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.

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