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.