Sunday, September 27, 2009

Of Baseball and Blueberries


Early autumn is a bittersweet time for me. As the shadows grow longer and the days shorter, two of my favorite things disappear. In Chicago, the baseball season almost inevitably ends abruptly, this year being no exception with my beloved White Sox limping to a third place finish. The departure of the other is far more subtle. At this point in the season, the blueberries become smaller and smaller like they’re disappearing right before our very eyes.

As I sit in the Sox’s stadium on a beautiful fall afternoon, enjoying the last hot dog and beer at the last home game, I know it’s over. The boys of summer soon to disband and disperse to sunnier climes like the geese in their chevron formation. Some will return, while others will never again wear the team’s uniform. Ken Burns remarked in his magnificent documentary about the American pastime that Baseball “follows the seasons beginning each year with the fond expectancy of springtime and ending with the hard facts of autumn.”

While the baseball season is over for me – I have only a bystander’s interest in the do-si-dos of the Fall Classic – the blueberry’s season can thankfully be extended. When we need a bit of summer, the 5 pound box of blueberries that I froze about a month back can satisfy. Frozen blueberries are quite good in muffins, pancakes, smoothies and tarts. This recipe is a family favorite using whole grain flour and honey instead of sugar.

Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes
Makes 6 pancakes

½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup buttermilk, well shaken
2 tablespoons buckwheat honey
1 large egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
½ cup blueberries
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Combine flours, baking powder and kosher salt in a medium size bowl. In another bowl, mix the buttermilk, honey, egg and butter and whisk to combine. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined. Gently fold in the blueberries. Heat the remaining butter in a skillet or on a griddle over medium heat. Drop approximately 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake. Cook until golden brown. Enjoy with maple syrup.


Kid Cooking Tips
This is another recipe in which kids can participate in all of the steps. In fact, my son particularly loves to flip the pancakes.

Buckwheat flour from Neighboring Farms
Buttermilk from Farmers Creamery
Buckwheat honey from Heritage Prairie Market
Egg from Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm
Butter from Organic Valley
Maple syrup from Burton's

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cheese, Glorious Cheese: Pimento Cheese

Photograph Courtesy of Artisan Events

I love cheese, all kinds of cheese – stinky cheese, hard cheese, soft cheese, stringy cheese. I love cheese so much, I was probably a mouse in a former life. And I’m no cheese snob. While I don’t have much positive to say about a plastic wrapped American cheese slice, I do have a certain nostalgia for spreadable cheeses in plastic tubs. They bring me back to the processed-food heaven of cocktail hour on my parents’ sailboat.

For our annual summer vacation, my parents charted a route from the south shore of Long Island around Montauk Point and up to Connecticut and Rhode Island. We took this cruise with several families from the yacht club and at the end of many a long days travel, we would all “raft” up – anchor one boat and tie the others to it. The anchored vessel would then be both the tether and the host of the cocktail “hour” that lasted several hours. Beers, blush wines, martinis and Manhattans all served in double walled plastic cups festooned with nautical flags. But I remember the food, boat food, as my mother called it. Pringles potato chips (the can prevented crushing in those narrow shelves lining the narrow galley), Planter’s cocktail nuts, Goldfish, and as a special treat - cheeses, almost inevitably being one of the Wispread varieties. My favorite was the Port Wine cheddar with that unnatural hibiscus color.

So, yes, even though my tastes have improved, I’m a sucker for cheese in a tub. The best commercially made version that I’ve had is from Wisconsin cheese-maker, Brunkow, and it’s the aged spreadable cheddar. I don’t much like the ones with add-ins, like the horseradish, but man, the plain one. Suffice to say, I can’t buy it often or the cheese wouldn't be only thing that spreads.

But my favorite spreadable cheese is one that also elicits great nostalgia, just not among my people nor of the people of the person who introduced me to it. I first tried pimento cheese at the home of a former upper east side finishing school girl. She went to college at William & Mary, where she met her husband, Andrew Sugerman. In spite of her uptown provenance, Sarah had adopted the cooking of the upper south with alacrity. In their first large Chicago apartment, they hosted a party that highlighted the culinary specialties of the region where I fell for the mound of orange, slightly spicy, smooth spreadable cheese.

It was several years later when I bought Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock’s wonderful cookbook, The Gift of Southern Cooking, that I made pimento cheese for the first time. It was as good as I remembered and finer than any Wispread port wine cheddar. This is my version of the recipe using all local ingredients. I serve it stuffed into sugar snap peas in the Spring, but my little locavore loves it on organic saltines. Following in my footsteps (or should we say food steps), he too loves his cheese.

Pimento Cheese

1 small red pepper
10 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup goat cheese softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise, either homemade or best quality commercial
1 pinch of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Roast the pepper by charring it over an open flame or by broiling it. Remove the pepper from the flame when it's blackened and put in a small bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until cool enough to handle. When cooled, remove the skin, stem and seeds. Put the pepper in the bowl of a food processor and add the cheese, cream cheese, mayonnaise, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Process until smooth. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight to develop the flavors.

Kid Cooking Tips
Kids who are comfortable around the stove can help roasting the pepper carefully turning it with long tongs. Kids 4 and up can clean the pepper by rubbing the skin. Kids can also grate the cheese on a box grater, but I find it easier to do this on the food processor's grater attachment especially since the cheee is ultimately mixed in it.

Pepper from Genesis Growers
Aged cheddar from Brunkow
Goat cheese from Capriole
Safflower mayonnaise from Whole Foods

Thursday, September 24, 2009

You Say Tomato, I Say Yum


I first grew tomatoes as a grown-up on a roof deck of a condo building. With two of my friends, we planted, watered and tended ten different heirloom varieties. With visions of BLT's, Caprese salads and pizzas with fresh tomato slice, we watched with great anticipation as some of our crop began to ripen. Finally, one morning, we journeyed up the stairs to harvest our first pick. With great horror, we saw that all of the ripe tomatoes were gone, ripped from their little green stems. Another of our neighbors had unceremoniously tossed them into his salad the evening before. When asked about it, he apologized and offered to replace them from the grocery store. Ugh. As politely as I could muster, I told him that the next harvest was spoken for.

These days we don't need to worry about rude neighbors, but crazy squirrels. Our first tomatoes were marred by bites or carelessly tossed into the beds of other plants. For some reason, as the season has gone on, our rodent friends have lost interest and the tomatoes have been allowed to ripen and turn color. I'm crossing my fingers that one of these days soon we'll have enough to make a bowl of soup as it is Thor's favorite.

His love of tomato soup all started when he pilfered a bowl of mine at one of our favorite restaurants. After finishing it off, he declared: “Mommy, I finally like soup.”

This recipe doesn’t involve a lot of ingredients, but instead lets the flavor of the tomatoes shine through. Accordingly, use the best and ripest tomatoes that you can find. With the exception of the bay leaf and pepper, I purchased all of the ingredients locally.

Tomato Soup
Serves 6

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ large or 1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 small carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
½ bay leaf
2 ½ pounds red ripe tomatoes
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Roughly chop the tomatoes. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrot and bay leaf and cook until softened, approximately 7 minute. Scrape in the chopped tomatoes and cook until they have broken down thoroughly about 45 minutes to an hour. Puree the tomatoes in a blender or food processor. Push the puree through a fine mesh strainer or a food mill. Return the strained tomato puree to the saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve in shallow bowls.

Kid Cooking Tips
With a kid safe knife, such as our wavy cutter wavy cutter, kids can cut the totatoes, celery and carrots. They can stir in the ingredients and the soup while it's simmering. Finally, they can assist with pushing the puree through a strainer or a food mill.

Butter from Organic Valley
Onion, garlic, celery, carrot and beefsteak tomatoes from Genesis Growers

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"A Fallen Leaf is Nothing More Than a Summer's Wave Goodbye"


Early this morning, I was abruptly jolted out of my sleep. My son’s plaintive voice cutting through the heavy silence of 5:00am – “momma, I have to pee.” Meeting him in the bathroom, which is directly above our kitchen, I leaned against the door frame and thought – ‘damn, the house smells good.’

The night before, I had filled our home with aroma of autumn. On the gray dreary day that ushered in the new season, I roasted a chicken, made a potato gratin and cooked a big pot of stock. Now, every inch of the house oozes with the promise of pumpkins, falling leaves and slow cooking.

Fall is my very favorite season and this week, the week of the Autumnal equinox the year’s best in my view. The raspberries are at their finest, sweet and plump, and the hard skinned squashes have begun their appearance at our markets. It’s a bittersweet time as we know that summer has passed away before our eyes. Seemingly overnight, the leaves have begun to change their hue. And soon it will be cold. But we have to enjoy the cool, crisp days of September playing outside while we can, preserving what we will before the vines wither and die. While I’ll miss tomatoes, summer squash and corn, I crave the return to the hearth that autumn expects with its soups, stews and braises.

So let’s say a fond farewell to summer as we pull out our sweaters from the depths of our drawers and watch the leaves fall. There’s an Emily Dickinson quote that I love, but cannot find that captures the yin and yang of life and loss, scarcity and abundance. So instead, I’ll end with a similar thought:

“There is a vast hydrological cycle with its sequence of abundance and scarcity, its expression of the tragic as well as the delightful moments of temporal existence.” Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry.

But back to my chicken.

Secrets for a well-roasted chicken:

1. Slather with butter, it browns and crisps the skin.
2. Salt more than you think is necessary. It aids in the crisping of the skin and brings out the flavor.
3. Trussing is easy – simply take a 10-inch piece of twine. Place the midway point of the twine under the tail of the chicken. Curl it around the leg bones by twisting it around the side of the bone closest to the breast. Wrap it around each leg 360° degrees and pull them close to the body. Cross the breasts, bring the twine next to the sides of the body and tie at the top. Tuck the wings under the twine as best as possible.
4. Shift the position of the chicken approximately every 15 minutes to ensure even browning. This does violate my ordinary rule of thumb, which is to open the oven as little as possible while baking or roasting but it does evenly brown the bird in a home oven.
5. I follow Nigella Lawson’s formula for time, which hasn’t failed me yet. Roast the chicken for 15 minutes a pound plus 10 minutes.

Roast Chicken
4 Servings

1 3-4 pound chicken, preferably organic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
kosher or coarse sea salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon

If you have a convection oven, preheat it to 375º F; otherwise, preheat the oven to 425° F. Halve the lemon and put it in the chicken's cavity. Truss the chicken according the instructions above and put it in a small roasting pan. Combine the butter and paprika and massage the chicken with it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for about 55-70 minutes, until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 165° F. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes tented with aluminum foil. Carve and serve.

You can always add garlic cloves, shallots or onions to the pan to serve the chicken. Peel them and add toss them alongside the chicken to roast with it.


1 tablespoon all purpose flour
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup chicken stock, canned is fine, homemade is better, or water

Remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat from roasting pan. Put the pan on the stove over medium heat. Add flour and cook until lightly colored about 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in chicken stock or water and white wine, simmer until thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chicken Stock

5 pounds raw chicken bones
1 carrot, peeled and sliced ½-inch thick
1 stalk celery, sliced ½-inch thick
1 onion, peeled and halved
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig parsley
1 bay leaf

Cover the chicken bones with cold water by two inches in a large stock pot. Bring the water to a simmer and skim the resulting foam and scum. Add the remaining ingredients when the stock stops producing foam and scum. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 4 hours. Let cool slightly. Strain into a large bowl and let cool, preferably over an ice bath. Refrigerate overnight to allow the fat to solidify. Remove fat and ladle the stock into smaller containers. The stock can be frozen.


Potato Gratin
4-6 servings

2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
Heavy cream and 2% milk to cover
1 shallot, minced
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon salt
3 grinds black pepper
1/3 cup cheddar

Slice the potatoes on a mandoline set over a medium saucepan 1/8-inch thick. Cover the potato slices with a mixture of heavy cream and milk to cover them by ½-inch thick. Add shallot, bay leaf and salt and bring the potatoes to a low simmer. Cook uncovered for 1 – 1 ½ hours until tender. Preheat the oven to 425° F after the potatoes have been cooking for 45 minutes. Pour the potatoes into a shallow gratin pan. Sprinkle with cheddar and bake until browned approximately 15 minutes.

Butter and milk from Organic Valley
Chicken from Triple S Farms
Stock vegetables from Genesis Growers
Potato from Green Acres
Cheese from Brunkow
Cream from Blue Marble

I can't tell you with authority where the title quote comes from. It was the update of a Facebook friend, also in quotes. The only source I found after searching it on the google was The Product Blog written by Eric Bergman.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Oops, I did it again.


I apologize for borrowing a line from Brittney Spears and no I will not be breaking into song, but I've done it again. I think I've killed another ice cream maker. I have the worst luck with deep fryers and ice cream makers. I think it's a great reminder that high tech is not always the way to go.

Fortunately, with deep fryers, I've found the answer - a laser thermometer and a big pot. Works like a charm. Far better than all those basketed gadgets with drain tubes, which would disintegrate and leak. I still haven't been able to clean off all the oil remnants in my cabinet.

But ice cream makers? I hate the low tech versions. The ones that require overnight freezing take all the spontenaity out of ice cream making. Plus, I don't have the room for one more pork chop in my freezer, much less an ice cream maker insert which is the size of a small hat box. What's a cook to do?

So while I ponder what my next step in ice cream making will be. I'll share the recipe for the ice cream that killed its maker.

Peach Ice Cream Sandwiches

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick butter softened
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 peaches
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch kosher salt

Mix together flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Add cream and vanilla 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 an hour. Preheat the oven to 350°F. After the dough is chilled, roll out the dough 1/8-inch thick. Using the a 2-inch biscuit cutter (I used a fluted square), cut out the dough. Place the cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment or silpat 1-inch apart. Bake cookies for 7-9 minutes without browning. Cool cookies on the baking sheet placed on a rack.

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Cut a shallow X in to the bottom of each peach and drop into the boiling water for one minute. Rinse under cold water and slip off the skins. Remove the pit and puree.

Combine the milk and ¼ cup of sugar in the saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. In the meantime, whisk together egg yolks and remaining ¼ cup of sugar. Remove the milk 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. This could take between 7 and 12 minutes. Once thickened, immediately pour throw a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Add cream, peaches and vanilla. 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 cold.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. Scoop some ice cream onto a cookie and sandwich with a second cookie. Repeat.

Kid Cooking Tips
Most moms know how to involve their children in making cookies by measuring ingredients, pouring them in, assisting with the rolling and stamping the cookies out. For the ice cream, kids can peel the peaches, whisk the eggs and stir the cooking custard.

Butter and milk from Organic Valley
Eggs from Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm
Peaches from Hillside Orchards
Cream from Blue Marble

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Fine Druplet

It's raspberry season here in the Midwest. What? In September? Don't all the cookbooks say that raspberries come to market in July? Well, they do. But here in the midwest, they have a second season, a new wave, shall we say. Many raspberry connoisseurs (including my little locavore) consider this second crop to be the finer and sweeter of the two.

I created the following recipe last summer for a kids' class that I taught for Whole Foods at the Lincoln Park Zoo. I love talking with kids about berries. Not only do they love them, but there are so many fun facts to share. The best fact about raspberries is that they are a druplet, a cluster of fruits, like a bunch of grapes. So each of the little bubbles is a fruit in and of itself. Kids love that!

Raspberry Corn Muffins
Makes 12

1 cup finely ground cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
½ cup agave nectar
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
½ stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350º F. Fill a muffin tin with the muffin cups. Mix together cornmeal, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together the eggs, agave nectar, buttermilk and butter in an another bowl. Combine the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients until incorporated. Gently fold the raspberries into the batter. Divide the batter equally between the muffin liners. Bake for approximately 20 minutes. To test whether the muffins are done, insert a skewer or toothpick into the top. If it comes out with just a few crumbs, it’s done. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Kids Cooking Tips

Because this recipe was developed for a kids cooking class, all the steps can be accomplished with little hands. Parents are in charge of the oven.

Cornmeal from Three Sisters
Eggs from Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm
Buttermilk from Farmers Creamery
Butter from Organic Valley
Raspberries from Ellis

Friday, September 11, 2009

Too Much Tomatoes and No Bread

Now, if the reverse situation from my last post occurs, you can always make a bread-less tomato sandwich like I did last Thursday at the Downtown Farmstand.


Take two slices of tomato (green zebra were terrific), slather soft, spreadable goat cheese (I like Prairie Fruits Farm for this) on one slice and pesto (we used Kinnikinick's arugula, but I usually make cilantro pepita) on the other. Sandwich together and enjoy just like a sandwich.

Cilantro-Pepita Pesto

2 cups packed washed cilantro
1 garlic clove
1/3 cup toasted pepitas
1/3 extra-virgin olive oil

Combine the cilantro, garlic and pepitas in the bowl of a food process. Pour the olive oil through the feed tube while the motor is running. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

A New-Fangled Grilled Cheese


What do you do when you and your little one are desperately craving a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich and your tomato turns up moldy?

Do you run out to the store? Well, since, I just went to the market yesterday and Whole Foods this morning - it doesn't seem sensible to head out for one item.

Do you head to the garden to pick a tomato off the vine? I'd love to, but the scary citified squirrels seem to like tomatoes as much as we do and one of them took a chomp out of our newest red tomato. (Any suggestions on keeping the squirrels away?)

That leaves only one option: IMPROVISE!

And the big beautiful, firm ripe peaches, provided inspiration for my entirely local, new-fangled grilled cheese:

Peach, Mozzarella & Prosciutto Panini
2 servings

4 thin slices of ciabatta
4 1/4-inch thick mozzarella
4 slices prosciutto, prefarably La Quercia
6 1/4-inch thick slices of firm-ripe peach
4 basil leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons butter

Heat butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Layer the mozzarella, prosicutto, and peach onto the ciabatta slices. Add to the pan and cook until the bread is golden and the cheese is slighly melted. Slice in half. Remove the top slice and add a basil leaf to each half. Serve.

Kids Cooking Tips
Kids can layer the ingredients and cut the peaches and cheese.

Bread from Bennison's
Mozzarella from Brunkow
Prosciutto from La Quercia
Peach from Hillside Orchards
Basil from our garden
Butter from Organic Valley

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Going With the Grain

Growing up in a German family, our daily bread was rarely white. Dark-hued rye and pumpernickel were far more common. This was fine with me at least until I went to school. Seduced by the soft, squeezy texture of the white bread found in most of my friend’s lunch bags, I was done with whole grains. When I saw the bright colored, bubbly bag of the wonderful Wonder bread – Yowsa! “Air sots!” my mother would exclaim – not that I understood what those were, I assumed it was whatever gave it that beguiling texture and wan shade.

Fortunately, my palate grew up. As I started to cook for myself, most of the books I chose called for unbleached flour over bleached. When I started to bake bread, I discovered a whole new world of ingredients, such as wheatberries, spelt, teff, and farro. Gradually, my bread began to darken.

It’s pretty well-established that whole grains are good for you. Heart-healthy and high in vitamins, minerals, fiber and essential fatty acids, they regulate our systems in more way than one. What you may not know is that whole grains are also better for the planet. Whole grains and products made from whole grains are less processed than their counterparts and the more processed a food is, the greater the cost to the environment.

Both of these are very good reasons why you should eat more whole grains, but they certainly don’t address why you should want to. If you are, or if you cook for someone who’s palate hasn’t matured beyond the air sots, ethics provide little incentive. These folks need some more coaxing to come over to the dark side and I have an ingredient that will aid in that persuasion.

Whole wheat pasty flour, also known as Graham flour, is milled from soft Winter wheat. It has less gluten and more starch so it creates a softer dough or batter than whole wheat flour. It allows you to add whole grains to your pancakes and pastries without making them heavy. I keep a bag in my freezer and substitute it for or add it to the all-purpose flour called for in many of my baking recipes. It will take you a long way towards converting even the worst grain-a-phobe.

The following is one of my favorite recipes for my whole wheat pastry flour. For the wine called for in the recipe, use a drop of last night's or enjoy the remainder of the opened bottle with your meal.


Serves 4

I call this the Sneak-it-in Pizza because of the whole-wheat flour in the crust and because I top our family’s with fresh vegetables. Kids love pizza and would never suspect that the crust isn’t made solely from white flour. I’ve found that if you set out a bunch of vegetables and tell them to “decorate” their pizza, they will be more likely to enjoy them. It’s a chance to sneak in healthy foods, while still having fun. If you’re pressed for time, you can always use your favorite store-bought tomato sauce.

1 cup water
1 ¼-ounce package active dry yeast
½ teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon white wine, optional
¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for rolling out the dough
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Coarsely-ground cornmeal
1 28-ounce can of tomatoes
1 large clove of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
½ teaspoon good red wine or balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly-sliced, or 12 ounces grated mozzarella
Desired toppings, preferably lots of fresh vegetables such as tomato, eggplant, red onion, summer squash, peppers, zucchini, even broccoli

Heat the water in a microwave for approximately 30 seconds until 110° F. Pour the water into a large bowl or the bowl of stand mixer. Sprinkle yeast on top and add honey, stir to combine. Let the yeast mixture sit for 5 minutes while it foams. Add white wine, the flours, olive oil and salt to the bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon or with a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook until the water is absorbed. If kneading by hand, remove the mixture from the bowl and knead on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, but slightly tacky. If using the mixer, knead with the dough hook for approximately 2 minutes. Remove from the bowl before the dough is completely smooth and knead by hand for a few minutes or until smooth and elastic, but slightly tacky. Put the dough into a large bowl coated with oil and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 hour. If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven at this time. Preheat the oven to 500° F. Uncover the dough, punch it down and let rise for another 45 minutes.

While the dough is rising, make the sauce. Coarsely chop the tomatoes, preferably in a blender, pulsing once or twice. Finely mince the garlic clove. Heat the oil in a medium-size sauce pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté approximately 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Cook until slightly reduced, approximately 20 minutes. Add vinegar and cook for another 5 minutes.

Cut the dough into four pieces with a chef’s knife or a dough scraper. Press or roll out each piece on a lightly-floured surface. If using a pizza stone, sprinkle a sheet pan or a baker’s peel with coarsely-ground cornmeal. Lay the dough on top. Brush the edges of the dough with the olive oil. Spread a quarter of the sauce on top of the dough, top with mozzarella and then “decorate” with desired toppings. With a flip of the wrist, transfer unbaked pizza to stone in the oven. If you do not have a pizza stone, bake the pizza on a baking sheet. Close oven and reduce the temperature to 450 F. Bake for approximately 10 minutes until the edges are browned.

Do-ahead notes: The dough can be frozen. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator.

A Potluck Weekend

I hate to admit it, but I don't usually like potlucks. I have too many memories of church basements, school cafeterias and suburban split levels, where the best offering was Devilled eggs and the worst involved Durkee's fried onions.


So, I'm happy to report that the two "potlucks" I attended this weekend were swimming successes. It did help that the first was on a farm, one of the most sustainable family farms in the Midwest, Green Acres, and was attended by some of the best chefs in the city. Smoked leg of venison overseen by Roger Herring of Socca, eggplant, kimchee and cucumber salad by Bill Kim of Urban Belly and a variety of of other treats were to be had on a soggy, grey Sunday afternoon in North Judson, Indiana.


Good company and music was abundant. A little amusement as my son, Thor, directed the band in a nice version of Baba O'Riley.

Thor at Green Acres
Unfortunately, I was having too good a time at the second potluck to record it with pictures. We hosted a Slow Food Eat-In with 4 families from Thor's school. Inspired by Slow Food's roots, we organized an Italian farmhouse meal. In lieu of photos, I'll share our menu:

White Peach Bellinis

Shoestring Zucchini Fries with Red Pepper Sauce
Black Olive & Eggplant Crostini

Prosciutto & Arugula Flatbread
Verbena & Vinegar Chicken
Thinly Sliced, Grilled Sirloin Steaks with Arugula Pesto
Heirloom Caprese Salad
Pasta Salad
Grilled Corn

Fresh Peach Ice Cream
Cantaloupe Ice
Apple Crisp

My favorite new recipe is the Verbena and Vinegar Chicken, which is almost entirely a locavore recipe.

Verbena and Vinegar Chicken
4-6 Servings

1 chicken cut into 8 pieces
6 garlic cloves
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
the leaves from 1 long sprig of lemon verbena
freshly ground pepper

Mix the garlic, oil, vinegar, verbena and pepper in a shallow container suitable for marinating. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Remove from the cold and let the chicken come to room temperature. Remove from the marinade, letting the excess drip off. Salt with kosher salt and grill until the chicken reaches 165 degrees.

Friday, September 4, 2009

More Soup!

My recipe for Moroccan-Spiced Corn Soup get's some pub today in Ideal Bite!

Corks & Crayons

Check out the terrific pictures that my friends over at Organic Nation took of Purple Asparagus' Corks & Crayons. The Organic Nation blog is terrific,definitately a site worth bookmarking.

To Warm the Bones


On any ordinary year in Chicago, I wouldn't be writing about, much less making, a bowl of hot soup in early September. But this year, with our autumnal pre-Labor Day weather, nothing sounded better than a hot steaming bowl of soup last night. With it, I got the opportunity to use up the remainder of the produce I purchased from our farmers' market at Purple Asparagus' benefit, Corks & Crayons, which was graciously sponsored by my friends Harvest Moon Farms. With the help of my son, Thor, who chopped ALL of the tomatoes with his new wavy cutter, we made Bean, Tomato and Kale Soup, which was enjoyed by all in this house (at least once we fished out the kale from Thor's soup).

If you've got some unseasonably cool weather, here's my recipe.

Early Autumn Soup
Makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, diced
2 garlic gloves, minced
2 cups dried beans cooked until almost tender, I used locally-grown Tongue of Fire beans available from Fresh
4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup red wine
1 rosemary sprig
2 heels of hard cheese, optional (I always freeze the heels of hard cheeses to thicken soups just like this)
1 bunch dinosaur kale, washed with heavy stems removed
2 tablespoons basil pesto

Cut the kale into 1/2 inch slices. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan until hot, but not smoking. Add the onion and cook until softened, approximately 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant about a minute. Drop in the beans and cover with the tomatoes, chicken stock and wine. Pour in about a cup of water so that the beans are covered by about an inch. Drop in the rosemary sprig and heels of cheese. Bring the liquid to a boil and dump in the kale. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 to 40 minutes or until the beans are fully tender. Ladle into bowls and swirl a half tablespoon of basil pesto into each.

Thor's wavy cutter is great. IMG_2892
This utensil is a safe way for kids to cut most anything. It cuts through tomato skin, onions, peachs, etc. and it really makes the little ones feel like they're involved in the cooking process.

Posted as part of Fight Back Friday!
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