penny. The largest recorded apple weighed in at over three pounds. In between, most of the apples, we get from the grocery store or the farmers’ market are about ½ pound each.

Even if Purple Asparagus doesn’t visit your child’s school, there’s lots of apple fun to be had this autumn. The farmers’ markets are stocked with heirloom apple varieties. Within a quick drive you could visit an orchard, picking your own supply of apples (apples keep well for several weeks in a well-ventilated, cool, and dry space). And next week, November 4 at 7pm, you could visit with me and my son as we celebrate the fun of apple picking and make a variety of family friendly apple recipes at Kenmore Live Studio located at 678 North Wells in Chicago. There will be tastings, prizes and lots of family fun. Kids welcome.

Apple-Pumpkin Pancakes
Serves 4, making 8 large pancakes, 16 small ones

Chock full of fragrant spices, these pancakes are the epitome of fall cooking. You could always double the recipe, cook the pancakes over the weekend, and the reheat over the week for easy pre-school breakfasts.

¾ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 extra large egg+
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup plain yogurt
¼ cup 2 % milk
½ cup pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ large apple, grated
Butter for cooking

Stir together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk together the wet ones in another medium bowl. Stir the dry mix into the wet ingredients until combined. Let the batter sit for 10 minutes. Cook on a hot griddle with the remaining butter until browned over medium low heat. Serve with maple syrup.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bring a Little Sunshine to the Family Table


As if on cue, only 1 week after I renounced myself as a blogger, but instead a working mom with a blog, my life went kerplooey. Four days before Purple Asparagus’ biggest event and fundraiser of the year, Corks & Crayons, my dad passed away. He’d been diagnosed with a terminal disease, fibrosis of the lungs, merely a month before. This terrible development was coupled with the abrupt and unannounced departure of someone critical to Purple Asparagus leaving my September workload exponentially larger.

With the help of dedicated board members and volunteers, I’ve finally returned to the surface, dusting off the rubble of the summer’s explosions. We’ve sent all of our acknowledgements to our generous donors and set up scads of new schools programs, including 5 new ones sponsored and staffed by the Chicago Whole Foods. September was a busy, but productive, month.

The one role and responsibility that had to yield in light of the chaos was this blog. And for that, my dear readers, I am sorry. I’m sure that I’ve lost a few of you – I’ll miss you. But those of you stick by me, I plan to show my appreciation starting now, but more on that in a few words.

The one responsibility that could not be jettisoned was family dinner. It wasn’t always at home and even when it was it wasn’t always cooked by me. Nevertheless, every night that my family was all in the same place, we shared a meal. As is common in stressful times, the conversations weren’t all pink and fluffy, but they were had. This precious time, these moments, are likely what kept my head screwed on straight during the dark days of September.

All this seems very appropriate since going on right now this month is The Blog for Family Dinner Project. Starting September 26 and ending on Food Day, October 24, B4FD Project will feature daily blog posts that explore the far-reaching benefits of family dinner. To learn more, visit the B4FD site.

To honor you and the family dinner, I give you a chance to win one of two cookbooks that celebrate family meals: Art Smith’s Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family or Lisa Barnes’ Petit Appetit: Eat Drink and Be Merry. To enter, all you have to do is visit the Purple Asparagus Facebook page, become a friend, and tell us that you believe in family dinner.

In the meantime, I share this recipe, Vegetable Stir Fry with Sunny Thai Sunflower Sauce, perfect for any family dinner. To see me demonstrate it live, set your channel to WLS-ABC7 next Tuesday, September 18 at 11:00am.

Tofu and Veggie Stir Fry with Sunny Thai Sunflower Seed Sauce
Serves 4

1 pound extra firm tofu
6 tablespoons sunflower seed butter
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
¼ cup chicken stock or water
½ teaspoon Sambal Olek
2 kaffir lime leaves softened for 5 minutes in boiling water (optional)
Florets and 1 inch of the stem from 1 broccoli head (reserve the remainder for another purpose)
½ red pepper, thinly sliced
½ yellow pepper, thinly sliced
1 baby bok choy, thinly sliced
8 ounces rice noodles

Drain the tofu and cut into ½-inch cubes. Lay a large clean, lint-free dish towel on a baking sheet. Place the tofu cubes on it and then cover them with the rest of towel. Let the tofu sit while preparing the sauce and blanching the broccoli.

Puree the next 8 ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Generously salt and dump in the broccoli. Cook until bright green, approximately 2 minute. Remove the broccoli with a slotted spoon. Turn off the heat.

Heat 1 tablespoon of sunflower seed oil in a non-stick pan over high heat. Dump in the tofu and cook undisturbed for a few minutes until browned on the bottom. Shake the pan and continue cooking until the tofu is browned on all sides. Remove to a bowl. Toss the pepper slices into the pan and cook, stirring occasionally until browned. Scrape in the bok choy and cook until softened. Return the tofu to the pan and reduce the heat until low.

Cook the rice noodles according to the package. Strain well and stir into the vegetables. Remove from the heat. Scrape in the sunflower seed sauce and combine gently. Sprinkle with a ½ teaspoon of kosher or sea salt, stir and serve.
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