Monday, January 25, 2010

Purple Asparagus' January Newsletter

We just published Purple Asparagus's January newsletter. Click here to check it out.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Drawing with Your Food

Today, I wanted to share a guest post from my good friend and logo designer Julie Morelli, in which she tells the story of the Little Locavores logo.

Logo Setup

I'm a graphic designer. I make things, lots of things. Posters, books, t-shirts, window signage, product packaging and even a temporary tattoo for kids. However it's not very often that I get to combine design with my other love: food. (Don't tell design but in a thumb war, I'm pretty sure food would win). So when Melissa approached me about creating a logo / mark for the Little Locavores blog, the answer was enthusiastically YES.

When starting a project I like to put myself in the shoes of the client and the audience, or in this case the audience's little ones! As soon as I figuratively slipped on my old strawberry shortcake velcro size 1's (circa 1985) I knew what I would do for the logo: draw with my food.

I went with the classic "potato as stamp" route. After a couple of disastrous potato incidences (accidentally turning my star into one lonely triangle) I got the hang of it again. Soon I had a few apple-y and tomato-y looking creations. They weren't perfect, but that wasn't the goal here. There were surprises along the way, things I hadn't planned on and imperfections that gave each little potato stamp it's own personality : just what I thought would fit well with the content in this blog.

It was a great break from creating on the computer (my daily routine) and an excuse to get an excessive amount of potatoes, resulting in potato pancakes, home fries, and gnocchi later in the week.

Stamping Picture


About Julie : In between running the graphic design business (Letterform, Inc.) she owns with her fiance, Andy, and printing her very own line of foodie greeting cards (Nourishing Notes), Julie is consumed by food.... or consuming food.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Fine Condiment: Local Folks Ketchup


Yesterday, my delivery from Fresh Picks arrived, exciting me for many reasons, not the least of which was the return of Local Folks Foods' ketchup. Receiving it made me thing of the following post, which I wrote for The Local Beet last Spring when I first discovered it.

"Every year, on one of those first, early, beautiful days of spring, my family enjoys our first wood-grilled burgers of the season. Sometimes the urge arrives on a wafting charcoal breeze, others the weather report, with the promise of unseasonal balm. A little of both inspired the early unveiling of the Weber Kettle this year. The ingredient that provided the final impetus was a new product: ketchup from Local Folks Foods of Sheridan, Indiana.

Offered online at Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks, the Local Folks ketchup is sweetened without the ubiquitous, government-subsidized corn syrup. Bright red, in a BBQ sauce-shaped bottle, it beckoned from my countertop after arriving in my weekly Thursday delivery from Fresh Picks. The ground beef was from our monthly CSA delivery from Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm, the buns from Treasure Island, onions, cheese from Brunkow and lettuce from Wind n Oak Farm in Manhattan, IL. A testament to its deliciousness: the devouring of it by my very picky son. What about the ketchup?

There are a handful of products for which I’ve had a hard time to find a local substitute: most significantly, Hellman’s mayonnaise (yes, there’s homemade, but who makes it for a tablespoon or two in a recipe) and Heinz ketchup. There’s something about their formulas that is standard, comforting and just plain right, at least in terms of their flavor profiles. Ketchup has been particularly troublesome. While I’ve made plenty of homemade ketchups and catsups (including a mean and versatile red pepper version) none could capture the elusive spirit of the old 57, particularly the organic version made with real sugar. This is why I was particularly impressed by the Local Folks Foods ketchup. I mentioned earlier the true rose red color of it. The flavor is delicious and really quite close to the ideal, at least my ideal – Heinz. Piquant, yet rich; sweet, with a perfect counterpoint of salinity. My only small criticism is that it could be a touch thicker. Where as the Heinz needs that perfect tap to the 57 to flow freely, Local Folks pours like a river. A minor complaint when leveled at a small company selling an artisanal product that can stand toe to toe with an icon."

Even with my love of January, in rereading this, I felt a little wistful for the early days of spring. Soon enough, it will come soon enough.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Little Something to Snack on

I was quite entertained by today's front page article in The New York Times' Food Section. In "Snacking Nation: When Did Grazing Take Over Our Children?," Jennifer Steinhauer thoroughly depicts today's snack culture among school age children and the troubling issues it raises for their physical health.

In a manner intended to entertain and engross the reader in her subject, Ms. Steinhauer writes:

". . . when it comes to American boys and girls, snacks seem both mandatory and constant. Apparently, we have collectively decided as a culture that it is impossible for children to take part in any activity without simultaneously shoving something into their pie holes."

I couldn't agree more.

She discussed all this "extra curricular" eating with other parents including one Chicago dad, Sean O'Neill, who wondered why the ever present need for snacks at every sporting event, even those at 10am or right before lunch. He remarked that:

"The kids are playing baseball, they are covered in Chicago Park District dirt and then eat a handful of fruit bites," he said. "It's pretty disgusting."

T-Ball first introduced us to the dreaded snack request. The email asking each "mom" (of course this wasn't a generic parent request) to sign up for a game after which said mom would provide peanut-free snack and drink for each of the team members. Like the reaction of the article's author, the request struck a bit of horror in my heart. I wasn't concerned about our turn, we are that "rare" family that showed up with a homemade snack: freshly popped corn prepared Thor-style tossed with Spice House Hickory Smoked Sea Salt and lemonade turned a lovely shade with locally grown strawberries. Yeah, it was a pain, but it was only a one time request and they both were a huge hit. No my fears centered on what my son would do when faced with the other selections.

Not too long before the season started, we successfully convinced Thor that he was allergic to GMO (genetically modified) corn. (Imagine our trips in Midwestern farm country, substitute for "Are we there yet?" "Is that GMO corn?" Stop, and repeat). This happened after he tried a bowlful of tortilla chips from an unnamed grocery store and soon broke out with a very itchy and red rash. With nothing else changing in his diet or skin care regime, we decided to pinpoint the blame on said chips. Running with this, I explained to him that the vast majority of high fructose corn syrup comes from GMO corn resulting in his becoming an avid label reader. So my fear and dread was focused on his reaction to the snacks presented. Would he loudly recoil and be ostracized as a food weirdo, or worse would he relish the opportunity to try the junk and undo our hard work?

The answer turned out to be none of the above. We did have the first small outburst when he turned to Dad and asked "is this GMO corn?" Fortunately, the mom didn't hear him as her attention was on distributing the kid-size packages of Cheetos. After that, we instituted the bait and switch. He would politely accept whatever snack was offered, bring it home, and we would replace it with a healthier and tastier alternative.

Nevertheless, despite our solution, I would relish the cultural shift suggested at the article's end:

"Food allergies are a real problem. But did no one ponder the idea that perhaps the solution is for children to bring their own snacks?

Or to eat no snacks at all?"

Or could we at least return snacks to their rightful role of a sometime food?

For those sometimes, here's our recipe for
Thor-Style Popcorn.

1/3 cup unpopped popcorn (we get ours from a local farm, River Valley), popped, preferably by air
Canola or grapeseed oil spray
4 or 5 shakes of Hickory Smoked Sea Salt (we get ours from The Spice House)

Spray the freshly popped popcorn lightly with oil. Toss with the sea salt and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Michael Pollan's Food Rules

My good friend Tracy Kellner over at Provenance Food and Wine has been blogging about Michael Pollan's most recent book Food Rules. In today's post, Purple Asparagus got quite a nice mention.

"Food Rules #9: Avoid foods w/the terms "lite", "low-fat" or "nonfat" in their names

Pollan makes an interesting point: We've gotten fat on low-fat products over the last 40 years. I've long thought it was odd that if you compared people in pictures, movies, etc. from 40, 50 or more years ago to those in today's culture, movies, etc. we are so much bigger & taller than we used to be! Does anyone else find it strange that some middle schoolers are nearing 6'? Or the rate of obesity has risen as much as it has in the last 20-30 years? Call me crazy, but it's GOT to have something to do with our food supply and the way food is produced, doesn't it? All these "lite" and "diet" foods seem to have more carbs, are more processed and contain more chemicals (& we are eating MORE of them).

A friend of mine runs a non-profit called Purple Asparagus, which works to bring families together through food, but also does a lot of work with childhood nutrition and getting into schools to teach kids how to cook, the value of eating fresh, local foods and avoiding 'junk' foods." To read more, click here

I agree. About a year ago, I prepared a Healthy, Sustainable Snack Handout for Purple Asparagus, which had this to say on the subject of dairy:

"While many nutritional organizations suggest serving either low-fat or non-fat dairy products, with the exception of skim milk, Purple Asparagus does not recommend non-fat dairy foods. There’s some debate among nutritionists as to whether the “de-fatting” processes leaches nutrients out of the final product. There are also some nutritionists and doctors who suggest that eating full-fat or low-fat products as opposed to non-fat products encourage people to eat less because they feel more satisfied. We suggest that parents try portion control before introducing non-fat products into a child’s diet."

Click here to read the entire handout.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Silpat: Where Cookies Come From


File under "kids say the darndest things." When Thor was three, he told me that Silpat, the brand of silicone pan liners that I use, are where cookies come from.

Late last week, I read that cookie dough may be in short supply after Nestle found E coli in two samples during a routine testing. Nestle announced that it would start using heat treated flour in all of its refrigerated doughs "to enhance the safety of that product."

Nestle's move is admirable, I guess, but I submit that a better way to prevent illness from eating chocolate chip cookies is to make them yourself. And so this disturbing and screwed up news (how have we gotten to a point in our food system that a beloved childhood treat could become a source of dangerous pathogens?), inspired me to break out my chocolate chip recipe and make a plateful of cookies.

Now, just like most other cookies, this recipe with its high fat and sugar content cannot be considered a healthy snack, instead a treat. Nowadays, even Cookie Monster admits that cookies are a sometime food. However, you can feel a little better about these cookies with the addition of whole wheat flour. Add in sustainably produced eggs and butter, and you can feel downright virtuous.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup sugar
½ cup light brown sugar or coconut palm sugar (I use palm sugar from Zingerman's)
13 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon honey
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350° F. Mix together flours, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Cream together butter and sugars with an electric mixer. Stir in honey. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl before the addition of each. Beat in vanilla. Add the flour, mix on low until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Increase the speed to medium until well-mixed approximately 2 minutes. Add chocolate chips and stir the batter with a rubber spatula. Drop tablespoons of dough onto parchment or silpat lined baking sheets and bake for 15-18 minutes, reversing the placement of the pans about a halfway through.

Postscript: I just asked the little locavore whether he remembered his silpat quip. His response? "Well, don't they? Isn't that what makes them taste so awesome?"

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Winter CSAs and Gluten Free Lasagne


I'm not much for vegetable CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) during the growing season. Whether teaching classes, volunteering, or buying for the business, I'm at farmers' markets at least once a week and with so much tempting produce, I can't be tied down to a box picked out by someone else. Come winter, with only occasional farmers' markets that are sparsely attended and stocked, I'm very happy to sign up for Fresh Picks' shares. With three sizes (single, double, and family), Fresh Picks combines local and California organic produce with prepared foods from local companies. It's delivered to my door Thursday afternoon, which gives me lots to play with over the weekend.

Our share this week included beautiful local Santina Gold potatoes and green leaf lettuce, California scallions, red pepper, radishes, and a large globe eggplant. The prepared item was marinara sauce from Local Folks Foods. I also ordered a quart of un-homogenized flash pasteurized milk from Trader's Point.

The eggplant and marinara sauce were a natural marriage. Initially, with a multitude of bags of bread crumbs in the freezer, I was thinking Eggplant Parmesan. But after a hefty weekend of eating (burgers and cheese fries at DMK Burger Bar this morning, an Indian buffet as yesterday's lunch, and a delicious dinner at Carnivale last night), I thought a lighter option would be a healthier choice.

Making homemade ricotta with the whole milk, we turned the eggplant into a gluten free lasagne.

Eggplant Lasagne
Serves 8

2 globe eggplants
1/4 cup or more of extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ pound ricotta
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup sparkling water
1 tablespoon scallion greens, finely chopped
1 tablespoon basil, finely chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh spinach
1 24-ounce jar marinara sauce
1 cup grated mozzarella

Slice the eggplants 1/3-inch thick. Brush with olive oil and grill on an electric grill, in a grill pan, or on a outdoor barbecue.


Preheat the oven to 350º F.

Mix together ricotta, parmesan cheese, egg, sparkling water, spinach, and herbs in a large bowl.


Pour in 1/2 the marinara in a 9 by 13-inch baking pan. Lay the slices of eggplant on top of the sauce.


Drop the filling by large spoonfuls on top of the eggplant. top the filling with the remaining slices of eggplant.


Pour the rest of the sauce on top and sprinkle with mozzarella.


Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes and serve.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ode to January: Buttermilk Biscuits and Tomato Gravy

The Christmas tree comes down and January begins in earnest

I have a confession to make and I know that whether you're from California or Minnesota this will make me seem very odd. I love January. In fact, I daresay that January may just be my favorite single month of the year. There, I said it. If we were conversing, I imagine these would be your comments.

It's cold. Oh, yes, living in a rowhouse built in 1896, I am well aware that it is cold. But a big sweater and a warm cup of tea go a long way in curing the chill. Plus, the cold inspires me, whether to bake bread, to slow cook a pork shoulder, or just to get back into my home kitchen. After a long month of cooking for clients during the holidays, it's great simply to feed my family again.

Okay, Ms. locavore, the growing season is over, what do you eat? Yes, summer's bouny is a distant memory, but there are plenty of storage crops available. I look forward to January when I can relish sweet winter greens, roasted root vegetables, and earthy mushrooms. Moreover, whenever I feel a bit sun-deprived, I open the freezer where I've got bags of corn, berries, peas, and tomatoes preserved at the height of their season. This is the fun part of winter . . . March on the other hand is another story.

So you love snow, sleet, and ice? Well, yes, I do. These inconveniences are simply an excuse to slow down and stay home. When I don't feel the pressure to get out of the house or the competing draw of outside activities, I can actually attack those projects that are on my long lost to-do list. (I swear I'll get Thor's baby pictures into an album this year!) Plus, my son allows me to see the weather throught the eyes of a 5 year old. Snow isn't an impediment to a commute, it's a snow man waiting to happen. My only wish? That we actually got a snow day in Illinois. A day we for cooking baking, sledding, and steaming cups of hot cocoa.

So you may not love January as I do, but if I may offer some unsolicited advice. Don't be cranky, relax a bit, and enjoy winter's jewel. To assist, I give you the following recipe, a delicious way way to wake up on a cold January morning.

Buttermilk Biscuits
4 servings

¼ cup whole wheat pastry flour
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ tablespoons vegetable shortening
½ cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425° F. Combine flours, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Cut the butter and shortening into small pieces. Work the fat into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the mixture looks sandy with smallish lumps. Pour in the buttermilk and mix with a fork until the ingredients just hold together. Knead into a ¾-inch circle very lightly on a floured surface. Cut into 8 pieces. Place on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes in the center rack of the oven or until light brown. Cool slightly.

Tomato Gravy
Adapted from an Edna Lewis recipe.
4 servings

1 teaspoon canola or grapeseed oil
½ pound lamb breakfast sausage
1 tablespoon bacon fat
½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 ½ teaspoons all-purpose flour
½ pound roasted tomato puree
¼ cup milk
¼ cup heavy cream
Cider vinegar and Tabasco

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until just cooked through. Set aside. Heat the bacon fat in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, approximately 5 minutes. Add garlic, salt and thyme and cook for an additional minute. Sprinkle flour over the pan and cook, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Pour in the tomato puree and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Slowly pour in the milk and heavy cream. Add reserved sausage, a few drops of cider vinegar and Tabasco and cook for 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Serve over the buttermilk biscuits.

So Samosa! Parent/Child Samosa Making Class


Have you tried India's delicious dumpling? Join Purple Asparagus at Smarty Party on January 31 from 3 to 4:30pm where you'll learn to make the subcontinent's savory snack with renowned home cook, Nikita Kejriwal. Form and roll the dough, fill it with three delectable kid-friendly fillings, and prepare a tasty cilantro chutney. While the samosas are cooking, you'll enjoy Indian games and other fun. Before you leave, sit down to a sumptuous Indian spread of freshly made samosas and chutneys.

$40.00 for a parent/child duo. RSVP to Smarty Party at or 773.687.0521.

So Samosa!
Sunday January 31
Smarty Party
1846 West Belmont
Chicago, IL
$40.00 for parent/child duo

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Beet Eaters: Beet Hummus


Even before my affiliation with The Local Beet, I was a big fan of the rosy root. Earthy, silky, and easily cooked, what's not to love about the beet? The versatile little orb, can become a salad, a soup, a pasta, heck even a cream puff, and now a spread.

While reading my Twitter account last week, one of my friends posted a 140 character recipe for beet hummus. In a blink of an eye it disappeared from my list and I forgot about it.

On Sunday, I uncovered a stray, sort of wrinkly, beet in my malfunctioning crisper drawer. Saving it from the creeping ice that's building up the back wall of my fridge, I zapped it in my Food Saver, which loudly sucked out the air of the bag, and tossed it into my brand new toy: the Sous Vide Supreme. A few hours later, it emerged from the water fork tender.

Now what to do with a single beet? I could make a salad, but we had no arugula or goat cheese for that matter. Soup would be silly and a side dish, well, sort of sad.

Ah ha. It returned to my mind: beet hummus. Since there was no way, I'd ever find the suggested ratio, I created my own and here it is, vibrant and earthy. While my son declared it too spicy for his taste, Mike and I devoured it slathered on slices of freshly baked bread.

Beet Hummus
6 servings

1 medium red beet cooked until tender and peeled
1/4 cup tahini
3 small garlic cloves
2 teaspoons lemon juice
kosher salt to taste
water to thin

Puree the beet, tahini, garlic, and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor until smooth. Salt to taste. Add water to thin to the consistency of a spread or hummus.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Rooting for the Rutabaga


Root vegetables are some of the most maligned of ingredients known to humankind. And the most reviled of the maligned? The turnip. For centuries, spurned by the well-to-do, the bitter, round, hard root was the staple of many a poor European family. That sulfurous stink probably arouses a certain revulsion and shame in many of my generation and the one preceding it.

The turnip’s biggest problem is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Alas, like Cinderella’s ugliest of step-sisters, the turnip is the last to be chosen. Because the turnip keeps well, we often turn to it only when the growing season is over. Unfortunately, by this time, it’s past its prime. Precisely at the moment we are enjoying the delicacies of Spring or finishing up the last of Autumn’s offerings is when we should try the turnip. The gentle temperatures of Spring and Autumn produces one that's sweet and tender far from the hardened Winter variety.

The turnip’s best chance to change its image is by association with its cousin the rutabaga. Unlike the turnip, the rutabaga, is at its best in early Winter after a period of cold weather has revealed its true sweetness. The rutabaga, or yellow turnip, is a cross between a cabbage and the homely turnip. It can range in size between that of a golf ball and a soft ball and is yellowish in hue shading into fuschia at the root end. While it does have the characteristically turnip-y aroma, it’s balanced by an earthy sweetness. One can only hope that more people will try the rutabaga for the Winter months leaving the turnip alone until its time to shine. Here's a recipe that should engender some love and respect for the rutabaga. Easier than cooking and mashing potatoes, this puree is sweet, mellow and earthy – a perfect counterpoint to pork or roast chicken.


Rutabaga Puree with Crème Fraiche & Horseradish
Serves 2

3 small rutabagas
1/3 cup crème fraiche
1 teaspoon drained, prepared horseradish
½ teaspoon sea salt

METHOD: Peel and quarter the rutabagas. Place them in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Toss in a firm pinch of kosher salt. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender when pierced with a knife, approximately 20 minutes. Remove the rutabagas from the water to the bowl of a food processor. Puree until smooth. Add crème fraiche, horseradish and salt.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It's Alive!

The beast has awoken.

Earlier today, I resurrected the chomping, farting micro-organisms that I affectionately call my "baby yeasties." They were all sleeping soundly in a Tupperware-brand, blue topped container at the very coldest part of my meat keeper. They'd been in there so long, I wasn't sure that they'd wake up. But there they are, on my counter, munching hungrily at their three squares of King Arthur bread flour and filtered water.

I'm sure happy to have them back. Given that I birthed them back in 1994, with a little help from organic grapes, flour, and water, they are the creature in this house that's been with me the longest.

If my rusty bread baker instincts are accurate, they'll be at full strength by Monday when we'll start baking again. The little locavore has decided that we need to have a breadstival, so you'll be seeing lots of crackling loaves on these pages in the not too distant future.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Twelve Days: A Cake Fit for a King - Galettes des Rois

To celebrate the end of Christmas, the Twelve Night, we had a little family feast with a delicious Wintery beef stew made from local beef, local vegetables and local beer (recipe to be posted later). While delicious, the star of the show was our very French, yet very local Galette des Rois.


Galettes des Rois
8-10 servings

1 sheet puff pastry, homemade or store bought, preferably made with all butter
all-purpose flour for dusting
1/3 cup finely chopped toasted pecans
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
pinch salt
1 teaspoon rye whiskey or bourbon
1 large egg
1 medium apple
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon heavy cream or water

Preheat the oven to 375º F. Break the egg into a small bowl and whisk to mix the egg and yolk uniformly. In the bowl of the food processor, combine the pecans, sugar, flour butter, rye, and half the beaten egg until well mixed. Refrigerate the filling for 1/2 hour.

Roll out the sheet of puff pastry to 1/8-inch thick. Using a 9-inch plate as a guide, cut out 2 circles. In one, cut out a 2-inch circle out of the center, reserving the circle. Place the intact circle on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet. Spread the filling on the circle leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Peel, core, and slice the apple and toss with lemon juice in a small bowl. Top the pecan mix with the apple slices. Mix the remaining egg with the cream or water. Brush the border of the base and top with the second circle. Seal by pressing the edges together. Lightly score the top in curved lines. Set the baking sheet in the freezer for 1/2 hour.

Remove and brush with egg wash - be very careful not to let the egg wash drop along the sides as it will hinder even rising as evidenced by our slightly lopsided galette. Brush the cut-out circle with wash as well. Bake in the center of the oven for 1/2 hour. Reduce the heat to 325º F and bake for an additional 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature either unadorned or with freshly whipped cream.


Thor with his cake and crown.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Twelve Days: Resolved


What's my New Year's resolution this year? Eat less meat and more vegetables.

Unlike losing weight and exercising more (perpetually my other resolutions), this one won't be hard to keep especially with dishes like this.


Mushroom Risotto
Serves 4

1 pound mushrooms, preferably a mix of crimini and shiitake, sliced (reserve the stems from the shiitake for mushroom stock)
1 tablespoon canola or grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup very thinly sliced leek
1 ½ cup Arborio rice
2 tablespoons Madeira
4 cups chicken or mushroom stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When hot, toss in the mushrooms, in batches if necessary to not crowd the pan. Saute until lightly browed. Set aside. Bring the stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Heat the butter in a second medium sauce pan over medium heat. Saute the leek until softened. Add the rice and stir until it is coated with the butter. Add the Madeira and bring to a simmer while stirring. Ladle in the stock a cup full at a time. Allow the rice to absorb most of the liquid before another addition. Stir almost continuously. The risotto is done when it is almost tender with just a bit of a bite. You may need to add hot water if the rice isn't done when the stock is done. Just before serving, stir in the butter, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste.

If you happen to have some risotto leftover, make these delicious risotto bites, so good that someone took a bite out of one even before I could snap a photo.


Risotto Bites

Leftover risotto
1 large egg
Panko crumbs
4 cups olive oil or vegetable oil for frying

In one shallow bowl, whisk together the egg with 1 tablespoons water. In another shallow bowl, measure out about 1 cup of panko crumbs. Pour the oil into a shallow frying pan. Heat it to 325º F. Form the risotto into 1-inch balls. Dip in egg and coat with panko. Fry for a few minutes until golden, turning a few times. We served these with aioli.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Twelve Days: The Sardine Man Cometh

You need to have a good sense of humor to be part of my family. My mom, the oldest of 4 children, her three siblings being boys, tells stories of merciless teasing doled out by her brothers to her, to each other, and to anyone who crossed their paths. One of my extended family's favorite expressions is "I've got broad shoulders" meaning that they could endure whatever sarcastic savagery the others could dish out. For better or worse, my husband, the youngest of four boys, shared a similar family dynamic and has become the teaser in chief in our household.

Fortunately, Thor, though an only child, is pretty good-natured about all this. In fact, he's gotten pretty handy at dishing it out as well. For example, Mike told him a tall tale about some party antics in which I supposedly engaged. Namely that I jumped on to a table with a lamp shade on my head yelling "I'm the Queen of England." Now this was funny and all when it was bounced off the confines of our family circle. But when in New York, Thor repeated the story to my aforementioned uncles, oh boy. Of course, the retelling of the story was inspired by Thor's attire - a tee shirt with a penguin wearing a lamb shade and holding a microphone, that had been purchased by a certain spouse. Thanks Mike.

Such familial teasing resulted this past Christmas in the newly emerged legend of the Sardine Man. The details of its creation are a little fuzzy despite it being only a few weeks old. It all started when I chose the menu for Christmas eve.

Usually, we serve a grand piece of meat. However, having dished out an absurd amount of beef the week earlier at a party for 255, I wasn't feeling very carnivorous. I flirted with venison, which is favorite here, but didn't think that the reindeer who would arrive later that evening would be too pleased. After searching through most of my go-to cookbooks, I found a recipe for Halibut Barigoule, and I settled on a Provencal-inspired meal complete with panisse fries and aioli.

Unfortunately, my mother, whose German heritage has been noted previously, was nonplussed. That is until she decided that we should have an Italian-style Feast of the 12 Fishes. 12 fishes!

We kept the halibut as the main course, added some oysters (2 different kinds), crab, and caviar that adorned golden potato pancakes as hors d'oeuvres. There were also toasts slathered with harvest butter and topped with smoked salmon and trout. Our pasta course incorporated mussels, scallops, shrimp, and clams. That was 11. My last selection was a bit of a tease to my mom: sardines. Living on Long Island, my mom loves much seafood - but little oily fishes are not her friend. Pristinely fresh, I served them en escabache (sugared vinegar) with oven-dried tomatoes from the September harvest, olives, and plump garlic. Their little beady eyes peered out from under a blanket of balsamic. They looked so cute. What was a mom to do but show her son these little beauties?

Imagine the horror of an American 5-year old, especially one that just saw Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which maligned the poor sardine. Shrieks ensued. Mission accomplished. Over the course of 12 hours with grandma, grandpa and the grand teaser of them all, daddy, we'd created a new Christmas character: Sardine Man. We obviously painted a pretty vivid picture as all of our teasing resulted in Thor taking a bite, albeit a very small one, of the pickled sardines.

And you know what? Santa must be a pretty good tease as well, because lo and behold, when Christmas morning arrived and Thor emptied his stocking, there, along with the bakugans and baseball toys, was a small tin of sardines.

Apparently, today WBEZ re-played a segment on sustainable seafood, in which I served as a source. In hearing that, this post seemed quite relevant because we're all going to have to become a little more comfortable with the Sardine Man if we want our children and their children to be eating fish when they are adults. Salmon and tuna are delicious but we're exterminating them by treating them as a inexhaustible quantity. Let's expand our fish choices and show some love for the little oily ones.

To learn more about sustainable seafood options, check out the following resources:

Paul Johnson Fish Forever: The Definitive Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Preparing Healthy, Delicious, and Environmentally Sustainable Seafood

Monterey Bay Aquarium Pocket Guide or iPhone app

The Shedd Aquarium Seafood Wallet Guide

Here in Chicago, we've got a great resource in Dirk Fucik of Dirk's Fish & Gourmet. Like my catering company, his fish shop is a Shedd Aquarium Right Bite partner. His email newsletter is a veritable treasure chest of information about sustainable fish choices. To sign up, visit his website.

Posted as part of Fight Back Fridays

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Twelve Days: Citron is a Sometimes Food


It's almost done. The parties are over. School starts tomorrow. The house is even clean (well almost). I'll pack up the rest of the cookies on Tuesday for Mike's office and the 12th night is Wednesday. Bittersweet days.

On this last lazy Sunday before life begins in earnest again, we finished the last of our stollen, a traditional holiday recipe in my German upbringing. As it was baked a few days before Christmas, the last chunk was a bit dry so we turned it into a brunch-time bread pudding drizzled with maple syrup. Here are the recipes for next year's Yuletide baking and brunch.

Makes 4 loaves

3 pounds 1 ounce all purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups milk, heated to 105º F
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
3 packages active dry yeast dissolved in 1/2 cup water heated to 110º F
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
10 ounces currants, soaked in 1/2 cup cognac for 10 minutes
16 ounces golden raisins, soaked in 1/2 cup orange juice for 10 minutes
1/2 pound diced candied orange peel
1/4 pound diced candied citron, optional
1/4 pound chopped dried apricots
10 ounces blanched slivered almonds
Grated rind of 2 lemons
1 stick melted butter
Confectioner's sugar for dusting the loaves

Measure the dry ingredients into the bowl of a very large electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. If your mixer is not very large, you should either halve the recipe or make the dough by hand. Stir in the warm milk, butter, dissolved yeast, and eggs. Knead until almost completely smooth. Add the fruit, almonds, and lemon rind and mix on low until almost completely combined. Dump the dough onto a floured board and knead until all the flour is incorporated. Scrape the dough into a greased large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled 1 to 2 hours.

Dump the risen dough onto a floured surface. Cut into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 12 by 8-inch rectangle. Brush with the remaining melted butter and fold one long edge to the center, overlapping by one inch. Turn it over and taper the ends by rolling each with your hands in opposite directions. Place two loaves on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet and them let rise for 1 1/2 hours.

While rising, preheat the oven to 350º F. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the loaves are hollow when tapped on their bottoms. Cool on a rack.

When cool, dust with confectioner's sugar.

Stollen Bread Pudding

4 cups cubed stollen
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup 2% milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350º F. Grease a medium casserole dish and dump the cubed stollen into it. Whisk together the heavy cream, milk, vanilla, and eggs in a medium bowl. Pour the liquid ingredients over the stollen. Stir to make sure that all the bread is coated. Let sit for 30 minutes. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the eggs have set. Serve with maple syrup.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Twelve Days: Gone Fishing


One of the most popular appetizers for our New Years' Eve Odd Bits party was an almost entirely local Smoked Trout Mousse, which I adapted from one of my very favorite cookbooks, The New Basics. Sheila Lukins passed away this past August and so in her honor, I thought I'd share this wonderfully delicious recipe, which I adapted from the book that she co-authored with Julee Rosso.

Smoked Trout Mousse

4 scallions, trimmed of their hair and about 2 inches of the green ribbons
1 cup ricotta cheese, drained (I used homemade, soon to be the subject of another post)
2 1/2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, drained
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup coarsley flaked smoked trout
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
juice from 1/2 lemon

Finely mince the scallions in a food processor. Add the ricotta cheese, sour cream, and horseradish and puree until smooth. Remove to a medium bowl and fold in trout, dill, lemon juice, kosher salt, and fresly ground pepper to taste. Chill for 4 hours or overnight. Serve with cucumbers, baguette toasts, or crackers.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Twelve Days: Kids' Dining Tips

Welcome 2010! Our family celebrated the new decade's arrival with our second annual New Year's Day tradition: dinner at Anteprima. This meal reminded me of an earlier blog post written after last year's celebration - one that I thought worth resurrecting.

Anteprima is an artisanal Italian restaurant in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago. Naming the neighborhood is relevant is important in understanding the restaurant’s demographics. Not too long ago, the area received some national notoriety as a result of another restaurateur’s decision to post a sign, which stirred a fierce conflict between two of the neighborhood’s largest inhabitant groups: gay men and urban straight parents.

Back in 2005, the owner of Taste of Heaven, a coffee shop, tired of rowdy children and the parents who ignored them posted a kid-level sign, with child-like handprints stating that “children of all ages have to behave and use indoor voices.” Both the Chicago Tribune and Time Out Chicago wrote short pieces about the sign and the controversy it generated. Then, the news hit the New York Times – reported on no less than the front page. The Trib revived the story in columns by Eric Zorn and John Kass. Pages and pages of blog posts ensued on the Stew, the Trib’s blog, which gave voice to the back story only alluded to in the Times’s piece – the conflict between childless gay men and affluent moms. On other sites, I saw words like “breeder” and “fag” bandied about with abandon. Fortunately, however, there were reasonable people on either side of the issue who were willing to see each other’s side – i.e., kids shouldn’t be allowed to run around and scream in any restaurant setting, unless it has the word Play Place attached to it and that customers of a coffee shop with a huge picture of an ice cream cone on its front door shouldn’t expect total solitude while drinking their double soy cappucino.

Last night, we got sandwiched between these demographics making for an interesting evening. A couple with a son about Thor’s age (5) walked in shortly after us and were seated just west of us. After about a minute, the father pulled out a DVD player, popped some earphones on the kid (pronouncing that he looked like a rock star) and fired it up. Other than climbing his feet along the restaurant’s wall, the kid was pretty quiet. Certainly more quiet than the gay couple who walked in and sat to the east of us. I’m not sure how it started, but by the time our entrees arrived, we learned much about their relationship, which was crashing upon the rocks before our very eyes.

Now we eat out a lot and so while surreal, this wasn’t the weirdest restaurant moment we’ve had by a long shot. I think that would be between my buying a painting from a homeless man at El Tinajon or Thor cleaning baseboards at our friend Stephen Dunne’s restaurant in Roscoe Village. But it of course reminded me of how our dining experience can be impacted by the behavior of others, especially children. Because of Purple Asparagus and our family dining focus, I’ve been interviewed on the question of eating out with children several times. Thor has been going to restaurants since he was born and for the most part is a very good patron. He’s gotten gifts from our regular waitresses, been allowed to help process the credit card from others and has frequently gotten us special treats from the kitchen. Here are my top six tips.

Eat Early:

When we go out with Thor, we eat as early as possible. We really like to arrive between 5 and 6. Most people who don’t want to eat out with kids in a restaurant don’t go at that time, but instead later, like 8. In most restaurants, it’s either not very busy or full of other families making a perfect and relatively stress-free time to dine with a 5 year old.

Butt on Wood (or whatever the chair is made of):

The rule is, unless he’s going to the bathroom, arriving, or departing, the butt must be in the chair. Waiters are busy and are focusing their attention at the adult level, not kid level. If your kid is running around, it’s not just rude, it’s

Sotto Voce (otherwise known as “Inside Voice”):

This is most often our biggest challenge especially with a boisterous 5 year old, one that requires constant reinforcement. We also find that the busier and noisier the restaurant, the better. We’ll actually try to sit near the kitchen or by a door. We find that the background noises will overtake even the pierce of a 5 year old’s occasional shriek. We did certainly find that an arguing set of gay men drowned him out. Unfortunately, I think they needed to follow this advice.

Bring the Carrot and the Stick:

I’m sure that many a child psychologist would scold me, but I’m not above bribery or threats. Dessert is a good carrot and the loss of TV time a fine stick.

Encourage Kids to Interact:

Thor orders for himself. He must say please and must say thank you. And if he’s rude, he must apologize. He won over one of his biggest fans when he apologized for being naughty. It was a new waiter at one of our favorite restaurants. He was being a pill and we could see how she was categorizing us in her mind as that type of parent with that type of kid. Under duress, he apologized and her mood just melted. She gave him hot chocolate sauce on his ice cream gratis and he started to understand the power of honey versus vinegar.

We also require him to interact with us. As I mentioned, the child in my story was generally quiet, but he was shut off from the waitstaff, other patrons and his parents. He might as well have been sitting in front of a TV at home. While we do allow Thor to bring quiet and unobtrusive toys to distract him (crayons, paper, a small car or train), we do not allow anything that isolates him – I’m not certain how bringing a DVD player to dinner is any different than an adult spending the meal on a cell phone or a blackberry.

Tip Well:

For the small spills on the floor, for the four top that must be set for what is essentially 2 diners, and just for the general inconvenience, we tip well (20% and up). For me, it’s like a corkage fee. We pay a little extra for the ability to bring our son. Waiters remember that and will be happy to see you the next time. And remember, it’s still cheaper than a baby sitter.
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