Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chuck a Spear at Childhood Obesity: Support Purple Asparagus

Photo Credit Kelly Angeline Photography

Today, I read two pieces of frustrating news.

The first was a gracious rejection letter from a major grant funder. After careful consideration, blah, blah, blah. Bottom line, yet again, Purple Asparagus will enter a new year nowhere near fully funded.

I must admit that even though Purple Asparagus has been in existence since 2005, it’s only been a year since our getting into the grant game. Hopefully by the time 2013 rolls around, the organization will be more sustainable financially and not entirely reliant upon the efforts of our deeply dedicated volunteers, especially my own.

The second bit of news came from the Atlantic, which reported on a study demonstrating that kids like vegetables more when served with dip or hummus.

Here’s what I’ve got to say to The Atlantic, to the Temple University researcher, and the foundation that funded the project: No duh.

“METHODOLOGY: For seven weeks, Temple University obesity researcher Jennifer Orlet Fisher served broccoli at snack time to 152 preschool-aged children and analyzed the effect of offering them various dips.”

“CONCLUSION: Low-fat dips can help children accept bitter food like broccoli or Brussels Sprouts.”

Is this seriously what passes off as research worthy of funding in this country? Times are hard and money is tight. Schools can barely pay their teachers, much less find funding in their limited budgets for nutrition education. But we can all rest assured now that Ms. Orlet Fisher has concluded without a shadow of a doubt that children like vegetables more when paired with sauce. A better, and more interesting, question would be: who doesn’t?

If the funder of Ms. Orlet Fisher’s research truly wants to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables by children, they should fund the work that we do at Purple Asparagus and similar organizations operating in cities all over this nation. With our food service and food loving backgrounds, we take it as a given that vegetables will be more appealing when paired with a sauce. We also understand that some vegetables taste better cooked.

For the vegetable tastings we organized for Chefs Move to School Chicago, the largest coordinated response to Michelle Obama’s call to chefs, we showed our kids how to make their own ranch dip and then paired them with a combination of raw and cooked vegetables. Peppers, tomatoes, and celery root were popular raw. Cauliflower best roasted and broccoli blanched. The vast majority of the kids loved what they tried.

Enough with funding for research that simply confirms common sense notions. Instead, let’s find funding for organizations that implement common sense solutions.

Photo Credit Artisan Events

If you’d like to chuck a spear at childhood obesity, please participate in Purple Asparagus’ first ever annual appeal. With an entirely volunteer team, we’ll visit monthly at least 25 underserved Chicago Public Schools this year. We believe that to break the cycle of obesity, we need to teach children about good, whole foods and so we introduce children to the joys of Carrot Tacos, Homemade Cranberry-Lime Pop, and Double R White Bean Crostini. Just $35.00 will buy the ingredients for a single classroom and every dollar goes directly to support our programming. If you love food and care about the health of kids, please support Purple Asparagus by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks


I spent a little time this past weekend looking through last year's blog posts, reliving dishes made and events transpired.

Starting with the death of our family dog, Sam, punctuated by my dad's passing, and three surgeries (1 for me and 2 for my husband) thrown in for good measure, it's been a challenging year. As 2011 winds to a close, I won't be sad to see it go.

But today, on this day, only one from Thanksgiving, I want to set sadness and frustrations aside. It's time to give thanks. Because while 2011 has brought trials, it also has seen tribulations.

Just last week, Purple Asparagus witnessed its most successful week ever. We ran programs in eight schools reaching close to 400 children in five days. The best part of this? I personally only taught two of these programs.

For this, I am grateful. Grateful to our sponsors, donors and volunteers. Without them, this success would have been out of reach for our small, grassroots, volunteer run non-profit.

So on Thanksgiving, I will raise a glass to say goodbye to the last twelve months and look forward to the promise of 2012.

To help your kids participate in the true spirit of this American holiday, check out my most recent post for NPN. Giving tasks to little hands help get them into the true spirit of the season.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Happy (Virtual) Thanksgiving!

Brussels Sprouts Chilaquiles

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

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

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

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

Bacon-Brussels Sprouts Chilaquiles
Serves 4-6

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ummm . . . Doughnuts: Chocolate Glazed Pumpkin Doughnuts


Just last month, I wrote a post for Williams-Sonoma’s Blender blog about the multitude of uses for squash and pumpkin. When cooking for families, the puree can be blended into mac and cheese, smeared onto tortillas for quesadillas, and whirred in a blender with a banana and apple cider for a smoothie. All of these recipes are delicious and nutritious as we like to say at Purple Asparagus. But none will generate more applause than this.


I love homemade doughnuts. But making them for the three of us doesn’t seem an economical use of time or ingredients. The cost of the oil alone. Oy.

I don’t often entertain for brunch. But when I do, it’s too much effort to sit in front of a hot pot of oil. Fry, drain, repeat. Fry, drain, repeat.

That’s what’s nice about being the snack mom for the organized sport du saison. I get to try out new crowd-pleasing recipes for a very hungry crowd. On a cold, October morning, two dozen chocolate and cinnamon sugar pumpkin doughnuts were disappeared by a hungry team of 6, 7 and 8 year old soccer players and parents.

Pumpkin-Spice Doughnuts
Adapted from John Hadamuschin’s Special Occasions

3 cups sifted cake flour
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup sifted whole wheat pastry flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon allspice
¼ cup vegetable shortening
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups pumpkin or other squash puree

Cinnamon Sugar
¾ granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Chocolate Glaze
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate
¼ cup heavy cream
1 ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Cream together the shortening and the sugar in a large stand mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after the addition of each. Beat in the squash puree. Gradually add in the dry ingredients and stir until just blended. Let the batter sit for ½ hour.

Pour vegetable oil into a large heavy pot to about 4-inches. Heat it over medium high heat to 360° F.

On a well floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of 3/8-inch. Cut out the dough with a doughnut cutter well dusted with flour. Let sit for 10 minutes.
While waiting, make the cinnamon sugar by combining the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl. Set the chocolate in a medium heat proof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Stir in the cream and sugar.

Fry the doughnuts and the holes in the hot fat until browned, a minute or so on each side. After the first batch of doughnuts are done, you can reroll the scraps.

While hot, toss half the doughnuts and the holes in the cinnamon sugar. Glaze the remaining doughnuts by dipping them in the chocolate glaze. Let them drain on a baking rack.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Way to Go Girl Scouts: Locavore Badge

It may or may not come as a surprise, but I was a Girl Scout. And not just a Junior troop dropout. But full on, Brownie to Senior scout. I sold cookies, marched in parades, traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands AND Bermuda with my troop, and even served as the youth representative on my county's Girl Scout board of directors. Seriously.

Given this, I can't tell you how tickled I am that the Girl Scouts have introduced a locavore badge! To earn this, Girl Scouts will need to:

1. Explore the benefits and challenges of going local
2. Find your local food sources
3. Cook a simple dish showcasing local ingredients
4. Make a recipe with local ingredients
5. Try a local cooking challenge

After learning this, I want to offer my services. Obviously, I know a thing or two about being a locavore. If any of you troop leaders or scout parents, if you want some ideas on how to earn this badge, I'm happy to help. Send your questions, concerns, and comments my way. As a proud Girl Scout and locavore, I'm all ears!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A is for Apple-licious!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bring a Little Sunshine to the Family Table


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Drink, Eat at Corks and Crayons and Support Purple Asparagus

Photo Credit, Artisan Events

Imagine a class full of children swearing that they hate vegetables. Not hard to envision, right? Come back in an hour and watch them swarm the teacher’s desk for any leftovers from their veggie tasting. Believe that? I’ve witnessed this transformation on hundreds of occasions while teaching in the Chicago Public Schools for the non-profit that I founded and run, Purple Asparagus.

Purple Asparagus educates children, families and the community about eating that’s good for the body and the planet. Every year, we present Delicious Nutritious Adventures, our cornerstone education program, to thousands of parents and children throughout Chicago at schools, community centers, and farmers' markets. Delicious Nutritious Adventures invites families to explore the foods we eat in an entirely different way. We teach about the farmers who grow the food, the places it comes from, what’s good about food grown close to the earth, and how to prepare healthy, delicious recipes. Combining nutrition education, food literacy, cooking, and fun, our highly popular hands on classes celebrate farm fresh fruits and vegetables.

Obesity is a national crisis, one that’s hit Chicago particularly hard. Overweight and obese children are at greater risk for diabetes, hypertension, increased risk of heart disease, and poor self-esteem. The issue is particularly prevalent in the underserved communities where good food is in short supply. Purple Asparagus is working to combat this issue in these communities by taking a new approach to healthy eating.

While teaching kids about healthy choices is a priority to Purple Asparagus, we’re sneaky about that message. Everything about our classes (even our name) is fun. Kids are more willing to try “healthy” foods when they’re not presented as such. A first grade boy will surely turn up his nose at a chickpea when told that it’s high in fiber and protein. Explain instead that its Italian name comes from its resemblance to a wart on a famous Roman’s face and he’ll climb all over his classmate’s to try it. Describe mint as a gum plant and a child’s resistance to the green leaves will melt. We explore food in a way that’s interesting and fun that makes kids happy to try new foods.

In the 2010-11 school year, we provided 250 hours of free educational programming to schools, community centers, farmer's markets, and health fairs in Chicago serving roughly 2,500 students in over 30 Chicago neighborhoods on a shoestring budget with an all volunteer staff. We also served as a lead partner with Healthy Schools Campaign on the largest coordinated response to Michelle Obama's call to chefs, Chefs Move to Schools. Through this program, we trained over 175 chefs who visited close to 200 schools reaching 8,000 children.

All this is great, you say, but how can I help? It couldn’t be a better week to ask this question. Purple Asparagus’ annual fundraiser, Corks & Crayons Benefit at Uncommon Ground, 1401 W Devon Ave, Chicago, on Sunday, August 28, 2011 from 3-7 p.m. The family-friendly event that brings foodies old and young together to celebrate the joys of family meals and healthy eating all for a good cause. The event will include a mini farmers’ market sponsored by Harvest Moon Organics farm, live music from Old Town School musicians, the Kohl Foundation Storybook Bus as well as Truck Farm Chicago, a traveling mini-farm exhibit connecting kids to food and health.

If you cannot attend, please consider bidding on our online auction. We have some terrific auction items to buy now as well as some new items coming on in the next few days - even for out of towners!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Look Ma, No Splint: Purple Viking Potato Salad


After a long month of one handed existence, I'm back. Some of you may recall that back in June, I had a fight with a wine glass - it's not hard to figure out who won. Surgery and a month in a splint ensued putting a crimp in my two main work related activities: cooking and typing.

For the first week, I kept up this site with guest posts, posts written beforehand, and short posts pecked away on my computer one handed. And then life intervened (as if it hadn't already). Learning my dad was very sick, husband, kid, and I packed up on a sunny, sticky hot July afternoon and travelled to New York. After spending a few days in a hospital, we watched as he was transported home home to hospice care, stable, and day to day.

Together, these two difficulties underscored a simple truth that I can't deny - I'm no blogger. Occasionally, I read well-written and well thought out articles about blogging. Always, inevitably, each explain the importance of an editorial calendar. After reading this well-intentioned and well-reasoned advice, I dutifully prepare one. Then life and other matters intervene, usually teaching back to back to back classes, and other Purple Asparagus matters, nowadays preparing for our upcoming fundraiser, Cork and Crayons.

So I hereby renounce the editorial calendar, reclaiming this space for the reason I started it in the first place: an outlet and a repository for recipes. I'll leave the editorial calendars for serious bloggers. Instead, I'll focus on my main role: head spear and mom.

On my first foray back into two-handed blogging, I give you a recipe made one handed during my splinted days in mid-July. It will go quite well with my beef kebab featured in Daily Candy Kids.

Purple Viking Potato Salad
Serves 3

1 pound new potatoes
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon mustard
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Salt and Pepper to taste

Cook the new potatoes in a pot of simmering salted water until tender. Drain and cool. When just warm to the touch, slice the potatoes 1/2-inch thick. Whisk together the remaining ingredients and toss in the potatoes. Serve.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Watch Us Grow: Learn About Illinois Farm Families, Become a Field Mom

Close your eyes.

Picture a farm.

Does your mind’s eye see the bucolic scene pictured on many a milk carton full of happy cows grazing around a red barn?

Or maybe the only farm you can picture is Fisher-Price’s version for kids.

I bet many of us will have no better luck when asked to describe a farmer. Even today, popular culture still portrays our farmers in bib front overalls and hayseed hats.

This is a sad state of affairs in my opinion. I wish we lived in a world where parents thought it as important to know the farmers who grow their child’s food as it is to know their child’s teacher.

Illinois Farm Families appears to agree. To start a dialogue and create understanding between family farmers and (mostly urban) moms who are feeding their families, they’ve launched a website, Watch it Grow, and are inviting city moms to become Field Moms as part of their Family-to-Family Farm tours.

Beginning this fall, Illinois Farm Families will bring a group of city moms out to meet farm families and tour their farms. This behind-the-scenes look will shed light on how the Illinois farmers in the program grow the food and care for the animals eat and what steps they’re taking to protect the earth.

You can learn more tomorrow when Illinos Farm Families will be at the Daley Plaza Farmers' Market or you could join us on Wednesday August 17, 8pm central for a Twitter chat, hashtag #fieldmoms.

If you have questions about becoming a Field Mom, call 1-800-647-7294 or email You can also subscribe through the Watch it Grow site follow Field Moms on their farm tours.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Nice Surprises: Purple Asparagus on USA Network's Character Approved Blog

It's been a long July. I'm a bit slow these days given that I'm going about my days one handed after nerve repair surgery. Given this, the last thing that I needed was to be slowed down by lousy customer service. Unfortunately, however, that's exactly what I got from my now former landscaper Christy Webber Landscapes this weekend and from AT&T who left us without phone service for four days.

So, boy, was it a pleasant surprise to learn that the USA Network's Character Approved Blog featured Purple Asparagus yesterday. I'd been contacted by author Terry Boyd about a month ago who had offered to pitch our story to the blog. Not hearing from him after that, I figured the idea had been quashed. And then yesterday, the post appeared on our Facebook page, a pleasant surprise indeed. I hope that you'll check it out here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why I Love My CSA: Buttermilk-Scape Marinated Pork Chops

Reposted from Kiwilog

Let’s admit it. A farmers’ market can be an overwhelming place. Don’t get me wrong. I love them and won’t soon forgo my weekly visits. But there is something rather dizzying about them, especially during the height of the season when tent after tent is populated by dozens of different shapes and varieties of fruits and vegetables. Who hasn’t overbought at one time or another during summer’s zenith?

A CSA share, on the other hand, can be so comforting. For those unfamiliar with sustainable food jargon, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Many family-owned farms sell shares at the beginning of the growing season. The farm earns money during the planting season when they most need it. In exchange, CSA members pick up a box full of seasonal produce on a regular, usually weekly basis. I love my CSA not only because I get a manageable amount of certified organic produce, but also because I know that I’m cooking exactly what I should when I should.

Before signing up for a CSA, I would agonize over meal planning. It could take me take me hours to create a weekly plan, one that I would change almost the instant I stepped into the circle of market tents. After signing up for our CSA, my menu plan was circumscribed by the contents of my produce box. In spring, we eat lots of greens, such as kale, chard, and spinach. In summer, I cull my cookbook collection for delicious and unusual recipes to use up the seemingly endless supply of cucumbers and summer squash. As the growing season slows, my family enjoys slow roasted squash and more cool weather greens. I may forgo the endless selection at the market, but my CSA better connects my family to the season and to the vicissitudes of Mother Nature by tying the fortune of our dinner table with those of our farmer’s.

These days, we’re enjoying garlic scapes, the curly cue tops of the garlic plant, a early summer delight. I use them like chives, finely chopping them and using them in marinades, dressings, and as garnish.

Buttermilk-Scape Marinated Pork Chops
Serves 4

3 garlic scapes
1/2 cup loosely packed mint leaves
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon coarse salt
4 bone-in pork chops

Rip the scapes into large pieces and put into the bowl of a food processor with the mint leaves. Pour the buttermilk through the feed tube and process until finely chopped. Mix in salt. Place the pork chops into a large shallow dish. Pour over the marinade and turn to coat. Marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Grill on a charcoal or gas grill until the interior temperature reaches 150° F. Serve warm.

Monday, July 18, 2011

How to Get the Kids in the Kitchen and Start Cooking

Today's guest post comes from Mary Crimmins native Nashvillian who lives with her husband, Chris of 5 years, and her 2 dogs. Mary is a local food advocate, foodie, sustainability seeker, yogi, cocktail enthusiast and Farmers Market Manager.

As I have often said, “Kids don’t stay kids forever. At some point they grow up and become adults and they need to learn how to cook before they get there.” One of my dear friends Connie, down the street from me has 5 children. As you can imagine, cooking time is often chaotic. Nevertheless, no one is exempt from kitchen duties. She has adopted the Ratatouille movie’s nickname for her kids of “little chef” 1,2,3,4 & 5 “little chefs” to be exact. Each little chef has a job from mixing, stirring, chopping, to sautéing, and of course cleaning. Some have more kitchen interest than others, but all are learning the basics of where good food comes from and how to prepare it. Connie’s family subscribes to a CSA and also supplements ingredients from their local farmers market. She believes that her kids need to be involved in understanding how food moves from the farm to the dinner table. The way she does this is by allowing her kids to have some ownership over the meals. She swears that “it will get them eating things you never thought they would touch.”

Here are some ideas on how to create this:
• Visit a farm with your kids – Kids rarely eat unfamiliar vegetables that they see in the fridge. When they get to see how it was grown and even pick some veggies at a farm, they become instantly invested and excited to cook their “own” food.
• Have your child plan a meal and cook it from start to finish– Depending on the age, decide how much help they actually need. Offering cookbooks that they can look through, and helping them to determine quantities and a shopping list are helpful, but let them feel in control. I have witnessed this process first hand, and it is so empowering for a child. They immediately take pride in what they are doing (so try not to micro-manage). Kids are very capable in the kitchen, try assisting them as a sous-chef would and only assist them when they absolutely need it or ask for it.
• Take them shopping – Include your kids in the shopping process. A Farmers Market is a great place to ask them what looks good for dinner, without fearing they will choose Fruit Loops. Give them $5 to pick out their favorite vegetable or fruit to add to the meal.
• Role play – Open up a restaurant in your house for a night. Have your child come up with a menu, little ones can help decorate, and prepare it together.
• Let them taste – Interaction in the kitchen is key. Have your children taste the dishes along the way and explain what they think you should add. Ask them if it needs more salt, perhaps a little more butter.

Not only is this an important life skill for your children to learn, it gives you the opportunity to connect and teach. As Connie says, “It’s my responsibility to make sure my boys know how to make more than scrambled eggs and grilled cheese for their wives.” And she is on a mission to make sure they can prepare Boeuf Bourguignon – one step at a time. “It might be crazy, less than perfect, and they might just make something inedible, but the process is worth it. I now have one night a week to enjoy a glass of wine while my children cook for me. I am one proud mama.”


Mary can be reached through her site Conscious Kitchen or on Twitter @mary_crimmins

Friday, July 15, 2011

Eat Your Greens: Collard Greens Spring Rolls


Another challenging ingredient from our weekly CSA box are collard greens. While delicious braised, one method of cooking can get boring and I need a bit more excitement in my cooking routine. This weekend faced with another bunch of olive colored, fan shaped greens from our share, I tried something new.

Borrowing and adapting a recipe from my friend and dedicated Purple Asparagus volunteer, Jill Houk, l turned my collards into spring roll wrappers. Stuffing them with grilled tofu, grated carrots and cucumbers, and lots of herbs fresh from my garden.

Next time, I'll steam the collards a little longer as they were a touch chewy. Nevertheless, they were a pleasant twist and a new way to use up a challenging CSA vegetable.

Collard Spring Rolls

1 bunch collard greens
1/4 pound rice vermicelli, cooked and cooled
2 carrots, peeled and julienned
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and julienned
1/2 pound grilled tofu slices
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
1/4 cup shredded lettuce
1/4 cup mint leaves
1/4 cup basil leaves

Fit a large pot with a an adjustable steamer insert. Pour in water to reach the bottom of the steamer. Bring the water to a boil. Place 1/2 the greens in the steamer and cook until very soft. Remove the leaves to a colander and douse with cold water. Repeat with remaining leaves.

Lay a leaf on a large cutting board, cut out the heavy stem to about halfway up the leaf. Place about 1/4 cup of noodles on the bottom of the leaf leaving a 1/4-inch border. Top with a little carrot, cucumber, cucumber, lettuce, basil, mint, and scallions. Fold the bottom over the filling and the tuck in the sides and roll over the filling. Tuck in tofu slices and roll up like a cigar until the filling is covered. Cut in half, cutting away any exess heavy stem in the collard. Serve with Sunny Thai Dipping Sauce.

Sunny Thai Dipping Sauce

¼ c. sunflower seeds
¼ c. pumpkin seeds toasted 10 min.
1 T sunflower oil
2 T Soy sauce
1 garlic clove
1 1-inch chunk ginger
3 oz. water
1/8 t. chili oil

Roast the seeds at 350 F for 7 minutes. Grind in a food processor whle warm. Add remaining ingredients and puree until smooth.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Little Garden Gourmets at Academy for Global Citizenship


Since I’m a bit limited in my ability to type having had surgery yesterday, I’m going to fill this space today with pictures of kids cooking outside. A bit of a cheap ploy, wouldn’t you say? Everyone loves pictures of cute kids.


Last Saturday, I visited one of my favorite Chicago Public Schools, Academy for Global Citizenship. AGC is a charter school that uses the environment as the third teacher. AGC is a green facility with an organic school lunch program. The students have worms and chickens and a gorgeous garden, which is where we cooked that morning.



Our Little Garden Gourmet session Saturday highlighted herbs, one of the few plants ready to harvest. We made Carrot Tacos, Herbed Yogurt Dip and Melon Kebobs with Basil Syrup. Unsurprisingly, the last was the hit of the session. Despite the mid morning heat, the kids happily chopped, stirred, and skewered. And then they enjoyed.


Melon Kebobs
Serves 4

36 melon cubes
Juice of ½ lime
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon chopped basil
12 5-inch skewers

Whisk together the lime juice, basil and the honey. Coat the melon with the sauce. Skewer them and serve.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The German Turnip: Kohlrabi, Cabbage and Apple Slaw


Kohlrabi is a vegetable that’s hard to love. Often mistaken for a root vegetable, the bulbous kohlrabi is instead related to cabbage and other brassicas like Brussels sprouts. The kohlrabi pops out of the earth like a fat broccoli, which makes sense give that its flesh tastes and feels a bit like the broccoli stem. The kohlrabi will grow almost anywhere, which is why I think it’s popular among farmers for the CSA box. Then we CSA members get stuck with them alongside the more appealing lettuces and strawberries in spring.

In winter, I grate the older, larger kohlrabi into my potato pancake batter. After frying, I dollop them with avocado cream. Delicious, but it’s not my idea of a warm weather recipe. Last week, I julienned along with cabbage and apples to make a crunchy, sweet, and earthy slaw. We ate it with stewed bratwurst, but I think it would also be a good addition to the picnic table.

Kohlrabi*, Cabbage and Apple Slaw
Serves 8

1 small green cabbage, cored and grated
3 small kohlrabi, peeled and julienned
4 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon basil

Cover the cabbage with ice water in a large bowl. Soak for ½ hour. Whisk together the mayoonaise, buttermilk, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. After soaking, squeeze the cabbage dry with clean dish towels. Mix together with the kohlrabi in the dressing. Julienne a cored red apple and add to the salad. Stir in basil.

*Kohlrabi's nickname is German Turnip. I don't think it does much for it's reputation.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Getting My Eat on in New York City


My favorite movie line comes from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.
When Lt. Aldo Raine suggests to Bridget von Hammersmark blame her shoot-out injured leg on a mountain climbing accident because German actress, telling her “you [Germans] all like mountain climbing,” she retorts:

“ I like smoking, drinking, and ordering in restaurants, but I see your point.”

While smoking is a thing of the distant past for me, like von Hammersmark, I much prefer drinking and ordering and restaurants to mountain climbing. And so my vacations are not spent skiing in Aspen or horseback riding in Wyoming. I much prefer spending my precious downtime in the world’s great food cities. Just this past weekend, Mike and I celebrated the 4th of July holiday with a New York eatstravaganza imbibing and consuming at 13 different establishments over the course
of 48 hours.

Given this information, you might find it ironic that tonight at 8 CST I’ll be dishing out expert advice at a Healthy Child, Healthy World twitter party on eating healthily on vacation. That is until I share one additional detail. My home scale revealed yesterday that I lost two pounds during our Manhattan adventures.

Different people enjoy their time off in different ways. The idea of a beach vacation makes me itchy, as does a RV trip across country. Give me a world class city, a train pass, and Open Table, and I’m a heaven. So while I won’t be able to shed much light on navigating the cruise ship buffet tables or Middle America’s diners, I can give the following advice on how to indulge on vacation and remain healthy.

• It’s a simple proposition. If you want to eat more, exercise more. Leave your heels at home, pack a pair of comfortable shoes, and walk. In New York, we traverse the island largely on foot. If I’m traveling to a city not known for its walkability, I make sure to pack work out gear and find the exercise room.
• Eat micro meals. Instead or ordering the grass fed burger or the paella, look to the appetizers. A “meal” for us can be sharing a small order of biscuits and jams.
• Don’t over order. While the double order of soup dumplings may be tempting and the bottle price on the Pinot better than the glass cost, always go with the smaller option.
• Do your homework. Read up about your vacation destination and the food culture.
Even in some of the most unexpected locations, you’ll find restaurants serving local food and sustainably sourced ingredients.

Following these simple, common sense tips will allow you your vacation indulgences without blowing your diet making reentry into everyday life less painful.

New York Tips:
With my parents still living on Long Island, we have the pleasure of biannual travels to Manhattan. With a mix of Twitter recommendations, magazine research, and dumb luck, we always find some amazing places. This trip's gems were the following:

Goat Town: A tiny farm to table restaurant in East Village. My brunch was delicious and straightforward: two farm fresh eggs with yolks the color of tangerines. They were partnered with sautéed squash, polenta, creamy and nubby all at once, and grilled, buttered toasts. My sparkling sangria dotted with rhubarb and grapefruit was a happy start to a rainy Sunday.

Momofuko’s Milk Bar: An old favorite. I can’t resist the Compost cookie filled with pretzels, coffee grinds and chocolate bits.

Joe’s Shanghai: Thanks to Twitter, we learned about this Chinatown temple of soup dumplings. Sitting with a Chinese family, we learned how to poke the leathery skin, douse the filling with gingery soy and the pungent chili oil.

Monday, July 4, 2011

As American as Pizza Pie


After a two day eatstravaganza in Manhattan, I'm headed to Long Island to celebrate the 4th with my parents. I'm not sure what's on the menu. Knowing my mom, we'll likely enjoy a fruit of the sea or perhaps some grilled wursts. But if we were home, we'd definitely be grilling, grilling pizzas.

Last summer we splurged. Our old faithful Weber grill bit the dust. We planned to replace it with another kettle until we met the Big Green Egg at a friend's home. Mike and I had once looked at the egg, covetously, but it's expensive. Given Chicago's truncated grilling season, I wasn't sure it was worth it.

But at my friend's party, a whole lamb cookout, I watched him grill lamb AND bake bread. Afterwards, on Labor Day weekend, we obsessively sought out out an Egg retailer. We picked it up Tuesday after it was suited up with baking stone.

The Big Green Egg is an American-made Japanese style kamodo barbecue. Big, green and ceramic, the egg can serve as a grill, smoker, and oven. It retains heat well, yet remains relatively cool on the exterior.


Not until this year did we experiment with pizzas, my new favorite item to grill. Hitting temperatures of 600 plus, the Egg replicates a wood or coal fired pizza oven easily. Lightly charred on the edges, crispy on the bottom, and chewy on the outside crusts, I was thrilled with the results. We made three: an Alsatian tarte flambé, a white pizza, and a cherry tomato-fresh mozzarella.


Tarte Flambee
Serves 2

1/3 pound thick cut bacon
1/3 cup creme fraiche
1/4 red onion thinly sliced
1/3 recipe pizza dough

Cook the bacon in a large skillet until cooked about halfway through. Roll out the dough to about 11-inches, the same size as your stone. Spread the creme fraiche on top. Dot with onions and bacon. Bake in a 450 F oven for 10 minutes or a Big Green Egg heated to 600 F for 5 minutes.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

CSAs and Chard Fatigue: Franks, Beans & Greens


While many of you around the country are enjoying early Summer produce, we Chicagoans are still seeing Spring's greens in our CSA box, lots and lots of greens.

With a little oil, salt, and a warm oven, I can transform the kale into crispy little bites. Chard, on the other hand, has begun to outlive its utility. Unlike its fairer cousin spinach, I don't like to freeze excess chard. To me, it only intensifies the bitterness.

Instead, I've been tucking the Alpine green in stews, both meatless and meaty. Last week's creation was so well received at my family's table that I reprised it again this week. If you too have an excess of the red tinged green, try this family favorite.

Franks, Beans and Greens

Serves 4

1 onion, diced
1/2 garlic scape, sliced
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1/4 cup white wine
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 cup ketchup
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestire sauce
Pinches of cloves and cinnamon
1 12 ounce kielbasa, sliced
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 small bunch Swiss chard, rinsed, stemmed and roughly chopped

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and scapes and cook until the onions are caramelized about 7 or so minutes. Pour in white wine and cook until reduced. Add sugar, maple syrup, ketchup, mustard, Worcestire sauce, cloves and cinnamon. Turn off the heat. Brown the kielbasa in a large skillet over high heat. Add the kielbasa, beans and chard to the saucepan. Cover and cook until the chard is wilted and the ingredients are hot. Serve.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Strawberries: Salsa Style!


Tomorrow I'll be at Green City Market making Strawberry Salsa with the Sprouts. Even if you're busy or too far away to make it, I still want to get you the recipe. It's a quick recipe to brighten up a weeknight dinner.

Seedling's weekly email tells proclaims that this is the strawberry's peak week. To celebrate this, we're eating strawberries every day: in our cereals, in our yogurt, in our smoothies, and in our salsa. Salsa? Yes, salsa. With a bit of red tomato, it partners well with grilled chicken, fish tacos, and even chips. Get it while you can.

Paired with Fish Tacos

Strawberry Salsa
Makes approximately 1 ½ cups

¾ cup strawberries, cut into small dice
½ tomato, cut into small dice
2 tablespoons diced red onion
¼ Serrano chile, minced
1 tablespoon cilantro or mint, finely chopped
1 teaspoon lime juice

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl and serve with chips or as a sauce for fish or chicken.

Originally posted in June 2010

Sunday, June 26, 2011

On Surgery and Pretzel Chicken and Beer Cheese Sauce


I've always been blessed with good health, which is a good thing generally, but particularly because my husband's had more than his share of health issues, mainly back related. I can claim no major illnesses and with the exception of tubes put into my ears at age 4, no surgeries.

My accidents and incidents have been of the freakish sort, like the iron that fell on my head last summer. Last weekend, I took another trip to the ER for another freak accident. Packing down our kitchen garbage, I stabbed my hand with a broken wine stem. I could blame my husband who'd deposited it in the can the evening before, but I'd seen it when I discarded a bunch of dry cleaner bags on top of it. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten about it by the time I wanted to add more trash to the can. You can bet I remembered it immediately when the glass split my flesh.

Spurting blood, an ambulance ride, and five stitches later, my streak of good luck with good health has ended. Scheduled is my first surgery in 38 years to repair my .common digital nerve. Fortunately, it's my left hand (I'm a righty), but still it's going to be an interesting summer. Well, that is, if I survive. You have to wonder about the doctor from whom I got my second opinion. When asked what the worst case scenario would be if the surgery didn’t turn out as planned, he answered deadpan, “You could die.” Suffice to say, I won’t be using his services.

You can watch me cook one handed twice this week. Tomorrow, I’ll be making Pretzel Chicken with Rarebit Sauce at Taste of Chicago, 2:30pm. On Wednesday, come visit me at Green City Market for my first Sprouts visit of the season.

Pretzel Chicken with Rarebit Sauce
Serves 4

2 cups pretzels, crushed well in a food processor
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
4 chicken cutlets, pounded thin
4 to 5 tablespoons unsalted butter

Rarebit Sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worchestire sauce
1/3 cup amber beer
1 cup grated aged cheddar
1 pinch paprika
1 tablespoon chopped chives for garnish

Set three shallow bowls next to one another on the counter. Fill the first with the egg whisked together with the water, the second with flour, and the third with the crushed pretzels.

Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until lightly colored, a few minutes. Whisk in the mustard, the Worcestire sauce and the beer. Cook until thickened about 5-7 minutes. Reduce the heat to low.

Heat a non stick sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the 3 tablespoons of butter to the pan. Dip the chicken first in the flour, then the egg, and then finally the pretzels. Place them in the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until lightly browned. Flip and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan and cook until the other side is lightly browned.

While the chicken is cooking, increase the heat under the beer sauce to medium. When warmed, add the cheddar and whisk until smooth. Taste for seasoning. The sauce should be under seasoned given that it will be paired with salty pretzels. Add paprika and stir.

Remove the chicken to individual plates. Sauce and garnish with chives.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What's Eating Your Child?

“If you could quickly and effectively cure your child’s ear infection, moodiness, or frequent colds with food instead of drugs, which option would you choose? In WHAT’S EATING YOUR CHILD? leading nutritionist Kelly Dorfman empowers parents to become Nutrition Detectives by revealing simple ways to uncover the clues behind a child’s health problems and find an accurate, nutritional treatment immediately.”

The press release issued by Workman, Kelly Dorfman’s publisher seemed to promise miracles. In this country of instant diet promises, assurances like these always make me a bit suspicious. But then, I started to read the book. Like Purple Asparagus, Dorfman has a common approach to basic nutrition. In Chapter 1, she describes her vision of a perfect world “where we would not be solving nutrition problems but preventing them.” In her perfect world, our society would support healthy eating, farming would make a comeback as a noble profession, and pediatricians would be more food-savvy.

As Dorfman admits and we all know, we live far from that perfect world and so throughout her book, she shares case studies from her practice to show how good nutrition can cure common ailments. She also explains how parents can combat the scourge of picky eating and by doing so dramatically their children’s development.

We, at Purple Asparagus, are pleased to host Ms. Dorfman this Saturday at Flourish Studios located at 3020 N. Lincoln Ave. Chicago, IL 60657. The event is free, but space is limited. By registering you will also have the opportunity to win a 1/2 consultation with Dorfman immediately after the event or a copy of her book.

To reserve your space email or call (773) 991-1920.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Kid Eats at Sable Kitchen and Bar

w 028

A restaurant question frequently posed to me is where can a family find a sustainably sourced meal and still feel welcome? Unfortunately, far too often, so called “family-friendly” restaurants serve produce drenched in pesticides and meat from animals hopped up on antibiotics to keep them “healthy” in wretched confined feeding operations. And I won’t even bring up the quality of offerings on the kids’ menu, often fried and always dumbed down.

Late last year, we took a family trip to London and I was amazed how much better the restaurants there were in welcoming families. Bumpkin, our favorite London place, didn’t have a kids’ menu, but instead told us that they could make a smaller version of any menu item. Zaika, a tony Indian restaurant in Kensington, “washed” Thor’s chicken before putting into the curry sauce so that its spice level would be acceptable to a younger palate.

Here in the states, it’s not as easy for families. But, I’m here to help. My family likes to eat out, but we’re also very conscious about the quality of food that we eat. As a result, I’ve done a lot of homework on restaurants that we’ll feel comfortable at but still serve the quality of ingredients that we enjoy at home. In this new series, I’ll share some of our favorite spots that treat and feed us well. One caveat, if you think it’s okay to let your child jump on the banquette seats (as three little girls did last week at Perennial Virant) or screech at the top his or her lungs through a meal (a delight we witnessed at Big Jones), stick with Chucky Cheese.

It was my birthday on Monday. To celebrate, we visited Sable Kitchen and Bar. As a hotel restaurant, Sable has an obligatory kids’ menu, but it’s not necessary. Sable’s menu is stocked with delicious small plates, creative reinterpretations of bar food. There’s the pretzel, paired with salty, smoky cheese sauce, and the fried cheese curds hot and ready to dip in slightly spicy house made ketchup. I love the Reuben rolls, phyllo wrapped around all the traditional fillings. The kitchen makes several varieties of flatbreads, including one topped with tomato and mozzarella, flavors meant to appeal to big and little kids. The little Locathor, however, prefers the grass-fed Dietzler Farm burger, a producer using sound methods to raise its livestock. The bar’s got a diverse cocktail list and will happily make a Shirley Temple without the artificially colored grenadine, prettied up with last year’s preserved cherries.

Sable’s chef Heather Terhune and her staff welcomed us all graciously. Heather and I are Facebook friends and I had let her know we’d been in. She stopped by our table and Thor was delighted that she remembered a few things about him including his love of music. And so, we had a wonderful family celebration only enhanced by our parting gift. On birthdays, Sable gives the guest of honor a gift: a cupcake kit: cake mix, maple sugar, and a recipe for Maple-Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting, a delightfully adult way to celebrate.

Maple-Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting
Enough to frost 12 cupcakes

Recipe Credit, Chef Heather Terhune, Sable Kitchen and Bar

5 ½ ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon bourbon
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Mix in sugar, maple syrup, bourbon, and salt. Beat until smooth. Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with maple sugar.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

National Flavored Milk Day of Action


Back when I started Purple Asparagus, I used to say: "I'd rather under promise and over deliver than over promise and under deliver." For many years, I lived by this, but then a bad habit crept in. As more and more people learned about us and our work and we started fielding more requests for our services, I forgot how to say the word "no."

This bad habit went into overdrive this year after winning the Trib's Good Eating Award in February. As you might imagine, receiving this prestigious honor catapulted us and me onto a larger stage. I was so grateful for the recognition that I felt loath to turn down any but the most outrageous of inquires.

It's the end of the school year and I feel like I'm limping towards the finish line. It's been a long year. A good year, yes, but still a long one. To recuperate, I’m trying to reintroduce "no" into my vocabulary (sometimes I think I should practice it in front of the mirror). During the summer, usually filled with farmers’ market appearances, Purple Asparagus is moving into a serious development phase to meet the burgeoning demands on our services. (Much more on this topic soon).

There is one program that I severely under delivered on and about this I'm feeling rather guilty. I had signed up to be a leader on Jamie Oliver's National Flavored Milk Day of Action. Given that the event was in June, I should have realized that most of our schools programs wrapped up before the date arrived. I thought, however, at the very least, I could blog about my two favorite healthy flavored milk recipes. Thursday came and I was ready. After a long day, I set my computer on my lap with every intention of banging out a quick post.

What happened? I fell asleep. Soundly.

While the Day of Action has come and gone, kids will always still like flavored milk. And while LA may be moving to take these highly sweetened beverages of dubious nutritional value out of their schools, more districts have not. And while I'm not going to delve into the politics of the matter - I risk falling asleep again, I offer these delicious, nutritious alternatives, kid tested and approved by Little Locathor.

Minty Strawberry Milk

Serves 2

Frozen strawberries are a better alternative for this recipe. They blend better with the milk and the seeds soften. Nevertheless, given that this is strawberry season, you may have some extras in your fridge and they’ll work almost as well.

½ cup frozen strawberries or 1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled
2 cups soy, almond, or low fat cow milk
3 mint leaves, optional
1 tablespoon honey

Blend all ingredients in a blender and serve immediately.

Chocolate Milk

Serves 2

The problem with chocolate milk isn’t the chocolate. Cocoa powder, sugar and fat free, is high in antioxidants, powerful disease fighters. No the issue with chocolate milk is all the HFCS they add to it to get kids to drink it and addicted to it. Here, I substitute honey in a reasonable quantity. If it doesn’t seem sweet enough to your child, you can add more honey, but I do recommend trying to wean them off sugary stuff, even if you do it little by little.

You can also scale this recipe up to make a large batch. That way you have it at the ready for any requests for chocolate milk. Keep it in the refrigerator.

1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 tablespoon honey
Tiny pinch of salt
Drop of vanilla
2 cups 2 % milk

Whisk together the first four ingredients. Whisk it into the milk and serve.

Friday, June 10, 2011

White Boy Taco Night


It was White Boy Taco night on this Fast Food Friday in my house.

See how I deftly sidestepped the date of my last post.

Oh dang, did I say that out loud? Did I just point out that my last entry was over a month ago (and it wasn’t even posted here originally). Okay, so I’m not so deft or very clever. And given my inability to post with any regularity these days, I’m lucky if any of you stick around. But I hope that you do, and a full explanation for my absence is forthcoming, just not tonight.

No, tonight, tonight was White Boy Taco night in my house.

How many of you growing up in the 1970’s remember the Ortega family pack? Full of crispy half moon taco sleeves, taco seasoning, and sometimes something that resembled salsa, it was a box of family dinner fun. I’m not sure when taco night entered my mom’s bag of tricks – it may have even been my own import from a friend’s house, just like Stovetop Stuffing was, a dish I’m now certain was laden with MSG, but so very tasty to a preteen palate.

It was the excess of ground beef from our meat CSA that originally inspired taco night in our house. In our monthly share, we often received 3-4 pounds of the stuff and I was running out of ideas. At Whole Foods, I saw a pack of organic Garden of Eatin’ taco shells . I picked those up along with a pack of taco seasoning. With some salsa, cheese and sour cream, dinner was served in a half hour. Because the Little Locathor, a bit picky at the time, ate every bite, the meal entered our monthly rotation.

These days, I make my own spice mix and add some frozen local corn to bulk up the beef, modifications that make the meal a bit healthier and maybe even more popular to my family. Thor requested it for special last-day-of-school meal and I was more than happy to oblige him. While cooking the beef, I tweeted about White Boy Taco night and a friend asked about it. And with this request, I realized it was time for me to shake off the cobwebs. So to @familyfoodie, this recipe’s for you.

White Boy Tacos
Serves 4

2 teaspoons Ancho chile powder
¼ teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon oregano, Mexican if you got it
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1 pinch cayenne
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound ground beef, preferably grass fed
½ cup frozen corn kernels
1 box hard shell corn tortillas
1 avocado, thinly sliced
Tomatillo or tomato salsa
Grated Monterey Jack
Sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Lay the taco shells on baking sheet and place in the middle of the oven. While the shells are baking, mix together the first eight ingredients in a small bowl. Saute the ground beef in a large skillet breaking it up with a wooden spoon. After a minute or two, sprinkle on the seasoning and stir until the meat almost loses all its pink. Add corn and cook a minute or two more. Remove the shells from the oven and fill each with beef, cheese, salsa, avocado, and sour cream. Enjoy the crunchy goodness.

Friday, April 29, 2011

How to Be a Sustainable Cook in 5 Easy Pieces

Thanks so much to The Kid Can Cook for giving me the opportunity to guest post on her blog. Click here to learn 5 tips for cooking sustainably. While you're there, be sure to nose around as Michelle's got some terrific content over there.

alt="" style="width:1px;height:1px;border:0px !important;" />

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Beet-licious: Beet Hummus


If you dyed your eggs naturally last week (as I did), you may have a leftover beet (as I do). As a result, I thought I would recycle my beet hummus post, which puts that leftover beet to good use.

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.

Originally Posted in January 2010 and reprinted in the Chicago Sun Times.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Eggscellent: Natural Egg Dyeing Tomorrow on WGN


To check out WGN's segment, click here.

With the impending arrival of a fuzzy, long eared creature, everyone seems to be talking about eggs this week. The always amazing Christina LeBeau gives her rundown of eggsperiments on Spoonfed. Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan just re-posted her how-to dye eggs naturally over the Kitchn (I love the suggestion of oiling the eggs to give them a high shine). Even bloggers of different faiths have gotten in on the game. Me, I'll be dying lots of eggs since my Little Locavores kid and I will be appearing on WGN tomorrow at 11am to demonstrate natural egg dying.

I also wanted to share with you this entry that I wrote several years ago for The Local Beet, which talks not only about how to dye eggs naturally, but also how to buy eggs that are not only good for the body but also for the planet since that's what Purple Asparagus is all about.

In pagan culture, the egg signified the rebirth of the earth during spring. Christians adopted this symbol for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, allegedly having occurred in early spring. Eastern Christianity has created several myths regarding the connection between the egg and the Easter story, including a claim that Mary Magdalene brought eggs to share at the tomb of Jesus, which turned bright red when she saw that Christ had risen.

With all of these associations with life and the earth, it only makes sense that the eggs that we dye for our baskets, egg hunts and rolls be good for the earth and respect life. To do this, we need to be educated consumers and understand the labeling on the cartons.

Sustainable Eggs

Three separate certifying systems have been created by egg producers.

Certified Organic: This is the only certification that is regulated by the government. To earn it, a farmer must pass an inspection showing that the eggs came from hens that eat an antibiotic-free, 100% organic diet, and are allowed access to the outdoors and sunlight. What it does not require is a certain barn or shed size or limit on the amount chickens housed inside such facilities. It also does not require that the chickens spend any time outdoors and specifically allows a farmer to temporarily confine his hens for a variety of reasons, with no definition of the term "temporarily." It does, however, require certain humane limitations including that a bird must be anesthetized prior to de-beaking, a common practice in egg farming.

Certified Humane: This certification is regulated by Humane Farm Animal Care and is concerned less with what the birds eat than with how they are treated. Hens must eat a "wholesome" and "nutritious" diet, they may only receive antibiotics in the case of disease. The certification requires that the hens have "sufficient space, shelter and gentle handling to limit stress." In Illinois, Phil's Fresh Eggs has been named Certified Humane under this system. (They're also white and great for taking on dye). To find other producers, visit Humane Farm Animal Care's website. Organic Valley may not be "Certified Humane," on its website, it states its promise to the consumer that its eggs have been:
"Produced on family farms in harmony with nature without antibiotics, synthetic hormones or pesticides. Our hens are raised humanely and given certified organic feed—never any animal by-products—and range freely outdoors."

A note on hormones: a hormone-free claim is a bit of a non-sequitur given that hormones are never given to hens being grown for laying eggs or during the egg-laying period unless sick.

The United Egg Producers Certification: This is quite a dodgy "certification." According to Marion Nestle, the certification "merely attests that a company gives food and water to its caged hens." Unsurprisingly, a large majority of industrial egg producers have received this certification. The website is chock full of double speak. On the home page, we see a wholesome young family on their bucolic farm. There is a large section called Myth v. Fact. My favorite myth v. fact is the first:

Myth: Farmers only care about profit.
Fact: U.S. egg farmers are committed to the humane and ethical treatment of animals. Many of the farms are family-owned and operated.

While I'm sure that majority of family farmers treat their hens humanely, having recently watched HBO's "Death on a Family Farm," family-owned and operated can not necessarily be equated with humane treatment.

A Note on De-beaking: It's important to note that none of the certifications prohibit de-beaking, though the Certified Organic and Humane standards do require that the birds be anaesthetized during the procedure. Birds are de-beaked to prevent the aggressive behavior that is almost inevitable in close quarters. In the "The Ethics of What We Eat," Peter Singer identifies a handful of farmers who do not de-beak their birds. I have emailed several of the egg producers who sell locally at our farmers market to find out their practices and will report back with what I learn.

Sustainable Egg Dyeing

Ever since my son was born 5 years ago, we've coloring our eggs naturally. What we've done is to use the by-products of our home cooking that would otherwise be destined for the garbage or the compost bin. For example, yellow onion skins create a lovely beige shade, red, a purplish one. I'll blanch spinach, a traditional menu item on Maundy Thursday, for green. Boil some beets for red. Leftover coffee stains not your teeth for brown. The only virgin ingredients that I use are dried spices - really, how many of you are going to use up that entire jar or turmeric? I also have a huge jar of tomato powder that is past its prime (a donation from the very generous Spice House for a Purple Asparagus project) that when combined with vinegar turns up orange. When using spices, boil water to fill a bowl just large enough to hold an egg or two and add a tablespoon or more or the desired spice with a bit of vinegar. But my all time favorite natural egg dye? Red wine. Not only does it color the egg, but it gives it a sparkly sheen - I've always assumed that it's the sulfites. The best part? When your egg is done, it's cocktail time.

1 beet, quartered
cold water to cover
1 teaspoon white vinegar

Cover the beet with cold water in a small pot and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender. Pour off 3/4 cup of beet liquid into a small cup. Mix with vinegar. Reserve the beet for another purpose. Soak eggs for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour.

3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 teaspoon white vinegar

Bring the water to a boil. Whisk in turmeric and white vinegar. Let the liquid cool. Soak eggs for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour.

1/2 cup blueberry juice poured off from a bag of frozen blueberries, thawed
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon white vinegar

Heat the blueberry juice and water to boiling. Add vinegar. Let the liquid cool. Soak eggs for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour.

1 cup red wine

This is my favorite egg dye. Soak eggs for a few hours in the refrigerator. They will become a mottled, sparkly purple. The wine can be reserved for cooking

This is a new color suggested by my friends over at Kiwi Magazine.

3/4 cup water
2 to 3 chlorophyll caplets (found in natural food stores)
1 teaspoon vinegar

Bring the water to a boil. Break open the caplets and pour the content and stir. Let the liquid cool. Soak eggs for 1/2 hour or longer.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Chefs Move to Schools Chicago

Video of Chefs Move to Schools Chicago in McAuliffe Elemenary School by WCIU.

A little less than a year ago, Michelle Obama created the Chefs Move to Schools. Launched on the White House lawn, the program pairs individual chefs and schools with the intent that these chefs will help improve the state of the school’s food and nutrition education. After I attended the launch with 700 plus other chefs, my organization, Purple Asparagus, partnered with Healthy Schools Campaign to organize the largest single coordinated response to Mrs. Obama’s call to action. On a single October morning, approximately 75 chefs visited Chicago Public Schools armed with bagfuls of vegetables and a curriculum that I wrote entitled “Little Pea’s Dessert.”

Little Pea, a children’s book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, is a story of a happy little pea. He loves going to school, playing with his friends, and when his dad, Papa Pea, comes home and flings him high in the air from a spoon. But there is one thing that Little Pea does not like and that’s his dinner. Every night, Little Pea has to eat candy for dinner. If he eats three bites of his dinner, he can have dessert: spinach!

After reading Little Pea, We asked each of the chefs to organize a vegetable tasting. See kids don’t need much encouragement to eat sweet things, so a fruit smoothie or a fruit, yogurt and granola cup may seem like good options for cooking with kids, they don’t take much effort to introduce. We asked the chefs to challenge themselves and the kids. Some prepared a salad with their class; one even staged a scene from Little Pea using vegetables! Being in the midst of harvest season, I went straight up veggie tasting bringing the freshest and best produce from my favorite farmers’ market, Green City Market. One class of third graders and one of kindergarteners learned about and tasted veggies such as cucumbers and broccoflower.

Our second Chicago Chefs Move to Schools day will take place on April 5. Given that the farmers’ markets will have far less available for purchase, I’m selecting a smaller assortment of vegetables and helping each of the kids make a yogurt sauce, which can be used as either a dip or a dressing. This is a pretty simple “cooking” project that can be done in the classroom by chefs and teachers alike and gets kids excited about trying new vegetables.

• Give each kid 2 sturdy plates, a sturdy plastic knife, a small bowl, and a fork (we have reusable kid size utensils for this purpose)
• Introduce vegetables one by one, explaining how each is grown, what nutrients they contain and providing some fun facts about each (these facts can be found in on the Internet, just type in the name of the veggie and “fun facts”)
• Give each child a piece of the vegetable and, if appropriate, ask them to cut it into smaller pieces on one of the plates
• Ask them to try a bite and reserve the remainder of their vegetables on the second plate until they’ve made their dip/dressing
• Once the veggie tasting is done, scoop 2 tablespoons of plain low fat yogurt into each bowl. Add ½ teaspoon each of finely chopped green onion and canola oil mayonnaise
• Hand each child a small leaf each of parsley and basil. Ask them to tear the leaves into small pieces and add to the yogurt bowl
• Pass around a small bowl of kosher salt and ask each child to take a very small “kid-sized” pinch to add to their bowl
• Ask each child to stir the dip/dressing with their fork or a carrot stick
• Enjoy as a dip or dressing for the reserved veggies

This entry was originally posted on Kiwilog.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Crowd Sourcing Wonderful Watermelon Recipes

Watermelon pasta

Watermelon? you say.

Yes, I know, watermelon are months away from our farm stands and markets. But during last year's season, I had a lot of it. This may sound like an embarrassment of riches to you (and to me during these cool days of early Spring), however, in September, I was doing whatever I could to avoid throwing away the weekly supply of mottled green orbs I found in my CSA box. Procrastinator that I am, I pureed and froze cups and cups of the stuff.

As I sorted recently through my freezer to make room for the new growing season, I came across my six mason jars filled with coral colored liquid. Now, what to do with it? I brought my question to the crowd.

On Twitter, I relayed my dilemma. I explained that we don't eat too many desserts, nor do we drink cocktails often. Therefore, sorbet and margarita were off the table.

Two suggestions stood out. From a grower and seller of many watermelon came the idea of jelly. The second was a pasta sauce.

In two days, I've depleted my supply and crowd sourced two new magnificent recipes.

Cappelini with Watermelon, Prosciutto and Goat Cheese
Serves 2

2 cups pureed and strained watermelon puree
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 green onions, whites finely chopped, 1 inch of the greens finely sliced
2 tablespoons heavy cream
freshly ground pepper and kosher salt to taste
3 slices prosciutto, thinly sliced
1 ounce goat cheese
1/3 cup pea greens
1/4 pound cappelini

Pour the puree into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the liquid to about 1/3 cup. Strain the reduction into a small bowl. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add the cappelini to the pot and cook according to the package. Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the whites of the onions and cook until softened. Whisk in the flour and cook for about a minute. Whisk in the reduced watermelon juice until the sauce seems slightly viscous and thickened. Stir in the cream and season with salt and pepper. Drain the pasta, add the prosciutto and coating all of the strands of the pasta with the sauce. Scoop the sauced pasta onto plates or shallow bowls. Sprinkle on the goat cheese, scallion greens and pea greens. Serve immediately.

watermelon jelly

Watermelon-Basil Jelly

2 cups watermelon puree
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 package liquid pectin
3 basil stems

Whisk the first three ingredients in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the basil stems. Turn the heat to medium high and bring the watermelon to a boil. Cook until the mixture is thickened and reaches 200 F. Remove the basil stems and pour the jelly into hot sterilized jars. Cool to room temperature and store in a dark place until ready to use.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Green Eggs and Ham at Green City Market


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

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

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

Green Eggs and Ham
Makes 1, increase accordingly

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

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