Thursday, December 31, 2009

Twelve Days: The Odd Bits Party

Several years ago, we gave up on an evening out on New Year's Eve. It costs a fortune, especially when you have to factor in the baby sitter. Even when you go to the best of restaurants, you usually don't get the best of experiences. Finding a cab is a nightmare and by the end of evening you're inevitably surrounded by drunks.

Photo Credit Amanda Sudimack, Artisan Events

Instead, we host a kid-friendly New Year's party, ranging in size from 10 to 20 guests. Now you might think that given my occupation, the last thing that I want to do for the evening is slave away in the kitchen. And you'd be right. I don't and I won't. Instead, I call this my odd bits party. The menu doesn't get finalized until I've had a chance to dig through my freezer and the reaches of my cabinets to determine what can be used to create something fabulous. Lobster shells made into stock back in September? Lobster Bisque. Pears, a gift from my mother-in-law, on the verge of becoming overripe? Pear Frangipane Tart. Lambs in a Tuxedo left over from an earlier party. Beet puffs too. Smoked trout from our Christmas celebration of the twelve fishes transformed into trout mousse. In fact, it's 1:00pm. Our guest won't arrive until 7:30, but all I've got left to do is freeze some ice cream and clean the house. Heck, I may even take a nap.

For those interested, here's our full menu:

Oysters and Cocktail Sauce (Thor brand cocktail sauce, a gift from Dirk of Dirk's Fish & Gourmet)
Smoked Trout Mousse with Cucumbers
Caramelized Onion Dip with Potato Chips
Beet Puffs with Goat Cheese Mousse and Micro GreensLambs in a Tuxedo

Lobster Bisque

Braised Lamb on Polenta
Green Salad
Green Beans (courtesty of Amanda Sudimack)

Pear Frangipane Tart
Christmas Cookies
Cocoa Nib Ice Cream

Twelve Days: Matinee Idol

While it may seem like everything my family does revolves around food, it's simply not true. In fact, to prove it, let me explain why's yesterday's post hasn't posted until today.

We went to a show, a matinee actually, at Light Opera Works in Evanston. We saw Pirates of Penzance with its swashbuckling pirates, lovely ladies, bumbling constables, and modern major general. When Thor was four, we played for him the major general's briskly sung anthem and he loved it. He would run laps around our living coffee table and asked for it as the "runaround" song. For two hours, he sat on my lap enraptured by the performance (well, except during the kissy scenes).

We returned home only a little before dinner. With company coming for New Year's Eve, writing a post was not in my future.

Thankfully, I've rediscovered a cookbook from my vast collection, Maryana Vollstedt's The Big Book of Soups & Stews, which made short work of dinner. Prepped within 10 minutes time using almost exclusively local ingredients, I even had time to make some cheese biscuits to pair with it.

Sausage, Corn, and Tomato Soup
Adapted from The Big Book of Soups and Stews
Serves 4

1/2 pound bulk pork sausage
1/4 medium yellow onion, diced
1 small red pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups whole tomatoes, smashed with juice
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/4 cup corn kernels
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Cook the sausage in a Dutch oven, breaking it up with a spoon, until the sausage is no longer pink. Add the onion, red pepper, celery, and garlic and cook stirring occasionally about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, corn, salt, and pepper to taste. Bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Twelve Days: Ooh La La!

A big component of our holiday festivities is the celebration of my husband, Mike's birthday. The week between Christmas and New Year's is typically slow in his practice and so he often takes the day off even when it falls mid-week. Our day began at Rick Bayless' Xoco with feather light empanadas, crisp crunchy churros and dense rich egg tortas. Evening ended at Balsan, the Elysian's Parisian-style bistro.

Balsan's Executive Chef Bridget Quinlan was recently quoted by Chicagoist as saying that she was offering a kids' menu similar to the adult menu, with no fried foods and ingredients from local farmers. Learning of this, we realized that this would be an ideal place for our family celebration of Mike's birthday.

Thor enjoyed the cheese pizza and a bit of the revelatory Tarte Flambee with its pastry/dough, flaky and tender. I loved the celery root soup, its richness offset by tart notes of apple and pickled ramps. Main courses were terrific, both the rib eye, that Mike ordered, and the pork tenderloin-sausage combo, which was my selection. The biggest treat came at the very end. Chocolate ice cream and creme brulee were delicious, but the Paris Brest was a doughnut hole of perfection. Crispy choux pastry balanced with hazelnut cream and a bit of crunchy sugar - a plateful of heaven that will surely inspire a trip back.

Balsan is welcoming to children with its varied childrens' menu and gracious staff. The hostess was clearly tickled when the little locavore gave dad a thumbs up telling him he was going to the "Bar," when heading down to the bathroom, located on the "Bar" floor according to the Elysian's elevator buttons. Perplexed, Thor told me "it's not like it was my first word!" Indeed.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Twelve Days: In Praise of the Braise


I've always loved the langurous, lazy days of Christmas break. As a kid, I relished the snow days (christening new snow suits), the additional tv I could watch as my mom, a teacher, prepared for the inevitable company that arrived during her week off, and the playdates she arranged for me (though never called that during my kinder years in the early '70s). Today was one of those days in our household.

This morning, Thor and I hosted our good friends, Stuart and Xander. Stuart is married to one of my college friends. Her husband, George, and I happened upon one another in Chicago at the Green City Market last summer. Only a few weeks later, we learned that our sons were in the same kindergarten class. Over the year, through school, farmers' markets trips, and Purple Asparagus events, Stuart and Xander became my favorite mother-son duo. Mother and child are gorgeous and gentle, earthy and comforting. And it wasn't until dinner that I realized how appropriate it was that immediately after their departure, I began the gentle, earthy, and comforting braise of short ribs that we drank with a gorgeous Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

Oh, and if you wonder what cooking method Thor embodies? The flambee, of course. What kind of cooking method are you?

Braised Short Ribs
Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 pounds short ribs
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 medium yellow onion
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup chicken or beef stock
2 cups canned plum tomatoes
2 garlic cloves minced
1 pinch cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Prehat the oven to 350º F. Heat the olive oil in a medium Dutch oven over medium high heat. Dry any residual moisture from the ribs, salt and pepper them, and then brown them on all sides in batchs if necessary. Make sure not to crowd them or they won't brown properly. Remove the ribs as browned to a plate. Add the onions into the pot and cook slowly until golden about 7-10 minutes. Pour in the wine, scraping the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Add the stock, tomatoes, garlic, cinnamon, and herbs. Bring to a simmer, return the short ribs, cover, and place in the oven. Cook for 3 hours or until the short ribs are pulling away from the bone. Skim a good amount of the fat from the braising juices and serve on mashed potatoes, polenta, or pasta.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Twelve Days: A Snowy Day Strata


What ever happened to Christmas? I’m not sure exactly when the transformation took place - the expansion and equal compression of the holiday. Nowadays, the Christmas decorations go up even before the Halloween ones come down. On the other end, the holiday seems to come to an abrupt halt (like the pulling of the arm off a record player mid-album). All of that shopping and planning discarded in a momentary storm of torn wrapping paper. The twelve days of Christmas have been compacted into twelve or so hours. The evening of Christmas ends, our heads hit the pillow, the holiday is over and we’re on the next thing.

Not so in our house. The Christmas spirit arrives late here – the tree put up only days before the 25th, the cookies baked within hours of the holiday - but it remains for the full 12 days. To honor our family tradition, I’m going to dispense with the typical year end lists and other New Year’s miscellany, and instead give the holiday its due.

I love when Christmas falls late in the week, Friday being ideal. With the snowy weather, it’s the perfect time to hole up in our cozy basement giving Thor time to play with his new toys and me the opportunity to clean up the scattered mess that Christmas generates – torn tissue, ribbon remnants, and cookie crumbs. We also have the time to enjoy a leisurely Sunday brunch – an opportunity that doesn’t arise much in December. Hot coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, Bloody Mary’s, and a savory bread pudding using the rest of Floriole’s delicious yeasted corn bread.

Sausage and Cheddar Strata
Serves 4

5 cups cubed yeasted cornbread or brioche
½ pound bulk pork sausage
4 large eggs
1/3 cup 2 % milk
1/3 cup tomato puree
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 roasted red pepper, diced
1 cup grated cheddar

Preheat the oven to 350º F. Lightly toast the bread until firm, but not browned. Cook the sausage until it’s no longer pink. Whisk together the eggs, milk, tomato, salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste. Scatter the bread in a medium casserole dish. Stir in the red pepper, cheddar, and sausage. Pour over the liquid ingredients and bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until the eggs are just set in the middle. Serve warm.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Twelve Days: A Very Local Christmas


This year we celebrated Christmas Eve Italian-style with the twelve fishes. Had we been on Long Island where I was raised, the meal might have been a local one. However, here in the Midwest, we're a bit more limited in our piscean options. So while we did serve Rushing Waters Trout from Wisconsin and Mississippi River paddlefish caviar, we also ate King Crab from Alaska, east coast oysters, and Nantucket Bay scallops. Our more casual Christmas supper fit more with our locavorish tendencies with a Rabbit Ragout served on fresh fettucine.

This recipe is adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks Molly O'Neill's A Well Seasoned Appetite, a terrific gift for your favorite cook.

Rabbit Ragout
serves 4

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 rabbit, about 3 1/2 pounds, cut into 6 to 7 pieces
2 teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
2 large carrots, cut into small dice
3 stalks of celery, cut into small dice
1 bay leaf
1 branch fresh rosemary
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups water
1 medium onion, quartered
2 cups roasted tomato puree
1 pound fresh fettucine
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley

Heat the olive oil in a large lidded saute pan over medium high heat. Brown the rabbit in batches if necessary. Add half the carrots and celery, the herbs, and white wine and simmer covered until the rabbit is tender, approximately a half hour. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Pull the meat from the bones, removing the bones to a medium saucepan and leaving the vegetables and braising liquid in the saute pan. Cover the bones with the water, adding the remaining carrots and celery with the onion. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the liquid is reduced by half approximately 45 minutes. Strain the stock into the saute pan, add tomatoes and simmer over medium low heat for about 20 minutes. Add the rabbit and cook for another 15 minutes. Serve over fresh fettucine.


Fresh Pasta

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons canola oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
5-7 tablespoons cold water

Measure the flour onto a clean work surface and make a well in the center. Put the egg yolks, oil, salt and 5 tablespoons cold water into the well, mix with your fingers of one hand. With a dough scraper or a butter knife, mix the flour into the liquid being careful not to break through the walls of flour until the majority of the water has been absorbed. Sprinkle the remaining water a little at a time while continuing to mix with the dough cutter. If the dough is dry, add the additional water.

Book Photos 015
Photo Credit, Stronghold Photography

Knead until relatively smooth – the dough will still appear to be slightly dry. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a half hour to allow the glutens in the dough to relax.

Divide the pasta dough in quarters and work with one piece at a time, keeping the remainder refrigerated. Flatten the dough with your heel and put through the largest setting of the pasta maker. Fold the dough in half and put it through pasta maker, folded side first, eight more times. Roll the dough through the pasta maker 4 more times, reducing the setting each time and ending on setting 4. Hang the pasta sheets while rolling the remaining quarters. Cut the sheets into fettucine noodles.

Cook in salted boiling water for just a minute or so until el dente.

Friday, December 25, 2009

12 Days of Christmas: The Christmas Star


One of my favorite winter indulgences is lemon curd. Spread onto eclairs, filled into tart shells, and topped on scones, it's velvety and piquant and a delicious change from the usual single dimension chocolate desserts served around the holidays. It's also a godsend to the busy host as it can and should be made ahead of time (up to 2 weeks) giving you time to spend on other more time-sensitive dishes. The thing that it is not is local.

So when I was looking at one of my favorite cookbooks, Cold Weather Cooking by Sarah Leah Chase, and found a recipe for Cranberry Curd, I was pretty pumped. With the exception of orange juice and a bit of Grand Marnier, this is a local product. With a deep rose hue and a silky smooth texture, we packaged it as teacher gifts and spread the remainder in between star cookies for festive Linzer tarts.

Linzer Tarts with Cranberry Curd
Makes 36 sandwich cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
¼ teaspoon almond extract
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt

With a mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after the addition of each one. Add almond extract and beat well. Beat in flour and baking powder on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Mix on medium speed until the dough is well combined.

Form the dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for four hours or overnight. Preheat the oven to 375°F. After the dough is chilled, cut it into quarters and working with one quarter at a time while keeping the remainder refrigerated, roll out the dough 1/8-inch thick. Cut the dough into 2-inch stars with a cookie cutter. Cut out a small star from the larger star. Gather the scraps, wrap in plastic wrap, refrigerating 2 hours before re-rolling. Repeat with remaining dough. Place the circles on a baking sheet lined with parchment or silpat 1-inch apart. Bake cookies for 9-11 minutes without browning. Cool cookies on the baking sheet placed on a rack.

Cranberry Curd
Adapted from Sarah Leah Chase's Cold Weather Cooking

4 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 cup granulated sugar
6 large egg yolks
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
zest from 1 orange

Combine the cranberries, orange juice and 3/4 cup sugar in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the cranberries have popped and are very soft, approximately 15 minutes. While the cranberries are simmering, whisk together the egg yolks and remaining sugar in a medium bowl. Push the cooked cranberries through a food mill or a fine mesh strainer. Return the cranberries with the butter to a clean saucepan and bring to a simmer. Whisk in a small scoopful of cranberries into the egg yolks. Add the yolks to the simmering cranberries, whisking all the while. Cook until the curd is very thick about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the Grand Marnier and the orange zest. Let cook and then refrigerate for several hours.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Too busy cooking and wrapping to post, but I thought I'd share our family's dessert - a French classic, Buche de Noel filled with white chocolate mousse and a layer of my own golden raspberry jam.

Resized buche

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Plateful of Politics: Voice Your Support for Farm to School

From the Community Food Security Coalition:

Do you want a healthier America?

Several congressional offices are currently working on Farm to School legislation. We need your help to gain Congressional support for mandatory funding for Farm to School!

Act now. Please send a letter or call your representatives, and ask them to support Farm to School legislation and a robust child nutrition reauthorization.

Contact your member of Congress: In the House of Representatives | In the Senate

Ask your member of Congress to support Representative Rush Holt's Farm to School bill. This bill will provide $50 million (over five years) in mandatory funding for a competitive grant program for Farm to School projects.

See comparisons of the 3 bills containing Farm to School. [PDF]

Please take a few minutes of your time to help guarantee Farm to School programs and Child Nutrition receive the funding they need across the country. To read the full action alert, click here.

There are many ways that you can get involved during Congressional recess to get your legislators to support $50 million in mandatory funding for farm to school programs in Section 122 of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act. Every effort counts, from setting up a site visit to calling your Senators and Representatives. Here is a list of ways to get involved:

* Set up a site visit
* E-mail or fax your Senators and Representatives
* Call your Senators and Representatives: Tips
* Schedule a meeting with your Senators, Representatives, or their staff people: Tips
* Attend a public town hall meeting occurring during recess in your district and voice your concern. For more information about the dates and times of these meetings, consult your Senators' and Representative's websites.
* See the Advocacy Toolkit for additional information on getting involved with the US political process.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives will be on recess until January 12, 2010.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Little Locavores Guide to Holiday Giving

I was recently quoted by Crain's Chicago Busines as saying that December is the caterer's best friend and worst nightmare. Without holiday parties, my business may be sustainable in its practices, but not in its existence. Even this year with its down economy, the days of November and December are a marathon forcing a slow start to my own holiday preparations.

The house is only half decorated, we haven't yet made our visit to Santa, and I'll be lucky if the holiday cards hit the mail box before New Year's Eve. However, things are looking up. With our biggest event of the year behind me, I can now turn my attention to gift-giving. Fortunately, I've already taken care of my client gifts, who receive a recycled berry box full of house made preserves - these were made months ago. It's time to shop for the rest of our motley crew of friends, family, and neighbors. I took a little time last night and put together my gift list. Keeping in the spirit of the holidays, I thought it would be fun to give you readers a gift: our gift list chock full of products, which are, unsurprisingly, locally available.

The Literary Locavore

Henry's Farm

There has been a whole slew of new books on sustainable and local eating this year. One of my favorites is The Seasons on Henry's Farm by friend, Terra Brockman. Terra is the founder of The Land Connection, a non-profit dedicated to supporting, developing, and training local farmers. She is also the sister of the Evanston farmers' market stalwart, Henry Brockman of Henry's Farm. Terra's beautifully written book is about a year on the farm, giving us city folk the insight to the rhythm of a Midwestern farm life. The literary locavore would also appreciate a subscription to Edible Chicago, a quarterly magazine dedicated to the exploration of our local food culture.

The Lushy Locavore

Green Grocer

Throughout the winter, many locavores like to drink and eat their potatoes. Fortunately, neither locally grown potatoes nor locally distilled vodkas are in short supply. My husband and I are a big fan of North Shore vodka especially when partnered with Tomato Mountain's tomato juice and Mike's secret blend of spices (which I am forbidden to reveal). Tomato Mountain also makes a Bloody Mary mix for those of you who prefer not to practice mixology on Sunday mornings. I think that the pairing of Tomato Mountain's mix and the North Shore vodka would be a lovely gift for the lushy locavore. Cassie Green carries both of these at Green Grocer. For another great source of local liquor, try Lush Wine and Spirits. Be sure to say hi to the Lush girls for me. We're big fans.

The Globalvore

Provenance logo

We all know them. The folks that refuse to buy into the eat local movement. The folks who find it downright silly. Some don't care much about food (they're the eat to live ones), but there are others who just don't get the philosophy. For the truly recalcitrant, ask Tracy Kellner of Provenance Food and Wine to pull together a gift basket of global delicacies, like Spanish chorizo, exotic honeys, delicious chocolates, and assorted olives. For the converted, she's got a great array of local delicacies on hand.

The Hostess with the Localness

Chicago Downtown Farmstand

The Downtown Farmstand has a ton of a baskets awaiting your selections that they will then fill with and package decoratively. A lovely gift for your holiday host.


The Kids' Table logo

All of the aforementioned food shops carry a great variety of locally produced treats that would satisfy your LITTLE LOCAVORE kid's sweet tooth. For something both healthier and longer lasting, check out the selection of cooking tools at The Kids' Table, which they can use to make the many family-friendly recipes found on this blog. If you become a member of Purple Asparagus, a non-profit dedicated to bringing families back to the table, you'll receive a 10% discount on classes and parties at The Kids' Table.

The Locavore Who Has it All


For the locavore who wants for nothing, consider a charitably minded gift such as a membership to Green City Market. Not only will you be supporting a pioneer in the eat local movement, but membership affords some experiential benefits available no where else, like advance access to Green City Market barbecue tickets, one of the city's hottest events - a sell-out two years in a row.

The Budding Locavore

Real Food Rehab

For the friend or family member who really wants to eat locally, but doesn't know how, treat them to a sustainable cooking class. Not to toot my own horn (honk, honk), but I have a whole series of cooking classes appropriate for a variety of circumstances, including Sustainable Cooking 101, To Market, To Market and Sustaining Family Traditions. To sign up, email me at You could also purchase Dana Altman's terrific Real Food Rehab's Pantry Essentials Guide, which recommends many wonderful local products to add to your larder, helping you reintroduce real food into your diet.

The Loquatious Locavore

Across the Table

The chatty cathy among your friends would enjoy Across the Table, a non-profit dedicated to uniting Chicago one meal at a time. Founder Lauren Grossman seeks out restaurant and caterers who source locally to host the events at which topics, such as food justice, friendship, and race. To give a friend the gift of delicious food and dynamic conversation, visit Across the

Real Food Rehab Gift Guide

The following was originally posted on Real Food Rehab, Dana Altman's delicious blog on reintroducing real food to our lives. Check back there for more gift ideas over the next week!

One of my greatest annoyances is the idea that beautiful food is an exclusive experience. That it's some secret club where only an elite few are allowed in. The reason I've been Melissa Graham's long-time secret admirer is because she makes beautiful food inclusive, without ever dumbing anything down. She writes about food and feeding her family with spare, elegant prose and absolutely no pretense and I can't say enough about the simple but sophisticated recipes on her site, Little Locavores. They use few ingredients, easy technique and are deliciously accessible to everyone.

WHO Melissa Graham, a former attorney, is the chef and owner of Monogramme Events & Catering, a boutique catering company that specializes in seasonal and sustainable cuisine. She is also the president and founder of Purple Asparagus, a non-profit dedicated to bringing families back to the table by promoting and enjoying all the things associated with good eating. When she’s not in the kitchen or the classroom, you can often find Melissa shopping at the Green City Market where she serves as the membership chair. She is a contributing editor of The Local and authors Little Locavores.

Molly O'Neill

THE GIFT My holiday pick and go-to hostess gift is Molly O'Neill's wonderful book A Well-Seasoned Appetite: Recipes for Eating with The Seasons, The Senses, and The Soul. I think that every cook should have two copies of this book, one for the kitchen and another for the night stand. Her writing style is lyrical, recipes inventive, yet usually simple. I've had this book for 15 years and there isn't a month that goes by that I don't pick it up for inspiration. She introduced me to so many new ingredients as a burgeoning cook: fiddlehead ferns, morel mushrooms and sour cherries. Skimming through my copy, I find numerous marks and stains, a sure sign of a beloved book. There are recipes for company and weekday dinners. Some of my favorites include: Soft-Shell Crabs with Black Bean Sauce, Arabic Eggplant and Pumpkin Succotash. The book is organized by season and then by ingredient, each section introduced by a lovely vignette of life and love. Sprinkled with a bit of botany and peppery humor, this book is sure to become a favorite of any cook. Buy it now as it's out of print and almost completely sold out on Amazon.

WHERE DO YOU LIVE? Roscoe Village, Chicago, IL.

WHAT INSPIRES YOU? It may sound trite, but I'm inspired by the farmers' market, especially Green City Market, even in the dark days of winter. This is one of the reasons that I love Molly O'Neill's book. When I was learning to cook with the seasons, her book provided wonderful recipes for the market's bounty both in cold and hot weather. I'm also inspired by my son and his fanciful suggestions for recipes, some of which we try, including our new family recipe favorite French Fry Stuffing.

GO-TO DISH WHEN COOKING FOR YOURSELF? My favorite thing to cook for myself when my husband and son are out is pasta with a bit of garlic or onion and whatever fresh, seasonal vegetables I find in my fridge.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A New Orleans State of Mind: Gumbo


While skimming through Poppy Tooker's Crescent City Farmers Market Cookbook for my recent post about Gulf brown shrimp, I found this recipe for gumbo. It turned out to be the ideal vehicle for the rest of my leftover turkey.

Heat 1/4 cup vegetable oil in a heavy pot over high heat until the oil is smoking. Add 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour and cook carefully, stirring all the while until the resulting roux is the color of milk chocolate. Add 1 large onion and 2 stalks celery, both diced, and cook for about a minute until the onion is fragrant. Scrape in 1 red and 1 green bell pepper that's been diced and cook for another minute. Stir in 1 minced garlic clove, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon cayennne, a pinch each of dried basil, thyme, and oregano and a teaspoon kosher salt. Pour in 2 cups chicken or turkey stock gradually, while stirring. Add 1 link andouille or other spicy sausage (I used Mint Creek's lamb chorizo) cut into 1-inch pieces, cover and simmer for 40 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups leftover turkey and cook until the turkey is warmed through. Add a teaspoon file powder and cook, stirring constantly until the powder is dissolved. Serve on rice and top with chopped green onions. Be sure to set a bottle of hot sauce on the table.


Try Co-Op Habanero Sauce made from chillies grown organically in Co-Op Image's Community Gardens, which are located in Humboldt Park. Proceeds from the sale of this hot sauce go directly to providing safe spaces for youth ages 6-20 in Chicago.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tiny Bubbles


On the subject of wine, I thought it worth resurrecting this post that I wrote for Just Grapes a little over a year ago.

My love of Champagne began, believe it or not, when I was 3 years old. As the story goes, on a flight to Florida, my parents gave me a tiny plastic cup filled with the golden bubbles. Whether out of curiosity or for their own amusement, they fully expected me to wrinkle up my tiny nose and push it away. Little did they know that it would go down easily, and I would ask for more.

My love of Champagne only grew stronger when it helped me through the death of my first marriage. I lived with a good friend during those difficult days who opportunely owned a large and varied collection of Champagne. His earnest belief was that one could not be truly unhappy while drinking Champagne.

It was with this theory in mind that I chilled two bottles of wine before the election rally in Grant Park last week. The first was a sparkling wine from Oregon. My hope was that if the evening did not go well, we couldn’t feel too hopeless while drinking something related to Champagne. The second, the wine that ultimately was drunk, was the Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 1995, a wine whose taste lived up to its prodigious name. Rich and nutty, with big golden bubbles, full-bodied … it flowed down as easily as that first sip from my bemused parents. A perfect way to toast a new president and a new day in America.

Family Feast Days: Repeal Day

Our cooking supplies

This past Saturday marked the 76th anniversary of the ratification of the 21st amdendment, which ended our nation's failed experiment with Prohibition. The event was celebrated in bars thoughout the country and at our family table. What? A family feast day to celebrate Repeal Day? What kind of deviant parent am I?

Wine, and even sometimes beer, has always been a part of the fabric of my family life. My parents often shared a bottle of wine with dinner. On special occasons, I would get a taste of it in my kid-size glass. My mom still talks about Sunday sauerbraten dinners with my grandfather when he would fill my tiny beer stein with beer, which I would gladly toss back. While Thor inherited both my wine glass and beer stein, his preference is to fill them with the G-rated Shirley Temples.

I hatched the idea for my Repeal Day dinner after reading a Twitter post from one of wine-centric friends. In thinking through an ideal meal, I realized how many of Thor's favorite dishes use wine as a major ingredient. We started with cheese fondue. Without wine, it would just be a glob of cheese. Then moved onto Coq au Vin. Without wine, it's just chicken. We ended with Cherries Jubilee. While you could make a lovely cherry dish without kirsch, there would no flame, which doesn't seem quite so jubilant.

While Repeal Day 2009 has come and gone, you can certainly celebrate the spirit of the 21st Amendment with the following dishes. Be sure to serve with your favorite adult beverages. We did.


Serves 4-6

1 small clove garlic, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon Kirsch
2/3 cups dry white wine
1/2 pound grated Swiss-style cheese (I used Traders Point's Fleur de la Terre)

Rub the bottom of a small fondue pot with the garlic clove.

My adorable Staub fondue pot, perfect for a family of 3

Dissolve the cornstarch in the kirsch in a small bowl. Bring the wine to a simmer in a small sauce pan. Add the cheese handfuls at a time, stirring continually. At this point, the mixture may look like a big clump of goo. Add the dissolved cornstarch and continue to stir until the fondue is smooth and liquid. Keep the fondue bubbling by pouring it into the fondue pot set over a heat source and serve with chunks of crusty bread or roasted potatoes.

Thor enjoying his cheese


Coq au Vin
Serves 4-6

Adapted from Julia Child's The Way to Cook

4 ounces thick cut bacon, sliced into 1/4-inch slices
2 1/2-3 pounds bone-in chicken parts
1 large garlic clove, finely minced
1/3 cup brandy
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup canned tomatoes
3 cups red wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoon softened unsalted butter
2 cups crimini mushrooms, trimed and thinly sliced
3 small onions, braised in chicken stock with a bay leaf

Cook the bacon in a heavy pot over medium-high heat until the fat has rendered but before it is crisp. Dry off the chicken with paper towels. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and freshly ground pepper. Brown the chicken in batches, removing them as browned to a plate.

Browning the chicken

When all pieces are browned, return them to the pan, add the brandy, and flame by setting a long match into the brandy. Take necessary precautions before taking this step (including locating your fire extinguisher).

Chicken waiting to be flamed

Add the spices, tomatoes, red wine, and chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to low, cover, and cook for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is tender. Remove the chicken. Taste the sauce for texture and taste. If it's too thin, reduce the stock by boiling over hight heat. Mix together the flour and softened butter to create a paste. Once it's reduced slighly, but still not thick like gravy, whisk in the butter and flour and cook until thicked. Add the mushrooms and onions, return the chickens to the pot and cook until all components of the stew are warmed through. Serve on egg noodles, mashed potatoes, or rice.


Cherries Jubilee
Serves 4-6

Flaming food twice in one meal. How cool is that?

2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ pound tart cherries, pitted (we used some of our stash from the freezer)
2 strips orange zest
2 drops vanilla extract
2 tablespoons kirsch
Whipped cream or ice cream

Melt the butter in a shallow saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the sugar and cook until melted. Add cherries, orange zest and vanilla extract, cooking until the juices have begun to weep. Add the kirsch, increase the heat to medium, and set on fire.

Blue flames

When the flames subside, serve in a bowl on top of the whipped or ice cream.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Latke Lust


I may not be Jewish, but I have an insatiable lust for latkes. Last year, our good friends David and Ilana hosted a delicious Hanukkah celebration with what seemed to be endless supply of latkes and sour cream - I must have devoured 20 of them.

My affinity for latkes is directly linked to my own heritage. My grandmother, of Swedish descent, married my grandfather, whose family had emigrated from Germany in the early years of the 20th century. I don't remember much Swedish food, but every Sunday, our family table was filled to the hilt with German dishes. While I'm loath to admit it, I was a picky eater until I hit high school, so my grandmother's vast culinary skill was lost on me with one epic exception: potato pancakes. I loved them, slathered with sour cream and, in the summer, dusted with sprinkles of chive from her garden.

I think of my grandma, who died several years ago, each time I stop by the Polish stand at our neighborhood street festival, who makes enormous potato pancakes lobbed with thick sour cream, and again when I make my annual trek to the Christkindlmarket where several stands serve steaming hot potato pancakes in the stark Chicago cold. And thus, I don't need to explain why my grandma was the inspiration for the following recipe.

I was contacted not too long ago by an author who's writing a children's cookbook based upon the fruits and vegetables grown in a very famous, and recently planted, garden. She had a list of ingredients for which she still needed recipes and one was kohlrabi.

Truth be told, kohlrabi isn't a vegetable that's used very often in my kitchen, so I didn't have anything in my existing file. I stopped over at our friend, Farmer Vicki's Green City Market stand, where she had the most beautiful purple kohlrabi (I do love purple vegetables). On the way home, I remembered a lone Yukon gold potato that I had in my cabinet. Hmm. A kohlrabi cake might be kinda cabbage-y, but how about one mixed with the mellow yellow Yukon? I grated the two together with a 1/2 an onion leftover from last night's dinner in my food processor (far easier than on a hand grater). Using a lint free cloth, I wrung the liquid out from the vegetable chards. Mixing these with eggs, flour, and salt in a large bowl, the mixture looked a bit beige. I remembered the last bit of chives I had in my garden, a transplant from my grandmother's garden and couldn't imagine anything better to enliven the appearance. I fried these up in a bit of clarified butter until brown and topped with a modern touch, avocado cream - half of a leftover avocado mixed with sour cream, pureed together in a food processor. It was a big hit with my son who unfortuately never met my wonderful grandmother. But we now share a certain food memory about her.

Potato-Kohlrabi Pancakes with Avocado Cream
Serves 4

1 medium Yukon gold potato, peeled
1 kohlrabi bulb, peeled
1/2 yellow onion, peeled
2 teaspoons chopped chives
2 large eggs
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
vegetable oil or clarified butter

Coarsely grate the potato, kohlrabi, and onion in a food processor. Wring out any excess liquid from the vegetables by wrapping them in a clean, lint-free dish towel and squeezing it out. Dump the drained vegetables into a medium bowl. Add the eggs, flour, and salt and mix until combined. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add two tablespoons of vegetable oil or clarified butter. When hot, drop 1/4 cup sized dollops of the batter into the pan. Press down on the cakes with a spatula to flatten. Cook until browned, a few minutes. Flip and cook for a few more minutes. Remove from the ban to a plate or a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining batter. The pancakes can be reheated in a 350º F oven. Serve warm, garnished with avocado cream.

Avocado Cream

1/2 avocado
1/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon lime juice
salt to taste

Puree together the avocado, sour cream, and lime juice. Salt to taste.

Kids Cooking Tips
Kids can peel and help grate the veggies. They'll love squeezing the liquid out of them. And of course, they can mix them together with the rest of the ingredients.

Potato, onion, and kohlrabi from Genesis Growers (IL)
Eggs from Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm (IL)
Sour cream from Organic Valley (WI)

If you'd like to visit me while I'm demonstrating this recipe, please stop by the Green Family Holiday Fair at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum at 2:30pm. For more information about the fair, click here

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Just Call Me Sunny: Sunchokes


The Jerusalem artichoke is a vegetable with an identity crisis. Neither an artichoke nor from Jerusalem, it is instead a native American member of the sunflower family that acquired its name when the French who discovered it in the 1600’s thought that it tasted like an artichoke. The modifier Jerusalem is a corruption of the Italian word for sunflower “Girasole.” Around the middle of the last century, retailers of the tuber, resolved the confusion by renaming it the Sunchoke. Sunchokes are generally light brown and knobby, looking like a cross between a piece of ginger and a Yukon gold potato. Some, like the ones pictured, have a reddish tinge. Taste-wise, they have mild, nutty flavor. Sunchokes are good mashed, steamed, deep fried and even raw in salads.


Sunchoke Chips
Serves 2
2 large sunchokes or 3 smaller ones
4 cups vegetable oil
Coarse sea salt

Heat the oil in a large saucepan to 325° F. While waiting for the oil to come to temperature, thinly slice the sunchokes on a adjustable slicer between 1/8 and 1/16-inch thick. Essentially, slice it as thinly as possible while remaining in one piece. Drop the slices into the hot oil and cook until light brown approximately 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on crumbled paper towels. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and serve.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Travels of the Heart: Barbecue Shrimp


A few years back, I was at a conference of women chefs where I heard a panel discussion on what was then a new and still somewhat controversial topic: eating locally. On this panel sat Joan Dye Gussow, author of This Organic Life: Confessions of an Urban Homesteader, Michael Rozyne, founder of Red Tomato, a distributor of local foods in Boston, and Nora Pouillon, chef-owner of Restaurant Nora in Washington, D.C., the first certified organic restaurant in the United States.

During the Q and A session afterwards, a heated discussion ensued. A representative from a frozen food company, who had a decidedly global perspective, questioned the implications of the locavore movement on agriculture in developing nations. She was particularly concerned about the impact it could have on the Central American banana industry and the laborers who work in it. Her point was that if all Americans adopted the locavore diet, this would likely decimate the banana industry and any gains made to the living conditions of its workers. The exchange got quite tense, the crowd watching the volleys back and forth. Finally, a voice from the crowd rose up, cutting through the rising tension. That voice belonged to Odessa Piper, formerly the chef-owner of L’Etoile in Madison, Wisconsin, who is often referred to as the Alice Waters of the Midwest in recognition of her efforts to feed her customers from the Great Lakes food shed. Clearing her throat, she presented her version of the middle way. “Local” she explained “can be far as the heart can travel.” In other words, if you care about the conditions of the workers on the banana plantations and are willing to take a stand on them at the check out, this would fall within her definition of sustainable eating.

I thought about this exchange tonight while making dinner. I also thought about another exchange at yet another conference that I attended more recently. In September, I was at the Chefs Collaborative Summit, which also focused on sustainability and local eating. I listened to so many inspirational speakers: Rick Bayless, Bruce Sherman, Fred Kirschenmann, and David Mas Masumoto, but none served up inspiration with such gusto and hilarity than Poppy Tooker.

Poppy Tooker is many things: chef, cooking instructor, founder of Slow Food New Orleans (the ultimate in U.S. slow food), co-founder of the Crescent City Farmers’ Market, and most recently author of the Crescent City Farmers’ Market Cookbook. Before a book signing, she regaled us with stories about the characters that sold and hung about the Market. The audience roared with laughter listening to one story more salty than the next. Near the end of her talk, she did make one serious appeal. Apparently, the bottom has almost completely fallen out of the shrimp industry, the prices being disastrously low. She expressed the fear that if things didn’t change fast, many of the shrimpers wouldn’t survive. She asked each of us to set aside our locavore (would it be locavor-ish) tendencies to help the Gulf shrimp industry. I thought of her tonight as we allowed our hearts to travel to New Orleans eating an almost entirely non-local dinner of Barbecue Shrimp using brown Gulf shrimp I picked up at the Lincoln Park Whole Foods this afternoon.

Barbecue Shrimp

1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
5 grinds freshly ground pepper
1 pinch cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Juice from ½ lemon
1 ½ pounds shell-on large Gulf brown shrimp
1 ½ sticks butter, at room temperature and cut into small pieces
4 small garlic cloves, minced

Mix together the sugar, spices, thyme, salt, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice in a large skillet. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Add the shrimp, cover and cook for about 2-3 minutes or until the pink begins to turn opaque. Add the butter and garlic cloves and cook for about 3 more minutes. Serve in a large bowl with a ton of napkins, Tabasco, and a loaf of crusty bread for dipping.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Comfort Me with Persimmons


Last Wednesday at Green City Market, Orianna of Asian pear fame convinced me to try her newest exotica: American persimmons. While they didn't make it to the Thanksgiving table, I did finally turn to them for a potluck over the weekend.

Given their obscurity, I was a little nervous as to how the dish would go over. Apparently, my concerns were misplaced as it was devoured and requests for the recipe abounded.

Persimmon Bread Pudding
Adapted from Bon Appetit

1 pound persimmons
6 cups stale cubed egg bread, like challah or brioch
1 2/3 cup 1% milk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Push the persimmons through a fine mesh strainer. You should get 1 cup of puree. Mix the puree, milk, eggs, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Add the bread and soak for 15 minutes. Stir in the raisins and walnuts and scrape into a buttered casserole dish. Dot with butter. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Serve slightly warm dusted with confectioner's sugar.

Pollen, Not Pesticide

Photo Credit: iStock Photo

It all started with a plastic bear, one almost identical to those at which honey aficionados scoff. This bear, however, did not reside on a shelf in some American grocery store, but instead in a quintessential Parisian shop, pristine and stylish.

Until this time, honey never did much for me – I had only tried the clover varietal, which was okay, certainly nothing to go all Pooh-bear about. Nevertheless, the shop was on my to-try list because my guidebook listed it as one of the Paris food institutions one had to go. And I, a dutiful foodie, did my part and purchased one small bear to try later.

When I returned to Chicago and unloaded all of my goodies, the bear was set aside. Sea salts, vinegars and mustards were far more interesting to me. But then one morning, I opened a jar of moldy jam. Having already toasted and buttered my bread, I reached for that little bear. Squeezing it onto the bread, I immediately noticed something different. The plastic had made the liquid seem darker, but in actuality it was flaxen colored, like liquid sunshine. Its aroma was floral, redolent of stone fruits, peaches in particular. How did it taste? Suffice to say, I have since become one of those honey aficionados who would scoff at plastic bears.

Not to be indelicate, but it could be said that honey is bee barf. To produce honey, honey bees travel flower to flower gathering the sweet nectar in their mouths, which is then saved in a special stomach called the “honey sac”. After the bees have filled these honey sacs, which may take visits to hundreds of flowers, they return to hive and transfer the nectar through their mouths, changing it from nectar into honey. The honey is stored in hexagonal wax cells, i.e. honey comb. Once stored, it is ready to eat for bees, for bears and yes for humans.

The first honey eaten was foraged from wild bees. The earliest recorded evidence of beekeeping is found in ancient Egyptian paintings dating from about 2500 B.C. The oldest form of beekeeping involved baiting bees by putting a bit of honey in the bottom of a pot or into a hollow log. Once captured, the bees would remain to produce honey. In 1852, Reverend L.L. Langstroth (hero to honey lovers across the globe) revolutionized beekeeping by creating movable frames with a “bee space” that discouraged the bees from gluing the comb solidly to the walls allowing multiple racks of bees working to make honey simultaneously.

The majority of beekeepers are amateurs who manage less than 25 colonies. There are an estimated 1,600 commercial beekeepers that manage more than 300 bee colonies each. Honey is harvested in late Spring to early Fall. To remove the honey, beekeepers will anaesthetize the bees often by smoke and remove the comb. They then scrape off the wax caps and often centrifugal force is used spin the comb to remove the honey. The honey may then be filtered and transferred to jars, ready for consumption.

Back to the bear, most of the honey that fills these plastic animals is commercially produced, heat processed and blended to create a consistent product year in and year out. Varietal honey, on the other hand, is a natural product with natural variations. Good varietal honey has been handled as little as possible to preserve the flavors. On the subject of flavors, these can vary depending upon the harvest date. When a honey specifies a particular flower (lavender, rosemary, chestnut, acacia), the bees have been given access to a particular nectar source. While there is no guarantee that the honey will have been produced from only a single nectar source, the bees do tend to exhaust a single source before moving on to another. The texture of varietal honey varies with the different levels of dextrose and fructose, honey’s dominant ingredients. Dextrose crystallizes more rapidly than fructose and thus honey with more dextrose will be more granular.

When honey bees collect the nectar from the flowers, pollen sticks to their legs. When landing on new flowers to get additional nectar, they transfer this pollen. Pollination fertilizes the plants enabling them to bear fruit. The USDA estimates that at least one-third of our diets are derived from insect-pollinated plants, for which bees are responsible for at least eighty percent. So we humans need bees. As anyone who has seen Bee Movie knows what would happen if the bees stopped working. While I don’t think that we need to worry about litigious bees, we should be concerned about the phenomenon called colony collapse disorder. Since 2006, hundreds of thousands of honeybee colonies in the U.S. have died out. The value of pollination is valued at $14.6 billion dollars a year, so we clearly need to be worried about the new trend in bee-world. It’s not clear what’s causing this dire circumstance, whether new pesticides, disease or predators, but it definitely merits additional investigation as bees are not just crucial to honey lovers, but to our agricultural future. Two non-profits that are working with state and federal agencies to create agricultural policies that will protect our honeybees are Xerces Society and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign. For a more delicious way to support the honeybees, buy some Vanilla Honey Bee ice cream from Haagen Daaz who donates a portion of the proceeds to research on how to combat colony collapse disorder.

As a honey lover, I’ve accumulated quite a collection of honeys over the years. Whenever I travel, I return with honey from that locale. I’ve also spent a small fortune over the years on Zingerman’s excellent varietal honeys. This collection was the inspiration for this post as I knew that with all of these different varietals, I should probably categorize them to determine how best they would be used. For all the other honey lovers out there, here are my tasting notes and some recipes and ideas of what to do with your honey collection.

Top 5 Honeys

Farmstead Honey, Prairie Fruits Farm, Champaign, IL: Floral, herbaceous, delicate in flavor and color, well-balanced. It crystallized within the year.

Wickham’s Honey, Wickham’s Fruit Farm, Cutchogue, NY: Well-rounded with a full mouth feel. There are hints of apple, pear and pumpkin, which would make sense given that I bought this in November as I watched the beekeepers smoke out the bees. Free flowing.

Beeline, Chicago, IL: Peach and vanilla notes. Deeply fragrant. Fairly dark in color. I really wish that Beeline would mark the date of its honey production on the jars as this honey was so different from the other that I tasted (see the mild honeys). This was less crystallized than the other Beeline honey. Beeline is such a cool company as it trains and employs people that face significant barriers to employment, often due to former incarceration.

Coffee Blossom Honey, Big Tree Farms, Java: Crystallized on top with an appearance and texture of brown sugar, which craters into liquid amber. Less sweet at the top of the mouth. This is a very interesting honey that would be better enjoyed alone, with cheese, than with cooking or on toast.

Zambezi Organic Forest Honey, Africa: This is one of the most interesting honeys that I’ve ever tried. After learning of my honey tasting, my assistant David gave me a small sample of his supply. It’s actually smoky. Granular, sweet and smoky with the color of caramel. An outstanding honey.

White Gold, Canada: Thick but slightly pourable. White and fluffy with the texture of Marshmallow Fluff. Berry-like flavor. Excellent on toast.

The Rest:


Acacia, Langalese, Germany: Clean, sweet, slightly single note – free flowing.

Acacia, Peck, Italy: Similarly clean as the Langalese, but with a greater depth. It has a bit of spiciness that lingers on the back of the tongue. Also, free flowing.

Beeline, Chicago, IL: Spice on top of the mouth with nectarine flavors with well-rounded notes of nutmeg. Highly crystallized.

Wildflower, Ellis Farms, Benton Harbor, MI: Soapy aroma, which carries through a bit to the flavor. Hints of lavender. Good for cooking. Slightly crystallized.


Lavender, Portugal: Lovely texture almost an acidic touch on the tongue. Nice flavor. Free flowing.

Burgundy honey, Fauchon, France: Cheese like aroma with a little oaky-ness. Spun gold in color. Caramel hints in flavor. Strong, masculine seeming whereas other honeys seem feminine. Slightly granular.

Blackberry, Branches, Napa Valley, CA: Amber in color, nice texture with crystallized chunks. Definite blackberry in the flavor.

Cranberry, Some Honey, New Lisbon, WI: Tartness on the tongue, good texture, amber in color. A bit of spice that tastes like Autumn. Free flowing.

White Tupelo, Gourmet Honey, Florida: Extremely well-balanced. Not too sweet. No huge flavors, but this would pair well with many things. Free flowing.

Fireweed, Gourmet Honey: Similar to the White Tupelo but with a bit of added oomph.
Chestnut, Hillside Farms, Berrien Springs, MI: Light in color, with no distinctive flavor. Very different from the Italian chestnut honey.

Finest Scottish Heather Honey with Glendronach Malt: Grainy on the tongue, mild sweetness. A little oaky.


Umbrian Chestnut, Italy. Acquired taste, barnyard aroma and flavor. This could be paired with unctuous, stinky cheese.

Provencal Forest Honey, France: Hauntingly good. Thick viscosity with the appearance of golden syrup. It gave me a sense of Christmas. Woody aroma.

Mango Blossom, Big Tree Farms, Java: Very viscous, deep dark in color, fruity, mild in flavor, but with interest.

Buckwheat, Some Honey, New Lisbon, WI: Looks like molasses, smells like dirt. Good rich caramel flavor. Slight barnyard taste on the front that yields into warmth and herbaciousness.

Tulip Poplar, Coco Rouge: Caramel in color and flavor. Grainy on the tongue. Would be a good cooking honey.

I love to cook with honey and do so in two ways and here are a few recipes that highlight the beauty of varietal honeys as well as those that complement the other flavors in a recipe.

Tartlets of Brie & Pear Drizzled with Honey
Makes 15

I like this best with a delicate honey such as Prairie Fruits Farmstead Honey, Wickham’s Honey or one of the milder honeys.

1 package filo tartlets, baked according to the manufacturer’s directions
8 ounces brie or other triple crème cheese at room temperature, sliced into bite-size pieces
½ pear, sliced ¼-inch thick, each slice cut into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons honey, preferably a mild yet flavorful honey such as the Prairie Fruits Farmstead Honey or Wickham Honey

METHODS: Put one piece of cheese and one piece of pear in each tart shell. Drizzle with honey.

Honey Roasted Carrots & Parsnips
For 4 servings

This recipe is best made with one of the milder honeys.

2 carrots
2 parsnips
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons honey
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

METHODS: Preheat oven to 350 F. Peel and cut the carrots and parsnips into 2-inch sticks. Put the vegetables into a small ceramic or glass baking dish. Cut the butter into small pieces and drizzle with honey. Bake for 45 minutes or until tender.

DO-AHEAD NOTES: You can cut the carrots and parsnips earlier in the day, mix them in the baking dish with the remaining ingredients and refrigerate.

Honey Ice Cream
Serves 6

This is a wonderful way to highlight a varietal honey, just use your favorite. It’s a great alternative to vanilla. I’ve adapted it from a recipe from Le Cordon Bleu at Home.

1 cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
3 large egg yolks
¼ cup granulated sugar plus 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons honey
Pinch kosher salt

METHODS: Combine the milk and cream bring to a simmer over medium heat. In the meantime, whisk together egg yolks and sugar and honey. Remove the milk/cream mixture from the heat and add a little to the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly to temper it. Add the tempered yolk mix to the hot milk mixture while whisking constantly. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon distinctly (approximately 5 minutes). Once thickened, immediately pour throw a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap touching it to the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Let it cool to room temperature and then chill until thoroughly cold (approximately 4 hours). Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Put the completed ice cream in a shallow container and freeze until firm.


Christopher, Tom, “Busy Bees,” Martha Stewart Living (June 2008).

Davidson, Alan, The Oxford Companion to Food (1999).

National Honey Board, “A Sweet Story: The Making of Honey” (02/07).

Weinzweig, Ari, Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating (2003).

Photo Credit

An Oldie but a Goodie

Originally posted on The Sustainable Cook.

It never ceases to amaze me how often at parties the simplest and most homely of dishes prove most popular even when presented side by side with elegant extravagances. Last night, we hosted our yearly New Year's Eve Party. Among the hors d'oeuvres, I served Red Hen baguette toasts topped with thin, well-marbled slices of Dakota Ranch grass-fed rib eye topped with horseradish creme fraiche, thin wafers of Straveccio, a salty, win-y Wisconsin parmesan, and a luscious triple creme cheese slathered with cranberry-shallot compote and baked. The most popular offering? Onion dip and potato chips. The second most popular? "Lambs in a Tuxedo," a fancy name for pigs in a blanket made with merguez sausage and puff pastry. I'm not certain whether it was the crowd or the reemerging popularity of comfort foods in the wake of this wretched year. In either event, I think these recipes would be well-received in a variety of settings. Here are my caterer's take on each simple classic.
Caramelized Onion Dip
Makes about 2 cups

1 medium yellow onion
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 pound cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons good mayonnaise (I use Hellman's)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Drop of Tabasco

METHODS: Very thinly slice the onion. Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Once the foam has subsided, add the onions and reduce the heat to low. Cook slowly, stirring often until the onions are a deep caramel color, approximately 1/2 hour. In a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Finely chop the onions and add to the cream cheese. Mix until well-combined. Add remaining ingredients and mix. Serve with good, thick cut potato chips.

"Lambs in a Tuxedo"

1 package puff pastry (I use either homemade or DuFour)
1 pound mergeuz sausage.

METHODS: Lay the pastry sheet on a lightly floured cutting board. Cut the sausage into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Cut the pastry into columns just slightly larger than 1-inch. Wrap each piece of sausage with puff pastry leaving just a slight overhang. Press to seal. Place seal side down on a baking sheet lined with either silpat or parchment. The lambies can be frozen at this point for up to 3 weeks. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until puffed and golden. Serve with mustard-sherry sauce.

Mustard-Sherry Sauce

1/2 cup dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sambal olek

METHOD: Mix together all ingredients.

Puff the Magic Pastry

So call me crazy, but I make my own puff pastry. Certainly not for huge parties. No, for those, I buy DuFour's excellent commercially available product. But for small gatherings and my own family, I pull out my recipe and my rolling pin and fold and roll and roll and fold. Last night, I brought one of the more popular dishes in my appetizer rolodex, Lambs in a Tuxedo (lamb sausage wrapped in puff pastry), to a party. It was a huge hit and I promised to post the recipe to show just how easy it is to make. So here you go Christy!

Making puff pastry from scratch is not difficult AT ALL. It just takes time, mostly unattended time. It's just like barbecue - actually even easier because in that instance you have to tame a fire. In this instance, you just need to tame the dragon of fear.

There are a few secrets. First, use the best butter possible. Second, you need to balance keeping the dough as cold as possible with retaining its pliable nature. Finally, use lots of flour to prevent it from sticking.

Start with 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, ¾ cup cake flour, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 2/3-1 cup water. Combine the flours onto a clean surface in a mound and with your fingers make a well in the center. Make sure to keep that all the walls of the well are solid so that the liquid ingredients you'll put into the well won't escape, running off the counter and onto the floor. Melt 2 tablespoons butter. Put the salt, 2/3 cup water and melted butter into well. With the fingers of one hand, mix the liquid ingredients until the salt is dissolved.


Mix in the flours slowly with a plastic pastry cutter – make sure that you don’t break the walls of the well. Mix until well-blended, adding more water as necessary. The dough will be slightly sticky.


Cut an “x” ½-inch thick into the top of the dough. Wrap in plastic wrap or a floured cloth and refrigerate for 1/2 hour.


Take 14 tablespoons unsalted butter (the remainder of 2 sticks after lopping off the tablespoons used in the previous step). Tap between 2 sheets of parchment paper into a square ¾-inch thick. Wrap in the parchment until you're reading to move to the next step.


Set the dough or detrempe on a lightly floured surface and roll out four arms from the center outward. The final product should be mounded in the center. This is critical to make sure that there is enough of the flour dough to cover the butter without breaking through. Put the butter square on top of the mound. Cover with each of the arms and tap with a rolling pin to seal.


Now let's roll. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 7-inches wide and 21-inches long. Fold up the bottom third to the center and the top third to meet the bottom seam. Wrap in floured parchment and refrigerate for 30-minutes. Go watch TV, clean up the kitchen, exercise off the calories that you'll eat in the pastry.


Turn the dough a quarter turn to the left and roll out to a rectangle. Make another quarter turn and roll it out again. Refrigerate for another half hour. Take a nap.

Give the dough another quarter turn. The dough can now be frozen.

After defrosting, give the dough two more quarter turns. The pastry is now ready to be rolled out and cut. I love puff because it's easier to roll out and use than regular pie pastry and there's far less waste and mess than you get with filo dough. Plus it's delicious in both sweet and savory dishes. And now you too can impress your friends and relatives.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

French-Fried Blog Post: French Fry Stuffing

Turkey image

Thor's Turkey Recipe

"We get the turkey from whole foods. We all get it together. Stuff the turkey with French fries. We cook it in the oven at 100 degrees. We cook for an hour. Then we put mashed potatoes on the side before we serve it. We serve it on plates. We make it look like a turkey leg. It smells like a turkey. My grandma and grandpa, my mom and my dad and me eat it. We serve it with tater tots and mash potatoes. We wil have the party at my house. I will have a Sherly temple for me and martinis for grandma and grandpa."

So goes my son's story as told to a 5th grader and pasted onto a construction paper turkey's fan. While we didn't get to see the tail on the tale until the Friday before Thanksgiving, I had been given some advance warning about it when Thor began quizzing me on turkey prep.

"So we get our turkey from Whole Foods?"

"No Thor, we buy it directly from a local farmer."

"We bake it at 100 . . . "

"Well, not exactly."

"for an hour?"

"Certainly, not at 100 degrees."

[Cue frustration, curling brow] "But we'll have tater tots, right?"

"Uh, no." [Cue curled brow for me as I try to remember the last tater tot he ate with me].

[More frustration exhibited and a slightly mobile lower lip] "But, but, but, we do stuff it with french fries."

Of course, the answer was no, but unlike the other questions, there was no logical reason why this one should be answered in the negative.

And thus, the inspiration for this year's true Thanksgiving innovation in our household: French Fry Stuffing.

Obviously, you have to start with French fries. While the French may not have invented the fry, they seemed to have perfected them or at least had the best PR about their fried potato cylinders. Given that, there was no better place to turn to for a recipe than a bistro cookbook: Balthazar Cookbook being my favorite.

French Fries

3 medium russet or yukon gold potatoes, peeled
1 quart canola oil
fine sea salt

Slice, by hand or on a mandoline, the potatoes into 1/4-inch strips about 4-6 inches long. As you slice the potatoes, add the strips to a container of cold water. Refrigerate for 12 hours.


Drain the potatoes on clean dish towels for about 20 minutes.


Heat the oil in a large heavy pot to 370 degrees. Add half of the potatoes. The oil will bubble up furiously and drop to about 280 degrees. Cook for 3 minutes. You don't want the potatoes to color. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on crumpled paper towels. Repeat with remaining fries. Increase the heat to 380 degrees. Add half the fries and cook for 3 more minutes until browned and crisp. Remove, drain, repeat, salt. Reserve 2/3 of the fries for stuffing.


Of course, there's no need for all this labor above (I'm just silly sometimes). Get an extra order on the side from your favorite hamburger joint, just don't tell me if they're from McDonald's.

French Fry Stuffing

1 tablespoon canola oil
2 Polish sausage links, quartered
2 medium onions, cut into small dice
¾ cup celery, cut into small dice
4 cups peasant style bread, cubed
Leftover fries, slightly smashed
2 teaspoons sage, minced
1 teaspoon celery leaves, minced
1 teaspoon thyme, minced
¼ teaspoon parsley, minced
2 cups turkey stock


Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the sausage and cook until lightly browned. Stir in the onions and celery and cook until softened and just slightly golden. Combine the onions, celery, and sausage with the bread, leftover fries, and herbs. Salt and pepper to taste. Scrape the mixture into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Ladle the stock over the stuffing. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes.


The accurate parts of Thor's story? We did serve mashed potatoes (not in the shape of a turkey leg) and Grandma and Grandpa drank martinis.

Potatoes from Nichols (IL)
Polish sausage from Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm (IL)
Onions and thyme from Genesis Growers (IL)
Sage from my garden
Celery from Iron Creek (IL)
Turkey stock from turkey from TJ's Poultry (IL)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Good Book

Hello, I'm Melissa and I'm a bookaholic.

Shelves of books line my home - novels, guidebooks, but most importantly cookbooks. My poor son's room even houses my overflow.

At one point, when I began writing my my own recipes, I thought I had a shot at curbing my addiction. So wrong was I. Nowadays, it isn't the books of my idols that I buy, but those of my friends. For example, one of my most recent purchases was of Monica Bhide's, Modern Spice. While I've never met Monica in person, I feel a kinship to her ever since she reached out to me on Facebook. Another of my virtual friends, Cheryl Sternman Rule, just scored a book contract. Judging from the quality of her blog, I know it will be a winner. Of course, I'll have to have it. Closer to home, my friend Terra Brockman is responsible for the beautiful prose in The Seasons on Henry's Farm and Anupy Singla will be educating us on Indian cuisine. I have the former and surely I'll buy the latter.

So tonight I'm thankful for books.

And my newest, favoritest book is the one written by someone with whom I have no connection: Pierre A LaMielle's kitchenscraps: a humourous illustrated cookbook. I discovered it after a friend linked to a blog post by the author: Wiener Schnitzel, by the hammer of Thor. A post on a food blog about Thor? How could I resist? I clicked on it and realized that the author just published a book. After exploring the site for a few minutes, I knew, just knew I needed this book. Having received it from Amazon (doing the happy dance when it arrived) and having now read it, not once, but twice. I highly recommend it. Great recipes, awesome illustrations, and laugh out loud funny headnotes, it's a great addition to any bookshelf, even my over stuffed one.


A picture of schnitzel by the hammer of the little locavore.
blog design by brooksiedesign