Thursday, January 29, 2009

What's This?


The Jerusalem artichoke is a vegetable with an identity crisis. Neither an artichoke nor from Jerusalem, it is instead a native American member of the sunflower family that acquired its name when the French who discovered it in the 1600’s thought that it tasted like an artichoke. The modifier Jerusalem is a corruption of the Italian word for sunflower “Girasole.” Around the middle of the last century, retailers of the tuber, resolved the confusion by renaming it the Sunchoke. Sunchokes are generally light brown and knobby, looking like a cross between a piece of ginger and a Yukon gold potato. Some, like the ones pictured, have a reddish tinge. Taste-wise, they have mild, nutty flavor. Sunchokes are good mashed, steamed, deep fried and even raw in salads.


Sunchoke Chips
Serves 2

2 large sunchokes or 3 smaller ones
4 cups vegetable oil
Coarse sea salt

METHOD: Heat the oil in a large saucepan to 325° F. While waiting for the oil to come to temperature, thinly slice the sunchokes on a adjustable slicer between 1/8 and 1/16-inch thick. Essentially, slice it as thinly as possible while remaining in one piece. Drop the slices into the hot oil and cook until light brown approximately 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on crumbled paper towels. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and serve.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Going Against the Grain

Growing up in a German family, our daily bread was rarely white. Dark hued rye and pumpernickel were far more common. This was fine with me at least until I went to school. Seduced by the soft, squeezy texture of the white bread found in most of my friend’s lunch bags, I was done with whole grains. When I saw the bright colored, bubbly bag of the wonderful Wonder bread – Yowsa! “Air sots!” my mother would exclaim - not that I understood what those were, I assumed it was whatever gave it that beguiling texture and wan shade. Read more at the Local Beet.


Friday, January 9, 2009

What's This?

This post is the first in a series called “What’s This?” I know that many of my readers, clients and friends either frequent the farmers markets or are members of a CSA (community supported agriculture). In doing so, regardless of your level of cooking skill, you will inevitably come across a fruit or vegetable that’s completely unfamiliar to you. This series is intended to answer the question “what’s this?” and more importantly “what do I do with it?”

Dinosaur kale

At the Green City Market just before Christmas, I picked up some young dinosaur kale from Genesis Growers. Kale is a cold weather green, extreme cold. In fact, its flavor and color is at its best only after a frost. Considered a brassica, kale is related to cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Many people will be most familiar with the flowering variety, which is seen in many a floral arrangement in October and November. While attractive, this is by far not the best use of the plant.

Kale is highly nutritious, with large amounts of beta carotene, vitamin K and vitamin C. It’s relatively high in calcium and is considered to be full of antioxidant properties. It’s also one of the few greens that we can find grown locally into the Winter months. Young kale can be used raw in a salad or sautéed in a little olive oil. Older kale benefits from a long cooking with aromatics such as onions or garlic.

I used my young kale to make a one dish supper with some Polish sausage that we received in our last Cedar Valley Sustainable Valley share. The kale was so tender that I was able to remove the stems as I would do with spinach, by pinching each leaf half together like a book and pulling the stem down and away from the veins.

Polish Sausage Cooked in Red Wine with Young Kale
Serves 3-4

4 polish sausages
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 bunch young kale, washed and harder stems removed
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 cup red wine
1 cup water

METHOD: In a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, brown the sausages. Remove to a plate. Let the pan cool slightly and add olive oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the garlic and cook until fragrant approximately 30 seconds. Add kale and stir to combine. Pour in wine and water and return sausages to the pan with any juices accumulated on the plate. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes and kosher salt and bring the liquid to a simmer and cook until the kale is wilted and most of the juices have evaporated.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I've Got the Blues

At Monogramme, we own a beautiful cheese platter. Made from the top of a barrel that once aged Cabernet, it's quite dramatic and useful when serving a cheese course to many guests. Given our locavore tendencies, we prefer to stock it with locally produced cheeses. In the midwest, we've got such great aged cheddars, Wisconsin parmesans like Stravecchio, and a variety of goat cheeses ranging from fresh logs to aged boules with at least one Camembert-style one thrown into the mix. Up until recently, however, I've been stymied on blue cheeses. Yes, there's Maytag; but I'm just not a big fan - the samples that I've tried recently just haven't the depth of flavor that I prefer in my cheeses. My dilemma was recently solved when our friend, Tracy Kellner began stocking a lovely gorgonzola-style blue called Mindoro at Provenance Food & Wine.


Mindoro is made by Swiss Valley Farms, a cooperative of dairy farmers, in Mindoro, Wisconsin, which is located in the southwestern part of the state. According to their website, Swiss Valley specializes in blue-veined cheeses and the Mindoro plant manager is a certified Wisconsin master cheesemaker.

The Mindoro gorgonzola is a semi-soft cow's milk cheese with bluish-green veins. The taste on the tongue is creamy with crystalline bites. It's full flavored, but not overpowering, spicy at the back of the throat with just the right touch of saltiness. It's great for cooking, but stands well alone or with a few toasted pecans. The Mindoro has been a very popular cheese at our events. And if I these weren't enough reasons to like this cheese, there's always the price: about $12.00 a pound.

Using a little of what I left over from our last event, I made a compound butter to top a Cedar Valley ribeye.


Blue Cheese Butter

1 tablespoon blue cheese at room temperature
1 teaspoon butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon Madeira or Port


Mix together all ingredients and put a dab of it onto a just cooked steak.

The last of the few ounces, three to be exact, went into a souffle, an outstanding way to finish of almost any cheese.


Blue Cheese Souffle
Adapted from Ina Garten's recipe in Barefoot in Paris
Serves 3-4 depending on appetite and size


4 tablespoons unsalted butter plus 1 tablespoon for the dish
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese plus more for dusting
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk, heated to 110 degrees on the stove or in a microwave
pinch nutmeg, cayenne
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
5 large eggs, separated
3 ounces blue cheese, chopped
pinch of cream of tartar

METHODS: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 4-quart souffle dish with 1 tablespoon butter and dust with 1 tablespoons parmesan cheese. In a medium saucepan, heat the remaining butter over medium heat until the foam subsides. Add flour and cook for 2 minutes stirring. Whisk in hot milk until smooth and cook stirring for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and add 4 egg yolks* one by one. Add salt, spices, remaining parmesan and blue cheeses and stir until relatively smooth (there will likely still be small chunks of blue cheese). Cool slightly while beating the egg whites. Put the whites in the bowl of a stand mixer, a beat on low speed until frothy, approximately one minute. Add cream of tartar and increase the speed to high and let it go until the whites hold a stiff peak when the beater is lifted. Incorporate a 1/3 of the egg whites into the sauce base by folding very gently. Add the remaining egg whites, combining quickly and softly. Scrape the batter into the prepared dish. Place in the center of the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 375. Bake for approximately 45 minutes.

*SECOND USE: The remaining egg yolk can be frozen. Depending upon how you plan to use it, break it up with a 1/4 teaspoon sugar or salt to prevent it from getting gummy.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Farmers Market Fix

On this cold and snowy day, it may seem like the last thing to contemplate would be the opening of the 2009 market season. Nevertheless, some of our farmers will be making the trip into the City this weekend for a market sponsored by CCLP (Churches Center for Land and People). The farmers donate 10% of what they earn at CCLP markets to Harvest for Hope Fund, which has been giving monetary assistance to farmers in crisis due to illness or other unforeseen issues. The market will be at St. Ben's parish at 2219 West Irving Park this Saturday from 9am to 1pm. Last month, the folks from Tomato Mountain and River Valley Ranch were there. Arnold's Farm will be offering beef, pork and poultry (pre-orders are recommended). In addition to the opportunity to buy local products directly from the farmer, the Parish will offer an a la carte cafe, including breakfast casserole, scones and fair-trade coffee.

For more information or for information about other Winter markets, visit Local

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Delivery Resolution: The Local Beet

Like many of us, I have several New Year’s resolutions. Some of which are pretty common – there’s always my promise to exercise more. Others a little less expected – since my holiday cards are STILL unmailed, I resolve to write them in July this year. Given that I’m marching towards a pretty significant milestone birthday, some are pretty personal – these I won’t be publicizing. There is one, however, that is particularly relevant to Local Beet Readers. To read more.

Organic Wine Match of the Day

Through one of my social networking sites, a Denver-based wine columnist, Randy Caparoso, found me and sent me his daily newsletter on organic wine and food pairings. Thorough and appetite-whetting, his writing is a real treat.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Chicken in Many Pots

About six months ago, our household signed up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) offered by Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, individuals and families buy a “share” in a local farm that entitles them to a box of products, most commonly produce, selected by the farmer on a periodic basis (weekly, bi-monthly or monthly). Some farmers only offer shares during the growing season, others provide them throughout the year supplementing the local product (at least in states with a limited growing season like in Illinois) with organic fruits and vegetables from California.

Signing up was a minor leap of faith given our previous, experience with CSAs. A few years back, we had ordered a weekly share from King’s Hill Farm. Foolishly, I started our deliveries in March, a few months before the growing season kicked in, so our box was full of California-grown products. This was tolerable until mid-June, at the height of strawberry season, when we were still receiving moldy mangoes as our fruit allocation.

The Cedar Valley CSA was offered through my friend Tracy Kellner’s excellent food and wine shop, Provenance Food & Wine. With her endorsement and the ability to participate for a limited time (3 months), we signed up. Each month, we would pick up a monthly allotment of meat. Since then, we’ve purchased a second six-month term – a testament to the high quality of their product.

Typically, our share includes approximately 12 to 15 pounds of meat and between a half dozen and two dozen eggs. We’ve seen hams, finely-spiced sausages, ground beef, chops of both pork and beef and lots of chicken, at least one whole chicken a month ranging from dainty poussins to 3 plus pound roasters.

Roast chicken, as we all know, is an ideal family dinner. For most of us, it feels like a well-worn pair of jeans that flatter. It’s simple to prepare and will satisfy even a picky five-year old. Finally, it’s the gift that keeps on giving as the carcass can and should be transformed into a quick stock (recipe follows).

Here are my secrets to a well-roasted chicken:

1. Slather with butter, it browns and crisps the skin.
2. Salt more than you think is necessary. It aids in the crisping of the skin and brings out the flavor.
3. Trussing is easy – simply take a 10-inch piece of twine. Place the midway point of the twine under the tail of the chicken. Curl it around the leg bones by twisting it around the side of the bone closest to the breast. Wrap it around each leg 360° degrees and pull them close to the body. Cross the breasts, bring the twine next to the sides of the body and tie at the top. Tuck the wings under the twine as best as possible. The picture above should aid in understanding these instructions.
4. Shift the position of the chicken approximately every 15 minutes to ensure even browning. This does violate my ordinary rule of thumb, which is to open the oven as little as possible while baking or roasting - it really does aid in the even browning of the bird.
5. I follow Nigella Lawson’s formula for time, which hasn’t failed me yet. Roast the chicken for 15 minutes a pound plus 10 minutes.

Roast Chicken

1 3 lb. chicken, preferably organic
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¼ smoked paprika (optional)
kosher or coarse sea salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon

METHOD: If you have a convection oven, preheat it to 375º F; otherwise, preheat it to 425° F. Halve the lemon and put it in the cavity. Truss the chicken according the instructions above and put it in a small roasting pan. Combine the butter and paprika and massage the chicken with it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for about 55 minutes, until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 165° F.

You can always add garlic cloves, shallots or onions to the pan to serve the chicken. Peel them and add toss them alongside the chicken to roast with it.


If you’d like to serve the chicken with gravy, here’s my simply recipe for it.

1 tablespoon all purpose flour
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup chicken stock, canned is fine, homemade is better, or water

METHOD: Remove the chicken from the pan and place it on a cutting board. Cover with aluminum foil. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat from roasting pan. Put the pan on a burner on medium heat. Add flour and cook until lightly colored about 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in chicken stock or water and white wine, simmer until thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chicken Stock (from carcass)

1 chicken carcass from a roast chicken
½ carrot, peeled and sliced ½-inch thick
½ stalk celery, sliced ½-inch thick
½ onion, peeled
½ sprig thyme
½ sprig parsley
½ bay leaf

METHOD: In a large pot, cover the chicken carcass and remaining ingredients with cold water by two inches. Bring the water to a low simmer and cook for 1 hour. Let cool slightly. Strain into a large bowl and let cool, preferably over an ice bath. Refrigerate overnight to allow the fat to solidify. Remove fat and either use or apportion it into smaller containers.

For more information about Cedar Valley Farm, please visit Local Harvest

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Surreal Meal

Last night, my husband, son and I had a very strange meal at one of our new favorite restaurants, Anteprima. Anteprima is an artisanal Italian restaurant in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago. Naming the neighborhood is relevant is important in understanding the restaurant’s demographics. Not too long ago, the area received some national notoriety as a result of another restaurateur’s decision to post a sign, which stirred a fierce conflict between two of the neighborhood’s largest inhabitant groups: gay men and urban straight parents.

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

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

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

Eat Early:

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

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

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

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

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

Bring the Carrot and the Stick:

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

Encourage Kids to Interact:

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

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

Tip Well:

For the small spills on the floor, for the 4 top that must be set for what is essentially 2 diners and just for the general inconvenience, we tip well (20% and up). For me, it’s like a corkage fee. We pay a little extra for the ability to bring our son. Waiters remember that and will be happy to see you the next time. And remember, it’s still cheaper than a baby sitter.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Oldies, But Goodies

It never ceases to amaze me how often at parties the simplest and most homely of dishes prove most popular even when presented side by side with elegant extravagances. Last night, we hosted our yearly New Year's Eve Party. Among the hors d'oeuvres, I served Red Hen baguette toasts topped with thin, well-marbled slices of Dakota Ranch grass-fed rib eye topped with horseradish creme fraiche, thin wafers of Straveccio, a salty, win-y Wisconsin parmesan, and a luscious triple creme cheese slathered with cranberry-shallot compote and baked. The most popular offering? Onion dip and potato chips. The second most popular? "Lambs in a Tuxedo," a fancy name for pigs in a blanket made with merguez sausage and puff pastry. I'm not certain whether it was the crowd or the reemerging popularity of comfort foods in the wake of this wretched year. In either event, I think these recipes would be well-received in a variety of settings. Here are my caterer's take on each simple classic.

Caramelized Onion Dip
Makes about 2 cups

1 medium yellow onion
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 pound cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons good mayonnaise (I use Hellman's)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Drop of Tabasco

METHODS: Very thinly slice the onion. Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Once the foam has subsided, add the onions and reduce the heat to low. Cook slowly, stirring often until the onions are a deep caramel color, approximately 1/2 hour. In a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Finely chop the onions and add to the cream cheese. Mix until well-combined. Add remaining ingredients and mix. Serve with good, thick cut potato chips.

"Lambs in a Tuxedo"

1 package puff pastry (I use either homemade or DuFour)
1 pound mergeuz sausage.

METHODS: Lay the pastry sheet on a lightly floured cutting board. Cut the sausage into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Cut the pastry into columns just slightly larger than 1-inch. Wrap each piece of sausage with puff pastry leaving just a slight overhang. Press to seal. Place seal side down on a baking sheet lined with either silpat or parchment. The lambies can be frozen at this point for up to 3 weeks. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until puffed and golden. Serve with mustard-sherry sauce.

Mustard-Sherry Sauce

1/2 cup dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sambal olek

METHOD: Mix together all ingredients.