Saturday, December 29, 2007

Appetizers at Bloomingdale's Medinah Temple

Right before New Year's Eve, I gave a cooking demonstration at Bloomingdale's Medinah Temple. Given the season, I thought it appropriate to give folks some appetizer ideas. The following are the recipes that I demonstrated.

Crab Puffs
Makes 28

Puff Pastry Cups:
1 14-ounce package of all-butter puff pastry such as Du Four, defrosted for 3-4 hours in the refrigerator
1 egg
Crab Mix:
8 ounces crabmeat, picked over for shells
1/3 cup good mayonnaise, preferably Hellman’s
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 pinch cayenne
½ teaspoon paprika
1/3 cup chopped scallion greens
Finely-grated parmesan cheese, preferably parmiggiano-reggiano, for dusting

Puff Pastry Cups:
Preheat oven to 400º F. On a well-floured, cool surface, unfold the puff pastry sheet. If necessary, roll it out to a thickness of 1/8-inch. Cut the pastry into 28 rounds with a floured 1 ½-inch fluted cutter. Chill for ½ hour or until firm. With a floured ¾-inch fluted cutter, cut the center out of 14 of the rounds. Mix the egg with a tablespoon of water to make an egg wash. Brush the bottom rounds with the egg wash. Center the top rounds on the bottom rounds and brush with the egg wash. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden. Let cool on a rack.
Crab mix:
Mix the crabmeat, mayonnaise, mustard, cayenne, paprika and scallion greens together in a medium-size bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serving: Fill the well of the pastry cups with crab mix. Sprinkle with cheese and bake until lightly browned, approximately 5 minutes.

Proscuitto & Honey-Mustard Spirals
Makes approximately 30

1 14-ounce package of all-butter puff pastry such as Du Four, defrosted for 3-4 hours in the refrigerator
Flour for rolling, if necessary
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 teaspoons clover honey
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
4 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese, preferably Parmiggiano-Reggiano
1 egg

METHODS: Preheat oven to 400º. Mix the mustard and honey in a small bowl. On a well-floured, cool surface, unfold the puff pastry sheet. If necessary, roll out to 1/8-inch thickness on a well floured. If necessary, roll pastry to a 1/8-inch thickness. Take care not to flatten out the edges. Trim uneven edges. Spread the honey-mustard mix evenly over pastry to about ¼ inch from the edge. Cover with prosciutto and cheese on top. Roll up lengthwise. Refrigerate for a half hour or freeze until ready to use. If frozen, allow to defrost in the refrigerator until soft enough to slice, approximately 1 hour. Mix the egg with a tablespoon of water to make an egg wash. Brush the roll with the egg wash. Cut log crosswise into ¼-inch slices and put the slices onto a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake until golden, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Place the baking sheet on a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Puff Pastry Straws
Makes approximately 20

1 14-ounce package of all-butter puff pastry such as Du Four, defrosted for 3-4 hours in the refrigerator
Flour for rolling, if necessary
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese, preferably Parmiggiano-Reggiano
A pinch of cayenne pepper
1 egg

METHODS: Preheat oven to 400º. Mix the mustard and honey in a small bowl. On a well-floured, cool surface, unfold the puff pastry sheet. If necessary, roll out to 1/8-inch thickness on a well floured. Take care not to flatten out the edges. Trim uneven edges. Spread the mustard on the half of the surface. Sprinkle cheese and cayenne pepper on top of the mustard. Fold the clean side over the cheese. Slice into ¼-inch slices lengthwise. Take the end of one slice and carefully twist in opposite directions. Place on a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet, pressing down each end to prevent the straw from unrolling. Repeat with remaining pieces. Chill the straws in the freezer for about an hour. Mix the egg with a tablespoon of water to make an egg wash. Brush the straws with the egg wash. Bake until golden, approximately 15-20 minutes. Place the baking sheet on a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tartlets of Smoked Salmon, Crème Fraiche & Capers
Makes 15

1 package filo tartlets, baked according to the manufacturer’s directions
8 ounces smoked salmon
¼ cup crème fraiche
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

METHODS: Cut the salmon into ¼-inch slices. Put a dollop of crème fraiche into the bottom of the tartlet. Top with salmon and garnish with capers.

Tartlets of Brie & Pear Drizzled with Local Honey
Makes 15

1 package filo tartlets, baked according to the manufacturers directions
8 ounces brie at room temperature, sliced into bite-size pieces
½ pear, sliced ¼-inch thick, each slice cut into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons honey

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

Asian Chicken Tartlets
Makes 30

2 packages filo tartlets, baked according to the manufacturer’s directions
1 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast half
6 tablespoons natural peanut butter
1 garlic clove
1 1 ½-inch piece of ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 drops of Tabasco
2 scallions, sliced diagonally

METHODS: Place the chicken breast in a small saucepan with cold water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cover. Cook until a meat thermometer registers 165º F. Begin testing after 15 minutes. Cool in poaching liquid. To make sauce, put the peanut butter, garlic clove, ginger, lemon juice, soy sauce, water and Tabasco into the bowl of a food processor or a blender and process until smooth. If thick, add an additional tablespoon of water. Shred the cooled chicken and add to peanut sauce. Fill each tartlet with chicken and top with a bit of the scallions.

Sweet Potato Chips with Cranberry-Shallot Chutney & Smoked Duck Breast
Serves 30

Terra Spiced Sweet Potato Chips
1 smoked duck breast
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon port (optional)
Kosher salt abd freshly ground pepper to taste

METHODS: Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the foam subsides, add the shallots and cook until golden. Add cranberries, sugar, water, vinegar and thyme sprig and cook until the cranberries have burst and the chutney is thickened. Season to taste. Thinly slice the duck breast. Top sweet potato chips with a piece of duck and a dollop of chutney.

Beet Chops Topped with Blue Cheese Mousse & Peppery Greens
Serves 15

1 box beet chips, such as Papa Lenas
½ pound blue cheese, preferably Maytag, at room temperature
½ cup crème fraiche or sour cream
Peppery microgreens, sprouts or small greens, such as arugula

METHODS: Mix together the softened cheese and the crème fraiche or sour cream. Top each chip with a dollop of mousse and with a peppery green.

Radishes Topped with Goat Butter
Serves 15

4 ounces goat butter, softened
2 tablespoons mixed chopped herbs (such as basil or tarragon, chives, chervil or parsley)
1 bunch radishes, stemmed and cleaned
Coarse sea salt for garnish

Mix together butter and chopped herbs. Slice radishes thinly and soak in cold water. Dry slices and top with goat butter. Garnish with coarse sea salt.

Apples Cups with Green-less Waldorf Salad
Makes 36 cups

Apple Cups:
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
2 apples
1 ½ cup walnuts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 apple
6 ounces aged cheddar
¼ cup good mayonnaise, preferably Hellman’s
2 teaspoons good apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped

Apple Cups: Preheat oven to 200º F. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let the sugar dissolve completely. Cool. Slice whole, unpeeled, apples horizontally (through the core) to 1/8-1/16-inch thick. Dip each slice in sugar syrup. Place slices on a parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet and cook for 1 ½ to 2 hours or until pliable and light brown. Fit each slice into a non-stick mini-muffin cup to form a cup. Let dry.
Salad: Heat butter in a sauté pan over medium heat and add walnuts. Cook until golden. Let cool and coarsely chop. Peel apple and dice. Dice aged cheddar. In a medium bowl, mix together mayonnaise and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add apples, walnuts, cheddar and parsley. Fill cups with salad.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Family Dinner at Greater Chicago Food Depository Kids Cafe

When you volunteer as much of your time as I do for a non-profit, it has to be a labor of love. If it isn’t, inevitably, the work that you do for it will become just that: work. Even when you do love what you do, you can get so caught up in the small stuff that it becomes draining. So it’s wonderful when a project presents itself that is challenging, inspiring and clears out all the cobwebs.

Back in March, at Family Farmed Expo, I met Michael Meltzer the Manager of the Children’s Programs of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. We arranged to meet shortly thereafter to discuss the possibility of Purple Asparagus putting together programming for the Food Depository’s Kid’s Cafes. The Kids Cafes are an initiative of America's Second Harvest, the nation's food bank network, which is administered locally by the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Through the Kids Cafe program, the Greater Chicago Food Depository partners with after-school programs to provide a healthy and appetizing meal for kids after school.

While a great cause and a great opportunity, I was apprehensive about our involvement. Purple Asparagus’ mission is to bring families back to the table and the Kids’ Cafes served children between 12 and 18 – the age when kids want absolutely nothing to do with their parents. Michael gave our contact information to one Kids Café on Chicago’s south side. Phone calls were exchanged, but no connection made. He then put us in touch with one of the newer members of the program: Corazon Community Services.

Corazon Community Services is a “settlement house” program providing a variety of programs to youth and families in Cicero. Adam Alonso, the program’s executive director, is young, professional and dynamic – a person who has that unique ability to inspire and relate to teenagers. When I met with Adam and his youth program director, Ricardo Aguiñaga, it was clear that their program was pretty special. I was particularly impressed by the fact that they had purchased real dish, glass and flat-ware for the kids to eat with while they were at the center. The reusable wares were the inspiration for our family dinner project: helping a small group of the kids who come to the center cook dinner for their families.

The plan was simple: I would meet with 15 of the kids to decide upon a cuisine and come up with a rough menu. The only cuisine off limits would be Mexican as most of the kids were of Mexican descent. Purple Asparagus would shop for the food and would cook it with them in the 3 ½ hours between school and the dinner’s start: 6:30. Reservations were taken and, during the event, the kids would serve as hosts, servers or cooks during the early parts of the meal. During the main course, they would eat with their families.

When I met with the kids a week before, they surprised me turning down the somewhat familiar Chinese and Italian and instead choosing to make an Indian meal – a decision that was ironically appropriate. While shopping on Devon, I learned that our dinner was held during Diwali, the Indian harvest fest. The meal was remarkable. The kids, while inexperienced, were hard-working and willing to learn. Within that short 3 ½ period, we produced a feast that I would have been proud to serve to a client. This is the menu that we served:



Pappadums with Tamarind & Cilantro Chutneys
A Pair of Toasted Cashews with Two Freshly-Ground Curry Powders


Keralan-Style Grilled Shrimp
Homemade Samosas

Main Course, served buffet style

Saag Gosht
The Spice House “Tandoori” Chicken Served with Raita
Vegetable Biryani
Basmati Rice
Flour Tortillas (as a stand in for Naan)


Homemade Pistachio Kulfi
Mango Hedgehogs
Sugar-Coated Fennel Seeds

Dinner was served with Iced Chai

Second to working with the kids, the best part of this meal for me was when I realized and was able to articulate the similarities of Indian and Mexican cuisine, from raw ingredients (cilantro, tamarind, mangoes) to techniques (horchata/chai, the use of chiles, the reliance upon rice and flatbreads).


In developing the recipes for our dinner, I relied heavily upon Julie Sahni’s book for Williams-Sonoma.

Aloo Samosa

6-8 baking potatoes, about 2.5 lbs. total, unpeeled and quartered
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups cooked peas, fresh or frozen
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ cup vegetable oil
1 1/3 cup water
½ cup cornstarch dissolved in 1 cup water
1 quart vegetable oil

METHODS: Boil potatoes until very soft. Drain and when cool enough to handle, peel and mash in a bowl. Add coriander, cayenne, pepper, lemon juice, turmeric, salt and 2 tablespoons oil. Heat a large non-stick frying pan over high heat until very hot. Add the potato mix and dry-fry until the potatoes are lightly browned approximately 7-8 minutes. Fold in peas and mint. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder. Add all of the oil and the water a little at a time while stirring with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together. Knead on a lightly floured surface for about 1 minute. Cover with a floured cloth or plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes. Roll the dough into an 18-inch rope. Cut into 8 pieces. Form each piece into a ball and flatten into a patty. Roll the patty into a 6-inch circle. Cut the circle in half. Brush half of the straight edge with the cornstarch mix. Form a cone by bringing the halves of the straight edge together; pinch the seam to seal. Holding the cone with the open end toward you, stuff it with 3 heaping teaspoons of the filling. Brush the edges of the open cone with the cornstarch mix and pinch the edges together to enclose the filling. Repeat. Heat oil to 350 º F in a large kettle. Fry about 5 minutes or until golden brown

Keralan-Spiced Shrimp

3 lbs. shrimp
2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
4 teaspoons finely grated ginger
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon turmeric
pinch of cloves

METHODS: Mix peeled and deveined shrimp with next 7 ingredients. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in sauté pan and cook onion until golden. Soak wooden skewers in water for 20 minutes. Skewer the shrimp and cook on a hot grill.

Saag Gosht

½ cup vegetable oil
4 ½ pounds lamb shoulder cut into cubes
9 yellow onions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons finely grated ginger
3 tablespoons minced garlic
6 tablespoons coriander
3 tablespoons paprika
1 ½ teaspoons cayenne
1 ½ cups plain yogurt
6 canned tomatoes, finely chopped
4 ½ cups water
4 ½ teaspoons salt
3 hot green chilies, minced
3 cups packed chopped spinach, fresh or frozen
1 ½ cups cilantro

METHODS: In 6 tablespoons of oil, brown lamb in a hot pan in batches. Add remaining oil and sauté onions until golden brown. Stir in ginger, garlic, coriander, paprika, cayenne and yogurt and cook until moisture has almost completely evaporated. Return meat to pan and add tomatoes, water, salt, chilies and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer until the meat is tender approximately 2 ½ hours. Add spinach and cook until heated through, approximately 15 minutes. Garnish with cilantro.

Iced Chai
Serves 2

2 cardamom pods
1 1-inch pieces of cinnamon
2 cloves
2 cups water
2 cups milk
1½ tablespoons sugar
½ tablespoon loose Jasmine tea leaves

METHODS: Lightly crush spices. Combine them with water and milk and simmer, uncovered for about 2 minutes. Add tea and sugar and cook for about 1 minute longer. Strain and let cool. Serve over ice.

Vegetable Biryani

3 cups basmati rice
6 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
½ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
5 cups vegetable broth
2 cups chopped onions
4 teaspoons peeled and grated ginger
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch cayenne
1 cup water
2 medium carrots, sliced into ¼-inch slices
4 cups small cauliflower florets
2 medium bell peppers, diced
2 canned tomatoes, diced
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted for 1 minute in a microwave
2/3 cup raisins
1 ½ cup cooked chickpeas

METHODS: Heat 2 tablespoons ghee in a large saucepan over medium heat. When hot, sauté the rice stirring to coat each grain with ghee. Add broth, saffron, turmeric, salt and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Let simmer for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350º F. Heat remaining ghee in a large saucepan and sauté the onions until softened. Add ginger, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and cayenne and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add 1 cup of water, carrot and cauliflower. Cover, reduce heat and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook until the vegetables are tender. Butter a baking dish. Spread half of the rice in it. Cover with vegetables and top with remaining rice. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

We’re so looking forward to the next installment in our family dinners. Who knows what we’ll do next! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Instant Hospitality: Simple and Festive Hors d'oeuvres

I'll be teaching another class at Whole Foods this Thursday November 29. Last year, I taught this class at Provenance Food & Wine where I talked about how to assemble a well-stocked pantry that allow you to entertain those last minute guests. I'll also demonstrate how to make several delicious hors d'oeuvres that can be, believe it or not, assembled weeks ahead, frozen and baked just prior to serving.

Recipes will include: Puff Pastry Spirals with a variety of fillings, Savory Ice Box Crackers, Tuna Tapenade, Red Pepper & Goat Cheese Bruschetta, Curried Spinach Dip with Sweet Potato Chips and Pantry Kebobs.

Instant Hospitality: Simple and Festive Hors D'oeuvers 7:00-9:00 p.m at the Lincoln Park Whole Foods. Free, Registration Required. To sign up, call 312.587.0648.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Green Halloween at Green City Market

Join Purple Asparagus for the Green City Market's 3rd Annual Halloween Party!

Make a goody bag and fill it with healthy treats from the farmers. No costume? No problem! Our expert face painters will transform your child into the scary monster of their dreams (or nightmares).

When: 10am-12pm on Saturday October 27
Where: Green City Market (located at the south end of Lincoln Park between Stockton and Cannon Drives)

Be there and be scared!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Who wants pie?!

Sunday, October 14, 2007, is the 3rd annual Bucktown Apple Pie Contest benefitting Friends of Holstein Park and I, along with Tracy Kellner of Provenance Food and Wine and Naomi Stepanek of Tipsy Cake, will be one of the judges! Renowned pastry chef Gale Gand of Tru and Nancy Mathieson of the American Pie Council will be among the finalist judges.

Pie not your game? Come on by to hear great bluegrass music by Tangleweed, bring the kids to decorate pumpkins, bid on something great at the silent auction or just take your chances on the $1,000 cash raffle.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Naturally Healthy Children's Expo is this Saturday and Sunday from 10AM-6PM, at Chicago's Navy Pier! It promises to be two great days of family fun, good for parents, children, grandparents, and parents-to-be! Activities for kids include sing-alongs, storytelling, a worm farm, art projects, and a farmer's market. Adults can participate in informative sessions about children's health and wellness; creating a healthy, chemical free home; and cooking and buying healthy food. As an added bonus, there will be plenty of great products and free samples.
I will be emceeing the Healthy Kitchen and doing a cooking demonstration of the following recipes at 10:30am on Saturday and Sunday where I hope to show that snacks don't have to be orange and deep-fried for kids to like them. The following are the recipes that I will demonstrate.
Red Pepper Hummus on Pepper Shapes
Makes approximately 2 cups

1 red pepper
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
¾ cup dried chickpeas or 1 15-ounce can chick peas, drained
¼ teaspoon baking soda, if using dried chick peas
1/3 c. tahini, well stirred
1/3 c. fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

EQUIPMENT SUGGESTED: Medium-size bowl, colander, medium saucepan, food processor.

Cooking the chickpeas: If using dried chick peas, put them into a medium-size bowl and cover with water. Add ¼ teaspoon baking soda. Soak for 3 hours. Drain the chickpeas and put into a large pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, skimming the foam that rises to the surface and cook until tender approximately 30-45 minutes. Drain the chickpeas over a bowl so to reserve at least ½ cup of the cooking liquid.
Roasting the pepper: Rinse pepper. If you have a gas stove, turn a burner to high and put the pepper directly on the flame, turning it until all of pepper’s skin is blackened. If you have an electric stove, preheat your broiler and put the pepper on a small oven proof pan directly underneath the burner. Again, turn until all of the pepper’s skin is blackened. Put the pepper into a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap until the pepper is cool enough to handle. Peel the blackened skin off of the pepper and remove the seeds. Roughly chop.
Make hummus: Put the pepper, garlic, chick peas and tahini into a food processor. Through the feeding tube, pour the lemon juice and olive oil and puree until completely smooth Add salt & pepper to taste.
Do-Ahead Notes: The hummus can be made up to two days ahead and kept in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Bell Pepper Shapes

3 bell peppers, preferably 1 orange, 1 yellow and 1 red


METHODS: Slice off the top and the bottom of the peppers. Make a cut lengthwise down the middle of the pepper and remove the seeds. Using either a knife or cookie cutters, cut the pepper into squares, rectangles, circles and triangles.
The following recipe is a great use for the bell pepper scraps created by making the bell pepper shapes.

Tomatoes Filled with Minced Ratatouille
Serves 4

4 plum tomatoes
½ eggplant
½ yellow squash
1 cup red pepper scraps
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon Banyuls or other good red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
5 rounds ground pepper
¼ cup fresh bread crumbs, preferably from a brioche
1 ½ tablespoon unsalted butter
½ teaspoon snipped chives
¼ teaspoon thyme leaves
1 teaspoon basil, chopped

METHODS: Preheat the oven to 400º F. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Have a medium bowl of ice water ready. Lightly score an “x” at the base of each tomato. Blanch the tomatoes by submerging in the boiling water for 1 minute. Shock the tomatoes by placing into the ice water. Peel the skin. Finely mince the eggplant, yellow squash and red pepper scraps in a food processor. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute just until fragrant. Add minced vegetables and cook until softened approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. While the vegetables are cooking, seed and chop the flesh of the tomatoes. Add to the vegetable mix and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add vinegar and cook for 5 more minutes. Season to taste. Mix the bread crumbs with the butter and the herbs. Fill the tomatoes with the vegetable mixture. Top with bread crumb mixture and bake for 10 minutes or until the tomatoes are tender and the filling heated.
Mango Salsa
Serves four children for a snack, multiply the recipe accordingly.

1 firm-ripe mango
1 scallion or green onion
1 small sprig of cilantro
2 teaspoons lime juice
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

METHODS: Wash the mango. Cut the flesh away from the pit. Light score each half and fold backwards to create a "hedgehog." Cut the cubes away from the flesh with a spoon and place the cubes into a small bowl. Rinse scallion. Trim the end and finely chop. Chop or tear the cilantro leaves into small pieces. Mix mango, scallion, cilantro and lime juice in a small bowl. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Whole Wheat Tortilla Spikes

6 whole wheat-flour tortillas
Cooking spray
Kosher or sea salt

METHODS: Preheat oven to 400º F. Slice the whole wheat tortillas into ½-inch slices. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and place the tortilla spikes on top. Spray the spikes lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle with a little salt. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned and crispy. Cool in pan on a baking rack.
Homemade Berry Soda
Serves 1
2 ounces strawberries or raspberries, fresh or frozen
2 ounces white grape juice (you may need to increase the amount of grape juice depending upon the sweetness of the berries)
1 teaspoon lime juice, optional
4 ounces of seltzer water
METHODS: Mash the berries. Mix with white grape juice and pour into a tall glass filled with ice. Add lime juice and seltzer water.
Pumpkin Tortellini with Sage-Butter Sauce
Serves approximately 6

1 approximately 3 lb. sugar pumpkin, halved
1/3 c. grated parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Nutmeg to taste
1 lb. round or square wonton wrappers
1 stick unsalted butter
1 tbsn. finely chopped sage

METHODS: Preheat oven to 350° and cut a piece of parchment to fit a baking sheet. Put pumpkin halves on parchment and bake until soft, approximately 1 hour. Remove flesh from peel and puree in food processor or mash. Mix in parmesan cheese, salt and nutmeg. If using square wonton wrappers, cut out a circle with a round cookie cutter that nearly reaches the edges of the wrapper. While working with one wonton, keep the remaining wrappers covered with a moist towl. Put a scant teaspoon of filling in the center of the wonton, brush edges with water, fold in half like turnovers and seal. If making tortellini, press the edges together well with your fingers or the tine of a fork. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, lower to an aggressive simmer and add pasta, cook for 3-4 minutes or until tender. While the pasta is boiling, melt the butter in a sauté pan add sage and sauté until fragrant. Serve the pasta dressed with the sage butter sauce.
Please also visit Purple Asparagus at our booth to get more information about our activities and events.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Localvore Challenge

After a beautiful evening at the home of Bill Kurtis and Donna La Pietra to benefit the Green City Market, I've begun the weeklong Localvore challenge. A perfect way to begin this adventure, we enjoyed some wonderful offerings created from local product by some of the best Chicago chefs including Sarah Stegner, Rick Bayless, John Bubala, Kevin Hickey and Bruce Sherman. Tomatoes were in full force as was Tallgrass beef. The best dish of the night, in my opinion, was Kevin Hickey's silky tomato soup, served with tomato and watermelon salad and a grilled cheese sandwich. Chef Hickey explained that the watermelon was sealed in cryovac prior to dicing to intensify its flavor. The grilled cheese was deeply layered, using Bennison's cheese ciabatta and aged cheddar. Clearly, the best tomato soup and grilled cheese combo that I'll ever have.

Day One: I started out with a scrambled egg in which I melted some Wisconsin gruyere, Intelligentsia coffee and Farmer's Creamery milk. Lunch was at Ina's, one of the participating Localvore restaurants: a grilled cheese sandwich on rye. I realized that the one thing that I'd miss most this week. While sad to admit, I really craved the diet coke that my husband had with his sandwich. I stuck with water. Dinner was somewhat complicated as my parents are in from New York and while supportive of my participation, were unwilling to join in. Accordingly, my parents, son and husband all had grilled London Broil, while I ate an Illinois raised hamburger served on a whole wheat bun from Indiana with Wisconsin cheddar. We all shared Nichol's Farm corn with Organic Valley butter and started with a Shelly Bean and Kale Soup, the recipe for which is below.

Shelly Bean & Kale Soup

1 pound shell beans, such as cranberry or shelly beans, shelled
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
pinch of dried red pepper flakes
1 2-inch piece of Wisconsin parmesan rind
5 fresh plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 bunch Lacinto kale, heavy stem removed and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon good red wine, sherry or balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

METHODS: Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add shell beans and boil until tender. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Cook the onion for 2 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic clove and cook until fragrant. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add red pepper flakes, parmesan rind, plum tomatoes and kale and cook for 15 minutes. Add the beans and cook for an additional 15 minutes or until the kale is softened. Add vinegar and cook for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Day Two: A little too busy for breakfast today, so I instead fueled up on caffeine, Intelligentsia from Savor the Flavor at the corner of Sheffield and Lincoln. Savor the Flavor is an adorable little coffee shop owned by a charming woman who introduced herself when she handed me my coffee, certainly not your ordinary Starbucks experience. Lunch was chicken salad made by Sunday Dinner Chicago's Eat Green Foods sold at my friend Tracy Kellner's Provenance Food & Wine on California. Dinner at our house was a bit like a diner with two short order cooks working back to back. My parents, still unconvinced of my purpose in this challenge, had smoked butt from Paulina, my son, leftover steak from last night and I a grilled portobello mushroom from Wisconsin, recipe below. We all shared braised carrots, fingerling potatoes and cucumber salad.

Grilled Portobello Mushroom

1 large portobello mushroom, approximately 4-ounces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

METHODS: Brush off any dirt from the portobello mushroom and remove stem. Place the mushroom in a small shallow bowl and brush with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic, salt and pepper. Heat a grill pan or an outdoor grill. Grill mushroom until tender. Sprinkle with parsley.

Day Three: Unfortunately, this challenge has come at a pretty busy time for me, so cooking at home has been less frequent than usual. Fortunately, there are restaurateurs and other businesses supplying local fare to people participating. Today's breakfast was a bit of the pumpkin/pumpkin seed loaf from Capriole that I purchased while buying ingredients for this weekend's events. Dinner was at West Town Tavern, where I had a heirloom tomato salad and Miller Farm chicken with hushpuppies, greens and root vegetables. While a lovely meal, I've been a little disappointed by the restaurants participating in this challenge. No special menu items were stated or even listed at either Ina's or West Town. When I asked the waitress at West Town about what menu items fell would meet the challenge's requirements, she was unaware of the challenge and therefore no idea what I was talking about. Lunch was from home - a final test on a recipe that I'm serving for a wedding this weekend:

Moroccan Spiced Corn Soup with Harissa
Serves 4

3 ears corn
1 small shallot
2 sprigs thyme
4 cilantro stems
1 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
1 medium garlic clove, minced
½ Serrano chile, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and finely ground
¾ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and finely ground
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 Yukon Gold potato, cut into 1/8 inch dice
1 ½ tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
4 teaspoons of harissa

METHODS: Shuck corn and remove kernels from the cob. Place corn kernels into a bowl. Put cobs into a medium saucepan with shallot, thyme and cilantro stems. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Strain and reserve as corn stock. Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan until hot, but not smoking. Sauté red onion, garlic and Serrano chile until fragrant, approximately 2 minutes. Sprinkle pan with all-purpose flour and spices and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Add 3 cups of the corn stock and bring to a boil. Add potato and simmer for 5 minutes. Add corn kernels and cook for 10 minutes or until corn and potatoes are both tender. Let cool slightly and puree in a food processor. Force through a fine mesh sieve, pressing hard on solids; discard solids. Return to cleaned pan and bring to a simmer. Add kosher salt to taste, about 1 teaspoon. Add heavy cream and cook for 2 minutes. If the soup is too thick, add any remaining corn stock or water. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Pour into bowls and top with a teaspoon or less of harissa

Day Four: Two of the days meals were leftovers eaten in between running between shopping errands, the rest of the pumpkin bread from Capriole for breakfast and a nicely dilled chicken salad from Sunday Dinner Chicago. Dinner was my new favorite burger recipe, and another example of my obsession with harissa.

Beef Burgers with Harissa Mayonnaise

1/4 pound ground beef
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon good mayonnaise, preferably homemade
1 teaspoon harissa, Moroccan pepper paste
1/4 teaspoon good sherry vinegar (I use XO)
Tomato Slices
A whole wheat roll or English muffin

METHODS: Bring the meat to roughly room temperature before proceeding. Form the ground beef into a patty and season with salt and pepper. Grill on an open fire or in a grill pan for approximately 5 minutes a side. In the meantime, mix together the mayonnaise, harissa, and vinegar - season to taste. Put the burger on a bun or muffin half, dress with mayonnaise and layer tomato, lettuce and top with the remaining bun or muffin half.

Day 5 & 6: Unfortunately, due to increased busyness because of a wedding that Monogramme was catering on Saturday, I broke my challenge on Day 5 after a 14-hour day prepping in the kitchen and ordered meal from our local red sauce-Italian place, La Gondola. It was a satisfying and well-prepared Chicken parm, but I doubt much of what I was eating would qualify as local. Saturday's only official meal during a grueling 19-hour day was a pumpkin scone from Bleeding Heart Bakery. However, the produce for meal that the wedding guests enjoyed was largely locally sourced, including Iron Creek's cucumbers, red peppers, tomatoes and absolutely gorgeous, just-picked-the-evening-before green beans, Seedling's fruits, Green Acres lettuces and some Wisconsin portobellos.

All in all, it's not so difficult to eat locally in the month of September. Produce is at its peak and with all the Green City Market's meat producers, it's just not that much of a sacrifice. Personally, I found it more difficult to drink locally. I'm embarrassed to admit that I found myself missing my one or two diet cokes during the day and then there's wine. I drank a lot of Lynfred Winery's Chardonel, a pretty good wine given it's price point ($4.99), but it's not a wine that I would select over others. It would be interesting to do the localvore challenge in March. This past year I partnered with Candid Wines to put together an auction package for Healthy Schools Campaign: A Sustainable Evening for 6, where we promised to put together a meal with sustainable products, which to me has a strong local component. Fortunately, this turned out to be a wonderful opportunity - the winning bidder was a good friend of the wife of a political VIP and decided to host the event at this individual's home. Unfortunately, the dinner was scheduled for early April. Sourcing through individual farmers and from Irv & Shelly's Fresh Picks, I cobbled together the following menu. The wine pairings from Candid Wines are noted as well.


Hors d’oeuvres
A Trio of Snacks: Salt-Crusted Almonds, Wisconsin Parmesan Cheese Wafers &
Spring Radishes Topped with Herbed Goat Butter
Pierre Moncuit Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne, Non Vintage

First Course
Sweet Pea Ravioli in Wisconsin Parmesan Broth with a Garnish of Sliced Ham
1997 Kalin Cellars Semillon

Seared Scallop with Herb Salad & Hazelnut Vinaigrette
2003 Scherrer Vineyard Chardonnay, Scherrer Winery

Main Course
Pan-Roasted Salmon with Potato Puree, Beurre Rouge & Asparagus
2003 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Scherrer Winery

Rhubarb Brûlée with Meyer Lemon Madeleines
2003 Kerner Spatlese, Georg Gustav Huff, Rheinhessen

Mignardise & Coffee
A Trio of Chocolates from Coco Rouge
Intelligentsia Coffee

Obviously, it wasn't entirely local, but instead a hodge podge of local products, organic products and sustainably-grown or raised products from elsewhere. It definitely demonstrates the challenges of eating locally year round when you live in Illinois.

How to Throw a Dinner Party and Actually Enjoy It!

Join Melissa Graham for a cooking class at the Lincoln Park Whole Foods, 6:30pm on Thursday, September 20.

We all have this 1950’s inspired fantasy about dinner parties. Our guests arrive, fashionably late, of course, we open the door perfectly coiffed to an immaculate room lit by candles, John Coltrane playing lightly in the background. In reality, the doorbell rings five minutes before the party was to begin, the kitchen’s a mess, your significant other still hasn’t showered and the only music playing is the theme song from the television show that’s just ending.

In this class, “How to Throw a Dinner Party and Actually Enjoy It,” Melissa Graham will show you how to avoid the latter scenario through careful menu selection and a little advance planning. In addition to learning how to cook the specified menu, you’ll also receive valuable tips about pre-party organization. Unfortunately, there’s not much she can do about your recalcitrant significant other.


Butter-Toasted Marcona Almonds with Rosemary
Morrocan-Spiced Corn Soup with Harissa
Parmesan Crusted Veal or Chicken Cutlets with Arugula Salad
Roasted & Marinated Tri-Color Peppers
Individual Raspberry Trifles with White Chocolate Sauce

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Recycled Craft Projects

As promised, I wanted to share our craft projects from the 2007 Sprouts season. The majority of our crafts were simple projects that transformed ordinary household objects into something fun. At Purple Asparagus, we have accumulated a number of craft supplies, buttons, ribbons, paper flowers, some purchased and some recycled. This craft bin would be a great rainy day pick-me-up for any antsy group of kids.

Berry Box Sailboats
wooden berry boxes
hinged straws
construction paper
"Scotch" tape
crayons and craft supplies

METHODS: Cut construction paper into 5-inch righ-angled triangles. Punch two holes in at each end of the right angle. Thread the construction paper onto the long end of the hinged straw. Tape the short end to the bottom of the berry box. Decorate with crayons and craft supplies.

Egg Shell Herb Planters
egg shells, cleaned
herb seeds
organic potting soil
egg cartons, cut into individual cups

METHODS: Soak seeds as necessary. Add tablespoon of potting soil into the shell. Plant seeds. Decorate as desired. Place into egg carton cups. Place in a sunny place to sprout.

Pasta Necklaces
pasta with large holes, such as rotelle, penne, rigatoni
craft supplies

METHODS: Thread various pasta through yarn and decorate with craft supplies.

Milk Box Birdhouses
milk, buttermilk, cream or half and half cartons
crayons and craft supplies

METHODS: Cut a square out of one side of the milk carton. Cut a hole into the top of the carton and thread twine for hanging. Decorate with crayons and craft supplies. Add birdseed to milk carton and hang.

Toilet Paper Kazoos
cardboard toilet paper rolls
wax paper cut into 4-inch squares
rubber bands or twine
crayons and craft supplies
masking tape

METHODS: Cover one end of a toilet paper roll with a wax paper square and secure with a rubber band or twine. Decorate with crayons and craft supplies. Line the other end with masking tape. Make music.

Picture Frames
cardstock cut into rectangles, half of which should have a smaller rectangle cut out of it
Polaroid instant camera and film
crayons and craft supplies

METHODS: Take a picture of the child making the frame. Decorate the cardstock with the smaller rectangle cut out of it, preferably with recycled buttons and ribbons. Glue the picture into the frame and glue the back of the card onto it to create a card.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Annual Benefit for Purple Asparagus

On August 26, 95 adults and kids gathered to spend the afternoon in the garden at Crust.

It could not have been a more perfect day, the company was delightful, and we raised a lot of money for Purple Asparagus. All in all, the annual benefit for Purple Asparagus was a great sucess. We want to thank our sponsor, Goodness Greeness, our gracious donors, and all of the event's attendees. Here are some of the photos showing the fun that we had.

Our winning bidder in the live auction, who will appear on the webcast, Spatulatta!

Exploring the greenery.

Heather, our treasurer, hard at work.

Kids and adults enjoying the beautiful day!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Cooking with Kids on ABC7

To promote Purple Asparagus' benefit at Crust, I appeared on ABC7's 11:00am show yesterday, sharing my recipes for Peach Salsa, Smashed Tomato Bread and Sneak It in Pizza with Sylvia Perez and July Hsu. To see the video, click on

Sneak-it-in Pizza
Serves 4

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

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

Make dough: Heat the water in a microwave for approximately 30 seconds until 110° F. Pour the water into a large bowl or the bowl of stand mixer. Sprinkle yeast on top and add honey, stir to combine. Let the yeast mixture sit for 5 minutes while it foams. Add white wine, the flours, olive oil and salt to the bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon or with a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook until the water is absorbed. If kneading by hand, remove the mixture from the bowl and knead on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, but slightly tacky. If using the mixer, knead with the dough hook for approximately 2 minutes. Remove from the bowl before the dough is completely smooth and knead by hand for a few minutes or until smooth and elastic, but slightly tacky. Put the dough into a large bowl coated with oil and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 hour. If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven at this time. Preheat the oven to 500° F. Uncover the dough, punch it down and let rise for another 45 minutes.
Make sauce: While the dough is rising, make the sauce. Coarsely chop the tomatoes, preferably in a blender, pulsing once or twice. Finely mince the garlic clove. Heat the oil in a medium-size sauce pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté approximately 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Cook until slightly reduced, approximately 20 minutes. Add vinegar and cook for another 5 minutes.
Rolling and baking pizza: Cut the dough into four pieces with a chef’s knife or a dough scraper. Press or roll out each piece on a lightly-floured surface. If using a pizza stone, sprinkle a sheet pan or a baker’s peel with coarsely-ground cornmeal. Lay the dough on top. Brush the edges of the dough with the olive oil. Spread a quarter of the sauce on top of the dough, top with mozzarella and then “decorate” with desired toppings. With a flip of the wrist, transfer unbaked pizza to stone in the oven. If you do not have a pizza stone, bake the pizza on a baking sheet. Close oven and reduce the temperature to 450° F. Bake for approximately 10 minutes until the edges are browned.
Do-ahead notes: The dough can be frozen. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator.

Smashed Tomato Bread (a.k.a. Pa Amb Tomàquet)
Serves 1, increase accordingly for more

1 slice of good peasant-style bread
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 fresh tomato
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or coarse sea salt
METHODS: Toast, griddle, or grill bread. Crush clove of garlic and rub on the warm bread. Halve tomato and rub each on the bread, allowing the juices of the tomato to soften the bread slightly. Discard tomato. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle with salt as desired.

Peach Salsa and Tortilla Spikes are found in the Sprouts recipes.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Purple Asparagus's Annual Benefit at Crust: Eat Real (2056 W. Division)

Purple Asparagus, a non-profit dedicated to bringing families back to the table, is hosting its third annual benefit at Crust: Eat Real. Located at 2056 West Division, Crust is the first certified organic restaurant in the Midwest. On Sunday, August 26, 2007, from 4:00pm-6:00pm, Chef Altenberg is graciously opening his restaurant to us for a family dinner that will be great fun for all ages. The event, which is sponsored by Goodness Greeness, America's largest privately-held organic distributor, will feature a bountiful sampling from Crust's wonderful menu as well as organic beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages.

Proceeds for the event and the auction will allow us at Purple Asparagus to expand our programs in the schools and further our ability to teach families about good eating.

Adult tickets are $45.00 for members and $50.00 for non-members. Tickets include beer, wine and nonalcoholic beverages. Big Kid (5-12) tickets are $10.00 for members and $12.00 for non-members. Little Kids are free. To purchase tickets, you can mail a check payable to Purple Asparagus c/o Melissa Graham at 1824 West Newport Ave.Chicago, IL 60657 or visit Brown Paper Tickets to buy tickets by credit card. Please call 773-991-1920 or email for any questions.

For added fun, there will be a live auction where you can bid on a guest spot on the award-winning web cast, SPATULATTA! We also have a great silent auction line-up that will appeal to a variety of tastes. Our list thus far is: a Chicago Barbecue Tour with Doctor of Ribs, Gary Wiviott, whose talents are often profiled in the columns of John Kass; a Sustainable Evening, a seasonal meal prepared with sustainable product by Monogramme Events & Catering and paired with sustainable wines from Provenance Food & Wine; a birthday party for 15 at The Kids' Table; a mixed case of sustainable wine from Candid Wines, a month's worth of certified-organic food delivered by Maddy's Organic Meals; Chicago Gift Box from The Spice House; a pie from Hoosier Mama; baskets from Seedling, Fox & Obel, Marion Street Cheese Market, Beauty on Call, M.A.C. and Gourmet 47; a gift bag from children's' milliner, Ooh la la!; gift certificates to Timo, Paramount Room, Uncommon Ground, Katachi, Dirk's Fish & Gourmet, Chopping Block, Language Stars, Om on the Range Yoga Studio, Shelly's Fresh Picks, Tipsy Cake, Jump Ahead Academy, Southport Hair, Parto Nadieri Salon, Merry Music Makers, Hotslings and Ellie's Party; tickets for Baby Loves Disco, Victory Garden and Remy Bumppo; a Cutie Pie Kit from Homemade Pizza Company; and jewelry and a gift certificate from Team Blonde Jewelry.

Notes on Sustainable/Organic Wine Review

Because many of you may not click onto the post following the wine review I would like to summarize some of the knowlegeable comments supplied by Damien Casten of Candid Wines.

On biodynamics, Damien elaborates noting that a key element of this type of wine production is the "application of a closed system ecology" such as that applied by Nicholas Joly whose farm also includes goats, chickens, cows and other animals who contribute to the life cycle of the vine and therefore the wine. Damien also notes that there are affordable biodynamic wines. I've asked him to provide me a list, which I will be happy to try and review (I certainly will never turn down good wine). In my recent exploration, the most affordable biodynamic wine that I tried was $17.99. Unfortunately, it wasn't particularly special and thus not a good value in my view. With the exception of the Cooper Mountain, all of the wines on this list are $15.00 and under, a price range that I can justify as an everyday wine or a wine for a weekend night for my husband and me.

Damien correctly notes that organic wines are those produced without "synthetic" herbicides and fungicides. I had used the definition used in my wine reference books, but it is absolutely true that copper sulfate is used in organic agriculture, which is considered a synthetic.

On Damien's contrast between sustainable and organic, I struggle with this as well. Just consider recent articles questioning whether local foods are necessarily sustainable discussed in a recent issue of Grist. I think that those of us working in this area all have our own individual priorities that may adjust from situation to situation. Take peaches for example. Peaches are one of the "dirty dozen" meaning that they typically contain higher levels of pesticides. However, peaches do not travel well, the ones you get at the grocery store are either hard and under ripe or mealy - very rarely perfect. So while my favorite local fruit farmer is not certified organic, I would rather eat his perfectly-ripe peaches than the organic ones available in the store. But of course, this brings us to Damien's point about looking someone in their eye and being able to ask why their product is sustainable. I'm comfortable buying these conventionally-grown peaches because I know the farmer. Ultimately, however, while organic agriculture may not always be the highest form of sustainability, it's an obvious improvement for the environment and one worth supporting.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Review of Sustainable Wines

Those who know my husband and me would agree that there’s no more appropriate way to start this blog than with a review of sustainable wines. We like wine. When I was a child, wine was invariably served with dinner. This is a tradition that my husband and I have incorporated into our family life. When we were both Big Law partners, we could afford a “good” ($15-20)wine each night. But after I left the law for the food world, we needed to change our habits or at least our wine selections. These days, we have our weeknight wines and our weekend wines. We’ve become masters at finding “value” ($15 and under) wines: high quality, yet inexpensive. As a result, while the vast majority of the food that we eat on a daily basis is sustainably-produced, I haven’t given as much thought to the wine that we drink. My perception was that these wines would be far too expensive for everyday consumption.

The motivation for challenging my perception is two-fold. First, I need to find value wines to serve at our Purple Asparagus benefit on August 26th at Crust: Eat Real, the first certified organic restaurant in the Midwest. But also, I would like to find wines that are both kind to the earth and my wallet.

Before I share my tasting notes, I should explain a little about the different categories of “sustainable” wines.

Organic Wines: Organic wines are those produced without synthetic fungicides, pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Wines that are imported may be labeled organic without bearing the USDA Organic seal as long as they meet the organic standards of the country from which they are imported.

USDA Organic Wines: Organic wines are made from at least 95% organic ingredients and are certified by an agency, which will be named on the label. A USDA organic wine cannot have any added sulfites. To determine whether a wine is USDA Organic, just look for the USDA seal.

Made with Organic Grapes, Organically Grown Grapes: Wines bearing this label are made with 70% or more organic ingredients. While it cannot bear the USDA Organic seal, it must give information about the agency certifying the organic ingredients. Wines in this category may contain added sulfites.

Biodynamic Wines: Like organic farming, biodynamic agriculture shuns chemical fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides. In fact, this type of agriculture is considered by some to be a sub-set of organic agriculture. What sets it apart from organic agriculture is its emphasis on the spiritual side of nature. Very romantic, even slightly kooky, biodynamic vintners keep track of the moon, the stars and tides and their perceived effect on their vines. However strange it may sound, I intuitively feel that biodynamic agriculture and wine are a perfect fit, at least to make some very special wines. I have not found any biodynamic wines affordable enough to be an everyday wine or even a weekend wine. Instead, these are best reserved for a special occasion. I’ve been particularly impressed by the biodynamic wines produced by Nicolas Joly and by Baumard.

Local Wines: If you’re lucky enough to live in a wine-growing region, buying local is easy. For those of us who live in colder climes, wine tends to fall into the same category as coffee and spices, a staple for which we will set aside our ordinary desire to support local producers.

A Note on Sulfites: Sulfites serve as a preservative in wines. While there wines include naturally occurring sulfites that are a byproduct of fermentation, organic wines cannot include any added sulfites. I will note that we encountered a far greater percentage of spoiled wines while tasting organic wines and wines made with organically-grown grapes than ever before, including one that was so disgusting that you could smell its putrid bouquet from a room away.


Cooper Mountain Vineyards Pinot Noir 2004 (Oregon) (Organically Grown Grapes) $16.99. Ruby color, nice weight, balanced acidity, elegant with notes of stone fruits, plums and cherries. This is slightly above my price limit of "value" wines, but it was really good. I would open it for a really nice everyday meal.

La Rocca Vineyards Barbaresco 2005 (California) (USDA Organic) $14.99. This bottle was corked.

Frey Pinot Noir 2006 (California) (USDA Organic) $14.99. My husband said that it had the bouquet of a McDonald’s cheeseburger. I don’t necessarily agree, but it is a funky and not particularly pleasant wine. Not a good value.

Frey Petite Sirah 2004 (California) (USDA Organic) $13.99. Deep color, well-rounded fruit, a little spice and good acidity.

Frey Syrah (California) (USDA Organic) $12.99.

Albet i Noya Tempranillo 2005 (Spain) (Organic) $10.99. Spanish wines are one of the great values in the wine world. This is a really good wine – warm, good balanced flavors, tannin and fruit. I would buy this again even if it weren’t organic.

Stellar Organics Cabernet 2004 (South Africa) (Organic) $9.99. Many South African wines have a rough hewn quality to them and this is no exception. Dark in color, slightly woody in taste with good fruit, especially blackberry

Orleans Hill Lodi Syrah 2006 (California) (USDA Organic) $9.99. A typical Syrah, in my opinion. I’ve never been a big fan of Syrah as I find them to have a cloying quality that verges on sweetness. Good dark purple color.

Frey Natural Red (California) (USDA Organic) $7.99. An inoffensive wine, light in texture and in taste. For the price point, it’s a good value as it’s easy to drink.

Orleans Hill Zinfandel 2006 (California) (USDA Organic) $8.99. A good, eminently drinkable wine. Like most zinfandels, it is fruit forward. It is a little light in its weight on the tongue and nowhere as rich as many other zins, but heck, it only cost $8.99.


Lolonis Ladybug White Cuvee 11 (California) (Pesticide-free) $12.99. Made of Colombard, Semillon, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, this was crisp, refreshing with well-balanced acidity. I liked this a lot.

Lolonis Fume Blanc 2004 (California) (Pesticide-free) $11.99. I really like this wine. Well-balanced, crisp with just a hint of sweetness. I also appreciate their labeling, which has an adorable picture of a ladybug on a leaf. I didn’t think much of it – I dismissed it as a cute picture to appeal to the wine novice. Their tagline “Ladybugs Love Lolonis” explains that its presence is not simply novelty, but instead to show that the vintner uses friendly predators to make their vineyards pesticide free.

Meinklang Gruner Veltliner 2006 (Austria) (Organically Grown Grapes) $9.99. Quite a nice gruner, crisp with a bit of sweetness.

La Rocca Vineyards Chardonnay 2005 $9.99 (California) (USDA Organic). Crisp with nutty tones, but not oaky. Richer than most of the other white wines that we tried.

Terra Sana Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (France) (Organically Grown Grapes) $10.99. Light and crisp, very refreshing with citrus notes, but not overwhelming grapefruit flavors as many Sauvignon Blancs tend to be.

Snoqualmie Naked Riesling 2006 (Washington) (Organically Grown Grapes) $9.99. A good example of a Riesling, slight sweetness that would pair well with spicy foods.

Orleans Hill Viognier (USDA Organic) $9.99. This was the second corked bottle that we had, which is obviously a risk when you’re buying sulfite-free wine. Always keep your receipt when buying organic wine and check the cork before pouring.

Frey Sauvignon Blanc 2005 (California) (USDA Organic) $8.99. A slight aeration; herbaceous, not particularly grapefruit-y. Not great.

La Rocca Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2003 (California) (USDA Organic) $5.99 on sale. Semi-sweet and refreshing. Not particularly memorable.


Organic Consumers Association, Clearing Up the Confusion About Organic Wine

Albet i Noya, Cellar

Joly, Nicolas, Wine from Sky to Earth: Growing & Appreciating Biodynamic Wine (1999).

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sprouts at the Green City Market 2007

"Our favorite volunteer"

"Artist hard at work"

"Enjoying the fruits of our labor. "

Another season of Sprouts at Chicago’s Green City Market has come to an end. It’s been a great eight weeks and we’ve had a ton of fun and all of us at Purple Asparagus want to thank you for a great season! We’ll be back for the Halloween Party, October 27. But, until then, I thought I would share some photos taken at our booth as well the recipes that we used for our cooking projects. Next week, I’ll include the instructions for our craft projects. Special thanks to board member Elena Marre of for co-developing our cooking projects.

Homemade Strawberry Yogurt
Serves 2 as a snack
8 ounces plain yogurt
3 strawberries, sliced
1 teaspoon honey (optional)

Mash the strawberries and mix with the yogurt. If it is too tart for your taste, add honey. You can also mix in granola or flaxseeds if desired.

Herbed Yogurt Dip with Carrot and Celery Sticks
Serves 4 as a snack
8 ounces plain yogurt
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of mixed herbs, any mixture of basil, parsley or chives, torn or cut into small pieces with a kid-scissor
fine sea salt and coarsely ground pepper to taste
carrots and celery sticks

Combine the first three ingredients in a small bowl and stir with a carrot or celery stick. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Homemade Berry Soda
Serves 1
2 ounces strawberries or raspberries, fresh or frozen
2 ounces white grape juice (you may need to increase the amount of grape juice depending upon the sweetness of the berries)
1 teaspoon lime juice, optional
4 ounces of soda water

Mash the berries. Mix with white grape juice and pour into a tall glass filled with ice. Add lime juice and soda water.

Peach Salsa
Serves 2 as a snack, multiply the recipe accordingly.
1 firm ripe peach
½ scallion or green onion
1 small sprig of cilantro
1 teaspoon of lime
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Chop the peach into ½ inch pieces. Wash scallion. Trim the end and finely chop the scallion. Chop or tear the cilantro leaves into small pieces. Mix peach, scallion, cilantro and lime juice in a small bowl. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Individual Corn Cups or Whole Wheat Tortilla Spikes
Makes 20 corn cups or approximately 36 tortilla spikes
10 5 ½-inch corn tortillas or 6 whole wheat-flour tortillas
Cooking spray

Corn Cups: Preheat oven to 400º. Heat a 8 or 9-inch skillet. Spray a tortilla with cooking spray. Heat in pan until pliable. Cut the corn tortillas into smaller rounds using a 4- inch biscuit cutter or trim around a 4 inch-cup. Fit the tortillas into a muffin tin. Repeat. If the tortillas will not remain in cups, you can top them with pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. If using the pie weights, remove them after 15 minutes and return the cups to the oven and bake until done. Cool on a baking rack.

Tortilla spikes: Slice the whole wheat tortillas into ½-inch slices. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and place the tortilla spikes on top. Spray the spikes lightly with cooking spray. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned and crispy.

Gourmet Ants on a Log
Makes 1
1 celery stick
1 tablespoon goat cheese
dried cherries or blueberries

Spread the goat cheese on the celery stick. Place the “ants” (cherries and blueberries) on the goat cheese.

Very Cherry Berry Salad (Provided by Elena Marre of The Kids’ Table as adapted from a recipe of the Washington State Fruit Commission)
Serves 4 as a snack or a dessert
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons lime juice
1 ½ teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh mint
¼ teaspoon finely grated lime peel
Salt to taste
2 cups pitted and halved sweet cherries
½ cup blueberries, rinsed and stemmed
½ diced apple (cored, but unpeeled)

In a medium bowl, combine the olive oil, lime juice, honey, mint, lime peel and salt. Whisk well. Add the cherries, blueberries and diced apple. Gently toss to coat the fruit with the dressing.

Tomato Sandwiches
Serves 1
1 tomato slice, halved
1 teaspoon goat cheese
1 teaspoon cilantro pesto, recipe to follow

Spread the goat cheese and pesto on to one half of the tomato slice and top with the other half.

Cilantro Pesto
Makes approximately ¾ cup
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
1 large garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 cup packed cilantro leaves
¼ extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper to taste

By Food Processor: Toast the pumpkin seeds in a small sauté pan over medium high heat until lightly colored. Let cool. Add garlic, cilantro and pumpkin seeds to food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Pour the oil through the feed tube while the motor is running and puree until almost completely smooth.

By mortar & pestle: Toast the pumpkin seeds in a small sauté pan over medium high heat until lightly colored. Let cool. In a mortar, add all ingredients and mash until almost completely smooth.

Fruit Art:
Melons, carved with a melon baller
Peaches, plums and nectarines, sliced

Take any variety of the fruits listed above and use your creative juices to make art on your canvas (a.k.a. your plate).

Thursday, August 9, 2007


Welcome to Having-Company, a resource for those of us trying to understand and incorporate sustainable practices and principles into our lives. I’m a former attorney who left the law several years ago to open a Chicago-based, boutique catering company, Monogramme Events & Catering, which specializes in seasonable and sustainable cuisine. I’m also the founder and president of a non-profit, Purple Asparagus, dedicated to bringing families back to the table by promoting and enjoying all the things associated with good eating.

Sustainability seems to be on everyone’s tongues these days, everywhere from Wal-Mart to high-end restaurants where chefs name drop farmers like fashion conscious teenagers do with designers. A Google search for the word “sustainable” yields over 100 million hits, many with their own take, particularly when it serves the user’s bottom line. But what is it really? Is sustainability about eating organic? Is it buying local? Or is it incorporating green practices and materials? The definition used most often is meeting today’s needs without compromising those of tomorrow. When it comes right down it, these are all simply part of the same ideal: cultivating meaningful connections of people with one another and with the earth.

There’s no better place to connect with one another than at the table. But, unfortunately, the simple act of having family and friends over for a meal has somehow morphed into the anxiety-inducing “entertaining”. When I was a child, my parents didn’t entertain, they had company. Sometimes we ate in our dining room with good china, other times on our back deck with paper plates. While the meal was important, it was always more about the people at the table than the food on it.

Having company is one of the best ways to introduce sustainability into everyday life. Food can nourish more than our bodies as a thoughtful and well-prepared meal can fill your heart and expand your mind. We all eat, and by sharing food with family and friends, we foster the connections that sustain us. If we prepare meals that respect the seasons and incorporate products that are kind to the environment, we create a bond not only between people, but between people and the earth.

In this resource, I want to inspire people to build and sustain connections within their communities. To do this, I will provide sustainable resources, recipes and information about events and projects in which to become involved. The better connected that we are to one another and to earth, the more likely we’ll take care of each other and it.