Showing posts with label cooking with kids. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cooking with kids. Show all posts

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Purple Asparagus, Purple Monkey and More than Milk

A few months ago, a feature in Daily Candy caught my eye. It highlighted a new non-profit called More than Milk that organized opportunities for new moms to volunteer with their children. Founded by former teacher, Amy Cahill, More than Milk partners with a different non-profit 4 times a year. More than Milk highlights the partner organization in its newsletter and events. It also allows moms to volunteer with the featured non-profit by arranging for babysitters through Urban Sitter to watch the little ones.

Since July, Purple Asparagus has been the beneficiary of More than Milk's efforts. The moms accompanied me to Green City Market for our Club Sprouts session where we made Salad Cubed (Tomato, Peach, Cucumber Bread Salad). More recently, More than Milk organized a book signing and talk with Dr. Natalie Digate Muth, author of Eat Your Vegetables and Other Mistakes Parents Make at Purple Monkey Playroom.

After a great talk with Dr. Muth, the spotlight turned to us where we spoke about our own Delicious Nutritious Adventures and made Yogurt Parfaits with our little patrons.

Makes 4 ½ cups

3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 tablespoon flax seeds
¼ cup maple syrup or more to taste
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  In a large bowl, mix together the first eight ingredients.  Spread out the mixture onto a non-stick pan.  Bake for 45 minutes or until light brown. Let cool and then stir in the cranberries. Scoop into an airtight container. The granola will keep for a few weeks.

Perfect Parfait
Makes 4

2 cups of plain low fat yogurt
¼ cup strawberry jam
¾ cup granola
1 cup mixed fruit like raspberries, bananas, blueberries, bananas

Stir together the yogurt and jam in a medium bowl. Divide the yogurt evening into 4 pretty glasses. Top with fresh fruit and granola. Enjoy.

Photography Credit, TK Photography

Monday, January 30, 2012

Egg Rolls and Geo Politics: Cooking Chinese with Kids

Kids are funny, aren’t they?

I don’t know about yours, but my son’s favorite playthings are often not even toys. Give him a map and hours later you’ll find him tracing his way from Maine to California. Google maps and GeoMasters are tied as his favorite iPad apps. Neither he nor I could live without our car’s GPS; we’re simply motivated by different needs.

Maps aren’t his only geo-political obsession. I have a whole slew of his drawings of the flags of the world dating back to 2010.

Late last year, we hatched an idea that combined his love of nation states and my love of cooking. Regularly, we plan to focus on a country. We dedicated a blank book to this purpose. In it, he’ll draw the nation’s flag and pair it with a few quick facts about the selected country. For my part, he and I will cook together a meal from the country.

Starting with China, we launched our project on Saturday to coincide with the country’s New Year. We made Egg Rolls and Shrimp Toast from scratch and enjoyed Stir-Fried Hoisin Pork with Peppers from Grace Young’s Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge.

Chicken Egg Rolls

A few years ago, I comandeered a few my mom's old cookbooks including The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook by Gloria Bley Miller, and this recipe is adapted from one in that book.

Makes 10

Raw ingredients
2 tablespoons dried porcini
1/4 pound chicken breast
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon tamari
2 1/2 cups bean sprouts
4 cups fresh spinach, loosely packed, sliced into 1-inch ribbons
The greens of 2 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tamari
2 tablespoons peanut oil
Egg roll skins
Vegetable oil for frying
Sweet and Sour Sauce for dipping

Soak the mushrooms in hot water.

Cut the chicken breast into very thin strips. Combine cornstarch, sugar, salt, and tamari in a small bowl. Add the chicken strips and stir to coat. Let the chicken sit for 10 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the bean sprouts in the water for 2 minutes. Drain.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook a few minutes or until it's no longer pink. Remove from the pan and let cool on a small plate.

Fresh filling ingredients
Cooked filling
Heat remaining oil in the pan. Add the scallions and saute for a minute. Dump in the bean sprouts and spinach and cook until the spinach is softened. Return the chicken to the pan and stir together all the ingredients.

Scrape the mixture into a colander and let drain while it cools.

Heat a large pot filled with several inches of vegetable oil over high heat.

Fill egg roll skins according to package. Set the filled egg rolls onto a plate.

When the oil reaches 375-F degrees. Add 3 egg rolls at a time to the pot. Cook until the egg rolls are golden brown. Drain and serve hot with sweet and sour sauce.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cook a Rainbow with Your Kids

Purple carrots, had only I known you six years ago. . .

Unlike many other purple vegetables, like purple Brussels sprouts and sadly even purple asparagus, purple carrots, the ones colored through to their core retain their vivid hue after cooking. Not only do they keep their color, but purple carrots lend it to their partner ingredients in a dish.

You won’t find these carrots at your ordinary grocery store. No, for these, you’ll have to make a stop at Green City Market. Look for Vicky Westerhoff of Genesis Growers, she’ll hook you up.

Purple carrots will help your kids to eat a rainbow – a recommendation that many a dietician and doctor would make for a healthy diet. Thor and I were given a terrific tool to keep track of his rainbow consumption from my friend, Kia Robertson: a Today I ate a Rainbow Kit. He tracks what colors he’s eating on the magnetized fridge chart, I plan for our week’s worth of rainbow foods with the shopping list, and we both enjoy her delightful book, The Rainbow Bunch.

I’m sharing this wonderful tool with one lucky reader. To enter our Today I Ate a Rainbow giveaway, all you have to do is become a Facebook friend of Purple Asparagus. If you are already one of our friends, simply recommend our page to your friends. My Little Locavores kid will pull a number out of a hat this Friday.

Happy friending!

Purple Bean Soup
Serves 4
6 cups chicken stock
1 ham hock
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 purple carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery stick, chopped
½ teaspoon cumin
3 cups cooked black beans
1 bay leaf

Pour the chicken stock into a large pot and add the ham hock. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove the ham hock and reserve for another purpose.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan or soup pot over medium high heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and sauté until the vegetables are softened. Sprinkle the cumin over the vegetables and cook for another minute.

Add the black beans and pour in 4 cups of the ham stock. The remainder can be frozen for another purpose. Drop in the bay leaf, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and three grinds of freshly ground pepper and bring the stock to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook for 30 minutes.

Puree in a blender (be sure to cover the top with a clean dish towel) or with a stick blender. Ladle into shallow bowls and dollop with sour cream and a spritz of lime juice.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Happy (Virtual) Thanksgiving!

Brussels Sprouts Chilaquiles

In our household, we don’t really have traditional family recipes. I’ve never subscribed to the notion that a holiday isn’t complete without green bean casseroles or candied yams on the table. Instead, I like to mix it up with new dishes appearing each year.

What we do have is a family recipe tradition. As long time readers will recall, my son and I started one of these a few years back. He had returned from school with some cockamamie story about our Thanksgiving dinner written on a construction paper turkey. The tale involved mashed potatoes shaped like turkey legs, cooking the turkey for an hour, and stuffing it with French Fries. While the first two suggestions were ludicrous to me, the third had possibility.

Since that year, our Thanksgiving family recipe tradition is that Thor and I concoct some new and unusual stuffing for our bird. Last year’s dressing was cornbread, black bean, poblano peppers, and chorizo. With this recipe as the centerpiece, we went with an entirely Southwestern theme to our feast. It was a delicious meal, spicy and rich with one dish in particular standing out as a star: Brussels Sprouts Chilaquiles.

Incorporating a generous helping of bacon grease, crumbled tortilla chips, and caramelized onions, it was quickly devoured leading me to think this recipe might actually become a tradition in my house at Thanksgiving or any other day.

Bacon-Brussels Sprouts Chilaquiles
Serves 4-6

This is not a dish for the dietetic. It’s unabashedly full of bacon and bacon grease – a natural partner to Brussels sprouts. I keep a small container of rendered bacon grease in my fridge, which I use as a fat in cooking certain dishes like this one. If you don’t have a ready supply of bacon grease and still want to make this recipe, just cook more bacon slices at the end of the recipe. Save them for another purpose, eat them, or throw caution to the wind by including them all in this recipe.

2 ½ tablespoons bacon fat
1 medium yellow onion, chopped into small dice
¼ teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 pound Brussels sprouts trimmed and halved
¼ cup amber beer
¾ cup turkey stock
3 slices bacon
2 cups corn tortilla chips
Juice of ½ lime
Salt, pepper, and hot sauce

Melt two tablespoons of bacon fat in a covered skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook slowly until golden brown. Sprinkle the cumin and chile powder on top of the onions. Cook until fragrant, merely a few seconds. Stir in the Brussels Sprouts and stir to coat. Pour in the beer, increase the heat to medium, and cook until slightly reduced. Add the turkey stock, cover and cook until the Brussels sprouts are almost tender, just about five minutes. While the Brussels sprouts are cooking, render the bacon slowly until brown and crispy. Drain. Uncover, crumble all of the tortilla chips into the pot. Add a little more stock or water if the liquid has evaporated. Cover again and cook until the chips are softened. Season with lime, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Crumble the bacon into the dish. Serve warm.

Posted as part of Williams-Sonoma's Virtual Thanksgiving. For more recipes, visit the Blender blog.

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.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Green Eggs and Ham at Green City Market


While spring technically begins in March, it doesn't really spring forth, at least in the Midwest, until April. April is also, as most of you know, Earth Month. Because of what we do at Purple Asparagus, our date book is always full in April with cooking demonstrations, classes and various festivals. On Saturday, we celebrated spring's cautious bounty at Green City Market by making Green Eggs and Ham, a perfect recipe to herald the earth's rebirth.

For centuries, eggs have been a symbol of spring and new life. Combining them with the freshest and most delicate of greens seems only natural. The ham's just a bonus. Readers will recognize this recipe as a lightened up version of deviled eggs thanks to a new trick that Monica Bhide created for Kiwi Magazine. All of the ingredients were locally sourced or grown. Fun to make, fun to eat, the recipe was a big hit among our young Sprouts.

GCM Green Eggs
Sprout Elliot who made several Green Eggs and Ham, but did not eat them, because he's a budding vegetarian.

Green Eggs and Ham
Makes 1, increase accordingly

1 hard boiled egg, cut in half
2 teaspoons Greek yogurt or plain yogurt strained through a fine sieve
1/4 teaspoon mustard
1-2 teaspoons green stuff (chopped basil, parsley, chives, green onions, mint, etc.)
pinch salt
2 thin slices of prosciutto (I love Iowa's La Quercia)

Press the egg yolk through a fine sieve. This will loose the egg yolk making it easier to combine it with the other ingredients. Combine the egg yolk with the yogurt, mustard, green stuff and salt. Scoop the mix onto the egg white halves. Wrap each with prosciutto. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mini Mardi Gras Merrymakers


Today is Ash Wednesday and carnival season is over. Gone are the revelers and the beads and in their place, the leaner times of the Lenten season.

But yesterday, people all over the world celebrated in high style whether in New Orleans, Rio, or my favorite LITTLE LOCAVORES™ kid's first grade classroom.


I've actually never been to the Crescent City's celebration. In fact, I've only been to New Orleans twice. Nevertheless, the city holds a special place in my heart. My first trip was for my good friend Jen's wedding. The history, the music, the food all captivated me. Were I ever to retire to southern climes, my condo wouldn't be on a Florida waterfront, but a French quarter balcony (as long as it hasn't sunk into the Ponchartrain).

This year, I shared my love of New Orleans and its singular cultural pleasures with Thor's classmates. We started out reading a children's book entitled Gaston Goes to Mardi Gras, which summarizes the holiday's traditions in kid size language. We then turned our attention to mask making. Before the class, I had cut masks free style from paper plates. The kids bejeweled and feathered them to their whimsy. Using leftover chopsticks, we gave each mask a handle.


After making masks, I served up a homemade King Cake,* in which I'd shoved a gold-ish coin in the baby's stead. We crowned the coin's finder Rex (well, actually Regina since the lucky child was little girl). She then presided over our miniature Mardi Gras parade, more scrum than organized formation.

According to the darling book of thank yous that I received afterward, the celebration was a huge hit with Thor's classmates.

LA image

If you're looking for the next great read, check out Sara Roahen's Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table, a fantastic exploration of the city's culinary traditions by another Midwestern gal.

Our more adult celebration later in the evening involved Sazeracs and New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp, a recipe that I wrote about a little over a year ago.

* I used Emeril's King Cake recipe, just dividing it in half. I decorated it with India Tree's naturally dyed sprinkles, a product that I learned of from Christina Le Beau's blog Spoonfed. The result may be a little different in color than the ordinary King's Cake, but far more comforting to serve.

* UPDATE: A new twitter friend sent me a link to a Norwegian kings cake. With a kid named Thor, I know what I'll be making next Shrove Tuesday. Thanks Active Kids Club.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Delicious, Nutritious Advenutres™ in Edison Park


One would think that as my catering career has slowed down that hauling and schlepping would be a thing of the past.

Not so much. In fact, these days, my lifting muscles must be getting bigger by the day with all the packing, unpacking, and carrying I do in conjunction with Purple Asparagus' school programs.

My big green Land Rover (yes I know, it's not the most sustainable option but that's why our other car is a Prius) traverses the city proper from north to the south, the west and to the east. This weekend was no exception.

Friday's night program was in Edison Park, a community on the northwest side of the Chicago. Volunteer extraordinaire, Victoria Rivkina, and I hauled and schlepped in the pouring rain. Thankfully, a terrific group of parents and some adorable kids made their way through the inclement weather to see us, well really Staley the bear - we were definitely only the opening act.

As promised, I'm sharing the recipes we prepared - the kale chips being the biggest hit. For all the folks who braved the weather and even if you did not, click on the following link for the recipe handout. Despite being soaked, it was a lot of fun.

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Great Honor: On Winning a Chicago Trib Good Eating Award

Photograph Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

As many of you have already seen, last week I was honored with a Chicago Tribune Good Eating award for my work with Purple Asparagus, a non-profit that I founded six years ago. Each year, the paper's Good Eating section "salutes those people in the Chicago-area food and beverage world who are making a difference through their passion, vision and commitment to quality."

I'm not real comfortable with the look-at-me-I'm-so-great kind of post. Therefore, I've been trying to think of a story to write around my receiving this prestigious honor. I was coming up empty until last night's pinnacle of Hollywood's award season when I realized that receiving this award was a great opportunity to publicly thank all of the wonderful folks who've supported Purple Asparagus, a non-profit that educates children, families, and the community about eating that's good for the body and planet. This post is for everyone whose support has made our success possible.

First, a great big thanks go to our board and committees who help raise money to support our programs and provide strategic direction for our organization.

Of course, I also need to thank our many volunteers who assist with programs large and small. Whether it be an hour or a continued commitment, we couldn't do our work without these dedicated and generous individuals.

I have nothing but gratitude for our many varied partners. Since our founding, we've worked with such venerable organizations as Healthy Schools Campaign, the City's Department of Cultural Affairs, Green City Market, the Notebaert Nature Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, and Share Our Strength. With their support, our little underfunded organization has gone further than I could have ever expected.

And like every Oscar winner, I must thank my friends and family, especially Little Locathor and my incredibly supportive husband, Mike.

Finally, I want to thank all of the teachers, parents, and children who've been willing to join us on our Delicious, Nutritious Adventures™. Without your individual leaps of faith, Purple Asparagus would not exist. I hope you'll continue to join us in new adventures for more delicious, nutritious fun.

With gratitude,

Melissa Graham
Head Spear
Purple Asparagus

Monday, February 7, 2011

Double the Recipe, Double the Dinner


Usually Purple Asparagus runs a single curriculum each month. This makes it easy for supply purposes. So say we've got leftover mint for our Tangerine-Mint Salad, we use it at the next school. It's never an exact science when you have to buy your ingredients in a single size container, so usually we have some yogurt leftover, but it's never an excessive amount.

When we teach a special curriculum, however, we often have leftovers. Not enough to bring to a food bank, but certainly too much to throw out. Since, more often than not, I'm teaching the class, I come home with the excess product. And, thus, I need to figure out what to do with them.

A few weeks back, I taught a healthy, seasonal cooking class to seven divisions of high school students. As any parent of a teenager can likely attest, this is a tough bunch to preach the values of healthy eating. They just don't care - they think that they'll live forever. They also hate being told what to do, and this includes what to eat.

So, I was pretty proud when this group of 200 plus students loved what we made. I demonstrated two dishes: Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas with Lime Sour Cream and Spinach, Avocado and Blood Orange Salad. While they all ate and enjoyed, I still had leftovers: a single sweet potato and five plus cups of black beans. On the day of the snowpocalypse, filled with shovelling, playing, and puppy walking, I made a big pot of black bean soup and on the side a batch of sweet potato biscuits.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas
Serves 6

This recipe was inspired by one that my friend Elena Marre makes over at The Kids' Table. I just gussied up the beans a bit.

6 whole wheat tortillas
1 sweet potato, roasted
1 tablespoon 2 % milk
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups cooked beans or 1 14-ounce can black beans
2 scallions, chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon cumin
½ Serrano chile, minced
1 1/2 cup Monterey jack
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon lime juice

Mash the sweet potato with the milk and salt. Rinse black beans in a strainer if using canned (it reduces the sodium content). In a large bowl, combine the lime juice, cumin and Serrano chile. Drizzle in the olive oil while whisking to combine. Add black beans and scallions and mix to combine.

Spread a layer of sweet potato on a tortilla. Layer a 1/4 cup of black beans on top. Sprinkle 1/4 cup cheese on top of the beans. Fold over and cook in a hot non-stick saute pan. In the meantime, whisk together the sour cream and lime in a small bowl. Serve the quesadillas with lime sour cream.

Any excess seasoned black beans can be served as a side dish.

Black Bean Soup
Serves 6

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 small red onions, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon paprika
5 cups cooked black beans
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup tomato puree
1/2 cup water
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon cumin

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Cook the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot until softened. Add cumin and paprika and cook until fragrant, just a few seconds. Add black beans, chicken stock, tomato puree, water, bay leaf, and cumin. Cook for 45 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and puree. Serve warm with a touch of sour cream and a lime wedge on top.

For the sweet potato biscuits, I used a recipe from Cheryl Alter Jamison and Bill Jamison's A Real American Breakfast.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Kitchen Project for the Snowpocalypse

Book Photos 015
Photograph Courtesy of Stronghold Photography

With the blizzard of the century bearing down on Chicago, it looks like we might actually get a snow day. Hooray! And hooray for kitchen projects that don't require a trip to the grocery store - I'm afraid to go anywhere near one. Even at Whole Foods, I was a bit scared that I would be trampled in the rampage for canned goods.

Making pasta requires nothing that's not ordinarily in our pantry and our fridge and it's a lot easier to make than you think. Plus, when you're stuck in house with antsy kids, a great way to release the beans is to make a big ol' mess in the kitchen.

Over at Kiwi Magazine's Kiwilog, I shared my recipe for homemade pasta. Sauce it how you like it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mean Mr. Mustard Man: Homemade Holidays from the Spice Store

DEC 031

One errand that I never resisted running as a child was a trip to the health food store. Located in a trailer behind our drive through bank, my mom and I would go to fill up our tamari bottles, buy whole grains, and, best of all, stock up on bulk seasonings. I still fondly recall sniffing the various jars of familiar and unfamiliar herbs and spices and sampling different spice blends.

It’s therefore unsurprising that one of my favorite stores in Chicago is The Spice House. Owned by friend, Patty Hurd, it’s an emporium bursting with sweet scents and spicy aromas. As a mom, I’m so pleased that Little Locathor shares my affinity for spice stores and never complains about our visits there.

Given our shared love, I thought it would be fun this year to take inspiration for our Christmas gifts from the spice store. In the past, our edible holiday gifts have been on the sweet side. We’ve made a hot chocolate mix with homemade marshmallows, jars of cranberry curd, and bags full of granola. Sweet gifts are great, but they tend to have limited utility. This year’s gifts, Thor’s Spicy Mustard and Vanilla, will hopefully provide months of tasteful joy for their recipients.

Both recipes are extremely simple to make. The mustard requires lots of measuring and scooping, great fun for kids. We then pack the jars and bottles in old berry boxes saved from our farmers’ market purchases. Instead of filling the boxes up with packing paper, we used some sweet as candy Satsuma tangerines. We then create tags from holiday cards received in years past. A gift that’s environmentally kind and delicious!

What edible gifts are you making with your kids?

Thor’s Spicy Mustard
Makes 6 4-ounce jars

1 cup brown mustard seeds
¼ cup yellow mustard seeds
1 ¼ cups white wine vinegar
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup mustard powder
1 cup water
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Combine the mustard seeds in a medium bowl with the white wine and vinegar. Let sit, covered, at room temperature for 2 days. Whisk together the mustard powder and water and let sit for ½ hour. Scrape the soaked seeds into the bowl of a food processor, add all the remaining ingredients, and puree until the mustard is creamy. Package in 4 ounce jars.

Makes 1 4-oz. bottle, increase accordingly

1 vanilla bean
½ cup vodka or cheap brandy

Push the vanilla bean into the bottle. Cover with vodka or brandy. Note on the gift tag that the vanilla should be steeped for two months.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Souffle Meditations on Perfectionism and Transitions


This past Saturday, Little Locathor, my husband, and I shared an intimate family celebration. An exceptional wine (and a little blood orange soda for Thor) accompanied Niman Ranch rib chops fit for a king (and a queen and a few other royal members). I hand cut and fried potatoes to dip into a chive flavored béarnaise sauce. We opened a few Christmas presents since we’ll be travelling this holiday and finished up with a chocolate soufflé. It was a special evening, not due to the deliciousness of the wine or the richness of the food, but instead because of the dramatic contrast to how I’d spent this particular evening in years past.

Over the last five years, I had a standing date on December’s second Saturday: cooking for 150 mostly Republican guests out of a suburban garage. You see, since 2005, in addition to running Purple Asparagus I’ve owned a boutique catering company. While the previously mentioned party was the company’s most lucrative event, it was also the most stressful. Money is no object for these clients and their values, well, they don’t hew closely to mine, not in food, nor in many things. So the news of their decision to hire a new caterer was not unwelcome. The sadness of the story, however, is that these weren’t just clients. The wife was also my former business partner, one of my husband’s closest college friends, and my son's godmother.

A rift in the relationship had been growing over several years, precipitated by miscommunications and perceived and actual slights. But, ultimately, the relationship was sunk by the chasm created by divergent world views. Unfortunately, all the adages about money applied here – money can change you but it cannot buy you happiness.

Saturday’s dinner was thus a sort of goodbye to a relationship soured. It was also a way to honor transitions and life that doesn’t stand still.

I once read that career counselors suggest reevaluating your professional circumstances every five years to determine whether they continue to meet your values. A little over five years ago, I left the law. While my big firm partner income helped with our temporal needs, the work left me unfulfilled. Now, I’ve reached a similar point of transition.

Over the past year, I’ve been moving further away from catering. With the burgeoning demand for Purple Asparagus’ services, I had little choice. For the first few years, I could deftly balance the needs of Purple Asparagus with whatever suitable catering gigs came my way. That’s no longer the case. Managing volunteers, teaching classes, developing partnerships, and seeking out funding is how I now spend my days. And those days are more than full.

Transitions are exhilarating, cleansing, heart wrenching, and enlightening. They also help you see things clearly, especially yourself. I’m a perfectionist, always have been. I married a perfectionist, and worst of all, between the two of us, we’ve birthed one. Like Mike and I, Little Locathor has a bad habit. While many things come naturally to him, the things that don’t he’s very cautious about. So cautious that, until he feels completely confident, he’s hesitant to try them. It feels painfully familiar to me.

My first two careers demanded that perfectionist trait. Typos are a sort moral failing at my former law firm. Catering was even worse for me. I demanded that everything be perfect – in appearance, in timing, and in taste. December, the month that brings to most tidings of joy, was a grim march of checklists and schlepping. It was a month to survive, not enjoy.

Ultimately, I think my problem is that I’m a deeply imperfect perfectionist. I don’t deal well with the stress of it. It makes me fight with my husband, it gives me nightmares, and it makes me literally pull my hair out.

This December is much better. While I’m working damn near as hard giving cooking classes, meeting with potential new schools and partners, and fundraising, I’m not nearly as stressed out. The thing is, perfectionism isn’t expected or even welcome when cooking with kids. It’s not about creating the most beautiful plate or making every cookie exactly the same shape and size as the others. The process is more important than the product. Just this morning, I made Christmas fruit salad with 2 kindergarten classes. A class of 24 divided into 6 teams cut their red and green fruits, pulled apart their pomegranates, and whisked their honey-lime dressing. Not one looked or tasted identical to the others. More importantly, the kids had a blast and devoured every bite of ingredients familiar and not.

I think perfectionism is a little like a soufflé. So many factors, both within and without your control, can interfere with the pursuit of perfection. For example, the soufflé picture above (about to be devoured by the soufflé shark) almost didn’t happen when my oven began a sputtering death – shutting itself off. And even if you can achieve perfection, it fleeting. The second you remove the soufflé from the oven, it begins to deflate. Just between the time I removed it from my malfunctioning oven and took this picture, it was at least an inch shorter. But fully inflated or fallen, it’s tastes just as good.

Chocolate Souffle
Serves 8
Adapted from Julia Child's The Way to Cook

7 ounces semisweet chocolate melted with 1/3 cup espresso or very strong coffee
2 cups 2% milk
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks
6 large egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Butter a 2 quart round baking dish. Wrap and tie a piece of parchment around the dish so that it reaches at least 3-inches above the dish.

Whisk the flour and milk in a medium saucepan. Set the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil slowly. Cook for 2 minutes, whisking all the while. Remove from the heat, whisk in the salt, vanilla, egg yolks, and the melted chocolate.

Pour the whites into the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat the whites with the whisk attachment on medium speed to soft peaks. Increase the speed, sprinkle in the sugar and beat to stiff peaks.

Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg whites carefully but thoroughly. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and set it on the lower rack in the oven. Immediately turn the temperature down to 375 F. Bake for 50-60 minutes. Remove the paper and serve.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pizza Party!


Cold winter days and pizza nights are a natural partnership. With our frigid, gray weathers, I pulled out my tried and true pizza recipe on Friday night. The formulation has gone through some twists and turns over the years. Back in March, I began substituting whey reserved from ricotta making for water. It's a subtle change that gives the dough a little more character.

The only problem with this addition, of course, is that you have to have whey on hand to make this recipe. Me, when I now make ricotta, I divide the cheese by-product into small containers that I freeze. For those of you who don't have a stock of frozen whey, well, you were out of luck. That is until now.

Before I began digging around in my downstairs freezer, I realized something. We were using fresh mozzarella and it occurred to me the keeping water that I usually throw down the sink could serve the same purpose as my whey. I was right - a great discovery since I know that cheesemaking may not be everyone's cup of tea. Simply substitute the mozzarella water for either the whey in my recipe or the water in your ordinary pizza dough recipe. If you don't have a full cup, add tap water.


We make tiny little pizzas, eight in all, devouring six and leaving the final two for leftovers. Little pizzas allow Little Locathor and I to come up with a number of combinations. On Friday, we topped them with a little bacon, pepperoni, sausage, peppers, roasted garlic, goat cheese and fresh mozzarella. With a salad on the side, it was a great start to our Wintry weekend.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Purple Asparagus' Ultimate Set of Tools for Chefs Move to Schools

To support the Chefs Move to School program, All-Clad and several other kitchen manufacturers have teamed up with Partnership for a Healthier America to provide 1,000 schools with tool kits made up of induction burners, pots, knives, and some common utensils. Not long after the announcement, I learned from Audrey Rowe, Deputy Administrator for Special Nutrition Programs in the Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA, that these kits were really intended to be used for food demonstrations. I had asked because while I find our burner and pots useful in our Purple Asparagus presentations, these are not the most critical tools in our bag of tricks.

I have found that the best way to engage kids in our nutrition education, to build enthusiasm in them about trying new fruits and vegetables, is to get their hands dirty and involve them in every stage of the cooking process. Over the years of running our school programs, we've developed our own tool kit, a box full of kid sized utensils, 25 of each, along with a few other critical items (first aid kid of course!). With our experience of providing hundreds of hours of educational programming to thousands of Chicago parents and children, I thought it would be useful to chefs starting to move into their adopted schools to see the Purple Asparagus bin in various stages of packing.


On the bottom, we've got little silicone rolling pins - given their cost, we only stock six of them and divide classes into teams of kids. They're great for rolling out tortilla and samosa dough. (Sur la Table)

Next to them, we have 25 each of tiny whisks and rubber spatulas. (The Kids' Table and Sur la Table)

On the side, there's our first aid kid adjacent to commonly used ingredients like extra-virgin olive oil, honey, balsamic vinegar, and honey. In the side corner, we've got a bottle of sanitizing pellets for the many programs in facilities without sinks.

The next level is our veggie peelers and kid cutters. Twenty stainless mashers are hiding under the peelers. I know some people who cook with kids in schools teach them how to handle real knives. Working with kids K-4, 25 at a time, this thought makes me a bit squeamish. Thankfully, board member, Elena Marre, owner of The Kids' Table found these wonderful wavy cutters. Ordinarily used for garnish cutting, they are a safe, effective way for kids to cut nearly anything. (Peelers from Sur la Table; bowls and cutters from The Kids Table or Northwestern Cutlery)

The third layer is filled with small cutting boards, 25 stainless steel small bowls, a can opener, a set of tongs, a strainer, hand sanitizer, and an extension cord for our electric appliances like hand blenders, induction burners, ovens, etc. We've also got BPA-free measuring cups and spoons. (Cutting boards and small utensils from a restaurant supply store; bowls from The Kids' Table; and measuring tools from Sur la Table)

Finally, we fill in the top with compostable tasting cups (perfect for kid size portions), forks, knives and spoons. We've also got rubber gloves for instructors and small plastic bags for unused ingredients. (Our compostables come from a restaurant supply store, but Whole Foods also carries these items).

Before closing our box up, we layer in our clean towels and an apron for the instructor.

This bin, supplemented with glass demonstration bowls, a knife roll, and a handful of other small equipment, has provided cooking education from the far north suburbs down to far south side of Chicago. It's taught 4-year olds at farmers' markets how to mash raspberries for homemade soda and fourth graders how to make pumpkin muffins.

While we're always on the prowl to find some new fun tool for our box of tricks, this is a great starting point for any school program.

Posted as part of Fight Back Fridays.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Little Locathor Saves the Day or at Least the Apple Pie


Kids can do so much in the kitchen - peel, roll, mash, stir, and chop. They can also save recipes from recipe oblivion.

It's been a while since I've followed recipes too closely. Especially, at the holidays when I'm serving multiples courses, I'm usually just throwing stuff together. Hopefully, if it turns out great, I can piece it together from cursory notes or my memory. I think that these may not be the most reliable resource much longer.

After our feast, I served a pumpkin cheesecake and apple pie. The former and richer of the two overshadowed the latter at first, but the apple pie revealed its charms the next day. A pie tasting better the following day? Yup.

Following in our family tradition of Thanksgiving pie for breakfast, my mother ate a slice the next day for breakfast. Calling up to me from our family room, she proclaimed it the "best apple pie she'd ever eaten." My husband, who's not a pie eater, decided that then he had to try it. With a sheepish grin, he described it as "tough" (not a derogatory descriptor for the crust, but instead a very high compliment indeed).

At this point, I figured I better write down the recipe before it was lost to the ether. On a lark, or so I thought, I consulted my son.

"How many apples?" I inquired.

"Two" he responded.

His response confirmed my suspicion as to his value as a recipe writer.

My mom then suggested "5," to which Thor corrected:

"No, grandma, there were 2 apples and 2 pears."

A ha! The secret ingredient to my wildly successful apple pie was the two overripe Bartlett pears that I added as a last minute replacement. Tasting it again, sure enough, the silky mush that enveloped the softened apple slices were pears.

Little Locathor saves the day, or at least the apple pie.

Apple Pie with a Cinnamon Crumb Crust

1 recipe pate brisee
2 pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
3 large apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg
pinch of cloves
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 stick cold all-purpose butter, cut into pieces
1 pinch cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Roll out the pie crust and crimp the edges. Poke with a pork several times. Lay a piece of aluminum foil on top and weight it down with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake for another 10 minutes. Let cool completely.

While the crust baking, mix the apples, pears, flour, sugar, spices, lemon juice, and rind in medium bowl.

Stir together the flour, brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Use your fingers to cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Fill the crust with the apple-pear mixture. Sprinkle the crumbs over the top and bake on top of a sheet pan for 50 minutes to an hour or until the crumb topping is slightly browned.
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