Thursday, May 10, 2007

Why Eat Local

Janet Rausa Fuller finds an more interesting topic than me!

In most cases, the red-tinged flesh draped across the small mound of rice was tilapia -- a cheap substitute. Nine of the 14 samples were tilapia. Four were red sea bream -- nearly as pricey but still not red snapper.
You know just today I happened to be looking on the Land Connection web site, and I re-read their reasons to eat local. Confidence in what you buy was not one of the reasons. Yet as today's fish fraud article in the Sun Times and the revelation the other day that Wal-Mart was passing off fraudulent organic food show, it really pays to know exactly where comes your food.

Local As I Wanna Be

Wisconsin ramps, sauteed (with one dried Illinois pepper for accent); Great Lakes trout, sauteed; over puree made of Wisconsin turnips, Illinois carrots and Illinois turnips. Local parsley. California and Turkish olive oil, Morton kosher salt (local company!), Indian pepper, Michigan milk, Wisconsin butter, nutmeg from ??. Illinois lettuce salad (mesculun mix), dressing of California olive oil, indeterminate pasteurized egg, Italian red wine vinegar, salt/pepper as above. French wine. Polish water.

I hate to brag, but this was one hell of a dinner, the flavors going from the exact onionish-garlic of the ramp to the near candy sweet of the puree (excellent job with those turnips Vicki!); soft on the bottom, firm and meaty in between and bright and crunchy on top.

The techniques, were, well if I could do..As preparing local veg goes, peeling parsnips, carrots and turnips is one of the easier tasks. It took about 20 minuites in boiling water to make them soft enough. You might notice my puree is a bit on the, shall we say rustic side. I used a ricer, which worked fine if made a bit of a mess. I could have run it through a strainer to smooth, give it a restaurant quality, but I was afraid we would then not have enough for a meal. The rest was done with a big stainless steel pan, some butter and some olive oil.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Martha Bayne Ruined My Week

So, it WAS a good week

Until I read this on the Chicago Reader's food blog. Gosh, I love Washington Island (although sadly, and predictably, I never got around to posting on our meals at the Washington Island Hotel).

Martha's post hits all of my "things". Love Madison, love Washington Island Coffee Shop. Love the Madison neighborhood where its located--although I have twin bad experiences around there. First, my kids decided to partake in the small beach even though they were not wearing swim suits. Second, one daughter, who will go nameless, cough-no more more brace-cough dropped our car keys (about) in the sewer, it was not so much the sewer per se but finding them in the first place...Yet, I still love the place. Love the wheat grown on Washington Island. Love the bread baked from the wheat, love the beer made from the wheat, and certainly look forward to drinking the vodka made from the island wheat.

I hate Martha Bayne of the Chicago Reader.

Eat Local - Beef

Our Cow Has Been Killed!

Actually, the slaughter (sounds better, right?) was a few weeks ago. We let it hang, farmers say hang, I guess us yuppies would have said "dry age", before butchering. Today, the big hunk of cow becomes eatable cuts of meat.

Let me digress a sec. Not that I've collected data on this, but I think most people proceed towards eating local in this vein. First, they buy some fruit, say supplementing their regular marketing with a nice box of strawberries ("honey they're all red!"). Fruties migrate to veggies, but selective veg, like sugar snaps that are not at Jewel. Finally, the budding localvore will shop for most of his or her produce at farmers markets or via a CSA. And stop there. Few take the logical step to local meat.

Several factors limit local meat consumption (at least around Chicagoland). It's expensive. That to me was a big barrier. Pricey and less delicious; well not really less delicious but it's an artisan flavor not classic steakhouse flavor. It's hard to find. Only a few farmers markets carry meat. Even if meat is available, there are usually limited cuts. It's frozen. When you do chase it down, it is nearly always frozen. This cuts down on spur of the moment meals, and many people will claim the freezing detracts. Related, if you buy meat at a farmers market you have to get it home or into a very good cooler. So for many, the local eating stops where Dr. Atkins starts.

In a lot of ways, that's a shame. Green, there may be no aspect of local eating that affects the environment more than local meat. Not to get into a lot of details, but think about all of the impacts, that's 'pacts, of industrial meat production. A lot of carbon emissions involved and other wacky-bad stuff in that production. Taste, while it just won't taste like the fanciest steakhouse, it will taste special and highly delicious. I'm really glad (and fortunate) to have this source of local meat.

Over the phone today, I dissected my cow. I had studied a fair amount, and my Executive Chef Friend Evil Ronnie supplied me with the NAMP Meat Buyers Guide. My butcher, however, knew nothing of NAMP standard cuts/numbers. We worked it out. Three bigger chuck roasts, two smaller chuck roasts, one large rib roast, the rest of the rib cut into bone-in steaks; a tenderloin, a flank steak, a brisket, inch thick NY loin steaks, one sirloin roast, several sirloin steaks, 3 round roasts, 3 round steaks, beef shanks, a skirt steak, the rest of the meat ground, heart, tongue, kidneys, tail, bones (split) and kidney fat--turns out we are the first people (at least modern people) to request the suet, in fact it actually costs the locker $$ to have the fat removed, so our suet saves them money. It will all be flash frozen.

We shall pick it up, probably on Friday.

What's Local - Whole Foods (River Forest)

It's getting better all the time...

Well, not really, especially when they have oranges from South Africa. South Africa, Michael Pollin, are you still in touch? Still, the produce department now has, instead of one local item, four local items.
ramps (still!)
burdock root
I passed on the root-y things until so I can check some books. I'm confident they'll be there next time.

Cheesemakers of Wisconsin

SLBunge at provides a nice list of Wisconsin cheesemakers for touring purposes:
If you come the northern route, there are a number of interesting cheesemakers in Wisconsin.

Within about a 45 miles radius of Madison you've got the following cheesemakers that I can vouch for having very good product:

Fantome Farm (Ridgeway) for goat cheeses
Uplands Cheese Company (Dodgeville) for Pleasant Ridge Reserve
Bleu Mont Dairy (Blue Mounds) for cave-aged Swiss styles and artisinal versions of New World styles of cheese.
Hook's Cheese Company (Mineral Point) for very good aged cheddars and decent blues.
Chalet Cheese Coop (Monroe) is notable for being the last US producer of fresh Limburger.

If you get to all of these places is that you will be driving through some of the upper-Midwest's prettiest countryside with lush, rolling hills and great twisted country roads.

Farther afield but maybe worth a drive there are these:

Carr Valley (LaValle) makes award willing European-style cheeses.
Widmer's Cheese Cellars (Theresa) in a tiny little downtown dairy makes the classic American Brick cheese although it is probably too large to be considered artisinal.
Lovetree Farmstead Cheeses (Grantsburg) makes fantastic sheep's milk cheeses but is fairly far north.
BelGioioso (Denmark) makes fine versions of Italian cheeses including a Burrata. Again, the company may be a bit large for your taste.

Chicago Area Farmers Markets

From the Trib:
"Buying locally grown food supports our independent farmers, preserves open land from development--and fresher food is better for you," said Veronica Resa, media relations specialist and community relations liaison for the Mayor's Office of Special Events.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Good Week, A Great Week

  • Sophia ditches brace

Intransigeant catering problem resolved

Invitations out

Camera found


Vie Update Update

Just because I posted on Vie yesterday, did not mean I had any plan to go there. Yet as it turned out, we had something big (HUGE) to celebrate last night. My scoliosis stricken daughter got the good, nay, huge, nay near-improbable news that her s-curved spine was no more. In the words of the Doc, "don't know why, but don't really care." Sophia has worn a brace for nearly two years (not days as I orignally wrote!), thick or thin, 23 or so hours a day, ever present dry-fit shirt trying to stave off heat. It was expected that she wear this form-fitting plastic master until at least her 16th year. Today she won't. Tomorrow she won't. She has been freed. Vie just happened to be nearby. What better place to celebreate.

I'm a big believer that context is key in dining, and often food tastes so good because of the circumstances. Vie certainly tasted better than ever last night. Not only the brace-off, but there was the pre-teens partaking in one of their fancier dining experiences ever and taking it for all its worth--Sophia insisted she wanted the kobe steak. The kids, at least, put the amuse in the amuse, guzzled with glee their complimentary kiddie cocktails, and wiped their plates entirely clean from their initial morel to their final mini-cheesecake.

It helps, I guess, that a fresh season is great season to hit Vie. Vie gets the best just arrived produce. Nearly all of it is local, but they have outstanding connections for the few non-local items like their fresh hearts of palm. Asparagus hit at least a third of his dishes, rhubarb and ramps made multiple appearances, and other spring things like radishes and dandelion were rampant (haha). Chef Virant applies the proper application to these prime ingredients. Most of his prepartions are classic: asparagus with hollandaise, seared foie gras. In fact when I think about it, I would say that Virant's ouevre is Joy of Cooking, especially the pentultimate fancier-food edition. His recipes are very, well, ordinary is not the right word, probably classic. Yet what sets the food apart, by far, are the accents, an unusual vegetable here, a strong mustard dressing there and, as widely reported, ample use of picked and preserved things. It was all wrapped up in that amusing amuse: morel (not local) battered fried on top of a ramp vinaigrette, accented by some shavings of asparagus.

My older daughter and I shared bacony meal. We had a salad with wood grilled dandelions and a strip of house made bacon (gray from no nitrates) and the bacon wrapped Guntrhop Farm chicken ballotine, served with peas and chard. I also ordered the foie gras with poached rhubarb that reminded me a bit (in a good way) of bacon. This was Tinkers to Evers to Chance. Exact. Special. Outstanding.

As I said, my other daughter had the steak, and in a testament to times-a-changin', she ate a hell of a lot more of the steak than the side order of house made naan. The waiter talked my wife into the turbot en papillote. It came with a herb vinaigrette, but I liked it's natural, birthed from the paper state better.

To celebrate, Chef Virant sent us out coolers of rhubarb juice with rhubarb shreds before we dug into three desserts: rhubarb cobbler, molten chocolate cake and peanut butter gooey butter cake. They were all good, but the chocolate cake did not quite rise to the specialness that is Vie's stuff.

Monday's happen to be 1/2 price wine night at Vie. To celebrate we had a 1/2 bottle of Billecart-Salmon, one of my favorites (about my favorite) NV champagnes; then we had a bottle of Régis Minet, Vieilles Vignes, Pouilly Fumé that I found a little too subtle. I've become too hooked on New Zealand SBs.

What Was Local in Forest Park, What Is Local in River Forest, What Will Be Local in Oak Park

I got the near Western suburbs covered.

Last Saturday, the Forest Park French Market began its seasonal run. It's funny with farmer's markets. It's like the opposite of wine, with farmer's markets, it's like the the more you know and appreciate, the more you like bad markets. I mean my wife likes to tell the story about how disappointed we were on our first visit to the, first of the year, Oak Park Farmer's Market; we were like that's all. We soon learned about how things grew around here. Now, of course, it does not take much in a market to make me happy. More dry flowers, painted furniture and earrings than food, well so what.

Forest Park French last week had two produce merchants. One, Hardin Farms, from Michigan, is one of my favorites (they also sell in Oak Park). They were selling black walnuts, cracked black walnuts (!) and dried fruit. The other produce people was an operation with farms in Northern and Southern Illinois. They had the first local asparagus I've seen as well as radishes. Also, and to my happiness they had some stored garlic (also stored onions and potatoes but I did not need those). Instead of ruminating on this small holding, we took pleasure in buying what was there. Beside these guys, there was an Amish outfit selling the usual Amish stuff: pies (made with lard), noodles, rolls, and eggs. The French Nun sold pastries that only looked like what the French could make.

The local offerings at the Whole Foods in River Forest are not vast. Yet, in the vein of appreciating the small, let's appreciate what they have. Firstly, there are ramps, fresh, local ramps from Harmony Farms in Wisconsin. We purchased four bunches. Secondly, the fish counter featured three lake fish including gorgeous orange-tan lake trout. Thirdly, the cases across from the fish featured such local products as Rushing Waters rainbow trout spread and Organic Prairie bacon (for purists note that while based in Wisconsin, there is no guarantee that the Organic Valley/Prairie stuff comes from local farmers). Finally, as always, there's local milk and butter.

And to come, in Oak Park, I got a little preview of what will be there when the market opens on June 2, there will be a few additions. Bread and meat, continuing to move beyond just things grown in the ground, the Oak Park Farmer's Market this year will have two bread bakers and another meat vendor (chicken and lamb). I look forward fer sure.

Monday, May 07, 2007

New Menu up for Vie

Chef Paul Virant changes his menu more than weekly, to reflect his moods, whims and what's in season. Unfortunately, he does not change his online menu that often. I always take pleasure when a new Vie menu has been posted. I do have to say, in my fantasy world, Vie would ditch the octupus and everything else not local, but has I have noted, he does tend to cook this stuff very well.

This site just sprang up ( I do not know if it's just a web based resouce or a club. Regarldess, I'm happy for the resource and look forward to seeing what they are up to.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Local as I Wanna Be


Local herbs, (mixed into) Wisconsin butter, Wisconsin ramps, olive oil from California, sea salt from some sea, pepper from who knows (India, I believe); grapeseed oil also from who knows; Great Lakes trout, Michigan potatoes, Illinois lettuce, Wisconsin blue cheese, California lemon, French wine, Italian water.